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Raising Atlantis? Review: The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited, Sean Matgamna. Workers’ Liberty. 2015.

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Raising Atlantis?

Review: The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited Sean Matgamna. Workers’  Liberty. 2015.

“Les bruits lointains d’une atlantide disparue, de cette ville d’Ys engloutie que chacun porte en soi.”

The distant sounds of a vanished Atlantis, of that sunken city that everybody carries inside.

Ernest Renan. Souvenirs d’enfance et de Jeunesse. 1883.

Ten years after the 1989-91 fall of Soviet-bloc Communism, Perry Anderson wrote, launching the Second Series of New Left Review (NLR) that, there was “no longer any significant oppositions” “within the thought world of the West”. The governing and intellectually dominant neo-liberalism had no rival on the radical left. Amongst the aftershocks of the collapse of the USSR, “Virtually the entire horizon of reference” for his generation on the left, “the landmarks of reformist and revolutionary socialism”, Bebel, Bernstein, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Jaurès, Lukács, Lenin, Gramsci and Trotsky, have been “wiped away”. For students they had become “as remote as a list of Arian bishops.” (1)

The second volume of The Fate of the Russian Revolution is, like the first, aimed at re-establishing, in the face of Anderson’s verdict, the present day importance of one of those distant figures, Leon Trotsky In his Introduction to The Two Trotskyisms Sean Matgamna draws how own parallel with the heresiarch Arias and his followers. The reference is not, as one might expect, to the unequal contest between the founder of the Fourth International’s circle of supporters and Stalin’s Established Marxism-Leninist Church. It is to disputes within the Trotskyist movement, “The Heterodox were the Arians, and the Orthodox the Catholics of post-Trotsky Trotskyism.” The leader of the – ‘heterodox’ Trotskyist – Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) argues that this division, which originated in the 1940s, amongst those who “embodied the great truths of Marxism” the only “authentic Marxist-communist tradition” was of lasting significance. Revolutionary socialists, “must go back to re-examine the old debates and the flaws and lacunae in the political legacy which Trotsky left at his death – back to 1940.”(2)

Apart from Matgamna’s lengthy Introduction we are offered an extensive – over 600 pages long – selection of original articles from 1939 to the early 1950s, by Trotsky, his ‘orthodox’ champions, and those expressing opposing views on the errors and gaps in their political approach. The present work aims to present a demythologised account of the raucous debates of the Trotskyist movement inside the American Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP –henceforth the SWP referred to) during the 1940s – placing the heretics on an equal, if not superior, footing to the Orthodox. The texts are not always easy reading. Anybody unused to the disputes of hard-core Trotskyism will find the often wildly intemperate language unattractive – the suffix “ite” for opponents’ standpoint, “deviation”, and “petty bourgeois individualism”- gets freely aired. The articles range from the ‘Shachtman” opposition to Trotsky call for defence of the Soviet Union, to the scepticism of Felix Morrow, a leading American Trotskyist and author of an orthodox account of the Spanish Civil War, who became sceptical about the Fourth International’s prediction of post-war European revolutions. Morrow by contrast could see that it was more probable that,  “bourgeois” democracy would be restored, and advocated a left-wing democratic response. Morrow was the main subject of an important 1970s, Where Trotskyism Got Lost. (Peter Jenkins. 1977), which might also seem an appropriate sub-title for The Two Trotskyisms.

The first thought of the reader is to ask whether it is worth the time and effort to look into this literature. Are we delving into the “archives” of a lost Atlantis, as former Fourth Internationalist Tariq Ali, prefacing the philosopher and life-long Trotskyist activist Daniel Bensaïd’s An Impatient Life  (2015) has described records of the Trotskyist movement? Are they files of failure swept into the depths by the Triumph of Capital? A more urgent task might be to respond to the post-Communist “lucid recognition of defeat”- as NLR Editorialised a decade after Perry Anderson’s verdict. The “archipelago of a thousand Marxisms”, the research programmes of the academic left which the same Bensaïd saw flourishing in Marx for our Times (2002), and which has not ceased bearing fruit, might seem to offer more fertile soil on which Trotskyists too can plant their seeds. There is indeed debate on collective agencies, opposed to capitalism, in which this left could intervene. If it often, as indicated by the writings of those associated with groups like the British Socialist Workers Party and its Diaspora, or from those associated with Red Pepper, of uneven quality, dominated by “movementist” ideas based on the most recent wave of protests, that sparkle briefly and then are forgotten (remember anti-Globalisation, anti-capitalism, and Occupy?). But for Matgamna at least the original City of the Trotskyist movement has not been submerged in the deluge following the Fall of Official Communism. We should first of all, like a modern Montaigne, return to the library in its principal Tower. (3)

In this respect a useful contrast might be made with Lars T. Lih’s influential Lenin Rediscovered (2005). Lih argues that Lenin’s politics developed in the shadow of German Social Democracy, and its chief theorist, Karl Kautsky. A strategic emphasis on the importance of political liberty, as a condition for the development of the movement, was grounded on a “world historical epic about the coming of socialism”. The task of the left was to bring the “Good News” of socialism to the working class, merging intellectual resources and the labour movement. But for Trotskyists in the 1940s, after two decades of Stalinist rule in ‘socialist’ Russia, forced collectivisation, famine, the Great Terror and the Gulag, there was little tangible to evangelise about. The German Communists had lost to the National Socialists; the Spanish Civil War had ended with defeat for the Republic and the left. Nazi and Fascist tyrannies were now poised to turn Europe into a totalitarian Empire. The old colonial powers of France and Britain, they considered, looked only to protect their own interests, as were the Americans. There was, in short, an abundance of very Bad News. The Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin’s years of leadership during the founding of the USSR, and Trotsky’s battle against Stalin’s rule, remained, for them, touchstones, but their faith in the future of socialism had returned to belief in “things unseen”.  (4)

It could be argued that the left has yet to settle accounts with Stalinism. While High Stalinism, beyond the borders of North Korea, may have vanished, there it ample evidence that its outlook continues to leave its imprint on the left, not least in “anti-imperialist’ quarters. That if there is to be a democratic socialist strategy that could succeed in winning political power it can learn much from those who refused to compromise with totalitarianism. That at least some Trotskyists, the ‘heterodox’, have something to offer in outlining ways in which the left can be both opposed to capitalism and democrats, above all in the way in which they confronted a much stronger ‘socialist’ power that had dispensed with all pretensions to democracy. That in facing up to this “bad news”, the 1940s dissidents offered signposts for the future. That, at last, is the implication of Matgamna’s arguments. For that reasons alone Matgamna’s case should be taken extremely seriously.

The Rise of the Heterodox.

Our knowledge of the heterodox side in the early centuries of the Christian Church comes from fragments of their documents, and the commentaries of the victorious Catholics. Backed by Emperors the Orthodox considered the Arian congregations to be rebels against the supreme powers of Heaven and Earth. Although the analogy is perhaps strained those who criticised Trotsky and the leadership of the American Trotskyists, the Socialist Workers Party, in the 1930s and 1940s, are like Arian ecclesiastics, largely known through the literature of their adversaries.

