TB #3: Workers Power critique
Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International
April 2nd 1987
We have been waiting for the arrival of your newspaper to compare the final version of the fusion documents with those given to us by comrades D. and U. when they were in Britain. However, you have either not sent us the latest copy of 1917 or it has got lost in the post. We say this because we know from comrade M. that a new edition of the magazine has been out for some time. We know also that in that magazine you characterise us as centrist. Naturally you are entitled to your opinion and we do no get all hurt and upset, in the manner of real centrists, when groups that we would characterise as sectarian level the charge of centrism against us. However, we would have thought that given the time and money we invested in discussions with your tendency, you could have actually let us know that this was your characterisation of us and substantiated it. As far as we are aware you do not substantiate in your journal apart from making a passing reference to our support for the IRA. This is not a principled way of conducting discussions comrades. It smacks of the cheap name-calling method of polemic so typical of the Spartacists. It disappoints us that you are emulating the methods of your political parents, but it does not in the least surprise us. This letter is a response to your draft fusion documents, the ones you gave us in London (page 13 of the fusion platform was, as we informed you at the time, missing from these documents). We would ask that you do send us a copy of 1917 as soon as possible and that you display a greater degree of seriousness and principle in your dealings with us than you have done so far by responding to this letter politically.
Our overall view is that the BT’s politics are based on a sectarian method inherited from the Spartacist League [SL]. The most grotesque aspects of Spartacism have been eliminated from your politics, but on key questions such as Iran and Poland there is no fundamental difference between your politics and those of the SL. Indeed your critique of Spartacism is overwhelmingly concerned with the regime question. You have extensive criticisms of the SL’s organisational methods and of Robertson in particular, but you do not critically re-examine the political basis of the Robertson cult. The regime question is, as you say, a political question, but it is so in the sense that regimes are the product of definite politics, definite programmes. Rotten programmes breed rotten regimes. You approach the regime question as though it existed separately from the SL’s programme. You go so far as to declare your adherence to the SL’s programme until some unspecified point in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, when Robertson got out of control. These Spartacist politics are manifest in the position documents you have given us.
The Fusion Platform [Trade Union Tactics]
Your fusion platform manifests a sectarian method on all the key issues it deals with. On the trade union question you write: “Our strategy is to root the communist programme in the working class through programmatically based caucuses in the trade unions.”
This can only mean that you favour the building of communist caucuses in the unions to the exclusion of all other forms of organisation within the unions. It implicitly rejects the idea that it is possible to build united front rank-and-file organisations. In other words, it rejects the method of united front work inside the unions developed by the revolutionary Comintern in the early 1920’s. This interpretation of your position was confirmed to us by comrade D. during discussions on the union question when he explicitly rejected the idea of the anti-bureaucratic rank and file movement on the grounds that in present conditions such movements would inevitably fall under the leadership of left bureaucrats and thereby become an obstacle to the building of the party. This fatalism actually leads to passivity. Fear of confronting the left bureaucrats lies behind your refusal to countenance an organised united front, a rank and file movement with them and, more importantly, their supporters. Of course we are in favour of building communist caucuses, but we do not counterpose them to united front bodies. Such bodies can and do emerge as a result of the contradiction between the material interests of the rank and file and those of the bureaucracy. Workers can be thrown into struggle against their officials without automatically becoming communists, eligible for membership of the communist caucus. Do we ignore such workers until they have become communists or do we try to organise them on the basis of their first step towards an alternative to the reformist bureaucracy? The rank-and-file movement is the bridge between these workers and the communist caucus. This is particularly necessary where communists are a tiny minority in the unions. However, whether the rank-and-file movement serves successfully as a bridge is something that will be decided in struggle. There are of course risks that left bureaucrats may become dominant. But the potential of such movements far outweighs the risks. It is this potential lodged in every strike, that is the point of departure for communists who want to actually intervene to expand the influence of revolutionary ideas amongst the rank and file. We cannot abstain from this struggle until some unspecified date when the strength of the left bureaucracy has waned. To do so would be to abstain from the struggle for leadership. The BT is a small organisation. To content itself with communist caucuses in the unions is to condemn itself to isolation from the great mass of U.S. workers. It is to abandon Cannon’s policy in the unions of struggling to build a fighting left wing. It is to abandon the Comintern’s method as outlined to the British CP at the Fourth Congress:
“As far as Britain is concerned, we see clearly that it would be disastrous if the party contented itself with organising its forces only within its little Party nuclei. The aim must be to create a far more numerous opposition trade union movement.”
–Fourth Congress of CI [Communist International] Abridged Report–CPGB [Communist Party of Great Britain] p. 226
In place of the bridge of the rank-and-file movement you pose the ultimatum of the communist caucus. You counterpose the two in a manner totally alien to the revolutionary understanding of the relationship between the party and united front bodies. In fact you use the minimum-maximum programme method in place of the Transitional Programme’s method. You declare that in the unions your comrades will fight for basic trade union principles, “militant traditions of the class solidarity” on the one hand, while on the other they will win people to “a world view which transcends parochial shop floor militance.” How? You appear to be against the organisational bridge that links the two. Nor are you at all clear on how, in practice, you would fight for transitional demands as opposed to basic trade union principles. Trotsky’s 1938 programme advances the call for “independent militant organisations,” as bodies capable of fighting for transitional demands. In other words bodies broader in their composition than a communist caucus would be. Bodies in which acceptance of the full communist programme is not laid down as an ultimatum, but rather ones within which the communist programme can be most fruitfully fought for. We see no real differences between your position on the unions and the SL’s. Of course tactical differences may exist but on the fundamental question of the united front you share their position. You reject the building of a united front movement in favour of episodic single issue united fronts (the minimum) and the communist caucus (the maximum).
