Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Return of the Idiot Imperialists

Sacha Ishmail of the Alliance for Workers Liberty recently posted a quote on their site from Lenin, which he believed demonstrated that the AWL were not “pro-imperialist”. His post can be viewed here.

As I have written elsewhere, for example, here the AWL are not “pro-imperialist”, in the sense of those such as LFIQ or the Euston Manifesto group, who openly argue for support for Imperialism in Iraq, and proclaim that it is fulfilling a progressive function. The AWL’s position is more that of Pontius Pilate, which continually “hopes” that imperialism might do something good – for example, in a recent article, Martin Thomas argued that it would be “good” if imperialism were able to bomb Iran surgically! – but then wrings its hands when, not unexpectedly, it doesn’t work out so well. It is not that they WANT to side with imperialism, but are logically driven towards that position by their political method. I have outlined what that method is in the piece referred to above. They view the world, not as Marxists do, in terms of class struggle, but in terms of a moral crusade. There are various injustices that must be put right, various good causes that must be supported. It would be good, they believe, if the working class could provide the solution to these problems, and in their propaganda they continue to proclaim that they are in favour of such working class solutions, but time and again whether it is Yugoslavia, the USSR, Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine, or even on issues here in the UK they are led to the conclusion, “the working class is too weak, so we have to rely on the bourgeoisie/imperialism.”

The AWL do not like extensive debate on their discussion board, which is they say purely for the indoctrination of their new members, rather than real debate, so rather than continue the discussion I began with them there, and to avoid the possibility of my posts being deleted for being too detailed or too numerous, I am relating the discussion here. They can choose to reply or not.

The problem that they have with the quote, which began the discussion, is that it actually completely contradicts their position.

Here is what Lenin says,

“The several demands of democracy, including [national] self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now: general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected. It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial-monarchist intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular, concrete movement, but it would be ridiculous to delete the demand for a republic from the programme of international Social-Democracy on these grounds.”

This is of course entirely logical. But how does it relate to Iraq. Socialists are, of course, concerned for the Labour Movement in Iraq. That Labour Movement faces two mortal enemies – the clerical-fascists (those of the Sunni variety, the foreign fighters, and the Shia variety including those in the Government who previously the AWL had claimed were really constitutionalist and not at all like their brethren in Iran!) and the forces of the Occupation. Socialists, of course, wish, as far as possible, to defend this Labour Movement from these two enemies, and if possible to enable it to develop. The question here is, if we adopt the position of Lenin, in the quote above, to what extent can that desire to defend the particular interests of the Iraqi working class, override the General interests of the working class as a whole.

In fact, the irony I have referred to, in my blog “The Idiot Imperialists”, can be seen clearly in relation to Iraq. On the one hand the Third Campist SWP has fixed its sights on a “good” objective being the struggle against imperialism. Consequently, they are prepared to side with one set of the workers enemies in Iraq – and elsewhere – provided they are involved in such a fight. As the AWL correctly state the SWP effectively ignores the Iraqi working class in order to side with the clerical-fascists of the “Resistance”. The AWL, on the other hand, has as its “good” objective the defeat of the clerical-fascists, which is why they believe it would be “good” for the US to bomb Iran surgically. In specific cases, such as Iraq, they proclaim their support for the workers against these clerical-fascists, but in Iraq this support actually amounts to a Programme which is Economistic, limited almost entirely to routine Trade Unionism. Why is that? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, in the same way that the SWP does not believe that workers are strong enough to provide solutions, and so reliance on other forces has to be adopted, so the AWL do not believe that the workers in Iraq or elsewhere are strong enough to provide a solution so reliance on some other force again has to be the way forward, in this case reliance on the Occupation. The SWP ally openly with the clerical-fascists to achieve their goal the AWL tacitly with imperialism to achieve theirs.

In fact, the AWL has not so much zigged and zagged as danced a jig from one position to another as facts have contradicted their arguments in Iraq. Initially, the argument was that removal of the Occupation should not be called for because it was providing a “breathing space” for the Labour movement to develop in Iraq. A rather strange thing for any socialist to claim one would have thought, that imperialism here was the friend and protector of the Labour Movement! Yet that is precisely what the AWL claimed. In one reply to me Martin Thomas went into detail of the Trade Union meetings that were taking place in the Green Zone as proof of this new worker friendly imperialism. That argument has been allowed to wither away not surprisingly in the face of the effective legal outlawing of Trade Unions, the repeated attacks on Trade Unionists and their offices by Occupation forces etc.
The Occupation were not the only ones that were going to provide this breathing space, of course, because in this initial scenario the “Resistance” were defined solely as the Sunnis, and the foreign fighters. The Occupation’s allies within the Shia were going to create some kind of constitutional framework within which workers could develop their organisations, and the main Shia forces such as those around Sistani and the Dawa Party were described as Constitutionalist, not at all like their Iranian counterparts.

But, of course this was all nonsense as anyone could have seen, and as I pointed out at the time. The SWP idea that the “Resistance” is some kind of joint Sunni/Shia force is arrant nonsense, but the idea that the “Resistance” is or was just the Sunnis is equally arrant nonsense. As the BBC’s latest two-part series “No Plan, No Peace” demonstrated, within a few months, “Resistance” attacks on the Occupation came equally if not more from Shia fighters than from Sunnis. It is Shia fighters not Sunnis, in the South, supported by Iran, which have, effectively, driven out the British forces – and, incidentally, since the British troops have withdrawn to barracks, violence in the South appears, if anything, to have declined, as some US military analysts argued, a long time ago, would be likely.

The idea that the elections, promoted by the US and the Shia leaders, would create some kind of Constitutional framework was also clearly not going to work. Anyone, without blinkers, could see that the result of these elections would be the creation of a sectarian bearpit, the legitimiation of the Shia clerical-fascists – who were clearly not Constitutionalist, in any meaningful sense, and closely tied to the Iranian regime – and an understandable reaction by Sunnis that they were going to get royally screwed. But as one AWL comrade commented at the time, demonstrating a complete class blindness, and, clearly, having absorbed the AWL’s descent into bourgeois Constitutionalism as the only way ahead in the immediate future, “elections are better than no elections.”

The only progressive solution, that could have been argued for, in these conditions, was one that tried to cut across sectarian divisions – something Parliamentary elections certainly was not going to do – and which sought to unite workers and peasants across those divisions, which sought to assuage Sunni fears by a programme to defend Regional autonomy and the rights of minorities. It required a programme that combined a struggle for basic workers and peasants democratic rights, for a struggle for land reform, for workers control or ownership of Iraqi assets, particularly in the oil industry, against the plundering of the imperialist Occupation, for a programme of Public Works, directed by workers and protected, against attack, by workers guards organised in militia, with a struggle against the forces which stood in the way of such a Programme, the clerical-fascists of whatever denomination, and the Occupation. It required that instead of Economism and a simple call for routine Trade Union support for Iraqi workers, that, alongside the demand for the withdrawal of the Occupation – a basic requirement for any socialist in an imperialist country wanting to win the confidence of an oppressed people that in its vast majority wants and demands the withdrawal of those forces – that workers internationally organised to protect Iraqi workers and peasants against their other enemy, the clerical-fascist bandits.

But the AWL could not argue for such a Programme beyond saying that such things would be nice, both because they lack the faith in Iraqi workers and the international working class to mobilise around such a programme, and because following on from that, and having then put their faith in the Occupation and its Shia clerical-fascist allies to bring in some form of bourgeois Constitional arrangements, such a programme would have been, from the beginning, anathema to those forces. The AWL’s argument that, despite the accumulated knowledge, of the very knowledgeable cadre of AWL leaders, the accumulated knowledge of how Marxists and revolutionaries have responded in similar situations over the last 100 years, despite its connections with workers and socialists in Iraq, it was not possible to develop a Political programme, such as this, because of a lack of knowledge about what was the actual situation, was and is nothing more than a very small fig-leaf. Yet, despite the fact that it is me that has been arguing for such support for the Iraqi workers, that has been arguing truly for an independent working-class solution – which the petit-bourgeois Third Campists can only retain as a mantra not as a guide to action – rather than relying on the good graces of imperialism as the AWL does, in a recent post Clive Bradley accuses me of having no concern for the Iraqi workers!!!!

In fact, even from the perspective of simple bourgeois political science the AWL’s perspective was naïve at best. A decent 3rd year Politics student should have been able to identify what was wrong with it. From a Marxist perspective it was a betrayal of socialist principles.

Having identified the “Resistance” as being only the Sunnis and foreign fighters, and then, faced with the fact that the Occupation was not succeeding in introducing some form of effective Constitutional arrangement – even the AWL was forced to recognise eventually that the elections had been a sham, that the Parliament and Executive were a farce – and faced with increasing attacks by the Occupation and its puppet Government on workers, and on basic democratic rights – the declaration by the not at all Iranian like, and Constitutionalist Sistani that gays should be killed on the streets etc. – the AWL were faced with having to come up with an alternative argument to the idea that the Occupation should stay because they were providing a breathing space for the Iraqi Labour Movement. The first attempt was to declare that well okay the Occupation might not be actually helping the Labour movement develop, but they are still providing a breathing space in the sense that if they leave the “Resistance” will come to power, and crush the workers movement.
But this was clearly false too. The Sunnis, because many of the previous members of the armed forces were drawn from their ranks, were certainly able to punch above their weight when it came to fighting. But, it was in the Sunni heartlands that the US Occupation had its greatest concentration of firepower. From almost Day One of the Occupation the Shia militias had been obtaining support and weapons from Iran, and also from the Occupation that was also busily training them, and equipping them with all the panoply of means of repression of the State. If the US left, it would not have been the Sunnis who came to power, but the Shia, with the Kurds making official their de facto separation from Iraq, probably with a large garrison of US troops stationed there, ostensibly to prevent a Turkish incursion, but in reality to protect Kurdish oil. The US’s Sunni allies in the region have certainly said that they would not let the Iraqi Sunnis be the victims of a Civil War, but even they would not engage in such a war for the purpose of putting the minority Sunnis back in control of the State, particularly if it led to the instalment of another Saddam like strongman who might challenge their own regimes some time later.

Having, ultimately, to accept the fact that increasingly the real “Resistance” was not the Sunnis, but was in fact the Shia forces of Sadr, and of SCIRI, that far from the Sunnis assuming control it would be this alternative “Resistance” who were now recognised as just as much clerical-fascist as the originally described “Resistance”, not at all really Constitutionalist, and not only not unlike their Iranian counterparts, but in reality armed, fiannced, trained and supported by the Iranians, the AWL performed another hop, and a twirl to another position. Now the Occupation couldn’t leave because it would lead to a Civil War.

