Posts Tagged ‘Trotskyism’
There are further calls to arm the Syrian opposition from the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste,
“Nous devons obtenir la livraison de l’aide indispensable (vivres, soins, équipements, armes) aux représentants des collectifs syriens qui se battent pour la démocratie, la justice sociale et la dignité nationale dans le respect de toutes les composantes du pays. ”
We must ensure that indispensable aid – food, medicine, necessary equipment, arms – is delivered to representatives of the Syrian collectives battling for democracy, social justice and national dignity and who respect the diversity of the country.
September the 5th.
Jacques Babel (a member of the NPA responsible for international work and in particular coordinating work with and in the Arab region).
At the end of August (that is prior to the latest threat of intervention) an important on-line debate on the left on the Syrian opposition took place organised by the US Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD).
The issue of arms played an important part in this in the discussion.
Michael Karadjis has thoroughly put the case that there are strong reasons to back democratic forces on the ground,
Throwing the whole Syrian uprising into the “jihadi” camp undermines the very forces within the revolution that confront this reactionary trend on a daily basis (see for examples of popular demonstrations, slogans, declarations etc. against these currents and their actions here, here, here,here, here and elsewhere).
His position is summarised as, while ”defending the right of Syrian revolutionaries to obtain arms, he believes that the ongoing militarisation of the conflict favours both Assad and the Islamists; therefore he thinks a ceasefire would be in the best interest of the revolution, allowing a revival of the mass movement that initiated the revolt against the regime.”
Salameh Kaileh begins from the standpoint of the Syrian Revolution. He states that, “rebels should find other ways to get weapons, and must establish real army forces capable of struggle until victory.”
Others roundly attack any idea of intervention, direct, or indirect. Michael Eisenscher calls for an arms embargo.
CDP Co-Directors, Thomas Harrison and Joanne Landy, conclude.
“Consistent with our strong opposition to any kind of military intervention in Syria by the U.S., or other foreign powers, we also oppose providing air cover or establishing no fly zones. We do believe, however, that the democratic opponents of the Assad dictatorship have the right to get guns where they can, while resisting all attempts by those who provide arms to acquire political and military influence in return.” We continue to defend this right, and we agree with Karadjis that merely receiving arms from foreign countries has never been the “final determinant” of a revolutionary movement’s politics. But we also recognize that since none of the governments in the region or in the West actually favour a mass popular democratic victory, they are extremely reluctant to offer the democratic opposition significant weaponry. Moreover, like Karadjis, we do not call on the United States to arm the rebels, because we are unwilling to take responsibility for the way that the U.S. government will inevitably use any offer of weapons to attempt to manipulate the struggle and buttress its ongoing reactionary role in the Middle East.
Joseph Daher (of the the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current - closely inked to the NPA) argues that there are groups in Syria that meet the description of those favouring the democratic opposition. Daher’s own Blog is here. It contains this statement, there are “two fronts in Syria right now: the jihadists on the one hand, and the regime on the other.” There are not a lot of posts on display with which to gauge the grouping’s influence.
Daher, the NPA, and many others (such as their British comrades in Socialist Resistance, Workers Power and teh International Socialist Network, appear to place their hopes in the ‘Local Coordination Committees‘.
The Committees’ site is important.
It includes, amongst many others, links to articles from International Viewpoint and the British SWP.
Their profoundly moving declaration includes this statement,
As we insist, in the present very special circumstances, on the direct right of the Syrian people to affirm its right of self-determination before the international community, we assure that all calls based on the ground of “droit d’ingérance,” “devoir d’ingérance,” “humanitarian intervention” or “responsibility to protect” should not hinder the aspiration of the Syrian people to cause peaceful change by its own forces; or lead to dealing with the Syrian people as yet another sphere of influence in the game of nations.
The recalcitrance of the Syrian regime to meet its international obligations in terms of respect of human rights and international humanitarian law, may require, in this particular moment, that the international action contemplated above be supported by the sending of a United Nations observers mission, to be approved by a resolution of the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. The mandate of the observers mission must emphasize prevention and assistance in building appropriate political conditions to achieve a peaceful democratic transition in Syria. The observers mission must comprise civilian components holding nationalities of countries known historically for their neutrality, and under the direct supervision of the Secretary General of the United Nations, in cooperation with the League of Arab States. The observers mission’s staff members must be in such numbers as to allow them to be present in or reach any town or village at any time, to monitor and report to the United Nations Secretary General, on any violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as on progress of the political process to achieve a peaceful democratic transition pursuant to appropriate constitutive procedures as shall be solely determined by the Syrian People.
