Tuesday, November 04, 2008

O'Barmy Wins Big!
Ok, so another right wing dirtbag has won. Big fucking deal.
A lot of good decent American workers and toilers will now have illusions in this charlatan. So this fraud will get a honeymoon period. Yeah great innit?
No it fucking aint. What is needed is for American workers not to rely on O'Barmy but to start to FIGHTBACK now.
Last time a fraud of this size got elected that is exactly what happened under Roosevelt back in the 193o's. I have every faith in the fighting traditions of our American sisters and brothers to wage the kind of struggle that is now so urgently needed.

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Great Americans Pt 23/a
It is a great tragedy for the USA that Frederick Douglas never ran as a candidate for President. Had he done so, as candidate of the Radical Republicans, then an alliance might have been formed between the rising workers movement and the newly emancipated slave population of the South. The misery that has been American history since the final defeat of radical Reconstruction in 1877 could have meant great advances for the greatest nation on this planet. But alas we have seen those twin gravediggers of American capitalism, the strategically important Black population and the working classes hegemonised by the Dimmicrats and Republicrats.

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The US Elections
The horrors never cease. Dweedledum versus Tweedledumber. See Shiraz Socialist and Dolphinarium for all the gory details. Will the SPUSA or the SWP (Barnes) candidate become Prez? Who knows? Who cares? Not I!
Surely the USA needs a version of the Left List? Does the SWP (Britlandia) have any friends in the colonies that would venture such an historic advance? Nah, they have more sense and long since split from the fading mess that is the SWP.
What a shame though that Galloway cannot stand not being born in the USA. At least it would remove him from these shores.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008


By Jock Haston

RCP Conference Documents, 1946, pps 16-33

August 4th, 1946.

The class nature of the USSR, its evolution and degeneration is certainly the most difficult social phenomena that Marxists have had to explain for many years. Only our movement, the Trotskyist movement, has made a serious attempt to give that scientific explanation.

It was Trotsky who sounded the alarm when the degeneration which had already commenced under Lenin – when Stalin first took the helm – began to take a serious turn. It was Trotsky who explained the problem theoretically and charted the actual degeneration as it took place. Ours is the contemporary Marxist movement, we were trained above all, on an understanding of the problem of the Russian Revolution and the degeneration of the Russian state.
Most of the novel theories regarding new forms of class oppression and state functions were evolved by ex-Trotskyists turning away from the revolutionary movement. Outside the Trotskyist movement there has been no serious attempt to destroy revisionist schools with scientific criticism. Only the Trotskyist movement has seriously taken pains to explain the political and philosophical theories of those revisionist schools. We should not, therefore be taken by surprise at novel interpretations of Russian society, its economics and evolution. Yet the movement still seems full of surprises.

The most recent “surprise” was dropped like a bombshell into the RCP in the form of the ideas expounded and defended by our Minority at the last Central Committee held on the 7th July, and since repeated at a London aggregate on July 13th. These debates revealed ideological divergences from the Trotskyist position on the art of the Minority (Comrades Goffe, Healy, Lawrence, Finch and their supporters) which we have never heard before in the Trotskyist movement; at least not in the British party. Ideas in relation to Russian society that we had heard expounded only by the most ignorant Stalinists, were put forward and hotly defended by our comrades.

The comrades of the Minority alleged that the Central Committee resolution on the Russian question was a deviation from the Trotskyist position. And what des this deviation consist of? It consists of the statement that Russia has both capitalistic and socialistic features and a description of some of these capitalistic features.

The comrades don’t mind Russia being called a “degenerated” or “deformed” worker’s state, or even a “profoundly deformed” worker’s state. There we still have agreement. They balk somewhat at the statement that there exist capitalistic as well as socialistic features. They most definitely refuse to allow the description “capitalistic” to go further than covering petty handicraft economy and their petty market exchange. To go further than this, our comrades allege, is to fall into a new deviation!

For us, all the various forms of petty bourgeois enterprise and accumulation, which find their expression within and between the collective forms on the basis of trading, etc, or which arise from petty trading and black marketing, all these are taken for granted as part of the duel process. In the final analysis, these, as all other capitalistic relations in Russian society, flow from the backwardness of technique. But these primitive capitalist forms of production and exchange play a negligible role in the economy as a whole.

Breaking through the pores of planned economy, these primitive but persistent capitalist forms pf production and distribution will only be eliminated with the higher level of technique and culture. For the purpose of our present discussion it is necessary only that their existence and characteristics be kept in mind. We are only concerned with other aspects of the problem in which the degeneration towards capitalist relations find expression in the social differentiation that has arisen on the basis of nationalised property.

To describe “goods” produced by the state as “commodities”; to describe labour employed by the Russian state and paid wages as “wage labour”; to describe the differentiation that arises from those social relations as ”capitalistic”. (or the state, insofar as it defends these relations, as a “capitalist” state) as in paragraph 2 of the CC resolution – all these definitions are sacrilege, comrades, our Minority tell us, and constitute a deviation from Trotskyism!

Ideas and conceptions which we have propounded together with these comrades for years, they suddenly toss overboard and replace, them with what turns out t be nothing but the crudest Stalinist conceptions. All this in the name of Trotskyism, of defending our orthodox position!

We are faced apparently, not with a simple mistake on the part of those comrades, from which they will surreptitiously withdraw – as they have withdrawn from so many positions in the past! (although even such a fresh withdrawal is not excluded). We are faced with a whole new school of thought (?) for the Trotskyist movement which will have t be refuted and destroyed no less completely than the Burnham, Shachtman and other false schools of thought on the Russian question.


We list below some of the ideas put forward and defended by the Minority. Let us hope that they will stop in their tracks and retreat and not (as they must if they pursue their ideas to the end) produce a new “Das Kapital” on economic laws in socialist society!

The Minority state:

1) That the state products in Russia are not commodities but “goods”; which term, when elaborated by the comrades themselves, means that they are produced for use and not for exchange.

2) That the law of value, insofar as this relates to the exchange of “goods” does not apply in Russia.

3) They deny that the circulation of money in Russia is a capitalistic relation, ie that money is a measure of value, means of exchange and medium of payment.

4) They deny that there is wage labour in Russia.

5) They deny that the state in Russia occupies the same relation to the national economy as the individual capitalist occupies in relation to the single enterprise, and that it expropriates surplus value from the workers.

6) They deny that any of these economic relations referred to in paragraph 2 of the C resolution are capitalistic relations; and declare that it is false to say that insofar as the state protects these capitalistic relations, it is a “capitalist state.”

7) They declare that to state that the Russian workers are wage slaves is t deny the existence of a workers’ state, since the ruling class cannot be slaves.

8) They deny that the bureaucracy exploits the Russian workers and peasants economically.

To crown these absurdities they declare that if one insists that these relations do in fact exist, and do in fact have the class character designated to them by the CC resolution, then it is impossible to talk of a degenerated workers’ state: what you have is “state capitalism”.

What then is the class content of the degeneration of the Soviet Union? The Minority refuse to tell us. Bureaucratic deformation is followed by more bureaucratic deformation, or profound bureaucratic deformation. But the class content of this deformation, of this we are not told.

It is not a question of the workers’ state being saddled with a hump on its back that is growing bigger. Such an organic analogy is useful only if properly understood. But when it leads comrades to ignore and deny the necessary conclusions of a class character, then it must be replaced by a more precise organic or social picture.

Trotskyists have always held that in Russian society there are two class forces at work: socialist and capitalist, These two social systems express themselves in the state as a dual power, each struggling for mastery, each trying to devour the other.

The socialist relation, which for us is the decisive relation, and upon which we base our class characterization of the Russian state, is state property, with the planned system of production and the monopoly of foreign trade, which resulted from the Russian revolution of 1917 and the expropriation of the ruling class.

All the other social relations – soviets, workers democracy, and proletarian accounting and control, proletarian equality, etc., - all have been destroyed by the Stalinist bureaucracy, which has substituted essentially capitalistic relations in place of these socialist relationships. The new constitution and the more recent “reforms” of that constitution prepare the political bases for the bourgeois counter-revolution.

Socialist relations are devoured and replaced by other kinds of relations in the process of degeneration. We call the capitalist relations. The Minority refuse t do so. And in this, whether they like it or not, they will find themselves in the company of Shachtman. Behind the terminological differences lies a theoretical appreciation of the class character of the Russian state and of its degeneration.

In this bulletin we can only touch on some of these issues. Nevertheless, what we may say will be sufficient to indicate the magnitude of the Minority’s revisionism.


In the resolution of the Central Committee, we begin with a statement of our traditional position on the contradictory nature of the Russian state:

“The CC reaffirms the basic programmatic conception of the Fourth International as they relate to the Soviet Union, to the dual nature of the system of society in the USSR as a transitional regime between capitalism and socialism and which therefore has both capitalist and socialist forces at conflict with each other.”

Having stated the class nature of the contradiction, we then proceed to describe important features (by no means all) of the Russian state which express the capitalistic germs, or that side of the contradiction. We do this in Paragraph 2 as follows:

“It declares that the payment of wage labour, the production of commodities, the circulation of money, and the differentiations which exist on the basis of these capitalistic social relations, gives a capitalist character to the state (which occupies the same position in relation to the actual economy as the capitalist occupies in relation to a single enterprise) in the first stages of even a healthy proletarian revolution,. In this sense, the capitalist state exists but without a capitalist class, insofar as the state in Russia is bureaucratic, degenerated and totalitarian, which encourages the degeneration towards capitalist differentiation, the capitalist characteristics of this state assume tremendous and growing proportions…”

But those features, capitalistic as they are, are not decisive for us in determining the basic class character of the Russian state. The concluding sentence of Paragraph 2 makes this absolutely clear:

“Nevertheless n the basis of these features it is erroneous to draw the conclusion that Russian economy is a state capitalist economy.”

The basic character of the Russian state is determined according to the method taught by Trotsky: according to the property forms and relations that resulted from the Russian Revolution and which still exist. This is laid down in paragraph 3 as follows:

“The fundamental class nature of the USSR as a workers’ state that degenerated in the direction of capitalism is established for us on the basis of the nationalisation of land, of the basic means of production, and monopoly of foreign trade in the hands of the state. These remain the fundamental gains of the October Revolution of 1917, and are the economic premise for our class characterization.”

Later we will elaborate on the other sections of the CC resolution, but in view of the opposition centred on the first three paragraphs, we here confine ourselves to an exposition of the ideas on which there exists a conflict.


The comrades claim that paragraphs 2 and 3 bridge two positions: capitalist and socialist. We can only reply that we have been ding this since the Trotskyist movement arose in opposition to Stalinism. Yes, comrades there is a contradiction expressed in paragraphs 2 and 3 of our resolution. This is expressed in its general form in paragraph 1. But that contradiction was not coked up in our minds overnight: it exists in real life in Russian society and has existed since 1917. if our critics have given lip service to the existence of this contradiction in the past, without understanding it; if they have converted a profoundly dialectical conception of Russian society into a vulgar sophism and mere phrasemongering, that is not the fault of our teachers. Nor is it our fault. We have done our best to explain the problem.

In the “Revolution Betrayed” Trotsky deals with the contradiction in a passage which we will introduce at this stage in the discussion – although we will return to it again, because it states the problem exactly as we understand it and state it. It answers the opponents of the Trotskyist conception exactly as we would answer them:

“The state assumes directly and from the very beginning a dual character: socialisitic insofar as it defends social property in the means of production: bourgeois insofar as the distribution of life’s goods is carried out with a capitalitistic measure of value. Such a contradiction may horrify the dogmatists and scholastics: we can only offer them our condolences. (Our emphasis)

Trotsky may have written this (in 1936) for the benefit of the RCP Minority ten years later!


