Letter to James Robertson by Edmund Samarakkody
9th February 1974
Comrade James Robertson
This is regarding your letter of 27th October and the accompanying drafts (marked rejected).
Your decision to arrange Comrade [David S.]’s visit was very welcome. We discussed many matters including the Arab-Israel question on which we had a fuller discussion.
To turn to issues raised in your letter and also in the two drafts, we shall only summarise our positions. It is possible that such a treatment of the question could well suffer from lack of clarity. But we could always follow up with necessary clarifications later.
I. International Tendency:
The answer to the question “whether or not there is the principled basis and practical possibility of our coming together to commonly carry out this struggle for the 4th International” is very categorically ‘Yes.’ We agree with the SL that it is necessary to begin right now to take concrete steps towards the formation of the International Revolutionary tendency. We could also generally agree to the proposal “to present a series of concrete political positions on recent and current specific issues and events”; with a view to reaching agreement between our two organisations and any co-thinkers as a first step in this regard.
A “common jointly signed declaration of those shown by discussion to be in principled agreement” will of course be a necessary step. But this will be at the appropriate stage. And as you appear to appreciate, we cannot have a situation in which the signatories to a document proceed to tear it up within a short time. This means that questions should be discussed as fully as possible. We cannot conceive of even a nucleus of an International functioning on the basis of agreeing to disagree on fundamental issues. Of course disagreements on technical questions may well continue within the nucleus.
II. As the SL is already committed to seeking entry into the OCRFI conference we feel it would be useful to let you know our impressions in that regard.
It cannot be wrong on principle to enter into discussions with those who claim to be Trotskyists. On the contrary, it is necessary today to seek opportunities to win such people to what we believe to be Trotskyism. It would however be imperative to state frankly and with clarity our differences in regard to their orientations. Concretely, in regard to the OCRFI conference, it would be necessary to insist that we should have freedom to raise our differences on the various issues we think relevant to the basic aim of the conference.
In your motion on the OCRFI adopted at the 3rd National Conference of SL/U.S. of November 1972 you state “we fully meet the formal requirements for participation in the continuing discussion i.e. we ‘state (our) will to fight on the programme of the FI to reconstruct the leading centre, which (we) agree does not as yet exist’.” In this regard we do not have any material on which to make a judgment on whether the formal requirements for participation make it possible for the SL to seek participation. We have only the “Foreword” to the International Document of the OCRFI according to which they invite all the organisations, groups and militants who accept the framework of the discussion declared by the pre-conference to take part in its preparations. Perhaps you are aware of “the framework of the discussion” already decided on by them. In any event it is imperative that there should not be any misunderstanding as to the scope of the conference and the SL’s right to raise relevant issues.
We find that the SL has raised many questions on important issues (your letter to OCRFI). On the specific questions you have raised with them, we could generally agree. But it appears to us that on some important issues SL’s differences are not fully brought out–e.g. the politics of the POR (Bolivia). Again it is our impression that some formulations of SL in regard to OCI politics are insufficient and could well compromise the politics of the SL/U.S.:
(a) “We give serious attention to the OCRFI because we note that some of the steps it has undertaken go in the direction of resolving the impasse which has existed between the SL/U.S. and the IC since November 1962″ (our emphasis).
(b) That the politics of the OCI is “politically far superior to the politics of the Healy-Banda group” (our emphasis).
From what we have understood, the differences between the SL/U.S. and the IC since November 1966 relate to fundamental Trotskyist questions and therefore are of a far-reaching nature. There is no evidence that the OCI has broken with Healyite sectarianism-cum-opportunism. The OCI now says it had important political differences with the Healy-Banda group. By their failure to raise such differences while they were in the IC the OCI helped Healy to maintain the fraud of the International Committee of the 4th International, and obstructed the reconstruction of the 4th International.
In regard to the very concept of the International the OCI position appears to remain what it was. The OCI has not broken with the IC in its rejection of centralism as a vital aspect of the organisational principle of democratic centralism. They appear to have agreed to disagree on basic questions but yet to pose as the new centre for the rebuilding of the 4th International.
“The Trotskyist organisations that will participate at this second session do not hope for the impossible, for the immediate solution of all the problems. They will attempt clearly to show the character and content of the period of the imminence of the revolution, the fundamental tendencies and currents of the world labour movement. They will try to make it so that the vanguard, the workers and youth learn about and become conscious of these struggles in discussing their essential aspects, so as to verify them through their own experience in struggle. It is thus that we, the OCI, do not pretend and never have pretended to meddle in the internal affairs of the POR of Bolivia. We long ago condemned the hyper-centralism of the International Secretariat of the 1950’s which had the pretension of dictating its methods of struggle to all its sections without any serious political basis nor organisational means (if with any real knowledge at all). We understand that only the POR is competent to determine its methods of struggle taking into account the particular and local circumstances–as we are in France…” (our emphasis).
Incidentally, is this not a pointer to the “framework of the discussion” decided on by the OCI and its co-thinkers?
It would appear that in the genuine desire of the SL/U.S. to intervene by participation in the OCRFI conference, without at the same time being conscious of the far-reaching differences between the SL and OCI, it has overlooked the danger of a possible compromising of its own politics. In this regard, the favourable references to the OCI in the article (WV) “French Stalinists Call Token General Strike” despite being balanced by other critical comments have helped to give a better political image to the OCI than to other centrist currents. Are we not creating obstacles in our task of exposing the wrong policies of those who claim to be Trotskyists?
