The Chávez government in Venezuela expelled two alleged ELN guerrillas to Colombia on April 11. Chávez has put the lives of these comrades in danger. They are accused of killing four Colombian marines in an attack on March 17. At that time a group of four guerrillas fled across the border into Venezuela, assuming they would be given political asylum.
This action by the Venezuelan government puts into question its internationalism, espoused in the rhetoric of ‘Bolivarismo’. In practice, this has led Chávez to support so-called ‘progressive’, Bonapartist regimes, but not the revolutionary left.
At the same time the Colombian government is expelling Walid Makled, a narco kingpin, to Venezuela, despite demands by the Obama government that he be sent to the USA for trial. Obviously, a deal was made at the April 9 conference between Chávez, Santos (Venezuela) and Lugo (Honduras).
Though we may disagree with the politics of the ELN, supporters of the Venezuelan revolution should make known to that government that they oppose this betrayal.
My disagreement with Tony Clarke’s advocacy of the peak oil theory is not about the fact that the oil will at some point run out - of course it will: everyone knows that - but his argument that peak oil equals the end of capitalism (Letters, April 14). This is determinist and frankly dangerous nonsense.
Capitalism as an economic and social system has proved extremely resilient over the past 400 years and there is no reason to suppose it will not survive the present economic and financial crisis as well as ‘peak oil’. But the point is, this will be at the expense of the majority working class, as always. If capitalism does suddenly collapse, the result is unlikely to be socialism or communism, but some form of barbarism - “the ruin of the contending classes”, as Marx and Engels put it.
You do need the productive forces to have developed to a certain degree before you can establish communism. In that sense, capitalism played a historically progressive role until the early 20th century, when it became technically possible to achieve abundance.
Yes, you need ideology to make the change, but more importantly you need a conscious political revolution, where the majority working class takes state power out of the hands of the capitalist class.
What I do think is that 21st century Marxism needs to be green as well as red, and I would especially commend the Campaign Against Climate Change trade union group’s pamphlet, One million climate jobs. This sets out a powerful and compelling case for massive investment in alternative renewable energy, wholesale renovation and insulation of homes and buildings, and a radical expansion of cheap and comprehensive public transport.
This makes sense in terms of facing up to the challenge of climate change and sustainable living in the 21st century, and at the same time happens to create at least an additional one million well-paid public sector jobs, helps generate a vibrant and technologically advanced manufacturing base, and solves the economic and financial crisis - but in the interests of the working class and our succeeding generations.
Do I think such a programme can be implemented within capitalism? No, but advocating what we really need and in ways which make sense to working people is the way we build the broadest possible alliance for change and raise fundamental questions about the need to discard an aged and degenerating economic and social system, in favour of one in line with the needs and ambitions of a modern, integrated and interconnected 21st century world.
Not waiting for capitalism to collapse of its own accord, but using the scientific, dialectical-materialist method of Marxism to analyse its failings and to chart the road for revolutionary change.
In response to Mike Macnair’s article (‘Electoral principles and our tactics’, April 14), here is an attempt at possible routes to political consciousness.
Popular fronts seek to work with the liberal bourgeoisie. United fronts, as interpreted by Trotsky, seek to work with social-corporatists. In both kinds of work, one has to shut up about more radical politics, such as actual class struggle, and the class collaboration sets out achieving something less than even the orthodox Kautskyan minimum programme. The reader should note that there are such people as ‘bourgeois communitarians’ and populists not fond of communitarian ideas (like individualists/‘libertarians’). It should also be noted that there should be independent working class political organisation in all three cases.
When I started out mapping some sort of road beyond popular and united fronts, I started very prematurely with the populist front, which implies something more than short-term organisation. Given the whole range of controversial issues that could be addressed by this populist front, I had to rethink my approach. Just because plain populist fronts aren’t viable doesn’t mean that populist front tactics, with respect to greens and various non-bourgeois but non-worker ‘third parties’ opposed to the two-party system, aren’t.
A whole range of other issues are there for populist front tactics to be applied to, such as:
- Full freedom of assembly and association - free especially from anti-employment reprisals, police interference, agents provocateurs, etc.