The leading argument of our comrades is that all capitalist laws and categories are eliminated in Russia because of the plan. Comrade Finch, supported by the other Minority members of the CC, said that production of gods by the state in Russia was not commodity production, was not production for sale on the market, but on the contrary was production for use! He promised to write us a thesis on this within a few days, but we are still waiting.

Throughout the “Revolution Betrayed” Trotsky talks of the production and sale of commodities in Russia. Even Stalin understood this question, although only a little better than our Minority! Trotsky quotes Stalin (1935) in the “Revolution Betrayed” as follows:

“The stability of the Soviet Valuta, is guaranteed primarily by the immense quantity of commodities in the hands of the state put in circulation at stable prices.”

The only thing which is correct in this statement is that the state put an immense quantity of commodities into circulation. All that is mistaken in it (which is answered by Trotsky on Page 30 of the “Revolution Betrayed”) is taken over lock, stock and barrel by the Minority!

Nor des the argument, developed by Comrade Goffe, that only during the NEP did you have widespread commodity production, help their case in any degree. In 1936 Trotsky pointed out:

“The growth of commodity circulation under the restored market has been very rapid”!

On page 115 of “Revolution Betrayed” the Old Man wrote:

“In the year 1935 (note the dates well, comrades of the Minority, and note especially the economic definition) “the system of planned distribution gave way to trade…”

“The raising of the productivity of labour, in particular through piecework payment, promises in the future an increase in the mass of commodities…”

“A raising of the productivity of labour on the basis of commodity circulation means at the same time a growth of inequality…”

One could go on quoting from the Old Man for pages, but for the present enough. No wonder the promises of the comrades to rush into print have not been kept!


It is clear, or ought to be, from an earlier quotation from Trotsky, that the consequences ensuing from the distribution of life’s goods with a “capitalistic measure of value,” must be capitalistic consequences. Not only do our comrades of the Minority deny, however, that those consequences are capitalistic – they even deny that in Russia, distribution takes place according to the law of value and thus with a capitalistic measure of value! This repeated denial that the law of value applies in Russia insofar as this is an exchange of commodity equivalents, is an innovation in the Trotskyist movement.

Comrades Goldberg and Healy expressed their conception of the problem at the London aggregate as follows:

Comrade Goldberg: In capitalist societies the law of value applies. Value exchanges in equivalent quantities. But in Russia the law of value does not apply, goods exchange not in equal quantities, but in unequal quantities.

Comrade Healy, arguing in favour of this case, and to demonstrate that goods exchange at unequal values, said that the coal mines in the Urals have lost money for years, but the Soviet government has made up the deficit… from central funds.

It did not occur to Comrade Healy that it is precisely because of the low level of technique that the Russians cannot escape the law of value, that the coal mines received the subsidy. The function of the government subsidy is to enable coal to be sold below its value. Comrade Healy apparently forgot that the British government subsidises food to the tune of millions for the same purse, and according to the same law of value. (And please don’t tell us about the capitalists’ rake-off – for this is another question.)

Perhaps it is as well to restate the elements of the Marxian law of value at this stage of the discussion, for our opposition have shown an amazing ignorance of that law.


The law of value expresses the fact that gods or commodities exchange according to the amount of labour used up in their production, or embodied in them. This law (as was the existence of that part of the product we now call surplus value) was known in its general form before Karl Marx, to the classical capitalist economists. But not completely. It had for them, many unsolved aspects, facets and contradictions. Marx subjected the classical theory to criticism and established what kind of labour produces value. Not the special labour of the miller, the spinner or the steel worker, that special concrete kind of labour produces use-value. Human labour in the abstract: it is this kind of labour that gives to a useful article its exchange value. And this labour must be socially useful labour.

“The value of a commodity represents human labour in the abstract, the expenditure of human labour in general” says Marx in “Capital”. “Unskilled labour counts only as simple labour intensified, or rather, as multiplied simple labour, a given quantity of skilled labour being considered equal to a greater quantity of simple labour.”

“Just as a commodity is something twofold, use-value and exchange value”, wrote Frederick Engels, “so the labour embodied in it is two-fold determined: on the one hand, as definite productive labour: on the other, as the simple expenditure of human labour power, precipitated abstract labour. The former produces use-value, the latter exchange values; only the latter is quantitatively comparable (the differences between skilled and unskilled, composite and simple labour confirm this)”. In this division economics was for the first time, given a scientific definition of the labour that creates value.

Classical bourgeois economy was helpless in face of the following contradiction: since it is claimed that only equal values are exchanged, how can the worker receive the full value of his product if it is admitted that this product is divided between worker and capitalist?

It was Karl Marx who solved this contradiction, and demonstrated that despite the fact that the capitalist buys commodities at their value and sells them at their value, he gets more value out of the transaction than he puts into it. Marx did this by showing that the capitalist buys one commodity which has a property peculiar to itself, in that, this commodity, in the process of its use, is a source of new value, is a creation of new value. This commodity is labour power. But the capitalist does not buy the labour of the worker, or his product, as had previously been held by classical bourgeois economists. The capitalist buys the power to labour, and for a definite time.

By substituting labour power for labour, Marx was able to reveal the process which led to the creation of surplus value by the worker, and its appropriation by the capitalist. Surplus value, over and above the amount of value which the capitalist gave the worker, or exchanged with him in the form of wages, for the use of his labour power.

The capitalist did not buy the labour, or the product of the worker, Marx explained. He bought the power to labour; and he bought this power to labour for a definite number of hours. After the worker had used his energy in productive labour for a definite portion of time (say a half) for which the employer had bought his labour power, he had created sufficient values to replace or exchange for the means of subsistence supplied to him by the capitalist in the shape of pay. Marx terms this portion of the labour, necessary labour. The other portion of labour (the other half), Marx terms surplus labour. All new values created in the labour process after the necessary labour has been used up and during the period of surplus labour Marx termed surplus value, from which profit and capitalist accumulation arose.

This theory, the theory of surplus value, was the really great contribution of Karl Marx to political economy which, for the first time raised economics from its blind grasping and shed a scientific light n the economic process.

This aspect of Marxian economics (the theory of surplus value) need not concern us for the moment, in further discussing the law of value. Although the denial of our Minority that surplus value is extracted from the workers in Russia will be dealt with later. Nor will we concern ourselves here with the differentiation of surplus value into relative and absolute surplus value because it has n importance for our present discussion.

In practice, the tendency of commodities is to exchange above or below their value. It is not in the given commodity transaction that the law finds exact confirmation and expression, but on the average exchange transaction in economy as a whole. Commodity exchange, we know, dates back more than 6,000 years in Babylonia. To the extent that economic laws are at al valid, that is to say from the beginning of exchange down to the present time, the Marxian law of value holds good.

In the first stages of communist society, it will not be possible to immediately abolish all capitalist rights, laws and methods. It will not be possible to abolish all capitalist relationships in production and distribution, and substitute socialist relationships immediately in their stead. This law of value, which has operated down through the ages wherever and whenever men exchange their labour in one form or another, will still continue to operate in the first stages of socialist or communist society. The founder of scientific socialism was the first to explain that in the first stages of socialism the exchange of labour would still take place according t the law f value.


The seizure of power by the working class and the stratification of the means of production will abolish the capitalist appropriation of the surplus. At this point, production really begins for the first time, to become social production; controlled socially and democratically by the working class. But capitalistic production still exists in the distribution of the social product. Capitalist right, capitalist principle – the law of value – will still exist in the first stage of socialist society. Karl Marx wrote in the “Critique of the Gotha Programmne”:

“What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly the individual producer receives back from society - after the deductions have been made – exactly what he gives back to it what he has given to it is his individual amount of labour, for example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual labour hours; the individual labour time of the individual producer is the part of the social labour day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such and such an amount of labour (after deducting his labour for the common fund), and with this certificate he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as costs the same amount of labour. The same amount of labour which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.

Here obviously, the same principle as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labour, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass into the ownership of individuals except individual means of consumption. But, as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity-equivalents, so much labour in one form is exchanged for s much labour in another form.

Hence equal right here is still in principle – bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer in conflict, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange only exists on the average and not in the individual case.

In spite of this advance, this equal right is still stigmatized by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labour they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labour.
(Emphasis in the original)

Take note what we repeat, comrades of the Minority: “The same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal value… so much labour is in one form is exchanged fr an equal amount of labour in another form.” Is this not the law of value, operating in the first stages of socialism, no less than it operates under capitalism? Yes! The situation has been transformed: “Content and form are exchanged”, “Principle and practice no longer in conflict.” Why are they no longer in conflict? Because no one can give anything except his labour. The capitalist as such (having been expropriated), no longer has the opportunity to exploit the worker, he has no capital through which he can dominate production. He also can, and must, give his labour if he wants to live. The class inequality in relation to means of production between worker and capitalist has been abolished. Equal rights prevail. But this equal right is still “stigmatised by a bourgeois limitation.”

“The right of the purchasers is proportional to the labour they supply: the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labour.”

Thus, the law of value applies to everyone in practice for the first time! Only in the higher stages of communist society will it be possible to abolish the bourgeois limitation of the exchange of labour according to the law of value and for society t inscribe on its banners the socialist law: “From each according to his ability, t each according to his needs.”

Even the theoretical equality visualised by Marx, does not in fact exist in the Soviet Union. The whole tendency, on the contrary, is for the “old crap” to revive, including the practical violation of equal right. This is dealt with in the concluding section of this article. But let it be noted here that the law of value operates in Russia, they have just as consistently failed to explain what laws do operate – if any - to regulate the exchange of “goods”. Perhaps the comrades will tell us in writing: what laws operate in the exchange of “goods” between one government trust and another, between the trusts and the consumers, the state as employer and the worker as producer? We would be very pleased to be informed of the economic laws of this process.


Mney, Engels explained, is already contained in embryo in the concept of money, only in developed form. Only when products are no longer exchanged as value, said Trotsky, will money cease to have a function as measure of value, and wither away, together with the state.

Once the exchange of commodities becomes more diversified and evolved above the stage of simple barter, it becomes necessary to measure the value of commodities by a common standard. Money arose to fulfill that function of a common standard: money became the “universal equivalent.” All commodities expressed their relation to each other through money, as price. We are not concerned here with dealing with all the diversified functions of money in its various forms of capital or the laws of that movement. We are concerned only with money as a measure of value, means of payment and exchange.

In the “Revolution Betrayed” Trotsky makes the following statement:

“The dynamic Soviet economy, passing as it does through continual technical revolutions, and large-scale experiments, needs more than any other continual testing by means of a stable measure of value.”

In Russia, as in capitalist Britain, labour is not yet measured by a direct and absolute measure, time, but by the old, indirect, relative fluctuating capitalistic measure: money. Thus arise wages and prices – or more precisely, wages and prices continue with all their capitalistic implications. When the exchange of labour in one form for an equal quantity of labour in another form disappears, and is replaced by socialist distribution, only then, comrades of the Minority, will the law of value not apply in Russia, or anywhere else.

Let us ask our comrades once again: what law determines the ratio in which shoes exchange for socks, or motor cars or any other commodity or product exchanges for money? Let the comrades explain the economics of this process. If it is not the law of value that determines the ratio, let them explain what function money has in these transactions except as a measure of value.

Is the ratio of exchange to be explained according to the subjective desires of the bureaucracy? Stalin, we know, at one time believed that it was; that value and its money measure could be exchanged and altered according to the will of the bureaucracy – and introduced the differential price, the elastic rouble! But the reality that underlies all exchanges and expresses itself as the law of value son began to knock at the door, and corrected this stupid mistake, Stalin learned that “gods” could not be exchanged in an arbitrary manner, at unequal values. Stalin learned that if the economy of the country has to be stabilized while money continues to play a role, it can only be stabilized if money really functions as a stable measure of value.


