Bolshevism vs CPGB-ism

· Trotsky: Lenin's Heir

· Working Class Independence vs Class Collaboration

· Taking Sides Against Imperialism

· Democratic Centralism vs Menshevism

14 August 2004

Trotsky: Lenin's Heir

Bolshevism and Trotskyism - Defending our history

[Marxist Bulletin Issue 8 – February 1999]

In the middle of last year, Marxist Bulletin supporters received a document from the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) which stated their desire to ‘clarify the attitude of a number of Trotskyist organisations and individuals towards the project of revolutionary unity at this stage’.

The CPGB are advocating a process of ‘rapprochement’, which consists of attempting to convince other groups on the left to join with them in the ‘Communist Party’ and argue out political differences within that framework.

The International Bolshevik Tendency has a different project. We believe that shared organisational frameworks and communist discipline grow out of fundamental programmatic agreement and cannot precede it. Building such programmatic convergence in a party with the strength to implement its programme is the historic task of communists today – but we cannot take shortcuts by simply bringing larger numbers together.

In the interests of political clarity and debate we reproduce the letter from the CPGB and our reply, as first printed in the Weekly Worker of 16 July 1998.

Frozen in dogma

Notes by Mark Fischer in consultation with PCC members

1. Leon Trotsky was a great intellect of the 20th century, one of the two towering figures of the Russian Revolution. The calumny heaped onto the head of this revolutionary should be rejected with contempt by all partisans of the working class.

2. Despite this, Trotsky’s contribution to the revolutionary workers’ movement did not constitute a qualitative development of the theoretical categories of Marxism, an extension according to its own logical laws of development. In this sense therefore, there is no ‘Trotskyism’ in the same way there is a ‘Leninism’.

3. In the struggle against the rising bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, Trotsky and the left (and later, the united) opposition defended many positions of orthodox revolutionary Marxism, centrally the need for world revolution. However, Trotsky made numerous tactical errors in the inner-party struggle, blunders that contributed to eventual defeat. Crucially, Trotsky failed to correctly estimate the potential strength of the Stalin centre, based on the Party apparatus. In this error, he evidenced a tendency to mechanically collapse political forces into social base. This combined with a certain technocratism contributed to the eventual political fragmentation of the opposition, with many capitulating to Stalin after 1928.

4. Trotsky’s analysis of the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party and the social consequences of the USSR’s isolation contained many brilliant insights. Yet it must be taken as the product of the provisional working categories of a brilliant Marxist attempting to understand the laws of motion of a totally unprecedented social formation in the very process of its emergence and consolidation.

5. Thus, to the very end of his life, Trotsky’s thought revealed development and dynamic tensions within itself. This is true despite a certain degeneration of his thought conditioned by the intense pressure of Stalinism and his personal isolation. It is entirely possible that – given the developmental logic of his ideas before his assassination – Trotsky would have been able to resolve the contradictions in his analysis positively, to critique and outgrow his conditional category of ‘degenerated workers’ state’.

6. Trotsky’s followers subsequently froze his method and these provisional categories into dogma. This was evident in the immediate aftermath of World War II and was a characteristic of both sides in the 1953 split in Trotskyism. Trotskyism thus emerged – in contrast to the method of Trotsky at his best – as sterile sectarianism.

7. We observe that today Trotskyism in Britain is embodied in general in two degenerate forms. First, there are the tiny, biblical sects engaged in squabbles over the letter of Trotsky’s work, not his method and its results in the real world. Second, where Trotskyist groups have attempted to relate to the mass, they have adapted to social democracy and become practically indistinguishable from left social democrats.

8. The place for all revolutionaries and communists is in a single revolutionary party. Trotskyists committed to the creation of a mass revolutionary workers’ party should begin immediate discussions with the Provisional Central Committee with a view to the reunification of Trotskyism with the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Lenin’s Heir

Reply to ‘Frozen in Dogma’ by supporters of the Marxist Bulletin/IBT

We have recently received a document from the CPGB presenting some views on Trotskyism and asking for a response. While we do not think this is a subject that can be adequately covered in a short exchange, we would like to make a few essential points in defence of Trotskyism.

You suggest that, unlike Lenin, ‘Trotsky’s contribution to the revolutionary workers’ movement did not constitute a qualitative development of the theoretical categories of Marxism’. However, it is not clear what ‘theoretical categories’ of Marxism you mean, and what contributions to their development you ascribe to Lenin. In our view, Lenin’s most important political contribution to the Marxist tradition was on the Party question – rejecting the social democratic notion of a party of the whole class in favour of a disciplined, democratic-centralised combat party composed of only the most advanced workers. Some of Lenin’s other important contributions are his analysis of the nature of the imperialist epoch, his programme for addressing the national question, his development of the tactics of the united front, and his recognition of the importance of the proletarian vanguard championing the interests of the specially oppressed.

