Marxism vs. Militant Reformism
The CWIs 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.
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 CWIs 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):
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 Internationals minimum programme. Comrade Walsh cites a comment by Trotsky to justify the CWIs practice:
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.
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 4s Shaun Ley (Leys questions in bold):
The SP/CWI tries to spin this as simply undercutting the violence-baiting of anti-socialist demagogues, but Taaffes 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 ones 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.
The SP/CWI leaderships 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 Partys 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:
The promotion of illusions in the possibility of a parliamentary road to socialism was accompanied by salutes to Labours social-democratic past. In an article entitled, Terry Fields and Dave Nellist -- Defenders of Labours Socialist Traditions (Militant, 20 September 1991), Richard Venton hailed Militants 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 Attlees entry into Winston Churchills wartime cabinet, was also embraced as a political ancestor of Militant and the original author of their enabling act strategy:
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
Militants 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:
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 Allendes 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.
Lenins 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.
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 Partys (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:
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 CWIs 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 CWIs opportunism extends to joining openly bourgeois parties:
For a period our sections conducted work in and around the BNP [Bahejana Nidasa Pakhsaya (Peoples 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 1980s.
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 CWIs activity reinforced them.
The CWIs policy of backing radical bourgeois politicians is not confined to neo-colonial countries. In the last two American presidential elections, the CWIs 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 Militants 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 Militants 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 Michaels observation that there is a profound contradiction between advocating community control of the police and the SPs 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. Doesnt 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 Militants 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 Militants 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.
This was paralleled by the 2006 election platform of the Berlin WASG (Electoral Alternative for Labour and Social Justice, led by the CWIs 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:
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.
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 Michaels 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:
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 Trotskys Transitional Programme is that countering the violence of the capitalists hired thugs requires the working class to organise effective self-defence:
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 Trotskys 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.
The context of Trotskys Transitional Programme, like Lenins 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 CWIs 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 groups 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 councils plans to close Croxteth Community School. The campaign, involving significant numbers of parents, students and teachers, contributed to Labours 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:
Were going to show the bastards what were made of. Were going to do all the things we said we would. You are going to build houses. I am going to create jobs. Its going to be bloody marvellous.
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 governments 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. Militants leadership responded by immediately issuing redundancy notices to all council employees, a bizarre manoeuvre that promptly blew up in their faces:
Even Militants 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. Whats 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.
True enough, but massive redundancies hardly qualify as ameliorating the conditions of the working class. Militants 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 Militants 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 CWIs 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:
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.
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 Militants 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:
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.
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 CWIs 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:
This sceptical semi-pacifism in the face of a brazen imperialist attack on a neo-colonial country falls far short of Trotskys 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.
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:
Gorbachevs 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.
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.
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:
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 Gorbachevs 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 Walesas 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 Solidarnoscs 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.
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 1930s. They have now been brilliantly confirmed by the spontaneous action of the Polish workers.
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.
Militant took exactly the opposite view and defended the Solidarnosc counter-revolutionaries:
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:
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:
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.
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 Yeltsins 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.
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 CWIs 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 CWIs 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, Militants 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 Baathists were credited with carrying out such a social revolution in 1966:
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:
A week later, Walsh announced that Somalia too had undergone a social transformation:
In 1979, Militant was absurdly speculating that Irans arch-reactionary Ayatollah Khomeini might be forced to create an Islamic deformed workers state:
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/CWIs 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 Trotskys 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.
Posted: 18 May 2008