Predictably Peter Manson defends urging Marxists to join/stay and fight in the Labour Party rather than set up an alternative workers’ party, which the CPGB always assert can only ever be a Labour Party mark two and therefore pointless (Letters, January 28).
Peter did not allow for the possibility that having an alternative workers’ party that stands on the basis of MPs only getting an average worker’s wage and is subject to immediate recall (and perhaps annual parliamentary elections?) would not be just another LP mark two, as it would not attract the careerists, would not suffer the corrupting patronage of the usual party leaders and, I’d hope, would be totally against the knighthoods and peerages that attract the huge donations from the affiliated super unions.
The constant departures of the usual revolutionary parties from previous projects squabbling over leadership, direction and recruiting to their sect has been a huge problem, but I will return to this some other time, as I want to concentrate on the main points I made that Peter completely ignored. That was whether there was any real workers’ democracy in the lead-up to the various revolutions (or coups), especially the Russian Revolution of 1917. Tony Clark’s reply asserted democracy is important, but also did not answer my question about whether it existed before and certainly after the various revolutions, although he agrees with my main point, saying that “without democracy all socialist revolutions have a tendency towards bureaucratic rule ...”
The Weekly Worker hardly reports on trade union issues - which suggests most contributors of regular articles are not in a union - or, if they are, they are not active in them.
What we do get are bumper two- or three-page polemics on various revolutionary theorists and which ones betrayed the revolution, which ones have had an unfair historical press, which ones influenced Lenin, etc. We have Lars T Lih giving lengthy different perspectives to Lenin and the Bolsheviks, with lengthy counter-articles following. Then we have continual commentary, usually by Peter Manson, on the state of today’s left organisations and their lack of practising true democratic centralism.
All good stuff, all providing the coverage and education few other left papers will do. I have continually praised the best letters pages on the left, which are in the Weekly Worker, and do not want to see, as a recent letter argued, for the banning of letters some think are not socialistic or right on for not having the ‘correct’ position on intersectional identity politics. You would think, wouldn’t you, that, given all this, the question of what actual, real workers’ democracy there was before and especially after socialist revolutions would be a key question, continually covered in Weekly Worker and other papers?
Peter stated as a key CPGB aim: “Socialism represents victory in the battle for democracy. It is the rule of the working class. Socialism is either democratic or, as with Stalin’s Soviet Union, it turns into its opposite.” I couldn’t agree more - so where was it, pre- and post-1917? I challenge the academic theorists who have so much to say on who was a real revolutionary to answer my questions.
I’ll put them again. Did workers not in the Communist Party get any say or vote pre- or post-revolution? Remember, the revolution is supposed to be the act of the working class, which is to rule - not the Communist Party proclaiming itself to be the working class. Were there any contested elections for the central committees and leadership positions?
We are told, in a revolutionary situation and communist regime there will be a hundred Lenins. A hundred Trostkys will come forth from the working class. Well, there weren’t and they didn’t. As with those revolutions and subsequent revolutionary sects, they have leaders that have and keep power until they die or are removed (and rarely electorally). None of the revolutionary workers seem to get a look in after the revolution - none of them seem to rise high afterwards. So, it seems to me, the revolutions use the working class to gain power, then there is a dictatorship, with no opposition (or democracy) allowed thereafter.
In the 21st century, with all that has happened to socialist revolutions, this matters. Many sects assert we need a revolution for, by and of the working class, which must lead it, not a bunch of self-selected theorists who come to dominate the party and remain unchallenged. None of them seem to have come from a true working class background - most seem to have been middle class, with the education and confidence to dominate which that brings.
I await a two- or three-page polemic answering my points!
Comrade Al Thomas puts forward the same idea as comrade Peter Manson previously that I am “arguing for an intermediate step like breaking apart before ‘coming back together’” in regards to Scotland (Letters, January 21). I’d say I’m facing the facts that the working class in Scotland have for decades now shown that they want independence and therefore we must support that democratic right, not wish it away. I’ve added the proviso that the aim should be to unite with the rest of the working class of these islands and indeed Europe as quickly as possible afterwards.
This shows no accommodation to left-nationalist or separatist claims that Scotland will be better off under independence, but puts it purely in terms of the democratic deficit that is so clearly the real driver towards independence. This is where the CPGB should be intervening - by raising and fleshing out the concept of the federal republic of the British Isles as the ambition following both Scottish independence and the equally likely Irish reunification. This should also, of course, be presented as a major step towards a United States of Europe - all immediate demands that should be in the ongoing redraft of the CPGB Draft programme.
