popular strategy among ‘anti-German’ sympathisers, but also among
German lefts who have been tolerating, or at least hushing up, the
former’s pro-capitalist and bellicist political theory for many
years, is to deny or downplay the problem. That is no surprise,
because the ‘anti-German’ phenomenon is so obviously
anti-communist and neo-conservative in its origins; the opportunism
and servility with which the German left, in and out of parliament,
has been responding to it to this day is, unfortunately, nothing
short of a cowardly betrayal of the enlightenment and a historical
failure. It is particularly in the international arena that German
lefts try to conceal this embarrassing weakness.
am in no position to judge whether Angelus Novus is motivated by this
desire when making a statement that is so out of touch with reality:
ie, “the whole anti-German thing is deader than a doornail”
(Letters, December 13). I am certain, however, that in saying so he
imparts a completely wrong view of the true power relations and
struggles on the German left.
is probable that ‘anti-Germanism’ has passed its zenith. Part of
the reason is that the shocking reality in the Middle East
increasingly undermines its arguments for unconditional solidarity
with Israel and warmongering. In addition, the economic crisis and
cuts in welfare services complicate the ‘anti-German’ project of
aligning the left to the fetish of a pursuit of happiness through a
capitalism that has been cleansed of Keynesianism.
is true that some ‘anti-Germans’ have ‘grown up’, taken up
academic careers and now work for neo-conservative think tanks and
media (most notably for the Axel Springer corporation). It is also
true that many ‘anti-Germans’ no longer refer to themselves as
such. But that is because popular forms of their ideological concepts
have long become hegemonic and are now the quintessence of being
‘leftwing’ in Germany. What used to operate under the name
‘anti-German’ a few years back is today called ‘criticism of
ideology’, ‘anti-national’, ‘post-anti-German’ or simply
‘left’. This is often even more effective, not least because
former ‘anti-Germans’ now hold positions of power in politics,
the media and science.
is the point of this silly nomenclature argument? It seems that
Angelus Novus is an idealist who tries to make us believe that a
problem can be eliminated if you only change its name. But the
hijacking of emancipatory terms is part of the matrix of
neo-conservative ideology. The ‘anti-Germans’ in the Left Party’s
youth organisation, for instance, call themselves the ‘federal
study group, Shalom’. Does that turn their influential anti-Iran
warmongering, their hysterical pro-Israel solidarity and their
agitation against Muslims and leftwing Jews into the politics of
peace? And if the ‘anti-Germans’ disappeared in 2006, as Angelus
Novus believes, how come Henryk M Broder, a close ally of Thilo
Sarrazin and Geert Wilders, was recently welcomed like a pop star by
more than 800 ‘anti-Germans’ and their supporters at the
Antifaschistische Hochschultage, a series of ‘anti-fascist’
lectures and seminars at Halle University? If they don’t exist any
more, how did an alliance of ‘anti-Germans’ and social democrats
manage to split the traditional coalition that has been organising
the annual memorial march for Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht for
is an elephant in the room and Angelus Novus doesn’t see it. In
response to his rhetorical question, “what decade is the Weekly
Worker living in?”, I will reply equally polemically: “What
dream world is Angelus Novus living in?”
Assoziation Dämmerung, Hamburg
Angel of history
only is Angelus Novus wrong about Platypus trying to reassert the
“relevance” of the ‘anti-Germans’, but the supposed time-lag
he is referring to is but a blip in recent history. The years
surrounding 2006 still feel very present to me - and I mean that in
the sense that the Bush era, and war on terror, still feels opaque to
my, or anyone else’s, full understanding (not to mention that Obama
is still carrying out many of Bush’s foreign policies!).
there truly is a lag in consciousness when trying to make sense of
the course of history and outcome of socio-political events, isn’t
it most urgent to attend to the political responses from our recent
past, even if their trajectory did lead to the ‘anti-Germans’
openly moving to the right?
that 2006 represents a deepening of failures for the left, and the
anti-war or anti-imperialist movement was a flop on an international
scale, how can we be so sure that revisiting the ‘anti-German’
argument is now wholly ‘outdated’? How can we be so confident
that the anti-war movement did not end up becoming an expression from
the right since, it is clear post-2006, it did not bring humanity one
step closer to emancipatory possibilities?
