Flipping a coin
Those working in comics or film certainly couldn’t construct a better ‘two-face’ than Richard Seymour. In recent months, the poster child of the Socialist Workers Party opposition has been testing his luck with the forces of political chance.
Formerly coming out of the corner of the British Cliffites, the self-described author decidedly changed his tune during the second-period intermission. Those of us who have been long-time observers of the political zig-zags in the reformist camp weren’t surprised to see Seymour duck the punches of his former mentors in the SWP, while he abandoned ship on the organisation he had religiously defended up to that point without any peep of protest. While the notion that the SWP magically became a bureaucratically warped organisation seemingly overnight due to the mishandling of rape allegations within the organisation might seem outlandish, it was no laughing matter to those who would go on to form the International Socialist Network. Making a career out of aligning with identity politics and ‘intersectionality’, Seymour seemed to have hoped that the coin would continue to fall heads side up. And it had - until now.
This time, fate had his number. A recent debacle took place on the Facebook page of a leader of the ISN. The instrument that had reaped so many rewards for these latter-day rebels proved to bury those who lacked prowess in handling the fairy tale that is online politics. Ideologically, Facebook allows pseudo-Marxists and all of their hangers-on to perpetuate allegedly open arguments that are actually structured to their benefit, flowered with all the language of ‘safe spaces’ that have become so popular these days at the expense of any real political integrity. Whereas those attending political meetings that tend to be breeding grounds for interventions from the Spartacist League could traditionally only sing a tune with their fingers in their ears, now the ‘unfriend’ button has become the fundamental object and means of criticism. This supplements the discussions on left unity that have become so rampant in the UK, with an organisation titled by the same name and precious talks between fragmented opportunist organisations like Workers Power, which are actually just farces in the making. Just as sects across the globe seek to latch on to the movement of the day, so have these latter-day reformists jumped the wagon of talks of unity on the left, seeking to intersperse their generic brand of orthodoxy which will inevitably lead to more crying, but certainly not political clarity.
Building upon this house of cards, Workers Power and their phony League for the Fifth International (L5I) have all but begged Seymour’s ISN and the broad umbrella Anti-Capitalist Initiative to lend credibility to their tiny, irrelevant sect. However, in an article titled ‘Revolutionary unity must be built on firm foundations’, the ostensible Trotskyists of the L5I utterly fail to question the social basis of women’s oppression, let alone discuss the shortcomings of bourgeois feminism and pressure politics. Instead, liquidationism is the slogan of the day. Whereas intersectionality becomes the clarion call of the ISN’s cohorts, Workers Power sings a tune of watering down political differences.
For Marxists, phony unity is not the means of advancing the class struggle and the battle against oppression, but instead political clarity is paramount. No amount of veneer can hide this fact from both groups, including Workers Power, which is quite fond of using the language of Marxism in asking questions about the revolutionary party, programme and the socialist transformation of society. However, this veil is exposed as ripped and torn when it becomes apparent that the L5I has no interest of making a critique of the reformist political history of the SWP or the ISN, but instead seeks to accommodate to their capitulationist sloganeering. They wouldn’t dare raise a peep to offend those they need so desperately to continue treading the path of phony unity on the left amongst utterly different political projects, visions and structures for a post-capitalist society.
Perhaps Workers Power is apprehensive about investigating the political history of the Cliffites for fear that their own opportunism will be exposed. Both tendencies played a significant part in hailing the counterrevolutionary wave that destroyed the Soviet Union, the former lauding the development as a victory for ‘authentic socialism’ and the latter lining Yeltsin’s barricades. In truth, both groups are already quite united in practice, taking up residence in the same swamp of anti-Marxism that they’d prefer to forget.
In regards to political programme and Marxist content, there is little the ISN and its starry-eyed supporters don’t seek to liquidate. You’d be hard pressed to find many in their organisational circles who uphold even elementary Marxist principles, let alone the urgent proclamation made by Trotsky that “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.” Whereas the Bolshevik leader urged a turn to the proletariat, these forces have made a turn to the internet, as there is no better way to marginalise political discourse contemporarily than to delete a post. These alleged ‘safe spaces’ are actually hotbeds of apoliticality. Instead, bourgeois feminism is on the menu today, as opposed to a fundamental understanding of, say, the Bolshevik experience and actually applying a programme for women’s liberation. And Seymour and co gladly eat until their plates are spotless.
