Category Archives: Events

Communist University 2013

COMMUNIST UNIVERSITY 2013

August 12-18, south London

Preparations for the Communist University, our annual school, are well advanced and the 2013 timetable features some outstanding speakers on key issues. The CPGB website will be regularly updated with tweaks to the timetable and profiles of our speakers, but here are a few who have confirmed so far and the subjects they will be addressing:

* Adam Hanieh is a lecturer in development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He is author ofCapitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States and a member of the editorial board of the journal, Historical Materialism. At our school, Adam will be speaking on ‘The political economy of the Muslim Brotherhood’ on Wednesday, August 14. For comrades’ interest, he opened on‘The capitalist crisis and the Arab Spring’ in November of last year at a gathering organised by the Kurdish Academic Forum.

* Hillel Ticktin is one of the leading Marxist political economists in the world. Originally from South Africa, he left the country to avoid arrest for political activism. After some time working for his PhD in the Soviet Union – where he again attracted the disapproval of the authorities – he began teaching at the University of Glasgow in 1965, and in 1973 he co-founded Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, an independent, scholarly Marxist journal. Comrade Ticktin has been a regular atCommunist University over years and a frequent contributor to our paper. He will be presenting three sessions for us in August – ‘Capitalist crises and the causes’ (Wednesday, August 14), ‘Capitalism: terminal crisis or long term decline?’ (Thursday, August 15) and ‘Socialism or barbarism’ (Saturday, August 17).

* The left’s response to the global crisis of capitalism has been essentially Keynesian. So the title of our morning session on Friday, August 16 – ‘Does Keynesianism offer an alternative to austerity?’ – is apposite for all those who regard themselves as Marxists, or revolutionaries of some stripe. It is presented by the CPGB’s Mike Macnair, a member of the party’s leadership and a frequent contributor to the Weekly Worker. Mike has written and spoken on this subject in the past and it is clearly one that we need to keep returning to given the left’s stubborn insistence that this non-Marxist (actually anti-Marxist) politics is a supportable ‘alternative’ to capitalist austerity.

* OnTuesday, August 13 Mike Gonzalez will be discussing with Nick Rogers the question, ‘After Chavez: where next for the Bolivarian revolution?’ Mike has written widely on Latin America from the state capitalist perspective of the International Socialist tradition of Tony Cliff. (See his Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution). He is a historian, a prolific author and literary critic. For a time, he also was the professor of Latin American Studies in the Hispanics department of the University of Glasgow. He was videoed speaking on ‘The politics of water’ at a Socialist Workers Party (Ireland) event in November of last year.

*Yassamine Mather is an Iranian socialist in exile in Britain. Her political activities on the Iranian left started in 1980s Tehran and later in Kurdistan. In exile, she has been on the editorial board of the monthly journal Jahan and a member of the coordinating committee of Workers Left Unity Iran. She is also a member of the Centre for Socialist Theory and Movements (Glasgow University) and the deputy editor of the journalCritique. Since 2007 she has been active in Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI).She will be speaking in a debate on feminism(s) with Camilla Power.

*Camilla Power is a senior lecturer in evolutionary anthropology at the University of East London, with a particular interest in female coalitionary strategies, ritual and early human kinship. She uses modern Darwinian selfish-gene sexual selection theory to understand the origins of symbolic culture. She is a leading member of the Radical Anthropology Group and has spoken frequently at Communist University. She will be speaking in a debate on feminism(s) with Yassamine Mather.

*

Comrades attending Communist University for the first time often remark that its culture is very different to other left schools. For example, writing in the Weekly Worker Paul Demarty regrets the “cosy diplomatic speechifying” that generally characterises the annual Marxism school staged by the Socialist Workers Party. This flows from a tacit “diplomatic arrangement” between the event organisers and the ‘star’ non-SWP speakers – the “horse trading” consists of “the SWP granting the speaker a large and enthusiastic audience in central London. In return, the speaker offers the SWP an implicitendorsement of the image it wishes to project: a non-sectarian, unifying force on the radical left, offering up its resources to ‘build the movement’.”

Our school actually makes an effort to explore real differences between comrades, to give critical minorities the time and space to make their arguments and to challenge comrades’ pre-conceptions. We are genuinely out to educate, in other words – both ourselves and others. In the lead up to last year’s CU, we made this video with the CPGB’s national organiser, Mark Fischer, to give comrades a feel for the event.

For booking and venue details, go here. Main Communist University 2013 Index here.

