Opportunism's slippery slope

ALL POLITICS have a logic. The implications of a particular political approach or methodology are often not immediately apparent in the work and theory of an individual or organisation. Life and struggle draw them out.

Two articles in last month’s issue of Socialist Review, a Socialist Workers Party publication, are perfect examples.

In an interview with leading SWPer Duncan Hallas, then in an article by Review editor Lindsey German, the SWP comments on the politics of World War II. Both pieces contain concessions to the imperialist propaganda of the World War II allies who presented their predatory war as a crusade for ‘democracy’ against fascism.

As Lindsey German puts it, World War II was certainly an

“imperialist war, but [the famous SWP ‘but’ - IM] ... it was not possible to simply call for the defeat of one’s own ruling class - as Lenin had done in the imperialist war of 1914 - without taking into account the special conditions which the existence of fascism created” (p15).

We are not, however, told what these ‘special conditions’ actually are. Also, it is a distortion of Lenin’s formulation to imply that he simply called for the defeat of the Russian ruling class alone. The Bolshevik tactic of revolutionary defeatism was applicable to all belligerents in the war.

For the working class of all countries, the main enemy was at home. Defeat on the military front that resulted from the growth of the domestic revolutionary movement was thus actually positive.

However, these unspecified ‘special conditions’ dictate a different, non-Leninist approach. Lindsey German writes that it was “necessary to defend democracy against fascism, but ... look to the map of the class struggle ... to see how this could be done” (Ibid).

Hallas sums it up more crudely: “We want to get rid of Hitler, but those rich bastards don’t” (p13).

Implicitly, therefore, the SWP accepts the war aims of the imperialist allies. However, it simply does not believe the sincerity of the ruling class in pursuing the worthy aim of ‘bashing Hitler’.

In the absence of a political stance that clearly and implacably draws a line between the imperialists’ approach to the war and that of the working class, the SWP’s “class struggle” measures effectively become attempts to improve the country’s war efforts. Both Hallas and German define this struggle as measures to “protect the working class”, for “proper air raid precautions and deep shelters” and the like.

Certainly these are important demands, but they are essentially peripheral in the “class struggle”. The reactionary nature of the war itself - defined by the reactionary nature of the classes waging it - would be the central item of contention between the working class and the bourgeoisie.

It is a slippery slope. A revolution at home would certainly have precipitated the disintegration of the army at the front, domestic civil war, disruption and chaos. Hardly conducive in the short term to “getting rid of Hitler”. Should we therefore put off the revolution for more normal times and pursue the class struggle, as narrowly defined by the SWP - in effect, act as a critical, but loyal, working class opposition to Churchill’s gang?

Interestingly, the theoretical origins of this opportunist ‘wobble’ lie with Leon Trotsky himself. Shortly before his assassination, Trotsky had begun to sketch in outline a ‘Proletarian Military Policy’ which made important opportunist concessions to the mass illusions in the democratic capitalist states.

However, apart from the USSR, all participants in World War II were thoroughly reactionary capitalist powers. The main enemy for all workers - then as now - was at home.

Ian Mahoney