Letters

Paranoid

I am flattered you found my anthology of Proudhon of such interest (‘No guide to revolution’, July 19). While it is nice to read that “overall McKay and his translator collaborators have done a significant service to the Anglophone left”, I fear that Mike Macnair’s review gets much wrong.

I am surprised that Macnair spends so much time disputing that Proudhon matches “the profile of a worker, artisan or peasant autodidact”, given that he admits Proudhon “had to work for a living”. Macnair is alone in this: every writer on Proudhon - including Marxist John Ehrenberg - acknowledges his working class roots.

The facts are clear. His father was employed in a brewery and as a cooper and, after failing as a self-employed brewer-publican, worked the small family farm of his wife. Proudhon only attended secondary school thanks to a bursary arranged with the help of his father’s former employer, and was forced to leave in 1827 because of family poverty to become employed in a printshop. After a failed attempt to become a master printer and winning a scholarship, he became the employee of a transport company before, in 1848, finally becoming a full-time writer.

Is Macnair really suggesting that someone who had to sell his labour to capitalists is not a worker? Or is he taking Kautsky’s and Lenin’s elitist nonsense that workers cannot develop socialist theory to new lows? He is correct that being working class does not automatically make you right, but rather than leave it at that he denies that Proudhon was working class! Which should make you wonder how accurate the rest of his piece is. Sad to say, it is riddled with errors and often repeats distortions refuted in my introductory material.

For example, to proclaim “Proudhon was an opponent of political democracy as such” is simply nonsense. He was opposed to democracy limited to picking masters in a centralised political hierarchy, favouring one based on mandated and recallable delegates: as implemented, with praise from Marx, in the Paris Commune by Proudhon’s followers (Property is theft! pp28-29, 41). Macnair’s summary of The social revolution demonstrated by the coup d’etat of December 2 shows he has not read it.

He is wrong to assert that “System of economic contradictions is a deeply incoherent book, precisely because of its methodology.” It is only “incoherent” if you fail to understand that Proudhon is analysing an economic system riddled with contradictions, aspects of which he discusses in turn. True, his presentation is flawed, but with patience his argument becomes clear - particularly as it expands on the one presented in What is property? Sadly, Macnair does not understand that work, proclaiming it an “internal critique of defences of rent-bearing property”. This is not the case, as it also explicitly addresses how surplus value is produced by wage-labour (pp116-7).

To reduce Solution of the social problem to “a polemic against political democracy as involved in the solution to the social problem” is misleading. It is a critique of bourgeois representative democracy in favour of a delegate democracy based on mandates and recall (p273). During 1848 Proudhon urged workers to go beyond political reform into social reform to secure the revolution - and so sought to extend democracy (crucially into the economy), making it genuine (p55).

It is also strange to see it proclaimed that Proudhon’s “political ideas were somewhat closer to the ‘small is beautiful’ (Schumacher) approach”, when my book shows, Marxist myths notwithstanding, that he was not against large-scale industry. To present him as urging peasant and artisan production is simply untenable (pp10-11, 73). He also states that Proudhon thought “the right of withdrawal” could “provide the only real controls … against managerial power”. Yet Proudhon explicitly argued for industrial democracy, the election of management (pp11-12) - something Mondragon is deficient in.

Then there is the claim that I “sidestep Proudhon’s patriarchalism”, while proclaiming that he sought “to hive off” family relations “by making them into a separate sphere handled by women, under the authority of men”. So rather than apply his ideas on federalism to relations between men and women, as between communes and workplaces, he embraced the hierarchy he rejected elsewhere. Macnair misses the obvious: Proudhon’s sexism is, as I state, “in direct contradiction to his own libertarian and egalitarian ideas”. As for my alleged “discomfort” with it, in reality little discussion is needed to prove this (p48), showing Macnair’s speculations to be false.

The “problem with Proudhon”, apparently, is that he does not avoid “the problem of political ordering”. Yet he repeatedly argued for socio-economic organisation - hence the “universal association” of the 1840s, which became the “agricultural-industrial federation” of the 1860s. Rather than the “tyranny of structurelessness”, Proudhon advocated non-statist, federal socio-economic structures. And if Macnair considers that federations “immediately pose within themselves the same problems of political ordering as states”, then he is implying that the state will never wither away.

Macnair wonders why the texts included were picked - my biographical sketch indicates why for the major works. As for the shorter pieces, I felt those speak for themselves. As for What is property?, how can you have a Proudhon anthology without it? It would be like excluding The manifesto of the Communist Party from one on Marx.

