Each one of Paul Anderson’s responses manages to reveal more and more of his archaic Stalinist politics (Letters, January 12). Claiming that I was somehow “pro-Gaddafi” even though I didn’t want to be is nothing more than twisting Christopher Hitchens’ accusations - that those opposed to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq were “objectively pro-Saddam” - to fit a Stalinist ideology.
Sure, Chinese investment in Zimbabwe may benefit ordinary Zimbabweans feeling the pain of western sanctions and Mugabe’s economic mismanagement. It has probably played a major role in stabilising the economy since the hyperinflation of 2004-09. That doesn’t make making deals with Chinese capital a wise long-term strategy. If I am “demonising” the role of China in Zimbabwe, I assume that Anderson must have no problem with policies to appease Chinese capital like violent slum clearances, Chinese merchants selling shoddy goods, and Chinese business people taking over farmland that I thought was supposed to be for native Zimbabweans, according to Mugabe’s land reform policy. Mugabe has also jailed oppositional socialists like those from the International Socialist Organisation, but then again I’m sure that Anderson has no problem with some Trots being roughed up.
Contrary to Anderson’s assertions, unlike, say, the Harry’s Place left, I have never dismissed anti-imperialism or sought to ferment colour revolutions. The Tunisian uprising was dubbed the ‘jasmine revolution’. Does that mean it was an imperialist plot too? Anderson’s views pin us into a corner. He doesn’t claim Mugabe, Assad, Gaddafi, etc would be able to construct socialism if the west would just leave them alone. So what work then is acceptable for revolutionary socialists to carry out in countries such as these? If a Communist Party of Zimbabwe were to lead a revolution against Mugabe, no doubt the west would try to involve itself at some point. Any intelligent revolutionary would make such an assumption. That is not a reason to avoid a revolution, however. The only other option is a popular front, which Anderson de facto supports in Zimbabwe, Syria and Iran. Using historical precedents, that is going to make Anderson a bigger counterrevolutionary than I could ever be.
Closer to Dave
I want to raise two issues in connection with a thread that was started, in part, by a review by Dave Douglass of VN Gelis’ book on Greece and Europe (‘Defence of the nation-state’, December 8 2011).
It’s quite true, as Arthur Bough says, that Trotskyist groups opposed the Communist Party’s nationalism in the 1960s. They did not, however, endorse the European Economic Community. These groups all opposed any federalism of European nations along lines dictated by finance capital. It is correct - without exception - to oppose any and all of these fake ‘United States of Europe’ schemes, everyone of which is designed to address the crisis of capitalism for capitalists. To imply otherwise would not only be ahistorical: it would be a disaster politically.
Some bosses, for sure, always seek to use national boundaries to their advantage, be it protectionism, tariffs, restrictions on foreign investments, etc, etc. But as a class finance capital - that is, imperialism, which is what we all live under - is opposed to these sort of national-capitalist responses and works against them at every level. Thus the European Union, the euro zone, Maastricht, Lisbon, North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organisation become the cutting edge of anti-working class offensives against the gains of the working class. It is this ‘globalisation’ that is the point for capitalism, not these petty minority of capitalists that seek to use the false Little England patriotism to spar with better financed rivals elsewhere. They are the exceptions, not the rule.
It is globalisation, not nationalism, that is seeking to roll back the gains of the working class and is the cutting edge of the class struggle. It appears to me that Arthur, in his desire to run away from anything smacking of British nationalism, is running straight into the arms of imperialism. Perhaps he is an ‘alter-globaliser’ - for an EU with a ‘human face’, or a WTO with workers’ rights somehow grafted in. This is the direction of the ‘Euro left’. It is also the direction of adapting to capitalism and, worse, capitalism’s ‘solutions’ to its own crisis.
As for Dave, while we have sparred on energy issues - both us remaining small minorities on the socialist left, but from opposite sides - I’m closer to him on some his views on the working class and the crisis of capitalism than most, maybe.
I have not read VN Gelis’s book. He developed his views largely from polemics with myself on the rather useless Usenet news group. In some ways VN Gelis parroted the views of French Trotskyist Daniel Gluckstein in his 1990s book, Globalisation and class struggle. The book describes how imperialism, under the guise of a kind and gentle ‘globalisation’, seeks to roll back the gains of our class, all won within the traditional borders of the capitalist nation-state, by going after that very nation-state. The thesis argues that such violations of national sovereignty go against the interests of the working class on an international basis. This, of course, can be debated, and should be.
