Jack Conrad's piece 'Socialist Alliances: the next step' (Weekly Worker August 31) was a thoughtful contribution to the debate on what tactics this movement - if it is correct to refer to the alliances as a movement yet - should adopt.
I had many points of both agreement and disagreement, but there are two things in particular I would like to raise. The comrade criticises a number of groups for deferring to "a largely phantom social democratic left". If this phrase is meant to express the simple truth that workers with reformist ideas no longer constitute an organised left wing in the Labour Party, in the manner of the Tribunites in the 50s or the Bennites in the 80s, it is surely beyond dispute. This layer collectively ripped up their Labour Party membership cards in disgust some years ago. But it is hardly "phantom" in either society as a whole or the trade unions in particular.
Left social democracy still enjoys many more adherents than revolutionary socialism. It remains the de facto ideology of the majority of combative elements in the class. We have to work with that reality. No, I would not compromise on issues such as principled opposition to immigration controls. But I would not seek to commit the Socialist Alliances to a maximum revolutionary programme, either.
Second, I was worried to see a call for "a collective act of defiance" against the London Socialist Alliance's proscription on sales of factional papers. I don't support the ban. But the vote was taken within the agreed democratic framework of the LSA. By all means seek to overturn it. But such open contempt for majority decisions hardly inspires confidence in the CPGB's concept of democratic centralism.
May I clarify my position on the LSA's slogans on asylum and immigration, referred to by Jack Conrad?
First, this whole debate would be well served by a recognition of what slogans are and are not. Meanings do not inhere naturally to words or phrases; they exist only in social interaction, and are therefore in constant evolution. So 'Land, bread, peace' is a revolutionary slogan in one time and place, but may serve reactionary ends in another. The question about a slogan is what particular resonance it has in the minds of the people to whom it is addressed.
When socialist aspirations (let alone socialist analyses) are confined to a relatively small minority, as they are today, and when the ruling class enjoys unprecedented powers to shape public perceptions, as it does now, it is idle to expect any single slogan to encapsulate our arguments - or to strike the same chord among the many different sections of a fragmented working class. Slogans do not exist in a vacuum; their impact is partly determined by what the people promoting them actually do - the activities, campaigns and alliances they engage in.
I believe that opposition to all immigration controls must remain a bedrock of Socialist Alliance policy. In a world where capital enjoys unrestricted freedom of movement it seems inescapable (to me, at least) that labour must demand the same freedom. Beyond that, the freedom of movement across borders is a human right - and while I appreciate that this is opening another can of worms, I do think the left should not hesitate to reclaim the discourse of human rights (its historic creation), and expose contemporary capitalism's incompatibility with those rights.
But even as policy - never mind as a stand-alone slogan - I don't think 'no immigration controls' is remotely sufficient in itself. We have to develop serious policies addressed to the causes of mass migration and the swelling of refugee populations, as well as measures for immediate and long-term relief for those populations. We have to develop policies to enhance the rights and living standards of asylum-seekers and all migrants. That means saying where and how we'll get the resources to ensure a decent living standard for all workers, including refugees and migrants. And we have to take part in creating and sustaining mechanisms for the immediate defence of asylum-seekers in this country, including resistance to deportations and detentions. In the absence of this kind of activity, all slogans are empty.
All this has to be part of an effort to change the climate of working class opinion on the asylum question; to rebut the nationalists, racists and xenophobes and advance an internationalist consciousness. Towards that end, 'Asylum-seekers are welcome here' seems to me an apt and useful slogan. Its limitation is that it doesn't ask anyone to do anything; it makes no demands except, in a sense, on ourselves. That doesn't seem to me an argument against the slogan itself, but an indication that it needs to be accompanied by other slogans and above all by clear and accessible arguments.
On the other hand, I do have objections to 'No immigration controls' as a leading slogan; it begs a heap of questions and leads a lot of people down a lot of diversionary by-ways. Will we let in drug-dealers, mafiosi, mass murderers, McDonald's executives? How will we 'cope' economically with unlimited immigration? These are answerable questions, but do we want to spend our time answering them, or would it be better to pose demands that shift the burden of justification onto the other side? It is not so much that 'No immigration controls' may frighten people away (if you're going to tackle this issue seriously, you're going to have to frighten some people) as that it confuses and perplexes people who are otherwise sympathetic. Without contextualisation, and inevitably, some qualification (I assume a socialist republic would not provide asylum for general Pinochet), it does not add up.
