The ‘Coalition of Chaos’: A view from Wales by Sa Kollantai

As worker commuters waited this morning at the station for their trains to work-joy, the Metro headline ‘Coalition of Chaos’, following last Thursday’s General Election, seemed to be on everyone’s mind. If Theresa May hadn’t actually won outright, why were the Tories still clinging to power? Many would argue in response that the first-past-the-post system doesn’t fairly reflect the actual votes of the electorate. Moreover the overwhelming media bias against Jeremy Corbyn and the boundary changes designed to favour the Tories expose the lie of liberal ‘democracy’ and, of course, the treachery of a Labour right-controlled Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). Against all these odds then, Corbyn, without actually winning, has been vindicated and strengthened, sending his many party opponents into a calculating, sycophantic race to now try and capture positions in a possible government-in-waiting, with The Guardian naming ‘big hitters’ such as Ed Miliband and Lisa Nandy as possible appointments.

The Labour careerists, not least the Welsh ones, are in shock that ‘pro-worker’ policies such as free education and the scrapping of tuition fees are popular, something those of us on the socialist left have been campaigning for since Tony Blair’s Labour Party actually introduced the fees in 1997, a blatantly anti-working class policy supported by endless, self-serving Labourites in the NUS, the PLP and too many of the unions. Welsh Labour has consistently refused to use its limited powers to try and stop job losses and cuts and doesn’t support ‘devo max’ for Wales or fight for control over the Welsh budget, with Wales historically underfunded by the Barnett formula. Wales has never voted for the Tories yet we keep getting stuck with their governments ruling us. Welsh Labour politicians remain part of the problem, not the solution.

Meanwhile May is delaying the Queen’s Speech as she tries to scramble a deal with the horrifying DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), a sectarian, sexist, homophobic, austerity-loving and utterly reactionary party with links to loyalist terror groups – a deal which could threaten the Northern Ireland Peace Process. A deal breaker for the DUP is abortion, which is still illegal in Northern Ireland – May is planning to legislate to reduce the time limits on abortion to win their support. A demo in London is already planned to protest this disturbing partnership and the threat it represents to women’s reproductive rights (Women’s March on Downing Street against the DUP, Central London, June 24). Never has extra- parliamentary activity been more essential and it’s been frankly over-due a long time now.

Corbyn plans to challenge her right to rule and put forward the case for an alternative government, hoping for another General Election in an attempt to win a decisive mandate for Labour. The DUP are especially dangerous and threaten working class unity and an escalation of ruling class Unionist reaction in Northern Ireland and also Scotland.

Following the result with Corbyn calling for the discredited May to resign, Caroline Lucas of the Greens is indicating that her party would be willing to partner with Labour and the other ‘anti-austerity’ parties (I put speech marks around this as all the proposed parties in this possible but highly unlikely alliance have actually implemented austerity whilst in power be it the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and yes, the Greens themselves in Brighton). Despite my scepticism about any of these parties so-called anti-austerity record (please remember that Corbyn has previously ordered Labour councils to pass cuts in order for council budgets to be ‘legal’), the entire labour movement needs to mobilise now to demand May resigns, oppose any Tory / DUP coalition and insist on an end to austerity now. But what we also need is a clear anti-capitalist vision and an end to parliamentary illusions in the first place.

This task cannot be left to Labour alone, nothing changes without the mass independent action of the working class. The entire movement needs to mobilise with protests, marches, strikes, mass meetings and rank and file union organisation of both unionised and non-unionised workplaces. Whilst many Labour activists have been celebrating this weekend, the reality is that people are still sleeping on the streets this morning and many of us are in workplaces facing closures, cuts and job losses with trade unions (where we have them) generally missing in action.

Even if Labour were able to form a minority government with the support of other parties (an outcome certainly preferable to the Tories and their sectarian friends being in charge), the real risks of compromise and betrayal of workers lies ahead – and it’s far from certain that’s on the cards. But even if it did happen, first of all, it still wouldn’t be enough seats. Secondly, Corbyn would have to make compromises with the right in the Scottish Nationalist Party, the discredited Liberal Democrats (remember that ConDem coalition), Plaid Cymru who have also implemented austerity in power and the right-wing of his own party, including Machiavellian opportunists such as Stephen Kinnock.

Labour’s programme, apparently progressive in the context of decades of neoliberalism, is not as radical as it seems. Aside from maintaining Trident, supporting NATO, promising to work with business and not supporting the free movement of labour, it is informed by Keynesian capitalist economics and already opportunist right wingers are pouncing on the chance to serve in the shadow cabinet whilst the hardest of the right continue their plotting. Corbyn is speaking about how the unity of the party must be maintained and there is the real danger he will continue to compromise even further with his new found ‘moderate’ allies who like power-hungry hyenas are sniffing and foaming at the mouth at the chance to rule again in the possible near-future.

Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell represent a revival of second internationalism (the ‘international’ which supported WW1 and for many, many decades has capitulated to capitalist economics and maintaining imperialism). The outpouring of working-class support for Labour in last week’s election is undoubtedly encouraging but people’s hopes stand to be dashed if May clings on with the utterly reactionary DUP, or if Corbyn and McDonnell pursue a new election without the mandatory re-selection of MPs. In reality, the Labour Party is two parties and the members need to assert democratic control – a task never previously achieved – or more likely, start to learn some lessons about the impossibility of this task. Parliament has never been a vehicle for socialism which is why the second internationalists degenerated into capitalist conformity in the first place, many, many decades ago. But still the current revival of it is welcome only in the sense that it indicates an increasing confidence of workers and especially young people to move into struggle again – however, the obstacles are huge.

For Corbyn, the ideal would be a fresh General Election with a clear and overwhelming mandate. However, as myself and others have consistently pointed out for the last two years, it is essential that Corbyn uses this opportunity to introduce mandatory re-selection of MPs if he wants any chance of decisively winning the internal civil war and ‘democratising’ the party. The two parties in one is untenable. But that doesn’t look likely given Corbyn’s misguided belief in the Labour ‘happy family’. Momentum is ostensibly triumphant but seems more interested in stopping so-called Trotskyist ‘infiltrators’ (or in more neutral language, new party members) than pursuing the re-selection of MPs. The Labour Party has never been democratic and this myth that it has ever been socialist needs to be challenged, not reinforced by self-described revolutionaries who uncritically champion Corbyn’s limited state capitalist programme and establishment approved Keynesian economics, not explaining that, however preferable it is to full-blooded austerity, it still represents a continuation of capitalism which is still in the grips of a long-term ‘great depression’. To quote a recent blog post of Marxist economist Michael Roberts, ‘UK election: British capital in disarray’:

“The UK economy is set to enter a period of stagnation at best. The OECD’s economists are already forecasting that the UK economy will slow down to just 1% next year as Brexit bites.  And there is every likelihood of a new global recession in the next year or two…

“…This minority Conservative government is going to find it difficult to survive for long.  There could well be a new general election before the year is out and that could well lead to a Labour government aiming to reverse the neo-liberal policies of the last 30 years.  But if the UK capitalist economy is in dire straits, a Labour government will face an immediate challenge to the implementation of its policies.”

Not only is another recession very likely, any reformist government will have to deal with hostile and unaccountable institutions such as the EU during Brexit negotiations, the World Bank and IMF, etc. Politicians hoping to make capitalism nicer would have to contend with the fact that the dictatorship of the international market will never passively accept any attempts to redistribute wealth to the masses. Capitalism exists to make profit, not pay workers fair wages (and all profit is created by the unpaid labour of the working class, the real generators of wealth).

The capitulation of the left-wing SYRIZA government in Greece is a stark warning, as are the many historical examples of the inevitable, and frequently bloody, resistance of the ruling class to any attempt to fundamentally threaten their profits and power. It’s worth remembering the tragic events of Chile in 1973, where the more radical Salvador Allende was overthrown in a CIA-supported fascist coup. Augusto Pinochet murdered not only the democratically elected Allende, he and his armed thugs of the state executed thousands of socialists, anarchists and trade unionists to crush the mass movement behind Allende. Certainly the ruling class are not averse to threatening flights of capital, denial of loans, economic blockades and yes, even military coups. Our struggle has to be international and with no illusions in the capitalist state.