This is why it comes as no surprise that Seymour and all of his cronies failed such a basic litmus test as dealing with a blatantly racist advertisement. Taking pages from the postmodernist handbook, which apparently all of these folks receive upon making the jump from pseudo- Marxist identification to transparent identity politics, the ISN and its Facebook observers were thrown into a frenzy in attempting to understand how their brand of moralism must respond to the blatantly and intentionally provocative marketing scheme. It appeared that Seymour found himself between a hard place and a crock of shit, subtly smashed between the contradictions of how a proponent of intersectionality should comprehend racist overtones while still sprinkling in pieces of a semi-Marxist analysis. The shovel he had used to dig deeper the grave of authentic Marxism came back to strike him in the hands of others.
Using the building blocks of the Avakianites and their rabid anti-sex, anti-porn campaigns, moral policing appears to be the order of the day. The pseudo-left (from the ISN to their mother organisation and countless others who prostrate on the altar of movementist politics) seeks to build a church of purity, not authentically concerned with questions of women’s and sexual liberation. Instead of focusing their crosshairs on breaking tradition’s fetters and putting forward a radical rupture with the bourgeois state’s claims regarding sexual normalcy and virtue, they instead capitulate to this brutal capitalist system and all the atrocities this entails.
There’s a reason an article on the Lenin’s Tomb blog titled ‘The point of intersection’ doesn’t mention the working class, let alone proletarian revolution or how to build a party to contribute to the process of distilling political programme in the interest of making it happen. What’s most touching is Seymour’s recent book Unhitched, which lambasts the late Christopher Hitchens for all of his capitulations to imperialism and bourgeois ideology. All the while Seymour literally kisses his footsteps one by one on the same path to accepting the brutal capitalist present and instead casting a veil of liberal ignorance over the contradictions.
Flipping a coin
Flipping a coin
One of our comrades in Communist Students recently went through something with which many comrades in and around CS and/or the CPGB will doubtless be familiar: being courted by leading members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in the search for new recruits to pick off.
Of course, one-to-one meetings and telephone conversations offer a certain ‘safe space’ within which to defend the indefensible - namely this outfit’s social-imperialism and sectoid programmophobia - away from the prying eyes of public polemic, exchange and factual material. In this meeting, the usual weasel words were set out in defence of the AWL’s hideous record in the recent past, such as, inter alia: a refusal to call for the withdrawal of the imperialist forces occupying Iraq, a softness towards the possibility of a “surgical strike” against Iranian nuclear facilities, the support for/refusal to condemn the bombing of Libya and so on. In a commonly used analogy, our AWL executive committee member argued that, while he was, of course, against the police, if he were to be mugged then his slogan would not be ‘Police scum, off our streets’, now, would it? (In the AWL’s warped world view, occupying imperialist forces in Iraq are claimed to have acted as some kind of law enforcement agency to ‘protect’ the poor, benighted civilians from the muggers and thieves embodied by the reactionary Islamist militias.) We have exposed such imperialist apologia on many occasions - not least by pointing to the fact that the real legacy of the US/UK occupation has been a religious sectarian regime set up by the occupying forces themselves.
What really bemused me, however, was when I learnt from my accosted comrade that the AWL to this day insists on referring to the CPGB as a Stalinist organisation. While I had come across such accusations in the past, particularly from the rather narked figure of Sacha Ismail outside a student bar when I was an undergraduate in 2003, I have not heard any AWL member publicly championing such a hideously absurd point of view for quite some time. I sincerely thought it had been buried, never to be mentioned again. But I really should have been less naive.
Almost as if we had not already dealt with the AWL’s pitiful accusations, point by point, in a polemic from the early 2000s, the AWL comrade in question claimed that the ‘Stalinism’ of the CPGB supposedly manifests itself in the approach of the comrades who later founded the CPGB to the Afghani Saur revolution of 1978 (!) and our assertion (paraphrasing Lenin, by the way) that “Our central aim is to reforge the Communist Party of Great Britain. Without this party the working class is nothing; with it, it is everything”.
The conclusions drawn by the AWL are, frankly, bonkers. After all, ask even the Spartiest of Sparts about the nature of the project of the Weekly Worker and they would be very hard pressed to describe it as “Stalinist”. We know the AWL comrades closely study the Weekly Worker every Thursday, so why do they seem to fail to notice the extensive work our group has been part of to deepen the study of Bolshevism, democratic centralism, the Marxist programme and so on, where we have tackled head on many of the sectoid/cold war myths of even the formally anti-Stalinist currents on the British left?
Yet in typically sectarian fashion, the organisation eschews a serious engagement with our theoretical output and its evolution in the name of indoctrinating its members to go out and build their organisation at the expense of anything even approaching a scientific, rigorous and honest approach to the world around them.
