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Weekly Worker 496 Thursday September 18 2003


Ukrainian nonsense

To paraphrase Trotsky, if there were only five revolutionists in the entire world, they should immediately set up an international tendency.

A nationally isolated revolutionary organisation must either immediately seek out international collaborators and co-thinkers and establish an international organisation or face the prospect of national chauvinist degeneration. I don’t recall exactly where Trotsky wrote this, but it was the gist of his argument and it has always struck me as a ‘given’ for present-day socialist organisation.

Mark Fischer talks a lot of dangerous nonsense in attempting to ridicule those organisations that were victims of the Ukrainian scam (‘Attack of the clones’, August 28). At least these organisations had tried to do something to build in the former eastern bloc. The fact that they were conned by time-wasting idiots is neither here nor there. What has Fischer done?

Let us face the facts, comrades. Since the collapse of Stalinism over a decade ago, the record of the western left, in providing assistance to the revival of the revolutionary socialist left in the former eastern bloc, is a nothing short of scandalous. And this includes the CPGB and the other minuscule components of the British socialist chattering classes. What has the CPGB done? Next to nothing, as far as I can see. Therefore, what right has the CPGB to mock the efforts of others?

The largest Trotskyist organisation, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, which had perhaps the most resources for undertaking this task, has essentially sat on its backside and done next to nothing. It managed to lose its only existing eastern European section in Poland. In contrast, the Grantites have at least made some efforts in this direction by collecting, and making available on the web, translations of key Marxists’ works in many of the eastern European and central Asian languages. And both the Grantites and the Committee for a Workers’ International have made sustained efforts to establish socialist organisations in the former eastern bloc. It is a pity that their notion of democratic centralism is more akin to bureaucratic centralism and this means that their efforts have largely been stillborn.

Why is it essential to organise on an international level from the outset instead of “building the walls first before putting on the roof”, as the Cliffites (and seemingly also the CPGB?) have always maintained? It is because genuine international democratic centralism is the only organisational structure that minimises the effects of local, national chauvinist pressures on national sections. Only a common decision-making process at the international level, at international conferences and meetings, and a common international discipline based on political (not bureaucratic) methods - remonstration, political argument, moral pressure and dialogue - can avoid a nationally distorted view of the world and a consequent national chauvinist degeneration.

Socialists see things differently in different parts of the world because of the differing material and ideological pressures which act upon them. In countries where Stalinism has been the dominant ideology in the workers’ movement (former eastern bloc, France, Italy, Spain, Greece), there is one set of pressures. In countries where liberalism, social democracy and Labourism is the dominant force (Scandinavia, US, Britain, Australia and the English-speaking world generally) there is another set of pressures. There are different pressures again in third world countries, where national bourgeois or radical petty bourgeois influences predominate. Generally speaking, there are different pressures that stem from a given organisation’s location in relation to the so-called first, second and third worlds.

In Britain the main pressures acting on the revolutionary left are left Labourism, left liberalism, narrow syndicalism, ‘Guardianism’, pacifism and ‘NGOism’ - the ideological outlook of various organisations that try to help the third world. In reality, these NGOs act as transmission belts for good old-fashioned British ‘democratic’ imperialist ideology (aka left liberalism) from the first world to the third world and increasingly the second. They also transmit it to the far left.

Another source of pressure on the left is the British academic milieu - from which many of the leaders of the British far left originate. Only by discussing and deciding positions in relation to key world events, at international conferences and meetings, can these national distorted views be synthesised into balanced, fully rounded assessments and positions. That is why international democratic centralism is so important and why Fischer is so wrong to scoff at the efforts of others to establish it, in however caricatured a fashion. By all means scoff at the caricature, but not at the idea of trying to establish an international organisation.

Of course, we have all seen the various caricatures of international organisation that have existed over the years. The bureaucratic planet-satellite model of the Healy-Lambert ICFI/OCRFI, Lutte Ouvrière’s ICU, the International Militant Tendency/CWI and the British Socialist Workers Party’s IST. The USFI once had a rather loose, ramshackle international democratic centralist organisation of sorts, but they have now abandoned it - wrongly and stupidly identifying international democratic centralism with ‘Zinovievism’.

What absolute nonsense! This ludicrous notion essentially implies that Leninism was no different from (or gave rise to?) Stalinism. The mechanism for the degeneration into the planet-satellite model is the fact that money and resources exist unevenly throughout the globe. The US, European and Japanese sections always have far more resources than the second and third world sections. Historically, this has led to a kind of reflection of the international economic divide within the international organisations of the left. The sections with the money are able to use it to control what happens in the international tendency as a whole.

A key aspect of establishing genuine international democratic centralism, therefore, is for all monies available for international work and activities to be placed under the control of an elected international body. And of course the wealthier sections must contribute more than the poorer sections. Without this, international democratic centralism is meaningless. The other requirement is of course for the right of tendencies to exist for as long as is necessary within the international organisation. The British SWP is wrong to attack this model of internal organisation. It erroneously attributes the fragmentation of the USFI British section (International Marxist Group) to this form of internal organisation. But the SWP fails to explain why the USFI French section, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, which had essentially the same tendency-friendly internal regime, has survived while the SWP/IST French section has collapsed and its remnants have joined the LCR!

The free clash of internal tendencies was always taken for granted by Trotsky and it is the SWP’s wrong-headed notion of internal organisation which is currently preventing it from uniting and strengthening the British left. The fact that its Scottish organisation is now a long-term tendency in the SSP surely contradicts its historic notions about party internal regime where tendencies may only exist in pre-conference periods?

Bill Jones

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