I am regularly disappointed to read news of yet another failure of socialists and Marxists to come together in a unity project, despite the desperate need for progressive, socialist and environmental solutions facing working people.
Over the past 10 or so years I have been active in a number of serious attempts - Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alliance, Respect and, more recently, the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party - to form a united socialist organisation. But all of these attempts have failed, stalled or broken up, with divisions, rancour and disagreements.
For the past few years I have taken time out of active political activity to support my 13-year-old lad and his local football team and attending meetings of the Bexley and District Youth League. Some of these monthly meetings have over 400 representatives in attendance, whereas those active on the left can struggle to get half a dozen.
Four million children and 375,000 adults play competitive football each weekend and hundreds of thousands more are engaged in the organisation and running of teams. Football is a working class game and has a long history of independent working class organisation. Increasingly, football supporters are engaged in moves to reclaim the game and refound their teams from the rich and powerful.
One possible way forward for the left - to break down suspicion and hostility, to build trust, solidarity and friendship and engage with youth - would be through sport, especially football. I note that comrades in Manchester active in Respect have been seeking to do this.
I would be interested to hear from political groupings on the left who would be interested in coming together through football and holding friendly matches (the laws of the game make no mention of football being solely a male activity, by the way). Perhaps this could lead to the formation of a progressive or socialist football league - who knows? Initially, I would suggest these friendly games are held in London - perhaps Blackheath, the scene of gatherings of the peasants’ revolt before they moved on to London to present their demands. If armed workers in the trenches of the World War I could come together through playing football, why can’t those on the left?
If this suggestion is of interest, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have just read on your website ‘A study in bureaucratic inertia’ by Jack Conrad (May 18 2006), and notice that my grandfather, Johnny Campbell, is missing from the 12 arrested and imprisoned for sedition in 1925. Only 11 are listed.
Last Saturday the Campaign for a Marxist Party split, with the CMP committee and the CPGB on one side, and the non-CPGB on the other. It should be remembered the committee was itself an alliance between Hillel Ticktin and the CPGB. Hence the draft manifesto was produced by Hillel and the CPGB’s Mike Macnair and Jack Conrad.
Closure is not the same as a split. But what was presented to us as closure turned out to be a split - the refusal of one part of the organisation to work with the other. I moved an emergency resolution designed to avoid a split at least until we could find out what it was all about and what the real issues were.
The emergency resolution read:
1. This conference notes the difficulties encountered by the campaign, as identified in the resolution from the committee.
2. We agree to end the suspension of John Pearson and restore full membership rights on the passing of this resolution.
3. Noting that comrade Pearson was annoyed by what he considered humiliating treatment by former comrade(s), nevertheless this is no excuse for threatening to “lamp” a member of the CMP. This conference hereby censures comrade Pearson and warns that further threats of this kind will not be tolerated.
4. In view of the problems brought to our attention by the committee and the impossibility for rank and file members to be able to fully debate and assess all alternatives in a democratic manner, we resolve to call a special meeting at the end of January to consider the closure of the CMP.
5. The resolution from the committee, currently item two on this agenda, will be the first item on the agenda of the January meeting.
6. The present committee will remain in office until this special meeting and we recommend that they coopt representatives of any identifiable trends to prepare for that meeting.
In effect this resolution asked whether a split was planned or not. It was voted down even though taken in parts. This exposed the true state of affairs. It was a split, not a closure. The committee and the CPGB were in no mood for compromise with the non-CPGB members. The CMP was set up in haste and was to be closed down at the same speed.
What was the split all about? In truth we do not yet know. We can hazard a guess. But the committee which engineered it had not been entirely honest. Committee members began to bring up different motives than those suggested in the official resolution. For example, they were fighting against halfway houses and especially the dangerous republican socialist party that sought to unite the left. They were determined to have no more to do with this and would put to the sword anybody who said such a thing.
The non-CPGBers could not assess the real motives. A number of red herrings thrown about in the heat of battle have left the situation unclear. What now? The real politics will become more apparent in January 2009. By this time the Ticktin-CPGB alliance will have shown what they have in mind.
The non-CPGB will have the opportunity to meet and decide what we think it was all about. Hopefully they can complete the democratic process that should have taken place, even though the committee we elected all ran away. Then it will become clear what it was really all about. The tree has been shaken - let’s see what falls out!
Lawrence Parker, in his ‘third period pains’, writes that “The Leninist faction was thus never seduced by the charms of the ‘third period’, seeing in it the disastrous subordination of the world revolution to socialism in one country” (December 4).
