Admission of failure
Around the left
In recent weeks, we have been commenting on the extraordinary twists and turns of the Workers Power group, British section of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (in reality, we all know that WP is the LRCI). For a sterling lesson in how not to organise a revolutionary organisation - especially one that claims to stand in the tradition of Bolshevism - the WP group provides abundant material.
Wonderfully, the more WP boasts about what a healthy organisation it is, the more obvious it becomes that it is ailing. For a near comical example of this, see the article entitled ‘Marxist theory and the state’ by comrades Mark Abram and Helen Watson in the latest issue of Trotskyist International (January-June), the theoretical journal of the LRCI. We are not so concerned here with the actual ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of the theoretical position sketched out in the article, but with exposing the rotten methodology that inspired the comrades to put pen to paper.
Comrades Abram and Watson claim to “outline the results of a five-year debate inside the LRCI on the question” of bureaucratic socialism. Naturally, this is the first time that this “five year debate” has made its way into the pages of Trotskyist International, or for that matter Workers Power. The readers of these journals have just been told that WP/LRCI’s entire ideological world view has altered. Like a textbook sect, or cult, WP/LRCI has swapped one infallible truth for another. Last year the earth was round: this year it is flat. Here we have ‘scientific’ socialism. WP-style.
To sum up the comrades’ argument: ‘Trotsky was right, even when he was wrong.’ Therefore, “events in 1989-1991 vindicated Leon Trotsky’s analysis of these countries as degenerate workers’ states”. With this genuflection safely out of the way, the comrades get down to the real business:
“In 1982 Workers Power and the Irish Workers Group published The degenerated revolution, the origins and nature of the Stalinist states, in which we set out the implications for Marxist theory and programme of the creation of a series of Stalinist states after World War II. This book was a landmark in the theoretical rearming of Trotskyism and a break with previous centrist analyses of these events.”
But not everything is rosy in the Trotskyist garden: “While the bulk of the book served to orient Trotskyists to the coming death agony of Stalinism, one aspect was - we have since decided - flawed: the book contains a false attempt at a re-elaborated Marxist theory of the state” (my emphasis). After this interesting statement, we get the following hilarious footnote:
“When WP and the IWG first wrote the book we had differences within our ranks over the question of what exactly happened to the bourgeois state machine during the overthrow of capitalism by the Stalinists. Was it ‘smashed’ in the sense that Marxists use the term? The majority insisted that it must have been, believing that to say anything less was to suggest that a social overturn was possible by the road of reform. A minority argued the positions developed in this article. After a joint conference of the IWG and WP which agreed the contents of The degenerated revolution the debate ceased for 10 years.
“Under the impact of the events in eastern Europe, which raised the question, ‘Would the state machine, as distinct from the planned economy and the Stalinist parties, have to be smashed or would it be sufficient to drastically purge the special bodies of armed men, etc?’, the debate broke out anew in 1993. This time some members of the former majority joined the old minority. After four years of internal discussion within the LRCI including two congresses (1994 and 1997) and with many documents written on either side, this error was corrected. No side in the debate called into question for a moment Trotsky’s designation of the USSR (or the later Stalinist states) as degenerate workers’ states” (my emphasis).
This illuminating footnote succinctly sums up the thoroughly anti-scientific nature of WP’s endeavour. Since Trotsky’s formulations could not, as a matter of principle, be “called into question for a moment”, it is hardly surprising that the results of this debate are so obfuscatory and tortuous - reality had to be sacrificed in order to preserve the precious WP dogmas. We also have to presume that there are, now, absolutely no “errors” to be found in any of WP/LRCI’s literature. The gods must be walking amongst us.
Naturally, the lengthy article by comrades Watson and Abram is intended as a (somewhat unconvincing) justification of WP/LRCI’s volte-face line change. In essence, it goes:
“Without being conscious of it ... The degenerated revolution revised the Marxist theory of the state by reducing the process of the smashing of the capitalist state to what it has in common with earlier forms of political revolutions in class society rather than what is historically unique and specific about the process ... We did not realise that in the attempt to deepen the concept we merely ended up regressing to a concept that had been rejected by Marx and Lenin.
“We decided that ‘smashing’ the state was an elongated process with several ‘moments’. But the essence of the smashing, the key moment as it were, was to be found in the violent destruction of the armed power, the destruction of the ability of the bourgeoisie to apply coercive power to defend its property relations. But the book muddled the following distinguishable ‘moments’ in the unfolding of a revolution: first, the defeat and disintegration of one standing army by another; second, the emergence of a dual power situation; third, the seizure of power by the proletariat by methods of armed insurrections; fourth, the smashing by the victorious proletariat of the old bourgeois state machine and its replacement by the armed power and popular self-administration of the soviets.
“This last task, no matter how much it depends upon, or has been prepared for by the preceding moments, is what Marx and Lenin insisted was the qualitative difference with previous transformations. This is therefore the specific meaning of the ‘smashing of the state’ required by the proletarian revolution in contrast to all previous revolutions. The degenerated revolution confused the question of violent revolution with the task of state smashing, and then to fit it in with the actual event of the bureaucratic social overturns of 1947-48 (no soviets, militia, etc) it reduced the essential tasks to the violent seizure of power.”
According to comrades Abram and Watson, what we really saw was the following:
“The successful counterrevolution/bourgeois coalition in eastern Europe has taken hold of the bureaucratic state machine, purged it, and then used this to smash those elements of the state which were responsible for the system of economic administration.”
Whatever the merits might be of such a perspective, the conclusion drawn by the comrades is utterly anti-Leninist. Indeed, it has 1984-ish undertones:
“Serious debate within the ranks of the LRCI over an extended period has allowed it to correct a mistake and thereby rearm itself politically. In the process all sides in the debate realised that despite their differences they were bound together in complete agreement on the programmatic tasks facing the working class after 1989.
“We did not have any differences over the programme of political revolution from 1989 onwards .... Thus The degenerated revolution proved a strong enough pillar of the LRCI to bear the weight of an important but narrowly circumscribed theoretical difference” (my emphasis).
Clearly for WP the existence of anything more than “narrowly circumscribed theoretical difference” within the organisation would be an admission of failure. The notion that disagreements are normal and healthy, and should be debated out before the class, is completely foreign to the LRCI. So it pretends not to “have any differences” on just about everything.
But imagine, just for a minute - what if it were true that WP/LRCI members did have “complete agreement” on everything under the sun?
Now, that really is a scary thought.