We will deal with your position on the national question in more detail later in relation to your document on the subject. However, your fusion platform does reveal the way in which sectarianism has obliged you to break with the Leninist position on the struggles of oppressed nations. Echoing the iSt’s [international Spartacist tendency] refusal to take sides in 1982 when imperialist Britain fought the army of semi-colonial Argentina in the Malvinas war you argue:
“However, Leninists cannot automatically determine their position on a war between two bourgeois regimes from their relative level of development (or underdevelopment). In the squalid 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war, where the defense of Argentine sovereignty was never at issue, Leninists called for both British and Argentine workers to `turn the guns around’–for revolutionary defeatism on both sides.”
Real Leninists would not have argued such a position at all. We do not determine our position on the basis of the level of development of particular countries. That is an altogether false way of posing the question. We determine our position on wars between capitalist states on the basis of a characterization of the precise nature of those states–are they imperialist oppressor nations or are they imperialised and oppressed nations. There is no doubt that Argentina, despite its level of development in comparison with other semi-colonial countries, is imperialised, i.e., dominated by imperialism. Do you deny this? If so, please bring forth the economic data proving that Argentina has made the transition from being a semi-colony to being an imperialist nation. On the other hand there is no doubt that Britain is an imperialist nation and that it fought the war to reassert the dominance of imperialism over Latin America–one result of the war being a huge Anglo-USA military base on the doorstep of Argentina and Chile. In such a situation communists are obliged to support the semi-colonial country, irrespective of either the nature or the motives of the regime ruling that country. There is no difference at all between the case of Ethiopia, which you cite approvingly, and Argentina. The principle that led Trotsky to support Ethiopia against imperialist Italy in the 1930’s is the same one that led us to support Argentina. Moreover your assertion that Argentine sovereignty was not at stake is seriously mistaken. Its sovereignty over its islands–stolen from it by Britain–was very much at stake. Its war to reclaim these islands–Galtieri’s motives notwithstanding–was a just war. Leninism is quite clear on this question. In the case of a just war, support for the side whose victory would be a blow to imperialism is not merely justified, it is obligatory for communists. The necessary adjunct of defeatism in Britain was support for Argentina. In carrying through this policy we are following exactly the methodology elaborated by Trotsky in relation to Ethiopia, but also, more pertinently, that he used in relation to Brazil when the danger of war between it and Britain was posed. He argued that regardless of Brazil’s reactionary regime a victory for it against British imperialism was the outcome every communist should work for and hope for. Comrades, how on earth do you square your miserable abstentionism with any of the teachings of Trotsky? Cite us your references.
Immigration and Emigration
On immigration and emigration your position is potentially reactionary. In particular circumstances your opposition to the “open borders” slogan could lead you into a social-chauvinist position. In an earlier statement the BT justified this position on the grounds that there were real dangers of a mass influx of people from one country (unspecified) into another (unspecified). This position is a fantasy, a racist fantasy, based on the idea that out there are millions of foreigners just waiting to flood “our” country. There is no justification for your rejection of the “open borders” slogan in your platform. Does this indicate that while the BT and former LTT agree on the reactionary slogan, they do not yet both share the racist fantasy that it is premised on? The norm with immigration is for people from the semi-colonies to come to the imperialist countries that dominate them, or did so historically, in search of work–e.g., Pakistanis and Indians coming into Britain, Mexicans coming into the U.S., North Africans coming into France, Turks coming into West Germany. Surely you would not deny that these examples are the norm and tell us a great deal about the relationship between the imperialist countries and the semi-colonies. Now while we do not advocate mass emigration/immigration as an answer to the grinding poverty suffered by the masses in the semi-colonies, we do not allow imperialism a free rein in controlling the movement of workers to suit its needs. We take as our point of departure on this question the fact that the imperialist countries control immigration in a thoroughly reactionary, racist manner. Immigration controls as run by the imperialist countries are racist and we oppose them. We counterpose to immigration controls the democratic right for the free movement of workers across all countries. You reject this basic democratic position in favour of the maximalist position that “world socialist revolution–not mass migration” is the answer for the people of the semi-colonies. But comrades, as we British say, fine words butter no parsnips. Since when have communists posed as the immediate answer to fight a particular aspect of imperialism’s policy–racist immigration controls–the revolution. Once again you demonstrate the gulf between your method and that of the Transitional Programme. We have democratic and transitional demands on this question that can help take us to the world socialist revolution. One of them is opposition to all immigration controls which means support for open borders.
