In his article ‘Where now for working class representation?’ (April 24), Toby Abse states: “Ferrero’s supporters are a potentially unstable amalgam of Grassi’s pro-Cuban traditionalists, some former Demoproletari such as Giovanni Russo Spena, some ex-Bertinottiani and the Grantite Trotskyists of Falce e Martello (Hammer and Sickle).”
This is a blatant lie, as even a rapid analysis of Falce e Martello’s website shows very well. We have never supported Ferrero, nor will we. Please rectify this nonsense.
I was saddened to learn the news that Terry Fields, Militant supporter and MP for Liverpool Broadgreen (1983-92), has died after a long struggle with cancer. I first heard Terry speak at a meeting of the Welsh Labour Party Young Socialist in Barry Island, Glamorgan in 1986.
I salute Terry’s courageous stand while he was a member of parliament. In Terry’s immortal words, “A militant is a moderate who has got off their knees.” He was an honest class fighter and will be remembered for this.
There are so many flaws in Andrew Northall’s thinking (Letters, June 26), it is difficult to know where to start.
Perhaps the most glaring is when he states that the USSR was “the most free and democratic society in the world” and that the people were “free, happy, healthy, educated and prosperous”. If these statements were true, then Soviet workers would not have allowed the elite to replace Stalinism with market controls over the alienation of their labour-power.
If Northall were correct, workers would have recalled instantly any elected delegate that argued for market-inspired forms of competition between productive units. They would have elected leaders that resisted any suggestion that the law of value regulate labour-power and the allocation of goods. A majority of the population would have rejected reforms such as glasnost andperestroika. The Soviet Union would not have disintegrated. Stalinism would be so popular, the USSR would have won the cold war. Every country worldwide would now be dominated by the Soviet model. Workers would be so happy with Stalinism they would argue that the KGB’s liquidation of dissent and opposition is necessary for their continued prosperity, freedom and health.
The facts are that workers were so free and happy in the former Soviet Union that, in order to extract a surplus from them, the elite needed to keep them under constant surveillance. The KGB employed an army of millions to inform them what was going on in the workplace. The KGB controlled whether a worker was promoted, kept his or her job, could move from job to job, what housing she or he could live in, who could get a degree or access to scarce goods. The KGB was successful at preventing demonstrations, strikes and most forms of collective action. It attempted to enforce an absolute control over workers.
The only way workers could resist was individually through sabotage and alcoholism. This led to the huge scarcities, waste and uselessness that characterised most of Soviet production and led to its disintegration and collapse. It made planning and workers’ democratic control over society impossible.
Northall pretends to be unaware of the reality of proletarian oppression and misery under Stalinism. I guess this is because, as he states, his picture of the USSR as a workers’ paradise is taken from “contemporaneous bourgeois sources”. Northall’s falsehoods are consistent with the anti-Marxist Sidney Webb’s 1934 book Soviet communism: a new civilisation? Webb’s apology for Stalin’s purges was inspired by his positivism and his dream of a society in which scientists formed the new ruling class.
I would advise readers of this paper new to debates on the nature of the former Soviet Union to consult Marxist sources for information. These include Trotsky’s The revolution betrayed, Victor Serge’s Thirty years after the revolution and Hillel Ticktin’s Origins of the crisis in the USSR. They might also learn much from Roy Medvedev’s monumental Soviet history of Stalinism: Let history judge. Northall’s distortions of history affirm the truth of Medvedev’s conclusion: “… not everything connected with Stalinism is behind us, by no means everything. The process of purifying the communist movement, of washing out all the layers of Stalinist filth, is not yet finished. It must be carried through to the end.”
I look forward to the Campaign for a Marxist Party’s relaunch next month. I hope it will place the study of Stalinism at the centre of any study groups it initiates.
Chris Strafford still seems to have missed the point of what provoked my critique of his rant against anarchism (Letters, June 26). Instead of pondering the stupidities of him repeating the errors of the Bolsheviks in 1905, he turns to defending Bolshevism and attacking anarchism. I am happy to respond on these issues, taking his silence on that issue as implicit agreement.
He claims I “strangely” insinuate that “Leninists do not use free and open debate. His letter is living proof that he is wrong.” I am at a loss to see where I ‘insinuated’ that. He states that, for me, “anarchists invented workers’ councils and direct action”. I wrote nothing of the kind, but rather anarchists, not Marxists, “were the first to raise” them, which is true.