When an organisation keeps its position the same, but continually changes its justification for that position you have to ask just how solid was the political method that led to the formulation of that position in the first place.
If we come back to Lenin’s quote then the question is this. Given that, as socialists, we are clearly concerned with the Iraqi Labour Movement, to what extent should this concern dictate our politics in general? In the best of all possible worlds there is no contradiction between the particular and the general. It is clearly desirable that where possible the interests of the working class as a whole should coincide with those of a particular group of workers. Lenin in the above piece goes on to say,

"But we cannot be in favour of a war between great nations, in favour of the slaughter of twenty million people for the sake of the problematical liberation of a small nation with a population of perhaps ten or twenty millions! Of course not! And it does not mean that we throw complete national equality out of our Programme... Let us assume that between two great monarchies there is a little monarchy whose kinglet is "bound" by blood and other ties to the monarchs of both neighbouring countries. Let us further assume that the declaration of a republic in the little country and the expulsion of its monarch would in practice lead to a war between the two neighbouring big countries for the restoration of that or another monarch in the little country. There is no doubt that all international Social-Democracy, as well as the really internationalist section of Social-Democracy in the little country, would be against substituting a republic for the monarchy in this case. The substitution of a republic for a monarchy is not an absolute, but one of the democratic demands, subordinate to the interests of democracy (and still more, of course, to those of the socialist proletariat) as a whole. A case like this would in all probability not give rise to the slightest disagreement among Social-Democrats in any country. But if any Social-Democrat were to propose on these grounds that the demand for a republic be deleted altogether from the programme of international Social-Democracy, he would certainly be regarded as quite mad. He would be told that after all one must not forget the elementary logical difference between the general and the particular.”

Does the fact that the particular interest of the Iraqi working class (that it not be destroyed), conflicts with the General interest of the working class (to oppose imperialist agression and colonialism) mean that socialists should remove from their programme the defence of the labour movement from attack??? No, of course it doesn’t. It does not even mean arguing for no defence of the Iraqi Labour Movement. It does mean that the method of that defence should be developed by means which do not contradict the General interest of the working class as a whole, if possible, along the lines I have outlined via real political and military support by the international working class, and not the Economistic programme of routine Trade Unionism, alongside a call for the working class to abandon its General interest to fight imperialism, indeed to rely on that imperialism to provide the solution to the workers problems, proposed by the AWL. But Lenin is right, in war there is no room for sentimentalism and moralising, and the working class is engaged in a long class war against the bourgeoisie, and the ultimate form of its political and economic power – imperialism. In war there are casualties, sometimes, what has come to be called collateral damage. If the cost of a serious blow being inflicted on imperialism, on its current ability to stride like a collossus on the world stage, could be inflicted upon it by the workers of Britain or the US, if, as would be the case, the morale and combativity of those, huge and potentially powerful, working classes could be raised as the result of such a victory over imperialism, then, in the balance of war, if the Iraqi labour movement perished, as a consequence, that would be regrettable, but a price that would have to be paid, just as the failure to replace a Monarchy in the small state was a price that the people of the small state would have to pay in Lenin’s example.

The reality is, of course, that as things stand no such movement by workers to inflict a blow on imperialism in its heartlands exists. On the one hand the Third campists of the SWP prefer to oppose imperialism by appealing not to the working class in whom they have lost faith, but to any rag, tag army of liberals, Islamists, Stalinists and petit-bourgeois they can drag in. The Euston Manifesto group have no desire to oppose imperialism because they still hold out the hope that they can persuade it to bring about a progressive solution. The AWL do not mobilise the working class, for such a perspective, because they too have lost faith in the working class, and, in any case, have no desire to see such an outcome, which would lead to a result they do not desire, the removal of the imperialist Occupation, which they like the LFIQ still hope against hope might offer some solution, if only that the situation gets no worse.

The analogy made by Lenin then is that whatever the particular interests of the Iraqi labour movement, it cannot be an argument for socialists ditching their position of opposition to imperialism, to the working class internationally opposing the ability of imperialism to walk into and occupy any country it wishes, least still that those socialists should be in favour of that imperialism surgically bombing other states as a means of extending its domination.

That was the logic of Lenin’s quoatation, and one that is diametrically opposed to the position and method of the AWL. The AWL have not only danced a jig with their positions over Iraq, but they have also tried to combine it with covering their antics with a veil. For example, Sacha Ismail, in one of his replies, says, trying to gain cover from Marx, that Marx did not call for the withdrawal of British troops from India. The implication is that the AWL do not call for the withdrawal of troops because at the present moment the British workers will not back such a call, and are unable to enforce such a demand. If that were the real reason the AWL did not raise the demand it would not be so bad – though still an abandonment of the commitment the Communist International demanded of its national affiliates to raise and struggle for such demands – but that is NOT the reason the AWL does not raise the demand, a fact demonstrated by its opposition to anyone else raising the demand, and a principle it holds so sacred that it used it as the basis for not joining the “Hands Off Iran” campaign. The AWL does not fail to raise the demand for the withdrawal of troops because it does not believe it is unachievable, but because it actually opposes the withdrawal of the troops. In actual fact, Engels DID call for the withdrawal of Britain from India despite knowing that such a withdrawal would result in extreme violence there, but even were that not the case it is hard to believe that were either he or Karl Marx asked the question, “Are you in favour of Britain leaving India?”, either of the two great men would have had any doubt of the answer to give, and it would not have been the same answer the AWL give in respect of Iraq.

In WWII the Stalinists argued that workers in Britain should not take action against the British state for fear that such action might weaken the British war effort, and thereby strengthen Nazi Germany, so placing the USSR in greater jeopardy. In actual fact, using Lenin’s argument above, and given the size of the Russian working class, and the existence of a deformed workers state in the USSR, there could have been some justification for this argument. It is not an argument the AWL agree with. They argue, in that instance, that the particular interests of the Russian workers and their state could not be placed above the interests of the working class in general – which in reality at that time meant just the English workers as the US was not in the War, and the rest of Europe was under Nazi occupation. It is they say a manifestation of “Socialism in One Country”. Yet that is precisely the AWL’s method in relation to Iraq. Don’t call on workers in the UK and the US to oppose their own imperialism and mobilise for its withdrawal because the consequence will be the Occupation can’t provide a breathing space/help the labour movement develop, a victory for the “Sunni Resistance”, a Civil War – take your pick of reason from the variety given by the AWL over the last couple of years. IF the AWL applied the logic they use in relation to Iraq, they would in WWII have argued that we are in favour of the defence of Soviet workers against the possibility of being overrun by the Nazis, so workers in the West should not oppose the war efforts of British imperialism against the Nazis, and should do nothing to impede those war efforts!!! The Euston Manifesto people have, of course, taken the Third Camp logic to the conclusion Trotsky said it naturally led, and indeed do argue that socialists should not have opposed British imperialisms war against the Nazis.

Well, it might be argued, (wrongly) this is a bit academic because the working class are not taking action for such withdrawal – and, of course, they are unlikely to if socialists do not try to mobilise a campaign for such a struggle. But there is a more immediate aspect in which Lenin’s argument above applies. Alan Greenspan has recently said that he does not understand why it is not accepted and stated openly that the real reason for the war against Iraq was over oil. Personally, I think the argument is often put rather crudely. What the US is looking to is protecting its strategic interests in the area, in particular Saudi Arabia, rather than just a grab for Iraqi oil. That is the message outlined in the “Project For a New American Century”. It is also clear that, in relation specifically to Iraq, what we have is probably a good example of a conflict between, what I shall, shortly, in a separate blog, describe as, the three sources of power – in this case the State Power, and the Political or Governmental Power, the potential within a bourgeois democracy for an ideologically driven government with backing from some sections of the bourgeoisie or working class, to act independently and contrary to the will of the State Power acting as the Executive Committee of the ruling class. The recent BBC Programme referred to earlier illustrated the manifestation of this via the conflicts between various Governmental and State bodies, and which can become more intense within political systems with strong Executive branches such as Presidential as opposed to Parliamentary systems.

Within that context, US imperialism clearly has a vision which extends way beyond Iraq, and even beyond its listed next targets of Syria and Iran. It has already established bases in most of the “Stans” – irrespective, of course, of the democratic credentials of their regimes – and the tentacles of US imperialism now stretch out across the new Gold Rush territories of Central Asia, where it competes directly with China, and to some extent Russia and India, for natural resources in a frenzy reminiscent of that which occurred at the end of the 19th century,and which was a prelude to the First World War. Central to such a project is to have, either compliant regimes on which it can rely, or, in the absence of that, local regimes which lack the power to act as regional powers or sub-imperialisms. The fact that the invasion of Iraq has had the effect of strengthening Iran can only be viewed as a serious blunder if you do not start from the premise that the US intends to either invade Iran to bring about regime change, or else intends to undertake such an attack that Iran is forced into the same kind of chaos as exists in Iraq and Lebanon thereby removing it as a threat to US interests.

This long term goal of US imperialism is no secret, it has long been discussed by academics within the context of the New World Order, and the concept of The End of History. But Marxists are not interested in the niceties of such debate, but with the practical consequences of such a programme. Immediately, they should be concerned with the next target of US imperialism in fulfilling their plan – Iran. In fact, Iran has a bigger, and more powerful Labour movement than Iraq, despite the attempts of the mullahs to crush it. If we apply Lenin’s doctrine we should be more concerned with the future of this Labour Movement than with that of Iraq. Yet clearly, any invasion of Iran by imperialism, any action by imperialism which drives Iran into chaos will be detrimental to the Iranian labour movement, will undoubtedly unleash forces that will press even more harshly on that labour movement than it faces currently.

Its clear that the presence of a huge armed encampent on the Iranian border poses a huge threat to Iran. We also know that already the US has used its position in Iraq to launch covert attacks against Iran, has kidnapped Iranian government officials etc., and we have seen a few months ago incursions into Iranian territorial waters by the British navy etc. None of this can be described as hypothetical, yet what is the AWL response. The AWL refused to join the “Hands Off Iran” campaign because it called for “Troops Out of Iraq Now”, not an unreasonable demand if you consider the potential for launching an attack across the Iraq/Iran border. At a time when the US has an increasing number of huge warships stationed off the Iranian coast, is daily stepping up its war rhetoric against Iran, the AWL runs headlines not denouncing the gathering imperialist threat against Iran, not even focussing on the support of Iranian workers, but “Against the Iranian Regime”.

Faced with this situation Martin Thomas a few weeks ago argued that the current mess that the US was in in Iraq probably meant that it would not want to attack Iran. I replied at the time that this was naïve. Bush wants to attack Iran, because it is still part of the US overall gameplan. There is still considerable support in the US for an attack on Iran that is viewed as a serious threat because of the US’s past conflict with it, in a way that Iraq, which had been a US ally, was not. US policy in Iraq would be seen as a failure if it did not do what it claimed it would do, and build a viable state. But if the aim in Iran is merely to overthrow the regime then that is a far easier goal to achieve without being committed to an occupation, and the success of which could be used politically by Republicans in next year’s elections. Now several months later even Martin has to accept that such a US attack is increasingly likely. It doesn’t lead the AWL to conclude that to weaken the possibility of such an attack the working class should organise a campaign against the imperialist occupation of Iraq on the Iranian border, on the contrary still looking to imperialism to hopefully do something progressive, given the AWL’s lack of faith in the working class achieving that goal, instead they proclaim that were the US to surgically bomb Iran and throw it into chaos through the removal of the regime, to be replaced by God knows what, then this would be good.

