With regard to the CPGB’s ‘Notes for Action’ email bulletin of May 1, you claim that “Russell Brand is clearly trying to find his political feet, with his new ‘Trew Era’ café run by recovering addicts, his support for housing protestors and so forth. But his political abstentionism and hatred for organised politics makes him just a little bit useless and his interview showed that he has no answers to capitalism’s further descent into crisis.”
How exactly does his help and support for recovering addicts and his active solidarity for women trying to hold onto their homes in the face of predatory capitalists, render him useless - or, as you more kindly express it, “just a little bit useless”? Or do you think he may be just a little bit useful after all? The tone suggests you do not, but I happen to think that those acts of support and solidarity are very useful and they are indeed so regarded by those very people to whom he has lent his support.
He has maintained also in his book and elsewhere that he doesn’t have all the answers and that solutions have to be collective. Since he is, as you say, in the process of finding his political feet, he’s hardly going to be a fully formed Marxist right from the off - or indeed a Marxist at all. There are, after all, other radical political traditions outside of Marxist-Leninist ones and very far from the dull and increasingly bankrupt parliamentary ones. As he has now misguidedly given his support to Miliband, perhaps he’s coming round to the notion that organised politics, and of the neoliberal variety at that, may be the way to go, which would make him in time “just a little bit useless” and that would be a great pity. However, a recent interview with the Huffington Post, of which this is a short extract, suggests that he’s not been blinded by the light of Labour, after all:
“My position will not have changed on May 8. I’ll be doing my best to amplify movements I believe in, from housing, to trade unions, football fan campaigns, social enterprises, digital activism, student occupations, organic agriculture, crypto-currencies: the same things I’m doing today, the things I’ve been learning about for the last 18 months, since I said I don’t vote on the telly.
“My recommendation that people vote Labour is an optimistic punt that the degeneration of Britain will be slowed down and the lives of the most vulnerable will be a little more bearable than they’d’ve been under the Tories.
“Nothing more ambitious than that.”
I don’t think that that’s the way to go, of course, but it will be interesting to see how far his political feet will take him in the future.
Mike Macnair writes: “At the very deep roots of capitalist society is the fact that this coordination is accomplished - imperfectly - through the money mechanism” (‘Thinking the alternative’, April 30).
Comrade Macnair implies that the comparative limitations of capitalism - the ‘imperfections’ of its mechanisms for social coordination - drive socialist consciousness. The opposed view - that of the entire Second International - is that capitalism will be overthrown internationally when it has broken down.
The masses will revolt when they must, when there is no other way, not when they have grown weary of the status quo. The aspiration to human emancipation will surely play a large role, but not the determining role. The reasons humanity will be unwilling to take the leap to a socialist future when capitalism still contains possibilities isn’t just a matter of psychology. The argument for communism is more difficult to win on an abstract plane than Mike seemingly imagines, because he considers the argument one-sidedly: he assumes that socialism won’t have its own coordination problems or that socialism’s coordination problems won’t be as severe as capitalism’s.
But this isn’t a truth we truly know. Replacing markets with democracy doesn’t automatically rid the process of social coordination of all ‘imperfection’. And if we really had reason to believe that the masses will go communist by recognising that socialist coordination is inherently superior to capitalist coordination, we would discuss the mechanisms of socialist coordination more, to prove that any limitations can be overcome, and we would produce data estimating the gains. How will it be possible (to take just one of many examples of possible socialist coordination failure) to execute an economic plan in a truly democratic system, when changing social priorities and the dominance of changing factions leaves no guarantee for the stability of policy on which planning depends? We can personally have had experiences that incline us to optimism about solutions, but such optimism isn’t a mass, international phenomenon. (The masses today are indeed weary, but they are not optimistic.)
