We carried a piece honouring Comrade Tom shortly after his death in August. But this appreciation, which also appears in the AWL’s paper Solidarity, is the best and most politically astute article about Tom I’ve yet seen. It is also very moving and the author, Mick O’Sullivan, was probably Tom’s oldest and closest political friend. I’m proud to be able to post it here at Shiraz, with the author’s unhesitating agreement:
I knew Tom as a friend and comrade since the early
Tom was someone who had a hinterland; his interests
spanned good whiskey, particle physics, a love of Sean
O’Casey’s plays, modernist architecture, and an encyclopaedic
knowledge of schisms in the Catholic Church,
which quite frankly bemused me. Tom was a very rounded
person and a very humorous one.
But I want to say something about Tom the public man.
Tom was a Marxist, an atheist and trade unionist who dedicated
his life to the working class and had an unwavering
conviction that socialism was the only hope of humanity.
Tom’s main arena of activity was within the unions and
in particular the T&G [later Unite].
Although he was active in the 1970s, his misfortune was
to come of age when the union movement was in decline.
That, however, was the movement’s gain. It meant much of
his activity was about holding the line; he did this by explaining
to those who had forgotten, and those who had
never known, what a trade union should do, and how a
trade unionist should conduct themselves.
He often made the point to me that there were no shortcuts,
no tricks to this, all we can do is talk and explain.
What I think gave his approach such a sharp edge was his
decision to consistently tell the truth. Now some may say
so what, what’s the big deal about telling the truth? Well,
all I can say is, you try it inside a trade union.
Talking, explaining and saying what needs to be done
next is what Tom did, and others will testify to his importance
within the T&G and its left.
However Tom was also vilified for his views. While we
often joked about this, the wellspring of this enmity towards
him arose from what he stood for.
If you think about it, there were always going to be those
who did not like the fact he was principled, that he fought
against Stalinist influence within the union, that he was incorruptible;
the idea that a trip to Cuba or America would
turn his head and him into someone’s creature was never
going to happen, although I have seen people try. On the
most mundane of levels there were those who resented
him because he always turned up to meetings having read
the paperwork, and they had not.
For all these reasons people kicked against Tom, yet in all
the years I knew him I never once heard him get angry
about such people; his duty was to explain. His political
enemies and comrades were a different matter. He was always
ready to have the argument.
Of course there are many trade unionists with similar
qualities. However no-one exhibited these qualities in quite
the same way or with quite the same mix as Tom.
In our world where we measure our actions and our victories
in a lower case, Tom played a huge role in holding
the movement together and provided real insights in how
we should rebuild it.
I cannot think of anyone who has acquitted themselves
in our cause with greater dedication. As for me
I have lost a dear friend and the staunchest of comrades
(right: Marx addresses the inaugural meeting of the First International)
150 years ago today the First International (the ‘International Working Men’s Association’ ) was in founded in London by the likes of Marx, Engels and Bakunin. It earned establishment hatred for its support for the Paris Commune in 1871.
Today, in Kobanê, northern Syria, Kurdish women and men are heroically resisting the barbarous forces of ISIS – with almost no international support.
Don’t believe the media hype about US air strikes – in Syrian Kurdistan these have so far been minimal and ineffective, unlike in Iraqi Kurdistan where US jets have protected Erbil, a city of Western consulates and oil companies.
ISIS in Syrian Kurdistan is using US tanks and heavy artillery seized when it captured Mosul in northern Iraq. It spreads inhuman terror: when these mercenaries captured one Syrian Kurd village last week they decapitated a disabled woman who had no legs.
The brave Kurds of the YPG/YPJ are resisting with AK47s and largely home-made armour. And with their hearts.
They draw courage from their national pride and their democratic, secular, egalitarian values. The same values that inspired those internationalists who gathered in London on 28 September 1864. And those who went to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s.
What about us, today?
He was … “a friend and partisan of all good causes, always ready to circulate a petition, help out a collection or get up a protest meeting to demand that wrongs be righted. The good causes, then as now, were mostly unpopular ones, and he nearly always found himself in the minority, on the side of the under-dogs who couldn’t do him any good in the tough game of making money and getting ahead. He had to pay for that […] but it couldn’t be helped. [He] was made that way, and I don’t think it ever entered his head to do otherwise or live otherwise than he did.
“That’s just about all there is to tell of him. But I thought [...], that’s a great deal. Carl Sandberg said it in this way: ‘These are the heroes then – among the plain people – Heroes, did you say? And why not? They gave all they’ve got and ask no questions and take what comes to them and what more do you want?’ “ – James P.Cannon (The Militant, June 1947)
I’ve just heard that Tom Cashman is dead.