As my book is about Proudhon, not Marx, I did not spend too much time on works by Marx that he was not aware of. Apparently, I accuse “Marx of having in The poverty of philosophy misread Proudhon”, which is not true - I show how he repeatedly misrepresents Proudhon (and contradicts himself in later works). As I note, Marx at times does point to flaws in Proudhon’s ideas, but to state my “objections to Marx’s critique are largely extremely secondary” fails to acknowledge that Marx does not meet the basic standards of honest debate. He also wonders if I included Proudhon’s letter to Marx as “as evidence of Marx’s sectarianism”. How paranoid to ponder the reasons for the inclusion of a famous letter between two giants of socialism!

Macnair concludes it “is worth reading Proudhon, then. But not in any sense as a guide, as McKay suggests, to the ‘general idea of the revolution in the 21st century’.” It is sad that he takes my obvious drift on Proudhon’s General idea of the revolution in the 19th century to imply that I am urging people to accept all of his ideas, when, being a revolutionary class-struggle anarchist, I explicitly did not: “… we should not slavishly copy Proudhon’s ideas; we can take what is useful and, like Bakunin, Kropotkin and others, develop them further in order to inspire social change in the 21st century” (p51). Still, I hope your readers will take his advice - but spend more time actually reading what Proudhon (and I) wrote!

Finally, Macnair states that “Marx and Engels from 1846 onwards more or less constantly urged the organisation of the working class for political action.” He fails to discuss its outcome - unsurprisingly, given its utter failure. Perhaps because these dire results were predicted by anarchists helps explains the current rise in our ideas?

Iain McKay
www.property-is-theft.org

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Illusion

Comrade Ralph Schoenman (Letters, August 9) commits an elementary logical error by claiming that Matzpen’s call for equal national rights for Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Hebrews (within a socialist regional federation) favours the present oppressor, Israel. It is self-evident that putting an end to national oppression is a necessary precondition for equality of national rights. Equal rights are in the interest of the oppressed. And we were always very clear about this: overthrow Zionism, in order to obtain equal national rights.

Moreover, it is a matter of elementary logic that by opposing the call for equality, comrade RS is in effect advocating inequality of national rights. This is incompatible with a socialist outlook.

By drawing a false analogy with the settlers of South Africa, Rhodesia, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, comrade RS tries to deny the existence of a Hebrew nation. In this he displays wilful blindness to reality and ignorance of the basic Marxist distinction between colonies (including all those he mentions) whose political economy depended on exploiting indigenous labour-power and those where the indigenous people have been excluded and displaced. In all colonies of the latter type - such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand - the settlers formed new nations; and the Israeli case is no exception. Ironically, in denying the reality of this nation, comrade RS agrees with Zionist ideology, which (for reasons of its own) shares this denial.

Comrade RS tells us that a struggle for national liberation is an avenue towards “the mobilisation of the working masses, into the call for social ownership of the means of production.” Sadly, this Trotskyist theory has proved to be wishful thinking. There has been no instance in which it has actually worked out. Victorious national liberation in Vietnam, Algeria and elsewhere has not been followed by socialist revolutions, but by oppressive regimes.

In the Palestinian case there is no way in which national liberation can be achieved without a socialist regional Arab unification, because there is no other way in which the present highly unfavourable balance of power can be overturned, creating favourable conditions for the overthrow of Zionism. Until then, the struggle of the Palestinian masses, aided by international solidarity, is vital for defending against Zionist oppression and preventing the worst. But it is a dangerous illusion to imagine that there is a short cut to victorious national liberation, followed later on by regional socialism.

Moshé Machover
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Salience

I hesitate to intrude on the debate between Dave Walters, Ralph Schoenman and Moshé Machover. However, I feel it is necessary to make a few salient points.

Politically, Moshé and I disagree fundamentally. Dave and Ralph are right that you cannot put an equal sign between the oppressor and the oppressed. Even if the Israeli Jews constitute a nation, and that in itself is doubtful, then they are an oppressor nation and do not have the right to self-determination. Self-determination is not a fundamental principle applicable to all, or we might start calling for the right of the bourgeoisie to self-determination!

It follows that, although the Jews of Israel have certain national rights which should certainly be respected, be they linguistic or religious, what binds them together as a ‘nation’ is precisely their antagonism to the indigenous population.

In fact, the so-called Hebrew nation would most likely fall upon itself in a bitter civil and sectarian war were the Palestinians to disappear from the equation. But, equally, just as we didn’t support the right of the whites of South Africa to self-determination, we did support, for example, the right for Afrikaans as a national language.

