Local sacrifice

There have now been two articles in the Weekly Worker criticising Liverpool Socialist Workers Party for encouraging Nigel Flanagan to stand in the Bootle seat. As both were misinformed, I think it's time that someone stated the true situation.

At the time of writing, there still hasn't been a selection meeting on Merseyside. However, for several months, both the Socialist Party and the SWP made clear their desire to see candidates stand in this area. Two emerged - Pete Glover, backed by the SP, and Nigel Flanagan, backed by the SWP.

Pete Glover is a well respected local activist, who has taken part in various campaigns, and regularly has letters published in the Liverpool Echo. He's not exactly well known - but does try to have a presence wider than his own party.

Nigel Flanagan is the branch secretary of a several-thousand-strong union branch which has led a series of illegal or unofficial strikes over the past five years. He's one of the best known trade unionists in the region. By autumn 2000, his union branch had already taken the decision to stand candidates against Labour. How many others in the country have made this step?

SWP members in Merseyside fought with Nigel to encourage him to stand as a Socialist Alliance candidate. Largely because of the limited ambitions of the local SA, Nigel was already moving away from this suggestion, when the national deal was struck.

If the SA is going to break out of the ghettos of the left and appeal to wider numbers of people, then it will need candidates, like those in Dagenham and Dudley, who have a real credibility within the local movement. The choice to stand a candidate backed by the SP branch in Liverpool, rather than one backed by the local union movement, may appeal to some SA activists as a sign that the movement has become 'politicised'. For those of us who live in Liverpool, it is a sign that a national deal was needed to keep the SP on board - and the needs of the local movement have been necessarily sacrificed as a result.

Local sacrifice
Local sacrifice

Healy acolyte

Andrew Coates's letter is packed with assertions, but contains no evidence to back them up (Weekly Worker February 1). It is pitiful to see someone blame Marxist philosophy for his problems, so I shall make some points to try to put Andrew straight.

Firstly, Healy, Bhaskar, and even Aristotle, stand for a dynamic ontology, not a fixed ontology, as you allege. All of these philosophers were/are aware of the changing character of the world and the relative character of knowledge. I suspect that what you are objecting to is the dialectical and Marxist approach to the structured, stratified, tendency-laden character of the world. But without this ontological approach, how would Marxism avoid collapsing into postmodernism and pragmatism, which reject the underlying complexity of the world? You invoke Althusser as if he was a pragmatist, but in reality he (like the philosophers you have aimed your guns at) saw consideration of metaphysical questions as essential to bringing about progressive practice.

Secondly, though I am certainly not an uncritical "acolyte" of Healy, as you suggest, I think your view of Healy's work as "gibberish" is jaundiced, to say the least. Healy studied and lectured about Hegel, thus putting into practice Lenin's call for the formation of a "Society of Materialist Friends of the Hegelian dialectic". In addition to this, Healy's work on the nature of subjective idealism took forward the understanding of this phenomenon, even if ironically Healy was unable to avoid subjective idealism in his own political life. At least Healy was worried by the problem.

Those who have criticised Healy have done it in such a way as to dismiss the philosophical difficulties facing Marxism, so have ended up repeating the error of subjective idealism. Healy was a worker-Marxist who made strenuous efforts to educate himself in philosophy. What people like you are really objecting to is that workers should get so uppity as to train themselves as philosophers. You think it should be left to smug amateurs like yourself.

Thirdly, your complaint against Bhaskar for his use of Aristotelian material causes and for the concept of entities having natural powers and tendencies is philosophically illiterate. Aristotle's fourfold division of causation into formal/efficient/material/final has informed the discussions of philosophers ever since it was formulated. It is part of the armoury of all Marxist philosophers, even if it needs to be handled critically.

And if you want to check out Aristotle's credentials as a dialectical philosopher then you could do worse than consult The Cambridge companion to Aristotle (pp57-62). Similarly, the notion of powers and tendencies is not a mystical form of metaphysics by Bhaskar, but is about the natural potential for change in all things and for their potential to affect other things (e.g., this letter has the potential to spark off ideas in its readers). Your objection to such concepts needs to be argued, not simply stated as a 'fact', since what you are saying is not plausible to existing Marxist philosophy.

And then there is your comment that Dialectic would have been best left unpublished. This would be a philistine comment about any book. The fact that you have made it about one of the top Marxist philosophical works of the 20th century (in my view second only to Adorno's Negative dialectics) shows the level of ignorance of the pseudo-Marxist left.