consciousness is now actually in a worse spot because, even if
consciousness of history comes to full fruition after the Owl of
Minerva takes its flight at dusk, we are still utterly confused
practically. When history cannot be practically transformed in a
post-2006 world, then we can sure bet that consciousness is still
lagging far off in the distance. To say that we are somehow beyond
the ‘anti-German’ phenomenon, like Angelus Novus would like to
think, is like being caught up in shifting fads without really
understanding why we choose to express ourselves through them in the
first place. There is no time like now to digest the ‘anti-German’
there is a relevance in the ‘anti-Germans’ for Platypus, it is in
our project’s mission to bring their disintegrative history to the
level of an international conversation, where different perspectives
and motives will transform the discourse that, until now, was mostly
relegated to the provinces of Germany (and Europe). To wish away the
‘anti-Germans’ as insignificant for us today is to treat them as
a thought-taboo and an inconvenience rather than a symptom that
necessarily needs working through. As the angel of history should
know, the present only becomes clear when confronting the
disintegration of the past instead of avoiding it.
Platypus Affiliated Society
the last few months, I have thought very long and very deeply about
where Marxists should concentrate their energy and resources.
famously wrote: “devote the most attention to the youth”.
Similarly, Lenin wrote: “those who have the youth have the future”.
At the same time, Ted Grant often wrote about middle class students
in the rarefied atmosphere of the universities going through their
in 2012, in great contrast to 30 years ago, 55% of female and 45% of
male school and college leavers now go on to university. It would
therefore be a big mistake for Marxists not to carry out work amongst
the student fraternity, as well as amongst the young unemployed.
Students must have friendly relations with Socialist Students,
Socialist Worker Students, Marxist Students and similar student
societies. The aim should be for Marxists to work together to break
the stranglehold that Progress has on 93 out of 96 university Student
Labour Clubs. Progress, by controlling the Student Labour clubs,
effectively controls the National Union of Students and, more
importantly, Young Labour. Although they may appear very strong,
Progress is actually very weak. It only has 2,000 members and is
dependent on the backing from a very rich ‘angel’.
the same time, it would be another big mistake for Marxists not to
carry out work amongst the 50% who don’t go on to university. Many
of these 50% are unemployed. The riots in the big cities in 2011 show
the despair amongst a section of these unemployed youth. However, it
would be wrong to write off all unemployed young people as being
lumpen unemployed. Many unemployed youth have qualifications.
there are differences, the work of the Black Panther Party in the USA
in the late 60s shows how to organise unemployed working class youth.
At the same time, the evolution of Malcolm X, who went from being a
petty drug dealer to a revolutionary, shows how the disenfranchised
can be radicalised.
of the things I have noticed over the last few years is that members
of left groups, including the CPGB, are either aged under 25 or over
45. This 20-year gap is entirely due to the negative and demoralising
effect of New Labour, together with the long economic boom between
1992 and 2008. The aim of Marxists, therefore, should be to weld the
energy of the youth to the political capital accumulated in the
experience of the older generation.
I can say to Alan Johnstone (Letters, December 13) is reiterate what
was written in the Communist manifesto: “The communists do
not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties.
They have no interests separate and apart from those of the
proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles
of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.”
would have imagined that Unite would be holding a ‘snap election’
for general secretary so soon after the last one? Who would have
guessed that Len McCluskey would be seeking a mandate after only two
years in office and with three more years still to go?
who did demand this ‘election’? Was it the thousands of branch
secretaries? No! Was it the hundreds of Unite committee chairs? No!
So was it the tens of thousands of workplace representatives? No! As
far as can be gathered, not one of these groups was calling for this
to call it an election is being more than generous, as it bears all
the hallmarks of an organisation seeking to avoid a challenge and
thereby holding no election at all. Indeed many in Unite believe that
if Jerry Hicks, the rank-and-file candidate in the 2010 election for
Unite general secretary, and runner-up with 52,527 votes, had not
decided to stand, there would be not be an election.
through the election gives little time for anyone to organise other
than the existing general secretary, Mr McCluskey. Unless there is a
challenger, Mr McCluskey will be ‘elected’ unopposed and is
effectively extending his term of office until 2018, when he reaches
67, without members actually voting, but allowing him and his
supporters to claim it to be a mandate.
