Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Stalinist Nature of the AWL’s Politics

In the past I have described the AWL’s position in relation to a number of issues, particularly on the National Question, as nothing more than radical Liberalism. Wouldn’t it be more correct then to describe the AWL’s politics as Liberal rather than Stalinist, a position which stands in what appears to be direct opposition to Stalinism. No, that would not be correct. The characterisation of an organisations politics cannot be derived simply by looking at its position on certain questions in isolation. It requires an analysis of that organisations overall political posture, and its methodology. I have also described the AWL’s politics arising out of the Third Camp as petit-bourgeois socialism. Does that not contradict the definition of Stalinism? No, in fact Stalinism is precisely a form of petit-bourgeois socialism.

Radical Liberalism

The AWL’s politics on the National Question amount to nothing more than radical Liberalism. For the Bolsheviks bourgeois-democratic demands including the demand of nations to self-determination could not occupy a place higher than the socialist programme, and particularly the need to build the maximum workers unity. Such demands could not be progressive in and of themselves, but only when taken as part of a struggle by the working class. Such demands are classically Transitional in nature. Their progressive content is determined solely by the context in which they are fought for, a context in which the working class fights for these demands precisely by means of proletarian rather than bourgeois means. It is important to distinguish between the National Question and the Colonial question. In regards colonies what we have is an existing State. It is a separate state from that of the colonial power. Its laws, constitution, and dynamic are completely separate from the State of the colonial power even if as classically with French colonialism they are copied directly from it. This is different from the National Question where what we have is a single state covering several nationalities. It is important to recognise this difference because it affects the way Marxists deal with each type of situation. If we take the demand for self-determination of a colony then Marxists can quite easily argue for the political independence of this existing state. They do so by trying to win the support of workers in the colonial state, but the overriding point is a struggle of the oppressed masses against the colonial power. If we take the issue of self-determination for a nation which is one component of a single state comprising several nationalities this is a different matter. Under these conditions, we already have effectively a single working class in this state. Often they are to some extent intermingled. The primary duty of a Marxist under such conditions is then to attempt to maintain that actual unity of the working class within this state, and to strengthen it if at all possible. It is to pose the solution to the national problems of the workers of each nation, a joint struggle against their common oppressor. That can never be the case in relation to a colony. In one we have the struggle for the political independence of an existing state, in the other we have the creation of a new class state.

As Lenin and the Bolsheviks argued, we are opposed to the creation of new class states, other than in the most exceptional conditions. We the question posed as follows. Marxists in the dominant nation concentrate their focus on arguing the RIGHT of any oppressed nations within the State to separate. As Marxists they argue that such a move is not advisable because it divides the workers, yet the oppressed nationality must be given that right should they wish to take it, and the workers of the dominant nation should oppose any attempt by their ruling class to violently prevent such separation. The Marxists in the oppressed nation, however, focus their attention on arguing the case that although obviously they have the Right to separate they should not do so. The basis of that argument is that it divides the workers, that the real source of their oppression is class society, and that separation will only lead to them being oppressed and exploited by their own capitalists as opposed to the capitalist of the other nation. The solution lies in 1) building unity with workers of the other nation who are also oppressed by their capitalists, 2) using that unity to fight for a set of consistent democratic demands, and 3) integrating the struggle for those demands with the only real solution to their problems which is the overthrow of capitalism.

Any programme that fails to proceed on this basis, but which simply asserts A is oppressed by B so A should have the right of self-determination, and should secede is not a socialist perspective it stands four-square on the ground of radical Liberalism. It puts forward the bourgeois democratic demand of self-determination as good in its own right. It says to workers go this far and no farther – at least for now. It fails to have any kind of perspective of joint workers struggle, of building and maintaining workers unity, or the basic aspect even of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution that under Imperialism even these basic democratic demands cannot be realised other than by workers struggle, a struggle that must transcend a fight simply for bourgeois democracy. Some weeks ago I made precisely these points in relation to Kosovo with an AWL comrade, whose response I thought said it all. They responded the workers of Kosovo could not trust the Serb workers. That is precisely the kind of bourgeois nationalism you end up with going down that approach, and that is precisely the approach the AWL adopts whether it is in relation to Kosovo, or in relation to Tibet. For a Marxist the most important thing should always be not the demand that you raise, but the method of struggle you propose for its achievement. What is missing time and again from the AWL’s approach is any concept that the method of struggle that has to be adopted begins and ends with the building of workers unity, and a struggle based on the independent action of the working class. That is true in Kosovo and Tibet, and as even the AWL Minority comrades have demonstrated it is equally true in Iraq, where the majority have contracted out the task of fighting for these democratic demands to the imperialist Occupation.