The implications of the collapse view for propaganda (I leave aside for the moment the implications for strategy) are perhaps clearest in arguing the nature of the Soviet Union. Jack Conrad is worried that we must explain to the masses how Russia went wrong - to prove the same won’t happen here. But this is something unprovable beforehand. Stalinism wasn’t the predictable result of October, and the future socialist revolution will have consequences, some adverse, that prove unpredictable.
Still a subject
Bravo, Jack Conrad, for zeroing in on the subject-object relation, their interpenetration and alternation, as the key to the material dialectic (‘Humans, nature and dialectics’, May 7). In any relationship, as Lenin said, there is a ‘who’ and a ‘whom’ - or a ‘who’ and a ‘what’ - subject and object. They act on each other and change places, the subject becoming the object of the object and vice versa.
The species homo sapiens begins as an animal changed by its environment into an upright standing cousin of the ape, with hands differentiated from feet and the disappearance in the female of external evidence for fertility, anogenital swelling. The outcome is society, promiscuous or equal, according to point of view. In different environments, warm or cold, these game-seeking groups, through mental labour and dexterity, invent tools, the freezing of meat in pits and the kindling of fire. Through the surplus of energy created, the productive forces take off, creating hierarchical religion and class division. Nature becomes the object of the subject human, transforming pasture into desert and forests into agriculture. In time, the human subject becomes the object of a system - capitalism - which could destroy the very ecology of life itself. This nevertheless receives criticism and opposition from humans, proving themselves to be still a subject after all.
History, though neither smooth nor at a uniform rate, is change and development. We are not what we were.
Paul Demarty reminds us of the old adage: the louder the dogs bark, the less do they bite (Letters, May 7). He fails to convince me that the CPGB is not influenced by sectarian or non-political motives in backing their new friend, Kingsley Abrams, against the Labour Party candidate, now MP for Bermondsey, Neil Coyle. After all, the CPGB are card-carrying members of the Labour Party and not members of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Is this “vote-splitting” and “flagrant sabotage”?
Paul dismisses me as a “left nationalist” because Republican Socialists use the word “England” and not “Great Britain”, when the latter is now nostalgia for the past. Paul’s playground name-calling is like dismissing the CPGB as a “bunch of Stalinists”. It is all good knockabout stuff, but not serious political science.
Paul says the CPGB has not blacklisted me. Good news. Let us agree that the CPGB support the Acts of Union and Republican Socialists reject them completely. The Tories, the Labour Party, Tusc and Left Unity are all on the unionist side of this debate. Now we see that unionism is the rock on which your beloved Labour Party has floundered.
A statement from the CPGB saying you did not support Republican Socialists because we are “anti-unionists” would be a valuable political fact. The CPGB could then say you back Tusc and Left Unity candidates because they are unionist parties. I would not complain about that, even though it is your big mistake. British unionism is degenerating into a cesspit of anti-Scottish English chauvinism. If I cannot persuade you to stop barking up the wrong tree, perhaps reality may dawn soon.
Real class politics is about leaving sectarian name-calling behind and getting down to concrete policies. Beyond anti-unionism is republicanism. You write articles claiming to be republican, but then when it comes to elections you give in and back parties like Her Majesty’s Labour Party and Tusc. This is not serious working class republicanism.
Republican socialists used the election to call for Westminster to be closed down. Perhaps the CPGB want to keep it open for now and are avoiding the question? Next we raised the slogan of democratic revolution, which you don’t support. Presumably you are backing democratic reform or the status quo, but are too shy to mention it? Then we claimed that “Another England is possible” and democratic revolution the means of achieving it. Only a nationalist would think this can’t be applied in the rest of the world.
The CPGB accuses me of “vote splitting” and “sabotaging” Tusc by stealing 20 of their votes! The accusation that I sabotaged Kingsley Abrahams is no more worthy of consideration than the accusation that he and the CPGB sabotaged and split the Labour vote in Bermondsey. There were two socialist candidates in Peckham, where Tusc also stood. Nobody mentions this. There were nine candidates in Bermondsey, but only two socialists. The total socialist vote in Bermondsey was 162 and Tusc got 142 of them.
