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The Weekly Worker and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty: A Forgotten Love Affair.

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Spooky but True: the Untold Tale of Weekly Worker AWL Unity.

Followers of the minutiae of the left,  and there are them, will know that no bitterer enemies exist than the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee CPGB-PCC). and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

Both publish papers, which it has to be said, many on the left read, the former’s Weekly Worker for its articles on theory, socialist history its reports on Italy, Iran,  and some other European countries, curious letters, and serious book reviews. The AWL’s Solidarity has valuable – accurate – reports on trade union and welfare issues, the Labour Party, and covers the history of the left, and international topics. It  also carries good coverage of books.

The two groups are now locked in a never-ending battle.

“Social-imperialism” and  comparisons with ‘Stasi busybodies” are some of the milder terms used by the Weekly Worker to describe their foes in the AWL. The AWL dismisses the, admittedly groupusculaire  WW, and its key ally, the Monster Raving Geenstein Party.

Yet things were not always so….

It was in the year 2000.

Spring was coming. The world was full of daffodils and gamboling hares. And love.

Report of a partisan observer John Bridge and other Weekly Worker writers discuss the AWL 09.03.2000

Five observers from the Communist Party of Great Britain attended the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s 7th conference over the weekend of March 4-5. In general we met with a friendly reception. There was certainly a keen interest in our ideas, as witnessed by a sale of over 40 copies of the Weekly Worker. An impressive figure and much to the credit of the AWL – especially given that there were no more than around 80 of their comrades in attendance.

..

The AWL is a small organisation of serious revolutionaries – it has 110 full and a handful of candidate members – with a relatively long history in Britain’s Trotskyite milieu. Once they existed as a faction in Tony Cliff’s International Socialism organisation. That is, until they were bureaucratically expelled. Since then, led by Sean Matgamna, they have been through a labyrinthine series of name changes, primeval unities and fragile partnerships. However, what distinguishes the AWL from that which often falsely passes itself off as Trotskyism is its culture of comparative openness and a willingness to think.

..

We in the CPGB share and defend exactly that approach.

Love blossomed,

Rapprochement begins

Two representatives of the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee and two representatives of the AWL’s National Committee met on Friday March 3.

Discussion began with Mark Fischer outlining the history of the PCC’s struggle for a reforged CPGB and why we put Partyism at the centre of our work. It was explained to the comrades from the AWL that we have no CPGB golden age. Our project is about the future, not the past.

We also discussed the importance of trade union bulletins and trade union work. CPGB comrades assured the AWL representatives that we had no objections to trade union work nor trade union bulletins. There was, however, the matter of priorities.

Blair’s constitutional revolution was raised, along with the national question in Wales and Scotland. One AWL comrade did not see why we were so concerned with such issues. This led on to what the CPGB’s PCC understands by economism.

The entry work the CPGB carried out in the SLP was praised and criticised by the AWL comrades. We replied that it was easy to criticise from the outside.

The commitment of the CPGB to a minimum-maximum programme was touched upon. CPGB comrades questioned the AWL about their project of a new Labour Representation Committee. We were told that this was for propaganda purposes and at the moment was of no particular importance.

The principles of democratic centralism were emphasised by the CPGB comrades, as was the need for a polemical communist press in the conditions of today. We stressed the necessity of engaging with advanced workers – ie, those susceptible to theory.

Both sides agreed to hold a further meeting in mid-March and to have a joint day school in early April on the Party question. The three headings of debate will be: economism; organising the class; party and programme.

Halcyon days!

CPGB-AWL rapprochement. 27.7.2000.

Representatives of the CPGB and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty have been meeting to explore areas of difference and agreement between us. Over the coming weeks, we will feature edited minutes, starting here with those of the March 3 meeting. Comments and criticisms are welcome.

Agreed in conclusion: to put economism; organising the revolutionaries to revolutionise the labour movement; and Party and programme – minimum-maximum and transitional – on the agenda for a day school (date to be fixed). Next four-hander discussion: Friday March 17, to cover minimum-maximum and transitional programmes, and the nature of the ‘official communist’.

CPGB-AWL cooperation. 15.11.2001.

The Communist Party of Great Britain and the Alliance for Workers? Liberty are continuing to explore areas of theoretical difference and agreement, and are looking at the possibility of joint work. Representatives of the executive committee of the AWL and the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB met recently to discuss a number of issues of current practical concern and issues of ongoing debate between the two organisations.

Alas.

The dalliance did not last, as this document (January 2003) indicates.

Followed by,

By Paul Hampton
The CPGB, those pretentious squirrels of left-wing tittle-tattle, outdid themselves by chickening out of a debate with the AWL over Iraq.

They have sought in vain to manufacture mischief with some AWL comrades who disagree with the group’s position on Iraq. After a series of private e-mails demanding that the AWL minority agitate to “clear out the leadership of the scabs”, the CPGB invited David Broder to debate with them at their overinflated “communist university”, under the title: troops out – but when? David referred the matter to the AWL office, which generously put up Sean Matgamna to speak for our politics.

The Weekly Worker responded in the shape of a piece by a certain Ian Donovan.

Workers’ Liberty: Descent into cultism

Ian Donovan assesses the current trajectory of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

Being “transnational Jewish bourgeoisie” Donovan one can imagine the angle he took on the Palestine Israel issue which divided the two groups.

Yet the vicarious-Zionist AWL has issued not one word of criticism or analysis of this ultra-reactionary phenomenon, which is one of the key, concrete manifestations of Zionism today.

He defended George Galloway,

the matter in hand is to defend Galloway against the bourgeois witch-hunt.

And,

Whether over Galloway, the question of the Iraq war, Israel-Palestine, the Socialist Alliance (where it has squandered an enormous opportunity to be joint initiators of a genuinely broad paper of a pro-party minority), the AWL is retreating headlong back into the most bizarre and unsavoury forms of sectarianism.

Our interest in this tale is waning, so I will end there, yet it remains etched on many a broken heart.

