Stop sneering

Overall, Tina Becker did quite a good summary of the main decisions at PCS national conference (‘Reality behind the fighting talk’, May 31). Sadly though, when it came to describing my contributions, she was rather less good.

To reduce my contribution to the debate on the voluntary strike fund levy to my seemingly only saying, “People who collect the money might dip into the pot” is disingenuous. I mentioned PCS reps having enough to do without expecting them to continually ask low-paid members to make further donations and face the demoralising effect of members saying, ‘Not this month - sorry’ in front of others. I asked who decides what selective action should be taken - by whom, for how long? I mentioned the climate of austerity cuts and pointed out that the need for the maximum fightback of many unions demands much more than the odd selective action here and there by PCS.

Next, Tina moves to the motion from the NEC that seemingly simply called for closer working relations between PCS and Unite. Tina opines that it was really about preparing the ground for a merger. She makes no mention of my speech, but it was I who said that every delegate I had asked about this motion instantly said, “Merger”! It was I who then challenged Mark Serwotka to state whether he was in favour of a merger and whether it was true he will be general secretary of a merged union once Len McCluskey leaves in three years time (that’s the rumour going around). We needed to hear what the NEC position on Unite’s affiliation to the Labour Party is. Would the merged union ballot members on disaffiliation or would PCS members have to accept affiliation as the price to be paid for such a merger? Mark was a little rattled and, although he didn’t answer my questions fully, assured conference this wasn’t about a merger.

Tina correctly assesses the failure of the PCS ‘Make your vote count’ campaign to exert any real pressure on politicians (How should we make it count? PCS never suggests who members should vote for once they’ve had replies to the questions put to candidates). However, she will not know that I had submitted two emergency motions concerning the campaign. One argued that we should go beyond only standing our own candidates “in exceptional circumstances” and “only to achieve publicity for our campaign aims” to actually trying seriously to get anti-war, anti-cuts candidates elected to shake the main three parties out of their arrogant complacency. The other argued that PCS should actually recommend to members who they should vote for. But these were not debated, as the standing orders committee, dominated by the Socialist Party in England and Wales, X-marked them as not being emergency motions (I had argued that George Galloway’s shock success had produced new circumstances since the deadline for motions in January).

Whilst Tina can point out that things look a little grim now for a successful pensions fightback, she didn’t give PCS credit for calling for unity or mention that it was Labour-affiliated unions that were the first to desert the battlefield. There’d never have been the biggest action since 1926 on November 30 if PCS had been affiliated to the Labour Party. We’d all still be wasting our time trying to pull Labour left instead of striking.

Finally, another NEC motion was not mentioned by Tina, concerning a ‘review’ of what effects independence would have on members in Scotland. Once again I was the only opposer, stating that this motion was really arguing members should vote for independence, but that Scotland was not an oppressed nation by any Marxist analysis, and that you cannot weigh up the consequences of independence without dealing with whether it is under capitalism or socialism.

I readily agree with Tina’s assessment that there is very little opposition at PCS conferences due to the SPEW dominance of the executive and amongst activists. But I try, Tina!

By the way, the Democracy Alliance electoral pact (Left Unity and PCS Democrats) once again easily won nearly all the NEC positions, with the rightwing ‘4themembers’ losing a couple of places, but finishing far ahead of the Independent Left. There was the usual pathetic turnout of around 10%. Once again, I came bottom in the elections despite (or because of) my oppositional stance at conference, being beaten by all other independents, including total unknowns! I am not universally hated though - delegates often say they vote for me and cannot understand why I do so badly!

It seems to me that the CPGB main players seem to be in ivory towers, looking down at strikes and protests, and commenting that they’re all a waste of time really, while those involved below look up and say, ‘At least we are doing something here and now!’ I sympathise with both sides. I can see why various tactics will probably not succeed overall, but feel we need to fight on nevertheless and see who else may join in.

Why not try to be a little less antagonistic to the efforts of other left groups to get anything off the ground? Analysis by all means, but rather less sneering, misrepresentation and gloating! But at least you publish the annoyed letters! The Weekly Worker is the best publication on the left for airing different opinions and polemics.

Stop sneering
Stop sneering

State of denial

Instead of relating the facts about Rochdale, which presumably are politically unpalatable to liberal leftists, Paul Demarty led his reader on a wild goose chase of apologia (‘The abuse of abuse’, May 17).