You try to cover the reactionary–and potentially chauvinist–content of your rejection of the “open borders” slogan with the declaration that you are for “the individual right” of people to emigrate/immigrate. This simply reveals your confusion on the question. How are individuals, perhaps quite a few of them acting simultaneously and coming from the same country and wanting to go into the same country, to exercise this right if there are no open borders, if the imperialist states are exercising tight, racist controls on the movement of people? You need to come clean comrades, because at the moment your position is deeply confused. If you are against the open border slogan, say why, and say what form of immigration controls you favour to keep the borders closed. If you do not favour any immigration controls (which at the moment would necessarily be being imposed by the capitalist state) how do you square this with your rejection of the democratic right for the free movement of labour? To avoid the trap of social chauvinism comrades you will have to jettison altogether this particular piece of baggage brought with you from the SL.
Your position on women and the black question, as outlined in the fusion platform and as articulated by the comrades who were in Britain, show the same disregard for the method of the united front as does your position on the trade union question, and the same criticisms would therefore apply.
Reformist Workers Parties and the Popular Front
In your position on critical support for reformist workers you twin sectarian abstentionism with opportunism. You manage to evade altogether a statement of when you would consider voting for a reformist workers party. This omission is indicative of just how incomplete your political platform is and just how little you have to say about the problem of reformism. Moreover, given that you do not express a position on the Labour Party question either, it leads us to conclude that you have no serious tactics towards reformism. All that you have on this issue is a sectarian point of honour that you will not vote for reformists who are participants in a popular front. This negative position itself is flawed, ignoring as it does Trotsky’s tactic in France of kicking the bourgeoisie out of the popular front, not simply packing up and leaving the masses at the mercy of the popular front. Indeed, prior to the events in France in 1936 Trotsky had argued for critical support for the Belgian social democratic party, the POB, around the slogan, POB to power, despite that party’s declared intention of governing in coalition with the monarchists. Critical support in these circumstances was tied to the slogan, Break with the bourgeoisie.
Your opportunist error on the question of reformism is embodied in your suggestion that somehow a reformist party in government alone is qualitatively different to a reformist party in a popular front coalition. You write:
“A member of a reformist workers party who stands for election on the ticket of a class collaborationist coalition (or popular front) is in fact running as a representative of a bourgeois political formation.”
Comrades, even if a member of a reformist workers party stands on the ticket of forming a purely social democratic government they remain representatives of a bourgeois formation, a bourgeois-workers party. Social democracy in office equals a bourgeois government. Your distinction implies that the reason revolutionaries call for critical electoral support for reformists is to do with the programme they stand on. This is not the case. Both Trotsky and Lenin made clear that the sole purpose of revolutionaries calling for a vote for reformists was that if they have the support of the masses then they have to be put to the test of office. This tactic can be applied whether or not the reformist party is in an open (popular front) or concealed (social democratic government) bloc with the bourgeoisie. The decisive criteria is that party’s relationship to the masses. We do not fetishise voting for reformists. There are circumstances where critical support would be inappropriate–where social democracy was in conflict with striking workers and went to the polls openly on the issue of smashing the strike, for example. But nor do we fetishise not voting for reformists in the way that you do. Your platform leaves us asking the question, when would you consider voting for the reformists?
Revolutionary Continuity and the Fourth International
We will deal with your position on Stalinism with regard to Poland at greater length later on. The final major criticism we have of your fusion platform concerns your position on the Fourth International [FI]. Our dispute with you is not over numbers. It is a question of whether or not there is a Fourth International or a tendency representing continuity with it in its revolutionary period. You believe that there is such a continuity through the IC [International Committee of the FI], the RT [Revolutionary Tendency] and the SL. This continuity now express itself in yourselves–the true continuators of the SL. We totally reject such a position. Continuity is not a mystical concept. If it exists then we must be able to locate it in positions taken on major questions of the class struggle, positions expressed in documents and programmes. You accept that the FI was destroyed by Pabloism, but argue that its banner was kept aloft by the IC. You accept that the manner in which the IC kept the banner aloft was flawed but you argue:
“Nonetheless in the final analysis the impulse of the IC to resist the dissolution of the Trotskyist cadre into the Stalinist and social democratic parties (as proposed by Pablo) in defense of the necessity of the conscious factor in history was qualitatively superior to the liquidationism of the IS [International Secretariat of the FI].”
