Iain McKay’s response to Joe Wills repeats the standard claim that Bolshevik attacks on workers’ democracy in Russia began before the civil war (Letters, October 9).
This assumes the standard historians’ date for the beginning of the civil war in May 1918, when the Czech Legion seized part of the Trans-Siberian Railway. This dating is ideological. Luckett’s The white generals, written by a military historian, more correctly starts the civil war with the Mannerheim movement in Finland, which was a White movement which aimed to take Petrograd but failed; by the end of December 1917 the Mannerheimers had killed around 75,000 Finnish workers or 25% of the Finnish working class, extending far beyond the Bolsheviks.
In fact, as soon as the Bolshevik seizure of power took place the Menshevik-defencists called on the military to make a counter-coup, and attempts were made in the next few days by the military cadets and by the Cossacks, with overt organisational as well as ideological support from the Menshevik-defencists.
More generally, in October the cities of European Russia were on the verge of starvation due to the dislocation of the economy by the war and peasants’ withdrawal of their grain surpluses from the market. The only available alternatives to the Bolshevik policy of ‘state of emergency’ control were (a) a White generals’ state of emergency (Mannerheim, etc) or (b) descent into warlordism à la Afghanistan (Semenov in Siberia, and so on).
The truth is that if (1) the Bolsheviks had let slip the reins of power, and the left SRs and anarchists had taken over, and (2) the left SRs and anarchists had been able to defend themselves against the White terror (unlikely), we would today remember Makhno and the others in the way in which we remember Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge: as the architects of a policy of destruction of the cities.
Iain McKay states in opposition to my assertion that anarchists reject trade union struggle: “Some argue that revolutionary unions are possible and others argue that workers’ councils, not unions, are the way forward.” However, both lines of thought stated here are a complete disaster when translated into practical activity. The attempt of socialists to distance themselves from reformist unions (ie, 99.9% of existing unions) in favour of ‘red’ (or ‘red and black’) unions has historically proven to be self-isolating, sectarian disaster.
Across the world mere membership of a trade union is bringing millions of workers into a life and death struggle against their ‘own’ capitalist state (ask the besieged trade unionists of Columbia!). Marxists seek not to reject reformist unions, but transform them into organs of revolution. This requires an organised, democratic workers’ party to guide the struggle, not autonomous ‘direct action’ by unelected cliques and individuals.
Back to Russia. McKay states: “As an anarchist I am aware, like Bakunin [anti-semite and conspiratorial elitist] and Kropotkin [backer of Russian imperialism during World War I], that any revolution breaks out “in a hostile bourgeois world. As such, ‘counterrevolution’ is taken as inevitable and does not cut it as an excuse for Bolshevik authoritarianism.” But it does “cut it as an excuse” for the anarchists who led the botched 1872-73 uprising in Spain that was crushed by a militarily marginal bourgeois army due to the rebels’ lack of centralised coordination?
McKay states: “From Bakunin onwards anarchists have argued that a revolution required a federation of workers’ councils to succeed and that this would organise the defence of the revolution by means of a workers’ militia.” In Spain and elsewhere, however, anarchists themselves have dispelled the myth that revolution could be achieved without authoritarian means. In the above example, the anarchists, in seeming violation of their own ideology, did not rely on the direct administration of the people, but set up ruling juntas in all the regions they took.
Not even the Makhnoites, whom McKay speaks fondly of, were exempt from using authoritarian means. As anarcho-syndicalist Ben Annis attests, “Makhno sometimes succumbed to the dictatorial antics of a warrior chief, forgetting his egalitarian beliefs in the difficult circumstances of civil war and making arbitrary decisions without consulting the movement’s supreme decision-making body, the Regional Congress of Peasants, Workers and Insurgents” (B Annis Makhno and the Makhnovshchina).
This “supreme decision-making body” sounds very much like a central committee to me. Indeed anarchism has never succeeded in surviving for any length of time in an ‘intact’ anarchist form. Betrayal of principle is not reserved for power-hungry reds alone, as McKay would have us believe.
McKay attacks my attempt to put Lenin’s writings on revolution and civil war into context as a perversion of language. Not at all - the argument was perfectly logical: Lenin believed the revolution would take a violent form - one part of the population (the proletariat) fighting another (the bourgeoisie) - otherwise known as a civil war! My subsequent quote showed that Lenin believed that after the soviet revolution it would be possible to “break all the resistance of the bourgeoisie by bloodless means”: ie, civil war following the revolution is by no means inevitable.
It is neither my purpose to defend everything the Bolsheviks did nor to make a virtue out of necessity, but rather to argue that anarchism’s absolute hostility to any form of state is misplaced and a barrier to achieving revolution. This is the central contradiction of anarchism: the working class can achieve anything, but they cannot exercise democratic control and accountability over their leaders, it seems.
