Piss and wind

I’ve come to the conclusion that the CPGB has hired Eddie Ford as a human bomb detector, stomping his way through political minefields with his fingers in his ears.

Eddie on Churchill draws the conclusion that the public at large has seen the decision to stick Churchill on the new fivers as “unproblematic” (‘A reactionary bigot’, May 2). He then bounces to still greater heights of assumption and concludes that the working class has no collective memory, and the lack of protest indicates a lack of class-consciousness. He contrasts this, on the other hand, to the widespread outpouring of rage in traditional working class communities against the eulogising of Thatcher. Then, by way of an exception to prove his rule, he notices that in south Wales Churchill is still hated due to his actions and attitudes to the miners.

Of course, Eddie’s conclusions are nonsense and based on nothing more than the view out of his bedroom window. Traditional working class communities across the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland hate Churchill, and there is a rich collective memory alive and well almost everywhere - though I can’t speak for the south-east corner of England from where Eddie and the Weekly Worker take their world view. Bedtime stories for children growing up in the pit communities of the north, rather than ‘Goldilocks and the three bears’, tended to be ‘Churchill and the 26 lockout’, and we were weaned on things he allegedly said about us: “Drive them back down their holes like rats” and “We will make them eat grass”. We were raised on jokes about him and Lady Astor and a whole folklore of tales abounded, most of them (probably) factually untrue, about his cruel and heartless actions against the miners, the class in general, soldiers and people around the world. Churchill, I can assure Eddie, is still regarded as a fiend quite at bad as Thatcher.

It is important to note that coal communities objected very strongly to various previous attempts to eulogise Churchill - I remember how, during attempts at a national fundraising drive to build a monument by popular subscription, collectors stopped trying to go door to door in the Tyneside and Wearside pit communities for fear of life and limb. This fiver question is a different matter. Firstly they never consult us on who we want on the currency, but it isn’t a yardstick of class-consciousness or a sign of failing class memory.

However it’s Eddie’s May 16 article on global warming I really wish to take issue with. I’ll confine myself to two points.

Firstly the assertion that CO2 is the most damaging greenhouse gas. According to Time magazine, methane is one of the worst, if not the worst, source of greenhouse impacts. Miners do not produce this on any scale, although it is a by-product of coal mining, but mass and widespread global meat production does. Slurry, made up of manure and urine, contains high levels of ammonia, which encourages the bacteria that produce acid to thrive. This directly contributes to acid rain. Slurry can be 100 times more polluting than untreated domestic sewage. Silage effluent is 200 times more polluting.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, there is the ongoing destruction of the earth’s forests, mostly to make way for the animals. The destruction of the rain forests and areas of dense vegetation in ancient woods and tundra is producing a spiral of desertification and killing the lungs of the planet, taking away the ability of the earth to change the CO2 into oxygen and maintain a balance of breathable air.

The single most important factor in the whole ‘global warming’ process is this feature: destruction of forests, desertification, animal meat production. We have yet to see anything like the clamour directed at this as is directed at coal mining. Odd when you consider that replanting the woodlands and stopping the ongoing destruction could be achieved in a very brief period if the will was there.

Next is transport, private cars, planes - not simply their emissions, but also the road building devastation which accompanies them. These too eat up the oxygen-producing vegetation of countryside and woodlands. Could this be addressed by a return to public transport, mass transit rail systems fuelled on clean power? The by-product of the clean-coal hydrogenation process is hydrogen - an inert gas which can be used to fuel mass public transit systems without pollution. Again it requires only the will.

Finally, yes, there is the burning of coal up the chimneys of mass-polluting coal power stations. Actually, the expansion of coal production is being led by the developing countries - China, India and countries like Vietnam. Not “growth for growth’s sake”, as Eddie says, but for basic features of life we have enjoyed in the west for over a century.

We as miners unions have fought against this waste of our labour and fuel for a century. Clean-coal power is possible and the development of these systems focus at present on carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants. As I never tire of preaching, it isn’t the mining of coal which is the problem, but the method used to extract power from it. We already have, and have had for some time, the science and technology required to burn coal without CO2 emissions. What is lacking is the political will and funding to develop them.

Ed Davies, the energy secretary, presiding over the suicidal game of ‘principle’, insists that in the long run, with alternative forms of energy, it will all be cheaper. Indeed if what remains of British industry is closed and forced into economic exile abroad, where governments do not strangle them to death, there will be less pollution - because there will be even less industry and more unemployment.

Global warming and climate change can’t be stopped: they are hard-wired into the universal system of which we are a tiny part. We can and should attempt to reach a global balance for humanity, wealth and ecology, and develop the most effective ways of surviving, while minimising the inevitable impact we will have on the planet and our fellow, non-human occupants.

