SPGB enigma

I was pleased to see Jon D White’s quite reflective letter about the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and his comments about sectarianism and its twin, liquidationism (Letters, November 22).

To its credit, the SPGB is the longest lasting genuinely socialist party in Britain, and has pretty consistently advocated socialism as the only alternative to capitalism and the only remedy to its ills. As part of this, it has consistently defined socialism in the most clear and simple terms, and which do not allow for any ambiguity or compromise. It has, remarkably, published the monthly Socialist Standard for virtually every year of its existence.

Although relatively small, the SPGB in my view consistently adds value to the labour and progressive movement by being a clear and consistent advocate of socialism and expressing a straight-talking and straightforward language most people can understand.

Those of us who believe in a strategy to develop and unite the struggles against the effects of capitalism, and to develop these into a struggle against capitalism itself, are forced by the SPGB to consider whether or not we risk tipping into reformism and preservation of the capitalist system.

I would like, however, to question two elements of the SPGB’s case and practice. One, the SPGB is of the view that capitalism will of itself generate the political and socialist consciousness required to take the necessary revolutionary action to establish socialism. Yet its principal yardstick, membership and support remains microscopic. Given several hundred years of capitalism (and over a hundred years in its decaying, decadent phase), why is socialist consciousness as defined by the SPGB not very much more widespread?

Two, Jon refers to the fact that the SPGB expelled the Socialist Studies Group in 1991. Both the SPGB and SSG call themselves the SPGB, both adhere to exactly the same declaration and principles, and both put forward exactly the same political arguments. Given that the number of SPGB-type socialists remains minuscule, is it not ridiculous to have two separate parties, claiming the same name and politics, but apparently viscerally hostile to each other?

I think the real problem with the SPGB is that, despite its claims, it is inherently sectarian and inveterately hostile to any struggle against capitalism which does not adhere to its dogmatic schemas. It opposed and rejected the first sustained breach in world imperialism represented by the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution. Indeed on the back of complete hostility to Lenin and the Bolsheviks it even rejects any analysis of the evolution of capitalism into its decadent phase of imperialism.

It therefore continues to advocate strategies and tactics appropriate and relevant to the ascendant phase of capitalism in the late 19th century, and which are by definition over 100 years out of date and largely ineffectual today.

If the British road to socialism is to come via the SPGB, just how long do they think it will actually take for the majority of the working class to be imbued by their socialist consciousness and carry out their version of socialist revolution? Not only will we all be dead by then: the human race itself is likely to have become extinct as well.

Andrew Northall

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Sort it out

I must thank Heather Downs for correcting my error (Letters, November 15). She is correct: the women in the Assange case asked for an HIV test, not a paternity test. However, it makes no difference to my argument that the real concerns of the two women were ignored by the law. If the women were concerned that they may have contracted Aids it would be difficult for them to practice their chosen lifestyle responsibly.

As for Chris Knight’s “just so” stories on the human revolution, the speculation is based on the best evidence available. I will stick with his view that females were the driving force behind the creation of modern humanity. That sex was the fundamental relation between males and females, and that human culture was the outcome of our female ancestors’ struggle for the right to choose their own mates. And that the outcome of this process produced communistic social relations that lasted everywhere until the coming of agricultural societies, which reintroduced minority control over society.

Admittedly this argument is convenient for a communist because it implies that to be human is to be communist. But hunter-gatherer societies still exist. What lessons can we learn from them?

Firstly that the mode of production is not just a matter of economics, but its long-term existence depends on the cultural superstructure of society, including myths and rituals. The power of women comes from their role in society, which they jealously guard by active social solidarity. For example, control of food preparation and childbirth make them both essential and central to the social whole - unlike in class society, where they are condemned to a second-class status.

Lesson: women need a new economic role. A political struggle which includes positioning and building alliances and the creation of new cultural mores. This process is already happening. It does not include relying on bourgeois courts, which reduces people to those that are controlled.

Secondly, hunter-gatherers tend to be extremely egalitarian. You cannot tell anyone what to do - not even children. One outcome of this is that people are expected to sort out their own differences.