The overall tone of Demarty’s piece can be noted in that there is not one word of compassion for the sexually abused girls and the whole article is geared to minimising the crimes committed. Demarty informs us: “It is the most tantalising myth to circulate around the far right in the last decade - the notion that there exist gangs of Muslims who groom and sexually abuse vulnerable young white women.”

Demarty’s implication here is that to expose the reality of what is happening automatically places one on “the far right”. It is a classic case of blaming the messenger. When one of the girls reported in 2008 that she was being abused the police did not believe her. We have seen a similar pattern in the cases of those abused by Catholic priests. People simply did not want to believe them: the consequences were too awful to contemplate. However, as the case has shown, far from being a ‘myth’, the abduction and rape of white women by Pakistani Muslims is an established fact. These men, “inculcated with the most barbaric ideas”, to use Christopher Hitchens’s phrase, obviously view the young girls as white trash.

In an example that contradicts his argument that Muslim rape gangs are a “myth”, Demarty refers to a television documentary 10 years ago that was praised by the BNP. The implication here being that one should never have the same view as the BNP. This is the line that was pushed by the unctuous Labour MP, Keith Vaz, when he was interviewed about the Rochdale verdicts. Obviously the intention is to stifle any debate. Well, the BNP - some of them anyway - are against Westminster democracy and, from a somewhat different perspective, so am I. If that is capitulating to the BNP, so be it. The argument is pathetic and totally untenable.

Demarty then leads us on a magical mystery tour covering Trevor Phillips, multiculturalism, his perceived inadequacy of professionals working in this area, The Guardian newspaper and so on. He says: “As long as class society persists, we can be certain: there will be more such horrors to come.” Whilst accepting that the fundamental contradiction is the presence of capitalism, one cannot accept that all sorts of reactionary behaviour are to be left unchallenged until capitalism is overthrown.

In the case of radical Islam - and remember that we are thinking here of some of the most reactionary and backward ideological elements on the face of the planet - it may very well be that they are extremely resistant to change: after all, unlike many ‘Marxists’, they actually do believe in their doctrine. One could easily envisage radical Islam having to be severely repressed under any new socialist regime.

State of denial
State of denial

No go-to guy

Paul Demarty (Letters, May 31) doesn’t like my use of statistics and thinks I “recycle bunkum”. The figures quoted in my letter about the Rochdale grooming trial (May 24), Julie Bindel and sexual violence were not based on speculation. They reflect the actual number of women contacting Rape Crisis or the Poppy Project/Eaves.

Maybe there have been many people making estimates of these figures to support their own political agendas, but the fact remains that hundreds of women have identified themselves as victims of trafficking into the sex industry. Notice - they identify themselves as having been trafficked. Thousands more disclose our experience of unreported sexual violence. Do you really believe we are all lying? A ludicrous suggestion.

Please point out where I claim that “half of Britain is dominated by gangs of men involved in the systematic abuse of young girls”. I didn’t, because it’s not true. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any, though. Nor did I claim “thousands upon thousands of women” are trafficked into prostitution. Nobody knows how many are involved. But tell us - how many would be acceptable? A thousand? A hundred? One? I only referred to those documented at one specialist agency. Paul seems to be under the impression that we should rely on the state to define our own experience and produce accurate statistics of it. Is this a new slant on Marxist analysis? Did I miss a meeting? Is he unaware that the state has its own agenda to impose immigration quotas, whereas feminists have neither the desire nor the resources to do so? If the immigration office misuses research, blame them, not feminists.

Paul refers to my implied affiliation to “liberal, ‘radical’ feminism”. Is he aware that these comprise two distinct and often conflicting strands of thought, neither of which I support? But I’m not so blinkered as to dismiss all research produced by them. He indicates that feminists demand state repression as a solution, but offers no evidence for this. His claim that feminists view pornography and, particularly, prostitution as violence against women is true. We do, because it is. Paul briefly discusses and dismisses the idea that pornography and ‘lads mags’ have any associations with violence against women. He is probably unaware of recent research at the University of Surrey which concluded there was little difference in ‘lads mags’ attitudes to women from those of convicted sex offenders and they therefore do normalise those attitudes and behaviours.

