I marched in Prague as part of the Blue (anarchist) block and would like to make a few comments on your 'analysis' of events there (Weekly Worker September 28).
On the one hand you call for a democratic structure to decide on the march route, stewarding, etc. However, on the other all you Leninist groups decided to boycott the democratic structure that did exist: the mass assemblies at the convergence centre that met over the weekend and on the eve of October 26. The final one was attended by some 2,000 people.
You don't like this method of decision-making which you rightly see as anarchist - perhaps it would suit the Leninists better if such decisions were made in back rooms by groups like yourselves that fancy themselves as our political leaders. What you don't understand is that this new anti-capitalist movement is built on the base of rejecting your authoritarian methods of organisation.
Then you boast that yourselves and the International Socialists decided to break with the democratic decisions of these meetings and on the day uselessly followed the Yellow section onto the bridge.
Well, in the Blue section where we were furiously trying to fight our way through police lines (and we succeeded on a couple of occasions) this decision of yours left a gate unguarded at the back of the centre by the river. So in the midst of a massive police assault involving tear gas, stun grenades, a water cannon and two APCs we were forced to detach 300 people and march two kilometres around the centre by the river. Shortly after they left the police broke our lines, dealing out many injuries and making many arrests in the process.
You complain about being stuck behind 'Ya Basta' with nothing to do - comrades, this was the decision you boasted of in breaking away from your assigned route. Anybody who had surveyed the terrain in advance knew it was very unlikely that the bridge could be crossed.
In fact there was lots of work for you in the Pink sector: a mere 150 activists from the blue sector marched around there late in the afternoon, found a lightly guarded gate and broke through police lines, reaching the conference centre itself.
Quite frankly if this is your idea of being a vanguard we would be much better served if you joined the police - you'd get the power you crave and we'd get an incompetent and delusional opposition.
A series of electoral disasters over the last 12 months have put a question mark over the future viability of Izquierda Unida (United Left). This is the context for the sixth federal conference of the IU, to be held later this autumn.
The majority of the IU leadership has been advancing what it sees as 'pragmatic politics'. In the name of ending its isolation from the trade unions they put forward a policy which is one of tail-ending or, at the very least, not challenging the official union leaderships. In the name of respecting the autonomy of the unions they have abandoned the organised left currents. This is a real stab in the back.
The IU can only justify its existence with respect to the much larger PSOE by providing a clear alternative; by being the organised expression of those who really what to transform society, which, in the context of Spanish society, has been that section of the labour movement which has not given in to the neo-liberal offensive, has opposed the privatisations and has opposed Nato and the bosses' Europe of Maastricht and the euro.
What is taking place now is a massive turn to right, which the coming federal conference is supposed to endorse. But the only way to rebuild the IU is by a clear turn to the left. If the IU is to have a future it must be clearly anti-capitalist and internationalist - opposing imperialism at home and abroad, defending the right to self-determination, most particularly within the Spanish state itself - and be clearly part of the left wing of the Spanish labour movement, and in particular the oppositional currents in the left of the trade unions.
Given this situation, the decision by a group of leading IU members to launch a public manifesto, with hundreds of signatures, calling for a full and open debate and the 'relaunch' of Izquierda Unida is of course to be welcomed. It is a first step in grouping together all those activists who want to stop the leadership's turn to the right.
The manifesto can be critically supported, but it does have some clear weaknesses. The document does not take up what is the main problem in the Spanish labour movement today: the class-collaborationist 'new realism' of the trade union bureaucracies.
The manifesto's second weakness is with respect to the national question. Point 10 reads: "The IU should make an effort to reach a democratic solution to the national problem in the Spanish state and to engage itself fully in the diffusion of its proposal for a federal state, without forgetting the perspective of a republic as a possible form of state."
This is not at all the same as saying that we unconditionally defend the right to self-determination; that the Basque country, Catalunya and Galicia have the right to freely decide their relation to the rest of the Spanish state - including the possibility of independence. This is the only really democratic solution and the only one that defends the unity of the working class.
The tasks of the coming weeks and months will not be easy for the left in the IU, but the stakes are high.
SSP and SWP
Last week's paper carried two pieces on the Scottish Socialist Party: a press statement from the Campaign to Defend Democracy and a summary of SSP-SWP negotiations, written by the former's executive committee (Weekly Worker October 5).