- The expansion of the ability to bear arms, of self-defence against police brutality and of general self-defence, all toward enabling the formation of people’s militias based on free training.
- The expansion of local autonomy through participatory budgeting and oversight by local assemblies.
- The mandatory recognition of education and related work experience from abroad, along with the wholesale transnational standardisation of such education and the implementation of other measures to counter the underemployment of guest workers and all other immigrants.
- The abolition of all copyright, patent and other intellectual property laws, as well as all restrictions on peer-to-peer sharing, open source programming and the like.
I want to support James Turley’s defence of halfway houses (‘Intervention, not incoherent abstention’, April 14).
Some years ago I argued that communists should not just build their own organisation, but should build an alternative party to Labour, which would be a united front for all pro-working class partisans and organisations. This party should include communists and socialists. In one early formulation this was a ‘communist-labour’ party, which meant bringing workers from both traditions into one militant party. Objectively this can only work as a republican socialist party. It would be like the Chartist Party, not another Labour Party.
It pursuit of this dual strategy I joined the CPGB-led Campaign for a Marxist Party and the Socialist Party-led Campaign for a New Workers’ Party. The first was a sleek racing horse that fell at the first fence and had to be shot. The second was a carthorse, which plodded along and is now stuck in the mud. It was abandoned for a new horse called ‘Tusc’, which is trotting around, even though it doesn’t know where the winning post is.
Previously the CPGB had an ultra-left policy of opposing ‘united front’ parties as halfway houses and only building a Communist Party. The CPGB has broken from that and adopted a ‘dual’ strategy. The ‘new’ policy should be called ‘New’ Halfway Housism, perhaps in response to the apparent demise of the ‘New’ in Labour.
James Turley points to the CPGB theses, which say: “The Labour Party can be made into the real party of labour. By that we communists mean establishing the Labour Party as a united front for all pro-working class partisans and organisations.” If I had an amendment it would replace all references to Labour Party with “a Chartist party/RSP”. Hence, “By that we communists mean establishing the Chartist Party/RSP as a united front for all pro-working class partisans and organisations.”
In the old leftist days the CPGB presented its opposition to halfway houses as a matter of principle. Now we can see it was merely a matter of strategy and tactics. Behind the united front tactics were the strategies of the British road to socialism and the republican road to socialism. Historically the former rests on a two-party alliance between the Labour Party and the CPGB, which means defending and supporting the Labour Party.
Leftists argue that communists should not set out to build a new united-front workers’ party. This would imply that communists had some sort of responsibility for it. They think it would be better to stand back and let the reformist workers lead and criticise their failings or, if they try to exclude us, for being parasites, not leaders.
In opposition to the leftists we have the new cuckoo tactic, where you fly into somebody else’s nest, chuck out a couple of eggs, put your own there and wait for mother bird to hatch them out. This way the old leftist revolutionary purity is maintained and we can avoid responsibility because we did not build the nest in the first place!
Of course the Labour Party is a popular front led by capitalist interests. It is a dead-end house, not a halfway house. But at least I understand your ambition to transform it from a dead end to a halfway house. So Chris Stafford has a point after all: Labour is a dead-end street.
I was bemused by the letter (April 14) from Republic complaining about the ban on their street party on April 29. Are they so politically innocent as to imagine the ruling class will meekly accept what it sees as a threat and an insult to one of its sacrosanct fetishes? Labour councillors compete with Tory landlords to grovel at the feet of a dysfunctional feudal anachronism.
Republic has tried to make republicanism respectable - all appearance and little real political substance. But history shows that republicanism has been anything but respectable. John Lilburne, Thomas Paine, George Harney and John De Morgan were revolutionaries who would have brought down the monarchy and class rule with pike and musket.
The Republican Socialist Convention at South Bank University on April 16 was small, but of high quality. From Republic’s own ranks came myself (I was a founding member in 1983), Scott Reeve, who is on Republic’s board, and Peter Tatchell who said he was proud to be a republican socialist.
After many false starts such as the Workers’ Republican Forum and the Republican Communist Network, it remains to be seen if anything will come from the Republican Socialist Convention. But in view of the mystifying shmaltz and blather, designed to distract us from the economic crisis and the savage cuts, on April 29 and long after, a viable republican socialism remains an urgent necessity.
