The current General Election is taking place in conditions where British politics is in a state of more flux and fragmentation than not only in the lifetimes of those generations alive today, but also of previous generations. In some ways it is unprecedented: there are no apposite comparisons in the history of British capitalism. Both major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, are at such historically low levels of popularity that it is hard to imagine that either of them are likely to be able to achieve an overall majority in parliament even though we have an undemocratic first-past-the-post system that is biased to giving the party with a plurality of votes a crushing, undemocratic overall majority in parliament. It could not be absolutely ruled out that either party might just make it as a result of some event stampeding voters in either direction, but it is not something most people would like to take a bet on.
The new phenonemon represented by the SYRIZA/ANEL (Independent Greeks) coalition has not been theorised by the left as yet. The question of the coalition with the Independent Greeks is something of crucial importance, which has to be addressed theoretically and programatically.
My strong suspicion is that even those who are most enthusiastic about the politics of SYRIZA are uneasy about it. Various people have expressed real reservations about it, saying it is a bad sign, that it will not last long, etc, and they may well prove to be right about that. But no one has offered a theorisation of what is going on here.
Lets be very clear. This is a popular front government, and the situation is very dangerous. It could be just as dangerous as the Chilean Popular Unity experience for the working class. Though that is not certain; there are some complexities and differences also.
The following exchange illustrates the pointless and self-defeating effect of political dishonesty in communist politics. In bourgeois, i.e. capitalist politics, the point of political activity is to bolster and defend the position of a small, exploiting minority, the owners of capitalist property, against the great mass of the population who have no such wealth. It is obvious that this kind of politics would necessarily be replete with corruption and mendacity, since the maintenance of injustice and social and economic inequality requires fooling the mass of the population to acquiesce in their own victimisation and exploitation. The only way to do this is by systematic lying, in order to create and promote myths, and also to create and maintain divisions among the working-class majority.
Communist politics, on the other hand, has truth as its only weapon. In order to understand the real situation, the mass of the population need to have a accurate picture of political, social and economic relations, which can only be developed over a long period by a political leadership that uses truth as its main weapon. Such a politics is fundamentally different from bourgeois politics. Whereas bourgeois politics promotes mystification and lies in the interest of a minority, communist politics must ruthlessly tear away mystification and expose all social lies. If a would-be communist organisation begins to engage in lying itself, it digs its own political grave, since the only basis on which it can garner and keep support on a healthy basis is through this process of exposing difficult truths.
Socialists, communists and class conscious working class people should critically support the current election campaign of SYRIZA in Greece. We should, while not taking responsibility for the programme of a SYRIZA government, nevertheless support measures by such a government that are directed against the austerity directed from Brussels, Berlin and Paris, assuming such measures are enacted.
As is well known, a massive economic and political crisis led to two Greek national elections in 2012. The immediate issue was finally settled with an unstable coalition led by the main right-wing capitalist party, New Democracy (ND), supported by the main bourgeois-populist pseudo-socialist party, PASOK, and the right-wing splinter party from SYRIZA (or rather its immediate precursor) known as Democratic Left. That government enforced the Eurozone’s bail-out conditions, involving massive attacks on Greek workers’ wages and salaries, and what remains of welfare and public health provision, to the point that Greek society came close to ripping apart. There was a very dangerous and worrying growth of Golden Dawn, an outright fascist party that openly took its inspiration from Hitler’s National Socialists, together with a torrent of violence and racist terrorism against African and other migrants living in Greece.
Launched today, at a protest at the American Embassy this afternoon commemorating the 13th grim anniversary of the creation of the US imperialist concentration camp at Guantanamo: the hard copy edition of Communist Explorations. 24 pages of genuine communist politics and programme. Also distributed, a hard-copy version of the statement ‘Muslim-baiting Charlie Hebdo slaughtered by vengeful Islamists‘, issued on the day of the attack.