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Anti-war anniversary: Party with all-round strategy needed

Moshé Machover looks back at a decade of anti-war protest. This is an edited version of his speech to the March 9 ‘Ten wasted years?’ school, organised by the CPGB

Moshé Machover (photo credit: David Isaacson)

Moshé Machover (photo credit: David Isaacson)

The high-water mark of the anti-war movement was the great demonstration of February 15 2003, the biggest that I have participated in – and I am sure that is true for many others here too. It did not stop the war and it would have been very surprising if it had, but nothing very much seems to have come out of that movement. The question is why?

Of all the similar wars of intervention – what have been called ‘slaughter for humanitarian purposes’, perpetrated on behalf of the US-led ‘international community’ – the Iraq war was the only one that generated such protests. The first I can recall was Kosova in 1999, over which much of the left was confused; then there was Afghanistan in 2001; more recently there has been Libya, Syria and Mali. Remarkably also in the case of Libya much of the left was divided, and again it is worth asking why.

Some have claimed that the big Iraq demonstration 10 years ago was responsible for preventing war against Iran today. I think this is highly doubtful – there are many other considerations. Of course, the march was not without use – just the feeling of being in such a big crowd is a good thing. But my question is, why have we been unable to repeat such large demonstrations?

The attitude of the organised left – in Stop the War Coalition it was mainly the Socialist Workers Party and later the section of the SWP that split to form Counterfire – is that the anti-war movement provides an opportunity not to assert the revolutionary socialist view, not to assert a Marxist analysis of the impending war, but to use this movement for ‘leverage’. I mean leverage in the sense of using a small weight to move a larger one. A small group hopes to use the movement in order to move a much larger public through some kind of ‘united front’.

In my first real political activity I was sent by a Stalinist-Zionist movement to collect signatures for a worldwide peace petition during the cold war. Some communist parties were very small, but could ‘lever’ a lot of peace-loving people through these organisations. Of course, the Stalinists had no intention of making a revolution – they were about defending the Soviet Union – and on these terms the peace petition worked quite well. They did get leverage through a whole series of organisations that are very reminiscent of the types of bodies run by the SWP, Counterfire and so on that we have today. There was the Democratic Youth Movement, which had a succession of festivals in the ‘people’s democracies’, the Democratic Women’s Movement and a whole series of fronts for the various CPs.

But there is a price to pay for this doubtful privilege: you have to moderate your own analysis, as those people you are trying to lever are not entirely stupid: they do not want to be manipulated and they are prepared to form this kind of long-term alliance only provided that the left does not say things that they strongly disagree with. In February 2003 you could see SWP posters and placards, but there were many more Liberal Democrat placards – and, of course, Lib Dem support vanished not long after that – and there were also very big Islamic groups taking part.

Now, I am not implying in any way that far-left groups should not have taken part in this huge demonstration or in other anti-war movements. But they should have used the occasion to put forward their own specific revolutionary-socialist analysis of the situation. What was missing was a distinct, working class, leftwing presentation. The far left felt it had to adapt to what its bourgeois partners were thinking about the war.

Anti-war arguments

Some of the people who march against war are pacifists, who just think that war is bad. Again, I am not saying that we on the far left should not concur that war is a horrible thing, but this is not the mainargument – it is an additional, a supporting argument against war.

Others have opposed some interventions because they say they lacked ‘international legitimacy’ or ‘legality’. In the case of Iraq it was clear that, as Blair stated, there would have to be a second United Nations security council resolution, so even in his terms it was not legal. And this actually influenced a lot of people: the Liberal Democrats opposed the Iraq war (until it actually began) on the grounds that it was illegal. Had the UN passed a resolution making the invasion legal, then they would have had no argument. Again, it is not a bad idea to point out the illegality, but this is not our main argument.

Then there are those who oppose war because it is so expensive. In fact this ‘cost of war’ argument is made not just by those who oppose wars, but also by those who wage them. There is a certain conflict of interest here, because war is very expensive, especially in these times of austerity, when so-called ‘defence’ budgets are being cut. But there is also the so-called ‘defence’ industry, which does not want to cut back.

Some people oppose war on the grounds that aggressor states have evil or unjustified aims. In the case of Iraq it was a very widespread argument that what the Americans were really after was Iraqi oil, which is to some extent true, but I do not think this was the main reason for the intervention and this certainly should not have been used as a main argument by Marxists. For example, the only resource Afghanistan had going for it was lapis lazuli, used for blue dyes!

Another argument made against the Iraq war was that Saddam Hussein did not have the weapons of mass destruction which he was accused of stockpiling. But suppose that he did! And, by the way, no-one was seriously claiming that Iraq had atomic weapons. The term ‘weapons of mass destruction’ is in itself deceptive: it lumps together hydrogen bombs and mustard gas. And when Blair said that Iraq possessed WMD he was talking about poison gas. Again, what if Iraq did have this?