The AWL proclaim this is Marxism Jim, but if it is its not Marxism as we know it.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Histry Rides Again

After the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980’s the bourgeoisie were jubilant, one of their ideologists Francis Fukuyama wrote of it being “The end of history”, meaning that capitalism, triumphant, had now demonstrated its superiority over all comers, and could now be seen as the highest stage of human economic and social development, that man’s future development meant not more social upheavals, but steady progress of capitalism, Man’s future was to be simply more of the same. (See reviews here) And, of course, the heroes of this tale with such a happy ending (for the capitalists) were none other than the Hollywood cowboy, Ronald Reagan, and his British partner the Milk Snatcher Kid (Margaret Thatcher). They had sent their opponent off to Boot Hill by their determined policy of wasting vast amounts of the Earth’s resources in an arms race that threatened to destroy mankind, and which forced the Stalinists to waste their even scarcer resources in an effort to keep up. But it appears that the story might have an unexpected twist. As one of those Reagan westerns might have been called, it appears that “Histry Rides Again.”

Its nearly twenty years since the fall of Stalinism. Getting older, it doesn’t seem that long. Put another way it has been nearly a third as long as the period of Stalinism’s existence. Stalinism collapsed 15 years into the down leg of the last Long Wave, and was as much to do with that, and probably more, than to do with the efforts of Ronnie Raygun, and the Iron Lady, as commodity prices, which had helped sustain the Soviet economy’s purchases from the West, tumbled. The huge welfare system – both in terms of the official welfare of state pensions, and benefits, of the high proportion of social production devoted to unproductive areas such as Education and Health, and socialised transport, and in terms of the unofficial welfare system of huge numbers of workers, retained, unproductively, on the books of state enterprises, to maintain the fiction of full employment – together with the huge sums spent on arms, and on supporting the USSR’s fellow Stalinist states in Eastern Europe, Cuba, Vietnam, and its client states in Africa and support for “liberation” movements – swallowed up the potential social surplus that could have gone to investment in the production of much needed consumption goods, and eventually dragged the system under. But nearly twenty years on the tables appear to be if not reversed then in the process of reversal.

Trotsky once said, that a counter-revolution never fully overturns the gains of the revolution it counters. So it seems with the Yeltsin capitalist, counter-revolution. State Officials, brought up in the traditions of a Workers State, albeit a grossly deformed one, have imbibed the ideology that goes along with state owned, industry and planned economy. Western businessmen continually complain that these state officials, still in office, simply cannot understand the principles of private ownership, and the free market. The first effects of the counter revolution were to throw the economy into complete disarray, collapsing production in short order, and rather like Thatcher’s counter-revolution in Britain, undoing the gains for social progress, achieved, at great cost, over decades, within a matter of months. Millions of workers thrown out of the non-jobs the Stalinists had been forced to keep them in, tens of thousands forced out of their subsidised, state provided homes on to the streets, pensions disappeared over night, with more tens of thousands no longer queuing for food from shops, but instead finding it in rubbish bins. If Stalinism was bad for Eastern Europe, capitalism’s return was much worse. Not surprisingly, in many Eastern European countries workers actually responded by voting into power the same Stalinists that had just been kicked out. In Russia the oligarchs created by Yeltsin and Chubais’, Thatcherite, privatisation scams began to turn themselves into a new ruling capitalist class, controlling Yeltsin’s government. But then the Russians put in power Putin, a Stalinist dictator in all but name. In the intervening period Putin has first contained the power of the oligarchs and their ambitions to become the new ruling class. Those that didn’t get it were unceremoniously brought up on whatever charges could be brought against them, and they were forced either to flee abroad or ended up in gaol.

Putin’s regime now has all the hallmarks of the old Stalinist regime, youth movement included. And although, the Yeltsin counter revolutionaries and their western backers had privatised a lot of Soviet industry a lot still remained in state hands, along with the levers of control over the economy. Putin has used that to once again make the state the decisive force. Well known examples, such as Yukos, are just a small part of the process by which the most important, strategic, enterprises have been brought back under state ownership and control. And, even where that ownership and control is not exercised directly, it is exercised, indirectly, through other state companies acting as intermediaries. Gazprom, for instance, now owns a whole range of other industries, including media. One of the latest examples is in aviation with the emergence on to the world market of Russia’s state owned aircraft industry as a new major player having worked in conjunction with EADS.

What the period of the counter-revolution did was to set the conditions under which the idea, first put forward by Lenin, could, actually, be put into practice. Lenin, in the New Economic Policy, recognised that the Soviet economy could not develop, given its resources, through state ownership, and planned economy. There were a number of problems. Lack of skilled workers and management; lack of an adequate accumulation of “Capital”; an inability to effectively plan production. The answer, to the latter, was to retreat to the market. This also went, some of the way, towards answering the second problem of insufficient Capital accumulation, as local capitalists would accumulate. But, the problem, Lenin believed, could only really be solved by the introduction of foreign Capital and know-how. At first, the hope was as a result of European revolution, but when that appeared unlikely Lenin settled on trying to attract foreign capitalists to set up in Russia – the same strategy Trotsky advised for Mexico, in the 1930’s. Lenin was unsuccessful. Other than a few capitalists, like Armand Hammer, of Occidental Petroleum, the capitalists were scared stiff of the Bolsheviks, so there was no way they would risk their capital. But, western capital, once it believed it had won, began to fall over itself to invest in Russia and other eastern European states. And, in China a similar process had been going on for nearly a decade.

Yet, despite the claims that China is now the most capitalist country on the planet, the fact is that 70% of labour and capital employed in China is still in the state or collectivised sector. The fact that a large part of the output does not come from that sector demonstrates the extent of the state subsidy to labour the Stalinists are forced to accept through the underemployment of that labour. The Chinese Stalinists continue to exercise considerable control over the economy through the control of Credit, and many of the large private enterprises in China are, in fact, joint ventures, which the Chinese government is now exercising increasing control over. Similar things are happening in Russia such as with the Russian government’s dealings with BP. In Russia, Putin now has huge support amongst the population. The consequence has been a massive growth of these economies, and of the revenues now at the disposal of their states. Indeed, without the role of China in bankrolling the US, the US economy would have tanked more than a decade ago. Today, it is the economies of the US and Britain that are bankrupt, and kept afloat on a sea of debt – financed mostly by their erstwhile enemies – as the Sub-prime crisis is demonstrating, and the Stalinist states that are dynamic, and increasingly powerful.

This is no reason for Marxists to be jubilant. It would be a brave person to define exactly what the class nature of these states is today. It is not at all clear which class is dominant. Certainly, there are very rich people in them, certainly a growing class of small business people, and capitalists. But are they yet, socially dominant? I think the continuing role of the Stalinist state, at least in Russia and China says, probably not. In China, there was no political counter-revolution, in Russia the Yeltsin political counter-revolution itself seems largely to have been neutered. In both, many of the social transformations achieved earlier have been overturned, whether it is the role of the car replacing Public Transport, the increasing marketisation of social services, education etc., but at the same time the growth of the economy in both, and the concomitant real demand for labour, now puts Labour in a stronger position. If Stalinism originally represented, as Trotsky described it, a form of Bonapartism arising from the state rising up above Civil Society due to the weakness of the working class both absolutely, and relative to the power of the international bourgeoisie, the regimes in China and Russia, today, appear more as Bonapartist regimes arising from the remnants of an ideology based on the working class within the state structure, and the weakness of both the working class, and capitalist class within both states. The jury is out on which class will prevail in the period ahead, but, with the commencement of a new Long Wave upturn, the working class has a better chance than it has had for the last 25 years. Its main problem is the lack of an adequate Workers Party to lead and organise its struggles, and to educate the class about its true interests.

In Search of Unity

I read somewhere that there are only five basic plots for any story. Don’t ask me to list them I’d have to look it up. Its probably true the older I get the more it seems that there is nothing really new just variations on a theme. In the gym I listen to “music” which to the extent its not just some discordant noise is often a poor rehash of something from 30 years ago, usually by people whose talent appears less musical than technological. About a year ago I was watching the TV one afternoon and the Morecambe and Wise film “That Riviera Touch” was on. At Christmas my son bought my wife a DVD of “Dumb and Dumber”, one of her favourite films. And watching it, it soon became obvious that it was in fact a remake of the M&W film, down to some of the gags being exactly the same, though no recognition of this was made in any of the interviews with writers etc. on the DVD. I think at least that George Lucas did pay homage to “The Dam Busters” in his attack on the Death Star in “Star Wars”. It started me thinking about other variations on a theme in other areas of life including politics, particularly in relation to fascism about which I’d been blogging the other day.

The capitalist class resort to fascism when their back is up against the wall. In many respects fascism appears to be a massive concession to the working class, to the enemies of the capitalists. The rhetoric of fascism is not just nationalistic, but also often anti-capitalist. Why? Because, the reason that the capitalists backs are against the wall is because of the threat from the working-class. If the working class or sections of it is to be attracted to some Party other than socialist Parties then that Party has to give the appearance of being concerned with the interests of those workers, has to appear anti-capitalist. But, there has to be more than just appearance. The logic is that it must make actual concessions to workers too. In Nazi Germany some businesses were nationalised, and control was to some extent taken out of the hands of individual capitalists. That in itself didn’t benefit workers, but other policies such as the direction of business to firms that had labour intensive production, that took on more workers rather than replacing them with Capital equipment clearly did.

There was clearly a contradiction inherent in fascism here. One of the facets of advanced capitalism is that the working class becomes a class, which dwarfs all other classes. Because of that fact, whatever the Liberals might claim, the working class always has the potential to sweep away by its very numbers any regime that is inimical to its interests, no matter how ruthless that regime might be. Every regime then is forced to some extent to incorporate within its politics some concession to the interests of workers.

But it is when the capitalists have their backs against the wall that they are at their most dangerous, like a cornered rat. The fascist regime has some appearance that the capitalists have given up, have conceded to workers, and so on, but that appearance is quickly smashed as the fascists seize power. It occurred to me that there was nothing really new here. It was in fact, an old tactic for such a situation. It was the Trojan Horse. The Trojan Horse appeared like fascism to be a sign of the acceptance of defeat, but contained within the Trojan Horse was the force that would destroy the enemy.

Take another example. Since I was about fourteen I have studied Yoga. Yoga has many different components yet they are all interrelated. For example, Mind and Body. From soon after I began studying Yoga I was able to do simple things such as warm my feet in a cold bed, simply by concentrating on it. Tantra is just a more advanced form of that, but which requires that the adept has exercised the body as well as the Mind in order to obtain and extend control.

