We were right
Many thanks for the plaudits handed out by Andrew Northall (Letters, November 29), but I’d like to address a few of his other points.
The two branches that were expelled from the Socialist Party of Great Britain were in breach of the party’s democratically decided rules and decisions. It is not ridiculous or sectarian to expect members of an organisation to abide by its constitution and, in the face of persistent defiance, to carry out expulsions, despite continued adherence to the organisation’s aims and objectives.
There appears to be a slight contradiction in ex-comrade Northall’s letter. He writes that “the SPGB is of the view that capitalism will of itself generate the political and socialist consciousness required to take the necessary revolutionary action to establish socialism”, but later states “socialism is to come via the SPGB”.
To answer, the SPGB won’t make the revolution - the working class will. The Socialist Party is a propaganda group, agitating for socialist principles within the working class. That means a materialist understanding of the world and the way it functions. We understand that ideas and consciousness come from our interaction with the real world, not from the outside. From our perspective, people’s ideas change as a result of the struggles they engage in. If that were not the case, there would be little point in our engaging in propaganda or activism - we simply would be unable to convince the huge number of people in the world of our ideas. Likewise it is obvious the workers of the world won’t just wake up one fine morning, decide capitalism is bollox and become socialists. We’d be very poor materialists if we failed to realise that ideas are produced by the material and social conditions of the day. But, even so, ideas themselves do carry weight and are worth engaging with. We strive to educate people, not ignore their ignorance.
In regards to the ‘Great’ October ‘Socialist’ Revolution, the SPGB does consider it to be a bourgeois, not a socialist, revolution and that the bourgeois nature of the revolution made it historically necessary, not some kind of mistake or betrayal. We simply point out that the level of productive forces in the Soviet Union forced them into the world market and into the capitalist system. The dictatorship over the proletariat, rather than the dictatorship of the proletariat, was a product of the conditions Lenin had to deal with (our 1924 obituary of Lenin makes this clear - http://goo.gl/pytRc). The directives of the Third International imposing its Russian model had little application in the western industrialised capitalist countries. Rewrite and revise history, nit-pick and cherry-pick the facts, but the SPGB analysis has proved to be overall the correct one.
If the SPGB erred in not accepting “the evolution of capitalism into its decadent phase of imperialism”, it is because we await the appropriate convincing evidence of such; nevertheless we’d caution against any theory of the collapse of capitalism that does not include the working class as the principal actors in its ending.
We were right
We were right
Despite claiming to have a monopoly on what socialism is and isn’t, the SPGB have remained largely irrelevant to the working classes of the world. As for that Socialist Studies lot, they are just a disgruntled group of around 20, who left the party in 1991 and their raison d’être seems to be to attack the larger SPGB, to whom they sneeringly refer as the ‘Clapham SPGB’. They don’t do much apart from run a website.
The Clapham-based SPGB is very wealthy and has its own headquarters and monthly journal, yet still fails to get more than a handful of votes whenever it stands. Both groups will always talk about the successes they have had. If over 100 years of failure is what they count as success, I’d hate to see what they class as failure. Mind you, they’d make good spin doctors. No matter how much the working class ignore them, they continue to believe that they know what is best for them.
Liberal notions of justice take private property for granted, treat ownership as a natural right and, more fundamentally, as a natural condition. Any effort to undermine this institution is characterised as unjust. For the liberal, the status quo is obviously just, saving for the want of a few minor tweaks. But, of course, there is nothing just about a tiny coterie of monopoly proprietors lording it over the masses, disposing of the fruits of their labour and privately appropriating the profits.
How can there be anything just about a society in which the pure chance of birth, to whom and where, decides your life chances and indeed the very conditions of your existence? Alas, the rich like to think that they are rich not because of mere chance, but as the result of merit. They are rich either because of the things they are doing in this life or as a reward for the virtues they displayed in a previous one.
However, whilst the one percent clearly believe that they are the deserving rich, and the rest of us by extension are the deserving poor, they utilise every form of bribery, corruption, coercion and violence to maintain their position. Nothing after outrageous fortune has had its initial say is then left to it.
But the ruling class, capitalists and their ruling ideology, liberalism, soon came to be challenged by socialists representing a new class becoming politically conscious of the injustices all around them, which they quickly came to understand were not about good and evil, the virtuous and the sinful, the deserving and the undeserving, but systemic in nature. The man who did most to prove that we live in an unjust society was Karl Marx, the founder of scientific socialism.
