Tuesday, November 28, 2006
The scene the function room of an anonymous nondescript north London pub, the purpose of the meeting I was attending the AGM of Revolutionary History journal. Arriving after the meeting had begun I took a seat at the back of the not quite full room and studied my fellow attendees. What first struck me was the continuity of purpose which was represented in that room and I was reminded of the possibility that the rather frayed thread in question is near to breaking point.
The continuity of the thread in question, that is to say the struggle for the social revolution and workers’ power, was most in evidence at the front of the room where Mildred Gordon, once a Labour Party MP, and George and Sheila Leslie, were to be found all three having been youthful members of the Revolutionary Communist Party back in the 1940’s. Near by sat Esther Leslie, the daughter of the aforementioned Leslies and one of the few intellectuals with anything to say who can be found in the ranks of the 'revolutionary left' today, in her case the Socialist Workers Party. Bob Archer the son of another old time Trotskyist, the late John Archer, was to be found a few seats away he too remains a member of a far left group although it is so minuscule I forget its name.
As for the rest of the audience it consisted of former and current members of the various Trotskyist groups and ranged in age from retirement age to the relatively youthful elements only just in their forties. Although for one brief moment a comrade only just in his twenties was present it must be said. Apart from being ancient the audience, with the exception of those already mentioned, was also uniformly male, grey of hair and lacking in any fashion sense. But to be fair is it wise to expect socialists for whom the history of a small temporarily defeated movement is a passion to be other than greybeards? Well, yes it is, but more of that later.
The first section of the meeting consisted of business items and was, as is often the case with such things, rather dull but quite important. Opening the meeting Ted Crawford noted that the journal had signed a distribution deal with Merlin http://www.merlinpress.co.uk/acatalog/index.html which should increase sales of both the current and back issues. It may be of interest to many that said company have recently published Broue’s monumental volume on the German Revolution and will be reprinting the ABC of Communism by Bukharin and Preobrazhensky in the spring. Given that the finances of the journal are healthy, if not vigorous, this cannot but be good news for students of the past of the revolutionary movement. Also noted was the refurbishment of the journals web http://www.revolutionary-history.co.uk/ site which features a wide range of materials some of which has not appeared in print. More controversially a reorganisation of the journals editorial board was also mooted by the core of the active London based members of the board.
Originally set up by Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, following their jointly writing a two volume history of British Trotskyism from its beginnings to the dissolution of the RCP in the late forties, the object of the journal was clearly oriented on making available rare texts from the international Trotskyist movement and supporting them with historical essays placing them in context. Such a remit ensured that the early editorial board consisted of a levy of comrades drawn from the ranks of those comrades outside the groups for various reasons leavened by informal representatives of the then current groups identifying with the Bolshevik Leninist legacy. As time passed this was modified by the addition of other comrades who did not always identify with the Trotskyist tradition and, somewhat inevitable this, the Spartacists threw a wobbly and walked away from the journal. More recently, particularly since the death of Al Richardson, small groups of comrades have worked collectively to bring together individual issues.
The main thing was that the journal worked and came out regularly with an ever widening range of material and interests but was always informed by its starting point of recording and documenting the history of the revolutionary communist movement. But unless more comrades come forward to participate in the work of the journal, particularly on the technical side of things, there is a threat that the on going project of uncovering the true history of the revolutionary movement and making it available to the radical public will be endangered given the inevitable aging process. Should comrades be interested in helping the journal, particularly in relation to taking charge of important technical work such as layout and translation, they ought not hesitate contacting the journal directly or via this blog.
The second part of the meeting was devoted to a talk by Mike Jones, who has done much to make known the record and views of the Brandler-Thalheimer tendency in this country, on Pierre Broue and the German Revolution. An extended discussion of the talk would be superfluous given that it duplicated Mike’s illuminating review of Broue’s monumental work which can be found in the current issue of Revolutionary History. What must be said however is that the discussion from the floor, although a little unfocussed, was of a high standard and would have been of considerable benefit to many young comrades only a few years in the revolutionary movement. And yet with only a single solitary exception no such comrades were present a result of the group culture that prefers not to expose their more youthful members to the possibility of being corrupted by non-orthodox opinions. Such attitudes will and are condemning the groups to irrelevance and a decline into an intellectual stupor that makes the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages look progressive by comparison.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Why Anarchists Oppose Workers' Democracy Pt 37.
While attending a performance of much famed Japanese freakout band Acid Mothers Temple I fell into conversation with a former SWP member who has, due to the degeneration of that centrist-populist sect, become an anarchist. After chatting about mutual friends, meaning former friends now enemies, I asked my chum whether he was still active in his union. His reply was illuminating.