But, this is precisely the methodology of the petit-bourgeois socialist. It proceeds not from the basis of a class analysis, and the development of a Programme of political demands that the workers must fight for, but from a wholly subjective analysis, and a pragmatic response to the situation geared to achieve some set of goals - which on this basis must be limited to bourgeois democratic goals – according to what “common sense” dictates. That was the methodology that Burnham and Shachtman developed as an alternative to dialectics, it is the method that Glotzer applied in deciding that the working class could not resolve the Jewish Question and so bugger workers unity, let’s throw in our lot with the Zionists instead. Its what leads to siding with the military action of one bourgeois state against another. Its what leads to the conclusion that workers of country A can’t trust the workers of country B.

It is a methodology which is based on subjectivity and superficiality. Absent any kind of grounding in class analysis or a class programme it inevitably becomes little more than a moral crusade deciding this case is good and deserving of support, and this isn’t. The last time I looked for instance the AWL had not almost a week after the event come out with a position in respect of the murderous attacks by Georgia against the South Ossetians. That is not surprising. The AWL no doubt find themselves in a bit of a fix over this. In Kosovo their bourgeois nationalism led them to simply advocate the bourgeois democratic demand of self-determination for Kosovo. It was linked to no suggestion of building workers unity, or the idea that such a struggle for basic democratic rights by Serb and Kosovan workers could also have been taken up across Serbia, and so on. How could they, they didn’t believe that Kosovan workers could trust Serb workers, any more than following Glotzer Jewish workers can trust Palestinian or Arab workers. So when the murderous Serbian tanks rolled in to smash the KLA which had been fighting a thoroughly reactionary campaign for that demand to be fulfilled by murdering and raping Serb Kosovans, burning Serb villages etc., the AWL could still only see the moral imperative of self-determination for those Albanian Kosovans, and were quite happy to see – though of course they would not follow their convictions and call for – US imperialism come in and bomb the hell, Cruise Missiles and all, out of Belgrade.

But, now as Saakashvilli takes the place of Milosevic launching a massive barrage on South Ossetia that killed thousands, and has driven something like 100,000 more to seek refuse in Russia in what appears to be a clear attempt at ethnic cleansing, which destroyed the Capital City of Ossetia, we hear nothing from them officially as to whether they support the actions of the Russians, who now stand in the place the US previously stood in regard of Serbia, in bringing that murderous attack to an end. What we have seen is Jim Denham on Shirz socialist defend the murderous actions of Saakashvilli with the rather disgusting argument – “I don’t think he’s the same as Milosevic”. Were some “idiot anti-imperialist” to come out with such an outrageous statement the AWL would have it plastered over their website, quite rightly condemning their reactionary politics. We will see where their offical position comes out, but my guess is that despite the fact that the Russians action against Georgia pales compares to the US attack on Serbia, the AWL will concentrate its firepower on the Russian response.

The fact is that Marxists could not support either the Serbian incursion in Kosova, nor the US response to it. Nor could they support the Georgian incursion into Ossetia, or the Russian response to that. For real Marxists the solution to both lay, and lies in a workers solution, fought for and brought about by the joint and collective action of the workers of the countries concerned. The AWL cannot advocate that because they have abandoned independent working class politics in such situations, because they have lost faith in the working class being able to achieve a solution. Consequently, they have to look to some other agency to achieve their moral goals, and that agency is imperialism. It is not surprising they ended in that position because it is the position that all the adherents of the Third Camp have ended up in, except for the SWP who went one further and found it in the camp of a rag tag of reactionary “Anti-imperialist” states and forces around the world. In both cases it amounts to and result from an abandonment of class politics.