His notion of a just society was as revolutionary as it gets. From each, he said, according to their ability and to each, he concluded, according to their needs. A society based on this conception of justice would indeed represent the complete overturning of the capitalist status quo, which, for good measure, Marx also proved was not natural at all, but historically contingent.
Fear of this new class has driven the bourgeoisie first to violence, then bribery, and then attempts at cooption. From ruthless laws and methods of imposing them to buying off sections and layers of the emerging opposition class, to trying to make them partners in the imperialist imprisoning of less fortunate peoples.
In fact, one of the biggest overheads threatening to overwhelm the economy and society nowadays is the cost of trying to make capitalism appear just - ie, the enormous efforts to mitigate the injustice of chance through remedial action, such as welfare, education, social workers and a myriad of other measures that create the illusion of some kind of social mobility or American dream.
The last and final effort to breathe new life into the deluded ideology of social mobility and a sclerotic, monopolised and dying capitalist system was the 30-year Thatcher/Reagan credit bubble-turned-Ponzi scheme that exploded in 2008, leaving the global capitalist system sclerotic, monopolised, bankrupt and dead. This is a system no longer capable of reproducing itself. Austerity and stimulus, the capitalist class’s two ideological responses to the crash (ideological in that what is dead can no longer be saved), represent only the bleeding of a corpse or the attempted resuscitation of a headless cadaver. Behind these two ideologies is the reality of a dash for cash, heading inevitably towards global depression, as the global super-rich and national elites frenziedly try to turn their counterfeit assets into real money, which increasingly means gold.
What was left of liberal notions of justice lies in tatters on the trading floors of Europe, Asia and the USA, and humanity is left asking, ‘What next?’ The answer again comes from Marx, who correctly predicted that in the end it would come down to a choice between socialism or barbarism.
Denuded of their ability to buy social peace, the lucky few can only reverse their policy of bribery and convert to the kind of sustained and ruthless violence that even the medieval dark ages would hesitate before. That is what it will take to maintain a tiny economic and social elite in a sea of undifferentiated global poverty encompassing billions. But it is unlikely that with its new and revolutionary understanding of justice this backlash will, ultimately, succeed.
It is far more likely that today’s lottery, so laughingly called society, will be replaced by the multi-billioned masses with a society where each individual is born into equality. A society where every man and woman is expected to put in a shift at work and at home, a society where there is full employment through the sharing of the available productive work, a society where part-time is the new full-time and each gets a living wage. A society, in short, where each gives according to their abilities and each receives according to their needs.
The South African Communist Party held an augmented central committee meeting over the weekend of December 1-2. Yet, despite all the top brass being present, the SACP in its statement of December 2 failed to call for support for the December 4 farmworkers’ strike.
The concern of the SACP leaders was that workers should not be violent and should not damage property. Not one single word about the armed vigilante groups posing as security companies, nor about the fact that the farm bosses had bought up all the available live ammunition in local gun shops. Is this the voice of the vanguard of the working class? Or of the vanguard of the black capitalists?
The SACP claims that the ‘first phase’ of the democratic transition has passed and now we are in the second phase. The SACP claims that the first phase passed the farms by. This is a complete falsification of events and covers up on the role of the African National Congress capitalists in maintaining slave conditions on the farms.
Billionaire ANC capitalist Tokyo Sexwale is a farm boss, having purchased the Bloemendal farm. We called the management of this farm to find out if they were willing to pay a minimum of R150 [£10.50] per day to workers. The farm management replied: “We pay above the minimum wage, but to ask for R150 per day is a ridiculous ask.” There you have it, from the horse’s mouth: the ANC capitalists are not prepared to end slave conditions on the farms.
We also called the ‘black economic empowerment’ (BEE) director of KWV, the biggest wine exporter in the country, Khutso Mampeule. We asked him, seeing that Phetogo Investments, of which he is head, has received a R120 million [£8.5 million] cash injection from the Industrial Development Corporation, whether they would be prepared to take a stand and support a R150 per day minimum on the farms they source their grapes from. Mampeule refused to give any support to any workers’ demand, saying it was “too political”. How strange, Mr Mampeule. It was not too political when you received R120 million in public money, R40 million [£2.8 million] from the wine bosses and R40 million from KWV itself, to enable you to pose as a BEE capitalist parasiting on the continued slave conditions of farm workers.