This starting point is totally false. The fact is that despite Pablo’s call for generalised entrism sui generis he did not propose organisationally dissolving the FI in 1953. The fact that organisationally he maintained the FI while his more rampant supporters like Clarke, Lawrence et al did liquidate into Stalinism should make it clear to anyone with eyes to see that the decisive issue was the political, programmatic liquidation of the FI that was really at stake. Of course the IC could not fight a communist battle against Pablo’s political liquidationism since in all essentials they agreed with him. In this sense it is difficult to know which IC you are actually talking about here. We can say categorically that the criticisms of the IS’s positions on the French general strike and the East German events made by the SWP in its open letter of 1953 were correct. We would have favoured taking those criticisms to every section of the FI, not ducking out of a fight in the way the IC, on the SWP’s instructions, did. Nevertheless the criticisms made by the open letter did not embody a revolutionary alternative to the IS. They were not grounds for a split. The criticisms made stopped well short of dealing with the fundamental revisionism, codified at the Third World Congress in 1951, that led to the collapse of the FI as a whole into centrism at that congress. The reason for this failure to deal with the premises of Pablo’s positions on East Germany and France was that all the sections of the IC actually agreed with the substance of the revisionist positions adopted in 1951 on Yugoslavia, on Stalinism, etc. All of the sections of the IC had built elements of that revisionism into their own programs and practice. Healy pioneered entrism sui generis in the British Labour Party. He was in a rotten block with Bevan producing the centrist paper Socialist Outlook and arguing in Labour Review for a version of the parliamentary road to socialism (see our articles on the SLL). If this wasn’t liquidation of the worst sort then we don’t know what is. The French may have resisted liquidation into Stalinism in France, but, like the SWP, they were in favour of it in China. The French argued that the Chinese Trotskyists were sectarian because they failed to liquidate themselves into Mao’s centrist CCP [Chinese Communist Party]. At the same time the SWP were busy repeating their opportunist errors on war by failing to go beyond a condemnation of the Korean war and a call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Defeatism was not to be found in the pages of the Militant at the time. The opposition of the IC to the IS was not simply flawed. It was totally inadequate, it was purely to serve factional purposes and it shared the basic political premises of the IS’s liquidationism. Moreover the IC’s “fight” against Pabloism was pretty shoddy. After 1953 silence reigned, while behind the scenes Cannon urged re-unification with the IS. Only four years after 1953 did the British produce a critique of Pabloism, and that was an internal document with a limited circulation–condemned by the SWP for being issued at all. The IC operated as a completely federal body. Its first conference was not until 1958 and it was one of the great non-events in the history of degenerate Trotskyism. What common positions the IC did develop were rotten to the core–namely their hailing of Ho Chi Minh as the great and glorious leader of the Vietnamese revolution and the uncritical support extended to the inconsistent nationalist Messali Hadj on the grounds that he was the harbinger of a proletarian party in Algeria.
In the light of this we are quite clear that the thread of revolutionary continuity was definitely snapped in 1951. In 1953 the IC not only failed to re-establish continuity, they avoided a political confrontation with Pablo at the impending world congress. The history of the IC thereafter is really the history of its individual sections since it did not exist as a democratic-centralist international tendency ever. Did the RT/SL re-establish continuity? We think not. For a start this grouping was very wrong on the Cuban question. Its belief that a petit-bourgeois government in power meant that the state was not committed to defending capitalist property relations was a profound revision of Marxism (for a full critique of the RT’s position on Cuba, see The Degenerated Revolution.) Also, the RT/SL identified wholly with the tradition of the IC. To this day the Spartacists claim to stand by the SLL’s document (produced in 1961) “The World Prospect for Socialism,” a document which repeats the bedrock errors of the FI on the question of Stalinism, arguing that the likes of Tito and Mao were centrists not Stalinists. That neither of these Stalinists displayed even the slightest centrist vacillation towards revolutionary Marxism did not worry the theoreticians of the SLL. The practical implications of adhering to this mistaken view of Stalinism led the IC to continue its uncritical support for the VCP [Vietnamese Communist Party] and side with Mao during the Cultural Revolution. To identify with these politics, as Robertson did in 1966, means incorporating the errors into your own politics. And the practical implications of these politics for the iSt were eventually revealed in the gross Stalinophilia exhibited over Afghanistan when the slogan “Hail the Red Army” was raised–an explicit abandonment of the task of the revolutionary proletariat to the Stalinist bureaucracy. There is a continuity between today’s degenerate fragments of the FI and 1951. It is the continuity of centrism–be it manifested in sectarian or opportunist guise. For us a revolutionary international must be refounded on a new, revolutionary programme, basing itself on the Transitional Programme of 1938. Such an International cannot be refounded on the basis of the centrist errors that litter the traditions of the IS and the IC. Nor can it be refounded on the basis of the traditions of those fragments that look to a “golden age” of either of the two major currents.
The National Question
Your view of the national question, particularly in relation to the north of Ireland and Palestine, is abstract. It does not start with the conflict between the revolutionary national struggle of the oppressed and imperialism, or its agents, but with the one-sided assertion that Marxism and nationalism are counterposed world views. At the level of strategy–of goals–and therefore at the level of political ideology and programme this is true but this cannot be translated into tactics as a virtual abstention from involvement in progressive national struggles. Progressive national struggles are those against imperialism’s exploitation and oppression. The dialectic of the national struggle in the imperialist epoch and the fact that Marxists are duty bound to support and even participate in the struggles of nationalists in certain circumstances (and not just defend them against imperialism as you say) are left out of account in your analysis. Thus you approach national struggles (Northern Ireland and Palestine) with, as your main concern, the object of distancing yourselves from the nationalism of the oppressed. The purpose of this appears to us to be based on the idea that key to revolutionary victory in places like Northern Ireland, Palestine/Israel and even South Africa, is the winning of the most privileged sections of the proletariat in these countries. What else could have led the BT in their journal 1917 to declare that the white question was “key” in the South African revolution? This preoccupation with the privileged is a wrong starting point in approaching the national struggle against imperialism. Our starting point is the traditional Leninist one which does not simply counterpose the nationalism of the oppressed to Marxism but states unequivocally:
“The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content we unconditionally support.”
