If I would not describe Phil Walden as an ultra-left, that is only because to do so would be to insult Amadeo Bordiga and Anton Panekoek. Both did make a lopsided contribution of sorts to our movement. Phil, by contrast, is a clown pure and simple.
Having said that, the basis upon which he is being lined up for expulsion from the Republican Communist Network is dangerously mistaken (Weekly Worker June 22). Phil's admission that he disagrees with two RCN slogans is technically a breach of the membership rules. But these rules are barking.
I am told that Steve Freeman (the England secretary) at the June 17 meeting again stated that, in his opinion, I disagree with one slogan: 'revolutionary democracy'. I, in turn, have argued that his close colleague, the all-Britain secretary (Mary Ward), by her attitude to Cuba demonstrates a disagreement with 'revolutionary democracy', 'workers' power' and whichever variation on 'international socialism' we plump for. Yet all Mary and I have to do to evade the fate lying in store for Phil is to promise that we agree with our own private definition of these slogans! We are, in other words, being encouraged to copy Bill Clinton's imaginative defence against the charge of perjury in the Monica Lewinsky affair.
If Phil, or anyone else, is to be kicked out of the RCN, it has to be on a fair basis. That can only be done by redrafting the membership rules. We need to stop genuflecting before a handful of soundbites, the meaning of which divides each and every one of us. We need, instead, to draw up a substantial document (at least one that contains a verb or two) to be voted on at conference. The Alliance for Workers' Liberty's Scottish Socialist Party factional platform could, perhaps, serve as one starting point for an all-UK RCN document.
Membership criteria would, of course, have to be based on acceptance of such a platform, with minorities having rights to disagree with certain aspects of it.
Can of worms
The difference between myself and the CPGB in the RCN England is that I want the organisation to be a real organisation with regular activity and meetings, and the CPGB cynically want a nominal organisation in England, with a minimal number of meetings, as a lever to intervene in the RCN in Scotland. This has been clear from their refusal to support the call for regular meetings by myself and other comrades. The political agenda is not even hidden. The CPGB will attempt to shape the "faction of a living movement in Scotland" (the RCN) from England.
Peter Manson cynically invents a difference, an unfounded allegation that has not been levelled at me before: that I am a nationalist. Really, so if this is not a smear why didn't he tell the readers of the Weekly Worker why my views are nationalist? And why has he adopted a new habit of telling lies? He reports that I have not replied to the correspondence of the secretary of the RCN in England. Since I sent him, like other comrades, all the copies of my replies to Steve Freeman, what excuse does he have to publicly state this?
Where does he get the nerve to make the unsupported allegation that my actions have gone beyond reasonable criticism? If the oxygen of publicity is good for the dissidents in the SP, why is it a scandal that an open letter has been written to Weekly Worker criticising the CPGB for packing the February meeting with non-members of the RCN to elect Peter Manson treasurer, when he was not a member of the RCN, and did not join until some months later, and exclude representatives of comrades outside the CPGB from official positions? (Terry Liddle was coopted acting chair following the open letter.) The main complaint of the letter-writers was the failure to call meetings - hardly unreasonable.
Why does Peter Manson describe my bloc or temporary faction with other comrades as a "self-appointed clique of guardians" - whatever that means? Apart from a dishonest attempt to deny the existence of a temporary faction or bloc, it follows Steve Freeman in his intolerance of criticism and minority rights. What is undemocratic about criticising a leader? Why should we be restricted to making a complaint about Steve Freeman to Steve Freeman. Even bourgeois organisations and employers provide the formal right to complain to an independent person. The letter was sent to Mary Ward as well as the Weekly Worker: obviously very undemocratic and dangerous.
So far the two meetings of the all-England RCN have been a can of worms. The RCN in England does not appear to have any future because it has been denied a present.
Can of worms
Can of worms
I was concerned to read that Scottish Socialist Party member David Murray finds the CPGB "rather scary" (Letters, June 22). My concern was lessened however when, further on, I read he had managed to raise a chuckle, despite his best intentions.
So, we advocate civil war because "it may cause revolution", do we, comrade Murray? I think you've got that arse about tit. Revolution is civil war. To the extent that I advocate the violent overthrow of capitalism and class society then, yes, I advocate civil war. However, I do not advocate civil war because "it may cause revolution". Personally, I am not that keen on violence but I do recognise its necessity. Certainly, I am not fool enough to believe that the ruling class will voluntarily relinquish power and privilege because a bunch of SSP MPs vote through an 'enabling act' in parliament. Nor, for that matter, am I fool enough to believe in an "independent socialist Scotland".