The problems of these arguments about the secret, evil intent of the aggressors are twofold. One, there may not always be obvious ‘evil intent’; the reasons given for war and intervention may be semi-convincingly depicted as humanitarian, as in the case of Libya. These rebels in Benghazi are going to be slaughtered so ‘we’ must save them. If your main argument against the imperialists’ intervention is that they are doing bad things, but this is not immediately apparent, then you are disarmed. And this is actually what has happened to a lot of people on the left – not just the usual suspects, but people who ordinarily should know better. They are confused and have justified (or semi-justified) the intervention in Libya.

On the other hand, if you are not ready to justify the intervention on such grounds but want to oppose the war on the basis of ‘good versus evil’, then you are pushed into actually idealising the victim of the aggression. This is very obvious in the case of Iran, where some of the bigger masses that the left groups seek to leverage are devout Muslims, who are not averse to a harsh theocracy. It is not that the planned American-Israeli war against Iran is ‘good versus evil’ in the way it is portrayed in the bourgeois pro-war press, but merely a reversal of this position – suddenly these regimes become staunch ‘anti-imperialists’.

I think that the lesson of all this is the need to organise independently – not in the sense of refusing to act together on a specific issue in a tactical way with people who have other motives. But one should do it in a way that does not inhibit us from putting forward our own analysis.

Who and why

The question then is, what should be our main argument against these interventions? At this point I cannot resist telling you a story from the Talmud. The Talmud is a huge compendium of Jewish legal and theological disputations ranging over several centuries, but it also contains various stories. Some of them are just fairy tales, but others are reports of actual events. One of them recounts a discussion between three sages towards the end of the 2nd century in Palestine, which was then under the rule of the Roman empire. The discussion was over the attitude that should be taken towards the Romans.

The first sage says that the Romans are not so bad. They build markets, bathhouses, bridges. They bring civilisation. The second sage keeps quiet in the discussion. The third sage says, look, it’s notwhat the Romans do, but what they are doing it for. They build markets as places for lodging whores. They build bathhouses for their own enjoyment, and they build bridges in order to collect tolls, to tax us. So don’t look at what is done: look at who does it and why.

According to the story, a fourth sage overheard this conversation, blabbed about it, and it got to the authorities. The first sage who praised the Roman empire was not touched. The second sage who had kept silent was sent into internal exile. But the third one had the death sentence passed against him and he had to go into hiding. I think this is a very instructive tale, which has a moral lesson.

The question is not whether or not the purported immediate aim is good or not – to save the rebels or whatever. The question is what the bigger picture is about: why are these wars being waged? You can make a whole list of interventions carried out for ‘humanitarian purposes’. It is a system, a method – although this method of justifying war is relatively new, a post-cold war phenomenon.

All the big wars in modern times, up to and including World War II, had been between the major capitalist countries over the competitive division of the world between themselves, over who could become the ‘top dog’ of the imperialist hierarchy. I think another war of this type is unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future. It may arise again – no-one can prophesy with certainty – but if it does it would be entirely catastrophic, given the weaponry that exists. So the last one in history for the time being is World War II.

Then during the cold war the world was divided, polarised, between the two main superpowers. They had a whole series of agreements to achieve this – Yalta, Tehran, Potsdam. In the period from 1945 through to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites, wars were tools for the policing by the respective superpowers of their own mutually agreed spheres of influence. There were also conflicts between the two big blocs in cases where the borders were not sufficiently clearly defined – Korea certainly was a war of this kind and Vietnam arguably so. But additionally there were wars within the blocs, where one power would exercise itself militarily within its domain and the other superpower would not intervene. For example, the USA and its allies did not intervene when the Soviet Union made a regime change in Czechoslovakia in 1948, or when it intervened very forcefully in Hungary in 1956. Some Hungarian rebels called for American intervention, but that did not happen, as it was contrary to the established agreements and would have been destabilising.

Nor did Stalin intervene when the west crushed the resistance in Greece. Immediately after World War II, the Greek Communist Party and its resistance movement were as important as they were in Yugoslavia. But in Yugoslavia the west did not intervene and allowed the partisans to take power, while in Greece the imperialists, Britain mainly, did intervene, because, according to the agreements between the two major powers, Greece was in the western domain. Stalin not only did not intervene, but he actively betrayed his communist allies in Greece.