The Mental aspects of Yoga are detailed as Concentration, Meditation, and Contemplation. Concentration requires that the adept focus on some object or concept, and continually uncovers new aspects of the thing being concentrated upon. Its often viewed as petals on a flower. A house might be viewed, and its various aspects such as the type of window, size of window, number of windows, location in relation to others, and so on ad infinitum elaborated. The thing being concentrated upon is not just a thing, but a complex amalgam of other things, the total of which is greater than the individual parts. Meditation requires that some thought is then applied to the thing being concentrated on in order to obtain a deeper understanding of its nature. We might consider how the house was built, why it was built, its history and so on. Contemplation is when the thing being studied is viewed in its completeness straight away. The example often given is of someone that sees a painting and straight away takes in ever aspect of it. It can also be viewed as the way sometimes leaps of genius occur.

But its also the method used by Marx to analyse complex social phenomena. He begins with a whole, and dissects it into its component parts. Concentration. He then analyses each component part to identify how it works, and its interrelationship with all other parts. Meditation. He then reassembles the essential elements into a new whole that encapsulates the real essence of the thing as a unity. Contemplation. Yet this method of thought goes back not just way beyond Marx, or Hegel, or even Plato, but back thousands of years to ancient India.

Take another example drawn from the same sphere. The Yogis, the Hindus, and the Buddhists believe in Karma. The idea that every action causes a reaction – an idea that Newton adopted much later. The basic idea is that if you cause harm then you will suffer harm yourself. Its not retribution, but a learning process. Because they believe in reincarnation the reaction might not be in this life, but in some future life. The same idea is adopted by Christianity in the idea that the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons. Not surprising as Jesus was probably trained in Buddhism in India during his youth, and hence the near identical words used in some of his teachings to those of Buddhism. In fact, there is more to it than this, because the idea is that everything is in fact just an aspect of some single unity – just like in studying some single thing its individual components can be looked at separately, and yet do not exist other than for them being a part of the whole. Each individual cannot see that they form part of the whole without being taught how to look,a nd studying for themselves. This is rather like the idea that workers whilst in reality being part of a whole, the working class, whilst by objective conditions being brought together as a whole do not immediately see that they form a class without being taught and learning for themselves through experience.

For the Yogi then there are no mistakes, just a learning process. But the same idea is adopted by thinkers as politically opposite as Henry Ford and Frederick Engels. Ford once said that he had never made a mistake in his life he had only had learning experiences. Frederick Engels commented that “There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than "durch Schaden klug tererden" [to learn by one's own mistakes].”

A few years ago I worked with someone that I admired considerably. He was a Drainage Engineer. In his spare time though he had qualified as a Barrister, he had also qualified to practice as a US Attorney, and was in the process of acquiring equivalent European qualifications. We used to chat during lunch times some days. One day we were discussing knowledge, and how people come to understand things. He said that for him, and he thought it was the same for everyone you pick up a piece of knowledge here about something, and then another piece of knowledge about something else that might be totally unrelated. But the more of these pieces of knowledge you pick up the more you find that one piece is related to anoher, and that soemtimes two things that originally appeared completely separate, you find are in fact related via the medium of a number of other things. Rather like pieces of a jig saw might be understandable in their own right, but are really only understandable when they form part of the whole picture.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

The Idiot Imperialists

The Communist International had as one of the basic requirements for any national organisation seeking membership that it should oppose its own bourgeoisie’s imperialist activities. Trotsky made the well known quote about those that don’t support national liberation struggles being branded with infamy if not with a bullet, and so on. With such unequivocal opposition to the role of imperialism in the modern epoch, as the main enemy of the working class, the revolutionary Marxists of the early twentieth century seemed, for those reading these comments, to have said all that needed to be said about the conduct of Marxists in the field of internationalism. It was on this basis that many Marxists in the post-war period set their compass. If there is a national liberation struggle, the Marxists support those waging it. If there is a conflict between an imperialist power and a non-imperialist power, the Marxists support the latter against the former. It was facile, and represented a complete misunderstanding of the policies of the early revolutionaries.

To understand what Lenin, Trotsky and the other socialist internationalists were really about, it is necessary not just to read these isolated quotes, but to read the actual debates, of which they formed a part, debates that had been going on for at least a decade prior to the formulation of the Theses on the National and Colonial Question. It is necessary also to understand the context in which they were set, the existence of large Communist Parties, of a revolutionary workers state albeit a deformed one, and of revolutionary movements in the Colonies to which these Communist Parties could relate. In setting their compass blindly, by these isolated quotes, the Marxists of the post-war period have completely missed the plot, they have not followed the basic requirement of a Marxist to analyse the reality in which they exist, and to determine their politics accordingly, in such a way that they seek to pursue the interests of the working class.

It led to Marxists defending the actions of the IRA in blowing up innocent civilians. It led Marxists to side with the reactionary Argentinian Junta in the Falklands War. It has led others to throw in their lot with all sorts of clerical-fascists from Hezbollah to Hamas, to the Islamist militias in Iraq, each and every one of them horrible anti-working class forces with which socialists should have kept a mile distance.

When Lenin and the Communist International spoke of supporting national liberation struggles he did not say that socialists should support this or that organisation just because they were involved in such a struggle. Nothing could have been further from his mind. In fact, if you read the Theses on the National and Colonial Question it specifically says that the Communists should not act to give a cloak for reactionary nationalism. It goes on to define the kinds of movement that should be supported, that the Communists should seek to make alliances with, specifically as being revolutionary, and for Lenin revolutionary implies “progressive” in the proper Marxist sense, it precludes the idea that any reactionary social force such as clerical-fascism can be revolutionary.

And in an earlier writing Lenin is even clearer.

"It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial-monarchist intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular, concrete movement"


“The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up.”

In short, the position is quite clear, Marxists support struggles for national liberation, they seek to intervene in such struggles, but doing so does not at all mean giving support to any particular organisation simply because it is part of such a struggle. As Lenin says,

“The several demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now: general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected.”

The struggle for democracy, for national liberation cannot supersede the duty to pursue the interests of the working class.

The inability to understand this fairly straightforward principle is what leads to the description of those to whom it applies as “idiot anti-imperialists”.
But for every plus there is a minus, and, it appears, that there has to be, to go along with the idiot anti-imperialists, another group that could equally well be termed the idiot imperialists. The idiot anti-imperialists have a set of objectives, worthy goals, but without the working class forces to achieve those goals they make the goal everything, and the movement nothing. Provided they achieve their aim of opposing imperialism, the means for doing so become reduced to an irrelevance. The idea set out above by Lenin and the Internationalists that the purpose of engaging in such struggles is a subordinate part of the struggle for socialism is completely out of the window, and these Marxists, instead, are prepared to cosy up to any old reactionary simply in order to pursue a “struggle against imperialism”. But the idiot imperialists operate in exactly the same way. They too have a set of worthy goals that they seek to achieve – building a Labour Movement in Iraq in the face of opposition from the clerical-fascists, opposing the genocidal acts of the Milosevic regime in Kosova, opposing the attempts of the Iranian regime to acquire nuclear weapons to further its strategic ambitions and so on. But again faced with the lack of a working-class movement to pursue these objectives they find themselves also making the goal everything and the movement nothing. So we find them, in the case of those former revolutionaries that have signed up with the Euston Manifesto, openly supporting the actions of imperialism in intervening in these situations. In the case of organisations, such as the AWL, we find them refusing to oppose the presence of the troops in Iraq on the basis that they provide a breathing space for the Labour Movement (a rather ridiculous claim), refusing to oppose the murderous attacks of imperialism against Serbians (and keeping quiet about the subsequent ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Kosova, at the hands of the Albanians, given the upper hand by imperialism), claiming to oppose any imperialist attack on Iran, whilst refusing to call for the removal of the huge garrison of US troops on the Iranian border in Iraq, and now saying openly that a successful surgical strike by imperialism against Iran i.e. that the US behemoth should be free to stride unhindered, on the world stage, as its policeman, would be “a good thing”. And, no doubt, despite their supposed opposition to any invasion of Iran, the AWL, were it to happen, would, as they did with Iraq, find some reason to oppose calls for the withdrawal of imperialist forces once they were there. (See:Bush Ally Threatens War on Iran

Just as the idiot anti-imperialists do not care to ask the question, “how does this further the cause of the working class, how does it encourage the development of the Labour Movement, how does it encourage its own independent self-activity”, so the idiot imperialists fall into exactly the same trap. “We don’t like the Iranian regime, or the Serbian regime, or the clercical-fascists, we can’t mobilise the working class to oppose them so if the bourgeoisie or imperialism will do the job instead then that will be “good””, they think. They do not stop to think what consequences this has for the Labour Movement, for the working class, or for truly progressive forces fighting that same imperialism. They do not consider what effect encouraging the working class to rely on the bourgeoisie to fight its battles has in demoralising and miseducating the class. They do not consider what precedents it sets in the psyche of the working class internationally for the right of that imperialism to intervene how and where it likes. Just as long as their moral goal is met, as long as victory is achieved for “good” over “evil” they are satisfied. And it can only be described in these moral terms, because no Marxist could legitimately describe any success of imperialism, and its subsequent strengthening, as “progressive” a more objective term for Marxists.

What is the basis of this idiocy of both types? It lies in the politics and political lineage. Both begin effectively from the same starting point. That starting point is Leninism, but more specifically its Trotskyist offspring. Leninism, for all its sectarianism, had the advantage that the mass Communists Parties, that erupted largely out of the old mass working class parties of the Second International, was based in the working class. When Leninism split into Stalinism and Trotskyism it was largely the Stalinists that retained the working class base, whilst the Trotskyists attracted the intelligentsia, the students and youth. Yet compared to the Trotskyist sects of today the Trotskyists of the 1930’s had far more claim to be workers organisations. Trotsky himself recognised the danger of petit-bourgeois deviationism given the sociologoical make-up of the Trotskyist organisations. He advocated effectively that students and intellectuals should be second-class citizens until they had undergone a period of probation during which time they would need to be gofers for the worker members, would have to demonstrate their ability to work in, and recruit from working class circles and so on. Such a policy would be difficult to apply today not just because the students and intellectuals would not tolerate such a regime, but all these organisations have far more students and intellectuals than workers.

These revolutionary organisations have a peculiarly petit-bouregois romantic idea of revolution, which is why they live in a world where the clocks are all stopped at 19:17. Their view of revolution is a repeat of that great event, even though the historical conditions which led to it are unlikely to be repeated, and, even if they were, the experience of the first event hardly had a happy ending. But it is much easier to appeal to young romantic hearts with that kind of stirring vision than with the idea that the social revolution is actually about the long laborious task of working day in day out with ordinary workers to educate them, to help them construct their own Workers Party, and in the process to rely on and build their strength through their own self-activity. During periods when the working class is militant and marching forward such organisations can feel confident, they make new recruits, even amongst some workers. The idea of independent, working class, self-activity through Economistic struggle, and through “Building the Party” – by which they mean not the Workers Party, but their own little sect, appears a viable route. But once the working class suffers a setback – as it has for the last 25 years – then this approach runs up against the buffers.

