Drawing the 'class line'

Mike Macnair takes the Alliance for Workers' Liberty to task

According to Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, “A real campaign for a workers’ party should promote the goals of independent working class political representation, a workers’ government, and a working class ‘third camp’ in conflicts such as those between the USA and various islamic-fundamentalist paleo-imperialists. Like it or not, that means taking a stand on the Galloway issue” (Solidarity September 11).

Put another way, if you do not agree with the AWL on the question of imperialism and the ‘third camp’ - and hence on the “Galloway issue” - you do not really stand for independent class politics.

This formula is ultimatistic: ‘Agree with us, or you’re really scabs.’ In terms of its implications, these are the same as those of Workers Power’s ultimatum to the Socialist Alliance July national council. The effect is to deny that there are tasks of persuasion in relation to what the AWL comrades call the “fake left”. The AWL has debated out its position on imperialism back in the 1980s; it no longer needs to explain and argue it in relation to other leftists who disagree, because these leftists are either scabs or (in the case of the CPGB) lunatics.

The tragedy of this approach is that it is possible that the AWL is right on the strategic question involved: ie, that strategies built on the Leninist theory of imperialism lead only to Stalinism and that a fully independent class politics will therefore involve ‘third campism’. But rather than actually arguing out this position and directly debating the theoretical issues, the AWL ‘draws the class line’ on shorthand slogans which result from their conclusions - Zionism, Galloway, etc - to make a wall between their own ‘true Marxism’ and the rest of the “fake” left. The argument is hived off into the theoretical journal Workers’ Liberty (Vol 2, issue 3) and even there it is indirect, allusive and addressed to ‘soft targets’.

coverThe large majority of the people who think they stand for independent class politics worldwide accept some - usually dilute - version of VI Lenin’s theory of imperialism (Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism), and its political corollaries, discussed by the Communist International at its Second Congress in 1921. These corollaries involve the following ideas:

1. The world economy is hierarchically stratified, with the imperialist metropolises exploiting the colonial and semi-colonial ‘third world’.

2. This hierarchy involves economic deformation and the partial blocking of the road to capitalist development in the colonial and semi-colonial world.

3. The ascendancy of the imperialist countries allows concessions to sections of their local working classes, which form the material basis of reformism and support to bourgeois politics in the imperialist countries.

4. Accordingly, to be a communist (socialist, Marxist) in the imperialist countries involves rigorous opposition to your own bourgeoisie’s and its state’s political operations in the colonial world and outright defeatism in relation to its military operations against and in colonial and semi-colonial countries.

There are two further corollaries which were drawn out in the Comintern’s discussion but are not generally accepted on the left, being maintained chiefly by the Maoists and a section of the Trotskyists (point 5 was certainly held by Trotsky). These are:

5. The world economic hierarchy means that the colonial and semi-colonial countries are subject to national subordination to the imperialist countries. This national subordination means at least that the workers’ party in colonial countries should be ‘defencist’ or ‘victoryist’ in relation to national struggles and open wars between the imperialists and the colonial/semi-colonial country in question, and possibly may enter into an ‘anti-imperialist united front’ with nationalists.

6. The ‘Russian path’ - that is, a peasant revolution under the leadership of a proletarian party - can lead ‘backward’ countries to bypass capitalist development and begin to build socialism. This idea gave rise to a complicated debate between Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’, which saw such developments as leading to a domino effect in the imperialist countries, opening the way to international cooperative planning, and the ‘Bukharinite’ (mixed economy) and ‘Zinovievite’ (forced collectivisation and voluntarism) variants of the theory of socialism in a single country. It is not necessary to discuss this further here, because if the AWL is right on the question of imperialism, it follows that Lenin and hence all tendencies in the CPSU and Comintern in the 1920s were radically off the mark on global strategy.