Another problem with the 'No immigration controls' slogan is that it is legalistic; it does not touch the human dimension of the issue as it is being lived out in our own communities. On the one hand, we have poor and working class migrants from a wide variety of poverty-stricken or crisis-ridden societies seeking safety and somewhat improved life chances in Britain, and finding there yet more persecution and impoverishment. On the other, we have a ruling class promoting racism and xenophobia, and restricting civil liberties, in an attempt to manage the global labour market to its advantage. In these circumstances, we want to expose the hypocrisy and inhumanity of the latter and champion the cause of the former - and show that their cause is the cause of the working class as a whole.
So along with 'Asylum seekers are welcome here' we ought to repeat that 'Refugees are not to blame' and call for 'Justice for asylum seekers', as well as 'Scrap the voucher system', 'Free the detainees', 'Stop the scapegoating', etc. And the essential internationalist perspective in 'No to immigration controls' might be more effectively carried by a message like 'Yes to freedom of movement' or 'Open the borders'. And surely we can find punchy ways to express the underlying class content of the issue, especially in light of Labour's proposals to recruit selected 'skilled' immigrants for specific economic purposes. Something like: 'Place controls on big business, not immigrants'.
Of course, there's always the old one about 'Workers of all lands .' While we might have to refurbish the phraseology (all phrases grow tired in time) it's that spirit of border-crossing solidarity that we have to tap and capture in our slogans.
I have followed with interest the debate in the pages of the Weekly Worker concerning the appropriateness of the slogan 'Refugees welcome here'. There are a number of questions that the debate and the slogan prompt. Who is the slogan aimed at? The refugees? The working class? The Labour government? Or is it simply meant to be a statement of fact? If so, I would argue that it is wrong on each count.
Mark Fisher's argument for it to be replaced with the slogan 'Refugees are not to blame' seems to me to be an eminently sensible one. This slogan addresses itself directly to the working class. It also addresses itself to the reality of the living conditions of both refugees and the indigenous working class (black and white). It, at least, represents a call for unity rather than a slogan like 'Refugees welcome here', which is both abstract and tactically counter-productive.
The ensuing debate over the use of this slogan has also prompted some serious questions for me. Why should the question of immigration controls represent a "non-negotiable principle" to Tom Delargy and Ian Donovan (Weekly Worker August 31)? This is not Marxism, it is ultra-liberalism. Their insistence on such political posturing has moved the issue well beyond the original debate about whether the slogan is an appropriate one to raise in working class communities.
Was not one of the key components that attracted English workers into the International Working Men's Association in 1866 the ability of the International to prevent scab labour from the continent being used to break strikes over here? This would tend to suggest that some economic migrants might be less welcome than others, especially when they are used by the bosses to break the power of organised labour. Does it not also suggest that the "non-negotiable principle" of open borders and unlimited immigration, as advocated by Donovan and Delargy, is politically flawed and indistinguishable from rightwing commentators like Boris Johnson and John Lloyd?
That is not to say that Red Action agree with immigration controls. We don't. However, it would be foolish to set such "principles" in stone when there might conceivably arise occasions where the tactical use of immigration controls (for example, in the case of migratory scab labour) might well be an acceptable course of action for workers in this country to take.
The real "opportunists in the LSA" are those who appear to be interested in addressing only sectional interests rather than the interests and needs of the working class as a whole. For example, referring to the working class with any kind of colour-coded prefix is reactionary and divisive, and can only sow mistrust of the left. The terms "white working class" and "multi-ethnic working class" are phrases that I have only ever heard being regularly used by the BNP (in relation to the former) and Ian Donovan (in relation to the latter). Donovan disingenuously attempts to reinterpret some of his own phraseology as being progressive when in fact it betrays a mindset fixated with colour that is all too common on the left.
It is Red Action's estimation that the left has failed the working class for at least the last 50 years. Yet today they seem absolutely confident that they have it right this time; and that fundamentally nothing needs to change. I believe that the 'revolutionary' left has to look to itself and its own responsibilities regarding their failure to achieve even a modicum of their demands over the last 50 years and change and re-orientate accordingly.
The LSA, for example, represents a positive shift in organisational and political methods for the left. Their entry into the electoral arena is also a progressive step into, for want of a better word, the 'mainstream'. Nobody is advocating that the left should ditch all of its "principles": just re-examine a few of the sacred shibboleths that they hold so dear. If politics is 'the continuation of war by other means' then surely an army must learn the difference between general strategy and tactical manoeuvres? In that sense the left has to redefine what it means by 'principles' and 'tactics'.
Tom Delargy enters the realm of fantasy politics when he states that, "Revolutionaries have to recognise that we did have it in our power to curtail a rise in the fascist vote in Bexley and elsewhere. All we had to do was present our own electoral alternative to bankrupt Labour politicians".