Whilst there are encouraging developments with the recent election result in terms of giving the Tories a well-deserved bloody nose and a crisis in the establishment, it’s important to be sober and make an honest and unflinching assessment of the huge obstacles our side is up against. We suffer from shockingly low levels of workers’ struggle, with union membership at an all-time low. No one on the left has anything better to offer us than Labour, a party which has consistently betrayed workers and the oppressed over the last century or so. There is presently no coherent anti-capitalist vision, or strategy beyond A to B marches, and yet there is dangerously misguided co-operation with the police to keep protests neutered. On the police, the left needs to stop sowing illusions in their so-called neutrality – look at the role of the police and military in the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, Hillsborough in 1989 and so on. According to Friedrich Engels, in the last analysis the state represents the armed bodies of men who protect private property and, as Angela Davis and so many black activists have pointed out, maintain a profit system based on racism and oppression of all kinds. We need genuine socialist internationalism, updated for the 21st century, if we are ever to succeed in our tasks. Whether this happens remains to be seen. But the politics of tinkering with the system and appealing to the capitalists to be a bit nicer to workers is naïve at best, at worst deluded and dangerous. But still we must struggle…

Author: Sa Kollantai is an education worker, trade unionist and left communist writer from Wales

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On Manchester

At this point you’ll know what happened in Manchester. Another retelling of the events won’t make any sense of them. Sending solidarity can feel like an empty gesture in the face of the horror that unfolded. What compounds this tragedy is not it’s unique evil, but how routine it felt.  Those of us who turn on the news could see it coming and could see that it’s yet another chapter in a seemingly intractable cycle of violence. The reality is that this will be repeated and that children are now targets in war.

While there is nothing to say that will reduce the shock and horror that will dominate the minds of those who lost loved ones. There are things that need to be said, as with other attacks, what happened on Monday will be turned from human tragedy to political capital. The events of September 11 2001 were used to justify the chaos and plunder of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations. The repeated attacks in France over the last 2 years saw the Far-Right Front National gain its largest ever share of the vote in national elections.

There will be a clamour to blame whole groups of people for the actions of a minority. There will be calls to increase the “war on terror” in Africa and the Middle East, and there will be a systematic attempt to reduce our civil liberties, which has begun with troops being deployed on the streets. We must say loudly that these tactics have been tried and failed. They have led to damaged and alienated young people turning to reactionary cults like ISIS. They have created from the ashes and ruins of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia, countless organisations whose currency is death and sectarianism. ISIS do not seek to liberate or defend Muslims but seek to engulf them in war and slaughter. The military campaigns against them are not there to protect us and our families rather the balance sheets of capitalism.

Amongst all the despair there were cracks of light amongst the darkness on monday. Whether it was taxi drivers of every religion and race turning off their meters to ferry people away from danger. Or the hundreds of people who ran towards the carnage to provide first aid and morale support the injured and dying. Those who have tried to sow division, like a small EDL demonstration have been shouted down.

Monday didn’t prove that society is broken and unfixable. It proved the opposite, that people want to end suffering, and that one day we will have a world free of division and war. A world where what seems common place today will be seen as incomprehensible to those who read about it in history books.

Borders protect the rich: Workers should demand freedom of movment

Last year, the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union delivered a  victory to the Leave Camp. The result may have been clear but the effects are still uncertain; the relationship between the UK and the EU’s free trade zone, the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and the whole immigration policy of the British state are open questions. These are discussed behind the closed doors of government offices in all member states and board rooms of international capitalism.

The EU vote is one symptom of a growing nationalism, world wide, which has seen the rapid growth of far-right. There is a increasing number of populist anti-immigration parties that seem to stand on the precipices of power: Austria’s Freedom Party only narrowly lost the presidential election last year, Marie La Pen and Gert Wilders are now among the most prominent faces of European politics. On top of this, ‘strong men’ presidents have come to power in India in the form of the Hindu Nationalist Narendra Modi; and last but not least, Donald Trump will ride into the white house at the end of January. In the UK alone, we have seen a nearly 50% rise in racist hate crimes in the aftermath of the vote last June.

While most of the established media and political elite saw this and other votes last year as bolts from the blue, the political, social and economic situation has really been driving these forces forward for years.

The politics of chauvinism and xenophobia had been whipped up by all main parties in the UK. Gordon Brown took up the British National Party’s slogan of “British Jobs for British Workers“, while David Cameron referred to refuges, often fleeing from his government’s bombs as a “swarm“. The establishments racism hasn’t just stopped at rhetoric, with tens of thousands of deportations every year since records began and the Home Office’s immigration enforcement vans becoming a regular site in some communities. The immigration detention centres are nightmare for those trapped inside, where suicides and hunger strikes are a regular occurrence.

Even those who the left have championed as radical have changed tone. Jeremy Corbyn who said in a speech earlier this week:

Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle… Labour supports fair rules and the reasonable management of migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU, while putting jobs and living standards first in the negotiations.

While couched in terms of protecting living standards, it is a climb down from his previous defence of immigration. He offers the rights of a section of workers as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Europe. His speech lays the basis for further betrayals and strengthens those inside and outside of the Labour Party who want to use the whip of the state against foreign workers.

This is the pattern of reformist parties coming to power. In Greece, Syriza promised to close the detention centres that imprisoned those refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean. Years latter, the government of Tsipras are expanding their detention program.

No defence against the undercutting of wages can be achieved by a capitalist government restricting immigration.  Any such measures would simply allow bosses to drive down the conditions of immigrants already working in the UK. Immigration controls are an attack on workers on both sides of the border.

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A refugee forced to survive without shelter in Belgrade

What drives anti-immigrant feeling and actions?

Real term wages have fallen by over 10.4%, the joint lowest in OECD countries since 2007. Casualisation of vast swaths of the economy has been in full force. With Social care, education and the service sector leading the way in short term contracts and sham self employment. We’ve seen a return of the ‘company store’, with delivery drivers renting the vans they drive and carers buying the uniforms they work in. Not only are workers forced to sell their labour power, but be forced to buy the tools of the job. A massive increase in self employment has meant bosses dodging inconvenient employment laws like the minimum wage and contracts of employment.

The worsening conditions of British workers has coincided with the collapse of the traditional trade union movement. Not only has this meant workers being next to powerless in defending their working conditions, and even the idea of struggling to improve conditions seems alien to many. Social solidarity, something formally inherent in many working class communities has been eroded. This is at a time of massive cuts in public spending which has left many without the safety net of benefits and welfare, or even the support of fellow workers and their community.

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Class struggle in decline

People have turned against immigrants in response to a working class crisis in confidence, while at the same time, traditional routes of struggle are being lost. The ossifying of the workers parties and unions, has meant rather than a struggle against capitalism, we struggle amongst ourselves.

Why do capitalists lean on racism?

As Marxists, the divisions in society are clear. We live in a system geared towards profit; workers sell their labour power to bosses to survive. Bosses thrive from exploitation: a commodity produced by an immigrant will be sold at the same price on the market. Race doesn’t appear on a balance sheet.

So why have capitalists states turned to racism? The capitalist class, including the politicians, Judges, Police etc., are numerically small. To increase the social basis of capitalism lines of demarcation must be used to cut across class lines. Racism, and other oppressive ideologies employed by the capitalist state are political expediency. While not directly increasing profits, these policies create social ‘peace’ and distract workers from the real divisions in society.

“Your boss isn’t the problem, the polish worker who’ll replace you if you complain is.” “Austerity ain’t the problem, the Somali family getting a home before you are.” “The problem isn’t capitalism, it is the foreigner.”

