The CWI’s Kautskyan Caricature of Trotskyism
‘That the state is an organ of the rule of a definite class which cannot be reconciled with its antipode (the class opposite to it) is something the petty-bourgeois democrats will never be able to understand. Their attitude to the state is one of the most striking manifestations of the fact that our Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks are not socialists at all (a point that we Bolsheviks have always maintained), but petty-bourgeois democrats using near-socialist phraseology.’
(V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution)
Marxists are distinguished from petty-bourgeois left-liberals by the recognition that the capitalist state is not neutral, but rather a tool of class oppression that cannot be wielded as an instrument of liberation; it must be smashed and replaced by organs of working-class power. This insight, first elaborated by Karl Marx following the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871, was confirmed positively by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and negatively by every subsequent attempt by reformists to find common ground between the oppressors and the oppressed.
The failure to see the capitalist state as a machine for oppression can only disorient and disarm the workers’ movement. Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, who led the Bolshevik Revolution, rejected the reformist gradualism preached by Karl Kautsky and other leaders of the Second International for whom the idea of socialist revolution was an abstraction consigned to the distant future. The Bolsheviks replaced the social-democratic ‘minimum-maximum’ programme of reformist practice and occasional ceremonial references to socialism with a programme designed to link the immediate felt needs of working people with practical tasks pointing toward the necessity to struggle for state power. In 1938, Trotsky codified this method, and many of the lessons of the Bolshevik Revolution, in the Transitional Programme — a document he intended as a guide to assist the cadres of the revolutionary Fourth International in mobilising working people for socialist revolution.
In 2006, Michael W., a youth leader of the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SP), British section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), resigned from the group citing the contradiction between the CWI’s claim to uphold the teachings of the great Russian revolutionaries and its consistently reformist practice (see Appendix A1). Lynn Walsh, a leading member of the SP/CWI, responded to Michael with a lengthy document entitled ‘The State: A Marxist Programme and Transitional Demands’ (see Appendix A2):
‘There will be many struggles to recoup past gains that have been lost in the recent period. As we have always done, we will link our immediate and transitional demands to the need for the socialist transformation of society.
‘The formal or “logical” contradiction between, on the one side, demands for reforms and, on the other, spelling out the need for a socialist transformation of society reflects the very real contradiction between the objective need for socialism and the immaturity of the consciousness and organisation of the working class.’
Walsh complained that Michael:
‘…shows no recognition of the need for a flexible transitional programme that corresponds to different periods and different situations. If we were to adopt his approach, we would be doomed to political isolation — in a period that is actually becoming more and more favourable to winning workers and young people to socialist ideas. Adherence to abstract formulas might allow individuals or small groups to comment on events — and level doctrinaire criticisms of those who do engage in struggles. But the method to which Michael has now unfortunately turned will never provide a bridge between the programme of revolution and wide layers of workers and young people. If he follows this line, Michael will certainly be in no danger of becoming a populist — but, more importantly, he will not be an effective Marxist either.’
But the record of the CWI reveals that its ‘flexible transitional programme’ has a lot in common with the reformist Second International’s minimum programme. Comrade Walsh cites a comment by Trotsky to justify the CWI’s practice:
‘Moreover, Trotsky pointed out that the Transitional Programme was incomplete:
‘“… the end of the programme is not complete, because we don’t speak here about the social revolution, about the seizure of power by insurrection, the transformation of capitalist society into the dictatorship [of the proletariat], the dictatorship into the socialist society. This brings the reader only to the doorstep. It is a programme for action from today until the beginning of the socialist revolution. And from the practical point of view what is now most important is how can we guide the different strata of the proletariat in the direction of the socialist revolution.”
(‘Discussions With Trotsky: On the Transitional Program’, Trotsky, 7 June 1938)
‘In other words, it stops short of what Michael advocates, a programme for smashing the bourgeois state and the establishment of a workers’ state, a programme for an uprising and seizure of power.’
Walsh is exactly wrong, as is clear enough from the passage he cites. Trotsky is explaining that his intent was to provide a guideline for mobilising the masses in ways that will lead them to struggle for state power — i.e., ‘the beginning of the socialist revolution’. This is what is ‘transitional’ about the programme Trotsky put forward — it is a programme for transforming the proletariat from a class in itself into a class for itself. Trotsky repeatedly emphasised that the role of revolutionaries is to help workers ‘understand the objective task,’ i.e., the necessity for social revolution, not to adapt to backwardness:
‘We have repeated many times that the scientific character of our activity consists in the fact that we adapt our program not to political conjunctures or the thought or mood of the masses as this mood is today, but we adapt our program to the objective situation as it is represented by the economic class structure of society. The mentality can be backward; then the political task of the party is to bring the mentality into harmony with the objective facts, to make the workers understand the objective task. But we cannot adapt the program to the backward mentality of the workers, the mentality, the mood is a secondary factor — the prime factor is the objective situation. That is why we have heard these criticisms or these appreciations that some parts of the program do not conform to the situation.’
(‘Discussions With Trotsky: On the Transitional Program’, 7 June 1938)
Leninism vs. Labourism
Over the years a desire to avoid ‘isolation’ from the masses led the SP/CWI to revise practically every element of the Marxist programme. A good example is the question of bourgeois elections, which Lenin described as events that decide ‘once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament’ (The State and Revolution). Marxists participate in elections to explain that bourgeois ‘democracy’ is a rigged game, that parliament can never be an agency of fundamental change and that it is therefore necessary to smash the capitalist state (of which parliament is but one element) and replace it with a state based on organs of direct working-class power. The SP/CWI, by contrast, promotes the notion that a ‘popular socialist government’ using a parliamentary majority can carry out a social revolution. In his reply to Michael, Walsh defends this proposition:
‘A successful socialist transformation can be carried through only on the basis of the support of the overwhelming majority of the working class, with the support of other layers, through the most radical forms of democracy. On that basis, provided a socialist government takes decisive measures on the basis of mobilising the working class, it would be possible to carry through a peaceful change of society. Any threat of violence would come, not from a popular socialist government, but from forces seeking to restore their monopoly of wealth, power and privilege by mobilising a reaction against the democratic majority.’
Peter Taaffe, the central leader of the SP/CWI, offered the same pablum in a 2006 interview with BBC Radio 4’s Shaun Ley (Ley’s questions in bold):
‘You still think the revolution will come?
‘Well, what do you mean by revolution?
‘The overthrow of capitalism.
‘Well yes, a change in society, established through winning a majority in elections, backed up by a mass movement to prevent the capitalists from overthrowing a socialist government and fighting, not to take over every small shop, every betting shop or every street corner shop — in any case, they are disappearing because of the rise of the supermarkets — and so on, or every small factory, but to nationalise a handful of monopolies, transnationals now, that control 80 to 85% of the economy.’
