Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Victory to the Resistance
Alibi! Arms for Spain
Why Only the Working Classes can Defeat Imperialism and Fascism.

In 1939 as the Spanish Civil War drew to a close and as storm clouds darkened over Europe a small pamphlet, reproduced below, appeared over the signature of A. B. Elsbury. It was published by the Revolutionary Socialist League, an ephemeral grouping later renamed the Revolutionary Workers League, its circulation was tiny. Despite decades of obscurity it remains however an excellent critique of class collaborationism with considerable relevance to today’s much changed political scene.

Before proceeding to an examination of the pamphlet the reader should be aware that Elsbury had by 1939 a long and honourable record in the workers movement. If today, like his once more famous brother Sam, he is unknown to all but a tiny number of specialists in labour history then that is but a sad reflection of the degeneration of a movement that by forgetting its history surrenders its claim on the future too. Ben Elsburys part in the history of the labour movement in Britain may be reckoned a small one when measured against other better know figures but it was an honourable one as at all times he stood foursquare with his class. Which cannot be said of those many contemporaries who gave their allegiance to the Labour and Stalinist parties.

As early as 1909 Elsbury was noted by Tom Mann as one of the first heralds of the then new methods of organising the class along the lines of industry not craft in his role as author of the pamphlet Industrial Unionism. He was also one of that small minority of militants who in opposing the first imperialist world war from its outset saving the honour of the working class by their heroic actions. Following which he became a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain only leaving after his brother became one of the victims of the ultra left lunacy of the Third Period that saw Sam betrayed and pilloried by the Stalinist misleaders. Despite which Ben remained a revolutionist joining CLR James Marxist Group whilst a member of the Independent Labour Party from which he found his way into the Revolutionary Socialist League.

The main thrust of Elsbury’s pamphlet is to show that the slogan Arms for Spain was an alibi for the failure of the workers parties, in particular the so called communist parties, to fight fascism by using working class methods. His argument is that military methods alone cannot defeat fascism but will play into its hands by strengthening the bourgeois state. He goes on to make the point that fascism is better countered by the use of working class methods of struggle, that is to say by the use of the strike weapon up to and including the calling of a political general strike, by mass street demonstrations and ultimately by the overthrow of the bourgeois state by insurrection.

The same general point can be made in relation to the struggle against the on going rape of Iraq by imperialism. Only today it is groups which claim to stand in the Trotskyist tradition which provide an alibi for their failure to orientate on the working classes and to advocate working class methods of struggle when they raise the militant sounding slogan Victory to the Resistance! And in pursuit of this slogan rather than seek to mobilise the working class as the leading force in the fight against imperialisms despoiling of Iraq they resort instead to exactly the same tactics as did the Stalinists in the 1930’s.

In fact what we have seen from Britain’s official anti war movement, the Stop the War Coalition, has mirrored the old Stalinist peacenik campaigns of yesteryear to a remarkable degree. We have seen mass demonstrations that lead nowhere in particular but simply call for peace and we have seen conferences which allow leaders to posture and preen but lead to nothing but the next demo or the next conference. Yet as the size of the demonstrations fall the politics become ever more openly pacifist in tone with little being said about the role of the working classes either by the STWC or by its main organisational backer the Socialist Workers’ Party. No mistake then that a Stalinist can happily work with the SWP as part of the leadership of the STWC given that its populist and pacifist politics draw more from Stalinist Popular Frontism than from the revolutionary Leninism the SWP claims to adhere to.

Indeed in contrast to earlier single issue campaigns the SWP has not so much as suggested the formation of workplace or industry based groups. At best a conference, along the .lines of the Peoples Assembly gab fests must suffice. Meanwhile the more rooted, albeit in the lower ranks of the bureaucracies. Labour Against the War, is left untroubled by the SWP, so much for the United Front! Meanwhile the average size of the demonstrations fall, local activities are few and the calls for action from the leadership of the STWC become ever more hysterical as the next demonstration or the next conference are claimed to be more important than the last.