Others will express opinions, but not intervene unless things get out of hand. Very different to the Swedish rape law, where trivial disagreements between consenting adults excuses state intervention. From a hunter-gatherer viewpoint punishment is irrational and morally unacceptable.

Phil Kent

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Student split

Whilst the student demonstration on Wednesday November 21 did not exactly shake national politics, it was a scene of a political struggle between elements of the student left (led to some extent by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts) and the careerist bureaucracy of the National Union of Students.

Most of the media has reported that around 10,000 students were there - as part of either the main procession or the NCAFC feeder march. The route, a subject of controversy beforehand, avoided buildings of political significance and proceeded down almost empty streets, as it meandered away from central London south of the river Thames. The rally in Kennington Park did not go as the NUS would have hoped. President Liam Burns was heckled and forced to leave the stage. Liam will be counting on a continued ebbing of the student movement, the active elements of which are beginning to show their disillusionment. Unless there is a significant resurgence in political activity on campus, and the students see their supposed leadership as a fetter upon their struggle, he will avoid the fate of Aaron Porter, who was barracked during the 2011 protests and subsequently declined to stand for re-election as NUS president.

An article on the NUS website entitled ‘Demo 2012 - what’s next?’ gives an outline of NUS plans for 2013 and attempts to offer a narrative to students who were probably asking themselves what the point of ‘Demo 2012’ was. This excerpt reads like the PR material of a faceless corporation: “The demo should act as the beginning, and at NUS we’ve been busy putting together a calendar of campaigns for students to get involved in.”

Students are invited to enter student politics on the terms of the NUS leadership, within the parameters of events and campaigns they have organised and control. The events listed include “shareholder activism training” (if only the capitalist class understood the importance of responsible investment) and a national constituency lobby (a bankrupt tactic adopted by successive NUS leaderships as a substitute for serious collective action) for January in protest against reforms in further education for adults. The NUS claimed the march was about setting the higher education agenda, but it is clear the leadership is looking to return to business as usual.

NCAFC is more and more trying to assert itself as a rival to the NUS bureaucracy. Its supporters marched under the slogan encouraging reformist illusions - “Tax the rich to fund education” - that was adopted at the NUS conference, but was later dropped by the leadership. Like much of the student left, NCAFC is taking hope from the victory of students in Quebec, led by a leftwing student union, against a proposed fees hike. The problem is that without a proper understanding of why that struggle was successful, the wrong lessons are learned and it becomes a justification for the student left to continue what it has been doing for years, but simply trying to be louder and more ‘militant’.

An alternative to the treachery of the NUS leadership, on the one hand, and the endless, fruitless ‘actions’ of the left, on the other, is needed. Patient building and education is what is required in what looks likely to be a period of reduced activity. The student movement needs to get itself into a shape where it can actually resist future attacks and go onto the offensive. Democratisation and politicisation will be key.

The forces driving the changes within higher education today can only be understood through an analysis of capitalist development and the power of capital within society. The fight around education must be one that raises the question of who should own and control it; and one which is based on the assertion that the key task of revolutionary students in universities is to fight the influence of capital within these institutions. The unity of revolutionaries on campus would be an important step in this direction.

Callum Williamson

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We are on the edge of a political earthquake in British politics. In polling conducted at the weekend, the Respect candidate in the November 29 Rotherham by-election, Yvonne Ridley, has the lead over Labour. Labour has panicked and launched a vicious and negative campaign of dirty tricks against Respect, but this has been sidelined by our magnificent, positive campaign with the Respect battle bus, advertising truck and campaign groups in every ward.

Polling conducted in the Croydon North by-election suggests that Lee Jasper, the Respect candidate, is now neck and neck with the Labour Party to win the constituency. This overturns a Labour majority of over 16,000 at the last general election. This is nothing short of astounding and is testament to the excellent campaign team, candidate and brilliant policies we have.

If Respect wins one of these constituencies, it will make headlines across the world. If we win both, we will deliver the biggest blow to the squalid political consensus that has suffocated British politics since the 1970s. It will mark the transformation of our party into the fourth force in British politics and the most sustained challenge to three-party politics since it developed in the 1980s.

