The struggle for democracy

Leninism versus left economism

Here we are at the close of a century where life itself has shown us that the only path to proletarian socialism is through democratic revolution. A century scarred by various socialisms from above - Labourite state socialism, Mao’s voluntaristic-peasant communism, Enver Hoxha’s xenophobic communism, JV Stalin’s socialism in one country, Pol Pot’s genocidal barrack-room communism, North Korea’s dynastic communism, etc. The only successful workers’ revolution was carried out by a mass-based party (ie, the Bolsheviks) which emphasised above everything else the necessity for internationalism and the struggle for revolutionary or consistent democracy. A perspective VI Lenin had struggled for since at least 1902, when he penned What is to be done?

Despite that, recent correspondents to the Weekly Worker allege that we communists make “a cult of formal structures” under capitalism - ie, the revolutionary democratic demand for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales. Some will never learn. For example, an examination of Tom Delargy’s recent letters (Weekly Worker July 8, July 15) reveals a rigid mind-set which downplays or dismisses the necessity for the working class taking the lead in the battle for democracy. The workers need to know only one thing - socialism. That seems to be Tom’s motto.

It should be painfully obvious really. History presents us with a choice between revolutionary democratic communism from below and state socialism from above. It is sad, therefore, that comrades like Delargy crudely counterpose democracy under capitalism and socialism. Communists recognise that socialism is an historical break, or leap. But we also emphasise that without the struggle for the fullest possible democracy, proletarian revolution will be nothing but a lifeless abstraction. But not for Tom. In his jumbled-up account democracy becomes a danger to be guarded against. Revolutionary democracy equals Kautskyism, intone our left Trotskyists. A democratic republic is and must be a counterrevolutionary demand. If necessary, phantom ‘revolutionary democrats’ will be invented - so that pre-1917 Bolshevism can then be knocked down like a straw man in the name of their pseudo-Trotsky orthodoxy. This presumably explains why comrade Delargy’s theoretical colleague, Barry Biddulph, throws the baby out with the bathwater when he rightly disparages the Communist Party of China of the 1920s which engaged in the “utopian struggle for revolutionary democracy” in alliance with the national bourgeoisie, and the Spanish Stalinists of the 1930s who “limited themselves to democracy and republicanism” (Weekly Worker July 15). Democracy and republicanism must therefore be Very Bad Things, if we concur with Barry Biddulph’s method.

Tom’s ‘anti-Kautskyism’ means he is doomed to oscillate wildly between anti-political anarchism on the one hand, and routine trade union politics on the other. So, comrade Dave Craig writes a defence of revolutionary democracy contra Kautsky (Weekly Worker July 1). This of course is a red rag for our comrade Delargy. All he can see is an article “plunging the depths of Kautskyite apologetics”. It is hard not to conclude that comrade Craig must be some sort of class traitor for even daring to write the piece, which showed that Trotsky advocated a democratic republic under capitalism (as did Marx, Engels and Lenin before him). Tom would rather we ignored this and retreated with him into the crude certainties of left economism, where ‘Leninism’ is compressed into the time-frame between the April thesis and The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky, and robbed of its revolutionary democratic content.

The supreme irony is that in the shape of comrade Delargy these condemnations of “Kautskyism” come from someone who cheerfully confesses that he does not know the difference between “democracy in general” and “bourgeois democracy in particular” - which should really be ABC. It almost goes without saying that by implication the comrade rejects the politics of What is to be done? This leads to a situation rich in comic innuendo. All available evidence suggests that comrade Craig takes seriously Lenin’s warning about “why all worship of the spontaneity of the mass movement and any degrading of [communist] politics to trade unionist politics [by the Russian economists of Rabochoye Dyelo] mean precisely preparing the ground for converting the workers’ movement into an instrument of bourgeois democracy” (VI Lenin What is to be done? Peking 1976, p118). Tom Delargy, unlike comrade Craig, cannot see what Lenin is making a fuss about. Yet it is comrade Craig, not Delargy, who is denounced for “blurring” the lines between bourgeois democracy and proletarian democracy … and for being a “Kautskyist”.

Topsy-turvy politics or what?

