Joined: 19 Aug 2003
Total posts: 19692
|Posted: 06-08-2013 01:42 Post subject: Communist University 2013
|Communist University 2013
Our annual school is 12-18 August in South London, and is open to all. CU is different to most schools on the Left, encouraging the open expression of political differences.
The crisis of global capitalism rumbles on, but the Left is still stuck in the mires of sectarianism and opportunism. Given its explanatory power and practical programme, Marxism has huge potential in this period – a potential being irresponsibly squandered by the Marxist groups existing today. Communist University points a way out of this mess.
Over seven days of intense and open discussion, comrades from a variety of left political backgrounds teach and learn from each other. Differences between comrades are debated in fiercely partisan ways – but without the fear of excommunication that characterises the confessional sects of much of the rest of the left. The aim is political clarity, and to show the relevance of contemporary Marxism to the huge battles the workers' movement will soon be squaring up to.
Come and join us this year and make your contribution to the job of politically tooling our side up for war.
Details and booking
Time & Location
Monday 12th - Sunday 18th August
Glenthurston Apartments, 30 Bromley Rd. London, SE6 2TP (map)
5 min walk from Catford railway station – trains leave London Bridge Station every 10-15 minutes.
Accommodation on-site is available for the whole week- as is cheap, collectively prepared food. Our apartments consist mainly of double and triple rooms- if you would like to share with somebody in particular, please let us know. There is a heated indoor swimming pool & garden at the venue.
- Full week, including accommodation in shared rooms – £170 (£110 unwaged, £200 solidarity)
- Full week, no accommodation: £60 (£30)
- Final weekend, incl. one night's accommodation – £35 (£20)
- Day – £10 (£5)
- Session – £5 (£3)
Please note that you can turn up on the day and pay for your ticket then (unless you want to stay over, in which case you must book beforehand). Some comrades on low wages have taken up standing orders to pay for CU – let us know if you’d like to do that and we’ll send you the details.
Book your place with Paypal
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Alternatively, send a cheque or postal order (must be for a minimum of £30) to BCM Box 928, London WC1N 3XX (please mark the back with 'CU 2012').
Monday 12 August
2.00pm Fighting for a mass party Nick Wrack
(Independent Socialist Network - personal capacity), Jack
4.45pm Will women lead the revolution? Yassamine
Mather, Camilla Power (Radical Anthropology Group)
Tuesday 13 August
10.00am New social media/IT/the net and the
revolutionary claims made for them James Turley
2.00pm Imperialism Mike Macnair (CPGB)
4.45pm The Middle East after the Iranian elections
Moshe Machover (Israeli socialist), Yassamine Mather
Wednesday 14th August
10.00am Technology, the “productive forces” and
socialism Gabriel Levy
2.00pm Class Revolution versus People's revolution:
Left debates since the 1790s Marc Mulholland
4.45pm Capitalist crises and their causes Hillel Ticktin
Thursday 15 August
10.00am Why is the left so scared of science? Chris
Knight (Radical Anthropology Group)
2.00pm Political Economy of the Gulf/political
economy of the Muslim Brotherhood? Adam Hanieh
4.45pm Capitalism: terminal crisis or long term
decline? Hillel Ticktin (Critique)
Friday 16 August
10.00am Why getting the Soviet Union right still
matters Jack Conrad (CPGB)
2.00pm The SWP crisis: causes and consequences
Paris Thompson (International Socialist Network)
4.45pm Lukács, Korsch, etc: philosophers of Leninism
or ultra-left? Mike Macnair (CPGB)
Saturday 17 August
10.00am Marxism and broad parties Ben Lewis (CPGB),
Tim Nelson (International Socialist Network)
2.00pm Socialism or barbarism Hillel Ticktin (Critique)
4.45pm The singularity of the Israeli–Palestinian
conflict Moshe Machover
Sunday 18 August
10.00am The Erfurt Programme Ben Lewis
1.30pm Revolution and counter-revolution in the
politics of the everyday: what the anthropology of
human nature tells us about the struggle for left unity
Lionel Sims (Radical Anthropology Group)
4.00pm Evaluation of School
Sessions and speakers
Some of this year's highlights:
* 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 at Communist 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.
*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 journal Critique. 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.
* The opening session sees Nick Wrack (Independent Socialist Network but in a personal capacity) and Jack Conrad (CPGB) continue the discussion they began at the April 27 London Communist Forum - see here and here. The Ken Loach-initiated Left Unity project poses once again to a particular section of the workers’ movement its first, most basic task - even if the initiators of LU had very different ideas about its purpose. How does our fractured, deeply divided Marxist left unite as Marxists. How should it then relate to, and fight for a majority in, the movement as a whole? The keynote exchange of this year’s CU kicks off at 2pm, on Monday, August 12.