Oh, is that all we had to do? Tom's view of the apparent ease with which the left could ideologically defeat fascism is one that I do not share. The evidence from the LSA election performance when judged directly against the votes for the BNP, not only in Bexley but across London as a whole, suggest that his statement is wildly optimistic. I would remind Tom that the BNP did in fact poll twice as many votes as the LSA in the GLA elections.
On another point, I would like to take issue with Ian Donovan. Whilst it is always important to separate the personal from the political, it is equally important, in the context of the debate around the 'Refugees welcome here' slogan, to point out the flawed and somewhat suspect political methods being employed by certain elements in this discussion.
The "middle class" jibes attributed by Ian Donovan to Red Action are unwarranted, in that RA have not used this term in their political definition of the British left. This harks back to a discussion on the UK Left discussion list where a Socialist Labour Party member used the term "middle class left" which was subsequently - and in almost every post he made to the list - ascribed by Ian Donovan to Red Action.
If Mr Donovan cares to review the almost 60,000 words exchanged on the subject via the internet - in the time-consuming way that I recently did while researching an article for the Red Action bulletin - he will find that his accusations in relation to Red Action's use of this term are completely false. He is quite literally guilty of putting words into Red Action members' mouths.
Red Action have certainly used the terms 'conservative' and 'liberal' in their descriptions of other elements on the left, but I would argue that these are political definitions rather than loaded references by RA to the class composition of the left, as Ian seems to interpret them.
There seems to be no end to his employment of such flawed arguments. Once he has cast the die, it is then that the accusations of chauvinism, racism, nationalism, capitulationism, vigilantism, and much, much more against Red Action can really begin to flow.
This methodology appears to be aimed at rallying the support of others on the left by creating a stereotype of Red Action that can be easily subscribed to by all. This is a politically dishonest method of argument that has more in common with the old "school of falsification" than with conducting an open and honest debate within the left.
In his latest contribution to the debate on open borders (Weekly Worker September 7), Ian Donovan suggested that our difference is "over a nuance, though it could, in some circumstances, be an important one".
The letters of Terry Evans and Andrew Cutting in the same issue certainly put our tactical disagreement into perspective. They attack us both for opposing immigration controls on principle. Apparently, by doing so we write off the working class. Nonsense. Read the Communist Manifesto, comrades. It closes with the immortal lines: "Working men of all countries, unite!"
Tony and Andrew work to an altogether different agenda: a petty nationalist one. If they had their way, Marx would have been denied access to the British Museum, by being denied entry to the historically determined, but essentially arbitrary, piece of national territory that houses it: Das Kapital might, therefore, never have seen the light of day. Rosa Luxemburg would have been repatriated to Poland, with the blessing of Marx's own party. Lenin, Trotsky and thousands of lesser known revolutionary socialists would have been thrown into detention camps, then deported, in many cases to face the death penalty. And our nationalist critics want to dress up such reactionary politics as Marxism!
Andrew and Tony presumably grasp why the capitalist class has no right to their monopoly of the means of production just because of a series of accidents of birth. Why, in that case, can they not appreciate that wage slaves who just happen to have been born in the heart of the beast (the US, the European Union, Japan, etc) have no god-given rights? Contrary to the fantasy world inhabited by Tony and Andrew, British wage slaves no more act as "host" to immigrants than Roman slaves did to those who were defeated in battle and brought back to Rome as captives.
National ruling classes (and would-be ruling classes) propagate the fiction that we do have something more to lose than our chains. They seek to make us voluntarily accept our subordinate status. They resort to all sorts of divide and rule tactics to keep us in our place. Nationalist ideology has proven one of the most powerful of their weapons against us.
The letters from Tony Evans (on behalf of Red Action) and Andrew Cutting (on behalf of his own idiosyncratic brand of anti-immigrant national socialism) merit a reply.
Comrade Evans, lacking any convincing political arguments, speaks of replying to me as a matter of "political hygiene" (thereby presumably implying my views are in some way unclean), accusing me of using "dissembling", "spin" and "plain invention" in my political replies. He gives no examples, save that I accurately noted that Red Action habitually attack those who disagree with them as 'middle class'.
Comrade Evans's whole strategy of dealing with the thorny question of immigration controls in the working class is ... 'public presentation'. In other words, "spin". In practice, and comrade Evans does not deny it, this means lying to the working class about one's positions, or else wrapping them up in cotton wool to make them harmless and unthreatening to workers who are currently prejudiced against immigrants and refugees. Comrade Evans tries to motivate his position with scare scenarios - if the LSA does not embrace his Mandelson-like strategy, then in no time the entire native working class will be voting for the BNP.
