When I read Jack Conrad’s reply (Letters, March 21) to Camilla Power’s ‘Is feminism a dirty word?’ (March 14), in which he highlighted her self-description as “anarcho-Marxist”, I felt a sudden need to offer prompt support for Camilla. However, I correctly anticipated that comrade Power would require no back-up from anyone, which indeed was the case. She wrote: “… such wooden dichotomies are baggage from our movement’s splintered, tragic past. Communists may have been shooting anarchists in the past, but let’s not go down that road again. I know many anarchists whose intellectual inspiration is Marx” (Letters, March 28).
Political language (indeed all language) uses words that over time automatically become ‘reified categories’ with little (if any?) relationship to the real world; Camilla Power simply restates what was often said, even widely believed, in earlier days of communism, as represented in the words and actions of Josef Dietzgen: “… I lay very little weight on whether a man is an anarchist or a socialist, because it seems to me that too much is made of the difference. If the anarchists have mad and brainless individuals in their ranks, the socialists are blessed with cowards. For this reason I care as much for the one as the other. The majority in both camps are still in great need of education, which will of itself bring about a reconciliation.”
Remember, Dietzgen speaks as one of the ‘founders’ of what we might call ‘Marxist thought’; he was a life-long revolutionary, involved in the 1848 revolutions, who fled to America, where he propagated Marx’s Communist manifesto. Home again, in Germany, he settled down to theoretical work, and greatly impressed Marx and Engels: his philosophical essays explored the nature of cognition, the apparent contradiction between ‘thinking’ and ‘being’, ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ - topics explored by Marx in his 1844 manuscripts.
For us today, in the 21st century, these old campaigners are just names; after years of Stalinism, they are marginally remembered, often as footnotes in Marxist classics; their differences of opinion, their rival groupings, inevitably viewed as abstract entities related only to dehumanised ghosts from the distant past, totally unrelated to real human beings who fought their battles.
A delegate to the international congress at the Hague 1872, Dietzgen was introduced to the assembly by Marx, with the words: “Here is our philosopher”; in 1881, he was nominated as candidate for the Reichstag. It was on April 20 1886 that Dietzgen composed the paragraph with which I opened. When the Haymarket bomb exploded and the staff of the anarchist paper, Chicagoer Arbeiterzeitung, were arrested and condemned to the scaffold for their opinions (none were involved in the bombing), Dietzgen promptly offered his services to the paper, assuming the post of chief editor.
In a letter to a friend, he wrote: “I call myself an ‘anarchist’ in this article - we shall not arrive at the new society without serious struggles … I believe in ‘anarchy’ as a stage of transition. Dyed-in-the-wool anarchists pretend that anarchism is the final stage of society - to that extent they are madcaps, who think they are the most radical people, but we are the real radicals who work for the communist order above and beyond anarchism. The final aim is socialist order, not anarchist disorder.”
The part of Nick Rogers’ statement (Letters, March 28) which says that “The whole working class - men and women - must be remade as a female-led (not exclusively female) coalition” shows him to be a non-alpha, feminised male making political statements without any reflection.
It is time for feminised males like Nick Rogers to realise that non-feminised men do not want to be led by people on the basis of their gender. Their support for female equality and opposition to the idea of male supremacy in no way obliges them to support feminist ideology. Personally I have no desire to subordinate one sex to the other, as the non-alpha, feminised males seem to wish do.
I believe feminism to be mostly a false ideology which does not recognise the interdependence between males and females. Of course, I realise that feminism is a wide church with its own lunatic fringe. For instance, the most extreme feminist elements preach gender apartheid and argue that women must get men out of their heads and out of their beds - a truly interesting, evil proposition for anyone who wants to bring about the end of the human race.
However, what all feminists, both moderate and extreme, have in common is that they forget, or do not see, that the foundations of the comforts of the easy living which most women enjoy today in the more developed societies depend exclusively on male labour. When last did anyone see a group of females building houses for the feminists to live in? When last did anyone see a group of females making roads, laying down pavements, or rail tracks to make travel easy for the feminist? When last did anyone see a group of female workers digging for coal in the mines, getting oil and gas to provide most of the energy for the feminist, and on which modern life depends?
Furthermore, no female-friendly society would want women to do this type of labour. Without exclusively male labour providing the material foundations, modern civilisation would not be possible and the living standards of our feminists, not to mention the rest of us, would be at a miserable level. Existence would be a brute struggle for survival with no room for feminist fantasies. This is why feminism is mostly a false ideology not based on material or even psychological realities. When feminists understand that women need male labour more than males need female labour, they may begin to reconnect with reality.
