Exchange with Phil Duncan on united fronts and fighting fascism

The following letter was published in Weekly Worker in response to our article on Popular Fronts, "Stalinism versus Trotskyism", printed in Weekly Worker 573.

Our reply to Phil Duncan's letter follows below.

Weekly Worker 575 Thursday May 5 2005

I was rather bemused to read Alan Davis’s accusation that your organisation is supporting popular frontism by calling for a vote for Respect (‘Stalinism versus Trotskyism’, April 21).

While Alan is presumably attempting to out-left you, with the hope of chipping away a member or two, the International Bolshevik Tendency in New Zealand has something of a track record for not only supporting single-issue campaigns based on merely liberal middle class politics, but actually attempting to restrict such campaigns to those politics.

Here are two examples. First, in 1995 the French government resumed nuclear testing at Moruroa. The National Party (ie, Tory) government strongly criticised this and the whole NZ ruling class was united in opposition to the resumption of the testing, some of them even setting sail in their yachts to Tahiti to oppose it. Former Labour prime minister Mike Moore (later of WTO fame) called on New Zealanders to snub French tourists and boycott French goods. NZ became one big nationalist popular front.

At the time, NZ was involved in the imperialist intervention in Bosnia and had troops in ‘peacekeeping’ roles in a string of other countries. You would think that the duty of revolutionaries in this situation would be to intervene in the anti-testing movement to argue for anti-imperialist politics, focusing on NZ imperialism, not just the French testing. The IBT, however, got involved in Non!, the anti-testing campaign in Wellington and, as they put it in their own paper, "argued that in order to maximise Non!’s success as a broad-based united-front opposition to the tests, the platform of the group should be limited to a single and very simple demand: stop the tests at Moruroa" (The Bolshevik No7, October1995). Of course, this was also the demand of the NZ government and the entire capitalist class, so the politics of this IBT approach were, effectively, popular frontist.

The IBT argued that, as well as being restricted to the simple liberal bourgeois demand of ‘Stop the tests’, "the different groups and individuals who made up Non! Should be free to make use of an open microphone at its public events to put forward their own politics in their own name" (ibid). This happy division of labour left people free on the Non! March to carry slogans saying ‘Fuck the French!’ and ‘French scum!’

When differences arose anyway within Non!, the IBT attempted to keep this cross-class liberal campaign against the French together by moving motions that it remain a single-issue campaign. The job of Marxists, in the concrete circumstances of the anti-French wave that was sweeping all of NZ, was to argue for a focus on NZ imperialism and couple demands for an end to French testing at Moruroa with demands for an end to NZ involvement in Bosnia and everywhere else and to expose NZ imperialism’s own sordid record and interests in the Pacific. We needed to fight for an anti-imperialist movement and argue this position within anti-testing groups, not capitulate to their NZ nationalism and liberalism and vote for keeping them reduced to those crap politics.

Although once the largest section of the IBT, the NZ group went into terminal decline around the mid-90s and now is virtually defunct. It produces no publications, has only four members left and does next to nothing in terms of public work. However, its attachment to liberal middle class single-issue politics remains undiminished.

Late last year, the minuscule NZ National Front decided to have a national mobilisation in Wellington. This attracted only a couple of dozen far rightists. While the National Front is completely marginal, the liberal-left got very excited. As a result a counter-mobilisation was organised and a coalition called Multicultural Aotearoa was set up. Multiculturalism is the ideology not only of NZ middle class liberals, but also of the ruling class. It is the official ideology of the NZ capitalist state.

Yet the IBT - this time reappearing from near-oblivion - signed up to Multicultural Aotearoa and joined forces with the liberals in opposing arguments by the Anti-Capitalist Alliance that the coalition needed to go beyond liberalism and take up issues which exposed the policies of the state and the Labour government. ACA comrades argued, for instance, that open borders should be one of the demands for the anti-racist march.