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Leftist Trainspotting Fun from Labour Party Marxists, from “bewildered” LRC, “silent Corbyn”, to AWL Stasi “busybodies”.

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Labour Party Marxist in the Thick of the Class Struggle.

The Irish Socialist Workers Party has dissolved itself into a “network”. “The change in name to Socialist Workers Network reflects a decision to focus on building People Before Profit, and within that to win and educate as many members as possible in revolutionary socialist politics.” (SW Ireland)

Now while the SWN is honest about what it is doing, and has good reasons to do so given that People Before Profit has some, limited, political presence, we cannot say the same for Labour Party Marxists.

This is from its mission statement,

  1. The central aim of Labour Party Marxists is to transform the Labour Party into an instrument for working class advance and international socialism. Towards that end we will join with others and seek the closest unity of the left inside and outside the party.

No doubt about that  which it trumpets – if that’s the right word for declarations that practically nobody ever reads.

But  there’s nothing about LPM’s inks with the Weekly Worker and the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee CPGB-PCC).

The Weekly Worker is a paper which produces some interesting material, some indeed very useful articles, but whose owners, said CPGB-PCC, have taste for political stunts not to mention an alliance with cascadeur  in chief, Tony ‘Monster Raving’ Greenstein Party. 

Not much closest possible unity with the rest of the left from that quarter!

They have just issued a spate of articles on the site of Labour Party Marxists  which may perhaps indicate this….

Cde Stan Keable (today, 15th of February)  sums up last week’s Labour Representation Committee Meeting, 

Labour Representation Committee: Reduced to a think tank?

Around 120 Labour Representation Committee members gathered in London’s Conway Hall on February 10 for yet another angst-ridden ‘special’ general meeting (SGM), in which a bewildered leadership shared with its rank and file its own failure – like most of the left – to draw into membership or engage with the ‘radicalised’ mass intake of Corbyn supporters into the Labour Party.

Perhaps they ought to have debated this  other 15th of February recent article?

Clause 4: Why revive a stinking corpse?

Jack Conrad (Chamberlain) questions the worth of the ‘Labour4Clause4’ campaign being promoted by Socialist Appeal. Instead of fostering illusions in Fabian socialism, surely the task of Marxists is to win the Labour Party to Marxist socialism.

But the prize must go to this chef d’oeuvre by Carla Roberts, also on the 15th of February (a busy day for LPM indeed!)

Witch-hunts: When chickens come home…

Roberts begins by citing the case of  “Jeremy Newmark, until recently chair of the Jewish Labour Movement” now embroiled in a corruption case after his swindles came to light. A particular gripe is that the Jewish Chronicle reported the affair in depth, “The enthusiasm with which the pro-Zionist Jewish Chronicle has attacked Newmark is quite breathtaking”.

That over we get attacks on the real enemies.

Jeremy Corbyn, “Corbyn has silently stood by, allowing pretty much any criticism of the actions of the state of Israel to be branded as evidence of anti-Semitism.”

 Jon Lansman ” who literally owns Momentum”. Selecting candidates for the Momentum list for Labour’s NEC, “Jon Lansman did what he does best: went nuclear.”

And,

Hope Not Hate, while not playing an active part in the witch-hunt, is a rightwing version of the Socialist Workers Party’s ‘Stand Up To Racism’.

At the conclusion there is the inevitable: The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, (AWL),

the AWL lacks the numbers and finance for that type of campaign. It represents more the type of busybody who would report their neighbour to the East German Stasi for watching West German TV.

Oddly some people in the Labour Party, including the left, are not fond of Labour Party Marxists or their antics.

But their drive to make the Labour Party into a Marxist Party, guided by their own interpretation of Lenin, proceeds apace.

Labour Right-Wing Factionalism, Labour First.

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This, circulated yesterday,  is causing a stir.

 

Labour First is increasingly behaving like the ‘factionalists’ is derides,

Labour First

Labour First, founded in 1988, is a pre-Blairite pressure group seen as the voice of the party’s traditional right. Headed by campaigner and former councillor Luke Akehurst, this faction supported ABC (Anyone But Corbyn) in the leadership election, while Akehurst himself backed Yvette Cooper. In the deputy race, it emphasised its ties to Tom Watson. The group made headlines during the leadership contest by urging fellow centrist group Progress to promote the other non-Corbyn candidates as well as its first choice, Liz Kendall. The groups have since held events together espousing moderate Labour values. Labour First says it “exists to ensure that the voices of moderate party members are heard while the party is kept safe from the organised hard left”.

Before going further it is important to note that the AWL is not, how shall I put it, at the forefront of Momentum.

Next I would point out that, Lord Hattersley notwithstanding,  there are not large real factional divisions in the Labour Party, but differences on policy issues.

Such as this:

Or this,

Just a suggestion, but if Labour First is going to go in for factionalism, they should consult the real classic studies not just do a bit of ‘organising’.

Such as this book:

 

Trigger-warning: factionalist activity in meetings is not universally appreciated. 

Written by Andrew Coates

December 9, 2017 at 1:40 pm

Stalin. Waiting for Hitler. 1928 – 1941. Stephen Kotkin. A Democratic Socialist Review.

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Stalin. Waiting for Hitler. 1928 – 1941. Stephen Kotkin. Allen Lane. 2017.

The Yugoslavian communist, A. Ciliga, a sincere man and an unimpeachable witness, one of the few who has escaped alive from the Soviet convict gangs, has written in his book, Au pays du grand mensonge: “Those who have not lived in the Soviet prisons, concentration camps and places of exile in which are shut up more than five million convicts, those who are not familiar with the greatest jail history has ever seen, where men die like flies, where they are beaten like dogs, where they are made to work like slaves, can have no idea what Soviet Russia is, what Stalin’s ‘classless society’ means.”

