Pete McLaren bemoans the fact that of the 15 organisations that have been involved to varying degrees with the Left Unity Liaison Committee (including the CPGB briefly), only one - his own Socialist Alliance - replied to the LULC’s letter of January 17 (Letters, June 14). This expressed “concern about the lack of any real unity” on the left, a dire situation that “will almost certainly leave our class without the coordination needed to combat” the attacks of the ruling class.
I don’t think it will come as too much of a surprise to readers of this paper that the CPGB agrees. Our group has consistently fought for principled left unity and I’m sure that comrade McLaren himself will recall the role we played when we were with him and hundreds of others in the most serious regroupment project of recent years: the original Socialist Alliance. We had many important disagreements with Pete then, but a quick thumb through his copy of Jack Conrad’s Towards a Socialist Alliance party should at least remind him of the concrete measures and proposals we advanced to overcome sectarianism and draw together the constituent parts of the SA. Indeed, if his time is pinched, he could make do with just casting his eye over the cover blurb of the second edition:
“Some comrades in the SA say we should settle for a loose conglomeration of leftwing groups and local campaigns. Others want a ‘relatively durable’ united front ... The SA must become a party ... [The important thing is] creating a genuine party ethos ...” (TSAP October 2001).
So this question posed in the January 17 letter seems to us a little superfluous as far as our group goes: “Does your organisation want to help to promote left unity?” Well, yes. But the implication of the next sentence - that if we do then it is some sort of contradiction that we “no longer attend LULC meetings” - does not follow at all.
The CPGB was quite clear that the destruction of the SA represented the temporary victory of sectarian insularity. The left is now fragmented and bereft of any viable unity projects - certainly not a LULC that, as comrade McLaren’s slightly forlorn letter makes clear, has become the political equivalent of the Mary Celeste. We take no satisfaction from that and recognise the sincerity of Pete’s concerns. It is simply an unfortunate fact of contemporary political life that we must fight patiently to change.
What will not help is if we forget that the most basic requirement of a potential forum for left rapprochement is that serious left organisations actually participate in it, not the phantoms of alliances past.
Well, at least Paul Smith has managed to include some actual data in his response to me this time (Letters, June 7). If only to misrepresent it. First, he says the International Monetary Fund argues that Chinese growth will be cut in half (4.2%), then he quotes the actual figure for this year of 8.5% and then he claims it will fall to 7.5%.
In fact, the IMF’s forecast was based on a worst-case scenario for Europe, and on China taking no counter-action. But let’s assume the worst possible case forecast here. Wow, the world’s second largest economy might only grow by 4.2% (about double the average for the UK during the post-war boom) during a severe cyclical downturn. Capitalism really must be in decline!
In fact, Chinese growth has slowed precisely because the state has reined it back, as the economy was overheating. Comrade Smith claims that China’s growth was all a mirage based on unproductive investment in property. So, its massive and growing trade surplus with the US, and many other parts of the world, had nothing to do with the fact that it is now the major producer of many of the world’s manufactured goods then. The fact that China exports 30% of its output to the US and Europe, and another 30% to Asia, must also be a mirage then, according to comrade Smith.
Comrade Smith objects to me citing a range of countries’ GDP growth. It doesn’t help him. According to the IMF, gross world product rose by 5.1%, 5.2%, 3%, -0.5%, 5.1%, 4.3% and 4.5%, respectively, in the years from 2006 on. GWP is estimated to have risen from $41,000 billion in 2000 to $70,000 billion in 2011. Of all the goods and services produced in man’s entire history, almost 25% have been produced in the last 10 years. This cannot be described even by comrade Smith as unproductive.
Nor can comrade Smith obtain any succour from the labour force data. According to the International Labour Organisation, the global labour force employed in industry has risen by around 30%, and the labour force employed in services has risen by around 35%. In the last 10 years, it has risen by around half a billion. Comrade Smith continues his habit of misrepresenting things when he talks about unemployment, particularly unemployment of rural labourers. He seems to forget that most of these rural labourers were, in fact, previously peasants, and therefore not part of the labour force.
He later questions whether I have read Capital, but he doesn’t seem to have read the bit in it where Marx describes the way in which capitalism in Britain pushed millions of peasants off the land and into the towns to become the working class. He also doesn’t seem to have read the bit there about how during this most productive and dynamic period for British capitalism, it was accompanied by extremely low wages for those workers. He talks about the low wages of Chinese workers, but says nothing about how much their wages have risen. He talks about the lack of a welfare state, but says nothing about how Chinese workers’ health has improved markedly over the last 20 years or so.
