Holy grail

Poor Steven Johnson (Letters, December 6) - a very bad case of the pot calling the kettle black, when he accuses the Socialist Party of Great Britain of irrelevancy.

I’m not required to rebut his letter because the Weekly Worker has repeatedly documented the failure of the left to influence the course of working class politics and, no matter how tasty and appetising they have made their menu of reforms, the left have continued to lack any real impact in elections. We just need to read the latest issue for confirmation, where Peter Manson writes: “This is reflected in the lack of enthusiasm among workers for leftwing opponents of the coalition cuts agenda” (‘Austerity assault intensifies’, December 6).

For the triumph of socialism, organisation is essential, but the organisation must be for socialism and based on socialist principles, or such organisation can be nothing to the workers but a delusion and a snare.

To the left, unity is the holy grail, always sought but never found. Insistence upon the necessity for agreement on principles, on methods and, above all, on the aim appears to be scorned as sectarianism. Real unity is a means to an end. First of all, the essentials regarding the end to be sought and the means to that end must be agreed upon, for ‘unity’ without common principles, methods and object is a unity of impotence. Unity under any other conditions than that of agreement on aims and methods is doomed to failure. The current type of left unity does not prevent certain members of one party from calumniating ‘fraternally’ against their ‘dear comrades’ in the other, nor discourage persecuting them with venomous bile, as again the Weekly Worker has amply provided examples of over the years.

Peter’s article also happens to offer an echo of the SPGB’s consistent position and yet again unintentionally confirms the correctness of the SPGB when he writes in connection with the far right: “In general the best means of defeating them is by forcefully arguing for our politics - or do we think those politics are so weak that we have no chance of winning the debate?” This is a position we have held since Mosley’s Blackshirts marched in the streets, and the battles we fought against them were the battles of ideas on the platform. And, believe it or not, a debate actually involves defining what socialism is. Contrary to what Steven believes, we don’t claim an SPGB monopoly, but we certainly don’t so easily cede its meaning to our enemies, whether they be ‘national socialists’ or ‘state socialists’.

Alan Johnstone

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Too much

In his comment on the SPGB, Steven Johnson proves too much when he claims: “No matter how much the working class ignore them, they continue to believe that they know what is best for them.”


But surely this applies to all left-of-Labour groups calling themselves socialist? Even to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which, despite having the support of the two main Trotskyist groups in Britain (the Socialist Party in England and Wales and Socialist Workers Party), is ignored in elections quite as much as the SPGB - sometimes in fact more so. Despite this, they too also continue to believe that what they propose is best for the working class.

John Lewis

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Old hat antis

Honestly, what decade is the Weekly Worker living in? If I were cynical, I’d suspect they were conspiring with the Platypus sect to pretend that the ‘anti-Germans’ were still relevant, or even that such a thing still exists (‘Excusing capitalism of role in rise of Hitler’, December 6). The whole ‘anti-German’ thing has been deader than a doornail since around 2006.

The hard-core ‘anti-Germans’ around the Bahamas and similar formations no longer consider themselves ‘communists’ or even ‘anti-Germans’. Instead they are just openly neoconservative reactionaries. What used to be considered the ‘soft-core’ ‘anti-German’ milieu has abandoned the idiotic theoretical posture entirely, many having moved on to a sort of general anti-nationalism, inspired by the journal Gegenstandpunkt (which was always hostile to the ‘anti-Germans’).

Bahamas made a rather public show a few years ago of disclaiming any pretensions to being communist or in any way a part of the left, and even decided that the label ‘anti-German’ was no longer any kind of indication of their politics (this is the magazine, by the way, that engaged in apologetics for the English Defence League).

Susann Witt-Stahl is a decent journalist, so I’m not sure why she’s indulging in this weird, alarmist sensationalism for an English-speaking audience, pretending that a marginal sect has any kind of influence. What is true to some extent is that the German left as a whole, even the radical left, has a somewhat indulgent position toward Israel that would probably shock most on the left from Anglophone countries, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the ‘anti-Germans’. You can find that sort of thing going all the way back to the 1980s.

But the ‘anti-German’ tendency belongs to an era when the iPod was considered a bold new technological innovation, Lord of the rings films still topped the box office charts, and George W Bush still occupied the White House. Usually it’s only the Platypus cult which tries to rehabilitate the ‘anti-Germans’ and assert their supposed relevance. How weird to see their critics doing the same.

Angelus Novus

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SWP fork

Socialist Workers Party comrades in Unite will meet on Sunday December 16 to decide whether to back the incumbent, Len McCluskey, in the recently announced snap election for general secretary, or instead support Jerry Hicks, who finished in second place in the 2010 election, or even stand themselves.

The election has been called three years early, with McCluskey serving only two years of his five-year term. He could have waited until 2015 to stand again, but then he would have been 70 by the end of his second term and his advisors think that members would not be too happy to have a general secretary working past normal retirement age.

Jerry Hicks, who has been runner-up in the previous two elections, said: “Our union has a long and discredited history of general secretaries trying to cling onto power beyond the age of 65. There was Ken Jackson, and then Derek Simpson; now Len McCluskey wants some more of it.”

If the SWP back Jerry or stand themselves, they will be expelled from the union’s United Left. It is another fork in the road - further right behind McCluskey or left in defence of the working class and union membership, and their own organisation in Unite. If they do as we in Grass Roots Left advocate and back Jerry Hicks - as they did last time after a fierce internal battle - then we have a fighting chance of enough or at least a substantial number of nominations. And a base to fight for re-elections to the national committee.

Grass Roots Left is always open to negotiations on the level of cooperation or even a merger we might enter into with the SWP if they take the decision to fight McCluskey’s undemocratic manoeuvre.