Piss and wind
Piss and wind


Ten people attended the introductory meeting of Milton Keynes Left Unity which took place on Tuesday May 21. In a town where we will, as one participant remarked, “be building from the base up” this was not a bad turnout for our first meeting.

Unfortunately I was the only current member of a revolutionary group at the meeting - the two members of the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in Milton Keynes did not attend, though a sympathiser of the latter did. There was one Labour Party member in attendance, as well as former members of the International Socialists, Militant, Respect and the Greens. One of the 10 was completely new to involvement in organised politics and keen to build an alternative to the establishment parties.

First on the agenda was a trailer for Ken Loach’s film The spirit of ’45, which we decided we would organise a showing of and use the event as an opportunity to kick-start a debate on what socialism is. After introductions we were encouraged to brainstorm ideas for activities and issues that we would like a left party to prioritise. Many of these were policy issues that any political party would have to form an opinion on. However, ‘socialism’, ‘democracy’, ‘international solidarity’ and ‘equality’ were amongst the final 10 issues we whittled it down to. Part of the idea is that our group will now go on to look at these issues in more detail.

However, a motion which I proposed seeking to provide a framework to do just this was rejected by the meeting with only two in favour. My motion highlighted the fact that the basis of Ken Loach’s appeal which formed the basis of LU was a call for a discussion: “Let’s discuss the formation of a new political party of the left to bring together those who wish to defend the welfare state and present an economic alternative to austerity.” At LU’s first national meeting I had opposed moving the date for a founding conference forward to November this year, as I felt it would be premature and cut short the period of discussion on important foundational issues. Yet this is the date that was agreed on by the national meeting and provides the time frame we must work to.

Considering this, I argued that if our local branch was going to be able to engage in a serious manner with the discussions leading up to a founding conference, then we would need to lay down a plan of how we do so. I proposed five discussion topics (‘socialism’, ‘democracy in LU’, ‘internationalism’, ‘challenging oppression’, and ‘our relations with Labour and the left groups’), but emphasised that we could be flexible about how we implemented this discussion plan over the next five to six months before conference. In spite of this it was complained that the motion was too prescriptive.

However, it seemed that the main problem people had with my motion was that it stipulated that we host “open discussion meetings” and “seek to include a wide range of voices from across the left”. It was argued that at this stage in LU’s development, before we have established our own political platform, we should limit such a discussion process to those who have already committed themselves to LU and keep it “internal” for now.

By this point we were running out of time, so we were not able to fully explore our differences. But I was able to counter that we needed to have a perspective that sought to draw more forces, both individuals and groups, into the discussion that Ken Loach called for. So far the ambiguity of keeping meetings “internal” in a group that has no established membership criteria has been reconciled locally by limiting them to those that support Ken’s appeal - but by definition anyone who seeks to join the discussion is in accordance with the appeal. Groups such as the SWP have welcomed the appeal in spite of the fact that they are not supporting LU as an organisation. We should be going out of our way to get the SWP and other groups involved if LU is to do what it says on the tin. On a national level it is impossible to keep outsiders out of the discussions on the LU website, other blogs and social media. It seems a shame to do so at a local level where we could have constructive face-to-face discussions.

I was pleased that the idea of discussion was not completely lost, however, as the ex-Militant comrade made a proposal that all meetings should begin with a political discussion and that the next meeting of LU in Milton Keynes should tackle the first of my suggested topics: socialism. This was agreed. We elected a chairperson for the group and will elect a secretary at the next meeting. I was elected branch delegate to the LU national coordinating committee. We also agreed to organise street stalls to try to recruit more people to LU.


Hacked off

Given the CPGB’s obsession with the unity of the left, I would have thought that the initiative from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty would have been welcome, if only as the occasion to propose face-to-face discussions (‘Pull the other one’, May 16).

The AWL proposal is flawed; a transitional organisation to do what most of the left does anyway. Transitional to what? If the answer to that is known, there is no need for an intermediate form.

Paul Demarty offers two main reasons to reject the proposal out of hand. Firstly, the AWL have some contentious positions (eg, Libya). Secondly, the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party (England and Wales) would not like it. This seems to imply that no movement is possible unless all and sundry can move at once.

I don’t like AWL positions either, but I don’t find those of the SWP (Syria, Islamists) any better. This has not prevented the CPGB from doing some serious foraging in the SWP milieu, while the Weekly Worker has been rather quiet on Syria.

Is the AWL proposal very far removed from what is under discussion in parts of Left Unity, where they already rub shoulders with the CPGB? So the response to it has more than a whiff of factional considerations.

In local discussions on Left Unity, I have put the view that the task ought not to be finding formulations - most likely the lowest common denominator - to bring the left together, but to define the objective interests of the working class. These cannot be confined to protests against cuts or pressing union hacks to lead us.