Boris Souvarine. Postscript to Stalin: a critical survey of Bolshevism. 1935

The first volume of Kotkin’s study of Stalin, Paradoxes of Power, 1878 – 1928. (2014) portrayed the dictator as the product of “immense structural forces”, the legacy of Tsarism, the mode of government he took over from Lenin and the Bolsheviks “castle in the air” version of socialism. But the author could not neglect the character of his subject, whose “cold calculation and the flights of absurd delusion were products of a single mind, he was shrewd enough to see right through people, but not enough to spare him a litany of nonsensical beliefs.” (1)

That these “closely mirrored the Bolshevik revolution in-built structural paranoia” is only one of the many elements that contributed to the harrowing themes of the present book. This begins with the mass murders, starvation and famine of agricultural Collectivisation, followed by the mid-1930s Great Terror, and concludes with Stalin’s’ miscalculations faced with the threat of Hitler’s Germany

There are few grimmer tasks for the left than facing up to the reality of Stalin’s Russia. What enthusiasm can be mustered for the October Revolution has to face the totalitarianism that followed. This is not a new dilemma. That Stalin was, in his own and Kotkin’s opinion, a “communist and revolutionary” and that he developed within “the moral universe of Marxism-Leninism” was galling – and contestable – to radical left critics of the first hour, like Boris Souvarine.

This cosmos was bleak. The collectivisation and war against the Kulaks, the first Five Year Plan, took place against the background of famine and epidemics which “probably killed between 5 and 7 million people between 1931-33. Perhaps 10 million more starved nearly to death ” (Page 127) In response Stalin accused peasants of “not wanting to work.” (Page 128) Yet industrialisation began, investment quadrupled to 44 % of GDP in 1932. At the time well-wishers of the burgeoning New Civilisation were enthusiastic But, Kotkin observes, “unrelenting optimism spread alongside famine, arrests, deportations, execution, camps, censorship, sealed borders. (P 305) “Stalin’s anti capitalist experiment resembled a vast camp of deliberately deprived workers, indentured farmers and slave labourers toiling of the benefit of an unacknowledged elite.” (Ibid)

The Great Terror.

Stalin. Waiting for Hitler tackles the Great Terror. There is a lengthy account of the assassination of Kirov by Nikolayev, the pretext for the mass killings and imprisonments that followed. The hysteria reached its peak in the Great Trials of the middle of the decade. At its height, “just for two years, 1937 and 1938, the political police, the NKVD, would report 1,575,259 arrests, 87% of them for political offences, and 681,692 executions.”(Page 305)

It is hard to get a measure of the suffering of so many victims. Vsevolod Meyerhold, one of the country’s top theatre directors was one of the countless to fall into the hands of the butchers. In 1939 he was tortured and made to confess to spying for Britain and Japan. After systematic beatings, “Meyerhold’s interrogators had urinated into his mouth and smashed his right (writing) hand to bits” (Page 649) A footnote adds that while this was happening NKVD chief Beria awarded the larger part of his flat to one of his mistresses (Page 1029). He was executed by firing Squad in February 1940. 

Kotkin is not engaged in the history of the Gulag, only the contours of the Archipelago are sketched, and there are no Kolyma Tales Nor are there accounts of how Communist self-criticism ended in denunciations, or the whispers by a population-turned-delators to the NKVD. We are brought instead to the party machine and to Stalin’s Little Corner in the Moscow Kremlin, where he scanned lists of those caught in the lights of the hunt. “At least 383 execution lists signed by him have survived, containing the names of more than 43,000 ‘enemies of the people’, mostly the highest-level officials and officers (P 490). What kind of man performed filled his days with this never-ending work? Faced with a flood of letters of those appealing for those caught up in the murders, he “showed no sign that he was in the least tormented by the slaughter” (Ibid).

This was a war that hit the masses and the elite, clearing the way, Kotkin suggests for an intentional renewal of the bureaucracy. The new cadres, who took the posts of those found out as ‘wreckers’ ‘spies’ of anti-Soviet elements’, were described as “healthy young representatives of a healthy young people”. With rising salaries they were rewarded as such (Page 603) Stalin engineered human souls reinforced an already privileged caste, “The terror that murdered officials en masse accentuated the ascendancy of the functionary class.”(Page 604)

Over half of Stalin. Waiting for Hitler is occupied, as its title indicates, with Soviet foreign policy and, above all, with the build up to the war with Hitler’s Germany. From the Spanish Civil, an occasion to further Stalin’s obsession with Trotsky through attacks on the ‘Trotskyist’ (anti-Stalinist Marxist) POUM, Trotsky’s 1940 assassination, the ill-judged war with Finland (met with mass resistance by the Finns), the division of Poland with little perceivable long-term gain, to his wavering dealings with Mao in China, there were few signs of strategic genius.

Above all Stalin failed to prepare properly for the confrontation with the German army. This was not just the result of the purges of competent military and intelligence personnel. His tactical abilities were flawed. “Instead of acting cunningly, Stalin fooled himself. He clung to the belief that Germany could not attack before defeating the UK….”(Page 897)

A landmark.

Kotkin’s achievement as a historian of Stalin should not be overshadowed by the often hard to digest text. Key developments risk being submerged by lengthy day-to-day accounts. The plodding style, and turns of phrase such as the “wee hours” are not a help to the reader. But nobody can fail to recognise that the work is a landmark.

With such a protagonist in his sights Waiting for Hitler raises deep issues about the nature of the USSR under Stalin. One commanding thread lies in an effort to come to terms with the basis of the tyranny of the ‘vozhd’, the Leader, as Stalin came to be called. The author’s observation that he operated within a “near permanent state of emergency” could be said to cast light on the nature of Stalin’s rule. Lenin has used exceptional measures – a monopoly of political power, imprisonment of opponents, execution of ‘counter-revolutionaries’, censorship – in ‘defence’ of the revolution. These were indefinitely prolonged. That alone gave the Lenin appointed General Secretary scope for his efforts to impose his brand of ‘Marxism Leninism’ on his most “precious resource”, the people of the USSR.

