EU, not China
I agree with Mike Macnair’s argument that the US is seeking to encircle China, and the war against Russia in Ukraine is part of that strategy (‘Grand strategy and Ukraine’ September 15).
The use of Ukraine against Russia is identical to the use of Taiwan against China, and the role of the agents of US imperialism in the British labour movement, such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, to redefine the Marxist conception of ‘self-determination’ as being simply the bourgeois-liberal conception of that term - ie, devoid of any class or class-struggle content - is a fundamental aspect of the ideological and propaganda war it is conducting to that effect.
However, Mike misses the bigger picture. The main “competitor” to US imperialism is not China, but the European Union, and US strategy is as much about undermining the EU as such a competitor, as it is about preparing war with China. China is, or was, until its ‘zero Covid’ strategy, certainly the most dynamic and fastest growing capitalist economy. But, in terms of size, the state of development of the productive forces and gross domestic product per capita, it lagged well behind the EU. Indeed, although bourgeois economists always list economies on a national basis, the EU, as a single market, remains the largest in the world. In terms of nominal GDP it is now second to the US. In terms of GDP per head, China’s is $11,000 (89% of the world average), whereas that of the EU is $36,000 (288%).
It has been the case, for the last 60 years, that it is the EU (previously European Economic Community) that is the main global challenger to the US economically, even if, for a large part of that time, militarily it was the USSR. That latter fact was part of the reason that the US was able to subordinate European interests to those of the US, as the former relied on its military alliance with US imperialism via Nato. The other reason was that it has only been in the last 30 years that the EU has grown economically and become more integrated, as it moves towards becoming a federal state, that its economic power also challenges that of the US, and that its global interests increasingly diverge - hence the demands for an EU army and so on. Incidentally, on that point, Mike’s explanation of the situation in 1914 again misses the point that the main driver was the need for Europe to create such a single market and state to be able to effectively confront the US, and the drive for that came from Germany, as a continuation of Prussia’s formation of a unified German state. That was far more significant than consideration of foreign colonies etc, which is where the conclusions of Lenin’s Imperialism were wrong.
The breakdown of US hegemony, in that regard, began with France’s decision to refuse to put its armed forces and nuclear deterrent under Nato control (meaning in reality US control). But more significant was the decision of France in 1971 to refuse to accept US dollars in exchange for its exports - or, more correctly, its insistence on converting its dollar holdings into gold at the official rate of $35 per ounce. In the 1950s and throughout the 60s, the US had financed its wars in Korea and Vietnam, and its own militarisation as part of the cold war (not to mention its infrastructure projects and welfare programmes), by simply printing additional paper dollars, thereby importing huge amounts of commodities from Europe and elsewhere, and paying for them with increasingly worthless bits of coloured paper, called dollars, whose value against foreign currencies was fixed against this fictional price of gold.
When Charles de Gaulle insisted on exchanging dollars for gold at that rate, Richard Nixon ended dollar convertibility and made it illegal for US citizens to own gold bullion. By 1980, the dollar price of gold had risen to $800, meaning the dollar had lost 96% of its 1971 value in comparison to it! This initiated the decade of global currency chaos, that ended in the regime of floating exchange rates we have now, and in which the power of the dollar began a secular decline. From its inception until recently, the euro rose from $1.16 up to $1.60 in 2008, reflecting the growing relative strength of the EU compared to the US.
The UK after World War II always played the part the US fifth column inside the EU, which is one reason why de Gaulle opposed UK entry. It played the same role on behalf of the US that it played in its own interests in the 19th and early 20th century - trying to act as a block on the creation of such a strong European state. Its ability to do that has been much diminished following Brexit, leaving the UK in the invidious position of being economically subordinated to the EU, but politically, militarily and strategically subordinated to the US.
Hence UK support for the Iraq war, but opposition from France, Germany et al. In 2008, the EU had formed a close trading arrangement with the states of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) and as part of the ‘Barcelona Process’, called The Union For The Mediterranean. It essentially created a trading and economic bloc similar to what the EU established with central and eastern European states as part of the process of drawing them in. That process was threatened by the effects of the Iraq war, but more specifically by the war and instability created in Libya, and then Syria, by US support for jihadists, backed by the feudal Gulf states. Such a close relation with Mena, especially given oil and gas resources, would have significantly strengthened the EU, as against US imperialism. Similarly, a continuation of the rapid economic development of those states, history shows, would have been the most effective means of their transition from Bonapartist/military regimes to bourgeois democracies - as against the attempt to impose it on them militarily from above.