The nation state is a construction of capitalism, built to defend its ruling class. Any defence of border controls places you firmly on the ramparts of capital’s walls. And by dividing ourselves along lines of race and nationality we play the capitalist game.

United working class action is the only solution!

Super exploited immigrant workers make up a significant proportion of our class. In 2014 non-British born workers made nearly 50% of unskilled factory work and over a third of cleaning and housekeeping jobs.

They’ve also proved to be some of the most combative elements in the trade union movement. Cleaners at SOAS won the living wage despite the university and cleaning company using tactics that included UKBA raids at meetings with management. New unions like United Voices of the World Union and the Independent Workers of Great Britain have lead militant strikes in predominantly immigrant workplaces. Demanding restrictions on immigration only strengthens the bosses hand.

But how we go from a situation of record low industrial action and huge alienation and isolation amongst workers to a mass and militant workers movement is an open question. But the answer to that question is unequivocal on the questions of defending every member of our class, to see that all of our struggles are ultimately against the same enemy.

A revolutionary tradition of defending migrants

Those on the left who bemoan the “Neo-Liberal” demand of freedom of movement should pay attention to the history of the workers movements response to immigration. If immigrants are used to drive down wages as a weapon against other workers, then that weapon must be snatched out of there hands. During the 2nd International’s Stuttgart Congress of 1907 the congress adopted the following motion:

The congress does not seek a remedy to the potentially impending consequences for the workers from immigration and emigration in any economic or political exclusionary rules, because these are fruitless and reactionary by nature. This is particularly true of a restriction on the movement and the exclusion of foreign nationalities or races.

Instead, the congress declares it to be the duty of organised labour to resist the depression of its living standards that often occurs in the wake of the mass import of unorganised labour. In addition the congress declares it to be the duty of organised labour to prevent the import and export of strike-breakers. The congress recognises the difficulties which in many cases fall upon the proletariat in a country that is at a higher stage of capitalist development, as a result of the mass immigration of unorganised workers accustomed to lower living standards and from countries with a predominantly agrarian and agricultural culture, as well as the dangers that arise for it as a result of a specific form of immigration. However, congress does not believe that preventing particular nations or races from immigrating – something that is also reprehensible from the point of view of proletarian solidarity – is a suitable means of fighting these problems.”

Lenin fully supported the motion and saw it in a context of a battle between the social democratic right, who went on to support their own narrow national interests in WW1 while the left of the social democratic movement defended the principle of internationalism.

Eugene Debbs, a revolutionary member of the US Socialist party, made clear that no compromise could be made for short term gains.

Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority.”

There can be no question that being a revolutionary socialist means defending the rights of workers crossing borders to better their existence. The same way that there would be no question of defending and supporting strike action. But the struggle cannot be limited to defending and extending rights under capitalism.

Freedoms under capitalism are not free; most migrants will flee poverty, war and repression. The only true freedoms can come from the abolition of class, the dissolution of borders and the establishment of a society free of want and deprivation; a Communist society.

Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

EU or GB? A plague on both your houses!

 

I will be abstaining in the EU referendum taking place this month. A vote for EU Austerity and Capital versus Great British Austerity and Capital is not a choice I want any part of. The entire basis of the referendum is based around a factional struggle between capitalists grounded in appeals to nationalist populism. Neither option will provide any kind of victory to the working class, in fact one way or the other, we’ll lose.

Most on the left seem completely split over the issue with various arguments called up in favour of leave, remain and abstain. All have some good arguments as well as bad.

Those arguing to leave highlight the reactionary nature of the EU as an institution, that it is in no  way shape or form a friend of workers (the fact that the TUC argues it is, is testament to their pathetic capitulations). It is responsible for deposing democratically elected governments in Greece and Italy, it enforces extreme degrees of austerity, it acts as an Imperialist mechanism to extract wealth from its own periphery as well as further afield into the pockets of bankers in the core countries. Its fortress nature and hostility to immigration and asylum seekers further afield is well documented. The EU also has the illegality of public ownership enshrined in law; it is a ‘neo-liberal’ free trading union, absolutely hostile to the working class. Nobody can deny that this is true.

Framed in this way, it would seem to suggest the right thing to do is to vote to leave. I don’t think that is in fact the case. A leave vote would be perfectly justified if there was a genuine militancy, a real workers movement in the ascent who could in fact take advantage of the political and economic crisis it would lead to – without such a movement it becomes a political bluff; knowing your own hand is weak, yet hoping your opponent doesn’t realise that. However terrible the EU is (and it is!) the alternate option is no better.

What would this alternative look like? Even if the EU demanded it or not, Austerity has been the main economic doctrine of all the main parties in this country. Whether inside or outside of the EU, no break from this is likely to take place. Certain rights of movement are provided, which the entire (right dominated) out campaign is based upon scrapping i.e. it could very well ruin thousands of peoples lives. Just here in Wales turning this into a principled question means some workers would be voting for their own redundancies. These are genuine concerns for many people. Glibly dismissing them as ‘project fear’ just denies the facts.

Further to this point, for these with utopian illusions in a Corbyn led “anti-austerity” government (whatever that is…), sweeping into power as the Tory party crumbles after an out vote: they need to heed the lessons of Syriza in Greece. On the basis of Capitalism and the current state of the global economy there is no possibility that sustained large scale welfare and jobs projects can be implemented. Politicians can make as many promises as they like, it is only the working class as a movement who have the real potential to change anything. Once a militant mass movement is under way, no law, whether EU or British could get in its way. Appeals to abolish the legal restrictions the EU imposes misses the point entirely and to a certain extent goes to show the limited ambitions of the Left arguing these things i.e. what kind of rubbish knock off Socialism is compatible with legal restrictions of the UK constitutional monarchy?!

The EU is a reactionary capitalist institution, but outside of it we’re still in a reactionary capitalist institution – the UK. I oppose both. There is no benefit to working class people in terms of their living standards, development of their political strength or further development of productive forces by leaving on a Capitalist basis. In fact I suspect the opposite, that living conditions will get much worse. I don’t believe our class has the strength to take advantage of the political crisis an out vote will likely lead to. If we had real strength I’d favour provoking such a crisis.

In spite of the revival of social democracy and the doctors strike, I see a workers movement on life support which will take decades to rebuild whereas many seem to see a workers movement in real ascendancy with potential seismic shifts in militancy and consciousness potentially around the corner of each new political-crisis.

What does it say about how theoretically inept and strategically delusional the Left is that they’re goading us into a situation where everything by every measure could get much worse for working class people – not only will it lead to job losses, deportations and more austerity here, it could lead to the break up of the EU on far right nationalist terms.

‘Trotskyist’ dogmatists constantly see militant mass movements arising from every new political crisis, which will then set the ground for socialist revolution. After 70 odd years in the wilderness, with little to no success, no mass bases, no rising tide of militancy you’d think they would actually start taking that materialist analysis of the balance of class forces seriously. Yet these concerns are just flippantly disregarded as “middle class squeamishness” and quickly replace by some fantasy that “there should be a general strike”. Well of course there should be a general strike, but are our forces going into battle strong, well rested and with better numbers or are we wandering into the abattoir blindfolded!

Most people I’ve spoken to about the referendum, who aren’t socialists and are considering a leave vote, don’t usually say anything about Austerity or EU Public ownership law. What they do say is something along the lines of ‘the Turks are coming’. Which isn’t exactly grounds for faith in some immediate post-election proletarian mass movement. In fact, I suspect that fears that a leave vote will exacerbate nationalist currents are perfectly well grounded.

I have concentrated on the leave campaign as most of the remain camp is split over two positions one is either that the EU is a friend of workers or it could be if reformed it; this is so obviously false that I will not waste my time arguing against it. The other position amounts to many of the arguments I have made above regarding the balance of class forces and the rise of nationalism except rather than abstaining they, in disgust, will vote to remain. I cannot bring myself to play their game, to put my name to the status quo; I will abstain. People should vote how they please but they should do it with the sure knowledge that this referendum is about a factional struggle by the ruling class and that either way we lose.