Could both the original disregard for law and independent justice in the name of higher interests, the need to fight the Enemy, be compared to the pro-Nazi political theorist, Carl Schmitt’s speculation on the foundations of politics? Does the justification of the “state of exception” as a “transcendence” of normal politics cast light on the arguments of those who try to justify the “exceptional” circumstances of the Bolshevik Revolution to treat its opponents with contempt? In Stalin’s career, there is little doubt that the division of the world into friends and foes, with no-holds barred in the fight, “gave free rein to his savagery”. To those who seek psychological explanations for his behaviour Kotkin states, “Stalin’s sociopathology was to a degree the outgrowth of dictatorial rule”. (Page 5)

“Marx had never advocated mass murder but freedom” (Page 302). This may be scant consolation for those crushed by Stalin, his successors and emulators. But it important for those of us who are democratic socialists to make sure that the real history of Stalin’s rule is as familiar inside our own camp as that of those whom we venerate. We look forward to reading Kotkin’s Death of Stalin.

******

(1) Page 736. Stalin. Paradoxes of Power. 1878 – 1928. Stephen Kotkin. Allen Lane. 2014.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 26, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Two Years of Wandering. A Menshevik Leader in Lenin’s Russia. Fedor Il’ich Dan. Review.

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Two Years of Wandering. A Menshevik Leader in Lenin’s Russia. Fedor Il’ich Dan. Translated, Edited and Introduced by Francis King. Lawrence and Wishart.

Fedor (Theodore) Dan was a leading figure in Russian social democracy. A prominent Menshevik during the 1917 Revolutions, he had chosen their side after the 1903 split with the Bolsheviks in the RSDLP (Russian Social-Democratic Workers; Party). During the Great War, King notes, Dan was a “Siberian Zimmerwaldist”, that is he opposed the conflict while under administrative exile in Russia’s far East and during his compulsory mobilisation as a Doctor in Turkestan. King writes, that Dan was described by Nikolai Sukhanov as, “one of the most major figures in the Russian revolution, one of the most outstanding actors in both the Russian workers’ movement and the events of 1917.” (Page 9)

Known to many on the left as the author of The origins of Bolshevism (in English, 1964), this is the first translation into any language of Dan’s Two Years of Wandering. Francis King is the Editor of Socialist History. His introduction outlines Dan’s background and his role in the crises of 1917. Dan, in conditions of political freedom, was part of the leadership of the Petrograd Soviet. Still calling for a “general peace” he took the Menshevik line of ‘revolutionary defencism”, which committed the country to continue fighting until this could be reached and support for a coalition Provisional Government.

This policy, opposed by its left wing around Martov, played a key role in the ‘end’ of Dan’s career in Petrograd. Bolshevik victory in October was not the only indication of their political dead-end. In the All-Russia Constituent Assembly elections of 1917 they won just 3% of the vote.

Continuing to support, “the idea of popular sovereignty, universal suffrage, and the Constituent Assembly” and demanding an end to terror for economic liberalisation, the Mensheviks tried to work within the new soviet structures. But what had begun in the Spring and Summer of 1918 with the “arrests and harassment of non-Bolshevik activists”. In June 1918, they, and the Socialist revolutionaries, were removed from the Soviet CEC. Yet they continued political activity. They focused on the defence of “the rights of labour” and the “defence of trade unions, with as a backdrop plans to make unions agents of “labour discipline” and “compulsory labour service” or the “militarisation of labour” exalted by Trotsky in Terrorism and Communism (1920). With their position set out in What is to be done: The Menshevik Programme July 1919 they had had a wider echo, Marcel Liebman and others record, within the official bodies (1)

For Trotsky the Mensheviks had in 1917, “together with the bourgeoisie, declared civil war against the Soviets”. In the Winter of 1920-1 the Mensheviks were systematically suppressed. (2)

In Lenin’s Gaols.

Dan’s serious travails began in 1919, when he spent 3 months in the Butyrka prison. Mobilised, again, in his medical capacity, he was put in charge of the Surgical Subsection of the Department of Medical Supplies. This was impossible task, faced with general chaos, the “constant inference of organs of the Cheka”, the sabotage of those who hoped for a return to private ownership and the prevalence of bribery. After protests, in an atmosphere of increasing hostility to the Mensheviks, Dan was reposted in what he describes as “official exile” to Ekaterinburg (Yekaterinburg), where he continued his “work service”. Further “wanderings”, which took him back to Moscow, then to Minsk and the Front in assault on Warsaw and finally to Petrograd, his native city, where Dan was finally caught in the Bolshevik repression and sent to Peter-Paul Fortress.

Two Years of Wandering is shot through with insights into those years of upheaval, the gaoling and exile of “thousands of socialists and non-party workers who (had) been so bold as to doubt the divine infallibility of the Bolshevik authorities, with all their fantasies, scandals, petty tyranny and occasional 180-degree turns. “(Page 53) From the famous 1920 visit of the British delegation to a meeting addressed by Printers’ leaders and Mensheviks, which criticised the “terrorist dictatorship of the minority”, the last Congress of Soviets at which the opposition was reluctantly tolerated, to the crackdown after the Kronstadt (1921) which marked the beginning of systematic elimination of dissent, the Mensheviks were disorganised. (3) A party that “had adapted all its tactics to the struggle for an open existence despite the Bolshevik terror.” was unable to mount any effective challenge (Page 98).