Having objected unsuccessfully to these statistics, however, comrade Smith is once again able to provide not one single piece of data of his own to show that capitalism is in decline. The best he is able to come up with is: “The contemporary long-term slump is a result of large corporations saving, not spending. In other words, there is no growth and no boom because capitalists refuse to invest.” But which is it? Is it a slump, which means large falls in output, a massive amount of unsold commodities and mass unemployment on a wide scale, or is it merely, as he says, “no boom”, “no growth”? I’m happy to accept that the EU is experiencing a cyclical slowdown enhanced by the debt crisis, and that US growth has moderated for similar reasons. But slower growth is not a slump, is it? There were at least five such slowdowns in the post-war boom. Unable to show that capitalism has not been growing strongly over the last 10 years, let alone that it has been in serious decline, comrade Smith is forced back into merely claiming that capitalism is experiencing a cyclical downturn. But even that is not producing a global recession.
As for comrade Smith’s comments on abstract labour, I’d suggest it is he that does not understand Marx. In Capital volume I, Marx makes clear that abstract labour is concrete labour stripped of all its specific characteristics. It has to be so in order that there is some common unit of measurement of labour-time. Otherwise, how could the one hour of complex labour spent by the brain surgeon be equated with the one hour of simple labour expended by the machine minder or the one hour of labour expended by the electrician? Abstract labour is the essence of exchange value; it is its measure, and by this means creates it; but the source is the concrete labour embodied in the actual commodity. If comrade Smith doubts that I’d ask him whether, if he were to require brain surgery, he would place the same exchange value on it being performed by a brain surgeon or by a machine minder. If not, where does he think the source of this difference of exchange value resides?
Comrade Smith once again makes his strange statement about me not understanding the difference between productive and unproductive labour, but, as with most of his other statements, provides no substantiation for making it. I can only assume that he is referring to his reformist fetish for state-owned production. I am sure that all of the members of the National Union of Mineworkers who were employed by that state will willingly accept the comrade’s description of them as unproductive workers. Marx’s definition of productive and unproductive was productive of surplus value - ie, exchanging with capital. For Marx and Engels, it does not matter whether this is private capital, joint stock capital, trust capital or state capital.
As I previously cited in response to comrade Smith’s reformist illusions in the capitalist state, Engels makes it abundantly clear: “The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers - proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head.”
I was interested to see the responses (Letters, June 14) to my letter (June 7) about the sex industry.
Dave Douglass questions the quality of the research on female sexuality referred to in my letter. He might like to look at the following sample: Havelock Ellis (1901) speculated that “a woman can find sexual satisfaction in a great number of ways that do not include the sexual act proper [sic], and in a great number of ways, simply because their physical basis is diffused or is to be found in one of the outlying sexual zones.” The Kinsey Institute reports that women rate sexual satisfaction higher than men do and says it’s quite common to find standard sex unsatisfying: “If what you mean by ‘standard’ sex is penis-vagina intercourse, you may be interested to know that quite a lot of women don’t orgasm during intercourse” (July 2011). Masters and Johnson (1966) supported Kinsey’s (1953) research, as did Hite (1970s), who concluded that 70% of women do not find intercourse satisfactory.
That’s a considerable amount of research over more than a century. It all passed Dave Douglass by. Some of it was written by men, though, so is worth taking seriously because they are obviously better qualified to understand female sexuality. Some work on this subject refers to the historical and social context, including the oppression of women, to explain the ideological dominance of specific sexual practices. That ideological dominance is accepted by all serious commentators. Dave referred to his opinion that it did not apply to any of the women he has slept with. Have you ever seen When Harry met Sally, Dave?
John Smithee writes favourably of the great benefits to men of what he calls the “escort” industry. It is probably kinder to refrain from comment, other than to ask how he thinks it benefits women, men with ambitions beyond acting as a life support system for an erection, or the alleged commitment of socialists to gender equality.
