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Socialist Party (Ex-Militant) Apply to Join Labour in order to “Kick out the Blairites”.

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Socialist Party Campaigns to Join Labour in order to “Kick out the Blairites”.

Expelled Militant Labour members apply to rejoin party, reports the BBC.

Expelled figures linked to the former Militant wing of the Labour Party have formally applied to rejoin Labour.

 75 applicants include former Militant leaders Peter Taaffe and Dave Nellist, who was Labour MP for Coventry South East for nine years.

They cite Donald Trump’s election as US president as a motivation to “assist the struggle to transform Labour”.

The internal battle with the Militant tendency faction was one of Labour’s biggest controversies of the 1980s.

Mr Taaffe, who Thewas expelled from Labour in 1983, said: “We want to play our part in the struggle to transform Labour and urge the National Executive Committee to aid this process by admitting us, and others who have been similarly expelled or excluded, into membership.”

Mr Taaffe, now the general secretary of the Socialist Party, was expelled along with ex-MP Mr Nellist – now the chairman of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

Their affiliations with Labour rivals mean it appears unlikely that their applications to rejoin the party will be approved.

A Labour spokeswoman told the BBC: “It is against Labour’s rules to be a member of another political party or organisation which has its own programme, principles and policy, or distinctive and separate propaganda, and which is therefore ineligible for affiliation to the party.”

The Socialist Party  (SP) statement reads,

We the undersigned urge the Labour Party NEC to accept the joint application for Labour Party membership made by 75 activists who have previously been expelled or excluded from Labour for their socialist ideas. In total they have over 1,000 years of membership of the Labour Party.

Among the 75 are members of the Militant Editorial Board, including Peter Taaffe, now general secretary of the Socialist Party; Tony Mulhearn, one of the leaders of the struggle of Liverpool City Council in the 1980s; and Dave Nellist, previously Labour MP for Coventry South East.

They are socialists, trade unionists and anti-austerity activists who should have a place in the Labour Party.

Whether this is a “publicity stunt” (Morning Star) to mark the SP’s weekend event Socialism 2016 or not there are points to be made.

We note the following:

  • In asserting their right to a “place in Labour’ the Socialist Party makes no mention of dissolving its organisation. The Guardian states, “Taaffe said his aim was for the Socialist party to affiliate to Labour, and ultimately field joint candidates – and the application process would be part of a “rolling petition” by his supporters. He was dismissive of Momentum, the grassroots group set up to support Corbyn and transform the Labour movement. “We don’t agree with Momentum,” he said, singling out Jon Lansman, its chair, for criticism. “He doesn’t agree with compulsory reselection. What is the point of Jeremy Corbyn without the right to remove the Blairites, who are an enormous drag on the progress of the Labour party?”
  • The Socialist Party has the goal of ‘removing’ the Blairites, that is purging them from the Labour Party. As they state, “the idea now of building a mass movement to keep Jeremy Corbyn and drive out the Blairites as part of preparing to fight and win a general election is widely accepted among rank and file Corbyn supporters.” (The Socialist). In other words Taaffe wants to join Labour – and will complain that his democratic rights are denied if he is not admitted – in order to purge the party of political opponents.
  • The Socialist Party is a Leninist party which does not tolerate internal differences of its own. It has also a long history of trying to impose its ‘line’ on other groups on the left.
  • In 2010 its trade union front, the National Shop Stewards Network, announced support for the “NSSN All-Britain Anti-Cuts campaign”, a rival body to the trade union backed, “Coalition Of Resistance.” There were complaints from the minority of non-SP members active in the NSSN, “Launching a further national anti-cuts campaign, while obstructing cooperation with other organisations, would be a retrograde step, as well as changing the nature and direction of the NSSN. If the NSSN becomes controlled by one political party which is unwilling to work constructively with any other shop stewards in the network, we would see no point in further participation. Confirmation that this is the way the the SP intends to proceed seems to be borne out by events since the meeting of the Steering Committee – the secretary has unilaterally announced that only SP members will represent the NSSN at 2 forthcoming meetings discussing left/anti-cuts cooperation, with not even a pretence at consultation with non-SP officers .” (Socialist Unity) This lack of ‘consultation’, in fact making decisions without any reference to the minority in the formal leadership of the NSSN, was described in much, much, greater detail by those involved and bore the marks of the culture of a classic sect/cult.  It would be tiresome to list all the other examples of this behaviour. They can be summed up by describing them as the actions of a ‘miniature’ orthodox Communist Party with its ‘front organisations’ run by the Party’s own leading bodies.
  • The Socialist Party actively campaigned for a Brexit vote during the European referendum. As formidable mythomanes,  at a local meeting, and no doubt elsewhere, they talked of a great, indeed massive,  movement on the European left and workers’ movement  to support Britain leaving the EU. It rapidly turned out (that is after asking other European comrades) that their network of support was based on the ultra-sectarian, nationalist, anti-EU and negligible electoral force, the French based Trotskyist group, Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique (POID). Their ‘international’  meeting, last may, is reported  here . Pour le Brexit Mai 2016. POID, is the result of, you guessed it, a 2015 split, that is with the  Parti ouvrier indépendant. That group scored 0,34 % of the vote in the 2007 Presidential elections, with  Gérard Schivardi, now a member of POID.
  • The Socialist Party has formed the backbone of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), “In the 2015 General Election TUSC stood 135 prospective parliamentary candidates across England, Wales and Scotland, as well as 619 council candidates in local elections. The party performed badly at the election, winning 36,327 votes, or 0.1% of the popular vote. No parliamentary seats were gained and no deposits were saved (Wikipedia).

