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

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Raising Atlantis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of the Heterodox.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armed Bureaucratic Collectivism.

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

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

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

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

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

Two Trotskyisms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going back to Sources.

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

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

 

References:

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

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

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

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

(5) Page 97-8. TTCS. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(12) Page 3. TTCS. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update:

Reviews of “The Two Trotskyisms”

 

Written by Andrew Coates

February 6, 2016 at 2:04 pm

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

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John Ross Weibo

Socialist Action ‘Guru’ John Ross.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article continues,

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

This is something in this.

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

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

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

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

John Sullivan  As Soon As This Pub Closes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

These are a few:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to really defeat ISIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why didn’t World Imperialism think of it before?

Cretins…..

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

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

He loves China too,

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

By John Ross. October the 20th. 

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

Who doesn’t love Ross.

Well, us lot still loathe him and his mates.

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

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

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

The Letters the Weekly Worker Dare not publish.

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Letters the Weekly Worker Dare not publish.

StWC.

Defend Lindsey German and John Rees!

 
Dear WW,

The attacks in the Weekly Worker against the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) must cease. The bourgeois onslaught against the anti-imperialist Iranian Republic is nothing but a cover for attacks on the anti-Zionist credentials of Jeremy Corbyn. As I have stated at my ward meeting of Brighton Labour Party, Cds Rees and German were right to refuse to affiliate the so-called Hands off the People of Iran (HOPI) to the StWC. Had this happened it would have meant a de facto alliance with the worst elements of bourgeois chauvinist Nick Cohenite Eustonism.

Tony Vertespierre. Brighton.

Momentum.

We pledge our undying allegiance to the Caliphate. Death to the Kufur!

John T. Mark Anthony Smith, Momentum.

Liquidation of the Remnants of the Bukharin-Trotsky Gang of Spies, Wreckers and Traitors to the County.

Dear WW,

The Trotskyite rabble, clutching their so-called Transitional Programme to their flaccid chests, are sabotaging the long and glorious road of the remarkable victories of the Baath Party in Syria.

Free from opportunism, irreconcilable towards the capitulators, and revolutionary in its attitude, Baathism is proceeding to a decisive triumph. Comrade Assad, the genius of the Syrian revolution, has nevertheless, perforce, received snivelling criticism by the so-called Trotsky human rights supporters, i.e. alien, wrecking and spying elements.

In a circular letter to all organisations dated December the 22nd 2015, on the subject of the registration, safekeeping and issuance of Party cards, the CPGB (Provisional Central Committee) it is stated that we must ensure the careful verification of the records of all Party members to ensure “Bolshevik order in our own Party home”.

As cde Mohammed Ali has said, “You looking at me, you spineless Trotskyite?”

John Wiight. Planet Venus.

Socialist Republicanism.

Dear WW,

The English republic of Southwark and Bermondsey, South Londoners Against the Corn Laws, must protest against the recent statements made by the Fourth International. James Connelly would have blessed himself with holy water to hear the carping views of Liam on the Thanksgiving Uprising. Did not Cromwell teach the Irish the lessons of socialist republicanism? The Fourth International and Left Unity should rename themselves socialist republicans forthwith.

Steve Freedman. Old Southwark.

Workers’ Militias.

Dear WW,

The Walmington-on-Sea Workers’ Militia is appalled to learn that the People’s Assembly blocked all discussion of the arming of the proletariat at its recent conference.

Our battalion has been in training since the PA called for action against a possible Tory Coup last summer. We remain on high alert in view of coming referendum on Europe.

My men are as keen as mustard: ready to go to fight Jerry.

Captain Mainwaring.

Walmington-on-Sea.

Dialectics.

Dear WW,

Plus and minus are dialectically related. Sometimes two plus two equals five.

O’Brien. Airstrip One.

Stinky poo.

Dear Weakly so-called Worker.

You are stinking poos and mingy moos.

Socialism in one Bedroom.

Hamster pee.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 23, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Momentum: New Politics Foundering?

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Yes: But can Momentum Help?

Many on the left, including this Blog, welcomed the attempt to create new spaces of activism and debate on the left, outside of traditional political structures. But some people expressed the fear that Momentum, set up to expand Jeremy Corbyn’s political support, and to create a “new politics” would run quickly into the biggest reef of the British left-wing: the activities of small leftist organisations, parties and factions.