What are the options? There is the option of actually doing that slow grinding work in the Workers Party, building and educating the class, or there is the option of clinging to the heroic vision, of continuing the illusion of the big demonstration etc., the desire to continue to fight for the world view of what is “good” against what is “evil”. It is only then necessary to look at the lineage of these groups to understand the line of least resistance they have followed.

The division within the Trotskyist Movement itself is instructive here. In the 1930’s the Trotskyist Movment split – what’s new? The basis of the split itself was instructive. On the one hand was the group of Burnham, Shachtman and Abern. Within this faction Burnham was the theoretician, Shachtman the journalist and propagandist, and Abern the organiser. Burnham rejected the basis of Marxism, both the Historial Materialism and the Dialectics. In its place, he argued instead for “practical politics”, the idea that it was possible to decide what position should be adopted in any particular situation on the basis of the application of “common sense”, that it was possible to rely on the principles of ““equality”, “brotherhood” and “justice” to arrive at what was essentially a socialist morality, and moral guide to action. It was precisely the type of petit-bourgeois socialism that Marx had criticised in the Communist Manifesto, a form of socialism that Marxism long ago replaced.

Basing themselves on this moralistic approach to politics Burnham and Shachtman looked aghast at the USSR, and all the more so at the Stalin-Hitler pact. It was more than their petit-bourgeois morality could stand, and lacking any objective Marxist basis on which to ground their politics they concluded that socialists could not support the USSR. But, it is a fundamental tenet of Marxism that revolutionaries must support workers organisations, and the USSR was a workers state, so how could they square the circle? Simple, just redefine the USSR as not being a Workers State call it anything – state capitalist, bureaucratic-collectivist, anything – as long as it wasn’t a workers state. And if doing so meant mangling Marxism, theory and terms, well so what, in reality Marxism had been ditched for a return to petit-bourgeois socialism anyway. And like the Stalinists they could continue to call themselves Marxists whatever the reality. It is necessarily an approach which leads to typically centrist zig-zags. Opportunist here, ultra-left there. Take the AWL’s zig-zagging for instance. It supported Yeltsin’s capitalist political counter revolution, because of its moralistic opposition to Stalinism, preferring private capitalism to the inefficiency of the USSR, yet uncritically defends the Stalinesque NHS in Britain with not a single call for workers control or ownership, with a programme that is reminiscent of the “more militancy” Economism of the IS of the 1960’s and 1970’s – indeed the AWL seem to be trying to imitate the IS of that period, perhaps in the hope that they might be able to recruit in the same way. In contrast to this Economism and Opportunism, in Venezuela they swing to an Ultra Left position calling on socialists to stand aloof from the actual workers movement that is developing because of their dislike of Chavez. In fact, their attitude in relation to Venezuela is reminiscent of the attitude expressed elsewhere in these blogs by the SPGB in relation to the creation of the LP.

For the AWL it appears that independent working class action is fine provided that the working class undertaking the action confirms to its idea of what the working class should be. As rarely no such working class exists they are left in the one case arguing instead for support for the bourgeoisie, or in the other abstaining from the activities of the actual working class in favour of some non-existent working class.

At the time of the split, Trotsky warned that the trajectory of this so called “Third Camp” was into the camp of the imperialists, and he was soon proved right. Without exception the organisations that adopted this “Third Camp” position moved to the Right, even whilst maintaining the fiction that they were for “independent working class action”, they increasingly removed the working class from being central to their activity, and programme, replacing it with a focus on students, or some other social group amongst which they might find support for their ideas, or else looking to this or that “movement” such as environmentalism or whatever. In the case of some of the leading lights like Burnham and Shachtman the collapse into the bourgeoisie was dramatic. What Trotsky perhaps could not have envisioned was the trajectory of the largest British adherent of this “Third Camp”, the International Socialists, now SWP. The SWP went not into the camp of the bourgeoisie, though in the past they have been happy to form all kinds of alliances with bourgeois forces e.g. in the Anti Nazi League, but into the camp of outright reactionaries, the clerical-fascists and Islamists. But the logic is the same “the goal is everything the movement nothing” as a reversal of Bernstein’s dictum that “the movement is everything the goal nothing”. Both are equally and obviously wrong. If the goal is nothing then the movement is pointless. But if the movement is nothing, if all that matters is achieving your goal, no matter by what means, then the whole principle of Marxism that the working class is central, and only it is capable of resolving the problems of history is abandoned. The goal might be achieved, for example defeating imperialism, but without taking the working class and the struggle for socialism forward one jot, and in fact probably with the consequence of setting it back.

But for some of those that were on the other side of the 1940’s split a similar trajectory can be determined. In so far as the orthodox Trotskyists kept their eye on the goal being the development of the working class movement, on being the socialist revolution, the question arose what to do when largely isolated from the real working class, which stubbornly refused, as Mountain’s are prone to do, to move to Mohammed, and with a similar reluctance of Mohammed to move to the Mountain, which would have been a far more successful course of action, the working class found itself on the defensive, when the presumed incessant forward motion of the revolution appeared to be rolling backwards downhill? The answer was to take what had been correct in Trotsky’s analysis of the USSR in terms of its historical progressiveness, and to then incorrectly assign those characteristics to the actions of the Stalinist rulers, to see every conflict between the Stalinists and imperialism as progressive on the side of the Stalinists. But this was to wholly distort Trotsky. Trotsky said in relation to Poland, for instance, that although the transformation of property relations, the liquidation of the exploiting classes was historically progressive, so socialists would defend the new property relations, the means by which that transformation was accomplished was not progressive, because it meant a strengthening of Stalinism, a strengthening of the idea that the working class could leave such transformation to the bureaucratic machinations or military strength of the Stalinists, and would to the same extent reduce the inclination of workers to rely on its own self-activity. Witness that in none of this does Trotsky talk in the moralising tone of “if Stalinism does this it will be good”, as the idiot imperialists talk of this or that action of the imperialists, as though what were being discussed were some moral dilemma.

In short, the Trotskyists of both camps, because they had become a petit-bouregois deviation within the workers movement, because they were largely divorced from the real workers movement, lost faith in the working-class once it went into retreat. In the face of that, they were forced to look to other forces to achieve their goals, even if they maintained the fiction that they were for “independent working class action” in their propaganda. If anything the idiot imperialists are of course worse than the idiot anti-imperialists. The latter begin with an understandable desire to be with the oppressed, though one which leads them into misconceived support for reactionary forces. The former on the other hand suffer from a willingness to side with the main enemy of the working class, merely in order to assuage their moral conscience, merely in order to accomplish some “good” deed. But the method by which goals are achieved is far from unimportant.

If workers at a factory face redundancy, it is not “good” that there jobs are saved as a result of the bourgeois state nationalising the firm. On the contrary, it merely emphasises the powerlessness of the working class, and the great power of the capitalist state, the lack of control over their own lives that workers have. The effect that such a nationalisation has on workers on encouraging them to believe in the beneficence and omnipotence of that state is far more reactionary than any benefit gained. Nor as Marx explained in the Critique of the Gotha Programme is this situation made any better if the nationalisation is the result of a demand by the workers for such a nationalisation, for sops from the bourgeois state, and that is before the question is addressed of the replacement of a private capitalist employer by a more powerful state capitalist boss. Looked at historically and scientifically nationalised industry is progressive vis a vis private capitalist industry, it represents the more mature form of capitalist property. But that is no reason for workers to seek this more mature, more effective means of their own exploitation as opposed to seeking a socialist solution through the struggle to turn these means of production into their own property. The saving of workers jobs through state intervention might appear “good”, but as Marx correctly argues it is in reality reactionary because of its effect on the workers class consciousness. In the same way it is not at all inconsequential to Marxists what the method is of achieving some goal – say the prevention of a state from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Lenin pointed out that even with the existence of a Workers State in the USSR the working class was weak compared to the power of the bourgeoisie. Whatever else can be said about Lenin he was an incomparable revolutionary tactician. On the basis of this observation, Lenin argued, that it would be necessary for workers and the workers state to make all kinds of alliances in order to take advantage of divisions within the ranks of the bourgeoisie, both in terms of national struggles and internationally. Though, I would not seek to defend their position on this basis - and unlike Lenin, the SWP and the idiot anti-imperialists have simply ditched their own politics in order to become dupes of their allies rather than vice versaas Lenin proposed – it clearly makes more sense using Lenin’s tactical advice to seek alliances with forces fighting imperialism than to form alliances with imperialism against those it is fighting. If I’m in the street and see six enemies, and witness some dispute amongst them, I am far better advised to seek to undermine the position of the strongest enemy by setting at least some of the others against him, than I am to side with the strongest against the others, thereby strengthening his position to later deal with me.

The farcical aspect of this is demonstrated most starkly in relation to the issue of Israel-Palestine. Basing himself on this moralistic approach the Third Campist Albert Glotzer argued that something had to be done for the plight of the Jews after the experience of the Holocaust. It was no good he argued putting forward the position argued by Ernest Mandel and the Orthodox Trotskyists that the solution to the Jews problems could only be accomplished by and through the workers movement. The workers were too weak, were on the defensive, the Jews could not wait. Okay then, he argued to support the solution being offered by alien class forces, by the Zionists, of a Jewish State, even if the establishment of that state would mean a genocidal war against the Palestinians occupying the land on which that state was to be created, even if as a consequence, instead of furthering the cause of working class unity it would act to scatter asunder any potential for working class unity in the area, and would unleash the most reactionary nationalist sentiments. Glotzer ridiculed Mandel’s defence of the idea that the Palestinians should be able to defend their territory by opposing unlimited Jewish immigration, a course which would undoubtedly lead to the kind of communal conflicts which ensued.

The bitterest divide on the Left in Britain is probably that between the AWL and the SWP. Turn to any page of the AWL’s website and you are sure to find some vitriol against the SWP – not without cause given their vile support of reactionary regimes and organisations. One of the bitterest debates is over the question of Israel-Palestine. I say debate, but effectively its one sided as the SWP effectively ignore the criticism. The AWL, correctly, defend the existence of Israel against the desire of the SWP to see it smashed by the forces of the clerical-fascists of Hamas and Hezbollah. It might appear from this that the AWL are the inheritors of Glotzer’s position on Israel, and, indeed, the AWL do support the position outlined by Glotzer as against the position outlined by Mandel. But you would be wrong to conclude this. In fact, it is the SWP that are the inheritors of Glotzer’s argument not the AWL.

1. Glotzer argued that the suffering of the Jews justified the need for a homeland. The SWP argue that the suffering of the Palestinians justifies their demand for their own state, and one that is viable i.e. one that covers the historic territory of Palestine. The AWL agree that the Palestinians should have their own state, but by supporting the two-state solution they advocate a solution that is accomplishable, not by the joint action of the Jewish and Palestinian workers, but is solely in the gift of the Israeli state, in conjunction with US imperialism. Both argue a reactionary position, but it is the SWP, not the AWL, that is in the tradition of Glotzer.