The sex industry marks the conflation of personal libertarianism with neoliberal economics - two buttocks of the same arse. Socialists show no comparable commitment to individual commercial ‘choice’ in any other sphere. The facts of prostitution include the following: 70% of prostitutes have been in care, 45% were sexually abused as children, around 90% are drug users, 68% fit criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Clearly, many would be described as vulnerable by any reasonable person. More than half are subjected to sexual violence.

Please indicate the ways in which you think these women will benefit from their involvement in the ‘sex’ industry. Do you think the average punter will suddenly develop a deep respect for women if you achieve your dream of decriminalisation?

The forthcoming Radical Feminist Conference has been designated an all-women event because women attending feel more comfortable discussing some issues (eg, sexual violence) without the presence of men. Can you guess why that might be, Paul? And hold that thought when you consider whether Paula Witherspoon, a convicted sex offender now identifying as a transwoman, would be welcome in that discussion. There is no necessity for a biological man to have surgery or hormone treatment before he can be legally considered to be a woman, just the support of one doctor. (We need two doctors to approve an abortion, by the way.) But an invited feminist speaker has been refused entry by Conway Hall because she may offend trans people by her political position on transgenderism. Finally, you mention penis-in-vagina sex. It is true that most mainstream sex researchers identify PIV intercourse as being sexually unsatisfactory for about 75% of women. It can lead to sexually transmitted infections more easily passed male to female, pregnancy and childbirth (both carry risks for women), and is frequently a feature of sexual violence as a weapon of war. But you are apparently mystified why anyone would criticise its ideological dominance.

The observant reader will note that my statements are supported by research, not mere opinion or “wild distortions”. In that sense they can be considered statements of fact. Paul states that his refusal to accept the validity of this research does not mark him out as “a card-carrying hater of women”. It certainly doesn’t mark you out as the go-to guy for women’s liberation.

No go-to guy
No go-to guy


I think Mike Macnair misses the main point of my letter (April 19) in relation to the Labour Party and building a mass workers’ party.

Mike says: “The quotation [from the Communist manifesto] makes clear that comrade Bough’s inference does not follow. The society is in process of change, and in consequence the dominant ideas are themselves in process of change: the process of change raises up negations to them and they do not go unchallenged” (‘Overcoming the enemies within’, May 17).

But my argument does follow precisely from this! Material changes in society do indeed proceed “behind men’s backs” and produce changed social relations and changed sets of ideas. But the point is precisely what kinds of social relations, and what ideas? It is the implication from Mike’s argument here that tends towards “determinism”, not mine. The implication of his statement above is that the “negations” are in some way inherently socialist, but it is that which does not at all follow.

As Engels makes clear in his letter to Bloch: “… history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces … which give rise to one resultant - the historical event.” And the result of all these “intersecting forces” can just as easily be workers arriving at reactionary or simply bourgeois reformist ideas as revolutionary socialist ideas. In fact, they are more likely to be led to the former than the latter, because the former by their nature tend to be reproduced and reinforced by the daily life of the worker. It is precisely for this reason that Marx based his ideas on fusing revolutionary ideas with the mass movement.

It’s in that context that I was arguing, “A workers’ party can act via a dynamic, dialectical interaction with the class to stimulate the class struggle, but it cannot substitute for it.” In other words, the workers’ party - and, more specifically, the Marxists within that party - can help the workers to draw out the lessons of the experiences they go through, and from that can attempt to direct them towards appropriate solutions. These in turn change the material conditions - ie, new cooperative and democratic forms - which enhance the workers’ position vis-à-vis capital, and which in the process also replace the conditions the workers daily face of a competition of all against all, which lead them to the adoption of those reactionary or reformist ideas. And, of course, the extent to which the workers are able to advance on this basis, and to develop their party, their trade unions, etc, these too form a change in the material conditions existing in society.

Mike continues: “In the first place, ‘Marxists do not believe in a parliamentary socialism’ muddles the difference between, on the one hand, the belief in a socialism introduced within the framework of the constitution; and, on the other, the idea that communists winning an electoral (not necessarily a parliamentary) majority might be a decisive moment in the end of today’s ‘capitalist old regime’.”

I don’t think it does muddle the two. I believe the Marxist position remains that the bourgeoisie would launch an all-out attack on the workers and their party long before any truly revolutionary party was able to win any such election. More importantly, to the extent that such an election victory was not based upon an extra-parliamentary mobilisation of the working class and the establishment of alternative organs of workers’ power - ie, unless this was a situation of dual power and the government was essentially a workers’ government - then such a government would certainly be swept away.