For Respect, this is like a general election. We can deliver a damning verdict on the path of British politics and society in the last two years. We can deliver a challenge that shows what real Labour means and what real communities need. Please help us deliver Yvonne Ridley and Lee Jasper to parliament to make a formidable team with George Galloway.

Chris Chilvers
National secretary, Respect

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The Socialist Workers Party’s habit of bending in the wind to every passing screech of liberal outrage really does land it in some contorted positions.

And so it is that the good comrades found themselves yesterday in the peculiar position of calling for a Labour vote over Respect’s Lee Jasper in the Croydon North by-election. The reasoning was summed up succinctly: “Respect’s Lee Jasper has tapped into anger around police racism in the Croydon run-off. But Socialist Worker is not calling for a vote for him, following Respect leader George Galloway’s disgraceful and well-publicised comments on rape. Instead we encourage supporters to vote for Labour in this instance” (Socialist Worker December 1).

There you have it - Lee Jasper represents yesterday’s hot-button issue (police racism); but the publicity afforded to Galloway’s infamous comments on the Assange case makes not only him, but any Respect candidate, too embarrassing to touch. It is almost Workers’ Liberty-esque.

How do we deal with this loopy reasoning? Perhaps we should take it at face value, and this gets to the core of how the SWP makes political decisions. A while ago, the Catholic church came up with an ingenious ranking system for sins of the flesh. It has achieved a certain degree of infamy for putting masturbation higher in the sinfulness stakes than rape - because, after all, rape can plausibly lead to conception, unlike spreading one’s seed on the dry earth.

The SWP, in the absence of any meaningful political calculus for taking such decisions, also seems to maintain a grand list of Bad Things, ordered according to their Badness. Making an off-colour comment about alleged sexual assault registers higher on the list than police racism - this month, at least.

On the other hand, there is the small matter that the SWP has announced a general volte-face on the issue of voting Labour these past few years, reheating the tired old business of placing oneself alongside those who have ‘illusions’ in Labour as a patronising step towards peeling the scales from their eyes. One almost hoped that cynical motivations were behind this latest odd twist, rather than the utterly incoherent ostensible reasons given.

Too incoherent by half, in the end - by the end of Wednesday, the clause about voting Labour had disappeared, to be replaced by a short note in square brackets. “An earlier version of this article called for a vote for Labour in the Croydon North by-election. This was an editorial error. Socialist Worker is not endorsing any of the candidates in the Croydon North by-election.” In other words, the SWP leadership has spun on a sixpence quicker than Joe Stalin could manage in his prime. Top marks, comrades!

Harley Filben

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Terry Liddle

I knew Terry Liddle, who died on November 15, very well. He was a friend and comrade, someone I had known since the early days of the Socialist Alliance in the 1990s, when he was the secretary of Greenwich SA. He regularly attended national meetings once they started to take off around 1996, and was on the SA national council and other national bodies.

I was always impressed by Terry’s complete lack of sectarianism and his determination to build left unity. He always spoke in a most positive way to move the Socialist Alliance project forward. He was committed to his work in Greenwich, where he was a tower of strength to those within his community that he helped empower. He was a genuine libertarian, environmentalist socialist - but a socialist first and foremost.

Terry became part of the campaign to try and save the original SA from being closed down by the then leadership of the Socialist Workers Party in the early part of this century. He remained a member after it was closed down, and when it was relaunched in 2005.

He was treasurer of the relaunched SA in its early years, and, until very recently, I still received stuff from the Electoral Commission in his name! Indeed, he remained a member until the end, being fully paid up, even though deteriorating health meant he could no longer attend meetings. We would correspond regularly - by phone, and more recently by email. He was a true friend and a committed socialist.

Terry was a great asset to the movement and he will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with his family and close friends at this very sad time.

Terry Liddle’s funeral will take place on Monday December 10 at 3.30pm at Eltham Crematorium, Crown Woods Way, Eltham, London SE9. I would like to pay my respects on behalf of the Socialist Alliance - and all socialists generally.

Pete McLaren

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