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Another small group, Independent Socialist Network, to join Labour: is this the way to win backing for Marxism?

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Another Group Joins Labour? 

Rethinking Labour: More of the same or change of course?

Nick Wrack is a respected socialist activist who has long argued for a new Marxist party in Britain.

He is part of the Independent Socialist Network.

The history of that current is extremely complex even by the high left’s standards (for those who so wish they can look at its site,  here.)

Like many he is deeply impressed by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, which he describes as a “game changer for left-wing politics in Britain”.

If I may jump over the article this is something he is not impressed with,

We have considered it worthwhile participating in TUSC and standing candidates against Labour in the hope that this could be a springboard to the formation of a new party. However, that is clearly not going to happen. It puts a negative over the whole project, even more so now that Corbyn has won the leadership of the Labour Party. TUSC will obtain even worse votes in the short term and standing to obtain risible votes cannot even be justified with the argument that it is to lay the basis of building a new party. In these circumstances it is time, in my opinion, to draw a line in our participation in TUSC.

A similar situation exists now with Left Unity. Left Unity has politics no different from Corbyn, so why would any of them join it? Why join a party of 1,500 when you can join a party of hundreds of thousands, with millions of affiliated trade unionists? Its perspective for any meaningful contribution to the socialist cause is minimal, if that.

It is unlikely, we note, that these failures are due to the following, causes which he mentions,

  • No group will give up its claim to be “the one true socialist party”. As result they cannot achieve, “unification of Marxists into a single organisation.”
  • The various socialist groups have sought to limit the nature of the project to essentially reformist policies, while presenting themselves as the ‘real’ socialists.
  • In Left Unity, Socialist Resistance and other non-aligned Marxists actively prevented clear socialist aims and principles being incorporated into the party constitution, preferring to blur the distinction between socialists and social democrats because they don’t want to put anyone off.

A simpler explanation is that these ideas have little connection to social reality and popular thinking.

One might say (with reference to, Lars T.Lih. Lenin Rediscovered. 2008) that Wrack’s view is based on the common ground of Erfurt Marxism (which could be said to be shared by the pre-Third International Lenin and social democratic Second International). That is,  that the “good news” of socialism has to be brought to people by democratic politics  ((Wrack’s group has always insisted on this point, in distinction from vanguardist Leninist groups),  debate on Marxist analysis (or socialism more widely) and activism.

In this respect it is clearly false for Wrack to claim that there are “two incompatible political ideologies – revolutionary socialism-communism versus reformist social democracy (which) – have existed in opposition since the second half of the 19th century.”

It would take many pages, of earnest theoretical and scholastic debate to determine what is ‘Marxism’, but the line between “revolutionary socialism-communism” and “reformist social democracy” is pretty minor compared to the distinction between Stalinism and democratic socialism.

In reality there is no one ‘Marxism’. There are Marxisms.

Where there is a fault line on the left and between Marxists, it lies in the difference between those who wish to emphasise the importance of political liberty, before and after the winning of political power by socialist parties, and those who believe that everything – including liberty – has to take second place to gaining and sustaining that power. We could go further and say that some of the latter still believe in the ‘actuality of the revolution’ – its continued presence ready to spring into life and led to victory the right manoeuvres of small left groups. Democratic socialism is the belief that we proceed by consent and by voting to a “revolution” in social structures and culture, not an imposed political leadership, or by violence – which as our founders said, was only justified against  “slave holders'”.violent opposition.

That kind of democratic Marxism is only one strand amongst an increasingly bewildering number of other left themes, third-wave feminism, the renewed  egalitarian social democracy of the people around Pierre Rosenvallon in France,  of the vast variety of Greens, radical democrats, other-globalisation theorists, supporters of décroissance and a host of other other left ideologies,  from the broad appeal of democratic secularist anti-racism, to other ideas, with a more limited audience, such post-Negri autonomism and the tradition stemming from Cornelius Castoriadis.

To varying degrees all these ideas exist within trade unions (the ultimate ‘reformist’ bodies), and parties like the Labour Party, the French left bloc, the Front de gauche, and a long list of European left and social democratic parties.

If Marxist ideas have any value it is not because they are ‘Marxist’ but because there are Marxist researchers and activists who can help develop a democratic socialist strategy and practical policies for achieving  – amongst a very very long list:

  • an egalitarian and socialist  response to neo-liberal economics based on the classical premises of class struggle politics: in the conditions of vastly changed class structures.
  • policies that offer a democratic transformation of the European Union.
  • policies that democratise the state: end the system of farming public functions (welfare, health onwards) off to private rentiers and take them under democratic control.
  • Workers’ rights, social rights, and the whole galaxy of human rights based on popular movements, not NGO’s lists of ideas.
  • the goal of the “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

A creative left current, with an input from all these sources cannot be reduced to ‘Marxism’.

  • There is no evidence that “true” socialism exists in which the left can unite on the basis of Marxist doctrine. There are varieties of socialist politics and parties, many of which are incompatible No democratic socialist would want to be part of a party based on the kind of democratic centralism practised in the SWP or Socialist Party. Their version of Leninism is not accepted as ‘true’ Marxism either.
  • Out of experience many on the left would not touch these parties and their various ‘fronts’ with a barge pole.

We can imagine that it’s the fact that Wrack is part of the movement, and an activist, which had the main pull in the following analysis.

Having said that, there is an enormous battle taking place now within the Labour Party and the Trade Unions. This battle is going to intensify over the next year. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are principled social democrats. They do not, in my opinion, put forward a programme for overthrowing capitalism or for establishing a socialist society. But they are sincere and honest supporters and defenders of the working class and its interests. They support workers on strike; they support workers in protest; they stand up for the poor, the migrant and those on welfare. Arrayed against them is the whole of the capitalist class, the media and their echoes in the Labour Party and trade unions.

Marxists cannot stand aside in this battle and say, “It’s nothing to do with us.” Marxists participate in all aspects of the class struggle. Marxists must do everything we can to defend Corbyn and McDonnell, while engaging in a thoroughgoing criticism of their programme. We must defend Corbyn and McDonnell but fight for socialist policies. I do not have the space here to develop details points of programmatic criticism but fundamentally the issue boils down to what Corbyn is attempting to do differently from Syriza. How can Corbyn succeed where Tsipras failed? In my opinion, the weaknesses of the Syriza approach are present in Corbyn’s programme. How can we alter this to strengthen the movement for change?