(The Socialist, 29 June 2006, www.socialistparty.org.uk/2006/446/index.html?id=militant.html)
The SP/CWI tries to spin this as simply undercutting the violence-baiting of anti-socialist demagogues, but Taaffe’s promotion of pernicious Labourite fantasies about a parliamentary road to socialism only serves to politically disarm working people. Trotsky explicitly warned:
‘[H]eroic promises to hurl thunderbolts of resistance if the Conservatives should “dare,” etc., are not worth a single bad penny. It is futile to lull the masses to sleep from day to day with prattling about peaceful, painless, parliamentary, democratic transitions to socialism and then, at the first serious punch delivered at one’s nose, to call upon the masses for armed resistance. This is the best method for facilitating the destruction of the proletariat by the powers of reaction. In order to be capable of offering revolutionary resistance, the masses must be prepared for such action mentally, materially and by organization. They must understand the inevitability of a more and more savage class struggle, and its transformation, at a certain stage, into civil war.’
(Where Is Britain Going?, 1925)
The SP/CWI leadership’s attachment to the debilitating illusions of ‘peaceful, painless, parliamentary, democratic transitions to socialism’ originated in the decades they spent buried in the Labour Party awaiting the great day when the objective historical process would turn the party of the labour aristocracy into an insurgent mass movement. In order to implement this strategy, dubbed ‘deep entrism’ by Michel Pablo in the early 1950s, the cadres of the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL, the Socialist Party’s forerunner), were prepared to make any ideological concession to avoid expulsion. The sum total of the opportunistic formulations and defensive adaptations to the pro-imperialist Labour tops was the Kautskyan (i.e., pseudo-Marxist) caricature of Trotskyism which characterises the CWI to this day.
From 1964 the group was known publicly as the Militant Tendency, after the name of their paper, until their relaunch as the Socialist Party three decades later. Through all these years the Militant Tendency ‘demanded’ that the corrupt and cynical Labour bureaucrats undertake a fight for socialism:
‘A Labour government is always elected in times of crisis, when the desire for change is at its highest. Under these conditions the next Labour government will be a government of crisis, entirely different to any of the post-war Labour governments. It will be the sum of pressure and counter-pressure that will decide the path it follows. Instead of bowing the knee to capital and hoping to run capitalism better than the Tories, it should immediately push through an emergency “Enabling Act” through Parliament.
‘Such emergency legislation is not new — it was used by the Tories in 1971 to nationalise Rolls Royce in less than 24 hours! Such measures used by Labour would make it possible for the House of Lords and Monarchy to be abolished and the top 200 monopolies, banks and insurance companies to be nationalised, under democratic workers’ control and management. Compensation should only be paid on the basis of proven need.’
(‘Socialist programme needed’, Militant, 27 September 1985)
The promotion of illusions in the possibility of a ‘parliamentary road to socialism’ was accompanied by salutes to Labour’s social-democratic past. In an article entitled, ‘Terry Fields and Dave Nellist — Defenders of Labour’s Socialist Traditions’ (Militant, 20 September 1991), Richard Venton hailed Militant’s two members of parliament as ‘amongst the very few Labour MPs who can truly claim the mantle of Keir Hardie’, who had ‘moved a socialist resolution in Parliament in April 1901 with an uncanny resemblance to the policies which [Labour Party leader Neil] Kinnock denounces Terry Fields for today.’
Clement Attlee, who Trotsky referred to in 1939 as a representative of ‘the left flank of democratic imperialism’ shortly before Attlee’s entry into Winston Churchill’s wartime cabinet, was also embraced as a political ancestor of Militant and the original author of their ‘enabling act’ strategy:
‘By 1932 the Labour left were gaining ground again. Trevelyan demanded “great socialist measures empowering to nationalise the key industries of the country”.
‘Labour leader Clement Attlee (later prime minister) added:
‘“The events of last year have shown that no further progress can be made in seeking to get crumbs from the rich man’s table… Whenever we try to do anything we will be opposed by every vested interest, financial, political and social… Even if we are returned with a majority we shall have to fight all the way… to strike while the iron is hot.”
‘Pressure from the ranks led to one of Labour’s most radical-ever manifestos in 1934. For socialism and peace.
‘“On banking and credit, transport, water, coal, electricity, gas, agriculture, iron and steel, shipping, shipbuilding, engineering, textiles, chemicals and insurance, it said: ‘Nothing short of immediate public ownership and control will be effective… The employees in a socialised industry have the right to an effective share in control and direction of the industry.”
‘Attlee spoke of an “enabling act” through Parliament to give a Labour government sweeping powers to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy.’
(Militant, 20 September 1991)
Even after abandoning its entrist strategy in the early 1990s, Militant retained its deeply internalised Labourite reformism. This was evident in the stillborn ‘Campaign for a New Workers’ Party’, which aimed at creating a reformist milieu for the SP to operate within (see Appendix B2). The SP leadership motivated this proposal on the grounds that ‘the chance to reclaim the Labour Party has long passed’. In fact, Marxists could never have ‘reclaimed’ Labour because it was never revolutionary in the first place. Far from being a vehicle for a ‘peaceful’ transition to socialism, the Labour Party operated as an agency of the capitalists within the working class for many decades before the advent of Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Working-Class Independence vs. Popular Frontism
Militant’s calls for the Labour lieutenants of capital to act in a manner entirely alien to their makeup and social function are taken a step further with the policy of making similar demands on multi-class political alliances (i.e., ‘popular fronts’). Comrade Walsh recounts that in Chile in the early 1970s:
‘a revolutionary situation was opened up by the election of the popular front government under Allende (which included the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the bourgeois Radical Party). It had a radical programme, which included some nationalisation measures (of the copper industry, for instance), but fell far short of a programme of socialist transformation.… In such a situation, Marxists have to advance a programme that relates concretely to the role of a “socialist” (popular front) government and to the necessary tasks posed before the working class. In Chile between 1970-73, bald calls on the lines of “down with the Allende government”, “smash the state” and “for a workers’ government” would have been completely inadequate.
‘We advocated that Marxists in Chile should call on the Allende government to take decisive control of the economy through nationalisation of the copper mines and basic industries, while supporting the poor peasants in carrying through a radical land reform.’
Popular-front governments, as Trotsky explained, exist for the purpose of defusing workers’ militancy and stabilising capitalist rule. The idea of demanding that they carry out socialist measures is not only absurd — it also represents a repudiation of the core of Marxist politics: the necessity for the complete political independence of the working class from all wings of the bourgeoisie. Salvador Allende’s popular front was a bloc of reformist workers’ parties and ‘left’ capitalist parties and, as such, was organically incapable of making any meaningful incursion on bourgeois property rights. The precondition for serious struggle against the system of exploitation and wage slavery in Chile was to split the popular front along class lines. This was the axis of the Bolshevik policy in Russia in 1917 that Lenin introduced with his ‘April Theses’, and which was subsequently popularised with the call for ‘Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers!’ of the Provisional Government. The inability of the Mensheviks and other ostensible socialists to break with their ‘left’ bourgeois partners ultimately discredited them and paved the way for the Bolsheviks to lead the workers to power.