Trotsky was Lenin’s continuator on all these questions – not merely in the abstract but in politically combating the revisionism of the bureaucratised CPSU led by JV Stalin. In addressing the central political questions that arose in the 1920s and 30s, Trotsky certainly extended and deepened Lenin’s programme ‘according to its own logical laws of development’. The Trotskyists upheld the internationalist traditions of Marx and Lenin against the narrow Russian nationalism of ‘socialism in one country’. Against the criminal sectarianism of the Stalinised Comintern’s denunciations of social democrats and other members of the workers’ movement as ‘social fascists’, the Left Opposition advocated the creation of a united front to smash the Nazis, modelled on the Bolshevik Party’s united front with Kerensky to defeat Kornilov in 1917.

In China, Trotsky counterposed a policy of working class political independence to the Comintern leadership’s disastrous policy of capitulation to the ‘anti-imperialist’ bourgeoisie. The Trotskyists opposed the Comintern’s turn to the popular front (i.e. overt class collaboration) in the mid-1930s. The Comintern’s popular front policy in Spain succeeded only in beheading the Spanish revolution and directly resulted in Franco’s victory. During World War II in the ‘democratic’ imperialist countries, the cadres of the Fourth International upheld the Leninist position that ‘the main enemy is at home’, while the Stalinists poisoned the workers with social-patriotism.

Trotsky brilliantly analysed the social roots of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. He located the profound contradiction embedded in the degenerated Soviet workers’ state between the proletarian property forms and the political monopoly of the parasitic caste headed by Stalin. Trotsky’s prediction – that if the Soviet workers did not rise in a proletarian political revolution to overthrow the Kremlin oligarchy, the Soviet Union would ultimately succumb to capitalist restoration – has (unfortunately) been fully vindicated by history.

The designation ‘Trotskyism’ is important precisely to distinguish Bolshevism from Stalinism – the ideology of the gravediggers of revolution. But one cannot counterpose Leninism to Trotskyism, any more than one can counterpose Marxism to Leninism. Of course Marx, Lenin, Trotsky (and countless others) addressed different questions and made distinctive contributions, but they are all contributors to the development of humanity’s ‘positive self-consciousness’.

Trotsky is no more responsible for the multiplicity of ‘Trotskyists’ who prostrate themselves before Lech Walesa, Ayatollah Khomeini or Tony Blair than Marx or Lenin are for the crimes of ‘Marxist-Leninists’ like Stalin or Pol Pot. (The history of the Trotskyist movement after Trotsky can only be understood in the context of the struggle against the Pabloist revisionism that destroyed the Fourth International.)

A revolutionary party can only be created by embracing the living tradition of Leninism – and that must mean a decisive rejection of Stalinism. Instead of ‘socialism in one country’ – world revolution; in place of the minimum/ maximum programme – a revolutionary transitional programme of the sort advocated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A ‘reunification’ of the Trotskyist and Stalinist traditions would be just as retrograde as a reconciliation between Leninism and Kautskyism.

On Sunday July 19 we will be speaking on the subject of the transitional programme at a CPGB seminar in London. We will also be presenting the Trotskyist view on the Soviet Union at your ‘Communist University’ in August. We hope that these discussions can help further clarify the differences between our two organisations. Perhaps a process of discussion and debate can narrow the political distance between us. In any case we think it would be a mistake to paper over these differences in the interest of promoting the appearance of ‘revolutionary unity’ where there is none. For the question of Trotskyism versus Stalinism is not merely a historical question – it poses issues of methodology and programme that are crucial to building a viable international revolutionary movement today.

Working Class Independence vs Class Collaboration

In every recent concrete example of relating to class collaborationist formations, the CPGB has chosen to support the class collaboration project and thereby rejected an open struggle for the independence of our class – for instance, Ken Livingstone’s Mayoral campaign, the MDC in Zimbabwe, the Stop the War Coalition and Respect. On the latter see our leaflet ‘RESPECTable Reformism and Cross-class “Unity”’.

Excerpt from:

Mayoral and GLA elections: London calling: The left flank of chameleon Ken

[Marxist Bulletin Issue 11 - May 2000]

In [the CPGB’s] report of their candidate’s speech at the 22 February rally, they highlighted their pet theme of ‘democracy’ rather than the programmatic shortcomings of the alliance: ‘Comrade Murphy emphasised that for us the “key issue” is democracy: “We need to challenge how we are ruled. Blair’s fake devolution has stirred up discontent everywhere it has been implemented. From Northern Ireland to Wales, to Scotland, and now London, people are angry precisely because, in the name of devolving power, Blair is actually trying to increase his dictatorial control. He is trying to stitch us up”‘ (24 February).