We do not think it necessary to undertake here a full evaluation of the OCRFI documents. The SL has already raised several issues in that regard. In our view the following specific matters call for discussion with them.
In the Pabloist style, with an impressionism not unsimilar to what the Pabloites displayed in the 3rd Congress, the OCRFI political document has started with the picture of the crisis of imperialism and that of the Kremlin bureaucracy which has brought imperialism and the Kremlin bureaucracy to a breaking point, and with the imminence of the outbreak of revolutionary explosions in the face of which both imperialism and the Kremlin bureaucracy have been made to appear helpless.
With the imminence of revolutionary explosions, similar to Healy’s own orientation after the breakdown of the Bretton-Woods agreement followed by a continuing monetary crisis, the OCRFI appears to have discovered a speedy way out for the proletariat. “All fractions of the proletariat, all layers, professions and groups must be trained in the revolutionary movement.” Everything else gives way to a task of overriding importance–“The need of mobilising the class as a whole in spite of its heterogeneity in the struggle for power lies at the heart of the transitional program.” The OCRFI clearly projects the concept of the development of revolutionary consciousness within the proletariat as an inevitable consequence of the unity of the working class. It is thus that, in place of the tactic of the united front” which is called for under specific circumstances of the class struggle, the OCRFI has a strategy called “workers united front.” The “workers united front” is not merely a slogan but “the strategic axis, of the policy of the Trotskyist organisation.” In their view “the present phase of the class struggle puts more than ever on the order of the day the struggle of class against class.” Your second draft has correctly stated “the theory of the ‘strategic united front’ put forward by the OCI-POR is at bottom a dissolution of the vanguard into the class along the lines of the Kautskyian conception of the ‘party of the whole class’.” (our emphasis).
The OCI is obsessed with the concept of the imminence of the struggle for power by the proletariat. Undoubtedly, the proletariat has entered the epoch of the struggle for power. But the question of the proletariat being in a state of readiness for the struggle for power is another question. The reality today, in this regard, is that social-democratic, Stalinist and Pabloist politics are the greatest roadblock to the working class taking the road of the struggle for power. Undoubtedly the lack of unity in the working class in a struggle perspective remains a problem in regard to the proletarian revolution. But this question of achieving unity of the working class cannot be realised in isolation and apart from the principal struggle for revolutionary perspective. Thus while the united front is a necessary tactic for a revolutionary party at a given stage, it is not a panacea or a strategy, but once again only a tactic.
In Bolivia the OCI ally, the POR, proceeded from a wrong concept of the united front and ended up with practising “popular frontism” in the Popular Assembly during the Torres military regime. The OCRFI has endorsed the reformism by the POR in its political resolution.
“The organisations present state first of all their total agreement with the policy carried out by the POR in the course of the Bolivian revolution of 1970-71. (our emphasis)
As this statement is in the nature of a declaration of principles it is imperative to categorically dissociate ourselves from the position taken by all the organisations of the OCRFI in regard to the policies of the POR in the course of the Bolivian revolution of 1970-71. But when the need was to sharply differentiate ourselves from the wrong position adopted by the OCRFI and OCI, the SL letter has sought to note the points of agreement with them. “We agree with the OCI and OCRFI resolution that the FRA–created following the coup of the rightist General Banzer, Incorporating elements of the ‘national bourgeoisie’ including General Torres–is a popular front and not the continuation of the Popular Assembly” etc., etc. Thereafter the letter (SL) of course registers its disagreement in regard to the OCI and OCRFI position in regard to the policies of the POR in the Assembly. It would thus appear that the point of agreement is more important than the points of disagreement. On the contrary, when the OCI and OCRFI were hopelessly wrong in regard to their full endorsement of the FOR policies in regard to the Assembly their view that the FRA is a popular front could be of no importance. Again the formulation of the criticism of the OCI and OCRFI is so conciliatory that the gravity of the charge against the POR, of their sellout to Torres and the “national bourgeoisie,” appears to be transformed into a minor fault of subordinating “the development of the vanguard party” etc.
We have no doubt that SL’s position in regard to the policies of the POR in the relevant period is correct. It is no different from our position in that regard. Obviously, it is the general desire of the SL to participate in the OCRFI conference that has led the SL to adopt the formulations regarding which we have offered our critical comments.
We note you have correctly raised with them their rejection of the Trotskyist characterisation of the Stalinist bureaucracy, i.e. their rejection of the concept of the “dual nature” etc. There is another question in this regard which we think has to be raised with the OCRFI. It is not clear whether they accept the USSR, China, Yugoslavia, North Korea and North Vietnam as workers states. It is necessary to seek clarification in this regard. In their view these are “countries where capital has been expropriated and where parasitic and counterrevolutionary bureaucracy has usurped” etc. They nowhere use the term “degenerated” or “deformed workers states.”
III. Ceylon Revolution:
We could generally agree with your comments and views on questions of the history of Ceylonese Trotskyism. We think some clarification may be useful on some matters while noting some differences.
It would be correct to say that a Ceylon revolution could not be viable by itself and that therefore organic links with the Indian proletarian revolution are paramount. The RWP is categorical in regard to the important role the Indian plantation workers will play in the Ceylon revolution, and their active participation in the Ceylon revolutionary movement from the present moment, could be especially helpful to forge the links with the revolutionary movement in the subcontinent of India. In this regard, it is hardly necessary to point out that a genuine proletarian revolutionary movement in India cannot fail to realise the need to establish links with a proletarian revolutionary uprising in Ceylon even if there were not present in Ceylon the Indian plantation workers.