* Marc Mulholland is a lecturer in modern history and a fellow of St Catherine’s college. The comrade spoke at last year's CU on ‘Why Marx expected the proletariat to be socialist’- watch the video here or read the transcript here. This year, he will be speaking on ‘Class Revolution versus People's revolution: Left debates since the 1790s’ on Wednesday, August 14 in the 2pm slot.
* Chris Knight is the author of Blood relations and a leading member of the Radical Anthropology Group. His ground breaking theory on the revolutionary origins of humanity has become steadily more authoritative in his academic field, but remains a political heresy in the Socialist Workers Party. As the CPGB’s Jack Conrad noted about the controversy, “for the narrowest factional reasons the SWP machine was determined to bury the authentic Marxist tradition [represented in contemporary form by Knight’s thesis] … Discussion of Knight’s book came to a shuddering halt inside the SWP. All that remained [was] a complete inability to say anything at all about the human revolution.”
Appropriately enough given that history, comrade Knight will be asking the pertinent question at this year’s CU - 'Why is the left so scared of science?' (Thursday, August 15 - 10am).
* Paris Thompson is an activist of the recent split from the Socialist Workers Party, the International Socialist Network and one of the 'Facebook Four', a group of comrades who have had the experience, possibly unique even in the unhinged world of sect politics, to be expelled for discussions that culminated in them deciding not to form a faction. Comrade Thompson will speak on 'The SWP crisis: causes and consequences' in the 2pm slot, Friday August 16.
A lot of useful background reading for this discussion can be found on the ISN’s site, linked above, on dissident SWPer Dave Renton’s blog (particular his post on the IS tradition) and the coverage of the unfolding SWP crisis on our own site.
* Please note that Mike Gonzalez, advertised as a speaker in a previous update, is now unable to present his session at Communist University as the comrade has to be abroad to fulfil other commitments. We look forward to his contributions to CUs in future years.
Joined: 19 Aug 2003
Total posts: 19692
|Posted: 29-08-2013 13:57 Post subject:
|Communist University: Learning to talk to each other
Danny Hammill reports on the CPGB’s summer school
For this year’s Communist University, the CPGB returned to the same pleasant south London venue - aviary and all.
Of course, we call our pedagogical event a university quite deliberately. Not in order to be pretentious or elitist, but simply to denote a certain seriousness about our attitude to education. Despite our obvious limitations as a small group, we aim to raise the bar high when it comes to political education and culture in general. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be said about most of the left in Britain - which at best tends to treat its membership as mere sheep to be trained rather than educated as self-confident cadre.
Just as importantly, whether at Communist University or in its own press, the CPGB positively seeks to tease out or highlight differences of opinion - both amongst its own ranks and the left as a whole. Once again this distinguishes us from other left groups that seem to regard disagreements as a dirty secret - not in front of the children, please. The CPGB utterly rejects this disastrous approach. Instead, only through the open clash of contending ideas can we arrive at the closest possible approximation to the truth. And we practise what we preach - just ask Gilbert Achcar, to name one person. Contrary to what is sometimes suggested by our critics, this is not some sort of weird CPGB thing. Rather, it based on the entire Marxist tradition and methodology. If we are to learn anything from history, and science, it is that today’s majority or ‘common sense’ viewpoint can quickly become tomorrow’s absurd dogma.
Another distinctive feature of our school is that we struggle to make it as all-rounded and collective an experience as is objectively possible - a small-scale anticipation of the communist future, if you like. Not to mention being fun, something else the far left appears sadly to have forgotten. Meaning that CU, in no matter how rudimentary or limited a form, should organisationally embody communist practicality - therefore meals are collectively prepared by participants using a flexible rota system. Childcare facilities can be provided on the same basis too.
As usual, given the ongoing nature of the capitalist crisis and the turmoil sweeping the Middle East, it is more a question of what to leave out than to include when it comes to reporting CU. However, having said that, life itself has to some extent thrown up an issue of special importance. Namely, the dramatic decline of the Socialist Workers Party following the ‘comrade Delta’ case and the emergence of various oppositional groups both internally (ie, the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century blog) and externally in the shape of the International Socialist Network. And then there is Left Unity, due to hold its founding conference in November.
In this way, a recurrent theme during the week was the fight for left unity - both the actual organisation and in general - and the centrality for socialists of the “vision thing”, to use the almost throwaway remark made by Marc Mulholland in his entertaining session on ‘Class revolution versus people’s revolution: left debates since the 1970s’. The slight irony, of course, is that the phrase was used disparagingly by George Bush senior - why do you need it? An attitude in total contrast to the great bourgeois revolutionaries of the past referenced by Marc during his introduction (incidentally, this was the most well attended talk).