Fourthly, you ask, "Why do we need to burden ourselves with a causal metaphysics when what is required is the 'concrete analysis of the concrete situation'?" The boot is on the other foot, Andrew. It is your rejection of Marxist philosophy that leads you to believe that the study of ontology, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, etc, is irrelevant to the working class, which somehow is expected to liberate itself without knowledge. Ah but, you will say, you are for the "concrete analysis of the concrete situation". This stems from Lenin, of course, but the difference is that he never intended the absolute split-off of the concrete from the abstract, unlike you.

Adorno was correct when he characterised your kind of arid analysis as subsumptive thinking (reality is entirely absorbed into the concept) and positivistic (scientific 'fact' is immune from philosophical questioning).

Finally, I would like to express the hope, Andrew, that you will cease to see Marxism as some kind of pure philosophy of science (gutted of its relationship to general philosophy and the metaphysical questions on which you pour scorn). The Marxist philosophers are on your side, but you have to read them with an open mind to see that.

Healy acolyte
Healy acolyte

Menshevik Lenin

Comrade Jack Conrad stubbornly persists in painting Lenin in the colours of permanent revolution prior to 1917 (Weekly Worker February 1, 8). This is a failed attempt to find in the Marxism of October 1917 a justification for the CPGB's democratic revolution or the minimum programme. Jack asserts, but does not provide evidence, that prior to 1917 "Lenin and the Bolsheviks had a programme of permanent revolution of the sort Marx and Engels developed in Germany during and after the great revolutionary wave of 1848".

The historical facts are that Lenin's strategy of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry did not have any foundation in the perspectives of Marx after 1848. Marx did not stand for a special form of bourgeois republic or a cross-class coalition implementing proletarian reforms from above. A class limitation, putting the demands of the peasantry before the working class or even allowing for peasant hegemony in a governmental coalition, could only sever the organic connection of party and class. The lesson of the Commune in 1871 was that the working class could not use the existing state for its own purposes. Lenin did not discover this until 1917 with the help of Bukharin.

Leaving the class nature of the dictatorship open was a profound political weakness. What was decisive in 1917 was proletarian hegemony, not the sociological alliance in general stressed by Lenin's democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. Lenin's democratic dictatorship was not a clear strategy for the coming revolution.

This lack of political clarity had political consequences. It miseducated a generation of Bolsheviks resulting in the Bolsheviks leadership placing themselves on the left wing of bourgeois democracy. Lenin's political caution on the possibility of a workers' state or ruling out for over a decade the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, resulted in 'critical' support by the Bolshevik Party for the bourgeois imperialist regime in February 1917.

Jack Conrad even admits that, "Lenin held to a similar evolutionary schema to that which informed the Mensheviks. However, as a revolutionary Lenin never let a bad theory get in the way of making a revolution."

It was certainly a bad theory, but it did get in the way of making the Russian Revolution - and the Chinese and the Spanish revolution. Most of the leadership of the orthodox Bolsheviks or old Leninists never understood what happened in 1917, opposed the October revolution, or were uncomfortable with the revolution and its socialist legitimation.

Lenin was compelled to fight an uphill battle to theoretically rearm the Party. The Party in the revolution depended heavily on comrades historically denounced by Lenin as centrists like Trotsky or unorthodox Bolsheviks such as the "ultra-left" Bukharin.

To regard Lenin as an instinctive revolutionary with an infallible nose for class struggle or never letting a wrong programme get in the way of revolutionary activity, is not to combat the programmatic views of the SWP, but to agree with them. Jack puts on one side the political importance of Lenin's refurbishment of the Bolshevik understanding of the dialectic and Marxist politics (imperialism) after 1914. He also refuses to see the importance of Lenin's late discovery of the Marxist position on smashing the state.

Even as late as 1915-16 Lenin dismissed permanent revolution as ultra-left foolishness. In response to Trotsky's call for permanent revolution, Zinoviev shouted back the official party line: long live the national revolution in Russia. Lenin could not bring himself to read Trotsky on permanent revolution prior to 1917, let alone use the phrase.

There is no space in this letter to develop these points or use the huge textual evidence from the collected works of Lenin and Trotsky. I have produced that elsewhere. Suffice it to state that prior to 1917, Lenin insisted that there was only one historical road to socialism and that was the road of bourgeois freedom: the democratic bourgeois state or the democratic revolution.

The Russian proletariat taught him a different kind of democracy: the revolution against the state or the self-activity of the class in the failed attempt to establish the commune state or the transition to socialism.

Menshevik Lenin
Menshevik Lenin