End to value
In my view Chris Gray’s article on Clive Ponting was first class and I just want to make a few comments that came to mind, as I read it (‘Arguing against the wrong “Marxism”‘, September 17).
Marx and Engels were certainly products of their time, but we should remember that their goal was to explain human development. Quite crudely the gun beats the spear. The north won the US civil war because it produced weaponry more efficiently than the south and it did this because it had better technology. Similarly the Soviets devastated the environment because they had to compete with a system which paid no regard to nature or the damage to it.
Marx could have said this was all morally wrong and written romantic books espousing the virtues of a simple life, but unfortunately this is not how human development unfolds. And, given Marx set himself the task of uncovering in human development what Darwin had uncovered in nature, he could hardly bring morality into the equation.
So Marx’s statements on man’s mastery over nature were not an endorsement of the degradation of the environment, but simply a description of human development from an objective viewpoint. And that mastery is not just a technical point. If man can use mechanical devices to build dams, it does not mean man has mastery over nature if most are wage-slaves or subservient.
Alienation will still exist. Only when the products of labour are not alienated will man have mastery over nature in the full sense of the term. And at that point, nature, among other things, will be very much factored into consideration, where economic value is concerned - in a way that capitalism simply is unable to do.
When Marx argues that all value under capitalism is derived from socially necessary labour time, this is meant as a criticism of capitalism. Many attempts have been made by the more enlightened bourgeois economists to redefine value, to bring in ecological factors - even things like happiness. But these never get beyond the textbooks, because a capitalist system cannot operate or function on this basis. It can only operate via a market, itself based on the value system outlined by Marx.
The only time this value system is subverted is when the state intervenes and under capitalism that can create more problems than it solves. This is why Marx saw communism as a system which put an end to the capitalist value system and, along with it, demand and money. I rarely see Marxists make this point: that under communism demand simply can’t exist. I would argue this is because Marxism has been hijacked by bourgeois liberalism, which was surely inevitable in hindsight.
The pandemic really illustrates this point: namely demand has to disappear, though the climate emergency should have forced that point home long ago.
The real problem with Marxism is that it tried to explain the past and present and hoped to infer from that the future, and inevitably got it half correct. What modern communists need to do is to map out that future, and stating that communism as a system will have no demand is a great place to start!
But still it doesn’t get round the problem that the gun beats the spear! The only way to address that issue is, as Marx quite rightly said, by class struggle on an international basis. And that project is not going too well!
It’s us what pays
John Smithee is right to identify Rishi Sunak as Her Majesty’s Government’s ‘star’ of the Covid crisis (Letters, September 17).
Given the incompetence of Johnson, his team at No10 and the highest ministerial positions being held by people unfit for their role, the treasury effectively took charge. As a UK citizen I have to be grateful, I suppose. When the country’s in the mire it’s good to see some direction and purpose from HMG. Mr Sunak and his treasury team delivered where the rest of the government failed.
When Sunak becomes prime minister he’ll take the brightest and best of the treasury team with him to No10. He’ll clear the cabinet of ‘place persons’ who were only there due to their supposed ultra-commitment to Brexit. Johnson will shuffle off into the dustbin of history - a short-term PM mired in failure, leaving office with his country in a far worse place than when he assumed it ...
Poor Mr Johnson - he wanted to be a combination of his heroes, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, in his role as PM. But ... he ain’t even close, is he? He lacks both their political nous and their work ethic ... hence the failure.
Schadenfreude is there in spades, as we witness the unravelling of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, but remember it’s us what does the suffering and it’s us what pays the price ...
Oliver Healey writes in flowery terms (Letters, September 10).
Capitalism is not the product of a financial conspiracy, and workers have always supported and voted for the continuation of capitalism. By contrast, communists such as Karl Marx sought capitalism’s overthrow, and also rejected the reformist half-measures of his contemporary, Eduard Bernstein. So much so, the Communist manifesto concluded - in what Healey might consider oppositional and confrontational terms - that the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains; they have a world to win. This means defending tariffs and high wages are protecting the crumbs when Marxists want to capture the whole bakery.
In the here and now, collective organising can achieve better conditions, but it will be workers organising for themselves, not tariffs (or even particularly Marxists), let alone the coercing of foreign states. Ruling classes of imagined communities of ‘nations’ (all existing states, which are sort of a monopoly themselves) are part of the problem.