The AWL’s own positions and politics suffer for it too. Take its understanding of so-called “ultra-imperialism”, the “imperialism of free trade” it developed at the turn of the century, according to which the United States and its allies would, in their own interests and in a ham-fisted way, “remake” the Middle East into a region fit for the blossoming of bourgeois democracy, capitalist social relations and routine trade unionism. The redevelopment of Japan and West Germany after World War II was cited as an analogy. Yet now, after what we have seen? The legacy of US/UK intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc has been social chaos, fragmentation and disintegration, not Pax Americana, liberal democracy and order. Of the AWL’s several absurd positions and points d’honneur, this is surely the one that is most at odds with reality. Yet it appears that, with a few exceptions, nobody in the organisation has even raised a peep against such fantasy politics.
Are the comrades such hidebound sectarians that they do not understand the certain irony associated with accusing an organisation of ‘Stalinism’ and arguing in such a patently backhanded and mendacious fashion? If it were not so typical of the kind of political methods and the almost cringe-worthy absence of political ambition on the British far left, then such semi-religious methods might merely be laughed at.
I read the letter in last week’s paper from the exasperated proponents of Left Unity’s Republican Socialist Platform - Phil Vellender, Russell Caplan and my old comrade from the Commune, Javaad Alipoor - with some bemusement, I have to say.
Apparently, in a dastardly plot to make the RS platform look like “fascists”, the phrase, ‘No platform’, was inserted above their previous letter to the Weekly Worker (December 19). Personally, I think this is more likely to be an ironic reference to the fact that the platform has now closed down.
It is, of course, the prerogative of the editors of the Weekly Worker to choose whatever headline they like for articles and letters in the paper. In the case of letters these are generally only two or three words, as they’re meant to only occupy one line. The original heading quoted by the comrades, “Republican Socialist Platform statement on LU conference (2013)”, wasn’t exactly catchy and probably would have taken up three. Needless to say, the choice of words was a bit of a joke, but “using underhand methods redolent with the worst activities of the Stalinists”? What, the gulags? The purges? The liquidation of the kulaks? I don’t think so, comrades. More like a major sense of humour failure on your part.
In any case, having taken a look at the platform, I have to say it is not exactly an inspiring basis for a new political party. When you’re putting forward a platform for a socialist party, surely you have to make clear your vision of an alternative society. The comrades are correct to try to focus on political demands instead of falling into the usual economism of the rest of the left, but to restrict your stated aims to “radical change, a new democratic constitution and a social republic” is seriously lacking, to say the least.
Why you would put that forward instead of joining the Communist Platform is beyond me really. Not voting for the CP at the Left Unity founding conference clearly demonstrates how soft your commitment to the real political legacy of the Levellers, Diggers and radical Chartists must be in practice. I’m particularly sad to see Javaad defending this nonsense, as I remember him being one of the more serious and clued-up communists in my old group. Dear oh dear. Anyway, I like the Bradford podcasts, so keep them up.
Of all the bizarre attempts to claim Marxism, probably none is surpassed by the animal rights ‘movement’ (‘Animal liberation and communism’, January 23). It is not an exaggeration to say that Marxism is diametrically opposed to pretty much everything that ‘animal rights’ and its allied environmentalism stand for.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that Marx had no time at all for his nature-cultist contemporaries. In response to the nature-worshipper, Daumer, he said: “… modern natural science ... with modern industry, has revolutionised the whole of nature and put an end to man’s childish attitude towards nature as well as to other forms of childishness ... it would be desirable that Bavaria’s sluggish peasant economy, the ground on which grow priests and Daumers alike, should at last be ploughed up by modern cultivation and modern machines” (K Marx CW Vol 10, pp241-46).
Modern eco-warriors like to romanticise pre-capitalist cultures which idolised animals. But Marx criticised the Indian caste system for producing a “brutalising worship of nature, exhibiting its degradation in the fact that man, the sovereign of nature, fell down on his knees in adoration of Kanuman, the monkey, and Sabbala, the cow” (CW Vol 12, p125).
It’s also clear that Marx would have looked positively (though, of course, not uncritically) at the profound modern progress of agricultural technique. As he said in the Grundrisse, “economy ultimately reduces itself” to the “economy of time”. Thus, “The less time the society requires to produce wheat, cattle, etc, the more time it wins for other production, material or mental.”
