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The Labour Party, Trotskyism and Pabloism.

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They Lost….

“Trotskyism is being studied as never before” The Brent Soviet.

“But we want to speak frankly to you, comrade Trotsky, about the sectarian methods which we have observed around us and which have contributed to the setbacks and enfeebling of the vanguard. I refer to those methods which consist in violating and brutalising the revolutionary intelligence of those militants – numerous in France – who are accustomed to making up their own minds and who put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts. These are the methods which consist in interpreting with no indulgence whatever the inevitable fumblings in the search for revolutionary truth. Finally, these are the methods which attempt, by a colonisation directed from without, to dictate to the labour movement attitudes, tactics or responses which do not come from the depths of its collective intelligence. It is in large part because of this that the French section of the Fourth International has shown itself absolutely incapable not merely of reaching the masses but indeed even of forming tried and serious cadres.”

Marceau Pivert to Trotsky. 1939 (Where is the PSOP Going?  A correspondence between Marceau Pivert, Daniel Guerin and Leon Trotsky)

 

With Trotskyists about to take over the Labour Party there is interest in the ideology and politics of this current on the left.

One figure we have yet to hear mention is Michael Pablo one, of many but by far the best known, party names of a revolutionary usually called Michel Raptis. The most reviled Trotskyist of the post-war period, he has been accused of being the father of lies, liquidationism, and revisionism of all stripes and spots.  In fact his ideas and career are important to anybody concerned with Trotskyism: an illustration of its worst faults and some of its better features.

It will come as no surprise that Tendance Coatesy, as with many other leftists, owes a political and ideological debt to this outstanding individual. That his principal orthodox Trotskyist enemies were Gerry Healy, Pierre Lambert and James Cannon – all po-faced right-wing authoritarians – one cannot but help but like Pablo.

This should be borne in mind even if we accept that the fundamental premises with which he, and all Trotskyists, worked, that the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, and China, not to mention countries like Cuba, had, by revolution or by bureaucratic imposition, become ‘non-capitalist’ social formations, part of a fundamentally new stage in history has been proved false. And that it’s hard to avoid acknowledging the erosion of the related belief, that ‘building revolutionary parties’ on the models laid down by Lenin and Trotsky was a realistic strategy to help create socialist societies in the capitalist world,  and overthrow the Stalinist bureaucratic ‘deformations’ in these non-capitalist countries.

Pabloism. 

The term Pabloism was first used during the splintering of Trotskyism in the 1950s. It referred to a set of positions advanced by Michael Rapitis during debates within the Fourth International, principality Pablo’s view that the “objective” growth of Stalinist-led ‘workers’ states’ ‘degenerated’ and deformed) meant that they had to have a strategy towards the mass Communist parties that could capture their base. He was accused of ‘liquidating’ the Trotskyist ‘programme’ as an independent point of reference outside of these parties.

Since many of his opponents had their own strategic alliances inside social democratic parties that disguised their true ‘programme’ (Gerry Healy’s pre-Socialist Labour League group in Labour ‘The Club‘, the original home of most UK ‘Trotksyist’ organisations and groupuscules) , not to mention  collaboration with right-wing anti-Communist elements backed by American funds (in France, in the union federation Force Ouvrière) this accusation looks  bad faith. More serious criticisms stem from the claim that Stalinist forms of Communism were a kind of ‘leap’ into a better form of society which Trotskyists should back (from the outside) and influence (from the inside).

The noise and fury (cited above) around such disagreements can only be understood by referring to earlier disputes which set the pattern for Trotskyist polemics that has endured to this day.

This process of raucous fractures and splits which can be traced back to the 1930s, notably in France. Despite the widespread impression that American Trotskyism, above all the US Socialist Workers’ party, was the lodestar of the movement, French Trotskyism was the centre of the Fourth International and many of the original parties – a country with (in the 1912 foundation, larger than the Socialist SFIO), and form 1936 ownwards a significant political player) a large Communist party to boot, and a deep-rooted socialist and communist tradition that sets it off from America. Before looking at what ‘Pabloism’ is we have to begin there.

One of the first Trotskyist groups in that country was the  la Ligue communiste founded in 1930. By the latter half of the decade there were already three main Trotskyist tendencies in the Hexagone (French Trotskyism) .

They were all organised around strong personalities: long embedded leadership is an enduring feature of Trotskyism (French Trotskyism)

Zeller’s Témoin du siècle (2000) outlines some of their disagreements. Perhaps it is most revealing on how the Trotskyists behaved after the ‘french turn’ which saw them joining the French Socialists, the SFIO.

Zeller describes their activists lecturing people on the First Congresses of the Third International and Trotsky’s line on the Chinese Revolution. Not surprisingly not everybody was impressed with these no doubt kindly meant lectures. They were kicked out of the party of Léon  Blum after, amongst other things,  a sustained campaign to build workers’ militias. For Trotsky the “La révolution française a commencé” with the wave of strikes that accompanied the election in 1936 of the Front Populaire you understand (Trotsky, Ou Va La France 1934 – 8, particularly the section on the ” milice ouvrière ” in  Socialisme et lutte armée.)

In his Mémoire d’un dinosaure trotskiste (1999) Yvan Craipeau describes the various positions Trotsky took on French politics,, from ‘entryism’ in the SFIO as the bolchevik-léniniste tendency, to efforts to influence Marceau Pivert’s “Gauche révolutionnaire” both while it remained in the Socialist party, and later (see above) when it was the independent Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan (PSOP). founded in 1938. Pivert memorably replied to Trotsky about their  efforts at hectoring instruction, that his party members “are accustomed to making up their own minds ” and that they “put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts” – not Trotsky’s international prognostics. 

Trotsky replied by, behind his back,  describing Pivert (as described by Zeller) as a false revolutionary in the mould of  a provincial school teacher.

The entire history is of  bitterness and great  complexity (one I am familiar with in case anybody wants a Trainspotter lesson…).  People wishing the investigate further should begin with these two books and look at this Wikipedia entries: Trotskisme en France. French Trotskyists.

But all this ill-will was a mere foreshadowing of the later splits in the Trotskyist movement.

Entryism.

To jump from those years: the key issues in the 1954 split included entryism (which Pablo advocated inside the mass Communist parties and well as social democracy) and this,

Pablo’s elevation of the “objective process” to “the sole determining factor” reducing the subjective factor (the consciousness and organization of the vanguard party) to irrelevance, the discussion of “several centuries” of “transition” (later characterized by Pablo’s opponents as “centuries of deformed workers states”) and the suggestion that revolutionary leadership might be provided by the Stalinist parties rather than the Fourth International—the whole analytic structure of Pabloist revisionism emerged. The Genesis of Pabloism.

Pablo indeed took seriously the prospect of a Third World war. In these conditions he  backed, and enforce, this entryist strategy known as ” entrism sui generis ” inside (where possible) Stalinist Communist parties, and just about everything  that moved on the social democratic left. This meant not just concealing  membership of the Trotskyist movement,  even to the point of point-bank denial of any link. Famously as the text above states he considered that it might take decades of such underground work for their efforts to bear fruit.

Apart from its inherent implausibility the prospect of ‘centuries’ of clandestine burrowing away seemed to  consign the Trotskyists to the fate of the Marranos, ‘converted’ Jews who ostensibly  submitted to Catholicism but practised their faith in secret.

The strategy had little impact in the Communist parties – in contrast to long-term and independently initiated entryism in the British Labour Party by Trotskyists (the secretive and bureaucratic ‘Militant’ group) who were distant from his Fourth International.

After winning support for these policies, and even a degree of power over the International, helped by the departure of Healey, Lambert and Canon (cited above) Rapitis by the end of the same decade  plunged into a new cause: anti-colonialism and the ‘Arab Revolution’. He lost control of the Fourth International to Ernest Mandel and Pierre Frank. He retired from it in the mid-sixties.

Romance about epochs of hidden revolutionary labour aside, the  idea of working within the French Parti communiste français (PCF) was, even at the time,  in view of the party’s  top-down structure  and intolerant culture, ill-thought out and profoundly misjudged. It was equally parasitic on the success of the party being ‘entered’ (as indeed the experience of the Labour Party indicates).

Nevertheless French Trotskyism emerged more openly on the 60s political scene when a group of young Communist students, led by Alain Krivine, founded the independent Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire in 1966. (1) Pablo did however put heart and soul in supporting the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria (a fight in which Krivine was also engaged) and was imprisoned for gun running to the independence fighters. He had a  brief period of influence in  the post-independence (5th of July 1962) Front de Libération Nationale, (FLN) notably on the leader Ben Bella (1916 – 2012) promoting the ideas of self-management. The Houari Boumédiènne,  1965 military coup put paid to that. (2)

The later politics of Pablo’s the  Tendance marxiste-révolutionnaire internationale (TMRI), and its French affiliate, the Alliance marxiste révolutionnaire (AMR) centred around the primacy of self-management.  They embraced the project of a ‘self-managed’ republic, took up themes such as feminism (in the mid-sixties), supported anti-colonial revolutions (without neglecting as their consequences unravelled, the necessary critique of ‘anti-imperialist’ national bourgeoisies), and defended democratic politics against Stalinism and orthodox Trotskyism. Pablo’s writings translated into English include a collection of his articles (Michel Raptis, Socialism, Democracy & Self-Management: Political Essays 1980 and his first-hand studies of workers’ control during the Allende government in Chile (Revolution and Counter Revolution in Chile by Michael Raptis. 1975) – another experience cut short by a bloody military coup.

New Left.

In the 1970s its members joined the Parti Socialiste Unifié, a French New Left party with over 30,000 members,  hundreds of councillors  during the late 60s and early 1970s and 4 MPs in 1967. Later the AMR was involved in other left alliances, all within the  traditions of workers’ self-management and New Left causes, participative democracy feminism, gay rights, green issues.  By the 1980s the TNR,  operated on a collegiate rather than a ‘Leader’ basis (and numbered outstanding figures such as Maurice Najman). It helped keep alive the ideas of workers’ control during the political triumph of neoliberalism. I was close to them in the 1980s (and attended one of their World Congress, the 8th) as a member of the Fédération pour une gauche alternative where we worked with the PSU in its final years.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CqjSS9FXEAAJxOm.jpg

Movements, that place ecological issues within the context of popular control, talk of new forms of democracy, owe something to those in the PSU and other New Left groups of the sixties and seventies across Europe. The TMRI was part of these currents, less and less concerned with building a revolutionary ‘party’ than with the interests of the movements themselves. (3) It could be said to have been a practical answer to the critique of Trotskyism offered by Claude Lefort of the group, Socialisme ou Barbarie in the 1950s.  Lefort once asked, why, without the kind of material basis of a Stalinist state or even a trade union administration, did all Trotskyist groups reproduce the bureaucratic forms of these apparatuses?One response is, yes, “liquidationism”, being part of the wider movement and not a self-styled ‘vanguard’.

Pabloism’s  legacy continues. It is one of many influences inside  the French ‘alternatifs’, left social- republicanism, and the (left-wing of) the  Front de Gauche (Ensemble) and more widely in the European and Latin American left.