The wrecks littering these rocks are too numerous to count, but it was  obvious that the intention of the Socialist Workers Party |(SWP) and the Socialist Party to get involved in Momentum would not be universally greeted.

Apart from the fact that the SWP is soemthing of a bugbear on many parts of the left, the SP’s belief that it had a right, indeed a duty, to participate oin Momentum to inform its supporters of the correct views of the party, which stood, with the SWP and others, as part of TUSC in the General Election, against Labour. They won, 36,327 votes, or 0.1% of the popular vote.

Both parties also backed the No2EU slate in the European Elections 2014 which totaled 31,757 votes or 0.2%. It declared it was an “internationalist platform. The UK state, free of the capitalist EU and in control of its own destiny, would means more solidarity with workers overseas.  Some of the forces involved in the later bloc are known to be ‘sceptical’ about the free movement of labour inside the European Union.

One can see the potential there for disputes about Labour’s position in the coming referendum on membership of the European Union.

When efforts to thwart the possibility of small left wing groups lecturing Labour party members on how they act, run councils (setting illegal ‘anti-cuts’ budgets), remove right wing Labour MPs (deselection) the Socialist Party replied by stating,

If they exclude real fighters against austerity with experience on the ground – particularly Socialist Party supporters and others – they will weaken the ability of Corbyn and his forces to defeat the right. They will not succeed in fully harnessing the huge pro-Corbyn anti-austerity mood outside, which is not yet a real organised movement.

Socialist

This letter appeared in the Weekly Worker seven days ago.

As part of the ongoing coverage of the divisions in the Labour Party over the issue of air strikes on Syria, Nancy Taaffe of the Socialist Party in England and Wales (formerly known as the Militant Tendency, covertly as the Revolutionary Socialist League) was interviewed on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme on December 3.

Comrade Taaffe hardly helped dispel the common image and depiction of the far left in this country as a bunch of swivel-eyed loons. Her facial expressions switched constantly between one of apparent ferocious hostility and a version of the rictus grinning we perhaps last saw from Gordon Brown. Although her head remained aimed at the camera, her eyes and attention seemed to be constantly distracted by something happening very high to her left, which added to the unsettling effect.

Comrade Taaffe identified herself a number of times as a member of the Socialist Party and that she had stood as a candidate in the general election on behalf of “Tusc” (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition), without explanation of what that was or stood for, which must have confused and mystified the audience.

She ‘demanded’ that the Labour Party deselect the MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, and went on to ‘demand’ that Labour convene an immediate special conference to reintroduce mandatory reselection for MPs, and also that the Socialist Party be allowed to affiliate to the Labour Party in the same way as does the Cooperative Party.

The breathtaking hypocrisy, impertinence and arrogance of the ultra-left never fails to astonish me. SPEW was formed after its leading members were out-performed by Neil Kinnock in the 1980s and expelled from Labour as a ‘party within a party’. They then declared that Labour was henceforth dead as a bourgeois workers’ party with any potential for being transformed into a workers’ party (because they were no longer in it!), and took no part whatsoever in the recent Corbyn leadership campaign, on the basis of that being a complete waste of time, it being impossible to “resurrect a corpse”.

Having been proved completely and utterly wrong, you might have expected some humility and reflection, but, no, SPEW is apparently now placing demands on how the Labour Party should conduct its internal democracy, calling on individual CLPs to deselect their MPs, and for it be allowed to affiliate.

It all reminded me of the set-piece debate of the decade in the early 1980s between the self-styled ‘revolutionary left’ and the then Bennite Labour left, when people like Paul Foot and Tariq Ali were demanding the Labour Party transform itself into a socialist party, get rid of rightwing Labour MPs, adopt in effect Trotsky’s Transitional programme and then, after doing all that hard work, open it up to allow outside groups like the SWP and International Marxist Group to come in and join. As Audrey Wise MP, speaking for the Labour left at the time, said, “Big deal, big deal, big prizes … Not.”

Tony Benn during that debate denounced the “socialist groups” as not being genuine revolutionaries at all, but as “left-talking revolutionists” – ie, they talk the talk, shout and criticise from the sidelines, raise ‘demands’ which can never be met, but have very little connection or engagement with the very real and ‘actually existing’ labour movement and wider social forces which will be required to bring about genuine social change and revolutionary transformation.

