Invisible left

November 15 sees the police and crime commissioner elections. Glancing over the candidates reveals a distinct absence of the left wing. Has the left nothing to say about policing, crime and punishment?

Granted, these elections are an idea from the Conservative Party and therefore a policy change to be deeply sceptical about. As with everything that emits from that eternal and holy institution for the promotion of misanthropy and general nastiness, it isn’t good news for the working class. But still the left ought to have something to say about it.

Searching the archives of Socialist Worker draws a blank: not a column inch about the upcoming election. Likewise the Socialist Party.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, however, has noticed. line starts off well before descending into drivel about how “Labour Party activists’ time would be better spent building the fight against the cuts and privatisation.” I say ‘drivel’ because that’s what it is to suggest that Labour activists should not be interested in anything other than quibbling over those issues. Are they to be allowed no opinion on anything other than the cuts, comrades? Should the Labour Party just concede and let the Tories win every commissioner post in the country?

Politics is not just about economic squabbles, which is something you’d think the AWL would be able to comprehend when it also points out in the same piece that many parties to the right of the Tories have jumped at these elections as a chance to air their politics. Indeed, the candidate lists feature Ukip, English Democrats and British Freedomers, all on the ‘Hang ’em high, give ’em a good kicking’ approach to criminal policy.

To give the AWL its due, it is correct in its analysis that these elected commissioners will just “give a faint veneer of legitimacy and accountability to a reactionary, anti-working class state institution” (www.workersliberty.org/story/2012/10/23/dont-buy-police-and-crime-commissioners). The comrades can see the wood from the trees and the forest, but it seems they are completely against the idea of going in with a chainsaw to see what a left intervention might do - even a left intervention from the centre-left of Labour’s activists.

The Communist Party of Britain also draws a complete blank. The CPGB tackled the issue back in June by giving space to Labour Party Marxists (‘Police commissioners or citizen militias’, June 21). Jim Moody there makes the correct point that, “Were a revolutionary to stand in the November elections, he or she might use the opportunity to challenge the whole notion of the state pretending to bend to the popular will by inserting its placemen (of whichever party) in PCC posts.” As he predicted then, it has come to pass that no-one even vaguely revolutionary has stepped up to have a go.

I think that, just as this new election opens up space for the right, it is a shame that no-one from the left has realised that it also opens up room for them. Standing a candidate would have been the most effective way to intervene, but I hope that the blindness of much of the left doesn’t lead them to continue to just concede by not taking part in the election.

Given its nature, the spoilt ballot or non-participation is the only correct position the left can take, since it isn’t in the game stating its case. But it need not be taken passively. The lack of interest from the three main left groups, however, does make it seem likely that the election will be ignored; just as the questions of democracy and politics are ignored by the opportunist, economistic sects in general. They have their hopes pinned on the fightback against the cuts and the TUC calling a general strike that turns everyone into revolutionaries overnight, but it seems they cannot see that several years into austerity there is no major growth in the forces of the left.

The majority of the class are not even union members. There is general consent in the country that the effort to ‘balance the books’ for the nation is a desirable aim and that their roads to socialism are going nowhere fast.

John Masters

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Rape solution

Terry Burns criticises me in his letter of November 1. Just to clarify my position, I am not calling for the abolition of the offence of rape, but merely pointing out that it offers very little protection to rape victims, as the 90% acquittal rate testifies. The reality is that rape usually occurs in private, so when it comes to court it is usually one person’s word against another’s. In addition, the woman may be suspected by some of making a malicious accusation. No wonder most victims are reluctant to go to court.

Comrade Burns asks: “How long do the victims of rape have to wait until human nature under capitalism has improved to a position where women’s safety is no longer a problem?” It depends on the development of social solidarity. Capitalism, with its privilege for a minority and isolation and atomisation of the majority, creates the conditions for rape.

I was not contradicting myself when I said the problem of rape had been “solved”. Women’s oppression was defeated in our struggle to become human, only to be reinvented by class society. Frederick Engels’ position, I think. In other words, we will have to solve the problem again. An example of how ancient class society viewed rape is perfectly encapsulated in the Ramayana, where Sita, having been rescued from the demon, Ravana, is put aside by her husband because the mere possibility of penetration meant that she had to be banished.