The IBT opposed this, arguing for a single-issue focus on opposing the NF. In fact, the whole NZ ruling class is opposed to the NF, so this is popular front politics. A leading IBTer argued with us that we were being ultra-left and sectarian by going along to a single-issue campaign group and trying to change the focus of it!

The Multicultural Aotearoa single focus on the NF - although the ACA did manage to get some reference to opposition to immigration controls on the group’s leaflet - not only reinforced what is already the dominant bourgeois ideology in NZ (multiculturalism), but also played into the hands of the Labour Party, who are perfectly happy condemning the NF, while being busy tightening immigration controls and detaining refugees in holding camps.

Next time Alan tries to out-left the CPGB he might remember that modern communications make it very difficult for tiny sects like his to argue one thing in one part of the world while practising something quite different in another part of it.

Phil Duncan

Weekly Worker 576 Thursday May 12 2005

In your May 5 issue you published a letter on behalf of the New Zealand Anti-Capitalist Alliance (ACA) over the name of Phil Duncan, which was critical of the International Bolshevik Tendency. Phil contends that the 1995 Wellington campaign against French nuclear testing on Mururoa atoll spearheaded by Non! was a middle class, liberal popular front.

In truth it was a bloc between the IBT, the Socialist Workers Organisation (a product of the fusion of Tony Cliff’s followers in the International Socialist Organisation and the formerly Stalinist Communist Party of New Zealand), the Council of Trade Unions, the Trade Union Federation and the Seafarers’ Union. This bloc was only possible because it was organised around a single demand - ending French nuclear testing at Mururoa - while at the same time participants remained free to argue for their different perspectives. The ACA apparently thinks this entire initiative was a mistake.

The day after the first nuclear test Non! held a sizeable demonstration at which an IBT representative warned against the danger of pitting New Zealand workers against French workers, called for international working class action against the tests, and supported the right of the deformed workers’ states to nuclear self-defence (the entire text of the IBT speech is published in 1917 No17 -

Was this middle class, liberal, popular frontism? The middle class liberals certainly didn’t think so, because the petty bourgeois peace movement types stacked the next meeting of Non! to pass a resolution saying that "The policy of Non! is against all nuclear weapons and all nuclear tests, and we will not provide a platform for people to advance nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons tests by any state." This was an explicit response to our assertion of the right of North Korea and other workers’ states to nuclear weapons.

By changing Non!’s basis of unity from opposition to French testing in Mururoa to generalised nuclear-pacifist liberalism, this meeting turned Non! into a liberal pacifist propaganda bloc, so the IBT withdrew. Non! soon faded into oblivion. Subsequent protests were reduced to Greenpeace-type stunts without any proletarian orientation whatever.

Phil also berates the IBT for joining Multi-Cultural Aotearoa (MCA), which was built as a united front against a fascist provocation in Wellington on October 23 last year (see our account in 1917 at In fact the ACA itself joined this one - though not in order to organise the largest possible mobilisation against the fascists. The ACA played a role, as Phil says, in writing opposition to the New Zealand government’s immigration controls into the leaflet, thereby blurring the focus of the MCA, but they dismissed the fascists as small and irrelevant, and avoided the October 23 confrontation with them.

We see no wisdom in waiting until the fascists are large and present a more difficult military problem before addressing them. Nor do we advise attempts to build united actions against fascists on the basis of 10-point anti-capitalist programmes, which can only result in excluding most of the mainstream labour movement.

The IBT believes that fascism should be dealt with as soon as it rears its head. There are militants who will join this fight, and who should be encouraged to join this fight, who are a long way from us politically. Some of them support the Labour government; many believe that socialism is unrealistic or even undesirable. We are against the Labour government and for socialism, but we do not think it makes sense for socialists to place preconditions on those who fight the fascists. Instead we seek to use the opportunity posed by common struggle to make the case for the necessity of overturning capitalist rule.

Marcus Hayes
New Zealand

Posted: 16 May 2005