However, the posing of the right to form a separate Hebrew state would be a recipe for the return of Zionism in another guise. What possible reason could there be for such a state, even within a socialist federation, but to reverse the gains of the Arab masses? In the context of the Middle East, the assertion of a Hebrew political identity could not help but be a Zionist one or an attempt to reverse the gains of revolution.

But there are also dissimilarities with South Africa, apart from the fact that apartheid was exploitative rather than exclusionary. Zionism is far stronger, both militarily and demographically, than the whites of South Africa ever were. There is a rough numerical parity between the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews. This cannot be ignored. It has major implications for any successful resolution to the conflict. Moshé is undoubtedly correct when he says that the solution to the Palestinian question cannot be achieved within the confines of what was Mandate Palestine itself. It is only with a successful social revolution in the Arab East that the forces of imperialism, Israel’s main backers, will be defeated and forced to abandon their protégé. And there is also little doubt that the overthrow of the tyrants and gulf sheikhdoms and the ushering in of democratic control over the resources of the region will have a powerful effect on sections of the Israeli Jewish population. There is every reason to believe that a wider social revolution would have consequences among Israeli Jews themselves, albeit a minority of them.

However, I do also wish to make it clear that these debates should be comradely. It is one thing to disagree; it is another thing entirely to say that one’s opponent is little better than a left Zionist. Moshé’s advocacy of socialism in the abstract and the concept of a Hebrew nation may indeed be a concession to Zionism, but anyone who has worked with Moshé knows that he is a dedicated and fierce opponent of Zionism. Matzpen, of which he was a co-founder, was the first group to develop a coherent analysis of Zionism as a settler-colonial movement in contrast with that of Stalinism. Someone who is a Zionist believes in a Jewish state as a solution to what used to be called the ‘Jewish question’. No-one seriously thinks that Moshé believes any such thing. Nor, if Moshé were any kind of left Zionist, would he be a supporter of boycott, divestment and sanctions. At least I don’t know any other Zionists who take this position!

Perhaps I can also comment briefly on Jim Creegan’s reply (Letters, August 9) to my letter (August 2) about Alex Cockburn’s obituary (‘A radical for all seasons’, July 26). I think we agree on most, but not all, of the issues involved.

I accept that Jim was unaware of Counterpunch’s predilection for publishing the works of Atzmon and Shamir. His analysis of their politics is spot on, though I would disagree that they differ from Hitlerite anti- Semitism because they are not biological racists. In fact, the more intelligent, if that is the right word, anti- Semitic theoreticians did invoke the Jewish ‘spirit’ and cultural supremacy - Rosenberg and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, for example. Nor is the ‘virus’ of anti-Semitism prevalent around the Palestine solidarity circle, as he believes. Mearsheimer isn’t a respected liberal scholar, but a ruling class ideologue who believes US interests aren’t best served by its alliance with Israel. That Shamir’s son is the official representative of Wikileaks in Sweden is worrying, given the allegations that Shamir senior handed over details of individuals in the leaks to the Belorussian state.

The question of the reaction to the holocaust in the Middle East is an entirely different matter and is a consequence of Zionism’s weaponising of the holocaust against the Palestinians. Anti-Semitism in the Middle East does not have the same social roots as it did in Europe (a useful book on this is Gilbert Achcar’s The Arabs and the holocaust).

However, I refute Jim’s suggestion of subjectivism, that I judge everything solely from the perspective of Israel and the Middle East. Cockburn also shared with the right hostility to the idea of climate change or that global warming was a result of the burning of fossil fuels. People may wish to read the exchanges he had with George Monbiot, where he effectively turned his back on the accepted notion of scientific analysis and peer-reviewed articles (see www.monbiot.com/2007/05/31/alexander-cockburn-and-the-corruption-of-science).

One of his last articles, ‘Who are the real fascists: Marine Le Pen - or the United States?’, showed the direction he was heading in. He had become a critic of capitalism and imperialism from the right. He paid fulsome tribute to the leader of France’s Front National, Marine Le Pen: “Marine Le Pen is a nationalist politician, quite reasonably exploiting the intense social discontent in France amid the imposition of the bankers’ austerity programmes.” I think Jim would agree that this puts Cockburn outside the pale of anyone on the left. That he opposed US imperialism is, of course, admirable. In seeing fascist and racist politics as a solution, he was merely following a path that others on the left, such as Independent Labour Party MP John Beckett had trodden before him.

Alex Cockburn, despite detesting him, was a pale caricature of another recently deceased ex-radical, Christopher Hitchens.

