Letters

Dream on

A 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.

I 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.

It 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.

It 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.

What 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 decades?

There 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?”

Susann Witt-Stahl
Assoziation Dämmerung, Hamburg

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Angel of history

Not 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!).

If 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?

Given 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?

Revolutionary 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’ phenomenon.

If 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.

Chris Mansour
Platypus Affiliated Society

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Youth welder

Over the last few months, I have thought very long and very deeply about where Marxists should concentrate their energy and resources.

Trotsky 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 “socialist measles”.

However, 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.

Communist 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’.

At 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.

Whilst 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.

One 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.

John Smithee
Cambridgeshire

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Quote

All 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.”

Steven Johnston
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No contest

Who 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?

So 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 ‘election’.

Actually 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.

Rushing 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.

Jerry 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 election year.

Jerry 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 contest.

So 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 are?

One 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 paid off.

Mr 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
www.grassrootsleft.org

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Bourgeois right

I 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!

That 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.

Moreover, 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 conditioned thereby.”

A 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.

Arthur Bough
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Prize letter

If 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).

In 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.

The 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%.

Somehow, 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.

The 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.

Marx’s 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.

No, 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.

I 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.

David Ellis
via Facebook

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Armless

The capitalist system uses murders as in Connecticut to disarm us, so they can crush us when there is a real crisis.

More 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.

Murder 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.

In 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.

I can only hope Greek workers today have guns to defend themselves against the fascists.

Earl Gilman
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Motionless

One 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.

A 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.

Sachin Sharma
Leeds

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No lie

Jacob Richter misses the point about agitation on a number of levels in his call for ‘leftwing’ conspiracy theories (Letters, December 13).

It 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 reactionary.

As 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.

Paul Demarty
London

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