Fisc manifesto

This document, sent anonymously to the Weekly Worker, is said to have been adopted by an SLP branch and sent to the NEC for discussion. It has all the hallmarks of the politics of Arthur Scargill’s former courtiers-in-chief, the Fourth International Supporters Caucus, most of whom have now left the party. The comrades call for the banning of “controversial” material - except, of course, their own

The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionising themselves and things, in cre­ating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language … ” (K Marx The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bona­parte).

It is with great regret that we produce this document. We all joined the SLP because we believed it was a party of a new type, led by the most principled and astute British work­ing class leader since the General Strike, unfettered by any dogma and open to new ideas and influences, which made the building of a mass socialist party viable.

While we have been aware that factions were active in the party and that sectarian disputes were taking place, we thought that the worst of those had been resolved by the 1997 congress. It is with great concern therefore that we have seen events unravel both before and as a result of the 1998 special congress. Hitherto we have avoided any involvement in internal polemics, considering such activity diversionary and divisive. But we now find that we have left the field open to the spread of opinions which we regard with abhorrence, and consider to be entirely at variance with the SLP we joined. We believe that the growth of undisguised Stalinist elements in the party constitutes the greatest threat to the future of the SLP and must be challenged.

The character of the SLP has been clearly defined in the constitution, the founding policy statements, the elec­tion manifesto and numerous speeches by comrade Arthur Scargill. It is a party which aims “to abolish capitalism and replace it with a socialist system” (clause IV (3)), not by simply proclaiming ourselves as a revolutionary party and exhorting people to join, but by striving for the implementation of a practical, detailed programme of reforms to transform the lot of workers and other oppressed people. We pursue this policy not only via the electoral system, but, as far as our re­sources allow, by supporting in a non-sectarian way all workers and other oppressed and discontented people who come into conflict with the capitalist system as it affects their lives.

The establishment of the SLP was greeted with enthusi­asm and interest by thousands of people because it promised something entirely new. It represented, in the words of comrade Scargill, “the birth of a new idea”. A break from the old, tired out, dull, unimaginative and failed left. A left which had generally shown itself unresponsive to the needs of working people and to the impact of pro­found social, economic, political and cultural changes, which have accompanied the victories of the new right’s neo-liberal global agenda. A left which has failed to take on board the rate of unprecedented technological and environmental changes over the past generation. A left whose universe - whether founded on Labourite reformism, sycophantic adulation of Stalinist states, or Fourth Internationalist attempts to resurrect an idealised and obsolete version of Bolshevism - has been shaken to its roots by recent history.

Only those with no grasp of history, no empathy with people’s real daily lives, or understanding of what is happening to the world as a whole, can continue to pur­sue socialism along roads which, at best, have proved barren cul-de-sacs and, at worst, have been washed out by blood. But, instead of reappraisal and criticism, some have only clung more desperately to their discredited beliefs, like sacrificial victims embracing totemic idols. They continue to mechanically impose on reality the dead dogma of a past era. Consequently, outmoded ideas, expressed in esoteric language, do not resonate with the experience of oppressed people. Political prac­tice is incapable of measuring up to actuality. Like World War I generals, the left fights today’s battles with yesterday’s weapons and tactics.

The substitution of infallible dogma for critical under­standing, and of repeated liturgy for analysis and expla­nation, inevitably spawns that other bane of the left - sectarianism. Anyone who does not embrace the dogma and recite the creed is regarded as treacherous and hostile. This perpetuates in some degree, in most left organisations, deeply engrained modes of behaviour, characterised by suspicion, intolerance, bitterness and, on occasions, verbal and physical violence. No doubt, under certain circumstances, there may be a need to respond vigorously to disruptive elements within organi­sations. Polemic, often passionate, is also inevitable and necessary if ideas are to develop and clarify. But there is no need for the vindictiveness, anger and vitu­peration which some ‘socialists’ employ against those who disagree with their opinions. More vehemence is routinely expressed against fellow socialists than against the class enemy.