Or perhaps not.

Activism seems to get downplayed in favour of, the no-doubt to be welcomed, “through-going criticism”

I spelled out some aspects of disagreement in an earlier article. I think that both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have already made too many concessions or compromises, in a vain attempt to appease their opponents in the Parliamentary Labour Party, where they are in a small minority. But they cannot hope to win the battle they face in the Labour Party on the basis of the PLP. It seems that they have understood the need to base themselves on their support outside the PLP and have set up Momentum to organise that support. Momentum has to develop into a genuinely democratic organisation in which its members can influence policy and tactics.


For all these reasons I am now of the opinion that all Marxists should, at the very least, join Momentum. We can play a key role in helping to defend Corbyn and defeating the right. Where possible, therefore, Marxists should also join Labour. This is best done as an organised group, rather than as individuals. The purpose of joining is two-fold: to strengthen the forces in defence of Corbyn and against the rightwing in Labour and the trade unions and to argue for a Marxist ideas in the mass movement around Corbyn. There is no knowing how long this battle may last or what the outcome will be. Those coming into Momentum and into the Labour Party will include thousands of people who simply want change. But many will have no clear idea of what that change should be or how it can be accomplished. Marxists have to engage with the debate. What change? How can it be achieved? What programme is necessary?


The ISN will seek to organise all independent socialists in and out of the Labour Party who want to fight for Marxist ideas in the labour movement and we will work with all who see the need ultimately to build a mass united socialist party based on Marxist ideas.

It is hard to not see just how far this analysis from the ILN is from reality.

  • How is Momentum going to change the Labour Party? Is is going to act as an organised group that will take control over local Labour parties, and Council groups, on the basis of ‘debate’? How will this work within the slow process of Labour Party internal democracy? How on earth will this group actually oeprate within, say Policy Forums, CLPs? As an alternative party or as a simple current of ideas?
  • How will they cope with set-backs? The experience of ‘new’ politics, from Podemos onwards, indicates that ‘new’ democratic methods are hard to create, and frankly, the rhythm of Labour Party internal life is going to be an obstacle to anybody wanting instant political gratification.
  • How will they appeal to the large centre-ground inside the Labour Party which has to be convinced on solid grounds of the reasonableness of the new politics? The sudden arrival of new people, who campaigned against Labour in the General Election, eager to give advice, is, perhaps not likely to impress everybody. A simple thought: you have show respect for your opponents, even work for their election in councils, and so forth. Will the ILN manage that?

It is hard to not to think that some people on the left, with limited experience of how the Labour Party actually works, and the inevitable disappointments for those with simple and clear goals of “defending” Corbyn, are going to get frustrated and bitter very quickly.

A State Jew? Léon Blum – David A. Bell on Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum.

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Blum: a Generous Humanist Socialist, not a “State Jew”.

A State Jew. David A. Bell. Review of Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.

London Review of Books.

Thanks Jim D.

Bell begins  his review with this, which should give some pause for reflection,

The newspaper Action française habitually referred to Léon Blum, France’s Socialist leader, as the ‘warlike Hebrew’ and the ‘circumcised Narbonnais’ (he represented a constituency in Narbonne). On 13 February 1936, Blum was being driven away from the National Assembly when he encountered a group of ultra-right-wing militants who had gathered at the intersection of the rue de l’Université and the boulevard Saint-Germain for the funeral procession of Jacques Bainville, one of the founders of Action française, a reactionary political movement as well as a newspaper. Glimpsing Blum through the car windows, the militants began shouting: ‘Kill Blum!’, ‘Shoot Blum!’ They forced his car to stop and began rocking it back and forth. Blum’s friend Germaine Monnet, sitting with him in the back, tried to shield him with her body. Her husband, Georges, who had been driving, ran to look for police. But one of the militants managed to tear a fender off the car, used it to smash the rear window, and then beat Blum repeatedly over the head. Only the arrival of two policemen saved his life. They dragged him to a nearby building, where the concierge gave him first aid. The next day pictures of Blum, his head heavily bandaged, appeared in newspapers around the world.

We halt there.

To internationalist socialists Blum is above all known not for his Jewish identity – despite the book – but for his socialist humanist republicanism.

Blum defended French democratic republicanism, from the Dreyfus affair onwards. He was profoundly affected by the “synthesis” of socialism, including the Marxist view of class struggle, with democratic republicanism, that marked the life and work of one of our greatest martyrs, Jean Jaurès, assassinated in 1914 by a sympathiser of the far-right,  for his opposition to the outbreak of the Great War. Blum did not, however, play a part in the anti-War left.

That is the context in which we would take the shouts of “kill Blum”.  Political, not ethnic.

Blum was a leading figure amongst the minority of the French Socialists, the SFIO (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière), who opposed what became in the 1920s the French Communist Party, the PCF. He was one of those who opposed affiliating the party to the Third International at the Congrès de Tours (SFIO).

Speech at the Socialist Party Congress at Tours, 27 December 1920 (best known under its French title, background Pour La Veille Maison, Text).

This is the crucial objection from the ‘reformist’ (but at this point, still Marxist) democratic socialists to the Third International – the Leninist one.

You are right to declare that the whole party press, central or local, should be in the hands of pure communists and pure communist doctrine. You are certainly right to submit the works published by the Party to a kind of censorship. All that is logical. You want an entirely homogeneous party, a party in which there is no longer free thought, no longer different tendencies: you are therefore right to act as you have done. This results – I am going to prove it to you – from your revolutionary conception itself. But you will understand that envisioning that situation, considering it, making the comparison of what will be tomorrow with what was yesterday, we all had the same reaction of fright, of recoil, and that we said: is that the Party that we have known? No! The party that we knew was the appeal to all workers, while the one they want to found is the creation of little disciplined vanguards, homogeneous, subjected to a strict structure of command – their numbers scarcely matter, you will find that in the theses – but all kept under control, and ready for prompt and decisive action. Well, in that respect as in the others, we remain of the Party as it was yesterday, and we do not accept the new party that they want to make.

