Letters

Opportunity Knocks

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John Rees's article (May SR) should be a starting point for an active debate about the tasks for socialists in the coming months.

The scale of the anti-war movement has led to a deep politicisation - in every workplace, school and community there are people who are thinking about how to change things. People have moved seamlessly from opposing the war to generalising about imperialism and neoliberalism. Now their anger against Labour is directed against privatisation, Sats or foundation hospitals.

Workers to Rule

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Graeme Kemp and Alan Woodward (May SR) are quite right that my short piece on workers' democracy (April SR) left many questions unresolved.

Hopefully there will be further discussion of this central question at Marxism 2003 and in the SWP press. For those who want to go further, I recommend 'The Western Soviets' by Donny Gluckstein, and 'Revolutionary Rehearsals', edited by Colin Barker.

Three brief points for further discussion:

(1) There is no guarantee *in advance* that any future revolution will not be bureaucratised. We shall need permanent vigilance and constant efforts to spread democratic involvement.

Workers to Rule

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Graeme Kemp and Alan Woodward (Letters, May SR) raise a number of interesting questions about the nature of workers' democracy.

Graeme Kemp cites China and Russia as examples of supposedly socialist revolutions that 'went wrong'. However, there are fundamental differences between the two. The Russian Revolution of February 1917 was achieved by masses of ordinary working people who created organs of democratic self government - soviets, or 'workers' councils'. The soviets were not initially perceived to be in conflict with the official state, but simply as a way of running society in a time of crisis. Lenin and Trotsky, however, were convinced that these were far more democratic than anything Russia had seen before.

The Price of War

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The failure of the US Marine Corps to secure the Iraqi museums and hospitals while securing the Iraqi oilfields and oil ministry has brought home to me more forcefully than ever before the profound truth of that maxim of Oscar Wilde: 'A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.'

This was, of course, written at the height of British imperialism.

Allan Crabtree
Isle of Man

Will Soviets be Party Dominated?

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Ian Birchall's article 'People Power' (April SR) really deserves a small book in reply but a point or two will have to suffice.

Of course he is right to advocate a revival of workers' councils but we need to be clear where we are aiming. Soviets were a key institution in Russia in 1917 but they were a unique formation, fashioned by the historical and political circumstances.

Soviets were councils of delegates from workplaces in assembly, but they were effectively run by the executive, which was dominated by (previously repressed) political parties.

Can Soviets be Truly Democratic?

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Ian Birchall (April SR) does a good job in outlining what genuine democracy could look like, given past historical experiences. The only problem is this: how do you stop councils of workers becoming dictatorships of party officials?

The problem with many revolutions is that the successful revolutionary party believes that the people cannot be trusted and must be better led--led by the party, that is. Hence a degree of compulsion is needed. Liberty, free speech and 'opposition' must be curtailed, at least for a while, until people see the benefits of the revolution. Human rights are a kind of post-revolutionary experience.

Marxists Caught in a Web

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On behalf of the volunteers running the Marxists' Internet Archive I would like to thank Martin Empson and 'Socialist Review' for the friendly review of the archive in the Martin's Web column (April SR). However, I would like to correct one impression created by the article.

Martin says that 'the MIA is very eclectic in its choice of Marxists to be archived. So Stalin and Mao's work sit uneasily beside that of Marx, Engels, Trotsky and Lenin.' This is not strictly true. In the introduction to the archive we state our criteria for categorising writers: 'If any of the following criteria apply the MIA Collective may decide to place the writer in the Reference Archive...

Stop Talking and Start Fighting

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This May is the 35th anniversary of the massive explosion of anger initiated by French students and supported by French workers in 1968. Spontaneity fused with working class struggle and created a mood of resistance that has formed the backbone of the class struggle in France. This solidarity is again being put to the test.

The Tory government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin is attempting to 'reform' the retirement system by bringing the public sector into line with the private sector. In 1993, the then Tory prime minister Edouard Balladur imposed an increase in the number of working years to qualify for retirement from 37.5 to 40. However, millions of workers struck in November and December 1995 and prevented the extension of this attack on public sector workers. It also demonstrated how workers have the ability to fight back and win despite the full ferocity of the capitalist state organising against them.

Media Madness and the Rationale of the Francophobes

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In contrast to 'Socialist Review''s anti-war coverage the media has been showing scenes around Basra of British medics treating wounded Iraqis alongside wounded British soldiers.

The commentator, with solemn reverence, states that the medic does not differentiate between Brit and Iraqi, and all he recognises is the common suffering. The same commentator fails to mention that the screaming Iraqi children who are being cared for are also the victims of British aggression.

Media Madness and the Rationale of the Francophobes

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Chris Harman's analysis of the strategy of the US ruling class can help explain the recent vitriol directed at the French (April SR).

It was noticeable that the likes of Richard Perle led the charge in attacking France, opening the gates to a flood of abuse in the US media, but also drawing in the British press (not too difficult a task), who were soon slavishly followed by the Blairites.

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