He claims that “workers’ councils … were supported by Marxists - if not all.” Not before 1917. Bakunin had argued for a federation of workplace delegates as the framework of a free society. Engels, in contrast, proclaimed that the democratic republic was the “specific form” of the dictatorship of the proletariat, that it was “the ready-for-useform for the future rule of the proletariat”. Marxists paid lip service to workers’ councils a mere five decades after anarchists had drawn this conclusion from the class struggle. So, contra Strafford, I did not claim workers’ councils as “an anarchist invention”, but rather that anarchists had advocated them since the 1860s - unlike Marxists.
Strafford then states that direct action “has existed as long as the working class has existed” and so it “is arrogant and stupid in equal measure to believe that anarchists have a monopoly on advocating” it. Except we have placed direct action at the centre of our ideas, while Marxists placed “political action” at the centre of theirs. Given that Strafford had lectured anarchists on what direct action is, his own arrogance on this is staggering!
He states that my “claim that the failure of the revolutions in Russia and Spain was all the Communist Party’s fault is ridiculous” and that it “is pathetic to blame Stalinists for the failure of the CNT to give adequate leadership to the working class”. Except I did not blame the communists for that, but rather their explicitly counterrevolutionary role in reversing whatever gains the revolution had achieved - as in Russia.
Stafford says, without thought, that “instead of smashing the state, the anarchists defended it!” Does he not ponder why the CNT leadership did that, why they decided to ignore their own theories? Could it be the possibility that if they had not done so then they would have had to fightboth Franco and the republic? Given these objective circumstances, it is understandable why certain decisions were made - which explains but does not justify them. Such recognition of the realities of the situation would undermine his fundamentally idealist critique of the CNT and so is conveniently not done.
Stafford states that “if the failure of the revolution lies with anyone, it is the leadership of the CNT”. As if any anarchist would disagree with that! However, for anarchists, the dilemmas of the situation the CNT faced cannot be so glibly forgotten, as Stafford would like. To ignore the realities of a countrywide fascist/army coup and root any decisions made in the ideas of the CNT is the height of philosophical idealism.
In terms of Stafford’s “historical ‘titbit’” - the “failure of the anarchists during the 1873 revolution to give coordinated leadership to the working class is a prime example of the bankruptcy of federalism”, he says - he wilfully confuses a situation where federalism was not applied with federalism itself. In this he follows Engels, who proclaimed that Bakunin’s federalism “consisted precisely in the fact that each town acted on its own, declaring that the important thing was not cooperation with other towns but separation from them, this precluding any possibility of a combined attack”.
In reality, for Bakunin, the revolution must “foster the self-organisation of the masses into autonomous bodies, federated from the bottom upwards”. This meant that “the peasants, like the industrial city workers, should unite by federating the fighting battalions, district by district, assuring a common coordinated defence against internal and external enemies”. Engels was well aware of Bakunin’s actual position but, disgracefully, choose to distort it.
Stafford asserts that the Russian Revolution “highlights the necessity of a communist party” before admitting that key policies implemented by the Bolsheviks were “wrong”! Yet these were the ones imposed, with terrible results. He does, inadvertently, show that Bolshevism confuses party power with working class power. Earlier he asserted that in “the revolution of 1917 it was the democratic centralism of the Bolsheviks that enabled the working class to ... take power”. Except the working class did not “take power” in 1917 - the Bolshevik Party did. Which he later admits, stating that “if they [the Communist Party] had not taken power …”
Stafford proclaims that the “failure of the revolution in Russia lies more in the material conditions and isolation than in the mistakes of the Bolsheviks”. Except Bolshevik authoritarianism and state capitalism were clear from the start. By the time the civil war started in May 1918, the Bolsheviks had already usurped soviet power, started to gerrymander and disband soviets, advocated and imposed one-man management in the armed forces and workplaces, repressed the socialist opposition and so on. Bolshevik ideology played its role in this, as did the centralised structures it preferred. A key problem with Leninism is that it does not consider this usurpation - the identification of Bolshevik power with working class power - as a mistake.
The ‘What we fight for’ column in the Weekly Workerstates: “As a global system capitalism can only be superseded globally. All forms of nationalist socialism are reactionary and anti-working class.”
In essence, this statement repudiates the presence of nation-states of socialism in the opening of the lower phase of communism and advocates the notion of going directly to the final, international state of socialism. Like the earlier statement of the present CPGB - “Socialism is international or it is nothing” - it is an expression of anarcho-communism.
Communists, of course, advocate fighting for socialism both nationally and internationally.