And in the Comintern’s theses on the Eastern Question adopted in 1922 the tasks of communists in the oppressor countries are spelt out clearly. They can be summed up in one word–solidarity. Despite the fact that the methods of the nationalists were not those of communism, the Comintern, unlike the BT, did not feel it necessary to place emphasis on the need to condemn as “criminal” (your theses on the National Question) or as “acts of cowardice” terrorist actions perpetrated by nationalist fighters, in its principal documents on the subject.
Your theses argue that there are differences between Lenin’s day and now that oblige us to depart from his position on the national question. You cite the fact that the “`anti-imperialist’ bourgeoisie” plays an “increasingly reactionary role.” Thus we cannot extend support to all nationalist movements against imperialism. Your position on Iran and your refusal to support the anti-Shah movement led by the mullahs is the fruit of your abandonment of Leninism. You remained neutral here (and in the Malvinas war) in a real conflict between a national movement of an oppressed nation and its oppressors (who can deny that the Shah was the loyal servant of imperialism in Iran?). Leninists support struggles against imperialism in spite of the reactionary role of the “anti-imperialist bourgeoisie.” In fact this role is not something that they have only recently acquired. It was definitively revealed by Ataturk’s butchery of the communists in Turkey in the early 1920’s and Chiang Kai-shek’s butchery of the Chinese working class in 1927. Lenin was aware of the first example, Trotsky of both, yet neither changed their position on the national question. They approached the question dialectically and with their eyes open. They had no illusions about the bourgeois nationalist leaders, just as we have no illusions about Khomeini or Arafat, the Sandinistas or Sinn Fein. Nevertheless when these leaders are pushed into opposition to imperialism we do not simply declare ourselves neutral. We take sides in the struggle and, using the tactic of the anti-imperialist united front, we seek to wrest leadership of the national struggle from the nationalist leaders in order to direct that struggle towards the tasks of Permanent Revolution. This has nothing in common with the menshevik two-stage theory of revolution. It has everything to do with struggling to overcome the masses’ illusions in bourgeois democracy, in particular in bourgeois or petit-bourgeois nationalism. Counterposing Marxism and the world socialist revolution in the abstract is no substitute for the tactics developed by Lenin, the revolutionary Comintern and Trotsky. Despite the creation of, by and large, semi-colonies in place of colonies, the fundamental tenets of Lenin’s position remain valid. In particular the demand for self-determination retains its validity. As on most questions your position stands in stark contrast to Trotsky’s. He had none of your sectarian fear of the national question and national movements.
You argue that the existence of interpenetrated peoples justifies the jettisoning of the democratic demand for self-determination or, at the very least, complicates that demand. In particular you make the right to self-determination conditional upon it being exercised in a socialist fashion. Thus you argue in a maximalist fashion that, “the national question in most cases can not be resolved outside the framework of international revolution.” This refusal to defend the right to self-determination of oppressed nationalities on the grounds that the peoples are intermingled is reminiscent of the position of Bauer and the Austro-Marxists. Like these reformists you are frustrated by the situation imperialism has brought about and, unable to decipher the national riddle, adopt a plague on all their houses approach. The reason for this maximalism is because for you the point of departure is that in the case of intermingled peoples there is the ever present danger that self-determination will lead to reverse oppression. Fearful of this outcome to the national struggle–and we concede that it is a potential outcome of certain national struggles, though we have different means of averting this danger–you end up abandoning a revolutionary use of democratic demands altogether. Interpenetrated peoples do not exist in vacuums, they are not historical accidents. They are the product of imperialism and serve very definite purposes for it. The existence of this phenomenon is as old as imperialism itself, finding an early expression in the Balkans. Balkanisation is the process whereby peoples are intermingled within the boundaries of a single state. In approaching such situations however we do not start with speculations about the possibilities of future reverse oppression but with the concrete facts as to whether a given people are oppressed by imperialism, whether one people is oppressing another on behalf of imperialism or, and this occurred in the Balkans and is occurring today in many countries, Cyprus and parts of Africa for example, whether peoples are engaged in oppression of each other dependent on a given military and political balance of forces. These are the decisive questions that need to be answered in dealing with cases of intermingled peoples. You do not even pose such questions. You are merely interested in selecting a couple of examples and using them as justifications for your rejection of self-determination. You are blind to the fact that self-determination can be a means of resolving such complicated examples of the national question, preferring instead to nail your flag to the mast of those peoples, in Ireland and Palestine–which is what your theses are actually about– who are perpetrating the oppression of another people on behalf of imperialism. That is what a refusal to utilise the democratic slogan of self-determination amounts to in both cases. The actual role of the Protestants in the North of Ireland or sections of the Jewish population in Israel and not the fear of a potential future reverse oppression is the prime concern of revolutionaries today and provides the justification for the call for self-determination where imperialism is denying that right to a nationality (the Irish or the Palestinians). To equivocate on the right of either the Irish people as a whole or the Palestinians to nationhood is to repeat the errors Lenin criticised in 1914. To abandon the call for self-determination, or as you do, to make it conditional upon the achievement of socialism “where the oppressed minority must be fully protected within the socialist federation” is to take a dangerous step towards imperialist economism. Once again we find ourselves much closer to the methodology developed by Trotsky on this question than you do. Far from despairing at the problem of the national question in the case of an intermingled people, Trotsky was able to identify the progressive and reactionary character of the nationalism of the particular intermingled peoples and distinguish between the two. We are referring to the case of Spain. Trotsky was quite clear on the distinction between Catalan nationalism and Spanish nationalism. He did not start with the abstraction that both peoples lived within the same state–Spain. He started from the actual state of the struggle and tried to identify which nationalism was a progressive factor in that struggle. Thus he wrote:
“At the present stage of developments, with the given combination of class forces, Catalan nationalism is a progressive revolutionary factor; Spanish nationalism is a reactionary imperialist factor. The Spanish communist who does not understand this difference, ignores it, does not advance it to the front rank, but on the contrary covers up its significance, risks becoming an unconscious agent of the Spanish bourgeoisie and being lost to the cause of the proletarian revolution.”