Max Shachtman (1904 – 1972), a founder of that SWP, and a member of the Executives Committee of the Fourth International, has, to Matgamna, suffered the worst from the “handed down” and “apparatus historiography” of Orthodoxy. A Pride’s Progress, from criticisms of Trotskyism to support for American imperialism, was his, and the majority of his comrades’ their fate. This parable was part of the consoling “revolutionary mythology” that helped the Orthodox stand together against an assortment of enemies on the left and survive the ascendancy of Official Communism. For Matgamna declarations of doctrinal righteousness did not prevent them from chasing after the radical causes of the moment, including “alien political movements”, and, above all, becoming “critical supporters of varieties of Stalinism.” (5)

The Two Trotskyisms, with its companion volume, Lost Texts of Critical Marxism, presents a rich selection of articles and other material. Matgamma – one assumes, or hopes,  half-jokingly – referred in the first book to them as the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls” of this movement. Unlike the Essenes, the Heterodox manuscripts have not been buried for a couple of millennia. But The Two Trotskyisms presents together texts that have, up till now, only been available, but still in dispersed existence, to a limited readership. Following the first Volume’s publication of writings on, amongst other topics, the Stalinist Counter-Revolution and the Third Period ultra-radicalism that swept the world’s Communist parties, the present work assembles the efforts of small Trotskyist groups to grapple with the Second World War, and the expansion of the USSR into Eastern Europe in its aftermath. (6)

Sean Matgamna reminds readers, a few of whom may need this underlined, that Trotsky – by definition the lodestar of Trotskyism – was not infallible. Over the period leading up the War he presented a “large quiver of half-evolved and half-eroded “positions”, ambivalences, and contradictions. He is keen to make one point clear. The founder of the Fourth International did not lay down a hard and fast ‘line’ on the central issue of the controversies. “While defending the view that the totalitarian regime created over the foundation the October Revolution laid down, in nationalised property and planning may have been evolving as “transitional society” into a new social formation. He admitted, in effect, the theoretical possibility that the USSR was already established as a new exploitative class society, a semi-slave society.” We would also note that Trotsky’s frequent use of the term “totalitarian” – a word first used in Marxist circles by the dissident’s dissident Victor Serge – would raise hackles amongst those who have consigned it to Cold War political ‘science’.  (7)

That 1940s Trotskyism divided into two strands is a claim that rests on an account focused on North America. In the 1940s the SWP (US) was the largest Trotskyist group in the world, whose several thousand members had played a substantial part in the trade union movement. The publication by Shachtman of criticisms of dialectical materialism from a ‘pragmatist’ philosophical standpoint by James Burnham in the party’s theoretical journal, New International in 1938 was not universally welcomed.  Trotsky came down hard on the “anti-dialecticians”, harbingers of open ‘anti-Marxism’. Broader political differences emerged. What Trotsky and his immediate supporters called the “petty bourgeois” opposition began to engage in open factional warfare with the majority. This bitter quarrel was less over the value of the ABC of Materialist Dialectics than on the nature of the Soviet Union and the SWP’s policies towards Stalinism.

Specialists in this history would no doubt observe that by the late 1930s there as indeed a shift in parts of the American left from an interest in Marxism, including Trotskyism, towards democratic “anti-totalitarianism’ inside the American radical intelligentsia affecting figures such as Max Eastman and Edmund Wilson. Sidney Hook, a more substantial intellectual figure than Burnham, author of the still read, From Hegel to Marx (1st Edition, 1936), a student of the pragmatist philosopher and educationalist John Dewey, Chair of the Dewy Commission (1937) which condemned the Moscow Trials and their accusations against Trotsky, perhaps symbolises this change. By the end of the decade Hook had moved from the traditions inspired by Marx, including a period of “Trotskyesque” anti-Stalinism, towards a rejection of historical and dialectical materialism, and anti-communist (big and small ‘C’) support for the American Constitution and liberal democracy. (8)

Inside the SWP rifts hardened during the first years of the Second World War. The SWP minority recoiled from the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939. Shachtman, Martin Abern and other dissenters began to question the policy of “Defence of the USSR”. The SWP majority accounted that on the basis of the economic foundations laid down by the October Revolution it was their duty to back the country. For the majority Stalin’s occupation of half of Poland, the invasion of Finland and other Soviet manoeuvres in Eastern Europe, found them “partisans” of the USSR side, to the point of calling for the people in occupied territory to back the Red Army.

From the Bad News of the Gulag there was soon even worse news about the conduct of the Soviet invasions and fresh slaughters. For the dissidents these actions proved that Russia had acted as “imperialist” power – acting with a brutality which no slogan could cover up for. The claim that at least something of a workers’ state remained in the country, however “degenerated”, rang hollow. Russia was not in a “transition”, however unstable, towards socialism. Unrestrained violence was embedded in “bureaucratic collectivist” society; its apparatus was marked by exploitation of the workers, tyranny and mass murder. It would be simpler to recognise that there was nothing worth defending about the ‘Soviet’ State. Amongst the Heterodox the contours of what became known as the ‘Third Camp” position, standing neither with the Soviets nor the Imperialists but for international socialism, began to see the light of day.

These opinions were met with unrelenting hostility by the SWP leadership around James P. Cannon. Trotsky’s interventions, in the early stages of the dispute – attacking the Heterodox in his own right – give it lasting importance. He did not condone the full scope of the actions of the “Kremlin oligarchy”, but considered that the “nationalisation of the means of production” called for defence of the USSR, coinciding with “preparation of the “world proletarian revolution”. For his biographer, Pierre Broué, every declaration that Trotsky made has to be seen in the light of his priority: building a Fourth International that would play a leading role in this upheaval. In Poland and Finland (1939) he began by proclaiming, as a would-be commander of his own revolutionary forces, that the Kremlin, with the “Red Army on the side of the workers in a civil war”, would be “forced to provoke a social revolutionary movement.” With more information to hand, and faced with Shachtman’s criticisms, he announced a few months later that the USSR was planning to ‘Sovietise’ the country, under bureaucratic command and police repression. This is the “revolution”, which. Matgamna does not fail to emphasise, that became the norm in post-45 Eastern Europe. (9)

The murder of the leader of the recently founded Fourth International in August 1940, during the early stages of the Second World War, indicates that these views had importance in more than the limited circles of the SWP, not least for the Kremlin’s chief critic. This extension of ‘side-taking’ to something close to support stands out. Matgamna observes that as the war developed the Orthodox party paper praise for the Soviet Armed Forces appeared as the war. This reached an apogee with SWP columns glorifying “Trotsky’s Red Army”. The ‘progressive’ Revolutionary foundations of the ‘workers’ state became, for a time, more important than its ‘degeneration’.

The minority was expelled from the SWP in the same year, 1940, as Trotsky’s assassination. They took 40% of the membership with them and a majority of the youth wing. SWP leader James P. Cannon’s account in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, absorbed by generations of Trotskyists, and percolating through the wider left, presented the conflict, as a battle between a “shabby crew” of “adventurers, careerists, self-seekers, dilettantes quitters-under-fire” and serious proletarian revolutionaries. Outside of the material in The Two Trotskyisms we know, from the SWP’s own publications, that Cannon and his earnest allies dispensed with “formal” democracy in order to effect the exclusion. That is, bluntly, he ignored the party’s own statues in order to be rid of the minority. This could be considered evidence in support of a frequent charge against Trotskyists: that they are democrats to the tips of their toes, except when democracy is an obstacle to their factional manoeuvres.  (10)

The new Workers’ Party (WP) of the minority engaged, Matgamna observes, in serious trade union work. But years of this activity in Cold War 1950s America drained their politics of distinctive themes. Apart from a radical minority, whose best-known figure was Hal Draper, author of the landmark democratic Marxist Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (3 Vols. 1977), most of the remaining members drifted from revolutionary Marxism towards the Democratic Party. Shachtman’s evolved towards the “liberal anti-Communism” of that Party – in 1961 he refused to condemn the Bay of Pigs Invasion and later supported the US over Vietnam. With Burnham’s rightwards turn, after swiftly exiting the WP, the later careers of the main supporters of the Shachtman current are presented as proof that the Heterodox can be dismissed. This tale has had a long life. Alex Callinicos has offered a version of the “inevitable fate of those who stray from orthodoxy” position. In his account of Trotskyism he stated, “in the absence of an articulated theory of the new mode of production, the concept of bureaucratic collectivism has acted primarily as a means whereby its adherents could adapt to the prevailing mood on the local Left.” (11)

Whether the failure to have a substantial – ‘correct’ – line on the USSR was a factor in the group’s evolution, or whether bureaucratic collectivism was the nearest label at hand for the Workers’ Party leadership to justify its – decade long- evolution towards the American political mainstream is hard to determine. For Matgamna the original arguments of this dissenting strand of Trotskyism did not stray into the ideology of the “petty bourgeoisie”, or owed their origins to fashion. It can be argued that the bare bones of the theory of ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ was part and parcel of a political response to the Soviet state, principally the actions just described in the early years of the War. This political legacy is important for the renewal of revolutionary Marxism. Indeed, In the 1940s, the Heterodox “elaborated a politics of consistent anti-Stalinism as well as consistent anti-capitalism.”  (12)

Armed Bureaucratic Collectivism.