The question that you appear to pose is whether it is not fundamental that there should be a unified movement, an India-Ceylon revolutionary movement.
In this regard it may be noted that the old BLPI program stated that the Ceylon revolution in “all Its stages” must be a part of the Indian revolution. However, before we examine this question and relate it to the dynamics of the Ceylon revolution it is necessary to dispose of the question of whether the decision of the LSSP leaders to participate in the building of the Indian revolutionary movement was a manifestation of or even a formal commitment to internationalism.
Prior to 1947, the state power in regard to India, Burma, Ceylon and other colonies in Southeast Asia was in the hands of British imperialism. Thus, in reality, there were not several states but one state. In that context, the overthrow of the British Raj (state power) did not appear feasible for Ceylon except through common struggle with at least India, if not Burma and the countries of Southeast Asia. And more than at any other time, it was during wartime that the Indian national movement appeared to be a real force. With the outbreak of the “Quit-India” movement the possibilities of victory to the national liberation movement in India appeared real. It was in this context that the LSSP leaders went over to India. In reality it was the anti-imperialist struggle that attracted them and led them to form the BLPI in 1943, their orientation being more anti-imperialist than anti-capitalist. Thus, it was their nationalism rather than their internationalism that was the motivation for seeking to build the Indian movement, with the Ceylon LSSP playing an auxiliary role.
Ceylon and the Permanent Revolution:
The BLPI position that the “Ceylon revolution in all its stages” must be a part of the Indian revolution, and your view that “the issue of the international extension of the Ceylonese socialist revolution is not only a question of its ultimate long-term economic viability but of its most immediate short-term politico-military existence” appear to be different ways of posing the same question.
The international aspect of the theory of the permanent revolution applies to all countries, backward (small or large) as well as developed countries. Let us recall Trotsky–“The international character of the socialist revolution, which constitutes the third aspect of the theory of the permanent revolution, flows from the present state of the economy and social structure of humanity. Internationalism is no abstract principle but the theoretical and political reflection of the character of world economy, of the world development of productive forces and the world scale of the class struggle.” In this regard the suggestion that the proletariat supported by the peasantry of a small country cannot by its own forces unaided by the masses of a larger country overthrow capitalist class rule and seize state power appears to give a new dimension to proletarian internationalism. This view could have far-reaching implications not only for revolutionary Marxists in Ceylon but those of all other small countries–e.g. countries of Latin America–Bolivia, Chile, etc. Could our rejection of the theory of socialism in a single country lead us anywhere near an orientation of the Impossibility of the proletariat in a single country overthrowing capitalist class rule? We do not think that the SL could have such a position. But this appears to us an implication of the question you have raised in regard to the Ceylon revolution.
1950 LSSP Reunification:
“The internal incapacity of the left Trotskyists to resist” the unprincipled reunification is not difficult to explain. The “left Trotskyists” were a tendency moving in a revolutionary direction. Nevertheless they had only inadequately raised themselves theoretically and continued to be affected by parliamentarism. And, in this context, it was clearly the task of the International Secretariat to intervene with the BSP in this regard. However, not only was there no such intervention on the part of the I.S. but, on the other hand, the I.S. gave its approval to what took place. This was indeed a manifestation of the centrist character of the I.S.
IV. Popular Front Governments of Reformist Workers Parties and Workers and Peasants Governments:
“Popular Front” or Peoples Front governments are those constituted of parties representing the working class and parties representing the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties. The classic Leninist-Trotskyist term is “coalition governments” (e.g. Russian coalition government, 1917). The essence of such governments is the alliance between the ruling bourgeois class and the working class. Such governments are governments of crisis. They arise only when the bourgeois class rule is in danger and when the bourgeoisie takes the risk of bringing the reformist leaders of the working class to function as their ally, giving them ministerial positions in their governments as a means of buying off the coming revolution. They are two-class governments. It is precisely this class alliance and class collaboration that the Stalinists and their reformist friends seek to mask through the use of the term “Peoples Front” instead of “coalition governments.”
In the case of coalition governments in backward countries, where instability of bourgeois class rule is chronic, there are possibilities of mass mobilisation and mass uprising despite the class collaboration practised by the compromisers. Given a revolutionary leadership it is possible that the radicalising mass movement could be wrested from the hands of the reformist coalitionists for the revolutionary seizure of power by the working class supported by the peasants (October 1917, and negatively proved in Indonesia and Chile).
In this regard we considered your view: “The contradiction implicit in such parties between subordination to the interests of the capitalist system and these parties’ articulation of the interests of the working class is thereby suppressed.”
More light is thrown on the SL position in the article on the French elections in WV No. 17. Arguing for a policy of not making any distinction between the reformist workers parties and bourgeois parties that are in a coalition it states–
“The difference does not exist. Normally, reformist workers parties, such as the Socialist Party and the Communist Party, have a dual character. Namely, on the one hand, they function as the political representatives of the working class while on the other, they represent the political interests of the bourgeoisie. This dual character is closely tied to the nature of their leadership, based on a petty-bourgeois stratum of the labor bureaucrats, the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class. However, when the CP or SP enter into an election bloc with a section of the bourgeoisie, this duality is suppressed formally and in practice because the reformist parties then campaign and promise to govern on a common platform within the purely capitalist limits set by their overtly liberal-bourgeois allies. Thus, in this situation there is no basis for the Leninist tactic of critical support to social-democratic and Stalinist parties” (our emphasis).