Hicks believes that whatever Unite has done for the good over the
last 2 years has now been tainted and that the election should not be
happening, that it’s been called on a flawed premise and it’s
being fast-tracked. It’s an election tailor-made to suit one member
above all others - 1.5 million others - and that far from ‘seeking
a mandate’: it is an affront to democracy. It also means by holding
the election in 2013 that 1.5 million members are being denied an
election for general secretary in 2015, when we would have maximum
influence over the Labour Party, as it would be during a general
Hicks has decided to stand now the election process has begun in
order that members do have a chance to vote and to present a positive
alternative. However, just to get the 50 nominations required to be
on the ballot paper will be a big achievement in this most uneven
what’s going on? If things in Unite are as good as Mr McCluskey and
his supporters say, then why not just carry on doing these good
things? And are we to believe that if no-one from Unite’s huge
number of officials puts themselves forward for the position of
general secretary, it’s because they all agree with things as they
clue to an absence of challengers might be that, despite Mr McCluskey
asserting that Unite is a “tolerant” union, there may be another
story. Try asking those officials who left Unite in the weeks
following the last general secretary election. Some felt obliged to
leave the union, albeit with a ‘pay-off’, possibly for nothing
more than not backing the winner. For if any were guilty of
wrongdoing surely they should have been disciplined or dismissed, not
McCluskey talks about a coordinated fight against the assault on
members’ pensions, jobs and conditions and of building a united
campaign of resistance, and on that Jerry Hicks agrees. Yet when
presented with an opportunity to do just that, Unite’s leadership
chose instead to undermine the PCS and the NUT by not supporting the
proposed coordinated strike action against the devastating attack on
the pensions of health workers, MOD, government departments and local
authority workers last March. That was a huge mistake. It’s not too
late to start a serious campaign of opposition to the government cuts
and attacks, but it will take more than hot air at demonstrations.
Grass roots Left
agree with all that Ben Lewis says (Letters, December 13) in his
reply to David Ellis. However, it’s also important to point out
that, as Marx makes clear, not only are the demands of the Gotha
programme for equality not achievable under capitalism: they are also
unachievable even in the first stage of communism!
is so because this stage continues to operate under the law of value,
meaning that choices have to be made about how to allocate available
social labour-time. It is this, which ensures that bourgeois right,
and the real inequality based on equal distribution to meet unequal
needs, will continue. Read that section, as well as what he says in
Capital about the way poor relief operated, and it’s clear
that Marx was no advocate of welfarism. Outside the higher stage of
communism, when general abundance means that choices about how to
allocate available social labour-time do not have to be made - ie,
you can have more of A without having to give up a portion of B -
welfarism under either capitalism or socialism is utopian.
as Lenin points out in State and revolution, in discussing
this passage, there is nowhere that Marx says that this higher stage
of communism is even possible. It is something we can aim at, and in
doing so we can gradually undermine bourgeois right, precisely
because we will raise the productive power of society. But, as Marx
puts it, “… these defects are inevitable in the first phase of
communist society, as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged
birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than
the economic structure of society and its cultural development
society moving towards the higher stage of communism will only be
able to provide more to meet the needs of each of its members
divorced from the actual contribution each of them makes to it, in
proportion to its ability to raise its productive power. Part of the
reason for that under socialism, as now under capitalism, will be
that workers will be reluctant to act selflessly in simply handing
over a proportion of their own entitlements earned from their hard
work to others, simply because others have chosen to make different
decisions: eg, to have more children and so on. Any attempt to force
them to do so would require the continued existence of a state and
coercion, and would in any case quickly break up the needed social
cohesion of such a society.
there was a prize for misunderstanding a letter or comment, I think
it would have gone to Ben Lewis for his reply to my offering the
previous week (December 6).
my letter I outlined a revolutionary Marxist notion of a just society
as being one into which every individual is born not in accordance
with the bourgeois lottery they so laughingly call society, but into
equality. Born not into poverty or enormous wealth as a result of the
pure chance of where and to whom you were born, so that your life
chances and conditions of existence are predetermined in advance, but
immediately into a society based on full employment, a living wage
and the social appropriation of the fruits of human labour. I used
Marx’s famous Critique of the Gotha programme quote, “from
each according to their ability; to each according to their needs”,
to back up my argument.
thrust of the piece was a criticism of the bourgeois and reformist
notion of ‘social mobility’, whereby vast amounts of social and
natural treasure is expended on trying to mitigate the effects of the
social lottery through remedial action in order to prevent revolution
and save injustice - ie, the private appropriation of the social
product by the very fortunately born 1%.