On one level, VN Gelis’s thesis is a contribution to this same discussion from a similar, but by no means congruent, point of view. Gelis, and his neo-Nazi protégé and ex-Healyite whose internet name is ‘Dusty’, argue that if you defend immigrant rights you are part of the ‘globalist left’. On another level, VN Gelis represents a reactionary, rightwing nationalist response to this same crisis. He bounces off and adopts, for example, holocaust denialism bordering on anti-Semitism. He started veering from the traditional Marxist view on immigrant rights and immigration by calling immigrants “scabs”.
While Dave Douglass in his review noted his anti-immigrant views in passing, VN Gelis’s pure hatred of immigrants is beyond even the British National Party - basically calling on the unions to expel all foreigners from the working class and the country.
Closer to Dave
Closer to Dave
The CPGB Draft programme has this on immigration: “As a matter of principle communists are for the free movement of people and against all measures preventing them entering or leaving countries. Simultaneously, we seek to end poverty, lack of opportunity, war and persecution everywhere.
“Migrant workers are not the problem. The capitalists who use them to increase competition between workers are. The reformist plea for non-racist immigration controls plays directly into the hands of our exploiters. It concedes the right of the state to bar workers from entering Britain.”
I’d like to quote comrade Paul Cockshott for a different take on immigration, which criticises the Draft programme and suggests another approach:
“Are completely open borders in the working class interest? No, I am in favour of organised working class control of the labour market.”
He concludes: “... if you think that a left party could win elections today if one of its key election planks was to remove all border controls and allow unlimited immigration, then you are living in cloud cuckoo land.”
Paul B Smith writes: “… there have been non-market transitional forms that contradict the operation of capitalism. These include nationalisation, welfare systems, pensions, social housing, free education and social security. They have contradicted capitalism by extending the sphere of production for use or social need” (‘Politics of fear and despair’, January 12).
But none of these things have been produced to meet social need any more than what is produced by private capital. A fundamental requirement for any commodity, according to Marx, is indeed that it should be a use-value, that it should meet some social need. The fact that the state takes over the production or provision of such commodities does not, in any real sense, change that. Some of these commodities are paid for collectively by workers, in payments deducted compulsorily from their wages, but that does not change the fact that they are still commodities.
Indeed, the current system of tax and national insurance operated by capitalist states is just a more onerous version of the truck system, that unscrupulous capitalists used in the 19th century, whereby they deducted money from wages, and provided workers with tokens that could only be used to purchase goods from the company store. That is precisely what workers are presented with today in the provision by the state of health, social care, education and so on. Why any Marxist should see this as contradicting the operation of capitalism is beyond me.
On the contrary, these kinds of provision have been fundamental to capitalist reproduction during the 20th century. It was Bismarck himself who introduced the first national insurance scheme in Germany in the 19th century. He did not do so to undermine the operation of capitalism, but to facilitate it. It meant deducting a sufficient amount from the wage fund to ensure that workers consumed a minimum level of education and so on to meet the changing needs of capital for a more skilled workforce, and, at the same time, facilitated the development of the kind of social stability that capital required in order to make the kind of very large, long-term investments that were by then required. These ideas were in fact nothing more than the application at a state level of the ideas that were adopted by Fordism at the plant level.
Anyone who doubts that all of the things mentioned are wholly within the sphere of the circuit of capital reproduction, that they exist not in contradiction to the operation of capitalism, but wholly in support of it, only has to look at the way in which the state adjusts the provision of all these things in accordance with the needs of capital. Capital introduced them to meet its needs by the most efficient means it had available at the time. In doing so it also undermined the growing movement of the working class to provide many of these things for itself, which would indeed have contradicted the operation of capitalism.
If we really want to develop workers’ consciousness, we have to return to those ideas that the early Marxist movement developed on workers’ ability to meet their class interests via their own collective actions, usually in opposition to attempts by the capitalist state to frustrate them. That was the lesson that the Plebs League learned, for example, in attempting to provide independent working class education.
I don’t think as an anti-racist Marxist I can understand James Turley’s argument (‘A load of old balls’, January 12).