We affirm the priority of using dialogue and peaceful persuasion, including the use of non-coercive and non-violent measures. Yet we have no illusions as to the Syrian regime’ obstinate responses and its attempts to buy time. Experience has shown that the granting of time has not rendered the Syrian regime less resolute in committing yet further violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Such time costs the Syrian people more killing and destruction. Every day that passes means more people killed, and Syria finds itself even more remote from any possibility to find political solutions.
There is no mention of arms.
No doubt times have changed since this statement was made two years ago. But the NPA’s case includes an argument is that weapons should have gone to these bodies then.
We have also few means to gauge the real importance of these groups.
But the side-bar ”LCC in the news” lists their (‘a group of anti-regime activists’) declarations on unfolding events.
There are reports that the Pentagon is preparing more serious attacks than thought - here.
The situation is increasingly unclear, though Jihadists are now openly attacking Christian targets. .
Perhaps this is one reason some on the left who back the Syrian Revolution are starting to flail about.
Louis Proyect posts this,
From documentary film-maker Ben Allinson-Davies:
The Free Syrian Army are hugely different to the al-Qaeda-linked fruitloops that so many leftists, regime apologists, and unsavory, sneering internet experts (most of whom have restricted their research to listening to the incoherent, generic ramblings of Syrian expat Syrian Girl Partisan for a few minutes) would have you believe. I didn’t see a single jihadist or hardline Islamist during my travels across Idlib. If the closest I can get to finding one is a fighter from Tunisia who took his religion seriously, then it doesn’t cast the media coverage of the Syrian genocide in a good light at all. It seems like they parrot reports which parrot reports which come from shady sources with affections for the Assad regime – notorious ‘journalists’/shills like Cockburn, Fisk, and countless others.
When they’re not fighting, they’re living with their families in neat, respectable looking homes (despite shortages, family homes are still where the heart is for everyone) where children toddle around playing, and relatives and friends come and go for a meal, a glass of tea, or a chat – many spend much of their time looking after their children, using radios and the internet to coordinate and plan their next moves (again, the picture of fabulously armed, US-backed rebels really doesn’t add up at any point whatsoever), and enjoying family life.
With Breast Expanded. Brian Behan. MacGibbon 1964.
“For my own part. I had always contested the right of any party to control my actions and to force me to carry out decisions with which I did not agree. I believed then as I do now that a man must finally be true to his own conscience and follow the dictates of his own experience. The greatest of saints and humanists can founder and do terrible harm once they relinquish this right. My whole life has been a search for an organisation that would bring happiness to humanity, only to find that all organisations become an end in themselves, thriving on, and perpetuating, human misery and backwardness. As far I’m concerned, any organisation of more than one person (except one man and one woman) is suspect.” Brian Behan. With Breast Expanded. Page 42.
“Brendan and Brian did not share the same views, especially when the question of politics or nationalism arose. Brendan on his deathbed (presumably in jest) asked Cathal Goulding (Behan’s half-brother following a relationship between Stephen Behan and Goulding’s mother), then the Chief of Staff of the IRA, to ‘have that bastard Brian shot—we’ve had all sorts in our family, but never a traitor!’” Brendan Behan Wikipedia.
One of the best books ever written about the left is With Breast Expanded. It is a memoir, not a political tract. But many of the things we talk about today, about parties, about ‘democratic centralism’ and – above all – authority – come up in what was an extraordinary life.
The author, Brian Behan (1926 – 2002) was the brother of Brendan, who has an entry in the Oxford Companion to English Literature, and whose play, the Quaere Fellow remains seared in many people’s minds. Their family, raised in the Dublin slums and, then, council estates, of the 1930s and 40s, was left-wing, republican, and trade unionist. They were closely linked to the, pre- and post independence, IRA. His mother was a friend of Micheal Collins. The brothers (there was another, the songwriter, Dominic) were part of a circle of exceptionally talented working class and bohemian radicals. There was also a sister, Carmen.