The debates in this volume centre, as we have indicated, on the political actions – the armed foreign policy – of the USSR. But behind this is the issue of the nature of that regime. Some might consider that arguments about the character of the former Soviet Union – whether it was a workers’ state, a degenerated workers’ state, state capitalist, bureaucratic collectivist, a “new class society” – resembles discussion on the Trinity. If some Trotskyists have sunk into religious veneration for Trotsky a more common fault is scholasticism – “proof” of any view by appeal to the authority of quotations from the Old Man, Marx, Engels and Lenin.  But there is little doubt that when it comes to working out what was wrong with Stalinism, the economic and social framework of the former Soviet Bloc, the several decades of Trotskyist, orthodox and heterodox reflection and debate, play a substantial, essential, part in the effort to develop a socialist alternative today.

Differing stands on these issues, examining Trotsky’s and many other views, is explored more widely in Marcel van der Linden’s Western Marxism and the Soviet Union (2007). In this context the clash between the ‘Orthodox’ and the ‘Heterodox’ Trotskyists is only one of many, more or less intense, debates. Few would be as confident that one position is the only viable theory. Linden notes that Shachtman initially prepared to give some credit to Soviet nationalised property forms, and regarded bureaucratic collectivism as a temporary, unstable domination based on property relations. Shachtman, one would conclude did not a particularly coherent theory – what exactly distinguished forms from relations? As Charles Bettlelheim much later would put, it, property forms are the embodiment of social relations, extraction of the surplus is not distinct from the way rights over fixed and moveable goods are established. But Shachtman’s critical view of the USSR was, as the debates primarily political: the working class had no handle on the State, and in this respect had become a “reactionary obstacle” to socialism. Above all, as Martin Thomas of the AWL observes, it was the “movement of the USSR into imperialist expansion” already outlined above, which prompted his interest, use and development of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism. (13)

With the benefit of hindsight more general conceptualisations may have been a better way to approach the nature of Official Communism. The political character of high Stalinism, its dissolution of independent Law, the boundaries between power, civil society and the state, and the concentration of that force in the hands of an Egocrat meant the destruction of politics as an open clash of different interests and opinions. In this respect the ‘heterodox’ Trotskyists produced evidence of totalitarianism sprung to life – the actions of the USSR in the first years of the Second World War, that show a state prepared to override democracy and basic human rights, beyond and above the demands of armed conflict, in order to further its own interests. On the wider theory of bureaucratic collectivism our present judgements are mixed. Were these forms a “freak” of history, as Shachtman sometimes argued?  The persistent idea that these societies were, as Linden summarises, arranged in a sequence from capitalism to something new, whatever we label it, also seems to have outlived its use. But the USSR’s statist planning and mobilisation of ‘labour armies’, including forced labour in the Gulag, its “socialist primitive accumulation” may be considered, as Martin Thomas argues, not as a leap out of the capitalist world at all. It was “a compressed, intensified version of the use of direct extra-economic force’ in the ‘historic genesis of capitalist production’”. In other words, the mode of production was not really transformed by the Bolshevik Revolution at all. If this was an oddity, normality eventually reasserted itself. (14)

There is a vast space for more detailed accounts of the mechanisms of these social formations, from their initial creation, growth, expansion, and, decisively, the dissolution of an all-powerful repressive-ideological apparatus. The narrowing of politics into ‘monolithic’ unity simply could not be imposed on society without enormous human cost, and even then, lasted in its pure form until Stalin’s death. Rival interest groups, effectively differing political ‘factions’ within a still authoritarian and repressive regime, as the “pluralist” school of Soviet Studies, then re-merged. The economic transformations that have taken place in the former Eastern Bloc since 1989 may have caused massive social shake-ups. But they have been achieved remarkably swiftly and without mass resistance.

The study of the collapse of Official Communism, after full-blown Stalinism had long been tamed by bureaucrats, as the planned economy became ever more ramshackle and unable to deliver Red Plenty, continues. It raises much more profound issues than a clash between Marxist interpretations, let alone rivalry between ‘two Trotskyisms’. How can socialisation of the means of production take place in a different form? How can democratic control over the economy replace the market? Post-Communism also leaves open the issue, which is in the belly of the of Matgamna’s case for the Heterodox, of Stalinist imperialism. Whether, as the last echoes of Isaac Deutscher in New Left circles were wont to argue, the USSR was in the post-War period, a progressive international force through its support for national liberation movements, or that this too was pure Realpolitik, remains a live topic. There are those on the left who consider that Russian President Putin and a host of other non-Western powers represent today a kind of necessary ‘counter-balance’ to the US-led Imperium.  This might be considered, recalling Alex Callinicos’ words, to be an example of the use of a  theory, clutched to and adapted to the needs of local lefts desperate to discover some “resistance” to the American hegemon.

Two Trotskyisms?

 The Two Trotskyisms presents a view of the history of the Trotskyist movement. Any account on this topic, by the established rules of the genre, has to be controversial. Matgamma succeeds in demonstrating that there is a value in looking at the critical stand of the ‘Heterodox’ towards the SWP leadership, and the orthodoxy associated with Trotsky. Yet it is a mental wrench for the reviewer, politically brought up on British and other European left-debates, including Trotskyist ones, to enter the political and cultural world of the 1940s American SWP. This was Trotskyism with a capital T. This is a group that George Orwell described in 1945 as having “a fairly large number of adherents” with a “petty fuehrer of its own” with an “essentially negative inspiration.” Left political culture in Europe, while containing a few organisations of the same stripe, had and has much broader influences. From social democrats, Communist thinkers, democratic socialists, autonomists and anarchists, Western Marxists, non-Trotskyist Leninists, not to mention activists and writers directly involved in the trade unions. Some of these would challenge Matgamna’s claim to ownership of the Revolution. Others would find the assertion empty. But, to be brief, the US SWP even at its height is a party on the margins of our mental horizon. (15)

It is harder still to associate ‘orthodoxy’ with the main Fourth International, figures such as Ernest Mandel or Michel Rapitis, charged with apostasy by the same James P Cannon in the 1953-4 split in the Fourth International, accused of straying from Trotskyism for their support for Third-World movements of national liberation, not to mention the 1970s controversies on guerrilla warfare. To reverse the argument: to claim that the various ‘orthodox’ French Trotskyist parties led by Pierre Boussel (‘Lambert’) were pro-Stalinist ignores their intimate association with the American funded post-War break-away from the Communist led trade union federation, the CGT, Force Ouvrière, not to mention their actual writings – virulently hostile – on the Eastern Bloc. (16)

The history of Trotskyism indicates other directions. Bensaïd called the Trotskyists’ splintering into mutually antagonistic tendencies, in the aftermath of the Second World War the creation of that Eastern Bloc, and the victory of the Chinese Communists, the “scattering of the tribes”. At the Second Congress of the Fourth International in 1948 the Workers’ Party and Shachtman were still present. In a protest at the lack of clarity and democracy during the conference he united with one faction, represented by Cornelius Castoriadis. The Franco-Greek theorist’s subsequent history went beyond heterodoxy – designating the USSR as ‘bureaucratic capitalist’ – to rejection in the name workers’ self-management of all the main tenets of Trotskyism, except Revolution. (17)

Castoriadis’ small group (never more than a 100 members, though with some significant working class activists), Socialisme ou Barbarie, took a root-and-branch stand of opposition to all forms of Stalinism. They split from the FI came in the wake of the majority’s decision to side with Yugoslavia against Stalin. Their journal published some of the most revealing accounts of Stalinism, from East Germany to China as well as the USSR, available in the 1950s left press. But their political practice, based on unremitting hostility to Stalinism social democracy, Parliamentary politics, all existing trade unions, and even participation in the French system of workplace representation, left them isolated. That Castoriadis has enjoyed some posthumous fame as a philosopher of ‘autonomy’ – the democratic self-creation of social forms, may be some comfort to his admirers. But the failure of Socialisme ou Barbarie to make any real impact on French political life in the 1950s, and its own history of divisions, indicates one direction that principled hostility to Stalinism in this period could lead. (18)