I am writing to support Paul Tate when he stated that “libertarian methods and practices are far more desirable and useful” (Letters, October 9).
The ‘old’ or ‘Marxist’ left has lost its ideological coherency, as have the New Right thinkers. The only coherent way forward is rightwing libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism. This alone can champion our natural rights, life, liberty and property. Reading Locke, Rothbard, Hayek and Friedman (David) has shown me that the right is not wrong.
The statement calling for a meeting to set up a national SA platform is reproduced in the Weekly Worker under the headline, ‘Improving SA democracy’ (October 9).
This accurately reflects the main emphasis of the statement - for a democracy platform. A minority at the previous meeting in Birmingham wanted to restrict any platform to the issue of democracy in the SA. But the majority of comrades wanted to go further and include in the platform the campaign for a workers’ party and a discussion bulletin or platform publication, which would facilitate discussion and activity with groups and organisations outside the SA, or part of the broader workers’ movement.
This was to be politically based on the principles of People before profit and not any cross-class or popular front. Now the statement calling for the meeting in November seems to separate these aims, which went beyond the politics of the minority, to secondary points which are to be taken alongside any democracy platform rather than be integral to it. Many points implied in the emphasised theme of SA democracy are also included in the additional list, obscuring the importance of the workers’ party and bulletin issues.
This statement might have been hastily drawn up. But the agenda of the previous meeting was hardly transparent. Nor was the meeting a model of democracy. Let’s hope there is no organisational attempt to circumvent the decisive majority to proceed on the basis of putting democracy in the SA in the context of the central need for a new workers’ party, socialist politics and a publication to promote political unity.
Looking at British politics, and in particular thinking about the left, from the position of being abroad for a year, I find myself depressed, and ‘Bob Crow and Scotland’ only confirms this sense (Weekly Worker October 9).
One of the disingenuous features of the ultra-left is to argue from a position of theoretical purity as an excuse for not supporting anything. What is the state of the left in England - why are there theoretical articles on the position of the Scottish Socialist Party and Scottish independence? Not that there shouldn’t be discussion, but surely what English socialists should be debating is why the SSP has been so successful, and why the English left is so irrelevant?
It is a terrible thing to say, but we have to face up to the truth of it - English socialists are a parody of socialists. It is no good, as a Marxist, arguing for what should, allegedly, be an ideal position, when the reality of the situation is that our pronouncements are of no relevance to anyone outside the circle of the ‘left’, and have no impact and ergo no bearing on reality. To talk of all-encompassing left movements as superior and more desirable to nationalistic expressions of socialism would only seem pertinent if there were a choice. But there is no use in opposing an existing reality with a fantasy. The SSP has made itself relevant by its efforts - the English left can’t conceal its flaws by pretending to argue with them on the same level.
Lastly, surely it is the purpose of people seeking a revolutionary transformation in society to be pragmatic about it - meaning, that we should be aware of what is possible and what actions can legitimately exploit weaknesses in the ruling class.
If the SSP follows a socialist course, and a nationalist one; and if this is damaging to the Labour Party, to the ruling class of Britain, to the residue of empire mentality still cursing us today; and if it highlights the backwardness of the English situation and the deficit which needs to be made up - then surely it should be applauded.
These are personal responses, set up to be criticised. And I regard my background as much English as Scottish!
Foot in mouth
Stale arguments against the actions of Brother Crow.
Conrad argues that socialism is not possible in one country and that brother Crow is wrong to promote the SSP’s cause of an independent socialist Scotland. Instead he argues that we should be campaigning for a socialist Europe or indeed world.
My response is, how do you make it happen on a European scale or global scale all at the same time? To bring it down to a more basic level and one closer to brother Crow’s heart, should the RMT complain if the Scottish rail network is renationalised before the rest of the country because we would rather it all came back to public ownership at the same time? I would say bit by bit would do, just as an end to capitalism country by country would do.
Conrad also denigrates ‘left’ groups for arranging demonstrations or working certain campaigns, saying they are “kidding themselves that somehow this sort of limited and essentially circular activity inexorably leads to socialism”. At least these groups are doing something. What is the CPGB doing? My impression of the left outside Scotland is that they are too busy bickering and slagging each other, as this article does, to unite and form a viable alternative to New Labour. That is the only way forward for the left - something those in the SSP realised years ago. Reclamation of the LP is not an option.
Conrad claims to seek unity as the only way forward, then proceeds to have a go at those he seeks to unite with. Foot in mouth stuff, Jack.