However, to live really comfortably, both men and women need each other’s labour. Let the feminists put this in their pipe and smoke it. No pun intended. Any worthwhile socialist discourse about female-male relations must be based on recognition of their mutual interdependence.
During a recent trip to Sheffield, a comrade recounted a weird episode that highlighted for me some of the absurdities - and real dangers - that are implicit in the ‘safe space’ scaremongering currently being whipped up by sections of the left.
My comrade and two members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty - female and male - were leafleting a government building in the centre of the city on an employment victimisation case. Things were proceeding as these things generally do until Maxine Bowler - prominent Socialist Workers Party activist and central committee loyalist - pitched up and disappeared into the building.
The female AWL comrade was instantly alarmed: “What’s she doing here?” she asked, clearly disconcerted. “Er, she probably has a meeting here,” someone said. The AWL comrade was not reassured at all, however, that comrade Bowler must surely have some legitimate business on the premises and claimed that comrade Bowler’s individual presence in this large building made her feel “not safe”: here was a ‘rape denier’ - she is a member of the ‘rape denying’ SWP disputes committee, after all. This was no flippant remark: I’m told that the AWL comrade was obviously upset and appeared at one point to be on the verge of tears. So I’m certainly not questioning her sincerity here; quite another thing is the supposed threat that Maxine Bowler represents to other women. Seriously, what did the AWLer think comrade Bowler’s presence portended?
Perhaps the ‘sleeper’ male rapists amongst the hundreds working in the building would suddenly be activated when they spotted Maxine in the lift, knowing that they could now assault women in their workplace and then scuttle along to this SWP comrade for an alibi and a character reference? Was it perhaps being suggested that comrade Bowler herself represented some sort of physical threat to the women there? Really, what nonsense - and potentially dangerous nonsense.
At one point, incredibly, the AWLer actually proposed that security staff be approached to deal with comrade Bowler! Did she want this SWPer expelled from the building? Should a posse of vigilant guards have shadowed this dangerous fiend around until her business was concluded, then firmly deposit her onto the pavement? Why muck about? Why not simply phone the police and make the world a marginally ‘safer space’ for women by having Bowler (along with the rest of the SWP majority) banged up?
Let’s stop this, comrades. The problem is not that comrade Bowler - or the revolutionary organisation to which she is loyal - deny rape, despite the shockingly badly bungled and crassly insensitive way a recent accusation was handled by the leadership and its disputes committee. The problem is that the bureaucratic centralist regime that holds sway in the SWP - with the consent and connivance of comrades like Maxine Bowler - disempowers the membership and creates an inner-party regime where gross abuses of power by an unaccountable apparatus (yes, including rape) are made potentially easier.
Incidentally, this is the point of the ‘Rape is not the problem’ headline in our March 14 issue that some comrades have baulked at. The problem with the SWP is its semi-Stalinist internal regime, not a generalised culture that pooh-poohs the notion that women are sexually assaulted: a rape accusation was a trigger to the crisis, not the cause. We need to call for a democratic revolution in organisations like the SWP and use every opportunity we can grab to engage with its members to agitate for it. Its exile from the workers’ movement would be a disaster - for all of us, actually.
I’m sure some comrades will accuse me of ‘not taking rape seriously’, of trivialising the real distress of this AWLer or of using language that unconsciously reveals sexist assumptions. I flatly reject all that. In fact, it seems clear to me that politics of the sort that engender the type of brittle, irrational and childlike response of this individual AWL woman to the deadly serious question of rape are actually the trivialising element in all of this.
What is certainly not serious is to react to the appearance of ‘bogey woman’ Bowler - or any other SWPer, people who are our comrades in a common movement - as if the wicked witch of the north has just touched down at the head of a squadron of flying monkeys.
It is telling that Peter Manson chooses a 1903 quote to demonstrate Lenin’s inclusiveness for factions (‘Loach makes his bid for unity’, March 28). After all, Lenin himself was merely part of one faction within a much broader Russian Social Democratic Party at the time.