But this view of the nature of working-class-based parties in a coalition government appears to be in conflict with the Leninist-Trotskyist position.
The tactical line of the Bolshevik Party in regard to the coalition government (1917) was based on the recognition that the dual nature of reformist parties is not suppressed when they are in coalition with bourgeois parties. In reality, in regard to coalition governments, the fundamental contradiction of capitalism–the contradiction between capital and labour–is within the very executive committee of the ruling class–in the government. This, in fact, is the very essence of a coalition government. The contradiction within the reformist working-class parties in coalition is only an aspect of this basic contradiction.
Concretely, the tactical line of the Bolshevik Party was oriented to drive a wedge between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The Bolshevik slogan “Down with the 10 Capitalist Ministers” arose from the recognition of the contradiction within the then Provisional Government and within the Social Revolutionary and Menshevik parties. It is because Lenin and Trotsky recognised this two-fold contradiction within the coalition that from April to July 1917, in the prevailing revolutionary situation, they demanded that the Mensheviks and the SR’s break with the liberal bourgeoisie and take the power into their own hands. This tactic was directed “to hastening and facilitating the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” If the contradiction between working-class interests and capitalist interests had been suppressed in the reformist parties in the coalition government such a tactic would have had no meaning.
Trotsky directly addressed himself to this question in 1931 in regard to the Spanish revolution. “There must be a clear political slogan, corresponding to the character of the present stage of the Spanish revolution. The results of the elections make that slogan absolutely clear: the workers must break the coalition with the bourgeoisie or force the socialists to take power.” This tactical line has only one meaning–that in the Spanish context it would have been correct for the revolutionary Marxists to pursue a policy of driving a wedge between the working-class party and the bourgeoisie in the coalition.
Trotsky’s advice to the Spanish proletariat (1931) is on the basis of the recognition of the contradiction between the Socialist Party leaders (Largo Caballero) and the workers.
“Let us consider for a moment the way in which the Spanish workers en masse should view the present situation. Their leaders, the Socialists, have power. This increases the demands and tenacity of the workers. Every striker will not only have no fear of the government but will also expect help from it. The communists must direct the thoughts of the workers precisely along those lines: ‘Demand everything of the government since your leaders are in it’….” “Under the slogan of democracy and end to the coalition between the Socialists and the bourgeoisie, we drive a wedge between the workers and the Socialists and prepare the next stage of the revolution” (our emphasis).
It is precisely this need to drive a wedge between the reformist working-class parties and the bourgeois parties in the coalition, as a step in driving a further wedge between the workers and their reformist leaders, that poses the question of a correct tactic in the parliamentary elections. It is our view that in the 1969 French elections revolutionary Marxists should have stated categorically their opposition to the CP-Socialist-Radical Party coalition but nevertheless called for a vote for the CP and Socialist Party but not the candidates of the bourgeois Radical Party. This tactic must be patiently explained to the workers.
The SL has contended that the “duality” of a reformist workers party is suppressed formally [and] in practise because the reformist parties in a coalition campaign “promise to govern on a common platform within the purely capitalist limits set by their overtly liberal-bourgeois allies” (our emphasis).
The criterion for deciding whether the contradiction within a reformist workers party remains or not appears to be whether or not such a party or parties promise to govern on a platform within purely capitalist limits. But is it not the case that all reformist parties always function within purely capitalist limits whatever they claim for themselves as “socialists”?
And what about social-democratic parties like the British Labour Party which has had governmental power many times? The British Labour Party functioned as the executive committee of the British imperialist ruling class. The British Labour Party as well as all social-democratic parties in advanced countries has never claimed that their socialism would break the framework of capitalism. Thus, if the dual character of a reformist working-class party is suppressed when it enters into a coalition government with the bourgeoisie, then surely this change must overtake the British Labour Party when it functions as the executive committee of British imperialism. We cannot see any rational basis for making a distinction in regard to this issue between a reformist working-class party of a backward country in coalition with the bourgeoisie, and a social-democratic party In an advanced country functioning as the government in charge of the capitalist-imperialist economy on behalf of British imperialist power.
Mobilising the Masses:
Revolutionary Marxists (even a small group) have the need to intervene in the mass movement. Concretely, the need for such an intervention during a coalition regime or during the regime of a Labour Party government, means that revolutionary Marxists will raise demands of a transitional character, while even other reformist demands arising from the needs of the situation could well become relevant. While reformists and centrists will seek to use even transitional demands in the perspective of keeping the mass movement within the limits of the capitalist framework, it is the task of revolutionary Marxists to use even the old “minimal” demands in a revolutionary perspective. We do not ask coalition regimes or Labour Party regimes to implement their “Common Programs” or “Election Manifestos.” But some demands made to such governments by revolutionary Marxists may well be found in such “Common Programs” or “Manifestos.”
Our demands would depend on the needs of the concrete situation and the state of the mass movement. In this regard we may again recall Trotsky’s advice to the Spanish masses in 1931, “‘Demand everything of the government since your leaders are in it’ …. Under the slogan of democracy and of an end to the coalition between the Socialists and the bourgeoisie, we drive a wedge between the workers and the Socialists and prepare the next stage of the revolution.”
“Workers and Peasants Government”:
From your observations on this question it is not clear whether there are any important differences in this regard. We would however offer some clarifications on the issue in regard to our orientation.
