Originally published on the letters page of Weekly Worker
No. 578, 26 May 2005.
letter from Alan Davis of the International Bolshevik Tendency is a litany of
confusion from beginning to end. I am sure there is hope for comrade Davis. He
is an intelligent, likeable and dedicated communist. However, can I put it like
this? - he would help himself, and our common cause, if he learnt to think in
That means serious theoretical study, not dishonestly
throwing mud and relying on sadly irrelevant quotations. Meanwhile, in the
interests of honesty, if not sanity, he should urge his sect to retitle itself
- International anti-Bolshevik Tendency would be a more accurate
For its own strange, brittle and totally obscure reasons,
the IBT has issued a decree outlawing, no matter what the historic
circumstances, voting for working class candidates if they are members of a
party engaged in a popular front.
Inevitably this dogmatic stance
leads the IBT to part company in retrospect with Bolsheviks such as Lenin and
and up the garden path to sectarian irrelevance, crankiness and
During the mid-1930s Trotsky encouraged his small band of followers
to enter the socialist parties - which in Spain and France especially were mass
and were being violently yanked to the left by the momentum of the class
struggle. Trotsky savaged those who wanted to maintain their sectarian
purity by sitting on the sidelines of history.
Davis is prepared to grant that Trotskys entryism may have been correct.
But - and it is a big but - only in order to grab some recruits
before a quick exit. Trotsky, however, did not advocate such an essentially
narrow, mean-minded and short-termist approach. He wanted his comrades to find
and become the masses through the socialist parties.
This implied not
only voting for working class candidates whose parties were locked in popular
fronts. It implied the perspective of Trotskyites themselves standing as
officially selected candidates of the Socialist Party.
When in the
1930s workers in France and Spain voted in huge numbers for the parties of the
workers movement, it definitely showed, on their behalf, a primeval
striving for class independence and a desire for far-reaching social change.
Yet, though he loftily claims the considerable advantage of
experience, all comrade Davis can see is the treacherous reformism of the
SPs and CPs and their suggestion that in the interim the interest
of the workers and bosses coincide. For Marxists both phenomena -
the striving for class independence and the leadership treachery - were aspects
of an unfolding reality. Logically they are not mutually exclusive. And, given
this living contradiction, the main question faced by communists was how to
intervene - that is why we need tactics.
Looking back, as a matter of
the highest sectarian honour, comrade Davis will not, cannot, countenance
voting for any working class candidate in such circumstances. Not even for a
paid-up follower of Leon Trotskys. Why? Because the treacherous SP and CP
leaders had concocted a highly unstable popular front with one or another of
the smaller parties of the bourgeoisie.
Communists, including Trotsky,
seek to split popular fronts along class lines. Comrade Davis, by contrast,
seems afraid for his own virtue. What he advocates amounts to neither strategy
nor tactics: rather a chastity belt.
Hence his dishonest attack on the
CPGB and Ian Donovan. We stand accused of backing the white settler
capitalist Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe.
simple statement of fact the MDC emerged in the late 1990s from the bowels of
the Zimbabwean trade union movement. Yes, it became a popular front. In the
subsequent elections, therefore, we supported only working class candidates in
the MDC - including, it happens, the successful International Socialist
Organisation candidate, comrade Munyaradzi Gwisai. Basically the same tactics
as those we deployed in the May 2005 general election when confronted with
Lastly, we have comrade Davis telling us that Lenin was wrong
in his 1920 Leftwing communism - an infantile disorder to try and
educate the parties of the Communist International in the necessity for
complete tactical flexibility. Lenin pointed out how the Bolsheviks in the
1907-12 period voted for Cadet candidates in the second round of elections to
the tsarist duma.
Comrade Davis recoils with shame, incomprehension
and disgust. He clings to the tactics of 1917 when Lenin was calling for the
removal of the 10 capitalist ministers - supposedly so the Bolsheviks could
offer the provisional government critical support (this, shall we
say, inventive offer of critical support surely comes
from his own subconscious Menshevism, and has nothing to do with the historic
Lenin - under his leadership the Bolsheviks called for a soviet republic).
Certainly, comrade Davis has no idea of what constitutes authentic
Bolshevik tactics. He pits one tactic against another as if they represent
immutable principles. They do not. They are different means, determined by
different circumstances, which in real life both served to advance the