They claim that only Murphy was sceptical about Livingstone’s intentions, but we couldn’t detect any appreciable difference between her remarks and those of the others who also called on him to stand and back the LSA [London Socialist Alliance]. The Weekly Worker did speculate that: ‘It might even be correct – if, for example, Livingstone turned his back on the labour movement and looked to some cross-class, populist coalition – to put up a candidate against him in the mayoral election’ (24 February). Once Livingstone declared his intention to stand without a slate, however, they refused to see that is exactly what he is doing, and have eagerly put their own spin on supporting him: ‘The LSA must become the pro-Livingstone slate in the minds of his popular base, helping to shape events and steering things towards an outcome favourable to the working class through criticism and mass involvement’ (9 March). This opportunist attempt to ride Livingstone’s coattails is typical of the CPGB’s brand of politics by wishful thinking. It completely ignores the real content of what Livingstone represents.

Excerpt from:

Zimbabwe: Cliffites’ Poisoned ‘Victory’ - ‘No Greater Crime’

[1917 no.23, 2001]

Mugabe’s corrupt and discredited regime succeeded in “Africanizing” the neo-colonial state, but now appears to have run out its string. Zimbabwe’s economy is expected to shrink by ten percent this year. Fifty-five percent of the workforce is unemployed and inflation is over 60 percent and rising as the government desperately attempts to cover shortfalls by printing money. During the past several years popular opposition to ZANU has mushroomed. It is spearheaded by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), an unnatural alliance of black trade unionists and white capitalists actively backed by Britain and the U.S.

CPGB: Reinventing Menshevism

Gwisai ran on the MDC ticket in Highfield, a working-class suburb of Harare (Zimbabwe’s capital) and a traditional stronghold for radical black nationalist sentiment. He won 73 percent of the vote (a figure matched by many other MDC candidates in Harare). Gwisai is the first member of the International Socialist tendency to be elected to national office anywhere. Yet, in an implicit acknowledgement that the “victory” was badly tainted, the ISO’s mentors in the SWP/B were remarkably reserved about their comrade’s spectacular electoral success.

Others on the left were less circumspect. The penny-ante popular frontists of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), for example, who are currently snuggling up to the British Cliffites in the Socialist Alliance electoral bloc, proclaimed:

“the election of a revolutionary MP [i.e., Gwisai] in last month’s general election in Zimbabwe represents a valuable boost for the working class—not only in that country but worldwide.”
Weekly Worker, 13 July 2000

While conceding that the MDC’s program is “oriented towards international capital,” the CPGB tailists nonetheless insist:

“It was the duty of all revolutionaries to back comrade Gwisai and to give critical support to the other working class MDC candidates.”

Readers of Weekly Worker disturbed by the thought of politically backing the party of the white bourgeoisie won’t find much solace in the CPGB’s “critical” figleaf. A vote is a vote and, for the moment, Zimbabwe’s white elite welcomes the support of any and all “revolutionary” muddleheads.

In the extremely volatile and potentially revolutionary situation existing today in Zimbabwe, the Little England reformists of the CPGB are inordinately concerned with tinkering with the constitutional mechanisms of neo-colonial rule:

“Socialists must demand the abolition of the presidential system and a single-chamber assembly with full powers, consisting of fully elected, recallable representatives.”

The CPGB’s chief propagandist on the question went so far as to explicitly oppose demands for expropriating bourgeois property in Zimbabwe, arguing:

“There are many cases where it is not so simple, where key productive forces in a given industry depend on elements that are physically located outside the country, or are certain to disappear abroad if an attempt is made to simply expropriate them.”
Weekly Worker, 22 June 2000

The “key productive forces” in every capitalist country depend, to one extent or another, on international inputs. British industry, for example, is entirely dependent “on elements that are physically located outside the country.” And British capitalists would certainly make every effort to remove their assets if they feared expropriation. What conclusions does the CPGB draw from that?

To the Leninist program of expropriation, the CPGB cretins counterpose a social-democratic fantasy in which Zimbabwe’s embattled workers somehow obtain lasting “control” of capitalist production:

“The key to all this is workers’ a potential weapon of the working class in countries where the dictatorship of the proletariat has not yet been established.... Simple expropriation in such circumstances, on the other hand, on the principle of national autarchy, would simply lead to economic decline, and a decline of the influence of the workers’ state on the workers of the capitalist states concerned.”

The Mensheviks issued similar warnings to the Russian workers in 1917, explaining that if they followed the wicked Bolsheviks and expropriated the capitalists, the result would be economic catastrophe.

Excerpt from a letter to the Weekly Worker

Military Support

WW no 470, Thursday March 6, 2003

Our differing assessments of the February 15th demonstration highlight the political gap between the IBT and CPGB. The CPGB, like most of the rest of the “revolutionary” left, sees the political “breadth” of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) as a virtue. In practice this has meant reaching out to “progressive” elements of the bourgeoisie, represented by Ken Livingstone, Jesse Jackson, the Liberal Democrats and the Daily Mirror. The CPGB may complain about the “tactical mistakes” of the StWC in the pages of the Weekly Worker, but it rejects the perspective of building a movement against the pending assault on Iraq on an explicitly anti-imperialist basis because it fears being “politically isolated.” Thus the CPGB assumes responsibility for the fact that the massive opposition to the criminal imperialist aggression is contained within a bourgeois political framework and the platforms at the mass rallies are dominated by clerics, pacifists and pro-UN, i.e., pro-imperialist, ideologues.

