A talk I gave to the Canterbury branch of the SWP on 15/8
A while ago I wrote a response to an anti-Trotskyist leaflet1. It claimed that, by rejecting the possibility of ‘socialism in one country’, we try to put down “those who have the temerity to go on and build socialism”. It was a Stalinist group that put out this leaflet, but an orthodox Trotskyist could easily have written it. One of the groups I spoke to at the Marxism festival was the International Bolshevik Tendency2, who are supporters of the theory that the Soviet Union (along with many other countries) was a “deformed” or “degenerated workers’ state”. Their spokesperson wagged a finger at me and told me about how awful it is that the SWP looks at the Hungarian uprising of ‘56 positively, rather than as an act of counterrevolution, and how we think a socialist revolution still needs to take place in North Korea.
So although as part of this talk I won’t be going over the arguments of the most uncritical Stalinists, I will be going part of the way to addressing that position, since the so-called Orthodox Trotskyists are themselves so often counterrevolutionary and apologists for Stalinism. It sounds like nonsense to say that a Trotskyist could be guilty of this, but Cliff explained well how it happens, and how it comes from following Trotsky dogmatically but losing his essence, and abandoning classical Marxism3.
Response to Tom Streithorst’s ‘Marginal Marx’, a book review of Karl Marx: a nineteenth century life.
Leftists everywhere must have enjoyed the moment yesterday when they realised it was the 195th birthday of Karl Marx. It’s a meaningless anniversary of course, but this kind of thing serves as a reminder for how relevant and applicable some aged political theory can be. I was rudely interrupted from this line of thought when I stumbled across a piece by a five-year-old journalist who has never read anything by Karl Marx and who dismisses supporters of the labour theory of value as ‘tedious’.
Streithorst points out that Marx’s philosophy is indebted to Hegel, Ricardo, Adam Smith, and others. This is no secret and Marxists, as far as I’ve seen, have no illusions about this. The mistake is in saying that the labour theory of value was already outdated by the time Capital was being written. If this was about the Ricardist model then there might have been a fraction of a point. But Marx brought his own substantial changes to the theory, most notably the concept of abstract social labour. The theory of value and surplus value explains how uncompensated labour allows a section of society to become a ruling class and alleviate itself from the burden of its own necessary labour. This was true in different ways in feudal society, plantation slavery, 19th century capitalism, and remains an injustice and the backbone of capitalism today.
Yesterday I spent around four hours in total selling the Socialist Worker with a friend and petitioning for no evictions resulting from the bedroom tax. We also had a petition titled No to UKIP, No to racism. This didn’t seem to have a plan of action – just collecting names to gauge feelings about the party and to get email addresses of anyone interested in hearing more. I noticed – and other comrades have found the same while campaigning – that voters think Ukip are just the eurosceptic, anti-immigrant party, and care just as much about welfare and poorer people as Labour used to. So much so that some people gladly signed the bedroom tax petition, aware of its absurdity and knowing someone who will be affected, then telling us we’re totally wrong about Ukip. One guy said, after agreeing with us about the bedroom tax, “They can’t be racist. I’ve just voted for them!” going on to say that austerity and undermining benefits was only necessary because of the coalition that has been too soft on immigration.
The reality is that Farage’s party is ideologically right-libertarian (not libertarian on social issues of course), going as far as to call those reliant on benefits a “parasitic underclass.” They would not challenge the bedroom tax. They propose a 25% flat-rate tax, not helping the working poor but working in the interests of corporations and landlords charging unfair rates. This it not an anti-establishment party. Nobody is more firmly rooted in the establishment.
What anti-racists and anti-capitalists need to make clear is that yes, immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria can be provided for. The solutions are to fund more council housing, nationalise industries and trains instead of putting healthcare into private hands, be stricter on tax avoidance, and for the BBC and others to stop giving a platform to fascists and national populists. Giving how Labour has failed its usual voters, it is utterly unsurprising that this kind of thinking isn’t popular.
The other issue with the UK Independence Party is the amount of candidates and activists affiliated or previously affiliated with the National Front, EDL, and other more unambiguously racist organisations. Others don’t have these uncomfortable alliances but can be quoted saying awful things about Muslims and, well, non-whites. Every time, they can be dismissed as an extreme and unrepresentative example, or a decent non-racist who made a simple mistake. But how many individual racist Kippers is it going to take for the party to admit that they have a problem with race?
- Richard Seymour and Roobin on UKIP: A very British tea party
- My step-cousin, via twitter: “UKIP is terrible and whoever supports it should have a frog hit them with Nigel Farage’s leg.”
- F the Bedroom Tax, MC NxtGen
Based on a talk I have given and hope to give again. A friend has let me borrow Jonathan Neale’s book on ecosocialism, so I will have more insights soon hopefully.
Believe it or not, I think that climate change has not been politicised enough. It is central to questions of austerity and nationalisation, and is likely to affect the world’s poorest people the most. There are certainly some useful parallels therefore to be found between class struggle and environmentalism. We cannot expect “green capitalism” to work. If a radical new socialist way of organising society is needed, it should include investment in jobs, technology, and scientific research that will reduce the effects of global warming.
A few weeks ago, I noticed what I see as a contradiction between two publications of the Green Party of England and Wales. The first text is the third page of a welcome pamphlet, on which the party’s ten core values are listed. They are simple, thoughtful, and difficult to disagree with. The second core value in particular sounds very Marxian:
“The Earth’s physical resources are finite. We threaten our future if we try to live beyond those means, so we must build a sustainable society that guarantees our long-term future.”
This principle weirdly echoes chapter 32 of Marx’s Capital Volume 1, which argues that capitalism cannot go on indefinitely, and that crises and an eventual collapse is inevitable, because of overproduction and other contradictions inherent in the capitalist mode of production.