I’ve been researching the Syria situation since spring 2012, and have been unconvinced by the presentation of the situation from mainstream, corporate media, as well as the obscene responses from sections of the left: horrific incidents were being ignored and apologised for by the majority of the organisations that claim to be left of centre.
I’ve been meaning to write a letter for a number of weeks, to show appreciation for the coverage of the Weekly Worker in comparison to the leftwing newspapers that have adopted pro-Assad regime positions. Yassamine Mather’s and Moshé Machover’s discussion regarding Israel’s role in the Syria situation (‘Netanyahu attempts to provoke new confrontation’, May 9) and Peter Manson’s article regarding red lines, chemical weapons and the US role in Syria (‘Toxic weapons and revolutionary illusions’, May 2) were of interest to me, since they encouraged a discussion of the situation, rather than demanding a position that supports either the ‘rebels’ or the regime.
When I was in Lebanon recently, I went to Bekaa Valley, near the Syria border, and spoke with refugees and local people desperately affected by the crisis in Syria. There are thousands living under sheets, not receiving the aid you might expect, and children are being left to just deal with it. Four million people are reported to be displaced; hundreds of thousands of people are dead or missing. Refugees are in absolute crisis, since they are facing closed borders. When they get to a refugee camp, there is hardly any aid there for them. Many people still live in places like Aleppo, and continue to try and get on with their lives, amid the destruction and constant shelling, because they cannot go anywhere.
The majority of the British left is more concerned about being perceived as ‘pro-imperialist’ if it shows any solidarity with the revolution or any opposition to the oppressive and murderous Assad dictatorship. Groups such as the Stop the War Coalition show little concern for the Syrian people, and appear to suggest that Assad should remain in power.
On May 31 there will be an event in solidarity with the Syrian revolution at the University of London Union. It will host a live video-link with activists from Syria and the film, Battle of Aleppo, will also be shown. It is a controversial choice, since it was made by Pierre Piccinin da Prata, who has been quoted making sympathetic comments in relation to a Nato intervention. However, there’s no doubt that the film will be worth watching - it does attempt to draw public attention to the anguish of the Syrian people, while an indifferent world looks on.
On May 25, as the racist English Defence League marched through Newcastle, police arrested 14 anti-fascists, detained them for up to 10 hours, and raided their homes, seizing computers and mobile phones. Seven Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters were among the detainees. They were seized half an hour before the counterdemonstration organised by Newcastle Unites was due to assemble. In the weeks before the EDL march, Newcastle Unites, a coalition of Labour councillors, local trade union officials and the Socialist Workers Party, was determined to exclude FRFI and other militant anti-fascists from its march. Its planning meetings were held in secret and its members physically assaulted FRFI supporters to exclude them. On the day of the march, Newcastle Unites stewards colluded openly with Northumbria police to identify our comrades for arrest.
The EDL demonstration, against the creation of an Islamic faith school, had been planned for some months. FRFI was told that we were being excluded from Newcastle Unites because we had heckled Labour MP Grahame Morris at a May Day rally in 2012. Morris had voted for the bombing of Libya. The sensitivity of the SWP to the heckling of a Labour MP is in keeping with their determination to protect Labour councillor Dipu Ahad, the figurehead for Newcastle Unites, who voted for £100 million cuts to Newcastle services and jobs earlier this year.
On May 15, Newcastle Unites wrote to FRFI saying that if FRFI supporters tried to join the march, “you will not be welcome and we shall take all necessary steps to ensure that you play no part.” This was followed by a Facebook post in which Ahad warned those he considers “disruptive”: “I assure you that you will be thrown out of the demo and the public meeting by our stewards, who will be many. You will also be reported to the police for causing disorder!” On May 23, FRFI received an email from Northumbria police which stated that Newcastle Unites had informed them FRFI would not be welcome on the protest. The next day, police stood outside a Newcastle Unites public meeting with a list of names of those who would be barred from the meeting.
Newcastle Unites acted as police agents. They deliberately exposed our comrades and others to very serious charges: the police detained the comrades on the grounds of ‘conspiracy to cause violent disorder’. As a result of their actions, the police will feel they have a free hand to disrupt the work of left organisations, arrest their members and raid their homes.