US military intervention in Libya and Syria halted that process, but the ensuing chaos also impacted on the EU as a result of an influx of refugees - a consequence which both the US and UK were immune from. It not only destabilised the EU internally, but required it to put more resources into securing its own external borders, and even restrictions on its internal borders. The same is true of US actions to destabilise eastern Europe via so called ‘colour revolutions’, again leading to refugees heading for the EU, and a need to strengthen its eastern borders, all imposing costs on the EU that the US and UK, which promoted such actions, were immune from.
Now we have the US insisting that the EU not only boycott Russian oil and gas, and buy it much more expensively from the US, but that Germany cancel the opening of the Nordstream2 pipeline, which would have provided large amounts of cheap gas into Europe, and begin a process of energy rationing that will throw the EU economy into recession in coming months, as well as threatening the lives and jobs of tens of thousands of EU citizens. The fact that the EU has accepted this can only be understood by its continued lack of belief in its own position in the world relative to US imperialism - or a deluded belief in the propaganda that Putin is about to capitulate and be turned over.
Whichever is the case, it’s unlikely that EU workers facing having their homes deprived of energy and seeing their workplaces closed for the greater glory of US imperialism, when they know that plenty of cheap energy is available via Nordstream2, are going to sit idly by while that happens.
Day of reckoning?
It was no doubt inevitable that Paul Demarty would have his knife out for Elizabeth II, “a cynical and unpleasant person except to her closest family members”, as he informs us (‘Behind the death mask’, September 15). That’s what socialists are supposed to do, isn’t it? - ie, slice away at the monarchy and everyone in it, whenever the opportunity presents itself?
But both he and Eddie Ford (‘Learn from Oliver Cromwell’, September 15) miss an important point - which is that Elizabeth was very good at her job. It must not have been easy maintaining a blank expression through all those ribbon-cutting ceremonies and the like, but she did it perfectly year after year. Charles, however, is not nearly as adept. Videos showing him losing his temper over a leaky pen or a cluttered desk reveal him for what he is: a peevish old man who has done nothing with his life other than to grow his tax-free estate (currently estimated at $1.5 billion), while waiting for his mother to die.
What is the ruling class going to do with a king who makes little effort to hide his reactionary, authoritarian tendencies at a time when the country comes apart at the seams? How will they control a working class that has lost all patience with an overgrown baby at the helm? This is not the early 19th century, when people had no choice but to put up with a monarch showing clear signs of derangement. It’s the early 21st rather, when such behaviour is intolerable. Elizabeth kept the monarchy together for a long time. But she may have kept it together too long, with the result that the institution has no reserves of strength left on which to draw.
Royalists are going to miss the old queen, now that she’s gone. Her departure may have cleared the way for the long-awaited day of reckoning when workers finally confront the question of whom the country really belongs to: the people or some left-over feudal remnant. Charles is not going to make such questions easy to avoid.
So, the queen has gone - long live the king! Some commentators have suggested that this is better than an elected president - look at Donald Trump! Who might be elected in the UK? Tony Blair, Kate Moss, Ed Sheeran - who knows? But surely an elected president must be the leader of a major party.
So in the UK would it be president Liz Truss or president Sir Keir Starmer? We are presented then with two choices, and two choices only - a monarch or a president. We’ll leave elected or unelected autocrats out of it for now (that’s even less choice).
So goes the bourgeois goldfish bowl - known widely, if mistakenly, as democracy. For a long time there was only a choice, for sensible people, of two parties of government - one on the ‘left’ one on the right. This has had some difficulties lately, in France, Greece, Italy … and upstart parties have stepped into the breach - only to drown in the ‘compromises necessary to function as a government’. The goldfish bowl wins again.
But there are strikes - a wave in the UK and even in the US at this very moment. There are protests, in Sri Lanka, Indonesia - an endless list, which even has international eruptions, as with Occupy, Black Lives Matter and more. The strikes and protests are seen by some as the way to go - perhaps they haven’t been big enough yet. Or, more to the point, the ignorant masses have yet to notice that they need the leaders, Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales - another endless list.
We continue to need, as Weekly Worker readers know, a mass communist party with a programme - a programme agreed by the mass party on democratic-centralist principles, and not by a huddle of ‘we know what’s best’ intellectuals and/or a ‘charismatic’ leader. We have the latter already, surely - he’s called Charles III.
The left, including the minority of revolutionary socialists within it, is guilty of sectarian sniping. That’s what James Harvey’s pretentious and overlong article amounts to (‘It’s the politics, stupid’, September 15).
I read the publications of the Socialist Workers Party and Counterfire. Both have been crystal-clear about the central importance of the monarchy to the capitalist ruling class, as it strives to create and recreate the myth of ‘nation’ and of ‘national unity’. Where they, and I, part company with Harvey is in the understanding that in the coming revolutionary upsurge by our class loyalty to the monarchy and adherence to the “muck of ages” (Marx) will progressively lose traction.