Our Minority comrades deny that the wage labour relation in Russia is a capitalistic relation, that it is part of the dual capitalistic-socialist nature of the Russian society. Indeed, they strongly deny that wage labour exists in Russia. They claim that if the Russian workers are wage slaves, they cannot at the same time be the ruling class; therefore Russia cannot be a workers’ state. The restatement of this elementary proposition by us today, expounded and defended in our publications for more than 15 years, has now according to them, become the platform of a new petty bourgeois tendency. They deny that the Russian worker sells his labour power as a commodity.

Then only economists who have put forward these conceptions are Stalinist economists. And they did so because they believed them, but with the object of deceiving the working class. They appear to have succeeded in this even in the ranks of the Trotskyist movement!

The payment of wages, because it takes place in Russia, does not transform the worker receiving wages, into something other than a wage labourer, even though the transaction takes place on the basis of statified property. As we have seen above, the law of value continues to operate even in the first stages of a socialist society. The payment of wages is the price or money equivalent of the labour power of the workers. It still remains the price of labour power in Russia today – even though no capitalist class dominates the means of production.

In view of the tremendous amount of theoretical and agitational material written by the Bolsheviks on this question, with which our comrades have undoubtedly at east a working acquaintance, how can they bring themselves down in the mess they are in? Lenin speaking on the immediate tasks of the Soviet Government, explaining how, why and by what methods, the Soviet Government had to utilise the technical skill of the capitalist specialists, had this to say;

“The vast majority of the saboteurs are ‘coming into our service’ but the best organizers can be utilized by the state either in the old way, in the bourgeois way (i.e. for high salaries), or in the new way, in the proletarian way (i.e. by creating the conditions of national accounting and control from below, which would inevitably and automatically subordinate the specialists and enlist them for our work).

Now we have to resort to the old bourgeois method and agree to pay a very high price for the services of the biggest bourgeois specialists. All who are familiar with this subject appreciate this, but not all ponder over the significance of the measure that has been adopted by the proletarian state. Clearly such a measure is a compromise, a departure from the principles of the Paris Commune and of every proletarian state, which calls for the reduction of all salaries to the level of the wages of the average worker, which call for a struggle against careerism, not in words, not in deeds.

Moreover, it is clear that such a measure not only implies the cessation – in a certain field and to a certain degree – of the offensive against capital (for capital is not a sum of money, but a definite social relation) it is also a step backward on the part of the socialist Soviet government which from the outset proclaimed and pursued the policy of reducing high salaries to the level of the wages of the average worker…

To conceal from the masses the fact that the enlistment of bourgeois specialists by means of extremely high salaries is a retreat from the principles of the Paris commune would be tantamount to sinking to the level of bourgeois politicians and to deceiving the masses…”
(Our emphasis)
Vol 7, Selected Works, page 322-323.

“It is clear” we want to repeat this passage because of its importance in the present dispute “that such a measure (paying high wages – JH) not only implies a cessation – in a certain field and to a certain degree – of the offensive against capital (“for capital is not a sum of money but a definite social relation) IT IS ALSO A STEP BACKWARD… (Backward to what comrades of the Minority? To formless degeneration or to bureaucratic collectivism? Or a step backwards to capitalism? – JH) on the part of our socialist government which from the outset proclaimed and pursued a policy of reducing high salaries to the level of wages of the average worker.”

Writing in the “Revolution Betrayed” Trotsky quoted from “Pravda”:

“The worker in our country is not a wage slave and is not a seller of a commodity called labour power. He is a free workman” (PRAVDA)

And Trotsky comments:

“For the present period this unctuous formula is unpermissable bragging. The transfer of the factories t the state changed the situation of the worker only juridically. In reality, he is compelled t live in want and work a definite number of hours for a definite wage..”

“…In order to raise this level, the state now resorted to the old methods of pressure upon the muscles and nerves of the worker. There grew up a corps of slave drivers. The management of industry became superbureaucratic. The workers lost all influence whatever upon the management of the factory. With piecework payment, hard conditions of material existence, lack of free movement, with terrible police repression penetrating the life of every factory, it is hard indeed for the worker to feel himself a ‘free workman.’ In the bureaucracy he sees the manager, in the state, the employer. Free labour is incompatible with the existence of a bureaucratic state.”

The task of slave drivers is to drive slaves. Juridically these slaves are also the controllers of the state and thereby the nationalised means of production. In reality they have access only through the bureaucratic state. In reality, the fact that the workers are compelled to sell their labour power for wages in order to live, converts them into wage slaves.

“…Wage labour does not cease even under the Soviet regime to wear the humiliating label of slavery. Payment ‘according to work’ – in reality payment to the advantage of the ‘intellectual’ at the expense of physical, and especially unskilled, work – is a source of injustice, oppression and compulsions for the majority, privileges and a ‘happy life’ for the few.”

This statement of Trotsky’s: that wage labour in Russia still bears the humiliating label of wage slavery is of exceptional importance because of the horror of our Minority when we speak of wage slavery. Instead of frankly acknowledging that capitalist laws, and therefore capitalistic relations still exist in Russia, in fact are increasing and menacing the remaining socialistic forms of property, the Stalinists distort and hide the truth. They miseducate the working class as to the real material, dialectical, transition, by the use of reactionary sophisms.

Again let us repeat: the nationalisation of property transformed the situation for the worker only juridically. In reality – and we base ourselves on reality - the worker is compelled to sell his labour power and remains a wage slave. The revisionist conceptions of our Minority have nothing in common with Marxian economics. Ideologically it has its roots planted not in Trotskyism but in the sophisms of Stalinism.

The capitalistic character of the wage relation is repeatedly argued by Trotsky in the same book:

“The rouble is the ‘sole real means’ for the realisation of a capitalist principle of payment for labour, even though on the basis of socialist forms of property.”

On the same page – 81 – Trotsky says:

“Although at first glance the return of the Soviet Government, after the final and irrevocable triumph of socialism’ to piecework payment might seem a retreat to capitalist relations, in reality it is necessary to repeat here what was said about the rehabilitation of the ruble: It was not a question of renouncing socialism, but merely of abandoning crude illusions. The form of wage payment is simply brought into better correspondence with the real resources of the country. ‘Law can never be higher tan the economic structure.’”

At first glance it may seem a retreat to capitalist relations, Comrade Lawrence; in reality, the capitalist relations were there all the time, and it was simply a question of abandoning crude illusions. In these arguments of both Lenin and Trotsky the capitalistic nature of the wage relation (and especially the wage differential) is sufficiently clear to refute, in the most authoritative way, the false arguments of our comrades who deny the capitalistic nature of the wage relation. It is time for the Minority t abandon the crude illusions which are fitting to a miseducated Stalinist worker, but not to the cadre elements of te Fourth International.


Comrade Healy waved the “Revolution Betrayed” at the London aggregate to prove that the formulation in paragraph 2 of the CC resolution, which read as follows: “which (the state) occupies the same position in relation to the national economy as the capitalist occupies in relation to the single enterprise.” was torn out of context, and thus a forgery. Read the whole section, said Comrade Healy, and you will see that this refers to the subjective factor: to the personal ability and qualities of the bureaucracy to direct the state industries. Phrasemongering is one of the worst ailments that can affect a revolutionary. Here is an example of how Comrade Healy swallowed the phrase but did not understand the content.

In the CC resolution we explain that the payment of wage labour, commodity production, and the circulation of money, are capitalistic relations and given the state that defends those relations, capitalist characteristics. All the modifications that it is theoretically and practically essential to make, are made in Paragraph 3. For the purpose of drawing conclusions from these relationships, we are a hundred times correct to say that the state occupies the same relationship to the national economy as the capitalist occupies in relation to the single enterprise. Trotsky explains in the “Revolution betrayed” that the functions of money as capital, usurious, commercial and industrial, are transferred to the state (the universal merchant, creditor, and industrialist) in a modified form.

The transfer of the means of the production to the state, insofar as it does not lead immediately to socialist production and distribution, also transfers the function of the capitalist to the state. The elimination of individual capitals and the competition and anarchy of individual production modify these functions to a considerable degree. But the state is the controller of capital; it is the controller of money; it is the controller of the ms of commodities – the products of the working class; the state pays the wages of the worker; it hires him, fires him, and tells him what to produce and how to produce it, and where to produce it. In all these functions it occupies the same elation to the national economy as the individual capitalist occupies in relation to the single enterprise. Modification of the capitalist function of the state in the sphere of both production and distribution, which the workers were still able to bring about at one time through the pressure of workers control - even these modifications are no longer operative. The anti-socialistic nature of the state – its capitalistic nature, is therefore reinforced.

The worker must work to live. He has access to the means of production only through, and with the benevolence of the state. The state pays the worker, not for 8 hours of labour, but say for 4 hours of labour (more or less, but certainly not the full value of his labour). In this way it pays the worker on outright capitalist lines and with an outright capitalist measure, less than the value he produces. On the other hand it sells the worker “goods” (!) which he can buy only from the state at their full value, or more precisely: above their value. Surplus value is piled up, therefore, just as in capitalist countries. State production and trading in Russia reveals itself to be much closer to a gigantic “truck shop” than to communist or socialist society. This is especially true because of the bureaucratic control.

The statements of the Minority comrades (Goldburg and Goffe in particular) that there is no appropriation of surplus value in Russia, is really too absurd for words. There is no confusion of terms here but a specific denial that surplus value is extracted from the labour of the workers as social phenomenon. Not only does the Russian state appropriate surplus value, but it extracts a bigger proportion of surplus value than is extracted from the workers by the capitalists in the capitalist countries. Proof? Look at the rate of capital accumulation in Russia and compare it to the rate of capital accumulation in any other part of the world. For years we have pointed to the fact that this is the most gigantic and rapid capital development in history. Apart from the elimination of all the waste and destruction of commodities which arises from capitalist competition, which is very important and a definite tremendous social advance, the accumulation takes place, not by accident, but on the basis of economic laws established by Karl Marx. This is a necessary accumulation, and with certain modifications – which would result from a democratically and not bureaucratically directed plan – would take place in a healthy workers’ state.

But what of the economic surplus devoured by the bureaucracy? This surplus is as great, if not greater, than the surplus consumed by the ruling class (and its bureaucracy) in capitalist society. To control and devour this surplus, the bureaucracy waged a ruthless war against the Kulak and the small industrialists of the NEP. It continues to wage a ruthless war against the remnants of these elements at the present time. Even within the ranks of the bureaucracy itself, a struggle goes on for the distribution of this surplus, it oppresses the masses with ever greater brutality.

The bureaucracy is concerned with protecting and defending state property only for one reason: because on the basis of state property, with the state controlled in the bureaucratic vise, and the production and distribution relations that result from this situation, it is able to devour a growing portion of the surplus product of the national labour.


The denial by the Minority comrades that the bureaucracy, through their control of the state machine and thus their control of production, exploit the workers economically, is really ludicrous.

Lenin, when introducing the policy of paying the specialists high salaries, explained that these high salaries were a form of tribute. People who have the capacity to extract “tribute” from the mass of the producers are also, thereby, able to exploit.

This exploitation is not, however, exploitation which arises from the ownership of the means of production, and therefore cannot be defined scientifically as class exploitation, which is based upon the ownership of means of production and property. It is exploitation which exists on the basis of state ownership of the means of production, and arises from the backwardness of Russian technique and culture; upon the basis of the division of labour and bureaucratic control. No group that has control of the distribution of the articles of consumption ever forgets itself. Inherent in the very conception of bureaucratic control is the conception of inequality, and this of exploitation.