Once again socialism in one country is blamed for all the mistakes and defeats of the international communist movement. Trotskyism is unable to understand that defending socialism in one country had nothing to do with the defeats in other countries. This also applies to the third period - a militant attempt to spread world revolution through the class-against-class policy, which assumed a sectarian, ultra-left form. Obviously the ‘third period’ belies the claim of Trotskyism that Stalin was only interested in ‘national’ socialism, which Trotsky claimed was the ideology of a counterrevolutionary bureaucracy.
Parker needs to explain to Weekly Worker readers how Stalin promoting world revolution through class against class was at the same time subordinating world revolution to socialism in one country. It should be obvious to even Trotskyists that if Stalin were only interested in socialism in one country he would not have assiduously promoted the class against class policy - an attempt to spread the revolution beyond the borders of the Soviet Union.
James Turley wonders “what on earth [am I] doing writing in to our paper?” (Letters Weekly Worker December 4). I admit wondering the same thing, as he again fails to understand my point!
He wonders what my letters “hope to achieve, if programmatic discussions between different trends is pointless”. Obviously, I need to repeat my basic point, which is, simply, that demanding that a united front accept a CPGB-approved “Marxist programme” from the start is to ensure it is a Leninist sect and not a united front.
He seems unaware of the obvious - that if such a programme is accepted (and good luck in getting the other ‘Marxists’ to agree to it!), then what happens is that only those ‘Marxists’ who subscribe to that particular programme will remain members. Ironically, it is his desire to impose a “Marxist programme” which will ensure that “a dimension of political struggle” is not injected into the “otherwise cosy lash-up, with the exact result that - yes - the anarchists are left to their anarchism, the greens to greenism”. This is because the non-Marxists will leave the organisation!
He states that I “presumably [mean] that programmes are spontaneously generated in social struggles” and he is, to “an extent”, right. I think that any serious popular organisation must develop its own ideas and programme based on its struggles - with input and participation from revolutionaries, of course. Demanding that popular organisations accept a specific programme in its whole, and from the start, undercuts political discussion and, ultimately, the self-liberation of the working class.
That is important. Apparently, I “will find nary a Leninist that does not at least pay lip service to the creativity of the masses and spontaneous struggle”. And that is the problem. It usually is lip service - as can be seen from this bizarre discussion, not to mention the fate of the Russian Revolution!
For Turley, there is “no movement to learn from, to teach us its spotless programme”, meaning that leftists “are not in a position to do anything other than ‘impose’ a programme” and so the existing “wishy-washy founding statements ... are every bit as ‘imposed’ as our alternative programmes would have been”. Yet these statements do not actively exclude others or restrict future development! A “Marxist programme” would, by definition, exclude anarchists, greens, Marxists who reject the “Marxist programme” as Marxist, and so on. I’m surprised I need to point this out!
He ends by stating that either “the proceedings are useless and nothing can be done until the masses see fit to tell us what it is they want” or “some kind of programmatic basis is needed to achieve unity”! So “unity” will be achieved by giving the organisation a “Marxist programme”? Really? So anarchists, greens, Marxists who disagree that it is a “Marxist programme”, and so on, will all remain in an organisation whose programme they fundamentally and explicitly reject? Aye, right!
He claims that “we think Marxism fits the bill” and urges me to “prove us wrong”. I do not have to, as even the Bolsheviks eventually recognised that turning up to the soviets, and demanding they accept a “Marxist programme” and then disband was stupid. It should be obvious, surely, why doing a sadly similar thing to a united front in education is repeating history, only this time as farce?
In his response to my article on the Irish economy (‘No longer the Celtic tiger’, October 30), Dieter Blumenfeld raises the banner of Republican Sinn Féin (Letters, December 4). He points to Saol Nua, the social and economic programme of RSF, as the solution. Saol Nua would be set within Éire Nua, a federal programme based on the four historic provinces.
But this is not the socialist solution that Dieter thinks. It is in fact a programme of Irish petty nationalism. The British-Irish would end up as the minority within the nine-county historic province of Ulster. The vision is of an Ireland of small businesses and a ‘people’ linked by a common national identity. It aims at the “reinvigoration of our distinctive Irish identity, particularly the Irish language, which is central to that identity … and [will] ensure that the language becomes once more the everyday language of the majority of the Irish people” (www.rsf.ie/saolnua.htm).
Where that leaves the British-Irish is anybody’s guess, never mind migrant workers, who now comprise over 10% of the population.
