Anarcho-communist trajectory

Dave Craig of the RDG replies to the RWT’s supplement, ‘The struggle for communism - yesterday, today and tomorrow’ (Weekly Worker October 12 1995)

Both the Revolutionary Democratic Group (faction of the SWP) and the Republican Worker Tendency can trace our history back to the CPGB and the Trotskyists who were forced out in the 1930s. Then from the Trotskyist RCP (1940s) came the Socialist Review Group and the IS/SWP. The RDG was formed in 1984 by SWP members who were part of a revolutionary democratic opposition to the SWP leadership. We produced a paper called Republican Worker. In 1987 we openly identified ourselves as a faction of the SWP.

Two years later the RDG split. The underlying issue was the factional relationship to the SWP. The RDG (Bolsheviks) were the majority. They were becoming hostile to building the faction. They took over the RDG and eventually turned themselves into the RWT. The RDG (Centralists) were the minority. We continued the struggle against the Cliffites at first under the banner of Republican Marxist Bulletin. Later we took back our name, RDG (faction of the SWP).

The RWT are revolutionary democratic communists. But the split pushed them on a trajectory towards anarcho-communism or ultra-leftism. Now some years later we have made contact with our old comrades. We have written asking them to enter fusion talks and we want them to become more involved in the rapprochement process.

It is therefore time for us to critically examine how far the RWT has gone towards anarcho-communism. Recently we drafted a joint statement of our differences and points of agreement. The latest draft, not yet finally agreed, says that we disagree over

  1. the nature of the transition to communism - socialism in one country
  2. the nature of the SWP
  3. the demand for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales (RDG) or the “republican break-up of the UK” perspective (RWT).

The RWT’s supplement raises many other points. I will concentrate on the question of the party (SWP, CPGB, etc) and the transition to communism.

The revolutionary democratic communist party

Central to the struggle for communism, yesterday, today and tomorrow, is the struggle to build a workers’ party. The revolutionary democratic communist party is the correct or scientific name for this party. It identifies communism as our aim and revolutionary workers’ democracy as the road we must take to reach that goal.

In 1918 the Bolsheviks renamed themselves the Communist Party (Bolsheviks). They missed out the words ‘Revolutionary Democratic’ from the name. This might have been justified because they seemed to have already won the battle for democracy and were proceeding to international socialism, the lowest stage of communism. But even they included Bolshevism, that is revolutionary social democracy, in the bracket.

The CPGB, founded in 1920, had no such excuse, nor anything in brackets. It was hardly in a position to declare that the battle for democracy was already won. The historic defeat of revolutionary workers’ democracy in the USSR ensured that the separation of revolutionary democracy from communism was permanently enshrined in the CPGB.

Without revolutionary democratic ideas, the CPGB became the mouthpiece for Moscow’s bureaucratic ‘communism’. The British Road combined the aim of bureaucratic communism with liberal parliamentary democracy. Instead of a revolutionary democratic CPGB we ended up with an anarcho-bureaucratic party whose last manifestation was Euro-Stalinism.

There is another aspect to this. Communists believe in ‘one state, one party’. Our state is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The name CPGB was also incorrect in this second sense. It should have been the Revolutionary Democratic Communist Party (UK).

The failure in 1920 to name the CPGB by its scientific name is on one level a trivial issue. It does not necessarily matter if the party is called the SWP or SLP or CPGB, etc. What matters is whether it has a revolutionary democratic content. But naming the party incorrectly can signify false consciousness about the nature of the party. It could reflect the fact that the CPGB had little or no revolutionary democratic content.

After over 70 years of Stalinist degeneration, it is no longer credible to repeat the mistake. Advanced workers will not just accept any old communist party. They will ask themselves what kind of communist party is this? We should not hesitate to explain that we are building a revolutionary democratic not an anarcho-bureaucratic or Stalinist communist party.

Communists versus Bolsheviks?

The RWT divides the British left into two camps.

(a) Left reformist social democracy: eg, Benn, etc

(b) Revolutionary social democracy: eg, SWP, Militant Labour, etc

What stuck me was that (a) and (b) are not really defined. Examples are given, but these relate exclusively to modern day Britain. We look in vain for any general or scientific definition and can not see one. It seems to me that there is a third category which is implicit but not stated: (c) True communists.

My feeling is that this is a result of sectarian thinking, which justifies the RWT’s separate existence. Are the only occupants of category (c) the RWT? If so, does this rule out fusion with other revolutionary democrat communists?

Our tradition is Bolshevism. The Bolsheviks were revolutionary social (ie, working class) democrats. There is no fundamental contradiction between this and being a communist (or Bolshevik).

