The Workers International Vanguard League is a small grouping based in South Africa. Our key political task of the moment is building a revolutionary working class party as part of the rebuilding of the Fourth International.
For the moment the support base of the ANC is still the black working class. Although this is shrinking, the absence of any mass alternative means that they are fairly secure in their knowledge of winning the 2004 elections. The rise of spontaneous resistance is a reflection of the worsening conditions facing the working class. The structures of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) are propped up by foreign funding and there is huge dissatisfaction within the rank and file of the federation that is formally aligned to the ANC and South African Communist Party. The SACP remains the main parasitic ideologue within Cosatu and the workers’ movement, as well as government, for keeping the working class chained to the ANC and the capitalist system.
Remember, there have been many years of extra-parliamentary struggle in South Africa and the parliamentary platform is a recent development for the broader masses. The question for us is how to sharpen the exposure of parliament, how to sharpen the contradiction between the demands of the masses and the capitalist system that keeps the working class in chains, how to give direction to the struggles of the masses, how to raise class consciousness to communist consciousness.
After considering these factors we are thinking about an ‘active boycott’ campaign. In other words, we are thinking of using the next period to pose transitional demands like sliding scale of hours of work, etc. This will sharpen the fights around the demands of the masses, further expose the state and the bourgeois parties of all shades. Then we intend calling for the masses to go to the ballot boxes to spoil their votes.
During this time we intend raising the need for the building of a revolutionary working class party, as opposed to the bourgeois parties and initiatives like the SMI (Social Movement Indiba - a structure being set up that could lead the struggles of the masses into a parliamentary dead-end).
Please consider the above and send us your views on what you think the best course of action would
A small group of comrades arrived for the advertised Socialist, Environmentalists and Republicans (Seren) meeting in Rhayader, mid-Wales on November 9. With John Marek launching his independent ‘party’ the day before, and with Cymru Goch, the main organising group associated with Seren, having a keen interest in seeing a successful launch, there was always a suspicion that the CG comrades would be stretched. But, given the state of socialist politics in Wales at the moment, I decided that the meeting at least deserved a visit.
That turned out to be a mistake. The comrades who arrived at the venue, including myself and Leane Wood, Welsh Assembly Member for Plaid Cymru (Rhondda central), were informed that the meeting room had actually been cancelled “a while ago”. Hmm …
There are a couple of issues here. Firstly, any parties or individuals interested in attending the meeting had to first find out through the grapevine (not through Seren) and, of all places, the Socialist Party’s website, that the meeting had actually been moved to the Sunday - presumably to avoid a clash with Marek’s meeting the day before. Secondly, after a number of unanswered enquires to Seren’s contact email address about the exact time and date of the meeting, and with its own website still boldly advertising the cancelled meeting for the Saturday as I write, we have to ask, what exactly is Cymru Goch up to?
Dave Craig’s article ‘Communist Party ducks the question’ contains a fundamental truth and a fundamental error (November 6).
The fundamental truth is that the central political contradiction in contemporary British politics is the ‘democratic deficit’. This contradiction grows out of the desire of capitalists and the state to maintain democracy as a central ideology generating consent to their rule, while destroying the social concessions to the working class which gave rise to mass consent to the regime.
As a result, the partial democratic form of universal suffrage is increasingly emptied of content by corrupt payments to politicians (‘party political contributions’); by ‘judicial review’ and long-term contractual commitments to private business; and by forms of top-down control both of local government, and of the major political parties. The Socialist Alliance’s practical policy has been to attempt to evade this question by presenting its programme as a series of minor social reforms, as opposed to fundamental political change.
The fundamental error is comrade Craig’s failure to confront the objective relation of forces in the workers’ movement and its left. This failure is reflected in his complaint that the CPGB’s opposition to the deliberate creation of an ‘intermediate’ party is an obstacle to the radical-democratic turn that is and has been needed. The regrettable truth is that the majority of the British organised left believe in bureaucratic-paternalistic forms of socialism. This belief is reflected in the organisational forms of the Socialist Workers Party (and on a much larger scale those of the trade unions), as much as in the overt politics of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and the Labour and trade union left.