2. Glotzer argued that the Jews could not be expected to wait for the workers movement to provide a solution, and so must look to the Zionist movement for a solution, a nationalist solution, to their problems. The SWP argues similarly that the workers movement is too weak, that there is no sign that the Jewish workers will join the Palestinian workers to create a Palestinian state, so the Palestinians must rely on other forces including the clerical-fascists to help create that state. The AWL argue that the Palestinians should not ally themselves with the clerical-fascists, but must build workers unity, and seek to establish a state alongside Israel even though that mini-state is likely to be unviable, and will depend on Israel and US imperialism or Arab nationalist regimes for its creation and survival. Both positions are reactionary, but again it is the SWP that is in the tradition of Glotzer.

3. Glotzer argues that immigration controls are reactionary, and that at least there should be an unrestricted right of immigration of Jews into Palestine even if they then outnumber the Palestinians. The SWP argue that the Immigration Controls employed by Israel that provide unrestricted immigration of Jews from anywhere in the world, yet refuse a right of return to Palestinians are racist and to be opposed. That as a minimum there should be a right of return for all Palestinian refugees even if this meant that they then outnumbered Jews in Israel. The AWL rightly state that although the Jewish Immigration rules are racist, an unrestricted right of return is not practical precisely because it would undermine the basis of the state of Israel as being a Jewish state. Calling for an unrestricted right of return effectively means calling on Israel to disband itself to dissolve itself as a nation state. Yet, although the AWL are right, it is the SWP that stand on the same ground as Glotzer yet again.

To be so connected and committed to a political strand, as the AWL are to Glotzer and the Third Camp, and yet to be faced with the fact that the ultimate conclusion of that method of analysis, that form of politics is to find yourself arguing the politics of the SWP, the organisation most hated by the AWL, must be exceedingly difficult to come to terms with. For a Marxist, it would mean having to question the whole foundation of your politics, but, as I have pointed out, for petit-bourgeois socialists, this problem does not arise, because their political positions are made up as they go along case by case according to what their moral code dictates to them. I suspect that it was for this reason that the AWL deleted my posts from their website pointing out this contradiction several times, before then deleting my account.

The basis of both idiot imperialism and idiot anti-imperialism is then the separation of would be Marxist forces from the real working-class movement, a petit-bourgeois degeneration of these forces as a consequence, and a relapse into petit-bourgeois socialism, whilst retaining the trappings and verbiage – as has Stalinism – of Marxism. Only by once more immersing itself in the cleansing waters of the working class can Marxism rid itself of this petit-bourgeois deviation. The Stalinist monolith has largely collapsed even if the material basis on which it grew is having a new lease of life in Russia and China. The sooner those other offspring of Leninism, the Trotskyist sects – whether they call themselves Third Campist, Fourth Internationalist or whatever – go the same way, the sooner can Marxism cleanse itself of the disease from which it has suffered for the last 100 years, the sooner can genuine Marxists begin the task of discussing and organising in a constructive and non-sectarian way how best to develop the Workers Party, how best to educate the working class movement for the tasks it has to perform.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Marxists and the Workers Party

Communists and Proletarians

“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?
The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.
They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.”

Marx and Engels – “Manifesto of the Communist Party”

With these words Marx and Engels set out clearly the position of Marxists in relation to the Workers Party. Yet despite the clarity, despite the complete lack of ambiguity set out in this position, Marxists have consistently set up parties, and more often sects directly opposed to the real workers parties, have consistently made a fetish of their own sectarian principles as the only ones capable of shaping and moulding the proletarian movement, and have consistently placed their own interests above that of the movement as a whole.

Its no wonder that Marx himself was led to comment in the face of such “Marxists” that “if this is Marxism, then I am no Marxist.”

Enter the Working Class

From the very beginning, the socialist movement was divided amongst a rag-tag of sects, each convinced that it alone had the Philosopher’s Stone, the key that would unlock the door to proletarian revolution. Only when the working-class itself begins to enter the fray, first via the Chartist Movement, and later in the growth of mass working class parties, particularly in Germany does this infantilism begin to be pushed to the fringes of the Movement, and the basis for the kind of fusion, envisioned by Marx and Engels, of Marxist ideas with a mass workers party begin to take hold. It is no coincidence that it is during this period that, not only are the greatest leaps forward in proletarian science to be witnessed, but alongside them a huge development of the working class movement itself.

The Sectarians

Yet, even then there were “Marxists” who found some reason or another to stand aside from this real movement, finding solace in their own cocoon of Marxist purity, where the harsh realities of the class struggle could be ignored in favour of petit-bourgeois romantic fantasies of some “pure” socialist movement, and revolution, just as the religious zealots are forced time and again to succumb to schism as one group after another discovers that only it is the defender of the true faith. Engels himself was led to comment on some of these organisations in Britain such as the SDF, which was to ossify into the Socialist Party of Great Britain, a party which has been one of the clearest examples of how “Marxists” have ignored the advice and teaching of Marx and Engels.

What the Marxists Are

Certainly, the Marxists have to be an organised force. How else could they develop their own ideas and thereby seek to influence, educate and develop the workers movement.

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”(ibid)

But, the Marxists are precisely that a section of the workers party, its resolute Left-Wing, they are not another party standing in opposition to it, nor even, as has been the Trotskyist perspective in the Entrist tactic, another party simply masquerading as part of the Workers Party, whether for the purpose of seeking, like a cuckoo, to ultimately substitute itself for that party, or else, in its alternate variant, simply seeking to party build prior to splitting the Workers Party for its own sectarian ends.

Marxists and the Workers Parties Today

The latest example of this sectarianism has been the attitude of Marxist organisations over the last ten years or so to the Labour Party, but similar traits can be seen in the positions of Marxists elsewhere to Workers Parties, see the discussion in relation to Germany here, it’s the reason no mass Workers Party in the US has developed, its closest approximation being the Democrats. Its true that there will be times when those parties to which the workers have traditionally given their allegiance become obsolete, that out of them grow new parties more closely associated with the working class, such as the development of the Labour Party effectively out of the old Liberal Party, but such developments must occur naturally, organically, as a result of the working class itself growing out of these parties, its class consciousness developing to a stage in which its ideas are no longer compatible with those of the old party. But all too often it has been Marxists themselves that have grown weary of the old Party, and sought to artifically create something new. The history is one which is symptomatic of the failure of Marxists to adhere to Marx and Engels advice, and the damage that has been done to the Workers Movement over the last 100 years as a consequence.

Two Types of Sectarianism

During the 1970’s and early 1980’s there was a revival of Marxist ideas, indeed the revival had begun in the 1960’s, but by the 1970’s it had led to the development of some sizeable organisations. Of these the “Third Campist” International Socialists (now SWP) was probably the largest. But, a consequence of the IS’s Third Camp political tradition was an innate “Economism”. Its disdain of any political organisation that did not match up to its model of political purity, that did not represent the politics only of “independent working class action” led it to oppose any involvement in the Labour Party – a party which acted in the interests of capitalism, was riddled with bourgeois ideology, which was committed to a reformist transformation of society, and for much of the 1960’s and 70’s was a party which was in the majority of cases organisationally moribund, with large paper memberships, but a largely empty shell of activists, and which as a consequence was extremely undemocratic, and bureaucratised. The flip side of this semi-anarchistic, syndicalist politics was its emersion in the industrial struggle, in the Trade Union struggle, a struggle which by definition is limited and reformist to the core, and, as with most organisations of the “Trostskyist” movement, also in the student movement, a movement, which again by definition acts as a transmission belt of petit-bourgeois ideas into the workers movement.

The consequence of the IS’s politics was that once again a huge opportunity for Marxists to connect with the Workers in political struggle was lost, and the ideological field of battle was laregly surrendered, without a fight, to the right-wing leaders of that movement. The farce was that at election times the SWP were left, having abstained from the real political struggle of workers inside the Labour Party, calling on workers to vote – often uncritically – for that same Labour Party, and the reality of their own relationship to the class manifested, whenever they did stand candidates, by their totally derisory number of votes.

The IS’s industrial activity was not without some objective basis. From around 1949 onwards the world economy had been in a 25 year Long Wave upswing. Typical of such periods, the increasing demand for labour enables, after a number of years, workers to demand and obtain higher wages, and better conditions. Such successes necessarily imbue the class with greater confidence, but also engender the idea that industrial struggle is all that is important, all that is required. A well organised group can in such conditions make headway in gaining positions within the Trade Unions where very small numbers of activists often determine who is elected. Revolutionaries by definition are the most active, most militant members of the class, and it is these attributes that workers see as important in electing their union representatives. But, the concomitant of this is that these revolutionaries replace political electoralism – a seeking of Parliamentary votes – with industrial electoralism. Rather than being activist organisations geared to mobilising independent, direct action by rank and file members, the Rank and File, and Broad Left organisations developed, instead, as almost entirely electoral machines geared to getting slates of revolutionaries elected to union positions. The other concomitant is that having got themselves elected the revolutionaries were then able to fool themselves into believing that this represented some sea change in class conscioussness when, in fact, it was quite clear that few, if any, of the politics of the revolutionaries were shared by the rank and file members they had been elected to represent.

Of course, this type of politics which flows directly from the ideas of the Shachtmanite/Burnhamite Third Camp is fine in periods when the working class is relatively strong, when such petit-bourgeois organisations can themselves experience some growth, and the appearance of success, but once a conjunctural turn sets in such organisations find themselves all the more cut adrift from the real working class, their perspectives completely disorganised, their frustration and demoralisation all the greater. Ultimately, they are forced to justify their own separate existence merely in terms of their political objectives, but now, with the force that should, for any Marxist, be at the centre of the strategy for the accomplishment of those objectives – the working class – in retreat, they are forced to simply mouth the mantras about “independent working class action” whilst in reality looking to, and at worst allying themselves with other forces to achieve these aims. Without exception those forces that have developed in the tradition of Third Campism have in the last period of downturn been led to abandon the centrality of the working class, in practice if not in their propaganda. In Britain, the SWP stand at one end of this spectrum allying themselves with the Islamists, at the other is the Euston Manifesto Group allying itself directly with the bourgeois liberals, and in the middle groups like the AWL which look to a progressive bourgeois democracy or democratic imperialism to provide solutions they are unable to mobilise the working class for, whilst like Pontius Pilate washing their hands of any responsibility for these forces when, not unexpectedly, they fail to act progressively.

