Iain McKay’s polemic (Weekly Worker September 25) against my letter (September 18) begins with either a misunderstanding or a deliberate distortion of my first point.

My argument in no way implied that it was the bourgeoisie, not the proletariat, who improved the working class standard of living. My argument was that anarchist ideology fails to recognise that working class struggle has helped shape the nature of ‘liberal electoral democracy’. The Chartist movement and the trade unions fought for basic political and welfare rights. Marxists seek to transform such hard-earned institutions as trade unions into instruments of revolution. Anarchist ideology, on the other hand, with its rejection of authority, opposes trade unions completely (this can be clearly seen in Anarchist Federation literature and Class War) and thereby rejects a major portion of the history of working class struggle.

We Marxists take a different view: we defend all advances of workers’ democracy within the bourgeois state, whilst calling ultimately for the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie itself. As Rosa Luxemburg put it, “We have always exposed the bitter kernel of social inequality and lack of freedom under the sweet shell of formal equality and freedom - not in order to reject the latter, but to spur the working class not to be satisfied with the shell, but rather to conquer political power and fill it with a new social content.”

This leads us neatly to the question of the Russian Revolution. Consistent with her reasoning in the quote above, Luxemburg was sharply critical of much of what the Bolsheviks did. At the same time, however, Luxemburg was a loyal supporter of the revolution and, unlike McKay, realised that it didn’t happen in a void, but in a hostile bourgeois world. Without the outbreak of revolution in Europe, socialism could never evolve in a healthy and organic manner in Russia.

McKay states: “According to Lenin, revolution inevitably involves civil war. Now, if civil war makes soviet democracy impossible, then Leninists should come clean and rip up State and revolution - you cannot have it both ways.” Indeed Lenin believed revolution involves civil war: “The spontaneous nature of the movement leading to the proletariat beginning civil war is beyond doubt” (‘The Russian Revolution and civil war’). He argued: “The peaceful development of any revolution is, generally speaking, extremely rare and difficult, because revolution is the maximum exacerbation of the sharpest class contradictions.” This was written in September 1917 shortly after the failed Kornilov coup.

What Lenin means by civil war is the conquest of power by the proletariat: “The Bolshevik Party spoke quite openly of the chief aims of the proletarian civil war, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasantry, peace and an immediate offer of peace, confiscation of the landed estates.” Did Lenin believe civil war was inevitable after the workers’ revolution? “When power passes to the soviets, the resistance of the bourgeoisie will result in scores and hundreds of workers and peasants ‘keeping track of’, supervising, controlling, and registering every single capitalist ... punishing [those who resist or deceive] by confiscating all their property and arresting them for a short time. That will be sufficient to break all the resistance of the bourgeoisie by bloodless means” (ibid).

Furthermore, the so-called ‘civil war’ of 1918-1921 was more of a multilateral armed invasion by the world’s 14 most powerful capitalist armies.

I stand by my original claim that the ‘civil war’ disrupted soviet democracy. This is supported by Sovietologist Stephen Cohen, who argued: “The experience of civil war and war communism altered both the party and the political system” and that the Bolsheviks’ “democratic norms, as well as its almost libertarian and reformist profile,” gave way to “rigid authoritarianism and pervasive ‘militarisation’” (S Cohen Bukharin and the Bolshevik revolution New York 1973). It was in this period that much of the popular control exercised by local soviets and factory committees was lost, not, as McKay claims, prior to the civil war.

Centralism was essential in Soviet Russia to defeat the whites, as it was for the Cuban revolutionaries to defeat the CIA mercenaries at the Bay of Pigs, for the NLF in Vietnam to defeat the US military and for the MPLA to defeat the Unita-apartheid counterrevolution in Angola.

Anarchists never explain, in manifest terms, how without a state it is possible to defeat imperialism and internal counterrevolution, how bureaucracy would be avoided, scarce resources allocated, policy differences settled and production and distribution conducted. As yet, the anarchists have supported all revolutions except the ones that actually succeed. So-called ‘anarchist communism’ (or revolutionary anarchism) is, like ‘socialism in one country’, a contradiction in terms: it can be started but never completed.