Saol Nua “represents a vision of Ireland based on republican, socialist, self-reliance and ecological principles”. It is an Ireland of small-scale enterprise - with socialism very much of the nationalist variety. “A firm conviction of the necessity of national sovereignty” is to be defended from the European Union and transnationals, with withdrawal from Europe high on the policy agenda.
Of course, it is a completely utopian programme. It is impossible for a small-scale capitalist Ireland to survive on its own. Ireland is now a (very junior) partner of world imperialism. The economic dependence on Britain has shifted to a far greater dependence on US and other international capitals. It is integrated into the world economy and is not just dominated by Britain.
Our response must be international, not national. We need to make links with the working class in Europe and Britain. We must stress the commonality of our class programme, not national identity.
On December 6 a 15-year-old boy, Alexis Grigoropoulos, was murdered in cold blood by a policeman - a state crime that triggered the biggest revolt on a national scale since the end of World War II.
Thousands of people, young and old, participated in the funeral on December 9, raising their fists in revolutionary salute. But at the end of the ceremony, the riot police attacked the crowd, targeting the youth. The big scandal now is that the police again used guns, firing at least 15 bullets apparently into the air to disperse the crowd.
Before the funeral, at noon, thousands of schoolchildren, students, teachers and university professors demonstrated in Athens and violent clashes again took place in front of parliament, with the riot police savagely attacking 13-14-year-old boys and girls.
To coincide with the funeral, protest marches took place in all the main cities of Greece, invariably ending in violent attacks by state repression forces. In Patras, behind the police were the forces of the Golden Dawn fascist paramilitary group and goons of the New Democracy youth organisation. In many towns schoolchildren stormed the police headquarters.
Prime minister Costas Karamanlis met with the president of the republic, the leaders of the opposition parties and the speaker of parliament. Although he did not succeed in winning their direct endorsement for the declaration of a state of emergency, the government is moving in this direction - namely the declaration of a p:‘state of exception’, using article 11 of the constitution to ban demonstrations and occupations. The hysterical campaign of the bourgeois mass media against the “hooligans” helps prepare for this.
December 10 was previously set as the day of the 24-hour general strike against the government budget. In collaboration with the right, the Pasok leadership of the General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) cancelled the planned march, as well as the rally in front of its headquarters. Instead it called for a “democratic memorial meeting” in Syntagma Square.
The Pasok leadership of George Papandreou limits itself to criticising the government for not using the police “effectively to protect social peace, the property of the citizens and public buildings …”
The Stalinist KKE leadership goes farther to the right, denouncing, together with the government and the far right, Synaspismos (the ex-Eurocommunists) as “protector of the hooligans and provocateurs”. KKE general secretary Aleca Papariga described the young rioters as “Talibans” created by the secret services of the state under the governments of Pasok and of New Democracy who have now got out of control! She was praised by the rightwing government and the fascist, anti-semitic leader of the far right. The KKE has organised its own separate meetings, absolutely respecting the social peace that the current government of boy-killers wants to impose.
Synaspismos, together with its allies in Syriza, the ‘Alliance of Radical Left’, calls for “the democratic reorganisation of the police” and other mild, reformist economic measures to raise the living conditions of a young generation with a miserable present and without a future. Under constant pressure from the right, Synaspismos/Syriza cancelled its previous decision to hold a rally in front of the GSEE headquarters and then participate in a march.
So the only march due to be held on December 10 was the one organised by a number of far-left organisations. The situation is, of course, dangerous, with police attacks threatened, but we will not yield to state terrorism nor the cowardice of the reformists and Stalinists.
I read Jim Moody’s review of The devil’s whore with interest (‘A revolution made in England’, December 4).
I was surprised at the extent to which the programme actually showed the division of the parliamentary forces and gave an historical voice to the democratic forces of the Levellers and Diggers, and even mentioned other groups like the Ranters. Normally, dramatisation of the civil war presents Cromwell as some kind of revolutionary socialist - just as the French revolutionaries are presented often in that light by a contemporary bourgeoisie that wishes to disown its historical heritage of violent revolution - a precursor to Stalin.
However, for Marxists I think there are some historical lessons to be learned. Jim comments: “Viewing matters on a wider canvas than this artistic portrayal allows, there is no doubt that a full-blown social revolution was afoot in England in the 17th century … No-one could fail to see that enormous changes were occurring in all spheres: cultural, economic, political and social.”
I would dispute this. At this time there were certainly economic and social changes occurring. The power of the old feudal aristocracy was waning and a new bourgeoisie was developing. But I think it is a gross exaggeration to describe these changes themselves as a social revolution. The capitalist forces that were developing were the commercial bourgeoisie that had grown out of the old pirates and privateers, encouraged under the development of an increasingly powerful British maritime power, particularly under Elizabeth I. They were growing rich from an increasing world trade, again encouraged under royal and feudal tutelage.