This takes on board the realities of the situation instead of carrying on the untenable abstract of support for the right of self-determination, but continually agitating against it. The other side of that coin, long out of circulation, is the dogma that comrades in England and Scotland adopt differing positions in arguing for that right. I started letter-writing on this when I saw what seemed to be possible shifts in the party line on Scottish self-determination, but there’s been little engagement and a whole lot more attacking the ghosts of left nationalism, accompanied by statements that Scotland is too small for independence.
Despite this lack of engagement with my questions generally, I’m more than happy to discuss these matters with comrade Thomas, given we are both in Scotland - it’s abundantly clear that this is all rapidly coming to a head. It would be very useful if the Weekly Worker could accommodate this discussion.
Tam Dean Burn
On Sunday January 31 the reconvened conference of the Radical Independence Campaign in Scotland split into an RIC majority and RIC minority over whether the campaign should continue and be upgraded or whether it should be closed down.
In the 2014 referendum, the RIC was the radical left wing of the Scottish democratic movement. It organised with the left of the Scottish National Party, Green Party, socialists and anarchists. It differed from the SNP in its orientation towards working class voters - not least in their voter registration campaign. After that defeat and with no prospect of another referendum, the RIC had gone into decline, with only a few active branches left.
The situation changed in 2016, when Scotland voted to remain and England and Wales voted to leave the European Union. This showed that David Cameron’s promise that staying in the union was the only way Scotland could stay in the EU was false. Until January 2021 the consequences of leaving the EU remained theoretical. Now that is about to change. The issue of Scotland’s constitution is moving up the agenda - not least with the Holyrood elections this year. So naturally some RIC members decided it was time to revive the campaign and upgrade its policies. But, when this conference was held, it became a fight over continuing or closing down.
The conference ended in a stalemate. The former leadership, in Jonathon Shafi, Cat Boyd and their supporters, who had become inactive, proposed a motion to close the RIC down. After a period of debate the motion was passed by 56 to 38 from the 120 people present in the Zoom conference. There were questions over the result and whether a two-thirds majority was required for closure. There was some dispute over whether everybody wanting to vote had been able to. The abstentions were not counted, which would have been a check on who voted. That aside, there was now, as I have said, an RIC majority and an RIC minority.
This was similar to the battle in the Socialist Alliance in 2004. Then the SWP majority wanted to move to the new, green pastures promised by George Galloway’s Respect. The SWP decided to leave, but instead of resigning decided to burn down the SA to prevent the minority from continuing. This scorched-earth policy created much anger. The SA minority, however, refused to accept that result and resolved to fight on. They organised a provisional organisation and convened another SA conference, which decided to carry on without the SWP.
But the split in the RIC goes deeper than the superficial dispute over the right to continue. Dig a little deeper and we can find a dispute between radicalism and republicanism. The RIC was a radical rather than a republican campaign. It reflected the politics of the SWP, transmitted through its former members. Radical socialism is the dominant trend in the English left. This is expressed in Corbynism, Left Unity and the reformist politics peddled by the SWP, when putting on a right-populist face, as it did in the Socialist Alliance. These are all variations of left ‘social monarchism’, which models itself on the ‘spirit of 45’, whilst paying lip service to republicanism.
The radical politics of the RIC demanded independence first and only afterwards would it call for a ‘modern republic’. Republicanism does not depend on having a referendum or even securing independence first. The declaration of a Scottish republic could occur before independence is achieved, as James Connolly did in 1916 on the steps of the Dublin post office. The fight for a Scottish republic begins in the present struggles of the working class. It does not need a referendum to challenge the SNP aim of a Scottish ‘free state’ in some continued relationship with the monarchy and Bank of England.
Recently a Republican Socialist Platform was set up to encourage the rebuilding of the RIC and the upgrading of its democratic demands to include the call for a Scottish republic. This makes sense in respect of the new conditions, where opinion polls show a majority in favour of independence. This attempt to rebuild the RIC led to a conference struggle between radicals and republicans, which was fought out through the arguments over closing down or continuing.
The leaders of the majority are now winding the RIC up. The minority, however, have to decide whether to follow the example of the Socialist Alliance or simply surrender and give up the struggle. Let’s hope they have the courage to continue as the RIC minority and take a lesson from the liquidation of the CPGB. Then a minority refused to accept liquidation and organised the ‘continuity’ CPGB around a Provisional Central Committee and the Weekly Worker.