He also seems, strangely, to be under the impression that The Guardian, The Economist, and The Financial Times are saying, 'Immigrants welcome here'. Carefully chosen individuals who can ameliorate 'our' skills shortages are in reality the only ones whom these publications are in favour of 'welcoming'. For them, the unwashed masses can 'fuck off and die'. 'Welcoming' immigrants is a basic question of class solidarity, a concept that is alien to comrade Evans and his 'communist' spin doctoring.
Evans's elevation of 'presentation' above principle is a profound insult to the working class whom he claims to uniquely "represent". One thing that workers are rightly coming to hate about the Blairites is their slimy manipulation of 'presentation'. Workers will have more respect for people who tell them straight, even when saying unpopular things, than people who lie about their alleged 'principles' in the interests of 'presentation'.
Andrew Cutting, on the other hand, simply digs himself deeper into the reactionary mire. His politics take on a more reactionary and extreme chauvinist coloration, though he attempts to disguise this with 'left'-sounding cheerleading for the likes of Milosevic and Mugabe. For Cutting, the main enemy of workers in Britain is not the British ruling class, but rather "American economic and political hegemony over not only capital's periphery, but also of Europe and the far east". With this new definition of imperialism, which amnesties the ruling class of every imperialist state except the US and implicitly defines them as victims of 'globalisation', the structure of Cutting's John Bull 'socialism' becomes clear.
Look at the key points of his letter: "The defeat and division of a nation-state by imperialism is the most profound defeat the working class can suffer" (does he mean the British nation-state?) ... "the phenomenon of immigration is not a static 'some workers happen to be immigrants', but rather an ongoing struggle of capital against labour" (so the BNP are waging the class struggle, and immigrants are the class enemy) ... "Open borders ... is not only the demand for the free movement of people - it is the demand for free movement of labour power as a commodity" (shocking - the demand for freedom of movement of 'labour power': ie, of the working class! Cutting thereby exposes his hostility to workers as a class) ... "workers ... resisting the free movement of capital and labour" (those elements of working class origin engaged in "resisting" immigrants and refugees are thereby somehow waging a struggle against capital - this is what he is effectively saying).
And this reactionary garbage is presented side by side with references to Leon Trotsky, who in the last years of his life was the most prominent victim of reactionary persecution of refugees. Remember, the 'planet without a visa'? In reality, Cutting is shitting on Trotsky's legacy. As Trotsky himself knew only too well, the most "profound defeat" the workers' movement can suffer is not the 'defeat' of its own imperialist state, but the victory of fascists, the kind of people that Cutting is flirting with politically. Cutting's arguments are of someone in political motion away from the workers' movement entirely, onto the terrain of the far right. Effectively, his bizarre schema brands immigrants and refugees as enemies of the working class, and anti-immigrant and racist workers as in some way 'class conscious'.
Cutting says that the "CPGB, AWL and SWP" are on the wrong side of the 'ideological barricades' over immigration. One wonders who is on the 'right' side! The only answer he can give to retain any shred of credibility as a socialist is to waffle on about the "spirit of Seattle" and some of the protectionist demands raised by American trade unions whose decades-long tradition of business unionism obviously continually generates protectionism as part of a strategy of class collaboration, which indeed brings with it dangers of anti-immigrant chauvinism. Obviously all sorts of confused and mixed consciousness existed in this milieu.
However, in general, it was not characterised by an anti-immigrant agitation, and Cutting's attempt to associate the Seattle demonstrators with his own programme is mischievous. His natural bloc partners on the opposite side of the "ideological barricades" from the far left are Pat Buchanan and Nick Griffin, not John Sweeney and Ralph Nader.
The letter of Andrew Cutting reveals some fundamental flaws in method and theory.
The dropping of class analysis is apparent from the first paragraph. Instead we are treated to some bizarre reasoning in which the fundamental division that exists within capitalism is between imperialism and the nation-state. The working class is given a passing mention. It is true that there is a contradiction between capitalism that is seeking to extend beyond national borders (imperialism) and the nation-state. However, imperialism is based upon the nation-state and cannot escape from that framework. It is because of this that capitalist imperialism has a reactionary character, as it is the system by which national capital seeks to acquire new markets. It is not truly international and intensifies the divisions and faults of national capital on a larger scale.
The talk of imperialism being in antagonistic contradiction to national capital is therefore a nonsense. If the comrade lines up the working class with the nation-state then in reality he lines the working class up with imperialism and the bourgeoisie also. The correct policy is to build genuine internationalism of the proletariat to counterpose to the false internationalism of the bourgeoisie.
