Connolly versus Maclean

I have to protest about some wild and unsubstantiated allegations flowing from the pen of Allan Armstrong (Weekly Worker August 31). He accuses the CPGB and Revolutionary Democratic Group of "sectarian behaviour" in the Republican Communist Network in England. Exactly what sectarian behaviour is this? Obviously some nonsense invented by comrade Armstrong himself. Then he accuses the CPGB of allowing Dave Craig "extensive space to personally vilify individuals he disagrees with, in a manner very hard to distinguish from that of an agent provocateur". This is a lie and a slander. Perhaps it is an example of the kind of "personal vilification" that comrade Armstrong is complaining about. The words 'glass houses' and 'stones' spring to mind.

This is nothing new. Comrade Armstrong's previous 'political criticisms' of the RDG were thinly disguised personal attacks on me. RDG members found this contemptible and the Weekly Worker refused to publish this stuff. This was not to protect me, but to avoid damaging the reputation of Weekly Worker by printing dross. The last effort of this type was called "Waiting for Lefty - Allan Armstrong criticises Dave Craig and the 'politics of conciliationism'". The editor of Weekly Worker described this quite rightly as an attempt to "settle dusty old scores" and "point-scoring remarks". This has not stopped Allan adopting a high moral tone of lecturing us for taking "the blade to the person rather than deal with their real politics".

Whilst Allan might say that accusing him of sectarian attitudes is "personal vilification", it is certainly not "conciliationism". The real point is that this contemptuous attitude is a result not of personal failings, but of definite political ideas and theories held by comrade Armstrong himself. Peter Manson put his finger on the matter when he says that Armstrong "is insistent that those who constitute this nano-grouplet are the only communists in the RCN". This has been quite clear to a number of us for some time. The most obvious manifestation is that this group call themselves "The Communist Tendency", or TCT for short. The 'The' tells it all. The CPGB always edits this down to CT because they do not like conceding that the TCT are the communists.

It is not that the TCT have some political differences with us. It is not even that they think that their views are more correct. That is only natural. It is that the TCT think that they are superior to everybody else in the RCN, because only they are true communists. The rest of us are merely "'revolutionary' social democrats". The arrogance and sectarianism of all this is not simply breathtaking, but quite honestly sad.

The reason for this belief is that Allan Armstrong has read the Critique of the Gotha Programme in which Marx relates socialism and communism, quite rightly, to the abolition of the law of value. Since Allan Armstrong believes that only the TCT have understood this, they are the only true communists, not only within the RCN, but on the whole of the left. This is from a group that managed to tie themselves in knots and spread confusion over the slogan of 'international socialism'!

This explains why Allan summarises the debate about the nature of communism in Republican Communist not as a debate between communists, but as being between "two poles" represented by the "'revolutionary' social democratic RDG and the communist T(he) C(ommunist) T(endency)". It might be thought that the TCT had only singled out the RDG as non-communist. Not at all. Armstrong is convinced that of the 30-40 members of the RCN there are only three real communists and everybody else - including the CPGB, Campaign for a Federal Republic, TUG, Red Republicans and AWL - are not communists. In other words even the name RCN is a fraud as there are virtually no communists in it.

Of course it is not diplomatic to be totally honest and say this. It would not be very clever to tell Mary Ward, Bob Goupillot, Nick Clarke, John Bridge, etc that they were not communists, because they do not share his theory of abolishing the law of value in one country.

The problem of left sectarian politics does not end with the TCT definition of communism. The true communists are apparently the only people who want a workers' republic. The "'revolutionary' social democrats" only want a federal republic! Hence comrade Armstrong claims that the central argument in the RCN is between "federal republicans" and "workers' republicans". This way of presenting the argument is completely misleading. The only reason is not the pursuit of political truth, but to present an image of the TCT as the most leftist of lefts.

Let us consider the facts. All members of the RCN agree with the slogan 'workers' power'. Indeed it is a condition of membership. No serious Marxist has ever suggested that this slogan does not include the dictatorship of the proletariat, otherwise known as the 'workers' republic'. It is a fact that every member of the RCN is in favour of a workers' republic. The CFR, the CPGB and the RDG are just as much part of a so-called "workers' republican tendency" within the RCN as the TCT.

The real debate is between the supporters of a workers' republic who call for "the break-up of Britain" and the supporters of a workers' republic who call for a "federal republic". It is not, as Armstrong claims, between "workers' republicans" versus "federal republicans". It is symptomatic of the same leftist method that produced The Communist Tendency, that Allan Armstrong tries to present the debate as workers' republic versus federal republic.

The issue is whether the break-up of Britain (Scottish independence) or a federal republic will lead us to a workers' republic. It is not a debate for or against a workers' republic. Ultra-left politics was defined as an "infantile disorder" because it was about posturing left and sounding tough. That is what you need to do when you are a juvenile, not when you have grown up. Ultra-leftism is a sign of political weakness, not strength. The weaker the argument, the greater the need to dress it up.

The real or serious question is whether the break-up of Britain or a federal republic is the correct transitional demand. The break-up of Britain is not a republican slogan. It is a nationalist slogan. It is normally understood to mean Scottish and Welsh independence. Whilst such an event might create separate republics, this is by no means certain. As we know, the SNP wants an independent constitutional monarchy. The slogan surely owes its origins to Tom Nairn. Because it is not a republican slogan, it has been easily grasped and adopted by the Committee for a Workers' International (ex-Scottish Militant Labour). This organisation has no revolutionary democratic method or tradition, and still to this day has not understood the political significance of republicanism. The 'break-up of Britain' slogan, far from challenging the mindset of Tommy Sheridan and the Scottish Socialist Party leadership, only helps to confirm their political prejudices.