In his polemic against ‘anti-authoritarians’ Engels asks: “Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannons” ( F Engels ‘On authority’). He continues: “If the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?”


Er, no

Graham Bash boldly states that the starting point for discussion should be: “Communists have no interest separate from the working class” (Weekly Worker September 25). Sadly, the truth is that the interests displayed in the article are not only separate and apart from “the working class”, but extremely so.

I used to be a union rep at Norwich airport, where nearly all workers were in the one union with nearly all attending mass meetings in the canteen during work time. Once I persuaded a couple of colleagues to come to an evening union meeting, where a couple of elderly men went through the union correspondence. Their venture into the ‘mass movement of the working class’ (sic) felt a little like the ‘twilight zone’, being so foreign and marginal to their everyday experience.

I remember leaving a Norwich May Day festival after hearing Dave Nellist lecture a few dozen, mainly quite old-fashioned people about the history of the ‘labour movement’. Walking into the hurly burly of the ‘masses’ doing their shopping was an extremely different cultural experience. The number of ‘workers’ at the ‘labour movement’ event was dwarfed by the vote got by the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Many complain of low turnouts in elections and the Weekly Worker has previously criticised the lack of Socialist Alliance canvassing - yet the SA got a third of the vote of the Christian People’s Alliance, who did no mass canvassing. While a majority of workers answering surveys may support railway renationalisation (for example), the issue would not be included in their top thousand actual, real concerns. Sadly (and typically) the left don’t even consider attempting to listen and understand what the real concerns of working class people may be. If you did, you would find little passion for formal ‘politics’ - only contempt. Perhaps the sects are too busy competing amongst themselves to notice.

When Graham Bash states the Labour Party is the “historical embodiment of the working class” and their struggles continue to be focused in the trade unions and Labour Party, my reply is … er, no, they’re not, Graham! Oh, and another thing I feel obliged to say after reading so many ‘Marxist’ papers - did you know that different workers have different thoughts and express different interests?

Er, no
Er, no

SA "˜partner'

Last week I met some members of the Socialist Workers Party outside a cafe in Canterbury. I asked them if it would be all right to attend their Marxist Forum meeting on Rosa Luxemburg. They told me that I would be welcome to come along.

However, one SWP activist challenged me on the “slagging off of the SWP” in the Weekly Worker. I told her that one of the purposes of our paper was to be constructively critical of all the left because it is the duty of communists to challenge tactics, strategies and ideas which they consider to be detrimental to the development of the workers’ movement. But there was no reason why both the CPGB and the SWP should not cooperate on issues which united them. They all agreed to this. I was asked to get the Socialist Alliance going in Canterbury and to distribute leaflets of the SWP’s Postal Worker in the local office where I work. I left them in goodwill, as I thought.

I returned to the cafe later with Patrick Carey, a fellow Marxist, for the meeting. As we were about to go in, the SWP activist said to Patrick: “You are not welcome.” Patrick asked why and she replied: “This is a Socialist Workers Party meeting by invitation only, and you’re not invited.” Understandably my colleague reacted angrily to this rebuff, saying, “Is that because I ask too many uncomfortable questions?” adding, “Don’t worry, I’m going.” “Fuck off then” was her reply.

I was also told that I was not welcome, completely contradicting what they said earlier on. I was ‘uninvited’ because I am a member of the CPGB. I am also a postal worker and a member of the Communication Workers Union. Comrade Carey and I were then subjected to laughing ridicule by what can only be described as a bunch of middle class wasters playing at being socialists.

It seems that, although the SWP are numerically the largest ‘Marxist party’, they are neither big enough nor brave enough to take a bit of criticism. Their only response to intellectual challenge from the left seems to be either stony silence, bad language or threats of violence. Some workers’ party!

Although this appears to be an isolated incident, it does, however, illustrate what is now becoming an intractable problem: that of a Socialist Alliance controlled by a bullying, opportunistic and non-inclusive SWP who dominate by reason of their numerical superiority. Of course, the Marxist Forums are not SA meetings and the SWP can exclude who they want from them. But what a way to treat an ‘alliance partner’!