Therefore it was encouraging that three LU comrades Nick Wrack (Independent Socialist Network), Tim Nelson (International Socialist Network) and Paris Thompson (International Socialist Network) gave openings at CU. Many thought the ‘Fighting for a mass party’ session featuring Jack Conrad of the CPGB and Nick Wrack (in a personal capacity) was one of the high points of this year’s CU. Comrade Wrack gave an excellent introduction, calm and measured - perhaps partly helped by his training as a barrister (see pp8-9). If only more on the left conducted themselves in such a manner. Even more positive was the convergence of views between the two. More like an exploration of ideas, as comrade Conrad said.
In his opening, comrade Thompson of the ISN succinctly outlined the systematic failures of the SWP - a “self-selecting” leadership that retains a “monopoly” over information and theory, a “strict division” between ‘thinkers’ and ‘doers’ , a “deeply rooted” culture of substitutionism, the organisation of “passive’ foot-soldiers, etc. Not for nothing, mentioned comrade Thompson, was the SWP national committee widely known within the organisation as the “House of Lords”. The SWP tops and their minions think they are destined to rule.
Comrade Thompson broadly agreed with the CPGB and others that the SWP crisis has long and deep-reaching roots. The idea that the current crisis within the SWP is the result of institutional sexism, so-called misogyny or ‘rape culture’ is absurd. Rather, to put it in a nutshell, the organisation’s profound flaw - shared by many on the left to one degree or another - derives from its bureaucratic-centralist model of party-building: an essentially military-style conception that has its origins in the post-1921 Bolshevik Party, the first four congresses of Comintern, and so on. Indeed, during the debate, comrade Andy Wilson - a former soldier as well as ex-SWP member - said joining the SWP was a bit like joining the army. Ultimately, whether the disease took hold in 1953, 1969, 1972 or whenever is an open question. The general consensus at the meeting - and beyond - is that the rot really started for good in the mid-1970s with Tony Cliff’s turn to ‘Leninism’.
Interestingly, during the lively debate on ‘Marxism and broad parties’ with the CPGB’s Sarah McDonald, it became apparent that comrade Nelson misunderstood what the CPGB meant by building a revolutionary party “top-down” - saying he had an instinctive aversion to the idea. Quite understandable, given his experiences inside the highly authoritarian, undeniably top-down, SWP - with the control-freaks in the leadership attempting to micro-manage every aspect of the organisation.
But in reality, argues the CPGB, it is a myth that any political party or serious organisation is built ‘bottom-up’ - it is an impossibility. Is there not initially an individual or small group of individuals who take the lead in forming the organisation, perhaps inspired by the “vision thing”? All the CPGB means by building an organisation “top-down” is that it will be a party based on - and built around - a revolutionary programme, which by definition cannot happen spontaneously or by miraculous conception. The organisation itself will be thoroughly democratic - full freedom of debate, access to the party press, right to forms factions, whether temporarily or permanently, etc.
So there is nothing inherently sinister or Stalinist in the idea of building a revolutionary party “top-down” - quite the opposite, in fact. A genuine revolutionary programme, as discussed at some length by comrade Mike Macnair in his session on the Erfurt programme, is not a confessional and diabolically detailed document which you have to (pretend to) agree with, but rather something you can accept as a guide to united action and a guard against opportunism - a document that can hold the leadership to account, in other words. A situation the self-perpetuating SWP leadership would absolutely hate, it goes without saying (and, of course, a revolutionary programme, as history has shown, can attract millions in a relatively short period of time). Afterwards, showing the healthy fluidity within LU, comrade Nelson readily admitted that he could imagine himself signing up to the sort of revolutionary programme envisaged by the CPGB - certainly he supports the Socialist Platform drawn up by comrade Wrack and others. Showing that there are grounds for optimism regarding LU.
This theme - what party model? - was revisited by comrade Mike Macnair in his fascinating talk (at least for this journalist) on ‘Lukács, Korsch, et al: philosophers of Leninism or ultra-left?’ - focusing mainly on Georg Lukács. The latter is significant because his short work, Lenin: a study in the unity of his thought, and History and class consciousness have essentially operated as organisational text books for the British far left. Alex Callinicos (‘Stalinicos’) and John Rees have repeatedly praised the “master-work”, History and class consciousness, predicated on Lukács’s theories of reification and the vanguard party. Some have wondered whether Callinicos and Rees have done their homework properly. But in the forthright opinion of comrade Macnair, they correctly interpret Lukács’s theory of reification, the vanguard party, etc as a blueprint for a monolithic, militarised organisation - negating the real history of pre-civil war Bolshevism.
