Two parties

Though the SWP remains, and may remain, a single organisation, recent events have made it clear that there are in reality two parties: the party of the central committee and an emerging democratic, Marxist current. Those 500 comrades who have put their names to the list of CC supporters have identified themselves as the worst, most backward elements in the SWP.

They are 500 people who see no problem with the disputes committee and the case of Martin ‘Delta’ Smith; 500 people who blame those who refused to cover up for it for generating the crisis in the SWP; 500 people who endorse the lies and smears of the CC; 500 people who endorse Alex Callinicos’s flat-out lies regarding Bolshevik history, his use of smears and amalgam propaganda against the opposition, merging them in the mind of his flock with the terrifying visage of the Daily Mail, Owen Jones, Andy Newman, Laurie Penny and anyone else who happens to be passing by.

They are 500 people who endorse expulsion for conversations on Facebook; 500 people who support a CC which has refused on multiple occasions to circulate legitimate factional material and which prefaces such material it does circulate with Charlie Kimber’s own unique personal opinions; 500 people who support the rhetoric of “lynch mobs” and who have refused to expose or condemn the bullying of oppositionists that the whole left knows has taken place; 500 people who enjoy being told what to do and get a kick from being vicariously associated with the power of the leadership, a power they themselves will never have; 500 people who will shred their own reputation and principles for a return to peace and quiet and business as usual at any cost. None will think of themselves in these terms and, as reality is complex, they cannot simply be reduced to this.

But such people cannot exist forever in the same organisations as Marxists and those who believe in democracy. This is not to advocate a split for a second - though, depending on the results of the upcoming special conference and the behaviour of the CC, we may see one. The point is that now those in the SWP who do not renounce their dignity and principles have planted a flag in the most unprecedented and open fashion and that the present faction struggle will leave a permanent mark in the SWP, win or lose in the short term. Though on the surface ‘order’ and the rights of the CC to dispose of its property, the SWP itself, as it sees fit may continue, underneath things will continue to bubble away.

Many who support the CC in the present may find themselves in the opposition of the future. After all, is the SWP going to abandon those practices that caused this present crisis in the first place? The bureaucratic centralism, the use of members as simple ‘activity’ fodder, the failed perspectives, the failure to grow, the lack of a programme? All will remain, and when the crisis returns it will return all the more strongly for it. Unless all the ‘troublemakers’ are got rid of first ...

Many of those who back the CC now will one day have to confront the consequences of the current SWP model themselves. Already we see that that opposition in the SWP is younger, more intellectually open and more flexible in comparison to Callinicos and his CC. Time is quite literally on their side, but hopefully we will not have to wait too long for the necessary change to be won.

Michael Copestake

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Adam Buick correctly points out that ‘workers’ state’ is a political rather than economic designation (Letters, February 14). But he is quite wrong to attribute to me the statement that following 1928 “workers in Russia were reduced from being wage slaves to being industrial serfs” and the implication that “what emerged there in 1928 was worse than capitalism”. I did not use or imply such crude comparisons (Letters, February 7).

First, the forms of extraction of surplus product from serfs under European feudalism and from industrial workers in the USSR were quite different. Second, the comparison, “worse than capitalism”, is meaningless. Worse than capitalism when and where? 19th century England? 1930s India? 1970s USA? 1990s Russia? And for whom was it “worse”?

All one can say is that, for industrial workers, conditions in the USSR were in some respects worse than contemporary conditions in some advanced capitalist countries, and better in other respects - for example, security of employment and minimal living standards, free healthcare and high-quality education - than in most of those countries (as well as in present-day Russia). We do agree that it was not socialism of any kind, but this conclusion does not depend on crude comparisons with capitalism.

Moshé Machover

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Sticky labels

Adam Buick denies that the Soviet Union was ever a workers’ state. He suggests the Soviet Union was worse than imperialism. Somehow that leads him back in time to Max Shachtman, who drew the same conclusion.

I do not think the role of Marxists is to go around the world with a labelling machine, looking at each country. That method may work in obvious cases, where capitalism is firmly in control. But capitalism is not firmly in control everywhere: the class struggle often has not been decided, enabling us to stick a label on a country.

The Soviet Union certainly had state-capitalist aspects, but at the same time retained egalitarian traditions based on the Russian Revolution, which Stalin could not wipe out. The Stalinist bureaucracy was relatively impoverished compared to the new capitalists now in Russia, some of them former Stalinists. While Stalin did everything possible to destroy the workers’ state, the new state he built combined the contradictions of capitalism with the contradictions of all militarised structures, which are inherently inefficient. That is, state capitalism is itself a contradiction in terms, as bureaucrats themselves can become capitalists only if they have private property.

Yes, empirically, the Soviet Union did seem to be state-capitalist, but, dialectically, the historical process led to the Yeltsins and Putins and capitalist restoration, which was the inevitable result of Stalin.

Earl Gilman

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Chris Cutrone exemplifies the rather odd approach his Platypus organisation has to its anointed theoretical forebears (Letters, January 31).

I do not recognise the depiction of myself as some kind of “Lacanian-Heideggerian”, but that is by the by. More importantly, I do not recognise his brief presentation of Lukács. “Lukács was addressing,” apparently, “how it was precisely in the struggle for proletarian socialism, in the era of the high point of Second International Marxism, that the problem of ‘reification’ manifested itself. For Lukács, ‘reification’ meant Bebel’s and Kautsky’s SPD, in theory and practice.”