It is evident that what the dogmatist claims as scientific, revolutionary consciousness rests ultimately on nothing more substantial than moral superiority based on subjec­tive faith. The vast living wealth of human thought and experience - which, to remain relevant, needs to be con­stantly re-examined and refined in the light of changed material circumstances - becomes reduced to a positivist creed of immutable laws. The dogmatists arrogantly refuse to engage in a dialogue with people involved in living struggles against capitalism; they refuse to learn from the experiences of the oppressed. Instead they set themselves up as teachers, the guardians of the laws, the interpreters of the sacred texts and holders of the only key to the revolution. Those dogmatists who claim to be Marxists-Leninists negate the very philosophy of Marxism, transforming it into holy writ, as lifeless and empty as the embalmed body of Lenin and as monolithic and immobile as the Marx monument at Highgate.

These defeated and bankrupt concepts of socialism and methods of operating reflect the dominance of capital­ism - of the old society’s continued grip on those who try to fight against it. A new, genuine socialist society can­not be created by an organisation and individuals who carry within them and replicate all the old forms of op­pression. Socialism must be truly revolutionary. It must create new relationships between people, free of all the negative egotism, aggression, hatred, intimidation, ma­nipulation and deceit which characterises the old politi­cal parties. If we are to have a party of a new type, which inspires people to join and makes them feel proud to belong, we have to free it of such destructive behav­iour and foster real comradeship. At least a glimmer of the new society has to be seen in the values of the party and the conduct of people within it, expressed in toler­ance, compassion and mutual respect. This is vital if a party like the SLP, born out of a “diversity of experiences and traditions”, is to survive (Policy statements August 1996).

For socialism to have meaning in the lives of ordinary people it has to be accepted as a liberating force. It has not only to offer material improvement, but also express the higher hopes and aspirations of humanity. How can socialists claim to lead a liberation struggle when they repress others within their own ranks and smother criti­cal thought? How can they be liberators, who are them­selves not free of the mire of past mistakes and defeats? Unfortunately, the dictum of Marx that “the traditions of past generations weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the living” is only too true of many on the left, including in the SLP.

The party has been permeated by a specific breed of dogmatists, who are not in sympathy with the constitu­tion, principles, policies, spirit or ethos of the party as originally conceived. They are more concerned with fighting the battles of the 1920s and 1930s in an attempt to turn the SLP into a Marxist-Leninist - ie, Stalinist-type - party. Though few, they are energetic, vocal and intent on extending their influence through gaining office. En­ergies and resources which should be turned outwards to building the party, supporting campaigns and propa­gating socialism among the working class are frittered away on internal ‘Trotskyist’ hunts - ‘Trotskyist’ or ‘anti-communist’ being code words for socialists who do not subscribe to their world view.

Literature venerating the cult of Stalin is currently being circulated by members both within and, perhaps more dangerously, outside the party. Lies which have long since been categorically refuted continue to be peddled as history and, worse still, portrayed as the SLP’s vision of a socialist society. How can the SLP win any credibil­ity among the working class if it becomes associated, in any way whatsoever, with one of the world’s most re­pressive state terrorists, whose crimes overshadow those of Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, Suharto and Pol Pot put together? Stalin’s deeds are now so well docu­mented that it is amazing that, at the close of the 20th century, ostensibly intelligent people can still revere this butcher as an icon of socialism.

A brief summary does not do justice to Stalin’s victims, and statistics, imprecise in their magnitude, do not begin to convey the enormity of the horror he inflicted. But it is necessary to draw up an indictment which must be answered in clear conscience by the Stalin apologists if they can.

Around five million peasants dead as a result of famine and deportation during forced collectivisation; count­less millions of workers killed by firing squads, hunger, cold and ill-treatment in concentration camps and slave labour camps; all levels of the Communist Party’s cad­res, including veteran Bolsheviks, Lenin’s former com­rades, decimated; 40,000 officers of the Red Army ex­ecuted or disappeared into gulags; the leading mem­bers of several European communist parties executed or imprisoned; tens of thousands of revolutionaries in China, Spain and Greece, and opponents of fascism in Germany, the most advanced working class militants of a generation, cynically betrayed in opportunistic twists and turns of policy; hundreds of thousands of members of national minorities killed or deported - Chechens, Ingush, Tartars, Kurds ...