The other major organisation was the Militant Tendency, which in contrast to the IS did employ an Entrist tactic in the Labour Party. But, it was precisely that, a tactic. This was not Marxists being honest, genuine members of the Labour Party, seeking to develop that party with no separate interests of their own, as Marx and Engels had advised. This was a Party which sought to do nothing BUT build its own membership, to pursue its own goals separate from those of the Party, and often at the expense of it, and the workers movement as a whole. One of the classic examples of that was the spectacle during the Miners Strike of 1984, of Militant members on marches carrying buckets to collect money not for the Miners, but for the Militant!
That is not to say that members of the Militant were not as assiduous in getting themselves elected to GC’s and other Party bodies as IS militants were in getting themselves elected to Trade Union positions (the Militant too placed great store in such industrial work a reflection of the fact that they remained more in the Marxist tradition than did the IS), or that come election time Militant members were not very active in canvassing – a good opportunity to sell papers and make contacts – and that as a result many individuals were held in some esteem by ordinary Leftish members of the Party. But, as with other organisations adopting the Entrist tactic, the guiding motto had been established by Lenin long ago, at the beginning of the twentieth century, in his advice to the British Communists to “support the Labour Party like a rope supports a hanged man”. For the thousands of Labour Party members who considered this to be THEIR party, placing its future in the hands of such executioners was understandably not a prospect to be cherished, and so whatever their affinity to this or that individual of such organisations when it came to the crunch the Kinnockite witchunters were able to go about their business without a huge rebellion, though they were helped in great measure by the failure to fight, or to adopt alternative tactics by the revolutionaries who once again sank back into the obscurity, and now near oblivion, of the comfort zone of the pure microsect.

Upside Down Politics

And having sunk back into this existence every development can be turned to justify why it is, in fact, a principled position to adopt, why the moribund, undemocratic nature of the Labour Party today means that it is next to pointless for Marxists to fulfil their duty as outlined by Marx and Engels, ignoring the work of the Marxists in the Labour Party in the 1960’s and 70’s which was equally if not more moribund, and bureaucratic. The latest example, is the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth, and the rule changes introduced in relation to Party democracy and the Conference. The response to these changes is a clear example of what is wrong with the Left. It is a repetition of that industrial electoralism of the IS of the 1960’s and 70’s, but now the focus is transferred into the Labour Party, instead of the focus of activity being the election of union representatives, the focus is instead the rather limited one, of being able to get motions discussed at Party Conference – presumably for no better reason than the opportunity of embarrassing the leadership if they get defeated. That’s no longer possible? Labour Party work is no longer possible or at least worthwhile then concludes the sectarian.

But the whole purpose of Marxists activity in the Labour Movement in the Trade Unions or the Workers Party is not this. It is to work alongside the working class in ways which encourage its own self activity. Very little of that on a day to day basis has anything whatsoever to do with whether this or that motion is passed at Labour Party conference. In fact, it is to have an upside down view of working class politics. Getting this or that resolution passed (just as getting this or that revolutionary elected to a union position) only means anything if it is the result of a huge groundswell of support for that measure within the class, and that requires not manipulation or Leninist organisational skills to get things passed, or people elected, but the slow boring job of arguing day after day with ordinary real workers, and not just those activists who already in large part hold the same views as those seeking to influence them. But how is that slow laborious work to be done unless Marxists are in the Labour Party discussing those ideas, selflessly building the Party at a rank and file level, drawing workers into it from the limited arena of industrial struggle. Yes, political discussions can be undertaken in the workplace, or in the community organisation, but, as used to be pointed out to the IS, by Marxists, once, such discussions are pointless, unless those workers can then be drawn into a wider political arena – and that arena cannot be some tiny sect. A good example, was the McDonell campaign. It was almost like de ja vu all over again with Marxist organisations, largely, if not entirely, outside the Labour Party, organisations which day after day thrill over their depiction of the moribund nature of the Labour Party, then calling on workers to join the Labour Party and support McDonnell, whilst they remain aloof outside it!!! Talk about lions led by donkeys. With organisations that once criticised the IS for similar follies acting this way it was history repeating itself as farce.

Marx and Engels Against the Sectarians

In contrast to the sectarianism of many of the post-Marx Marxists, Marx and Engels set out their own position clearly.

“The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement. In France, the Communists ally with the Social-Democrats against the conservative and radical bourgeoisie, reserving, however, the right to take up a critical position in regard to phases and illusions traditionally handed down from the great Revolution.
In Switzerland, they support the Radicals, without losing sight of the fact that this party consists of antagonistic elements, partly of Democratic Socialists, in the French sense, partly of radical bourgeois.

In Poland, they support the party that insists on an agrarian revolution as the prime condition for national emancipation, that party which fomented the insurrection of Cracow in 1846.

In Germany, they fight with the bourgeoisie whenever it acts in a revolutionary way, against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy, and the petty bourgeoisie.”

In short, Marx and Engels description of a Workers Party was not some dogmatic, programmatic definition, let alone the insistence made later by Leninists, that such a party should be some “pure” Marxist party. It was the straightforward definition of those parties which attracted the support of the working-class. In Germany, Marx and Engels, themselves, joined the Democratic Party, an openly bourgeois Party, but which attracted the support of workers, becoming, as they described it, its Left-Wing.

Later, and using this experience as his reference, along with the advice he and Marx had given in the Communist Manifesto, Engels wrote to Marxists in the US advising them on the approach they should adopt. Some Leninists claim that Marx and Engels in later life changed their position from that outlined in the Communist Manifesto, that they regretted their joining the Democrats in 1848. But that is the argument Leninists have to make in order to justify Leninism. The fact is that even towards the end of his life Engels adhered to the principles previously outlined, as his letter of 1887 below makes clear.

London, January 27, 1887

”When we returned to Germany, in spring 1848, we joined the Democratic Party as the only possible means of getting the ear of the working class; we were the most advanced wing of that party, but still a wing of it. When Marx founded the International, he drew up the General Rules in such a way that all working-class socialists of that period could join it -- Proudhonists, Pierre Lerouxists and even the more advanced section of the English Trades Unions; and it was only through this latitude that the International became what it was, the means of gradually dissolving and absorbing all these minor sects, with the exception of the Anarchists, whose sudden appearance in various countries was but the effect of the violent bourgeois reaction after the Commune and could therefore safely be left by us to die out of itself, as it did. Had we from 1864, to 1873 insisted on working together only with those who openly adopted our platform where should we be to-day? I think that all our practice has shown that it is possible to work along with the general movement of the working class at every one of its stages without giving up or hiding our own distinct position and even organisation, and I am afraid that if the German Americans choose a different line they will commit a great mistake.”


Engels to Florence Kelley Wischnewetsky

Historical materialism in Practice

Its important again here to take account of the times. Marx and Engels had arrived at their theory of historical materialism around the same time that the Chartist Movement had in fact reached its highest level. The working class had been going through a period of defensive struggles since the beginning of the Long Wave downturn, which ended around 1848-1851. It was not surprising that its activity had been forced to look for political solutions such as the Charter. It is not surprising that in place of purely Economistic, Trade Union solutions, it is in this period that the working class is re-armed with new political ideas such as Marxism. Nor is it accidental that in the period of upswing arising from the late 1840’s/early 50’s that Marx and Engels have success using the strategy they have outlined in keying into the rising tide of militancy, the growing confidence and combativity of the working class, and forging the beginnings of the first conscious political organisations of the working-class in the shape of the First International.
It is also instructive to see how Marx and Engels ideas about the nature of such political organisations changed during this period away from the forms such as the League of the Just, which represented a legacy of Hegelianism (the idea that social change is brought about through the discovery, the unfolding of the idea, by a select few intellectuals or advanced elements)with the Communist League occupying an intermediate position and towards the real working class Party that was as Engels puts it one with great latitude.

“However, the social doctrine of the League, indefinite as it was, contained a very great defect, but one that had its roots in the conditions themselves. The members, in so far as they were workers at all, were almost exclusively artisans.”

Engels is full of praise for these artisans who given the objective reality of their petit-bourgeois nature could not yet have formed the proletarian party, but this petit-bourgeois politics was necessarily limited, subjective and moralistic. It basically represented a petit-bourgeois view of the world, seen in the approach of some organisations today, that moralises over this or that injustice, and concludes “something must be done”. An example is that of Albert Glotzer as outlined in my critique here.

“But it was also inevitable that their old handicraft prejudices should be a stumbling block to them at every moment, whenever it was a question of criticizing existing society in detail, that is, of investigating economic facts. And I do not believe there was a single man in the whole League at that time who had ever read a book on political economy. But that mattered little; for the time being “equality”, “brotherhood” and “justice” helped them to surmount every theoretical obstacle.”

But today, as Marx’s critique of this kind of petit-bourgeois socialism demonstrated, reliance on this socialist morality as a guide to action, on the principles of “equality”, “brotherhood”, and “justice”, are no longer adequate. Yet, despite the passage of more than 150 years, the conditions remain remarkably similar, the difference being that today’s petit-bourgeois socialists call themselves Marxists, and rather than their petit-bourgeois nature deriving from them being artisans, it derives from their background as students, ex-students and intellectuals, separated in large part from the real working-class.

“Meanwhile a second, essentially different Communism was developed alongside that of the League and of Weitling. While I was in Manchester, it was tangibly brought home to me that the economic facts, which have so far played no role or only a contemptible one in the writing of history, are, at least in the modern world, a decisive historical force; that they form the basis of the origination of the present-day class antagonisms; that these class antagonisms, in the countries where they have become fully developed, thanks to large-scale industry, hence especially in England, are in their turn the basis of the formation of political parties and of party struggles, and thus of all political history. Marx had not only arrived at the same view, but had already, in the Deutsche-Französische Jahrbücher (1844), generalized it to the effect that, speaking generally, it is not the state which conditions and regulates the civil society at all, but civil society which conditions and regulates the state, and, consequently, that policy and its history are to be explained from the economic relations and their development, and not vice versa. … Communism among the French and Germans, Chartism among the English, now no longer appeared as something accidental, which could just as well not have occurred. These movements now presented themselves as a movement of the modern oppressed class, the proletariat, as the more or less developed forms of its historically necessary struggle against the ruling class, the bourgeoisie; as forms of the class struggle, but distinguished from all earlier class struggles by this one thing, that the present-day oppressed class the proletariat, cannot achieve its emancipation without at the same time emancipating society as a whole from division into classes and, therefore, from class struggles. And Communism now no longer meant the concoction, by means of the imagination, of an ideal society as perfect as possible, but insight into the nature, the conditions and the consequent general aims of the struggle waged by the proletariat.”

Engels – “History of the Communist League”

Leninism the Highest Stage of Sectarianism

History never proceeds in a straight line. In fact, it is almost like a law of history that just at the moment when everything seems to be moving ahead strongly, an unforeseen event arises that switches the historical tracks. By the end of the 19th century large socialist movements existed in much of Europe. In Continental Europe these parties were already largely established as parties in which the ideas of Marxism were dominant. Partly, that was a result of their different development from the origin of the Labour Party in Britain, which developed out of the Liberal Party, on the backs of the Trade Unions, and which as a consequence from the beginning imprinted upon it, their own reformist politics.

In Germany, the Social Democrats were a Party organising hundreds of thousands of workers as activists, and gaining the support of millions more. Already with electoral success the steady progress of the movement engendered the idea that socialism could be brought about gradually through Parliamentary action at the top, once again relegating the self-activity of the class to a secondary consideration. It shared a common approach to the development of socialism with Leninism, a reliance on action from above, on statism, a throw back to ideas first presented in the Communist Manifesto, and retained by Lassalle, ideas that had been rejected by Marx and Engels in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, where Marx rejects such a statist approach in favour of the self activity and self reliance of the working class on its own organisations, a position Marx was to outline in Vol. III of Capital where he sets out the role of Workers Co-operatives spreading progressively throughout the economy as the basis of the socialist transformation of society, as the basis of the real social revolution, the transformation of private into collective, co-operatively owned property.