Lenin’s policy of irreconcilable opposition to the popular-front government was not popular in April 1917, but in the following months the masses gradually came to understand that their interests could not be served by an alliance with any section of the capitalists. The Bolsheviks won mass support by telling the truth. As Trotsky observed:
‘The reformists have a good smell for what the audience wants…. But that is not serious revolutionary activity. We must have the courage to be unpopular, to say “you are fools,” “you are stupid,” “they betray you,” and every once in a while with a scandal launch our ideas with a passion.’
(‘Completing the Program and Putting It to Work’)
The SP/CWI leadership has a long record of tailoring their political positions to fit whatever illusions are currently popular, but lack the political courage to engage in ‘serious revolutionary activity’. Despite their claims to uphold the political legacy of Lenin and Trotsky, on the question of the popular front (the ‘main question of proletarian class strategy’), the SP/CWI has consistently followed the example of the Mensheviks, not the Bolsheviks.
In 2004, the SP voted for the Socialist Workers Party’s (not-so-popular) popular-frontist Respect coalition, and even launched its own (even less popular) cross-class bloc — the ‘Socialist Green Unity Coalition’. This policy is not restricted to Britain. In 1996, Peter Taaffe visited India prior to a general election there, and wrote an article entitled, ‘Fight for workers’ unity: no to bosses’ coalition’ in which he reported:
‘there are two powerful Communist Parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPI(M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI).
‘The ranks of these organisations represent some of the best fighters amongst the working class and the poor peasantry. Yet for 50 years they have sought alliances with one capitalist party or coalition after another. In this election they are in a “Third Front”, an alliance with the capitalist Janata Dal and others in opposition to the Congress and BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party].’
(Militant, 26 April 1996)
Taaffe accurately predicted the result of this policy:
‘Their role on the coalition will be to act as a colossal brake, particularly to rein in an inevitable mass movement opposing privatisation. Participation of workers’ leaders in capitalist coalitions is inevitably a “strike-breaking conspiracy”.’
This is very true. But the CWI could not bring itself to risk ‘isolation’ by advising workers not to vote for the candidates of a ‘strike-breaking conspiracy’:
‘Dudiyora Horaata [the CWI’s Indian section] calls for a vote [to] CP candidates and other genuine left forces. Where there are no left or Communist Party candidate[s], we call on all workers and peasants to exercise their protest vote by fully crossing out the ballot paper.’
The CWI’s opportunism extends to joining openly bourgeois parties:
‘For a period our sections conducted work in and around the BNP [Bahejana Nidasa Pakhsaya (People’s Alliance)] in Sri Lanka, the PPP [Pakistan Peoples Party] in Pakistan and others. Because of the changed attitude of the masses towards these organisations and the swing to the right that has taken place in them, this tactic has not applied in recent years. However, the emergence of new radical bourgeois formations in some countries of the former colonial world will mean we should be prepared, where necessary, to work in and around them. If we had forces in Mexico it may have been correct for them to orientate in/around the radical bourgeois PRD [Party of the Democratic Revolution] when it was launched at the end of the 1980’s.’
(Global Turmoil: Capitalist Crisis, a Socialist Alternative, 1999)
Within such bourgeois formations the ‘Marxist’ entrants of the CWI faithfully replicate the chameleon tactics practiced by their parent organisation in the Labour Party, and adopt much of the ideology of their host. In South Africa, Militant supporters who spent years buried in the African National Congress (ANC) claimed: ‘the ANC must be built as a mass force on a socialist programme. This is the priority facing workers and youth in the immediate future’ (Militant, 20 June 1986). Such propaganda provided left cover for the petty-bourgeois nationalism of the ANC leadership which, despite their sometimes leftist rhetoric and mass base among the desperately oppressed black masses, never posed a serious threat to capitalist rule in South Africa. That is why the white rulers ultimately entrusted the ANC with managing their state. Rather than combating illusions in the ANC, the CWI’s activity reinforced them.
The CWI’s policy of backing ‘radical bourgeois’ politicians is not confined to neo-colonial countries. In the last two American presidential elections, the CWI’s US section, Socialist Alternative, supported the ‘independent’ capitalist candidacy of Ralph Nader, a petty-bourgeois maverick and small-time entrepreneur who is infamous for sacking his employees at Multinational Monitor in 1984 when they tried to unionise (see ‘Tailgating Nader’, 1917 No. 23 and ‘No to “Lesser Evilism”’, 1917 No. 27). Recently, Socialist Alternative has taken to advising Dennis Kucinich, a congressman from Ohio, to ‘leave the corrupt Democratic Party and use his influence to support and build for an independent [presidential] campaign in 2008’ (Justice, January-February 2007). Kucinich, who functions as a ‘leftist’ ornament on the Democratic party of racism and imperialist war, has no intention of forsaking his political career to run as an ‘independent’. But even if he did, he would still be nothing more than a capitalist politician.
Bourgeois Cops: Armed Capitalist Thugs
One of the central criticisms raised by Michael W. concerned Militant’s solicitous attitude toward the police, as Lynn Walsh noted:
‘Michael focuses much of his criticism on our position on the police, referring in particular to several articles published in Militant in 1981. He considers that our position on the police is based on “reformist methodology” and reflects “congealed illusions” in the possibility of “establish[ing] a workers’ state through electoral activity”. Our mistake, according to Michael, was in not putting forward our full programme based on the idea that the capitalist state “must be broken up, smashed, and replaced by a new workers’ state”. Instead, our intervention in the events of 1981 was primarily based on immediate, democratic demands on the police put forward in a transitional way.’
In defending Militant’s policy, Walsh argued:
‘The key element of our demands was democratic control by local government police committees — elected bodies involving the working class through representatives from trade unions, community organisations, etc. We demanded that elected police committees should have the power to appoint and dismiss chief constables and senior officers, and would be responsible for “operational questions”, that is, day-to-day policing policies. Police committees should ensure a genuinely independent complaints’ procedure, and should be responsible for weeding out any racist elements or fascist sympathisers within the police. We called for the abolition of the Special Patrol Group and other similar units, as well as the abolition of the Special Branch and destruction of police files and computer records not connected with criminal investigations.’
In responding to Michael’s observation that there is a profound contradiction between advocating ‘community control’ of the police and the SP’s formal recognition ‘that the police cannot be reformed into a worker-friendly institution’, Walsh drew a parallel between reforming the police and defending democratic rights:
‘But it [police reform] is no more contradictory than demanding any other reform under capitalism. Reforms can be won through struggle, but we warn that they will not be lasting gains under capitalism. In the field of democratic rights do we not defend the right to jury trial, legal aid, procedural safeguards for defendants, and so on? Clearly, such legal rights do not guarantee real “justice”, which is impossible on a juridical plane without a deeper social justice, which is impossible in capitalist society. But it would be absurd to argue that such legal and civil rights are of no consequence for the working class. Such rights have been won, clawed back by the bourgeoisie, re-established for a period, and so on. Demands for social reforms and democratic rights will always remain an important part of our transitional programme. Legal and civil rights, like the right to vote, freedom of political association, etc, create more favourable conditions for working-class struggle. Demands for democratic control of the police are no different, in principle, from demands for other democratic rights. Doesn’t the demand for universal suffrage, for instance, reinforce the illusion that an elected parliament can control the executive of the capitalist state?’