Jon D White
Comrade Ted Hankin agrees with John Masters that the question of the vanguard is the “elephant in the room”, and that to critique it properly requires a massive reassessment of conventional wisdom. But, since the left is not too good at this, we shouldn’t hold our breath, Ted says (Letters, September 17).
However, I don’t think he goes far enough. It is not only the vanguard which needs to be critiqued, but the ideological and theoretical tradition of the radical left. For instance, the British left has learnt nothing from the collapse of the Soviet Union, which led to the idea of socialism losing its appeal to many people - particularly eastern Europeans, who experienced post-war communist control until the 90s.
The truth is that, from Lenin to Pol Pot, the tragedies experienced by the left can be traced back to two individuals in particular: Marx and Trotsky. The former advocated dictatorship, which was confused with the need for state coercion in the process of the socialist transformation of society; and the latter advocated the ultra-left theory of permanent revolution, which seduced Lenin in 1917 into trying to bring about communism in a relatively backward country. This approach was later tried by Mao and in an even more extreme form by Pol Pot, which led to disasters for the left, further undermining the socialist idea.
When the Russian Revolution broke out, Lenin was primed and ready to abandon the positive side of Marxism for Trotskyism, since before the outbreak of revolution in 1917 he was pushing the ultra-left line of turning the imperialist war into civil war, which he later dropped for the more appealing Bolshevik slogan, ‘Peace, bread, land’. It was the counterrevolution which forced civil war on Lenin, although he had foolishly been previously advocating civil war. The left should never advocate civil war like Lenin did, but rather promote the peaceful transformation of capitalism into socialism. If the counterrevolution forces civil war on the left, we should then defend the revolution by force.
By the way, I am not arguing that the Bolsheviks should have held back from taking power in the revolution, and simply clear the path to power for the liberal bourgeoisie, as the Mensheviks and other rightwing socialists wanted to do. But the Bolsheviks should not have taken power on the basis of Trotskyism: that is, with the intent of bringing about an immediate socialist revolution, which theoretically is responsible for the subsequent disasters that plagued the communist movement. The New Economic Policy was an attempt to correct this Trotskyist mistake, with the preceding period being retrospectively labelled ‘war communism’. Strangely, Trotsky and his followers never abandoned his permanent revolution theory, regardless of the disasters it brought on the Russian Revolution - and subsequent revolutions in colonial-type countries with belated industrial development.
In my view the critique of the vanguard should not become one of the vanguard in general, but rather of the Leninist approach to the vanguard in particular. What needs to be established is the right to criticise the party leadership openly when in power, and not hide differences within the party from the general public. The majority line should be upheld, but the right to criticise it openly and in public should also be upheld. A genuine democratic tradition on the left would make it easier to remove those who end up undermining the socialist idea when in power. When free speech is not maintained, this makes it easy for a bureaucratic caste to come to power immune from public criticism, under the pretence of upholding the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.
Whatever the view anyone has about Stalin - or the ultra-left fanatic, Pol Pot - what led to them was Marx’s dictatorship theory, Trotsky’s permanent revolution theory and Lenin’s version of the vanguard. The radical left must maintain ‘vanguardism’, while defending the right to criticise leaders and bureaucrats, in and out of power. We need not descend into anarchism, which bases itself on formal logic, leading to the view that the state and revolution are irreconcilable opposites, and that we have to choose between them.
The vanguard question is related to the main contradiction facing the left between bureaucratic socialism, which Lenin and Trotsky brought about, and a democratic socialist society. Trotsky later pretended to be snow white and went on to criticise bureaucracy from an ultra-left perspective, but he was one of its progenitors.
In 2005 Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko was dubbed “the last dictator in Europe” by President George W Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice - and the name has stuck in the west.
The US foreign policy establishments pretend that ‘dictator’ is a dirty word to them, but the US has a long history of cosying up to and backing dictators. It backed the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, from the 1936 Spanish Civil War until 1973. Prominent politicians and corporations helped Hitler rise to power in 1933 and rebuild Germany’s military. The US supported the corrupt Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines from 1965 until 1986; Suharto in Indonesia from 1968 until 1998; Hosni Mubarak in Egypt from 1981 until 2011; and the US continues to support dozens of rightwing and fascistic criminal dictators and archaic evil monarchies today, such as Saudi Arabia.
US presidents from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Richard Nixon were said to think about Nicaragua’s fascistic dictator, Anastasio Somoza, ‘He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’. The only problem that the US has with Belarus’s Lukashenko is that he is not the US’s.