The torture report on the CIA is an exercise in damage limitation. Realising how much the supposed ‘excesses’ of the Bush administration and the stratagems for US/Israeli world domination of the neocon Project for the New American Century have damaged the self-proclaimed moral authority of US imperialism, the Democratic Party are using this report, of the CIA’s Inspector-General, to try to distance themselves from some of the crimes of their predecessors.
It is cynical hogwash on the part of the Obama administration. This report was commissioned apparently in 2004, under Bush. Its findings were suppressed earlier but ultimately, in the aftermath of US imperialism’s obvious failures and defeats in Iraq and the wider Middle East, it became untenable for an American bourgeois establishment that is not (as yet) prepared to openly break with the formal pretence of democracy, to suppress these facts indefinitely. Not if it wanted to continue the hubris and chutzpah that makes US Presidents believe they have the authority to lecture the world on ‘human rights’.
Below is an edited version of a political response I posted on the Google/Usenet group alt.politics.socialism.trotsky, which appears to be heavily influenced by a current around Stephen Diamond (former member of the US Workers League from many years ago), VN Gelis (a long time Greek Trotskyist who, when I encountered him in the 1980s, was a supporter of the Archeo-Marxist Greek Workers Vanguard group), and their co-thinkers. This current combine a left-wing, anti-capitalist rhetoric with a virulent anti-immigrant nationalism that leads them to be politically soft on all kinds of deeply reactionary imperialist forces who are hostile to immigration.
I have no interest in a shouting match with them over this, as one could have a shouting match with all kinds of reactionary- and racist-minded people in numerous parts of the internet if one sought them out – it would be a waste of precious time, effort and energy. But I strongly suspect that these views are, at least in part, the result of a flawed understanding of Marxism and misunderstanding of current social and economic reality. Those kinds of things are worth debating. Such errors and misunderstandings give meaning to the commonplace that ‘the road to Hell is frequently paved with good intentions’. In that spirit, it may be fruitful to debate with this current, who though badly flawed in their nationalist responses, are at least in a flawed way, partially addressing real issues.
Below is my reply to two letters in last week’s Weekly Worker, from Moshe Machover and Stephen Diamond. Machover’s contribution was pathetic stonewalling, responding to points made by myself and also (being quoted by me) the noted Israeli historian and defender of Palestinian rights, Shlomo Sand, criticising exclusively Jewish ‘anti-Zionist’ groups for politically strengthening Zionism. Machover just engages in the most pathetic ‘liar’ baiting worthy of the most inept and crazed Trotskyoid sects. Diamond, on the other hand, praised my ‘courage’ in criticising many leftist Jews for transmitting Zionist memes into the workers movement, but also raised some political perspectives I fundamentally disagree with. I will not elaborate here, as the contents are self-explanatory, but what is notable is the inability of the Weekly Worker editor to say anything political to defend his organisation.
Not impressive. After I was driven to withdraw from the Communist Platform in September, the CPGB hopefully intoned that they would be seeking ‘new allies’ in Left Unity. The concrete manifestation of this seems to be their defence of Bianca Todd, who was forced to resign as LU’s principal spokeswoman after a scandal in which a ‘social enterprise’ of which she was a leading light had a judgement delivered against it at an industrial tribunal for failing to give its workers a contract, and failing to pay wages and sick pay, etc.
Shlomo Sand’s new book, How I Stopped Being a Jew (Verso, 2014), as he says, an extended essay (of just over 100 pages), is something that may come to be seen as very significant in years, maybe even decades to come. This Israeli writer and academic is someone of considerable courage who has braved death threats and opprobrium in Israel, not just for support for the rights of the Palestinian people, but also for his attempts to analyse the history and myths that provide the ideological, and insofar at those ideologies grip people and social classes, material basis for the oppression of the Palestinians.