Brendan was actively involved in the IRA from the age of 16. For his self-appointed attempt to blow up Liverpool Docks in 1939 Brendan served time in the Suffolk youth penal institution, Hollesley Bay. He wrote about this sentence in Borstal Boy.
Brian recalls in With Breast Expanded, “It still warms my heart to remember the long letters Brendan wrote me from Bostral when I was in Malin. (Page 202) Malin, the Artane Industrial School, was where petty thieving led Brian to spend his teens. Run by the Christian Brothers, “where the rule of the boot and the fist still predominates”, it was a physically and sexually abusive institution. Its control methods “would have put Stalin to shame.” (Page 27)
After Malin there was the Army Construction Corps, labouring, a job creation scheme (the ‘Turf camps’), Brian developed as a left-wing and trade union activist. Some accounts put him already as an anarcho-syndicalist. But With Breast Expanded he says that he was a Communist and met up with left-wing IRA men, influenced by Marxism. This “put me in violent opposition to nine-nine-point-nine per cent of my fellow men. Since a child I had known that the bosses were our enemy. And to me, my enemy’s enemy must be my friends. It never entered my head they might just be peas in a pod.”(Page 37)
Exported to to England.
Facing long-term unemployment and continuous trouble with the Irish authorities Brian left for England. “For hundreds of years prime cattle and mature men have been Ireland’s chief export to England.”(Page 95) The meat of With Breast Expanded is the account of his experiences on building sites, and as rank and file trade union activist. Hard manual labour, hard digs, and hard men, surrounded him. But Brian found the time, and the energy, to become politically active in the Communist Party of Great Britain. During a landmark strike on the Festival of Britain site, they were selling 180 Daily Workers a day and “defended every last action of Joe Stalin’s.”(Page 134)
During a campaign against the post-war ban on May Day marches Brain found himself sentenced to two months in Brixton Prison. Discharged the CP were waiting for him to take bring him to a public meeting on Korea, “At that precise moment I would sooner have shown my arse, or anything else for that matter, but a public meeting was not my idea of the best way to spend my first day of freedom.”(Page 124) held out in the open the defence of North Korea only attracted the “anger of the toilers”.
Brian’s account of the CPGB remains instructive. He felt real anger (which leaps from the page into your gut) about life in the Soviet bloc. The Soviet Embassy in London lavished food and free fags on the ‘labour movement’ guests at their regular beanos and did they same to those who visited their lands. In Moscow the city centre was like Hyde Park. But in the outskirts, “were slums, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Dublin. Worse still, I found building workers toiling away under the threat of armed guards. I was told the guards were there to prevent sabotage. But it also seemed also a magnificently handy way to discourage agitation.”(Page 128) A trip as part of delegation to China showed the same divisions, “”in one you ate old paptoa leaves, in the other you wined and dined till your guts ached.”(Ibid)
Behan, as a rank-and-file building workers’ leader, ended up elected to National Executive Committee of the Communist Party, “selected by the top, and blessed by the sheep down below, would be a better description.”(Page 131)
The Communist Party was stuck in the doldrums. The contrast, well known to everybody on the (British) left, between influence in the trade unions and irrelevance in the ballot box clearly rankled with Behan, who described the former as the result of the reward of dedicated “fanatics”. The theory that the latter dismal results – he had got around 181 votes in an election – show the “mathematical average of loonies in each area of Britain” is appealing. (Page 146) If this is true the number of the mentally challenged has a much greater variety of electoral choices today, from UKIP further onwards, and has grown in size.
Hungary and After.
Deeper issues were at stake. Behan instinctively revolted at the lack of workers’ rights in Russia, and at accusations that Communists fiddled votes in the E.T.U. Discontent came to a boil over the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. He stood up for Edith Bone – a Hungarian born British Communist. The rebels released her. Nobody had heard of her for seven years. As Francis Beckett puts it, she was “tortured, half-starved, tormented by arthritis, her guts ravaged by the prison food, ragged and barefoot.” (1) An attempt to publicly condemn Bone’s imprisonment was lost – 31 to 1 on the National Executive. This was not the end of it. “..the Hungarian Revolution turned me upside down.”(Page 151) He wavered from supporting the revolution, but finally was driven to leave the Party. “It may have made little or no difference, but I would be a much happier person today it I’d fought harder for people who were resisting the guns and tanks of state capitalism.”(Page 151)
Behan did not desert the building sites, and battled – with further time in gaol – in the great South Bank strike of 1959. Left politics still loomed large in his life. Outside prison and outside the CP, he resolved to join one of the “fanatical little groups who waited to net the stranded fish. They were latter-day Communists hoping and praying for a return of a Trotskyite Russia. They rattled his old bones with all the fervour of black with-doctors. Each little sect claimed that it was the inheritor of the revealed truth.”(Page 169)
Healy and After.