Lukashenko is a tough Stalinist. A better nom de plume for Lukashenko would be ‘the Last Stalinist of the Soviet Union’. Even his secret service is still called the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti). Most Belarusians support him, as was shown by the majority vote he received in the August 9 2020 elections. He clearly won - many in the alternative media have written about it. His opponent, Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, is no Joan of Arc, as portrayed by western propaganda.
Lukashenko was first elected president of Belarus in 1994, before Putin was elected president of Russia in 1999. Lukashenko has been a thorn in Putin’s side for years, because of his constant nagging for ever more subsidies and lower prices for natural gas from Russia. Putin complains that Lukashenko has had his butt in two chairs for decades. He has half his butt in Europe and uses Belarus’s strategic location for Nato as a bargaining chip to squeeze Putin for subsidies and other concessions.
The US has become tired of playing footsie with Lukashenko. It wants Belarus as another puppet vassal to encircle Russia, just as it has done with the former Yugoslavia, Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia and elsewhere. The US has ham-handedly overplayed its hand with Lukashenko by using the 2020 election to try to stir up a colour revolution.
The American people have no national interests in Belarus, but for Russia it could be a Nato dagger pointing at its heart. For that reason, Putin has let Lukashenko swing for the last month in order to teach him that playing footsie with Nato could end up with him hanging from a street lamp, with a US noose around his neck. Putin has played his hand well, and now he has Lukashenko’s full attention and loyalty.
Everyone should know that since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, the US has been encircling, expanding Nato and chopping away at Russia’s borderlands. For example, Bill Clinton’s illegal war against Yugoslavia was a US war crime against humanity. The illegal US/Nato aggression was a replay of the 1980s terrorist mujahideen in Afghanistan against the USSR. The purpose was to break up one of the last socialist countries of the former Soviet Union, exploit it as capitalists wantonly do and to carve out Kosovo as the largest US military base in Europe: Camp Bondsteel.
The destruction of Yugoslavia was finalised earlier this month. Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, was seated like a schoolchild at a tiny desk next to his ‘teacher’ in Washington - Donald Trump towered over him at his imperial desk in the Oval Office. Vučić was there to receive Serbia’s documents of defeat and like a dunce he signed it.
Everyone should also know about the US 2014 illegal coup in Ukraine. It was behind a European Union ‘bait and switch’ offer for eventual membership in the EU. Ukraine was suffering under economic hardships, and the US and EU put stars in the eyes of the Ukrainian people. The psy-op had them dreaming of a future prosperity, being Europeanised and eventually becoming Nato members.
The terms that the EU ended up offering to Ukraine were so deceitful that no Ukrainian president, no matter how corrupt, could accept them. The result was the US-choreographed Euromaidan colour revolution. US meddling has resulted in thousands of deaths, chaos, and the lives of ordinary Ukrainians have been the worse for it. The corruption has just changed hands to US profiteers.
The eastern Ukrainian people wanted no part in the coup. The US backed a fascist and corrupt coup government, which wanted to ethnically cleanse eastern Ukraine of its Russian ethnicity. It is another shameful episode in US history, which western propaganda frames as ‘Russian aggression’.
Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have a common history that goes back thousands of years and they have had a sibling rivalry for centuries. Today, Russia is the unquestioned ‘big brother’, but not necessarily loved, often resented and even hated by its brothers. Still, brothers they are. There is nothing the US foreign policy neocons love more than a family feud, so that they can worm into the middle of it to divide, conquer and pillage the family jewels. It is the classic playbook of colonialism.
The US attempt at a colour revolution in Belarus has failed. Lukashenko is a strong leader, and a popular one. His publicity stunt of confronting protestors marching on the presidential palace in Minsk with his AK-47 in his hands and dressed to the hilt in full combat gear played well to his audience in Belarus, and in Russia.
Nor did Lukashenko close down Belarus for Covid-19, regardless of the tremendous international pressure to do so. Lukashenko rejected a $940 million International Monetary Fund loan, saying: “The IMF continues to demand from us quarantine measures, isolation, a curfew. This is nonsense. We will not dance to anyone’s tune.” Belarus, like Sweden, is probably the better for not locking down the economy.
Lukashenko is the Last Stalinist of the Soviet Union. He has bent for ‘big brother’ Putin in the past, but he is not going to become a vassal to the US because of Nato tanks on his border. Nor will Lukashenko wilt because of US-backed colour revolutionary ‘pussy-rioters‘.
David William Pear