As a propaganda slogan, this slogan of “Workers and Peasants Government” could well remain a central political slogan for revolutionary parties and groups in the present period.
It is on the question of concretising this slogan that the Trotskyist movement in the past and ostensible Trotskyists today have slipped into reformism. As you correctly point out “to reduce the slogan to the small change of parliamentary combinations can only conceal a reformist appetite.” And this is precisely what took place at the 3rd Congress. The resolution of this Congress on Latin America has expressly endorsed the reducing of this slogan to a tactic of achieving a parliamentary combination between the revolutionary Marxist parties and petty-bourgeois and “national bourgeois” parties and working-class-based reformist parties.
“… If in the course of these mass mobilisations, our section proves to be in a position to share Influence over the revolutionary masses, with the MNR it will advance the slogan of a ‘Workers and Peasants Government’ of the two parties on the basis, however, of the same program, a government based on committees of workers, peasants, and revolutionary elements of the urban petty-bourgeoisie.”
“It [revolutionary party] will develop its propaganda for the slogan of the “Workers and Peasants Government” which will eventually be concretised in this country as a government of the parties claiming to represent the working class, notably the Communist Party and the Popular Socialist Party.”
More recently (1963), the LSSP in Ceylon arrived at a concretisation of the slogan “Workers and Peasants Government” in the so-called “United Left Front” of the LSSP, MEP (Philip) and CP. This reformist parliamentarist combination was but a step to the LSSP-SLFP coalition government of 1964. The revolutionary tendency at the time proposed that this front should include the two large Plantation Unions–CWC (Thondaman) and DWC (Aziz). Nevertheless the “United Left Front” would not have changed its character as a parliamentarist reformist combination to function within the framework of capitalism.
And since the 1970 coalition government (SLFP-LSSP-CP) was formed the Healyites (who supported the coalition at the elections) have for a considerable time now been calling upon the LSSP and CP to break with the coalition and form a government. (Just now they appear to have restricted their slogan only to a call to these parties to break from the coalition.)
In our orientation, the slogan “Workers and Peasants Government” which the Bolsheviks concretised in the slogan “All Power to the Soviets,” meaning thereby, in the concrete situation, the formation of a government of Social-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks who were in a majority in the Soviets, was a tactic in the given situation. It will be seen that this slogan “All Power to the Soviets” was put forward by the Bolsheviks from February to 4th July 1917. In his article “On Slogans” Lenin castigated those who sought to repeat this slogan even after it had become out of date: “… On February 27, all classes found themselves united against the monarchy. After July 4, the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie, working hand in glove with the monarchists and the Black Hundreds, secured the support of the petty-bourgeois Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, partly by intimidating them, and handed over real state power to the Cavaignacs, the military gang, who are shooting insubordinate soldiers at the front and smashing the Bolsheviks in Petrograd.”
“The slogan calling for transfer of state power to the Soviets would now sound quixotic or mocking….” (our emphasis)
This meant that the call of the Bolsheviks to the SR’s and Mensheviks to take power was correct only for a specified period during the pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situation after February (1917). And incidentally, prior to February 1917 the Bolshevik Party never called for a government of SR’s and Mensheviks.
The conclusion therefore is that the concretising of the slogan “Workers and Peasants Government” could arise only during a pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situation. And accordingly the choice of the parties that could come into such a government would depend on the concrete conditions of the revolutionary struggle and what part such parties played in the struggle.
However, it does not follow that this would necessarily be a tactic to be applied in every pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situation in all countries. For example, Trotsky did not call upon the Socialists and the Anarchists to form a government in February 1936 after the Popular Front won the elections although the situation was clearly pre-revolutionary.
The working class is not called upon to answer the question as to what is the “realisable alternative government” today–alternative to the existing bourgeois government. But this is exactly the manner in which reformists pose the question. Here is how Leslie Gunawardena of the LSSP posed the question: “…the development and even the survival of the party as a national party depend on the party giving a positive answer to the question of governmental power when the question is posed at the time of the elections.” Leslie Gunawardena argued that because the masses were not prepared (March 1960) to give power to the Samasamaja (LSSP) government, that what was realisable at the time was an SLFP government–“the realisable alternative” to the UNP government. This very crudely is the “theory of the lesser evil.” But this indeed is the logic of this so-called realisable alternative.
But the proletariat has no need to go in search of this “realisable alternative government” to the bourgeois government of the day. The proletariat must accept the reality that the setting up of its own government–i.e. “Workers and Peasants Government” or “Workers Government,” i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat–will not necessarily coincide with the moment when the bourgeoisie decides to ascertain which members of their ruling class should continue the oppression of the workers and toilers in their parliament (election time). Revolutionary Marxists will tell the truth to the proletariat and the rest of the toilers–that the only alternative to any bourgeois government for them is the “Workers and Peasants Government” or the “Workers Government” (dictatorship of the proletariat) which cannot be pulled out like a rabbit from a hat. It is necessary to face the reality that the struggle for such a government is linked to the struggle to break the influence of the reformists and centrists over the workers and toilers. The workers must break from the leadership of the betrayers and come onto the road of revolution. The survival of the revolutionary party at any given time cannot depend on their ability to deceive the masses. That indeed is the way of survival of reformists.
V. Arab-Israeli Question:
Our differences centre around the issue of the nature of the State of Israel. In our view, Israel is an imperialist outpost in the heart of the oil-rich Arab Middle East, created by imperialism and the forces of world Zionism, which since the first decades of the 20th century is an arm of imperialism, for imperialist aggression against the Arab people.