One element of my friends critique, if we may give such a grandiose label to misgivings based on the grotesque internal regime of the SWP (humourously known as 'Democratic Centralism'), of Marxism is a commitment to direct action as being somehow more revolutionary. Such a view is, as it always has been, opposed to Workers' Democracy in the name of the spontaneous forms revolt must take. In practice the actions of small self appointed groups are more valid, how irrelevant, than the more cautious halting movement of the masses. And if the masses will not follow the self appointed revolutionaries then so much the worse for them the fools!
Yet at the same time my friend, like most anarchists today, wishes to be seen to be more democratic, not less, than is the case with both offical party politics and the bureaucratised union machines. That said my friend is not a syndicalist, if indeed he is aware of syndicalism as an ideological current, still less a Wobbly, or an advocate of a new Rank and File or Minority Movement in the unions and workplaces. His lack of knowledge of such ideas is as much the fault of the SWP, as it is of the anarchist movement for failing to provide him with adequate knowledge of the history of the workers movement.
But whatever my old friend is, he is a sincere enemy of the boss class and dedicated trades unionist. He knows full well that the trade union bureaucracy is a barrier to class struggle, that they collude with the bosses to oppose strike action, and use the law as an excuse not to fight for workers rights. Indeed on a good day he is quite capable of correctly describing the trade union bureaucracy as a bureaucratic caste, sat atop the workers movement with interests of its own, which stand in contradiction to those of the class as a whole. Crucially he is aware that one reason for this is the undemocratic nature of the unions today.
It came then as a small surprise to be told that he has accepted a position as an appointed trade union official. For the moment it is only part, two days a week, but he hopes to gain a fulltime position soon. He has his misgivings of course and seemed uneasy when asked if he had been elected to the post he occupies. But a wage is a wage and working for the union is better than working for the state mending the highways. Far more interesting too and one can do some good, or so we are told by every aspiring reformist on the make.
But is it not a contradiction being an anarchist and an appointed trade union offical I asked. My friends reply was a long time coming and not terribly easy to hear as he muttered and looked around for a way to evade the question. But after a while I did make out an answer and learned that there was no contradiction as being an anarchist and being a trade union offical were both about getting things done. No more was said and much I felt was left unsaid.
On the way home, after a most excellent performance, I wondered what my friend had meant by his enigmatic remarks. After giving the subject some though I realised that both his local anarchist group and the trade union bureaucrats act free of and in isolation from the workers or people they claim to act on behalf of. Neither the anarchists with their fetish on direct action, always concieved as a more noisy shouty demonstration and not as workers action at the point of production, and the trade union bureaucrat who typically 'represents' his members, while denying them the opportunity to speak for themselves, being able to concieve of workers acting self consciously in pursuit of their common interests as a social revolutionary class.
Why should they when they oppose at every step each movement of the class itself as being too militant or not militant enough. For the bureaucrat the class must be represented and the class organisation, the union structures from which they derive their generous wages, the machine by which this aim is satisfied. What can never be allowed to happen is for class organisations to emerge in the workplaces based on the radical democracy of a conscious working class for this is anathema to the bureaucrat. Meanwhile the anarchists are quite happy on their small shouty demonstrations denouncing whatever the cause is this week. Denunciations of the workers and others for not joining their cause being an optional extra as it were. Happy just as long as there is no need for democratic structures, for democracy is anathema to the anarchists.
And for my friend there is no contradiction as he cannot in truth concieve of the trade unions ever taking militant action. As a result of which he can see no role for the workers as such in struggling against bourgeois society except as individuals. Lacking any understanding of the collective strength of the workers at the point of production he therefore rejects the class as the instrument of its own liberation and can then easily ignore the elementary need for democracy within the workers movement. Having sold his soul to the bureaucracy he can salve it by calling for anarchy on the weekends. A sad fate I thought for somebody who might once have become a revolutionist and ironic too as he has drifted towards both anarchism and union reformism, both in essence undemocratic, as a result of his objections to the lack of democracy within the SWP.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
The purpose of this blog is simply to post the odd comment concerning whatever takes my fancy at any given moment. More than likely the subjects addressed will be the class struggle, the far left and music that you're too square to like. In addition to which from time to time I shall post various lost texts from the archives of revolutionary communism. As for the symbol, it comes from the heroic Vietnamese Bolshevik Leninists who were murdered by Stalinist counter revolution in 1945, it represents the Fourth International which is yet to be founded, but is the last chance of achieving a truly human society. Comments will not be censored, however critical they might be, unless they are deemed pointlessly abusive, racist, sexist, etc. Otherwise say what you will and death to all fake lefts and their PC fetish.