“How can anyone still suggest we fight within the Labour Party to pull it left?” asks comrade Dave Vincent, full of frustration. “Labour is not even promising to reverse the pension increases. It agrees with privatisation, is against strikes, supports making savage cuts - it even supports the public sector pay freeze” (‘Striking on March 28 is not enough’, March 8).
After enthusiastically reporting the “euphoria” of united strike action on N30, Dave ridicules the idea that “this climate and the struggles will force Labour to talk and move left”. Yet Mick Loates, reporting the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy conference (Letters, March 8), tells us - without any details, unfortunately - that the trade union representatives on the Labour Party’s national executive committee are “a vast improvement upon previous years” and the Parliamentary Labour Party is “now much improved”.
Comrade Loates’s official optimism does display illusions in the Labour leadership, begging them to understand that “a strong stand against the coalition’s cuts could win the next election”. But much more is needed. Such illusions should not be shared by Marxists in the party. We should have no faith in “the next Labour government” running British capitalism. On the contrary, we must fight to transform Labour into a party of working class struggle for socialism, and win active majority support across Europe for implementing a full socialist programme.
Perhaps comrade Vincent’s home truths about the present Labour leadership’s anti-working class politics are a good antidote. But comrade Vincent has his own illusions - in the present array of “working class anti-cuts independent candidates” on offer. “I think this time an election challenge will take off.” Really?
When Dave says, “Who needs the joke Labour Party ... ?” he is inviting us to abandon the struggle to democratise both the trade unions and the party, and to leave the bureaucracy in control of our organisations.
SWP Iran change
Further to Peter Manson’s interesting article about the increasing degeneration of the Stop the War Coalition (‘Expulsion and exclusion as war threat grows’, March 8), I found an additional aspect worth commenting on: the role played by the Socialist Workers Party.
As Peter noted, they only sent a skeletal crew of about four or five members, led by Judith Orr. Most of them made a contribution and most of those were centred on Iran: all SWP speakers went out of their way to talk about the “horrible regime” in Tehran and how we should actively support the people fighting against the theocracy. A young woman was telling the meeting that her parents were active participants in the green movement - and was told off by the bureaucratic chair, Jane Shallice, for talking about the issue in a session that was supposed to be about local campaigning (though the agenda was so badly put together that often nobody knew what was going on).
Rather amusingly, most of the SWP speakers also insisted that their organisation “always had this line”. Apparently, they “consistently” supported those below, while criticising the regime in Tehran. This is not quite true, of course. Readers of the Weekly Worker will remember how, just a few years back, the SWP rejected all criticism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the name of the ‘unity’ of the anti-war movement. The affiliation of Hands Off the People of Iran to the then SWP-run Stop the War Coalition was rejected because Hopi opposes not only any imperialist intervention in Iran, but also the theocracy, arguing instead for active solidarity with the tens of thousands of women, worker and student activists who have been fighting against their regime.
It is worth remembering that at the October 2007 STWC annual general meeting, Iran-born SWP member Somaye Zadeh was wheeled out to oppose Hopi’s request for affiliation. She went on to tackle “five lies” that were being peddled against Iran, including “No5: Iran is an undemocratic and repressive country”. She admitted that homosexuality was banned, “but, at the same time as homosexuality is not allowed, Iran does allow sex changes and in fact the average number of sex changes in Iran is seven times that in the whole of Europe”. To wild cheering from SWP members in the audience, she explained that “the literacy rate amongst women is 98%. And 64% of university students are women. This is unparalleled in the Middle East and beyond.” Also, there had been “a flourishing of magazines, newspapers, theatres, books, arts and websites”. The situation in Iran “clearly isn’t so black and white” as Hopi suggests (see Weekly Worker November 1 2007).
But then June 2009 happened and the SWP has been ‘adjusting’ its line on Iran ever since. Good for them: better late than never. Unfortunately, they are not quite confident enough of their position to actually fight for the STWC to adopt it or to support the affiliation of Hopi to the coalition (though some, if not all SWP members present, also didn’t vote for the continued exclusion of Hopi. In fact, they seem to have abstained on the matter). And even though they’re not admitting to it, at least the comrades are capable of shifting from their disastrous previous political line.