We can expect the killing of Lee Rigby in Woolwich on May 22 to be used as an excuse for further criminalisation of Muslims by the state and racist attacks by the EDL. An anti-fascist movement needs to be built on the basis of real unity, which requires open and democratic debate. FRFI argues the EDL can only be opposed effectively as part of a wider struggle against racism, which is inseparable from the fight against imperialism. No amount of threats from the Labour Party and its SWP defenders will convince us to abandon this struggle. To stop the EDL, we need to fight state racism.
All comrades were released without charge and bailed to report to the police on August 7. The ‘Newcastle 14 Defence Campaign’ (www.defencecampaign.wordpress.com) has been set up to fight any possible charges and readers of the Weekly Worker would be very welcome to get involved.
I am a Polish communist who used to be a supporter of the Communist Party of Poland before I joined the Polish Party of Labour (PPP). I was one of the founders of W?adza Rad, whom Maciej Zurowski interviewed (‘Anti-sectarianism, Polish style’, May 23). It was me who introduced these comrades to the Weekly Worker. In December 2012, they expelled me for “promoting Russian imperialism in the PPP”, but I am still a member of the PPP and have been appointed leader of its youth wing in the Warsaw district.
I found Maciej Zurowski’s commentary to be very subjective, seeing as it was based on one article in the Spartacist press, which is often full of slurs. The illustration accompanying the article is completely unrelated to the topic: where did the article mention the church? To be honest, I have no idea how the intro relates to the topic either; it looks like the author read Spartacist and published a picture to prove the points it had made.
W?adza Rad’s vision was and is childish. They present Leszek Miller, a leader of the post-communists, as a prophet because he ‘uses Marx’s words’ and allows ‘The Internationale’ to be played on May 1, the International Day of Labour, which the post-communists renamed ‘European Integration Day’. When Miller doesn’t allow their banners, this exposes him as a vicious communist. W?adza Rad tried to push the whole Warsaw PPP to join the official march, but we accepted the invitation of union members to go to ?widnik (120 km from Warsaw), to join a protest against a company connected to Silvio Berlusconi that had not paid salaries for three months. The demonstration was small - the day before around 70 of our union members had been told to go to work on May 1 instead of marching, and the comrades from W?adza Rad preferred to march with the post-communists because they had a bigger audience there.
What I consider more significant than the incident at the Warsaw demo is what happened in Wroc?aw, where a group of anarchists, together with Polish Socialist Party members, shouted insults at two members of the Communist Party of Poland, threatened them with violence and forced them to take down their flags.
Contrary to what W?adza Rad say in the interview, the PPP does not have any problems with anti-Semitism. I organise many meetings around Warsaw, and attendees who are not party members often make anti-Semitic remarks because many of them live on estates that are to be returned to their pre-war owners, who are often of Jewish descent, resulting in rent increases or eviction. I always react to such remarks. We also work with children of our union members who are in danger of being influenced by rightwing extremists in football grounds. Registered candidates did not make anti-Semitic remarks during the campaign; they didn’t publish leaflets filled with racial hatred. They were just normal people speaking of “social justice” and the “fight for a better Poland”. Later it was discovered that those people publish racist stuff on the internet and they were asked to leave. If W?adza Rad think there is a problem they should fight it, not mouth off internationally.
As for the Spartacists, they label all other groups in Poland nationalist or anti-Semitic. That doesn’t stop them from asking the PPP, whom they call anti-Jewish, for help when encountering legal problems. Have they provided any examples of anti-Semitic remarks in the ranks of the PPP? No, their accusations are not serious.
Of course, W?adza Rad comrades often show way too much ‘pride’ in our strong connections with workers - something that is not 100% true. But I do share their approach to the ‘unification of the left’. You cannot apply British standards here. The Socialist Workers Party in Poland, called Workers Democracy, and Socialist Alternative, the Committee for a Workers’ International affiliate, have less than 10 members each; the Spartacists have less than five and can be spotted in the street once or twice a year; the CPP partly consists of very old comrades that became communists in the 1950s, and partly of a small group of youngsters who are pushing radical Stalinism. Polish Alliance for Workers’ Liberty fans publish a newspaper twice a year. The “activists of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International in the PPP” that W?adza Rad are referring to amount to one person.