For a different appraisal of Lenin’s attitude to party dissent, may I refer to the 11th Party Congress and how, in the context of the Cheka and Kronstadt, it was perhaps understandable that members of the Workers’ Opposition did not regard it as a jest when reference was made to the use of machine guns against those criticising the New Economic Policy. Lenin had to explain he really had in mind party disciplinary measures, and not machine guns as such. I doubt Kollontai and Shlyapnikov were rolling about the aisles in fits of laughter at Lenin’s levity.
The Manson defence of Lenin’s tolerance of dissent was almost as funny as Paul Smith declaring it was only Stalin who defined ownership in purely juridical terms (‘Stalinism, sectarianism and Marxist education’, March 28). If Smith sincerely advocates the Marxist analysis, he should be aware that Lenin and Trotsky were also guilty of the same thing. All three Bolsheviks regressed to a position akin to what Marx called vulgar communism, where the condition of the labourer is not abolished: it is extended to all individuals. It is a simple community of labour, where prevails equality of wages paid by the universal capitalist.
I’m puzzled that Peter Manson’s article was focused more on the SWP debacle than on Ken Loach’s Left Unity project.
If this gets off to a more solid footing, it should be because Left Unity eschews ‘organic’ trade union links and imports the more ‘populist’ continental worker-class movement model from the old SFIO to the old German and Austrian social democracies. It should be because Left Unity popularises ‘precarious’ and ‘precariat’ as the non-unionised alternative to the 99%. It should be because Left Unity learns from grassroots organisation by Syriza extending to solidarity networks and everything else from the pre-World War I SPD model.
Have radicalised British workers and disillusioned former Labour-supporting workers found their version of Oskar Lafontaine, Jean-Luc Mélenchon or even Sergei Udaltsov?
SWP, SWP, SWP
Protesting against the massive austerity wave choking the European working class, around 15,000 protestors rallied on March 14 in Brussels, as the European Council summit was taking place. “No to austerity! Yes to jobs for young people!” the leaders of the main European trade unions demanded, while others were campaigning to “abolish all austerity laws and treaties”.
On the weekend of March 16-17 in Britain, 52 protests against the ‘bedroom tax’ were organised and several other actions took place. As the SWP’s Party Notes states, anti-austerity protests must be supported but, as numerous and strong as they may become, such protests are not enough: the need for a mass working class political party, which is obvious for us Marxists, must be met and the word spread among protestors.
Now you have the Left Unity project, which claims to have gathered 5,000 supporters. Is it another left-reformist diversion? The first step towards a new ‘Socialist Alliance’? A halfway house project?
At a meeting in Paris last weekend, a handful of Marxist comrades came together from different places -including one from Britain. The British comrade asked: “I’d like to know what the Weekly Worker would say about all that; these are real questions that I am trying to discuss with organisers in my town - mainly left Labour elements, but also members of far-left groups (SWP, SP, etc). But, when I read the Weekly Worker, as you have suggested, what are they talking about? SWP, SWP, SWP. Is the SWP the only ‘real world’ for them?”
I had just signed the paragraphs above when the last issue came out with a full-page article by Peter Manson titled ‘Loach makes his bid for unity’ (March 28). Unfortunately, even here, three quarters of the article was devoted to ... the SWP and its opponents! Surely, the left unity call and related actions such as the anti-austerity assembly and the ‘bedroom tax’ campaign deserve fuller treatment in the Weekly Worker?
SWP, SWP, SWP
SWP, SWP, SWP
Next to leading the October revolution, perhaps Lenin’s greatest contribution to Marxism was to place the communist movement squarely on the side of the other great revolutionary current of the 20th century: the revolt of the colonial and semi-colonial masses against their oppressors. The Comintern’s position on the national question was based upon the proposition that a movement that opposes the division of society into classes must also fight against the division of the world into dominant and subject nations.
In a recent article, Mike Macnair calls into question the value of Lenin’s contribution (‘No inherent connection with the working class’, March 21). He argues that Lenin’s belief that imperialism was the final stage of capitalism led him to regard the national bourgeoisie of underdeveloped countries, barred from becoming top-tier world capitalists by huge imperialist monopolies, as ‘natural allies’ of the proletariat, with whom it was possible to form ‘strategic alliances’. Lenin’s reasoning, Macnair claims, forms the basis of the ‘anti-imperialist united front’ that dominated communist thinking throughout the 20th century, and continues shape the attitudes of anti-imperialist movements today.