Not so their former comrades, John Rees, Lindsey German and Chris Nineham. These key members of Counterfire (who are now running the STWC) are sticking to their anti-democratic guns, come what may. Not a single word critical of the regime in Tehran passed their opportunist lips. Their continued close relationship with Iranian state television company Press TV might have had something to do with their cowardice: there were two TV cameras in the hall.
Possibly, of course, it is the continued existence of Hopi itself that actually stops the comrades from changing their line: as long as we keep coming to STWC AGMs, insisting on Hopi’s affiliation and fighting for an internationalist position, it might look like they were admitting we were right all along, that Hopi had ‘won’, if they actually change their line. I wouldn’t put it past the current STWC leadership to be that sectarian.
SWP Iran change
SWP Iran change
Cost of war
I agree that CPGB delegates at the Stop the War Coalition AGM were right to vote against motion 13 from Wandsworth STWC on the “cost of war”.
However, I think in his article Peter Manson misses another reason why: war is integral to imperialism. Imperialism - and especially the imperialist powerhouse, the USA - needs the threat of war to sustain itself: ideologically, militarily, geo-politically and also financially. The arms and defence industry is a major part of the US economy. In 2011, the defence budget was a staggering $698 billion, or 4.8% of the US GDP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures). Add to that the cost of increased security concerns - for example, to combat the ‘terrorist threat’ within imperialist countries - and you have a major chunk of the economy being reliant on the continued existence of enemies within and without.
It’s a form of military Keynesianism to keep a faltering economy going. The further capitalism sinks into decline, the more irrational the drive to war becomes and the more ludicrous are the reasons presented by imperialism (weapons of mass destruction, nuclear capability, etc).
The Wandsworth motion made no mention of any of that. It represented a very naive view of how the world is run, reading as if David Cameron, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just ‘happen’ to be spending ‘too much’ on the military, which on the surface seems deeply illogical at a time of official austerity. But, of course, the opposite is true: it is their way of staying in power.
Of course, we should fight against such ridiculous spending on increasingly refined machinery to exterminate humanity. But we should be clear why.
Cost of war
Cost of war
Tony Greenstein’s latest reply to me is riddled with inconsistency and flagrant denial of reality (Letters, March 8). One minute he attacks ‘anti-Semitism’ from Jews like Paul Eisen. The next he flatly exonerates Hamas of the same thing, despite its charter evoking the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and the Hadith-derived injunction: “if you see a Jew, kill him”. He puts the existence of Hamas down to a Zionist plot - an absurdity reminiscent of both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic conspiracy theories.
He is right though to refuse to equate Hamas’s attitude with racism. This implies recognition that this is an ideology of the oppressed. But he still can’t explain why it is correct to treat almost as Nazis a small but significant Jewish trend that misguidedly, but courageously, has gone over to the Palestinians and embraced this ideology (or some of it).
In this regard, his comparison with pre-World War II Zionists is completely wrong, as they wanted a Jewish state at the Palestinians’ expense, whereas these Jews have gone over to the side of the Zionists’ victims. They are opposites. His Garvey point is also foolish and does not get better with repetition. The evocation of the Pan-Africanist Congress hardly supports Tony’s case either. It would have been appalling if the anti-apartheid movement had been convulsed with a witch-hunt orchestrated by white activists against the ‘anti-white’ PAC. I’m not aware of that happening.
Tony does not even try to counter my criticism of his support for joint campaigns with Zionists, like Hope Not Hate, who also target Palestinian militants for ‘no platform’ campaigns. He denies the existence of widespread soft-Zionist sentiment in the British labour movement, and pretends that presumably ‘not-soft’ anti-Zionist trade unionists, who are no doubt more sophisticated than Tony thinks, are likely to confuse a few pro-Palestinian Jews and associates who doubt or disbelieve the Nazi genocide with a Nazi threat. But no-one not influenced by soft-Zionist conceptions would be so soft-headed as to think that. He thus patronises not only Palestinians, but also trade unionists.
If there is no widespread soft-Zionism in the British labour movement, why has it taken more than 60 years for the TUC to adopt a half-decent position on the Palestine question? Why is it that for decades after World War II, right up till the late 1980s, the Labour Friends of Israel held a hegemonic position in the Labour Party, including on the Labour left? It still is pretty powerful; it’s the Labour left that has largely melted away and the remainder has hardened up against Israel a bit.