To call for universal suffrage is not at all the same as to campaign to transform the armed thugs of capital into the protectors of the downtrodden. Marxists support any extension of democratic rights and favour measures that limit the power wielded by the capitalist state. The problem with ‘community control of the police’ is that it promotes the illusion that the police are a class-neutral institution which can be made to serve the interests of working people and the oppressed. The promotion of this deception is of a piece with Militant’s insistence that socialism can be achieved through parliamentary action, and flatly contradicts the bedrock Marxist proposition that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes’ (Karl Marx, The Civil War in France).
The overtly reformist character of Militant’s position on the cops was spelled out in a 1988 book that asserted:
‘The necessity for a police force which can effectively detect and prevent crime is essential, and the democratic accountability of the police to elected representatives of the community is vital.’
(Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight, Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn)
This was paralleled by the 2006 election platform of the Berlin WASG (Electoral Alternative for Labour and Social Justice, led by the CWI’s German group, Sozialistiche Alternative Voran) which included a promise to hire more cops (see ‘The “New” German Reformism’, 1917 No. 29).
Marxists hold that organisations of police, prison guards, immigration cops, etc. have no place in the trade-union movement and should be expelled from it. The Socialist Party takes the opposite view and favours their inclusion:
‘The 1977 episode points to the contradictory character of the police. While an arm of the state — increasingly one of the “armed bodies of men” who make up the capitalists’ repressive apparatus — the police, like the armed forces, are composed of men and women drawn from the working class, with their own interests and demands as workers.
‘It is vital, therefore, that while campaigning for democratic accountability of the police, the labour movement must also call for trade union rights for the police, with the replacement of the Police Federation with a genuinely independent union organisation.
‘It is not only a question of defending the economic interests of the police, but of working to bring the ranks of the police into the orbit of the labour movement.
‘This has been opposed by some on the ultra-left as utopian. They want to write off the police as an homogenous, reactionary force for repression.’
(‘Trade union rights for police’, Militant, 3 October 1981)
Leon Trotsky was among the ‘ultra-lefts’ who rejected the idea that cops are merely ‘workers in uniform’:
‘The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among Social Democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.’
(What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat, January 1932)
In his reply to Michael, Walsh tries another tack, and suggests that the demand for ‘community control of the police’ might help split the bourgeois state apparatus:
‘During the May events of 1968 [in France], the mood of the police (in contrast to the paramilitary riot police, the CRS) was affected by the mass general strike movement. Representatives of the police “tacitly let it be known that operations against workers could not only cause a grave crisis of confidence within their ranks but also the possibility of what would in effect be a police mutiny” (Beyond the Limits of the Law, Tom Bowden). The logic of Michael’s position is that the advanced workers should ignore such developments, and pass over the possibility of winning sections of the police over to the side of the workers, or at least neutralising a section of the forces of the state.’
Individual police officers may not be comfortable acting as ‘the first line of defence against anything which disturbs the public order of capitalism’ as the SP puts it in ‘What is Marxism?’ Advanced workers must certainly be attentive to any cracks that appear in the repressive apparatus of the bourgeoisie, particularly during pre-revolutionary moments like May 1968 in France. But promoting the false notion that the police are part of the workers’ movement will only make it more difficult to take advantage of such developments. Police officers who want to change sides have to cross the class line and repudiate their role as enforcers for the capitalist rulers.
The 1984-85 miners’ strike demonstrated the role of the police as defenders of the exploiters:
‘Miners were unable to move from one to another part of the country or even from county to county. Ancient laws from the 1300’s were invoked. Pit villages were turned into mini police states.
‘Every resource of the police, courts and laws were and still are being used against the miners. Bail conditions and restrictions of movement are reminiscent of South Africa’s pass law, police operations more akin to Latin America, or the smashing of the Solidarity trade union organisations by the Polish bureaucrats, and yet there was not a whimper from the Tories about “democracy and freedom”. Only the freedom to scab mattered in Britain in 1984.
‘Even ex-chief constable, James Alderson, had to admit that the police force has been turned into a para military force.’
(‘The Year of the Miners’, Militant, 4 January 1985)
In replying to Michael, comrade Walsh agrees that the police were ‘assuming emergency powers and acting as a paramilitary force against the miners during their titanic strike of 1984-85, a strike that had many features of a civil war in the coalfields’. Yet, even in this situation, he regards as absurd the suggestion that revolutionaries should have advocated a mass, organised, working-class response:
‘Is Michael seriously suggesting that we should have been calling for workers’ militias and the arming of the proletariat in Britain in the 1980s — or today, for that matter? Such demands do not correspond to the situation today in Britain or most other countries, and they do not correspond to the current consciousness of even the advanced layers of workers.’
The entire history of proletarian class struggle shows that large-scale capitalist strikebreaking can only be defeated by active, mass resistance. One of the key lessons in Trotsky’s Transitional Programme is that countering the violence of the capitalists’ hired thugs requires the working class to organise effective self-defence:
‘Strike pickets are the basic nuclei of the proletarian army. This is our point of departure. In connection with every strike and street demonstration, it is imperative to propagate the necessity of creating workers’ groups for self-defense. It is necessary to write this slogan into the program of the revolutionary wing of the trade unions. It is imperative everywhere possible, beginning with the youth groups, to organize groups for self-defense; to drill and acquaint them with the use of arms.
‘A new upsurge of the mass movement should serve not only to increase the number of these units but also to unite them according to neighborhoods, cities, regions. It is necessary to give organized expression to the valid hatred of the workers toward scabs and bands of gangsters and fascists. It is necessary to advance the slogan of a workers’ militia as the one serious guarantee for the inviolability of workers’ organizations, meetings, and press.’
The CWI leadership, well aware that their overtly reformist attitude toward the capitalist state contradicts any claim to stand in the Bolshevik-Leninist tradition, brazen it out by ridiculing Trotsky’s ideas about dealing with scabs, strikebreakers, fascists, etc.:
‘Many small groups have rigidly tried to apply The Transitional Programme today by merely repeating demands from it which do not apply today. Workers on strike have been amused by strange people appearing on their picket lines demanding “workers’ defence guards” ripped out of the context of The Transitional Programme of 1938.’
(Introduction to SP’s edition of The Transitional Programme; originally published in The Socialist, 28 June 2002)
The ‘context’ of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme, like Lenin’s State and Revolution and many other fundamental texts of the Marxist movement, is that the exploiters and their victims have nothing in common. This is no less true today than it was in 1917 or 1938.
The housebroken social democrats leading the CWI, who view cops as ‘workers in uniform’, are also quite prepared to run to the bourgeois state to resolve disputes within the workers’ movement. When Neil Kinnock tried to expel the Militant Editorial Board from the Labour Party, they appealed (unsuccessfully) to the capitalists’ courts. In 2006, the CWI’s German section launched a similar appeal in that country to resolve a dispute in the WASG (see 1917 No. 29). Marxists seek to keep the bosses out of the internal affairs of the organisations of the workers’ movement as a matter of principle — but for social democrats, whose fondest aspiration is to find ‘legitimacy’ in the eyes of the capitalists and their institutions, the bourgeois courts are impartial dispensers of justice.