Foot in mouth
Foot in mouth
In ‘Speakers cause controversy’ Tina Becker wrote: “Vicki Morris of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty unsurprisingly seemed to be in favour of a ban [on George Galloway speaking at the European Social Forum]” (Weekly Worker October 2).
“Ban” is a funny way to put it: I wish George Galloway had not been invited to speak at the ESF. I wish I had been at the England mobilisation meeting where his name was put forward: I would have opposed the invitation. Even though the England mobilisation accepted Galloway as a speaker, since the England mobilisation is not a representative or a democratic body, I could claim a right to object to the invitation to Galloway during the ESF preparatory meeting at Bobigny.
Shame on me for not doing so, but for only trying to assist Antoine Bernard to object. When we went outside to discuss the matter - Bernard, Jonathan Neale, Anne Mc Shane, I and others - I tried to give Antoine some more ammunition: I objected to Neale claiming that he spoke for the entire anti-war movement in Britain when he defended the invitation to Galloway; and I tried to point out that, contrary to what Neale claimed, George Galloway probably knew full well what company he was keeping when he signed the petition appealing for the release of Tariq Aziz. I think Jonathan Neale probably knows both of those things as well, and I think it was shabby of him to attempt to fob a foreigner off with a partial exposition of the facts.
The news about the petition wrong-footed Globalise Resistance/Socialist Workers Party. Tina was right: no one - except Antoine Bernard - had heard of it or, anyway, cared about it. GR/SWP are used to defending George Galloway against most criticism; hearing him associated, witting or unwitting, with an erstwhile fascist - Gilles Munier, who organised the petition - was momentarily embarrassing for them. And that’s all, probably! Having persuaded Bernard that Galloway was “hors soupçon” - above suspicion, the phrase used in reporting back to the plenary! - in this matter, and got their way once more in the matter of a speaker, would GR/SWP bother to go and find out something about this petition, and this Gilles Munier? I doubt it; one of the most detestable things about them is their political laziness.
I did bother. His signing Munier’s petition doesn’t make George Galloway a fascist, but it ought to alert the left, once more, to being careful about who they line up beside. Munier, as well as being the secretary general of the Franco-Iraqi Friendship Society (Amitiés Franco-Irakiennes), is the man who brings the word of Saddam Hussein to France in the shape of the books Hussein is supposed to have written: the novel Zabiba et le roi, for example. He was behind that grotesque nonsense! Other signatories to the petition stink politically. I have more details if anyone cares for them.
And, anyway, I should like to ask, even if George Galloway doesn’t know or care who Gilles Munier is, why the hell would a socialist shed a tear for Tariq Aziz, the public face of Saddam Hussein in the west? The ability to speak good English doesn’t render a Ba’athist cuddly in my book, nor does having any number of heart attacks. Galloway is off his rocker. Why the hell did the SWP turn him into the now apparently unimpeachable leader of the anti-war movement?
Vituperative epithets aside, I am left somewhat stunned by Mike Macnair’s preposterous polemic against the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (‘Drawing the class line’, October 9).
The gist of Mike’s argument is that the AWL refuses to unite with people who hold ‘Cominternist’ positions on things like unity with bourgeois nationalists, and we refuse even to argue our case. We draw lines in the sand based only on our own limited conclusions about the world, and say, ‘To hell with the rest of you’. He mentions in particular the Galloway business and the collapse of relations between the AWL and the CPGB.
His tendentious account of the latter I will ignore for reasons of space. We do not, as Mike suggests, refuse to collaborate with people on the grounds of some theory of imperialism they may hold in their heads. We insist on defining issues politically. Disagreement on one thing obviously does not rule out collaboration over another.
But take imperialism, or more concretely, take the war on Iraq. We collaborated with all sorts of people in the anti-war movement. We did not, for instance, refuse to attend meetings, or demonstrations, or storm platforms, or whatever, on the grounds that we disapproved of some of the participants. But we do, indeed, think there are some important political demarcations which define more precise ‘collaborations’.
An anti-war movement, for example, which had explicitly promoted Saddam’s regime would, in my view at least, have been morally bankrupt. It did not do so explicitly; but there was something of that implicitly - and the prominence of Galloway deeply compromised in his relations with that regime, with hardly anybody breathing a sigh of protest, is an indication, and a disturbing one, of that.
The issue of Galloway became more urgent when the Socialist Alliance began actively promoting him - at the same time as it (the Socialist Workers Party) was making its popular front turn. We are not refusing to work with people because they take a different view to us on Galloway. Rather, people who think we are crazy, obsessed, or whatever, about Galloway, are refusing - or anyway expressing their boredom and whatnot - at us trying to argue (yes, Mike) our case.