In the process of revolution itself the monarchy will disappear - but as a consequence of working class triumph, not as a primary political objective in its own right. To say otherwise is to mistake the symbol for the substance of class rule.
Tired old tropes
Yassamine Mather’s article on the Scottish National Party adds nothing but the same, tired old Weekly Worker tropes about the SNP (‘Loyal to king and capital’, September 15).
That old chestnut, “Tartan Tories”, gets an airing, of course, but with no accompanying explanation as to why substantial numbers of working class Scots have been voting for it for quite some time now. And they’re likely to do so for the foreseeable future, as the Labour Party in Scotland remains a bunch of rightwing deadbeats, flogging the unionist dead horse and little else. Aided by the crass stupidity in the 2019 general election campaign of people like John McDonnell, insulting the intelligence of folks north of the border with the Tartan Tory guff, and Len McCluskey arrogantly asserting that Labour is the natural party of the Scottish workers. It’s the way he tells ’em!
In a world where neoliberalism has held sway on these islands for decades, the very mild, lukewarm social democracy-lite of the SNP is the best of a bad lot for many Scots. The days of a high-profile Scottish Socialist Party are long gone - their politics are left-nationalist and there’s enough left nationalists in the SNP already. They are rarely seen other than putting their stall and flags up in places like Edinburgh city centre once a week - as so many other ineffective and clueless leftist organisations do elsewhere, to flog a few papers and go home. At election time they barely stand anywhere and it’s merely a token effort.
It might be different if there was a well organised working class group with consistent and credible class politics, with small, but meaningful roots in trade unions and community campaigns and serious election interventions, complementing these activities as a basis for long-term growth.
In his letter (September 1) René Gimpel argues for the classic Zionist line that the word ‘holocaust’ is unique and reserved only for Jews. This is both racist and exclusivist, and it has led to the situation today where thousands of Israeli schoolchildren are taken to Auschwitz - not to learn the lessons of where racism leads, but to instil racism and nationalism in them.
As Gideon Levy wrote in Ha’aretz on May 2 2019, “I have yet to hear a single teenager come back from Auschwitz and say that we mustn’t abuse others the way we were abused. There has yet to be a school whose pupils came back from Birkenau straight to the Gaza border, saw the barbed-wire fence and said, ‘Never again’. The message is always the opposite: Gaza is permitted because of Auschwitz.”
Gimpel writes that there “were other crimes”, but that they were “ad-hoc murders in relation to circumstances … pragmatic considerations … were central to the policy”. This is not true. I do not know whether Gimpel writes out of ignorance or Zionist convictions, but, either way, his argument smacks of special pleading.
The extermination of the disabled (the T-4/euthanasia programme) began in October 1939 and continued until the end of the war, despite the mass protests in Germany itself after its denunciation by bishop Clemens von Galen in August 1941. Henry Friedlander in The origins of Nazi genocide traces the beginning of the holocaust to T-4. The same eugenic considerations - purity of the race - which was used for the murder of the disabled population, was applied to the Jews. Indeed even the genocide of the Jews can be traced to T-4.
The extermination of the gypsies/Roma, who suffered proportionately the same as the Jews, was not ad hoc either. The Nuremberg Laws - “the most murderous legislative instrument known to European history” (Reitlinger) - were introduced on September 15 1935. Twelve days later they were extended to gypsies and black people.
The extermination of Russians, including prisoners of war, was also not accidental or pragmatic and neither was the extermination of up to three million Poles. The Nazis saw the Russians as livestock. All of this was part of the racial colonisation of eastern Europe.
Gimpel writes that “No exception was provided for Jews, who were condemned in toto”. This is not so. Expulsion, not extermination, was the original intention of the Nazis until Operation Barbarossa. Even after that, when there was a shortage of labour in the Reich, Jews were brought back into Germany in order to provide labour for the underground armaments factories. Some 80,000 Hungarian Jews were diverted from Auschwitz to Germany in 1944. Likewise 18,000 Jews were sent to Strasshof in Austria from Budapest at the end of June 1944.
Even with the Jews the Nazis could be pragmatic when the situation demanded it. Yes, it is true that “Hitler set out his loathing of Judaism” (or rather Jews) in Mein Kampf, but he also spoke about a “great” movement called Zionism in the same book and, when he achieved power, he gave his support to the Ha’avara agreement despite the opposition of the foreign office and substantial sections of the Nazi state. This is the subject of my new book, Zionism during the holocaust.