Liverpool: ‘Socialism’ in One City
In the mid-1980s, Militant supporters within the Labour Party gained control of the Liverpool city council. This is officially regarded as a heroic chapter in CWI history by the group’s leadership, but in reality, it was a nearly unqualified disaster — a tragicomedy that began with delusions and ended with betrayal.
It started with Militant supporters playing a key role in resisting the Liberal-controlled city council’s plans to close Croxteth Community School. The campaign, involving significant numbers of parents, students and teachers, contributed to Labour’s success in the subsequent May 1983 council elections. Derek Hatton, one of the many Militant supporters elected as Labour councillors, crowed: ‘We were not the loony left — more concerned about black mayors and gay rights than we were about building new homes’, and defiantly declared:
‘“We’re going to show the bastards what we’re made of. We’re going to do all the things we said we would. You are going to build houses. I am going to create jobs. It’s going to be bloody marvellous.”’
(Inside Left, The Story So Far, 1988)
Militant claimed that its ‘Urban Regeneration Strategy’ created 6,000 new jobs and built 5,000 new houses in Liverpool while refusing to adhere to the Thatcher government’s budgetary restrictions. Eventually the district auditor charged the councillors with ‘misconduct’ for failing to balance their budget in accordance with central government regulations. Conviction could have meant disqualification from holding office for five years. Militant’s leadership responded by immediately issuing redundancy notices to all council employees, a bizarre manoeuvre that promptly blew up in their faces:
‘On September 6th, 1985 we announced the decision. How it backfired on us. The trade unions revolted, their national officials went for us, and at Labour Party headquarters the decision was seized upon as a stick with which to beat Militant.
‘We argued, that by issuing redundancy notices we could also hammer home the sharp reality of our arguments: that unless more money was available to Liverpool from the central funds, then jobs really were on the line. There was never ever any intention to implement a single one of those 31,000 redundancy notices.
‘So we went ahead and drew them up, and unleashed an animal reaction that we simply could not control. We had badly miscalculated.’
Even Militant’s own trade-union cadres refused to go along, as Hatton recounted:
‘I found myself in a head to head battle with a fellow Militant, Ian Lowes, a senior shop steward of the powerful General, Municipal, Boilerworkers and Allied Trades Union. Ian had been a key figure ever since we were elected in 1983. He worked as a tree-feller, but as chairman of the Joint Shop Stewards was in fact occupied full time on trade union activities within the council. Now he went on record as saying: “We are not going to accept any redundancy notices. As soon as the first is issued there will be all out action.” What’s more I knew he had the power to stop us if he wanted.’
In hindsight, the CWI has tried to alibi its shameful record by painting the Liverpool council as a ‘socialist’ island surrounded by a sea of capitalism — a sort of Paris Commune on the Mersey:
‘A local council restricted to one city, however is far from being in the position of a healthy, democratic workers’ state. Its actions are still dominated by the capitalist economy generally, and by constraints imposed by the government. It is still subject to the laws of capitalism. Even under the most radical leadership, therefore, the actions of the council can at best ameliorate the conditions of the working class.’
(Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight, Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn)
True enough, but massive redundancies hardly qualify as ‘ameliorating the conditions of the working class.’ Militant’s proposals went far beyond anything so far attempted by New Labourites or even the Tories. Yet in its introduction to the Transitional Programme, the SP bizarrely refers to its Liverpool debacle as an exemplary use of ‘transitional’ demands:
‘The Liverpool council struggle showed that transitional demands are not “impossible”, they can be fought for here and now by the working class, through mass struggle. But if gains made by struggle are to be held onto, society must be changed to put them beyond the grasp of capitalist counter-reforms.’
What Militant’s record in Liverpool actually demonstrates is that social-democratic reformists who tailor their politics to existing backward (i.e., bourgeois) consciousness tie their hands in advance.
The ‘tactic’ of mass redundancies, while hardly more anti-socialist than embracing cops, had far more immediate organisational consequences. It discredited Militant with much of their base, and thus set the stage for Neil Kinnock to begin expelling leading members of the group from the Labour Party in early 1986. Only a few ‘old lefts’ like Tony Benn, Eric Heffer and miners’ leader Arthur Scargill opposed the expulsions. Everyone else, including the ‘left-wing’ Tribune grouping that Militant once supported, went along with Kinnock. When Militant appealed their expulsions to the capitalists’ courts, their suits were tossed out.
British Imperialism & Revolutionary Defeatism
The CWI’s reformism is evident in its approach to practically any issue. While agreeing in the abstract that revolutionaries must categorically oppose the presence of imperialist troops in any dependent capitalist country, Militant never called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland. To conceal this shameful position, the SP leadership has on occasion struck a hard anti-imperialist posture. For example, in ‘Beyond the Troubles’ (1994) Peter Hadden wrote:
‘There was almost universal support for the entry of the troops. People in the Catholic areas welcomed them as a relieving army. The NILP, the Irish Labour Party, and of course, the British Labour Party, whose government sent them, gave support. So did virtually all the civil rights leaders including those who later backed the Provisional IRA. Likewise most of the fringe socialist groups in Britain, such as the Socialist Worker Party (then the International Socialists), people who were soon to be cheering on the IRA, supported the government’s decision.
‘Militant, along with left wing members of the NILP in Derry, found itself virtually alone in opposing. Its September 1969 issue, under headline, “Withdraw the Troops” predicted;
‘“The call made for the entry of British troops will turn to vinegar in the mouths of some of the civil rights leaders. The troops have been sent to impose a solution in the interests of British and Ulster big business.”’
‘Would it not still have been justified to support the entry of the army as an emergency measure to prevent civil war? No, the duty of Marxists in a situation such as this is to point to ways in which the working class can rely on its own strength to solve its own problems, not rely on the forces of the capitalist state.’
Yet on another occasion, Hadden put forward exactly the opposite position:
‘But to have opposed the entry of the troops, or subsequently to demand their withdrawal, without at the same time posing an alternative which could safeguard the lives of both Catholic and Protestant workers, would have been light-minded in the extreme.’
(Richard Venton and Peter Hadden, ‘Labour and Northern Ireland 20 years on: Socialism — Not Sectarianism’)
Revolutionaries advocate the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of British imperialist forces from Northern Ireland for exactly the same reasons that we do so in Afghanistan and Iraq. To make the existence of a non-sectarian workers’ militia a precondition for ending the imperialist presence, as Militant did in Northern Ireland, is, in effect, to endorse the occupation. This impression is reinforced by Militant’s reluctance to defend those blows struck by the Republican resistance to the British occupation forces and the social-pacifist flavour of its pronouncements:
‘Also, having suffered military defeats in the North at the hands of imperialism, the Provos have turned to a campaign in Britain and Europe against relatively “soft targets”. But bombings and shootings of soldiers provokes outrage from the British working class, diverting attention from the terror methods of the SAS and the criminal scandal of RUC and UDR collaboration with the Protestant paramilitary murder-gangs. The hand of the state repression is strengthened.’
