Thursday, July 3, 2014

Two anti-Leninists (1993)

Uğur Mumcu
From the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is probable that few of our readers will have noticed the brief news item at the end of January regarding the assassination in Ankara of the Turkish journalist, Ugur Mumcu. Even fewer will have linked this tragic news with the contacts we had with the émigré review, Marksist published in Paris. It should not go unnoticed, however, that Mumcu was part of a remarkable political trend which we in the Movement for World Socialism can welcome whole-heartedly.

For many years the Socialist Party here and our companion parties overseas have largely been alone in maintaining that Lenin's ideology paved the way for the establishment of state-capitalism in the Russian Empire and elsewhere. Even when the London-based magazine International Socialism diverged from its Trotskyist background by recognizing the USSR to be state-capitalist, they were still so ensnared in their Bolshevik mental straitjacket they could not see the oppressive Russian system as a direct consequence of Lenin's seizure of power in the backward conditions of 1917. The SWP, which emerged from IS in the mid-seventies, remains frozen in its incomplete understanding of the factors giving rise to state-capitalism and, to use a Trotskyist phrase, is accordingly degenerate.

By contrast to the most advance trend within Trotskyism, those around Marksist developed their understanding much further even though many of them emerged from yet more rigid Leninist disciplines as Maoism and its Albanian variant. Mumcu, too, came to a recognition that Leninism was a distortion, a perversion of Marxian ideas. Anyone familiar with the powerful grip which Stalinism has had over the working-class movement in Anatolia will not find it hard to see that Mumcu was not only at risk from those who conspire to re-establish a theocratic state in place of Ataturk's secular republic and who he regularly lambasted in his column in Turkey's best daily Cumhuriyet (the quasi-official mouthpiece of Turkey's own special mix of state and private capitalism). The fact that Mumcu was a scourge of the huge narcotics industry in his country and is said to have been near to publishing a major exposé of the whole business and its political links right the way to the top suggests he could have been in the sights of many different marksmen.

As it is, the TV news from Istanbul reports that Hesbollah, the Tehran-backed Islamic terrorist organization, has claimed responsibility for placing the fatal car-bomb. This could be true but then again MIT, the Turkish secret police who are a menace in their own right to political democracy might have their own reasons for floating this idea.

Whilst acknowledging the valuable contribution Uğur Mumcu and his associates have made to a clearer understanding of the Leninist phenomenon we would be deluding ourselves if we were to overlook the dangers inherent in their reversion to a kind of pre-Leninist Social-Democracy, with all its erroneous attitudes towards the role of leadership, reformist legislation, the nation-state etc. Nevertheless, we share the sense of outrage at this murder and we shall continue as best we can in the work of exchanging and clarifying ideas paving the way to the Socialist world community of the future.
E. S. Grant

Anton Ciliga, whose claim to fame amongst socialists is as the author of the book The Russian Enigma, died in October in Zagreb. As this book first appeared in English in 1940 many will perhaps will be surprised to learn that he was still alive in 1992.

Born in 1898 Anton (or rather, Ante in his native Croatian) Ciliga was a founding member of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia who went to Russia in 1926 and was eventually imprisoned and then exiled to Siberia for "trotskyism". He managed to get out of Russia in 1935 and put down his experiences in writing. These were published in book form in French in 1938 under the title Au Pays du Grand Mensonge ("In the Land of the Big Lie", a much better title than that of the English version in fact).

The Big Lie of course was that Russia was a "socialist state", a "workers' paradise". Ciliga, who had been imprisoned as a Trotskyist, eventually came to realise that Russia was state capitalist and that the Party bureaucracy was a new ruling class. This, naturally, meant that he ceased to be a Trotskyist. In fact he came to see Trotsky as no different in principle from Stalin. As he put it himself:
Trotsky as well as Stalin wished to pass off the State as being the proletariat, the bureaucratic dictatorship over the proletariat as the proletarian dictatorship, the victory of State capitalism over both private capitalism and socialism as a victory of the latter. The difference between Trotsky and Stalin lay in the fact that in his victory Stalin saw the triumph of pure socialism, pure dictatorship of the proletariat, whereas Trotsky perceived and stressed the gaps and bureaucratic deformations of the system.
Besides being an interesting account of the privileged lifestyle of the Bolshevik leaders (and Comintern official from abroad) in the 1920s and of the discussion amongst the political prisoners of various sorts in the 1930s, it is this denunciation of Trotskyism as an ideology of state capitalism that makes the book still worth reading (a new edition was published by Ink Links in 1979), an antidote to the Leninist vanguardist views still being peddled on the streets by the SWP in Britain.