As Communists we should counterpose the nationalistic character of this referendum with the idea of working towards organising and coordinating a European wide militant workers movement. Our slogan should be for a European general strike to bring Capitalism down. The workers struggles taking place in France at the moment is an inspiration to us all and must be generalised across the continent towards the goal of overthrowing those who would impose Capitalist austerity upon us, whilst introducing international socialism back on the agenda.  This is the real proletarian alternative to such a base and venal referendum.

Allan

Michael Crick, Peter Taaffe and me Part 2

Part 2

It has taken me a long time to be in the right headspace to write publicly again about my experiences of the Socialist Party but, having been able to heal thanks to time and distance, I now feel compelled to write given the new political situation following the election of Corbyn last summer, as well as the impending EU referendum in a toxic climate of growing racism, poverty and mass suffering directly resulting from the ongoing capitalist economic crisis.

In part 1, I promised to address the following points:

  1. Why I left the Socialist Party in 2013 (you can also read my resignation letter – still with the original typos – elsewhere on my blog: https://wordpress.com/post/sakollantai.wordpress.com/322). I want to write about this experience in the light of the knowledge I have gained as a socialist feminist activist since then.
  2. Why Michael Crick is right about the cultic and atheistic religious  practices of the party, drawing on both my own and many other ex members’ experiences, and, more importantly, why these organisational features are directly detrimental to the task of building a real mass working-class revolutionary organisation.
  3. What mass socialist party / organisation I advocate instead and how I imagine such an organisation might work with present Socialist Party members.

 

I am very concerned about the situation facing our class today and I think the left is singularly failing to develop a serious, well thought out strategy on how we can take on the system with the class behind us and with us, without relying on our own narrow networks of activists as if this can substitute itself for a real mass movement. The left is short termist in the extreme and incredibly shallow in its enthusiasm for populist soft left characters, who usually get there because they have the loudest mouths. Politics is a dirty business.Whilst it is true that a big part of Corbyn’s appeal is that he comes across as humble and sincere, Corbyn is relying on these sharks.

It’s  important to remember the lessons of Syriza in Greece, a left-wing government that tries to work within the capitalist paradigm without building on a mass working class movements to take on the bosses and the capitalist class in its entirety. In government, they have proved themselves impotent whilst the Greek working class is starved and punished by the bosses’ institutions in the E.U. and elsewhere. It’s important to recognise that neither right-wing nationalists nor the E.U are the friends of working class people. Both sides loathe the masses and have nothing but contempt for us. This is why I don’t want to vote for either side in the upcoming EU referendum. I reject both but funnily enough, European socialism and unity against the bosses (no matter their flag) is not on offer on the ballot. Like millions of others in Britain, I am totally disenfranchised by the capitalist system.

Nor do I share Peter Taaffe and the SP’s optimism about what a ‘leave’ result on June 23rd would entail. They see it as a chance to bring down Cameron and imagine that it will led to some kind of mass movement to overthrow the government – a profound misreading of the situation in Britain today in my view. The labour movement is weak and class struggle here is possibly the lowest it’s ever been whilst the far and populist racist right are in the ascendancy, as a result of the historic failure of the left to offer a credible alternative to the right in the first place. Whilst it is true that some genuine and very long standing socialists and trade unionists support Corbyn in South Wales and certainly not all of them are careerists and are instead principled working class fighters in South Wales, the right in Labour remain in charge in Wales and are determined to implement the Tories cuts and accept the logic of the market and maintain the status quo and their inflated, removed  lifestyles of MPs, AMs, councillors and union officials alike whilst ruling out strike action and defiance of the anti-union laws.

Whilst there are strikes taking place in Britain, the overall level of struggle is very low.  Life is just getting worse for most of us, clinging desperately to day to day survival as we are. I don’t think the working class here has the class consciousness and confidence RIGHT NOW to unite in mass struggle against capitalism and reject the evil of racism against immigrants. British nationalism is dividing the working class here extremely effectively. This is the danger we are in and it’s vital that we are able to make a realistic assessment of where we are if we as a movement are ever able to develop an effective strategy to build a mass movement against capitalism on an international basis.

Although working class people are correct in rejecting the European Union as an elitist, bureaucratic club of the European bosses (dominated by Germany and France), it is equally mistaken to fall for the divide and rule tactics of the racist UKIP and the Brexit Tories led by Boris Johnston. We need working-class unity against both sections of the capitalist club fighting it out for power in this referendum of no choice. The so-called democratic parliamentary system which gives us this referendum is based on lies on all sides and ensures that working class people will always remain powerless and exploited whilst the rich stay in charge, whatever the results. Plus people outside of England (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) might as well sit the thing out for all the impact their votes will have.

In the first part of this article, I promised to elaborate on why I left the party when it would appear – despite the differences I have outlined so far – that we  are roughly on the same side. If I were a member of the Socialist Party now, I would be unable to express any differences of opinion that I have with the leadership regarding their analysis of current events, their programmatic demands and campaigns on say the European Union, for instance. The leadership argue that debate must be internal but when a decision agreed then everyone must publicly advocate that position publicly. Countless ex-Militant and Socialist Party members have fallen victim to this policy of ‘democratic centralism’not only in Britain but wherever their international organisation, the Committee for a Workers’ International, has or has had a presence.

For example, In the last 2 years, comrades have been forced out for daring to contradict the leadership’s analysis of the causes of the capitalist economic crisis and putting forward their own Marxian analysis; for this, they have been denounced for seeking factional rights in the organisation as is their right to do so according to the party constitution.  It is an absurd situation, and indicates the level of control and censorship the leadership maintains over its members in order to maintain their positions. What is valued most in the organisation is unquestioning and unthinking loyalty to the leadership around Taaffe at all costs.  Loyal members parrot the Executive Committee (E.C.) arguments and refuse to consider any of the evidence staring right in front of them that indicates that the E.C. MIGHT NOT BE 100 PERCENT RIGHT about something (say choosing to defend known domestic abusers in their organisation rather than supporting the survivors – in the sincere and honest opinions of a number of former members and independent activists from around the world) because they are ‘busy’ organising the ‘revolution’. Newer members of the organisation are duped and brainwashed, just as I was for the many years I stayed in the organisation.

Many of the older and more experienced members – often otherwise good socialist campaigners – are afraid of change and do not want to be forced out of their little socialist church where everything is safe and the leaders do the thinking for you. Unfortunately group delusion on this scale does not prepare you well for actual events, for life is not black and white and socialists are as weak, fallible and flawed as anyone else. Our movement has the right and the duty to admit mistakes; we must also do our best to make our organisations as inclusive of the most oppressed sections of the working class, not least women and people of colour as possible and open up to the working class – after all, this is Britain in 2016, not Russia in 1905!

I’m keenly aware that this is not just about my own particular story in Militant / Socialist Party history; there are many former members who lived and breathed this way of life and have their own stories to tell.  My direct experience is of an organisation in decline, well past the heyday of Militant. I was a small child in the early 80s, so everything I know about the organisation from that time comes second-hand. When I joined as a student at Swansea University in 2000 I was recruited by Alec Thraves, the local full timer, at the time the Welsh Secretary of the Party and to do this day a member of the International Executive Committee of the CWI (Alec is named as one of the leaders in the appendices of Crick’s book). Alec impressed me with his impassioned defence of Militant’s record and as a devoted member I immersed myself in the Militant folklore from the older comrades who had made the headlines back in the day. I also remember Alec denouncing Crick’s book as a right-wing hatchet job – I never bothered reading it as a member.

Then, when I left the party in despair and disgust in 2013 I made contact with a number of the former leaders, full timers and former rank-and-file members from the 1980s up to the present day from around the world (including Scotland, Germany, Sweden, the U.S., France and Ireland). These comrades – many still active as socialists in the movement to different degrees – helped me begin to re-educate myself by sharing their own experiences of the organisation. This allowing me to better understand how my own experience of sexism, bureaucratic centralism (always misrepresented by the SP as ‘democratic’ centralism) and political ostracism resulting from my dissidence was part of a much wider and deeply rooted long-term malaise in the organisation, a malaise that comes from treating Marxism as a religious doctrine, exerting cultic control over members’ lives and according the leadership high priest-like status.