French Trotskyism is significant in that during the German occupation the policy of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ was put into practice, in different ways by its already divided forces. Trotskyist histories of the period glorify efforts to convince German soldiers to unite with French working class and other internationalist actions. They tend to look with suspicion on any ‘nationalist’ support for the Resistance – that is when a small number of Trotskyists joined the armed fight against Pétain and the German occupation. (19)

Yves Craipeau – acknowledged by the AWL as an early ‘bureaucratic collectivist’ – recounts one important part of that history. When the Allied forces landed in Normandy his faction, probably the largest, published in its underground paper, La Vérité, a headline, “ils se valent” – they’re the same.  (June 1944) It went on to read, “En réalité, la libération de Roosevelt vaut tout autant que le socialisme de Hitler’. In reality the liberation of Roosevelt means as much as the socialism of Hitler. The divisions within the Greek Trotksyists were even more severe. One wing, already in conflict with the other, refused the ‘defence’ of the USSR and spent the War violently hostile to the other. The Stalinists physically liquidated  some of them, though reliable estimates give the total at 50 (both groups together) not the total, 300 – Matgamma asserts. (20)

In post-war the Fench Trotksyists briefly united in the Parti Communsite Internationaliste. The majority view, set out much later by Ernest Mandel was that they had has called the  electoral strength of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF)  and, one hopes, with some due modesty to the  legacy of the Communists’ role in the Resistance. Part of the ‘scattering of the tribes’ Craipeau left the Fourth International in the belief that there were forces on the left, outside the PCF and the Socialist SFIO, who could form an independent left party. The long story of efforts to create one, up to the radical ‘new left’ democratic socialist Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU), in which Craipeau played a significant part, indicate another direction that the ‘heterodox’ could take.  (21)

Going back to Sources.

For many on the left Trotskyism is a by-word for factionalism, of the single-transferable speech and sloganeering.  They have been criticised for trying control everything, for expressing open contempt for their opponents and adept at underhand organisational methods to win and hold onto organisational power. These accusations are not aimed at the 1940s SWP leadership or culled from accounts of present-day British Trotskyist groups, but were amongst those made in 1939 by Marceau  Pivert originally the leader of the Gauche révolutionnaire the left tendency of the French Socialists, the SFIO. He moved from the SFIO and became subsequently chief of the ‘centrist’ (that is ‘in-between ‘revolutionary; and ‘reformist’ politics) party, the Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan ( PSOP), Pivert experienced the methods of the French Trotksyists (after the famous ‘French turn’ of 1936 when they jo0ined the SFIO, and then tried to move into the PSOP). Pivert was eventually forced to remove these hectoring groupuscules.  (22)

But there are different voices. Pierre Broué, once an Orthodox activist in the French Lambertists who became respected historian of the movement, left this statement in his Memoirs. Reflecting on the Fall of the Soviet Bloc and the faults of the organisation which expelled him, he wrote in conclusion, “We must return to our sources, become again the ‘party of communists’ which only marks itself out from the mass of people with whom we live by our devotion, our continuous thinking, our openness to the world, our capacity to struggle, our will to clarify, to help the masses see things through their own eyes.”  (23) By its important indications of democratic and serious thought on some of the most serious issues of the 20th century the Two Trotskyisms has contributed to these generous aims.

 

References:

(1) Page 17. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. Second Series No 1. 2000.

(2) Page 98 The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited Sean Matgamna. Second Edition. Workers’ Liberty. 2015. (TTCS) Vol. 2 of The Fate of the Russian Revolution Workers’ Liberty. Page 133

(3) A Letter from Atlantis: Remembering Daniel Bensaïd. Tariq Ali. Introduction to An Impatient Life. Daniel Bensaïd. Verso.  Editorial. Shifting Sands. Susan Watkins. Page 23. New Left Review 61 Second Series 2010.

(4) Pages 42 –3. Lars L. Lih. Lenin Rediscovered. Brill 2005.

(5) Page 97-8. TTCS. 

(6) Sean Matgamna Introduction. Lost Texts of Critical Marxism. Vol. 1. The Fate of the Russian Revolution. Workers’ Liberty.

(7) Pages 5-6. TTCS. On Serge and Totalitarianism see: Victor Serge: totalitarisme et capitalisme d’État. Philippe Bourrine   Fundación Andreu Nin. 2001.

(8) Chapter Five. Young Sidney Hook. Marxist and Pragmatist. Christopher Phelps. Cornell University Press. 1997.

(9) Pages, 268 –9, and Page 280. Pierre Broué. Trotsky. Chapter LIX. La Ive at la guerre.  1998. Marxist Internet Archive.

(10) Part 1. The Struggle for a Proletarian Party. James P. Cannon. 1943. Marxist Internet Archive. “Perhaps it is not generally known in the International that in the 1940 struggle in the SWP, the Burnham-Shachtman minority was supported by the majority of the resident IEC of the Fourth International, at that time located in New York. … They claimed the formal right to spoke in the name of the Fourth International” “The Convention of the SWP (April, 1940) paid no attention to the formalistic arguments which were undoubtedly in their favour.” Letter from James P. Cannon to Leslie Goonewardne. February. 23. 1954. Towards a History of the Fourth International Part 3. Volume 4. Part 3. International Committee Documents. 1951 – 1954. Socialist Workers Party. 1974.

(11)  Chapter 4: 1. Heresies: Max Shachtman and the evil empire. Trotskyism. Alex Callinicos. Marxist Internet Archive.

(12) Page 3. TTCS. 

(13) Shachtman and his critics’ views are covered in: Chapter 3 From Stalin’s ‘Great Leap Forwards’ to the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (1929–41) Marcel van der Linden Western Marxism and the Soviet Union. Brill 2007. Three Traditions? Marxism and the USSR. Martin Thomas. Historical Materialism. Vol.14.3. 2006.

(14) For these political conceptualisations of totalitarianism see: Claude Lefort. Un homme en trop. Réflexions sur l’Archipel du Goulag. 1976 (2015). Belin. Claude Lefort, Essais sur le politique. Edition de Seuil. 1986. Martin Thomas. Ibid.

(15) Page 370. Notes on Nationalism. 1945. Political Writings. George Orwell. 2001.

(16) On the Lambertists see the hostile account, in great, if contentious, detail: Les Trotskistes. Christophe Nick. 2002.

(17) Strategies of Resistance and ‘Who are the Trotskyists?’ Daniel Bensaïd. Resistance Books. 2009. Max Shachtman. The Congress of the Fourth International. An Analysis of the Bankruptcy of “Orthodox Trotskyism (October 1948) Marxist Internet Archive. Chapter 6. From the Second World Congress to the 1953 Split. The Long March of the Trotskyists, Pierre Frank. 1969.  Marxist Internet Archive.

(18) Francois Dosse. Castoriadis Une Vie. La Découverte. 2014.

(19) Ian H. Birchall. With the Masses, Against the Stream. French Trotskyism in the Second World War Revolutionary History, Vol.1, No.4, Winter 1988-89. See also: Ernest Mahttps://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtma/1948/10/fi.htmndel. A Rebel’s Dream Deferred. Jan Willem Stuje. Verso. 2009. The Meaning of the Second World War. Ernest Mandel. Verso. 1986. The less than clear history of Continental Trotskyism during the Second World War is defended in the same writer’s interviews published as Revolutionary Marxism Today, ed. by Jon Rothschild. New Left Review. 1979

(20)  Yves Craipeau. Mémoires d’un dinosaure trotkyste. L’harmattan. 1999. This total of deaths and on the tangled history of Greek Trotskyism: Alexis Hen. Les trotskystes grecs pendant la seconde guerre Mondiale Cahiers balkaniques 38-39 (2011)

(21) Further material on Craipeau in English: The Third Camp in France. Workers’ Liberty 2#2. This, a small but important part of the majority view on Stalinism was given by Ernest Germain (Mandel) Stalinism – How to Understand it and How to Fight it. April 1947. Marxist Internet Archive. On the wider revolutionary expectations in France in this period amongst intellectuals – a significant constituency for French Trotskyists – see this useful study:  La Révolution rêvée. Pour une historie des intellectuels et des oeuvres révolutionnaires. 1944 – 1956. Michel Surya. 2004.