I think socialists and revolutionaries who are outside the party should treat the Labour membership – especially its new membership – with considerable respect. It is fine to have political, strategic and tactical differences, but these need to be debated and worked through in a spirit of constructive engagement, and not through the placing of impossible ‘demands’.

This may allow some of the socialist groups to become part of the Labour Party, providing they show respect and adherence to its aims and values, as well as its constitution, and do not try and subvert its democracy, or its basis as the mass political party of the organised labour movement.

As Chris Knight suggested in the recent reprints of his two extremely interesting and thought-provoking articles (September 24 and October 8), the Labour Party can and should become the “parliament” of the labour and working class movement. It cannot itself become the ‘revolutionary vanguard’, and the socialist groups should not attempt to make it so.

We should also be aware the Labour Party needs to increase its support by millions of votes by the time of the next election, if it is to form a government, and these millions are likely to be people who are motivated by values of respect, tolerance and solidarity, rather than by hostility, aggression, dog-fighting and point-scoring between the sects and factions.

Andrew Northall

There have been many reports of “problems” in Momentum groups – difficulties which are not the invention of those hostile to Jeremy Corbyn.

This has just appeared.

Structurelessness: Organisation in organisation

The first meeting in Manchester of ‘Momentum’ may be the last. We hope not, and many there meant well, but activists who have lived in the Labour Party a long time as well as the hopeful newcomers were caught in a contradiction, between structure and an attempt to avoid it. A young career-track politician from London called ‘Sam’ quickly told us what we all knew – that Momentum was set up to organise in the Labour Party in support of the new Jeremy Corbyn leadership – and then the splits started to open up. Each division revolved around the very questions of democracy and ‘new politics’ that Corbyn’s election promised. And each bitter attack was made in the name of a new ‘openness’ in the Labour Party that recalled the old debates prompted by anarchist feminist activists nearly half a century ago over the nature of ‘structure’ and what Jo Freeman in a classic little pamphlet once called ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’.

An apocryphal story is circulating now in the north of Britain about a young woman comrade who joined a Left Unity branch to find that many of the activists were there to promote their own little organisation. Escape from this wretched situation opened up with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, so she gave up on Left Unity and joined her local branch of the Labour Party to find that same little organisation spouting the same line, they had now moved in with a new front organisation. There were those who ridiculed ‘safe spaces’ in Left Unity, and put their theory into practice in almost every meeting, ensuring that only those with very thick skins – or those with bodyguards around them who were from their own organisation – returned after being subjected to what these very structured sectarians like to call the ‘cut and thrust of political argument’. These people can be friendly enough chatting before and after the meeting, but behave very differently when following orders from the leading group inside their own organisation when they think they should be implementing a ‘line’

No further comment is needed.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

December 17, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought: Aravindan Balakrishnan “Abused and Raped Followers” Court is Told.

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Cult leader Comrade Bala ‘abused followers in brutal campaign of degradation’

Thanks Sarah Jones. 

More reports,

BBC: Communist cult leader ‘imprisoned daughter’.

Guardian:  Brixton commune leader locked up daughter and raped acolytes, jury told. Court hears Aravindan Balakrishman, 75, mounted campaign of ‘debilitating mental and physical violence’ against the women in his collective

The Independent.

Aravindan Balakrishnan: Court hears Maoist cult leader ‘raped female followers and imprisoned daughter for 30 years’

The 75-year-old ruled over a band of women supporters in his south London communist collective  Paul Peachey.

A charismatic Maoist revolutionary raped female followers and imprisoned his own daughter for 30 years after brainwashing them into believing he was an all-powerful and all-seeing leader, a court heard today.

Aravindan Balakrishnan, 75, ruled over a dwindling band of women supporters in his south London communist collective using threats and violence as he pursued his goal of overthrowing the “fascist state”, jurors were told.

His daughter – whose mother was another member of the collective – was beaten, bullied and rarely left the house with Mr Balakrishnan using her fear of the outside world to terrify her into submission, Southwark Crown Court heard.

She never went to school, played with a friend or saw a doctor during her childhood and the power that he held over her meant that she could not leave for the first three decades of her life, said Rosina Cottage QC, counsel for the prosecution. By the time that she left, she was ill with diabetes.