When Mike says, “The task of ‘legitimising the actions of the workers’ therefore involves efforts both to create workers’ press and media, and to delegitimise the existing constitutional order”, what is this other than changing the material conditions within society? And, if this workers’ press and media really is to belong to the workers and achieve those aims, it must actually be the workers who own and control it, and not some sect - however large - substituting itself for them.”

Mike continues: “It [the Labour Party] is a long-established institution controlled by a professional bureaucracy, deeply committed to the British constitution and hence against workers’ democracy.” Which is, of course, true. But it is no more true than it is of the trade unions. So what would Mike conclude from that? Should we then adopt a Luxemburgist approach that relies on the kind of spontaneous arrival at socialist ideas that is inherent in Mike’s argument above?

Mike says: “The problem with this narrative is that it is flatly false history. Outside Britain, the German Social Democratic Party was created when the 1875 fusion of ‘Eisenachers’ and ‘Lassalleans’, which Marx and Engels opposed, gave the fused group the ‘critical mass’ to go beyond thousands to tens of thousands.”

But I was not suggesting that a mass workers’ party could only be built by the trade unions. I was suggesting that Marxists had to go to the mass of the workers wherever they were! In Britain, it was in the trade unions and the liberal clubs. Actually, it’s not true that Marx and Engels opposed the fusion of the Eisenachers and the Lassalleans. Marx opposed the Gotha programme, which he believed gave unnecessary concessions to the Lassalleans, but he commented that “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes”. And in his preface to Anti-Dühring Engels makes clear that his main concern for writing it was to minimise the damage to the newly unified organisation that a sectarian split might cause.

But the main point is that the development of the SDP fully conforms with the argument I have put forward. Yes, a mass party was built, but what were the ideas that it pursued? In reality, the ideas that dominated the party were the same ideas that dominated the British Labour Party - Lassallean statism and Fabian reformism. In practice, SPD politicians were not as radical as even this programme would suggest, and the reality also was that, although the party on paper had membership in the millions, the vast majority of the membership were inactive, with local branches being dominated by a small core. The limitations of that were most stark when, in 1914, the party voted to line up with its own bourgeoisie, a position which again only reflected the nationalist sentiment that dominated the German workers, and which again demonstrated the power of the material conditions in shaping their ideas even against the counterweight of such a large workers’ party.

Mike is also factually incorrect when he claims it was “the Georgist electoral movement Engels recommended to Florence Kelley Wischnewetsky”. Engels did no such thing. Quite the opposite. In the US preface to The condition of the working class, Engels commented: “And it seems to me that the Henry George platform, in its present shape, is too narrow to form the basis for anything but a local movement, or at best for a short-lived phase of the general movement.” And, in his letter to Florence Kelley Wischnewetsky, he makes his opposition to sects like George’s even clearer, writing: “The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class; that once obtained, they will soon find the right direction, and all who resist … will be left out in the cold with small sects of their own.”

As for Mike’s comments about the Social Democratic Federation and Independent Labour Party, I think they are equally misplaced. I don’t think it is at all true that it was pressure from sects like the SDF or ILP, let alone their electoral success, that led the TUC leaders to set up the Labour Party. I think it was genuine rank and file pressure from the actual working class, alongside the need to address the attacks that were being waged against them in parliament and in the courts, which brought that about. As Engels pointed out, the Tories were themselves using Hardie to split the Liberal vote, and financed his 1892 election campaign. And, in 1895, when the ILP stood 28 candidates, all of them, including Hardie, were defeated. As for the SDF, I have elsewhere - http://boffyblog.blogspot.co.uk/2008/06/1905-reform-and-revolution.html - described the role played by one of its members, John Ward, who was one of the first Labour MPs, but moved increasingly rightward, recruiting Labour battalions as part of the intervention forces against the Bolsheviks.

Mike says that the CPGB’s position is “to change the relationship of forces both within and outside the Labour Party by uniting itself to fight openly for Marxist politics”. The left’s “refusal to do so is a matter of the subjective choices made by small groups due to a false conception of the ‘revolutionary party’”.

Mike’s conceptions of ‘sect’ and ‘sectarianism’ are completely misplaced. An organisation of one may not be a sect or sectarian, whereas an organisation of a million can be! What makes an organisation sectarian is the fact that it places its own interests above those of the class as a whole. It is not sectarian to remain independent of other sects, and to refuse to join with them, if doing so would mean being tied to their own sectarian attitude to the class. The first responsibility of a Marxist is to the class and its interests.