Because I critique Peter Taaffe and his ruling clique for their unwillingness to admit their human fallibility, it is only fair to admit my own fallibility (which anyone who has ever known me can tell you about). Hopefully most people who know me though generally think well of me and that does seem to be the case. When I was challenging the leadership both internally and then later externally in early 2013, I made my own mistakes and no doubt I make mistakes now. Possibly my negative view of the strength of the working class to unite in mass struggle, as a result of the many mistakes of the left, including the Socialist Party, is too one-sided. I just know our people are suffering more than ever before and it’s always been shit under capitalism; but right now the left are just not up to the tasks and responsibilities facing us and are not learning any of the main lessons of working class history so far – socialism can not be achieved through parliament. Nor have we learnt the lessons of the repeated and unfortunately predictable betrayals of all the main so-called workers’ parties, including the Labour Party, the Communist Party and the two main Trotksyist organisations in Britain – both the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party and whilst it was still around, the Workers Revolutionary Party.

 

As a class, we are by no means in a position to take on the bosses’ class properly when the majority of the left in all its many guises to this day has massive illusions in capitalism and its main institutions including the U.K. parliamentary system, the legal system including the police and the courts and the European Union. Unfortunately, the Socialist Party is part of this process, despite their absurd claim to be ‘the’ revolutionary party. There is no open or public recognition that a major reason why we are in the shit today is because social democracy – the Labour Party and the trade unions – were made part of the capitalist state when they chose to support World War One and their ‘own’ capitalist class in that war over a hundred years ago, betraying workers’ internationalism in the struggle to unite to overthrow capitalism! The Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy have been consistent ever since in maintaining the rule of capitalism, as can be demonstrated by all the major historical events of the last century including, alongside the Communist Party, selling out the 1926 General Strike, a defeat our class here has never recovered from. We haven’t had a general strike in Britain ever since and that is the minimum which is required if we are ever to get off our knees again as a class and stop these Tory bastards, let alone have an opportunity to consider how we can fundamentally change society in our collective interests.

We live in communities crushed by the  Labour, trade union and CP led defeat of the miners in 84/5 and the children and the grandchildren and the great, great grandchildren of the fantastic working class fighters of both the 1980s generation, and all our foremothers and forefathers before it, are examples of mass-working class struggle that today’s generation and all those youngsters coming up behind us need to learn from ASAP if we are ever going to have a chance to survive and live halfway-decent lives again. Whilst it is great that soft left ideas are gaining mass support around Corbyn it is not because Labour will save the working class but because the class struggle is not over despite what the Blairite right would have us think. The Corbyn phenomenon is just an early, in fact babyish, phase of the movement trying to rebuild itself again under this ferocious attack from the ruling class. To have any chance of actual success, we need to rediscover our revolutionary history  and dig deeper than the official Labour movement narrative. We need to remember that these are the people who helped Crick try and smash working class socialist resistance to their system in Liverpool. For all the flaws of Militant / the Socialist Party, that doesn’t detract from the heroism of EVERY WORKING-CLASS PERSON in Liverpool who fought the Tory government’s funding cuts and built jobs, homes and services in that legendary city in the early 80s.

But now let’s get to the heart of why I had to finally leave the Socialist Party – sexism on the male-dominated left of which unfortunately the SP is but just one example. I’m going to be blunt for brevity. All three of the Trotskyist organisations have (or in the WRP’s case, had) major problems with women members in particular reporting experiences of sexism, abuse and cover-ups by powerful male leaders. So many voices – and there are many of us, although not all of us have gone public yet – can’t be discounted the way an individual can be. I will always stand with my sisters including Caroline Leneghan (please read her International Women’s Day statement from 2013 as well as my resignation letter from the SP) and many other female comrades I know personally who have shared their experiences of abuse from members of the Socialist Party with me but at this stage do not want to be named. Encouragingly, other women are starting to come forward (and long may this continue). Recently, the CWI has been rocked by domestic violence and rape cover up scandals, leading to very public splits in Sweden and in Australia (  get links).

I know that I promised to write about what working class revolutionary organisation I would like to see develop and how independent socialists, anarchists and working-class revolutionaries might / could / possibly work with present day Socialist Party members who are willing to engage in a dialogue about the health of their organisation, acknowledge that problems do indeed exist and recognise the contributions of the rest of us, not least their ever-growing list of ex-members. I will do so in part 3, where I will also return in more detail about the sexist culture of the Socialist Party and its various other unfortunate organisational characteristics, to put it far more politely than they deserve.

So, until Part 3 then,

Viva La Revolution

Sara M

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Crick, Peter Taaffe and me

March of Militant – a review of both Crick’s book AND Peter Taaffe’s latest review of it in The Socialist. Part 1

I rarely write about politics these days. I’ve become a semi-recluse – my disengagement and frustration with the left of Britain is the highest it’s ever been. I rarely comment publically, such is my cynicism and despair, yet when I came across a review of the re-issue of Michael Crick’s 1986 classic ‘The rise of Militant’ complete with a post-Corbyn as Labour leader update – I couldn’t resist finally reading it – and now I feel compelled to review both it and Peter Taaffe, the General Secretary of the Socialist Party (formerly Militant)’s response to it and offer my own analysis of the prospects of the left ‘reclaiming’ Labour from the right and the possible future of the socialist left and what role the SP might play in this.

I was a dedicated member of the SP for over 12 years (between 2000 – 2013) and always defended Militant’s record in the Labour Party, even though I’ve never joined the Labour Party and never will. I think one of the main lessons from the experience of Militant in the Labour Party is that despite the impressive achievements of Liverpool Council in defying the Tory government and securing housing etc. (details) the Labour Party as an institution can not be made into a genuine socialist party and that parliament is a hostile, ruling class institution which is fundamentally antagonistic to the interests of the working class.

Left wing politicians in parliament  get sucked into the privileged life of representative politics and whilst I respect the integrity of many Militant activists, within the organisation there is a reluctance to acknowledge, let alone address, the ego-driven and self interested personalities of leaders such as Derek Hatton and how the internal ‘democracy’ of the party prevents any accountability of the leadership to both members and the working class as a whole. Of course Crick uses the character of Hatton as a stick to beat Militant with, but it is unsatisfactory in my opinion for Peter Taaffe to refuse to acknowledge the problems and mistakes of both Hatton and the Militant leadership in his recent review of the 2016 edition of Crick’s book. Yes I admire how Militant and the Labour left around them fought so bravely for the working class but this unwillingness to admit fallibility, based on the personality cult of Peter Taaffe himself is unsettling and has pushed many marxist activists, including myself, away from the organisation.

So my perspective on Crick’s book is that of an ex-member who is still hard left  and what is more, critical of Trotskyism and  the democratic central model. My only current involvement in political organisation is the Cardiff based Marxist discussion group, which was set up by former SP members including myself (prior to this I was a member of Left Unity for approximately two years. I left LU because of their reformist illusions in both Syriza in Greece and then in Corbyn and Labour).

Therefore, although I reject co-operation with the Labour right and privately owned press to critique Militant / SP today, I share some of Crick’s critique of Militant – particularly, the hierarchical structure, the  self-perpetuating leadership resulting from the slate system of elections, the unhealthy aspects of mind control and the cultic practices  of this party and the sexism / white-male dominance of the party – all of which Crick observed in the 1980s and I can testify remains basically true of the organisation to this day.