Although a small number of  ‘Pabloites’ re-joined the ‘Mandelite’ Fourth International (already moving away from Trotskyist  ‘orthodoxy) in the 1990s most evolved away from ‘Trotskyism’ towards broader forms of democratic socialism and New Left radicalism. Some even became part of the French Greens (at the time known as Les Verts), while most, as indicated, merged into the broader left.

As the political landscape has radically changed since the fall of Official Communism and the entrenchment of neo-liberal economists and social policies in most of the world those associated with this current have  been involved in a variety of left parties and campaigns. Pablo’s anti-colonialism hardly meets the challenges we face today. But the democratic strand of workers’ self-management remains perhaps, a strand which retains its relevance in the emerging ideas and policies of the left, including within the Labour Party..

Unlike ‘entryism’ and dogmatic Trotskyism….

 

(1)One of the best accounts of this and Krivine’s background is in Hervé Hamon, Patrick Rotman, Génération, les années de rêve, Paris, Seuil, 1987. For 68 itself: Patrick Rotman et Hervé Hamon, Génération, T.2 Les années de poudre, Paris, Le Seuil, 1988,

(2)The best biographical introduction to Michel Raptis: on the Lubitz Trotskyanet –  here

(3) A  reliable sketch of the French affiliate of the TMRI, the AMR, is  available here: Bref aperçu de l’histoire du courant “pabliste” ses suites et sespériphéries en France 1965-1996.  A journal from this tradition is Utopie Critique.

From KS.

 

Trotsky Today: A Critical Balance Sheet.

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Today, the 20th of August,  is the 76th anniversary of Leon Trotsky’s murder by  Ramón Mercader agent of Stalin and the USSR state.

Trotskyism has been in the news recently.

Amongst the small left-wing groups, who present themselves as Jeremy Corbyn’s new best friends, are some who draw on Trotsky’s ideas. The Socialist Workers Party, in response to claims about Trotskyist politics, has published  Trotsky was right – we need a revolution. In Why is Leon Trotsky relevant today? the SWP’s Sue Caldwell sees merit in his revolutionary spirit. His writings on the united front ,and the need to look out for the “treachery” of the Labour Party and trade unions in the  1926 (….) General Strike remain guides on how to approach the Labour Party and union leaders today.  The SWP also  advances on its own special view (against Trotsky) on the ‘state capitalist’ nature of the former USSR.

The Socialist Party has this, The legacy of Leon Trotsky. This group states, “The ideas and methods of the Socialist Party and the socialist international to which it is affiliated, the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), are based on Trotsky’s, alongside those of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin.” “What are the lessons for today? There is an urgent need to create a new mass force that can gather together the struggles of the working class both on an industrial plane but also in the political arena itself. This requires the ‘dual task’ that the CWI set itself in the early 1990s of fighting for the rehabilitation of the ideas of socialism for the mass movement and of maintaining the clear programme of Marxism-Trotskyism. ” “Trotsky, having been relegated to the status of a political ‘nonentity’ by his opponents, with Robert Service merely being the latest addition to the ranks, will be resurrected as a major figure, not only among the workers’ movement, but in the struggle of the whole of humankind in the convulsive period opening up.

Socialist Appeal offers its own tribute Leon Trotsky: the man and his ideas, “On this occasion of the anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination, we renew our faith in the world working class and the revolutionaries ideas of Marxism. World revolution is now being put back on the agenda. We are therefore proud to stand on the shoulders of giants.”

As one might guess these approaches are different to that of this Blog.

We re-publish, with minor alterations, a long review article we produced in 2012.

Stalin’s Nemesis. The Exile, and Murder of Leon Trotsky. Bertrand M. Patenaude. Faber & Faber. 2009. Trotsky A Biography. Robert Service. Macmillan. 2009.

“Estimations of Trotsky tend to shade into explanations for his political downfall.” So comments Bertrand Patenaude.

How should the man be considered? Why should we be interested in his defeat?

Rigid, lacking sound political instincts, the overweening “flaw” in his haughty personality, – all judgements of Stalin’s Nemesis – Trotsky offered brilliant justification of the Russian Revolution, and mordant criticisms of Soviet rule under Stalin. To Robert Service Trotsky was “an exceptional human being and a complex one”. He was a major actor in a central drama of the 20th century, whose “ideas, including those about Russian history, had a lasting impact”.

Patenaude’s Stalin’s Nemesis is a solid, if not particularly friendly, account of Trotsky’s life following his expulsion from the Soviet Union. It frequently expands to encompass the longer course of his vocation, from inspiring mass leader to marginalised founder of the Fourth International.

But to get the full flavour of a study that puts the emphasis on how the one-time Commissar’s personality, imprinted with a “definite ideology”, shaped his career, from a leading player in the October capture of power, to exile, and victim of Stalin’s brutal revenge, one needs to read Robert Service’s biography. It has all the faults, and these flow in abundance, of such a method.

Not that would have expected a sympathetic portrait. In Stalin (2004) Service compared Trotsky’s use of violence to Stalin’s and stated that he alone of the leading Bolsheviks approached the Georgian “in bloodthirstiness”. Or indeed a rounded grasp of Communist ideology and history. In his Comrades (2007) Service asserted that by the end of the 19th century Marxism had become “an infallible set of doctrines and political substitute for religion.” And that Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ “new type of state” based on “one-party, one-ideology” with no respect for “law, constitution and popular consent” had spread to “mutate like a virus”, infecting the body of Fascism, Remaining around, apparently, to taint “the Islamist plans of Osama Bin Laden” and the Taliban.

Trotsky, Trotskyism and Communism.

Each book then offers not just narrative but assessments of Trotsky’s contribution (negative and positive) to the history of Communism and the Soviet Union, and Trotskyism’s own destiny. Patenaude’s story is largely centred on Trotsky’s life in Mexico, his homes in Coyoacán, and his wider historical description and judgements about Trotsky tend to flow from this location. This, despite its dismissive conclusion about the “dogma of Marxism” and Trotsky’s faith in the “glorious Soviet future” (did Patenaude mislay his style guide?) is gripping and illuminating.

Aware of his previous writings, one expects less, and gets a lot less, from Service. In an ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist review David North has rigorously unravelled the string of howlers and factual errors that litter the book – apparently from a serious historian – from names, dates of people’s death, (including that of Natalia, Trotsky’s wife) to graver errors (here). The claim that this is the “first full-length biography of Trotsky written by someone outside Russia who is not a Trotskyist” may, nevertheless, be true. It is less than sure that Service’s efforts in this direction, to offer a “more searching approach” than previous biographies, such as Isaac Deutscher’s celebrated Trilogy, or the painstakingly documented publications of Pierre Broué, not to mention his subject’s own “self-serving and misleading” accounts, offer more than acres of darkness about Trotsky.

Mexico, after years of wandering in exile, initially internal, in Kazakhstan, to outside the USSR in Turkey, France, to Norway, was Trotsky’s final home. The axe had fallen. He was now, for the Soviet state, officially a “counter-revolutionary” who had formed an illegal anti-Soviet party. No country appeared comfortable with receiving this dangerous revolutionary.

But, from 1937 up till his murder in 1940, the Russian revolutionary found a guarded welcome from the Mexican President Cárdenas, a supporter of the Spanish republic and protector of countless loyalist refugees. The agrarian reformer had yielded to lobbying from the celebrated muralist, and self-styled Trotskyist, Diego Rivera, and out of a sense that it was the “proper thing to do” had accepted the Russian revolutionary. The artist housed him in Coyoacán, in his casa azul (blue house), “filled with plants and flowers, pre-Columbian sculptures” and “a fruit bearing orange tree” in the patio.

Trotsky Under Siege.

With talent Patenaude describes the enveloping clouds around Trotsky’s stay. Life in the Blue House, where he had an affair with Rivera’s wife, the painter Frida Kahlo (riven in many minds by Julie Taymor’s dashing bio-film), the turbulent personality of her husband, a political-emotional storm, was not without its own drama. Sketches of Trotsky’s intimate relationship with his wife, Natalia, his pastimes, fishing, hunting, cacti collecting, and fraught diners, enliven the human side of – to anyone immersed in the drier side of Trotskyist literature – of the Old Man. There are snapshots of an earlier existence, from his role as the Bolshevik Army leader, the bitter struggles with Stalin following Lenin’s death in 1924, to his eventual hounding out of the Party.

That past was brought back quickly. In the growing Stalinist Terror, Moscow ideologues, and their international counterparts in the Communist parties’ international, the Comintern, attacked Trotsky the ‘counter-revolutionary’. Near-by the Mexican Communist Party launched violent campaigns against his presence. From the start Trotsky and his entourage were under siege. Unfortunately, not only real threats weighed on them.

This had domestic echoes. There were petty rows. “Life in the Trotsky household was marked by frequent periods of tension and petty strife which at times had the effect of undermining Trotsky’s security.” Which, by the time they had moved from the Blue House to the Avenida Viena (a result of the liaison with Frida) had become a full-time task. This was not always well carried out, despite efforts to recruit reliable guards, install alarm systems, and watch towers. Those out to crush him got closer and closer to Trotsky’s immediate circle. They imprisoned and executed members of his family, and assassinated important Trotskyist activists on the streets of Europe.

The campaign spread to whole political movements. In Spain the 1937, a Stalinist-instigated suppression of, at the height of the Civil War, the ‘Trotskyist’ POUM (an independent anti-Stalinist Marxist group that Trotsky’s own dozen strong band of Spanish followers had been told to reject as ‘centrist’) was undertaken on the grounds of their ‘services’ for “European and Asiatic fascism”. Amid the repression their leader, the Catalan Andreu Nin, was abducted from prison, tortured and murdered by a GPU-led squad.

By the start of 1940 the henchmen of the Soviet Union’s GPU were operating with the purpose of eliminating Trotsky in his New World redoubt. The infiltration by Stalinist agents, first Bob Harte, then, the sadly well known, under various names, Mercedor (Ramón, Raymond), Jacques Mornard, who wormed his way into the Coyoacán refuge, by the cruel seduction of the trusted Sylvia Ageloff, is outlined with all its tortuous mendacity, and form a riveting narrative.

Wider politics played the major part of Trotsky’s life in exile. The Marxist revolutionary had not come to Mexico to abandon the fight against Stalinism; he wished to confront it with all possible means. Apart from holding the reins of the nascent Fourth International – in preparation since Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933, and founded officially in 1938 – Trotsky wrote prolifically on international affairs, offering criticisms on a global scale of Communist policies, and continued to narrate the internal disasters of the Soviet Union. In the Bulletin of the Opposition, and countless articles for the international left (and bourgeois) press he showed the truth about the “privileged caste” that made up the ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’, and the ‘gravedigger’ of the Russian Revolution, Stalin. Trotsky tried to organise resistance on a world-scale. Trotsky was still engaged in a biography of Stalin up to Mercador’s lethal assault.

Dewey Commission.

Patenaude describes a central episode in this unequal combat: the Dewy Commission, (1937). This was set up to challenge the Soviet charge that Trotsky was behind untold plots ‘uncovered’ during the Great Terror, and prosecuted during the Moscow trials. The 78-year-old American educationalist and pragmatist philosopher, John Dewy, who headed the public tribunal, declared that the injustice of this ‘legal’ process ranked with the Dreyfus affair and that of Sacco and Vanceti.