(22) Le P.S.O.P. et le trotskysme. Marceau Pivert Juin (Journal) June, 1939

(23) “nous devons revenir à nos sources, être de nouveau ce “parti des communistes” qui ne se distingue de la masse où il vit que par son dévouement, sa réflexion permanente et son ouverture au monde, sa disponibilité à lutter, sa volonté d’éclairer et d’aider les masses à voir de leurs propres yeux.” Mémoires de Pierre Broué. Circulated  as text  2014/5

Update:

Reviews of “The Two Trotskyisms”

 

Written by Andrew Coates

February 6, 2016 at 2:04 pm

The Anti-Racism and Anti-Imperialism of Fools: the Indigènes de la République against class-struggle.

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Ni patrie ni frontières !

This is an important left-wing contribution to the critique of the ‘anti-imperialism of fools’.

Although the context is French and Dutch there are many implications for Britain and the wider anglophone world.

From mondialisme.org, the journal: Ni patrie ni frontières. 

Antiracism and class struggle in France : dialogue around the PIR (Parti des Indigènes de la République).

Late 2014, early 2015, a debate took place in the Netherlands between various leftist organizations and Sandew Hira, a historian who has taken the initiative, together with others, to build the Decolonise The Mind (DTM) movement in the Netherlands. The debate began after rapper Insayno was rejected to speak at an anti-racist demonstration. In one of his raps he had asserted : “The treatment of the concentration camps is only a joke compared to our slave trade”. After some discussion about the scientific nonsense, the political  destructiveness and the heartlessness of comparing the various massacres in this way, the debate quickly turned to how to organise against racism, the role of white people in the anti-racism struggle, and how the Left and the DTM movement could struggle side by side.

During the debate we asked Hira about the ideas and principles of DTM. He explained them quite clearly, but we did not really get to know much about the practice of the new movement. At the moment it seems mainly engaged in the training of activists, most of whom seem to have been active in the anti-racism and pro-Palestine movements. DTM is still a relatively small, mainly academic movement that does not organize actions or campaigns by itself.

In the debate and also in various meetings Hira often mentioned that he has two important international friends with whom he cooperates very closely : Ramon Grosfoguel of the Berkeley University of California and Houria Bouteldja of the movement “Les Indigènes de la République” in France. That organisation celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2015 and already had quite some time to build a movement, even outside the universities.

We asked two French comrades what they knew about those Indigènes. How does this movement operates, and how are their ties with the extra-parliamentary Left ? In this way we might be able to take a little look at the future of a part of the anti-racism movement in the Netherlands. That’s important, because as those who followed the debate may have noticed, we at Doorbraak are not too keen on how Hira and DTM try to insert some not so liberating ideas into the growing movement against racism.

Of course, the French situation is very different from the Dutch one. In both countries there is indeed a lot of racism, a legacy of the shared colonial past, but the Left and the anti-racism movement in France are really much bigger. Progressive intellectuals also play a much more important role, and there are constantly great nation wide debates, also on racism. However, the practical organizational activism seems to be relatively modest.

We asked our questions to Nad, with whom we organized two meetings in 2012 on the jobless movement RTO in which she is active, and Yves Coleman of the magazine “Ni patrie ni frontières” (“No country, no borders”) and our regular translator. Both live in Paris and are very involved in the anti-racism struggle. Nad answered the first three questions, and Coleman the rest. And because both, of course, did not always agree with each other, we offered them the opportunity afterwards to respond on each others answers with critiques and additions. So we started with Nad.

The present document is a record of questions put to Nad and Yves Colman.

It should not be necessary to say this but both are, by PIR terms, indigènes.

The initial section of the debate takes up the origins of the Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR)  and their 2005  Manifesto L’appel des « Indigènes de la République . Many people, including this writer, were struck by the serious tone of the latter document. It was set out by a variety of individuals, mostly involved in minority immigrant associations. Its wider support included political activists of the mainstream left,  various ‘other globalisation’ movements (Attac)  active in those days,  and some on the Trotskyist left.

The group was soon criticised  by people for whom who I have respect.  Claude Liauzu (1940 – 2007), author of the indispensable Histoire de l’anticolonialisme en France, du XVIe siècle à nos jours (2007) accused them of ” reducing colonialisation to a crime, and reducing present-day problems to the reproduction of colonial racialism, and reducing the study of the past to a search for repentance. (Manipulations de l’histoire. Claude Liauzu. Le Monde Diplomatique April 2007).

As a ‘party’, created in 2008, the group continues to influence debate on race in France.

But it has been challenged on the left.

Last year this was translated: Toward a materialist approach to the racial question: A response to the Indigènes de la République. Malika Amaouche, Yasmine Kateb, & Léa Nicolas-Teboul Vacarme (June 25, 2015).

The PIR’s spokesperson, Houria Bouteldja, has, over the years, made many ‘controversial’ comments, including the claim that homosexuality does not exist in low income “popular”  French areas,

Galloway Faces Strong Left Challenge as Communist League Silberman Stands for London Mayor.

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Silberman Threatens Galloway’s ‘left’ Mayor Campaign. 

The newshounds of the IBT had a scoop a few days ago.

Viva! Jonathan Silberman – Communist London Mayor hopeful dreams of Cuban revolution in Britain

Jonathan Silberman was a teenager when he and his friends sketched out their plan for global revolution – half a century later the factory worker and veteran Communist is still waiting.

But unlike so many other teenage revolutionaries, Silberman, 64, has not lost his zeal in the years in between. He is currently running for London mayor under the banner of the Communist League. He is a few days away from his annual trip to the Havana Book Fair as IBTimes UK meets him in a north London pub.

Ace-reporter Orlando Crowroft continues,

Founded in 1988, the Communist League grew out of one of many schisms in the British socialist left, remaining close to the American Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP) which, in typical fashion, is a mortal enemy of the UK party of the same name. Silberman is rarely seen without a several copies of the party’s magazine, the Militant, under his arm and a selection of books from US-based radical publishing house, Pathfinder.

The influence of this group, the Socialist Workers Party (US) on the British Communist League (Wikipedia)  is clear -in fact it derives from a  faction inside the International Marxist Group which was essential a branch of the American organisation with, how can I put it tactfully, certain ‘special’ characteristics of their own. Okay – a slightly cultish obnoxious  groupuscule.

…neither that nor the bloody authoritarian nightmare that the Soviet Union had become after Stalin served to change Silberman’s mind about revolution. There was a still a shining light for him in the form of Cuba which, even now, he defends as a true a socialist revolution. A fluent Spanish speaker, Silberman still visits Cuba annually and speaks glowingly about the country’s health care system and Che Guevara, the late revolutionary and global icon.

In truth much to admire in Jonathan.

I recall him in the International Marxist Group as a sensible (in IMG terms that is) and dedicated bloke. Despite being in a rival faction (Tendency ‘B’ – led by Livingstone’s economics Guru, John Ross), he was one of the few able to have a rational conversation with his opponents – in this case me. The drift to the US SWP is something I know little of, for the good reason I was living in France when this happened. His views on Cuba aside (although given the ‘new thinking’ that began in the 1980s from his group’s New York HQ and Jack Barnes it’s hard to ever  put Cuba to one side) he has lived the life of somebody who followed the “turn to industry” in all seriousness – working in factories.

Silberman sees trends that bode well for working class consciousness in this country and, to be fair, as a worker at a factory in Hertfordshire he actually comes into contact with workers on a daily basis – unlike the massed ranks of the radical London left, content to cheer the revolution from posh North London cafes.

Silberman spends the bulk of his Saturdays knocking on doors in working class housing estates, and finds the respondents receptive.

“I’ll tell you something interesting, it doesn’t matter if someone is Labour, Tory or Ukip. It makes no difference to their interest in our politics. Supporting Ukip doesn’t signify some big right wing ideology. I don’t think that there is a massive anti-immigrant sentiment in the working class,” he said.