In this conflict the line between flabby bourgeois social-pacifism and Leninism is drawn over the defense of Iraq. The StWC was constructed from the outset as a multi-class formation with an explicitly pacifist programme. Revolutionaries don’t build or endorse pacifist/pro-UN/class-collaborationist movements—we leave that to the reformists and their leftist touts.

Taking Sides Against Imperialism

Excerpt from:

After Kosovo - War, imperialism and the left

[Marxist Bulletin Issue 10 - January 2000]

Internationalism versus capitulation

Many on the left came under the influence of the imperialist propaganda machine, which presented this conflict as a crusade to rescue the Kosovans. In Britain, a bloc of organisations calling themselves ‘internationalists’ was formed, which included the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), Socialist Democracy, Socialist Outlook, Socialist Party, Socialist Perspectives, Workers Action, Workers Fight and Workers Power. This bloc was formed around three slogans: ‘Stop the bombing, Nato out of the Balkans’; ‘Stop the ethnic cleansing, self-determination for Kosova’; and ‘Open the borders’. In practice, its propaganda made Kosovan independence the central question, taking little notice of differences on what they considered subsidiary points – such as whether to defend Yugoslavia against Britain and its Nato allies or merely echo the pacifists’ bleating about opposing war.

These so-called ‘internationalists’ were indifferent to the issue of the KLA’s relationship to the imperialists. Even after it was clear that the KLA had become a military adjunct to Nato’s aggression against the Serbs, they continued to give blanket military support to the KLA, thereby ending up in an effective military bloc with the imperialist aggressors. This was highlighted in London when Kosovan Albanians organised counter-demonstrations to the anti-war protests that explicitly supported the Nato intervention, thus posing a very concrete choice for the left – whether or not to oppose imperialist aggression. For our comrades it was obvious – no revolutionary could support, or participate in, demonstrations that backed Nato’s attacks. Others such as Workers Power, in a caricature of centrism, attended both types of demonstrations.

The CPGB criticised the pro-imperialist stance of the AWL, but still could not bring themselves to bloc with Serbia against the imperialist aggression, maintaining that they were two equally reactionary forces. In early August, we debated the CPGB on this question, and their lack of understanding of the nature of imperialism and the difference between military and political blocs astounded us. The distinction between imperialist states and those that are not (such as Serbia or Iraq) seemed to completely escape them – they could only claim that the existence of the ‘imperialist era’ made the differences irrelevant.

In their report of this debate, the CPGB wrote:

‘The IBT appeared to understand that military defeat often provides the best conditions for revolution. Yet it dismissed this as unimportant compared to the dogmatic necessity of backing Serbia’
(Weekly Worker, 19 August 1999).

We certainly do not ‘understand’ that the defeat of a weak bourgeois semi-colonial regime by Nato culminating in an imperialist occupation would lead to a revolutionary outcome. In this war, a victory for the Serbian state against imperialism, the greatest oppressor in the region, would have laid a far better foundation for the workers and oppressed of the Balkans to begin asserting their own demands. A defeat for the imperialists would also have tended to push forward the class struggle in Britain and the rest of the Nato countries.

The CPGB’s claim that any military bloc was in fact also a political bloc apparently did not present any obstacles to supporting the KLA – a force they also admitted was ‘reactionary’. They argued that ‘even if the Kosovars’ struggle did happen to coincide to some degree with imperialist actions, that would not prevent us supporting its democratic content’
(Weekly Worker, 6 May 1999).

The ‘democratic content’ of the KLA’s role as Nato’s auxiliaries in the assault on the Serbs was precisely zero. In supporting the KLA, these muddleheads were in effect supporting the imperialists’ ‘humanitarian’ aggression.

Actually Existing ‘Openness’

Posted on IBT web site, 13 March 2003

The 27 February 2003 issue of the Weekly Worker (paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain) prints a letter from the IBT on the issue of political vs. military support to Iraq. This letter was a reply to a polemic that appeared a couple of weeks earlier. The editors of the Weekly Worker gave no indication that the text they published had been shortened by half. The essential political argument remains, but the citations from V.I. Lenin that demonstrate that the Bolsheviks made precisely the same distinction in giving military, but not political, support to Kerensky against Kornilov in 1917 as we do today in defending Iraq, were entirely deleted.