But this commercial bourgeoisie was still largely tied to sections of the old aristocracy for those very reasons. The merchants exploited the foreign peasants by buying low and selling high, whilst the political regime that allowed them to do so was dependent upon the colonial state erected by the British landlord class in those foreign parts. Sections of the aristocracy were using their existing wealth to enter into that area of bourgeoisdom that they felt comfortable with - banking. There were also the capitalist farmers, of whom Cromwell was symbolic.
However, the real power of the bourgeoisie lies within the development of industrial capital, and that was nearly 200 years away at the time of the civil war.
Nor do I think it correct to say that the state formed as a result of the civil war was of a radically different kind. Many of the bureaucrats and functionaries were the same as under the feudal state - just as was the case with the soviet state in Russia after 1917. The ideas that dominated the Cromwellian state - and indeed society - were not clearly bourgeois ideas at this point. This is one reason why the restoration was not only effected so easily, but was welcomed by the majority of society. And much the same could be said of the restoration in the USSR in 1990.
The civil war was a political revolution, carried through by the up-and-coming revolutionary class with the support of other dispossessed and oppressed classes - not consciously to create something new, but to demolish something old and oppressive. I believe the Russian Revolution was essentially of the same type. It appears to be a facet of historical development that such premature political revolutions presage the actual social revolution and, as a consequence, condition it, acting as a warning to the old rulers that their time is up, even though the revolution itself, being premature, necessarily fails, and fails in such a way as to bring oppression and misery to those who had most to gain from it.
But the point at which political revolution of the bourgeoisie not only sees its ideas dominate within that state bureaucracy, but whereby it gathers in all the levers of political power to itself, does not and cannot come until much later, until such time as the capitalist class holds sway in the economic and social roots of society. In Britain, that cannot arise until the dominance of the industrial bourgeoisie - whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the landlords and to some degree opposed to the interests of the merchants and bankers - with the coming of steam power into industry, and the creation of a large working class after 1800. This is what brings it into conflict with the landlords through the Anti-Corn Law League, and sees the completion of its political revolution with the 1832 Reform Act - the culmination of a process that has been going on for 50 years that really does introduce new forms of state and political organisation, upon which the political power of the bourgeoisie is created.
The same is true of France. Its economic development is retarded compared with Britain. The French revolution mirrors the English civil war and the coming to power of Bonaparte mirrors the coming to power of Cromwell, resulting in both cases from the premature nature of the political revolution and the inadequate economic and social power of the bourgeoisie to sustain directly its dictatorship. Only when that social power is sufficient does the bourgeoisie step forward with its last word, its political revolution that establishes the Third Republic.
The Russian Revolution follows this historical pattern completely, both in the nature of its arising and of its degeneration into Bonapartism due to the weakness of the new ruling class, and of its dissolution. As with those previous revolutions, the working class will only be able to carry through its political revolution, to establish its state, when it has won for itself dominant economic and social power, and has developed its own ideas on the basis of them. When, in Marx’s words, those material conditions allow the battle of democracy to be won within the working class. That can only happen if workers begin, as Marx suggested, to claw back control of their lives and of the means of production through the establishment of cooperative industries and enterprises, and of other forms throughout society that automatically engender socialist ideas as a workable alternative to capitalism.
A while back, Mike Macnair mentioned Kautsky as having talked about the “uncompleted tasks of the bourgeois revolution” (‘For a minimum programme’, August 30 2007). While I am in general agreement regarding Kautsky’s error on the democracy question specifically, there is the question of inheritance.
I’ve got this ‘meritocratic’ feeling that some anti-feudal aristocrat in the feudal intelligentsia and/or an outright bourgeois radical - both during the renaissance - had a few choice words to say about inheritance, linking it with the legalism of aristocracy (in much the same way as private property serves as a legalism for the extraction of surplus value). Please correct me if I’m wrong, though.
If indeed so, wouldn’t the abolition of all rights of inheritance indeed signify an “uncompleted task of the bourgeois revolution”? And what other “uncompleted tasks of the bourgeois revolution” are there?
It’s time to start trying to nail that bloody Alliance for Workers’ Liberty jelly to the ceiling again. That was my first thought on attempting to unravel Paul Hampton’s barrage offered in response to my article (‘“Third period” pains’ Weekly Worker December 4).