In relation to the comrade from the GMB, his associate, Douglas Fox of the International Union of Sex Workers, helpfully outlines the role of the two ‘unions’: “With regard to our industry, the fact that a major union recognises our work as legitimate labour is very important and through the GMB we are able to gain access to government and through the TUC to other union and labour rights organisations … Myself and a small group were given permission by the IUSW/GMB branch to organise the IUSW as a viable campaigning separate group (but still part of the whole). To do all the work we need we are asking for donations or subscriptions and for people to join and get involved ... We have received nearly £1500 in donations, the largest part being from the Conservative Party.”
When Mr Fox refers to “our industry”, he is speaking literally - he is the founder of, and a partner in, Christony Companions escort agency, “the market leader in the North East”. Apart from the IUSW membership including pimps and punters, the Tory Party funding might indicate a problem with full recognition by the labour movement. Just saying.
I look forward to the inevitable deluge of apologist nonsense.
Power of women
Heather Downs’ response (Letters, June 14) to my article, ‘End harassment of sex workers’ (June 7), failed to address its purpose. However, I will first answer some of the points raised in her letter.
I do believe that women are the gatekeepers of sexual morality, but not in the way she thinks. Of course, women have their own sexual desires, but I agree that demand from men for this industry is neither inevitable nor natural. Yes, the focus has always been on prostitution and, yes, there is a market. Whether it is demand for lap-dancing clubs or prostitution, we live in a commodity system, and if people have a need, there will be producers to meet that need. The sex industry is not a marginal issue and I do not support global capitalism’s commodification of the human body.
But in current conditions we have to support women any way we can. And, of course, we have to provide support to women, such as Rebecca Mott, who face dangers and other women who suffer abuse. I don’t deny that all studies demonstrating those dangers are invalidated by methodological inaccuracy. However, there are other dangers, which is why the CPGB calls for decriminalisation of prostitution, and these have to do with the reasons why women enter prostitution. They do so for numerous reasons - for example, because it offers the opportunity to work flexible hours if they have children to look after, to pay the bills (and, of course, drug and alcohol problems are included). But women would not consider prostitution if they were not forced to, just as many workers would not slavishly carry out nine-to-five jobs if they didn’t have to. But, with conditions as they are, prostitution offers some women that little bit of control over their lives.
Decriminalisation would also counter other dangers, such as crimes against prostitutes from vigilante groups, which police frequently fail to investigate, and the inability of women to pursue careers if convicted of prostitution. I don’t deny that there are victims of sex trafficking and I am sure that organisations such as Survivors Connect do good work. However, women, including migrants, do also work in the sex industry voluntarily.
In relation to rape, Heather Downs quotes Melissa Farley about the incidence of prostitutes being raped by clients. However, I suspect there is an agenda with the type of research Farley pumps out, given the fact that she is part-funded by the US government’s anti-trafficking and anti-client programme, which spent $109 million in 2010. This is not to deny rape, but not to the extent that is reported. I could quote figures about violence in the family - for example, wife beating - and this cannot be denied. But it appears that some people are selecting which crimes to panic about rather than take a balanced view about violence in general.
Furthermore, decriminalisation would afford prostitutes basic human rights, such as particular forms of healthcare which they might not currently access for fear of arrest, and to report non-consensual acts to the police.
Of course, men are not inevitably sexual predators - a Machiavellian primate living in Africa maybe? But what made us human was our ability to overcome dominance through the power of women’s collective solidarity imposing an egalitarian morality, and it is only through working class solidarity that we can again overcome exploitation. I am sure that Heather Downs understands this.
Power of women
Power of women
Michael Copestake’s report of the recent Communist Students conference provided an accurate reflection of the opinions and viewpoints expressed over the course of the two-day gathering (‘Opposition fails to show’, June 14). However, I feel that the caption chosen for his article - “Next spark will not be fees and cuts” - was out of step with both the picture above it (ie, the inspirational Quebec protests against the introduction of tuition fees!) and the general consensus that emerged amongst CS comrades on this question.
Most comrades at the conference felt that, given the turmoil through which the world is currently passing, it would be quite surprising if we did not see another series of student walkouts, protests, occupations and suchlike in the coming academic year. While comrades hypothesised about what precisely could initiate such stirring on campuses, I do not recall any comrade arguing that anything was automatically ruled in or out - including the question of fees and cuts.
Comrade Copestake’s article described this discussion in the cautious language necessary when engaging in conjecture about the future: “… comrades generally agreed that, unless there was another change in government higher education policy, the ‘spark’ for renewed student activity was unlikely to be fees and cuts” (emphasis added). The only predictable thing about student politics is its unpredictability - especially in times like these.