To compound this political dyslexia, which needs urgent treatment, comrade Delargy suggests that in my last letter I was making overtures to the left Trotskyism camp. Dream on, comrade. My feet are firmly planted in democratic communism, not the cold  barren steppes of ultra-leftism. Where does comrade Delargy get the evidence? From the following statement of mine: “The Huttonites want a controlled removal from above of the constitutional-monarchical system, which (they hope) will usher in a bourgeois-presidential-type system. The CPGB wants the revolutionary democratic removal from below of the constitutional-monarchical system and its replacement by organs of workers’ power” (Letters, July 8). Tom somehow thinks that by declaring this I am “endorsing the struggle for the workers’ republic that all Trotskyists support” (July 15).

This is not a fertile approach to politics. In actual fact the truth is more complex. News though it may be to Tom, people do not join the CPGB because they are inspired by a vision of a bourgeois republic with Richard Branson or Lord Archer as president. Nor are bourgeois modernisers banging at the door of the CPGB, desperate for membership. Why join the CPGB if you do not want communism?

Wishing or yearning for something is one thing - making it happen is another. To get from where we are now to where we want to be requires the art of politics.

It is incorrect to counterpose maximalist demands (ie, for a socialist/workers’ republic) to minimum or immediate demands. Employing such a methodology is not to scale the heights of revolution. Leftist slogans will not make the socialist dawn edge a few days closer. They never have. And they never will.

We live under a (thoroughly bourgeoisified) constitutional monarchy. There is a living national question in Scotland, Wales and Ireland (and in England with Hague’s fanning of the nationalist flames). The workers exist as a slave class. In these circumstances, how do we advance, not stay still? The CPGB’s slogan of a ‘federal republic’ is not some static, isolated demand - nor is it part of some ‘left’ Huttonite reform package. Less still is the federal republic viewed as the fulfilment of Britain’s supposed unfinished bourgeois revolution. It is a demand that the mass of workers must be won to support in order for them to become a political class. Here is the real political answer to comrade Delargy’s morbid obsession with defining the federal republic “in class terms”. Class struggle itself will determine the outcome, not the ritualistic formulas of left economism.

The comrade admonishes me for not realising that “workers there [in the US or Germany] have long since been liberated from a constitutional-monarchical system, but wage slaves they remain” (July 15). This is such a pure expression of the economistic credo, it deserves to be framed and then prominently displayed in the home of every communist. The obvious inference is that communists should not take the lead in overthrowing the constitutional monarchy. It is no business of the workers how they are ruled. If you just hate ‘the bosses’, that is enough. And the more you hate ‘the bosses’, the more revolutionary you are.

Communists have a fundamentally different approach. In countries like the USA, Germany, Australia, etc, our revolutionary democratic demands would be different. Is that so hard to understand, comrade Delargy? In such countries the immediate slogan ought to be ‘For a centralised republic’. The federal-type structures in these countries actually impede the struggle for the extension of democracy - by giving (reactionary) minorities the legal-constitutional right to frustrate the democratic will of the majority.

As for the UK, the monarchy provides modern British capitalism with its constitutional mainstay. Hereditary privilege is the very antithesis of democracy. Communists think we should exploit this for everything it is worth. Economist-communists think we should ignore or belittle it.

The struggle for revolutionary democracy - and a totally different type of republic - is just as relevant for the USA as it is for the UK, or Indonesia and Iran … if you reject the Menshevik-Stalinist theory of the bourgeois democratic revolution as a necessary stage in history.

In other words, the role of communists is to “conquer democracy”, not to wait for the “thousand times more democratic socialism”. Fatal consequences follow otherwise.

As a good Marxist, comrade Delargy thinks that Britain, Germany, Australia, etc have already had their ‘bourgeois revolution’. Democracy is deemed superfluous. In which case we might as well stick with the constitutional monarchy until the red dawn comes along.

Now we are left with the archetypal - and reductionist - left Trotskyist scenario. In the blue corner there is high bourgeois politics. In the red corner there is low ‘prole’ politics. All that is left now is the ‘pure’ struggle between workers and bosses. The final countdown unencumbered by the need for real stages - as opposed to artificial theory - or a Communist Party.

Danny Hamill