Silberman, who visited Calais last year and believes in open borders, said that when people do express anti-immigration views he is often able to convince them that far from being divided from workers from abroad, they should be joining with them to fight for better pay and conditions.

“Our proposal is to use the unions to organise a real campaign to recruit workers, foreign-born workers, through militant struggle and through defence of our rights. Why don’t we fight for massive rise in the minimum wage that would benefit all workers? Why don’t we fight for more housing?” he said.

In the article Silberman professes not to know how many members the Communist League has. Which is surprising since I saw them at a TUC Demonstration a couple of years ago – around 7 – around a stall in Hyde Park. Somebody a lot more familiar with the group than I am  pointed them out by name. He suggested that perhaps there were a couple absent that day, no doubt drawn by the rival attractions of a Derby and Joan dance.

Despite the loyalty towards Cuba the SWP (US) is not universally loved, admired, or even given the time of the day by much of the left, anywhere.

Here are some of many accounts of the disputes which have left the ‘party’ with reportedly under 100 members: What happened to the SWP (U.S.)?: Recent memoirs stir discussion by Dayne Goodwin

Silberman stood in last year’s General Election in Hackney North, and got 102 votes, which if repeated across the country means that the Communist League had potentially  66,300 ballot papers.

 His election leaflet (view here) contained this comment,

Working Farmers – Allies of the Working Class Dairy farmers facing rising costs and cuts in the  price they get for milk have taken to the streets. Such struggles by family farmers should win the support of the workers movement.

United in struggle, workers and working farmers are stronger. And through struggle a revolutionary alliance of workers and farmers can be forged.

London farmers and revolutionary workers will no doubt respond this time round.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 27, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Kate Hoey MP, from the International Marxist Group and Labour to ‘Grassroots out’: Tories, Farage, the DUP

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Kate Hoey MP: Joined IMG as had “better-looking young men” than other left groups.

Brexit Campaign ‘Grassroots Out’ Unites ‘Political Foes’ To Push For UK To Leave European Union

The Press Association reported that around 2,000 people are expected to attend the launch event in Northamptonshire that is being backed by Conservative Tom Pursglove (Corby and East Northamptonshire), Labour’s Kate Hoey (Vauxhall), DUP MP Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) and Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

Reports the Huffington Post.

While attending the Ulster College of Physical Education, she joined the International Marxist Group, one of the few people with an Ulster Unionist background to do so in the 1960s.[1] After relocating to England, she graduated in economics from the City of London College, today known as London Metropolitan University. She was a senior lecturer at Kingsway College from 1976 to 1985, during which time she left the International Marxist Group (IMG).

Wikipedia.

This is what she now says of this experience, (2nd of January 2016. Guardian)

She also became vice-president of the National Union of Students, and was briefly was a member of the International Marxist Group, because it “probably had better-looking young men” than other radical-left groups.

As ex-IMG myself I can’t disagree with that.

But these are some of her present day opinions,

We also cannot accept the freedom of movement of labour at the expense of often much better qualified people from the Commonwealth. Why should my Afro-Caribbean constituents – most of whom who are third or fourth generation immigrants – find it so difficult to have their relatives visit.

These and many other loyal subjects of the Queen have a genuine affinity with the UK, unlike the thousands coming here from East Europe. The public know the immigration system is unfair, and the EU has made it so.

Daily Mail. 13th June 2015.

Hoey blames her party’s “extremely unpatriotic” outlook for its increasing alienation from its traditional working class supporters. “They feel very strongly about their country and we have been extremely unpatriotic as a party to our country. There’s just a feeling that we’re half-hearted about being British, we’re half-hearted about the monarchy, we’re half-hearted about the way we see our country in the world. I’m very proud of being British and I think the United Kingdom is a force for good in the world and we seem to feel all the time that we have to put ourselves down because somehow that might upset people”.

New Statesman. 17th of June 2015.

By way of a radical contrast, Tendance Coatesy backs the Labour in for Britain campaign to Vote to stay in the European Union.

We also support a number of broad pro-European left campaigns.

Including this: Another Europe is Possible.

Who we are

Another Europe Is Possible is a campaign for a radical ‘in’ vote in the EU referendum.

We have come together as activists and campaigners to build a Europe of democracy, human rights, and social justice. We don’t believe a British exit from the EU offers a path towards the social, citizen-led Europe we so urgently need. That’s why we are saying ‘stay in Europe to change Europe’.

Our campaign is still in development and we will publish a list of supporters when we formally launch in February 2016. Our organising group are also currently working towards a founding conference later this year – watch this space for more info.

From Another Europe’s site:

Leaving the EU will not free us from TTIP: The only way to respond to globalised threats to democracy is as part of the EU, argues Sam Fowles.

EU debate: We need to stay in Europe to change Europe. The idea that a social Europe could emerge by quitting the EU is a delusion. There are no quick fixes for neoliberalism, writes Luke Cooper in Red Pepper magazine

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 24, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Socialist Action, Labour, and the Anti-imperialism of Fools.

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John Ross Weibo

Socialist Action ‘Guru’ John Ross.

In discussion about the Labour Party the name ‘Socialist Action’ often comes up.

We will not comment on the truth or otherwise of the details in this report,

Jeremy Corbyn acts as peacemaker between rival Labour factions after Neale Coleman quits

Labour insiders claim a pro-Livingstone group is battling for power with a camp led by John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor and Mr Corbyn’s closest political ally.

The  Livingstone faction, dubbed “the Kennites”,  includes Simon Fletcher, a former Ed Miliband aide who ran Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign and is now his chief of staff, the job he did for Mr Livingstone at City Hall. The “Kennites” are said to be less ideological and more pragmatic than the McDonnell group. They favour a conciliatory approach towards the Shadow Cabinet members and backbench MPs who have differences with Mr Corbyn.

The more hardline McDonnell camp includes Seumas Milne, a columnist on leave from The Guardian newspaper, who Mr Corbyn persuaded to become his director of communications after a shambolic start to his leadership. He is credited with injecting more discipline into the operation. But critics claim he is a divisive “control freak” who wants to be in charge of policy as well as communications and to supplant Mr Fletcher.

Mr Milne takes a less tolerant view of dissenting MPs than the “Kennites” and is said to have pressed Mr Corbyn to sack more Shadow Cabinet critics in this month’s messy reshuffle than he eventually did.  Shadow ministers angrily accused him of briefing journalists during a Shadow Cabinet meeting that Labour MPs would be whipped to vote against UK air strikes against Isis in Syria last December. When they saw the briefing on their smartphones, a rebellion forced Mr Corbyn to concede a free vote.

Team Corbyn have insisted there was “no row” between Mr Milne and Mr Coleman and dismissed as “complete rubbish” speculation that Mr Fletcher could walk out because of a rift with Mr Milne. One insider said: “Seumas is the conduit and gets all the flak. It’s not a clash, more growing into office pains. Everyone is learning as they go along, from Jeremy downwards. The stakes are high and everything gets magnified.”

The article continues,

Some Labour Kreminologists claim the current dispute can be traced back to a bitter split on the hard left in the 1980s when Mr Livingstone fell out with Mr McDonnell, his deputy as leader of the Greater London Council (GLC).  Mr McDonnell accused Mr Livingstone of selling out after he refused to defy the Thatcher Government by not balancing the GLC’s books. Mr McDonnell chairs the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), which he founded in 2004 to reach out to left-wingers outside Labour. LRC figures attacked Mr Livingstone’s Socialist Action group as “plastic socialists”. The rival factions have even been compared to Russia’s hardline Bolsheviks and more moderate Mensheviks, who split in 1903.

This is something in this.

Simon Fletcher was indeed a member of Socialist Action. as were other key members of the GLC team – in the 1980s and later when Livingstone returned as London mayor (200 – 2008). Redmond O’Neil, Jude Woodward,  and John Ross (who was his “Economics Adviser”) are the best known of the ‘org’. But it is rather more than ‘Livingstone’s group’.

Socialist Action learnt its trade in the 1980s, backing the Labour Campaign group,

This unusually close agreement between a parliamentary faction and an extra-parliamentary organisation resembles the alliance between horse and rider.