But, that is precisely the position also that Stalinism adopted in respect of the National Question. In China, the Stalinists said the task is the bourgeois democratic revolution, support the bourgeoisie in that quest. They subordinated their politics to those of the Kuomintang, just as Glotzer subordinated his to the Zionists, and as Sean proposes subordinating the AWL’s to Israel’s ruling class, and just as they have subordinated their politics to imperialism’s “fight” against clerical-fascism in Iraq. The Stalinists did the same thing in Spain. In both China and Spain the consequence of this Popular Front politics was that the bourgeoisie murdered the workers movements. In Spain they threw off their democratic façade and threw in their lot with the very fascists they were supposed to be fighting alongside the workers. The same is true of course in Iraq. The imperialists who the AWL claim are providing the workers with a breathing space in fact attack the Trade Unions and their offices, whilst they train and arm the very clerical-fascist militias they are supposed to be fighting! In reality the fighting is nothing more than the extension of politics by other means as imperialism manoeuvres to try to gain tactical advantage putting in place where possible forces it thinks it can better manipulate. The classic example is the open class war that the US and the Government forces have waged against Sadr’s Jacobins, a force which in the absence of a powerful Labour movement poses the greatest risk to bourgeois and imperialist interests in Iraq.

Democratic Imperialism v Fascism

The clear indication of that was given both in the article by Sean Matgamna and in the discussion that surrounded it. However, the AWL might try to squirm – and the articles by Dave Broder, Dan Randall, and Janine Booth criticising Sean’s article are to be applauded – the fact is that the article was arguing against condemning Israel for any attack on Iran. That was particularly clear from some of the follow up comments by AWL comrades who phrased it more bluntly. But, more specifically in relation to comments made by Mark Osborn about the real difference being between a “democratic” Israel, and a “fascist” Iran. He went on to state that Trotsky had made this distinction quite clearly in relation to the democratic imperialists and the Nazi imperialists. But, this is a complete travesty of what Trotsky argued, which was the diametric opposite.

His post was quite rightly opposed by Llin Davies who quoted Trotsky’s retort to the Palestinian Trotskyists who argued such a position. But, then Sean replied quoting Trotsky from the same article as justification. In fact, his methodology here was indeed very reminiscent of the methodology of the Stalinists. In quoting Trotsky, he conveniently left out the last sentence of the quote, a sentence which when added in completely reverses the meaning that Sean was wanting to attribute to it!!!!! As I have pointed out before this is not an exception. Sean often quotes a statement from Trotsky in “In Defence of Marxism” where Trotsky responds to criticism that he had even raised for consideration the question of whether the USSR could be Bureaucratic Collectivist. Sean uses this to convey the message, “See even Trotsky was moving in that direction.” But, of course as I’ve demonstrated before this is the grossest of distortions. Trotsky raised the question to demolish it. He goes on in the quote, again of course missed out by Sean to see that if it was true, it would mean that the socialist project had ended for humanity as being just a utopian dream.

Llin Davies responds to Sean’s quote chopping with a barrage of quotes from Trotsky to demonstrate exactly where he stood. As she points out, it certainly is not where the AWL claim he stood. On the contrary as one of the quotes she gives says, those that promote such ideas within the Labour Movement are its greatest enemies, who the workers must be taught to hate, they must be driven from its midst. I wouldn’t disagree with much of what she writes other than where she writes that imperialism handed over millions of East Europeans to Stalinism. In fact, of course, Stalinism had already overrun those countries.

But, her argument here is absolutely correct. Just like Sean’s position on Israel the Stalinists prior to the Stalin-Hitler pact called on workers to subordinate their struggles against their own “democratic” imperialism in order the better to build a “democratic” alliance against fascism. That is precisely Sean’s position in respect of Israel. It is also the position the AWL adopt in respect of Iraq, don’t fight imperialism because its fighting the clerical-fascists. It is nothing less than an undeclared Popular Front. And it is only undeclared for the simple reason that the AWL are and organisation of a couple of dozen, whereas the Stalinists were a party of tens of thousands.

Trotsky says that what characterised Stalinism was that whilst it was based on the working class, it feared the mobilisation and independent action of that class. Like the Trade Union bureaucracy, or indeed any other bureaucracy, it not only comes to believe that it knows best, but also in order to justify its position, and maintain its position with all the attendant benefits, it has to act to control the base from which its position is derived. It is not that Stalinism is opposed to the idea of “socialism” in other countries, but that such socialism should be brought about under its jurisdiction, its control, and therefore by its typically bureaucratic means. Moreover, any such development can only take place where it does not threaten its own immediate interests, and if that means interests that require it to make an alliance with imperialism or with fascism so be it. And within that context the other Communist Parties around he world become mere instruments in implementing this foreign policy. The goal of world revolution has to be subordinated to the partial goal of defending socialism in the USSR.