To show how radical Blum was at this point, this is how he defended the dictatorship of the proletariat,

Dictatorship exercised by the Party, yes, but by a Party organized like ours, and not like yours. Dictatorship exercised by a Party based on the popular will and popular liberty, on the will of the masses, in sum, an impersonal dictatorship of the proletariat. But not a dictatorship exercised by a centralized party, where all authority rises from one level to the next and ends up by being concentrated in the hands of a secret Committee. … Just as the dictatorship should be impersonal, it should be, we hold, temporary, provisional. … But if, on the contrary, one sees the conquest of power as a goal, if one imagines (in opposition to the whole Marxist conception of history) that it is the only method for preparing that transformation, that neither capitalist evolution nor our own work of propaganda could have any effect, if as a result too wide a gap and an almost infinite period of time must be inserted between taking power as the precondition, and revolutionary transformation as the goal, then we cease to be in agreement.

Bear this in mind: these words are memorised almost by heart by many on the left.

The minority, for which Blum spoke, opposed to the Third International, retained the name, French Section of the Workers’ International. This was significant: it referred to a claim to continue the traditions of the Second International, of Marxist, if moderate and reformist,  inspiration.

Blum offered social reform on this foundation. He led, during the Front Populaire (1936 -38)  a government (as President du conseil) of socialists and radical-socialists, backed by communists from the ‘outside’ and a vast movement of factory occupations and protests,  to implement some of them, on paid holidays, bargaining rights limiting the working week. He had great limitations – one that cannot be ignored is that his government did not give women the right to vote – and his role in not effectively helping the Spanish Republic remains a matter of controversy to this day. Indeed the absence of feminism – as well as a rigorous anti-colonialism (the FP “dissolved” the North African, l’Étoile nord-africaine of Messali Hadj –  in the Front Populaire, is something which should cause a great deal of critical investigation.

The review in the LLB is about a book, and this is what he has to say specifically about it:

Birnbaum, a well-known historian and sociologist of French Jewry, has written a short biography that focuses on Blum’s identity as a Jew, as the series requires. It cannot substitute for the more substantial studies by Joel Colton, Ilan Greilsammer and Serge Berstein, but it’s lively, witty and draws effectively on Blum’s massive and eloquent correspondence. Arthur Goldhammer has, as usual, produced a lucid, engaging English text. Birnbaum seems to have written the book in some haste: he repeats facts and quotations, and makes a few historical slips – France was not a ‘largely peasant nation’ in 1936; Hitler did not annex the Sudetenland in the summer of 1938, before the Munich Agreement. The chapters proceed thematically, highlighting Blum the writer, Blum the socialist, Blum the lawyer, Blum the Zionist and so forth, which produces occasional confusion as Birnbaum leaps backwards and forwards in time. But overall, the book offers a knowledgeable and attractive portrait. If there is a serious criticism to be levelled at it, it doesn’t concern the portrait itself, so much as the way Birnbaum draws on it to make a broader argument about French Jewish identity.

But there are issues of much wider importance in that broader argument which do not depend on discussing that text and its content.

Bell makes two points about his legacy as described in Birnbaum’s book,

As Birnbaum himself repeatedly notes, despite his ‘quintessential’ Frenchness, Blum always expressed pride in his Jewish heritage, often in the highly racialised language of the day. ‘My Semite blood,’ he wrote as a young man, ‘has been preserved in its pure state. Honour me by acknowledging that it flows unmixed in my veins and that I am the untainted descendant of an unpolluted race.’ While he could speak disparagingly of Jewish ritual, he recognised and respected a Jewish ethical tradition. In 1899, in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair, he insisted that ‘the Jew’s religion is justice. His Messiah is nothing other than a symbol of Eternal Justice.’ He went on to identify ‘the spirit of socialism’ with ‘the ancient spirit of the race’ and to comment: ‘It was not a lapse on the part of Providence that Marx and Lassalle were Jews.’ Blum, in short, thought the Jews could change the French Republic for the better by drawing on their own traditions to push it towards socialism.

This attempt to bring up Blum’s references to his Jewish background, even in terms more democratic than Disraeli’s novels, voiced above all by the character Sidonia, owes more to pre-1930s racial romanticism to racialism.

Does this prove Bell’s point that, “The republican model allows strikingly little space for what immigrant communities can contribute to a nation. Visitors to France can see at a glance just how much immigrants have brought to its music, literature, sport and even cuisine. But the republican model treats difference primarily as a threat to be exorcised in the name of an unbending, anachronistic ideal of civic equality. Even in the heyday of the Third Republic, many committed republicans recognised that different ethnic and religious groups could strengthen the republic.”

Yes it does: secularism is freedom for difference, not the imposition of homogeneity.

Blum could be rightly proud of his cultural heritage,as indeed in a ‘globalised’ world of migration many other people from different backgrounds should be, and are, within the democratic framework of secular equality.

There is little doubt that the spirit of nit-picking secularism can be as unable to deal with these backgrounds, as say, state multiculturalism, which treats ‘diversity’ as if this were a value in itself. If the first tends to be hyper-sensitive to, say, reactionary  Islamic dress codes, the second abandons the issue entirely.

But there are far deeper problems than superficial insistence on  Laïcité

The first is ‘Sovereigntist’ efforts to claim secularist universalism for French particularism. This is the rule amongst the supporters of the far-right Front National, historians and writers like Éric Zemmour bemoaning France’s ‘decline’ , though we should underline, not the novelist Houellebecq, who expresses disdain for things, not hate). There are those who call for all Muslims to be expelled from Europe, those  to those milder nationalists of right and left who commemorate “le pays et les morts” (and not anybody else – a return to the culturalist (not to say, racial)  themes of Action française to Maurice Barrès and to Charles Maurras. This is indeed “communalism”.

It is the major threat to French republicanism.

There is also the issue of anti-Semitism in France, woven into another kind of ‘communitarianism’. Alain Soral, his close friend the comedian Dieudonné, popular amongst young people from the banlieue and the more refined inheritors of the Marrausian tradition, the partisans of the  Indigènes de la République, (including those associated in the English speaking world) rant at thephilosémitisme d’Etat” in France.

It takes all the effort of refined ‘discursive analysis’ from academics to ignore that at its heart this is a current  which indulges in Jew baiting. The mind-set of these people was classically described by Sartre, “« Si le juif n’existait pas, l’antisémite l’inventerait.» (Réflexions sur la question juive 1946). They indeed spent an enormous amount of time ‘inventing’ the presence of Jews in politics, and giving them influence ‘behind the scenes’.