Whatever the detailed specifics of Chris Bambery’s resignation from the Socialist Workers Party, the bigger picture is one of a long-predicted, slow implosion of a Stalinoid undemocratic sect - an organisation going the same way as similar internal regimes in the Revolutionary Communist Party, Workers Revolutionary Party, Socialist Labour League, etc, but just taking a bit longer to reach the final inevitable denouement (‘Latest irresponsible split from SWP’, April 14).
The worry is that active socialists with many strengths - commitment, self-sacrifice, willingness to fight injustice and exploitation - either continue to follow a figure like Bambery or get involved in a single issue or, worse still, simply give up in disgust, perhaps tarring all groups with the same brush.
Hopefully, instead the individuals involved will take time to reassess their politics, start to read some of the constructive criticisms of the SWP made by forces on its left and begin to engage in a dialogue with Marxists who have been historically accurate in their differences with the SWP’s ideas and methods. As Bob Dylan put it, “Swallow your pride; you will not die: it’s not poison.”
Not the party
Alun Davies makes a rather telling error, or entirely misunderstands me, when he takes me to task for remarks about his father’s (Roy Davies) rejection of the revolutionary party (Letters, April 14).
Alun writes: “My father gave his all to Militant, he gave up his marriage and children to fight for the ‘revolutionary party’, so to say that he ‘rejected’ it is unfair. He should be commended for his undying support, not lambasted for it.”
Of course, I never suggested anywhere that Militant was the revolutionary party! Quite the opposite, as the bulk of those 10,000 words in ‘For democratic centralism’ makes rather clear. My contention was that Davies senior clearly rejected the concept and politics of the revolutionary party. That party, absolutely and expressly, not being Militant. Davies senior’s commitment to our class and the work he put in while a member of Militant and afterwards is not in doubt, but is not the point either.
In conclusion, I politely advise comrade Davies to re-read the document and, with the above remarks in context, my meaning should be apparent.
Not the party
Not the party
With our class
I have read Ian Isaac’s book (Letters, April 14). I knew Ian long before the miners’ strike. We both supported Militant. We both had fathers who were Labour councillors. We both sold the Militant at the south Wales miners’ conferences in Porthcawl. I was chairman of Bridgend miners’ support group, which didn’t have a so-called Militant majority. When our class moved into battle, we stood by them and we were prepared to go to the end.
In south Wales convoys of lorries were driven tightly together with Thatcher’s boot boys protecting them. Even though we knew that the Tories had planned for this for 10 years, we went with our class.
The cowardice of the Labour leaders and the TUC meant they failed to support the miners in their heroic struggle. Ultimately they were defeated, but they marched back to their pits with their heads held high, their banners unfurled and the band playing. It was a defeat, but it was better to fight than to surrender.
Seeing the masses move in the north African countries confirms our faith in the ability of the working class and downtrodden masses to transform society. Mass picketing brings the class together, shows their strength and tests out their leaders. Emlyn Williams, Ian Isaac and Tyrone O’Sullivan gave a lead; others were found wanting.
There was tremendous support for the miners in south Wales, yet the leaders of the Labour Party didn’t want to be associated with mass picketing - a sure sign that it is the right tactic.
With our class
With our class
Eddie Ford falls into error in a number of respects due to what is, I believe, an incorrect view of the class nature of the revolution in Egypt (‘Mubarak’s detention is due to targeted mass pressure’, April 14).
Eddie says: “... if the army starts to fray at the edges - even split down the middle - this poses a mortal threat to the entire regime, not just the present army incumbents or a future, tame, ‘civilian’ government deemed friendly to the interests of the Tantawi ruling council and the Egyptian ruling class as a whole.”
This suggests that Eddie sees that ruling class standing behind the existing regime. I think that is wrong. The regime in Egypt, as with many more in the region, is Bonapartist. It exists precisely because the bourgeoisie as a ruling class is absolutely too weak, due to its historical development, to rule directly. Bonapartism is not a regime that capital chooses freely, but one it is forced to endure due to its absolute or relative weakness.