Dan was in prison during the Kronstadt revolt, which, when the news of this, following a strike wave, reached them, convinced those arrested that they were about to be shot. There were indeed mass killings. A gaoler, ‘S’ regaled Dan with tales of massacring whites. He also had this anecdote, “some Jewish trader they had arrested on suspicion that the leather he was carrying in his cart had concealed weapons under it. There were no weapons, but before letting the trader go, he wanted to have his ‘little joke’ at the expense of the ‘bourgeois’ so he stood him against a wall and ordered that he be shot – but they fired blanks. They did this three times – just to they could bring a little happiness to their prisoner when they told him he was free to go – although he could easily have died of heart failure.”(Page 121)

Sent to Remand gaol, Dan observed waves of new arrivals. Protests and demonstration were followed “on each occasion, a few intellectuals and party workers, together with hundreds of grey, non-party workers, would pass through the prison. There were tramway workers, workers from the Skorokhod, Obukhov, Putilov and Rechkin factories – all of working class Petersburg.”(Page 138) Conditions deteriorated, but perhaps what was most striking is that “once entering a Soviet prison, nobody can know even approximately how long he will be in there and how the imprisonment will end.” (Page 142)

Dan met an American ‘K’, identified by King as Adolf S Carm, arrested at the Third Congress of the Communist International “According to him he had been arrested on the strength of a denunciation by another American delegate, Haywood, in revenge for a polemical pamphlet K, had published against him in America. K was obviously very frightened and repeatedly stressed his devotion to everything the Bolshevik government did, including the practices of the Cheka.”(Page 155) Carm was released a couple of months later….

Dan was then sent to Butyri, a Cheka ‘internal prison’, a place where the “smell of human blood” was in the air. “the most dreadful aspect of it is the ordinariness of the circumstances in which this mass slaughter of people is taking place, where it has become an everyday occurrence.” (Page 145)

Hunger Strike and Exile.

For Two Years of Wandering hunger strikes, and a campaign “waged in the workers’ parties and working-class press of Europe” rather than kindness towards people who “had been in the same organisation at the Bolsheviks” The first response of the Bolshevik leadership came to them in the shape of the news that the All-Russia Cheka Presidium had sentenced all Mensheviks to be exiled for one year, and members of the party Central Committee for two years. As negotiations proceeded, their strike ended with the alternatives of, for imprisoned Mensheviks, either administrative exile in remote areas, or departure from Russia (Pages 179- 80) He chose Germany and arrived in Berlin in the winter of 1922.

As Francis King writes in his introduction – a significant contribution to the history of Menshevism in its own right – “it is the immediacy of this book which makes it so valuable” (Page 36). Dan shows understanding towards a variety of people, including anarchists, and a grasp of the plight of even imprisoned ‘whites’, that demonstrates the highest “common decency”. But Two years of Wandering is more than a personal memoir; it illustrates the “creation of a “large body of political of political police, operating with few constraints” built to enforce the governing monopoly of one party, the Bolsheviks” (Page 37).

Nevertheless, the Menshevik project of creating a ‘bourgeois’ democratic regime without a bourgeoisie that backed it was far from a viable alternative to the Bolsheviks, lacking, as King observes, both the “will” to govern and the instruments to do so. Dan’s evolution towards a form of “reform communism” also missed the tide of history. Yet, apart from its striking honesty, the book, smoothly translated, is a powerful antidote, written from the losing side of history, to the view that the early years of Bolshevik rule were only a joyous carnival of the oppressed.

********

(1) Trotsky’s reply to the Menshevik was, “If it were true that compulsory labour is unproductive always and under every condition, as the Menshevik resolutions says, all our constructive work would be doomed to failure. For we can have no way to socialism except by the authoritative regulation of the economic forces and resources of the country, and the centralised distribution of labour-power in harmony with the general state plan. The labour state considers itself empowered to send every worker to the place where his work is necessary.” Page 153. Terrorism and Communism. Leon Trotsky. New Park Publications. 1971. Pages 249 – 251. Leninism Under Lenin. Marcel Liebman. Merlin. 1980.

(2) Page 15. Social Democracy and the Wars of Intervention. Russia 1918 – 1921. Leon Trotsky. New Park Publications. 1975.

(3) King reproduces the speech of the Socialist-Revolutionary leader Viktor Chernov to this meeting with the British Labour delegation in Appendix 1. Liebman called his invitation ”an act of provocation” Liebman. Op cit. Page 251.

See Socialist History Society Newsletter.

Also, What is to be done: The Menshevik Programme July 1919

Economic Measures

1. The peasants should retain, on a collective or individual basis as they may freely decide, the public and privately owned lands which they seized and parcelled out at the time of the Revolution. Other lands, not as yet distributed, should be leased on a long-term basis to needy peasants and peasant associations, except for those lands on which large-scale model husbandry is being, and can continue to be, carried out by the state or by leaseholders. The decrees abolishing the Committees of the Poor should be put into effect without exception.

Agricultural communes should not be established by force, either directly or indirectly. Government-held supplies, agricultural implements and seed should be equitably distributed not only among communes but to all peasants who need them on communes and soviet lands.

2. The present food supply system should be replaced by one on the following basis:
a. The state should purchase grain at agreed prices involving a large application of the barter principle; it should then be sold at low prices to the poorest dwellers in town and country, with the state making up the difference. The state should make purchases through its agents, co-operatives or private traders on a commission basis.

b.  The state should purchase, at a price equal to the cost of production, a certain proportion of the grain surpluses held by the better-off peasants in the more fertile provinces, the proportion being decided with the advice of freely elected representatives of the local peasantry.

c. Grain should be purchased by co-operatives and workers’ organisations, who should at the same time make over the stocks they have procured to government organs concerned with food supply. The state retains the right to requisition supplies from large landowners who are deliberately hoarding them for speculative purposes. Transport arrangements are under the primary control of the state, co-operatives and workers’ organisations. All anti-profiteer detachments should be disbanded. The transfer of foodstuff from a particular locality shall not be prohibited save in exceptional circumstances and by a decision of the central legislature.

The state shall assist, materially and by administrative measures, the transfer of workers and their families from places where food is scarcest and their resettlement in fertile areas.

3. The state should retain control of major industrial enterprises that are fundamental to economic life, such as mines, metallurgical plant, the chief branches of the metal-working industry, etc. However, in all places where this seems likely to improve or animate production or to extend its range, recourse may be had to organising such enterprises by a combination of state and private capital, by the compulsory formation of a trust under state control or, in exceptional cases, by means of a concession.