The ability to extract “tribute”, and to defend privileges because of their special position in the division of labour and control of the state machine, means that the bureaucracy has access to the best products designed to satisfy human needs and desires. All this is topped by the most degrading and revolting form of exploitation: the buying into personal service of the labour of the workers!

Frederick Engels once explained that political power is also an economic power. “Force”, he wrote , “(that is state power) is also an economic power.” It is for this reason that the proletariat struggles for the political dictatorship of the proletariat.

Once the power has passed out of the hands of the proletariat – into the hands of the bureaucracy; once the workers no longer control the state, and the economy of the country is no longer subject to workers’ control, without a new revolution, in the long run the triumph of capitalism is inevitable.

In addition to the bureaucratic exploitation that arises from the division of labour, however, a growing section of the bureaucracy is more and more occupying a place in Russian life that has an entirely capitalist relation: extracting surplus value from the labour of the producers through money investment. To deny the existence of this fact or to deny the class character of the function, is to desert Marxian economics altogether.

According to Marx, as we have noted previously: in the first stages of socialist society, bourgeois right still exists in relation to the distribution of the means of consumption, but, as the result of the social character of production, “nothing can pass into the ownership of individuals except individual means of consumption.” It is clear that in Russia, however, that if this situation existed theoretically in the war communist stages of the revolution, it certainly is not true today. Money in Russia is something more than a mere measure of value. It is something more than a means of consumption. To perform the function of mere measure of value contributed in one form to society, and thus a measure of the means of consumption that may be drawn to repay that contribution, a labour certificate would be sufficient. Money could be replaced by any other token.

Because of the backwardness of the technique, however, the Bolsheviks were forced to retain the old capitalist elations on this score too. In his notes for the draft of the revised programme of the Bolshevik Party, Lenin speaks of “while (temporarily) not abolishing money…”. The Bolsheviks tried only to impose certain administrative measures to prevent money functioning in its most vicious form of private capital.

In the conditions of Russian society, therefore, money remains what it is in capitalist society: “the social incarnation of human labour, the real measure of labour, the general means of circulation.” Al the administrative regulations that have been introduced have already been - or are being – amended one after another so that money may find its expression as usurious capital. Money in Russia, not used up in exchange for means of consumption, is accumulated as savings. Savings in the state banks, which return an interest of 2.5%, savings which are invested in state bonds at 4% or more, are something more than means of consumption: they are usurious capital, or “interest bearing” capital.

We are not referring to the few miserable roubles that the workers are compelled to save by state regulation or state pressure; such savings have similar social characteristics to the savings of workers in capitalist countries. We refer to the voluntary savings of the bureaucrats, the managers and technicians, the intellectuals and the scientists; to those elements in Soviet society who earn 30, 40 and 50 and more times the wage of the average worker. These savings, returning an interest which is extracted from the surplus value created by the workers, function as interest bearing capital and introduces a new social (class) relationship that did not exist in the past.

A complete analysis of the various forms of state loan is extremely interesting but not essential to this discussion. For the purpose of attracting or “catching up” as great an amount of “surplus” cash that exists in the hands of the workers and which cannot be exchanged for commodities, the state issues the lottery loan. As a rule these loans are not interest bearing. They operate like a sweepstake; but with this difference that the ticket money is returnable after a certain number of years. The prizes in high sums of money go to the lucky ticket holders, being drawn from the interest that would accrue from the invested ticket money as a whole.

The “middle class” or “upper middle class” (note the parenthesis, please comrades) type of investors are offered more favorable terms for the loan of their money. To them the various state loans pay, as a general rule, a higher interest than is paid in developed capitalist countries on state bonds. The Chairman of Lloyds Bank made a statement in his annual report some years before the outbreak of war, that those Russian binds were among the most stable and highest interest paying government bonds in the world. It is interesting to note in this connection, that the more stable the Russian regime became, the less Russian economy became an economy of crisis, the lower the interest paid out on money loaned – the rate of interest dropped – as it drops in capitalist economy.

However, these questions, dealing as they do with the development of this aspect of the capitalist relations need not be subjected to a complete investigation for the purpose of this discussion; nor, unfortunately, for that matter, are they capable of complete investigation in view of the almost total absence of figures for a number of years.

It is necessary only to draw the attention of the comrades to the fact that the “bourgeois state” – as distributor – now begins to assume additional bourgeois characteristics in other aspects of its functioning – as producer. For this policeman protects not only the capitalistic privileges and rights in distribution, but also protects the growing capitalist –directly exploitative – relations in production; and has introduced al the necessary laws – saving laws, investment laws, etc – to make this protection a perfectly legal function. The social differentiation which arises from the growing differentiation in the payment prepares the conditions for a class transformation even in relation to the last remaining conquests of 1917.


The bureaucrat, as a bureaucrat, whose livelihood depends upon his position in the productive or distributive process and thus in the division of labour itself, performs a different social function from the bureaucrat as investor in state bonds. In the former case, bureaucrat as bureaucrat: his social function and access to products of consumption is essentially dependent upon the political control of the state machine and on his contribution of labour in one form or another to the social pool. In this case the parasitic function of the bureaucrat, his lack of a stable economic base is clear: he is hired and fired according to the shifts that take place within the ranks of the bureaucracy as a whole, and has no guarantee for the future – for himself or his family.

But with the growing development of bureaucrat as investor, a new (class) relation to the means of production has commenced. Part of his livelihood depends, no longer upon his privileged position in the state machine or the division of labour, but upon invested money, money as capital, and the interest that accrues from that invested capital.

In the “Revolution Betrayed” Trotsky wrote:

“One may argue that the bureaucrat cares little what are the prevailing forms of property, provided only they guarantee him the necessary income. This ignores not only the instability of the bureaucrat’s own rights, but also the question of his descendents… Privileges have only half their worth if they cannot be transmitted to one’s children. It is not enough to be the director of a trust; it is necessary to be a stockholder. The victory of the bureaucracy in this decisive sphere would mean its conversion into a new possessing class.” (Our emphasis – JH)

The bureaucracy, as such, has not formed itself into a new possessing class. To say that it has is un-Marxist and scientifically unsound, insofar as Marxism bases itself on the division of labour and the ownership of property as the basis of classes. But it is clear that out of the ranks of the bureaucracy there is being exuded a new possessing class, which: 1) has gained a definitely new and more privileged position in relation to the means of production and the distribution of national wealth; and, 2) has consolidated these new privileges of a directly capitalist character, and can pass them down to their families through the bourgeois right of testament. This aspect of the degeneration has not been sufficiently investigated by us, and in view of the new laws that have been introduced legalizing the inheritance of money investments, is clearly a subject to which our movement will have t devote more attention.

In drawing attention to this factor as a subject for serious scientific investigation and constant review, the Central Committee resolution is one hundred percent imbued with the spirit of the Marxist movement as it has existed for a century.

Merely to demonstrate the facts and subject them to Marxian economic analysis, is to refute the un-Marxian denial by our Minority that the Russian working class is economically exploited by the bureaucracy.

Let our Minority weep and wail that to poke our nose into this subject is to begin a new “revision”. We are far from afraid that the Marxist method is s faulty that we cannot investigate such a new and fundamentally important phenomenon. But let them deny the facts. Let them not revise all Marxist conceptions of economics because they fear such investigation. These questions are taboo for them only because they have swallowed the phrases without assimilating the ideas and methods of Marxism, and above all, because they are afraid of the new phenomenon.

This form of accumulation, of course, has been present since the early days of the Russian Revolution and was recognized as a peculiar form of state capitalism. But it undoubtedly had a different social weight and significance in the early days than it is gaining today. It appears to the writer that this form of accumulation has much greater dangers to the socialist future of Russia than the primitive accumulation that takes place in the countryside and in the free market.

If one takes into consideration the historical tendencies towards stratification on a world scale, and the fact that Russian stratification survived the test of a tremendous war, it seems theoretically correct to assume that there is no reason why a new capitalist class in Russia cannot arise and dominate the economic life of the country without destroying state property as such; but on the contrary, through investments in state bonds. If the present investment and inheritance trend continues, it is possible for sate property to be transformed into a juridical function, while in reality, a new class of money capitalists, of rentiers who batten on the labour of the working class, have taken over the means of production.

Trotsky believed that failing a new proletarian political revolution, the bourgeois norms of distribution would lead to the break-up of the state trusts which would be converted into privately owned trusts. He did not believe that a class of “state capitalists” would arise on the basis of state property in Russia. Nevertheless, he formulated his ideas with sufficient elasticity so as not to exclude even this form of degeneration. In the “Revolution Betrayed” he wrote:

“to the extent that, for the benefit of an upper stratum, if (the state – JH) carries to more and more extreme expression bourgeois norms of distribution, it is preparing a capitalist restoration. This contrast between forms of property and norms of distribution cannot grow indefinitely. Either the bourgeois norms must in one form or another spread to the means of production, or the norms of distribution must be brought into correspondence with the socialist property system.”

This idea is further elaborated in the section of the “Revolution Betrayed” under the sub-head: “THE QUESTION OF THE CHARACTER OF THE SOVIET UNION NOT YET DECIDED BY HISTORY.” In opposing the theory that the Russian bureaucracy could be characterized in 1936 as a class of state capitalists, Trotsky argued that:

“…The bureaucracy has not yet created social supports for its domination in the form of special types of property. It is compelled to defend state property as the source of its power and its income. In this aspect of its activity it still remains a weapon of proletarian dictatorship.

“The attempt to represent the Soviet bureaucracy as a class of ‘state capitalists’ will obviously not withstand criticism. The bureaucracy has neither stocks nor bonds. It is recruited, supplemented and renewed in the manner of an administrative hierarchy, independently of any special property relations of its own. The individual bureaucrat cannot transmit to his heirs his rights in the exploitation of the state apparatus…”

The evolution of Russian society, however, shows that the “special form of property” evolved by the bureaucracy is precisely “state property.” State stocks or bonds which bring back an interest of 4% are undoubtedly property “of a special type”. Moreover, the individual bureaucrat can now “transmit to his heirs” the rights “to the exploitation” of state property through these interest bearing bonds.

History has not, however, had its final word to say on the question of whether a new capitalist class can stabilize itself on the basis f this form of property. It has, nevertheless, clearly testified to the fact that the bureaucracy seeks every legal, as well as illegal means to enlarge its share of the surplus product; to consolidate its privileges for generations by incorporating these privileges into the legal structure of the country.

Meanwhile, the numerical growth and cultural development of the proletariat prepares the forces which in the long run, is certain to come into revolutionary collision with the bureaucracy. It is not possible at the present stage, to give a final and conclusive answer as to how the social antagonism between the two class forces will develop in the curse of the next decade. The outcome depends upon the clash of living forces, not only in Russia, but on the arena of the international class struggle.

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Monday, November 12, 2007


Electoral Slates and Joint Slates
by Duncan Hallas

Socialist Workers Party Bulletin No 3 May 1977

Introduction by neprimerimye

The following article by Duncan Hallas, a founder of the Socialist Review Group in 1950 and for many years a leader of International Socialists, does not appear on the Marxist Internet Archive. It is a fascinating document which reveals much about both the SWP and its rival groups nearly thirty years ago. A reading of this article is a useful exercise in debunking much of the accumulated bunkum of the intervening years.

The article is also extremely funny when read with the benefit of hndsight as it is replete with considerable ironies. For example in reference to the unity mongers of the International Maggot Group (IMG) Hallas talks of them placing the emphasis of their politics on many varied social groups but not on the working class to whch they paid lip service as supposed marxists. In particular Hallas subjects the IMG to some ridicule with regard to its front groups in Scotland and in Birmingham amongst the Asian population. Given that the SWP of today has adopted the IMG's position on Scotland, worse it tails Scottish nationalism in the form of Tommy Sheridans personal project 'Solidarity', and panders to a communalism more reactionary than that of the Asian Socialist League one can only wonder what the author would have to say today if his younger self were confronted with such a blatant political degeneration.