In words which might have been designed to pander to the world-view of the  Indigènes, Bell cites Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist,

Blum ‘the first of a new type of state Jew interested in giving greater weight to democratic sentiment within the framework of a socialist project.’ One wonders, though, what Birnbaum might say about a French Muslim politician today justifying an ideological position by reference to Muslim tradition and ethics (or sharia law). Would he have quite so favourable an  opinion? Or might he see the move as a ‘communitarian’ threat to ‘the unifying logic of the nation’ and to ‘French exceptionalism’? It is well past time to recognise that a nation can have many different unifying logics, and that a political model forged under the Third Republic fits the France of the Fifth Republic very badly.

Blum celebrated his Jewish heritage. It is hardly a secret. Nor is his post-war Zionism, or support for Israel, a stand shared in the immediate aftermath of the conflict by the USSR.

But did he become a  man of the  ‘state’ because he was a ‘Jew’, and does this aspect of his person matter politically – that is in terms of the state?

For us Léon Blum is only one of the sources of a generous humanist secularism, but a significant one. That he did not tackle issues like feminism, anti-colonialism, and a host of other issues, goes without saying. But it would be a great shame if his legacy was reduced to being a “State Jew”.

And it could equally be said that republican secularism has many strands, that it is being transformed by the views of secularists from North Africa, the threat of the Islamist genociders of Deash, the mounting oppression in Erdogan’s Turkey, backed by his Islamist AKP, and – no doubt – Israel’s evident failings. Every one of these cases shows that religious law is not any part of a “tradition” that socialists – believers in equality – would recognise.

The logic at work here binds us to our French sisters and brothers, binds internationalists across the globe, in the way that the Je Suis Charlie moment briefly melded our hearts and minds together.

That is perhaps the real ‘end’ of all exceptionalisms.

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

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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).


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 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).

Socialist Unity (John Wight), “Andrew Coates is a card carrying member of the neo-McCarthyite gang….”

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John Wight: Recent Picture.

These, perhaps unhelpful, comments have been brought to our attention by a class conscious struggler.

 Andrew Coates is a card carrying member of the neo-McCarthyite gang that resides in the rotten, seeting swamp I describe in my recent piece in defence of Seumas Milne.

He is not in any way shape or form on the ‘right side’.

Here is the link to my Milne article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/23/seumas-milne-and-his-swivel-eyed-detractors/

Socialist Unity.

From said description of ‘seeting’ swamp,

What we have seen take place is nothing less than a feral and unhinged scream from the swamp of reaction that resides in our culture, where every crank with a computer resides, consumed with bitterness and untreated angst, much of it in the form of self loathing over their own inadequacies and lack of talent – not to mention in some cases a jump from the extreme left to extreme right of the political spectrum, with all the psychological dysfunction such a metamorphosis describes’.

Did Wight say this as well?

Shoot these rabid dogs. Death to this gang who hide their ferocious teeth, their eagle claws, from the people! Down with that vulture Trotksy, from whose mouth a bloody venom drips, putrefying the great ideals of Marxism!… Down with these abject animals! Let’s put an end once and for all to these miserable hybrids of foxes and pigs, these stinking corpses! Let’s exterminate the mad dogs of capitalism, who want to tear to pieces the flower of our new Soviet nation! Let’s push the bestial hatred they bear our leaders back down their own throats!

Apparently not.

As a long-standing Labour Party card-holder (from this morning indeed, to add to the above) and thus a comrade I am  dismayed that my old mucker John Wight, an ectoplasm of egregious excrement, a ponce of putrescent pompousness, a snivelling sycophant of a scrote, should resort to such language.

Though it’s true that the allotment was rather damp this morning.

For popular instruction:

Recent Wight Tweets,

John Wight – perhaps not surprisingly –  on Russia Today: Op-Edge.

John Wight on George Galloway for London Mayor.


Written by Andrew Coates

October 30, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Neil Clark, Sputnik, Threatens Tendance Coatesy.

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Neil Clark: Top Sputnik Intellectual.

Dear Andrew Coates,

Re your attack on me on your blog:

1. Kindly remove the photograph of me which you don’t have permission to use.

2. If you’re going to attack me by selectively quoting from pieces I have written in the past- well that’s one thing.

But what I won’t allow to stand is your attempt to smear me on the basis that my work, without my knowledge and without my permission has appeared on some French far right sites (if that’s indeed what they are- I have never heard of them).

If you can’t see how dishonest it is to attack someone for their work being stolen and put on sites without their permission- then I think you’ve got big problems.

At the moment I’m consulting with lawyers over representing me on a conditional fee arrangement in a legal action against Oiver Kamm (Sic) , who has waged a 10 year smear campaign aganst me which has involved regular posting of defamatory comments-(most seriously that I am a ‘Srebrenica denier’ ) an action which would also bring in the assistance Kamm has received in his campaign from ‘Andrew Philip Cross’, who, like Kamm cyberstalks me and who I saw (surprise surprise) soon joined in the attacks on me on your blog post, wth his links all at the ready (classic stalking behaviour).

He continues….

I really wouldn’t want to broaden any action I might take to include you– but at the same time I am not prepared to let your insinuation that I wrote directly for French far-right websites stand.

I therefore request that you amend your blog post to add the following :

Neil Clark has contacted me to say that his work appeared on the French sites (you can add their names) without his knowledge and permission  – and I apologise for giving readers the impression that he had written directly for these sites.

Please can you acknowledge safe receipt of this email.

Thank you in advance,
Neil Clark


We are working on the assumption that this semi-literate communication is not a joke (“aganst” “Oiver Kamm” “wth”)


His demand is that I write this:

“Neil Clark has contacted me to say that his work appeared on the French sites (you can add their names) without his knowledge and permission  – and I apologise for giving readers the impression that he had written directly for these sites.”

I apologise?

He has yet to even acknowledge that they are far-right.

Any apology has to come from a different source.

Let us see what I actually said,

His writings also appear on the 9/11 ‘Truther’ site ‘Voltaire Net.” (Réseau Voltaire) – here. Voltaire Net was set up by Thierry Meyssan who is best known for 9/11: The Big Lie (L’Effroyable imposture).

If Neil Clarke is unaware of the French sites (the 9/11 ‘Truther’ site,  Réseau Voltaire), using his articles, a big ‘if’ since it took me a few minutes to find them, then it is his responsibility to make sure that this is widely known.