The SL position appears to stem from the view that the State of Israel is the culmination of the movement of the Jewish people for Lebensraum for the Hebrew nation.
We have to view phenomena not statically and in isolation, but as changing entities, and in their varied relations with other phenomena–i.e. dialectically. Thus, among revolutionary Marxists as well as between ourselves and centrists and others, it is a question of Marxist method. Our criterion by which we seek to judge events is made up of the vital elements of method. The more correct view, judgment or assessment of events is that which corresponds more to method. And it is by no means easy to achieve that degree of conformity to method, to arrive at correct judgment.
The SL’s characterisation of Israel is, at best, insufficient as it fails to take into account the varied factors that gave rise to it and the real interests that it serves.
“We see the driving force for Israeli aggressiveness as essentially located within that state Itself and expressed in its virulent Zionism–i.e., a nationalist drive not different in kind from that felt by the ruling circles in Cairo and Damascus. Thus the central aim of the Israelis is not to conquer Arabs in order to exploit them, but to acquire more Lebensraum for the Hebrew nation” (your letter).
Undoubtedly, especially since the first decade of the 20th century, there was the question of the self-determination of the Hebrew people. As Marxists we are categorical on the right of the Jewish people to enter and settle in any country, whether it is Palestine, U.S., UK, Soviet Union, China. It is necessary to support and uphold this right today even as there was such a duty to do so in the past.
This view has to be of course qualified by the needs of workers states to control immigration and emigration in the interests of security. Also, this could not apply in the case of large-scale organised immigration affecting adversely the rights of self-determination of other peoples.
The state of Israel that came into existence in 1948, on a unilateral declaration and the expulsion of the Palestinian Arabs by force of arms, is not the realisation of self-determination for the Hebrew nation but the realisation of a Zionist-imperialist scheme in Palestine for aggression against the Arab peoples of the Middle East. The self-determination of the Hebrew nation has yet to be realised. Thus it is necessary to consider the Jewish people of Palestine (Israel) apart from their Zionist overlords who are pliant tools of imperialism.
The Israeli war of 1948 against the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab states was of course not planned and desired by imperialism but only the logical outcome of working out of the design of setting up Israel as an imperialist enclave in Palestine. This design can be traced to the original plan of imperialism: “the secret Sykes-Picot Treaty (1916) between Britain, France and tsarist Russia, a treaty which was made public only by the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution. This treaty gave Lebanon and Syria to France, while Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq went to the British” (WV No. 33).
If the 1948 war was the logical outcome of the implementation of the Zionist imperialist plan to set up the Zionist State of Israel, then it could not be a national liberation war of the Jewish people for self-determination. On the other hand, any suggestion (Y. Rad, WV No. 35) that the 1948 war on the side of Israel was “anti-imperialist” (British imperialism) at any stage has to be rejected. To say that a minor clash with the British forces, when the Israeli armies crossed the international border into Egyptian territory (7 January 1949), gave this war an anti-imperialist character is to lose all sense of balance and evaluation in regard to events. Perhaps at the time of the conflict British imperialism encouraged the Arab states to resist the Israeli forces with the aim of winning allies for Britain among these states.
The final judgment of Y. Rad in the article referred to that “there is only one name for this war–imperialist war” borders on irrationality. Rad’s suggestion is that this Arab-Israel war of 1948 was an imperialist war on the part of all the bourgeoisies that took part in the war against the Arab and Jewish masses!
However, between his flights of fancy in regard to his judgments on the 1948 war, Y. Rad has occasional moments of rationality. Y. Rad had at his disposal hard facts from which he could have discovered where the hand of imperialism was in this war.
“Counterposed to the Palestinian guerrillas and their traitorous leadership, the Zionist guerrillas possessed an army of about 70,000-80,000 men, armed with new weapons which included, according to Ben Gurion’s version: 10,000 rifles, 900 submachine guns, 180 heavy machine guns, 672 light mortars and 96 medium mortars….
“This army had experience that had been acquired at the time of the suppression of the ‘Arab revolt’ and at the time of the second imperialist war. Most of its commanders were simply former British army officers” (our emphasis).
It baffles the understanding as to how Rad has the ability to run away from or reject his correct conclusions which he has made in regard to the character of the war on the Israeli side in 1948. He asks the question whether “National Liberation” for the Jewish people means to free oneself from decaying British imperialism in order to become a stooge of American imperialism. Y. Rad becomes more categorical as he becomes more convinced of his conclusions:
“Zionism and Stalinism can define this war as a war of national liberation. We have a different definition for this filthy war: Zionism fought to establish itself, by means of the pillage and expulsion of the Palestinian people, as the strong power on which the imperialists could count as one of the central pillars of the new imperialist order” (our emphasis). That this view of the role of Zionism is not accidental for Rad is proved by his pursuing this orientation throughout this article. “Zionism, however, enjoyed primacy in the imperialist order. It was not only a tool against the masses but also an instrument of pressure of the American bourgeoisie on the Arab bourgeoisie. Every time the Arab bourgeoisie demanded more than the American bourgeoisie was prepared to give–the whip of Zionism fell upon them” (our emphasis). Thus for Y. Rad Israel is U.S. imperialism’s whipping boy–to whip the Arab people–the masses including the Arab bourgeoisie.