Sands has written scholarly works that question in historical terms the idea that Jews were seen as in any sense a nation prior to an attempt to create a nation-like mythology for them during the mid-to-late 19th Century. His work The Invention of the Jewish People resurrected from obscurity several facts that are very inconvenient for Zionist ideologues – such as the fact that there was no exile of Jews from Palestine in late Roman times, andthat the so-called Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean, later spreading throughout Europe and the Middle East/North Africa and even wider, was the product of widespread proselytism and conversion, not exile.
He reiterated the long-known, but historically buried understanding that many, if not most, Jews of East and Central European heritage had their ultimate origin, not from the Levant, but rather from Khazaria, an early medieval kingdom and empire of Turkic origin in the far Eastern fringe of Europe, roughly coinciding with today’s Ukraine and Caucasus region, that was converted from above by its monarchy around the 8th Century. He therefore concluded, in a manner that is really very devastating to the entire Zionist project and the racist myths that justify it, that the Palestinians were much more certain to be descendants of the ancient population of Hebrews, whose state Israel claims to be the resurrection of, than the Jewish population whose armed settler movement created Israel. This resurrection of facts at least some of which were once acknowledged by many, including by many early Zionists, turns the entire rationale for Israel upside down.
He was also the author of a sequel, also highly regarded but perhaps less well-known, titled the Invention of the Land of Israel, as well as a number of shorter essays on similar topics.
The historic importance of his new book, How I Stopped Being a Jew, is that is a part of the crystallisation of a trend among radical intellectuals of Jewish and often Israeli origin that offers the potential to provide an opening whereby the Israel-Palestine conflict can be resolved in a democratic manner. This means as a matter of democratic principle that it has to be resolved through the restoration of the full rights of the Palestinians. Sand represents a part of this broad trend, with some differences, whose most prominent representative up to now has been the Jazz musician Gilad Atzmon, representing people of Jewish origin who have come to recognise that the secular Jewish identity, which was the basis of the Zionist movement that created Israel, and which is still the mainstay of Israel’s ruling class, is empty and self-contradictory, and insofar as it has a political manifestation, harmful.
At first sight, the title of Sand’s book seems impossible – no one can ‘stop being’ a person of Jewish origin, any more than someone can stop being black, European, Chinese, or of any other ethnic background. But for Sand, it is not his ethnic origin that he is renouncing, but something else. One weakness of his book is that it is not entirely clear what, if it is not an ethnic origin, Sand is renouncing and ceasing to be.
Down with all racial hierarchies!
There is a major contradiction at the heart of modern capitalist ideology today when it comes to questions involving the social construct of ‘race’. One pole of the contradiction is that advanced capitalist governments in the West are increasingly insistent that racism is a thing of the past, that unlike their predecessors, they are opposed in principle to racism, and that racism is against the essence of liberal capitalist meritocratic ideology. This strain of bourgeois ideology depends on an abstract model of a market economy where someone’s money, no matter their colour or origin, is as good as anyone else’s, and anyone can enjoy the rewards of the ‘hard work’ which supposedly enables capitalist ‘success’.
But while this ideology is propagated, massive racial inequalities persist, hierarchies remain and are unyielding for nearly all ethnic minority populations. It is still true that particularly non-white minorities in all the advanced capitalist countries all suffer from disproportionate rates of unemployment, low-pay when employed, precarious employment, lack of access to quality education, disproportionate levels of ill-health and greater difficulty accessing quality health care. Such minorities are also disproportionately subjected to police and state violence, to deaths in custody and at the hands of the police in general.
In the United States, where America’s first black President is in his second term, the recent protests against the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Missouri, have once again underlined that for American blacks, despite Obama and all his works, racial oppression very much remains and continues unabated. The Missouri case is one of so many over so many years and decades; it is telling that even now such things can explode into significant struggles. If society had really changed for the better in some fundamental sense, as the ideologues of capitalism claim, then there is no way that such major conflicts could erupt between large sections of a traditionally oppressed minority and the forces of the state.