That period ended in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and now we have a world which is structured differently, with one major power at the summit of the capitalist pyramid. It is not a case of the ‘imperialist countries’ versus ‘the colonial countries’ – each state has a role within this hierarchy. It is an intricate system, but certainly there is a top dog. And that top dog would like to assert its right to police the world as it wishes. So, instead of two domains, where in each case there is a major power policing its own backyard, we have one world, one domain, with one superpower that claims, along with its major allies – not least Great Britain and Israel – that it has the right to police the whole world.

Strategy

It is on these grounds that imperialist war must be resisted. It is part of the capitalist system – and a vicious and dangerous part from the point of view of revolutionary socialists. What the US is trying to do is to legitimise and to normalise its role as world policeman, and it is this that we ought to oppose. This is the major argument that I think the left should put forward in opposing wars.

We should never support a war undertaken by our own ruling classes. Often they are undertaken for domestic reasons. Kissinger said of Israel: it has no foreign policy, only domestic policy; and this is actually true of most states – their foreign policies result from internal class contradictions.

Of course, there are additional arguments that are useful to mention in each case, but this main argument applies just as much to Mali, Syria and Libya as it applied to Iraq and will apply to Iran. It is in principle incumbent on the left to oppose this role of world policeman. Why? Because we know what would happen if there were the possibility of socialist revolution anywhere: this world policeman would bring its power to bear against us. That is why it is essential to build up our opposition both practically and theoretically in order todelegitimise these police actions.

Finally I think it is important to distinguish between a ‘single issue’ form of opposition and one based on class analysis. It is the difference between protest and the presentation of an alternative. In order to do protest you do not really need a single, mass organisation based on the working class, and armed with a socialist programme. All you need is an organisation like STWC, which resists bad wars. Then you have another organisation to resist the cuts.

But in order to actually present an alternative you need an all-round theory, an all-round strategy. You need an organisation, a party. A party that is not just about protests, but whose main purpose is about presenting an alternative to the existing order of things.

(This article was first published in the Weekly Worker)

 

Lars Lih on Bolshevism

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95 years after the October Revolution, the CPGB invites you to join us to look back on an event that profoundly changed human history and which continues to inspire millions across the globe.

This London Communist Forum will not merely celebrate 1917. It will also interrogate the complex and conflicted legacy of the ‘Bolshevism’ that we on the far left have inherited. This has completely distorted our understanding of the very event that inspires so many of us.

The cults of Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky, not to mention the anti-communist prejudice of Cold War historiography, have skewed our understanding of the nature of Bolshevism as a political movement, the strategy it was pursuing and therefore the Russian Revolution as a whole. This meeting aims to re-Bolshevise the Bolshevik Revolution.

In a world that is increasingly plunging into turmoil and crisis, enormous responsibilities and challenges fall to those of us who still uphold the need for revolutionary change. That is why it is so important to rigorously study our history, so as to learn from the lessons of 1917.

Lars T Lih is a scholar and historian based in Canada. He is one of the world’s foremost thinkers on Lenin and the Bolsheviks. He has been at the forefront of rediscovering Russian revolutionary history, helping to scotch some of the myths about Bolshevism common to both the far left and anti-communist establishment thought. His most recent publications include a biography, Lenin (2011, Reaktion), and his ground-breaking study Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What is to be done?’ in context (Haymarket 2008).

Facebook event

Location: Calthorpe Arms, 252 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1. Map

Starts: 19:30, Sunday 11 November 2012

Ends: 22:00, Sunday 11 November 2012

Fight for decent affordable housing for all – join the lobby of MK Council on March 13

At the next full meeting of MK Council on Tuesday March 13th a motion calling for the building of more council housing “to meet expected need.” MK Defend Council Housing campaign has called a lobby of this council meeting to “help convince them it’s time to build a new generation of first class council housing so as to provide the secure, genuinely affordable, decent and accountable housing desperately needed.” MK CPGB support this lobby and encourage others to join it at 6.30pm on March 13th outside the Civic Offices, and from 7pm in the council chamber’s public gallery.

There is a Facebook event page for the lobby here: http://www.facebook.com/events/345569582154115/

There is certainly a significant need for new housing in Milton Keynes, but the question of what type of housing is also vital. While we certainly wish to defend existing council housing stock from any attempts to undermine it, we have to say that much of this housing leads a lot to be desired. Please look at the following Weekly Worker article for a discussion of housing fit for the working class: ‘Not rabbit hutches, but houses fit for the revolutionary proletariat‘.

 

Protest against workfare slave labour in Milton Keynes this Saturday, March 3rd

Protesters close McDonald's on Oxford Street, London

The campaign group Boycott Workfare have called a national day of action against workfare for this Saturday, March 3rd. The Coalition of Resistance is calling for the biggest, loudest and most direct protests possible on that day.