The Militant/SP leadership generally refused to distinguish between the killing of civilians on the one hand and imperialist troops and their auxiliaries on the other. Marxists do not shrink from making this elementary distinction simply because it might ‘outrage’ backward layers of the working class.
While stopping short of explicitly attributing a progressive character to the presence of British troops in Northern Ireland, the SP/CWI in its propaganda floated the suggestion that they were standing in the way of a Bosnian-style intercommunal bloodbath:
‘A British declaration to withdraw would not lead Protestants to “accept the wisdom of negotiating” what would in effect be their surrender terms. It would provoke an armed revolt and civil war. If the British government were to cut them adrift and the choice was between a capitalist united Ireland and an independent state, established on the parts of Northern Ireland they could hold by force, the Protestants, en masse would choose the latter.’
‘While the unmistakeable direction of events has been towards deepening sectarian conflict and ultimately civil war this has had and is likely still to have a drawn out and protracted character. A common feature to what happened in Bosnia and the Lebanon was that the central state collapsed. In Bosnia the trigger was the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. In the Lebanon the power sharing arrangements between Christians and Muslims that had existed for decades, but which no longer reflected the population balance, came apart. ‘Ethnically based armed militias fighting for territory filled the vacuum of central authority in both cases. In Northern Ireland the state, especially since 1969, is the British state.’
(‘Towards Division Not Peace’, Peter Hadden, 2003)
The SP/CWI has assumed a more leftist posture on Iraq, where sectarian conflict has grown steadily under the ‘coalition’ occupation:
‘The Socialist Party is not pacifist. We are in favour of the right of an occupied and oppressed people, as in Iraq, to defend themselves arms in hand against US and British imperialism.’
(Socialism Today, September 2005)
The SP went so far as to draw an explicit parallel between the occupation of Iraq and that of Northern Ireland:
‘The arguments of those in favour of maintaining the troops [in Iraq] will now be that they are there, like they were in Northern Ireland, to “hold the ring” and prevent a sectarian slaughter of one side by the other. There is a big danger of an outright slide to civil war. But this will not be prevented by British or US troops remaining in Iraq. They should be immediately withdrawn and in their place joint militias of Shia, Sunni and Kurds should be formed on a class basis to defend all ethnic groups and communities against the sectarian butchers on either side of the divide.’
For three decades, Militant refused to call for ‘immediate withdrawal’ of British troops from Northern Ireland to avoid incurring the wrath of the pro-imperialist Labour Party tops. They made such a call conditional on the existence of anti-sectarian militias, of the sort they recommend ‘should be formed on a class basis’ today in Iraq. The critical question is what to do when no such anti-sectarian militias exist, as in Northern Ireland during the ‘troubles’ or today in Iraq. The Marxist position is unequivocal — we stand for the immediate withdrawal of all imperialist forces with no preconditions. The CWI’s record on this, as on so many other issues, is one of adjusting its position in accordance with perceived organisational opportunities.
While the Socialist Party opposed the US/UK assault on Afghanistan in 2001, instead of taking a forthrightly revolutionary defeatist position, they characterised the imperialist invasion as ‘futile’:
‘Bush said that the Taliban would “pay the price” for 11 September attacks. But it’s ordinary Afghans who are the innocent victims of a futile war that will not end terrorism and will make the world a more unstable and dangerous place.
‘Opinion polls in the US and Britain have shown a majority in favour of air-strikes on Afghanistan. But many of those who feel that “something must be done” have grave reservations about any action which results in the deaths of innocent civilians.
‘On 13 October 50,000 marched on an anti-war demonstration in London — bigger than any national protests during the Gulf War or the war in Kosovo. Significantly it included a large, organised Muslim contingent. At least a quarter of a million people protested against the war in Italy.
‘These demonstrations and anti-US protests around the world show that Bush and Blair do not have a blank cheque to wage war against the people of Afghanistan and that the “anti-terrorist” coalition is being built on shaky foundations.’
(The Socialist, 19 October 2001)
This sceptical semi-pacifism in the face of a brazen imperialist attack on a neo-colonial country falls far short of Trotsky’s position:
‘In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally — in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat.’
(Leon Trotsky, ‘Anti-Imperialist Struggle Is Key to Liberation’, 23 September 1938)
In the run-up to the US/UK invasion of Afghanistan, the SP provided readers of its press with the following sketch of the background to the rise of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban:
‘…the Soviet Union launched a military intervention in December 1979 to prevent the collapse of the [left-nationalist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA)] regime and installed Babrak Karmal as leader. A collapse would have weakened the Soviet Union in its Cold War with the US.
‘But the Soviet army found it no easier to suppress the opposition….
‘Najibullah replaced Karmal as president. He continued to spread the reforms but militarily his government fared no better. Finally, as part of Gorbachev’s capitulation to capitalism and following thousands of deaths, in 1989 the demoralised Soviet army was withdrawn.
‘This guaranteed the eventual collapse of the regime, which finally occurred in 1992, replaced by a coalition of the Mujahidin groups. But this coalition of warlords fell apart and civil war broke out.
‘In 1996 the Pakistan-armed and trained Taliban took power. Their rule has been based on extreme repression.’
(The Socialist, 28 September 2001)
Gorbachev’s ‘capitulation to capitalism’ did indeed involve a Soviet military withdrawal that paved the way for imperialist-backed Islamist reaction. In 1980, when the Soviet Army originally intervened, Militant characterised the opposition to the PDPA as ‘feudal-capitalist counter-revolution’:
‘The Russian bureaucracy intervened directly because they could not tolerate the overthrow, for the first time in the post-war period, of a regime based on the elimination of landlordism and capitalism, and the victory of a feudal-capitalist counter-revolution, especially in a state bordering on the Soviet Union.’
(Militant, 18 January 1980)
Yet rather than siding with the Soviet/PDPA forces in their battle with the mujahedin, Militant adjusted its position to accommodate backward sentiments promoted by the anti-Soviet imperialist propaganda machine and the Labour Party tops:
‘If we just considered the Russian intervention in isolation, we should have to give this move critical support. But because of the reactionary effect it has on the consciousness of the world working class, which is a thousand times more important than the developments in a small country like Afghanistan, then Marxists must oppose the Russian intervention.’
(Militant, 18 January 1980)
The CWI leaders did not explain how a modernising nationalist regime which was attempting to educate girls, reduce the bride price and introduce other modest social reforms was somehow exercising a ‘reactionary effect … on the consciousness of the world working class’. Militant stopped short of calling for an outright Soviet withdrawal:
‘Nevertheless, once the Russian forces had gone in, we argued that it would be a mistake to call for their withdrawal. This would have meant, in effect, to support the mujaheddin, whose programme was to re-establish medieval reaction.
‘This analysis has been confirmed by events.’
