Mike Zubrowski's letter in the last issue of Solidarity makes a strong case for the importance of reading long texts.
I agree with the main thrust of what Mike writes, and would agree with it as a critique of my article if I had actually argued what he claims that I did. But I didn't.
My article argued that "We can not just rely on a text-heavy newspaper any more." I did not write that reading long texts is not important, nor that other media could replace newspapers.
Mike partly acknowledges this by stating that my article 'implied' these things rather than claiming that it actually argued them. But this is not my article's implication; it is Mike's interpretation. Unfortunately, Mike misinterprets a specific point I made about reliance on text-heavy newspapers as a general opposition to long texts.
As someone who has written several books, it would be odd indeed if I were arguing against reading long texts. But newspapers - which are designed to be read and thrown away in a short period of time - are not the most effective format for long texts.
More durable pamphlets, journals and books are better. Text-heaviness can also be usefully lightened by illustrations, readable layout, clear writing and division into chunks.
Moreover, I think that Mike is simply wrong to state that there are greater barriers to producing and distributing videos than to producing and distributing newspapers.
Two hundred thousand videos are uploaded to YouTube every day. A huge number of them are made by rank amateurs with basic equipment at practically no cost.
They are instantly visible to anyone in the world, and can be promoted and shared much more easily than a newspaper can.
Janine Booth, north London
Sanders gives an opening
KM [in his letter, Solidarity 497, arguing that socialists should not vote for Bernie Sanders if he wins the Democrat presidential nomination] fails to realise the extent to which the electoral system is corrupt in America. Getting on the ballot is almost impossible if you are not a Democrat or Republican, and is done state-by-state. Third-party candidates would have to spend all their time and resources just getting on the ballot and may not even be on the ballot in all or most states.
Furthermore, being a Democratic candidate gives left-wing candidates a platform they will otherwise not have. Third party candidates, usually Green Party and libertarians, don’t make it on national TV for debates or question times and are hardly covered in the papers. The primary elections for the two main parties alone is given heavy press coverage and attention, giving someone like Sanders a huge platform despite little fame beforehand. What more, Sanders standing against the average Clinton-type Democrat gives a clear example to the American public dividing the liberal Democrats from the actual “left”.
Because there’s no Labour Party and the trade union movement is low, being pro-Obama and pro-choice in America is enough to be considered left-wing. Republicans are deplorable and the average Democrats are a lesser evil because they, in general, are on the liberal side of reproductive rights and LGBT rights, but many people see neither option as great.
I agree with KM that socialists should have advocated an abstention for Macron in the 2017 French presidential election, but Macron and Bernie are different cases. Macron represents the status quo and is pushing attacks on the working class and immigrants. Bernie is something new in American politics and his program represents a push against big business and for a proper welfare state — a win for working class people.
Revolutionaries should want a fundamentally different party than the Democrats. And we should use Sanders and the movement around him to try to create something akin to a Labour Party in America. This may very well be in the horizons as Sanders has recently filed as a 2024 Senate candidate as an independent. Sanders is far from perfect, and we should be clear on that, but revolutionaries should view Sanders as an opportunity for mass education of American people and use it to push forward socialist politics.
Justine Canady, south London
“The main thing as alibi”
A number of years ago, there was a famous ad campaign during the presidential campaign of the first, oh-so-honourable, George Bush of blessed memory. Running in 1988 against the hapless former Massachusetts Governor, Michael Dukakis, the Republicans plastered the airwaves with the picture of an African-American felon, Willie Horton, who had committed a series of grisly crimes while on a weekend furlough from jail. It played blatantly to the stereotypical fears of blacks as criminals. But in case that race-baiting hammer blow was too subtle, it was soon followed by a series of ads known as the “Revolving Door,” depicting a variety of intimidating-looking black prisoners walking in and out of prison.
The Republicans were giddy. After all, no one in these ads explicitly made race an issue. So why, asked the pure as the driven snow Republicans — the party of Lincoln as they reminded us — would anyone question the subtext of these ads? Unless, that is, they wished to coddle criminals? Back and forth it went. Was the issue criminal-enabling or racism? Of course, no one on the left could stomach the faux outrage of that right-wing proposition.
No, I’m not suggesting that Omar and Tlaib are cynical operatives of this or any other ilk. They are real progressives, who casually traffic in antisemitic tropes. My main problem is not with them. It is with a left amen corner that repeatedly shirks its obligation to enlighten those on our side of the political divide about the dangers of antisemitic adjacent remarks for fear of encouraging anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice or of stifling dissent. It’s the alibi David Finkel (Solidarity 497) offers by “keeping the main thing the main thing”.
And since he has given them his main thing pass, Tlaib and Omar have innocently repeated the charge of Jewish disloyalty at a recent gathering at a Washington DC bookstore. I shouldn’t need to remind my comrades that Jews lose their lives when the tropes of dual loyalty, evil-doers and puppet-masters are freely bandied about. We don’t have to make the choice between coddling AIPAC or accepting antisemitism as a legitimate means of challenging AIPAC. The left, I suggest, is capable of a complex motor neuron response: we can actually point fingers with both hands and in two directions and at the same time.
Barry Finger, USA
Essence and dialectics
Consider the question, what is Marxism a science of? Capitalism? Class struggle? History?
In 1844, Marx is settling accounts with his philosophical inheritance, Aristotle and Hegel. The work is known as the Paris Manuscripts. It is not printed in his life time. Here’s an interesting quote: “The importance of Hegel’s Phenomenology ... lies in the fact that Hegel conceives the self-creation of man as a process... that he therefore grasps the nature of labour and conceives the objective man... as the result of his own labour”.
Marx builds on Hegel’s insight into the historical process by uniting it with the work of Aristotle on history, and what would count as a science of history. This means looking for what distinguishes us from animality, the essence of our species, and uncovering from the accidental features of history those which demonstrate the “coming-into-being” of that human essence.
“Coming into-being” simply means that reality, the physical, biological and social, is mostly composed of things which have an essence that goes through stages of development that are “lawful” solar systems, newts, atoms and societies, for example. “Coming-into-being” is what dialectics meant to Marx, Hegel and Aristotle. It was not a way of structuring an argument but a property of real things, with essential natures and laws of development. like newts and banking systems.
For Marx, the essence of our “species-being” is social labour. Marxism should be considered as the science of the genesis, maturation and fully-formed nature of that essence in the history of our species: “Man can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence... By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life”. (German Ideology) As our species progresses through these stages of development, it necessarily and naturally creates things which represent this essence, finding ever more advanced “forms” of social labour.
Consider: division of labour, barter, money, states, demos and capital. Communism is understood as the necessary and natural mature form of this development of social labour. Marx’s study of the categories of bourgeois political economy (Adam Smith, David Ricardo etc) provide him with the means to explore and analyse this development in the concrete life-activity of men and women, classes and states. Das Kapital is the analyse of the highest form under class society and how socialism will grow out of it.
There are many things to add to this account. All these developments and creations of the species have built in contradictions, for example between social labour and private property of the means of production. However private property is a necessary and natural development of human social labour. It will in turn be a creative contradiction that will give rise to higher forms of social labour and therefore achieve its mature form in the free association of producers — communism.
Paul Cooper, south London