But, again that is precisely the position the AWL adopts in relation to Iraq. It says to the huge working classes of the US and UK, do not oppose imperialism do not wage what every Marxist of the twentieth century has agreed is the most important fight for the working class to wage, because if you do so the tiny Iraqi working class might perish. In place of don’t fight imperialism because it threatens the massive gains of the Russian Revolution, we have don’t fight imperialism because it threatens a tiny working class in Iraq. Oddly, when that same imperialism threatens the much bigger and more important working class of Iran with the potential of invasion, the AWL are rather more sanguine, rather less keen to ensure its well-being. Why is that? Because in reality they have given up class politics in favour of a moralising petty-bourgeois politics, and more concerned as were the Stalinists to view events as being merely the movements of pieces on a chess board, and seeking to determine not what is in the best interests of the class, but what would be the most effective gambit for the players in white to adopt. It is an abandonment of class politics for a view of the world divided into two camps, the democratic and the fascistic or Bonapartist – hence their attitude to Chavez also for instance (though again unlike Trotsky they fail to distinguish between progressive and reactionary Bonapartist regimes).

The AWL says, we don't call for imperialism to invade Iraq, we don't call for Israel to attack Iran and so on. Nor do we support such actions. We just don't necessarily condemn them if they have a "good" effect. But, some of the quotes Llin Davis gives from TRotsky show precisely why such an approach has nothing to do with Marxism. They miseducate the class, they lead it to if not rely on then at least develop false hopes in bouregois demcoracy and "democatic" imperialism. Let's take another example. In a tide of rising fascist violence the State proposes to impose a ban on fascist gatherings. If you like this is the State launching a pre-emptive strike in the same way that israel might against Iran, or indeed that Iran or some other country might launch against a nuclear armed Israel. The AWL's approach is well we wouldn't call for it, but we can see the State has good reason for this action, and it will have a good effect if it keeps the fascists off the streets - inded in one reply to me on the question of Iraq a long time ago, Martin Thomas did in fact give the example of the police protecting socialists against fascists (and how often have you seen that happen!) so we shouldn't condemn it. But, of course socialists SHOULD condemn any such state bans by the bouregois state. We condemn them not just because we do not want to miseducate the workingc lass into beleiving that the State is neutra, that it can or will fight their battles for them, and so on, but also because we know that in fact such bans will always in fact be turned around to be used against the working class, and against socialists.

Petty-bourgeois Socialism and Stalinism

Stalinism is precisely a form of petty-bourgeois socialism. The bureaucracy is an archetypal petty-bourgeois formation with a corresponding world-view. Like the Trade Union bureaucracy it comes out of and is based on the working class, but its new lifestyle, and its social role – managing and mediating – rapidly gives it the nature of the petty-bourgeois. In that role it necessarily ends up adopting a pragmatic approach to resolving problems, and the more its position is entrenched the more its focus turns to protecting its own position, the more it necessarily becomes afraid of uncontrolled actions from below, from the base it is supposed to represent. But, surely the AWL cannot be described as being afraid of the working class, it has nothing to be afraid of it has no social position to lose. That is absolutely true. But, that fear has been replaced by another factor. Not fear of the independent action of the class, but a loss of faith that the working class is capable of such action.

The Stalinists said to themselves, “This is the goal we wish to achieve, and this is how we will achieve it under our control.” An alliance with “democratic” imperialism here, a pact with fascism there, all the time the independent action of the workers constrained. And that is the method of the AWL. It says, “This is the goal we wish to achieve. We have no faith the workers can do it, so who can bring it about?” So an alliance with Zionism here, with “democratic imperialism” there.

And this explains the trajectory of the AWL, it is why increasingly as its political positions are exposed it can only respond to them in the same way that the Stalinists did via, bureaucratic manoeuvre, by rudeness and vilification, and by quotation chopping to try to prove that their arguments have some lineage, just as Stalin tried to prove the lineage of “Socialism in One Country” back to Lenin, by such means so the AWL try to prove the lineage of its ideas by quotes taken out of context, mangled and distorted from Trotsky.

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