And if not, there’s always Google.

To repeat.

They published his material: ’If you’re in NATO you can get away with murder’: Neil Clark to RT’ Réseau Voltaire. 12th June 2013.

If he does not known what Réseau Voltaire is, and who  Thierry Meyssan is, then perhaps he should start writing about something less intellectually challenging than politics, like posting comments on Facebook pictures of his pets.

Égalité et réconciliation may be a little more difficult – knowing about the most celebrated French far-right conspiracy theorist Alain Soral is nevertheless made easy even for dunderheads by his Wikipedia entry in English (though it’s not very comprehensive and needs an update).

This is what I wrote, in a comment.

He’s even on the openly fascist site of Alain Soral (Egalité et Réconciliation)

Neil Clark – Il est temps de mettre un terme aux brimades contre les Serbes


As for this shower – which I referred to not on the Blog post but, to repeat,  in the comments,  here is how they present his oeuvre.

He has yet to make clear his condemnation of either, or seem to grasp why these people find it useful to reproduce his opinions.

In these conditions pointing out that his work appears on these sites, is simply stating the truth.

I did not, therefore, say he “wrote” for the sites.

Rather than attacking Tendance Coatesy – of greater concern apparently than anything else –  what is going to do about their appearance on the French language and English language version of Réseau Voltaire/Voltaire Net, and Soral’s vehicle?

By contrast we are happy to remove his precious photo – though we have no idea that images available through Google are in some fashion copyright (presumably there are special pictures on the net that require a stamp from the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye to use).

On this demand alone I have shamelessly caved in and replaced it with one of our own.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 26, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Notorious Galloway – and former SWP – Hack Ger Francis worked for…..Corbyn??????

with 21 comments

Ger Francis (recent picture). 

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

For reasons that escape me Socialist Unity has chosen to publish this by Andy Newman:  St Crispin’s Day.

Meanwhile the only remaining other member of Socialist Unity’s band of brothers John Wight, has published this stirring call to arms,

Seumas Milne and His Swivel-Eyed Detractors

What we have seen take place is nothing less than a feral and unhinged scream from the swamp of reaction that resides in our culture, where every crank with a computer resides, consumed with bitterness and untreated angst, much of it in the form of self loathing over their own inadequacies and lack of talent – not to mention in some cases a jump from the extreme left to extreme right of the political spectrum, with all the psychological dysfunction such a metamorphosis describes.

So feral, so extreme has been this motley crew of first rate second rate men (and women) in their biblical denunciations of Seumas Milne, they make the McCarthy witchhunts seem like child’s play by comparison.

Wight ends this call to muster behind Milne with this remark,

“Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.”

We learn that Corbyn has taken upon himself to appoint another genius to his team, who is, surely no-coincidence, a former Socialist Unity contributor (Telegraph – Thanks Jim…).

It can also be revealed that Mr Corbyn has employed a key aide to the disgraced former mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. Ger Francis, Rahman’s former political adviser, worked for Mr Corbyn at the Commons, a member of Mr Corbyn’s Westminster office confirmed last week. “He worked here on the leadership campaign,” she said.

Mr Francis moved to work for Mr Corbyn after Rahman was disbarred from office in April. An election court found the mayor guilty of “corrupt and illegal practices” including vote-rigging, bribery and lying that his Labour opponent was a racist. The judge, Richard Mawrey QC, said Rahman had run a “ruthless and dishonest” campaign which “drove a coach and horses” through electoral law.

Mr Francis, one of Rahman’s highly-controversial twelve political appointees, was at the heart of the mayor’s personal machine which saw millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash channelled to personal allies and Muslim groups in return for political support.

He is a former member of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party who was expelled from the SWP in 2007 for being too extreme. He then became an organiser for George Galloway’s far-Left Respect party and was agent for the party’s then leader, Salma Yaqoob, at the 2010 elections in Birmingham. He joined Rahman after the collapse of Respect and Ms Yaqoob’s resignation as leader.

This is what Ger said on what he intended to do in Respect (from, surprise, surprise, Socialist Unity  March 2008).

Our contribution to the international class struggle starts with the work we do to undermine British imperialism. In this context, the significance of the developments that have taken place around Respect, under the leadership of George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob, should not be underestimated. The demands made by Respect would probably have been accommodated by left social democracy in previous generations, but they have been given backbone by a resolute anti-imperialism, anti-racism and a critique of capitalism. This is the correct political orientation for mass politics.

Francis is particularly hated by Iranian and other exiles from Islamist countries for the role he played in Birmingham back in 2001-2 – preventing these democratic secular socialists from expressing their views in the Stop the War Campaign.

You can read about Francis’s activities in this text by respected comrades  Sue Blackwell and Rehan Hafeez – the pseudonym  of  a greatly valued Iranian activist I have had close contact with  (WHY WE WERE RIGHT TO LEAVE THE SWP).

On 4th April 2002, Rehan Hafeez (SWP member of 16 years’ standing) and Sue Blackwell (SWP member of 19 years’ standing) sent a joint letter of resignation to the Central Committee of the SWP. Our letter was sent by Recorded Delivery and we had expected some sort of response from the CC. Of course we didn’t expect them to take all our allegations at face value, but we did hope that they would at least investigate them. However, we never received a reply in any form whatsoever – not even an acknowledgement of our resignations. The only contact from the Centre was a couple of months later when we each received a phone call from the Membership Office enquiring why our subs had stopped! (Sue took great pleasure in answering that at some length to the poor sod at the end of the phone).

We therefore decided to post our letters on the web along with related documents, so that people can judge for themselves whether we made the right decision. Since we posted them in 2003, we have received dozens of supportive e-mails from others who have left the SWP under similar circumstances, and remarkably also from people who are still in the SWP suffering the same kind of abuses but haven’t yet plucked up the courage to leave. (I call it “battered comrade syndrome”).

In our letter we complained about the packing of the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition (BSTWC) meeting on 5th February 2002, where the SWP rode roughshod over the existing democratic procedures in order to kick Steve Godward out of his post as Vice-Chair of BSTWC and to end the practice of open committee meetings and regular elections. This event was exactly mirrored at the Birmingham Socialist Alliance AGM held on 1st July 2003, where – guess what – the SWP packed the meeting in order to kick Steve Godward out of his position as Chair, along with every other committee member who was not in the SWP, including Rehan who was voted out of his post as Press Officer.