For Zionists Hitler’s hatred of Jews was irrational and demonic. In the words of Elie Wiesel, it was a “sacred and essentially incomprehensible event”. However, this was not true. The Jews, in the form of Marx, were seen as the biological parents of Bolshevism, who were the Nazis’ prime enemies. When the first concentration camp - Dachau - was set up, it was for communists and trade unionists, not Jews.
As a matter of historical accuracy, the Wannsee conference of January 1942 did not “point” Eichmann “in the direction of a ‘final solution’”. The extermination camps had already begun operation (Chelmno) or were on the brink of doing so (Belzec, Auschwitz). Eberhard Jäckel wrote that “The most remarkable thing about the meeting at Wannsee is that we do not know why it took place.” My own guess is that its primary aim was the extension of the already extant genocide of the Jews in the east to western Europe. Wannsee’s importance has been overstated and half of its time was devoted to the question of the Mischlinge (mixed-race Jews).
That Hitler was a pathological anti-Semite is a given, but to believe that the extermination of the Jews was simply a product of that pathology is to trivialise what happened. It was war imperialism that led from expulsion to extermination of the Jews and this was true for others. For the first two years of occupation more Jews died because they were part of the Polish intelligentsia than because they were Jews.
René Gimpel’s attempt to reserve the term ‘holocaust’ for the Jews only is simply the mirror image of the Zionist search for racial purity in Palestine.
I see that The Guardian’s tame Zionist and all-round egocentric has struck again. Apparently Jonathan Freedland has a new ‘play’ on at the Royal Court, called Jews: in their own words, thus trying to make up for a supposedly anti-Semitic history of shows at that theatre.
I do wish that people who consider themselves intelligent would get their facts right. On The Guardian theatre page Freedland shows his ignorance (September 21). There was an agreement between the Zionist movement and the Nazi Party in Germany - it was called the Ha’avara. Look it up, Jonathan - it has an interesting history.
Apparently the Royal Court decided it didn’t know enough about anti-Semitism, and wanted to commission a play about its history and the left’s attitude. Not the Nazis, of course, not the right - only Jeremy Corbyn and the left! Freedland wants “progressives” (who are they?) to “take the issue of anti-Semitism seriously, to listen to Jewish concerns”. Has he not noticed that many of the “progressives” in the Labour Party are Jewish? Does he think only his (Conservative) brand of Judaism knows about anti-Semitism?
Freedland goes on to say that he wanted to look at anti-Semitism in the context of the “broader culture and long history of the UK’s complex attitude” to its Jewish community. It would be useful, I suppose, if the history of Jews in Britain were treated historically. They were exiled from Britain in the 1200s and only allowed back under Cromwell, as long as they kept quiet, and then under Charles II excluded from politics and many other professions until the 19th and 20th centuries. (Ever wondered how Disraeli got into politics? Look it up!). But no such treatment from Israel’s best friend, Freedland.
No, among other people he interviews is Margaret Hodge MP, one of the nastiest anti-left people, who masqueraded as a McCarthyite to root out the ‘anti-Semitic evil’ from the Labour Party. Ditto Luciana Berger - another ‘expert’ on anti-Semitism many have not heard of.
This particular ‘expert’ argues that there was “less disagreement” among British Jews than many claimed, and that one survey decided that 87% of them thought that Jeremy Corbyn was anti-Semitic. I don’t know who the Jews were that were interviewed for this survey, or what their affiliation was to Judaism, but I don’t believe it. I watched Labour Jews being thrown out of the party for supposed anti-Semitism with horror. The way it was done, and the manner in which Jeremy Corbyn was vilified, didn’t prove there was a big problem of anti-Semitism at all. It proved that the right wanted to cut out the left’s influence with a butcher’s knife.
The headline to Freedland’s article reads: “Once even Jews would utter the word ‘Jew’ in a whisper. Now it is up in lights.” I am not affiliated to religion in any sense and never have been. But recounting the experiences of the holocaust and stating that Jews being openly Jewish on stage in England were “weighing up the risks” does not make me feel any more or less Jewish. Did nobody know until now that Hodge and Berger were Jewish when they were “weighing up the risks”? It was all over the press when they were screaming ‘Anti-Semitism!’
I will not be going to the Royal Court to hear Britain’s Jewish history. I have my own family history, including relatives murdered in the holocaust, but also relatives fighting on the left for over 100 years - for emancipation for everyone; for a different society, where the likes of Margaret Hodge and Luciana Berger do not hold sway.
And, oh yes, just an amusing thought: if the Labour Party wanted to keep its reputation pure, it might have rethought the idea of having this year’s conference in the middle of one of the holiest periods in Judaism - Rosh Hashanah starts on Monday September 26!