Marxist criticisms of environmentalism and the so-called rights of animals are often caricatured as belonging to a ‘productivist’ Stalinism. But it was Trotsky who most forcefully emphasised the ‘anthropocentrism’ of Marxism:
“Through the machine, man in socialist society will command nature in its entirety, with its grouse and its sturgeons. He will point out places for mountains and for passes. He will change the course of the rivers, and he will lay down rules for the oceans. The idealist simpletons may say that this will be a bore, but that is why they are simpletons. Of course, this does not mean that the entire globe will be marked off into boxes, that the forests will be turned into parks and gardens. Most likely, thickets and forests and grouse and tigers will remain, but only where man commands them to remain. And man will do it so well that the tiger won’t even notice the machine, or feel the change, but will live as he lived in primeval times.
“The machine is not in opposition to the earth. The machine is the instrument of modern man in every field of life. The present-day city is transient. But it will not be dissolved back again into the old village. On the contrary, the village will rise in fundamentals to the plane of the city. Here lies the principal task. The city is transient, but it points to the future, and indicates the road. The present village is entirely of the past” (L Trotsky Literature and revolution 1924).
For Marxists, the goal of socialism is to increase humanity’s command of nature, not decrease it. To paraphrase Lenin, socialism is workers’ power plus technological progress. Marxism is not reconcilable with the petty bourgeois, irrationalist hogwash of ‘animal rights’. The socialism ‘conceived’ by Marxists aims to increase human mastery of nature, not “like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature” (Engels), but by learning and mastering its laws in order that they can be better manipulated in the interests of human progress.
The comrades interviewed in last week’s paper raised the question of animal rights in a way that I have never seen the left even bother to cover before. However, I find something of the whiff of puritanism about their position that communism seems to be one of a stoical, rational ‘common sense’ - communism on a relentless diet of nut cutlets, vegetable surprises and faux meat-flavoured sausages - because it is efficient.
I concede, of course, that it is true we could eat the food we use to fatten up animals for slaughter, but by the same argument we could drink the water we use to make beer or Coca Cola. Shall we abolish the brewery under communism?
There is for me no point in communism if it doesn’t embrace the pleasures of life and creates a society in which we can all indulge in the delights of life if we choose to, regardless of how inefficient and indulgent that lifestyle may be.
The prospect of a vegan communist future is a bleak one, as is the supposed rejection of belief in technological advance that I find in many of the left these days. But we may well be able to have our beef and eat it on this one.
Lab experiments have grown in vitro meat - basically, meat without growing the animal - that potentially could produce meat, save half on the energy needed, emit substantially less methane and free up some 99% of farmland for reuse. The tech is still primitive, but promising - promising enough that we can expect capital to invest in it over coming years and attempt to make a viable commodity of it in their dash to make a hippy-friendly profit that will make communism even more of a practical solution to keeping the human animal alive.
I don’t quite understand the howls of protest from some extremely rich businessmen over Labour’s commitment to reinstate the 50p tax rate for salaries over £150,000. If, as they complain, the new rate will hardly raise any new revenue, just what are they whining about? If that was true, Labour’s response should be twofold. Firstly, end all the various loopholes and dodges which enable the very wealthy to avoid paying tax, including counting capital gains and share allocations as income and, secondly, impose the 50p rate at a much lower level - eg, £100,000 - so it would indeed raise some serious additional revenue.
At the same time, perhaps we ought to be looking at a maximum as well as a minimum wage, if we are serious about creating a more just and fairer society. Ten times the current minimum wage would be £123,000 and five times the average salary would be £133,000. No-one’s labour can genuinely be worth more than 10 times that of someone else.
It is surely obvious that wages in excess of these limits are nothing to do with the cost of reproducing labour-power and probably represent drawings down of surplus value created by workers. These are often set without reference to ‘market forces’ and often just reflect the public image the company wants to portray to the rest of the capitalist class.
An income range of 10:1 would provide plenty of incentives for people to work hard, improve their skills and qualifications, and make a socially valuable contribution to society. One could argue that a range of 5:1 would also provide adequate incentive, and perhaps we should move to that over time.
Yes, the filthy rich will howl in protest and will use their mass media to great effect. But those who will be affected by such a cap represent no more than 1.5% of all taxpayers, and will bear down most heavily on just 0.5% of taxpayers. Labour should be brave and do the electoral maths. We are many, they are few.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith appears before the parliamentary select committee on February 3 to answer more questions on universal credit.