There is another interconnected debate, which I will call the Connolly versus Maclean argument. Allan seems only to have seen a 'break-up of Britain' message in their politics. But the more significant lesson concerns the relationship between the bourgeois and workers' republic. In 1916 Connolly fought for an Irish republic as a practical stepping stone to a workers' republic. Maclean on the other hand in 1923 argued for a workers' republic as the first step.

One of these two was on the right lines and the other had gone off the rails. I will leave the reader to work out which was which. This means that on the question of republicanism the RCN will surely divide into a Connolly wing versus a Maclean wing.

At this point, if only for sake of balance, I feel an urge to 'have a go' at Peter's comments. The CPGB's involvement in the RCN has been in two stages. During stage one, John Bridge became involved or engaged, but, to be honest, most CPGB members were not. That line was justified, as Allan Armstrong notes, in terms that the RCN was relevant for Scotland, but not for England. That stage has now passed. The RCN began life as almost exclusively based in Scotland. Now it has become in reality an Anglo-Scottish organisation, with more members in England.

The fact that the CPGB is now concerning itself with the nature of the Republican Communist journal indicates that the CPGB are taking the whole initiative more seriously than before. Regardless of whether the criticisms are valid, that is a healthy development.

Unfortunately Peter Manson has failed to understand how we have arrived at this healthier stage. It was a result of a real struggle that was fought out in England. The outcome was decided decisively on June 17 with the complete defeat of those who had tried to split the RCN. We did not expel anybody nor impose a federal republic on anybody. What we did do was call the minority to account, and when they failed to do so we censured them. One of the comrades censured was Phil Walden. Two weeks ago his main ally Phil Sharpe applied to join the RCN and was accepted. This would not have happened had we treated Phil Walden in an unprincipled way.

The RCN in England decided democratically that we would not stand for comrades like Barry Biddulph thinking they can mess about with this project and getaway with it. This is why the RCN in England can look forward to being taken more seriously in future and continuing to grow.

Peter fails to understand the chain that connects all this together and so accidentally falls into sectarianism. Peter tells us that "a self-righteous minority sent a letter [written by Barry Biddulph] to the Weekly Worker declaring their intentions to ignore the democratic decisions of the founding meeting and call a rival one". Shortly after, "the minuscule RDG wrote to the minuscule Trotskyist Unity Group, etc. None of this was published".

Of course the RDG is minuscule, perhaps even smaller than that. Perhaps we should be called a nano-group or very, very small. I don't care. If we were about to be attacked by fascists and comrades heard the RDG were sending reinforcements it would be a relevant fact indeed. It would give us much cause for concern. But, quoted in the above context, it is meant to tell the reader that the irrelevant RDG wrote an irrelevant letter to the irrelevant TUG. In that context it is a sectarian comment.

Why would you want to tell readers that the letter was written by minuscule people rather than the political content. The RDG letter was an attack on Barry Biddulph and TUG. It questioned whether they agreed with republicanism and revolutionary democracy, which was the very basis for joining the RCN. We did not start from ignorance. We know the record of these comrades when it comes to fighting for republicanism, etc. We stated that if they did not support the aims and slogans of the RCN and they were going to continue with their apparent splitting activities, they should resign. Some felt this attack was "very nasty". This is what Peter forgets to mention, because he is so busy telling everybody how small we are.

The CPGB were quite right not to print the Biddulph letter and quite wrong not to print ours. Two people turn up and start fighting. One side is attacking democracy and the other is defending democratic decisions. The Weekly Worker could not distinguish politically and decided to treat them both even-handedly. According to Peter's analysis, one side was anti-democratic and the other side were merely minuscule. Of course the members turned up eventually and decided the matter.

Finally let me comment on the ridiculous allegations made by Armstrong at the end of his article. He claims that the RDG has tried "to impose a single federal republican view upon the RCN in England". Of course we want to win a majority of the RCN to a federal republic. But the words "impose" is not only false, but dishonest.

What evidence does Armstrong cite for 'imposing' and how has this been done? The RDG is not in favour of any new bullet points, including a bullet point on a federal republic. But comrade Armstrong does not bother to enlighten us on how we have 'imposed' this. He will not be able to for the simple reason that it is not true. He then calls upon us to "recognise the workers' republican tendency's rights in the RCN in England". Which "rights" is Armstrong speaking of? The right for a tiny group of unelected non-officers to convene a "full RCN meeting" in April. Or is it the right of a minority to sabotage any decisions democratically voted on by the majority? If these are not the "rights" demanded by comrade Armstrong we can all look forward to hearing what they are.

Allan Armstrong now stands at a political crossroads. One signpost says 'nationalism' and the other is 'communism'. The days of promoting both are at an end. The situation will no longer allow it. In his heart Allan knows the road he has to take. He even hinted at an RCN meeting that he has the courage to take it. He fears that if he goes down that way he will meet the ghost of the Allan Armstrong past, who used to fight for a federal republic. That is just too frightening for words.

Dave Craig (RDG)