To be exact he joined the group that later became the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, at the time known as the Club before it became known as the Socialist Labour League. (2) With Breast Expanded describes its leader, Gerry Healy, as follows, “He as a small man, made revolutionary by his failure to make a fortune selling floor-polish door to door.” (Page 169) A dispute, which Behan puts down to his proposal to put the Party’s printing press under workers’ control and others link to his hostility to Healy’s proposal to ‘enter’ (merge into) the Labour Party, soon erupted. (3) It was not long before Behan, and his friends, were expelled.
That is as may be, but this rings true. Healy shouting at a meeting, “I want all you comrades to appreciate that M.I.5 have now developed a new device which they simply point towards a window and pick up the sound vibrations that bounces off it.” “I ask all comrades to speak with their backs to the window, and if possible direct your sound waves to the floor.” “..as one man, lecturers, trade unionists and working women turned their chairs away from the window and commenced looking to the ground. One man, a psychoanalyst in a big London hospital, was bent double, his waves smashing into the wood blocks.””(Pages 170 – 171)
Behan briefly worked with London based anarchists and syndicalists, including some of the historic Spanish exiles. He had only a brief encounter with the latter. Of the former, and thinking of the Wobblies he describes them (and himself) as “the leavings of the great movement that rolled across the American prairie organising lumberjacks, wheat men and cotton pickers. Any resemblance between us and them was purely coincidental.”(Page 183) Behan noted the self-regard of one “conceited wretch” who brought a tape recorder to keep intact his meeting speech – and his alone – for posterity. Yet these were not the anarchists in fashion in the late 50s and early 60s, as CND and the Committee of 100 rose. He was spared the high-minded, but even more narcissistic, pacifist anarchists recently brought to the screen in the recent Ginger and Rosa (2012).
It is not the intention to write a précis of With Breast Expanded, though the memoir is so good that a horde of further anecdotes and incisive words come to mind. Behan, if not always likable, is lovable. He is all the better for this final citation, about his brother Brendan – amongst many, less complementary thoughts, “When, in my ignorance, I sneered at homosexuals, he turned on me like a tiger and told me to keep my dirty ignorant thoughts to myself.”(Page 201) We could equally note that he, despite admiration for his formidable mother Kathleen, never exactly caught the importance of feminism,. His wife, Celia, appears on in a side-role. The book’s epigraph is not designed to win friends in that quarter. Brian’s further career (he died in 2002 at 75 years old) as a lecturer, writer and a playwright, was impressive. He never did find the organisation that would take decisions he never disagreed with, or indeed, any party at all. Perhaps we are all better off for that.
Thanks to JM for information on the Dublin Left.
(1) Page 134. The Enemy Within, The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party, Francis Beckett. 1995. Beckett offers an excellent account of the effect of the Hungarian Revolution on the British Communist Party.
(2) “Then, in 1958, Brian Behan obtained work as a labourer on McAlpines South Bank site. Whoever took him on very quickly learned their mistake, a very costly mistake. Behan was fired and, despite the fact that there were a number of inexperienced and unorganised workers on the site, the shop stewards committee – which was led by Hugh Cassidy and was both experienced and resolute – called a strike. The whole organisational weight of the Club was thrown behind the dispute. Special issues of The Newsletter were produced and strike bulletins and leaflets rolled off the press. For the first time since the general strike of 1926, middle class revolutionaries joined the workers on the picket line. Brian Behan’s brother Brendan (the playwright) appeared dispensing ten bob notes and not a few pints of Guinness. The police were much in evidence, arrests were made and, after one fracas, Brian Behan was arrested and given three months in Shepton Mallet prison.” Jim Higgins. 1956 and All That (1993)
(3) “Politically, Behan could offer no serious alternative to Healy’s opportunism, his call for the proclamation of a revolutionary party by a few hundred militants being foolishly ultra-leftist. But, contrary to Healyite mythology, Behan was not so sectarian that he denied the need for fraction work in the Labour Party. Nor was he incapable of making some correct criticisms of Healy’s unprincipled political manoeuvring. ‘The zig-zags of policy from “right” to “left” and back again’, Behan wrote, ‘result from the opportunist considerations of a small clique …. Those who opposed the turn to open work a year ago were denounced as reformists and capitulators to the right wing, but now the leadership are fighting to return to the old form of work in the Labour Party.”