One point we would mention: the texts of these letters make repeated reference to Ger Francis, the Birmingham SWP full-timer. Ger was finally sacked by the SWP around the time of the Party Conference in early November 2002, and we are confident that our complaints about him contributed in some measure to that welcome decision. However, it would be wrong to think that the problems began and ended with comrade Francis: he was the symptom, not the cause. After his replacement the SWP in Brum continued to behave in exactly the same sectarian, dishonest and undemocratic manner within the anti-war movement and the Socialist Alliance. The rot, as far as we can see, comes from the head: Ger was repeatedly backed by CC members such as Chris Bambery, Lindsey German and John Rees and those individuals have not changed their positions. We have seen no real improvement in the internal democracy of the SWP.

We also note that no explanation was given to the rank-and-file as to WHY Ger was sacked, and why at THAT PARTICULAR TIME given that complaints against him had been made since the beginning of 2002. Ger carried on behaving in the exactly the same way, still taking a leading role in the BSTW Coalition for instance, but nothing was done to stop this. We considered this to be further evidence of the contempt the leadership had for ordinary members. Eventually Ger was expelled from the party itself as part of the fall-out from the split in Respect in 2007, when he sided with the Salma Yaqoob / George Galloway faction after the SWP had apparently seen the light.

This is one text: Concerning Events in Birmingham Since the Autumn of 2001. There are many more on the site.

This account of some of the events backs up their account of Ger’s factionist pro-Islamist stand in Birmingham:  STWC gravediggers. Steve Davis. (Weekly Worker. 9.1.03).

Here is Ger lauding Galloway (November 2009).

Hundreds attend George Galloway meeting in Birmingham University by Ger Francis

For those involved in Palestinian solidarity in Birmingham, its university has long felt like some weird Zionist outpost. For years Israeli apologists, through bureaucratic bullying and intimidation via the Student Union Guild, have been able to hinder and stifle debate.

Ger comments.

George Galloway is simply the most eloquent advocate of the Palestinian cause in the English speaking world.

To follow Henry the V is a hard task.

But this is what Sue said about Ger when he was finally booted out of the SWP (here),

Sue sent this as an e-mail to various comrades on hearing in early November 2002 that Ger Francis, the cause of so much of her misery, had been sacked from his post as full-time organiser for the SWP in Birmingham. Steve Godward replied “well said brother Wordsworth”.

In hindsight, however, this proved to be overly optimistic. Ger Francis remained very much in the driving seat of the Bham Stop The War Coalition, the “clumsy desperation” continues with a vengeance and there are still plenty of “madding factions” needing to be tranquilised ….

By the way – I shouldn’t need to say this but I’ll say it anyway – I do not in any way condone or encourage acts of individual violence and I do not wish anyone dead, even my worst enemies. In any case my worst enemies are the governments of the USA, the UK and Israel, not anyone on the British left. The “rivers of blood” here are strictly metaphorical (and nothing to do with Enoch Powell either!)

… but the foremost of the band
As he approached, no salutation given
In the familiar language of the day,
Cried, “Robespierre is dead!” – nor was a doubt,
After strict question, left within my mind
That he and his supporters all were fallen.

Great was my transport, deep my gratitude
To everlasting Justice, by this fiat
Made manifest. “Come now, ye golden times,”
Said I forth-pouring on those open sands
A hymn of triumph: “as the morning comes
From out the bosom of the night, come ye:
Thus far our trust is verified; behold!
They who with clumsy desperation brought
A river of Blood, and preached that nothing else
Could cleanse the Augean stable, by the might
Of their own helper have been swept away;
Their madness stands declared and visible;
Elsewhere will safety now be sought, and earth
March firmly towards righteousness and peace.”

Then schemes I framed more calmly, when and how
The madding factions might be tranquilised,
And how through hardships manifold and long
The glorious renovation would proceed.
Thus interrupted by uneasy bursts
Of exultation, I pursued my way …

William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book

It is, frankly, outrageous that Ger Francis should be working for any Labour MP.





Written by Andrew Coates

October 26, 2015 at 12:49 pm

80th Anniversary of the POUM.

with one comment

From La Bataille Socialiste.

Commemoration in Barcelona 31st October.

Resources Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista ( FUNDACIÓN ANDREU NIN).

This article brilliantly explains the POUM, (LLW)

On my first day in Barcelona during a trip a few years ago, I was walking down the fabled Ramblas street. Barcelona is a very dynamic city, with a much more “European” feel than Madrid, and there’s quite a lot to draw your attention. But it was a municipal library which caught my eye more than anything else, and stands out to this day: the Biblioteca Andreu Nin. When I asked the librarian inside, she explained that this was where the POUM’s headquarters had been during the Spanish Civil War, “hasta que lo desmantelaron”, until they dismantled it.

The POUM, or the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (the name is only slightly less clunky in Spanish) is best known in the English-speaking world as the party whose militias George Orwell fought with during the Civil War. Fans of Ken Loach will also remember that this party was central in Land and Freedom. Yet, although the Spanish Civil War is second only to the Russian Revolution as a historical reference for sect-ists of all types, the reference is always to the dramatic moments and the assorted leaders, with very little attention paid to what the mass of participants, including those in organizations, were thinking or doing.

Until they dismantled it” – “they” here does not refer to the fascists headed by General Franco, but to the Spanish Republican State, under the influence or domination of the Soviet Union. There’s a common refrain in Anarchist milieux that “Leninism” is in itself inherently counter-revolutionary, that all “Leninists” will always repress “Anarchists”, and that the proof lies in the repression of the Red Army against revolutionary Ukraine in 1918-1920, or of Republican Spain against the CNT during the Civil War. And yet the POUM were repressed alongside the CNT in Spain, despite being “Leninists” just like the advisors from Stalin’s NKVD. In fact, they were repressed first, as a test of strength for the government before going after the CNT, not to mention that the CNT leadership had bought itself some time after the showdown of May 1937 by calling for the working class to lay down its arms – a compromise which the POUM did not make. Without denying that there are definitely counter-revolutionary ideologies and positions, perhaps materialists would also do well to look at the relationship to the means of production when we ask how a party or individual transitions from revolution to counter-revolution.

