The Thursday June 9 issue of the Weekly Worker, publication of the Communist Party of Great Britain, contains an abridged version of a letter from Alan Davis of the IBT in reply to various criticisms raised by a couple of political opponents in previous issues of that publication. We reprint Comrade Davis' original letter with the missing material in bold:

To the Editor:

I’m grateful for the space you have devoted recently to the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) in your letters column. I’d like to take the opportunity to address a few points raised by your correspondents.

Phil Duncan wrote from New Zealand (Weekly Worker [WW] No. 577, 19 May) reproaching me for presuming that the position he put forward in an earlier letter represented the view of the group of which he is a leader (the Anti-Capitalist Alliance). Apparently it did not. Mea culpa.

He also raised a more substantive issue in his critique of the role of IBT comrades in Non!, a 1995 united front formed in New Zealand to protest French nuclear testing in the Pacific. Phil suggests that: ‘the approach of the IBT was the same one pioneered by the US Socialist Workers Party in relation to the Vietnam war – unite as broad a section of society as possible on the basis of a single slogan’.

It is indeed true that the SWP/US described its ‘National Peace Action Coalition’ (NPAC) against the Vietnam war as a ‘single issue’ coalition. The SWP/US worked hard to entice the ‘progressive’ left wing of the bourgeois Democratic Party to speak at NPAC events. But in order to do so, it had to bury the Marxist political positions it claimed to stand on. The SWP/US also had to ensure that no other participants had the opportunity to raise anything that might offend the sensibilities of the liberal imperialists and so insisted that no political demands could be advanced by NPAC that went beyond calling for the withdrawal of US troops. The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) organised by the British Socialist Workers Party in opposition to the attack on Iraq operated in a similar fashion.

Non! was organised on the basis of a single demand, but unlike NPAC or the StWC, all participants were free to put forward their own political views. IBT comrades in New Zealand used the opportunity afforded by the mass rally organised by Non! to argue for our revolutionary programme – including the unconditional military defence of North Korea and the other deformed workers’ states against imperialism. This was only possible because Non! was organised on a basis that was entirely different from NPAC or the StWC, which were not united fronts but popular-frontist formations in which communist politics were excluded in pursuit of bourgeois respectability, aka ‘the broadest possible’ mobilisations.

Comrade Duncan’s proposal boils down to building propaganda blocs with other groups in which all agree in advance on a common, if limited, programme or set of demands. Revolutionaries decline to build the illusion that a bloc of disparate forces can hammer out an adequate programme. Instead we carry out the tactic of the united front as developed by the revolutionary Comintern under Lenin and Trotsky. Rather than seeking common formulations with reformists, we seek to unite the largest number of people in action to struggle for issues of vital concern to the workers’ movement (like, for example, smashing the National Front). Within such blocs for common action we defend the right of all participants to put forward their own distinctive views, and to raise whatever criticisms of their bloc partners they deem appropriate.

Blocs for propaganda only serve to blur differences and present a façade of agreement where none actually exists. The Leninist formula for united fronts is ‘unity in action, freedom of criticism’, as we explain in our pamphlet ‘Building the Revolutionary Party and United Front Tactics’.

It was completely correct for Multicultural Aotearoa (MCA) to attempt to mobilise the largest number of people possible to abort the fascist provocation last October. The MCA counterdemonstration and the publicity campaign that accompanied it clearly disrupted the activities of the National Front which, since its debacle in October, has been all but invisible. There have been accounts in the bourgeois press of various internal fallings out among these thugs and just last week the New Zealand Sunday Star Times (29 May) reported that Kyle Chapman, their Führer, has resigned his leadership position.

Presumably there is a connection between the fact that the ACA did not participate in confronting the NF last October and comrade Duncan’s notion that participation in actions based on a simple agreement to deny a platform to fascists is somehow unworthy of socialists. This is clearly a significant difference between us.

We do, of course, have to agree with Phil that the IBT does not count enough factory workers among its membership. But as someone who spent years working in New Zealand factories (and was in fact working in a plastics extrusion factory in Christchurch when I encountered the forerunner of the IBT) I can assure him that we are also quite happy to recruit students, white-collar workers and even university faculty like himself. Participation in the revolutionary movement has always been open to people from a wide variety of occupations – in a Leninist organisation the essential criterion for membership is programmatic, rather than sociological.