After another whinge about “personal abuse” (in translation: accurate description), oafmeister Hampton claims: “Much of the rest of Parker’s piece is pure amalgam. Apparently members of the CPB, publishers of the Morning Star - have also called the [CPGB] third period Stalinists. So has the AWL. Ergo, the AWL has similar opportunist politics to the CPB. Parker obviously fails to see the irony in his methods - precisely the kind of logic-chopping, cut-and-paste, dishonest polemical technique pioneered by the Stalinists from the late 1920s” (www.workersliberty.org/blogs/paulhampton/2008/12/05/third-period-tankie-cpgb-upset).
I can see the attraction for Hampton in painting that kind of picture, but I had a bit more to say than that actually. I traced the similarities of opportunist method embedded in, for example, the AWL/Communist Party of Britain theory of new workers’ parties and gave a practical illustration of the two groups being drawn together in the Labour Representation Committee to attempt to block LRC affiliation to Hands Off the People of Iran. The use of the ‘third period’ label was thus deemed to be symptomatic of deeper political problems. Obviously this is not exactly one for the AWL family album, but that’s not really my problem.
Hampton doesn’t comment on the evidence I offered that conclusively proves that The Leninist/CPGB were/are not fans of ‘third period’ politics. And then I am accused by him of not debating the “politics” of his mighty original assessment. Blimey! I thought I might have won some sort of prize for taking Hampton’s illiterate guff seriously.
The clinchers for Hampton that prove the “parallels” between the present-day CPGB and ‘third period’ Stalinism rest on two assertions: “First, the WW witch-hunting of Sean Matgamna over his article on Iran - threats to drive him and the AWL out of the labour movement - ie, the sort of treatment reserved for fascists. This type of behaviour originated with the Stalinists in the late 1920s, when they expelled Trotskyists from the ranks of the communist parties, physically broke up Trotskyist meetings and attacked our militants and dubbed opponents ‘social-fascists’.”
I accept the judgement that Matgamna and his supporters have effectively excluded themselves from the labour movement over their stance on imperialism and that this line of demarcation needs to be sharply upheld. But why would this need gangster-type tactics when the best way of combating this is through public debate (which Hampton clownishly calls “snipping [sic] at [the AWL] from the safe distance” of the Weekly Worker)? How can being willing to share a platform with Matgamna, attending a public debate, writing polemical articles, being sharply critical and even taking the piss be remotely compared to physically breaking up meetings? Why would anyone want to make martyrs out of Matgamna’s grubby clique? This is desperate stuff.
The other ‘proof’ of ‘third period’ politics Hampton offers reads: “Second, the classless ‘anti-imperialism’ now so widespread on the left was developed during the third period (1928-34): for example, by Bukharin at the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928. It was at variance with earlier Bolshevik efforts to understand the combined and uneven development of the world economy and the corresponding relations between states. This has been carried over by the WW today: for example, by making its demand for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq instead of prioritising solidarity with the emerging labour movement. It is also evident when they make it a condition of doing solidarity work on Iran that supporters have to accept shibboleths like ‘Troops out now’ and adopt a shrill hostility towards Israel - rather than focusing on Iranian workers actually fighting the regime.”
One could spend a lifetime correcting all this nonsense, but actually Hampton proves my original point more beautifully than I ever could. In his eyes, ‘anti-imperialism’ (in other words, arguing for ‘Troops out of Iraq’ and opposing a pre-emptive Israeli strike) is a classless issue. It is not deemed to be critical to the working class in the manner in which, say, routine trade union demands are. This somehow (really!) contradicts “solidarity with the emerging labour movement” of countries such as Iraq. Thus the business of the substantive politics of the region is left to the imperialists, who may have a progressive role to play. In other words, let the big boys and girls get on with it, the proles should get on with being proles. This is all that the AWL’s economism leaves it with and, as Hampton well knows, this is not a comfortable place to be politically.
So, principled anti-imperialists in Hopi, who insist that opposing imperialism and reactionary anti-imperialism can be done in tandem with developing practical solidarity with the people of the Middle East and who in doing so illuminate everything that is wretched about the AWL’s social-imperialism, must be smeared with some bullshit label. As I said originally, “The manner in which the ‘third period’ is used by the remnants of the ‘official communist’ movement and various debased Trotskyists has often been to police the expression and practice of principled Marxist politics in favour of opportunism.”
Hampton’s ‘analysis’ is a textbook case. And, again, just to repeat the point so it is crystal clear, just because the later Comintern might have spouted a shrill and, at times, semi-hysterical form of politics on anti-imperialism does not mean that there should be some kind of injunction against principled anti-imperialism to suit the likes of the AWL.