What it means?
Mike Macnair has written almost 24,000 words to refute the musings of Neil Faulkner, formerly of the Socialist Workers Party, Counterfire and now Mutiny, which is in current fusion talks with the Mandelite Socialist Resistance. Also in the mix in the original debate - which spurred Neil on to his three-part series on the party and democratic centralism - were the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Red Flag (formerly Workers Power). The debates touched on various aspects of revolutionary socialism - ie, Trotskyism - from all the Third Campist participants, all of whom defended aspects of it, but with no attempt at consistency.
For instance, Mike defends Trotsky’s decision to launch the Fourth International in 1938 as “a plausible policy - though as it turned out a wrong one” (‘Heroes and sinners’, October 15). And later in the same article he refutes Neil’s nonsense on the transitional programme (TP) with a Trotsky quote - which equally refutes his own position on the launch of the FI:
“Every historical prognosis is always conditional and, the more concrete the prognosis, the more conditional it is. A prognosis is not a promissory note, which can be cashed on a given date. Prognosis outlines only the definite trends of the development. But, along with these trends, a different order of forces and tendencies operate, which at a certain moment begin to predominate. All those who seek exact predictions of concrete events should consult the astrologists. Marxist prognosis aids only in orientation” (‘Balance sheet of the Finnish events’ April 1940).
The FI did not lead revolutions, “as it turned out”, because the Nazis, the Stalinists and western imperialism collaborated to massacre the Trotskyist revolutionaries and defeat the revolutionary situations that arose in the latter half and at the end of World War II - in particular in Warsaw, Czechoslovakia, northern Italy, Greece and Vietnam. And Stalinism supplied political cover to post-war capitalism by entering no less than eight governments to head off these potentially revolutionary situations. The TP was dedicated to analysing the revolutionary potential in the situations, which Trotsky correctly saw were about to develop during and after World War II, and to directing revolutionary leaders and fighters into recognising these potentials and seeking to lead them to victory.
But we have a more serious objection to Mike’s series. And that is that in part 4, (‘Historical muddle, theoretical overkill’ October 22) he rejects revolutionary violence as a liberal commentator. By the spring of 1918 the revolution was threatened from the west by the German army and so:
“The original idea that the class has to be ‘represented’ by its advanced part, the party, flowed from the Bolsheviks’ loss of majority support in spring 1918 as a result of the peace of Brest-Litovsk - and as a result, their rigging of soviet elections at the same period, and then the turn of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries to terrorism against the Bolshevik regime, and the Bolshevik response of Red Terror. They now had to justify what had become a dictatorship over the proletariat.
“The drive for ‘military’ discipline in the party flowed from the problem of military insubordination by local leaderships, notably in the Tsaritsyn affair in autumn 1918 and the political struggle round the ‘military opposition’ at the Eighth Congress of the party in March 1919.”
The “rigging of soviet elections” he refers to twice is alleged at the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets in June 1918. In the provincial soviet elections in spring 1918, 19 out of 30 Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries were elected and the Bolsheviks were in a minority of 11. But the Bolsheviks held the majority in the cities, as the elections to the Constituency Assembly showed. And the counterrevolutionary white armies were massing and, whilst the majority of the membership of the Mensheviks, the SRs and many anarchists were won to the Bolsheviks, many of the top leadership openly joined the counterrevolution. The Left SRs assassinated Bolshevik leaders and even attempted to assassinate Lenin. According to liberal reactionaries like Richard Pipes, the Bolsheviks should have then yielded to ‘democracy’ and abandoned the revolution. This is the clear message from Mike Macnair and Neil Faulkner.
The Bolsheviks did not yield; had they done so, the revolution would have collapsed in the middle of 1918. Revolutionary leaders and fighters do not yield in adverse circumstances. In 1920 in Ireland almost one-third of the British army and the Black and Tans were in West Cork. Tom Barry, the leader of the famous Flying Column, became a legend in his lifetime: “They said I was ruthless, daring, savage, bloodthirsty, even heartless. The clergy called me and my comrades ‘murderers’. They had gone down in the mire to destroy us and our nation, and down after them we had to go.” If the revolution lost because of forces beyond their control we could not blame them. But if they had yielded in the name of ‘democracy’ they would deserve nothing but contempt.
And what are we to make of the following passage just after the above quote, where Mike contradicts himself and spreads so much confusion - surely because he cannot come straight out and say what he means?