The problem is that this is flatly inconsistent with the entire line of argument of History and class consciousness. There is a clue, in fact, in the title - if Lukács said the things attributed to him by Cutrone, then he would have been better off calling it The Second International and class consciousness, or some such title. In any case, this is a text in which Kautsky barely appears at all, and Bebel only as the recipient of a letter from Engels at the tail end of the critique of Rosa Luxemburg’s text on the Russian Revolution. Where the International appears at all, it is simply to be the subject of an utterly run-of-the-mill, mass-action left critique (as in certain footnotes in the final chapter on organisation).

Reification, in Lukács, is not ‘official Marxism’. It is the entire structure of consciousness of bourgeois society, as lived through the “pure” categories of capital. This is not buried in some obscure footnote. It is laid out in a 200-page essay that constitutes the book’s beating heart. I cited all the relevant passages in my original piece, so I will not repeat my shameless quote-mongering on this occasion.

So how is Cutrone able to turn Lukács into this peculiar kind of ventriloquist’s dummy? I suppose the ‘sting in the tail’ of the above-cited passage is the phrase, “the problem of reification manifested itself”. It would be possible to put Cutrone’s words into Lukács’s mouth by taking it literally, and using History and class consciousness as a meta-commentary on itself. Viz the theory of reification is itself a product of reification’s ‘highest stage’, rather than the fundamental categories of capital, and an expression of the self-consciousness of society circa 1918-22.

I may, of course, be making a ventriloquist’s dummy out of Cutrone himself here, but that seems to be the implication of some of his other statements: “What makes Lukács’s early 1920s works so difficult to read today is that we lack Lukács’s object of critique. So his arguments become objectless and seem ‘speculative’ in the worst sense.” This would seem to imply that Lukács is only comprehensible in the specific headspace he occupied in 1918-22, from which we are all irrevocably cut off.

If this is Cutrone’s argument, however, then the necessary consequence is a radicalised subjectivism, in which no individual or collective from any given historical situation can fully comprehend the product of any other historical situation. Cutrone himself must stop bellyaching about the New Left, for he was not yet born when it emerged. And this whole exchange is equally pointless, for neither of us have any grounds to justify our assertions concerning Lukács’s significance. (And it’s me who’s supposedly some kind of postmodernist!)

More to the point, we have no way of assessing Lukács’s relevance as a critique of his own time, either. To put it in a very bald way, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a product of the same historical context (the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the disaster of World War I, the failure of the German revolution ... ). Why should Hitler’s ‘critique’ of Second International Marxism be treated with any less respect than Lukács’s? After all, we lack his ‘object of critique’ too - and so surely we are equally doomed to misinterpret the poor man.

If he does not want to uphold some absurd historical relativism, then Cutrone is back to square one. He must evaluate Lukács’s work according to the logical validity and empirical-historical accuracy of the claims he actually makes in his actual books. He must evaluate my critique, equally, according to the claims I actually make. (For that matter, he must evaluate Lukács’s 1967 self-critique according to the same calculus, not vulgarly dismiss it - in the most worn-out New Leftist manner - as a straightforward expression of his capitulation to Stalinism.)

Personally, I would make the exact opposite claim to the comrade - the subsequent 90 years of history, along with countless theoretical arguments concerning history, class-consciousness and History and class consciousness, make evaluating Lukács’s work easier. Forcing him into the procrustean bed of the Platypus tradition - which chops and stretches everyone from Adorno to the pseudo-Trotskyist shrieking of the Spartacist League into the same mutilated shape - presents, on the other hand, a serious obstacle to doing so.

James Turley

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Truth monopoly

I agree with Andrew Northall and his compliments on the Weekly Worker articles he mentions (Letters, February 14). I thought Lionel Sim’s article, ‘Reclaiming the dragon’ (January 24), was brilliant.

I am, like Andrew, far from qualified to assess the validity of either Lionel or indeed Chris Knight. However, the serious attempt to understand developments from ‘primitive communism’ to early class society, or a stage of development from proto-humans towards socially developed, more fully human society, is very welcome. This is an area that I am now very interested in and Chris Knight’s book, Blood relations, is a great read.

What does interest me about Blood relations is the apparent rejection of his very well argued ideas by the Socialist Workers Party. He mentioned this at a talk he gave at the Communist University and this has been confirmed by a friend of mine, who is now an ex-member of the SWP. She told me that, at the Marxism event shortly after the publication of Chris’s book, there was a session where (I think this is right) the book was attacked by the SWP leadership in a women-only session. If this is incorrect, then at least the book was thoroughly rejected by them. This begs the question, why?

I have read nothing in any of their literature that argues an alternative view. Do they believe that human development and brain development of the frontal cortex, along with social development, just happened? Are they content to neglect the area and just agree with Engels, but not know why they agree? This surely isn’t good enough for the leadership or their comrades. Is it (and this one worries me the most) because they believe that they have a monopoly on the truth and no other left groups or individuals could possibly be right?

Finally, I think that Lionel is an SWP member. Are the exciting ideas that he wrote about in the Weekly Worker aired in front of their large Marxism event?

Steve White

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Seeing as Amanda Mc Shane (‘No to the theocratic state’, February 14) gets wrong the first names of the husband of former president McAleese, who is the author of Ireland’s state-sponsored report into the Magdalene laundries (it’s Martin, not Patrick) and the minister for public expenditure and reform (it’s Brendan, not Brian), perhaps I should see the omission in her report of any acknowledgment of Sinn Féin’s championing of the cause of the Magdalene women as carelessness rather than political prejudice.

John Hedges

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