(Militant, 10 February 1989)
What has been ‘confirmed by events’ is that the leadership of Militant, which initially lacked the political courage to side militarily with the Soviet/PDPA against the CIA-funded Islamic reactionaries, responded to Gorbachev’s subsequent betrayal with the passive, fatalistic ‘optimism’ of the Second International: ‘In time, after a period of painful reaction, conditions will develop for a new movement to change society’ (Ibid.).
1981 & 1991: Militant Sides with Counter-revolution
While ostensibly upholding a position of unconditional defence of deformed and degenerated workers’ states against capitalist restoration, Militant consistently backed the counter-revolutionary forces in the former Soviet bloc, including Lech Walesa’s Solidarnosc in Poland. In the summer of 1980, a spontaneous strike erupted in the main shipyard of Gdansk that quickly spread to some 400 enterprises, including other shipyards, factories, steel works and coal mines. Workers demanded the right to strike, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and an end to government censorship. Within a year, this struggle against Stalinist political repression had evolved into an organisation with an overtly capitalist-restorationist programme (see our pamphlet Solidarnosc: Acid Test for Trotskyists).
The programme adopted at Solidarnosc’s September-October 1981 congress called for abolishing the monopoly of foreign trade and abandoning the planning principle in favour of the market:
‘It is necessary to sweep away the bureaucratic barriers which make it impossible for the market to operate. The central organs of economic administration should not limit enterprise activity or prescribe supplies and buyers for its output. Enterprises shall be able to operate freely on the internal market, except in fields where a license is compulsory. International trade must be accessible to all enterprises…. The relationship between supply and demand must determine price levels.’
(‘The Solidarity Program,’ Solidarity Sourcebook)
This amounted to a call for capitalist restoration, but the leaders of Militant (like the vast majority of other ostensible Trotskyists) blithely touted Solidarnosc as the embodiment of a workers’ political revolution:
‘The movement, largely as a result of the constantly renewed spontaneous initiative of the workers, has in practice raised all the main demands of the political revolution. These were formulated theoretically by Leon Trotsky in the struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy in the 1930’s. They have now been brilliantly confirmed by the spontaneous action of the Polish workers.’
(Militant, 18 December 1981)
While Militant was hailing Walesa as a socialist, the overtly pro-imperialist Solidarnosc leadership were working hand in hand with the forces of ‘democratic’ counter-revolution. This was hardly a secret — long-time CIA labour operative Irving Brown was openly invited to attend the 1981 congress, and Walesa et al flaunted their connections to the Vatican.
In December 1981, the Polish Stalinists crushed Solidarnosc and arrested much of its cadre. Revolutionaries supported the suppression of the counter-revolutionary leadership of Solidarnosc as necessary to the defence of the Polish deformed workers’ state. At the same time, as we wrote:
‘We do not give the Stalinists a blank check to curtail the democratic rights of the workers to organize, to meet to discuss politics, and to recompose themselves politically. We know that capitalist-restorationist currents can only be decisively defeated by workers political revolution which smashes the rule of the Stalinist parasites. But we do not identify the defense of the political rights of the Polish workers with the defense of Solidarnosc.’
(Solidarnosc: Acid Test for Trotskyists, 1988)
Militant took exactly the opposite view and defended the Solidarnosc counter-revolutionaries:
‘The truth of the matter was that the world bourgeoisie was profoundly relieved by Jaruzelski’s coup. Moscow’s propaganda to the effect that the workers wanted to pull Poland out of the Warsaw Pact and repudiate the Yalta Agreement is a vulgar and transparent invention.
‘Decades ago, imperialism accepted the division of Europe into “spheres of influence”. They know that it is impossible to restore capitalism in the countries of Eastern Europe. They have carved up the world with the Russian bureaucracy, and both sides are only interested in maintaining the “status quo”.’
(‘Towards the Political Revolution: Perspectives for Poland of the Trotskyist Workers’ Tendency of Solidarnosc’, July 1986, emphasis in original)
Yet, contrary to this absurd claim, the imperialists and their agents (including Walesa) were not interested in preserving the status quo, and a few years later they proceeded to demonstrate that it was in fact not at all ‘impossible to restore capitalism’ in the Soviet bloc.
A decade after backing Walesa, Militant supported Boris Yeltsin, leader of the ‘democratic’ counter-revolution against the demoralised Stalinist apparatchiks of the ‘Emergency Committee’ in August 1991. We took the opposite position (see ‘Soviet Rubicon & the Left’, 1917 No. 11, 1992).
Militant reported that the Stalinist ‘hardliners’ had:
‘planned to tackle the plague of black marketers and criminal gangs that have seized advantage of the freer economic conditions. During the brief reign of their emergency committee 157 private businessmen were arrested for hoarding and racketeering.
‘This coup was deadly earnest. The conspirators had lists of people they wanted to deal with. Yeltsin and his close supporters were at the top. They ordered the telecommunications factory in Pskov to switch its production to manufacture 250,000 pairs of handcuffs. And they mobilised a military show of strength on the streets of Moscow and Leningrad and in the Baltic states.’
(Militant, 30 August 1991)
Militant sided with the Yeltsinites despite their openly counter-revolutionary character:
‘In that battle to stop the hardline bureaucrats and to defend democratic rights were elements of the political revolution. But the lack of a real socialist alternative for workers’ democracy has meant that for now they have been drowned by the process towards counter-revolution. The bureaucrats committed to a rapid move to capitalism were able to seize on the masses’ hatred of the old guard and their illusions in the market, to push ahead the counter-revolution. The new Soviet and Russian administrations are governments in the process of formation committed to dismantling state ownership.’
CWI cadres in Moscow not only cheered on those who were ‘pushing ahead the counter-revolution’ (i.e., the ‘democrats’), but actively intervened to support them:
‘From the declarations of the [Emergency Committee] it followed that they were acting against the so-called “democrats,” and that posed the danger of support to the putschists by workers organizations that did not share the principles of the “democrats” — the rule of private property and capitalist power. And that is exactly what happened. Some of the workers organizations were getting ready to send greetings of welcome, and at several factories the workers even tried to organize defense detachments in support of the putschists.
‘From the morning on, all of our members explained to workers at their workplaces that the position of the Emergency Committee did not coincide with their interests. In addition to this, they connected up with worker activists of other organizations, in order to prevent hasty actions.’
(‘Where We Were’, cited in Workers Vanguard, No. 828, 11 June 2004)
The CWI does not pretend that the restoration of capitalism in the USSR has been anything but an immense social catastrophe for working people:
‘Because of this analysis it was the Trotskyists alone — particularly the adherents to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) — who fully understood the consequences of the collapse of Stalinism, not only for the former Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe, but for world relations as well. When the capitalists were projecting living standards for the masses of these countries comparable to Germany or the USA, we pointed out they would be lucky to enjoy Latin American living standards. In truth, even this perspective was proved to be optimistic as the living standards of the masses have plunged to that on a par with the worst parts of the neo-colonial world.’