BUT TO REPEAT – 

I do not share Crick’s basic political support of the Labour establishment. Indeed I’m even further left to the SP in denouncing both Labour and parliament, even with Corbyn now elected.  I refuse to co-operative with the right (e.g. the Progress faction) to attack Militant / SP and since leaving the SP in 2013 I have stuck to my decision to not go to the bourgeois press as a dissident. Instead I have taken my grievances with the SP to the labour, radical feminist and anarchist movement and sought to hold them to account this way – with limited success, I must concede, as the SP’s main self-defence tactic in these cases is to suppress, isolate and ultimately ignore former members and break off groups.

The Labour right’s strategy today and the lessons of Corbyn’s election as leader what does it signify? Is the class struggle over?

Inevitably, considering Crick’s social position as a senior journalist for various establishment media companies, the book has been reissued as an instruction manual for the Labour right to try and defeat the soft left around Corbyn. This is explicit from the front cover with an endorsement from Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and one of the most prominent right wingers in the shadow cabinet, who is quoted on the 2016 re-issue of ‘Militant on the March’ recommending Crick’s book as ‘an essential must-read for all Labour activists.’ Right wing Labour Party factions such as Progress and Labour First (hypocritically, also ‘parties within parties’ like Militant were previously) were part of the 1980s witch-hunt and they too have praised the new edition. The reason why the right are scrambling to Crick again is because they made a massive miscalculation about Corbyn in the summer and ever since Corbyn’s election they are now determined, of course, to get rid of him as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

This major mistake of the right – who believed their own propaganda that their working class and middle class members and supporters are not left-wing – gave Corbyn’s group an opportunity for leadership they themselves had never thought possible. Support for left wing ideas has grown in response to the actual conditions of capitalist exploitation presented to us in the misleading language of ‘austerity’, ‘balancing the budget deficit’ and ‘unavoidable cuts’. Inevitably, and almost DESPITE the conservatism and incompetence of the left, working class and to some extent the more impoverished sections of the lower middle-class, have been forced to protest the government’s policies because of our increasingly unbearable living conditions (growing but masked unemployment, privatisation of education, benefit cuts, wage stagnation, a growing housing crisis…) . Last summer, hundreds of thousands took part in the People’s Assembly’s and the Labour and trade union aristocracy approved A to B marches against austerity and cuts.  As usual, we marched from A to B and then back home again to go to work / stay at home on the dole as if nothing had ever happened the day before. A big march might make the headlines but all of the establishment know that they have nothing to really worry about so long as the left continues in cosy partnership with the parliamentary establishment (by not organising occupations, strikes and developing a clear anti-capitalist mass movement to go outside of the parliamentary paradigm).

Therefore the Potential exists for mass mobilisation of working class again – the problem is that there is no mass organisation of the working class committed to building organised opposition to cuts and the bosses and capitalism outright. For Labour to adopt this programme (limited as it is) would require the ejection of the right / some kind of split on pro-capitalist / pro – socialist lines. The reality is that Labour – despite the election of Corbyn – is still the ‘second eleven’ of the establishment. Labour councils are actively pursuing anti-working class policies throughout the country. Now we are told – by many of the left including The People’s Assembly – to go begging once again to the Labour politicians who sell us out again and again because they believe gaining power is about propping up the existing system and helping the bosses out whilst making families and young people homeless. Soft left phrases are empty when in the council you vote for the same as the Tories and Liberals. Furthermore Labour have been selling out strikes and independent working class action pretty much since they first came to power in coalition with the Tories back in the 1920s!

Despite this, some socialist groupings (including splits from the two main Trotskyist groups) are fervent Corbyn supporters and advocate re-entry into Labour to defend Corbyn and the left and as part of a mission to finally achieve the ‘reclamation’ of the Labour Party as a mass workers party with some kind of limited socialist programme, to be achieved through the ballot box. The SP and their main rival, the Socialist Workers Party, publicly but critically support Corbyn but are adopting a ‘wait and see’ sort of approach – aware perhaps that attempted re-entry into Labour is difficult because:

  • For the SP – to advocate re-entry now means abandoning the position held by them for over 20 years and which led to the split with the Grantites in the first place.
  • The Labour Party right –are not going to let Militant or any other ‘Trotskyist / communist / hard-left’ types re-enter. They are actively trying to learn from their mistakes with Militant in the 70s and 80s.
  • To maintain credibility on the hard-left. The SP are a declared revolutionary party so to retain outwardly Marxian credentials, they must distance themselves from the parliamentarism and outright reformism of Momentum.
  • The SP will never let go of their organisational and political model to appease either their right-wing or ‘soft’left critics in Labour. Taaffe / the SP  favour a federal type model -and interestingly, Taaffe, in his review of Crick’s book, also notes that the federal social democratic model is also supported by  Paul Mason(!):http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/22604k).

The Labour right are not giving up their party (and therefore their places in parliament) to mild lefts like Corbyn, without a fight. Yet Corbyn and his supporters are weak and conciliatory, attempting to ‘unite’ the party – a doomed strategy. Although Corbyn has recently defended his past of supporting Militant during the 80s witch hunt, his concessionary approach to the right so far indicates that he is unlikely to risk their wrath by encouraging the SP to re-join.

However, according to the rabidly right-wing Telegraph in just Feb this year, in a typically hysterical headline: ‘Labour civil war: Momentum’s ‘Militant-style’ blueprint for gaining influence for Jeremy Corbyn’ a leaked Momentum document includes plans for 20,000 members, eight paid time staff (all of which is perfectly within the factional traditions of the party – the Labour right only have problems with left factions, unsurprisingly) and (sic in particular) the proposal that “the National Committee may decide by resolution to admit into membership any person whom it believes has been unfairly excluded from membership of the Labour Party,” (as quoted by The Telegraph).

If Momentum were to be successful in achieving any of the above (which is unlikely given the undemocratic structures of the party and more to the point, the absolute conviction of  the Labour right and in reality many of its ‘soft’ left, that Labour must be a ‘responsible party of government’ which means in practice setting cuts budgets and maintaining the status quo), this could be the potential basis for current Socialist Party or indeed any other ‘hard lefts’ (including myself if I was so inclined – which I am not) to re-join. Indeed, a number of socialist lefts, including the Independent Socialist Network (previously a ‘faction’ of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) are committed to this entryist work in the Labour Party and talk up such ‘opportunities’.

The problem, however, is that despite the fears of the right wing media establishment and the Blairites, Momentum is weak and lacks the stomach and convictions to fight for their limited reformist programme. – in reality, their decision to stay with Labour during the Blair and Brown years reflects their devotion to parliament and willingness not to rock the boat enough to get kicked out of the party). As the SP itself has acknowledged in its newspaper, Corbyn and Momentum are not succeeding in stopping Labour implementing cuts and have no serious strategy to kick out the right (for example, http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/22197). Momentum public meetings have so far – predictably, I might add – have manoeuvred and blocked any SP intervention in meetings to determine policy, including adopting a no cuts policy at council-level.

End of Part 1

In Part 2 of this review / comment piece, I will address why I left the party  and how Crick is accurate about the cultic and atheistic religious type practices of Militant / the Socialist Party today and what mass socialist party / organisation I advocate instead and how I imagine such an organisation might work with present Socialist Party members today.

SARA .M.

In the Shadow of October

The Marxist Left, for the most part, still lives in the first quarter of the 20th century as though little has changed. In spite of the colossal changes that have taken place since then it struggles to situate itself in the 21st century. We often get accused of living in the past, of not moving on and asked “what’s with all the dead old white men?”. We cannot articulate our ideas without reference to past betrayals, historical disputes and attempting to provide clean cut narratives, drawing a red thread from historical struggles to struggles today. This is a problem. A problem which makes the initiation into Communist ideas inherently problematic and arduous to communicate with those who haven’t read the canonical works of Marxism (then there is the question of exactly who’s canon is the true one…).

We don’t claim to have solved this issue, however we think it worth explicitly articulating these problems for further discussion among those interested parties who do in fact want to see Communist ideas popularised. We are also aware that we are living in the shadow of these problems as much as any other group and also situate ourselves in similar ways. We’d like to avoid any sort of demand that unified action among ourselves and others be predicated upon complete agreement with any single historical narrative but a narrative is nevertheless what we are presenting here.