It is quite illusory to suppose that the tiny forces of the CPGB, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (who in our opinion have their own form of bureaucratic paternalism) and the Revolutionary Democratic Group can appeal over the heads of the tens of thousands of bureaucratic-paternalist militants to the broad millions who could be energised by a democratic alternative. The strategic problem is to persuade broader layers of militants - especially the organised militants, who, because they are organised, can outweigh the unorganised radical-democrats - to break politically with bureaucratic-paternalism.
In the case of the SWP - and the Socialist Party - this means primarily breaking with their false concept of the revolutionary (or so-called ‘revolutionary’) party. In addition, English left politics is structurally more similar to French left politics than it is to Italian, Scottish or Portuguese left politics. The reason for this fact is the deep historical roots of organised Trotskyism in England and France, going back to the 1930s, and the presence in both countries of more than one substantial organised Trotskyist group with a serious presence in the broad workers’ vanguard going back to the 1970s (in Scotland and Wales matters may be different, as the historic domination of the old CP tended to marginalise the Trots).
In France there is no road forward for the left without confronting the relations between the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and Lutte Ouvrière, as the comrades have effectively recognised with their limited electoral agreement. In Britain it is similarly the case that there is no road forward for the left without confronting the SWP and the Socialist Party.
Dave’s proposal that we should give up on the SWP’s limited openings towards unity and set up shop with a direct call for a “militant republican socialist party” is therefore - in the concrete situation - a proposal for a step away from, not towards, what is needed.
Marcus Ström makes some brief, critical comments about the Australian Democratic Socialist Party in his letter (‘Aussie SA’, November 6). Since most of the Weekly Worker’s readers probably aren’t familiar with this party, an equally brief response might be appropriate.
Ström mentions the “zigzag opportunist history of the DSP”. The DSP was, historically, closely associated with the US Socialist Workers Party and its particular strand of Trotskyism. Along with that group, it began to reconsider some of the political positions and practices it had inherited under the impact of the revolutions in Nicaragua and Grenada. This process was intensified when the US organisation began to exhibit distinct signs of sectarian degeneration, forcing the DSP (then the Australian Socialist Workers Party) to cease cooperation with them.
Needless to say, the impact of the degeneration of the DSP’s closest associates was profound. It led to DSP members and leaders reconsidering every aspect of its politics, ultimately leading the group to break with key aspects of Trotskyism. The problem then was for the DSP to chart a new course for itself. Their old programme was wrong - but what was right? With the old cookbook discarded, the DSP had to make up its own mind about the challenges that emerged before it. Inevitably, it made mistakes, and had to correct its course on various matters. But in doing so it learnt how to stand on its own two feet, it formed a small but significant cadre of experienced activists, and eventually became the largest active group on the Australian far left.
Its “zigzags” were a learning process, a result of correcting mistakes, and ended up roughly where the DSP needed to be. Key aspects of the DSP’s new positions include what Ström describes as “its leftist stance on the Labour Party”, which led it to support and initiate partyist projects like the Socialist Alliance. On the other hand, it maintained its heavy emphasis on activism, which, however “Panglossian”, resulted in it being able to modestly grow in a period when most other groups were declining. Incidentally, I had to look up the meaning of “Panglossian”, and I wasn’t the only one.
In addition, of course, they reconsidered “Cannonite rigidity”, seeking to maintain the positive aspects of a serious attitude to organisation, while discarding the more formalistic and fetishised aspects. In particular, they realised very early on that they were probably going to wind up as a faction or tendency within a broader force, and that they weren’t ‘the party’. This meant that, while the formal structures were more or less maintained, the political education and training of the DSP’s members gradually changed and advanced, as they began to realise more and more of the implications of what was likely to occur. The emergence of the Socialist Alliances in Britain, and the Scottish Socialist Party in particular, showed a concrete form for the kind of initiative that the DSP had been training its members for almost two decades.
I am a former member of the DSP and do not speak on its behalf.