Regardless of the merits of admitting individuals who have been in the SP into Labour  the application, en masse, of Socialist Party members to join the Party is not welcome.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2016 at 11:50 am

Trotsky Today: A Critical Balance Sheet.

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

Trotskyism has been in the news recently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trotsky, Trotskyism and Communism.

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

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

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

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

Trotsky Under Siege.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dewey Commission.

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

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

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

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

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

Trotsky as a Politician and Revolutionary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trotsky and the Soviet Regime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terror, Communism and Democratic Marxist Criticism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brutality in the Civil War. 

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

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

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

The Fourth International.

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

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

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

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

Ban on inner-party democracy. 

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

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

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

Trotsky, Strategy and Marxist Theory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Legacy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Andrew Coates

August 20, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Anniversary of the ‘Cultural Revolution’: French Maoism, Olivier Rolin’s, Tigre en papier.

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China’s Cultural Revolution: 50th anniversary unmarked by state media reports the BBC.

This is perhaps the moment to reflect on the European admirers, and active supporters of the Cultural Revolution.

Wikipedia (English – the French version is considerably longer and more thorough) singles out one group. (1)

One of the best known was the Gauche prolétarienne (GP) which existed from 1968 to 1974. As Christophe Bourseiller has put it, “Of all the Maoist organizations after May 1968, the most important numerically as well as in cultural influence was without question the Gauche prolétarienne”.

The GP was formed in October 1968. After a split in the Union des jeunesses communists marxistes-léninistes (UJC(ml)), several members – including Olivier Rolin, Jean-Pierre Le Dantec, Jean-Claude Vernier, the brothers Tony and Benny Lévy, Jean Schiavo, Maurice Brover and Jean-Claude Zancarini – formed the new party. In 1969 the former student union leaders Alain Geismar and Serge July joined the group.

Several members of the group were involved with the founding of the French daily Libération which evolved into a centre left mainstream mass circulation daily newspaper.

One of these figures, Olivier Rolin, was not only in the leadership but directed the military wing (branche militaire) of the group,  la Nouvelle résistance populaire. The history of the NRP remains highly controversial.

After blowing hot for armed action, they blew cold and abandoned the path of force. A botched – or futile it depends on one’s viewpoint – kidnapping of Renault manager Robert Nogrette in response to the killing of  Pierre Overney in 1972 ended in his release.  They abandoned other plans for ‘military’ vengeance, which included a plan to murder a former Collaborator. Rolin is amongst those who lay claim to the belief that this was responsible for the absence in France of  left-wing terrorism – until the 1980s Action Directe that it is.

The Gauche Prolétarienne dissolved in 1973.

Rolin subsequently became a novelist. His works include the well-received,  Invention du Monde (1993), Port-Soudan (1994), described a “brilliantly crafted”, that is, a finely written but slight tale of an expatriate functionary and his return home with hard memories,  the picaresque  Un chasseur de lions (2008) which has been compared unfavourably to a Tintin album – meaning, I enjoyed it.