In that view of rape nothing else matters but the act of penetration. Violence, imprisonment, pain, humiliation, powerlessness - all are immaterial. It disturbs me that the Swedish law has exactly the same definition. I do not deny that penetration distinguishes rape from all other forms of oppression against women and therefore must be a key element, but in excluding social, physical and psychological factors it introduces new problems for women.

The example of the two Swedish women in the Assange case demonstrates this: women lose control over the question. They were not raped in their opinion and were not interested in having Assange punished. This decision was thrust upon them by the state prosecutor, while their real concern regarding paternity was ignored. They were treated like children - not a liberating experience.

Heather Downs has made the point that one of the women did not complain about the non-use of a condom because she was asleep. If you can sleep through rape, then perhaps rape is not such a serious offence. In the public mind it is a very serious, nasty offence. Is it a good idea to spread the definition so wide that you risk devaluing the concept?

Phil Kent

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Crisis dogma

Ben Lewis and Harpal Brar, representing the left, participated in the Durham Union Society debate on October 19. The basis of this debate was the motion: “This house believes capitalism has failed” (‘Stalinism reinforces capitalist apologeticsWeekly Worker October 25).

No-one seemed to have recognised the reason why capitalism is in crisis. Brar believes we are facing another crisis brought on by overproduction. While this can and does lead to crisis for capitalism, it is not the primary reason for the world economy slowing down at present.

Capitalism is facing a crisis it has never faced before, as readers of this page should know by now: that is, the peaking of global oil production, while demand for oil in every upturn increases. A world where oil production is increasing - ie, 1859-2005/08, is a different world to that where production is stagnating and set to decline. To blame the present crisis on overproduction is just Marxist dogma, which ignores the fact that ultimately overproduction is itself an artefact of cheap, abundant energy, which increasingly is becoming a thing of the past.

Dogma allows people to ignore reality. Look at Arthur Bough claiming that capitalism was facing a new period of long-term growth and prosperity. He failed to see how world peak oil was undermining the new Kondratiev wave. You need abundant and cheap energy if you want a boom.

On the other hand, the defenders of capitalism divide into two camps, made up of those who call for more regulation and their opponents who want a free market. The latter sometimes cite how Thatcher turned Britain around by freeing up the market. But the British capitalist economy was not saved by Thatcherism, but by North Sea oil coming on stream in the 1970s. Those who support capitalism are failing to recognise that capitalism, which needs constant growth, resulted from cheap, abundant energy. From a peak oil/energy perspective, Marxists are not very different from orthodox economists. They don’t see that with the decline of abundant, cheap power capitalism must also decline, and if capitalism was to gain access to a new form of energy equal or superior to fossil fuels it would simply intensify the overproduction problem, which an unplanned system with advanced productive forces suffers from.

Ben Lewis thinks that Harpal Brar’s Stalinism serves to reinforce capitalist apologetics. It’s hard to disagree with Lewis in this respect. Harpal’s totally uncritical approach to Stalin and the Soviet Union he led is not exactly calculated to win over politically intelligent support to the fight for communism - which, despite the efforts of bourgeois propaganda, is a goal still worth fighting for.

Tony Clark

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Nasty recipe

Paul Demarty’s critique of the Tories’ attacks on social policy (‘Revenge of the nasty party’, November 1) recalls Dean Swift’s A modest proposal - for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick (1729).

Swift satirically proposes cannibalism: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London that a young, healthy child well nursed is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie or ragoust.”

The more things change ...

Daniel Trevenna

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The apprentice

Your article on the American elections was a masterpiece, and pristinely in tune with my instincts! (‘US elections: The more effective evil’, November 1).

How could I train to write for you or write like that? Where do you find the courage? And, only being 29, if I started writing for you, what do you think are the chances I’d end up in a secret imperialist prison before I die?

Note: I wouldn’t consider the latter a perk.

Christopher Hastings

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