All other large industrial enterprises except where state control is desirable for fiscal or other reasons and would not be deleterious to production, should as a rule be gradually transferred into private hands, by leasing to a co-operative or a new entrepreneur, or to the former owner on  condition that he accepts the obligation to restore and organise production. The state shall regulate the distribution of fuel and raw materials to different branches of production, enterprises and areas.

4. Small-scale industry should in no case be nationalised.

5. The state shall regulate the distribution to different areas, in accordance with a fixed plan, of the chief articles of mass consumption such as textiles, farm implements, salt, lighting materials etc with the aid of co-operatives and private traders.

6. As regards trade in other articles of the firs necessity and also in luxuries, the state should refrain from imposing restrictions and should allow co-operatives and private enterprises to function freely except in cases where regulation or even monopoly is desirable on account of the extreme scarcity of the product, e.g. medical supplies.

7. The credit system should be so reorganised as to facilitate in every way the use in trade and industry of available funds accumulate by producers in town and country and to afford scope for private initiative in trade, industry and agriculture.

8. The repression of speculation and trading abuses should be left to the courts and governed by specific legal provisions. All arbitrary acts of requisition, confiscation and the detention of goods should be punished. The law should protect rights of ownership in the case of all industrial and commercial concerns that are released from nationalisation. In future, when expropriation is required by the public interest it should take place on the basis of a decision by the supreme legislative bodies and on conditions determined by them.

9. Workers’ unions, in addition to taking a direct part in the work of regulatory bodies, are also and primarily representatives of the interests of the proletariat vis-a-vis the sate and private entrepreneurs. In this latter capacity they should be wholly independent of any state bodies.

10. Wage rates in state enterprises should be raised and minimum rates fixed for private enterprises in accordance with the commercial price-level for necessary goods….

11. The decree on consumers’ communes should be revoked. Workers’ and general co-operatives should be preserved as autonomous organisations, without the imposition of appointees or other interference in their internal affairs. They should also have the right to carry on non-commercial activity such as publishing, education, etc.

Political Measures

The right of voting for members of soviets should be extended to all workers of both sexes. Town and village soviets should be elected by all workers, with a secret ballot and freedom of canvassing by word of mouth and by the press. Soviets and Executive Committees should be subject to re-election at fixed intervals. Soviets shall not be entitled to exclude individual members or groups from their midst on political grounds. All officials and public bodies shall be subordinate to local soviets and Central Executive Committees.all workers of both sexes. Town and village soviets should be elected by all workers, with a secret ballot and freedom of canvassing by word of mouth and by the press. Soviets and Executive Committees should be subject to re-election at fixed intervals. Soviets shall not be entitled to exclude individual members or groups from their midst on political grounds. All officials and public bodies shall be subordinate to local soviets and Central Executive Committees.

2. The Central Executive Committee of Soviets should once more function as the supreme legislative and administrative body, its proceedings being open to public observation. NO law shall come into force without being discussed and approved by the CEC.

3. Freedom of the press, of assembly and of association should be restored, and any party representing the workers shall have the right and be allowed to use premises for meeting, paper supplies, printing workers. Etc. Any restriction of this right that may be necessitated by the war against counter-revolution shall be established and clearly defined by the legislature; it shall not infringe the basic liberty and shall be applied only by the courts and institutions under their direct control.

4. The Revolutionary Tribunals shall be reorganised in such a way that the judges are elected by all the workers. Together with their subordinate investigatory commissions they shall have sole responsibility for combating counter-revolution. All officials should be directly liable to prosecution before these Tribunals for illegal acts committed in the execution of their duties, at the suit of the injured party in each case. Terror shall be done away with as an instrument of government; the death penalty be abolished , and likewise all investigatory and punitive organs independent of the courts, such as the Extraordinary Commission (CHEKA).

5. Party institutions and cells should be deprived of state authority, and party members of all material privileges.

6. The bureaucratic apparatus should be simplified by the extension of local self-government.

7. A policy of understanding should be pursed vis-a-vis the nationalities which have for any reason broken away from Russia, in order to put a speedy end to the Civil War an restore the unity of the state on a basis of national self-determination. The Cossack districts – Don, Kuban, Tersa, The Urals, Astrakhan, Orenburg, etc – should be allowed the widest possible autonomy and there should be no interference in their internal affairs or system of land tenure. Siberia should have regional self-government, and the independence of Finland and Poland should be recognised.

Central Committee of the RSDLP, 12 July 1919
Sotsial-demokratiia i revolutionsiaa. Sbornik dokumentov (Odessa, 1920), pp 9-15.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 17, 2017 at 12:28 pm

John Ross: from the International Marxist Group to defending “politically socialist” Chinese regime.

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Image result for socialist action uk

Still Around as John Ross Sings Praises of Chinese “Xi’ism”.

John Ross was one of the main figures  in the leadership of the International Marxist Group in mid01970s, elss well known than say Tariq Ali, but considered the main figure.  By the early 1980s when it became known as Socialist Action, but he gradually lost the support of much of its membership. Ross was leader of one of three groups which emerged from the crisis of this group in the mid-1980s, the one which retained the name Socialist Action. They increasingly ceased to function as a normal left-wing group and became a group of advisers to Livingstone, or as critics said, a kind of high-level entryist group  who provided the inner core of  the Mayor’s team.

I write the above as a one-time member of the Opposing Faction to Ross in the 1970s IMG, Tendency A.

Reasons to distrust the groupuscule are many but  this sentence sums up their kind of politics, “Socialist Action also participated in Respect – The Unity Coalition after the 2007 split in that party. Several of its supporters became members of the party and one served as its national treasurer.” They are now said to have influence on Jeremy Corbyn.

The group still has a, kind of, site: Socialist Action.

We cannot dislike  them too much at present  since this is one of their recent policies:  There is no ‘People’s Brexit’

The development of Ross is, which ever way you look at it, curious.