This is why the term revolutionary democratic communist makes that unity clear by combining both elements. This is not to say that Bolshevism did not make mistakes or that we cannot make theoretical advances within this tradition.

The RWT is setting up a false polarisation between Bolshevism and communism. They are drawing a line between themselves as true communists and the Bolsheviks (ie, revolutionary social democrats). This means that the RWT is against reformist social democracy and also anti-Bolshevik.

It is Stalinism and anarchism that make a distinction between revolutionary social democracy and communism. Both are hostile to revolutionary workers’ democracy. The RWT argument is therefore a very dangerous one. The very idea that we should concede that the SWP or ML are Bolshevik organisations is completely wrong. Yes, these organisations may claim to be Bolsheviks. This does not mean that we must reject Bolshevism. It means that we should dispute their claim.

What in reality, perhaps unconsciously, the RWT are doing is distancing themselves from Bolshevism. They are deviating into anarchism and left communism.

Nature of the SWP

The SWP is not a revolutionary democratic communist party. It is the main organisation of the state capitalist tendency. The RDG is a faction of this tendency. In the first draft of the joint statement the RDG wrote that we disagree over the “faction” tactic. Indeed we do. But the RWT wrote back claiming that we disagreed over the “nature of the SWP”. Since then the debate in the Weekly Worker and the publication of the RWT’s supplement now makes it clear that we disagree over ‘faction’ and ‘nature’.

The RDG’s position is that the SWP is the main barrier within the communist (ie, Marxist) movement to building a revolutionary democratic communist party. The RDG says that the SWP is a Menshevik organisation. The use of this Russian term may seem inappropriate. But it means that the SWP, whilst formally Marxist and using Marxist terminology, is in fact a centrist/ultra-left, not a revolutionary proletarian, organisation. In class terms it represents middle class Marxism. The politics of the SWP, like the Mensheviks, is infused with economism and the worship of spontaneity.

The RWT does not accept that the SWP is the main barrier and hence the main danger within the communist movement. The RWT considers the SWP to be “revolutionary social democratic”: that is, Bolshevik. The RWT follows the path set by every semi-anarchist that left the SWP. According to the anarchist thesis, the SWP are “Leninists” and our task is to break “radically” (sic) towards more activity and the worship of spontaneity.

Faction and party

When the RWT liquidated the RDG, they abandoned the faction. Of course it was possible for their new tendency to keep up the fight against the Cliffites without calling themselves “a faction”. But in practice they gave up the struggle against the SWP leadership. This had its own political logic. What the RWT was really giving up was the fight for the party.

Jack Conrad states that without a Communist Party the working class is nothing. In a sense this is absolutely true. It is essential for communists to take a firm pro-party stand. This means that we are strongly in favour of a Communist Party and strongly in favour of communist unity. In the very first issue of the RDG paper Republican Worker in 1984 we stated that “we are a pro-party group”. The RDG, in aligning itself publicly as a faction of the SWP, was standing up for partyism. It is not our sectarianism that prevents us from being members of the SWP, but their anti-partyism. We were also making a stand against the anti-partyism and anarchism that was rampant amongst ex-SWP groups.

It will be objected that since the SWP is not a real party, we are freed of the responsibility of pro-partyism. On the contrary it makes a firm pro-party stand even more important. We have to fight for the party by fighting against the Cliffites.

Our disagreement with the RWT, which began over “faction”, is in reality a disagreement about the importance we should give to the party question. The RDG emphasises the importance of party and the RWT stresses the united front. Of course the RDG is also for the united front and the RWT is also for party. It is a question of emphasis and priority.

CPGB - myth or reality?

The RWT’s main point here is that the CPGB is not a communist party (Stalinist or revolutionary democratic). They say “the Party does not exist”. This is not really a point of contention. The CPGB, RWT and RDG all agree. But it is a point of contradiction.

There is no “Communist Party of Great Britain” yet there is an organisation with the name CPGB. I think that the CPGB have a right to call themselves what they want. More than that, they have a legitimate right to call themselves the CPGB as they were the last communist faction left alive when their party was wound up by liquidators.

However this does not solve the contradiction of having a misleading name. There are two ways out of the contradiction. First the CPGB could change its name. This is favoured by the RWT which says, “surely it is time to burn the carcass of what long ago ceased to be a workers’ party.”

Alternatively the CPGB could keep its name but define itself openly and clearly. For example it could be said that the Stalinist CPGB was liquidated in 1991 and resurrected by the Leninist faction of the CPGB. The new CPGB is now being rebuilt as a revolutionary democratic communist tendency. The name is the same but the content is different. This would be a real step towards the party we need. The RWT and the RDG should do everything they can to assist this process and not let the names of organisations stand in the way.