The pretext given by our executive for calling a special conference to overthrow democratic decisions taken at our AGM (a mere seven months ago!) is the imminent mass influx of Socialist Workers Party members. Consequently, the CDD has no option but to take sides on SWP entry. Unfortunately, our founding meeting chose not to.
Glasgow Marxist Forum members deemed it 'clever' for the CDD to adopt a position of studious neutrality on SWP entry. The GMF noted that many SSP members hate the SWP with a vengeance: let us not alienate them, they pleaded. Is this being clever or simply opportunistic?
While there was unanimity that we would prefer to have the SWP inside our party, the impression I got was that many comrades would not be losing much sleep if the SWP do find themselves locked out. At any rate, I stood alone in arguing that defending democracy in the SSP imposed upon us a responsibility to associate ourselves with the democratic rights of SWP members, and that our conference motion had to reflect this commitment.
Everyone in that room, myself included, had grievances against the SWP. There were ex-members badly treated; there were members of organisations born as factions inside the SWP; most have just experienced sectarianism from the outside.
We, however, are big enough to subordinate personal bitterness to the greater political good. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no appetite to gamble on our ability to persuade others to follow our example, no enthusiasm for challenging irrational prejudices against the SWP.
We need to explain why their participation can strengthen, not weaken, the democratic rights of SSP members not in any faction. Many SSP members instinctively want to keep them out because they think that one big faction is one too many. We need to explain that SWP entry opens up important new opportunities for non-International Socialist Movement members.
Although the ISM portrays itself as the guardian of the rights of members who belong to no faction, the reality is somewhat different. The SSP virtually operates as a one-party state.
Just look at the factional allegiances of our executive, spokespersons, area organisers, editors, etc. The SWP coming in can result in both they and ISM having to compete for the support of the rest of the membership. Non-ISM members will gain a leverage we never had before, something with which to fortify existing democratic rights.
All genuine democrats in the SSP have nothing to lose and everything to gain from SWP entry. With the SWP forming the core component of a potentially extremely effective socialist challenge to the Blairites throughout most of the UK, and with them displaying an inclusive democratic approach towards the rest of the left, excluding them would irreparably damage the SSP.
It would be disastrous for the CDD to have nothing to say about the so-called ground rules for SWP participation. We cannot duck the issue, given that these affect us every bit as much as they do the SWP. In comrades' anxiety at the CDD's founding meeting not to get caught up in fine details about SWP participation, confusion reigned. One Alliance for Workers' Liberty member, Pete Burton, actually voted against our conference motion defending our right to publicly sell independent publications!
What makes this particularly ironic is that Pete has had letters printed in the Weekly Worker denouncing the SWP for conceding this right in their negotiation. According to another AWL member, Glasgow area organiser Richie Venton is claiming that factions have never enjoyed the right to publicly sell independent literature, so the SWP are not having special restrictions imposed on them. But if this right has not existed previously, it is vital that the CDD fights at the special conference to win it.
If any member of the SSP dislike Socialist Worker (or Republican Communist or Weekly Worker or Action for Solidarity), they do not have to buy it. But they have no right to prevent others doing so.
At this year's SSP conference, Pete Burton complained that all six of the articles he had submitted for publication were spiked, for reasons, he assumed, of political bias. If articles from Peter, or anyone else, are spiked - whether for political reasons or any other - then they must be free to put their case in their own independently produced literature.
Selling it to socialists who have yet to be convinced of the merits of joining the SSP can in no sense be seen as an attack on our party.
The idea that factions must be banned from publicly distributing their literature might make sense to some - e.g., a faction holding virtually all the reins of power inside the SSP, as is certainly the case with the ISM; it makes no sense to the rest of us.
Factions in a broad workers' party publicly selling their independent literature can strengthen both organisations at one and the same time. That was certainly Lenin's attitude as leader of the Bolshevik faction of the RSDLP. Is Alan McCombes now of the opinion that Martov and Plekhanov were too conciliatory towards Lenin? Does he think Lenin should have been expelled?
SWP members should certainly be encouraged to sell Scottish Socialist Voice in addition to selling their own paper. But they should not be made to sell it as a substitute for selling a paper their members have been selling weekly for generations, editions of which are sold across the planet.