Tigre en papier (2oo2) is the most political of his books. It is a thinly veiled account of life in the GP written, as critics has described it, with the marks of a  thriller and lubricious descriptions of women. One of the said critics, F. Frommer  (À propos de Tigre en papier d’Olivier Rolin), observes that it is hard to classify – if not to follow. Is it a novel, a tale, fiction about one’s self, autobiography, souvenir, memoir (Roman/récit, autofiction/autobiographie, souvenir/mémoire. To say that the ‘Aristotelian unities’ are not followed would not count of a point against Tigre en Paper, if it were not, as indicated, presented at points in the form of an airport spine-chiller, decked out in the grandiose language, Rolin employs to describe the ideological loadstars of of dedicated ‘Maoist’ activists: « La théâtralité de la Révolution », « La haine de la beauté », « La sacralisation du malheur ». La Cause is the object of masochistic self-sacrifice. The pages are also studded, as Frommer remarks, with old brand names, old songs, old films, and, if you haven’t got the message, other period details,  which struck me, such as a explanation of  the importance of duplicators  for 1970s leftists.

I digress.

The principal value of the book is as an account of the GP, the ‘military wing’ chief, Martin (that is, Rolin…), his comrade, the ‘sublime’  Marie , and, above all, of its leader, Benny Lévy, known at the time as  Pierre Victor. In Tigre he is Gédéon, who is known from its abbreviation, DG,  as the Grand Dirigeant. This identity is at any rate the view of, amongst others, Philippe Lardinois, who uses the portrait as a hook in De Pierre Victor à Benny Levy, de Mao à Moïse ? (2008). He incarnated the ‘L’Organisation’ of the novel – though it remains to this day a mystery why. Or indeed exactly what happened in mind’s of the participants in  the escapades of the ‘military wing’ in the narrative to make them turn from playing at being revolutionaries to other games. Tigre en papier’s title suggest that they were made of flimsy substance. No doubt, but they certainly tried to look terrifying….

To call the Victor character a sour-faced arrogant shit would be perhaps enough, except that he managed to wreck the lives of (fictionalised but clearly real) characters as well. The GP, like all Maoist groupuscules, and some Trotskyist organisations, sent their members, particularly intellectuals (outside their Leading Cadres, naturally)  into factories to become ordinary workers, or, rather, to turn into militant leaders of the proletariat. These “établis” were expected to follow the commands of the Organisation. A tragic story of one such ruined life is probably the best passage in the book. It is the affecting story of a stunning (how could it be otherwise?) young woman, Cosette, svelte, almost an elfin (see previous observation on Rolin’s sexist language)  separated by Party decision from her partner, who is himself placed under the guidance of a ‘prolo’. Workers figures in the novel, if at all, as lugubrious figurants, if not, in the case of a police informer, a sexually unpleasant rough. No doubt anxious to indict the puritanism of the GP there is an episode in which Martin rebuffs a male cadre’s advances, and finds unable to talk about it.

Tigre en papier outlines one striking feature of the whole Gauche Prolétarienne experience: despite a brief reference to the anti-totalitarian Victor Serge, the total absence of any critical balance-sheet of the Cultural Revolution that inspired the movement.

This is how the leader of the GP  washed up after years of Talmudic studies,

Benny Lévy embraced Jewish Orthodoxy, and began to study in a yeshiva in Strasbourg. He finally immigrated to Israel in 1997, where he established the Institut d’études lévinassiennes in Jerusalem along with Bernard-Henri Lévy and Alain Finkielkraut, and learned with Rabbi Moshe Shapira. He died suddenly during the holiday of Sukkot in 2003.

 (1) See also: Les Maoïstes. Christophe Bourseiller, Review and Reflections. Andrew Coates.

The book has been translated and received this notice (New York Times 2007):

PAPER TIGER. By Olivier Rolin. Translated by William Cloonan. (University of Nebraska, cloth, $40; paper, $17.95.) Martin, an aging French radical from the 60s, wonders where it all went and why. One night in 2000, when this rushing stream of a book is set, he broods out loud while driving around (and around and around) Paris with Marie, the 24-year-old daughter of his best friend from “the Cause.” Marie’s father died in an unexplained fall from a church tower 20 years earlier, and the excuse for Martin’s regurgitation of the past is to introduce Marie to her lost parent. At the same time, he is trying to understand his own father, a “colonialist soldier” killed carrying out “France’s civilizing mission” in Indochina. Through these histories, Rolin philosophizes about Big Ideas like aging, lost idealism and the weight of past wars on future generations. It sounds like heavy going, and it is. Rolin’s use of the second-person and the recurring shifts back and forth in time can be disorienting; but there are also treats that make the car ride worth taking, some serious (like Rolin’s observations — often pessimistic — about the human condition) and others delightfully comic (like the young revolutionaries’ many botched missions). When the journey to the end of the night is over, the impression left behind (at once comforting and disturbing) is that history will make a paper tiger of every high hope and feared foe alike, no matter how seemingly imperishable.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 16, 2016 at 10:54 am

Toby Abse on Toni Negri, ‘Storia di un comunista’, Milan, 2015.