Perhaps the greatest virtue of the article is that it stands as an effective polemic against the SWP's turn to electoralism, with the still born Socialist Alliance, and more recently to a grotesque populism with the misnamed Respect. The strident tone of the piece should not be neglected however and detracts from the essays considerable merits as an educational piece. This almost hysterical tone can only be explained in reference to the factional struggles that had rent IS in the years immediately prior to the foundation of the SWP. A subject this blog will without doubt return to in the future.

*** *** ***

Some comrades have asked if we should reconsider our attitude towards an electoral pact with other organisations on the revolutionary left.

In practice, this is only raised in connection with the IMG, since the other organisations which have run candidates in the past, the WRP, etc, are not interested. The IMG, on the other hand, is making the issue a central feature of its propaganda and is directing 90 per cent of this propaganda at SWP members and sympathisers.

At Stechford, IMG members distributed leaflets at Paul Foot's meetings which deplored competition between Foot and Heron (the IMG candidate) and concluded; "the IMG repeats its call to the SWP to discuss with us the possibility of united far-left slates in the coming elections and especially in the General Election. All socialists will pay a price for needless disunity in the future." They had previously called for a joint candidate in Stechford, a joint slate in GLC elections and so on.

Well, why not? We are certainly in favour of joint action with everyone in the working class movement, whether Labour Party members, CP members, independents or whatever to fight the fascists, to fight hospital closures, to fight the Social Contract and so on and so forth - always provided it is action. We do not, however, form blocs to make propaganda. We put forward our own ideas in our own paper.

The distinction is obvious enough. Unity in action with everyone who can be pulled in to support the particular action, irrespective of their views on other matters. Independent expression of our own ideas at all times. We don't stay out of any genuine working class struggle and we don't make our participation conditional on others agreeing with us. At the same time, we don't hide or dilute our politics or pretend to be other than we are.

How does this apply to parliamentary etc. elections?

Revolutionary intervention in parliamentary elections at present is essentially a propaganda operation, a means of contacting people and involving them in some of our activities and of recruiting.

We judge our success (or failure) in a contest by members recruited, contacts made, SW readers gained and so on and not mainly by votes gained.

Of course, it is very pleasing if we get a better than expected vote, a little disappointing if we get a lower than expected vote. But it is not the main thing. We are not parliamentary roaders.

Even in circumstances where there is a serious prospect of winning a particular contest this remains true. It would be very useful for propaganda and, indeed, agitational purposes to have a revolutionary MP, or even better to have several.

But this will always be secondary to building the party in the workplaces, to fighting for leadership in the day to day struggles of working people and inside the unions.

Our aim in contesting parliamentary elections is to build the SWP. We do not put the emphasis on getting the biggest possible vote for the 'far-left'.

Protest votes, and that is what is being spoken of, are not without significance, but they are incomparably less important than building the party.

Where does this leave us with respect to the IMG? Since many of our members do not come into contact with this organisation, it may be useful to say a little about it.

The IMG regards itself as a Trotskyist organisation and is affiliated to the biggest of the various bodies claiming to be 'the Fourth International'. It claims top have 680 members. Some of these - I do not know what proportion - operate inside the Labour Party as 'entrists'.

The IMG differs from us politically on a number of matters; for example, it regards Russia, China, etc, as workers' states, although degenerated or deformed and it is keen on slogans like 'the sliding scale of wages', 'open the books' and so on.

But, the most important difference, I believe, is not these disagreements, but the approach to building the revolutionary party. The IMG puts the emphasis on building blocs, fronts, alliances etc with other organisations, and what it calls 'the broad vanguard' (ie unaffiliated left wingers) and within these blocs etc it hopes to establish its own 'hegemony' - meaning dominance. It hopes to dominate a sort of left coalition which will develop, it hopes, into a party.

The IMG regards the SWP as the biggest obstacle in its path - rightly so in view of the relationship of forces - and tries hard to use other (non-IMG) people to put pressure on us. For unless the growth of the SWP can be checked, their strategy can't work.

Thus it has set up a Socialist Teachers Alliance in opposition to Rank and File Teacher )from which the IMG teachers split). The STA includes a fair number of non-IMG people, mostly to the right of the IMG, and, having come out of split, denounces R&F people as 'sectarians' and 'splitters'.

"The time has come", says a writer in a recent issue of the IMG's paper "for the SWP/R&F to break out of its sectarian politics, acknowledge the STA as a force with equal, if not greater influence both in London and nationally, and unite to win a massive vote....etc." But we were united in R&F until they split.

In fact, the STA is an unstable alliance held together by a dislike of unofficial action and hostility to the SWP. Its leaders regard R&F as tending to 'adventurism' - as in the 'no-cover' campaign - and put nearly all their emphasis on work in the union machine. It runs candidates against R&F candidates in union elections.

After the recent NUT conference, the IMG paper claimed that the STA had definitely replaced R&F as 'the main tendency' on the left and had had 50 delegates (15 recruited at conference). The real significance of the conference was the decisive victory of the right on, all issues. The STA is, to some degree, an adaptation to right wing dominance, a soft option for soft lefts.

Similarly, a Socialist Students Alliance has been set up (on much the same basis) as a rival to NOISS, and the IMG paper tells us "the SSA has now replaced NOISS as the major force after the Broad Left", a claim as hollow as those made for other 'fronts' the IMG has sponsored over the years.

The SSA ran its own slate against NOISS (as well as the Broad Left and the Tories) at the recent NUS conference.

There is no Socialist Engineers Alliance or Socialist Electricians Alliance but that is only because the IMG has few people in industry (although they do support the 'independent Broad Left' paper Engineering Voice against Engineering Charter). In the recent TGWU's General Secretary election the IMG called for a vote for Thornett, not Riley.

Where the IMG has no possibility of setting up a rival organisation, it often 'supports' SWP efforts. The Right to Work Campaign is a good example and it is not unfair to say that IMG 'support' for the Right to Work marches last year was of the sort Lenin called 'support as the rope supports the man being hanged'.

For weeks on end, the IMG paper carried attacks from all and sundry on the 'bureaucratic', 'sectarian' and of course, politically hopeless RTW leadership, complete with atrocity stories. Red Weekly sees this sort of thing as unimportant. Nearly every issue contains attacks on the SWP (three per issue is the norm) alongside calls for 'unity'! Compare the absence of attacks on the IMG in Socialist Worker.

In spite of our forbearance, they continually denounce the SWP as 'sectarian'!

Now we learn that the IMG is going to launch a new weekly paper called Socialist Challenge which will also serve its various front organisations - these now include a Scottish Socialist League and an Asian Socialist League (in Birmingham) as well as the various Alliances and the IMG members in the Labour Party. It will, so Red Weekly tells us, "be a non-sectarian polemical paper". There are no prizes for guessing who most of the polemics will be aimed at!

Some of our comrades understandably get indignant about this kind of thing, but we should not take it too seriously. It does us little damage, but to reply in kind would do us much more damage. And it will not build the IMG.

Hiding your politics, sailing under false colours, never builds in the long run.

The 'electoral unity' proposals have to be seen against this background.

What the IMG has in mind is not a practical arrangement that seeks to avoid, or at any rate minimize, the Stechford type situation of two far-left candidates. What they are after is, as they admit, a 'joint-slate', a common platform and a united campaign - and not only an electoral one.An article in Red Weekly on the French municipal election agreement between far-left groups puts the line very clearly: "while Lutte Ouvriere initially saw the agreement as requiring only joint electoral work, the LCR (the French IMG) correctly insisted on the need for a national joint platform...

Our comrades also argued for joint activity to extend beyond the electoral arena, to build the implantation of the revolutionary organisations".

Now this is nonsense. Either there is basic agreement about building the party - in which case the organisations ought to unite in a single party - or there is not, in which case they cannot 'build the implantation'. How can we build jointly with the IMG when, wherever they have the strength, they build blocs against us with forces to the right of us? To repeat, we are out to build the revolutionary arty, not to maximise the vote by alliances Which hinder building.

Is actual unity feasible? The differences on Russia etc are, in principle, containable in a single democratic-centralist organisation provided that there is an agreed approach to building the party in the working class.

In the past, the IMG has put the emphasis on work everywhere except in the working class, but in the last few years it has changed its line and says it agrees with us on this.

Unfortunately, it has moved well to the right at the same time and thinks in terms of blocs with various 'independents' who have official positions, rather than building rank and file movements. Another problem is that the IMG is a coalition of permanent factions (they call them tendencies), a state of affairs they regard as positively desirable, and are not likely to accept democratic-centralism as we understand it. And, of course, they want to stay affiliated to their 'Fourth International'.

But the basic difficulty, I believe, is that most of them do not want unity at all but only 'unity manoeuvres' to try to strengthen themselves at our expense. Their problem is that we would have a huge majority in a united organisation. If we accept, as we must, that they seriously believe in their own political conceptions, then their attitude is understandable.

Understanding, however, is not the same thing as weakness and it would be both weak and extremely foolish to give countenance to these 'unity manoeuvres.'

The IMG has developed a theory to justify its peculiar tactics. This theory says that it is 'sectarian' to put the emphasis on building the revolutionary party. 'Unfortunately, the present sectarian course of the SWP placed the needs of their organisation above the best interests of the working class," says the Red Weekly. This goes down well with people who like to be on the left but don't want to commit themselves to an organisation. It is not so new either.

Years ago Trotsky wrote of the SAP, a left breakaway from the German Social Democrats, that when they "criticise the 'party egoism' of the Social-Democracy and of the Communist Party; when Seydewitz (an SAP leader) assures us that so far as he is concerned 'the interests of the class come before the interests of the party,' they only fall into political sentimentalism or, what is worse, behind this sentimental phraseology they screen the interests of their own party. This method is no good... The interests of the class cannot be formulated otherwise than in the shape of a programme, the programme cannot be defended otherwise than by creating the party."

That is our position and it used to be the position of the IMG too. "We start from a profound conviction that the problem of carrying out a social transformation in Britain requires above all the building of a mass revolutionary party," wrote Pat Jordan, then National Secretary of the IMG, in 1969; "We regard the present fragmentation of the left as arising from the lack of such a party. Once the process of building the revolutionary party proceeds beyond its embryonic stage - that is when a given tendency clearly established its hegemony in theory and practice - regroupment will commence."

This was written, in part, to defend the IMG's rejection of the IS proposal to unite the two organisations into a single party which was our policy in 1968 and 1969. In those days, they believed that they could build their organisation faster and better than ours could be built. then we would unite when they had the majority.

In the event, we built and they did not - they are little stronger now than they were then. One reason is that we turned our backs on sectarian bickering and they did not.

Jordan also dealt, in this article on Unity and Sectarianism, with the sort of approach the IMG now has, the method of blocs and alliances: "such a project is fraught with dangers. It is one thing to organise a campaign on a single issue such as Vietnam, where for revolutionaries the issue is so clear cut, but another thing once one attempts to cover a whole series of questions, each of which can give rise to political and tactical differences."

This was directed against various 'independents' and 'New Lefts' who wanted a bloc rather than a party.

The IMG has changed its line because of our growth, its marked inferiority to the SWP and its unwillingness to go for real unity. An electoral bloc of the sort they propose is not on. Submerging the SWP in some 'front' is out of the question. We fight under our own colours.

There is a fundamental issue involved. We know that the revolutionary party can only be built by involvement in workers' struggles. In these terms the IMG is irrelevant in most cases. They believe that the way forward is argument - polemic is the word they use - about policies between people who regard themselves as revolutionaries. We left that kind of thing behind years ago.