His daughter, Ruth, got in contact to say:
My dad died yesterday. Though he had differences [...] he considered you all comrades.
We will send round details of the funeral once it has been arranged.
“For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try and avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth…”
Leon Trotsky — the Last Testament of Leon Trotsky, Mexico, 27 February 1940
Tom had been ill with a brain tumour for a couple of years, so at one level his death is not a shock.
But Tom’s mental and physical strength meant that he’d hung on for much longer than would normally have been the case.
Not necessarily a good or merciful thing, but there we are.
I’ll write more about Tom shortly.
But for now, I’d just like to say:
He was about the finest and most principled person I ever knew.
He introduced me to real socialist politics.
He understood the interaction between trade unionism and socialist politics.
He – together with Graham Stevenson, who had completely different politics – devised the plan that kept union organisation intact on London buses after privatisation.
He was the voice of political sophistication and Marxism on the T&G -going into -Unite Executive, while he was on there.
Best wishes and solidarity to Ruth, Johnnie and all Tom’s friends, comrades and family.
I’ll write more soon.
By Dale Street (first published by Workers Liberty)
Sam Williams has written 16,000 words to claim that Russia is not imperialist, even when its tanks are rolling through other nations.
He describes the old Stalinist states “the former socialist countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” In those days there was “no true Soviet imperialism”, claims Williams, because “wealth was not accumulated in the form of capital, and therefore not in the form of finance capital — there was not a single kopeck of finance capital.” Any other view is down to “imperialist Western propaganda and its bought and paid-for historians.”
And Russia retains its non-imperialism even after it has unambiguously reverted to capitalism. “Has the military-feudal imperialism of pre-1917 Russia been restored?” asks Williams. No, it’s not feudal. (But it was not the feudal residues in Tsarist Russia which made Marxists of the time classify it as imperialist. It was its domination and exploitation of other nations).
“What about a modernised Russian imperialism based on the rule of monopoly capitalism and finance capital?” He rejects this argument as well: Russia is “very poor in finance capital. … (Therefore) today’s Russia is very far indeed from becoming an imperialist country.”
This is really just a re-run of Williams’s denial of Stalinist imperialism. There was no finance capital in Stalin’s USSR, and therefore no Stalinist imperialism. Today’s Russia is “very poor” in finance capital, and therefore there is no Russian imperialism.
However, Williams’s equation of “imperialist” with “rich in finance capital” obliges him to classify Taiwan, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and New Zealand as imperialist powers. Read the rest of this entry »
Reviewed by Hans G. Despain in Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
Capital in the Twenty-First Century
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 2014. 696pp., $39.95 / £29.95 hb
About the reviewer
Hans G Despain
Hans G Despain is Professor of Economics and Department Chair at Nichols College, Massachusetts. He encourages your correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org
Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a most impressive book that deserves great attention. Piketty insists that social scientists generally, and economists in particular, must confront and examine “facts” (574-5). This is what he sets out to do in his momentous nearly 700 page text.
The title suggests the book may be offering homage to Marx’s nineteenth-century Capital. Let us be clear from the beginning it is not. Nonetheless, this book will be appreciated by Marxian political economists, while at the same time a frustratingly theoretical disappointment.
Piketty’s book is nothing short of revolutionary in establishing flows of income over time. He establishes that there is a tendency toward the hyperconcentration of wealth, and the rise of a new “supermanagerial” class (315-21). Piketty leaves no doubt that it is class that matters and structural “class warfare” predominates in twenty-first century capitalism (246). Crucial to Piketty’s studies of capitalism is that there exist no economic laws determining distribution of income and wealth (274, 292-4, 361-4). This is an enormously important point, and a return to classical political economy with a vengeance, especially to Marx whereby distribution is a function of series of institutional power relations, rooted in production relations. These summaries will surely, and should, excite Marxian social theorists. However, Piketty’s definition of capital as a financial measure of physical equipment, money, financial assets, land, and other valuables will discourage Marxian social theorists. I will come back to these crucial points.
The primary problem with the book is an underdeveloped social theory and normative philosophy. Consequently, Piketty’s policy recommendations are impressively anemic and aimed at perpetuating exploitation of the economically vulnerable populations. In the end Piketty wants to take the ‘hyper’ out of hyperexploitation and reestablish good old-fashion exploitation with higher minimum wages, taxes on capital, progressive income tax, and limits on inheritance.