Gerry Downing
Grass Roots Left

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While media outlets from the Daily Mail to Private Eye have expressed deep disquiet at the proposals of Brian Leveson for press regulation, and David Cameron has followed their lead, the learned judge can at least count on the support of the National Union of Journalists.

The NUJ hierarchy has long been pushing for a shift towards the ‘Irish model’, of which Leveson’s proposals are a vague variant, that puts regulation in the hands of a body of public worthies (including journalists’ representatives). This would keep press regulation independent of either proprietors or politicians, thus safeguarding free speech and giving journalists a way to get around the authoritarian landscape of the modern newsroom.

Or it would, if we lived on Sugar Candy Mountain and not in the grubby, corrupt world on which the phone-hacking scandal shone an unflattering light. The notion that ‘proper’ appointment of regulatory board members could in any way be free of political pressures - or indeed that Rupert Murdoch and co are insufficiently ingenious to poach a few gamekeepers - is a fantasy, made pitifully absurd by the corrupt solidarity among the establishment exposed last year.

The NUJ leadership also likes to pay lip service to the importance of shop-floor organisation in the press; but by effectively backing the judicialisation of press complaints, they undermine it. The move to arbitration and tribunals in resolving industrial disputes has had exactly that effect across the union movement as a whole - a trade union which fights to convince an ‘independent’ arbitrator of the justice of its claim has very little need for shop stewards, and a good deal more need for lawyers and bureaucrats.

In a letter to all NUJ members (www.nuj.org.uk/files/LevNUJ.pdf), general secretary Michelle Stanistreet is in fine defensive form, and objects to the idea that the NUJ wants to “create a press akin to that in Zimbabwe or Iran” through statutory regulation of the press. Apparently, we have it all wrong: “the union does not back statutory regulation of the press,” she writes - in bold, for good measure.

Yet, given that the same letter demands an “independent regulatory body” that has “the authority and ability to regulate all commercially driven press”, and is “backed by the ability to impose sanctions, such as fines”, we have good reason to wonder what planet she is on. Whence comes the ‘authority’ to regulate the press, let alone to levy fines? It takes more than moral authority to get your hand in Rupert Murdoch’s pocket, that’s for sure.

We are not the only ones left wondering, alas. This astonishing exercise in cheap logic-chopping does not appear to have convinced the NUJ rank and file, two thirds of whom, according to Private Eye (December 14), oppose statutory regulation.

Harley Filben

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Paul Demarty’s article on press freedom (‘The dog that didn’t bark’, December 6) ignores one critical point for the left: effective left agitation and “scandalising the establishment” (Mike Macnair) requires sensationalism of our own, not just cheap sloganeering. Truly beating the media moguls’ filth, at their own game, means mobilising even the most backward elements of the working class.

German workers’ agitation did not pull any punches when it included conspiracy theories in its arsenal. In light of this recent crisis, this is an ideal situation for leftist equivalents of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and so on to disseminate conspiracy theories, Alex Jones-style, about the chambers of commerce/industry, federations of small businesses and employer associations in each country, for example, as a way for conspiracy-theory workers to scapegoat the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie (talk of a chamber of commerce ‘cabal’ and its ‘funders’ and ‘fellow travellers’) instead of merely the ‘greedy bankers’ and ‘corporate executives’.

Jacob Richter

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David Ellis is doubtless sincere in his outrage at the crass and inhuman inequalities born of the system’s relentless drive to capital accumulation for its own sake (Letters, December 6).

That said, I do fear that his proposals for a viable, post-capitalist society are rather flawed. His thought still bears the fingerprints of bourgeois ideology and logic. His anti-capitalism consists of a society “where each individual is born into equality”, where the fruits of the “full employment” of each “part-time” labourer earning a “living wage” are dished out equally amongst the mass of the population.

Oddly enough, to point out the trap that I believe comrade Ellis has fallen into here, I would turn the comrade’s attention to the very text from which he draws the famous Marx quote on the guiding principle of communist society - “From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs” - namely the latter’s 1875 Critique of the Gotha programme. This text was based on Marx’s “notes in the margin” to the programme agreed by the newly unified German Social Democratic Party, which consisted of the (pro-Marxist) ‘Eisenachers’ and the ‘Lassalleans’, supporters of the deceased Ferdinand Lassalle.

Marx is particularly scathing in his response to the Gotha programme’s ahistorical and therefore ultimately meaningless platitudes, such as the concept of “the free state” and the Lassallean “iron law of wages”.

Yet Marx also turns on the programme’s self-contradictory commitment to making “the proceeds of labour” belong “undiminished with equal right to all members of society”. In an eminently readable passage, Marx could hardly be more clear: we human beings are extremely unequal. Some of us are ‘naturally’ good at particular activities, some work more quickly and effectively than others, some are able to pick up particular skills or talents more effectively than others. Each of us has our own particular strengths, weaknesses and quirks marking us out as human individuals. As Marx puts it, humans “would not be different individuals if they were not unequal”. This is the “from each according to their ability” half of the society for which we should be striving.

As the other half of the quote implies, we human beings also have diverse and wide-ranging needs. Some of us live on our own. Some might have one or two children to support. Others are not able to work or are partially or wholly dependent on the help of others merely to carry out the most basic of tasks. Given the above, a society based on part-time wage-work and “equality” would actually lead to some getting more than others. What about those who cannot work?

Positively overcoming capitalism does not involve a combination of equality, a living wage and full employment. Were it only that simple. Rather, it involves the creation of a society where we can fully develop and express our unequal individuality, and where wages and the concept of employment - full or otherwise - are consigned to the dustbin of history. This presupposes the supersession of what Marx deems “bourgeois right”: ie, the replacement of value production, based on the equal standard of labour-time and wage labour, with conscious social control and planning, so that work “has become not only a means of life, but life’s prime want”.

Ben Lewis

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