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Monday, October 29, 2007


Britains Sovereignity Endangered by Religious Loons!!!
(A Neprimerimye exclusive - and no wonder!!!)
Comrades and friends we here at neprimerimye blog are alarmed by the threat to the national sovereignity of Britain uncovered in the Sunday telegraph that well known organ of braindead conservatism. Uncovered but unremarked upon by the pusilanimous defenders of british nationalism on that rotten diseased organ. But we at Neprimerimye, pledged as we are to defend those few remanants of bourgeois democracy remaining in this the period of capitalism's historic decline, will spare no efforts to explain to the masses this new threat to liberty on these here islands. And so we hand you over to the combined efforts of our religious and consitutional departments for your enlightenment.
We note that in the Sunday Telegraph of 28/10/07ce an article by Jonathan Wynne-Jones appeared entitled 'Parishes win right to turn to foreign bishops'. On the face of it this so-called right allows parishes, that is to say local branches of the state cult in England, to secede from the control of the local diocese and adhere instead to another diocese based in Africa or South America. The reason for this being that some of the parishes of the Church of England, the aforementioned state cult, dislike the 'liberal' attitude of the state cult with regard to sexual ethics. Suffice it to say the state cult is not exactly at the cutting edge but is far too radical for the more traditional churchmen.
Normally these moves would excite but little comment by us here at neprimerimye blog but we note that an important principle of Britain's constitution seems to have been raised, namely the matter of our national sovereignity. Not that we at neprimerimye would raise so much as a digit to defend The Church of Engerland or national sovereignity in the normal course of events. But in this case we note that the principle of the sovereignity of Parliament is threatened and we are alarmed!!! What next? Will the right of the freeborn Englisher to beat his children and wife be sacrificed at the alter of trendiness?
We here at neprimeimye blog say NO, this cannot be. It is the right of all Britons to demand that these bigots remain under the iron heel of Dr Rowan Williams and be compelled to thereby to recognise the sovereignity of the Queen in Parliament. We note that it is after all the case that on these here septic isles that sovereignity is derived not from the people as such but from the authority the monarch delegates to the representatives of the people gathered together in Parliament. And the Queen is, as our learned reader will know, the head of the state cult which is to say of the Church in Engerland.
It follows from the above that should any parish of the Church in Engerland be removed from the control of Dr Williams that our national sovereignity is thereby diminished. This, in the opinion of neprimerimye blog, is an outrage against the people of Engerland and our sovereign lady Queen Liz. Although the problem could be easily solved by disestablishing the Church of England - but that would be crazy.


Thursday, September 06, 2007


Blob Expires
Need more be said? Turgid stuff opera innit?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dear Comrades,

The exchange on your website concerning Left Communism and Trotskyism was of very real interest to me in light of the degeneration of most of the self proclaimed adherents of both currents into opportunism, sectarianism or both. A degeneration which, in my opinion, has twofold roots in the isolation of revolutionaries from a workers’ movement alive to the realities of the class war and in the theoretical errors made by the various groups. As Loren pointed out these weaknesses are to a considerable degree related to how the October Revolution and its degeneration are understood although I am also of the opinion that the different analyses of that revolution can also be related to the failure of the Communist International, as a whole, to break from the mechanism of Kautsky and the Second International, a legacy which can still be identified to some greater or lesser degree within the Left Communist and Trotskyist groups alike.

In the remarks which follow I would like to take up various points previously raised in your discussion. To a considerable degree I shall relate my remarks in general to the specific development of the Socialist Workers Party (Britain) and its organisational forerunner the International Socialists in Post-War Britain. In this way I hope to be able to bring the experience of that tendency, in both its negative and positive aspects, to your attention. In addition to which I shall use that experience to illustrate the importance of revolutionary theory to the development of a revolutionary workers movement in the aftermath of the defeat of October and the marginalisation of revolutionary ideas after 1948.

To begin I would like to argue that October is still vitally important for revolutionaries and if Loren’s telling of discussions in Korea are indicative It is most alive in those few places where a mass workers’ movement exists and struggles. That is no accident and is very simply explicable by the existence of a combative section of our class in South Korea. That the debate in Korea takes the form it does speaks to the importance of forms of Marxism imported and transformed into ideology. Revolutionaries today are obliged to strip such ideologies, often ‘party’ ideologies, of all that is redundant and outdated in them and apply Marxism to the ideological Marxism of the Marxists in order to recaste Marxism as a method of analyses that informs revolutionary practice.

In order to approach this task, a task that has or should have been central to the work of revolutionary communists since the degeneration of the Comintern, we need in the first place to reject all Marxism’s that substitute forces alien to the proletariat, hence the continued centrality of the Russian experiment. For only those forces which reject in its totality the monstrous bureaucratic cancer that we call Stalinism, but is better described as bureaucratic state capitalism, in their practice and hopefully in their theory too, will in the future be capable of contributing towards a revolutionary workers movement. I place the emphasis here not on the theory of the individuals and groups but on their practice which ought to be of paramount importance for us but is so often relegated to the background of the stale polemics which rage in all their impotent fury on the far left.

When discussing the early days of the Comintern and the revolutionary wave of 1916 - 1923 from the perspective of everyday life in the comfortable and exceedingly stable advanced ‘democracies’ it is amusingly easy for revolutionary intellectuals, possessed of the more or less complete works of the revolutionary ‘greats’ as well as detailed knowledge of the ‘lessons of history’, to miss the point entirely. Rather than understand the events of that time and the development of the Comintern in its earliest period as an attempt to cohere the revolutionary vanguard both organisationally and theoretically we are presented with various orthodoxies. As you would expect with any orthodoxy what is presented is not a method of analysis but a set of positions raised to the level of items of faith from which the faithful dare not dissent on pain of excommunication.

Any such orthodoxy, however right and true to its tradition it might be, cannot but fail to rise to the level of proletarian science in the sense that by excluding insights from rival, equally orthodox, traditions it is forced to abjure many of the most creative insights into the nature of bourgeois society by reason of the thinker or current in question not cleaving to one’s own tradition or version of orthodoxy. This cannot but result in the development not of fighting propaganda groups, as many such organisations style themselves, but of confessional sects which crash and burn when reality shatters one or other element of their carefully constructed orthodoxy. This is true as much of Left Communist as of Trotskyist groups and for that matter, in their own often eclectic fashion, of the class struggle anarchist and syndicalist groups too.

It is all too easy for isolated revolutionary intellectuals and workers to cry out, to but little echo fortunately, that what is needed is a new synthesis of all that remains relevant and truly revolutionary from the past. Easy perhaps but trite and superficial in that each and everyone of us has come out of pre-existing traditions/orthodoxies from which we are in revolt or, in some cases, fleeing from. In such circumstances and in the absence of a mass revolutionary workers movement any attempt at such a new synthesis will only result in scholastic exercises in eclecticism, as that which remains vital cannot be discerned from the dead chaff in today’s one dimensional world of apparent class peace. The same proposition may not be true in South Korea!

Nonetheless passing through those schools of revolutionary thought with all their limitations was necessary for each and everyone of us. What other alternative school was there in which we could gain some understanding of Marxism whilst working as part off a revolutionary project? Indeed where else can young workers and student youth gain even the beginning of an understanding of Marxism today if not as members of such groups? The only alternative that comes to mind is the higher education sector where it is possible for some students to learn something of Marxism but quite frankly what they learn is so distorted by all the muck of academic competition, by the various intellectual fads and by bourgeois distortion masquerading as objectivity that it is very often worse than useless.

At least in the groups young people can learn something of the continued relevance of revolutionary thought as it relates to the world of class struggle and social conflict. Although when such struggles are at a low ebb, as is the case in Britain today, the lessons learnt threaten to be as academic and abstract as any of the nonsense taught in the universities. The key to the development of Marxian ideas among young people is then the existence of a layer of class conscious workers in the groups and the groups orientation on the most advanced workers as workers and not as members of trades unions, reformist parties, etc. The groups then, whether they be Left Communist or Trotskyist is of little substantial importance, remain relevant only if their primary orientation is on the proletariat and they make some attempt to develop Marxist theory.

It is then because of what they do not what they claim to be that gives the groups some real importance. For this reason the various Trotskyist groups in Britain are of some real if highly marginal importance to the political life of the workers, at least in particular sections of the class, due to the work they actually do in sustaining what is a much shrunken workers movement from its heyday in the early 1970’s. First and foremost of these groups is the Socialist Workers Party which can claim to have some few thousands of members and some weight in a handful of unions. The trouble is that they are now a very long way away from what they once were having badly degenerated in recent years. Despite which due to the education a part of their members receive it cannot be excluded that at some point in the future that they will again swing to the left and readopt a more ‘workerist’ stance.

It is worthwhile remembering that the SWP, then known as the Socialist Review Group, began as a pretty ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist group differing only from the majority in the Fourth International as to their understanding of the Stalinist states which they saw as being bureaucratic state capitalist countries. It matters very little whether or not the analysis they, or rather Tony Cliff the deceased leader of the group, made of the Stalinist states is the definitive analysis. In fact any hunt for such an analysis is doomed to failure given that Marxism is not, or should not, be interested in answering such futile abstract questions, but is a method of understanding how bourgeois society functions in order to equip the proletariat with those ideas which will enable us to raze the political edifice erected on that base of that society to the ground in order to construct a human society. In this sense then Cliff’s ideas and those of other comrades influenced by him served the organisation well in enabling it to understand the profoundly counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism without slipping into the banal Stalinophobia of the Shachtmanites after 1948.

Interestingly core members of the International Socialists, as the group was known between 1962 and 1976, tended to supplement the writings of their own theoreticians with regard to Stalinism and not only read writers such as Castoriadis and Dunayevskaja but published and distributed their work too. At the same time their journal, International Socialism, gave space to the writings of Mattick and attempted to rescue the young Lukacs from neglect, an earlier attempt having been made by the Shactman group with which the British IS had an on again off again relationship. In addition they paid critical attention to Korsch and Reich. More importantly they encouraged and contributed to the rediscovery of revolutionary movements amongst the working classes in Britain itself paying particular attention to the Communist Party linked Minority Movement of the 1920’s and the shop stewards movement throughout the early years of the last century. Crucially their understanding of Stalinism as a bourgeois political form enabled them to reject Third Worldism, without slipping into sectarianism with regard to national liberation movements as was and is true of Lutte Ouvriere, and to insist on the centrality of the proletariat if such struggles were to move in the direction of a social revolution.

All of these vitally important gains arose due to the alleged ‘workerism’ that was an important feature of the group during the 1960’s and1970’s. But this so called ‘workerism’ came into being for two excellent reasons. On the one hand the theory of bureaucratic state capitalism enabled IS to develop a rejection of any substitutionist approach to socialist politics such as those touted at the time by its rivals in the supposedly more ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist groupings all of which were happy to accept that ‘workers states’, albeit ‘deformed workers states’, could come into being without the conscious agency of the proletariat itself. In fact this rejection of substitutionism went so far as to be applied to the thought of Trotsky himself in what for a grouping which saw itself as standing in the tradition of the Old Man, was an audacious move. On the other hand IS being deeply immersed in the British workers organisations and its then living traditions - to pretend that there is a living tradition of organising outside official union structures in Britain today as was true before the mid-1970’s is to succumb to fantasy - could not fail to understand the centrality of the working classes and specifically in Britain of the Shop Stewards.