Paul says of myself: “Hopefully, he will not be a member of LU for much longer, though it is an organisation ill-designed for expelling people.” He reminds us of the joint venture between Socialist Resistance and the CPGB, who fell out over the Green Party, but are at least united in trying to expel me. But he admits the LU constitution will have to be fitted up first.
I admit that supporting Scotland in Bermondsey in the middle of a Tory-inspired anti-Scotland campaign is not a vote winner. Neither is speaking out against immigration controls. Furthermore Tusc was backed by the Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party, Left Unity and the CPGB. Republican socialists have no party and no means of organising voter support. I would like to thank the RCN (Scotland), A World To Win, International Socialist Network (as was) and the Radical Independence Campaign (AGM) for their support or encouragement.
A low vote pales into insignificance against the fact that an anti-unionist candidate stood in London. No matter how low a vote you get, you should not be frightened to put your programme and policies directly to working class voters. Elections are not a time to hide. They are a time for ‘cowards to flinch and traitors to sneer’. But we’ll keep the republican and socialist flags flying here.
Republican Socialist Doing Politics Differently
In order to defend Lenin’s democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry as the basis for explaining the events of 1905 and 1917, Jack Conrad defines this approach in terms of the dynamics of an uninterrupted revolution, whereby the democratic revolution would become the prelude to the socialist revolution (‘Lenin’s programme found vindication’, April 23). In other words Conrad wants to define the approach of Lenin as being compatible with the perspective of Trotsky. He contends that Lenin shared Trotsky’s conception of permanence or an uninterrupted character of the revolutionary process.
However, Lenin envisages the revolution being defined by stages which are a transition from a lower form of development to a higher. But only the realisation of the tasks of the lower stage will enable movement to the higher stage: “The democratic revolution is bourgeois in nature ... we Marxists should know that there is not, nor can there be, any other path to real freedom for the proletariat and peasantry than the path of bourgeois freedom and bourgeois progress. We must not forget that there is not, nor can there be at the present time, any other means of bringing socialism nearer, than complete political liberty, than a democratic republic, than the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” (‘Two tactics of Social Democracy in the democratic revolution’).
The point that Lenin is making is that only if the tasks of the democratic revolution, which is socially defined by the bourgeois stage, are carried out in the most progressive and principled manner will it be possible to realise movement to the next and higher stage of socialism. Hence it is vital that the tasks of the democratic revolution are carried out and the land is distributed to the peasantry. Proletarian hegemony of that revolution will ensure that advance towards socialism becomes possible: “… our slogan, a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, … strives to make the utmost of the democratic revolution in order to attain the greatest success in the proletariat’s further struggle for socialism.”
In other words, the revolutionary process is characterised by distinct stages. The democratic revolution is a distinct stage because it has definite tasks that must be carried out if the advance to socialism is to occur. Hence the strategic mistake is to conflate the bourgeois democratic and socialist revolution, and it is for this reason that Lenin does not support the perspective of Trotsky - he differs in terms of the emphasis he provides to the importance of the democratic revolution and the necessity to complete all the tasks of this stage. We can assume he would suggest that Trotsky is trying to ‘leap over’ aspects of the revolutionary process. But Lenin’s standpoint does support the conception of an uninterrupted revolutionary process. He also agrees with Trotsky about the counterrevolutionary role of the bourgeoisie, who compromise with the tsarist monarchy. Instead of the Menshevik accommodation to the liberal bourgeoisie, Lenin advocates proletarian leadership of the democratic revolution.
Whilst it is true that Lenin did not immediately change his strategy concerning Russia with the outbreak of war, his emphasis on the importance of world proletarian revolution implied that his internal perspective may have to be changed accordingly: “… in all the advanced countries the war has placed on the order of the day the slogan of socialist revolution - a slogan that is the more urgent, the more heavily the burdens of war presses upon the shoulders of the proletariat ...” (‘The war and Russian Social Democracy’). The implicit assumption is that the socialist revolution of the advanced capitalist countries will have an important effect on the character of the revolution in Russia. Lenin has not yet rejected his 1905 strategy, but he is aware of the importance of changing circumstances that suggest significant modifications.