Having spoken to several claimants in Rugby since the universal credit pilot started here in late November, we have a number of points we would like to put to him. We have been regularly leafleting outside Rugby job centre, and the introduction of universal credit is already making a difficult situation even worse for a number of claimants. These are amongst the examples of the problems claimants are facing, which we would like to raise with the minister:
The youngish woman sent to a cafe in town for a job that only provided three days’ work a week. Not only did she receive less than when on benefits, the café refused to pay her until the end of the second week, meaning she had no money for 14 days.
- The 64-year-old disabled man who was being forced to apply for jobs, whether or not he was physically fit enough to take them up and, despite him qualifying for his old-age pension in less than 12 months, with the threat of benefit cuts if he refused.
- The woman who was almost in tears worrying, because she is frightened of computers and is not on the internet at home.
- The middle-aged man who was told that a job he must apply for involved van driving and he would need to provide transport. When he explained he only had a car, he was told to sell his car and buy a van if he wanted to avoid his benefits being cut.
We are also concerned about the introduction of the ‘claimant commitment’, which will be rolled out to all job centres this April. It is an integral part of universal credit - a record of a claimant’s individual responsibilities in relation to an award of universal credit. Anyone signing on will have to sign up to the claimant commitment before they get any money. Not everyone will understand what they are signing up to, and it will be used to cut benefits if any ‘commitment’ is broken, however unwittingly. Failure to agree to a commitment will result in no benefit being paid. In the case of couples, both partners will have to accept an individual commitment. We must remember in all this that anyone can be made redundant at any time and have to go through all this.
We are also concerned that, to get universal credit, claimants will have to meet a number of work-related requirements. One of these is the work preparation requirement, which can include a work placement comprising four weeks’ unpaid work. The government also intends to introduce compulsory community work for up to 26 weeks.
So here we finally have it - being made to work for your benefits, with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. However, with low wages and part-time jobs, work is often not the solution. Over half those in poverty in this country today are actually in work, not on benefits. Yet the thinking behind universal credit is to force people off benefits and into these low-paid jobs and increased poverty. This really is inexcusable.
Peter of Black House Publishing suggests the CPGB adopt other ideas of Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists (Letters, January 23). If Peter can accept the demise of both the CPGB and the BUF, wouldn’t it be much wiser for the working class to dispense with 20th century failures altogether?
The Socialist Party of Great Britain are a class struggle party of world socialism, not artifices such as Ireland or Europe. The SPGB are not a ‘new party’, but one with new ideas yet to be tried and tested. Peter would still be in error about “the real enemy (international finance)” and class divisions being between productive versus unproductive members of society (which occupational franchise may disenfranchise), and I’m afraid that is not just semantics.
Do the maths
The Scottish Republican Socialist Movement welcomes the surge in support for a ‘yes’ vote reflected in the latest ICM poll for Scotland on Sunday (January 26).
The poll of a 1,000 over-16s was conducted by ICM between Tuesday and Friday last week. It shows that support for independence has grown from 32% to 37% since September. Support for the UK status quo has fallen from 49% to 44%. Furthermore, when pressed many of the ‘don’t knows’ indicated that they were more inclined - if they did vote - to vote ‘yes’.
The chief executive of the Yes Scotland campaign, Blair Jenkins, has said it is an “excellent place to be at this stage in the campaign”. A further 3% swing will see the ‘yes’ campaign take the lead. The SRSM pays tribute to the ‘yes’ campaign and calls on all independence campaigners to build on this momentum.
Do the maths
Do the maths
The Free North Campaign has been formed to build support for an independent republic in the north of England. While some may scoff at the idea, the fact remains that the north-south divide is a socioeconomic reality in Britain today. While few areas of Britain are exempt from the neoliberal onslaught of the political class, the north has borne the brunt of it.
At the last general election the Tories achieved a third of the vote in the north, indicating there is a solid anti-Tory majority. As with most independence movements, the foundation of our campaign is a progressive leftwing policy agenda that is opposed to all forms of bigotry and sectarianism. In the north values like solidarity, community spirit and mutual aid tend to be stronger than in the south. There’s also what could be called a northern identity, which you wouldn’t find in the south.
There is potential for a socialist revival in the north, and northern independence could be the driving force behind it. More information about the campaign can be found at freenorthcampaign.wordpress.com.
To me, communists are nuts, plain and simple. I like the answer the late French prime minister gave, when asked why he allowed the Communist Party to exist in France. François Mitterand answered: “It was a safety valve, where intellectuals could blow off steam.” Brilliant answer. I am still amused by this.
Communist countries don’t allow dissenting views. Ask those killed by the Satanic and evil North Koreans.