Would a unification of these forces bring anything new? No. It would result in a meeting of 20 people, who would have a not-very-nice debate about who defended the USSR and who is a Solidarno?? traitor. Two years ago, W?adza Rad organised an October revolution anniversary meeting to which all groups were invited. Only the Spartacists showed up, called everybody fascists and left.
On the politics of Marxist unity, I am close to what you wrote in response to the AWL proposal (‘Pull the other one’, May 16), where you thought it right to cooperate “on matters where our views accord”. But, to be honest, most left groups in Poland also just launch unity offensives as a “cover for ... shabby recruitment raids”, to quote that article.
Parallels between British and Polish ‘anti-sectarian sectarianism’ are illusory because in the formerly socialist countries the left’s knowledge of the west is very limited.
We in Platypus have been called out for taking an alleged, at least tacit, ‘pro-imperialist’ political position. The CPGB’s Mike Macnair and others have characterised our expressed opinion, that we ‘did not support’ the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (and Libya), as implying that we also ‘did not oppose’ them. This is untrue.
The Spartacists, for example, take the position of ‘no political support’ for rightwing military forces against the US and its allies. But what they really wanted in Iraq was not the military and political victory of the insurgency against the occupation, but rather a meteorite to hit the green zone. However, this was not a political position. For what the Spartacists, among others, wanted was a military defeat for the US government et al without this being a concomitant political victory for the Iraqi right - former Ba’athists and Sunni and Shia Islamists. Let’s not mince words: such forces are the right, at least as much as the US government and its allies are. It is not the case that somehow the action of Ba’athists and Sunni and Shia Islamists increased democratic possibilities in Iraq against the US government and allied occupation.
The actual Iraqi left - the Iraqi Communist Party and Worker-Communist Party of Iraq - chose not to mount its own military resistance, let alone join with the existing forces occasionally opposing the US government and allied occupation, but rather to oppose the latter, as well as the former, in other ways, through working class organising and strike action, to some limited success - for instance, in preventing the privatisation of the Iraqi oil industry. The international left largely scorned them in favour of an imagined ‘anti-imperialist’ insurgency, which was not that, but rather an ethno-religious, sectarian-communal civil war among forces targeting each other far more than they targeted the US government and its allies, jockeying for a position within the occupation and its political settlement, not against it.
The question is one’s attitude towards the state. One can oppose the police politically without thinking that withdrawing them from poor neighbourhoods immediately is a good idea. Should street gangs take over in their place? The gangs are part of the capitalist system - they are merely less politically successful capitalists.
The same is true regarding supposed ‘anti-imperialist’ politics. In Iraq, the former Ba’athists, Sunni and Shia traditionalists and Islamists, may have opposed the US government and its allies on occasion and over specific issues, but they were not in any way anti-imperialist. They were at best petty bourgeois democrats, at worst sectarian communalists and (at least quasi-) fascists. They have in fact provided local political leadership and power structures that serve global capitalism and oppose the interests of workers both locally and internationally. Just because they and the US government and its allies might oppose each other occasionally does not mean that they express fundamentally different social forces. They are all pro-capitalist, and all anti-democratic.
Moreover, the phenomenon of geographical regions relatively lacking in the stable rule of bourgeois law and order is not only not particularly good for the workers and other democratic interests locally, but also not elsewhere, since it contributes to the potential political degradation everywhere - for instance, by justifying greater police repression elsewhere to contain the zones of disorder. Those who think that local disorder is good are giving in to at best nationalist politics (whether or not dressed up as ideologically different from this), not promoting the global liberation of the working class or the increased democratic self-determination of society.
So the question is not whether Platypus opposed US et al imperialism, but rather why we thought that the left suffered from a glaring lack of adequate perspectives on how to actually politically oppose imperialist aggression. Platypus was founded in response to the failure of the anti-war movement, and we were motivated to host the conversation on the potential political reasons for this. This was slandered by the existing, failing left as somehow opposing the anti-war movement, where what we opposed was its fatal misleadership. And we wanted to open the broadest possible discussion of the problem of such misleadership. It is not an accident that we hosted our first public forum as a conversation between various different anti-imperialist perspectives. Only a deliberate distortion of the facts can characterise our project otherwise.