There are a number of events which roughly took place in the first 25 years of the 20th century which define us whether we like it or not. We are still very much living in their shadow: the formation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the outbreak of World War I, the October Revolution, the formation of the Communist International, the final defeat of the Commune State and the dream represented in the slogan “All Power to the Soviets” with the consolidation of the Stalin regime (though the roots for this defeat were set long in advance of Stalin’s rise).

The Social Democratic Party of Germany

The rise of the SPD and its subsequent collapse of its revolutionary potential, by voting for the war credits in August 1914, has left the Marxist-Left disorientated to this day. The Party prior to this event was considered the greatest organisational achievement of the Proletariat, achieving millions of votes, publishing hundreds of newspapers, organising mass strikes and protests with hundreds of thousands of members, while (on paper at least) upholding an explicitly revolutionary programme (1). It had led international conferences where the European Social Democratic Parties were all in agreement that in the event of the imperialist bloodshed of world war breaking out, they would, to paraphrase Lenin, turn the bourgeois imperialist war into a proletarian civil war; i.e. stage socialist revolutions to bring the war to an end.

As it transpired the social democrats sided with their own capitalist class (2). Initially, Lenin famously believed that the newspaper announcements that the SPD had supported the war were a forgery. Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek on the other hand were less surprised having broken with the SPD centre a number of years before the war. Karl Kautsky the leading Marxist at the time had refused to publish Luxemburg’s republican call for mass strikes to achieve universal suffrage; opposing her ‘strategy of overthrow’ to his ‘strategy of attrition’ (3). Ostensibly this was not a rejection of the seizure of power by Kautsky. He claimed to favour a final decisive rupture with the Capitalists once the time was right, on paper at least. With the start of the Imperialist slaughter his deeds would suggest otherwise. The SPD would later see Rosa Luxemburg murdered by fascists rather than seek Socialist revolution in Germany. They had absolutely and decisively gone over to the forces of counter-revolution.

Historical detail aside the dilemma stands: how do we build an organisation that will actually carry out its revolutionary programme? The response of the lefts at the time was to break with old Social Democracy and its reformism decisively; to found a new international communist organisation and fight for a revolutionary defeatist programme. That meant to take neither side in the Imperialist conflict but that of the international proletariat, i.e. they upheld the very resolutions voted upon by international social democracy before the outbreak of the war (4).

The Russian Revolution

This programme, though a very small minority trend at its inception (in fact a minority of a minority (5)), was the programme which won out and led directly to the Bolshevik seizure of power in the October Revolution of 1917. We refuse to degrade this magnificent world changing event with the epithet of it being a military coup. The Bolsheviks, having finally won a majority in the Soviets (the workers councils) unlike other groups, actually saw through their programme. The Working Class were in control; their democratic councils ruled over Russian society. For a short time Russia was perhaps the most democratic society that has existed, where the toilers called all the shots. This was the first time in world history the proletariat as a class ruled an entire national territory, where it looked likely the forces of international communism could in fact win.

Unfortunately as we all know it was not to be. In the words of Lenin “without a German revolution we are doomed” (6), and doomed they were (towards achieving this the Communist International was founded, see below). This isn’t the place for a full assessment of the defeat of the Russian Revolution but a few words are necessary. The priority for the Bolsheviks was to essentially hold the fort at whatever cost until the German Revolution succeeded. Whatever was deemed necessary to defend the fledgling Workers State was ruthlessly pursued. The Bolsheviks ended up adopting an anti-Marxist voluntarism to see this through, even prior to the banning of factions in 1921 (I believe this year marks the point of no return (7)) a whole series of democratic procedures had been abandoned and the Bolshevik central committee was essentially in control of the country.

Workers strikes were suppressed, peasant uprisings drowned in blood, Anarchists and Communist opposition were rounded up, elected management was abolished, Taylorist work methods introduced, etc. This was done all in the name of instituting labour discipline conceived as a pragmatic (though anti-communist) response to alleviate mass starvation and restore absolutely impoverished Russian industry. Trotsky infamously called for the full scale militarisation of labour in pursuit of this, a policy Stalin later adopted.

With the end of the civil war and adoption of the ‘New Economic Policy’ (introduction of pro-market reforms) and the defeat of the German Revolution in 1921, there came relative economic and social stability to the Soviet state and a lull in the International revolutionary movement. This set the stage for Stalin’s infamous ‘Socialism in One Country’ thesis in 1924 (after the death of Lenin and completely unheard of at the time). There were no immediate prospects for invasion from without, with growth taking place domestically and international trade deals in place, national industrial development became paramount. This brings us to the Communist International and its simultaneous collapse into full scale counter-revolution following the events of the Russian Revolution.

The Communist International

The Third Communist International, or Comintern, was founded in 1919 with the express goal of coordinating the world revolution. It saw the formation and affiliation of Communist Parties all around the world. The founding congress represented a gathering of forces, the second its consolidation with a definite revolutionary programme and mandate established (famously demanding 21 strict conditions for affiliation along the lines of an intransigent pursuit of socialist revolutions). The third and fourth congresses reversed course in response to the lull in the workers movement with a policy of conciliation with the Social Democrats adopted; the conception of forming a ‘workers government’ with the murderers of Luxemburg and Liebknecht was called for. The fifth congress saw the consolidation of Stalin’s forces.

What was once the glorious Revolutionary high command of the world Proletariat became a tool in the service of the national interests of the Soviet State where national sections of the Comintern were subordinated absolutely to the defence of the Soviet Union at all costs (i.e. at the cost of Socialist revolution elsewhere). This was shown most clearly in the policy of the ‘Popular Front’ where Communists were told to join Capitalist governments ostensibly to prevent the rise of fascism, but primarily to try and secure alliances with the Imperialist powers. This transformation wasn’t a simple matter, as some would have it, of Stalin’s rise to power. We see the early start of this for example in Lenin congratulating the king of Afghanistan (8), Trotsky’s calls for caution in the pursuit of revolutions in the East (9) and Soviet diplomacy to Ataturk’s Turkey.

Amadeo Bordiga was the last of the Revolutionary lefts to directly confront Stalin about the fate of the Russian Revolution and destruction of the Revolutionary potential of the Comintern in 1926. He famously called for the Communist International’s independence and it’s rule over the Soviet Union, or anywhere else Revolution broke out, to counter the nationalist tendencies of subordination of world revolution to defending the Soviet fortress state (10).

The long shadow

The rise of the SPD and its betrayal; the October Revolution and its collapse; the Communist International and its collapse. These events and their subsequent degeneration into counter-revolution haunt the Revolutionary left to this day. How we mean to achieve Socialist Revolution, where all the roads travelled historically have failed, is the question.

Should we take on the task of building a rejuvenated Social Democracy, build a popular party of the entire class and follow a strategy of reformist attrition till the time is right for insurrection, at some undesignated future date (and hope they don’t join imperialist governments and murder us again)? Should we instead seek to build a military like Communist Party on the basis of those founded in the wake of the October Revolution (and hope they don’t join imperialist governments and murder us again)? What, if any, material basis is there to really expect the coalescence of such forces?

We can see today the revival of a form of Social Democracy, with the rise of parties like Syriza, Die Linke, Rifondazione, Podemos, etc. we even see Social Democrats in the Labour Party leadership and in the Democratic US presidential race. Is there any hope for them in pursuing Socialism (11)? Not at all if historical precedence is anything to go by. One of those parties, which many so called Marxist groups backed is currently pursing austerity measures in Greece.

Which brings us back to the shadow of October. What have we learned from those tumultuous first decades of the 20th century? Apparently very little! Though Social Democracy has been a “stinking corpse” since 4 August 1914 (12), many on the Revolutionary Left are spending their precious time providing Left cover for outright Imperialist Parties by backing Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. Small top-down hierarchical Parties, inspired by those from the early Comintern, are being put to work to reforge Social Democratic Parties. This is without question a mistake and counter productive towards achieving our final goal, a goal which cannot be pursued without maintaining our intransigent revolutionary independence and programme.