It’s not as if it was not known that Palestinians were victims of massive ethnic cleansing; rather it was overlooked because of a belief that the Jews ‘deserved’ their own state and the Palestinians were just unfortunate. That is the soft-Zionist tradition of British Labourism to which Tony is capitulating.
Rather than exchanging polemical barbs, however, some historical perspective is useful. Tony and Gilad Atzmon are actually both very interesting political personalities whose conflict reflects ideology struggling to catch up with one of the most remarkable turnarounds ever achieved by a formerly oppressed people. Jews have gone from being a persecuted people and the victims of one of the worst crimes in human history into a very powerful force, with a state at their disposal that could even conceivably blow up the world if it felt threatened.
Jews today are an oppressor people in the Middle East. And it is also true that Jews in the west, in the US and elsewhere, are a material factor in that oppression through the power of communal lobbying organisations, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and also through the partial internationalisation of Israeli citizenship by the ‘law of return’. This long-lasting Zionist measure has in effect conscripted all Jews, irrespective of their views, into the quasi-national formation that oppresses the Palestinians. For a more extensive treatment of this, see ‘The Jewish question and racial oppression’ on my blog (http://redscribblings.wordpress.com).
Tony, honourable in many ways as he is, fighting for the rights of the Palestinians in the way he considers correct, acts as though he believes - or half-believes - that the Jews are still an oppressed people. If he did not have this mindset, he would not be campaigning just as energetically against ‘anti-Semites’- mainly Jewish ones - as he is against the Israeli government itself!
Atzmon makes a symmetrically opposite error. Born and raised in Israel, he sees Jews as purely an oppressor people and finds it impossible to imagine that they were ever anything else. So he looks back in time for signs of Jewish supremacism and interprets history to fit around his own revulsion at the crimes of today. In the process he comes up with some quite startling insights, as well as some things that really might be better quietly forgotten.
But this is something to be dealt with politically, not by means of bureaucratic measures that in any case simply will not work. For, while it is very unlikely that Israeli racism will produce an anti-Semitic backlash among western gentiles - that ideology really was completely discredited by Hitler’s crimes - Israeli crimes are almost certain to increase Jewish angst and produce more Atzmons and Eisens.
Fit of peak
Recently I finished reading Paul Mattick’s Business as usual, having taken Mike Macnair’s advice (‘Clear economics, weak politics’, February 23). However, I came away with a different conclusion to Macnair’s. I certainly wouldn’t bother to argue that this book needs to be widely read.
Firstly, Mattick seems to believe that the present and deepening crisis of global capitalism is merely the latest in a long line of cyclical downturns, which has been a feature of capitalism since its beginning. Mattick, associated with anarchism, makes the usual mistake of believing that this crisis can only be explained from within the circulation of capital itself, a viewed also shared by Marxists. This is wrong.
What the left in general fails to understand is that economic theories developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, including Marxism, were developed in isolation from understanding the role of energy in society. These theories cannot explain the present crisis of world capitalism, rooted as it is in the peaking of global oil production. Three hundred years of expansion of capitalism through the up-and-down business cycles has now come to an end.
Although peak oil is behind the present crisis, there are other related factors; for instance, the industrialisation of China and India is keeping oil prices high at a time of stagnating oil production.
Industrial capitalism is a growth economy that was only possible on the basis of abundant, cheap energy to power constant expansion, which was necessary to service debt and keep the system going. Rising fuel prices prevent any return to economic growth. When motorists spend more on petrol, they have less to spend on other things, hence recession. This is a simple example of one consequence of rising fuel costs. The reader will also get the general idea that rising fuel costs will undermine businesses, which need to make a profit.
Although Mattick mentions peak oil towards the end of his book, he does not relate it to the present crisis of the system. People who like complicated theories may find it hard to believe that capitalism can be brought down by oil shortages and rising fuel prices related to the peak in world oil production. The coming collapse of capitalism may have little to do with what Marx wrote in Capital. The important question is: can the left deal with this reality or will it cling to dogma?
Fit of peak
Fit of peak
In relation to Mike Macnair’s review of Discovering imperialism (‘Imperialism before Lenin’, March 8), I’d like to point out as one of the editors of the Historical Materialism book series that every book we now publish will appear 12 months later with Haymarket. So Discovering imperialism will soon be available in paperback.
Shameless puff: we have many more volumes like this in the pipeline.