All this justified, now as then, in the name of building socialism. But the reality was the destruction of socialism. Instead of the withering away of the state under soviet democracy. as envisaged by Lenin, the all-perva­sive rule of a privileged bureaucracy was consolidated, creating dictatorship over the proletariat and exploi­tation under a new ruling class. Those progressive char­acteristics which ‘Soviet’ society retained represent the surviving achievements of the revolution, on the ruins of which Stalin built his regime of terror. So too with the Great Patriotic War against fascism, on which Stalin’s reputation as a world leader was founded. This was won by the terrible sacrifices of the Russian people in spite of Stalin, whose policies of purging the Red Army and rapprochement with the Nazis so nearly led to disas­ter.

The Bolshevik revolution was once, and could still re­main, stripped of its mythology and distortions, a beacon for the world’s peoples suffering under imperialism. It is sad that today, even in the SLP, there are some people so dazzled by the glare of this beacon, they cannot see the atrocities committed in its shadow.

This inevitably carries over into the interpretation of the Stalinist successor states today, which are portrayed, despite the vast amount of evidence to the contrary, as some sort of workers’ paradise. Like Jehovah’s Wit­nesses, who regard the bible as infallible and dismiss any evidence to the contrary as falsehoods planted by Satan, the Stalin worshippers attempt to discredit criti­cism of the former Soviet Union, or contemporary China, North Korea and even Yugoslavia, as the work of CIA agents and provocateurs. Hence we have had the ludi­crous claim, printed in Socialist News, that Tianamen Square was the scene of “brutal violence against the Chinese state” and a massacre of civilians never hap­pened. The same article describes the takeover of Hong Kong by China as a victory for socialism, when it is apparent to anyone on this planet that China has long since turned right off the capitalist road, on to a capital­ist multi-lane highway!

How can such reactionary clap-trap be reconciled with a “socialist system whose institutions represent and are democratically controlled by and accountable to the people as a whole” (SLP constitution, clause IV (3))? Is our socialism measured in terms of the promotion of the “political, social and economic emancipation of the people as a whole” (clause IV (16)), or by columns of troops with fixed bayonets? Do we aim at socialism based on “common/social ownership of the means of production”, or a state-run economy, controlled by an unaccountable, authoritarian bureaucracy?

We owe it to our supporters to be clear and honest about our concept of socialism. Do we seek the genu­ine liberation of the working class and the advance of humanity, or is this a Machiavellian deceit to establish a gulag ‘socialism’, which justifies any barbarity in the name of the revolution? We cannot advocate two diametrically opposed visions of socialism at the same time. Fortunately, it is abundantly evident that it is the Stalinist concept of socialism which does not accord with that enshrined in the main plank of our party’s con­stitution, clause IV.

The knee-jerk response would be to call for members who do not believe in the constitution to be removed from office and expelled. Not only would this be damaging to the party, but it would also mean resorting to the very methods of denunciation which we are deprecating here. We uphold the right of members to have differing views of socialism, and how to achieve it, and even to be critical of the constitution, so long as they abide by it.

However, the issue of factionalism needs to be urgently addressed before it tears the SLP apart. Formal and informal sects in the party are, in practice, behaving as if they belonged to a federal organisation, with their own journals and other literature, caucus meetings and elec­toral slates. The greatest danger to the soul, the credibility and the future of the SLP as a mass party comes, we believe, from groups that want to create a Bolshevik, or Marxist-Leninist (Stalinist) party. If their redundant and discredited ideology sinks roots in the party and they gain actual, or even perceived, influence on our policies and socialist objective, we are doomed to become yet another of those bickering sects with which our move­ment is sadly littered, unable and unworthy to promote the liberation of humanity. Maybe these are just the inevitable growing pains of an infant party, but, un­treated, they may doom the whole project.

We therefore call upon the NEC to ensure:

1. That the circulation by members of controversial material inside, or outside, the party be halted, “con­troversial” being defined as material which fundamen­tally contradicts clause IV of the constitution, or resurrects and perpetuates irrelevant Bolshevik fac­tional disputes, particularly the sterile Stalinist ven­detta against Trotskyism.

2. That when these historical issues are raised in the party, it is in the context of an open and informed process of debate, aimed at educating members, and conducted in an objective, comradely atmosphere free of invec­tive and accusation.

We fully realise that this document itself could be con­sidered as controversial and fuelling factionalism. And so it is. Hopefully our suggestions will be adopted and, in future, the NEC will ensure that time and mental energy which could more usefully be devoted to supporting people in struggle and promoting socialism is not wasted on such tiresome arguments.