In fact, it is the economic development that has occurred in the last two decades - the strengthening of the bourgeoisie not just internally, but the growing numbers of foreign productive capitalists establishing in the country, along with a rapidly rising middle class, many of whom are the ones who led the protests in Tahrir Square - which has provided the material basis for the revolution: a bourgeois democratic revolution. As with all previous bourgeois democratic revolutions, the workers are necessarily drawn in to support it.
The fact that it is a bourgeois revolution should give us pause for thought about where the interests of Egyptian workers and other social classes are joined and where they diverge. Indeed, the truth is that the main beneficiaries of a successful bourgeois democratic revolution in Egypt will, of course, be the bourgeoisie. That is why the United States and other big powers have been attempting to nudge the regime in that direction, in a way that brings about the kind of managed change that will ensure the interests of capital are safeguarded.
As Lenin put it in The state and revolution, “Another reason why the omnipotence of ‘wealth’ is more certain in a democratic republic is that it does not depend on defects in the political machinery or on the faulty political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell ..., it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.”
In other words, for this big capital that extracts profit by means of relative surplus value, bourgeois democracy is the best means of disguising the nature of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, of incorporating the workers via the trade unions and collective bargaining, and of maintaining the oppression and exploitation of the workers. It is the idea that the French Marxists developed during the 1970s within the terms of the regulation school, under the heading of ‘Fordism’. The nature of the democratic revolution in Egypt today will be defined by how much the regime attempts to cling to power. But, in fact, the more successful that revolution, the more the revolutionary forces themselves must fracture, precisely because of the opposing interests of the workers and the bourgeoisie that comprise its elements.
It is for that reason that I believe the demand raised by Eddie for the establishment of a popular militia is wrong. It is, of course, a democratic demand associated with the bourgeois democratic revolution. It was raised in the American revolution. But it is precisely the nature of the democratic revolution, under conditions where the working class exists as a developed social force in its own right, that now makes this demand redundant from the standpoint of the workers.
A popular - ie, people’s - militia clouds the issue of the classes involved. The workers, the petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie might have shared interests in winning bourgeois freedoms in Egypt now, but tomorrow, as those freedoms begin to be achieved, their interests will be sharply opposed. We should not wait until then before developing the workers’ own demands, own means of struggle. We should demand not a popular militia, but a workers’ militia, democratically accountable to workers’ committees established in their neighbourhoods, and defence squads established in each workplace democratically accountable to factory committees of workers.
That the army is fracturing is also good. We should demand the establishment of soldiers’ assemblies and democratic rights, including the right to elect immediate commanding officers. We should attempt to tie in the soldiers’ committees to the workers’ committees and factory committees.
Indeed we should attempt, as Eddie suggests, to ensure the arming of the militia by the soldiers. But workers in Egypt are also involved in arms production and we should seek to ensure that the workers are armed directly by these means. A meaningful international revolutionary movement, would be itself organising to send direct military aid, including fighters, to come to the assistance of the Egyptian workers to oppose the regime and any attempt by powerful capitalist states to intervene in the way they are intervening in Libya.
Trotsky opposed the social-imperialism of those such as Milyukov who cherry-picked which atrocities to condemn, as groups such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty do today. An individual, a group, a party or a class that ‘objectively’ picks its nose, while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people, is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive.
In fact, it is for some of the other reasons that Eddie sets out about the weakness of the working class throughout the Middle East that such international support is vital. But I think that Eddie is wrong to tie the Egyptian workers’ fate to that of the rest of the Arab world. It would, of course, be good if all of the oil revenues of the Gulf states could be used to help develop the region as a whole. But it is precisely the fact that these Gulf states remain dependent upon the extraction of rent from oil that makes this scenario unviable. Whereas economic development in Egypt and, to an extent, Tunisia has produced a sizeable working class, in the oil-producing states this is not the case.
It is difficult to see how a proletarian revolution is possible in states where the working class is so small and undeveloped, and frequently comprises foreign workers tied to the oil companies themselves. Socialism may not be possible in Egypt at the moment, but it certainly is possible for the interests and organisations of the Egyptian workers to be developed, to defend and where possible extend their position. What develops from there, as Lenin would describe it, is ‘algebraic’.
Arthur Bough objects to many points in my reply to Gerry Downing on the question of Libya (Letters, April 14).