I won’t attempt to evaluate Macnair’s larger argument concerning Lenin’s thinking on imperialism. I must, however, take exception to his misrepresentations of the position of Lenin, Trotsky and the early Comintern on national and colonial questions - a surprising error on the part of someone so thoroughly steeped in the history of the socialist movement. Macnair considers Comintern policy to be the theoretical basis for the class collaboration of later years and decades, which led to such disasters as the Shanghai massacre of 1927 and Indonesian bloodbath of 1965, as well as the fount of more recent leftwing infatuations with third-world figures like Khomeini, Chávez and Ahmadinejad. This is like blaming Lenin for Stalin and Pol Pot.
Early Comintern formulations on the anti-imperialist struggle were admittedly ambiguous. The term ‘anti-imperialist united front’ could be construed to mean either short-term tactical combinations with the national bourgeoisie, or a longer-term strategic alliance. The Comintern nevertheless insisted on the strict programmatic and organisational independence of communist parties in countries of belated development. Its policies were completely incompatible with either prolonged communist membership in bourgeois nationalist parties - of the kind that led to the massacre of thousands of Chinese workers at the hands of the Kuomintang - or joining with such parties in governing coalitions - as did the Indonesian communists prior to their sanguinary downfall. Nor did the Comintern ever assist in puffing up the populist pretensions of third-world strongmen.
In response to the 1927 Shanghai debacle, Trotsky for the first time generalised his theory of permanent revolution to include the underdeveloped world as a whole. He also attempted to resolve lingering ambiguities concerning the anti-imperialist united front. His writings on China are an extended polemic against the notion of any kind of strategic alliance of the proletariat with the national bourgeoisie. He argues that communist collaboration must be restricted to short-term tactical agreements, usually in situations of military conflict between imperialist powers and the peoples and governments of subject nations. Under these circumstances, Trotsky thought it advantageous for communists and nationalists to agree to point their guns at their more powerful common enemy rather than at each other.
Should the nationalists renege, and join the imperialists in firing upon communists (as has happened many times), the latter could seize the opportunity to expose the local bourgeoisie as betrayers of the cause of national emancipation to which they claim to be committed, and to which communists must be genuinely committed, where national oppression exists. If the national question eclipses class struggle in the eyes of the masses, which it invariably does among oppressed nations and peoples, it is the task of communists to prove to the masses in practice - not merely to proclaim in words - that the path to the nation’s freedom runs through proletarian revolution. Military support, in other words, is a tactic for undermining the leadership of the national bourgeoisie, not, as interpreted by Stalinists and others, an invitation for long-term collaboration until the far-off day of national deliverance. It was conceived as a means of cashing in, not as an excuse for selling out.
The CBGB has difficulty with the tactic of military, as opposed to political, support. You claim that communists should oppose bourgeois nationalists and imperialists equally alike. Macnair argues that Trotsky was mistaken when he called for the defence of Abyssinia in the Italian invasion of 1935-36 because the country’s emperor, Haile Selassie, was subservient to the British. But I have often wondered how the CPGB thinks Marxists should have acted with regard to anti-colonial revolts.
Several years ago, I wrote an article in this paper criticising James Connolly for joining the Easter Rising in Dublin on nationalist, as opposed to revolutionary socialist, terms. But do the CPGB think he should not have joined at all? Are you suggesting that Lenin was wrong in siding with the rebels of 1916 against the British empire, or that Karl Radek, the then Luxemburgist against whom Lenin waged a polemic, was right in regarding the rising as a diversion from the class struggle? Should Connolly and his Irish Citizen Army have been neutral? Should Algerian and French communists in the 1950s have even-handedly denounced the French government and the FLN? The Macnair-CPGB position is badly in need of clarification on this score.
The national question is posed today in terms quite different from those of the early Comintern era. The kinds of countries it mainly involves - eg, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela - are not typically colonies or semi-colonies (in addition to the fact that none contain communist parties of any size, which gives the whole discussion a rather abstract character). Yet these states have been historically consigned to a subordinate place within the American/European-dominated hierarchy of states. For stepping out of line, they are beset by economic sanctions, coup attempts, military threats and - in the case of Iraq - an actual invasion.
These regimes may be enemies of the working class, but they are hardly enemies equal in strength to imperialism, as the masses of these countries are keenly aware. The slogan of revolutionary defeatism on both sides is oddly inappropriate when applied to adversaries so unevenly matched. To align oneself on the field of battle with a weaker foe to defeat a stronger one, in order to defeat the weaker one later, seems a matter of tactical common sense, theories of imperialism aside.