But, it was partly in response to the spread of these Revisionist, reformist ideas that Leninism arises. That Lenin should take a step back from the position arrived at by Marx and Engels in the conception of what should constitute the proletarian revolutionary party is not that surprising using the Marxist method. Lenin found himself in Russia in conditions similar to those that Marx and Engels had found themselves in Germany at the time of the League of the Just. The Russian working class was very small, the forces of Marxism tiny, and to make matters worse there was a terrible police state in place that made any kind of legal political activity almost impossible. Although, especially after his own brother was executed for an attempt on the life of the Tsar, Lenin made clear his opposition to such terrorist tactics as an alternative to the building of a workers party, he also retained a strong affinity to the bravery of such people, and refused to renounce the possibility of using such tactics when appropriate. Lenin was above all else a revolutionary in the tradition of the revolutionaries of the Great French revolution, a revolutionary for whom revolution is all about the mobilisation of violence for political ends, and for whom politics dominates all, the revolutionary optimist for whom everything is possible if only sufficient political will is mustered to achieve it.

With his eye set firmly on that goal, Lenin set himself the task of building an organisation capable of bringing that end about. He admired Cromwell, and his ideas and the Party that Lenin developed has many of the features that Cromwell’s New Model Army displayed. Unfortunately, history was to repeat itself once again. Cromwell and the New Model Army was necessary because the English bourgeoisie was too immature to secure social hegemony, let alone political hegemony for itself. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were needed because the same was true of the Russian proletariat. Cromwell’s premature revolution led to the Bonpartist regime of the Protectorate, ultimately to see the restoration of feudal aristocratic rule. Lenin’s premature revolution saw the Bonpartist regime of Stalin, and its ultimate demise and the capitalist restoration.

Lenin’s view of the Marxist theory of the Workers party is, as a result, necessarily one sided. Time and again Lenin refers to the ideological debates of the past, the insistence on theoretical precision of Marx and Engels, yet fails to place this in the appropriate context that at all times for Marx and Engels the primary focus was on the building of the Workers Party on as broad a scale as possible, on maintaining the unity of that movement almost at all costs, and not trying to force the movement to adopt positions it was not ready to accept, that as yet it did not understand.
Compare Lenin’s position as outlined in “What is to be Done?” with the advice given by Engels to the Marxists in the US.

”….It is far more important that the movement should spread, proceed harmoniously, take root and embrace as much as possible the whole American proletariat, than that it should start and proceed from the beginning on theoretically perfectly correct lines. There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than "durch Schaden klug tererden" [to learn by one's own mistakes]. And for a whole large class, there is no other road, especially for a nation so eminently practical as the Americans. The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class; that once obtained, they will soon find the right direction, and all who resist, H.G. or Powderly, will be left out in the cold with small sects of their own.”

Engels here could have been speaking about the Leninist organisations of the last 80 years or so that having abandoned his and Marx’s advice have increasingly found themselves relegated to small sects out in the cold. It was only historical circumstance that prevented that fate accruing to Lenin himself.

Lenin quotes Marx’s Critique of the Gotha programme, but leaves aside the more important point that Marx despite his railing against the inadequacy of that Programme, of the fact that the Eisenachers had made unneccessary concessions to the Lassalleans, that there were elements in the programme that would have been better simply left out rather than accept incorrect formulations, despite all this, Marx still commented that “one step of real progress is worth a dozen Programmes.” Lenin was also heavily influenced by Engels’ “Anti-Duhring” another masterpiece of polemic. But “Anti-Duhring” was written by Engels for a specific purpose, and one that speaks against Lenin’s exclusivism.

Duhring was leading a faction in the German Party that was heading towards a split. Engels stated reason for writing Anti-Duhring was not in order to heighten the tension and division in the Party, but to try to reduce the damage that such a split might cause, to try to minimise the number that Duhring might take with him.

“The following work is by no means the fruit of any "inner urge". On the contrary.

When three years ago Herr Dühring, as an adept and at the same time a reformer of socialism, suddenly issued his challenge to his age, friends in Germany repeatedly urged on me their desire that I should subject this new socialist theory to a critical examination in the central organ of the Social Democratic Party, at that time the Volksstaat. They thought this absolutely necessary if the occasion for sectarian divisions and confusions were not once again to arise within the Party, which was still so young and had but just achieved definite unity.”

Engels original Preface to “Anti-Duhring”

Hence, completely in line with the attitude of Marx and Engels to the development of the Workers Party, and the role of Marxists within it previously outlined, Engels is here far from wanting to purify the German Workers Party, but on the contrary cherishes the unity that had been so recently won, even on its inadequate programmatic basis, and wishes to oppose the sectarian splitters.

But, there is another aspect of Lenin’s position that has to be taken into consideration. By the time Lenin comes to write, “What is to be Done?” in 1903 much of these discussions are a thing of the past. The German Social Democrats that Lenin takes as his model in that work had developed rapidly, and become a mass workers party led by Marxists. It is not surprising then that he should view the task as being the development of a workers party that is at the same time a Marxist Party. But this attitude, together with his determination that this party must, at least in Russia, have its eye set firmly on the task of political revolution, even if at first that revolution is to be a bourgeois democratic revolution, leads him to the conclusion that this party must be highly disciplined, must not allow “freedom of criticism” that might introduce revisionist ideas, and must purge itself of such elements. It is from these beginnings that in the context of the developments of the next decade, and particularly of the outbreak of World War, and the collapse of the main Workers Parties into nationalism, that Lenin is forced to conclude that separate “pure” Communist parties have to be built.

Historical Accident

Lenin did stick with the basic principle outlined by Marx and Engels that the Marxists should stick with the workers, should patiently explain to them. But for Lenin this was seen more as the workers being expected to stick with the Marxists, a manifestation of his revolutionary optimism that the correct politics of the Communists would necessarily cause the workers to rally to their banner, a big mistake, and one recognised by Marx and Engels earlier who warned against trying to force the pace, of asking the workers to adopt positions they did not yet understand. Trotsky too was to apply this method. In a clear refutation to those that now complain about the difficult conditions for work in the Labour Party, Trotsky, in the far more difficult conditions of the Russian Communist Party of the 1920’s, when the organisation dealt with criticism by beating up and shooting its critics, when Trotsky was banned from publishing various articles, when he was whistled and spat at when trying to make speeches at Party meetings etc., still maintained that Marxists had to remain within that Party in order to stick with the workers, and harshly criticised those that wanted to take the easy option of removing themselves from it.

And to be fair to Lenin, in 1917 there was some basis for making such an argument. It was not at all inconceivable that such parties could become the main workers parties supplanting the existing parties of the Second International. It was still a sectarian stance, and one that was rapidly to be shown to be false, but not entirely unreasonable. In many ways it is unfortunate that historical accident should have given the false impression that such a development was possible, unfortunate too that at least two of the most gifted Marxists of the time should find themselves in revolutionary Russia, and with the impetus of that great revolution should find themselves thrust forward into the developments that would so tragically split the workers movement to such catastrophic effect in the years that followed.

What is unreasonable is for subsequent “Leninists” to think that their micro sects are in any way compatible with the forces that Lenin was looking to at the beginning of the last century, that historical conditions are anything like compatible, and that they can therefore, consider any alternative to that set out in the far more comparable circumstances of the late 19th century by Marx and Engels, to put all their resources into building selflessly the Workers parties, on however an inadequate a basis, in however, difficult the conditions for such work within those parties. The most important task for Marxists in the current period is the political, ideological and organisational rearmament of the working class. Such political work can only be undertaken in the mass political Parties of the class, however, inadequate those parties might be. Indeed, it is that inadequacy that makes the importance of the work all the greater.

The Relevance of Engels Advice Today

The advice given by Engels to the US socialists from that time applies with renewed force today.

“…What the Germans ought to do is to act up to their own theory --if they understand it, as we did in 1845 and 1848--to go in for any real general working-class movement, accept its faktische starting points as such and work it gradually up to the theoretical level by pointing out how every mistake made, every reverse suffered, was a necessary consequence of mistaken theoretical views in the original programme; they ought, in the words of The Communist Manifesto, to represent the movement of the future in the movement of the present. But above all give the movement time to consolidate, do not make the inevitable confusion of the first start worse confounded by forcing down people's throats things which at present they cannot properly understand, but which they soon will learn. A million or two of workingmen's votes next November for a bona fide workingmen's party is worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect platform.”

“…But anything that might delay or prevent that national consolidation of the workingmen's party--no matter what platform--I should consider a great mistake…”


Engels. The Condition of the Working Class in England, Preface to the American Edition

“…To bring about this result, the unification of the various independent bodies into one national Labor Army, with no matter how inadequate a provisional platform, provided it be a truly working-class platform — that is the next great step to be accomplished in America. To effect this, and to make that platform worthy of the cause, the Socialist Labor Party can contribute a great deal, if they will only act in the same way as the European Socialists have acted at the time when they were but a small minority of the working class. That line of action was first laid down in the “Communist Manifesto” of 1847 in the following words:

“The Communists” — that was the name we took at the time and which even now we are far from repudiating — “the Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties.”

“They have no interests separate and apart from the interests of the whole working class.

“They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and model the proletarian movement…..”

“…That is the line of action which the great founder of Modern Socialism, Karl Marx, and with him, I and the Socialists of all nations who worked along with us, have followed for more than forty years, with the result that it has led to victory everywhere, and that at this moment the mass of European Socialists, in Germany and in France, in Belgium, Holland and Switzerland, in Denmark and Sweden as well as in Spain and Portugal, are fighting as one common army under one and the same flag.”


Condition of the Working Class in England, Marx-Engels Archive

Were Marx and Engels worried about joining a bourgeois Party? No. "When we returned to Germany, in spring 1848, we joined the Democratic Party as the only possible means of getting the ear of the working class; we were the most advanced wing of that party, but still a wing of it."

Were Marx and Engels insistent upon having a Party with the most pure socialist programme? No. "When Marx founded the International, he drew up the General Rules in such a way that all working-class socialists of that period could join it -- Proudhonists, Pierre Lerouxists and even the more advanced section of the English Trades Unions; and it was only through this latitude that the International became what it was, the means of gradually dissolving and absorbing all these minor sects, "
On the contrary, Marx and Engels primary concern was to be where the workers were - not where they wanted them to be. Their attitude was based entirely on historical materialism - analysing things as they actually were not as they wanted them to be, and from that starting point trying to gradually work the movement up to what they wanted it to become.

It is unfortunate that the legacy of Leninist Hegelianism has diverted Marxists from that task, has led them to forget that it is the working class which is the revolutionary agent, and instead has led them to try to seek shortcuts through the creation of pure revolutionary parties. It has been not just 80 years wasted, but 80 years which has resulted in the regression rather than progression of working class consciousness.