Around the left
A potential meltdown in Russia. Continuing financial instability in south East Asia and the Far East. Stock exchange turmoil. There is talk of a British recession. The Dow-Jones index suffers its second worst drop ever, falling 6.4%. In general, the world markets are in a state of nervous tension, possibly panic. Time for the left to confidently step into the breach?
As capitalism throws its latest wobbly, left groups are only too eager to say, ‘We told you so’ - and then explain at length about the evils of capitalism and the wonders of socialism. The current world situation provides an easy opportunity to trot out the tired old dogmas and platitudes that have so long bedevilled the British left. We are seeing the usual mixture of fatuous - or official - optimism and a blind faith in the historic power of spontaneity. All this stems, as we know, from the left’s fatal brand of mechanical inevitablism, which essentially believes that all we have to do is unroll the carpet of history and ‘socialism’ will spring out, fully-formed and pristine. Not for the first time, nor for the last, we see a complete inability to fully grasp the essential role played by consciousness in the struggle for socialism. The ‘productive forces’ or ‘history’ cannot act as a substitute for consciousness.
One of the most crude examples of this is the Socialist Party. In the case of Russia, it seems to be labouring under the essentially economistic illusion that the masses will fall into its lap as soon as the words ‘Leon Trotsky’ are mentioned - and if the crisis is severe enough.
The editorial in Socialist News informs us:
“The financial-economic meltdown in Russia has exposed the ‘virtual’ quality of the new Russian capitalism. Far from being a dynamic epicentre of global growth, as many capitalist commentators claimed until very recently, the Russian economy has been reduced by the market to a barbarous jungle dominated by predatory robber barons. In the ruthless struggle to enrich themselves, the capitalist mafia have squandered the enormous human, technological and natural resources built up in the former Soviet Union, despite the distortions of Stalinism” (September).
The reference to the “enormous human, technological and natural resources built up in the former Soviet Union” betrays a belief in the positive nature of the so-called ‘proletarian property forms’ which Trotskyites seem to admire so much in the former bureaucratic socialist countries, and, presumably, in the still existing bureaucratic socialist countries (like China). However, the outline presented in the editorial is reasonable enough.
Unfortunately, the conclusions drawn by the SP are nothing short of disastrous. We read:
“The effects of the Russian collapse, moreover, will not be confined to the economic-financial sphere. It will provoke a far more intense political and social crisis in Russia. Workers who are already suffering from the primitive gangster-capitalism will be forced to fight for survival. Within Russia and internationally any illusions that capitalism is a progressive system will be destroyed. Among the politically conscious workers there will be an intense re-examination of history. Why did the distorted Stalinist form of the planned economy collapse? What is the route to a socialist planed economy that can provide the material foundations for a democratic socialist society run by working people?
“The collapse of Stalinism promoted the illusion that capitalism is a successful system. The collapse of Russian capitalism will have an important effect in cancelling this out” (my emphasis).
Here we see the ‘first the meltdown - then us’ mentality of the SP. With no organised global alternative to capitalism, illusions and delusions of all types will inevitably grow - whether they be in capitalism or something else. In Russia, disillusionment with capitalism - and the bitter resentment generated by the unleashing free market mechanism - can become a reaction against democracy in general. To some extent we are seeing this already. Some are looking back to the ‘good old days’ of Leonard Brezhnev, or even JV Stalin. Many are looking towards or flirting with extreme nationalism and fascist ideas and organisations. It is the spectre of ‘national Bolshevism’ that looks set to haunt Russia, not Marxism and scientific socialism. And definitely not Peter Taaffe and the SP’s Committee for a Workers International. A meltdown in Russia, in all probability, will in the short term lead us to barbarism, not socialism.
Workers Power takes a similar line to the SP. A world financial crisis will ‘inevitably’ turn into a revolutionary crisis, which ‘inevitably’ will lead to socialism … if Trotskyites armed with the 1938 Transitional programme are there to swoop in at the required moment. In an article based on a resolution of the international secretariat of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International, we are told that “we are entering a new decisive phase of the international class struggle”. It goes on to state:
“A new world historic revolutionary period opened up with the downfall of Stalinism in 1989-91 and the end of the Cold War. The United States and its allies won that contest. The new order was theirs to make at will, or so it seemed. The LRCI argued that this period would have a profoundly revolutionary character. The downfall of Stalinism and the rightward shift of the reformist labour movements and union bureaucracy signalled that the new period would start with an opening counterrevolutionary phase, but one that would end in the short term as the capitalists returned and the crisis of capitalist restoration gathered pace … The serious defeats of workers’ struggles in the 1980s, the aborted political revolutions of 1989-91 in eastern Europe, Russia and China and the imperialist victory over Iraq in 1991 all contributed to the ascendancy of bourgeois democratic counterrevolution - but it could not last.”
Now are presented with the ‘first the bourgeois democratic counterrevolution - then us’ viewpoint of WP. Apparently, the revolutionary upturn is well on its way. The ‘red millennium’ beckons. Staring at the global wreckage of the dying 20th century, the anonymous writer explains:
“The most important and most generalised characteristic of the counterrevolutionary phase was the combination of weak class struggles and accumulated defeats. This created a temporary equilibrium favourable to the world bourgeoisie. But the policy of containment only ever involved a partial suspension of the contradictions between nations and classes, between the oppressed and the oppressor, not their resolution. That is why the LRCI insisted that the equilibrium would not be prolonged, let alone be the basis for an entire new historic period. Now it is clear that we were right. The democratic counterrevolutionary phase is at its end and we are entering a new phase of political instability and class struggle. The end of the six-year global recovery is in sight. The way in which it ends will decide the tempo and depths of the class struggles and inter-state rivalries unleashed. US political and military hegemony will, at the very least, be severely tested.”
WP almost appears to be rubbing its hands in glee at “the six-year global recovery” coming to the end. And, yes, the installation of a military red-brown regime in the Kremlin, say, or a break-up of the Russian Federation would certainly “decide the tempo and depths of the class struggles”. The bitter reality, however much WP tries to deny it, is that the period of reaction remains - there is no working class fightback. But, somehow, WP even thinks that China “is heading towards a revolutionary crisis”. (A crisis - yes, perhaps. But a revolutionary crisis?)
In reality, WP has no solutions, or any sort of strategy designed to help usher in the ‘red millennium’ - just an abstract call for a “programme of socialist revolution”. In south-east Asia, for instance, WP advocates the following: “The working class must organise around an emergency programme of action to meet the economic crisis. All conglomerates, banks and multinational enterprises must be nationalised immediately under workers’ control, with no compensation to the bosses” (my emphasis). In a truly global economy the demand for localised socialism is tantamount to lunacy - it could only send society crashing backwards.
Without a minimum programme to guide it, and an understanding of the real world balance of forces, WP is destined to remain an impotent sect. It still believes, as a matter of sacred dogma, that “the most burning problem of the present situation is the question of working class leadership”. Are we still on the verge of imminent revolution then, just as Leon Trotsky thought way back in 1938?
The problem goes deeper than that. We have no leadership, or leaders, because of the crisis that afflicts the class itself. A class which has vanished politically. A world dominated by the power and the ideology of capitalism - which pretends that ‘Old Labour’ and the Soviet-type societies were a form of ‘socialism’ - and look what happened to them.
Banking everything on a global meltdown, a general crisis just around the corner, is in reality not a sign of confidence, but despair.