This Commission, an Inquiry into such claims, visited his Central American location. It took testimonies from many sources, and was not without its difficult moments for Trotsky. Here his record as a leading Bolshevik came into play. How could the former People’s Commissar (as Service asserts much more frequently) demand the rights of democratic justice when his own actions in power had betrayed them? Stalin’s Nemesis suggests that Trotsky was forced into a corner over his defence of his action in suppressing the 1921 Kronstadt rebellion – his role as “the bloody Field Marshall Trotsky”.

It might have been relevant here to read what Victor Serge had to say on the subject. That if, as Trotsky alleged (high-handedly) the revolt was led by men different to those who once rose in support of the October Revolution, that whether the Party that crushed them was also the same. Or was it not too already suffering from “bureaucratic befoulment”? Did in fact there have to be some kind of re-assessment, as Serge suggested, of the early years of Bolshevik power, beginning with the introduction of the Cheka (forerunner of the GPU and other state security organs) and the suppression of overt opposition to the Party? That, the “central Committee”, by condemning in 1918 the right to apply the death penalty “without hearing the accused who could not defend themselves” an “Inquisitional procedure forgotten by European civilisation.” (1)

If the Moscow trials, the Commission concluded, were a frame-up (a view, to our astonishment today, not shared by many on the left), this leaves unresolved the difficulties, moral and political, these particular issues raise. Patenaude outlines the American educator’s 1938 exchange with Trotsky on ethics. The Dialectical Materialist claimed that the class struggle was the ultimate basis of all morals. That under Lenin the Party had followed the ‘laws’ of social development and revolution in crushing its enemies. That, “the end is justified if it leads to increasing the power of man over nature and to the abolition of power of man over man.” In contrast Stalin used unrestrained terror to serve the authority of bureaucratic rule. Thus, he concluded, ends had a ‘dialectical’ relation to means. Stalin’s goal needed repression, Lenin and Trotsky’s….

Dewey asked in reply if these ‘laws’ had testable proof, and what ‘means’ precisely were ruled out to achieve a world where people were free. One might conclude that how to maintain some kind of human decency regardless of the political circumstances remains unresolved. Dewey to an extent shared with Trotsky the premise that morality was not fixed but (as the American later wrote) based on “growth, improvement and progress”. He foresaw its future in a wider democratic process rather than formal political association – social development towards ending the rule of a minority over others in short. This leaves open what kind of political action gave an opportunity for Stalin to rise to power, and the lack of clarity about Trotsky’s defence of early Bolshevik methods of compulsion. In what sense, viewed today, can we say that they were in line with the promise of future human liberation? This end has yet to come.

Trotsky as a Politician and Revolutionary.

What then of the politician, the Marxist, the revolutionary leader? Patenaude cites Max Eastman’s opinion that Trotsky “lacked the gift for personal friendship”; he had no real friends, but “followers and subalterns”. Whatever the claims in Their Morals and Ours about “ending power over people” his political action was based on instrumental authority. That he saw “individuals as servants to an aim and an idea rather than personalities in their own right.”

Eastman was well-placed to know: he fell out with Trotsky over his casual treatment well before he broke with the left and began a steady drift rightwards. But how far does this get us? Trotsky no doubt considered himself equally as a tool – of History (as Edmund Wilson described his self-image in To The Finland Station). In this fashion he was an actor in pre-written script. British intelligence agent (and financier of anti-Bolshevik forces), Bruce Lockhart, said of Trotsky during the Revolution “he strikes me as a man who would willingly die fighting for Russia provided there was a big enough audience to see him do it.” But from this, to try, as Robert Service does, to align the course of Trotsky’s political career around his personal qualities, from “alienating others” to “will to dominate”, is less than savoury.

Not that we can blithely reduce Service’s arguments, as Tariq Ali so characteristically does, to the thesis that “Trotsky was a cold blooded and ruthless murderer” whose crimes merit exposure (Guardian Review. 31.10.09). Some of the hostile judgements in Trotsky A Biography are far from baseless. In the heat of the Civul War leader of the Red Army used ruthless repressive violence against ‘counter-revolutionaries’ (a very large category), backed forced ‘militarised’ labour, celebrated harsh restrictions on free speech and limited any right to non-party opposition, and vaunted this in Terrorism and Communism (1920). Even Ali, given to hero-worshiping himself, admits the Bolsheviks decided to “hold onto power whatever the cost”. Trotsky never openly regretted his actions, or retracted these views.

But that if there is one thing that marks out Service’s Trotsky it is a relentless wish to bring the role of the individual in History centre stage. Trotsky: A Biography constantly runs the risk of replacing critical historical determinism by a critique of one individual’s personality and his – dependent – choices. In reality Trotsky’s perception of himself as part of a broader movement of events was not wholly misjudged. His fate was laid out as much by history as by the workings of his character. His “greater propensity for commands than for discussion”, his “extremely violent” practice, (for the sake of argument, conceded without countervailing traits) only flourished in conditions where people and institutions obeyed. Where in fact violence had become entrenched – by causes far beyond the Will of a “high order” Intellect. Whose origins are beyond the character defects of one revolutionary leader.

Trotsky: A Biography is, then, dominated by the working out of an inner destiny. Yet, in Stalin Service had noted, “Neither Lenin nor Stalin was a wholly free agent. They were constrained by the nature of the regime which they had created.” This is even truer of Trotsky. His inability to sustain his position owed less to a general lack of political abilities than to an absence of the very specific skills – mixing loud loyalty with low cunning, a capacity to reassure the apparatus and build a coterie around him – that were needed to win power in the emerging bureaucratic state.

It is obvious that organising a kaleidoscope of alliances, from the left to the United Opposition, on a platform of challenging the growth and power of this army of functionaries, was not going to make much head-way inside the very Party that swelled in symbiosis with the bureaucracy. Trotsky disdained to make appeals outside this circle. Then, the real issues are deeper. Why did he help build the administration only to attempt its transformation? Did he, even given his handicaps as a politician, offer anything other than a variant on the “model” of the one-party one-ideology state? Was Trotsky, for all his later criticisms of the Stalinist system, too wrapped in a set of near-identical assumptions about Capitalism and building Socialism, to offer a realistic different form of Communism? In sum, did he leave behind anything of value to the present world?

Trotsky and the Soviet Regime.

Service is in little doubt about the central responsibility Trotsky had in forming the Soviet regime, and his reasons for doing so. To begin with, Trotsky’s life was marked out by a dictatorial personality-become-dictatorial politics. Living life on his own terms, the young Trotsky became father to the man; “intensely self-righteous” his ideology propelled him into enforcing a closed political system, his version of Marxism as a guide to creating a Communist society. The means? He rejected individual terrorism, only to support “mass terror realised by the revolutionary class” – which brooked no opposition to the “proletarian dictatorship” that would construct socialism.

In this respect, “the Bolshevik regime was flawed from its inception”. Trotsky may have begun as a supporter of workers’ liberation but “As soon as he had power, he eagerly suppressed popular aspirations by violence.” Next, Trotsky’s own inability to offer a convincing alternative, in democratic and economic terms, to Stalin’s version of a totalitarian state, was thorough-going. He was unable to think outside of the Party, “the Party in the final analysis is always right because the party is the sole historical instrument given to the proletariat for the solution of its fundamental tasks”. Such fundamental ‘partyism’ Service calls “the frame of communist authoritarianism”.

Trotsky had differences over policies with Stalin (and he claimed that some of them, promoting socialisation and land collectivisation, were adopted, albeit in a ‘deformed’ way during the period of the first Five Year Plans). Nevertheless, Trotsky’s strategy, for a whole decade, was to capture that party. When this failed (signalled by the German Communists’ crumbling in the face of Hitler) he wanted to build a new one. But its ‘workers’ democracy’ closely resembled the Bolsheviks’ own proto-totalitarian machine – the forging of that “sole historical instrument for the proletariat.”

The failure of Trotsky’s prophetic Marxism was complete. Instead of an inevitable revolt to restore workers’ power. When there was (in the Transitional Programme’s words) the “downfall of the Bonapartist clique and the Thermidorian bureaucracy” there was no socialist take-over to take over the bureaucracy and create a new ‘superstructure’ over the ‘socialist’ foundations of the economy. Capitalism was restarted in the Soviet Union, and its satellites. Collective property ended up in the hands of a new state protected bourgeoisie.

Much of the argument of Stalin’s Nemesis resembles the Bellman’s in The Hunting of the Snark (“What I tell you three times is true”). Trotsky was bad, bad and bad. But what remains? For all this constant battering on one-theme Service still raises important problems (from the nature of political Marxism to the development of capitalism). We have then, Trotsky, the thoroughly cold, brilliant, World Actor, which first brought him to prominence, but whose inability to relate to others, and to act as an ordinary politician (making allies, cutting deals) then isolated him, while his know-all imperiousness and indifference to others, helped doom what little chance he had of forming a new International during his exile. Thus, Trotsky “did not suffer fools gladly: indeed he did not suffer them at all.”

One supposes that this is not an attribute that recommends itself to anyone on a dispassionate jury selecting Commissars with the power of life and death over others. Though it seems a good qualification for many positions, from entrepreneurs, CEOs, political spin-doctors and indeed British government figures, all with at least (in theory) more constraints than Trotsky had around him during his years in power. Is this in any case a fair character assessment, if not exactly psychometrics? Service is not alone is describing a Trotsky that always saw the wood, the human mass, and never the individual human tree. That, Trotsky was barely a Politician at all, and never even began to present a challenge to Stalin, during his Soviet years. Or that afterwards in the vainglorious attempt to form a Fourth International as an alternative to Stalinist Communism and the reformist (and ‘centrist’ left-wing) socialist and social democratic parties, Trotsky overreached himself. He was left with, when all seemed lost, as Patenaude states, only faith in a better future.

Terror, Communism and Democratic Marxist Criticism.

But this leads us further. To the ‘dictatorial-political’ strain in Trotsky’s ideology and person. To this, Trotsky’s ingrained support for repression. Service justly brings forward Terrorism and Communism (1920) which we have already referred to above. This is a key text (my edition is published tellingly by Gerry Healy’s Workers’ Revolutionary Party). Trotsky polemicises against the German Second International Marxist Kautsky, who defended a conventional form of democratic socialist government based on free elections and civil liberties. In high Jacobin mode Trotsky argued that not only the needs of the hour called for the severest form of revolutionary dictatorship, but that ruthless repression of political enemies, and compulsion in all spheres of life, from labour armies, to swift punishment for any disobedience to Soviet Rule, were inevitable features of any transition to a socialist society. Service intercalates the reality behind such sentences.

The Bolsheviks had indeed “Shot innocent hostages. They had stripped large social groups of their civil rights. They had glorified terrorist ideas and gloried in their application” That this is, if anything, an underestimation of Trotsky’s totalitarianism, can be seen from these oft-quoted words, “..The road to socialism lies through a period of the highest possible intensification of the principle of the state. Just as a lamp, before going out, shoots up a brilliant flame, so the state, before disappearing, assumes the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. i.e., the most ruthless form of the state, which embraces the life of the citizens authoritatively in every direction.” (Terrorism and Communism. 1975 Edition.) Nobody who supported these ideas, or even briefly entertained them, can stand today with much credit, even if his target, Kautsky’s conventional defence of progress through reform, made little difference to the ruin and chaos of Europe in this period.