But not to matter the next demonstration or the next conference will mark a breakout of the left ghetto and the anti war movement will triumph. Although what a triumph might be is left vague and one can but guess that the desired triumph is the cessation of war in Iraq, as is the official policy of the STWC, but for the core activists belonging to the SWP and the other groups which raise the slogan Victory to the Resistance! A militant sounding slogan that has its antecedents in the cry once heard from wide sections of the far left, but not by the forerunners of the SWP the International Socialists, victory to the IRA! For the good reason that such a slogan both divides and derails the anti war movement.

Just as the slogan victory to the IRA repelled many who wanted the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland so too does the slogan Victory to the Resistance today. Not only do the terrorist methods of the IRA and that multi-headed hydra that is the resistance repel many enemies of imperialism but they are also inimical to the methods of working class struggle in that they substitute the armed bands of fighters to the mass democratic struggles of the organised working classes.

Would the military victory of the resistance signify a defeat of imperialism? No it would not it would at best mean the defeat of a particular group of imperialist powers. In fact I can say with absolute certainty that all of those groups involved with the resistance would happily seek a compromise with imperialism the very day the last British or American soldier leavers the soil of Iraq. Just as Sinn Fein has reached an agreement with British imperialism and the Vietnamese Stalinists have with American imperialism.

Worse the slogan Victory to the Resistance is more often than not interpreted to mean victory to the communally based militias and the terror gangs, although criticisms are always found in the small print of the more noxious fascist groups that form part of the resistance, almost to the exclusion of those forces which resist by other means. That those forces are in the first instance the trades unions and the socialist propaganda groups is passed over in silence and when it is noticed they are dismissed as quislings or worse. That the left has failed to convince the leading elements of the Iraqi left who were in exile during the Baathist tyranny speaks to their lack of any grasp of proletarian internationalism but does explain why much of that left has adopted a strategy that combines elements of leftist sectarianism with Popular Frontism.

The slogan Victory to the Resistance is not an anti-imperialist slogan but an alibi for the refusal of the far left to even attempt to place the working classes, in both Iraq and Britain, at the centre of their analysis. That only working class methods of struggle can defeat imperialism and not just a specific set of imperialist powers is evaded as forces opposed to the very idea of progress are lauded as anti-imperialists. Meanwhile the Iraqi working class is ignored and denied any independent class voice just as in Spain under the Popular Front and the capacity of the working class in Britain to resist imperialism is given lip service only.

Ironically in light of the claims by many that the slogan victory to the resistance is an expression of Revolutionary Defeatism it has served to defeat the anti war movement by preventing the working class from taking the centre stage which is its historic right. And this at a time when bourgeois defeatism is growing as a current in light of the role of the reactionary anti-imperialists of the resistance. On the morrow a new nightmare will be unleashed on Iraq and the far left in Britain will bear some small part of the responsibility for the renewed horrors that will follow.

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Mike - not sure I am with you on trying to use Elsbury's analysis of the Spanish Civil War (workers and peasant revolution vs Fascism) for understanding anti-colonial and anti-imperialist resistance and when it is right to offer critical support or not. Marxists in the metropoles, in my opinion, should always defend the right of the oppressed to expel those occupying their countries by force if necessary. Remember the Spanish Republicans were not under foreign occupation - indeed their bourgeois leadership supported colonialism in Spanish Morocco!

However, I was going to ask you - do you have a reference for the Tom Mann praise for Elsbury in 1909 at all? Cheers.
In my view it is a principle that revolutionaries in the imperialist countries offer critical but unconditional support to all those forces struggling against imperialism. On that we can I believe agree.

Where I dissent from the current view of the SWP is in the selective and almost completely uncritical support offered to the so called resistance in Iraq to the exclusion of other forces struggling against the occupation by non-political means.

This has led to those forces in Iraq which are attracted to socialism being repelled from the ideas of International Socialism and driven into the all too willing arms of the occupation via the mythical Third Camp. Certainly this a result of serious faults in their analysis but it is also a result of the failure of the SWP to engage them in debate preferring to dismiss them as sectarian.
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