Similarly, comrade Moshé Machover in his informative ‘Do we need a Marxist party? Do we need a Leninist party?’ session, remarked that the far left is built upon an inventedem> or phantom ‘Leninism’ constructed after the civil war by the burgeoning Soviet bureaucracy - then loyally regurgitated by the Trotskyites. Inevitably, as comrade Machover commented, instead of a mass party we have a mass of Trotskyite sects - that “multiply like amoebas”, refusing to accept that the post-1921 model does not work. A state of pitiful denial.
Hillel Ticktin, a CU perennial, delivered three talks on capitalist crisis. Comrade Ticktin forcefully reiterated his view that the falling rate of profit theory (FROP) is only one cause of crisis - the others are underconsumption and disproportionality (between departments I and II). It should not be given a privileged status. You cannot find FROP in Lenin or Trotsky, for instance. Yet the left “obsesses” over it. As far as comrade Ticktin was concerned, there was no evidence - empirical or otherwise - that profits have been falling recently. Quite the opposite, if anything.
Comrade Ticktin outlined his long-held view that we are not witnessing the usual cyclical phenomenon, but rather a genuine crisis that the bourgeoisie might not be able to solve - they are running out of answers. For him, the capitalist system is in long-term decline and could be entering an epoch of permanent stagnation. The Soviet Union, eastern Europe, the Middle East - the ‘third world’ as a whole - are falling into a “void” of history, threatening total societal breakdown and barbarism. Given the lack of a viable anti-capitalist alternative, thought the comrade, most people now find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism - thus the rising popularity of dystopian films, books, etc.
Following in the tradition of such luminaries as Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson, Gabriel Levy in his interesting talk, ‘We’re all Luddites now’, attempted to rescue the Luddites from the slanders history has directed against them. They were real people struggling under concrete historical conditions against vicious oppression and exploitation. Comrade Levy was keen to counter the popular mythology, or prejudice, that the Luddites were intrinsically hostile to machines or technology. Actually, they only destroyed machines that were “hurtful to community”. We should learn from them, contended the comrade, and dismantle destructive technologies. Machinery and technological aids should be developed by those who use them. More than that, such technologies should be easily understandable. More controversially still, he made the argument for the superiority of small-scale technology - not convincing everyone.
Chris Knight of the Radical Anthropology Group gave a particularly good and tightly focused session, entitled ‘Why is the left so scared of science?’ He quoted a piece of typical postmodernist gobbledegook (ie, Anti-crisis by Janet Roitman), but thought the left was not much better. In his opinion, the left has the habit of backing the wrong horses in science, whether more obviously in the mad pseudo-science of Lysenko or in its knee-jerk hostility to Richard Dawkins’ ‘selfish gene’ theory - summarily dismissing it in true philistine fashion as ‘reactionary’. Comrade Knight repeated his conviction that the left should embrace selfish gene theory, which can be used to explain how modern humans - unlike primates - managed to develop culture, language, altruism and so on. Previous theories of group selection and suchlike were totally unable to explain this phenomenon, and in the case of someone like Konrad Lorenz put forward crackpot racist and fascistic theories of human development. All in all, summed up comrade Knight, we see a dismal pattern of “tongue-tied” science afraid of politics and mindless activism afraid of science.
His RAG comrade - and long-time SWP member - Lionel Sims, delivered the final session on ‘What the anthropology of human nature tells us about the struggle for left unity’. He gave an inspirational anecdote about his own Samba band - the rhythm that never stops - as a near perfect expression of the “rituals of solidarity”: rituals that have their origins in the human revolution and ‘primitive communism’, and stretch right up to the present day (ie, Durham Miners’ Gala). Comrade Sims reminded us that ‘primitive communism’ is in fact a mistranslation - it should be more like ur-communism (original communism). Which is where we want to be, but on an exponentially higher level. Theories of the human revolution should be fully integrated into SWP theory - and Marxist theory in general.
We should not forget to mention the two comrades from the Socialist Fight group, who attended for almost the entire week - ensuring a healthy exchange of views with the CPGB. There was also a fringe session held by the US-based Platypus group on Lukács, even if it was curiously abstract, given the previous discussions on how his legacy negatively impacts upon the contemporary political practice on the far left.
Finally, it does have to be said that attendance at CU 2013 was a little disappointing, with just 82 comrades coming along. However, there was less of a fall-off during the week this year, with at least 30 - and often rather more - attending every session. Every conceivable effort must be made to ensure that next year’s CU sees a bigger turnout, and that we get greater left involvement - left unity in every sense of the term.
On a more positive note, we possibly had our youngest ever participant at CU - one-month-old Emma. The future is surely red.
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