But how did Trotsky come to this view? This is not clearly explained. There is no serious reference to previous writings supporting such a comprehensive use of force over politics, and the prime motor of the economy, even if one can detect traces of it in earlier braggadocio and toying with the imagery of the French Revolution.

For most of its existence, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was, for Marxists, in so far as Marx himself used it sparingly, hardly at all. It referred to a period when the working class imposes its rule as a class, not a party, and there is no doubt room for great ambiguity in the term. Hal Draper has argued that the phrase was taken over to gain, and transform, a large part of the contemporary radical left, that is those influenced and organised in the Blanquist tradition. This modelled itself on France in 1789 and truly wished for a sharp short period of outright forceful rule by a revolutionary minority to set the people free. By contrast Marx, he states, emphasised another side of ‘dictatorship in this sense (that is, in the 19th century where the phrase was coined)”. For him it signified an emergency period of ‘rule’, turned into administration by the working class majority – that is, democracy, hence “nothing more and nothing less than ‘rule of the proletariat – the “conquest of political power, by the working class, the establishment of a workers’ state in the immediate post revolutionary period.” (The Dictatorship of the Proletariat from Marx to Lenin. 1987).

Draper argued that the problem with Lenin, and equally with Trotsky, was that they were unable to see the workers’ state in these democratic terms. That Trotsky in the above work went “farthest in advocating the workers’ democracy in state affairs”. As a result throughout Trotsky’s life, Draper observes, there was confusion, a separating between ”the concept ‘workers’ state (‘dictatorship of the proletariat’) from the question of working-class control from below (‘rule’).” (Hal Draper. Op cit.) Which leaves open the nature of what Draper calls the influence of the “environment”, the political atmosphere, that allowed/encouraged Trotsky to deform Marx. This fierce rhetoric, if it did not come from a close understanding of Marx, could not just be the product of the Russian left’s internal development.

It is history, not Marxist classics, that supplies some of the answer. In the early Soviet Union Lenin’s initial programme of placing the workers in charge of all levels of the state – a plan to ensure its eventual ‘withering away’ as its functions were devolved to society – were overwhelmed by the needs of the Civil War. If, that is, it was ever seriously contemplated not much of it remained – from Taylorist One-Man Management in the factories, to state rule by decree. Soviet power, that is, the Bolsheviks; hold on the administration, had, Trotskyists still argue, to be defended at all costs.

The Generals of the White Armies were open about their desire to crush their Bolshevik enemies. They smashed anything that stood in their way, they would have re-imposed autocratic rule over the corpses of the workers, the Jews, and the left. That in these conditions, “The question as to who will rule the country, i.e. the life or death of the bourgeoisie, will be decided on either side, not by references to the paragraphs of the constitution, but by the employment of all forms of violence.” (Terrorism and Communism) Can this be faulted? Some may say that a fight for life and death would be better pursued with a democratically mobilised country behind a left government and the Soviets. But then hindsight is not much of a guide to historical explanation.

The issue here, though, is not only that Trotsky (according to his democratic critics) was wrong, preparing the way for a lamp that burnt right through the Russian people’s lives, but that the “bloody Field Marshall” was also a personality which was moulded by long wars that had drenched the land in blood. That a soil which threw up so many similar types needs as much explaining as the individual, the theory, and the state machine that gave it free reign. That regardless of the contribution of the latter (which we will return to), the fields of slaughter in Europe and Russia were created not by Communist theory, or the Soviets, but by imperial clashes. That Trotsky’s militarism was largely their product not Marx’s, or even one strand within Russian Social Democracy (Trotsky’s own position in-between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks for much of his career would seem to make his views the result of many different influences) and that it is the height of a biographer’s vanity to imagine that he can judge the Man without looking deeply into the conditions in which he throve.

Brutality in the Civil War. 

How is this? Service refers to Trotsky’s early championing of the terrifyingly brutal short stories of Isaac Babel. Trotsky showed his “eye for excellence” by picking them out. Lionel Trilling described The Red Cavalry based on the author’s experience of fighting with Cossack irregular troops in Poland, as about “violence of the most extreme kind”, “written in a kind of lyric joy” (Penguin 2007). In this it mirrors a substantial part of early 20th century writing, early futurism, and given depth and realism in post Great War literature, such as in the novels of the ultra-nationalist Freikörps supporter, Ernst Jünger, which was infected with descriptions of this “rush” of violence. In Britain we remember better anti-war memories, poetry and works such as Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. But amongst accounts of the horrors of armed conflict, of the steady attrition of life, and daily deprivations of the trenches, and, naturally, of the Russian Civil War, we can see that not just characters in novels revelled in brutality, an ultra-modernist longing for a new world cleansed by violence, or a reactionary need to water the native earth with the blood of foreigners. A brutal cast of mind was widely spread in real life.

If Trotsky had his share of this, then it should be recognised that it was less his inner character that drove him than the forces of History he, after all, felt obliged to follow. Service’s near ancient Greek drama, in which the path traced out by one’s inherent personal qualities is given, shows its limits here. The breakdown of ‘civilisation’ and its barbaric replacement profoundly shaped the politics and public personalities of the inter-war period. The resulting culture of ‘hardness’ contributed, as is more than well-known, to the ultimate cult of violence, the demarcation of Friend and Enemy on racial grounds in the Nazi State.

Stalin had his own violent background, as a near-gangster, described in Montefoire’s Young Stalin (2007). This ingrained his predisposition to revenge any slight, and gave a taste for the liquidation of enemies. Trotsky, by contrast, had had time, when that régime’s nature became apparent, to show at least some self-reflection on the error of letting violence prevail over politics – a great deal of time during his Mexican exile. Is this the result? The Fourth International’s (FI) Transitional Programme (1938) calls for a state run by the people through Soviets in which “all political currents of the proletariat can struggle for leadership of the soviets on the basis of the widest democracy.” Without defining what are the workers’ political currents, and what are not, this is not enough of a self-criticism. But a far cry from hurling anathemas at all but One current. And, if he did not recognise this change, Trotsky never got the hang of recognising that kind of turn.

The Fourth International.

Another layer of Trotsky: A Biography lies in the lengthy history of the FI’s founder’s political struggle and his policies. It would be wearying to delve too deeply here. There is much material that may be found wanting. Trotskyists (such as Pierre Broué) have claimed that the Trotsky and the opposition did offer an alternative political structure (workers’ democracy inside the Party), and a programme for administrative reform toward a democratic socialist economy. The crucial issue though is organisational. Trotsky soon retreated from War Communism. Rule by force, and the militarisation of labour was never extended to his planned subordination of Trade Unions to production. Lenin’s death left him the lurch.

By 1923 he began to regroup and react to the growing power of Stalin and the emerging bureaucratic monolith. In that year’s The New Course he began to identify a new bureaucratic stratum – a distinction with Lenin’s conception of the lingering influence of Imperial office practice. Against this Trotsky agitated for the right of the party masses to engage in ideological debate. This was largely justified on the grounds that the direct expression of differing opinions – from the base – would help root out bureaucracy. With echoes of his much earlier critique of Leninism Trotsky asked, “If factions are not wanted, there must not be any permanent groupings; if permanent groupings are not wanted, temporary grouping must be avoided; finally, in order that there be no temporary groupings, there must be no differences of opinion, for wherever there are two opinion, people inevitably group together.” This was published; the gates barring all criticism had not closed yet. But it met strong resistance.

Against this line of reasoning Stalin was able to make capital out of Trotsky’s acquiescence in the 10th Bolshevik Party (R.C.P (B) Conference’s secret decision to suppress all factionalising (1921). From there Stalin called Trotsky’s calls for vibrant inner-party discussion during the 13th Conference (1924) “unrestrained agitation for democracy” an “absolute and a fetish” which “is unleashing petty-bourgeois elemental forces.” It was in vain that Trotsky protested that he was opposed to factions, that he believed that (as previously cited) “in the last analysis the Party is always right.” Stalin was in a position to go full throttle. Leninism, he asserted, was built as a “monolithic organisation, hewed from a single block, possessing a single will and in its work uniting all shades of thought into a single current of practical activities.” As Stalin gradually consolidated his power this version of Democratic Centralism won out, and the unitary Will found no place for Trotsky’s opinions.

Without exaggerating Trotsky’s chances – trapped, as he was, in a political web partly of his own making, which paralysed his freedom of action – this issue, of democracy, is the crucial one. Hal Draper grasped the nettle. Either Trotsky recognised freedom for factionalism inside a Communist organisation – which he was never to do – or he too would end up confronting the need to suppress “differences of opinion”. Nor can differences be confined inside a single party. Political history is the history of factionalising, from groupings, tendencies, cliques, fractions, factions, to sects. The Greek word, ‘stasis’, that is the attempt to upset the existing order, the urge to overthrow the powers that be, ‘sedition’, is the spring behind their existence. It is a universal political phenomenon (insofar as politics – disputing and agreeing – are human qualities), as much as production itself. Before the Russian Revolution Georges Sorel, who preferred anti-party syndicalism, was fond of referring to socialist parties that tended to smoother differences in bureaucratic oligarchies and engage in parliamentary office-seeking and jobbery.

Ban on inner-party democracy. 

To some the turn of Bolshevism-in-power into Stalinism indicates an even worse fate. One major factor in party bureaucratisation (apart from the wider social hierarchy they often mirror) is a ban on factionalism – or (as in the more modern period) a gutting out of inner-party democracy to prevent differing currents’ voices having any effect on their policy. The Bolsheviks were long accused of tendencies in this direction (not least by Trotsky himself). This was false, though one should not idealise the freedom to criticise that existed in an atmosphere of heated clashes and the threat of expulsions inside Lenin’s party. Stalin, as we have seen, raised such a move to a point of principle. Trotsky attempted to halt the dynamic. That he did so only is a very half-heartened way, and completely endorsed the Communist monopoly of power, is clear. But from there to allege that Trotsky’s initial attempts to at least raise some degree of opposition to bureaucratic rule, at a terrible cost to his own political career, that he, in Service’s opinion had “laid several foundation stones for the erection of Stalin’s political, social and even cultural edifice” is presumptuous. It should not be forgotten that by 1923 he was doing his utmost to assemble the blocks in a very different way.

Trotsky, therefore, remains ambiguous. His later writings, displayed in the limpid prose of The History of the Russian Revolution (1932 – 3) the brilliant analysis of the degeneration of the Soviet Union in The Revolution Betrayed (1937), which analysed Soviet bureaucracy in terms of administering shortages, should not dazzle us into ignoring that they were flawed. Claims that the revolution had left a fundamentally healthy socialist form of property – hence economy, were deeply problematic. Service is right to note Trotsky’s inability to see any plausible way that the October Revolution could be ‘righted’ to correspond to this enduring ground.