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Introduction.

Comrade Toby Abse and myself has a long discussion about Tony Negri and this book recently.

We went through issues about his political background such as Negri’s unwillingness  to accept political responsibility for the violent side of Potere Operaio and Autonomia Operaia.

The resemblance between these two organisations’  refusal (and possible Bordigist influence) and  the French Socialisme ou Barbarie (SouB)  group’s refusal to participate in any form of election (including voting in French works committees, comités d’enterprises) also came up. I mentioned that SouB had integrated a significant slice of the French ‘Bordgist’ (ultra-left anti-parliamentarian anti-Stalinist communists) movement, the Fraction Française de la Gauche Communiste Internationale. In Toby’s review another group, the Johnson–Forest Tendency appears to have influenced Negri – as indeed it did SouB.

We turned to the thorny issue of actual real violence.

It is worth citing this section from Toby’s earlier What Next Article,  The Professor in the Balaclava: Toni Negri and Autonomist Politics. (2002)

The two concrete instances he gives of Negri inciting others to commit criminal acts on his behalf have a definite ring of truth; they are precisely the sorts of crime one can imagine amoral academics engaging in. Firstly, when Negri lived in Milan, he used to send the young autonomi he regularly received in his house out to the nearest bookshop to steal all the books that interested him. Secondly, and rather more seriously, he asserted his power in Padua University by getting his “reactionary” colleagues kneecapped, and then used to theorise in his usual jargon-ridden style that “the levels of the use of force of counter-power have been exemplified by the punishment of teachers who are particularly zealous in anti-proletarian initiatives: Galante, Santo, etc”.30

Somebody who behaved like this was not fit to hold a university post in Italy or any other country. Anybody who thinks that having your colleagues kneecapped by hit squads in balaclavas can be placed on a par with, for instance, Robin Blackburn offering verbal support to some students who tore down gates at the LSE in 1969, has lost contact with the real world. Autonomia may not have been a fully-fledged terrorist organisation like the BR or Primea Linea, but it was renowned for its systematic thuggery and intimidation. Professor Negri was far too busy writing to have ordered all the actions carried out by these half-educated young thugs whom he regarded as superior to the organised working class, but he dictated the general line.

Then there is this:

Negri led a double life, at least until his arrest in April 1979, but even in recent years there is a rather unnerving compartmentalisation or dissociation that marks his life and work, and perhaps helps to explain how a man who felt no compunction about leaving his long-time comrades and loyal disciples to face lengthy prison sentences in Italy whilst he lived it up in Paris can now have the sheer effrontery to present himself as a revolutionary theoretician for the new century and babble about “the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist”, as he puts it in the final words of Empire.

Now it’s worth noting, and we discussed this, that I personally was involved with a year-long (circa 1985) study group in Paris of about 7 people in which Negri was an important member. This circle, Dissensus, debated the new forms of market ideology that were gripping Europe and turning social democracy rightwards in the 1980s. was a spin-off from a larger club formed by Negri’s close friend, Félix Guattari , under the name of Papageno, itself part of the body with the title of a joint Gauttari-Negri book, Les Nouveaux espaces de liberté.

In my experience Negri was open-minded, wore his status lightly, was interested in serious discussion of left theory and practice in the wake of the rise of neo-liberalism and the failures of post-68 lefts. In post-meeting cheap meals and drinks in the Quartier Latin he would chat with others as equals. The only thing that stood out was his absolute undying hatred of the Italian magistratura  (the magistrates), which was not exactly surprising.

Having read a number of Negri’s books, beginning with the one cited above, and continuing with (in French) Marx au-delà de Marx, to Empire, and the debate on this joint work with Michael Hardt),  and beyond (see Wikipedia for more), right up to the writings and discussion in the on-line journal Multitudes, I dissent from Toby’s considered judgement that they are, with a few exceptions in his earlier autonomist attempts to reach out with some kind of practice to working class movements,  utterly worthless tripe.

The Tendance does, nevertheless, adhere to Negrism, nor, in particular to spiritual babble, which in our discussion I considered  to result from Negri’s debt to Christian phrase-mongering, about the ‘lightness’ of being a communist.

As I hope everybody else is, I am disgusted by academics’ efforts (which would include other academics, notably Alain Badiou) to refuse to own up to the violent consequences of their rhetoric.