–Trotsky, [The Spanish Revolution (1931-39)], p. 110
By the same token comrades, your failure to recognise the progressive character of Palestinian nationalism in relation to the Zionist state and Irish nationalism in relation to the British/Orange state leave you open to the same risk.
Working class leadership of the national struggle alone can prevent the revolution in the semi-colonies being halted in its tracks by the national bourgeoisie, petit bourgeois nationalists or, indeed, Stalinists. Such leadership can alone prevent the danger of reverse oppression from coming about. To achieve such leadership we advance a programme of transitional class demands in addition to, not counterposed to, the demand for self-determination in cases where nationhood is denied to an oppressed nationality. In other words we seek to win those workers currently in a bloc with imperialism or its agents–like the Protestant working class in Northern Ireland or the Jewish workers in Palestine/Israel–to supporting the right to self-determination for those whose national oppression they are currently complicit in. Winning them to such a demand means decisively breaking them from their own bourgeoisie. Linking their support for that demand to their own class struggles on the basis of transitional demands can create the conditions for a revolutionary socialist outcome to the crisis wracking both Ireland and Palestine/Israel. On the other hand if we cannot break these currently relatively privileged workers from their bourgeoisie on the question of its national oppression of a people, if we cannot win them to consistent democracy, then winning them to socialism will be more difficult, not less so. We believe that a section–its size cannot be determined in advance–of the Protestant and Jewish working class can be broken from their bloc with the bourgeoisie of their respective countries. But a resolute defence of the nationally oppressed, a consistent democratism, combined with a focused class action programme, are the means to achieve this. If revolutionaries are only half-hearted in their defence of the oppressed then relatively privileged workers are unlikely to be inspired to take up their cause.
You do not believe any of this. Your starting point is the abstraction–the interpenetrated people. You do not state clearly that a fundamental difference exists between the two interpenetrated peoples in Ireland or Palestine/Israel. On one side of the divide are an oppressed people/community, on the other are those who gain from and therefore stand for national oppression. Your failure to start with this distinction leads you to suggest that it is the struggle of the oppressed for national rights, their nationalism, that blocks the road to socialism by getting in the way of class unity with the workers from the oppressor community/people. The reactionary consciousness of the Jewish and Protestant workers is caused, according to you, not by the material privileges afforded them by imperialism in order to bribe them and divide them from their nationally oppressed class brothers and sisters, nor by the deep-seated traditions of bigotry that have been ingrained into the consciousness of these workers by their rulers to justify their oppression of the Palestinians or the Catholics. To you these things are small beer that do not even warrant a mention in your theses on the national question. The real reason the Jewish and Protestant workers adhere to Orangeism or Zionism is because they are repelled by the nationalism of the working class because it obstructs class unity! Thus the Jewish workers cannot be won to the Palestinian cause because the Palestinians are not communists, but bourgeois nationalists dependent on other Arab bourgeoisies:
“Such dependency, complemented with the nationalist program and action of the PLO, has so far undercut united Jewish and Arab class struggle against Zionism and the Arab regimes, for at least two decades.”
Not only do you blame the nationalism of the oppressed for the (reactionary) attitudes of protestant or Jewish workers, you equate the Zionist state with the Arab regimes. The undisputed gendarme of imperialism in the region, kept afloat by millions of U.S. dollars is, for you, on a par with the Arab semi-colonies. It was this standpoint that led the Spartacists into their disgraceful neutrality in the wars between the Arab regimes and the Zionist state, a neutrality that you now defend. This is nothing less than a capitulation to Zionism.