“Meanwhile, in the west, the social democratic parties, and the ‘centrists’ like the German Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) had failed to create workers’ power; and had failed at least in part because they baulked at the necessity of civil war (that necessarily was to come back to them all the same in the form of one-sided capitalist-initiated civil war in Italy in 1920-22, in Germany and Austria in 1933-34, in Spain in 1936, in most of the rest of Europe in 1939). It was then natural for the Russians and their co-thinkers to imagine that the solution was to remake the western communist parties along the lines of the Bolshevism adapted in 1919 to civil war.
“With the benefit of hindsight, all of these decisions were mistakes. They were mistakes made under conditions of war, counterrevolutionary foreign intervention and civil war - and in an overwhelmingly peasant-majority country.
“But the Bolsheviks would not have had these problems if they had adopted these organisational methods, and thereby adapted their party to the needs of civil war in a peasant-majority country, before they obtained political power. In that case they could not have built a serious workers’ party in the first place, or obtained political power in October 1917.”
In Italy, Germany and Spain the ‘centrists’ (in Marxist terms) had failed to launch civil wars and “with the benefit of hindsight, all of these decisions were mistakes”, because they lost, but in Russia the Bolsheviks had launched a civil war and won, but they should not have done that, because building “a serious workers’ party” and obtaining “political power in October 1917” was wrong, as it all led to Stalinism and should not have been attempted in the first place. Better to have gone with ‘democracy’, as advocated by the renegade Kautsky and the likes of Max Shachtman and Hal Draper, it seems. Is that what it means? Or does it mean anything at all?
Jim Nelson says that the government has committed many crimes - “The release of infected patients from hospitals into care homes comes to mind” (Letters, October 22). But, of course, it wasn’t the government who released patients into care homes: it was the NHS itself. The same NHS that Jim tells us “do know what they’re doing” and “are starved of much needed funds”.
Really? So how much do you think the NHS has wasted on developing Nightingale hospitals, which were built to house 8,000 patients, but which only ever accommodated 25, and treated less than 60 in total? It was the NHS, not the government, that cancelled appointments for people with other serious complaints and that reduced occupancy down to 40% in most hospitals across the country in preparation for a flood of Covid patients that did not materialise. It was the NHS that called back elderly staff - the ones that are actually at risk from Covid. It was the NHS that failed to provide its staff with PPE, and so on.
Jim tells us correctly: “Then there’s the donation of vast sums of money to friends and donors for ‘test and trace’. It matters not that such amateurs have failed and are failing - why wouldn’t they? They don’t really know what they’re doing.” Indeed, £12 billion on a test and trace system that does not work, and could not work, because 80% of infected people are asymptomatic and not tested. So why then does Jim later say, “Test and trace seems to be the obvious answer - for Covid and for all the previous epidemics, where is has worked”? Jim presumably wants to magic this alternative test and trace system out of thin air, spending another £12 billion or more to do so.
Jim says, in response to my call for the vulnerable 20% to be protected, whilst the other 80% get on with life as normal: “Does anyone honestly believe that Britain’s capitalist government is going to concentrate resources on protecting the vulnerable?” Well, that’s in contrast to Jim’s faith in them protecting him in a nuclear war, but also that government is currently paying out £35 billion in furlough payments for workers, so saving on that payment and channelling it instead into protecting the vulnerable seems something that the government could indeed do, quite easily, in its own interests, were it not tied into defending its existing lockdown mantra.
But, even if it were true, it is no reason why socialists should not advance demands adequate for dealing with the conditions we find ourselves in rather than leaving such decisions up to the capitalist state or Tory governments.
Bolivia and Greece
There have been two items of news lately (maybe more?) to gladden the hearts of ‘the left’ internationally: one is the result of the Bolivian election. One of the most enthusiastic reactions came from an article in Jacobin with the headline, ‘Bolivia has provided us a radical vision of hope’ (October 24). To be fair, the piece immediately goes into the challenges facing the newly elected Movement toward Socialism (MAS) president, Luis Arce, and his party.
The election follows, as Weekly Worker readers will know, the coup against Evo Morales last year. With MAS clearly heading for victory, the US-led Organisation of American States (OAS) claimed dishonestly that there was a ‘flaw’ in the process. Morales offered to rerun the election, but it was too late: the police and military told him to get out. He was replaced by a rightwing, bible-waving nutter, who claimed an ‘interim’ presidency.