“It was on the organisational question – the concentration of power in Healy’s hands – that Behan’s attack really hit home. Not only did Healy hold the posts of SLL general secretary, IC secretary and, in practice, League treasurer and print shop manager, Behan pointed out, but he hired and fired full-timers and purchased expensive equipment, all without prior consultation with the League’s elected bodies. Behan also opposed as grossly undemocratic Healy’s control of the organisation’s assets, the SLL’s press being jointly owned by Healy, the Banda brothers and Bob Shaw. Behan described it as ‘farcical that even if the whole conference should decide on a change of policy, four people could frustrate the will of the conference by simply splitting and walking away with the assets’. He proposed to place all the League’s property under the control of the membership.” Bob Pitt. The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy. Chapter 5.
Fraternity: LO Style.
After high jinks with Jimas we return to the calmer waters of the left.
Well, kind of calm.
Last weekend was Lutte Ouvrière’s annual Fête.
The comrades from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty were mainly impressed by the continuous rain.
This is some of the French press reaction.
It will come as no surprise that Lutte ouvrière does not like the French Socialist-led government.
Life under François Hollande? “It’s worse” than under Nicolas Sarkozy. That was the message delivered on Sunday May 19 at the annual celebration of Lutte ouvrière in Presles (Val-d’Oise), through its spokesperson Nathalie Arthaud*. A year after the Presidential election, when she received 0.56% of the vote, the former candidate strongly attacked the Head of State. She called him the “armed wing of the bourgeoisie.” Here.
The rest of the Le Monde article is only available for 2 Euros, but as I have a print copy I can say that Arthuad went on in this vein to run down the entire French left.
Libération reports that,
Mélenchon, under the guise of “radical appearance,” is “politically hollow” and “opposed to the interests of workers.” Mocking his willingness to take the Bastille while aspiring to be the Prime Minister, she proclaimed her ” pride of not only taking part in the demonstration on May 5,” the call for the 6th Republic initiated by the leader of the Left Front.
Libé goes onto cite something rude she said about the Parti Communiste.
But what struck me in the original article was the glacial remarks Arthaud made about the Nouveau party anti-capitaliste (NPA).
They were severely at fault for participating in the 5th of May demonstration and for dropping the word ‘communist’ from their name (as in Ligue communiste révolutionnaire).
The Le Monde article helpfully noted that the LO leader is a municipal councillor, elected as part of a Parti communiste français list.
This is indeed the case, “Conseillère municipale à Vaulx-en-Velin (Rhône) élue sur la liste conduite par le Parti communiste. “
We imagine the PCF are well-pleased with her remarks.
* Candidate for the 2012 Presidential election: 0,56 % of the vote (202 548)
Obsolete Leninism: the Left-Wing Alternative.
“Corporate bodies are more corrupt and profligate than individuals, because they have more power to do mischief, and are less amendable to disgrace of punishment. They feel neither shame, remorse, gratitude, nor good-will.”
William Hazlitt. On Corporate Bodies.
The SWP Special Conference is over. An initial assessment states, it “was extremely disappointing, even for those of us who didn’t expect much by way of surprises. The opposition was weak and scant; the level of debate very low and the CC was hardly pressed at all on any single count.” “The problem is not the numbers, comrades, but the party’s deeply entrenched culture of obedience to a (less and less) “charismatic” leadership.” The Corporate body could do not wrong…..
Others are more dramatic,
And so it is that the rigged conference has taken place, the leadership has secured its victory (though it may well be a Pyrrhic victory) and the opposition has been crushed. Rage and despair will be the natural reactions; however, it’s a good time to pause a moment and take stock.