CPGB comrades have advised us that the letter was cut solely for space, but we rather wonder if the editors did not also feel a bit uncomfortable arguing against Lenin. This is not the first time that we have come up against the limits of the CPGB’s vaunted “openness.” In April 2001 a letter from a former CPGB supporter with a political critique of the politics of the Weekly Worker was also dramatically abbreviated without either consulting the author or indicating that the text had undergone substantial alternation. It seems that, on some occasions, CPGB “openness” is subordinated to political expediency.

The following is the full text of our original letter. The sections cut by the Weekly Worker are in Times New Roman font.

To the Editor
Weekly Worker

The Weekly Worker’s report (February 20th, 2003) of the CPGB’s Feb 16th public meeting on “The war and the revolutionary party” distorts the positions of the International Bolshevik Tendency on several issues--particularly on the distinction between military and political support. The classic example of a military (as opposed to a political) bloc is provided by Bolshevik policy toward Kerensky’s Provisional Government during General Kornilov’s attempted coup in August 1917. The Bolsheviks gave no political support to the Provisional Government, yet spearheaded the military resistance to Kornilov. Lenin explained the logic of this apparent contradiction in a September 1917 letter:

“Even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. This is unprincipled. We may be asked: aren’t we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing line here, which is being stepped over by some Bolsheviks who fall into compromise and allow themselves to be carried away by the course of events.

“We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness. There is the difference. It is rather a subtle difference, but it is highly essential and must not be forgotten.

“We are changing the form of our struggle against Kerensky. Without in the least relaxing our hostility towards him, without taking back a single word said against him, without renouncing the task of overthrowing him, we say that we must take into account the present situation. We shall not overthrow Kerensky right now. We shall approach the task of fighting against him in a different way namely we shall point out to the people (who are fighting against Kornilov) Kerensky’s weakness and vacillation. That has been done in the past as well. Now, however, it has become the all-important thing and this constitutes the change.”
–“To the central committee of the RSDLP”, (http://www. marxists. org/archive/lenin/works/1917/aug/30.htm)

Our differing assessments of the February 15th demonstration highlight the political gap between the IBT and CPGB. The CPGB, like most of the rest of the “revolutionary” left, sees the political “breadth” of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) as a virtue. In practice this has meant reaching out to “progressive” elements of the bourgeoisie, represented by Ken Livingstone, Jesse Jackson, the Liberal Democrats and the Daily Mirror. The CPGB may complain about the “tactical mistakes” of the StWC in the pages of the Weekly Worker, but it rejects the perspective of building a movement against the pending assault on Iraq on an explicitly anti-imperialist basis because it fears being “politically isolated.” Thus the CPGB assumes responsibility for the fact that the massive opposition to the criminal imperialist aggression is contained within a bourgeois political framework and the platforms at the mass rallies are dominated by clerics, pacifists and pro-UN, i.e., pro-imperialist, ideologues.

In this conflict the line between flabby bourgeois social-pacifism and Leninism is drawn over the defense of Iraq. The StWC was constructed from the outset as a multi-class formation with an explicitly pacifist programme. Revolutionaries don’t build or endorse pacifist/pro-UN/ class-collaborationist movements—we leave that to the reformists and their leftist touts.

It does no good for the Weekly Worker (February 20th, 2003) to conclude its report on the February 15th demonstration with a forlorn lament that: “Hopefully we will arm ourselves with a more powerful strategy”. The workers’ movement can only be “armed” politically through a hard struggle to expose and discredit the debilitating petit-bourgeois pacifist illusions pushed by the StWC. Those who are serious about opposing the Blair/Bush axis of evil must side with the neo-colonial victims of our imperialist rulers.

For other issues raised in the Weekly Worker article I refer interested readers to the following:

Copies of these and other IBT publications are available from: IBT, BCM Box 4771, London WC1N 3XX.

For a discussion on the events of 1905 and the relationship between revolutionaries and Father Gapon (who is in no significant way analogous to Charles Kennedy in 2003) see: “Revolutionary Days”, Lenin Collected Works Vol. 8, pp. 101-23. ( and “Lecture on the 1905 Revolution” Lenin Collected Works Vol. 23, pp. 236-53 (

Democratic Centralism vs Menshevism

The IBT stands on the Bolshevik analysis as outlined at the Third Congress of the Comintern while the CPGB favours Menshevism as the organisational basis of the vanguard party. Two recent examples clearly show this:

  • The intervention of both groups in the Socialist Labour Party
  • The response of both groups to the Socialist Alliance

Excerpt from:

The Socialist Labour Party: From Opportunity to Obstacle

[Marxist Bulletin Issue 7 – May 1998]

For above all it is for our Trotskyist programme that the supporters of the Marxist Bulletin became known in the SLP. So much so that even people quite distant from and opposed to our politics, such as Dave Craig, a leader of the RDG, an openly Menshevik, ‘two-stage revolution’-type constitutional reformist split from the SWP (which was also heavily involved in the SLP), had to write of us that:

"...Now the Marxist Bulletin have emerged as the main voice of the Trotskyist left [in the SLP].

