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.
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
on Proudhon - including Marxist John Ehrenberg - acknowledges his
working class roots.
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
Macnair really suggesting that someone who had to sell his labour to
capitalists is not
worker? Or is he taking Kautsky’s and Lenin’s elitist nonsense
that workers cannot develop socialist theory to new lows? He is
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.
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
he has not read it.
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).
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
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.
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.
“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.
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
how can you have a Proudhon anthology without it? It would be like
manifesto of the Communist Party from
one on Marx.
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
(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!
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!
Macnair states that “Marx and Engels from 1846 onwards more or less
constantly urged the organisation of the working class for political
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?
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
equality of national rights. Equal rights are in the interest of the
oppressed. And we were always very clear about this: overthrow
order to obtain equal
it is a matter of elementary logic that by opposing the call for
equality, comrade RS is in effect advocating inequality
national rights. This is incompatible with a socialist outlook.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
Cockburn, despite detesting him, was a pale caricature of another
recently deceased ex-radical, Christopher Hitchens.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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’
Fight for Sites
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.
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.
Traveller Solidarity Network