A famously ‘Orthodox’ Trotskyist, who knew his Lenin better than Jesuits know their Thomas Aquinas he has been working in China as an academic economist,   Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China- paid for by the state –  for some time and sings the praises of the government’s ‘socialism’.

He has been posting material like the below, all over Facebook for the last few weeks.

How China’s Socialism Outperforms Capitalist Development Strategies. John Ross.

China has followed an economic development strategy, as analyzed below, that is radically different from the neo-liberal “Washington Consensus” advocated by the IMF. The latter is the dominant development strategy advocated by capitalist countries. This article therefore factually compares the results of what will be termed China’s “socialist development strategy” versus the Washington Consensus.

The reasons for making such a factual comparison are clear. The basis of any serious or scientific analysis is that if facts and theory do not coincide it is the theory that has to be abandoned, not the facts suppressed. This is equally expressed in the Chinese dictum “seek truth from facts.” Anti-scientific “dogmatism” consists of clinging to a theory even when the facts contradict it.

Despite this requirement for factual study, supporters of the Washington Consensus appear to dislike making systematic factual comparisons of the two development approaches. The reasons for this will become evident from the data below. This shows that China’s “socialist development strategy” far outperforms the Washington Consensus. The emphasis placed by China on development strategy and its socialist orientation has obvious implications for other countries.

The term “Washington Consensus” was first coined in 1989 by U.S.-based economist John Williamson – although the actual practical policies were commenced in the late 1970s/early 1980s. The Washington Consensus is a classic form of neo-liberalism. It advocates in terms of economic policy privatization and minimization of the state’s economic role. Its social policy may be described as “trickle down” – a belief that if there is economic growth all layers of society will automatically benefit as the benefits “trickle down” from the richest to poorest. Legally the Washington Consensus states that the overriding goal is the strongest guarantee of private property. Politically, although claiming to be neutral, this combination of policies evidently favours capitalist and conservative political parties.

China’s “socialist development strategy,” which commenced with its 1978 economic reforms, is radically different in its entire framework, and directly counter-posed on key policy issues. China used, in Xi Jinping’s phraseology on economic policy, both the “visible” and the “invisible hand” – not simply the private sector but also the state. Indeed, in China itself, as the Communiqué of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC stated: “We must unswervingly consolidate and develop the public economy, persist in the dominant position of public ownership, give full play to the leading role of the state-owned sector.”

..

In social policy China, in line with its socialist approach:

  • undertakes conscious programs deliberately aimed at eradicating poverty – these are to be completed in the 13th Five-Year Plan by 2020 by lifting the remaining 70 million people out of poverty;
  • deliberately promotes development through urbanization as a way of moving the population into higher productivity economic sectors;
  • deliberately seeks to narrow the income gap between rural and urban areas;
  • does not rely exclusively on “the market” but deliberately uses state infrastructure spending to raise the economic level of its less developed inland provinces;
  • legally guarantees private property but a key economic role is assigned to the state sector;
  • is politically socialist

China’s Upcoming Communist Party Congress Will Formalise ‘Xi’ism’

John Ross. August the 30th.

Xi Jinping is therefore the first Chinese leader facing a simultaneous combination of China’s transition to a high-income economy with low Western growth. This combination, therefore, produces China’s new policy configuration – ‘Xi’ism’.

Xi Jinping’s organisational position was already consolidated by his official designation as the ‘core’ of China’s leadership. But the previous most powerful leaders of China, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, are also officially designated in terms of their analysis of the periods of their leadership in terms of ‘Mao Zedong thought’ and ‘Deng Xiaoping theory’. It is therefore likely that China’s Communist Party Congress will also ideologically and in policy terms formalize Xi Jinping’s position in terms of what amounts to Xi’ism.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 8, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Russian Revolution: when workers took power. Paul Vernadsky. Review: ‘1917 and problems of democracy’.

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1917 and problems of democracy.  Solidarity. 6th of September. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

The historian of the French Revolution, François Furet, wrote in 1995 wrote that that after the fall of the USSR, the October Revolution had ended its journey. Unlike the first French Republic, Soviet power, and Lenin, “left no heritage”. Over 800 pages later the critic of the Jacobins concluded that while it was hard to “think” of another kind of society, democracy manufactured the need for a world beyond “Capital and the Bourgeoisie”. If the figure of the Bolshevik party had disappeared, the “idea of communism” could be reborn in new forms.1

Twenty-two years later, on the anniversary of the October Revolution, much debate on the left remains about how to assess the legacy of the Bolsheviks. Many reject Lenin’s party, arguing that movements for socialism or communism should seek novel constituencies, structures and objectives. In contrast to these judgements, Paul Vernadsky begins The Russian Revolution by asserting, “The Russian revolution of 1917 was the greatest event in political history so far. It was the first occasion that working class people took political power and held it for a significant period.”

He states, “In October 1917 the Russian working class, led by the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP, Bolshevik party), took power through their mass, democratic soviets (councils).” The lessons of the revolution remain relevant to working class politics today.2 Vernadsky tells the story of 1917, from the slaughter of the First World War, initial protests and strikes, to the February Revolution and October.

The Bolshevik resurgence faced with a Kerensky-led government determined to continue the war, the July Days when the state was on the brink of a hard-right clampdown, to the dissolution of the elected Constituent Assembly in January 1918 and its replacement by Soviet Power. Celebrating the Carnival of the Oppressed, the “creative transformations” unleashed by the workers “ruling their own state”, he outlines the progressive decrees issued by the new Soviet government, beginning with the delivery of the slogan: “all land to the peasants”. “Without the RSDLP, the Russian Revolution would not have occurred.”3

The Russian Revolution is not just a history of events.

Vernadsky offers a valuable introduction to debates about this party, the Bolsheviks, much of which was stimulated by Lars Lih’s Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be done in context. Other writers covered include Lenin enthusiast Paul le Blanc, and Tom Twiss’s measured account of Trotsky’s evolving, contradictory, views of the development of bureaucracy in the wake of revolution. There is a strong section on the Women’s Revolution, paying special attention to the “futuristic vision of Aleksandra Kollontai, as illuminated by studies of “Bolshevik feminists”.