The MPs assure us that Socialist Action is cured of its youthful radicalism, and will cheerfully prostrate itself by selling the MPs’ abysmally boring Campaign Group News.

John Sullivan  As Soon As This Pub Closes

It is said that this prostration developed wider during Livingstone’s time as London Mayor. But being errand girls and boys is part of a broader strategy.

Socialist Action, as John Sullivan’s handbook on how to organise on the British left,  is at no pains to note,  is a descendant of the International Marxist Group.

But those of us on the left who were in the International Marxist Group in the 1970s – and others who took part in the split in the 1980s which gave birth to Socialist Action – have more fundamental reasons to be hostile to the ‘elite groupuscule’.

The leader of the IMG John Ross (also known as Alan Jones – note to journalists) and  founding figure of Socialist Action took an anti-European stand during the 1975 referendum. Even those in our opposing tendency who also supported a No vote accused him of nationalism. Those of us who were pro-Europe (we advocated abstention at the time, which was a serious error) could frankly feel this  in our bones.

To be blunt us lot – called at the time Tendency A – hated his guts.

By extension, that means anybody associated with them, right to the present day. And it’s true to say that some of the people in the Labour Representation Committee  come from those opposed to the ‘Rossites’ from way way back. But many do not- age is the most obvious reason – and yet they hold equally forthright views about the organisation.

Why?

Well there are plenty of reasons and they are less and less to do with the past and a lot more to do with what Socialist Action stands for today.

These are a few:

A central part of their present ideology is the ‘anti-imperialism of fools‘.

This is their analysis of the “current phase of imperialism” (What is the current phase of imperialism? May 2014).

Michael Burke begins by observing that after the collapse of the USSR the US has tried to impose its power – from the Gulf War, to the attempted “hijacking” of the Arab Spring. But this was now at a  standstill. The US faces an impasse. Why?

…the economic rise of China has warranted a strategic ‘pivot’ towards Asia in an attempt to curb the rise of the only economy that could rival US supremacy in the foreseeable future. Given this absolute priority and the reduced circumstances of the US economy, it has been necessary to suspend new large-scale direct military interventions elsewhere.

This curb on US power has had immediate and beneficial consequences for humanity. Syria could not be bombed and neither could Iran. In these, Russian opposition to US plans was a key political obstacle, especially as the US wanted to deploy multilateral and multinational forces to do its bidding and needed the imprimatur of the UN Security Council. The US response to this blockage has been to increase pressure on Russia, most dramatically with its ouster of the elected Ukrainian government in a coup and its attempt to breach the country’s agreed neutrality by bringing it into NATO.

This curb on US power, however limited or temporary, should be welcomed by all socialists, by all democrats and simply by all those who desire peace. Instead, we have the strange spectacle that some on the left have raised the charge that Russia is imperialist, or that China is, or countries such as Brazil, or India or South Africa are ‘sub-imperialist’!

This is not a coincidence. In the US State Department’s frustration it has produced every type of calumny against Putin, including that he is an imperialist[i] and akin to Hitler. Self-styled socialists who simply echo these charges are not highly amenable to logical argument. But it is vital for socialists to understand the nature of imperialism and its current manifestation[ii].

Rather than echo the frustrations of the US State Department, socialists and communists welcome the current impotence of the US, for however long it lasts and however limited it is. In 1997 a triumphalist US imperialism set out its bold plan to brook no global or regional opposition and to be able to fight two major wars simultaneously[xii]. In 2013 the US and its allies were unable to begin bombing Syria.

Imperialism is the enemy of all humanity and its set-backs or defeats are a cause for celebration as they represent an advance for all humankind and the struggle for socialism.

So China and Putin have thwarted the US….. that is ‘anti-imperialism‘ for the modern day.

This is a recent screed by this genius of the world revolution, (Socialist Action John Ross. 29th of November)

How to really defeat ISIS

The effective measures that would really defeat ISIS are very simple – the fact Cameron doesn’t propose them shows he is lying about trying to destroy ISIS.

1. Turkey should be told it must close within 24 hours the main supply route across its border to ISIS at Jarablus and at other border crossings. If it does not a UN Security Council Resolution will be adopted imposing financial sanctions on Turkey, as with Iran and North Korea, and the UN Security Council will authorise coalition bombing for 5km inside the Syrian border with Turkey to cut supply routes to ISIS from Turkey.

2. Saudi Arabia should be told it must cease all transfers of money to ISIS. If proof is found of any further such transfers a UN Security Council Resolution will be adopted imposing financial sanctions on Saudi Arabia as with Iran and North Korea.

If these measures are adopted they would, unlike Cameron’s bombing, lead to the crushing of ISIS. A resolution of the House of Commons should be adopted to embody this.

If Cameron refuses to adopt this policy it shows he is not in fact trying to defeat ISIS. Therefore no support can be given to his proposed bombing.

No supplies no funds, ISIS will just disappear off the face of the earth.

No more slavery, no more torture, no more genocide.

Why didn’t World Imperialism think of it before?

Cretins…..

It’s also worth noting that Ross still loves his country,

Britain is also one of the world’s great historical nations. I love my country deeply, and the enormous contributions it has made to world culture and science, and in which struggles such as the Suffragettes or to create our health service are a source of great pride. There are regrettably some things in my country’s history, as with every great state, which I am not proud of. Some of these I mentioned and were crimes done by Britain to China.

He loves China too,

Note for Jeremy Corbyn – How China made the world’s largest contribution to human rights

By John Ross. October the 20th. 

Sections of the British media present a supposed choice that Britain has to choose between either pursuing purely economic interests or criticising China over ‘human rights’. This posing of the issue is totally false – China should be supported precisely because of its contribution to human rights. China has done more to improve the overall situation not only of its own people but of humanity than any other country in the world – as the facts show.

Who doesn’t love Ross.

Well, us lot still loathe him and his mates.

But it’s more important to say this. A group that rejoices in Putin’s ‘anti-imperialist’ foreign policy – not to mention anybody who foils the  power of ‘imperialism’ and any set-back for the US (without specifying why this is in itself good) – is part of the “political confusionism” our French comrades talk about. A group that celebrates the Chinese regime, on the basis of some kind of ‘economist’ reductionist view of human rights,  has no place on the democratic socialist left. And why on earth does Ross feel the need to talk about his deep love for his “country”?

**************

See also this virulently  hostile account of the groupuscule. The strange history of Socialist Action Martin Thomas.

Ellen Meiksins Wood (1942 – 2016). A Tribute.

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Ellen Meiksins Wood, the wife of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, has died of cancer at the couple’s Ottawa home at the age of 73.

Reports 

She was a noted intellectual figure on the international left, whose studies of class, politics and political ideas influenced several generations of thinkers and activists.

Wood’s writings were thought-provoking and luminous.

She first came to a wide left audience with The Retreat from Class: A New ‘True’ Socialism (1986). This was a collection of her intervention in debates, conducted through the pages of New Left Review, and the Socialist Register,  that took place in the wake of Eric Hobsbawm’s famous polemic, The Forward March of Labour halted? (Marxism Today 1978 – expanded in book form with replies from supporters and critics in 1981).

Many left intellectuals not only backed Hobsbawm’s view that the material importance of class institutions in shaping politics was declining with the drop in numbers in the industrial working class, but extended this to question the relationship between class and politics itself.

Post-Marxists began to argue that a plurality of ‘democratic struggles’ and social movements would replace the central place of the labour movement in politics. Some contrasted  ‘civil society’ a more complex and open site of democratic assembly to the alleged ‘monolithic’ vision of politics embodied in the traditional labour movement. In a diffuse way this was associated with the once fashionable idea that “a “post-modern” society dissolved reality in ‘simulacra’. Others claimed it  meant the end of “grand narratives” – or more bluntly, that the ideas of socialism and the Left was splintering so quickly that only a fragmented series of ‘critical’ responses were possible against neo-liberal regimes of ‘governance’.