The same standpoint leads you into gross errors on the IRA. You argue that IRA actions against civilians “are done on behalf of the English and Irish bourgeoisies.” These rulers certainly have a perverse way of expressing their gratitude to the IRA for the actions it carries out on their behalf. They imprison, torture and murder IRA members. To say that civilian bombings play into the hands of the bourgeoisie is one thing. To say they are carried out on behalf of the bourgeoisie is quite another. It is a travesty of the truth. Civilian bombings–and we assume you are referring primarily to those carried out in Britain–are misdirected blows against imperialism. Misdirected because they are premised on an equation of the British people with the British state, an error common to nationalism. But you go way beyond a justified criticism of such actions. You favour outright condemnation of the IRA. To justify your scandalous assertion that IRA civilian bombings are “acts of cowardice”–what a thing to say, what an accusation to make against an organisation which, despite its political errors, has fought heroically against the Orange pogromists and the British troops for years and won mass support as a result, what a disgraceful insult to the memory of fighters like Bobby Sands and Frankie Hughes whose courage was an inspiration to communists–you indulge in bouts of make believe. To read your theses you would think that the principal problem in the Six Counties was an IRA hell bent on wiping out ordinary Protestant workers and hurling a few bombs at British workers for good measure. This is not the case. The IRA is hardly ever guilty of sectarian assassinations, that is, the killing of Protestants because they are Protestants rather than because they are members of the security corps. Sectarian assassinations are by and large the preserve of the Orange paramilitaries. The IRA’s bombings, moreover, are against either military targets or “economic” targets (shops, restaurants, etc., a stupid petit bourgeois method of struggle based on the idea that you could bring the bourgeoisie to its knees by destroying its property). This latter category, far less frequent now than previously, was wrongheaded and did put civilians at risk. The IRA sought to minimise such risks and virtually always issued warnings. Civilian casualties were often the result of incompetence in acting on those warnings by the authorities. Comrades, casualties sustained by the British and Protestant workers are few compared to those sustained by the anti-unionist population. So why do your theses direct the bulk of their fire at those fighting imperialism, calling mistaken tactics criminal–the terminology of the bourgeois press and state–while the Orange pogromists and the imperialist state, far better equipped to inflict terror than is the IRA, get off lightly in comparison. We did not notice you using terms like “cowardice” in relation to the Orange gangs.
One final point we wish to make on your theses is your use of the Socialist Federation slogan. You appear to counterpose this, in relation to Ireland, to the demand for self-determination. Your slogan for Ireland is: “For an Irish Workers Republic in the framework of a Socialist Federation of the British Isles.”
This is explicitly counterposed to the IRA’s call for a “united (capitalist) Ireland.” Does your demand for federation mean that you would oppose the creation of a united Ireland should that prove possible prior to a socialist revolution throughout the British Isles? You certainly imply that by your rejection of self-determination as an operative demand in the context of intermingled peoples. Does it mean that an Irish workers’ republic depends for its realisation on a revolution in Britain? You reject this proposition elsewhere in your theses yet your operative slogan could easily imply this. Federation is not something that can be imposed or decreed in advance in the manner that you use it. An Irish workers’ republic could come about without federation occurring immediately. The historic distrust of the Irish for “perfidious Albion” is something that will have to be overcome within the framework of voluntary international collaboration, assuming that Britain has become a workers’ state too, not something that we would pose as a condition for the Irish workers’ republic. In Britain at the moment to pose Irish independence in terms of a federation is to fudge on the national question, to pander to reactionary British nationalism. Even prior to the imperialist epoch and the brutal partitioning of Ireland, Marx posed the question of federation far more effectively and democratically than you do:
“The question now is what advice we should give the English workers. In my view they must make the repeal of the Union [which still applies to the Six Counties–WP] an article of their pronunziamento. This is the only legal and hence the only possible form of Irish emancipation which can be included in the programme of an English party. Experience must show later whether a mere personal union between the two countries could continue.”
–Marx to Engels, 1867
Thus we do not make our slogan for self-determination conditional upon the creation of a socialist federation. We say, for the self-determination of the Irish People as a whole, for an Irish workers’ republic, for a socialist federation of Europe. To say otherwise would be a betrayal of the anti-unionist population trapped by imperialism in the artificial state of Northern Ireland.
Your position on Poland and Solidarnosc expressed in your draft thesis on Solidarnosc reveal quite clearly that you have inherited the SL’s Stalinophilia. The discussions we held with comrades D. and U. removed any doubt we may have had on this question. Unlike you, we do not think that Solidarnosc underwent a qualitative change when it formally endorsed a programme combining such contradictory elements as calls for the fuller operation of market mechanisms, greater openings to the world market, workers self-management and a self-management second chamber, and a respect for the post-war European order. Its leadership was predominately committed to policies which, objectively, would have strengthened capitalist restoration in Poland. But it was also committed to the utopian project of achieving these goals through a reform process carried out in collaboration with both the regime and the church.
In reality the proletarian base of Solidarnosc prevented the organisation ever becoming a mass force for capitalist restoration. We reject the position that a mass proletarian-based movement could ever have become the agent of capitalist restoration. The existence of a significant tendency committed to democratically centralised planning was an expression of the proletarian base. Solidarnosc remained a contradictory and often confused movement of the mass of the Polish working class against bureaucratic privilege and political repression. The contradiction between the proletarian base and the politics of the Solidarnosc leadership was once again expressed during the British miners’ strike. Solidarnosc base groups in the Polish coalfields declared their solidarity with the British miners and denounced the scabbing of the Jaruzelski regime. Walesa and co. stood in stark contradistinction to this position with their reported eulogies of Thatcher (though these reports were no doubt embellished upon by the British press).