Last hurrah of a psychopath

Toni Negri, ‘Storia di un comunista’, Milan, 2015, pp 608, €18, reviewed by Toby Abse.

Toni Negri’s 608-page autobiography is a predictably strange, and in places virtually unreadable, document.1 The 82-year-old author is rumoured to be in declining health and is certainly obsessed by death (particularly pp9-15). He seems to have been assisted in unspecified respects by a named editor – Girolamo De Michele, a 54-year-old philosopher and novelist, who, as far as I am aware, has no particular connection with Negri’s autonomist circles.

This summarises the editing faults of the present work.

Given the vast number of both academic authors and political activists referred to in the course of this somewhat prolix text, it is a great pity that it has no index at all – not even the usual Italian Indice dei nomi (index of names). One would hope that, if an English-language edition ever appears, there might be some attempt to remedy this, in line with the editorial apparatus that seems to have been attached to the English-language versions of his earlier autobiographical works referred to below.

Whilst the overall structure of the work is conventional, leading from Negri’s birth in 1933 to his famous arrest on April 7 1979, with only very occasional and very brief references to the rest of his life, such as his friendly chats in prison with “the comrades of the Red Brigades” (pp476-77), the chronological flow is frequently interrupted by very lengthy summaries of the many books and articles that he wrote at various points in his first 45 years, including his tesi di laurea (final-year undergraduate dissertation).

I am not familiar with Italian publishing but I can say that this kind of sloppy editing is far from unknown in French books of a similar genre.

This is particularly important,

Negri himself first entered politics not as a socialist or a communist, which would have been the logical outcome of his family background as he chooses to present it, but in the Gioventu Italiana di Azione Cattolica and various Catholic youth and student organisations linked to the Christian Democracy (DC). Whilst the trauma of his brother’s death might have explained a totally apolitical turn towards detached scholarship, it does not account for Negri’s actual path of deep involvement with the DC – the overwhelmingly dominant political force in the Veneto during the 1950s – whose student affiliates, in which Negri played such a prominent role would generally have been stepping stones to a parliamentary career in the DC.

Negri now claims to have joined the Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI) in October 1956 (p128),5 although he does not claim to have been very active in the PSI until 1959, when he was elected to Padua’s municipal council, showing none of his later total abhorrence for any involvement in electoral politics. Negri claims that he lost his religious faith some time before abandoning Catholic student politics. He then sought, and succeeded in gaining a permanent university post at a very early age – as he puts it, “The Paduan chair is prestigious and Toni has conquered it early: he is the youngest Italian professor and he is good – friends and enemies recognise it” (p275). He consciously cultivated friendly relations with powerful academics and displayed no leftist inclinations whatsoever, so it seems reasonable to characterise the young Negri as an extremely ambitious opportunist and careerist rather than a ‘communist’ in any sense of that word.

Whilst Negri rapidly moved left after 1960, becoming involved with far-left journals – first Renato Panzieri’s Quaderni Rossi(Red Notebooks) and then Mario Tronti’s Class Operaia(Working Class) – even by his own accounts he seems always to have lived a strange double life right up to his arrest in 1979. He completely dominated the Institute of Political Science at Padua University, whose staff he filled with his own cronies in the manner of the classic Italian academic barone, whilst leading increasingly extreme political groups, which after 1969 were ever more deeply involved in illegal activities.

The contradictions of this double life have given rise to deep suspicion in some quarters – most notably on the part of the British journalist, Philip Willan, who suggests some link with both the Italian and American intelligence services.6 Willan infers that Negri’s intense hostility towards the PCI would have served the interests of the CIA during the 1970s. Negri’s book has very little to say about any American links – with the obvious exception of small groups that had emerged out of CLR James’s ‘Johnson-Forrest tendency’, whose ideological influence on early operaismo (workerism) has long been known.

Whilst one could put a sinister construction on Negri’s presence in autumn 1960 at an Italian conference organised by the Rockefeller Foundation, immediately after his return from a journey to the Soviet Union with some members of the PCI and PSI leftwingers, it seems much more likely this was pure academic careerism.

Whether there were links or not is unlikely ever to be clarified, and like so many murky features of Italian political life remains an intriguing though fruitless speculation.