Perhaps more significantly this perspective skewed his judgement, anxious for the socialist productive forces to expand, Trotsky considered their growth over-rode many other considerations. His enthusiasm for the Soviet Union, largely founded on this perspective, in the years before his assassination, right up to the invasion of Finland, and the Partition of Poland, shows serious errors of judgement. Perry Anderson has claimed that far from ‘de-generating’ the dynamic of Stalinism reached out further and produced a “generation” of new Stalinist states, not only through force of Russian arms, but in Asia, by indigenous revolutionary combat (Trotsky’s Interpretation of Stalin. 1978). That this, against Anderson, was not a sign of a “transition beyond capitalism” can be seen in the present-day Chinese regime.

Trotsky, Strategy and Marxist Theory.

Was Trotsky a major Marxist theorist? He wrote and spoke in sweeping generalisations, with illustrations, rather than conceptual analysis and thoroughly researched references, peppering his paragraphs. In contrast to Lenin, his views were not presented through dense texts designed for an activist to chew over but by lyrical prose that aims to seduce a general audience. The histories move us, and the fate of the Russian Revolution is explained in a way that leaves its imprint, without necessarily satisfying our curiosity about those he disagreed with (all are given fairly short shrift), or taxing our minds too much. Amongst his theories the ‘law of combined development’ (called in Trotskyist circles “the Law of Combined and Uneven Development’), summarises some perhaps useful ideas. It is far from law-like – claims about the different rates of development across the world, and the potential for ‘leaps’ from forms of manufacturing to modern industrialisation, from autocratic regimes to democracies are heaped together with (Trotsky’s version of) socialism. This discovery’s presence is sometimes still glimpsed in academic leftist discourse about international development – uneven apparently, but ‘combined’ with global trends.

One has the impression that Trotsky wrote rather like some supercilious British leftist orator who imagines he has cleverly shown his enemies up as fools and knaves and expects the audience to nod in agreement. Is a fluent and appealing rendering of a speaking style everything? Lenin’s own production sharpens one’s critical senses despite often-wooden phraseology (one imagines the original Russian is not much different in that respect). But they compel because the founder of the Soviet State’s core works are very concrete analysis of specific political conjunctures – leading up to the 1918 Revolution, and the problems it faced afterwards. All that he produced was grounded on weighty studies about the development of capitalism in Russia, its politics and flashes of insight into the operations of the world system – imperialism. One who is opposed to the Bolsheviks’ Dictatorship of the Proletariat through a democratic centralist party, and any aspect of their policies, is always aware of these, rather than anyone else’s, (that is, Trotsky onwards) premises.

When Lenin discussed philosophy in Materialism and Empirico-Criticism he went to the sources, even if he dosed his writing with heavy-handed polemic. This was no exception, when Lenin polemicised he read and grappled with his opponents’ arguments. His notes on Hegel demonstrate a remarkable effort under the hardest circumstances to think something new. Trotsky was different. Marxism was largely a settled matter for him. He replied to American critics of Dialectics by regurgitating the homilies of early Dia-Mat and showed few signs of grasping what the contrary opinion was about. As for conjunctural writings, Trotsky on Germany (the rise of Hitler) and France (during the Popular Front) never capture Lenin’s zest for detail. Their telegraphed message, that the workers’ parties should unite – against the emerging Nazi threat – or to break from the mildly reformist and strongly respectable Parti Radical can be seen now, as rather thin. The latter – while in accord with rising French workers’ occupations, failed to anticipate that the fall of the Popular Front government (which relied on their co-operation) would not result in the rise of a powerful left party eager for Trotsky’s advice on how to form Committees of Action that would reflect the will of the “struggling masses”. Naturally the Popular Front collapsed – Trotsky was not there to help the left.

If these are well-known cases of Trotsky’s apparent foresight, even more contentious were efforts to roll out comment on a wider range of world political issues, from Britain to China. They stretch even the admirers’ capacity to defer to Trotsky’s authority. Trotsky’s role as Global sage became a major cause (or perhaps, symptom) of his failure to win converts from existing left-wing groups to the banner of the Fourth International. So, opining on Spain (not a country he was in any way really familiar with), Trotsky attacked one of the few independent European Marxist groups with any social weight, the POUM.

His writings, which criticised the party for its willingness to engage in support for the Republican government, are a disgraceful farrago of wishful thinking and spite. It is not to their honour that Trotskyists today continue to try to snaffle some glory for having ‘defended’ the POUM, or lay claim to its desperate struggle – as Ken Loach attempted in the film, Land and Freedom. (2) As for the predictions, sometimes Trotsky was acute (in foreseeing, like many others) a war between the USSR and Nazi Germany, other times, embarrassing, like his feeling that that the second World War would result in genuine Continent-wide workers’ revolutions. Régis Debray once described Trotsky as an expert on everything under the sun, and a few things more besides. This is fair comment.

It is sometimes said that Trotsky tried to ride the waves of history, buoyed up in an epoch of revolutions that had their own inner currents. Trotsky’s constant refrain that capitalism was in decline, that the world would soon see another crisis that would give birth to a new wave of radical Marxist-led revolutions, and that the miniscule Fourth International (the embodiment of historical truth) would play a major role in these uprisings, tend to confirm this. They are both quaint (his longing for the Sublime when we would all be geniuses) and misleadingly vague (the end of ‘power’). Yet there continues to be grandeur in his stand. If we can be harsh with our criticisms of him it is not to diminish the immense courage that he showed in raising the banner of opposition to Stalin. His ideas were not, by a long shot, completely misguided. He did fight, tooth and nail, against the burgeoning bureaucratic state – if on a basis which has its flaws, (but then what would not have been faultless given its origins inside the Communist Party?). He was hated enough by Stalin to be murdered. Patenaude notes that in 1961 Brezhnev gave his killer (released from gaol in 1960) the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star medal for, “heroism and bravery’ and ‘carrying out a special task’.

The Legacy.

What of Trotsky’s legacy? Patenaude never musters the effort needed to go far into this question, contenting himself with the solemn comment that the Marxist revolutionary died a “prisoner of the myth of October as a workers’ revolution.” Service at least tries to draw some balance-sheet. It does not ignore the most significant aspect – the destiny of his political following, as well as his place in the public imagination of the wider left. As he put it in Comrades, Trotsky was, around 1968, hauled onto the “pedestal of esteem” by students and young people. This has, he claims, faded. In Stalin’s Nemesis, he observes that Trotskyists have never been “much larger than groupuscles”, who “never came close to taking power anywhere”. That Trotsky was to become little more than a “comfort blanket for revolutionaries who did not mind that they were not making a revolution” These remarks may please those who think the Russian Revolution’s myth is all that Trotsky’s politics represented, both as a legend himself, and the bearer of its mythology, he would seem for Patenaude and Service to have been tried, and, for all his better qualities, found severely wanting. It would be fruitless to protest that the real problems with Trotsky are only to do with his own activities. Apart from the assessment of his life and fatal decease, we should perhaps pay more than passing attention to what they indicate to present-day left political life.

What then of the Trotskyist movement? It is far more influential than Service credits – its impact continues throughout the left, notably in France, but also in Britain where Trotskyists had a hey-day in the 1970s Labour Party. More recently those with a Trotskyist background were elected to the Scottish Parliament (before descending into fractious dispute). Trotskyism has offered a political induction for countless individuals, including the former Prime Minister of France, Lionel Jospin, prominent Labour MPs, and even Ministers. In many countries Trotskyists are a significant presence in trade unions. Trotskyist groups have provided and still offer a range of different ideas on politics, a full galaxy of opinions on nearly every weighty issue.

What then of their faults? Many of these can be traced back to Trotsky. Trotsky’s effort to build a new International involved him in constant attacks on all other independent anti-Stalinist groups – without exception. He could not have equal allies – the American SWP was tolerated for its ready obedience. When that dried up within sections of the New York party, his wrath was immense, showering his critics with abuse. The ability to tolerate contradiction was not the Dialectician’s forte. Like Trotsky many have not yet, despite the recognition of multi-party democracy by the Fourth International in 1977 entirely agreed on the nature of democracy’s importance to socialism. This position is not universally accepted. Some from the Trotskyist tradition remain wedded to Trotsky’s hostility to factionalism, as the long list of expulsion and splits from the British Socialist Workers Party indicate all too clearly. Others are even more backward looking, basing themselves entirely on Trotsky’s words. But his or her judgements alone are unlikely to convince anyone who does not share this belief in a grace radiating from his life.

Their time has passed, and we do not have to turn our backs every time we act to look at the works and deeds of Trotsky, Lenin or Stalin, to decide what we should do today. When we do – at some point we on the left have to have some guidance in the history that has shaped us – we will find matters of interest and reflection in writings such as Patenaude’s toil in the archives – but precious little Enlightenment in any of Service’s words.

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

(1)  Victor Serge. Once More Kronstadt. 1938. In a full dossier of the affair, headed by Trotsky’s explanation. The Konstadt Rebellion in the Soviet Union 1921. Education for Socialists. 1973. The context was post-civil war worker unrest, notably in adjoining Petrograd (Petersburg), and demands for a lifting of the repression of civil rights. Trotsky claimed that the sailors demanded, “privileges”, that were out for privileged food rations, that the insurrection’s victory would “bring nothing but a victory of the counter-revolution” and that their ideas were “deeply reactionary”. They “reflected the hostility of the backward peasantry to the worker, the conceit of the soldier of sailor in relation to the ‘civilian’ Petersburg, the hatred of the petty bourgeois for revolutionary discipline.”

Later Alfred Rosmer, the French syndicalist, Communist and then left oppositionist, who was deeply involved with the early Soviet republic, offered a variant of this scarecrow of an argument. He cast aspersions on the political forces that flocked around the mutineers. Whatever the ‘tragic’ nature of the crushing of Kronstadt, the Communists afterwards took measures to assuage the causes of the defiance (better food requisition, dampening down peasant dissatisfaction, better bread rations and elements of small scale enterprise in urban areas). In any case, the uprising itself had rallied all the enemies of Bolshevism, “Que des éléments contre-révolutionnaires aient cherché à profiter de la situation, c’était normal; leur role était d’exciter les mécontentements, d’envenimer les griefs, de tirer vers eux le mouvement. D’où sortit le mot d’ordre des “ soviets sans bolchéviks ” ? il n’est pas aisé de le préciser, mais il était si commode pour rallier tout le monde, tous les adversaires du régime, en particulier les socialistes-révolutionnaires, les cadets, les menchéviks, empressés à prendre une revanche, qu’il est permis de supposer que ce sont eux qui en eurent l’idée, et la propagande qu’ils firent sur cette revendication pouvait toucher les marins et les soldats, la plupart jeunes recrues venant des campagnes, troublés déjà par les plaintes acrimonieuses que leur apportaient les lettres de leurs familles, irritées par la brutale réquisition.” Moscow sous Lénine. 1953.

John Rees reiterates this, in a much more unsavory way, including repeating Trotsky’s charges that the mutiny was led by people who “not really” proletarians in In Defence of October International Socialism, 52. 1991. This reminds one of Stalinist claims about the workers’ uprising in Berlin 1953 that they were ‘not really’ workers but US agents in disguise. The historical debate continues. But the main point is that the Bolsheviks were unwilling to allow any of these forces, from the left to the centre any political expression whatsoever. So “’c’était normal” that they flocked to support the Kronstadt revolt. As for the rebels themselves, most accounts state that their demands were for freedom of workers’ parties (Pages 113 – 114. Ian D.Thatcher. Trotsky. 2003). Even if the slogan about soviets without Bolsheviks were true, what was so wrong with wanting to get rid of one party from elected bodies – democracies do it all the time? The question was how could this be achieved democratically – a mechanism Lenin and Trotsky’s dictatorship of the proletariat excluded at all costs.