The POUM is generally not discussed in those narratives, and certainly not in detail. When they are mentioned, one almost gets the impression that the POUM were anarchists without knowing it, that their Marxism was nothing more than an embarassing accident, and that they were simply unaware of the counter-revolutionary path that it would inevitably lead them on. Very conveniently for this narrative, there is almost nothing about the POUM’s activity or set of ideas available in English. (A notable exception is the hard to find Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism, also by Victor Alba.) Today, on May 4th, it seems appropriate to mention what happened on May 4th, 1937. From Wikipedia:

At eleven o’clock the delegates of the CNT met and agreed to do everything possible to restore calm. Meanwhile, the anarchist leaders Joan García Oliver and Federica Montseny heard an appeal on the radio asking to their followers to lay down their weapons and return to their jobs. Jacinto Toryho, director of the CNT newspaper Solidaridad Obrera, expressed the same sentiment. […] By five in the afternoon, several anarchists were killed by the police near the Via Durruti (current Via Laietana). The POUM began to support resistance publicly.

It was on that same trip, at a CNT-affiliated bookstore called La Rosa de Foc, that I ran across an old paperback whose title caught my eye: La Revolución Española en la Práctica. Documentos del POUM. I bought it without hesitation. When I had time to crack it open, I was engrossed. As an anthology, it is in a genre which must have very few other members: a collection of documents dealing with the problems of a revolution, made by participants in that revolution, during the process of the revolution itself. The documents deal with concrete problems of agriculture and industry, public health and the military situation, the dynamics of the various workers’ organizations and of the growing reactionary influence of the Soviet Union in Republican Spain. They were not written ahead of time, full of references to Lenin, nor were they handed down from the Party leadership. They read very well even today, and I would say they are worth reading for more than just historical interest. I would like at some point to translate some of these documents – as Victor Alba states in the introduction, which I have translated below, they have a refreshing mix of realism and idealism.

But I’ll try to let Victor speak for himself, as I think he’s more than capable. As he says, when something is thought through clearly, it is expressed clearly. I’ll make only a few other points here. First, there is a common thought that revolutionaries should form organizations based primarily on their specific ideas, and that the organization’s actual relationship to the class struggle is only a secondary matter. The problem, when the only discernible difference between one organization and another is a slightly different set of ideas, is that any new ideas in either organization will logically lead to a split. As Hal Draper put it in The Anatomy of the Micro-Sect,

As long as the life of the organization (whether or not labeled “party”) is actually based on its politically distinctive ideas, rather than on the real social struggles in which it is engaged, it will not be possible to suppress the clash of programs requiring different actions in support of different forces. The key question becomes the achievement of a mass base, which is not just a numerical matter but a matter of class representation. Given a mass base in the social struggle, the party does not necessarily have to suppress the internal play of political conflict, since the centrifugal force of political disagreements is counterbalanced by the centripetal pressure of the class struggle. Without a mass base, a sect that calls itself a party cannot suppress the divisive effect of fundamental differences on (for example) supporting or opposing capitalist parties at home in the shape of liberal Democrats and such, or supporting or opposing the maneuvers of the “Communist” world.

The POUM provides an example of the opposite process, of a movement where the life of the organization is based on the real social struggles in which it is engaged, and which does allow for the free play of ideas about the best program to move forward. As Alba mentions, the POUM published classics by Marx, Riazanov, Bebel … and Kautsky.

The second point to make here is that the crucial thing for American revolutionaries should not be to have the right “line” on Spain, or on Russia – we should try to figure out America, and the contradictions that are present here. One of the POUM’s strengths, which Alba will show better than I can, is that the POUM attempted to use Marxism to work out a revolutionary strategy for Spain, rather than to take ready made answers from others (whether Stalin, Trotsky, or anyone else) and apply them rigidly. My purpose in translating this text is not to raise the understanding of what did or didn’t happen, what could or couldn’t have happened during the Spanish Revolution (though I’m not opposed to those dicussions), but to contribute to the questions that can be asked about what an American socialist workers movement would look like. To paraphrase Alba one final time, there are many differences between America in 2015 and Spain in 1937 – but perhaps not as many as we’d expect.

This is particularly important:

 An old militant, a founder of the Spanish Communist Party and later the POUM, has given a summary, forty one years later, of what the POUM was:

“The Workers Party of Marxist Unification has more than forty years of history behind it. It was born in the last months of 1935 out of the fusion of the Workers and Peasants Bloc, and the Communist Left. But its origins reach to the year 1920, in which the Spanish Communist Party was founded. Almost simultaneously, a group of militants from the CNT placed themselves resolutely on the side of the Russian Revolution and adopted the principles and tactics of the communists. From 1920 on, these militants of the CNT were grouped around the weekly Acción Sindicalista, from Valencia; after 1921, around the weekly Lucha Social, in Lérida; and in 1922 they adopted La Batalla, from Barcelona, as their mouthpiece while they were organizing the Revolutionary Union Committees. In 1924 this group of militants joined the Spanish Communist Party, and they exercised a decisive influence in the Party’s Catalan-Balearic Federation. In the first months of 1931 this federation fused with the Catalan Communist Party, which had unsuccessfully tried to be admitted as a national section to the Communist International. After fusing, both organizations created, to give the new party a greater power of attraction, the Workers and Peasant’s Bloc, and the new party was known under this name, even though the nucleus that it revolved around retained the name of Catalan-Balearic Communist Federation and, after 1932, when its forces began to grow outside of Catalonia, it took the name of Iberian Communist Federation.

The Communist Left was the primitive Communist Opposition constituted around the figure of Leon Trotsky, with whom it had broken when he advised his troops to enter the ranks of Social Democracy. The POUM, then, is a legitimate heir of the communist movement’s heroic years, of the first years of the Russian revolution, and it contained a mixture of people from the communist old guard as well as those who brought the traditions of struggle from Spanish anarchosyndicalism, militants who had participated in the great battles of 1917, 1918, 1919, and 1920. […] The Catalan-Balearic Communist Federation began to differentiate itself during the years of the military dictatorship [by Primo de Rivera, from 1923-1931], a little bit more every day, from the leadership of the Spanish Communist Party, which in those days was in the hands of the Trilla-Ballejos group. Above all, the Federation opposed the Communist Party’s attempts to carry out splits in the heart of the CNT, an attempt which was disguised under the name of a Committee of Reconstruction.