This is of wider more directly political interest,

However, whatever praise has to be accorded to Negri’s tireless activity in the 1960s, his political role in the 1970s as the main leader of, first, Potere Operaio (1969-73) and then Autonomia Operaia (1973-79) were completely destructive in terms of the far left, let alone the general interests of the working class as a whole. Neither group would ever engage in electoral work of any kind, whether at the municipal or parliamentary level, and they increasingly moved away from mass action, as it might be generally envisaged in terms of strikes, workplace occupations or peaceful demonstrations, towards the advocacy of some form of armed or insurrectionary action without anything approaching majority support in the working class. Potere Operaio resembled the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD) or the more putschist elements of the early Communist Party of Germany (KPD) involved in episodes like the March Action of 1921, whilst Autonomia was much closer to Bakunin, with its cult of rather pointless, almost random violence and idolisation of the lumpenproletariat.

Given the way Negri, in the mid-1970s abandoned the somewhat obsessively factory-based politics of operaismo for nebulous rhetoric about the ‘social factory’ and the operaio sociale (a phrase that is best not translated as ‘social worker’, as some rather farcical Anglophone accounts have done in the past), the poisonous venom with which he still writes about the groups that rejected hard-line operaismo in favour of a more community-based approach and became Lotta Continua in 1969 is astonishing.8 Discussing Lotta Continua or its predecessors, first he writes of “a populist tendency of Catholic and socialist origin” (p357) and then he polemicises even more viciously: “I had undervalued the presence in the coalition around Sofri at Turin of a profoundly anti-Marxist animus that was descended from a still deeper anti-communist tension of Catholic or socialist origin” (p357). Given his own dubious Christian Democratic political past, the sheer chutzpah of this attack on Lotta Continua beggars belief.

This religious legacy may rankle with some Negri’s supporters.But as somebody all too familiar with Catholic references – not just from the French left (which has its social catholic wing) but from direct acquaintance with Italian leftists from the very background just mentioned, it is a clear as day in Negri’s own writings.

Perhaps it is why he attacks Lotta Continua with some vigour. His own debt to this way of thought, studing his writings with its imagery, is hard to ignore. And not just through the references to Saint Francis. Me, I liked Roberto Rossellini’s Francesco, giullare di Dio, though find it rather fey. Fey is the right word for a lot of Negri’s slogans, which tend to disguise and distract from an otherwise serious analysis.

A critical balance-sheet of the Autonomist movement and those years – and there are many, and of these politics and theories, and there are many – has tended to be submerged in an uncritical celebration which began with the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement, and no doubt continues in those quarters now in need of inspiration as their own ‘moment’ fades into historical obscurity.

Negri’s enduring narcissism and total lack of any self-awareness is best exemplified in his grandiose explanation of his own leadership role in Potere Operaio:

Why did I agree not only to construct Potere Operaio, but to be its secretary? I believe through a sort of ‘ethic of service’, through a strange lack of arrogance – very far distant from the presumed arrogance that they will attribute to me later on. I was 36, the others at most 25 … I had studied so much, the others who were much younger much less … I had studied a lot, always in an interdisciplinary manner, doing theory in the American manner – a little philosophy, much history, a fair amount of Marxism and political economy, a lot of political science, enough law. Moreover, I had behind me a university institute that could sustain a good part of the theoretical work that Potere Operaio required (p375).

One cannot imagine even the SWP’s ‘Red Professor’, Alex Callinicos – not a modest man by many accounts – making quite such hyperbolic claims.

Then again there is this,

When he indulges yet again in his now habitual rant against his colleague at Padua, professor Angelo Ventura, for having assisted the prosecutor and the Digos (special branch) to build a case against him in 1979 (p589), he refuses to acknowledge the kneecapping inflicted upon Ventura by the Paduan autonomi – presumably his students wearing the balaclavas he found so entrancing10 – in 1979. It would be hard to dodge any responsibility for it, given the way he ruled the roost in the university – doubtless what was really meant by “the objective is always singular and transparent”.

The article – which has to be read in full – in the Weekly Worker, written by an activist and intellectual who knows the subject inside out,  comes highly recommended

See again here.

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

Further Note:   a failure to acknowledge responsibility for the thuggery of your own thuggish student followers are also a feature of Alain Badiou’s career, ”

Revisionists!Pre-Fascists! During the 1970s these words did not just hang in the air in the Vincennes campus where both Badiou and Deleuze taught. Tendance Coatesy has already recorded the history of the oh-so-sage Professor’s Maoist troops during that period. Their efforts to imitate the Shanghai Commune included their assaults on another ‘revisionist’, Maria Antonitta Macciocchi. In this instance a colleague ran the intimidation from the same department of philosophy.