We in Platypus opposed the US invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and, more recently, Libya. We only questioned how they could be opposed in a way that would not further degrade the workers’ and other democratic interests politically. We felt that the anti-war movement’s misleadership opened it to criticisms by liberals and social democrats, who indeed supported the war, that the anti-war movement couldn’t adequately answer, let alone win over. And it is indeed the task of a true left to win over or at least neutralise such ostensibly democratic politics - not to provide ‘left’ rationalisations for some temporary and opportunistic oppositions that might occasionally come from the hard-bitten right of nationalists or worse. It is not for the left to make common cause with the right against the centre, for the right is even more consistently pro-imperialist - pro-capitalist - than the liberals and social democrats are.
That’s the truth the current (mis)leading ‘left’ can’t face, and so they attack Platypus instead for pointing this out. We say, “The left is dead!” because it has become a protest-demonstration organising gang for timeservers in a membership dues racket. Of course, it objects to the unmasking of its ideological adaptation to and political complicity, however minor, with the capitalist status quo. We say, “Long live the left!” because it is long past time to stop regarding the capitalist system’s disreputable elements as some emancipatory force, substituting this for what does not yet but needs to exist politically.
Boycott the host
As Corey Ansel indicates in ‘Dissecting the Platypus’ (May 23), I have been circulating a letter encouraging leftists to decline from participating in the activities of the Platypus Affiliated Society. After a brief period as a member of Platypus, it was my judgement that such a measure would be both necessary and effective in limiting the further growth of this organisation. This has led to criticism from a few, including Ansel. As we can surely all agree that the left is in a state of historic weakness, what could possibly be so objectionable about a group that merely seeks to “host the conversation” about the “death of the left”?
While there are numerous tendencies on the left that can be criticised for holding reactionary positions, the key to understanding Platypus lies in its qualitative difference. In looking at the group through the lens of orthodox Trotskyism, Ansel overlooks this difference by lamenting that Platypus is not “programmatically sound”. But Platypus is quick to point out that it has no explicit political positions. As such, there is intentionally no external standard by which Platypus might be judged. Its claims to belong on the Marxist left are presumably to be taken on faith - based on the assumption that an organisation that so fetishises Marxism could hardly be denied a position in left discourse.
Rather than offering explicit positions, Platypus defines itself as a needed radical break from the existing (“dead”) left. It thus positions itself in opposition to all other left tendencies - and not on the basis of any principles, but as a foundational distinction, in which it posits the left as the fundamental obstacle to a renewed Marxist politics - regardless of what other leftists say.
Platypus is thus, by definition, an anti-left organisation. An organisation that defines itself in this manner is not one that can be productively engaged. Those who engage with the Platypus Society are at the very least squandering their time and energy at the hands of sophistical contrarians who seek only to demoralise and depoliticise all involved in their “conversation”. Yet, importantly, as Platypus’s anti-leftism is distinguished by its unprincipled character, this makes it qualitatively and categorically different from the ultra-leftism of those tendencies that criticise the left on the basis of programme, positions or concrete analysis. This unprincipled character of Platypus’s anti-leftism leads it to import reactionary ideologies into its “hosted conversation” to use in attacking the left - from the right.
The most egregious examples are Platypus’s persistent defence of liberalism and Israeli imperialism. Against a left that posits a socialist break from liberalism, Platypus defends its conception of “bourgeois right” as the necessary foundation for socialism; against a left that stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people, Platypus insists on airing the ‘anti-German’ defence of the Israeli state. In this manner, Platypus’s unprincipled opposition to the left leads directly to Chris Cutrone’s “closeted position” in defence of the Israeli “settler colonial state” and the “rational kernel of such racism” (full text available at www.irrationalkernel.wordpress.com). In the time since Cutrone’s “closeted position” was made public, he has continued to stand by it, intervening only in an attempt to change the subject from his declared position on Palestine.