The disorientation entailed by the failures of the early 20th century still live with us, the Marxist Left is incredibly confused as to which course to follow. It keeps attempting to circumvent the void that has been left of the Worker’s movement since the 1970s by finding short cuts to the Socialist Revolution. It’s quite easy to get exited at Sanders and Corbyn’s campaigns, and it’s certainly correct to see this as a necessary part of some form of working class reawakening. But it is our role to provide clarity and revolutionary guidance, not to get lost in the euphoria (or huffing on their superglue). Expedients and tactical manoeuvres may increase our numbers but if our numbers rise on the basis of compromising Marxist ideas then how can we ever see through our goal?

We need to draw a line of demarcation between Revolutionary independence of the proletarian class struggle and conciliation with the class collaborators. We need to be an inviting open place for Workers to come and discuss; we need to learn to articulate our ideas without either losing people with our jargon (yes I know!), or pursuing people with soft misrepresentations of what our ideas really are. We need to abandon the top-down undemocratic party line group-think form of political organisation currently dominant on the left. We need to get our act together and emerge from the shadow.

allan

 

(1) The Erfurt Programme, 1891
https://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/1891/erfurt-program.htm

(2) See Lenin’s The Collapse of the Second International, 1915
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/csi/
and Rosa Luxemburg’s Junis Pamphlet, 1915 https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1915/junius/

(3) Karl Kautsky Selected Political Writings, ed Patrick Goode, Macmillian Press, 1983

(4)”In case war should break out anyway it is their duty to intervene in favor of its speedy termination and with all their powers to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to arouse the people and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.” Manifesto of the International Socialist Congress at Basel, 1912
https://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/1912/basel-manifesto.htm

(5) See the differences between the stand of the Zimerwald Left and the final manifesto adopted at Zimerwald in 1915
https://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/zimmerwald/

(6) Extraordinary Seventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.)
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/7thcong/01.htm

(7) 1921: Beginning of the Counter-revolution?
http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2001-08-01/1921-beginning-of-the-counter-revolution

(8) The National Liberation Movement in the East, Vladimir Lenin, Progress Publishers, 1952

(9) “All information on the situation in Khiva, in Persia, in Bukhara and in Afghanistan confirm the fact that a Soviet revolution in these countries is going to cause us major difficulties at the present time… Until the situation in the West is stabilized and until our industries and transport systems have improved, a Soviet expansion in the east could prove to be no less dangerous than a war in the West…a potential Soviet revolution in the east is today to our advantage principally as an important element in diplomatic relations with England. From this I conclude that: 1) in the east we should devote ourselves to political and educational work…and at the same time advise all possible caution in actions calculated to require our military support, or which might require it; 2) we have to continue by all possible channels at our disposal to arrive at an understanding with England about the east.”

BOOK REVIEW: John Eric Marot, The October Revolution in Prospect and Retrospect: Interventions in Russian and Soviet History (2012)

(10) The Communist Left in the Third International Bordiga at the 6th Enlarged Executive Meeting of the Communist International, 1926
https://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/works/1926/comintern.htm

(11) Good piece against Social Democratic entry work
Are there stages of consciousness? What do they mean for entryism as political strategy? by DGS_TaP and systemcrash

Are there stages of consciousness? What do they mean for entryism as political strategy?

(12) Rosa Luxemburg’s Junis Pamphlet, 1915 https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1915/junius/

“Why the CWI Russian section does not suit us”

Comrades in Russia have written a brilliant article about their decision to leave the Committee for a Workers International (CWI); re-linked here (as we can’t re-blog it for some reason!): Why the Russian CWI section doesn’t suit us.

(The Socialist Party (England and Wales), SP, the party which the members of this discussion group left, is also part of the CWI)

 

It is interesting to read the above article and learn what disagreements a significant section of the Russian party had towards the CWI as an organisation and specifically the leaders of the Russian section. Some of these are the same disagreements we had when we decided to leave the British section of the CWI.

The part entitled ‘Stereotyped Analysis’ sums up many of the socialist parties approach to protest movements and demonstrations. The point that these parties have no real analysis of any of these ‘mass movements’ and as a result will apply the same formula to each; that is try and win over the majority to socialism and try to lead the movement. [By ‘real analysis’ I include, at least, perspectives on historical analysis and situation, class and political composition of the movement.] Usually this leads to a few party contacts being made, but nothing more. The questions should be asked: How much effort should be spent intervening and what goals can we achieve from doing this? Is this useless activism?

The biggest and most recent example of this being the Scottish referendum in 2014, where the party membership was told that if we supported the ‘yes’ result, the working class of Scotland will see how good socialism is and support it on mass. More examples are given in the original article above and in a earlier article here.

Another issue that we also experienced in our party branch was the hostility to other views and ideas. We would run and advertise the ‘Marxists Discussion Group’ biweekly, where similar to now, we would discuss Marxist theory that wasn’t covered in weekly branch meetings. On several occasions we were criticised for reading articles that weren’t written by the CWI, regardless of quality, and for discussing/criticising theories about the Soviet Union that weren’t orthodox Trotsky. We can only assume that our leadership feared we might suddenly join the Spartacist League (a crazy ultra sectarian cult organisation) or the like!

Ultimately the Russian comrades focus on the lack of democracy in the organisation; to challenge and discuss new ideas and points of view. We certainly experienced this in the SP’s move towards Labour after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of said party. Apart from token discussion (one meeting was had for the South of Wales), the leadership of the SP had already decided our approach to the Labour party and we as members were obliged to follow what they thought best. We disagreed on this issue as being reformist in nature.

интернационал
CWI International Summer School

The article linked above is well worth a read, especially if you are involved in the CWI worldwide. There are a few points in it which we have not experienced in Britain. Our leaders were not hypocrites like the Russian leadership. However there will be a lot of points many people will have experienced as part of the organisation.

These few words are not meant to be just another point scoring exercise (something common among all socialist organisations). It is hoped that some of these prevalent grievances are recognised as real issues and not something to be swept under to carpet till ultimately comrades feel they can not continue as part of the the CWI.

What is ISIS?

ISIS have survived into 2016, they show little sign of the complete collapse that many anticipated. Despite reams of paper and hours of news real many have little idea of what the Islamic State is and how it operates. Beyond there own wildly publicised executions and terror acts there lies a complex and organised state able to acquire resources and land like no other rebel group in the Middle East. They have risen out of the ashes of civil war and decades of imperialist intervention.  Along with there affiliates they have taken control of territory in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. They recruit by exploiting anger at Islamphobia and and chauvinism of states like the UK, USA, and Russia, but at the same time whip up and encourage air-strikes and racism.

isis-palmyra
An IS flag flies over the Roman theatre in Palmyra, now used as a place of execution

They keep a grip on our collective consciousness by almost continuous violence and terror. The slaughter of Yazidies and Shia, bombing attacks across the Middle East, Turkey, and now France, the brutal treatment of captured women, and the execution of aid workers and journalists have shocked a world used to atrocities in the region. And yet they have stayed in power since 2013, collecting taxes exporting oil, and co-opting the remnants of the Iraqi state.

Saudi Ikhwan - Islam - Peter Crawford
A Wahhabist militia, known as Ikhwan, used by The House of Saud to conquer the Arabian Penisula

ISIS are a group bound to Wahhabism, that claims to be fighting a Holy War as a prologue to the end of the world. A holy army that uses the rementas of a secular Ba’athist army and state.

Are ISIS a death cult or a state? Will they be wiped out by a coalition western powers dropping bombs? How long will they last?

Have a watch of the illuminating documentary Bitter lake, by Adam Curtis:

And if that’s sparked your interest check out some of the texts from the reading list:

All Welcome:

Wednesday, 6th January, 6:30pm in the Owain Glyndwr.