(2) Marceau Pivert. L’affaire du .L’affaire du P.O.U.M. (1938) SIA (organe hebdomadaire de Solidarité Internationale Antifasciste1

Written by Andrew Coates

August 20, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Labour’s Crisis: In Praise of Owen Jones.

with 23 comments

owenjones1306a.jpg

Owen: Labour and the left teeter on the brink of disaster.

In Praise of Owen Jones.

“The story recounted in this book suggests that the route to socialism does not lie through transforming the Labour Party”

The End of Parliamentary Socialism. Leo Panitch & Colin Leys. 1997.

“The period of New Labour may be seen in the future as a short deviation from the historical flow of Labour Party as a developing socialist party or it may be identified as the period in which Labour as an aspiring party of radical socialist advance was destroyed.”

John McDonnell. Introduction. 100 Years of Labour. Graham Bash and Andrew Fisher. 2006.

Until Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader last year most socialists in Britain would have concluded that the second of John McDonnell’s options had come true. Labour was not in any sense a vehicle of “radical socialist advance”. Others who believed that Labour was never a radical socialist party as such but contained currents that promoted democratic socialist policies that could see the light of day, saw their hopes of influence blocked. Labour, was, in short, not a party the left had any hope in.

Blair and Brown, the Third Way, or social liberalism, Blue Labour, a variety of distinctly non-socialist approaches dominated not just its Parliamentary representatives, but local government, intellectuals of any practical influence and the network of civil society associations that sustain the party. For a period modernisers, promoting ‘social partnership’, dominated even the trade unionism, although this began to unravel in the first years of the new century. Left groups and journals, such Labour Briefing and Chartist (both of which I am associated with), were marginalised. The Labour Representation Committee (LRC)  set up in 2004 and chaired by John McDonnell had little impact.  While union leaders like UNITE’s  Len McCluskey appeared to exert left influence, and the centre-left Grassroots Alliance maintained its presence on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) nobody expected the election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015.

Much of the socialist left, from the late 90s on,  in diminishing numbers and with decreasing success, put their energies into trying to create new left parties and electoral alliances that stood independently of Labour. Many of these attempts ended not just in failure at the ballot box but also in demonstrated the difficulties of ploughing new political ground. Above all the experience of the Socialist Alliance (essentially from 1999 to 2003) demonstrated fundamental incompatibilities between democratic socialists and small ‘Leninist’ parties like the Socialist Workers Party, the bureaucratic ‘Trotskyist’ Socialist Party, and whatever label currently fits the personal vehicle for George Galloway, Respect.

If Corbyn’s 2015 victory was unexpected the groundswell in his favour this year has also been unprecedented. Left-wing individuals, including many from the democratic group, Left Unity (which stood out from the above organisations) had joined Labour to vote for him. At present the campaigning and protesting of unions, left groups, and individuals that has, most recently, been channelled into the alliance known as the People’s Assembly, has been overshadowed by rallies in support for Corbyn’s re-election. The campaign for the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn has shifted attention away from the kind of political negotiating that marks the Labour left.  A body of opinion has emerged that believes Labour is, or can be, transformed into a “social movement” in its own right. That the vast majority of those now rallying to Corbyn are not part of any organised group has made it hard to funnel them into traditional directions, and the all-embracing nature of the terms “social” and “movement” can be interpreted in many ways.

Paul Mason expresses the view that Labour will come to office because neo-liberalism is “busted” and puts Labour as a social movement at the forefront of building an alternative.

In Labour: The Way Ahead he stated a couple of days ago,

Labour will become the first mainstream party in a western democracy to ditch neoliberalism and then take power.”

Above all, victory is possible under Corbyn because Labour can become a social movement. Corbyn himself called for this at his leadership launch rally. The problem is that the Labour tradition has very little experience of social movements — especially the networked, anti-hierarchical forms of organisation associated with them since the late 1990s.

To call for Labour to become a social movement when it had 130,000 members and a bunch of moribund local committees would have sounded futile. With 600,000+ members, the majority pro-Corbyn and amid a summer of street rallies and overflowing mass meetings, it sounds highly possible.

Mason’s proposals for economic stimulus, the moblisation of the social movement aorund issues such the defence of mirgant workers, offering hope against the despair of UKIP,  are attractive.

But is this part of a viable strategy?

If Corbyn wins on 24 September then, at the substantive and sovereign party conference that begins the next day, Labour MPs should be asked to register publicly their confidence in the new leader.

The party should also ask all MPs to sign a statement recognising that the leader elected on 24 September is the lawful leader of the legal entity known as “The Labour Party” and that he is legally entitled to run the two limited companies that own its assets (Labour Party Nominees Limited and Labour Party Properties Limited).

Those MPs who refuse to register their confidence in Corbyn, or to recognise his legal right to run The Labour Party, should be marked down for de-selection.

Mason clearly indicates that he considers a large section of the existing Parliamentary Labour Party a waste of space. No doubt he, and others, would wish to extend such a loyalty test to councillors and all officers of the Party. Or are local representatives allowed greater freedom to dissent?

One of Mason’s principal models, the Spanish party, Podemos, is a very different phenomenon. It grew from the Indignados, known as the 15-M Movement , protests at the staggering corruption of the country’s political life that involved several million people. Mason claims that the American Occupy movement was inspired by  Stephane Hessel’s Indignez Vous! (Time for Outrage) but in fact it had its deepest impact in these Iberian protests. Podemos, while sometimes claiming to be “beyond” left and right, involves at least one left Marxist-Green current, the Izquierda anticapitalista.

From 9,8% of the vote in the European Podemos reached 21% in the December 2015.  But, refusing any compromise with the Spanish Socialist Party PSOE)  triggered fresh elections. This time, allied with the so-called ‘old left’ of the Izquierda Unida, and hopes of becoming the leading left force in the country it only reached  21,10% to the PSOE 22,66% . New elections may well be held,  but  even if its score improves Podemos can never hope to score a majority of the vote and can only govern in coalition – a prospect that Labour, with an electoral system that makes even this kind of representation difficult – would not relish.

Mason’s hostility to anybody disloyal to Corbyn is not at all helpful. The antagonism between the Corbyn side and those against him has ratcheted up in the fall out after the Brexit referendum vote. There are plenty of MPs who are willing to take the most extreme measures to destroy the existing Labour leadership. From a constant drip-by-drip of stories undermining the leader of the Opposition and its allies in the Shadow Cabinet we are now faced with the prospect of an alternative parliamentary group, and even – in some people’s view – a split in the party.

How does Mason’s alternative (not to mention those of others equally virulent against the Party’s centre and right-wing)  offer a serious way forward? A social movement  that moves in “waves and swarms and ” “a street movement” seeking “new forms of representation” a serious way of grappling with the problem of a Parliamentary party split in two and the mounting Tory lead in opinion polls. It would be pleasant indeed to believe that this might win labour elections, but we have only faith, belief in things unseen, to back the claim up.

Frenzied attacks on Corbyn backers, charged with wishing the Gulag for their opponents, have been met by screams of Blairite, and worse. It is as if both sides wish to conduct their disputes after the template of the pro-Nazi 20th century political philosopher Carl Schmitt: dividing the world into “friend and enemy” with a “fighting collectivity of people” confronting a similar collectivity. (1)

In this vein John Landsman asserts “the current leadership contest is like the Miners’ Strike – there are two clear sides, and while one might disagree with the way a political battle is being conducted, you still rally behind your side, because defeat and capitulation to the other side is still much worse.” “This is the battle being played out in the party right now, those are the stakes, those are the ‘sides’ that we are forced to pick.” (Picking sides’ – A short reply to Owen Jones). A victory of the Corbyn opponents, he argues, would lead to disaster. That;’s as may be. But to regard those who do not “pick sides” as part of the enemy camp is but a step from the original assertion.l This is not a way to conduct democratic politics inside the same party. It is a recipe for a split.

Some of the strongest supporters of this approach appear to be recent members of the Labour Party, and those, from the far-left outside, trying to bathe in the glory of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election. It grates to hear people long-standing Labour people, many of whom have decided their lives to it and public office, from the centre, a variety of groups or none, as well as the genuine Labour right group, Progress. It is equally deeply offensive for opponents of Corbyn to scream that his backers are totalitarians, anti-Semites, and abusive thugs.

In the middle of this pandemonium Owen Jones has stood out as a rational voice. Owen first made his name with the book Chavs (2012), followed by the Establishment (2014). His columns, originally in the Independent and now in the Guardian, have great influence. Having worked in John McDonnell’s office he is more than familiar with the way the Left works and the people involved in the present Corbyn team. Owen had trudged around the country speaking to hundreds of left meetings. Above all he is a dedicated democratic socialist who has earned great respect on the left and amongst the wider public.

Owen’s approach in recent weeks gives expression to the deep concerns many of us have not just with those constantly undermining Corbyn but more deeply with the real problems that Labour faces – summed up in  disastrous opinion polls – and what he feels are policy failures and difficulties with addressing the wider electorate. He also challenges an over-optimistic ‘social movement’ stand that many appear to be taking.

This is his latest contribution:

Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer

Labour and the left teeter on the brink of disaster. There, I said it. I’ll explain why. But first, it has become increasingly common in politics to reduce disagreements to bad faith. Rather than accepting somebody has a different perspective because, well, that’s what they think, you look for an ulterior motive instead. Everything from self-aggrandisement to careerism to financial corruption to the circles in which the other person moves: any explanation but an honest disagreement. It becomes a convenient means of avoiding talking about substance, of course. Because of this poisonous political atmosphere, the first chunk of this blog will be what many will consider rather self-indulgent (lots of ‘I’ and ‘me’, feel free to mock), but hopefully an explanation nonetheless of where I’m coming from. However long it is, it will be insufficient: I can guarantee the same charges will be levelled

The core of the article revolves around these point:

  • How can the disastrous polling be turned around? “Labour’s current polling is calamitous. No party has ever won an election with such disastrous polling, or even come close. Historically any party with such terrible polling goes on to suffer a bad defeat.”
  • Where is the clear vision? “What’s Labour’s current vision succinctly summed up? Is it “anti-austerity”? That’s an abstraction for most people. During the leaders’ debates at the last general election, the most googled phrase in Britain was ‘what is austerity?’ — after five years of it. ‘Anti-austerity’ just defines you by what you are against. What’s the positive vision, that can be understood clearly on a doorstep, that will resonate with people who aren’t particularly political?
  • How are the policies significantly different from the last general election? “It’s less than a year in to Corbyn’s already embattled leadership: there hasn’t been the time to develop clear new policies. Fine: but surely there needs to be a clear idea of what sort of policies will be offered, not least given what is at stake?”
  • What’s the media strategy? “..there doesn’t seem to be any clear media strategy. John McDonnell has actually made regular appearances at critical moments, and proved a solid performer. But Corbyn often seems entirely missing in action, particularly at critical moments: Theresa May becoming the new Prime Minister, the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, the collapse of the Government’s economic strategy, the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, soaring hate crimes after Brexit, and so on. Where have been the key media interventions here?”
  • What’s the strategy to win over the over-44s?
  • What’s the strategy to win over Scotland?
  • How would we deal with people’s concerns about immigration?
  • How can Labour’s mass membership be mobilised? “a movement will only win over people by being inclusive, optimistic, cheerful even, love-bombing the rest of the population. A belief that even differences of opinion on the left can’t be tolerated — well, that cannot bode well. So how can the enthusiasm of the mass membership be mobilised, to reach the tens of millions of people who don’t turn up to political rallies? What kind of optimistic, inclusive message can it have to win over the majority?”