Greens left me
The reformist Greens are a party rife with opportunism who have gained electoral success through the shamelessly repeated lie that they are ‘anti-cuts’. The opportunist moves the Green Party have made, and the general direction the party is moving in, are unacceptable.
Hence on March 14 I resigned from the party after being a member since September 28 2011. Whilst in the party, I became the youngest ever chairman of a local party in Central Lancashire Green Party, at the age of 16, and became the youngest ever member on the Young Greens national committee at 17.
In 2011, the Greens made significant gains in the local elections. In Brighton, the Greens gained 10 councillors, taking the party’s overall tally to 23, making the Greens the largest party on the council and enabling them to form a minority administration. One could be excused for thinking that a supposedly ‘anti-cuts’ party taking control of a local council during times of austerity would result in illegal budgets, occupations, radical direct action and the establishment of a nationwide organisation against the cuts. Sadly, this is not what the Greens did. Instead they condemned themselves to opportunism, as have all other electoralist parties before them, by forming an administration which is passing cuts as we speak. The ‘anti-cuts’ Greens have set a budget for the 2013-14 financial year which includes £10.8 million worth of cuts, with the council website claiming that over the next four years the council will ‘save’ between £20-£25 million per year.
Despite my fundamental differences with the Greens, I recognise that they are the only left-of-Labour political party in England that appear to have a stable support base with representation in both the national and European parliaments. The left are constantly forming new parties, such as Respect, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Socialist Alliance, etc, in the hope that they will gain vast support in a relatively short space of time.
Whilst I am no longer an electoralist, in any sense of the word, I am also not so dogmatic as not to recognise that concessions can be won via bourgeois parties. The Greens are the only party with parliamentary representation that have a clear policy on abolishing the monarchy; the Greens are also one of the only parties with parliamentary representation against nuclear weapons and are for the immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Greens have also allowed for permanent factions to be formed, such as the wonderfully anti-capitalist, ecosocialist faction, the Green Left (which I urge all Green Party members to join).
Whilst I may vote Green, I will be clear in no uncertain terms that the Greens are bourgeois reformists. The party is currently in the vice-like grip of opportunists and, after 533 days of loyal service within the Green Party of England and Wales, I had to announce to my family and comrades that the Greens had left me.
Greens left me
Greens left me
I am an online reader of the Weekly Worker. As such, I usually read the pdf version on the CPGB website. However, I have recently noticed that the Weekly Worker no longer asks readers to become supporters of the CPGB. Similarly, on the CPGB website, the link for people wanting to join is hidden away at the bottom right-hand corner of the website. Does this mean that the CPGB is no longer looking for people to join or become active supporters?
I have also been reading The Leninist archive. It seems to me that, in contrast to The Leninist, the Weekly Worker no longer aims to develop a party culture and loyalty amongst its rapidly expanding readership. This, in my opinion, is a big mistake. Not all readers of the Weekly Worker live in London and are able to attend the London Communist Forum, where the Provisional Central Committee gives its weekly political report. Such readers have to listen to the podcasts instead.
It seems to me that producing the Weekly Worker each week has led to a form of routinism, whereby it has been forgotten that the paper is there to build the party, just like the scaffolding around a building under construction. Also, the Weekly Worker, as pointed out by the editor, is produced entirely by voluntary labour. This contrasts with Lenin who, in his famous book, What is to be done?, argued for paid professional revolutionaries who would work full-time for the Marxist party.
The Weekly Worker’s coverage of the crisis within the SWP has been marvellous. However, it is not good enough to expand the readership of the Weekly Worker. It is necessary to increase the number of active CPGB supporters and members. Whilst I’m not advocating the CPGB exactly copy the SWP, who never cease asking people to ‘Join the socialists’ and where membership is like a revolving door, there is much that the CPGB can learn from the SWP by putting recruitment at the centre of all activity.
I would like to make a few comments about the content of the Weekly Worker. As the PCC explains, the centre of the world revolution will occur across Europe, following the establishment of a Communist Party of the European Union. However, it would be good to read articles by correspondents who live in North America, especially those living in the United States, given that Obama is making $500 billion of cuts in the state budgets. I would also like to read about what is happening in China.
Lastly, the news that Ed Miliband’s brother, David, is leaving UK politics for a high-powered job in New York is very significant. It shows that the Labour Party is gradually moving to the left. This means that coverage of developments in the Labour Party should be stepped up.