Cliff’s theory of State Capitalism was then absolutely essential to every aspect of its work both theoretical and practical. Other than those aspects of its theory and practice which were simply lifted whole from the Fourth Internationalist movement I should add. Some leading members of the SWP today even argue that the groups work on the Permanent Arms Economy derives directly from his theory of State Capitalism. Fanciful in my view given that as we know it originated in the Shactmanite group and was only imported to Britain by Cliff. Fanciful, but indicative of the absolute centrality of the theory to the development of IS and sadly of the absolute centrality of Tony Cliff too! Cliff on one level might well have been central to the development of IS but he was as central to its degeneration from its highpoint as a revolutionary workers group in the early 1970’s as in an other deeper sense was the restructuring of capital in Britain from 1976 onwards.

It is easy to demonise individual leaders in the groups for their failures and errors. The existence of monsters such as Gerry Healy and freaks such as Lyn Marcus, for whom Loren has a regard that I find quite unfathomable, spring too readily to mind. But Cliff, although as an individual an oddity in post-war Britain, was no monster but a sincere and dedicated revolutionary. Which makes his role in the degeneration of IS all the more pathetic. That said it must be understood that the central role played by Cliff in both the rise and decline of IS could not have been played by any individual had the group been more rooted in decisive layers of the class. His role at bottom was a function of the marginality of IS even at its highpoint and was not the result of his personality as oppositional documents of the time come close to suggesting.

The damaging split within IS was rather a matter of genuine political error, only very partially resulting from the revolutionary impatience of Cliff, and the marginality of IS to the workers movement. Cliffs impatience can be dealt with swiftly for it was to a considerable degree the result of his quite correct desire to push forward the construction of IS and his entirely incorrect lack of patience with the long standing IS policy which argued that such a course of action meant developing roots in the most conscious layer of the class, that is to say amongst the shop stewards. Arguing for an orientation on new young workers, who never materialised it should be noted, as opposed to the older bureaucratised militants once he met resistance in the leading circles of IS to his proposal Cliff was forced to wage an unprincipled factional struggle to push the group in the desired direction. With the result that by the end of 1976 a large part of the organisations slim base in engineering had quit as had a layer of leading comrades.

The comrades who had been expelled or quit would fail to thrive in the following period as however correct the policy of building a revolutionary group through the shop stewards movement might have been in earlier years we were now at the turning point of post-war politics and it was no longer enough. Ironically it was the majority, who had been wrong on all substantial issues in the factional struggle, who were to grow in the coming period. Symbolically however they were to abandon the old name of their group and adopt a new one relaunching as the Socialist Workers Party as 1976 passed into history and 1977 dawned.

But the growth of the SWP was almost a matter of luck and determination rather than a result of a planned political intervention. With progress stymied on the industrial front as monetarism was introduced by Denis Healey and factory closures loomed large recruitment came not from patiently planned contact work but from campaigns discovered almost by accident. In short the SWP stumbled upon mass campaigning work when it launched the Right to Work Campaign to combat growing youth employment later followed by the incredibly successful Anti Nazi League. Young working class youth were recruited in droves by these initiatives but more often than not they were unemployed. Lacking roots in the workplaces and traditions the new recruits were all too often voting fodder for the leadership around Cliff and by the end of 1981 open opposition, even on tactical questions, was ended in the SWP as various leading figures drifted away in demoralisation and disillusionment.

By the end of 1981 the SWP was a completely different group to the old IS, even if some of the older leaders remained at the helm, and its long slow degeneration was well underway. A process that has speeded up since the demise of Cliff it is true but was largely his work. Nonetheless that failure to build a revolutionary workers alternative was not simply a result of faulty perspectives and revolutionary impatience it was also the result of failure at a theoretical level. Here I have to take issue with Yves who seemed to not only reject the Transitional Program, a document best considered an historical curiosity at this remove, but the transitional method of raising aims which relate to the present consciousness of workers and to the goal of the seizure of state power by the workers as a step towards the creation of a human society. Yves is correct, of course, that in a period of relative class peace characterized by superabundance that the specific demands raised in the Transitional Program are of little or no utility to revolutionaries. But does this invalidate the method, common to all those Marxist factions - other than the Left Communists - who look towards the early days of the Comintern and not just to Trotskyists, which provides the theoretical foundations of the Transitional Program? The error of the IS in not formally adopting a document based on that method illustrates for me the error of such a proposition.

As I wrote above the IS began as a self consciously ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist group differing from the majority of the then undivided Fourth International only as to its analysis of the Stalinist states. This included adherence to the idea of transitional politics although after 1954 the group decisively rejected any idea of a slump occurring for an extended period of time with the corollary that they also rejected the idea that revolutionary demands could be raised in an agitational fashion in the then foreseeable future. By the early 1970’s they had long abandoned any overt reference to the Transitional Program or indeed to the short program they had carried in Socialist Review from 1955 onwards. Not because they rejected the underlying method, far from it, but because they recognised that in a period characterised by sectional struggles that did not rise to the level of a systemic challenge to the rule of capital transitional demands proper were not appropriate and simply did not fit the times. Critically all this was accepted by much of the group prior to its rapid growth from 1968 but was not elaborated in the form of theory other than in fragmentary form as with references to the, also unelaborated, concept of the ‘changing locus of reformism’.

But what worked for a small group of under five hundred members before 1968 did not work so well for the more heterogeneous IS of the early 1970’s which contained large numbers of young people eagerly devouring the works of Trotsky and seeing his tactical recipes as the last word in revolutionary virtue. The problem was not that the newer members looked to the ideas of Trotsky for inspiration, they had that in common with the older comrades, but that the leadership were unable to educate the membership in the method of Marxism and that what educational development did take place was a ‘cadre training’ exercise that was carried out through the prism of a necessarily limited factional interpretation of the Marxist tradition. And this from a grouping that saw itself as post-Trotskyist and had made great efforts to rescue the thought of Rosa Luxemburg from neglect let us not forget. That said how a small rapidly growing group can educate an unstable membership as to the methods and principles of Marxism that has never been answered in the realm of practice.

The result of the increasing level of class struggle, which saw ever larger confrontations and was by 1969 heavily politicised, saw an ongoing debate within IS as to the need for a transitional program and by 1973 the group was actively engaged in the drafting of such a program. In fact the draft, unsatisfactory though it clearly was to all concerned, was eventually adopted only to disappear over the horizon with the developing factional strife within the group. What should be noted is that even though most of the leadership, including those who would soon depart the groups ranks, were reluctant to adopt such a program it was accepted in principle that such a document was needed to summarise the aims and strategic conceptions of the organisation. And so it was as long as there was no lapse into the fantasy that Britain in 1974 was on the brink of a pre-revolutionary situation and what was needed was the raising of slogans designed for such a conjuncture. The leadership at this point had a duty to indicate this to the membership, which they did but failing to connect this insight to the debate on program within the group, only for some of them to fall into a mood of revolutionary impatience of a different kind the very next day.

None of this invalidates the transitional method of politics which aims to raise the consciousness and organisational homogeneity of the class by relating their current problems to the goal of socialism. What it does indicate is that tactical prescriptions cannot be automatically taken from dusty old documents and applied to situations radically differing from those of the past. Moreover it ignores the vital importance of developing an analysis of the nature of the current period and relating that to revolutionary practice by means of a developed perspective. Such a perspective having of necessity to constitute a section of any revolutionary program whatever the precise nature of that program. Which brings me back to the October revolution and Left Communism.

If Trotskyism, or as I prefer to think of it Bolshevik Leninism, was the product of the International Left Opposition it was core to that tendency’s self conception that it was the continuation of the political views held by Lenin, Trotsky, the much mythologized Bolshevik Party and the majority of the Comintern up to the Fourth World Congress. In precisely the same sense the groups such as the International Communist Current, Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista) and International Communist Party (Programna Comunista) stand in the tradition of the Italian and/or German/Dutch Left Communist tendencies. Now if Yves is correct and today’s Trotskyists are no longer concerned with social revolution and most of the tactics taken from the Comintern, codified as it were in the Transitional Program, are no longer valid then we have a bit of a problem. The problem being that the Left Communist groups have proven almost totally unable to even talk to militant workers let alone recruit them to the cause of communism.

This arises because the so called Left Communist tendencies are really often little more than Social Democratic tendencies holding to the conception that because imperialist capitalism has entered into its decadent stage that there is no longer any need for minimal or democratic demands and that the proletariat must simply be exhorted, by means of abstract propaganda, to struggle for the maximal or communist program. There is a logic to this position but it ignores the conception, integral to Marxism, that it is the conscious ranks of the exploited who must free themselves from the bondage of wage labour. But other than in the fantasies of half crazed ideologues the great mass of the exploited cannot be taught by pedagogues (not even communist pedagogues!) that their goal must be the abolition of wage labour but must learn that most valuable of all lessons through their own experiences. One reason for the elaboration of a transitional politics by the Comintern was exactly this necessity of engaging the masses in the struggle rather than fall into a propagandism so abstract that the Impossibilists of the Socialist Party of Great Britain could see it as their own - were it not for their hostility clause!

Trotskyism then remains, for all its many faults, the only possible starting point for a Marxism adapted to the realities of today. By making this argument I am not denigrating the work of the Left Communist tendencies but simply acknowledging that their contributions have not been in the field of politics but rather in the field of theory. Thus the writings of Canne Meier, Pannekoek, Bordiga, Mattick and others besides continue to have value but only if used to supplement a renewed Marxism that seeks to connect theory and practice dialectical rather than simply deriving an abstract theory from a material reality which it can never be a part of. The struggles of the past generations of Left Communists too only have value if they are seen as a contribution to the emancipation of Man and not simply as the factional inheritance of sects standing foursquare in a tradition that relates to reality in the same manner as many a politically quietist millenarian cult does.

It is interesting when looking at Left Communism and Trotskyism to reflect on those groups and individuals which have existed on the fringes of both at various times or have moved between them. I’m thinking here of those groups which originated in the 1940’s when the currents being discussed were far clearer and less divided by subsequent events. The Johnson-Forrest Tendency of CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaja is perhaps the most interesting example as it began by breaking with Trotsky’s analysis of the Russian state in order to adopt a state capitalist analysis of that social formation. In many ways the group was praiseworthy in its attempts to develop worker intellectuals, they also exhibited considerable foresight in its understanding of automation (contrast their understanding of automation with that of Mike Kidron, one of the most insightful theoreticians of the IS, in his little known pamphlet of 1956 and the importance of the location of the James-Dunajevskaja group in the USA becomes very clear) and its attempts to draw attention to the early humanist writings of Marx. But like the Left Communist groups they degenerated into sects, quite intellectual sects perhaps, but nonetheless they did degenerate into similarly ossified sects.

The reason for this is only tangentially related to the elevation of Dunayevskaja and James, in their respective groups, to the status of founder-leader to be considered the authority of last resort come what may. More important by far is their shared failure to understand the need for a perspective based on objective economic and political conditions from which a set of political tactics can be developed with the aim of winning the mass of the workers to the socialist organisation. This can be seen with the switch of the original tendency from Shachtmans Workers Party to Cannons Socialist Workers Party in 1948 whereby they abandoned a group which understood that the world was not entering into the much looked for revolutionary crisis and sought to develop tactics to fit reality in favour of a group which having been quite passive during the war was now convinced that the revolutionary crisis was upon them. Sharing nothing but this utterly foolish perspective and the belief that the SWP was proletarian through and through the two tendencies were at odds as early as 1948 as can be seen in their differing attitudes to the Miners Strike of that year in which the SWP acted as little more than passive cheerleaders for the union bureaucracy, a consequence of their substitutionism on the domestic stage, while the tendency took their shared perspective seriously sought to act as revolutionaries. Although their conception of leadership meant that as in practice they saw revolutionary practice developing spontaneously they submerged themselves in the struggle itself failing to relate the revolutionary organisation to the current tasks of those sections of the class they worked with.