Ciliga, however, soon drifted away from any claim to be a Marxist and became a Croatian nationalist. In later years he was active in Croatian exile politics and when Croatia became a separate state in 1991 he returned from exile and was granted a pension by the new authorities.
Adam Buick 

Roots of gay oppression (1993)

From the May 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Homosexuality—sexual relations between, or attraction to, members of the same sex—has existed from the beginning of human history. In Ancient Greece the love of men was "integral both to the concept and the practice of Greek maleness" according to Rosalind Miles in her recent book The Rites of Man. Already in 1917 in his The Origin and Development of the Moral Idea Westermarck had stated that homosexuality probably occurred among every race of mankind.

Although homosexual love was considered commonplace, natural and pleasurable in the ancient world, homosexuals became increasingly ostracised, ridiculed and persecuted in the modern world. The development of Christianity, Judaism and Islam as international powers, able to wield influence over a wide range of human affairs led to homosexuality being outlawed.

An early condemnation of homosexuality occurs in the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament of the Bible. Homosexuals are condemned to death along with adulterers and those committing bestiality. But Christians have been notorious at changing the rules and deciding which parts of the Bible are to be slavishly followed and which parts are ignored. Usury is condemned in the Bible but, with the rise of capitalism, banking is now a respectable profession. Polygamy was accepted in biblical times but is now strictly illegal in many countries and punishable by imprisonment.

The term "bugger" derives from "bougre" used to describe the supporters of the Bogomil heresy in Bulgaria in the tenth century. The Albingensias in Southern France in 1208 were also known as "bourges" or "bougeron". It was in fact from about the twelfth century onwards that homosexuality came to be perceived as a vice and harsh punishments were meted out. The rich and powerful, however, escaped the prohibition that applied to other homosexuals. Richard I ("The Lionheart") had a passionate affair with King Phillip of France which was carried on quite openly.

In Britain an ecclesiastical law of 1290 ordered "sodomites" to be buried alive, but this sentence seems to have been never carried out. The few who were convicted by the Church courts were hanged by the secular authorities. King Henry VIII introduced hanging as the secular punishment for sodomy in 1533 to remove the power of the Catholic Church that he was in the process of breaking away from.  But this move was politically rather than morally motivated and there were few prosecutions for sodomy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Sexual relations between men were considered a commonplace method of getting sexual pleasure. Local authorities were more concerned to prevent the birth of bastards who might well have to be supported by the parish and a blind eye was turned to homosexual behaviour despite its illegality.

From about the 1700 attitudes to homosexuality hardened again. Homosexuals responded by setting up "molly houses", back rooms in private houses or taverns where heterosexual relationships were mimicked and mocked. According to R. Davenport Hines in his Sex, Death and Punishment, "mock marriages and pregnancy rituals were performed with mock lying-ins and the "pregnant" man being delivered of a doll or a Cheshire cheese.

Homosexuals were depicted as effeminate, partly in retaliation for the "molly house" rituals, partly because transvestites were thought to be homosexuals and partly as a result of social labelling and stereotyping.

As early as 1728 men solicited in London for the sole purpose of blackmailing those who responded to their advances. Police spies and agent provocateurs were used in England for the first time to trap homosexuals. Lord Jowitt claimed that at least 95 percent of blackmail cases which he knew about when Attorney General in 1929-32 involved fears of prosecution for homosexual behaviour.

Oscar Wilde is undoubtedly the best known homosexual to be prosecuted in the late Victorian era. He received two years hard labour in 1895. According to N. Greig in his introduction to Edward Carpenter: Selected Writings "it was the act of treason of taking working-class boys to upper-class clubs which sealed his fate".

In this century the persecution of homosexuals has continued. In 1942 at Abergavenny 18 men received gaol sentences of between 10 months and 12 years. Thirteen of the men received a total of 57 years imprisonment. In 1955, alone, 1065 men were imprisoned for homosexual offences. And in 1951 a campaign against homosexuals in government services started after the homosexual Guy Burgess and the bisexual Donald Maclean absconded to Russia after it was revealed that they had spied for the Russian government for years.

From the mid-nineteenth century onwards homosexuality was seen in some quarters as a medical condition and homosexuals were treated with drugs, hypnotism, psychotherapy and aversion therapy. However, the American Psychiatric Association has now voted to delete homosexuality from its official list of pathologies.

Most teenagers seem to be aware of their homosexuality between 12-14 years of age. Yet such is the social pressure to conform that 61 percent of lesbians and a quarter of male homosexuals had their first sexual experience with a member of the opposite sex (J. M. Stafford, Homosexuality and Education, 1988). The London Gay Teenage Group found, from a sample of over 400 homosexual teenagers, that over half had been verbally abused, a fifth had been beaten up, one in ten had been thrown out of home and many others sent to a doctor or psychiatrist. Suicide had been attempted by one-fifth of them because of intolerable social pressure.

Lesbians had been spared legal persecution but have been subjected to the same prejudices and discrimination as male homosexuals. At times lesbianism has been ignored as if it did not exist, or its existence denied. Radclyffe Hall's novel The Well of Loneliness was banned as obscene in 1928 although there is nothing lewd or erotic in the book. Its lesbian theme was considered sufficient reason for it to be outlawed.