Tony Greenstein
Brighton

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Anti-Semitism

Jim Creegan is no less unhinged than Tony Greenstein if he thinks Atzmon is an anti-Semite - unless, of course, criticising the Jewish religion is anti- Semitism, in which case most Jews are anti-Semites and everybody who isn’t Jewish must by definition be anti-Semite.

The Jewish religion is a collection of unreconstructed outlooks and beliefs that belong more properly to the ancient slave and pre-slave societies, reflecting as they do the early bloodthirsty beliefs of the emerging ruling classes - especially those that were happy to go around pillaging already settled lands and who were responsible for the original world-historic defeat of women. Criticising the Jewish religion is not anti-Semitism. It’s almost a duty.

Atzmon is of Jewish heritage, so clearly he doesn’t believe there is anything genetic about being Jewish and he majors in criticism of that religion because that’s his background. No doubt most of us began by questioning Christianity and its hypocrisies.

Zionism (which you don’t need to be Jewish to believe in) has managed to make both itself and Judaism off limits to criticism and the likes of Creegan and especially Greenstein help them with this. These two would destroy Marxism if we took their rantings seriously.

Also as Marxists surely you would recognise the historically progressive side of Christianity’s criticisms of Judaism, which allowed it to break from that gruesome world outlook? Unfortunately if Marxists find Judaism out of bounds for criticism, then reactionary Catholic clerics will be allowed to make the correct criticisms hypocritically and reap the rewards.

David Ellis
via Facebook

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Islamophobia

I agree with your analysis regarding the Socialist Workers Party (‘Rebelling against rural values in Warrington’, August 9). Their position is always to ignore social problems such as the one you highlighted. Their way is always to: (1) pretend it is all the fault of the capitalist press; (2) pretend that there is no problem within Islam or at least Islam practised in Pakistan or the UK; (3) call everyone a racist or Islamophobic if they dare point out any problems. All this glosses over very real social problems.

It also has other consequences. I recently attended a ‘We are Waltham Forest’ anti-English Defence League meeting, where a room full of aging white lefties (me included) all pretended we are a wonderfully integrated borough and would stop the evil EDL from marching. Unpleasant as the EDL are, they are not Martians, but alienated white working class who take exception to the Muslim community not integrating. Well, they are correct about this, of course, but their solution is both dangerous and unwelcome.

Whilst I don’t want the EDL terrorising the borough, we shouldn’t pretend we are integrated as a borough or that Islam is a religion of peace. In the room there were two Muslims - one on the platform and one in the audience. Where were the others in the borough? I think the answer is at the mosque, but they certainly wouldn’t attend a meeting such as this.

The Muslim woman from the platform argued we should not be divided by race, religion or sexuality. I doubt if she could have said this in the mosque or would even wish to. She was free to say it at the meeting because there were virtually no Muslims in the room and there is no doubt in my mind that we are divided, except by superficial solidarity, where all the white lefties make the concessions. The problem is that the SWP and others all ignore the shocking abuses that take place within Islam in the name of opposing a so-called greater problem.

I raised the issue from the floor that division in our society will feed resentment and the EDL. The policies of this government are the main cause of the division. But Waltham Forest will soon have new ‘free schools’ and three are religious in character - including a rumoured all-girls Muslim free school. I mentioned that religious groups (Muslims) will send their kids to these schools if instructed to by their community and urged them not to do this. The applause was minimal, of course, because I should have come out with some ghastly rhetoric about how we are all one and the EDL are evil scum (which I don’t actually believe, by the way).

The problem remains that Islam is not a religion of peace and remains one that oppresses women. It will perpetuate these ideas through religious schools sponsored by this government. The EDL only force the communities back into themselves, but the SWP and the like just ignore this issue. We need to take the abuse of youth and women in Muslim communities seriously, just as your article did.

Steve White
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Pentonville 5

Forty years ago, in the summer of 1972, new technology had revolutionised dock handling, and ‘containerisation’ - the pre-packing of transit goods in containers by non-dockers - was in place. The consequence of this development was that there would be loss of work for many dockers, who were members of the Transport and General Workers Union.

The Tory government of Ted Heath had set up the National Industrial Relations Court (NIRC) under the 1971 Industrial Relations Act, which was to be used to attack the trade unions. Laws on picketing - particularly ‘secondary picketing’ - criminalised workers who were trying to defend their jobs and livelihoods. 1972 was a period of great class battles, involving not just the dockers, but building workers and miners, and now their basic democratic rights were being infringed, as the capitalist state attempted to restrict workers’ right to withdraw their labour.