The first point is insubstantial. I do not believe that imperialism ‘thinks’, any more than Marx, when he refers to the ‘point of view’ of capital, believes the latter has eyes. It is a figure of speech, not a conspiracy theory.
Comrade Bough goes on to object to my placing the words ‘united front’ in Trotsky’s mouth when it comes to anti-imperialist strategy - apparently Trotsky reserved that phrase for agreements between workers’ organisations only. My knowledge of Trotsky is by no means comprehensive enough for me not to take his word for it on this narrow linguistic issue (he does use the phrase, it should be noted, with regard to defence of the USSR). Nonetheless, the drift of his thought is clear. Trotsky’s policy when it comes to bourgeois colonial revolts in conflict with imperialism is to urge communists to side with the colonised against imperialism.
Arthur usefully draws out the political conclusions of this line for the Libyan case: “... in the face of an imperialist attack on the country, communists still have to support the state, whilst continuing to mobilise the workers to oppose both imperialism and the Gaddafi regime.” So communists unite with the regime against the common enemy of imperialism, without surrendering their independence and freedom to criticise and so forth - in other words, the dictionary definition of the united front.
That this ‘united front’ is not with another workers’ organisation does not change the character of the relationship - except inasmuch as it is almost guaranteed not to work, and to end in disaster. Gaddafi has a long and sordid history of repressing forces to his left. Things will have to look pretty gloomy from his perspective before he changes his tune on this point. Such is, in reality, the story of bourgeois nationalists throughout recent history. You can call it the anti-imperialist united front, or you can call it - as the Spartacists and their derivatives do - military-but-not-political support, or you can call it - as Bough does - nothing at all. It does not work, and it never has. Trotsky was wrong.
Comrade Bough also accuses me of ‘lesser evilism’. This is, I think, an unfair reading of a passage he quotes later on: “... the mere fact of a rebellion is a positive, progressive development.” The Libyan rebels are not the ‘lesser evil’ with regard to Gaddafi. For the Libyan working class to be able to organise as a class, indeed for the Arab revolution to be more than a beautiful dream, Gaddafi and his regime will have to go, sooner or later, like all the rest of them. A threat to his power - as comrade Bough correctly notes - may issue in something worse. It is up to the Libyan masses to act upon their democratic aspirations to make sure this does not happen; again, I say with Lenin - those who wait for a pure revolution will wait forever.
Bringing the Arab revolution into the equation was no accident either - comrade Bough, like most who argue against supporting the rebellion, is very keen to stress that this time it is different. Yes, there are always differences - for that matter, there were and are differences between Tunisia and Egypt. There is a commonality, however: the unresolved Arab national question, which objectively unites these struggles. The potential is there for these revolts and revolutions to grow together rather than drift further apart, and it is in the interests of communists that this should happen. Again, Gaddafi is an obstacle.
The complaint that this is a civil war, not a ‘real’ rebellion, is an odd one for someone so keen to defend Trotsky - sometimes rebellions are not telegenic, or clean. Sometimes they are civil wars. They change our tactical priorities, not our strategic tasks. Whatever else one might want to reproach Trotsky with, shrinking from providing a clear political lead in a real mess is not one of them. Concretely, if workers in Tripoli “oppose Gaddafi, but even more fear the rebels”, that does not change our strategic task - for a sustainable democratic outcome, Gaddafi has to go!
On to the question of imperialism. Gaddafi is not militarily capable of defeating the combined forces of the US, UK and France - no matter how many communists form a (non-) united front with him (and he has seen to it that there are not many). Forcing the end to this mendacious, bloodthirsty campaign is in reality a task for us, both in the sense of the working class in the belligerent countries, but also more broadly the democratic, anti-imperialist masses everywhere - especially in Tunisia and Egypt. If the remnants of the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes can be swept away for good, we shall see who comes out on top in Libya - imperialism, Gaddafi (that is, in the long run, imperialism again) or the beleaguered Libyan masses.
Comrade Bough refers to my arguments as ‘dangerous’; but this is more true of his, as they attempt to efface the regional and global-strategic context of the Libyan conflict, in which lies the possibility of a genuinely progressive outcome.