The 'open borders' approach therefore questions the logic of the nation-state and thus of imperialism. It is genuine internationalism linked with a democratic demand which the working class must champion. The comrade then falsely divides the working class along national fault lines. The comrade frankly substitutes Lenin with Enoch Powell - maybe a little harsh, but that is the direction his politics point - a previous letter even provided a 'rivers of blood' analysis of what would happen if the borders were open.
I can only describe what follows as a confused mix of economism and Stalinism. The comrade first calls for "militant action against attempts to undermine wages and conditions" and then condemns transnational unions as being stageist because "it requires a generalisation of reformist trade union politics as a precondition for socialist revolution".
I must refer to comrade Cutting's Kautsky allegation against the CPGB. Kautsky was in favour of fighting imperialism - except that of his own bourgeoisie. The more alert reader may now look back to the comrade's view on immigrants and his shameless defence of the British bourgeoisie against immigration, which is presumably an imperialist plot against his beloved nation-state. Who defends Kautsky's heritage, looking at this?
The comrade has two choices: he can continue as he is, following the logic of his method away from Marxism into the arms of reaction; or he can reassess his politics and turn back towards Marxism and the standpoint of the working class. I hope he will choose the latter.
I have been following Jack Conrad's analysis of Lenin's abandonment of the 'revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry' slogan. I believe it a worthwhile discussion - perhaps more so now than in the past, in light of capitalist globalisation and the attacks, internationally, on the working class by imperialism.
For myself, I think many things remain unclear, especially Lenin's view of permanent revolution. I do not think playing 'duelling quotes' is going to settle the matter. What is established by history is in fact Lenin's abandonment of the slogan in question. This has, historically, been downplayed by the epigones of Stalin, but it remains true nevertheless.
More interestingly, and often forgotten by followers of both Trotsky and Stalin, is that the slogan was not applied outside of Russia in any event - it was a Russian slogan or perspective, very much like Trotsky's 'permanent revolution' - until the issue of world revolution was brought to the fore by its impending appearance. Since tactics and strategy of developing a world revolutionary socialist perceptive were really reduced to not supporting World War I, actual planning and organising for such a world revolution were not taken up until the Comintern itself was established.
This is where the 'revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry' became even more obscure, since the Comintern never raised this slogan and fought for Communist Party rule in every country where it was possible: that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat. No cross-class alliances, no stageist approach, implicit in the 'democratic dictatorship' slogan, were raised or advocated until after Lenin's death.
Permanent revolution itself was translated into several languages by the Comintern and published by that organisation, used as a text of sorts, at the various Comintern institutions, but never formally adopted as 'the perspective' of the Comintern, but certainly deemed compatible with Comintern policy.
If there is one criticism of Trotsky that I would make, it is his complete and utter failure to see how permanent revolution applied to all countries in the world and not just Russia, in time to combat or stymie Stalin's revisionist and nationalist 'socialism in one country' that was the ultimate doom of the Comintern.
By and large I agree with Dave Turner (Weekly Worker September 7) on the issue of cults.
The problem I have with people who compare left groups to cults is that it looks to me like a way of rationalising a break with leftwing politics. A key text of the cold war, The god that failed (1950), consisting of accounts by various ex-communists like Arthur Koestler, contained just such rationalisations of how bloody awful the Communist Party was (and, by implication, the book sided with that nice Joe McCarthy and people like him). Wohlforth and Tourish look like they are going down a similar road - 'the cults that failed'. Also, the bourgeoisie is comfortable with individuals, not with a collective. Cults are collective enterprises and perhaps that is the real reason the bourgeoisie denounces them.
I would take issue with Dave Turner on one point. He criticises proponents of Marxism for introducing "pseudo-religious" elements rather than upholding the "rational kernel" of the ideology. The trouble with this is that rationalism is not always enough. For example, rationalism might dictate that you do not risk your life, whereas the struggle might require you to do this. If you are a militant being interrogated by the police, rationalism might call upon you to tell absolutely everything to avoid the threat of pain or death, while it is a quasi-religious loyalty to the Party and cause which stops you.
Mark Fischer's report (Weekly Worker September 7) on the London Socialist Alliance steering committee needs a slight correction. The motion put forward by the CPGB on 'reaffirming' the LSA's commitment to automatic representation fell. This was not due to a tied vote, as Mark reported, but was actually defeated by 11 votes to 10. It is true that Workers Power, pleading ignorance, abstained. Red Action also supported the motion put forward by the CPGB.
This does not change the main lines of demarcation on this issue. And while the SWP continues to fudge democratic inclusion in England, its own case for democratic inclusion in the Scottish Socialist Party is surely weakened.