In his article, ‘The defeat of Russia and the revolutionary crisis’, he comments: “… no individual solution of revolutionary [problems] is possible in any single country - the Russian bourgeois democratic revolution is now not only a prologue to, but an indivisible and integral part of, the socialist revolution in the west.” This view suggests we must be prepared to change our original evaluation of the bourgeois democratic character of the Russian Revolution. Lenin accepts that a new characterisation is still premature, but modification of the analysis may be required because of the strategic importance of the world revolution.
In other words, Lenin is arguing that the only principled standpoint is that of support for the world proletarian revolution. The Russian working class must adopt this approach if they are to understand that the major political demarcation is between those who capitulate to the interests of Russian imperialism and those who oppose this view in the name of proletarian internationalism. Only in these internationalist terms is support for bourgeois democratic revolution principled. This aim is connected to revolutionary defeatism: “… our party will preserve the slogan of ‘Transform the imperialist war into a civil war’ - ie, the slogan of the socialist revolution in the west” (ibid).
With this modified and flexible conception of bourgeois democratic revolution it is not surprising that Lenin could effectively alter his perspective following the February 1917 revolution. The point is he was already on the verge of rejecting the perspective of the continued importance of the bourgeois democratic stage after 1914. He only retained the standpoint of democratic revolution because it could be adapted to the primary importance of world socialist revolution.
The creation of the soviets in 1917 indicated that the strategy of democratic revolution had to be modified in accordance with the fact that the February revolution led to the intensification of class struggle. The social power of the working class carried out the bourgeois revolution in an unexpected manner, resulting in the political domination of the bourgeoisie. Hence the strategy of the Bolsheviks had to be altered accordingly. It was necessary to formally outline the theoretical and practical proletarian character of the future revolution in Russia.
Jack Conrad can only claim that this situation corresponded to the continued importance of the conception of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in the form of dual power, or the acceptance of the political rule of the bourgeoisie, because of the compromises of the Menshevik- and Social Revolutionary-led Petrograd Soviet: “Events had ‘clothed’ the old slogan. The soviets were real. The Bolsheviks … had to deal with the concrete situation, where instead of coming to power, this ‘revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ existed side by side with, and subordinate to, the weak government of the bourgeoisie.”
The point is unintentionally made that the perspective of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry had been realised in a reactionary manner and so had to be replaced by a different strategy. Conrad outlines this new strategy in terms of ‘All power to the soviets’, via the winning of a Bolshevik majority.
However, we should admit that Lenin made frequent calls for the Mensheviks and SRs to realise in practice the progressive nature of the perspective of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. In this manner it could have been possible to reconcile this strategy with soviet power. This invitation was never accepted, and so in practice the actions of opportunism refuted the possibility for democratic revolution via the ascendency of the soviets. Instead of the expectations based on the old strategy, the soviets represented a potential workers’ government, or an alternative to dual power and the domination of a bourgeois government. The strategic aim of realising a distinct bourgeois stage under the auspices of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry has been replaced by recognition of the closer connection of the period of democratic revolution with socialism.
The leadership of the workers within the soviets will develop an alliance with the poor peasants, and the peasants as a whole, in order to realise a democratic republic that will become the prelude to socialism: “With these two allies, the proletariat, utilising the peculiarities of the present transition situation, can and will proceed first to the achievement of a democratic republic and complete victory of the peasantry over the landlords … and then to socialism, which alone can give the war-weary people peace, bread and freedom” (Letters from afar). Thus Lenin is now suggesting that the democratic republic will be organised under the auspices of the soviets, or the dictatorship of the proletariat. The bourgeois stage with its historical limitations has been replaced by this new dynamic formulation. In other words, the tasks of bourgeois democracy are no longer to be realised by the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, but instead are to be carried out by the soviet republic. The implication is that bourgeois democratic tasks are now connected more closely to the aims of socialism.