The February draft programme and the September one both expressed the contradictory nature of the aims and aspirations of the movement. The idea that it had somehow undergone a qualitative transformation in September is little more than a convenient pretext for pledging your support to the Stalinist bureaucracy’s crackdown. Walesa’s draft programme does indeed suggest that the role of centralised planning should be diminished and that the role of the market should be increased in relations between more independent enterprises–but then comrades, so too does Jaruzelski’s programme…and Gorbachev’s! There is a real sense within the Solidarnosc proposals in which the monopoly of foreign trade would be undermined. But remember it was Jaruzelski who was applying to join the IMF before his coup. The books of Poland would have been open to international finance capital, but not to the workers. Your assertion that the invitations extended to Lane Kirkland and Irving Brown are somehow proof of Solidarnosc’s reactionary nature are really laughable. They echo the SL method of guilt by association regardless of circumstance. The fact is that Solidarnosc had chronic, and potentially crippling, illusions in Western trade unionism and an understandable suspicion of Stalinist stooge unions. The invitation amounted to nothing more than an expression of those illusions and a slap in the face for the Stalinist union federations. These two dignitaries were certainly not invited to Poland in order to be the advance guard of an imperialist expeditionary force bent on restoring capitalism in Poland.
We take particular exception to your smug announcement that the slogans of “free elections” and “free trade unions,” voiced by the workers themselves, are the “transitional slogans of imperialist counter-revolution.” Here you reveal quite how barren your sectarian method is. You never address the problem of how communists would have related to the illusions that Stalinism itself has fostered. The complete denial of political rights by the Stalinists inevitably engenders a thirst for political democracy amongst the workers. Moreover, in Poland the Stalinists maintain a bogus parliamentary form of government via the Sejm. Workers demanded genuine elections to this body. This is not merely a democratic illusion but a potential contradiction which revolutionaries can and must relate to. As for the call for free trade unions, this demand is entirely understandable in the context of stooge police unions typical of the Stalinist regimes. It represents a desire to be free of the police, free of the Stalinist apparatus that stifles workplace organisation. You interpret working class resistance to Stalinism on these issues as restorationist. This is bankrupt comrades. How would you relate to these demands, which by the way were current as well in the Hungarian crisis of 1956 which you delight in counterposing to Poland 1980/81–by calling for unfree elections and unions? No, without compromising our defense of the property relations one bit we can advance a programme of political revolution aimed at achieving genuine soviet democracy in a way that relates to the masses’ democratic illusions, not in a manner that simply scoffs at them as pro-imperialist.
The key question posed in Poland was not the defense of the property relations in the abstract. You have to talk up Solidarnosc’s “plan” to seize power (based on tapes heavily doctored by the Stalinist authorities) in a ridiculous manner to try and suggest that it was. In reality what was at stake was whether or not the Polish workers could take the road of political revolution before being sold short by their compromising leadership or smashed by Stalinism. Your lack of concern with this aspect of the Polish crisis is evidenced by the fact that you do not even begin to deal with the problems of political revolution in your theses. They are theses on how best the Stalinist bureaucrats can suppress Solidarnosc. However much you may protest, a call on the Stalinists to carry out repression is the logic of your position. You refer to the September congress as a watershed, as the point when Solidarnosc became definitively counter-revolutionary. At that point you should have called for its suppression. Not to do so is a mere inconsistency on your part. Your attempt to portray your support for Jaruzelski’s coup as being extremely critical when it did come is unconvincing. Your theses suggest that apart from being a little late in coming, the Stalinists’ repression was perhaps a little bit too heavy handed, as though destroying the organisations of the working class was a mere overhead cost of preserving the property relations. Your position becomes ludicrous when you explain that while you defend the counter-revolutionary leaders and their supporters being suppressed, you oppose the suppression of “meetings of anti-restorationist workers.” Which meetings were these comrades? We suspect they are products of your imagination designed to provide a fig-leaf for a position that is fundamentally pro-Stalinist. In the real world you supported the destruction of the elements of workers’ democracy won by Solidarnosc in the interests of defending property relations that were far more at risk at the time from Jaruzelski than they were from Solidarnosc. As with Iran you fail to make any distinction between the leaders of a mass movement (who were reactionary in a variety of ways) and the base, and in failing to make this distinction, you leave yourself without any tactics to defeat those leaders.
Your position of half-hearted support to Jaruzelski, while refusing to take responsibility for the brutal crackdown he carried through, represents the dilemma you face as an organisation that has not broken from Spartacism. Your inner convictions lead you in the direction of demanding the suppression of Solidarnosc from September 1981–see thesis 3–but your fear of being branded as Spartacists leads you to only activate this demand in December. In any event it is a position that leads you to write off the working class as an independent revolutionary factor. It leads you to look to the Stalinist bureaucracy to act as the protector of the planned property relations. In short it leads you a million miles away from revolutionary Trotskyism.
Our criticisms of the BT’s positions on Nicaragua and South Africa can be found in the letter we sent to the LTT before Christmas. We will not repeat them here. We look forward to hearing your response to this letter.
Mark Hoskisson (on behalf of the MRCI Secretariat)