Faction rights in a non-existent party?

The RWT asks, “How can the PCC give faction rights in a party that doesn’t exist?” In logic this sounds correct. A party is part of a class and a faction is part of a party. No party and therefore no faction! Such an equation is false.

Can comrades have faction rights in the RWT or are faction rights banned on the grounds that the RWT is not a party? Does it mean that since the SWP is a tendency rather than a party, factions have no right to exist? Of course not. Any Marxist organisation can give formal minority rights or faction rights to its members.

The central question is whether the RWT, RDG and CPGB can fuse into a single organisation? It would be impossible without minority or faction rights. If the RWT are serious about fusion they have to take the question of faction rights more seriously than simply dismissing it with ‘clever dick’ arguments - like ‘we can’t be a faction of something that doesn’t exist’.

Reorganising capitalism or uprooting the law of value

According to the RWT the national revolution has a choice between “reorganising capitalism or uprooting the law of value”. This is not the choice. The choice is between reorganising capitalism under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Abolishing capitalism or uprooting the law of value is not possible in one country. This was also the debate in 1918. Lenin’s policy was for bringing state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat. The anarchists were accusing Lenin of not uprooting the law of value.

The supporters of ‘war communism’ like Bukharin, believed that they were already uprooting the law of value and that the ‘New Economic Policy’ was a retreat back to capitalism. The anarchists saw Lenin as betraying the revolution by not proceeding immediately to uproot the law of value.

In Left wing communism - an infantile disorder Lenin argued that in Russia ‘state capitalism’ was a step forward. Especially because in Russia it was under the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was thought that Russia could not proceed further without the international revolution. The RWT is therefore lining itself up with the anarchists rather than Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

National socialism

The dividing line is not between communists and Bolsheviks. It is between national socialists and international socialists. The international socialist revolution is the transitional stage to communism or the lower stage or phase of communism. But virtually the whole of the left from Benn, Scargill, SWP, Militant and the RWT have some variant of national socialism. Some national socialists see socialism as clause four: that is, state capitalism. The SWP sees socialism as the national dictatorship of the proletariat. The RWT sees national socialism as “uprooting the law of value” in one country. What they all have in common is the failure to really grasp the international nature of capitalism. Capitalism has become imperialism.

Uprooting the law of value in one country is utopian. It would be like driving along the motorway at 70 mph and deciding that you want to travel in the opposite direction. So you put the gear stick into reverse. You do not go in reverse: you simply wreck the gears. Such a plan would not lead to communism but to barbarism. The only example I know after ‘war communism’ was Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia, which in year zero abolished money. If we wish to uproot the imperialist ‘law of value’ we need to do that on a worldwide basis in conjunction with a global plan. This is where international socialists differ from every type of national socialist.

The task of the national revolution is to bring the state capitalist economy under the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat. We have then to constantly fight to strengthen the democratic workers’ dictatorship and spread the revolution to the rest of the world. We need an international socialist revolution.

Who shall transform the economy?

The RWT asks this question and I look in vain for the answer. All we are told is what Kautsky, Marx, Lenin and Osinsky thought. If we assume the question means ‘Who shall transform the economy into socialism?’ the answer is clear. It is the international working class, no less. The RWT poses the question and avoids giving us the answer.

Fusion and the proposal for a communist league

The RWT comes from the revolutionary democratic communist tradition. Leaving aside our differences over the national question, the RWT is deviating towards anarcho-communism. This is shown by its hostile attitude to Bolshevism and its failure to recognise the need for ideological war against the Menshevik SWP. Its theory of socialism or uprooting the law of value in one country is utopian and anarchist.

I hope that the RWT would want to argue that these differences represented new advances for revolutionary democratic communism rather than adaptations to left communism. In which case fusion is possible. These differences are containable in a single fused organisation, provided we have means for taking majority decisions and proper safeguards for minority views.

On the other hand were the RWT to openly embrace anarcho-communism and reject revolutionary democratic communism, then fusion becomes more problematic. The RDG is for the highest possible unity. We want to see a revolutionary democratic communist tendency created in the near future. We want to see the RWT, CPGB, RDG and Open Polemic and other comrades fused into a single organisation. This would represent a small, but significant step forward.

The RWT’s proposal for a communist league needs more clarification. We need to be clear on the conception of unity that stands behind any proposed name. The choice we face is between a united front and a fused tendency. We already have a practical united front with the CPGB and with the RWT where co-operation is possible. At present we see no point in calling this a communist league. On the other hand the Communist League could be the name for a fused tendency. Its relative merits should be discussed alongside any other proposed name for a fused organisation.