though, Ben seemed to think that my use of that quote meant I was for
the wretched Gotha programme and against the revolutionary thinking
of Marx. He then rounds on me for suggesting that all people are born
equal both in their abilities and their needs, which at no point I
did. Indeed, if I believed that all people were born not into
equality but equal in their abilities and their needs, then there
would be no point saying, “From each according to their abilities;
to each according to their needs”. It would be mere tautology.
whole point of Marx’s summation of what constitutes a just society
is that needs and abilities vary from individual to individual. The
needs of a person trapped in an iron lung will differ from everybody
else’s, but so will their abilities. Marx caters for both. Full
employment for a man in an iron lung might simply be doing nothing
all day as per his abilities, but his needs will still be met. One
man’s living wage will differ from the next, as will his abilities.
critique of the Gotha programme was not that it advocated socialism
in the sense that the social product is dished out fairly, but that
it didn’t. It advocated not a ‘living wage’, but that every
worker keep and dispose of the entirety of the surplus value he/she
created, not ignoring the unemployed and the need for redistribution
to the sick, the disabled, the young and the old.
there was nothing Lassallean in my letter, nothing of the Gotha
programme: it was Marxism pure and simple. Of course, terms like
‘full employment’ and ‘living wage’ are transitional demands
designed to put us on the road to the just society into which every
individual is born into equality. In full-blown communism, wages and
employment will be a thing of the past, along no doubt with the
slogan, “From each according to their ability …”, the so-called
iron law of wages and the ridiculous notion of a free state.
am not sure why Ben has chosen to misunderstand my offering. Perhaps
he doesn’t like popular programmatic demands that represent the
immediate and transitional needs of the working class or he simply
thinks that sharing the available productive work isn’t radical
enough. I’m not sure, but I am bemused.
capitalist system uses murders as in Connecticut to disarm us, so
they can crush us when there is a real crisis.
youth will undertake stupid/desperate actions if they have no hope of
finding a job, and higher education requires they go into debt for
the rest of their lives. A friend of mine’s daughter owes $50,000
to the banks for college expenses - she may also end up doing
something stupid. We are driving the youth to suicide and a few to
murder. College education should be free! Jobs for everyone who can
work should be a priority, even though ‘free market capitalism’
says that’s impossible.
has become part of American culture, from Obama’s ‘kill list’
to drone planes that also kill children, to stupid films like James
Bond that romanticise murder. Banning guns is not a solution: the
newspapers have just announced the stabbing of Japanese
children by another maniac. Capitalist society produces maniacs.
Chile in 1973 the working class did not have weapons to defend
themselves against the army coup, instigated by the CIA. Before the
coup, an arms control law was approved. When I was there, in
July-August 1973, before the coup, the Chilean army was marching into
factories and disarming workers. On August 6 1973 I attended a rally
of 500,000 people in the centre of Santiago that warned of a possible
coup. But no-one there had weapons.
can only hope Greek workers today have guns to defend themselves
against the fascists.
of the things I feel our website is missing is access to a list of
motions which have been agreed by CPGB aggregates or the organisation
as a whole.
list of this sort would facilitate an understanding for members, the
periphery and opponents of what the majority and minority positions
are within the organisation. It would be an invaluable point of
reference for Weekly Worker commissioned articles. Ultimately
it would be a great time-saver and educator, and make it easier to
consider the organisation’s evolutionary trajectory.
Richter misses the point about agitation on a number of levels in his
call for ‘leftwing’ conspiracy theories (Letters, December 13).
is all well and good for Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to peddle
nonsense about an imminent Marxist takeover of the United States of
America. The point of bourgeois ideology is, above all, negative: it
is to prevent the working class, or any other subaltern
threat, from coming into a state of being where it could run things.
The point of Marxist politics, on the other hand, is to enable a
whole class to do so. For this, we need the truth, the whole
truth and nothing but the truth, not convenient fictions.
To start portraying the world as under the heel of a conspiracy of
the capitalist elite is not simply to avail ourselves of a neutral
weapon, but to spread forms of thought which are in themselves
far as mobilising “the most backward elements” goes, the point is
surely to purge them of their backwardness, not mobilise them as they
are. The implication is that a large chunk of our class will always,
under all circumstances, act as a bloc of gullible fools. We are not
well served setting ourselves up as demagogues to manipulate a mob,
and that should not be the role of workers’ media. Frankly,
capitalist society is bad enough without us having to embellish its
demerits into the bargain.