Comrade Owen ends by stating this,

Labour faces an existential crisis. There will be those who prefer me to just to say: all the problems that exist are the fault of the mainstream media and the Parliamentary Labour Party, and to be whipped up with the passions generated by mass rallies across the country. But these are the facts as I see them, and the questions that have to be answered. There are some who seem to believe seeking power is somehow ‘Blairite’. It is Blairite to seek power to introduce Blairite policies. It is socialist to seek power to introduce socialist policies. As things stand, all the evidence suggests that Labour — and the left as a whole — is on the cusp of a total disaster.

Guess what at least some of the responses to these carefully thought out questions has been?

Well guess not: Corbyn supporter Owen Jones labelled ‘Blairite traitor’ for criticising current leadership.

Those attacking Owen are attacking the democratic socialists who back Corbyn, but with exactly the kind of independence of thought he represents.

We back Corbyn, we back McDonnell – a view strengthened in the last few days by the strong stand in favour of restoring Trade Union rights.

But these are indeed the questions which need to be looked at.

(1) The Concept of the Political. Carl Schmidt. University of Chicago. 2007.

Socialist Party Goes into Meltdown.

with one comment

Back to the Old Times for Socialist Party in England and Wales.

This has already been described as the bitterest piece of sectarianism by a left group since the days of News Line. 

Momentum Youth and Students: Witch hunts won’t take movement forward

Young Socialist Party members

 

After speaking and making clear that we were members of the Socialist Party, the Labour Party and Momentum, the room was whipped up by multiple speakers calling for our expulsion.

In attendance were two self-proclaimed Trotskyist groups – Socialist Appeal and the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL). Both groups have recently been targeted by the Labour Party and have received suspensions and expulsions. However neither of them spoke out against the same witch hunt against the Socialist Party in Momentum.

In fact, one member of the AWL proclaimed that he “was not and has never been a member of the Socialist Party” and that there was no place for the Socialist Party in Momentum.

These groups, by their silence, have sided with the right-wing compromisers in Momentum and are complicit in the witch hunt. They offered no strategy or programme for fighting the civil war in the Labour Party, as the Blairites will continue to fight to keep it a party which acts in the interests of the 1%.

The complete lack of democracy in Momentum was shown when Jon Lansman personally voided my Momentum membership via a text to Momentum’s office.

He said I was guilty of belonging to a party hostile to the Labour Party. The Socialist Party isn’t hostile to Jeremy Corbyn and those that have joined Labour to fight for his policies. We are, however, hostile to Blairite MPs calling for the bombing of Syria, and local councillors implementing Tory cuts.

Another Socialist Party member refused to give his name so Lansman took his photo! Are we to see ‘wanted posters’ of known Socialist Party members at local Momentum meetings?

The political outlook of the Momentum leadership was summed up by a contribution that said: “The main way to support Jeremy Corbyn is to vote Labour.” Momentum, by uncritically canvassing for Blairites, has given no warning to the role those such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan will play in attacks on Corbyn’s leadership.

Comment:

“You must admit that the sheer cheek of saying “”We need to kick out the Blairites at all levels of the Labour Party and campaign for mandatory re-selection.” while whingeing about people wanting to kick them out takes some beating.”

This is worth reading (rest on site).

Breaking with the Socialist Party/CWI

We have come to the conclusion that the very nature of the undemocratic structures of the Socialist Party and CWI make it impossible to change or reform it in any meaningful manner. There has been no contested election for leadership in living memory. Along the way, we have won support from current and ex-members of the CWI. However, many of those current members have subsequently left the CWI (although not Marxist World) because of the bureaucratic barriers and methods used against them. The lack of internal democracy makes the task of putting forward our ideas without distortion, bureaucratic manoeuvres and, in some cases, outright harassment, virtually impossible. Unlike the Socialist Party EC, we have no intention of repudiating the fundamentals of Marxism. We have no choice but to leave the Socialist Party/CWI.

We split from the Socialist Party/CWI partly with regret because of the history of “Trotskyism” and the seemingly endless history of splits and splits of splits. For example, in recent years the SWP has had two splits and Workers Power three. In many ways these are manifestations of the crisis within so-called Marxism following the 2007/8 economic crisis and the perspectives and methods of these organisations. Yet all these splits have either recreated the same bureaucratic centralist structures as their parent organisation, or threw out the baby with the bath water and abandoned the notion of an independent revolutionary party. Either way the effect on the rest of the Left has been demoralisation, disgust and distrust towards revolutionary Marxism.

Further comment:

As somebody who has very publicly argued against working in a common political project in the Labour Party with the Socialist Party, at a London meeting of Labour Briefing and amongst my comrades in Chartist, there are two simple reasons why I do not want to have anything to do with them in these kind of forums: (1) They keep trying to create a mini-‘Labour movement’ based around their sect. They stand candidates against Labour – still – and are now engaged in an Anti-Labour and anti-TUC (not to mention all the major unions) campaign on Europe. (2) They are opposed to us on fundamental issues, as shown very clearly by their anti-EU position. As for the comment, “two self-proclaimed Trotskyist groups” both of the organisations cited (AWL and SA) they have considerably more claim to Trotskyism than the bizarre nationalists of the SP.

I certainly do not want to be in close political work with a group that comes out with the kind of stuff:  Trade Unionists Against the EU’ defends “Indigenous workers” against “Cheap Foreign Labour”.

Written by Andrew Coates

June 9, 2016 at 3:31 pm

Socialist Fight – Gerry Downing and Ian Donovan – backs “anti-Zionist fighter Malia Bouattia” in attack on “vile reactionary” Tendance.

with 3 comments

Ipswich Workers’ Militia: Preparing for NATO Application.

What a vile reactionary Andrew Coates is to attack this courageous left-wing woman, an Algerian Muslim anti-racist and anti-Zionist fighter Malia Bouattia, new President of the National Union of Students in this appalling post. She has faced attacks from the Tories, the Zionist lobby, the right wing in Labour and bogus ‘leftist’ like the pro-Zionists Andrew Coates whose attack on her in his Tendance Coatesy blog finishes, ‘The Gerry Downing-Socialist Fight  style  anti-imperialism of fools which led, and justified a rejection do support for the Kurdish people in their hour of need  signals a broader problem’. We confidently expect that both Malia and Socialist Fight will continue to supply all these vile reactionaries with even greater ‘problems’ in future.

Socialist Fight.

The Tendance is at the heart of the Ipswich Workers’ Militia,  known and loved in the movement.

An emergency meeting of our Central Committee was held last night to discuss our response to the dangers that  the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International’s challenge may present.

It was noted with concern that cde Downing and Donovan’s sterling record of fighting against ‘Zionists’ and the ‘pan-national Jewish bourgeoisie’, has won them many allies amongst international progressives, above all the respected Gilad Atzmon. (1)

In response, recalling the spirit of the 1930s ‘Popular Fronts’, we have decided, under Article 10 of  the ‘open door’ policy, to apply for NATO membership forthwith.

(1) Gilad Atzmon on “the Jewish Solidarity Spin”  By Ian Donovan  http://commexplor.com/

I am taking the liberty of republishing this, not because I agree with everything in it, but because it contains a great deal of profound material that Marxist critics of Zionism and its supporters, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the advanced capitalist world, ought to find invaluable.

Gilad Atzmon’s Blog.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 26, 2016 at 11:31 am

Paul Mason: From Revolutionary Marxism to Radical Social Democracy and the Workers’ Bomb.

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Then raise the workers’ bomb on high,
Beneath its cloud we’ll gladly die,
For though it sends us all to hell,
It kills the ruling class as well.

The Workers’ Bomb.

(See: Posadist Paul Memes.)

Paul Mason is at the centre of new controversies, about his left politics, and about his support for nuclear weapons.

This is what he says about the former.  (Paul Mason Blog).

As to Mr Osborne’s claim that I am “revolutionary Marxist” it is completely inaccurate. I am radical social democrat who favours the creation of a peer-to-peer sector (co-ops, open source etc) alongside the market and the state, as part of a long transition to a post-capitalist economy. There’s a comprehensive critique of Bolshevism in my latest book, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future.

Paul Mason was, we are informed, a member of the groupuscule, Workers Power, now better known amongst the masses for its ‘revolutionary’ Labour Party journal Red Flag.

Paul Mason’s book  PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future  (2015) uses many Marxist concepts (echoing Ernest Mandel on Kondratiev waves as in Long waves of capitalist development: the Marxist interpretation. 1980). This is the idea that capitalist development and crises, innovation and stagnation, are long-term cycles (we are on the downward one at present).

The core of PostCapitalism is a reflection, often interesting,  on “immaterial”labour, and the development of postcapitalism, a form of social order and economics,  within capitalism itself, fostered by the (apparent)  central role of information in the economy, civil society, and the state. His key concept is “networks v hierarchies”. This is a belief that that there is an inherent desire for a “beyond” capitalism in the search for human autonomy, although since he does not appear to have read Castoriadis or the current inspire by his works he would not use this term. He asserts, however clear tendencies in the direction of the current of thought that began with the 1950s/early 60s  review Socialisme ou Barbarie, and now has an influence on radical European ecologists”Eventually, work becomes voluntary, basic commodities and public services are free and economic management becomes primarily an issue of energy and resources, not capital and labour.”  It is important to note that in this objective everybody (as the Castoriadists would say) has an ‘interest’ in the ‘project’ – farewell then to the central agency of the working class and labour movement. (1)

That Mason has drawn on rather more radical politics and ideology than ‘radical social democratic’ ideas in the distant past (2011/12) can be seen in the book that preceded PostCapitalism.   His  Why It’s Kicking off Everywhere, The New Global Revolutions, uses the ‘autonomist’ idea of the ‘multitude’  – rather than just everybody – amongst other terms, to express the growth of resistance to the existing state of affairs. The multitude is the many against the few, Empire, or, in ‘populist’ form, the ‘elite’.

Mason wrote,

“the political theory that influenced the events of 2009-11” was Autonomism. They “had theorised very clearly the idea of a struggle between the ‘general intellect’, the suppressed human being and capitalist legal norms.” One can see that this offers at least one vehicle to express opposition to economic policies, to inequality, to lack of power. The ability to share and form new agencies of opposition has been made stronger by a technological and social order that needs instant, unrestricted, communication.

Why it’s Kicking Off Everywhere. The New Global Revolutions. Paul Mason. Review. Adnrew Coates.