“She was hidden from the outside world, and it kept from her, except as a tool with which to terrify her into subjugation,” said Ms Cottage, opening the case for the prosecution.

“Her freedom of movement was restrained to the extent that even though she could have left physically, the power that the defendant exercised over her meant that she could never leave.”

Mr Balakrishnan, a charismatic and energetic speaker, was the organiser of a communist group in the 1970s based in Brixton, known as the Workers Institute, the court heard.

He is accused of raping and indecently assaulting two women members of the group, including one who was allegedly attacked seven times over a period of about 12 years from 1980.

“This case concerns the brutal and calculated manipulation by one man to subjugate women under his control,” said Ms Cottage. He bent them to his will using mental and physical dominance, violence and sexual degradation, she said.

The two victims of rape stayed in the collective too frightened to leave and hating to stay, said Ms Cottage. “They were forced into sexual acts over which they had no choice and were deliberately degrading and humiliating. He seemed to exult in his power over them.”

Background: Lambeth slavery case.

Workers’ Institute of Marxism–Leninism–Mao Zedong Thought.

London slavery: Maoist group moved from activism to paranoia-driven cult mentality, say British leftists.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: PETALING JAYA: As more is revealed about the activities of the cult-like group in Lambeth now being investigated for holding three women in slavery, other far-left groups in the UK remain bemused about what happened.

In the 1960s and 1970s, parties to the left of the Labour Party of UK Prime Minister Harold Wildon became increasingly disenchanted with his soft socialist approach.

They became heavily radicalised and also underwent many internal splits.

Larger groups of the time included the Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain and a number of Trotskyist movements like Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Ted Grant’s group that eventually became the Militant tendency within the Labour Party).

However the tiny group led by Aravindan Balakrishnan (better known as Comrade Bala) was itself a radical splinter party of the Communist Party of England Marxist Leninist [CPB-ML) that was an oddity even within far left circles. Indeed his Workers Institute offshoot was described as “the most lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe” by the London Times in the late 1970s.

Dr Paul Flewers first came across the Workers Institute group in the late 1970s. Now an independent Marxist he was then a supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Tendency, later the Revolutionary Communist Party, which is now defunct. He recalls competing for customers as they distributed rival paper newspapers and leaflets in Brixton.

“The WI was very hostile to other left groups. It had been banned from attending other groups’ meetings because of its disruptive activities (disobeying the chairman, shouting out and interrupting speakers, etc).” said Flewers in an email interview.

“We didn’t talk about brainwashing or abuse, we just wondered how people could genuinely believe its policies, which, when compared to even the most bizarre statements from left-wingers over the decades, were about the weirdest anyone had ever seen!”

“People do follow charismatic leaders, a person who can express with ease and confidence the overall view of the group to which one is attracted to. Even intelligent people can end up accepting illogical things if they are part of a broad package that they generally accept.”

“There often comes a time when something makes a person think that this or that aspect of the group’s policies or behaviour isn’t quite right; then the leader’s charisma looks less convincing, he now seems less omniscient. Group loyalists start to look as if they have stopped thinking creatively and merely accept by rote what the party leader and leadership declare.”

Like most others, Flewers recalls some major flaws in WI’s ideology, calling it “totally unreal, with no relationship with reality. Britain was a ‘fascist’ state in its eyes. China was going to liberate the UK from this by means of the People’s Liberation Army, China had indeed secretly established the dictatorship of the proletariat in Britain — so the workers really ruled (if in secret) in a fascist state! Completely mad!

As more and more people deserted the group, particularly after a police raid on party premises in 1978, it eventually descended into more of a cult controlled by Comrade Bala and his wife.

“The WI’s offices were raided by the police. This sort of thing is a very rare occurrence in Britain, and I suspect that Comrade Bala, paranoid to start with, saw this as the start of a general clampdown so he and his depleted ranks went underground. The British police state actually existed in Comrade Bala’s mind.”

“They suddenly disappeared. After the early 1980s, there was not the slightest sign of them. I think that the two older women in this current case went voluntarily with Mr and Mrs Comrade Bala into clandestinity.”

“Eventually, despite being kept indoors with only limited contact with the outside world, these two women would begin to doubt Comrade Bala’s ideas about Britain as a fascist police state and along with a general feel that they’d like to get out, they finally decided to break with him. The younger woman, born, raised and educated in clandestinity, could see that there was a better life outside which she was being denied.