What is more, in the concluding paragraphs of his article Y. Rad shows that he has understood the real character of the State of Israel. “By supporting the Zionists the Soviet Union not only helped Zionism become an imperialist fortress against the masses of the Middle East, but also to become the strongest anti-Soviet base in the area” (our emphasis). It is passing strange that Y. Rad is unable to draw the conclusion that what the Arab masses including the feudalists and bourgeoisie were seeking in 1948 to demolish was the “imperialist fortress” Israel, and that it was on their side an anti-imperialist struggle.
Thus, the SL view of “the driving force for Israeli aggressiveness as essentially located within the state itself to acquire more Lebensraum for the Hebrew nation” could be correct only if we disregard the forces of Zionism and imperialism that used the slogan of Lebensraum for the Hebrew nation in furtherance of their imperialist plans–that is to disregard the real nature of the State of Israel. We have to make a distinction between principal factors and auxiliary factors. Is this not a paramount principle of Marxist method?
SL’s characterisation of the State of Israel, in our view, contains contradictions and elements of uncertainty.
“Israel, and particularly its ruling class, represents the transplanting to the Near East of a relatively advanced European capitalist order. Its society is comparatively stable, with a strong middle class. However, Israel lacks the industrial and economic resources to support such an order. This combination gives Israeli capitalism its aggressive, vulnerable and sometimes independent character” (Spartacist, March-April 1968).
Is it not relevant to inquire how this unusual phenomenon of a “relatively advanced European capitalist order” has been transplanted in a sea of backwardness in the Middle East, where feudal kings still reign? The agrarian revolution and other democratic rights have still to be accomplished in all these countries of the Arab East, while in this State of Israel there are no such unresolved bourgeois-democratic tasks. And if “Israel lacks the industrial resources to support such an order,” what is the explanation for this unique social phenomenon? And when a state which has only flowers and fruits as its chief export products maintains a “relatively advanced capitalist order” without any serious economic and social problems, without balance of payments problems, problems of increasing debts, etc., it only means that imperialism maintains this state not on economic development and exploitation but as an armed encampment.
The SL has found itself in a contradiction in finding explanations for Israel’s “aggressive, vulnerable and sometimes independent character.” According to SL the “totally vulnerable capitalism [of Arab states] necessitates a degree of verbal independence from the imperialist powers which the more aggressively capitalist [but less vulnerable] State of Israel finds unnecessary and undesirable.” But should it not be the other way about–that is, that the totally vulnerable and backward capitalist Arab states should show less independence from imperialism than the less vulnerable and more advanced State of Israel?
But what is the degree of independence that Israel has shown in regard to imperialism during its 26 years of existence? Was it the 1948 war? We have already pointed out the absurdity of suggesting that this war was at any stage an anti-imperialist war on the side of Israel. The unexpected episode of a border clash between the Israeli forces and the British, when the former crossed the Egyptian border, could not change the character of this war. In this regard Y. Rad (WV No. 35) gives some valuable information in regard to the clash of the Israeli forces with the Egyptian-British forces: “the battle for the Southern Negev  illustrates the nature of the opposition of Zionism to British imperialism. By the end of the war, the British bourgeoisie realized that its estimate of the Zionist contribution to the making of the new imperialist order had been mistaken, so it gave Zionism the Southern Negev including Eliat, an important strategic port to the Indian Ocean.”
The action of Israel in its military collaboration with the UK-France imperialist aggression against Egypt calls for explanation. It is an extraordinary course of conduct for a very small country of less than 2 million people to get on the side of imperialist giants in military operations against Egypt when, at the time, Egypt had given no cause for Israel’s action. And moreover, Israel was ready to identify itself with what was unqualified and naked imperialist aggression by UK-French imperialism against Egypt and that in the year 1956, not in the l8th or early 19th century. The explanation in this regard was that Israel was an imperialist outpost. When UK-French imperialism launched aggression in this region against an Arab country it was able to use this imperialist fortress for its purposes.
It is true that U.S. imperialism frowned on the 1956 action of the British and French, but not because U.S. imperialism was on the Arab side. This was due to inter-imperialist rivalry.
There is no evidence that the 1967 six-day war in which Egypt was inflicted a severe and smashing defeat was on the orders of U.S. imperialism. But it was a fact that U.S. imperialism was actively taking steps to alter the balance of military forces in its favour as against the military forces of the USSR. To achieve this end, U.S. imperialism poured its armaments including the most modern war planes into Israel, apart from sending other ancillary war equipment worth millions of dollars. The six-day war achieved this U.S. imperialist purpose.
With regard to October (1973) war, that hostilities would break out about the time between Israel and the Arab states could not have been unknown to the U.S. In any event its subsequent conduct did not show that U.S. imperialism disapproved of the Israeli action. On the contrary, the sending of fresh war equipment including airlifting of them proved that there was complete accord between Israel and the U.S. on this issue. Furthermore, the so-called peace negotiations resulting in the recent settlement in which U.S. imperialism played the dominating role on the side of Israel showed that the Israelis-U.S. were acting together in that regard.
The SL statement of 1968 (Spartacist) at a moment acknowledged that Israel is a tool and outpost of imperialism and rejects it in the same breath.
“Israel functions as a tool and outpost of Western imperialism in the Near East–except in cases when the Israelis’ own vital interests cut across those of the great Imperialist powers or when the latter are not themselves united. Thus Israel is best characterized, not as a puppet of imperialism, but as a weak ally which acts in conjunction with imperialism for its own interests.”