Hacked off
Hacked off


I stumbled across a discussion of Tina Becker’s article last week on the Left Unity website and I came across a lot of hostility toward the ‘top-down’ formulation. Something that I think was misunderstood. So I offered my own view on this, only to note that my comment has not been approved, even after submitting it a second time. This might have been a technical glitch, but if it was suppressed I can only note how this isn’t evolving in the right direction.

I call upon the Left Unity comrades to send in letters and articles of their own, to come to the Communist University in August and use these platforms to debate. Surely this is to be preferred to sniping on a blog.

I think this ‘top-down’ comment is being misunderstood, given the many ‘allergic’ responses to it on Left Unity. For that reason it probably requires more explanation (I have only seen this specific formulation once previously from the CPGB - in a short book from the 1990s titled Problems of communist organisation).

So, I’ll give my take on it, hopefully a helpful one. The ‘top-down’ comment does not meant a cliquish organisation in the spirit of the Socialist Labour Party, Respect or the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, where all decisions are effectively made by a few self-assigned left-bureaucrats, behind closed doors.

Instead, the focus of the CPGB lies on programme. So, the ‘top-down’ formulation refers to this programmatic view. The Draft programme of the CPGB is intended to be a contribution to a programme-centric unity debate, although in the end, of course, the majority decides.

So, from this programme (whatever Left Unity is going to adopt), an organisation can then be built. This ‘top-down’ view of party-building is only a rather logical view. It is, after all, down to us communists to win the vast majority in society toward this programme, to make them accept the communist project of universal human liberation.

In contrast to this ‘top-down’ (more accurately, programme-centric) party-building would be a programmatic ‘broad’ organisation or no programme at all. Without a programme there is then no basis on which to build. So we see disillusionment grown, sectism played up again, as the comrades tend to fall back on the practices that they already knew in the lack of a common perspective. This is certainly a factor in all of the unity attempts in the past 15 years or so.

But I strongly agree with comrades here that such ‘programme-centric unity’ must be radically democratic. Only then can we achieve lasting unity. Only in a culture where the critics may freely organise to try and achieve a majority, only where a minority can publicly raise criticisms, can the collective develop and, more importantly, can it start to become a politically relevant factor in the daily lives of the working class.


Transcend them

Mike Martin writes in defence of Trotsky’s Transitional programme (Letters, May 16). But Trotsky wrote the programme in 1938 for a pre-revolutionary period, which he assumed was around the corner. The Transitional programme does not prepare us for the long historical slog we commit ourselves to when the working class is not yet prepared to take power. We cannot spend a historical epoch contemplating the dialectic while we wait like Buddhist monks for a new generation to overthrow capitalism.

The Transitional programme leaves out crucial issues which we have to face.

Firstly, what is revolutionary ‘leadership’? Most Marxists interpret the word to mean they are an elite. Of course, most capitalists also think they are an ‘elite’, so that their methods of thought sometimes resemble each other.

Secondly, what is a revolutionary party? Lenin wrote in 1902 about the organisation of an underground party. The type of vertical, militarised structure then required has little relevance to our situation now, though even now our legality under ‘democracy’ is tenuous.

Thirdly, what is the purpose of revolutionaries when there are no revolutions imminent? Often we see militants becoming trade union bureaucrats, running so-called ‘non-profits’, or developing parliamentary ambitions.

Trotsky did not anticipate the ‘crisis of leadership’ within the Trotskyist movement. It is clear now that many so-called ‘Trotskyists’ are in practice leftwing social democrats.

The Transitional programme needs to be updated to include the lessons of the class struggle since 1938, to include the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions, the lessons of Chile from 1973, including the workers’ cordones industriales, the lessons of the Oaxaca commune in Mexico. We do not need to throw out old revolutionary programmes - we need to transcend them and their methods of thought.

Transcend them
Transcend them

UKIP mirror

On May 16 Ukip leader Nigel Farage was confronted by an angry group in Edinburgh. The demonstration had been part-organised by the Radical Independence Campaign (a group supporting Scottish independence). The BBC reported a spokesman for the RIC saying: “It is Ukip who are stoking division … Everyone who opposes the politics of fear and division should unite against Ukip - whether you live in Scotland or England.” Liam O’Hare, the Radical Independence Edinburgh organiser, claimed in The Guardian that “The people who demonstrated yesterday were internationalist” (May 17).

This is hypocrisy, just as nationalism always is. The Radical Independence Campaign is arguing in favour of dividing workers in Scotland from workers in England. Ukip is arguing in favour of dividing workers in the United Kingdom from workers in the European Union. What is the difference?

Farage commented: “I have heard before that there are some parts of Scottish nationalism that are akin to fascism, but yesterday I saw that face to face.” No, Nigel, what you saw was a mirror image of your nationalism.