That means doing whatever can be done to assist the class in its own self-organisation and self-activity, irrespective of the inadequate basis on which it does that at any particular stage. That was why Engels advised the US socialists to work inside the Knights of Labour, and thereby to try to raise its level up. It was the same approach he and Marx took in respect of the workers and the German Democrats, and later in their attitude towards the unification of the Eisenachers and Lassalleans.

If sections of the left can unite, then that is good, but only on the basis of a non-sectarian attitude to the existing working class and labour movement, including the Labour Party.


No free speech

Perhaps CPGB comrades were naive in thinking it was just a question of turning up at Tower Bridge on Sunday to sell a few papers and badges and hand out agitational literature as part of the demonstration organised by Republic at the queen’s silver jubilee pageant. However, security around City Hall that Heathrow would have been proud of prevented us from doing just that.

The authorities were determined that nothing but the tamest of opposition could be tolerated and this came from the liberal Republic group, which had compliantly negotiated before the event to be allowed a presence in a small, cordoned area. They had agreed to be on their best behaviour, even going so far as to wear name badges to identify themselves to the police and security. We were allowed to join them, but were told that we could not do so much as hand out a leaflet - not even to Republic supporters - as we were on “private property”.

Obviously this clampdown goes deeper than mere security to protect the royal family: it is about freedom of speech and basic democratic rights. On the day there was to be only one voice permitted - that of the monarchist establishment. Private property or not, The Sunday Times and Sunday Mail were on sale, with free flags being handed out to customers. Others were selling all sorts of merchandise festooned in red, white and blue. Everyone was encouraged to join in the hullabaloo and opposition to the ‘dear leader’ had to be portrayed as coming from only a handful of killjoys.

The state has demonstrated once again that the right to protest is not permanent. We saw this with the ‘pre-emptive’ arrests before last year’s royal wedding and we will see it again, I guarantee, leading up to the Olympic Games.

No free speech
No free speech

Linke update

I see that at the annual conference of the German left party, Die Linke, on June 2-3, the east German ‘reformer’ (read: rightwinger) Dietmar Bartsch lost his attempt to take over the leadership and pull the organisation further to the right. He got 45.2% and lost to the little-known Bernd Riexinger, who achieved 53.1% (there were also two other candidates).

Riexinger’s main claim to fame is his close friendship with Oskar Lafontaine, the former German finance minister who left the Social Democrats (SPD) to help form Die Linke. Lafontaine, who has moved steadily to the left and is now your archetypical left Keynesian, withdrew his candidature for the top job after Bartsch was not prepared to stand down. Instead, Lafontaine sent his ally into the race - in the knowledge that a victory for Riexinger would be seen as his own, whereas a defeat could have always been blamed on the latter’s lack of profile.

Riexinger, a long-standing organiser in the Verdi trade union, was supported by the more radical left (including the sister organisation of the Socialist Workers Party, Marx21) and all those who are opposed to actively pursuing government coalitions with the SPD - something that Bartsch and his followers, who are mainly located in the east, openly advocate. The left quite rightly argues that as a minority within such a government, the Linke would inevitably have to carry out attacks on the working class. Which, of course, the party has already proved more than once - for example, when it entered a coalition with the SPD in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

That does not mean that Lafontaine and his supporters are principled enough to oppose such government coalitions outright - they have formulated so-called “red holding lines” that “cannot be crossed by the party”, but these do not rule out participation in a capitalist government per se. Nevertheless, the left was right to support Lafontaine (and now Riexinger), as Die Linke has reached something of a crisis point.

The party still has a culture of open debate and allows political platforms to operate openly (although, incredibly, it still does not have its own newspaper and so public debates can only be held via the bourgeois media). But the two wings of Die Linke might not keep it together for much longer. Apparently, the conference was characterised by open hostility, with delegates shouting at each other and speaker after speaker complaining of the “hateful” atmosphere. When the result of the leadership elections was declared, the left spontaneously starting singing ‘The Internationale’ - but with a twist, according to the magazine Der Spiegel: they replaced one of the lines with Ihr habt den Krieg verloren (‘You have lost the war’), which is normally reserved for neo-fascists on demonstrations.

Linke update
Linke update