It is equally unreasonable to demand conditions for SWP participation that are not demanded of any other member. Despite what it says in the SSP exec document, SSP members are not forced to sell SSV. Most members have never sold it. Many members of our party do not think the SSV is of the highest quality - certainly not so special that it does not need to be supplemented with other socialist literature.
SSP and SWP
SSP and SWP
I have difficulties with several CPGB policies. I shall hence sum them up.
While the CPGB's aim to build a mass party is in itself a good idea, there is clearly a problem concerning the programme. I believe that if there is to be a united party the comrades should agree on a programme, and the minimum-maximum programme falls short on several counts. If the CPGB wishes to build a rapprochement with the Trotskyist left, it should not be so dismissive of the transitional approach.
A minimum-maximum programme does seemingly fail to draw any kind of link between present-day struggles and the overthrow of capitalism itself. The CPGB's minimum programme is very much concerned with its current fetish - democracy under capitalism.
While socialists would naturally welcome democratic rights, they clearly are not an end in themselves, as wage slavery will still exist even with annual parliaments, a federal republic, etc. Economic and political struggles should be linked, and perhaps the left as a whole should make this clearer to the working class. Full democracy can never exist under capitalism anyway, which is in itself a system based on exploitation.
A transitional programme makes demands based on the current needs of the working class and through a revolutionary party aims to transform them into the struggle for socialism. Hence there is a clear link established between the needs of the working class today and the long-term goal.
A min-max programme, on the other hand, holds socialism to be an abstract goal realisable in the indefinite future: i.e., possibly never. Such was the programme of the Stalinised Comintern, hence the reason why western Stalinism and social democracy have often looked very similar.
The CPGB is also very quick to label Trotskyism in general as being 'cultish' and 'sectarian'. These terms can, I feel, be used too easily on the left and often without good reason. While it cannot be denied that sectarianism exists on the Trotskyist left, it is wrong of the CPGB to use this term concerning Trotskyism in general. One thing the CPGB are fond of is attacking Trotskyism, and indeed Trotsky, concerning our view of the Soviet Union and the defence it implies. Yet it was a crucial issue, especially as it was during a period approaching war. Defence of the Soviet Union was a question of party action and not simple theory, as the CPGB like to pretend.
The CPGB hold that the Soviet Union (and, for that matter, Cuba and China) could not in any sense have been workers' states because the working class had no political power.
However, in the Soviet Union there was no ruling class with any independent property relations. A revolution to oust the bureaucracy would have required no change of the economic base for the working class to seize political power. Collectivised property and a planned economy were worth defending, as it would have been a damn sight easier for the proletariat to seize power with such a base already existing. The problem was in both the Soviet Union and eastern Europe that no revolutionary party existed to lead the working class in any struggle.
Under both fascism and Bonapartism the bourgeoisie are often politically expropriated, yet none of us would deny that they remain bourgeois states. The same could be said for certain theocratic states also. Therefore the fact that the government may come into conflict with the ruling class does not change the class base of the state itself. Hence the Soviet Union, despite the atomisation of the working class from the bureaucracy, did not change the fact that it was a workers' state, however degenerate.
Theory is related to practice, and defence of deformed workers' states is a practice rather than an abstract idea. Anybody who refuses to defend them could not have learnt from history, as one only has to look at what has happened in Russia and eastern Europe in the last 10 years to see that capitalist restoration has played no progressive role.
Yet it would seem that the CPGB, as a whole, fail to learn from this. Although you claim, for instance, that you would defend Cuba against US imperialist intervention, you would refuse to defend it from capitalist restoration from within, due to your obsession with 'democracy under capitalism'.
If capitalist counterrevolution succeeds in Cuba most of the gains of 1959 will be eradicated, and who else will suffer but the working class? Therefore communists should defend Cuba against capitalist restoration, without giving political backing to the Castroite bureaucracy. We should call for the working class to defeat the bureaucracy, not echo the cries of the bourgeois for capitalist restoration.
Another policy I have a problem with is the CPGB's almost uncritical support of Maastricht Europe. Fair enough, an integrated Europe may have progressive elements, in the sense that it breaks down national boundaries and integrates the working class, to a degree. We would naturally welcome freedom of travel. However, you have been almost silent on the cutbacks and austerity measures of Maastricht, and its neo-liberal policies.