In 1967 homosexual relations, between consenting males over 21 years, in private ceased to be a criminal offence in this country. But prejudice cannot be legislated out of existence and hard-won reforms can always be attacked or withdrawn. The 1988 Halsbury clause of the Local Government Act has made it illegal for local authorities to give financial or other assistance to homosexual groups.

Capitalism thrives on scapegoats because they absorb the blame for the poverty, stress and insecurity that the system cause and divert the pressure for change into other channels.

Socialists hold that sexual activity between consenting adults which gives please to the participants and does not harm anybody should be entirely their own affair. Discrimination is wrong and pressure groups are right to want to change it but we must tackle cause and not effects. Pressure groups fragment the strength of the working class which should be united to bring about the overthrow of the capitalist system. Partial reforms have allowed a resurgence of homophobia to be whipped up over AIDS. And economic stress will make minority groups vulnerable to attack in the future. The overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by socialism is the only way of preventing this from happening.
Carl Pinel

Voice From The Back: Pawn move (2003)

The Voice From The Back column from the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pawn move

We are constantly being told what a wonderful society modern capitalism is and how it has solved the problems of poverty that used to occur in the “bad old days”. So what have me to make of the following information in the Business Section of the Times (18 February)? “With many banks suffering from rising bad debts and margin pressures, pawnbrokers have emerged as one of the few sectors of the finance industry expected to see strong growth in 2003. Experts yesterday predicted that Britain's pawnbroking industry would expand as much as 15 per cent this year to achieve record turnover of more than £85 million, almost triple the amount seen five years ago . . .The business is not helped, it says, by its perception as a “Dickensian institution” and the existence of annual interest rates of more than 100 percent.” Despite two Labour governments it seems that some of us have still got to go down to the pawn. We know how you feel. Sometimes we get skint.

Crawling to work

When Chelsea Clinton, daughter of the ex-president, was offered a job at McKinsey management consultants, starting at £40,000 a year, The Guardian ran a feature on this long established firm. It revealed some of the slavish attitudes that capitalism engenders. “Among things that McKinsey stands for is consistency of presentation. Until the early 1960s, that meant all McKinsey men were expected to wear hats because their chief executive clients did so. When one executive realised that fashion had changed and turned up for work bare-headed one day, colleagues reacted warily. “Should we all give up our hats?” asked one. “I'd wait six weeks,” a partner replied. “It may be a trap.” The Guardian (21 February) It is easy to sneer our critics may say. We reply how many arses would you lick for 40 grand a year?

There be dragons

“A panel of Church of Scotland ministers and psychiatrists has been formed to revisit the controversial area of exorcism for the first time in 15 years. It follows concerns the Church is not doing enough for people some believe have been possessed by devils.” The Herald (4 March) In their leaflet “Dealing With Darkness” the church claims that signs of this demonic possession can be “revulsion from Christian ideas”. It seems more likely to us that this revulsion could spring from christianity's awful record of torture, sexual suppression, misery and mumbo-jumbo like exorcism.

Another Great Man speaks

As if to prove that the US President isn't the only one of the US capitalist's representatives to speak in a less than lucid fashion. Donald Rumsfield, the US Secretary of Defence has come up with a couple of gems to rival his boss. When asked why such heavy bombs were being used in Afghanistan he uttered this profundity. “They are being used on frontline al-Qaeda and Taleban troops to try and kill them.” And when asked about Bin Laden, “We do know of a certain knowledge that Bin Laden is in Afghanistan. Or in another country. Or dead.” The Times (13 March) Bombs being used to kill people? Bin Laden is either alive or dead? Its good to know that such sages are in charge, isn't it?

T-shirts of mass destruction

That war hysteria breeds irrational behaviour is surely proven by the case of Stephen Downs, who was arrested and charged with trespassing at a New York mall. His crime? He was wearing a T-shirt that said Peace on Earth and Give Peace a Chance. “I was confronted by two security guards and ordered to either take off the T-shirt or leave the mall”, said Stephen Downs. Newsweek(17 March) What such guardians of New York malls will make of our comrades in Canada who have been distributing for some years T-shirts proclaiming “Abolish the wages system” is left to your imagination.

A fishy tale

Members of the world socialist movement base their ideas on science. So of course we were extremely interested in the way-out happenings that recently occurred in New York .”According to two fish-cutters at the New Square Fish Market, the carp was about to be slaughtered and made into gefilte for Sabbath dinner when it suddenly began shouting apocalyptic warnings in Hebrew.” The Observer (16 March) “Many of the 7,000 Skver sect of hasidim in New Square, 30 miles north of Manhattan, believe God has revealed himself in fish form.” Next time you buy fish and chips listen to the God instead of eating the cod. What a load of nonsense. All religious ideas are.