It is useful to examine whether there have been such cases when Israel’s “own vital interests cut across those of the great imperialist powers.” Was it the 1948 war? We have already examined the question. Far from any vital Interests of Israel cutting across those of the great imperialist powers, they dovetailed the interests of imperialism. The 1948 war, we have explained, was the logical working out of imperialist plans–we also noted how British imperialism rewarded Israel by allowing Israel to win by aggression the Southern Negev and Eliat, a seaport opening to the Indian Ocean, despite the border incident with it.
In 1956, the great imperialist powers were not in agreement in regard to the war of that year. U.S. imperialism, due to inter-imperialist rivalry, disapproved of U.S.-UK-Israel military action against Egypt. But this was not a case of Israel acting independently against the interests of imperialism. On the contrary, it participated in imperialist aggression against Egypt.
Neither in the 1967 nor the 1973 (October) war did the vital interests of Israel cut across that of the imperialists. On the contrary, it dovetailed the vital interests of U.S. imperialism.
Thus, the exceptional cases or situations envisaged by the SL have been hypothetical situations which have never materialised. We have then to conclude simply that Israel is a tool or outpost of imperialism. More precisely, Israel is a U.S. imperialist outpost which it uses and hopes to use when the occasion arises. But it is an outpost consciously maintained by U.S. imperialism.
And in this regard if the Golda Meirs have independence in regard to matters of internal administration, it only means that U.S. imperialism has no need to interfere with the internal administration of Israel today. But if they behave like Thieus of South Vietnam, U.S. imperialism will not look on. Today the internal administration of Israel is efficient enough.
Arab Client States:
The history of imperialist aggression and colonisation provides numerous cases of client states of imperialism, through which the latter carried on aggression and maintained their colonialist powers. Feudo-capitalist rulers of such states have been found to function as agencies of imperialism in the Middle East–even now Jordan and Iran. In 1956, the anti-working-class and anti-democratic regime of Nasser which had up to that time collaborated with British imperialism answered with open military action against Britain and France when it was attacked by the latter, consequent to the nationalisation of the Suez Canal.
In the October war even the puppet King of Jordan acted together with the UAR and Syria against U.S.-backed Israel. And, whatever were the real motives of the oil boycott, it assumed the character of an anti-imperialist (U.S.) confrontation.
The reason why imperialism has not been able to convert Arab states (Jordan–Iran) into imperialist outposts as in the case of Israel is that there is a struggle against imperialism in all colonial and semi-colonial countries. While all the countries of the Arab Middle East have formal political independence, severe imperialist exploitation continues in most of these countries. Especially in the oil-rich areas the imperialist oil companies have extracted enormous profits. They need to continue such exploitation. Nixon’s threat to use force against the Arab countries operating the oil boycott was proof that the struggle to end imperialist pressure in those countries is real. These backward countries of the Middle East cannot move out of their state of economic stagnation without eliminating imperialism from their countries and from this region. The Arab masses, the so-called national bourgeoisie and even the Arab feudal kings are adversely and directly affected by imperialism.
It is precisely this conflict between the people of the Arab states and imperialism that manifests itself from time to time with anti-imperialist actions and confrontations between the feudo-capitalist rulers and imperialism in the Arab states.
On the other hand in regard to Israel there is no question of any conflict with imperialism in this state, except in the sense that the working class of Israel has an interest in the struggle against imperialist oppression. There are no issues on which the anti-imperialist struggle is posed for the people of Israel. This unique situation of a country at the very centre of a region in which imperialism has maintained its exploitative system being free of imperialist exploitation has only one explanation–that is because Israel functions as an outpost of imperialism.
Thus the Arab struggle against Israel is the struggle against U.S.-led imperialist forces in the Middle East.
As revolutionary Marxists we support the struggle of the Arab people against Israeli-U.S. imperialism, whatever may be the character of the leadership. Revolutionary Marxists and the proletariat in the Arab states do not give political support of any form to the existing Arab regimes. But revolutionary Marxists support this struggle by their own methods.
From the outset the revolutionary Marxists and the proletariat in the Arab states will be categorically opposed to Arab chauvinism and “holy war” to exterminate the Jewish people. On the contrary, we will from the outset call for the right of self-determination of the Jewish people while we stand for the smashing of the imperialist outpost–the Zionist State of Israel.
Our method of intervention in the anti-imperialist struggle is the method of the class struggle. Victory in this struggle is possible only on the basis of the mobilisation of the Jewish masses in Israel as well as the Arab masses. Such a mobilisation means concretely in the Arab states the struggle to win the land to the peasants from the feudalists and the struggle against minority oppression, the struggle against all forms of authoritarianism for democratic rights–the right to independently organise militias, etc. It is in this process that the revolutionary Marxists will seek to wrest the leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle from the hands of the treacherous feudo-capitalist rulers in the Arab countries. The right of the self-determination of the Jewish masses will be from the outset integrated into the program of struggles of the proletariat in the Arab countries to end the feudo-capitalist rule in this region.
It thus follows that in Israel the policy of the revolutionary Marxists in regard to the war is revolutionary defeatism. But in the Arab states the policy will be support of the war against Israeli-U.S. imperialism in defence of the Arab people.
We believe that we have dealt with the matters raised in your letter and the other drafts. It is possible that there are some omissions by inadvertance. If we hear from you in that regard we could follow up. This would apply to further clarifications that may be necessary on the issues dealt with by us.
Further to our now common position that we should draw up a list of “political positions on recent and current specific issues and events” we shall proceed to draw up in the first instance a list of the issues which appear to us as relevant.