Which brings me to my final point - "I bet you support Stalinist policies", shrieks the Scottish Socialist Party member. Presumably the good comrade supports his organisation's call for socialism in one country? Rather ironic that this defining tenet of Stalinism has been resurrected by Trotsky's heirs.
Ian Donovan's letter in reply to Andrew Cutting is a masterpiece of Stalinist-type dissimulation and evasion (Weekly Worker June 22). So by degrees to oppose the full MDC is to "imply that we should give support to the anti-working-class dictatorship such as Mugabe's against the workers' movement" - though Cutting specifically explained that he did not do so. And how did the MDC become the "workers' movement" or "a small step towards the workers' movement" comparable no less to the great 1920-21 Italian workers' movement? Because some trade union bureaucrats support it, as 'coincidentally' does the entire imperialist neo-liberal western establishment.
And Ian's concern for Zimbabwe's productive forces neatly gels with imperialist interests also, albeit with a leftist cover of workers' control and international division of labour. Those old reactionaries, Lenin and Trotsky, made such a blunder in calling for the land to the peasantry - and weren't the orthodox Austro-Marxist able to tell them so? As for the 1918 wholesale nationalisation of heavy industry - heavy blow to internationalism, no less.
Ian's method of the amalgam is common to several letters. Superficial features of a situation are conflated to give a leftist gloss to imperialist interests or to the Stalinist bureaucracy. Tom Delargy is forced to defend political revolution in Cuba against the same methodology from Mary Ward. The same method is used to defend Stalinist repression of the working class by Joseph Roth in the same issue. Either you back the Stalinists, as Roth does, or you back the CIA - which must inevitably come to control all anti-Stalinist movements. No, comrades, the movement in Hungary in 1956 and Poland in the early 80s and Zimbabwe today were and are opposed by imperialism as long as the working class is moving forward and the character of such movements is yet to be decided. The reactionaries triumphed in Solidarnosc when Jaruzelski crushed the workers' movement that was its base. Capitalism will be restored in Cuba if the working class fail to make a political revolution to overthrow Castro. If the occupations of the farms in Zimbabwe is crushed by the MDC or Mugabe imperialism will be strengthened. The common enemy in all the above cases is the self-activity of the masses themselves, without which no revolution is possible.
Ian's 'sensible conservatism' in opposing mass nationalisations - and Mugabe was forced to mention the possibility of nationalisation of the mines - means waiting for the perfect conditions for revolution. In fact his preconditions are an outright opposition to revolution itself. Yes, with the reactionary Mugabe, as long as he takes measures against imperialism. That is your internationalist duty, as it was to support Milosevic against imperialism in Kosovo and the IRA and PLO against their respective imperialist oppressors. You must be for the defeat of your 'own' imperialist power in any conflict with another imperialist power and a thousand times more in a conflict with a neo-colony like Argentina, for example.
No political support to bourgeois or petty bourgeois national regimes or movements is implied in such a stance because this is what opens up the road for the building of a genuine mass revolutionary international workers' movement. The kow-towing to imperialist-sponsored puppet movements like the KLA, the loyalists in Ireland, the MDC - and now the Zionists it seems - can never achieve this aim.
The CPGB are collapsing before the current neo-liberal ideological offensive following the fall of the Berlin Wall. And, no, this does not mean you are a tool of the state, but it does mean that you have become seriously politically disorientated and opportunist.
Gerry Downing's letter, sent to me as well as to the Weekly Worker, states that "the reactionaries triumphed in Solidarnosc when Jaruzelski crushed the workers' movement that was its base".
I beg to differ. If you consider anti-communism, ideological domination by catholic prelates and Polish nationalism (with its traditional hostility to everything Russian) to be reactionary characteristics, then Solidarnosc was reactionary from day one. It idealised the Republic of Poland destroyed in 1939 - a state which oppressed ethnic and religious minorities and whose police frequently tortured and murdered suspected Comintern agents and couriers operating in Poland or passing through it.
From day one Solidarnosc received extensive and favourable coverage in the world's bourgeois media. I suggest that a genuine movement for the liberation of the working class would not have benefited from such largesse. Solidarnosc may have been 'independent' of the government in Poland at the time - it was not independent of the various reactionary influences I have cited above.