While familiar with the group by sight then Flewers did not know their names and can only affirm that most of Comrade Bala’s followers were women of Asian descent.

It has to be said that both the SWP and the WRP have also had their own scandals relating to allegations of abuse. Earlier this year, members of the SWP accused the party of covering up rapes and sexual assault by referring them to the party’s own committee which allegedly let offenders offer lightly.

Flewers adds “The Healy group — Socialist Labour League, becoming the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1974 — was also very paranoid about state interference and surveillance; it was very intolerable of internal dissent; Healy was exposed as an abuser of his membership, physically assaulting members at times, sexually abusing female members as well!”

Meanwhile Socialist historian Keith Flett in a blog post commented on the broader effect that the slavery case might have on the small British Maoist community. “British Maoism is getting bad press, which considering how few adherents it had even at its peak is quite an achievement. Of course part of that is the media trying to conflate Maoism with anyone much to the left of Blair.”

“British Maoists like Reg Birch, an engineering union official who founded the first UK Maoist organisation the Communist Party of Britain Marxist Leninist, were largely good activists in trade unions and the wider move.” said Flett, characterising British Maoists as mostly good comrades and mostly harmless.

A poster Grim and Dim recalls Comrade Bala’s group somewhat amusingly. “I well remember the Workers Institute from the 70s. Their main slogan was “Did tunnels deep, store grain and never seek hegemony”. It didn’t seem terrible relevant in 1970s London (though it was rumoured one of their members worked on the tube. I am mystified by claims that they had 20+ members – we always reckoned there were three of them!”

This is more horrific than we thought.

All our concern and love to those seeking justice.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2015 at 1:55 pm

As Workers Power Goes Michel Pablo, is this the Maddest Sectarian Blog Post Ever Written?

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https://www.marxists.org/glossary/people/p/pics/pablo.jpg

New Workers Power’s Guru: Michel Pablo.

Extensive investigations by the Tendance Coatesy Central Committee have revealed the startling truth about Workers Power’s “Corbyn Turn”: dissolving and joining the Labour Party en masse (insofar as they are anything like a mass).

The erstwhile steel-hardened Trotksyist anti-liquidationists have taken a leaf out of Comrade Michel Pablo’s book and adopted “entrism sui generi., otherwise known as “deep entrism”.

“In entryism sui generis (“of a special type”), Trotskyists, for example, do not openly argue for the building of a Trotskyist party. “Deep entryism” refers to the long duration.”

Pablo, Michel Raptis, is best known for advocating this line, “To gain influence, win members and avoid becoming small sectarian cliques just talking to each other, the Trotskyists should — where possible — join, or in Trotskyist terminology enter, the mass Communist or Social Democratic (Labour) parties. This was known as entrism sui generis or long-term entry. It was understood by all that the FI would retain its political identity, and its own press.

This study, Christophe Nick, Les Trotskistes, (2002) contains all you need to know on the subject of entrism – the French Trotksyists make the British ones look like hopeless amateurs.

It is to be expected that internationalists like Workers Power have read and absorbed its message.

 Review: Les Trotskistes. Revolutionary History

… its main theme is entrism (particularly Chapter 6, pp218-64), and the book’s very first words are that ‘the Trotskyists are everywhere’. Trotskyists, apparently, ‘identify themselves with the mole, and venerate this animal’ (p12), and ‘entrism is a technique peculiar to the Trotskyists, a case unique in the annals of politics, an ethnological curiosity’ (p217)

Chapter 6 of the estimable study, Cde  Al Richardson suggests of some of the book, contains “much of real value“.

It recounts for example the case when one Trotkyist group (the ‘Lambertists’) set up an entrist current (the Ligue communiste internationaliste  LCI, led by Daniel Gluckstein), inside another Ligue communiste révolutionnaire. It exited and fused with its parent as the Parti communiste internationaliste in 1981 .

Please ask for more information on ‘Lambertism‘ (and its present split)- it’s a hoot! (1)

Ian Birchall has written elsewhere that the next study by the Christophe Nick might be on  the Rosicrucians.

Which makes him an even more appropriate strategic guide for Workers Power preparing for perhaps centuries of underground work inside the Labour Party.