The leadership is morally bankrupt
Let’s be blunt. The most pressing issue facing the SWP is simply this – is it a safe place? On the face of things, no; on the face of things, the majority of delegates today don’t think that is at all important.
The Party’s underlying difficulties remain. The SWP, culture or not, is the largest left organisation to the left of the Labour Party, and is important within many protest campaigns, and, to a lesser degree, in some trade unions. But it has never come close to offering the ‘leadership’ of the working class and oppressed to which it aspires. In over three decades it has not grown beyond a few thousand members. In recent years it has shrunk.
Weeks of debate on the left have shown that the SWP’s politics and organisational culture are widely challenged. Its inability to deal appropriately with allegations of sexual abuse in its own ranks, its bullying, its ad hoc changes in line, its ‘bureaucratic centralist’ methods to deal with dissent, have been talked over in pages of Web and printed criticism. Many have raised fundamental issues, about the SWP’s Leninism (with, or without, inverted commas), feminism, and the role of political parties in the socialist movement.
Now we are at point where some conclusions can be offered about the causes of this crisis. They indicate, as some have argued, that the Leninist political model that the SWP follows, has serious flaws. The view that an injection of democracy – “true” democratic centralism – can help is, this short piece will argue, not an answer to much deeper difficulties. These come from the impasse of the ‘revolutionary party’ project inspired by Lenin and Trotsky in present day Europe.
- Since the 1980s the conditions in which European left politics operate have been fundamentally changing. The State, the instrument of reform, or something to be ‘overthrown’, has been transformed. The EU fulfils an important regulatory role, and the ‘markets’ shape fiscal demands. In every country the pattern of ‘market states’, in which governments do not just privatise utilities, but hive off a large part of their main functions to private companies, has spread. Political institutions continue to express the electorate’s views by representatives, but a large part of public policy is shaped elsewhere, by financial pressure, and by the organised lobbies of the new state funded bourgeoisie. In these conditions those who promote more markets, more funds for these companies, and more privileges for those with money promote their plans as modernising reforms. Against them left-wing genuine reformers and the revolutionaries who once wished to ‘smash’ the state are often united around the defence of the social democratic institutions of equal public services and welfare provision.
- It is often sweepingly asserted that ‘market societies’, and what was once called ‘post-modernist’ culture, mean that the populations of the West have become politically fragmented, ‘atomised’, and resistant to the ‘grand narratives’ of the left. People turn in on their private lives, their families and friends, and lack the ‘ancient republican’ virtue of dedication to public things. Similar claims go back to the 1920s, if not back to the birth of bourgeoisie society. This may be partly rhetoric. But what has clearly altered nevertheless is the decline in mass participation in political and civil society organisations.
- The disengagement from social and community involvement is harder to explain than a few words about individualism or the spin off from ‘commodification’. In the US one of the longest periods of civic engagement began with the pre-Great War Progressive Age, and even peaked during the 1950s Boom years. (Bowling Alone Robert D. Putnam. 2000) By the 1990s this had weakened, people no longer volunteered, and smaller and smaller numbers of people came along to take up positions in ageing organisations. He looked to change though a new generation of “social capitalists”. We could consider David Cameron’s – failed – experiment in the Big Society to be inspired by this call. Parts of Labour’s One Nation strategy, underpinned by initiatives such as Food Banks for the worthy needy backed by Policy Review chief, Jon Cruddas, are also part of this approach.
- Putnam partly charged television with helping to draw people away from civic responsibility. ‘Social capital’ is now being accumulated in radically different ways, some of which may help re-engage people in more radical directions. Technology has been recast through the Web, (which I am using at this very movement) offering ways of connecting. This can give the impression that “it’s all kicking off” via the Net. This can sometimes be proved through real events (the Arab Spring); sometimes it bolsters less substantial movements, like Occupy! Every single day political initiatives are mobilised, meetings held, demonstrations planned, through this means, and people’s views are broadcast and challenged directly across wide geographical areas.