Its clear that the words of footballer Luis Suárez words were unacceptable. Calling a man a ‘little negro’ eight times in two minutes was clearly designed to offend. This nonsense about the relatively superior situation of black people in Uruguay is total rubbish. It is a society where race and class clearly coincide, just like the United Kingdom, and the word negrito is unacceptable and racist. A black man calling a white man ‘little Caucasian’ eight times might be considered to have some racial significance - but, of course, that has never happened, because black people on the whole don’t seem to resort to such stupidities.
This seems like a cheap excuse to have a go at the Socialist Workers Party, who, unlike the CPGB, have consistently defended ethnic communities under attack from white British racism. That’s not to attack the white working class, from which I come, but to recognise the practical benefits of a Marxist based anti-racism. Why don’t we recognise what we have in common instead of making very cheap and inaccurate arguments?
I’m currently reading some CPGB pamphlets and I notice that the organisation is described as “the vanguard of the working class”. I find this very worrying, as it sounds not only extremely arrogant, but suggests the grave mistakes of the past are being repeated and the necessary lessons not learnt.
No single party or organisation claiming to be based on Marxism can legitimately claim to be “the” vanguard. The fact is that there are several organisations claiming to be Marxist, presumably all supposing they are the vanguard of the proletariat. A more correct description would be one which used the indefinite article - ‘a vanguard of the working class’.
This is extremely important, as pluralism is essential, especially after socialism is established. We need not only free debate within each party/organisation under the rules of democratic centralism (and I am pleased to note the CPGB allows factions). We also need to give the masses a choice on the various routes to communism, and between the various socialist models. A multi-party state with free elections, but under a socialist constitution, so that there is no attempt to return to capitalism based on one party gaining a majority. Only a substantial majority in a referendum could replace the socialist constitution, so in the absence of that situation all parties would have to be committed to preserving the socialist nature of society in some form prior to the gradual transition to communism.
At some stage it may well be that the correct and successful socialist model is discovered and works so well that the various parties and organisations merge, creating one Marxist party with a mass membership taking a fully active part in inner-party democracy. This, however, is way ahead and well on the way to the self-governing society of communism.
Nothing to fear
Socialist Worker reports that at the SWP conference “A motion calling for internal bulletins in the run-up to party council meetings was defeated” (January 14). The SWP currently only has internal bulletins before their conferences, information about which has been revealed in the Weekly Worker, and that is also the only time in which factions are permitted.
So why these restrictions on internal democracy, stifling internal debate? When I was in the Socialist Party in England and Wales (and its predecessors, the Militant Tendency and Militant Labour) from 1990-98, there were quite a large number of faction fights resulting in splits, in Britain and other sections of the Committee for a Workers’ International. There were sometimes internal bulletins and documents distributed through the national centre.
So should the lesson be that such internal democracy is a problem? No, not in my opinion. Suppressing debate cannot prevent factions or cliques from arising, which may result in splits (as has happened in the SWP with Counterfire and the International Socialist Organisation in Scotland in the last two years). It tends to prevent tactical turns which may prove essential in changed circumstances.
In these days of high internet usage, which the SWP not too long ago tried to dissuade its membership from using, suppression of debate is less easy. There are various Facebook groups for the SP and SWP which are open to non-members, but SP or SWP comrades on them rarely if ever criticise their party’s position on any issue.
Someone who attended this year’s SWP conference gave me an explanation for the opposition to internal bulletins, which may or may not be the official excuse. He said they are unnecessary because members can communicate directly with central committee members. I pointed out that there must be large numbers of SWP members who in an open debate would have doubts about the SWP strategy which prioritises building their own party at a crucial time in the anti-cuts struggle. The SWP have failed to get involved in the Coalition of Resistance, due to it being largely led by Counterfire. Instead they have favoured their own initiatives (Right to Work, followed by Unite the Resistance) and, in turn, this gave the SP an excuse to launch yet another anti-cuts campaign (out of the National Shop Stewards Network).
Nothing to fear
Nothing to fear
I am surprised that Paul Flewers did not mention the role of the CIA in changing the ending of the film version of Animal Farm (Letters, January 12). The CIA arranged for the notorious Howard Hunt (of Watergate fame) to buy the rights to the story in order to alter the ending. This was in 1955 at the height of the cold war.