The irony of this evolution is that another tendency existed in American Trotskyism at that time which held not dissimilar positions on a series of questions. I’m thinking here of the so called Goldman-Morrow minority within the SWP some of whom like James and Dunayevskaja were of the opinion that the Russian social system was an exploitative society which could best be understood as state capitalist. Indeed they were very clear that for them Russia was State Capitalist writing in a 1946 Resolution that “But what is the “class base” of this bureaucratic state? The bureaucracy is a class in the process of formation, a form of the bourgeoisie whose historic transformations have been numerous from the 13th century to the present day. What is the economic root of the exploitation of the proletariat by this class? State Capitalism on the base of the planned stratified economy.” It seems however that the Johnson-Forest Tendency was not interested in finding areas of agreement with these comrades but only concerned with building their own small tendency in preparation for the pre-revolutionary situation that they, like the Cannonite SWP Majority, saw on the horizon.

With the failure of the revolutionary wave to materialise Johnson-Forrest were left high and dry and retreated into a propagandism mitigated only by the value of some of their theoretical work. As for the SWP Minority and the Shachtmanites they gave in to demoralisation and abandoned politics or moved to the right. Another tendency in the Fourth International that understood the failure of the revolutionary wave that began in Italy in 1943, we could arguably move the date back to the Quit India campaign of 1942, and adapted their tactics to a changed situation was the leadership of the Revolutionary Communist Party in Britain around Jock Haston. Intriguingly they too adopted a far more consistently anti-Stalinist position than the Cannon sponsored leadership of the FI around Pablo and Mandel arguing vociferously against giving any kind of political support to the Tito regime in Yugoslavia when it broke away from the attempted colonial domination of Stalin’s Russian Empire. In my opinion this position was connected to their 1947 resolution on Statification in Britain, published in their organ Socialist Appeal as a series and never republished, from which they were already in recoil by the end of 1948. Under pressure both from the international leadership and from an unprincipled factional minority the Haston-Grant majority disintegrated with the latter retreating theoretically just as the former abandoned revolutionary politics. Despite which the investigations of the RCP majority prior to its capitulation to the international majority’s collapse into tailism was the starting point for Cliffs work on the Russian question.

The evolution of the Cliff group has been discussed above but I would like to reiterate the argument that the central reason why it was able to construct a slim base in the industrial working class was because it based its work on the tactics worked out by the Third and Fourth Internationals. That is to say they were able to function as an organisationally independent revolutionary group, but only when a layer of young workers had developed liable to be receptive to the open party tactic, because a core of militants had been developed at an earlier stage by judicious use of the entry tactic. Indeed so fierce had the open partyism of the SWP become by the 1980’s that young comrades would often express opinions that were openly anti-electoralist or to put that in an older language such comrades were anti-parliamentary! Which in light of the SWP’s turn to electoralism with the Socialist Alliance goes some way to showing how deep is the degeneration of that group in recent years.

As an aside I note that since the demise of the Socialist Alliance, dumped peremptorily by the SWP when it no longer served their leaderships opportunist purposes, the SWP has engaged in building Respect a populist coalition. A coalition built with millionaire petty bourgeois communalists and elements influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood which Cliff once described as clerico-fascist. So rightwing is this coalition that the right wing eclecticist personal group of Sean Matgamna, currently trading as the Alliance for Workers Liberty (sic), is able to maintain its posturing as a revolutionary grouping against a great mass of evidence to the contrary. The price for building an organisation based on a ‘tradition’ not on loyalty to the historic class interests of the working classes and the method of Marxism is evidently a high one and the rewards few.

But say what one will of the SWP it does retain an awareness of itself as a revolutionary Marxist organisation struggling for a communist society and it does seek to educate, if poorly and patchily, its members in what it takes for Marxism. Which extends to its usage, both internally and in its more theoretical publications, of the language Yves believes is no longer used by present day Trotskyist groups. Of course in the case of the SWP it has long been acknowledged that use of the term Dictatorship of the Proletariat for example would sound strange to British ears and other terms are often substituted. Although there is a price to be paid when such terms begin to sound alien to the younger members immersed in Respect and other party fronts. It is worth noting that the SWP and the IST are by no means the only present day Trotskyists to continue to use a terminology coined in the early 1920’s and I have in just the last few weeks noted the use of the term United Front in documents emanating from Germany and the USA.

There is also a very good reason why such terms are not in general or public use. After all with what forces would a revolutionary communist group seek to forge a United Front with in the Britain of 2007? Surely not with the Labour Party which can barely rouse its membership, consisting largely of petty bourgeois careerists and the New Middle Classes in any case, to campaign in General Elections? Perhaps then with the Communist Party of Britain that aging club of 700 odd cheerleaders for the not so left trades union bureaucrats? But in the Trades Unions there are opportunities for forming alliances based on the method of the United Front. That is to say on the method of transitional politics. In fact there are other unexpected opportunities for the formation of United Fronts should one’s eyes be focused on the class and not on one’s sect or on intermediary organisations such as the Labour Party and the Trades Unions.

But such a method of raising class struggle politics in the unions, that is to say in the only mass organisations based exclusively on sections of the working classes, cannot be the central locus of communist propaganda. As was ever the case that must be the point of production, that is to say at the location where both surplus value is extracted and where the two social classes come into direct conflict, in the workplaces whatever form they might take in these supposedly post-Fordist times. This after all was the central argument of the Comintern’s theses on organisation of 1921 a document too Russian by Lenin’s admission and how right he was given how the theses have been treated as a kind of New Testament to the Old Testament of What Is To Be Done? by the Zinovieivite epigonii. And was it not also an argument of the Transitional Program which drew, let us say it, far too heavily on the French and American experience to the exclusion of other nations. And was it not also the meaning of the elevation of the, then unofficial, Shop Stewards Committees by successive generations of revolutionaries in Britain up to and including IS in the early 1970’s to a most exalted status?

To close it is my strongly held opinion that within some of the Trotskyist groups there are elements who do wish to see the destruction of class society and the foundation of a truly human society on its ashes. I would go further and argue that some such elements can even be found in the leaderships of the groups although I hold out little hope that any of the leading figures of the larger groups would, even were the class struggle to increase in intensity tenfold, be able to break from their various ‘get rich quick schemes’ and adopt a stance of confidence in the efforts of the class itself. Nonetheless the greatest reservoir of revolutionary elements today is to be found within the various Trotskyist groups and that is no small thing. Moreover some of their militants have real experience, on a small scale of course, of leading struggles and building networks albeit the framework of such work as all too often been the official union structures. Yet even this I find is not to be sneered at when there are no other working class structures that can provide any kind of context for the coming together of militants in the workplaces. And despite their degeneration some of the Trotskyist groups do retain vestiges of an orientation to the workplaces due to their continued allegiance to the conception of the working class as a universal social revolutionary class.

Surely this workplace orientation was also an integral, one could say essential, element of the politics of the Council Communists such as Pannekoek and Canne Meier? Is it not this emphasis on workers power growing out of the struggles of the class itself that is the main strength of the Council Communist tradition? And is it not that currents complete lack of ability to relate to the class as it was and is the reason for its disappearance? It may well be the case that the trades unions have been recuperated by capital but if the workers look towards them and to some degree participate in them then do revolutionaries have any option but to work within them? A similar sectism condemns the remnant Anarcho-Syndicalist groups to irrelevance from the working class as it is today.

The sad truth is that Council Communism and the Anarcho-Syndicalism have nothing to commend them to young workers today. The only real influence they have is due to the glamour granted them by such activist-scholars as Noam Chomsky which guarantees their works a certain small readership and thereby ensures that their ideas are not totally lost to academia and history. This despite the academic base of both the boosters for Council Communism and much of its current small audience. An irony of history one need not enjoy to understand. What it means however is that the ideas of Council Communism have next to no connection with the life of the workers and that the adherents of such ideas would appear to find this acceptable. Such is the nature of sectism.

If it is true that the Council Communist tradition is dead within the ranks of the working class then the same is almost equally true of the Italian Communist Left even one suspects in its homeland. Indeed it appears to this observer that where the groups identifying with the Italian Left exist that in practice they play an identical role to that played in other countries to those Trotskyist groups marked most by reliance on the invariable words of their respective masters and with it a deeply ingrained sectism. Such groups are in future likely to be less attractive than their rival Trotskyist groups with their additional attractions. In any case it cannot be denied that many of these groups, whether they be ‘Bordigist’ or Trotskyist, grow sclerotic and increasingly unable to attract new recruits for reasons almost unconnected to their politics.

To draw these remarks to a conclusion what, other than a sectism rooted in the defeated battles and isolation from the class leading to the formation of partial factional born ‘traditions’, prevents the positive contributions of all currents being integrated into a single whole? Certainly different analyses of the Russian Revolution have some importance but can it matter in 2007ce when exactly the class rule of the bourgeoisie was restored? Except to those who worship the icon of Lenin, while ignoring the real revolutionary, and that problem is as characteristic of Bordigists as of Trotskyists.In which case it matters not a jot what Kronstadt signified as such an episode cannot and will not be repeated. It is a sad, but understandable, adherence to constructed artificial traditions that ensures that the insights of the Left Communist groups are not more widely read and studied by those groups which come from the Trotskyist or Bolshevik Leninist tradition despite the fact that all too often they have, when they have won some small influence, recapitulated the errors of the Left in different form.

In fact it is the low level of class struggle in the imperialist metropoles that is the central reason why the insights from Trotskyism and Left Communism cannot be integrated into a whole as its absence ensures that the questions which those currents came into being to answer are not now being raised other than by isolated individuals or as it is put in your exchange by dinosaurs. The generalised downturn in workers struggles after 1975 has ensured that ideas which were developed as a result of the revolutionary upsurge of 1916-1923 simply have little relevance for the functioning of a revolutionary minority. The much changed composition of the working class has done the rest, in Britain this has meant the reduction of even the most elemental level of class consciousness amongst the working classes to a level not much better and in some respects inferior to that which has long characterised the American proletariat, leading to a major reduction in the numbers of ostensible revolutionaries and a degeneration in the quality of their cadres.

The degeneration of the cadres of the revolutionary groups is not simply a matter of academic understanding of Marxism, it is easy to find within say the SWP or LCR comrades with considerable understanding of Marxism in relation to many questions, but of an inability to relate Marxism to the development of revolutionary consciousness in the current struggles of the working classes today. That is to say that the real failure of the groups is in their attempts to build a revolutionary organisation apart from the working class as it is constituted today or out of cadre drawn from other struggles which are not central to the lived experience of the class itself. ‘Leninist’ though it might be, although I would argue that it has nothing in common with the politics of Lenin, this vain attempt to privilege the revolutionary organisation (which following Trotsky I call Zinovieivism) over the development of class consciousness as the key task for revolutionary communists is doomed to utter and ignominious failure when the revolutionary organisation lacks roots and an orientation to the very class it posits as the uniquely revolutionary force within society.

The problem then seems to me is how do dinosaurs bring the lessons of past revolutionary movements to the attention of those members of the Trotskyist groups who might be willing to learn from them? Or to put it another way how do dinosaurs indicate to the members of the groups that it is the proletariat, not the union structures, that should be the central concern of revolutionaries? Not by condemning them in the fashion of either the ICC as the ‘left wing of the bourgeoisie’ or the Spartacist League as ‘Pabloite revisionists’ or some such nonsense but by seeking to engage them in debate and if possible in common actions. How exactly that task can be accomplished I know not, for the opportunities for common work or even debate are limited given that the sectism of all the groups is highly developed and the prestige of their leaders cherished above all else, but it must be attempted.

For Communism

Mike Pearn

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