At the beginning the hostile M-L claque’s presence ensured that the lectures ended early. Later they would try to disrupt Deleuze’s lectures by claiming that a student union meeting to back a workers’ struggle was being held; other times the more erudite mentioned the bogey-name of Nietzsche (Deleuze’s 1963 study on whom no doubt proving by its title alone proof of serious pre-fascism). The admirers of the Little Red Book also assailed others, Jean-François Lyotard, and François Châtelet.

The stunts of the little band of Badiou’s Marxist-Leninists petered out as the decade proceeded. That has its own history, one which awaits Badiou to tell with anything resembling the truth.

Badiou: Deleuze, Guattari and the ‘fascisme de la pomme de terre’.

Negri, in contrast to Badiou, has never been a supporter of the Khmer Rouge and an uncritical admirer of the Great Cultural Revolution as one of the Communist Invariants.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 4, 2016 at 1:21 pm

The Letters the Weekly Worker Dare not publish.

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https://amadlandawonye.wikispaces.com/file/view/WeeklyWorkerSmall.PNG/32322975/WeeklyWorkerSmall.PNG

Letters the Weekly Worker Dare not publish.

StWC.

Defend Lindsey German and John Rees!

 
Dear WW,

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

Tony Vertespierre. Brighton.

Momentum.

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

John T. Mark Anthony Smith, Momentum.

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

Dear WW,

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

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

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

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

John Wiight. Planet Venus.

Socialist Republicanism.

Dear WW,

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

Steve Freedman. Old Southwark.

Workers’ Militias.

Dear WW,

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

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

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

Captain Mainwaring.

Walmington-on-Sea.

Dialectics.

Dear WW,

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

O’Brien. Airstrip One.

Stinky poo.

Dear Weakly so-called Worker.

You are stinking poos and mingy moos.

Socialism in one Bedroom.

Hamster pee.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 23, 2015 at 12:36 pm

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

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

Thanks Sarah Jones. 

More reports,

BBC: Communist cult leader ‘imprisoned daughter’.

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

The Independent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background: Lambeth slavery case.

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

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

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

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

They became heavily radicalised and also underwent many internal splits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is more horrific than we thought.

All our concern and love to those seeking justice.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2015 at 1:55 pm

André Glucksmann, former Leftist, Nouveau Philosophe, Sarkozy Backer, Dies.

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Mort d’André Glucksmann, le philosophe en colère

Glucksmann’s death was the first item on France Inter this morning.

Agence France Presse states,

Paris, France:  French philosopher Andre Glucksmann, who rose to fame in the 1970s after supporting the Vietnamese boat people, has died at the age of 78, his son said today.

Coming to prominence in the glory days of French intellectual thought in the 1960s, Glucksmann, who died late Monday, famously broke with his Marxist peers and became increasingly right-wing in later years.

In 1979, he rallied the support of fellow philosophers including Jean-Paul Sartre to the cause of the Vietnamese who were fleeing the war in that country.

He later supported US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lobbied on behalf of Chechen Muslims during their civil war with the Russian government in the 1990s.

“My first and best friend is no more,” wrote Raphael Glucksmann on Facebook.

“I had the incredible chance to know, laugh, debate, travel, play, do everything and nothing with such a good and excellent man.”

This is an excellent, short but important, written, aural, and video, dossier on my favourite Radio Station, France Culture: Mort du philosophe André Glucksmann.

And here: Réécoutez André Glucksmann dans “A voix nue”.

In his student and academic youth André Glucksmann was associated with the left.His Discours de la guerre, théorie et stratégie (1967) and Stratégie et Révolution en France (1968) were translated into English and published in New Left Review.The first was an extended look at, amongst other aspects, classical military strategists, the second was a revolutionary Marxist call and skeleton programme for the French left to take power.

Not an orthodox ‘Marxist-Leninist’ Glucksmann was an active ‘general’ in the, Mao-Spontex’  Gauche Prolétarienne. After a dispute, in which he took the view that their campaign for “popular justice” in the  Affaire de Bruay-en-Artoi (1972-3) was degenerating towards calls for a public lynching. He and other critics were dismissed as “vipers”. Glucksman distanced himself from the group, which dissolved in 1973.

For most people he will be remembered for the two books he published shortly afterwards,  La Cuisinière et le Mangeur d’Hommes – Réflexions sur l’État, le marxisme et les camps de concentration (1975), and Les Maîtres penseurs (1977).

They expressed a fierce critique of Marxism, strongly influenced by the Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It asserted that Marx has always despised the peasantry and the “plèbe” – the popular masses. The Gulag was a vast disciplinary machine to punish and reform, to break down the people.