This new strategy does not mean that the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry has proved to be illusory. Instead it has been realised in terms of the reactionary accommodation of the Mensheviks and SRs within the soviet to the domination of the bourgeois Provisional Government. Hence this approach has proved in practice to be of limited value in relation to the revolutionary tasks of the working class: “The revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry has already been realised, but in a highly original manner, and with a number of extremely important modifications … it is essential to grasp the incontestable truth that a Marxist must take cognisance of real life, of the true facts of reality, and not cling to a theory of yesterday” (Letters on tactics).
The prospect of the realisation of soviet power is an overcoming of the limitations of the class-compromise approach of the democratic dictatorship. In this manner the commune state carries out bourgeois democratic tasks like land reform and prepares the basis for movement to the socialist stage of the revolutionary process. Lenin is not suggesting that socialism is an immediate prospect connected to soviet power: instead he is implying that a workers’ government in the form of the soviets, in alliance with the peasantry, carries out the tasks of the democratic revolution and realises measures of state intervention into the activity of the economy like nationalisation of the banks. But the character of the revolutionary process is not limited to the realisation of the stage of bourgeois democracy, because the above measures must be carried out under the auspices of soviet power: “Measures which do not in any way constitute the ‘introduction’ of socialism must be absolutely insisted on, and wherever possible carried out in a revolutionary way” (Tasks of the proletariat in our revolution).
The popular and democratic character of the soviet means that the limited measures it carries out, or actions which represent the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution, become the basis to advance the prospect of socialism. Hence we have a soviet administration that presides over a society that is not capitalist or socialist. It is not capitalist in the sense that the workers’ government aims to undermine capitalism and instead make progress towards socialism, but the social formation is not yet socialist, in that an economy based on planning and workers’ control has not been established. Thus the soviet republic is a transitional state based on the political rule of the workers and poor peasants, but it is still economically capitalist to the extent that the aims of socialism have not been realised. The state could be defined as state-capitalist, but one which is aiming for socialism.
This perspective actually requires the overthrow of the present form of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. The only principled expression of the workers and peasant alliance will be established by the realisation of soviet power. Lenin is not agreeing with the perspective of permanent revolution, which he still considers as underestimating the importance of the peasantry in relation to the tasks of the future soviet government. But he has more disagreement with the advocates of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, because they cannot realise how it has been confirmed in an opportunist form.
This standpoint is connected to the lessons made in the revision to the party programme, which concludes that the possibility of a bourgeois republic being presided over by the proletariat and peasant alliance has been rendered anachronistic because of the importance of the expansion of imperialism and World War I. Hence the realisation of democratic tasks requires soviet power and the rejection of the view that the influence of the workers and peasants within a bourgeois system can bring about systematic progress and reform. Ultimately the conception of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry was being rejected because it promoted reformist illusions about the possible transformation of the system without the necessity of revolution. Lenin outlined an alternative approach that connected the potential dominant role of the soviets with the necessity of revolution.
In this context his standpoint is compatible with Trotsky’s perspective of permanent revolution. Trotsky understood in 1905 the revolutionary significance of the soviets. They meant the prospect of the revolutionary transformation of society in the direction of socialism became a practical issue. In this manner, the approach of imminent proletarian revolution acquired its strategic dimensions.
This understanding was brilliantly recognised by Lenin in 1917. The prospect of ‘All power to the soviets’ rendered all previous strategies to the museum of antiques. Lenin became the most brilliant critic of the strategy of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry despite the defence made by Kamenev. Lenin was not defending the theory of permanent revolution: instead he was elaborating a unique strategy created by the new conditions of 1917.