(Socialism Today, No. 49, July/August 2000)
Serious people in the CWI might well wonder why, if their leaders had ‘fully understood the consequences of the collapse of Stalinism’, as they claim, they chose to support Yeltsin’s ‘democratic’ counter-revolution. Previously, the CWI had breezily dismissed the consequences of capitalist restoration in the former Soviet bloc as ‘primarily ideological’:
‘At the same time, we concluded that while this was a defeat for the world proletariat it was not the same kind of crushing social reverse and the change in world class relations that followed the triumphs of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. Its effects were primarily ideological in that it allowed the bourgeois[ie] to conduct an unbridled triumphalist campaign in favour of the “free market”, of capitalism, without having to look over their shoulder and for comparisons to be drawn with the economic achievements of the planned economies of the USSR, Eastern Europe, China and Cuba.’
(Global Turmoil, 1999)
The triumph of counter-revolution in the USSR and the deformed workers’ states of Eastern Europe is the single most devastating defeat ever suffered by the international working class. It had a huge political impact all around the world. The CWI’s support to the Yeltsinites’ drive to destroy what remained of the social conquests of October 1917 is undoubtedly the most shameful episode in its entire inglorious history.
‘Proletarian Bonapartism’ & Petty-Bourgeois Impressionism
The seizure of power by the Yeltsinites in August 1991, which ended the rule of the Stalinist nomenklatura, was a radical disjuncture that signalled a social counter-revolution. The old degenerated workers’ state was destroyed and a new bourgeois state apparatus began to operate. Yet the CWI’s writings on this enormous historic event fail to convey any sense that the outcome of the August 1991 confrontation resulted in a qualitative change in the way in which society was organised. While the CWI sometimes talks of revolutions and counter-revolutions, it has historically refused to recognise that the pivotal moment in such social transformations is the shattering of one state power and the creation of another.
The CWI poses the question of state power in an openly Kautskyist fashion as something that can be shifted incrementally and painlessly from one class to another. While conflicting sharply with the teachings of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, this reformist gradualism is the basis for the illusion that a Labour parliamentary majority can turn bourgeois Britain into a workers’ state with an ‘enabling act’.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Militant’s revisionism on the question of the state led to impressionistic declarations that various neo-colonies had seamlessly morphed into post-capitalist ‘proletarian bonapartist’ deformed workers’ states. The reactionary Syrian Ba’athists were credited with carrying out such a social revolution in 1966:
‘With every possible method of capitalist rule exhausted, the Ba’ath Socialist regime that took power in 1963 resorted to radical measures against the monopolies. The capitalists, landlords and merchants resisted. Following a further coup in 1966 by more left-wing junior officers, a full-scale revolutionary confrontation developed.
‘Faced with an imperialist-backed military counter-revolution, the regime appealed to the masses for support. In their hundreds of thousands, peasants and workers were armed. Capitalism and landlordism were crushed, with 85% of the land and 95% of industry being nationalized by the Ba’ath regime.
‘But power remained with the military leadership; the workers and peasants were disarmed again. The regime transformed the economic basis of the country into that of a workers’ state, resting on state ownership and central planning. But the regime itself was Bonapartist — in Marxist terms, “proletarian Bonapartist” as opposed to the “bourgeois Bonapartist” regimes in the capitalist states like Egypt — with a narrow, nationalist perspective, becoming increasingly privileged and remote from the people.’
(Daniel Hugo, ‘Crisis in the Middle East’, 1982)
Burma was supposed to have undergone a similar transformation, and in a 1978 article entitled ‘What is happening in Ethiopia’, Lynn Walsh claimed that it too had become a deformed workers’ state:
‘Meanwhile, we have to ask: what attitude should socialists take to the momentous changes in Ethiopia in the last four years?
‘First, it is necessary to recognise the fundamentally progressive character of the social changes that have taken place under the Dergue. Landlordism and capitalism have been abolished. The fact that the Dergue was forced to carry through the land reform and the nationalisation of industry is proof of the utter inability of capitalism to develop countries like Ethiopia, and these measures provide the only means by which the country can be pulled into the modern world.
‘At the same time, however, it is equally necessary to adopt an implacably critical attitude towards the dictatorial, bureaucratic regime that has arisen from the revolution. Its reactionary, nationalistic position on the national question (which we will come to later) is the counterpart of its repressive role internally.
‘Ethiopia cannot be regarded as a socialist state, only as a deformed workers’ state, in which new social relations corresponding to the interests of the working class have been established in a grotesquely distorted manner.’
(Militant, 3 March 1978, emphasis in original)
A week later, Walsh announced that Somalia too had undergone a social transformation:
‘Ethiopia and Somalia are at war: but the regime in Somalia has the same essential social characteristics as the regime in Ethiopia (analysed in last week’s article). While Ethiopia was being convulsed by dramatic and bloody events which attracted the attention of the whole world, Somalia was experiencing similar changes, carried through with little upheaval and almost unnoticed internationally.
‘In 1975, the military government of Siyad Barre, which had seized power in 1969, completed a radical land reform which eradicated landlordism and satisfied the peasants’ demand for land.’
(Militant, 10 March 1978)
In 1979, Militant was absurdly speculating that Iran’s arch-reactionary Ayatollah Khomeini might be forced to create an Islamic deformed workers’ state:
‘The situation in Iran is still fluid. In the crisis situation facing Iran and given the flight of the Iranian capitalist class and the weakness of imperialism to intervene, it is entirely possible that Khomeini’s Committee could, under pressure, carry out the expropriation of capitalism.’
‘… it would be in the image of the regimes in Russia, Eastern Europe, China etc. with the difference that in the place of Stalinist ideology of those regimes Khomeini would impose the ideas of Islam. Such a regime, a deformed workers’ state, would require a political revolution to overthrow the clerical-bureaucratic elite before there could be a movement towards workers’ democracy and socialism.’
(Militant, 6 July 1979)
By the early 1990s, as capitalist counter-revolution swept the actual deformed workers’ states of the Soviet bloc, the supposed ‘workers’ states’ in Syria, Burma, Ethiopia and Somalia disappeared from the pages of Militant without comment.
CWI: Trotskyoid Social Democrats
The SP/CWI’s engrained social-democratic worldview (a product of decades spent buried deep in the Labour Party) marks it as one of the most overtly reformist and consistently revisionist ‘Trotskyist’ tendencies in Britain today. And, as demonstrated by their benign attitude toward the crooked racket run by their Ukrainian ‘section’ that was finally exposed several years ago (see ‘No Innocent Explanation’, 1917 No. 26, 2004), they have no regard for the most fundamental elements of proletarian morality. For the cynics in the CWI leadership there are no principles — everything is a matter of ‘clever’ tactics and immediate expediency. The results speak for themselves. Whether championing cops and prison warders, backing the forces of capitalist restoration in deformed workers’ states, supporting capitalist politicians, or spinning fantasies about the ‘peaceful’ transformation of the capitalist state into an agency for socialism, the record of the CWI leadership is one of abject capitulation.
Serious people in the CWI who study the history of their organisation can only conclude that its tradition is alien to Leon Trotsky’s Fourth International. Only through a political fight for authentic Bolshevik-Leninism can militants in the SP/CWI play a role in forging the mass international revolutionary workers’ party that is so desperately needed.