To the degree that Stalin was imposing his methods on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and on the Communist International, and through this on its various sections, the Federation was distancing itself from the international communist organization, which, after a period, it openly confronted. And the POUM was the only party of communist origin which, having broken with the 3rd international, succeeded not only in continuing to exist, but actually consolidated and considerably incremented its forces and its influence.

But this was something that, in a time in which the Communist Party claimed everywhere to be the party of the workers, in which the official section of the Communist International in every land claimed to have a monopoly of revolutionary action, in which the communist movement was rigidly monolithic, the International inspired by Stalin and guided in every moment by one or another of his cronies could neither allow nor forgive. The circumstances created in Spain by the Civil War gave Stalin the opportunity to present the bill to the POUM, with heavy interest, for resisting submission to his orders.

After July 19, 1936, in the parts of Spain where it had any forces worth considering, particularly in all of Catalonia, in Valencia, in Castellón, and in Madrid, the POUM’s militants went arms-in-hand to confront the military rising, and then organized militias which fought valiantly, frequently heroically, in the field. Many of our comrades died fighting fascism. But if the workers confronted the mutineers, rifle-in-hand, it wasn’t to simply begin the game again, to return to the situation that had made the Civil War possible.

That’s why the struggle took on a revolutionary character in the parts of the country where the mutiny had been smashed in the first moments, that’s why the war and the revolution appeared intimately linked in the eyes of the working class. The petty bourgeoisie, whose political expression took the form of the republican parties, found itself overwhelmed in the early moments by the revolutionary tide, but bit by bit, as the war dragged on and the difficulties inherent to any armed conflict piled up, they recovered the positions they had lost. In this they could count on the support of the Communist Party as well as a large part of the Socialist Party.

The scant aid which the Spanish republic received from the democratic governments, scared as they were of a revolution in the south of Europe, and nervous about irritating the fascist states, in contrast with the considerable, although not disinterested, aid which the Soviet Union brought from the early stages of the Civil War, gave the Communist Party enormous possibilities to augment its forces and its influence in Spain.

Over time the Soviet Union, in return for its aid in war materials, was able to steer the policy of Republican Spain and introduce its agents and methods into the government, the army, the police, even into the economy, into some parties, and into a large part of the union organizations. The idea that Spain should become a socialist country never entered into Stalin’s mind, as this would have created difficulties for the Soviet Union’s foreign policy, which at that time was playing the card of military alliance with the democratic states without losing hope for a possible understanding with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. From this stems its determination to strip the Spanish Civil War of its revolutionary character, to separate the war and the revolution. While it’s true that perhaps the war could have been won even if the revolutionary conquests of the early days had been lost, and that without securing the military victory, the revolution would certainly have succumbed, it’s no less true that those who wanted to sacrifice the revolutionary conquests to win the war lost everything.

The POUM considered the war and the revolution inseparable and opposed the policy of the Communist Party and the petty bourgeoisie. This gave cause to the agents of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party to unleash a campaign of lies and slander which was unprecedented in this country, the first step to the repression which began in May of 1937, in which many of our best militants were assassinated, including Andrés Nin, political secretary of the POUM. The very tribunal which judged the leaders of our organization, although it condemned them for high treason for their attitude around the events of May 1937 in Barcelona, solemnly recognized their spotless revolutionary past, and rejected the calumnious accusations that they had been subjected to. History has judged all of us, slanderers and slandered, persecutors and persecuted. It’s clear now that those who once upon a time defamed and persecuted us don’t feel proud today about their past behavior.

At the end of the civil war, the POUM was caught by two overlapping repressions: the first, undertaken by the Communists, was joined by the other, the repression which hit all of Republican Spain. Even in 1939, our militants who refused to leave or could not leave Spain began to regroup themselves and to carry out clandestine action, under great risk. In September 1939, in Barcelona alone, 26 of our militants were executed. It was our Party who denounced the execution of Catalan President Luis Companys in a manifesto. In 1945-1947 the POUM collected, above all in Catalonia, a growing number of enthusiastic militants. Just like the other parties, after this year our party suffered due to the continuing repression as well as the demoralization caused by the survival of the Franco regime after the victory of the allied armies over the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo axis. Additionally, there was the difficulty that every party and union experienced to one degree or another caused by the existence of two leaderships, one in exile and one in the interior, or else just the exile leadership.”

Read the rest: The POUM in their own words.

This is the serious article (from no less than the SWP….) which deals with, amongst other things, “Historical debate about the outcome of the Spanish Revolution (1936-37) has often centred on the dissident communist Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM). For the Trotskyist movement the POUM was responsible for the revolution’s defeat.”

Trotsky and the POUM. Andy Durgan. International Socialism. July 2015.

Durgan observes,

Trotsky’s criticism of Nin and the POUM can only be understood from an appreciation of his absolute belief in the capacity to influence events…the conviction that, however minuscule the initial nucleus of revolutionaries may be, with the correct theory, leadership and programme, this tiny grouping could be transformed into a revolutionary party with mass support at a time of revolutionary crisis.42

But for Trotsky, writing in December 1937, “contrary to its own intentions the POUM proved to be in the final analysis the chief obstacle on the road to the creation of a revolutionary party”.43 In the new edition of his text Sennett steps back from what was possibly the “harshest and least justified” of Trotsky’s condemnations of the POUM. According to Sennett, Trotsky:

Failed to appreciate, on the one hand, the hegemony of the Socialists and anarcho-syndicalists over the Spanish labour movement, and, on the other, the rapid expansion in membership and power of the [communists] after July 1936. There was little room for a new political force. It is remarkable that the POUM, which was largely confined to Catalonia, achieved as many adherents and wielded as much influence as it did.44

Having thus pointed to an underlying problem with Trotsky’s writings on the POUM, Sennett then later criticises the POUM for not—in May—being “a vanguard party” that was able to shape events. But he offers no alternative strategy. We are left with the conclusion that neither a revolutionary nor a Popular Front victory was possible.45 However, such fatalism does not lead to a better understanding of what was at stake and what options were available for the revolutionary left in Spain in 1936. Instead we are left with a confusing and incomplete narrative of events and their consequences.

For many us, democratic socialists, libertarian Marxists, anarchists,  the POUM were our sisters and brothers, and their dead, our martyrs.

We remember them, sempre, siempre.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 23, 2015 at 10:03 am