In the 26 May Weekly Worker, Enso White, who we presume represents the thinking of the top leadership of the CPGB, criticised our policy of flat opposition to any candidates running on a cross-class (i.e., popular front) electoral slate. Comrade White characterises as a ‘dishonest attack’ our reference to the ‘CPGB’s scandalous policy of voting for the Movement for Democratic Change – the party of Zimbabwe’s white settler capitalists’. He seems to think that because much of the founding membership of the MDC originated in ‘the bowels of the Zimbabwean trade union movement’ it is not fair to label it as a tool of the white elites. Yet, as we noted in 1917 No. 23, ‘While the MDC membership is overwhelmingly black and working class, its leadership is effectively controlled by white commercial farmers and business people’. This is confirmed by the anti-working-class, IMF-style austerity program adopted by the MDC. The CPGB is understandably chagrined to be reminded that in 2000 they were calling for votes to this outfit, but it hardly makes us ‘dishonest’ for mentioning it.

Comrade White also objects to my observation that: ‘A revolutionary organisation might decide to send members into a mass reformist workers’ party participating in a popular front if there appeared to be significant recruitment opportunities’. He sees this as evidence of a ‘narrow, mean-minded and short-termist approach’. For our part we make no secret of the fact that, like Trotsky, we wish to destroy popular-frontist formations as rapidly as possible by splitting them into their class components. If the CPGB leadership prefers to develop long-term relationships with the MDC, Respect and similar multi-class formations we are happy to leave you to it.

From the outset we refused any political support to Respect (see ‘RESPECT-able Reformism and Cross-class "Unity"’). The CPGB’s record is rather less consistent. At its March 2004 aggregate meeting the leadership pledged that ‘the CPGB will work to ensure the biggest possible vote for Respect’ (WW No. 521, 25 March 2004). At the March aggregate this year, the CPGB dropped its policy of blanket support for Respect (which it now acknowledges to be popular-frontist) in favour of a ‘vote to working class anti-war candidates’. This is, at least in words, a step toward our position, yet the CPGB leaders still balk at recognising that the issue of independence from the bourgeoisie is a matter of principle, and that consequently, organisational independence from the exploiters is a precondition for communists to extend any sort of electoral support to candidates claiming to stand for the interests of the working class.

Who can disagree with Comrade White’s advocacy of ‘complete tactical flexibility’? But, for revolutionaries, voting for bourgeois parties like the MDC, or for reformist workers’ parties running on a joint ticket with capitalists, is not a matter of tactics – it is a question of principle. This is why we do not endorse the decision of the Bolshevik Party prior to World War I to vote for the candidates of the bourgeois liberal Cadet party. At the same time we recognise that this mistake derived from a flawed strategic perspective – the presumption that after the overthrow of the Tsarist autocracy, Russia would have to undergo a period of capitalist economic development before socialist revolution could be placed on the agenda. This perspective was jettisoned with Lenin’s famous April Theses in 1917 which represented a fundamental political reorientation on the question of the feasibility of a workers’ revolution and, therefore, on the attitude to take toward the bourgeois Provisional Government. From that point forward, the Bolsheviks rejected any political/electoral support to capitalist politicians, and explicitly repudiated the policy of conditional support to the new government that had been advocated by Stalin and the other ‘old Bolsheviks’ after the February Revolution.

The Bolshevik policy toward Kerensky’s popular-front government was encapsulated in the slogan ‘Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers!’ This demand was designed to expose the inability of the fake-socialists to break with the bourgeoisie to those workers who had illusions in them. The Bolshevik policy of advocating working-class independence from the bourgeoisie is universally applicable. Unlike the CPGB, SWP and the myriad other ‘Marxists’ who reduce the question of electoral alliances with capitalists to a mere matter of tactics, revolutionaries understand that it is a matter of principle.

In closing, I would like to extend an invitation to Comrade White and all interested Weekly Worker readers to discuss these questions further with us at our forthcoming public meeting ‘Respect: Pro-religion, anti-abortion popular-frontism – For a Revolutionary Perspective!’ on Saturday 9 July during the SWP’s ‘Marxism’ event.

Bolshevik greetings,
Alan Davis

Ps. In quoting Trotsky to the effect that ‘the Popular Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch’ in Weekly Worker (No. 573, 21 April) I cited the source as ‘The POUM and the Popular Front,’ a title devised by the editors of the Pathfinder Press collection The Spanish Revolution 1931-39 (New York 1973, p 220). This seems to have created some confusion as the text in question was an excerpt from a letter that originally appeared in SWP Internal Bulletin No. 5, August 1938, and was subsequently reprinted in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1935-36 under the title ‘The Dutch Section and the International.’

Posted: 15 June 2005