If you hold points 5 and 6, which are positions explicitly defended by Lenin in 1920-21, there can be nothing unprincipled in ad hoc collaboration with bourgeois nationalists. On the variant Stalinist positions, quite prolonged collaboration may also be legitimate. Moscow continued to maintain friendly relations, going well beyond peaceful coexistence, with the Turkish nationalists even after they massacred the Turkish communists. Even Trotsky did not accuse the Comintern leadership of betrayal by forming a bloc with the Kuomintang, but of political stupidity in mixing the political banners, playing down the need for class independence within this bloc and reviving Menshevism by failing to develop an independent class strategy towards the peasantry. This is not to say that such a tactic is right. The point is that if Galloway is a social-fascist on account of his links with various unsavoury bourgeois nationalist regimes, then so were Lenin and Trotsky. Certainly so is the CPB-Morning Star, which has material links to the Chinese and Cuban regimes and serves as their ideological representative. And, since their politics justify such relations, so is everyone else who does not agree with the AWL.

In other words, AWL comrades should cut the crap. The abusive language towards leftists who hold the Comintern positions on imperialism, and towards Galloway, is of secondary importance: excessive violence of polemics is a commonplace in the movement. The underlying question is whether rejection of the Comintern positions on imperialism, and hence the AWL’s version of the ‘third camp’ line, is actually essential to class independence.

If it is, AWL comrades cannot legitimately pursue a united front policy, let alone a regroupment policy, towards people who hold Cominternist positions. You have no more in common with the Socialist Party than you have with the Socialist Workers Party. Your strategic orientation in Britain should be a united front orientation towards the old Labour right - Kaufman, Hattersley and so on, and their supporters in the trade unions. It is they who represent the ‘actual class movement’ at present submerged under Blairism, as opposed to the Cominternists/anti-imperialists, who represent, directly or indirectly, Stalinist and ‘third world’ dictatorships over the proletariat.

If it is not, the problem facing AWL comrades is to persuade the majority of the left wing of the broad workers’ vanguard that their strategic line on imperialism and world politics is false. There is only one possible instrument for this task: unity in action on points of agreement; direct argument and polemic on points of disagreement.

Setting up your own little No Sweat front to try and recruit a few newly radicalising militants does not hack it: the SWP will pick up more through Globalise Resistance and so on, and at the end of the day the relationship of forces will be the same. Exactly the same is true if you shift back to Labour Party work: you will always be in the shadow of Socialist Appeal and even (probably) of Briefing.

But these possible turns to fresh fields and pastures new are the paths pointed by the AWL’s ultimatistic approach to the conditions for common action.

Look at the recent history. The CPGB proposed to the AWL a joint unofficial Socialist Alliance paper, aiming to regroup broader forces in the Socialist Alliance, with the aim of developing the alliance as a whole. The initial response of the AWL was to counterpose bilateral discussions between the AWL and CPGB. Then Sean Matgamna first wrote a polemic accusing the CPGB of having incompletely broken with Stalinism (which turned out to mean ‘does not yet fully agree with the AWL’s version of third-campism’), then we had the ridiculous Leeds affair, which was supposed to exemplify the CPGB’s ‘Stalinism’. Agreement with the AWL on the third camp question is to be a precondition for more than purely episodic common action.

At the SA annual conference in May, considerably broader forces within the alliance were regrouped round the question of a campaign for a workers’ party: ie, class orientation. The AWL polarised the post-AGM meeting of this current around … Galloway; and immediately proceeded to launch its own platform in the Socialist Alliance - claiming it was broad, but including the AWL’s positions on the third camp and Galloway. Agreement with the AWL on the third camp question is to be a precondition for more than purely episodic common action.

Most recently we have Martin Thomas’s insistence, in the article quoted at the outset, that, “If defining positive politics divides the anti-SWP forces, so be it. To make anti-SWP unity the prime principle of politics is sectarian in the true sense of the word ... An organised political force cannot opt out. Either it helps promote Galloway as the new icon of the left (with this or that delicate reservation), or it explains openly why that is wrong. Only the second course is compatible with any sort of genuine workers’ party.” Agreement with the AWL on the third camp question is to be a precondition for more than purely episodic common action.

The vituperative epithets of the polemics are thus merely there to legitimise the underlying ultimatum: accept our position on the third camp, or we won’t really work with you at all. This line leads out of the Socialist Alliance, out of any conceivable successor, and out of any conceivable united organised left in the Labour Party. Unless you find your way to the traditional Labour right, it is genuinely to set up the AWL as the bearers of the one true faith: that is, as a sect.

AWL comrades need to think very seriously about whether this is the path they wish to take.