Particularly in view of the fact that they have attracted this kind of debate (Thanks NN).

Exclusive: from Workers Power factional history (which is we emphasise for the unwary, is meant to be ‘satire’ – just).

Who Are Proletarian Democracy? A Historico-Theoretical Special
Posted on October 9, 2012

In spite of the strong liquidationist tendencies within a substratum of semi-Stalinist circles in and around Workers’ Power’s CC in the 1980s, Mark Hoskisson was productively correct to assert that Trotsky, had he lived to 1945 to see a nuclear bomb in action, would have revised his statements denouncing nuclear physics and nuclear weapons:

“Now with the reality of the boom, only an idiot or perhaps a charlatan like Gerry Healy, would describe Trotsky’s categorical declaration as correct. However we reject the idea that Trotsky’s error stems from an objectivist and fatalist methodology on his part. This charge, levelled at him by theoretical cheapskates like John Molyneaux – does not stand up for one minute.” – (Workers’ Power Theoretical Journal of Workers’ Power- no9).

BOURGEOIS MILIEU TO ITS CORE

Hoskisson is only partially correct to suggest “Had Trotsky’s epigones re-elaborated his programme in the 1950s many of the difficulties we face today would not exist.” The contradictory containment of post-war Trotskyism within the methodological confines of identary post-manufactured retopianism would have marked a bourgeois milieu to its very core even in the 1950s, hence Hoskisson would be wrong.

Although Paul Mason is now an erstwhile counter-Proletarian Democrat on Newsnight, his contribution to Workers’ Power as it was then, was insightful:

“Soviet power in reality had been enough to drive the Mensheviks into the camp of the bourgeoisie, to make centrists like Kautsky opt decisively for bourgeois-democratic counter-revolution. Conversely it had raised the political sights of the best syndicalist and anarchist militants who had hitherto rejected both the party and state power, by embodying in deeds the revolutionary essence of these words.” – (Workers’ Power Theoretical Journal of Workers’ Power- no9).

We Agree.

It remains our aim to drive Mensheviks such as the IRSP, Eirigi, the ICC, the SSP and the various sordid sub-party groupings around the journals ‘The Commune’, ‘Battaglia Comunista’, ‘Good Housekeeping’ and Lauren Laverne’s columns in Grazia into the camp of the bourgeoisie. We are as committed as ever to make centrists like Owen Jones and Caitlin Moran opt decisively for counter-revolution. And, we will, in time, make the best syndicalist and anarchist militants embody in deeds both party and state. The worst syndicalist and anarchist militants naturally will face a workers’ girder.

THE ‘MACE’ IN PAUL MASON

The crucial point: we were the ‘mace’ in Paul Mason’s words. We did what he preached, and began taking action to make the bourgeoisie crack from within. We knew better than to openly discuss our factionalisation in front of the WP CC, and to openly digress from their characterisation of the Labour Party as a bourgeois workers’ party would have been foolish. We knew they would never condone or support militant action and might even have acted as informers – so we acted in secret, in private.

Anybody who’d been comrades with that lot will be probably end up in Progress – out of sheer relief.

 (1) See latest summary: Longue scission au CCI/POI : et maintenant ? (5th September 2015).

Workers Power: Missing, Please Return to Owner.

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Workers Power

Missing: Please Return to Owner.

Workers Power has gone absent.

Or so it seems.

They left this enigmatic, yet poignant, note on the dressing table.

Workers Power supports key elements of Jeremy Corbyn’s programme. We believe all socialists should join the Labour Party, defend and promote Jeremy’s progressive demands, and work to extend and deepen these policies in a revolutionary socialist direction.

We will be working collectively in the Labour Party, hand in hand with others, to advance that cause.

Workers Power.

Since this statement on the 15th of September sellers of Workers Power have not been seen in public.

There’s been this Tweet, on October the 22nd.

Unconfirmed sightings include Red Flag, and Fifth International, and rumblings, rumblings….

Workers Power was the author of this much-loved document – it’s believed the last living person who got beyond page 2 is still around.

Not to mention this (genuinely)  fine analysis: Strategy and tactics of the Counterfire group; a critique.

Elderly, it suffers from incontinence, but is still sprightly enough to take a leading role in defending the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

If found please return to the League for the 5th International as soon as possible.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 1, 2015 at 11:49 am