"Some comrades objected to placing the Marxist Bulletin on the left. They were hostile to the CPGB and opposed the campaign for a Democratic SLP. But comrades must not let their emotions cloud their political judgement. We must start our analysis from the Marxist Bulletin’s programmatic positions, rather than their opportunist or sectarian manoeuvrings."

The interventions of other leftists in the SLP offered, on the contrary, a case in point in how not to intersect such a potentially promising leftward development out of the ranks of the Labour Party. Two particularly notable cases of this were the interventions of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) tendency, a politically fluid left-centrist current whose origins are in Stalinism, and Workers Power, who initiated through a number of their supporters a current within the SLP around the journal Socialist Labour Action.

Both these organisations, for different motives, shouted long and loud about their campaigns to ‘democratise’ the SLP, while in practice behaving in a stupid and politically counterproductive manner that only played into the hands of the SLP leadership and helped Scargill to portray oppositionists as hostile to the SLP project itself. The Workers Power grouping, though on occasions it vacillated under the impact of events where the SLP looked better than their ‘predictions’, was basically hostile to the SLP project itself pretty much from the start. Like comrade Pitt, they advocated continued support to Blair’s Labour Party against the SLP in the General Election. However, unlike comrade Pitt and other principled leftist opponents of the SLP project, they decided to send people in to ‘intervene’ anyway. Therefore their ‘intervention’ in the SLP could only be of seeking to wreck it on behalf of the Labour Party. Not surprisingly, they made a ‘principle’ of attacking Scargill’s unquestionable abuses and atrocities in public, taking no account of the organisational loyalty of those SLP members who joined it because they saw something positive in the SLP project in itself, among which the Marxist Bulletin comrades number themselves. Predictably, when pro-party oppositionists such as ourselves and others dissociated themselves from such antics as the disruption of the SLP’s General Election press conference by a Socialist Labour Action supporter, we were denounced as being in some way cowardly by these pro-Labour right-wing sectarian wreckers.

Workers Power’s public attacks on the SLP were aimed at exploiting Scargill’s bureaucratism to discredit the whole SLP project. But the intervention of the CPGB had a completely different motivation. They were supportive of the SLP project right from the very beginning, and their weekly press gave it considerable and friendly coverage, correctly seeing in the party’s formation an opportunity to expand the influence of revolutionary Marxism in the working class, a potential stepping stone for the creation of a revolutionary party. Yet in practice, despite these basically good intentions, the CPGB’s flawed ‘Marxism’ led them to antics that appeared to many SLP members as not much different to Workers Power.

The CPGB chose to get on its high horse about the fact that Scargill and co ruled out dual membership of the SLP and other organisations, and much of the SLP membership was prepared to go along with these exclusion clauses in Scargill’s constitution at least in the earlier stages of the party’s development to prevent it from being ‘raided’ by leftist opponents of the SLP project itself. It made the main thrust of its intervention an organisational confrontation with Scargill over the right to hold dual membership. CPGB supporters who were also SLP members incognito wrote detailed (though often distorted and inaccurate) accounts of SLP internal meetings for publication in the Weekly Worker. This both increased the paranoia of the SLP leadership and Scargill loyalists and caused resentment among other SLP oppositionists, who were often slandered and sometimes even fingered to the Scargill leadership in the pages of the CPGB paper. The CPGB is a somewhat interesting left-centrist current that came out of Stalinism. Yet their main tools for dealing with leftist working class militants such as those who joined the SLP and were loyal to Scargill are ultimata and denunciation when they fail to get their way, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of ‘third period’ Stalinism. Along with a certain unscrupulousness about dealing with political critics and opponents (another Stalinist hangover in the CPGB’s political makeup) their intervention in the SLP was fundamentally flawed, and despite their weekly press, did not exactly expand their influence or help much in the political development of the SLP.

There are many things one could say about the intervention of the CPGB in the SLP. However, in terms of their seeking to organise opposition, what was a constant, apart from their ultimatism in dealing with the supporters of the SLP leadership, was their willingness to initiate ‘all-inclusive’ propaganda blocks with anyone who would join in, virtually irrespective of their politics or programme, against the Scargill leadership. In the early period (1996 and early 1997) this took the form of the Revolutionary Platform, an organisation that claimed to be ‘revolutionary’ yet had a programme that was an innocuous all-inclusive series of demands that anyone who in any sense called themselves a ‘revolutionary’ could agree with.