With emphasis, Piketty defends the strengthening of the “social state” or the historical development of public education, healthcare, social security, unemployment compensation, and income support for the poor (471-92). Moreover, he maintains that deficits are not bad in-and-of-themselves, but must be spent wisely and should not be paid for with fiscal “austerity” but by means of central-bank-generated-inflation and/or a tax on capital (540-70). This defense of the “social state” and federal deficit pushs Piketty into the area of (political) philosophy, social ethics, and morality. Piketty is well-aware of this (479-81). He recognizes that the so-called “science of economics” is more accurately political economy that generates enormous normative philosophical implications (574).
This gets well ahead of our story and the details of Piketty’s book. The essence of the book is remarkably straight forward and is intended for a popular audience. Piketty brilliantly succeeds on this account and should be duly praised. The essential argument is that capitalistic economic growth inevitably slows. As the rate of economic growth diminishes, the past accumulated “capital”/wealth gains in importance (233), and indeed allows past wealth “to devour the future” (378). Piketty calls this a “fundamental law of capitalism” (166).
This fundamental law of capitalism means that the “return on capital” (r) is greater than the economic growth (g): r > g. As a prosperous and industrialized capitalist economy begins to stagnate, past wealth becomes more important and powerful and inequality begins to increase rapidly (572). Thus, one of Piketty’s main goals “is to understand the conditions under which such concentrated wealth can emerge, persist, vanish, and perhaps reappear” (262).
According to Piketty, the primary mechanism (25) causing inequality is the fact that the rate of return on capital is 3 to 5 times greater than the rate of growth (233). Thus, the structural tendency of capitalism toward stagnation and 4-5% rate of return on capital means that markets and competition do not reduce inequality (370). It is in this sense that there is a “logic of accumulation,” based on the divergence between the rate of return on capital and economic growth (22-7), that accounts for the very high concentration of wealth throughout capitalist history (377).
By Camila Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)
“[…] Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, “us”) and the strange (the Orient, the East, “them”).” (Said, 43)
Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1977) is a retort to his conceptualisation of a dual camp schema of the world called Orientalism, which effectively inverts this dual camp and with a method devoid of class politics. He opens his book with a quote by Karl Marx:
“They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.”
The tone is thus set for a necessary antidote to a paternalistic and patronising Western system of political representation and domination, of which Marxism is an inevitable part.
Said attributes Orientalism to three interdependent meanings: firstly, the academic discipline of Orientalism and its research on the Orient and the Occident; secondly, a particular style of thought that differentiates, ontologically (on the nature of being) and epistemologically (on the theory of knowledge), ‘the Orient’ and ‘the Occident’; and finally, commencing from around the late eighteenth century, the corporate institution that deals with the Orient “by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it” (Said, 3). With this threefold definition in mind, Said reviews Orientalism as a Western-style discourse employed first by British and French imperialisms and later by US imperialism, to dominate, restructure, and have authority over the Orient.
Orientalism is seen to be heavily imbued with geography, that is, imaginary spatial prejudices infused with power and exploitation, and a Western-centric notion of development and progress. Said goes as far as describing Orientalism as a delusion of exaggerated self-importance:
“Psychologically, Orientalism is a form of paranoia, knowledge of another kind, say, from ordinary historical knowledge. These are a few of the results, I think, of imaginative geography and of the dramatic boundaries it draws.” (Said, 72-73)
This paranoid form of knowledge, Said argues, ennobled British, French, and later US imperial projects:
“The important thing was to dignify simple conquest with an idea, to turn the appetite for more geographical space into a theory about the special relationship between geography on the one hand and civilized or uncivilized peoples on the other.” (Said, 216)
Thanks to the Guardian (and how often do we say that here?) for reminding us of this remarkable Mickey Rooney performance from 1935:
The Graun even manages to find a Karl Marx connection;
In 1935 the late Mickey Rooney played Puck in Max Reinhardt’s movie of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Critical opinion was mixed – as it was for the audacious casting of James Cagney as Bottom. But, in his indomitable way, Rooney captured the manic mischief of a character who has one of the Bard’s great lines – “Lord, what fools these mortals be” – and who should be taken more seriously than he sometimes is. Shakespeare’s is only the most famous incarnation of one of English folklore’s great creations, “the oldest Old Thing in England” as Kipling’s Puck describes himself. As Puck, the Hobgoblin or Robin Goodfellow, the laughing sprite is a great subversive, as Karl Marx recognised when he wrote about “our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer – the Revolution”. It’s not often you get Mickey Rooney and Karl Marx in the same sentence, but Puck makes all things possible.