To Mason there are signs of the “emancipated human being” emerging “spontaneously from within the breakdown of the old order”. The illumination of the multitude can be seen in the “act of taking a space and forming a community” – from Tahrir Square to Wall Street. This showed “the deployment of digital communications at work, in social life, and now in the forms of protest.” But in the tradition Mason refers to, there are more sceptical strands. Capital and the state can colonise such “smooth spaces” (democratic and equal areas) and make them “striated” (integrated into established exploitation and power) is less obvious (A Thousand Plateaus. Gilles Deleuze. Félix Guattari. 2003)

This is the theoretical background:

These theorists considered that globalisation and ‘Empire’ (its political-economic inter-tangling) were creating a new ‘nomadic’ (Félix Guattari) form of resistance: the “multitude”. (Multitude. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri 2004) Negri, Hardt and others from the ‘autonomist’ tradition considered that in contemporary capitalism, the “general intellect” and ‘immaterial labour” (production and communication by the manipulation of symbols) were centre stage. Paulo Virno described post-Fordism as a “communism of capital”, “A communality of generalised intellect without material equality.” (A Grammar of the Multitude. 2004.)

For Hardt and Negri a general figure, made up of “all the diverse forms of social production”, emerges. This the multitude. It is “an open and expansive network in which all differences can be expressed freely and equally, a network that provides the means of encounter so that we can work and live in common.” It is a “living alternative” to the domination of Capital and Empire – the entangled economic, “biopolitical” and sovereign rule of Nations. This ‘network’ is the future paradigm for revolutionary change, its imprint flourishes everywhere, its future open.

Negri and Hardt observed examples of this operating, in the anti-globalisation campaigns of the 1990s, and early new century. Such resistance showed up most famously in the Mexican  Zapatistas, and, travelling down to a region where revolts never died down, in the rest of Latin America. For John Holloway, building on several decades of similar work, there was a world-wide “Scream of refusal” of people refusing to accept Capital and the State (Crack Capitalism. 2010).

Negri also talked of how the proletariat was enlarged, giving it “productive functions that were once typical of the middle class” (Goodbye Mr Socialism. 2008). May 68 was only the “first revolt of the post-Fordist and cognitive proletariat” against global capitalism. Europe was not resigned to the rule of business. 1996 saw France explode in nation-wide union-led strikes and protests against neo-liberal public reforms that brought down Alain Juppé’s Cabinet (though not the President). Many at the time saw that as defining set back for neo-liberalism. Negri enlarged the field of class conflict to the “precariat”, the partially employed and often unemployed, and saw this as a social factor behind the 2006 “local insurgencies” in the French banlieues.

No doubt Mason has changed the distant time of 2012, when it must be underlined that these ideas circulated in a rich broth of concepts, emotions, and reports. For the present it is indeed hard to see how his more recent belief (in Postcapitalism) that the pro-business Scottish Nationalist party, dedicated to looking after its “ain folk” or claim that the populist leader centred (Pablo Iglesias) and hierarchically organised Podemos represents a ‘network’.

Mason’s views on the Bomb are now the centre of interest, not all of it of the most serious quality.

This is his call:

A new defence doctrine for Labour Keep Trident. End expeditionary warfare

Vote for renewal of a Trident-capable force of four submarines, while retaining the right move from CASD to a CASD-capable submarine force, subject to parliamentary approval. At the same time, if the Scottish government votes to scrap Trident, Labour should advocate the removal of the base from Faslane to a base in England.

His argument?

Labour cannot un-invent its unilateralist wing, and it must listen to those who took to the streets calling for it to scrap Trident. Having listened, it must offer them something more important: a Labour party ready to rule; a government ready to break the cycle of failed expeditionary wars; which can fight terrorism effectively and stabilise NATO’s relationship with Russia in Europe.

To do this Labour needs more than just a position on Trident. It needs a defence doctrine.

Which is,

  • a nuclear deterrent whose posture can change in response to global circumstances, and whose specific terms of use are made clear to adversaries and allies alike;
  • a conventional force designed around Britain’s NATO mission in Europe, to deter potential Russian aggression and to facilitate the major powers of Western Europe taking charge of stabilising the region, rather than having to jump to the demands of immature democracies of Eastern Europe.
  • an enhanced anti-terror capability pre-authorised to operate on British soil in the face of a Mumbai-style attack, and whose surveillance and intelligence operations come under increased democratic scrutiny.

Since neither Mason nor the Tendance are defence experts, or indeed have views of any depth on these topics, we leave it to others to comment.

Meanwhile we intend to have a good laugh.

(1) Recent books on this which are worth reading include: Manuel Cervera-Marzal, Eric Fabri (dir.), Autonomie ou Barbarie. La démocratie radicale de Cornelius Castoriadis et ses défis contemporains, éditions du Passager clandestin, 2015. Cornelius Castoriadis et Claude Lefort : L’expérience démocratique 2015.  Collectif (Auteur), Nicolas Poirier.   François Dosse, Castoriadis, une vie, La Découverte, 2014. Cornelius Castoriadis ou l’autonomie radicale Broché – 23 avril 2014 Serge Latouche

Written by Andrew Coates

April 8, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Gerry Downing Expelled from Labour Representation Committee for Anti-Semitism.

with 14 comments

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Gerry Downing Unanimously Booted out of LRC.

Gerry Downing was this afternoon expelled from the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), by unanimous decision of the national committee, on grounds of his antisemitism.

From D. O. Saturday 2nd April.

Now that Downing has been kicked out, not just from the Labour Party but from the left-wing LRC, where does his campaign stand?

His pretend Fourth International has called for a united campaign to defend him.

This is their latest statement.

Statement by the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International on the Expulsion of Comrade Gerry Downing from the British Labour party. 22-3-2016

Tony Greenstein partially defended Downing, on narrowly democratic grounds, while solidarising with the witch-hunters on the substantial allegation of ‘anti-semitism’ despite testifying that our comrades are not ‘personally’ racist. This inherently contradictory stance, which coincides with the capitulatory politics of the CPGB whose sympathiser he is, nevertheless did not save him from being witchhunted himself. We welcome his support as far as it goes but continue to demand a proper united front campaign with full freedom of propaganda for the left tendencies to argue their views.

We reject all restrictions by self-appointed ideological censors on the freedom of Marxists to analyse ruling class politics, including those of the parts of the ruling class that are of Jewish origin. Anyone seeking to restrict freedom of historical materialist analysis in this way is crossing class lines, and siding with bourgeois politics against Marxism. We defend Tony Greenstein despite these important political differences

We reject all restrictions by self-appointed ideological censors on the freedom of Marxists to analyse ruling class politics, including those of the parts of the ruling class that is of Jewish origin. Anyone seeking to restrict freedom of historical materialist analysis in this way is crossing class lines, and siding with bourgeois politics against Marxism. We defend Tony Greenstein despite these important political differences.

He is the latest victim of the renewed onslaught by the supporters of Tony Blair in the Parliamentary party and in the bureaucracy of the Labour party. Whatever our political differences with him for over thirty years he has been the foremost advocate and fighter for the cause of the oppressed Palestinians against their Zionist oppressors in the British labour movement.

This document usefully highlights the fact that now it’s the case of Cde Greenstein that is coming to the fore:

https://tendancecoatesy.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/01c5d-times2barticle2b2527anti-semitism25272b2-4-16.jpg?w=700

Telegraph 1st of April.

Activist who derides critics as ‘Zionist scum’ admitted to Labour in latest anti-Semitism scandal to hit Party

Labour admitted a previously barred activist who refers to his critics as  “Zio idiots” and “Zionist scum”, and claimed that Jews supported the Nuremberg laws, it has emerged.

Tony Greenstein, a prominent campaigner from Brighton, was barred from entry to the Party last summer when vetting of new applicant was stepped up during the leadership contest to prevent a surge of “entryism” from groups who did not share the “aims and values” of Labour.

However, following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader, Mr Greenstein slipped back into the party unnoticed.

Evidence compiled by Labour’s compliance unit when Mr Greenstein attempted to join the party last summer, seen by The Telegraph, included his claims in online forums Margaret Thatcher was an “obviously legitimate” target for the IRA and that “Zionists collaborated with the Nazis”.

John Mann MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Committee into Anti-Semitism said that it was “hugely inappropriate” for Mr Greenstein to have been admitted to the Party.

For those on the left who have not been in a cave five hundred metres underground for the last ten years Tony Greenstein is a familiar figure.

He writes for the Weekly Worker, almost entirely on Zionism and Israel.

Although that paper has many articles worth reading – and I say this not just because many of the authors are friends – Greenstein’s obsessive works are not amongst them.

Greenstein’s activities, as an ‘anti-Zionist’, but more significantly within the labour movement and left have earned him an impressive number of enemies over the years. Those who cordially loathe him include not only union ‘bureaucrats’ (hard-working and respected employees of the TUC and Northern Unemployed Workers’ Centres), but also people from every section of the left right up to a  members of an array of anarchist and libertarian groups.

About his only admirers appears to be New Left Review. In 2013 published a strange article, denying that anti-Semitism was a problem in France, and giving a long list of people with Jewish names who are apparently the intellectual ‘gatekeepers’ of the country’s media. It  cited Greenstein’s blog (Tony Greenstein’s Blog) as an authority on something to do with Israel (Gabriel Piterberg Euro-Zionism and its Discontents.)

Greenstein, to his honour, does not deny that anti-Semitism is a problem and that some people can use the issue of Israel for a racist anti-Jewish agenda.

He has campaigned against the ‘anti-Zionist’   Gilad Atzmon precisely on this issue.

On the Downing case he has had this to say (last week).

I have no doubt that neither Downing nor Donovan are anti-Semitic in a personal sense and that is why I would not support their expulsion. But at a time when the anti-Zionist left is under attack in the Labour Party and I am under threat of expulsion personally, I would want to have nothing to do with any campaign Gerry might mount against his expulsion. His behaviour and his politics are insupportable and have weakened the position of anti-Zionists in the party, myself included.

Weekly Worker.

The Times and the Telegraph are therefore completely off the ball.

Recently Cde Greenstein joined the Labour Party.

Because of his past -standing as a candidate in Brighton local elections against Labour,  and ‘difficult’ (to say the least) relations with Brighton Labour Party, not to mention the kind of antagonism outlined above, it is hard, even with the best will in the world, which I do not have,  not to see this as a self-serving stunt.

We intend to treat it as such, and could not care less about the outcome of the Labour Party’s internal review of his membership.

To get involved is to to get entwined.

More importantly it is to divert attention from the cases of serious left-wing activists caught up in attempts to remove them from the Labour Party.

Compare and recall:

Tony Greenstein on Andrew Coates:

However none of that is to justify Andrew Coates chauvinism and racism either. Coates has repeatedly given support to the Israeli state and its claims there on the basis of some Biblical ‘return’. In other words he justifies the colonisation of the West Bank in much the same way as he justifies Israel’s colonisation of Israel behind the Green Line (which has long since been eradicated).”

The Left https://www.facebook.com/groups/869685873109930/? 25th of March 2016.

Let me be clear, I do not support the ‘Zionist state’: I support the right of the Jewish people to exist in the Middle East.

The problem with anti-Zionism in its present form is that many of its supporters are aligned with people who deny that right.

Further discussion on the issue of Israel – its past and present wrongs – has to begin from this observation.