The SWP expect all the other members of the SA to dance to their tune, to become electoral fodder, campaigning for their own members hiding behind the banner of the SA. The SWP know that they have got such a bad name amongst the working class that if they ever campaigned under their own name their share of the vote would be even more derisory than the SA vote in Brent.

By all means have an alliance of the left, but why should it be only an electoral alliance? Why can’t we work with other groups for the sole purpose of building a workers’ party with a genuine working class base. Once such a party has been built, it will be ready to become electorally involved. Otherwise it is a case of the cart before the horse.

Without the clothing of the Socialist Alliance, the SWP would be exposed in all their vulnerable nakedness. Many already believe that the SA is ‘dead in the water’. If this is so, it is going to hurt the SWP a lot more than it will hurt us. And whose fault is that?

SA "˜partner'
SA "˜partner'

Ukraine scam

The following email has been sent to the international secretariat of the Committee for a Workers’ International.

“We send to you for a third time our email of September 9, to which we do not appear to have had a reply. We now regard this communication as public, and send it also to some interested organisations on the left.

“We have read your statement of August 29 admitting that the leadership of your Ukraine organisation conspired to defraud a number of organisations of the international workers’ movement.

“You say: ‘We would also add that if any organisation believes they have
been duped by these individuals and requires further information we would be prepared to discuss in complete confidence and supply, where possible, information which would help them to clarify their position in these events.’ We appreciate this offer.

“You will see on our website (www.bolshevik.org) a series of photographs and other information available to us. Can you confirm or expand on that information? Can you name the individuals involved? Can you supply any further information about their roles? Are there other people significantly involved?

“We would like full information on the Ukrainian section of the CWI and its Kiev branch. How many members did each have? What were the addresses of the CWI Kiev office at various times? What activities has the section undertaken since 1999. What publications (newspapers, leaflets) has the section produced? Are there any photographs available of them, for example on demonstrations?

“We are curious about your initial investigation ‘some nine months ago’. Your account is that charges of fraud were made and investigated but not proven at that time, and that the original source of the charges actually denied having made them. Who was that person? It was clear at that time that someone in your organisation had lied over a very serious matter. (At least either the person who laid and withdrew the charges or alternatively a person who falsely claimed the charges had been laid.) What measures did you take to establish who had lied? Did this incident not put your organisation on alert? Who conducted this investigation? Is it likely they are complicit in the corruption?

“Can you give any information as to how far this conspiracy extended. Certainly it extended rather further than your statement admits, and was by no means confined to the Kiev branch of your organisation. It is clear that Ilya Budraitskis, perhaps the most prominent Moscow-based representative of your tendency, was an integral part of this scam. He made numerous trips to Kiev to participate in the fraud. What did other leading members of the CWI in Moscow make of these visits? How did they believe these trips were financed?

“Were the suspicions of your representative, Robert Jones, not aroused? What did he think Ilya Budraitskis was doing in Kiev so frequently? How did he think Ilya Budraitskis could afford those trips? Has comrade Jones visited Kiev in the last four years? How often? Did he not notice anything untoward?

“It is clear that the conspirators at least hoped to gain access to Libyan money as well, as money from the workers’ movement. Has your organisation investigated this Libyan dimension of the matter? With what results?

“Formulations in your statement give rise to the possibility that you are considering that some members of your organisation in Kiev will not be expelled from your organisation. How is it possible that any member of your organisation in Kiev could have been unaware of this scam?

“Has your organisation yet sought to prepare accounts (with whatever precision may be possible) of incoming and outgoing money and other resources in this scam? If this has not yet been done, when will it be done? When will those accounts be made available to the wider workers’ movement which has been defrauded?

“The CWI is, by reason of its size, resources and language capacity, better placed to effectively investigate these matters than the relatively small groups that have been defrauded, yet the CWI has not so far supplied any information on the matter. It has merely admitted what could no longer be denied. Your credibility as an organisation depends on your willingness to change course, to leave behind a policy of carefully calibrated admissions, and instead actively to seek out the evidence and to put it all - fully, frankly and openly - before the workers’ movement.”

Ukraine scam
Ukraine scam