Other areas in which members of Workers’ Liberty have contributed important debate figure in this context. Of particular interest are the critical sections on Lenin’s theory of imperialism in the chapter ‘War and the Myth of Defeatism’, inspired by Hal Draper’s studies. Unlike knee-jerk ‘anti-imperialists’ the author cites Trotsky: “working-class policy on war is not “automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only he opposite sign…”4 One imagines that same quarters will reject the passages on nationalities, including the Jewish Question. In his conclusion Vernadsky is clear that “Israeli Jews are a nation and they should have the right to self determination today like any other nation.”5

Lih argued that the Bolsheviks were a lot more than, as the party leader Zinoviev put it in his lectures in 1923, a “hierarchical, closely knit organisation”, run from the top-down to enlighten the workers. It was not a “party of a new type”, but in the mould of democratic Marxist based organisations of the Second International, above all the German Social Democrats (SPD). Although it had its own stamp by operating in autocratic conditions, Lenin was, in key works such as What is to be Done? “directly inspired” by the German “model”. In more detail Lenin’s strategy was designed to bring together the “purposive worker” and the social democratic worldview conveyed by practical-minded activists, by the “power of a genuinely sound explanation.”

The Bolsheviks, if this account stands, were very far from political outriders, a messianic party-sect, but part of the mainstream of European socialism.6 Lih saw this as the basis for “fighting for democracy to the end” as a precondition for workers’ power, and socialism. For Lih this “old Bolshevik” stand guided Lenin right up to October and the overthrow of the Provisional government, “to carry out a thorough-going democratic transformation”. Vernadsky enters into the — lengthy — debate on this claim. He states that Lenin’s assessment of the growth of the soviets and soldiers’ committees meant that his call for the overthrow of the Provisional government meant that Lenin took “steps towards permanent revolution”.

That is, an acceleration of revolutionary “stages” towards, he contentiously asserts, a position where the victories of the Bolsheviks, “deconstructed capitalist relations of production and put in place an economic system where the imperative was social need, not private profit.” It is undeniable that this prospect inspired millions inside and outside Russia, with the hope that socialism was on the agenda. For many of us that wish still burns.7 Yet, many unresolved issues remain to be discussed from this thought-provoking book.

Two could be signalled; questions about the body that “led” the Russian working class, and the direction it began to take them in the aftermath of October. If we accept the view that the Bolsheviks were a democratic party with open debate and a real base in the working class and popular masses, what kind of template had Lenin and his tendency adopted? A critical description of the pre-1914 SPD “oligarchy” by Robert Michels developed themes already circulating on the left in Germany itself, and internationally by “revolutionary syndicalists” like the French writer George Sorel. In light of the monstrous oligarchy of Stalinist bureaucracy these limits inside Lenin’s “model” apparatus might inspire further reflection.

Only Lenin’s most uncritical admirers would deny problems about the practices of “committee people”, however small in number they may have been initially, brought into the “smashed” state machine.8

The next is that even supporters do not argue that in power the Bolsheviks were always democratic. Many would also question as to how far they respected the workers’ democracy they contrasted to “formal” Parliamentary pluralism. The well-documented cases of human rights abuses, which began with October, and were accelerated by the creation of the Cheka, cannot be explained away by “external conditions”, the civil war, and the need for Red Terror to stave off the very real threat of a far-right regime that would have drowned the revolution in blood.

The need for independent law, in however difficult circumstances, respect for the people’s rights, was denied during the dictatorship of the proletariat. What kind of political instrument can introduce non-capitalist relations of production with these limits on democratic decision-making? Socialism was, and is, far from a self-evident thing. How can a transitional mode of production to communism be formed without free debate about what kind of economy, what kind of production, what social goals people are working towards?

Outlawing opposition papers, bourgeois, then all non-Bolshevik parties, ignoring the voices of “non-party” workers, stifled not just conflicting views but fostered the belief that those doing the outlawing knew better than anybody else. It was under Lenin that Soviet democracy was finished off. It was in the early 1920s that the acceptance of a military and political police entered into what would become the established doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat — the first, far from “temporary”, stage to socialism. This is a very negative lesson from the Russian revolution.9

Notes

1. Pages 8 and 809. Le passé d’une illusion. François Furet. Éditions Robert Laffont. 1995.

2. Pages 9 and 19. The Russian Revolution. When the workers took power. Paul Vernadsky.

3. Page 114. Paul Vernadsky Op cit.

4. Page 197. Paul Vernadsky Op cit

5. Page 346. Paul Vernadsky Op cit

6. Page 398. Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be done in context. Brill. 2005.

7. On Lih Pages 163-9. Next quote, Page 19. Paul Vernadsky Op cit. Political Parties. Robert Michels. Transaction Publishers. 2009 (originally published, 1911.) Georges Sorel in 1902 had already written of the SPD’s “spirit of authoritarianism and bureaucracy in a New Church run like an huge civil service (“administration”) page 188. L’illusion du politique. Georges Sorel et le debate intellectuel 1900. Schlmo Sand. La Découverte, 1984.

8. “La démocratie soviétique a été définitivement étouffée au moment de l’interdiction des partis soviétiques, après la guerre civile, et non pas lorsque l’alternative était soit capituler devant les Blancs, soit défendre la révolution par tous les moyens. Elle fut donc étouffée après la victoire, alors qu’aucune armée blanche n’était plus présente sur le territoire de la Russie des soviets. Ernest Mandel. Octobre 1917 : Coup d’Etat ou révolution sociale ? La légitimité de la révolution russe. Cahiers d’Etudes et de Recherches, n°17/18, 1992.

9. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat from Marx to Lenin, Hal Draper. Monthly Review Press. 1987.

Extract from Paul Vernadsky’s book: The opening days of the Russian Revolution.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

September 7, 2017 at 11:26 am