‘Anyone’ did, and the concrete form that this took in the early period was that part of the CPGB’s block was the grouping that publishes a scissors-and-paste sheet called the Economic and Philosophic Science Review, the followers of Royston Bull, a bizarre hard-line bunch of converts to Stalinism from Gerry Healy’s old WRP. During their time in the SLP, they finally broke with any remaining residues they may have had of adherence to the ‘Trotskyist’ norms of workers democracy. After an accelerating falling out with the CPGB (in part, ironically triggered off by the CPGB’s attempt to finger former IBT comrades to the leadership, which the EPSR correctly condemned, before going off the deep end), they turned against the entire ‘far left’ and became out-and-out Stalinist witchhunters. The CPGB are no doubt still embarrassed that among the early components of their all inclusive ‘revolutionary’ propaganda bloc was this miserable and bizarre grouping, who therefore were dignified by the CPGB with the title ‘Revolutionary’. One would think that the CPGB would learn from the experience of the Revolutionary Platform that such unprincipled lowest common denominator oppositional groupings do not work.

But no, the CPGB’s next escapade in the SLP was if anything even more damaging. Right in the middle of the General Election campaign, they decided to build a similar ‘broad’ oppositional grouping, the ‘Campaign for a Democratic SLP’ (CDSLP) on the basis of a block with Workers Power. The political basis of this block was simple: one had merely to agree that the SLP leadership was ‘undemocratic’ and therefore needed to be fought, and one had to agree that it was necessary to attack the SLP leadership publically. Workers Power, of course, could support both of these planks of the CDSLP – after all, they opposed the whole SLP project and called on the working class to vote Labour! This bloc was in the process of formation during the General Election, and was consummated at a conference about six weeks after Blair’s victory, which was picketed by two SLP NEC members who handed out an NEC statement threatening attendees with expulsion from the party. Marxist Bulletin comrades distributed our own statement outside this meeting, which, while it defended the supporters of the CPGB and those confused and outraged SLP members who supported the CDSLP from Scargill’s attacks, sharply criticised the unprincipled nature of the CDSLP as a rotten block with pro-Blairite wreckers and called on party members not to politically support it.

The activities of the Marxist Bulletin comrades in pursuit of a democratic internal regime are well known among SLP members, but not so well known outside the SLP. There is a very good reason for this: it is because, until the SLP decisively crossed the rubicon and consolidated on a reformist, anti-communist basis at the December 1997 Congress, as supporters of the SLP project we were politically opposed to public attacks on this amorphous, new and politically unformed organisation. But our comrades were in fact as determined participants as any in the struggle against the bureaucratism that was threatening the party’s potential. One of our comrades took over the chair at the membership’s demand from Tony Goss and then SLP General Secretary Pat Sikorski at a crucial meeting in the fight against the Gosses in South London, where the leadership and the Gosses suffered a considerable (though temporary) humiliation at the hands of an enraged membership. Other Marxist Bulletin comrades in South London also played important roles in that fight. A future Marxist Bulletin supporter in North London came under attack from Sikorski for circulating to the SLP membership the pro-party and explicitly Trotskyist essay ‘Why Bob Pitt is wrong’ that was published in issue no 2 of What Next? – an unsuccessful attempt was made to purge him from the North London branch executive. Marxist Bulletin comrades also put forward resolutions in several branches defending party members who had been undemocratically ‘voided’ by the leadership, several of whom were targeted for alleged association with the CPGB. And when the entire Vauxhall branch was disbanded for its support of one such comrade, a Marxist Bulletin supporter, as chair of the Vauxhall branch, was at the forefront of the struggle to build a campaign inside the party to reinstate the branch.

And as Scargill’s bureaucratic war against the subjectively revolutionary elements of the SLP escalated in 1997, our comrades were among the most prominent supporters of the pro-democracy united front campaign initiated by the Swindon branch, around the ‘Statement to the NEC and SLP members on the question of Party Democracy’, the so-called ‘Wicks statement’ after its author, the Swindon Branch Secretary and initiator of the internal SLP journal Socialist Perspectives, Martin Wicks. Unlike the rotten-bloc CDSLP, whose third period style tactics secured it the support of only one SLP branch (the short-lived Brent CSLP, dominated by people openly supportive of the CPGB’s politics), the ‘Wicks statement’ campaign secured the support of 15 SLP branches and around 80 individuals by the time of the December 1997 conference. It was this united front that was either directly responsible or the political inspirer of most of the 17 motions that were ruled out of order by Scargill prior to the Congress. It was undoubtedly fear of the potential echo that this could get in the rest of the membership that led Scargill to crush any possibility of a democratic discussion on any question at the 1997 Congress by means of the phoney block vote, thus sealing the SLP’s doom as a potential new mass party of the working class. This campaign, which struggled to preserve and enhance the SLP’s potential, at least ended up clarifying once and for all in front of the members the Scargill leadership’s undying hostility to the SLP becoming a genuine workers party, preferring a pathetic bureaucratic Stalinoid sect (which the SLP is now becoming).

Excerpt from:

As Socialist Labour collapses... Is the Socialist Alliance a step forward?

[Marxist Bulletin Issue 8 – February 1999]

Abstract ‘partyism’ or programmatic struggle for a revolutionary party?

