Originally published on the letters page of Weekly Worker No. 578, 26 May 2005.

Unfortunately the letter from Alan Davis of the International Bolshevik Tendency is a litany of confusion from beginning to end. I am sure there is hope for comrade Davis. He is an intelligent, likeable and dedicated communist. However, can I put it like this? - he would help himself, and our common cause, if he learnt to think in the round.

That means serious theoretical study, not dishonestly throwing mud and relying on sadly irrelevant quotations. Meanwhile, in the interests of honesty, if not sanity, he should urge his sect to retitle itself - International anti-Bolshevik Tendency would be a more accurate description.

For its own strange, brittle and totally obscure reasons, the IBT has issued a decree outlawing, no matter what the historic circumstances, voting for working class candidates if they are members of a party engaged in a popular front.

Inevitably this dogmatic stance leads the IBT to part company in retrospect with Bolsheviks such as Lenin and Trotsky … and up the garden path to sectarian irrelevance, crankiness and beyond.
During the mid-1930s Trotsky encouraged his small band of followers to enter the socialist parties - which in Spain and France especially were mass and were being violently yanked to the left by the momentum of the class struggle. Trotsky savaged those who wanted to maintain their sectarian ‘purity’ by sitting on the sidelines of history.

Comrade Davis is prepared to grant that Trotsky’s entryism may have been correct. But - and it is a big ‘but’ - only in order to grab some recruits before a quick exit. Trotsky, however, did not advocate such an essentially narrow, mean-minded and short-termist approach. He wanted his comrades to find and become the masses through the socialist parties.

This implied not only voting for working class candidates whose parties were locked in popular fronts. It implied the perspective of Trotskyites themselves standing as officially selected candidates of the Socialist Party.

When in the 1930s workers in France and Spain voted in huge numbers for the parties of the workers’ movement, it definitely showed, on their behalf, a primeval striving for class independence and a desire for far-reaching social change. Yet, though he loftily claims the “considerable advantage of experience”, all comrade Davis can see is the treacherous reformism of the SPs and CPs and their suggestion that in the “interim” the interest of the workers and bosses “coincide”. For Marxists both phenomena - the striving for class independence and the leadership treachery - were aspects of an unfolding reality. Logically they are not mutually exclusive. And, given this living contradiction, the main question faced by communists was how to intervene - that is why we need tactics.

Looking back, as a matter of the highest sectarian honour, comrade Davis will not, cannot, countenance voting for any working class candidate in such circumstances. Not even for a paid-up follower of Leon Trotsky’s. Why? Because the treacherous SP and CP leaders had concocted a highly unstable popular front with one or another of the smaller parties of the bourgeoisie.

Communists, including Trotsky, seek to split popular fronts along class lines. Comrade Davis, by contrast, seems afraid for his own virtue. What he advocates amounts to neither strategy nor tactics: rather a chastity belt.

Hence his dishonest attack on the CPGB and Ian Donovan. We stand accused of backing the “white settler capitalist” Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe.

As a simple statement of fact the MDC emerged in the late 1990s from the bowels of the Zimbabwean trade union movement. Yes, it became a popular front. In the subsequent elections, therefore, we supported only working class candidates in the MDC - including, it happens, the successful International Socialist Organisation candidate, comrade Munyaradzi Gwisai. Basically the same tactics as those we deployed in the May 2005 general election when confronted with Respect.

Lastly, we have comrade Davis telling us that Lenin was wrong in his 1920 ‘Leftwing’ communism - an infantile disorder to try and educate the parties of the Communist International in the necessity for complete tactical flexibility. Lenin pointed out how the Bolsheviks in the 1907-12 period voted for Cadet candidates in the second round of elections to the tsarist duma.

Comrade Davis recoils with shame, incomprehension and disgust. He clings to the tactics of 1917 when Lenin was calling for the removal of the 10 capitalist ministers - supposedly so the Bolsheviks could offer the provisional government “critical support” (this, shall we say, ‘inventive’ offer of “critical support” surely comes from his own subconscious Menshevism, and has nothing to do with the historic Lenin - under his leadership the Bolsheviks called for a soviet republic).

Certainly, comrade Davis has no idea of what constitutes authentic Bolshevik tactics. He pits one tactic against another as if they represent immutable principles. They do not. They are different means, determined by different circumstances, which in real life both served to advance the communist programme.
Enso White

Posted: 15 June 2005