Mike Macnair says the important issue is “the organisational forms of the party” and here indeed is the difference (Letters, January 14). German social democracy had the theory of a party of the whole class: ie, a reformist party, whereas Lenin had developed a theory - and practice - of a revolutionary party, including in its organisational forms.
The working class contains members with ideas from the ultra-right racist and fascist to reformist, left reformist, centrist in Marxist terms and revolutionary. Those who understand the theory and practice of revolution must form a party and win the vanguard of the working class to this understanding and via them win the mass of the working class to revolution.
The contrast with Kautskyism could not be more obvious or stark - Bolshevism led the greatest revolution in human history, Social democracy became centrist following the death of Marx and Engels and became explicitly counterrevolutionary in 1914, when it voted to grant war credits to the kaiser to conduct the imperialist slaughter of World War I. The popular front, when it was formally adopted by the Comintern in 1935, saw the emergence of the second explicitly counterrevolutionary international - though Stalinism sought to cover it with a Marxist gloss.
In 1918 Lenin wrote The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky, subtitled How Kautsky turned Marx into a common liberal. He has this to say about the dictatorship of the proletariat and ‘democracy’: “Kautsky chose to approach the question in such a way as to begin with a definition of the ‘word’ dictatorship … ‘Literally,’ he writes, ‘the word, dictatorship, means the abolition of democracy.’ In the first place, this is not a definition. If Kautsky wanted to avoid giving a definition of the concept, dictatorship, why did he choose this particular approach to the question?
“Secondly, it is obviously wrong. It is natural for a liberal to speak of ‘democracy’ in general; but a Marxist will never forget to ask, ‘For what class?’ Everyone knows, for instance (and Kautsky, the ‘historian’, knows it too), that rebellions, or even strong ferment, among the slaves in ancient times at once revealed the fact that the ancient state was essentially a dictatorship of the slave-owners. Did this dictatorship abolish democracy among, and for, the slave-owners? Everybody knows that it did not. Kautsky, the ‘Marxist’, made this monstrously absurd and untrue statement because he ‘forgot’ the class struggle.”
Likewise, soviet - ie, proletarian - democracy is counterposed to bourgeois, parliamentary democracy and the two are mutually exclusive, Lenin goes on to explain.
Tony Clark is a common liberal in his letter of January 21. It is full of ‘democracy’ with no regard for class. But Mike Macnair is no better. Because I had conceded that “perhaps October 1923 was not a full revolutionary situation” I have “for all practical purposes abandoned the case” I was making in my earlier argument, gleaned from Trotsky’s Lessons of October, that of the ‘lost opportunity’, by not following Trotsky’s critique of soviet fetishism in that book. But the ‘lost opportunity’ of 1923, I held, was not to go on the offensive which would have rallied the class and avoided the outright defeat it was. There were major problems of leadership in the German party and in the Comintern, as indicated by Karl Radek’s speech, ‘Leo Schlageter: the wanderer into the void’, in June 1923.
Moreover the ‘soviet fetishism’ Trotsky refers to is on October 25 1917, where he explains the actual seizure of power was carried out by the Bolshevik Red Guards and, whilst they did it in the name of the soviets, they did not wait for the formal votes and procedural motions, which would indicate a fetish for bourgeois parliamentary democracy.
The soviet form - or some form of workers’ committees equivalent - was and is the only form of workers’ democracy that can make and defend a socialist revolution. And this depends on a revolutionary, Bolshevik leadership, as Trotsky wrote: “Thus, the adaptation of the question of the seizure of power to the Second Soviet Congress did not involve any naive hopes that the congress itself could settle the question of power. Such fetishism of the soviet form was entirely alien to us.”
Explicitly on the form of the revolutionary party, it is led by a revolutionary leadership, with a “seething internal democracy” - not the bureaucratic centralism of the old Workers Revolutionary Party, Socialist Workers Party and Militant, for instance. And local parties can take local initiatives, and all can disagree in public if majority decisions were carried out by all members. The CPGB is approximately correct on this.
And on whether killing Lenin in 1917 would have scuppered the October revolution, I hold it really would. Kamenev, Zinoviev, with the covert assistance of Stalin, would have won the vote on the September central committee meetings and buried it and then Mike Macnair could tell is it was never possible in the first place. Certainly, the murders of Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Leo Jogiches in early 1919 proved fatal to the German revolution.