It is unfortunately common practice for those claiming to be revolutionary to hold their own private programme, but advocate the building of larger organisations around a reformist programme or at best one which glosses over the differences between reform and revolution. This can only perpetuate the already widespread illusion that these are both equally valid tendencies in the workers’ movement.

There are those in the Socialist Alliance who see themselves as well to the left of the reformist right wing and advocate the building of a revolutionary party (as they understand it). On the evidence of the discussions in Rugby this reduces, however, to abstract propaganda. The actual concrete motions put forward by these tendencies were about making the Socialist Alliance a more comfortable home for the subjectively revolutionary minority while not challenging its fundamental nature in any way.

The CPGB, the dominant organisation among those claiming to form the ‘revolutionary wing’ of the Socialist Alliance, put forward some draft rules for the organisation, which included the following:

Clause 2 Objectives

1. To bring together through affiliation, national, regional and local political organisations and individuals for the purpose of establishing a socialist society. The Network considers:

a. Socialism and democracy are inseparable.

b. Socialism is conquered by the working class. It cannot be delivered from on high.

c. Socialism is international or it is nothing.

2. The Network will fight for the maximum democracy under existing social conditions, ie capitalism. In particular:

a. Abolition of the monarchy, the House of Lords and all constitutional hereditary privileges.

b. For a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales. For the unity of Ireland. For the right of Scotland, Wales and Ireland to self-determination.

c. For the closest political and organisational unity of the working class.

3. To work with other national or international organisations in pursuit of these objectives.

This is centred on the CPGB’s current obsession with ‘democracy’ under capitalism. Again there is no mention of the missing questions of state and revolution. Clearly their call for ‘the closest political and organisational unity of the working class’ involves unity between reformists and revolutionaries around a non-revolutionary programme, whatever they advocate elsewhere.

Revolutionaries fight for a democratic society under the rule of the proletariat. In the service of this objective we advocate democratic demands under capitalism, while opposing all illusions in the possibility of establishing genuine democracy under the dictatorship of capital. Leninists view the struggle to defend and extend democratic freedoms under capitalism as an aspect of the ongoing class war – they never treat such struggles (as the above document implies) as a comfortable resting place.

The CPGB, who aspire to put a left spin on the Socialist Alliance right-wing’s reformism, are fortunate enough to have comrade Ian Donovan (formerly associated with the Marxist Bulletin) busy putting a left spin on the CPGB. He found their organisational proposals ‘excellent’, but amended the objectives to add points which he felt were ‘more clearly socialist’.

These include statements of opposition to imperialism, racism and sexism and even a daring reference to ‘the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by a socialist society, based on the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and their democratic administration by the freely associated working people of all nationalities’. But how is all this to be achieved with a multi-tentacled Socialist Alliance? Donovan suggests that the path lies through ‘collaboration with all other organisations that share our objectives, for the achievement of the above goals’.

Marvelous – except for the small difficulty that the majority of the ‘socialists’ in the Alliance cannot quite untie the apron strings from Tony Blair, who has made it abundantly clear that he does not ‘share the objectives’ that comrade Donovan proposes for the Socialist Alliance. The concept of a broad alliance of minor labourite careerists, social-democratic reformers, small centrist groups, ecological advocates and sundry others is not a very likely agency for the replacement of capitalism by a socialist society. This cannot be achieved by dissolving the organisational barriers between revolutionaries and reformists, as if Lenin and Leninism had never happened. We are quite happy, where we share a common objective, to work together in united fronts with a wide variety of other leftists with whom we may have other political disagreements – but this does not change the necessity for seeking to create an organization of revolutionaries on the basis of the historic programme of Marxism.

Our comrades intervened in the meeting at Rugby to build support for the current struggle by the RMT against privatisation and for defence of living standards threatened by that privatisation. This struggle, dismissed as ‘economistic’ by the CPGB, is the most significant resistance thus far in the life of Blair’s Labour Government. Our comrades are also involved in the defence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a black American journalist and former Black Panther on death row in Pennsylvania and in imminent danger of execution – ostensibly for shooting a policeman but in reality for a lifetime of advocating political views opposed to the racist capitalist state. This case goes to the heart of the issue of ‘democracy’ under capitalism. In the past we have undertaken joint work with other organisations over a variety of issues – from abortion rights to opposition to imperialist aggression.

Collaboration in action can achieve concrete results, both in pursuing the class struggle and in raising political consciousness. Collaboration in propaganda between groups with profound political differences can only sow confusion.

In contrast, the joint work proposed by the Socialist Alliance is mainly of an electoral nature. The lowest- common-denominator propaganda that results will fall far short of providing a genuinely socialist, i.e. revolutionary, programme for the working class. Going even further, CPGB proposes a united slate of all the ‘left’. They denounce as criminally sectarian the very idea that an organisation may want to use the electoral arena to propagandise unambiguously for its own programmatic ideas – ideas its members presumably believe are necessary for the long-term interests of the working class.

Posted: 9 December 2007