We note the advertisement for your Marxism fringe meetings and in particular ‘The lessons of Respect’ on Sunday July 6 at 5pm. As you are aware, we have been advertising our own fringe meeting on the same subject (‘Respect and the SWP: A self-inflicted disaster’), on the same day, a few hours earlier at 2pm.
The advert for your fringe meetings on the internet newsgroup, UK Left Network, includes a criticism of the SWP’s ‘Marxism’ event, pointing out that it “hardly ever features debates and controversies within the revolutionary left itself”. Your concern for debate among the different political tendencies on the left would perhaps be more plausible were it actually something you consistently practised yourselves.
On May 8 we proposed the idea of a Marxism fringe debate between the CPGB and International Bolshevik Tendency on the question of Respect. The CPGB leadership rejected this, claiming: “We are not aware of any special knowledge or insights your group has on the Respect debacle, other than those you - like others - have picked up second-hand from the Weekly Worker and a few other sources.”
The approaches of the CPGB and IBT towards Respect have actually been diametrically opposed - the CPGB continually giving varying degrees of critical support to this popular frontist project, the IBT consistently opposing Respect as representing the antipathy of working class independence. We have a substantive disagreement on this important issue, which is why a formal debate between our two organisations would have been useful.
In rejecting our debate proposal and holding your own separate meeting on the subject, we presume you are seeking to pose as leftist critics of the Respect project by inviting former Respect, now New Labour, councillor Oliur Rahman, who is conveniently well to your right politically, to debate you. However, anyone interested in discussing a revolutionary alternative to the popular frontist politics of Respect would do well to come to our meeting first.
It’s always nice to see the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty live up to its self-declared crusade for openness and honesty in the movement.
Unfortunately, that almost never happens. Readers of this paper, or even the Morning Star, will be aware that the Public and Commercial Services union voted, at its recent conference to affiliate to Hands Off the People of Iran. Given the stated aim of Workers’ Liberty comrades to create a “workers’ movement that fights all forms of oppression”, and “global solidarity against global capital” (‘Where we stand’, in Solidarity every fortnight), you’d think they would be rapt to see a national trade union with over 300,000 members overwhelmingly vote to support an anti-war campaign specifically committed to solidarity with progressives in Iran.
Of course, the comrades don’t agree with every dot and comma of the statement. In fact, their soft line on imperialism means they disagree with the most significant clauses of it. But surely even they would see it as a step in the right direction?
Well, we’ll never know. Because the Solidarity article on PCS conference, signed by “a PCS member”, neglects to mention it at all, studiedly concentrating on labyrinthine arguments about exactly which strikes the Socialist Party can bring itself to support (June 5).
You’d also expect that, following the recent Reclaim the Campus conference organised by Education Not for Sale, and given the vigour with which the AWL majority pushes their social-imperialist line on Iraq, they would at least lament the political collapse of ENS into ‘SWP-style Iraqi defencism’ or some such. That conference, it will be recalled, adopted an amendment to its founding statement demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yet Sofie Buckland neglected to mention this in her brief report for Solidarity, despite finding time to crow over other victories against Communist Students and Revolution. Perhaps it comes under the general “sharp[ening] up of ENS’s politics” she notes; if so, then this is excellent progress for comrade Buckland, who was still arguing straight-faced that the formulation necessarily implied political support to “clerical fascists” (Solidarity, June 5).
Unfortunately, I somehow doubt it. After all, rumblings from ENS already suggest that the two convenors of ENS - both AWL - are already quietly attempting to bury this line without anyone noticing. Fancy that.
Perhaps they are all too busy tending not one, but two new front groups on Middle East politics - Middle East Workers Solidarity and Iran Solidarity. The latter is promoting a meeting to “discuss campaigning in solidarity with students in Iran”. Both have sprung up out of nowhere - since its first appearance a few months ago, MEWS activity has consisted almost entirely of an inconsistently-maintained blog, although AWL comrades can infrequently be seen shaking collection buckets for it around the odd demonstration.
The student solidarity meeting is somewhat laughable. It is quite nakedly billed as some kind of competitor to Hopi, but with almost no mention on the leaflet of the threat of war at all. Opposition to war is relegated to point five of five in its demand list. We should be clear that this is nothing but a sorry attempt to provide a fig-leaf for the utterly unprincipled pro-imperialist politics of the AWL.
One can only conclude that the present disorientation of this poisonous sect is forcing its leadership into increasingly bizarre actions to try and cohere its troops.