The second, taking up a theme from the La Cuisinière, claimed that Lenin’s wish that every Cook could run the State was a disguise for a Marxist will to take control over all aspects of people’s lives. This drive for Mastery, Glucksmann alleged, was the real message of Marxism – not a desire for freedom, but a Will to control. Marx’s categories tried to encompass the world in their “general illumination” and ended up deforming it, Marx, he asserted, loathed the anarchy of the market not because it was wrapped in exploitation, but because it was “anarchy”. All Marxist regimes, he considered, had and would become nationalist, exclusive, intolerant, and murderous, in order to dominate the lives of the masses.

With these publications Glucksmann, as a critic of Marxism,  became, along with Bernard-Henri Lévy, an ubiquitous public figure as one of the late 1970s group of ‘anti-totalitarian’ publicists, promoted as the Nouveaux philosophes.  They extended their attacks from the Gulag to French politics. Nouveaux philosophes were active, as part of a wider “anti-totalitarian front”. They warned of the threat of the French Communist Party (Parti communiste français (PCF)),  coming to power as part of the left coalition,  the Union de la gauche – 1972 – 1977.  Glucksmann’s anti-left fervour did not quickly die down. In 1981 he still feared a possible Communist influence on the Parti Socialiste and backed the independent liberal rightist candidate  Marie-France Garaud against François Mitterrand in the 1981 Presidential election. She received 1,33 % of the vote. Mitterrand’s first government (1981 – 1984), headed by Socialist Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, drew on 4 Communist Ministers. Not many noticed the first signs of the Gulag.

Subsequent books failed to have the same resonance.  They include Descartes c’est la France (1987), an essay on the Cartesian influence on French thought and culture,  Cynisme et passion (1999), a free-ranging discussion of political feeling in democratic politics,  Le Discours de la haine (2004), which took up, war, terrorism, religion, and ethnic conflict. More books, collections of journalism, and polemics, and earnest appeals to those in the Élysée followed.

In 1986 Guy Hocquenghen placed Glucksmann amongst a list of “renegades” from the left, above all ex-Maoists..He noted, Ma génération n’a connu qu’un seul type d’intello : l’intello flatteur du Prince.” My generation has known only one type of intellectual: the Price’s toady.” (Lettre ouverte à ceux qui sont passés du col Mao au Rotary)

Glucksmann was indeed better known as a media-intellectual aspiring to political influence than a writer or a philosopher.

Perhaps one of Glucksman’s best known moments was in 1979, when with Jean-Paul Sartre et Raymond Aron he helped organised support for refugees,  the boat-people from Communist Vietnam. Known as  ‘Un bateau pour le Vietnam’ the centre-right president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing received their requests and acted upon them. 

By the 1980s Glucksmann became one of the best-known figures in the drive for “humanitarian interventions”.

Glucksmann supported military action by the West in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was highly critical of Russian foreign policy, supporting for example Chechen independence.

He, however, was against the Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence from Georgia, arguing that Georgia is essential to maintaining European Union “energy independence,” vis-a-vis Russia, through access to oil and gas reserves in the former Soviet republics: “If Tbilisi falls, there will be no way to get around Gazprom and guarantee autonomous access to the gas and petroleum wealth of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan” . As proof of Russia’s plans to use energy blackmail, Glucksmann referenced a biting anti-Gazprom satirical song performed at the annual satirical award show “Silver Rubber Boot”, which made jokes like: If the Eurovision Song Contest denies victory to Russia again, we are going to drive to their concert and block their gas with our bodies!. Glucksmann described this song as proof that the Russian people want to cut off gas to Ukraine and Europe. He wrote: Consider a popular song performed by a military choir in Moscow. Its chorus depicts the “radiant future” that Gazprom is preparing: “Europe has a problem with us? We will cut off its gas… The Russian public loves the song.”

Wikipedia.

Glucksmann’s son, Raphaël Glucksmann is married to Eka Zguladze, is a Georgian and Ukrainian government official, currently serving as First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, the position she assumed on 17 December 2014. She had served as Georgia’s First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs from 2006 to 2012 and Acting Minister of Internal Affairs in 2012.

In 2007 Glucksman supported Nicolas Sarkozy’s Presidential candidature. In Pourquoi je choisis Nicolas Sarkozy (2007), he cited the candidate’s backing for the Chechens and declared that Sarkozy represented the France of the “heart” (cœur).

He fell out with Sarkozy over the President’s apparently insufficient opposition to Russia’s President Poutin.

We dedicate this video to the memory of André Glucksmann.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 10, 2015 at 1:00 pm