- How do political parties connect to these developments? It would appear that there are reasons to think they may be obstacles. In Political Parties (1911) Robert Michels claimed that there was an “iron law of oligarchy’. Left parties were groups of a mixture of classes (despite their claims to represent the workers) with “special interests” that tended to form “stable and irremovable” leaders, the “domination of the elected over the electors” He based his judgement on the view that as organisations that aimed to capture state power they would adopt the structures of the public administration, of this.
- More recently John Holloway has claimed that Leninist parties reproduce an oligarchy of knowledge, between the “knowers” in the party and the masses. The Party is equipped with Marxist science and the skills to lead. The rest, even if initially ‘self-organised’ are bidden to follow. This “monological political practice” goes against “non-fetishised, self-determining social relations.” (Change the World Without Taking Power. 2nd Edition. 2005)
- There is nothing inevitable about political organisations operating in this way. The modern dominant paradigm for parties is not state administrative bureaucracy nor an all-seeing Knower but the company ‘flexible’ organigramme. The Parliamentary parties themselves are not US style Caucuses, or, miniature Republics of Barons on the model of the French 4th Republic. They are Leadership-run, subject to rare rebellion. The arms-length (proto-hived off) Civil Service Departments limit the Leader’s power, if only in framing the realm of the “possible”. There are some external democratic constraints. There are figures who would like to base their mass membership operations on a small policy team, alert to political marketing, and a loose, affiliated membership that would operate as their sales-teams and, partly, as collectors of public opinion. In the Labour Party a union and constituency influence persists which defies this trend. It has yet to show much success.
- The SWP has not been able to offer an alternative. The Party’s Central Committee acts both as a semi-permanent oligarchy, and the Knower, determined to tell people what to do. In reality its ambitions over the years have become more modest. Public use of the Marxist phrase the ‘united front’ (now for party inner consumption only) gave way to the American expression ‘coalition’ (an alliance of pressure groups) for its campaigns. Its bizarre hostility to the Internet – evident in the Coherence where dissident Blogs were their major problem – is another indication of an inability to think boldly on the present day political terrain.
- An alternative to the SWP, and other Leninist models on the left, would begin from democratic organisation in the era of the Internet. It would not be a Leadership run body, but a democratic socialist project that drew in the left around a bottom-upward synthesis of people’s experiences and ideas about socialism. Lenin is said to have talked of “practical workers” as the key to a socialist party, but today we can all become practical-theoretical workers. The minimum programme needed to transform the Market States of the world into socialist societies should dominate our political framework. In the absence of a ‘party’ we have our practice.
- A project for a democratic ‘citizens’ revolution’, backed a variety of parties, and small groups. exists. In France. It is called the Front de gauche (left Front). It is not democratic centralist, but a bloc of independent bodies and individuals. We could begin by learning from this not from 1917.
Georges Sorel in La Décomposition du Marxism (1908) described the first ‘Crisis of Marxism’. Before the Great War he talked of the absence of a revolutionary proletariat and the growth of “constructive trade unionism”, that is mass reformism, and the support for “evolutionary socialism” this gave. Against this ‘reformist’ trend Sorel developed his theory of ‘myths’, heroic projections of the future that could not be falsified (L’illusion du poltiique. Shlomo Sand. 1984). Sorel fought against le politique, that is the routine administrative work of government, the compromises of state, for la politique a fundamental change in the world. How this was to come about, was left to action, not plans.
The most famous of Sorel’s myths, the General Strike, still has supporters on the United Kingdom left. Another is the Revolutionary Party. The SWP ISOP opposition declares, “The role of a revolutionary party is to fight for leadership in the class struggle. Democratic centralism is based primarily on conviction rather than discipline. The shared political perspectives required to underpin united political action are not something to be imposed, but are achieved through engagement in debate and argument and informed by experience.”
This is a fundamental flaw in a great deal in the debate about the SWP and Leninism. Lenin’s Party and is ‘Democratic centralism’, figures as a ‘myth’ not a historical reality. Or rather when it is talked about historically it is confined to one ‘good’ period – whose date wavers. Rather than discussing what happened when that party, apparently a model, took power, does not get discussed in the tale of the Good Bolshevik Party. It considered largely a separate issue.
Cut way the fist two sentences comrades. We need shared experience. We need united political action. We have had ample opportunity to verify the mobilising myth of Democratic Centralisation.
It has failed.
This is also worth looking at: Is this the Turning Point for the British Far left?