The NIRC, which the TUC and its affiliated unions had refused to recognise, prohibited picketing at two east London container depots. But the picketing continued and five dockers - all TGWU shop stewards (Bernie Steer, Vic Turner, Derek Watkins, Cornelius Clancy and Anthony Merrick) - were committed for contempt and imprisoned. Bernie Steer and Vic Turner were both members of the Communist Party, which had successfully set up a rank-and-file body, the Liaison Committee for the Defence of the Trade Unions (LCDTU), to campaign and mobilise workers in opposition to the NIRC. The union itself was fined £5,000 for contempt. Meanwhile haulage bosses at Chobhams and Midland Cold Storage were seeking fresh injunctions and court orders.

In response to the jailing of the five dockers, the LCDTU organised unofficial strikes involving 44,000 dockers and 130,000 other workers, and the TUC general council voted 18-7 to call a one-day general strike for July 31. Jack Jones, TGWU general secretary, rather than call his membership out on indefinite strike, had taken the issue to the TUC.

In view of the threatened general strike the Tories and the capitalist state caved in and had the five dockers released on July 26. Someone called Norman Turner, occupying the post of ‘official solicitor’, was used to free the five dockers. The official solicitor is supposed to act on behalf of those unable to manage their own affairs, and had never previously intervened in this way. He successfully applied to the high court to have the NIRC ruling overturned.

In fact, it was the magnificent response of the working class that freed the five dockers. When it came to the crunch, the Tories were defeated and the ensuing Labour government repealed the Industrial Relations Act. Subsequently Thatcher and Blair used other anti-union laws to try to shackle the trade union movement. Today there is a complete distrust of the Labour Party, whose support for austerity measures means the working class will have to seek out new perspectives.

It is open to question whether 24-hour general strikes are the answer. There have been in the recent period many such one-day protests in Britain, Greece, Spain, Portugal and the United States. But no government has been forced out and capitalism still remains. In 1972 workers downed tools and there was a complete change. The question of who rules was posed. The state had to use ‘other means’ in the shape of the official solicitor to solve its dilemma.

To overturn the property relations of capitalism will require not just one-day strikes, but picketing where necessary and the abolition of all anti-union laws. Capitalism can only be overthrown using a scientific socialist method.

Laurence Humphries
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Not guilty

Eight months after being spuriously accused of burglary, imprisoned overnight and deprived of our clothes and shoes, before being released to find our way home in the small hours, 16 of us arrested on November 30 2011 were finally declared not guilty of criminal offences under the Public Order Act.

It all started with a banner-drop from the roof of a central London office block. “All power to the 99%,” read our huge banner, neatly tying the ethos of Occupy London to the anti-cuts agenda of the TUC’s N30 day of action. Appropriately enough, the office in question was home to the obscenely remunerated Mick Davis, CEO of the mining conglomerate, Xstrata.

After the initial violence of our arrest, what followed was tedious rather than anything else. Nearly 24 hours in detention, an appointment to answer bail and a total of six days in court, all spanning a period of 252 days, seemed contrived to bore us into submission. Happily it also gave us a great opportunity to socialise. I knew none of these folks before N30, whereas now I count them among my best friends.

I also knew nothing about Xstrata and if we’d simply been given a wagging finger that might still be the case. But that’s not what happened, so it was only right and proper that Xstrata should be thoroughly investigated: the Carnival of Dirt was born. When I heard that Peruvians, blighted by Xstrata, had heard of our Carnival and were planning a solidarity action, all the hassle of the arrest felt worthwhile.

That’s not to say I sought the arrest. It’s been an expensive and time-consuming business, which I could have done without. I was roughed-up, but not injured; some of the others on that roof weren’t so fortunate. None of us had been made aware of the risks or nature of our target by Occupy London before we were sent into action, leaving us subsequently feeling quite annoyed. Lessons need to be learnt - ignorance may be a defence in court, but it’s no basis on which to build an ongoing direct action movement.

My abiding thoughts, however, are positive: the sense of justice in fighting our charges, the mutual support of a very special group of friends and, of course, the massive relief of a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

John Ranson
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Fight for Sites

We’re writing to let you know about our new campaign and the common issues it has with the work you do. As the current crises bite, it can feel like we are fighting on many fronts. Traveller rights - and specifically the fight for adequate site provision - are about housing, anti-racism, the Localism Bill, land rights and many more crucial struggles. These are at the core of the Traveller Solidarity Network’s new Fight for Sites campaign.

Sadly, traveller rights are too often found near the bottom of the agenda, or remain unexplored parts of campaigns for social justice. We would like to work with other groups for political as well as practical reasons. These struggles are linked and connecting our different networks can only make us both stronger.

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Traveller Solidarity Network
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