Letters

Submitted by AWL on 8 May, 2019 - 12:45
for the many

Let's be honest. Even if Labour had a good line on Brexit, a better leadership, a PLP not out to sabotage it, and all the rest, a majority Labour government will be hard to win. Unless other fronts are opened in the class struggle to break the barriers.

There is a long term decline in the Labour vote in: 1. Depressed de-industrialised small cities and towns with declining populations, especially those not in the orbit of big diverse cities. 2. The unfashionable working-class suburbs, owner occupied but by skilled or semi skilled working class people rather than the well-off. Or the dormitory villages next to towns, with no amenities but swelled by housebuilding in the 70s, 80s and 90s. 3. The Scottish working class.

Those groups kept Labour in office in 2005 and saved it from annihilation in 2010. But since then the Labour vote there has been in decline. The Labour-right and Stalinist argument is to appeal to the conservatism, nationalism, and racism in those areas. Hence Labour's Brexit mess. But really the stalemate can only be broken through struggle on other fronts than the Labour party.

The general weakness on the industrial front is the key factor. To counter that, we need organic organising to the point of winning struggles in retail parks and distribution centres off motorways. The campaigns need the union movement, Labour, and Momentum activists to link up with them on a genuine basis.

Luke Hardy, Leeds

Hegel, Marx, Darwin

Paul Cooper (Solidarity 502, 503, 504) identifies both Aristotle and Hegel, and then also Marx, as asserting that "things change as their essence evolves". Paul takes that assertion to be self-evident, "a tautology". With Aristotle, "development is a property of real entities"; with Hegel, "of Logic, not actual material entities".

But Hegel has a concept of contradiction, missing in Aristotle. "Marx takes the concept of 'contradiction' from Hegel" and identifies it within "the real entity". For Hegel, however, the Absolute Idea was "the real entity", and "finite" things like "newts and money" were comparatively unreal. "The truth is the whole", Hegel wrote. And thus he developed accounts highlighting interaction and contradiction within that whole. But Hegel's expositions, supposedly developed by logical analysis of "the Absolute", were in fact constructed by collecting a mass of factual knowledge and then shoe-horning it into his general scheme.

"In beginning the study of Universal History", for example, declared Hegel, "we should at least have the firm, unconquerable faith that... the World of intelligence and conscious volition... must show itself in the light of the self-cognisant Idea". How to show that? By presenting it as "the result of the investigation we are about to pursue; a result which happens to be known to me, because I have traversed the entire field". Hegel found out what happened, and then presented it as the "what it was to be" of a greater whole. Thus what Marx's called Hegel's "false positivism", and the "whole parallel with the teleological act of the will", presenting the constitutional monarchy (for example) as generated by the purposeful activity of the Idea.

In contrast, I'd argue, Marx did his research without assuming things to have an internal "what it was to be" discernible by speculative philosophy. Dialectics was not a super-science, or a "science before the science", telling us about general patterns of development in advance of all particular, empirical investigation. He saw the great thing to be learned from Darwin that "for the first time, 'teleology' in natural science is dealt a mortal blow".

Maybe other readers will discuss other issues Paul has raised and for which I have no space here.

Martin Thomas, London

Mind your language

Sean's piece in this issue is extremely good. It is politically persuasive and lucidly takes the reader on the historical political journey of our tendency's thinking, the thinking of Sean himself, but a journey mirrored by many comrades, on Israel, Palestine and antisemitism. I'd like to pick up on not the content, but some of the language used. Comrades should read Sean's article before this comment, to contextualise it.

Sean writes that “'Secular democratic state' was 'drive the Jews into the sea' for squeamish dimwits, or people made stupid by politics.” Later, he writes “It was the reduction of their politics to something hard to distinguish from political lunacy.”

Comrades should not use terms such as “dimwit” and “lunacy” as attacks in political polemics. Doing so feeds reactionary narrative about mental health. Lunatic, dimwit, schizoid, moron, cretin and other terms are fundamentally everyday insults to people with mental health problems, learning difficulties, or even just eccentricities. Their use as insults by those on the left, including by some of Workers' Liberty's members, contributes to stigmatisation of such people and their difficulties, and of drives towards conformity. Politically, we oppose such things. Our rhetoric should be consistent with this.

There are some secondary reasons to avoid such name-calling. Generally, engaging with arguments rather than attacking - or name-calling - their believers is better. In both quoted examples, Sean does the former as well as the latter, and in tracing a history of development of ideas, the latter is probably, in part, necessary. But this name-calling is lazy, or at best imprecise, where more descriptive terms could work.

Finally, it often comes across as snobbish. Even when feeling intellectually superior to particular individuals or sets of individuals is justified, such snobbishness is generally not convincing or attractive. It can cut against building positive democratic cultures of debate.

I imagine some readers would accuse me of nitpicking over this, of this being a symptom of “excessive Political Correctness”, or even try to bring some amateur psychoanalysis as to why I felt combined to write this note. In striving for a better world, details matter, and cannot be justified simply as stylistic licence, authors' rights, or their widespread current and historical usage. Sean is a good and creative writer, and could do better. I know other supporters of Workers' Liberty feel similar, and I'd like to thank Janine for her insight on the issue.

Mike Zubrowski, Bristol

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