Did it not occur to the ‘vanguard’ of the working class to question high food prices and the fact that 75% of the cost of food bought in the large retailers goes to the distributor and the retailer itself? And that only between 3% and 10% of the actual cost of food goes to the farmworker?
This was not a ‘democratic advance’ that passed the farmworkers by: it was slave conditions being maintained by the BEE ANC capitalists for a few pieces of silver.
We can understand why the ANC leaders made an amicable settlement not to sing the song, ‘Kill the boer, kill the farmer’, because it means singing that the black boere like Tokyo Sexwale and Valli Moosa, should also be dealt with by the masses. The truth is that the farmers have been killing farmworkers with impunity for centuries - under the ANC government, this is set to continue.
We support an indefinite strike by the farmworkers until their demands are met, but it is essential that the rest of the masses, victims of high food prices, should also support them.
The discussion on what happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin is now pretty much a moot question. No-one in their right mind would now consider Russia or China ‘workers’ states’, but the revolutionary left is still discussing, ‘What hit us?’
There was a period after World War II when the Trotskyist definition, ‘degenerated workers’ state’, seemed unreal. Stalinism was triumphant in eastern Europe and China. I heard Max Shachtman speak in 1955 about the danger of Stalinism conquering the world. Imperialism for him was a lesser evil. He ended up supporting the US bombing of North Vietnam.
However, comrade Paul Flewers misses the dialectical process within Trotsky’s description, ‘degenerated workers’ state’ (‘Sticking with old dogmas that have failed time and again’, November 29). While Shachtman and Tony Cliff emphasised the devastating power of Stalinism, Trotsky was emphasising the inherent weakness of Stalinism. History has since shown that Stalinism is not a viable alternative to capitalism, despite the atrocities. Trotsky brought up dialectics during this discussion, though he did not succeed in linking it up. Stalinism clearly was contradictory - though that did not make it both good and bad, any more than slavery was both good and bad.
The contradictions of Stalinism prevented it from growing and developing the productive forces. There is an analogy in biology: there are many mutations which do not survive - they cannot reproduce or adapt. It would be useless to give each of these mutations the name of a species, since there is no historical hope for them.
The task of revolutionaries is not to stick labels on every process, but to see the internal movement within the process that is often difficult for us to describe, because we are used to our old pre-existing labels.
Doesn’t Mohammed Mursi, having “decreed that no presidential decision can be challenged by the courts until a new constitution is established”, partially address the problem of a politically unaccountable judiciary (‘Showing his true colours’, November 29)?
Really though, with all the historical precedents of conflict between politically accountable executives and ‘legislation from the bench’ by constitutional affairs specialists not themselves politically accountable, I’m surprised that Mursi didn’t split the supreme court in two: one for typical criminal and civil cases that could retain ‘judicial’ independence; and the other dealing specifically with constitutional affairs, but being politically accountable. In countries with proletarian demographic majorities, the minimum programme should have commoner juries in both, but in the other countries, such as Egypt, it would suffice for those dealing with constitutional affairs to be politically accountable to the chief executive via appointment and dismissal.
On that note of proletarian demographic minorities, I find myself in disagreement with comrade Lars T Lih’s article (‘Before and after April 1917’, November 22). I feel he has contradicted what he wrote in earlier papers. Nowhere in those did he mention a “workers’ revolution supported by the peasants” or workers “giving political leadership to the peasants” - a position shared by Leon ‘civil war with the peasantry’ Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg, but not part of old Bolshevism.
“We are on the edge of a political earthquake in British politics. In polling conducted at the weekend, the Respect candidate in the November 29 Rotherham by-election, Yvonne Ridley, has the lead over Labour.” So prophesied Respect [sic] national secretary Chris Chilvers (Letters, November 29).
But there was no earthquake; we weren’t shaken, not even stirred. The final result was Sarah Champion (Labour) 9,866 and Yvonne Ridley (Respect) 1,778.
I don’t know what Chris has been smoking, but I’d like to get my hands on some of it. I also hope that Ms Ridley will finally get treatment for Stockholm syndrome.