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 Revolutionaries today are obliged to strip such ideologies, often ‘party’ ideologies, of all that is redundant and outdated in them and apply Marxism to the ideological Marxism of the Marxists in order to recaste Marxism as a method of analyses that informs revolutionary practice.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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