UKIP mirror
UKIP mirror


I found David Walters’ latest argument very strange indeed (Letters, May 16). I had originally responded to a comment, by Jack Conrad, that the USSR could not revolutionise the means of production. Actually, rereading that, I might have been over-harsh on Jack, because there is a difference between having already revolutionised the means of production, and an ability to continue doing so. However, my original point was that the USSR clearly had revolutionised the means of production, and in a fairly dramatic manner. I gave as evidence the difference between the defeat by Japan in 1905 and the victory over Japan in 1939; and between the inability of Russia to even provide basic weaponry to its troops in 1914 and its ability to produce advanced weaponry, including the best tanks in the world, on a massive scale, to defeat the Germans, in 1941.

David had responded by denying that this represented the kind of revolutionising of the means of production I claimed, because, he argued, it was really the United States that had provided the USSR with the basis of this response. But, the whole reason I had stated that the USSR had massively defeated Japan “by 1941”, rather than simply saying in 1939, or even in 1945, which David now claims would have made as much sense, is precisely that the USSR had achieved this, using its own resources, by 1941: ie, before the US eventually joined the war! Indeed, the reason I made the point in that way was to highlight that, because it had defeated the Japanese on its eastern front in this way in 1939, it was able to draw large numbers of Siberian troops, prepared for winter warfare, into the defence of Moscow in 1941 - again before the US had joined the war at the end of that year.

So, it is simply not tenable for David to claim that these victories, which were decisive, were down to the US, rather than to the USSR. In fact, by insisting on the point that the USSR had defeated Japan in 1939, rather than simply by 1941, David only weakens his case! It simply means that the USSR had sufficiently revolutionised its means of production to overwhelmingly defeat Japan in 1939 rather than by 1941! How David thinks his pedantry on this point helps his case eludes me.

David, then claims that I said that Japan had decided, on the basis of the huge industrialisation in the USSR, that it would be easier to take on the US. I said no such thing. I said that it was the decisive defeat at Khalkin Gol that led Japan to that decision, and a look at the discussions of the Japanese imperial general staff demonstrates that. Before the defeat, the Japanese Northern Strike Group, backed by the army, favoured seizing Siberia, up to Lake Baikal, for its resources. After the defeat, it was the Southern Strike Group that came into the ascendancy, supported by the navy, which favoured seizing the resources of south-east Asia. What made that “easier” was its proximity to Japan and distance from the US, along with the perceived weakness of European powers.

David also again tries to explain history by referring to events that occurred after those he’s trying to rationalise. So he tries to explain the Japanese decision on the basis of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. But again, by the time that was signed the Japanese had already gone down to their crushing defeat at Khalkin Gol! It is not that the Japanese had never wanted to invade the USSR, as David seems to now be suggesting, and that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact now gave them the opportunity not to! They wanted to and got whooped.

David then says: “I never downplayed Russian/USSR industrialisation as the material basis for the defeat of the Japanese or the Germans.” But he then goes on to explain that the Japanese defeat was really nothing to do with the USSR’s superior strength or technology, but Japanese weakness, and logistical disadvantages! He says nothing about the Soviet T-34 tank, which, when it appeared on the battlefield in 1941, was described by German tank commanders, von Kleist and Guderian, as “the deadliest tank in the world”. Others have described it as the “most effective, efficient and influential design of World War II”.

In fact, despite the crimes of Stalin that had led to the loss of 25% of the USSR’s industrial and agricultural production at the start of the war, these factories were physically moved across the country to begin production again. More T-34s were produced than any other armoured vehicle during the war, and the cost of doing so was halved by revolutionising their method of production - even though, with skilled workers having gone to fight, it had been taken over by new, mostly female, workers.

And, while David is quick to claim credit for the US in the USSR’s success in defeating Germany, he has said nothing about the fact that, right up to the US entering the war, firms like Ford and GM were busy churning out shed-loads of tanks and other military equipment from their German factories for the Nazis!

I have never denied that US aid played a significant role in defeating Germany. I do deny it played a part in the USSR’s defeat of either Japan or Germany in 1939 and 1941, which is indicative of the significant revolutionising of the means of production already by that time. That compares with the fate of Britain at that time, which was clearly defeated. In every encounter with Germany it had lost, often badly. Churchill himself had no faith in his army.

The main beneficiary of US involvement, indeed, was Britain, which was able to defeat Rommel in 1943, and thereby avoid disaster in losing north Africa and Suez, when the US began military operations. Despite Stalin’s repeated request for a second front, the US and UK essentially left the USSR to fight alone. When the US and UK did open operations in Europe, it was almost certainly as much based upon guarding against a Soviet roll-over of western Europe as anything else, just as, according to general McArthur, Japan surrendered because they feared being rolled over by the USSR, and favoured instead a US occupation.

Finally, none of the central planning of Gosplan, etc could have won the war, had it not been for the dramatic change in the attitude of Soviet workers, compared to that of Russian workers under the heel of the tsar.