What are we to make of the fact that no present Platypus member has disavowed such vile remarks by their founder, president and “chief pedagogue”? Surely, it should belie any conception of Platypus as a bastion for open discourse and inquiry. Rather it is a testament to the hitherto success of the project in progressively instilling in young students an extreme devotion to Cutrone and his conception of Platypus as the only possible vehicle for the world-historic rebirth of the left. Yet, despite this grandiosity and the loyalty of his acolytes, Cutrone can provide no answers to basic questions of revolutionary strategy - beyond his trademark obfuscation and oracular sub-Hegelianism. This is not the description of a serious political project, but of a cult.
In partially defending Platypus, Ansel is correct to stress the need for a critical discourse interrogating a variety of perspectives on the left. But surely we can find less objectionable hosts for these much-needed conversations.
Boycott the host
Boycott the host
According to Peter Manson: “In the USSR there was no real money, let alone anything resembling the law of value. Nevertheless, the development of this new theory [of state capitalism] was based on a simple insight - the Soviet Union was not an example of socialism or the rule of the bourgeoisie, but a totally new type of society” (‘SWP opposition springs back to life’, May 23).
We can debate the intricacies of whether Russia was state-capitalist or simply just a new form of slave-state, but there is no question of it being a workers’ state or even a step closer towards socialism. Surely, there isn’t anybody who would contend that the workers had any power in the so-called Soviet Union. If the state-capitalist theory is flawed, it nevertheless reflects a truer picture of the reality than Trotsky’s analysis.
In Russia, the state owned the means of production, but who owned the state? Certainly not the workers! There was no ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’; rather there was the dictatorship of the party. The ‘union’ of ‘soviets’ was a fiction within days and months of the Bolshevik October revolution. It is a false to assert that there was a qualitative difference in the Russia of Lenin and that of Stalin.
Is there anything progressive or militant about labour movement calls to withdraw from the European Union?
Clearly, the institutions, rules, treaties and court judgements which govern the EU do so in the interests of international monopoly capitalism. But surely the correct labour- movement response is to call for the radical refashioning and fundamental redesign of all these institutions in much the same way as we call for the maximum democratisation and reform of the British capitalist state.
I fail to see what is remotely progressive or militant about calling for the working class to simply ‘opt out’ of the struggle against EU institutions by calling for a British withdrawal. Of course the EU is a ‘bosses’ club’. So is the British state and establishment. One may as well call for the British working class to withdraw from Britain. How does cutting and running from the struggle against the EU serve any working class interests?
There is no credible argument that an isolationist Britain will be governed by institutions or rules which are any less pro-capitalist or in any way more amenable to the needs of the working class. In fact, much more likely an isolationist and nationalistic Britain will be even more reactionary and anti-working class than the current EU.
No matter how valiantly they try, advocates of EU withdrawal simply cannot distinguish their arguments from those which are anti-immigrant and anti-’foreigner’. Disgracefully, some even ape these rightwing arguments in order to try and ‘connect’ with the working class.
In the old days, when Europe was divided into hostile cold war blocs, withdrawal from the then European Economic Community made some sort of sense as part of wider demands for the mutual dissolution of these blocs, and calls for peaceful coexistence in ‘our common European home’. Now that the EU covers most of Europe, with those countries remaining outside queuing up to join, it makes no sense to call for either withdrawal from or dissolution of the EU. Breaking up and refragmenting Europe again would hardly be progressive or in the long-term interests of the working class.
What we should be doing is articulating a powerful, internationalist message of unity across the continent. Calling for complete democratisation of the institutions to express the will of the diverse peoples of Europe, and the wholesale replacement of current laws, rules and judgements, to promote levelling up of working class standards and rights across the continent, governmental policies which aim at ‘better my neighbour’ rather than ‘beggar my neighbour’, and for a sustainable, green and prosperous future.
Obviously, such demands cannot be fully realised under capitalism, but that is part of the point. We need to clearly articulate our vision of an internationalist, democratic and united future and thus demonstrate our case against capitalism and for socialism, and in a way which shows our common sisterhood and brotherhood with workers across Europe.