Despite the murder of many supporters of Morales and of those who openly opposed the coup government and, despite the attempts to postpone elections (pandemics and stuff), there were powerful movements that forced an election at last. As an article on the US site Counterpunch put it, “For weeks in August, massive road blockade protests organised by MAS-allied campesino, indigenous, and labour groups successfully pressured authorities to hold elections after months of delays.”
So much to gladden the hearts and there are many articles online celebrating the MAS victory (in the mainstream press not so many). For the right, especially in the US, the coup was a victory for democracy and -who knows? - perhaps Donald Trump is hoping for a ‘victory’ all of his own. Much of the ‘mainstream press’ was happy to accept the ‘flaw’ in the election of 2019, but straightaway there were many articles condemning the straight lies peddled by the OAS. A very fast analysis of the 2020 result and comparison to that of 2019 by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) from Washington DC has shown up the OAS’s original mendacity.
All of the articles I’ve read - in Jacobin and Counterpunch in particular - point to the massive problems facing the new government. The economy is a mess, partly because of the coup government and partly because of the pandemic. The new government has promised to restore programmes aimed at the poor. The coup supporters are still there and they are very upset; whoever wins the US election is obviously going to support them. And the Americans still want the lithium. However, good luck to the Bolivian masses.
The other bit of good news, much applauded in left circles, is the conviction of leaders of Greece’s Golden Dawn. It may have taken over five years, but some of them are going to prison - for a while at least. This was met with great enthusiasm on the left, especially in Greece - not surprisingly - and around the world. The Morning Star announced, ‘Golden Dawn “a criminal organisation”, court rules in biggest trial of fascists since Nuremberg’.
This bit of good news also leaves problems. Greece is still a victim of the vicious depredations of the European Union and the banks, while being expected to pay for, and keep for themselves, the refugees fleeing north as a result of the actions of, among others, many EU members.
These might cheer the heart, but, along with current protests in Indonesia, Nigeria and Thailand, just to mention a few, it goes to show the vital necessity of an international organisation of the working class to put coups and fascist criminals behind us for ever.
Meanwhile, we have another election, for the ‘leader of the free world’. This excites the media, on or off line, but I can’t keep the 1968 Fugs song, ‘Wide wide river’, out of my head!
Who wouldn’t be impressed by James Linney’s original article (‘Worse than useless’, September 4) - and the exchange of views with Gary Simons in the letters column - all centred upon the phenomenon of mass modern-day obesity? However, to my mind a trap was fallen into by both comrades - approaching things in a compartmentalised manner.
Although making no claims to expertise, I can assure readers of Weekly Worker that a trove of evidence now suggests how behind any particular disease or condition very often there lies a complex interaction of many different factors. For instance, rather than a single gene being responsible, as might originally be suspected, a veritable constellation is at play. Again, what until recently were considered entirely independent hemispheres and then sub-zones of the human brain are now recognised by surgeons and neurologists as functioning more in that same interconnected or even harmonising manner, with hugely important corollaries in terms of understanding not only physical problems but also those of a behavioural/emotional type. Yet again (and most directly pertinent to this original topic), latest research shows how the human gut microbiome is adversely affected in almost indescribably complex, as well as obscure, ways: for example, by ‘emulsifying’ ingredients that are ubiquitous in modern foodstuffs, causing damage not only to our digestive system, but probably even beyond, into other aspects of our metabolism.
Given how sickness or ill-health may well ensue (including Crohn’s disease, arthritis, asthma and allergies, or similar disruption of the immune system, as well as some cancers) clearly it’s the case that most, if not all, things to do with human beings are more ‘holistic’ than simple and/or mechanical. What’s crystal-clear above all else is how capitalism may be able to claim for itself both widespread availability and a generalised affordability of food, but absolutely can’t do so for its quality, let alone associated consequences for the environment. Equally incontestable is the fact that toxicity resulting from industrialised processing will forever be part of capitalism’s core requirement to secure ever greater market share and thus maximise profits, with all living things on our planet suffering the seriously deleterious effects.
Some people might consider that communism ignores those various truths at its peril, whilst at the same time running the risk of becoming slightly undignified, maybe even graceless: for my part, I neither chip in any additional comments nor proffer any final judgment!