Wood argued for the importance of class in shaping not just political interests but the potential constituency of  radical socialist politics. Fights over power were at the centre of Marxism and these were part and parcel with disputes over exploitation and the appropriation of the social surplus. The ‘new social movements’, the women’s movement, the rising ecological movement, campaigns for racial and sexual equality, were interlaced with class conflicts. Democracy could not be abstracted from these relations. To appeal, as writers such as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe did, to the formation of a new hegemonic strategy based on  relations of “equivalence” between various democratic demands ignored the basic facts about class and power. Like her comrade Ralph Miliband Wood saw socialism as an effort to bring together people around the central issues of exploitation and oppression in democratic organisations that could shape politics. This had historically been the result of conscious action, and this kind of collective work was needed more than even against a very real and growing grand narrative – the institutionalisation of neo-liberal economics and government assaults on working people, and the unemployed – in building a new regime of capitalist accumulation.

Political Marxism.

In academic as well as left-wing activist  circles Wood became known for her “political Marxist” approach to history. This focused on the issue of the transition from feudalism to capitalism and social property relations and the way this shaped the politics of early modern states.  The Pristine Culture of Capitalism 1992  was a summary of this approach. British merchants and agricultural  capitalists has actively determined the administrative Parliamentary forms, from Cromwell’s republic to the Glorious Revolution – the restoration of the Monarchy.

These writings were also directed against the views of Perry Anderson (Editor of New Left Review) and Tom Nairn (today best known for his Scottish nationalism). In the early days of the Second New Left they had asserted  that the so-called ‘archaic’ British state was a reflection of a an equally ‘pre-modern’ capitalism dominated not by these forces by an aristocratic surrogates for the bourgeoisie. Nairn and Anderson claimed that the ‘supine’ bourgeoisie – who abdicated political rule to the ‘aristocracy’. Their domination of UK politics  left deep traces right until the present. For this strand of New leftists the failure of the a resolute bourgeoisie to assume real power been mimicked by a “supine” working class. In later writings Anderson talked of the need for a new wave of democratic modernisation to bring the country into line with the ‘second’ bourgeois revolution of modernity.

Wood, by contrast, pointed out, had a developed capitalism, indeed it was the most ‘modern’ form of capitalism. Its state form was related to its early advance, and its allegedly old-fashioned trappings – from the Monarchy downwards – had not thwarted capitalist expansion but arisen in relation to needs of its own bourgeoisie. The labour movement had developed in struggle with these forces, not in deference to them.

In some respects this response is not unlike E.P.Thompson’s defence of the labour movement. But Wood went deeper into the mechanisms of markets and state formation. She illustrated the feeble empirical basis of the claims about UK archaism. Britain is hardly alone in having a Monarchy to begin with, and the notion that there is something specifically modern in any state-type evaporates when one looks at studies of the varieties of administrative and government forms. France, for example, remains profoundly marked by its own past ‘feudal’ administrative forms. The USA Constitution is a relic from the 18th century. On all the essential points present-day Britain was no more, no less, ‘modern’ than anywhere else in Europe or in any contemporary capitalist state. Indeed it was for long a template for bourgeois democracy. In particular Wood attacked the claims of Tom Nairn that in some fashion Ukania (his ‘funny’ word for the United Kingdom, modelled on the novelist ( 1880 – 1942) Robert Musil’s term for the Austro-Hungrian empire, Kakania – shit land) owed its economic difficulties to its constitution.  Economic problems  arose at root from the general contradictions of capitalist accumulation, in a specific form. The problems of British democracy were due to its capitalist character , not to the issues Nairn-Anderson dreamt up about its sonderweg.

Brenner thesis.

More widely Wood is known, in developing these writings, as an advocate of a version of the ‘Brenner thesis’ (after Robert Brenner’s article, Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe“1978). The creation of market relations in British agriculture were considered to be the foundation of modern capitalism. The essential condition was separation from non-market access to the means of subsistence, the means of self-reproduction. Wood argued that it was the capitalist transformation of agriculture, followed by the rise of merchant class expanding these forms through international trade, created the ground of Western capitalism.  It was also responsible for the distinctive state forms that emerged in Britain.

In the Agrarian Origins of Capitalism (1998) Wood summarised her views,

The distinctive political centralization of the English state had material foundations and corollaries. First, already in the 16th century, England had an impressive network of roads and water transport that unified the nation to a degree unusual for the period. London, becoming disproportionately large in relation to other English towns and to the total population of England (and eventually the largest city in Europe), was also becoming the hub of a developing national market.

The material foundation on which this emerging national economy rested was English agriculture, which was unique in several ways. The English ruling class was distinctive in two major and related respects: on the one hand, as part of an increasingly centralized state, in alliance with a centralizing monarchy, they did not possess to the same degree as their Continental counterparts the more or less autonomous “extra-economic” powers on which other ruling classes could rely to extract surplus labor from direct producers. On the other hand, land in England had for a long time been unusually concentrated, with big landlords holding an unusually large proportion of land. This concentrated landownership meant that English landlords were able to use their property in new and distinctive ways. What they lacked in “extra-economic” powers of surplus extraction they more than made up for by their increasing “economic” powers.

Wood’s political stand was firmly within the Marxist ambit. In 1999 she stated (The Politics of Capitalism) ,

…all oppositional struggles—both day-to-day struggles to improve the conditions of life and work, and struggles for real social change—should be informed by one basic perception: that class struggle can’t, either by its presence or by its absence, eliminate the contradictions in the capitalist system, even though it can ultimately eliminate the system itself. This means struggling for every possible gain within capitalism, without falling into the hopeless trap of believing that the left can do a better job of managing capitalism. Managing capitalism is not the job of socialists, but, more particularly, it’s not a job that can be done at all.

The broader  focus on the links between capitalism and state forms continued in her study Empire of Capital (2003). This analysed how the “empire of capital” (rather than the vague ‘globalisation’ or the rhizome of Hardt and Negri’s  ‘Empire’) shapes the  modern world through “accumulation, commodification, profit maximization, and competition.”

Wood’s later works, Citizens to Lords: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (2008) and Liberty & Property: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Renaissance to Enlightenment  were ambitious attempts to narrate and analyse Western political thought in the light of class categories.

Wood had a profound influence on countless people.

She was a democratic Marxist, a feminist, a perceptive writer and a force for good.

Homage to her memory.

Remembering Ellen Meiksins Wood.

Ellen Meiksins Wood — Her Importance to Me. by Ursula Huws (Monthly Review). 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 15, 2016 at 1:09 pm

TUSC Now Allies of Tower Hamlets Independent Group.

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Whatever else one thinks of this it is interesting that Naomi Byron, Tower Hamlets Socialist Party is involved.

This is the same party that says this, (The Socialist).

No retreat on resisting council cuts!

Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters must fight back against the pressure from Labour’s right wing to collude in a new round of savage cuts to local council services and jobs, argues Socialist Party executive committee member Clive Heemskerk.

And this (The Socialist. 9th of January)

Steps towards setting up Trade Union Momentum *

If Momentum is to secure the party leadership of Jeremy and John it must step away from the failed strategy of policing the movement on behalf of the Tories and Blairites and create a genuinely open, democratic, inclusive and campaigning force that will not just secure the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership but support and urge them to reject the ‘pragmatists’ and build a movement based on uncompromising anti-austerity, socialist policies.

One assumes that the best way to build Momentum and support Corbyn is to back candidates who stood against…..the Labour Party – as in the Tower Hamlets Independent Group.

Not to mention defy Jeremy Corbyn’s call to councils to do the following:

Jeremy Corbyn has written to all Labour council leaders calling on them to resist calls to set illegal no cuts budgets.

In the letter, which is co-signed by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Local Government Secretary Jon Trickett, Corbyn points out that failure to set balanced budgets could see “Tory minister deciding council spending priorities”, and warns that “their priorities would certainly not meet the needs of the communities that elected us”.

More on Labour List.

* “Providing a platform for socialists and anti-austerity activists, inclusive of the Socialist Party, the National Shop Stewards Network and others not members of the Labour Party, in a widely based alliance, could be an important, even critical factor in defending the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership and building the anti-austerity movement.”

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 12, 2016 at 12:49 pm