The world's Trotskyist or Trotskyoid left have sought to paint Solidarnosc and movements like it in the colours of working-class liberation and socialism. I will be charitable and assume they were genuinely deceived as to the nature of Solidarnosc. And perhaps in the early 1980s this would have been easier to understand. But in the year 2000 it ought to be obvious that Solidarnosc were the shock troops of capitalist restoration and imperialist hegemony. As a memorial to this 'independent workers' movement', Poland today has Nato membership and weak trade unions cowed not by "Stalinist repression", but by capitalism. It also has high levels of unemployment, crime and prostitution, and easy scapegoats in the form of Roma and immigrants.
The national demo on June 24 against the scapegoating of asylum-seekers was a well attended event, with between 5,000 and 6,000 people marching. The mood on the march was overall a positive one with a heavy presence from both the left and trade unions. The politics of the various left groups present showed little variation (unsurprisingly).
Of most interest was a pamphlet put out by the SWP. The front page, which included the slogan 'No to immigration controls' - a correct and positive development for the SWP, which so far has preferred to stick to 'Asylum seekers are welcome here' - then fails to discuss this slogan again at all in the course of the pamphlet. This is glaringly absent from its model resolution. I have to wonder what is the point of having a slogan on the front of your pamphlet, on the top of the page, and then not including it in the resolution that you aim to get passed in union branches.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the slogans of the SWP, they have to go beyond these. The demand to scrap all immigration controls is a concrete one which should form an important core of campaigns around the asylum-seeker issue. But in the hands of the SWP it amounts to nothing more than abstract propaganda. It is also a basic democratic question, relating to the right of people to freedom of movement.
The working class needs to be at the forefront of championing these demands. They are not an optional extra: they are at the core of a serious programme for working class emancipation.
The Socialist Party fared even worse. Their slogan was 'Scrap Labour's Asylum and Immigration Act and all other racist laws'. Why not make it simple, comrades, and say 'Abolish all immigration controls'?
The demonstration was a positive development, yet it underlined the weaknesses of the left in dealing with these issues.
In Turkey, there is a build-up to a confrontation between the state and the thousands of political prisoners, especially the leftwingers. Traditionally, prisoners' quarters in Turkey are constructed in the form of dormitories. These are often overcrowded and subject to poor conditions; however, they allow political prisoners to associate freely with one another and maintain the cohesion of their organisations. This has led successive justice ministers to complain that the prisons are 'schools for terrorists' and that the state is not in control of the prisons.
The state's recipe for remedying this is to build new 'cell-type' prisons. These would consist of individual prison cells for one person, though some will hold four. It is likely that the state has individual cells in mind for political prisoners.
There has been a propaganda barrage in the media asserting that such prisons are more in accordance with 'European standards'. There are also hypocritical attempts to claim that the cell-type prisons are being built for prisoners' welfare - this in a country where the state often leaves sick prisoners, both political and non-political, to die without receiving any medical treatment. But in Turkey, prison guards and gendarmes already carry out frequent assaults on prisoners, especially political ones, and these sometimes turn into massacres. The most recent was at Ankara Ulucanlar prison on September 26 1999, when 10 revolutionary prisoners were slaughtered. Such massacres already happen in the dormitory prisons, where some resistance is possible; think how vulnerable political prisoners would be to attack by guards when they are in individual cells.
The opening of a cell-type prison at Eskisehir and a circular by the then justice minister Mehmet Agar in May 1996 triggered off a major hunger strike/death fast among political prisoners determined to resist the cells. After 12 prisoners died in July 1996, the government backed off. But it never shelved its plans for cells, and several new cell-type prisons were completed by May 2000. In Turkey, the media barrage in support of cells has been stepped up, and revolutionary prisoners and their supporters are on stand-by for a major attack aimed at putting the cells into operation.
Campaigning has already started in Europe, with the formation of the Committee for Struggle against Torture through Isolation and a petition aimed at collecting at least 100,000 signatures. When Sami Turk, the current justice minister of Turkey, visited London earlier this month, a protest was held outside the hotel where he was staying and two protesters managed to get inside. There they met Sami Turk himself, who was busy eating his lunch, and they dropped a leaflet on his plate with pictures of the victims of the Ulucanlar massacre, following this with an 'exchange of views'. Between June 16 and 18, a 'warning hunger strike' was held in London to call attention to the threat to prisoners. And on June 24, a panel discussion by the London Committee for Solidarity with the Revolutionary Prisoners examined the legacy of the 1996 campaign.
What happens next will be determined by what goes on in Turkey, but any attack on the revolutionary prisoners will be met with a response. This will have strong echoes in Europe and in London as well. The left in Britain should note what is already happening and remain alert for future developments.