As part of this national day of action, in Milton Keynes there will be a protest outside McDonald’s, at The Point, in central Milton Keynes from 1pm. Please come along and join this protest against slave labour. We have already seen the massive pressure that public protests of this type can have on companies like McDonald’s that are highly conscious of their brand image. Lets pile the pressure on until all companies have withdrawn from this abhorent scheme.

Reading Marx’s Capital in Milton Keynes

A small group of activists and academics in Milton Keynes are coming together to undertake a collective study of Karl Marx’s important work on the functioning of the capitalist system, Capital. Anybody else who is interested in joining us in studying this book can email milton.keynes@cpgb.org.uk for more information. Our first meeting will take place at 5.30pm in the Cellar Bar at the Open University on Thursday 9th February.

To get a feel for the sorts of issues we could be discussing you could have a watch of this video introducing a series of video lectures by David Harvey on reading Marx’s Capital.

Fundamentals of Political Economy – weekend school January 21-22

Fundamentals of Political Economy, January 21-22, 11am-5pm. Room 2b, University of London Union, Malet Street, London. Cost: £10 waged, £5 concessions. Email office@cpgb.org.uk to reserve your place.

In 2008 the banks crashed. States round the world bailed them out by borrowing money. Inevitably, this did not get rid of the crisis but rather gradually transmuted it into a crisis of the creditworthiness of individual states: today the crisis of Eurozone state creditworthiness threatens a new bank melt-down (which may already have happened by the time of this weekend school).

The ‘solution’ demanded by governments and the media is austerity. Creditors – ‘savers’ –  must not be made to accept the losses: the working class, both in and out of paid work, must do so. Predictably, the result is an economic downward spiral – as seen in Greece, but coming now to the rest of Europe.

The ‘Occupy’ movement has represented a cry of rage but not put forward a clear alternative. The broad left, including the far left, has committed itself to Keynesian ideas – that states should borrow more and spend more and hope by doing so to grow ‘their way out’ of the crisis.

Understanding the unfolding crisis and proposing real alternatives requires us to grasp Karl Marx’s critique of political economy. But while education in the basics of Marx’s ideas was commonplace on the far left in the 1970s, today it has withered away: there are academics and theorists who ‘do’ political economy, while left activists and groups ‘do’ only campaigns.

Our school aims in a small way to contribute to beginning to overcome this gap in the education of the left. We are therefore seeking to address fundamentals rather than to tackle the analysis of the crisis directly.

Fundamentals of Political Economy, January 21-22, 11am-5pm. Room 2b, University of London Union, Malet Street, London. Cost: £10 waged, £5 concessions. Email office@cpgb.org.uk to reserve your place.

Topics and speakers:

Moshé Machover

1. The Labour theory of value – Moshé Machover

The labour theory of value and how it should be understood is the fundamental centre of Marx’s critique of political economy: the basis on which all else is built.

Academic and long-standing militant Moshé Machover coauthored with Emmanuel Farjoun Laws of Chaos: a probabilistic approach to political economy (1985), pioneering an approach which has been used by some Marxist theorists and criticised by others. He gave a paper explaining the approach to the Historical Materialism Conference this year, which is recommended reading.

2. Money and finance capital – Hillel Ticktin

Hillel Ticktin

The financial system is at the centre of the present crisis. But what is the underlying basis on which the luxuriant overgrowth of financial institutions and instruments has grown up?

Hillel Ticktin is the editor of Critique journal. He has written numerous articles on finance capital and the ‘financial turn’ of the 1980s and its consequences and on the shape of the present crisis.

Werner Bonefeld

3. Political economy and the state – Werner Bonefeld

Keynesian and nationalist ‘solutions’ to the present crisis rest in the last analysis on the illusion that the nation-state stands above classes and can ‘manage’ the monetary and financial system so as to overcome the crisis. How does the state relate to the capitalist economy?

Werner Bonefeld is one of the founders of the ‘Open Marxism’ school of Marxist theory. His work on the state and political economy has been published in Critique, Capital and Class and elsewhere.

Mike Macnair

4. Against Keynesianism – Mike Macnair

John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) was a muddled partial critique of the ‘orthodox’ economics of his day while remaining within the fundamental ‘orthodox’ ideas of marginal utility and equilibrium – though full of striking phrases. Its assumptions are deeply nationalist. Keynesianism is popular among opponents of the policy of austerity because it seems to have ‘worked’ in the 1950s and 60s. It seemed to do so, in reality, because of the results of World War II.

Mike Macnair is a regular writer for the Weekly Worker, among other issues on the present crisis and its implications.