From Fidel Castro to Kim Il Sung?

Communist League: In Pursuit of Third World Stalinism

Published by the Permanent Revolution Group (New Zealand Section of the International Bolshevik Tendency), in The Bolshevik (No 1, April 1993).

For four and a half decades Kim Il Sung has been the leader of the ruling Stalinist caste which sits atop the North Korean deformed workers' state. In April last year he celebrated his eightieth birthday. Under the heel of a regime which promotes its supreme leader and genius as being semi divine, the rest of the populace were, naturally enough, obliged to celebrate it with him. Amidst the celebrations, however, this Stalinist thug received "revolutionary greetings" from an unexpected quarter—an American pseudo revolutionary organisation called the Socialist Workers Party (SWP; Militant, 8 May 1992).

In New Zealand the SWP has an affiliate called the "Communist League" (CL)—known until 1989 as the Socialist Action League (SAL)—which shares its politics in every respect. These organisations have for years engaged in the uncritical tailing of a spectrum of Third World liberal left heroes—Stalinists like Cuba's Fidel Castro, or radical nationalists like the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and Burkina Faso's Thomas Sankhara. While their recent enthusiastic pursuit of the brutal North Korean regime marks a new low, it nevertheless represents just another step along the revisionist path this political tendency has been treading for a long time.

In New Zealand the Communist League increasingly comes across as a bizarre sect, representing a peculiar Havana loyal variant of Stalinism. Unable to intervene in workers' struggles with a revolutionary Marxist perspective, this organisation can do little more than urge New Zealand workers to read the speeches of Castro and Nelson Mandela. In this the CL displays two of the hallmarks of Stalinist ideology and practice: alibiing the absence of workers' democracy in the deformed workers' states, while promoting class collaborationist politics that can only result in derailing potential workers' revolutions internationally.

On the one hand these reformists have consistently tried to whitewash the Cuban Stalinists' bureaucratic rule, including their repression of leftists, homosexuals and others whom the Castroites find undesirable. On the other hand, the "internationalism" for which the Communist League prides itself often amounts to praising forces which are sabotaging workers' revolutions abroad. Today the CL follows the African National Congress (ANC) in denouncing as "ultra left sectarian" those who call for socialist revolution in South Africa, much as in the 1930s the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy denounced those who called for workers' revolution during the Spanish Civil War.

Public Relations for Cuban Stalinism

The central organising focus of the Communist League has long been its role as a local publicity office for Castroism. With his combat fatigues and his cigars, Fidel Castro always seemed be a lot more hip than stodgy, greatcoated Kremlin bureaucrats like Brezhnev or Chernenko. But while the Communist League insists that Cuba is an essentially healthy democratic workers' state, it is in fact clear that the bureaucratic regime there is modelled on that established by Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union in the mid 1920s.

Since the early 1960s Cuba has been a deformed workers' state: two years after the overthrow of the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista by Castro's "July 26th Movement" in 1959 the bulk of Cuban economic life had been nationalised. It is therefore vital that all leftists defend staunchly the gains of the Cuban revolution against the US imperialist colossus 100 miles away. The abolition of capitalism broke Cuba from the pattern of poverty and disease that dominates the lives of ordinary working people in Central and South America.

But in Cuba there have never been any organs of genuine working class democracy, such as the workers' councils which took power in Russia in October 1917. Castro's ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) maintains an iron grip on political life in this one party state. In order to move the revolution forward, Cuban working people today must struggle to break the political monopoly of the entrenched Stalinist bureaucracy through a political revolution that establishes direct working class self rule. Such a political revolution would electrify the workers' movement of Latin America and internationally; it would enormously strengthen the prospects of breaking the imperialist encirclement through a renewed wave of revolutionary struggles in the region.

This is the Trotskyist perspective advanced by the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) and its NZ section, the Permanent Revolution Group (PRG). By contrast, the Communist League attempts to cover for the routinised political repression carried out by the Castroites, retailing the lies of the Havana regime that elections in Cuba are free and open. In fact, the system of local, provincial and national "Assemblies of People's Power"—a truncated form of bourgeois democracy, belatedly set up by the Castro regime in 1976—is a transparent piece of Stalinist window dressing; all nominations to these legislative bodies are closely vetted by PCC electoral commissions, and the National Assembly meets for only two brief sessions each year. The ruling Stalinist party is itself a blatantly undemocratic organisation; the first PCC conference did not take place until December 1975—seventeen years after Castro first took power.

The Cuban Stalinists' authoritarian, anti worker character must be a source of embarrassment to the CL. In 1968 Castro defended the Soviet bureaucracy's invasion of Czechoslovakia. Two decades later, the Cuban regime endorsed the Chinese Stalinists' brutal repression of workers and students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989. The PCC's paper, Granma (18 June 1989), claimed falsely that the unfocused protests in China were aimed at overthrowing the workers' state.

The PRG has also pointed to the well documented facts of the oppression of gays and lesbians in Cuba: the criminal statutes against public expression of homosexuality; the "MUPA" labour camps in which thousands of gays were interned in the 1960s; the systematic purging of homosexuals from the education ministry, universities, and schools; the organised harassment of gays and lesbians through the neighbourhood "Committees for the Defence of the Revolution" (CDR's); the incarceration for life for carriers of the HIV virus (see, inter alia: J Gough & M Macnair, Gay Liberation in the Eighties, 1985; K Jay & A Young [eds], Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation, 1972).

In debates with the PRG, the Communist League has attempted to excuse its Cuban Stalinist heroes by arguing that the enlightened Castroite leadership has had to step very carefully in the face of the backwardness of the Cuban working class on the question of sexual orientation. But the CL apologists put the cart before the horse: the fact that in Cuba the legacy of bourgeois sexual morality and of Cuban male machismo has not been combated is primarily a reflection of the reactionary character of Castro's bureaucratic rule. In Cuba the oppression of homosexuals is part and parcel of the Stalinist regime's promotion of the "socialist" nuclear family, whereby women are centrally responsible for childcare, cooking and cleaning. By contrast, after the Bolshevik led Russian Revolution of 1917 divorce, abortion and homosexuality were all decriminalised, and efforts were made to free women from the confines of the family by socialising domestic labour.

Castro Pursues "Peaceful Coexistence"

The flipside of Stalinism's suppression of workers' democracy in the workers' states is a foreign policy that has often sought to appease imperialism and gain petty diplomatic advantage through using its influence to restrain workers' struggles internationally. The Permanent Revolution Group has consistently criticised Castro's bureaucratic version of socialism on one island, and his acceptance of the Kremlin's strategy of "peaceful coexistence" instead of fighting to extend socialist revolution internationally. This was exemplified by Castro's urging of Chilean workers in the early 1970s, and a decade later the Sandinistas, not to carry out an anti capitalist revolution, but rather to seek a third road.

The Castroites' refusal to oppose imperialism consistently was demonstrated in the context of the savage US led war against Iraq in 1990 91. The IBT called for the defence of Iraq and for opposition to the UN blockade (1917, First Quarter 1991). The SWP/CL also condemned the imperialist war drive and denounced the blockade as "an act of war", but claimed falsely that on these questions the "Cuban revolutionists' course has been courageous, consistent, principled and internationalist" (International Socialist Review, December 1990).

This doesn't square with the facts: the Cuban Stalinists denounced the US wardrive but did not consistently oppose the imperialist blockade of Iraq that prepared the attack. The best the Castroites could do was to abstain on the initial UN vote on the sanctions campaign on 6 August 1990; later, Cuba's UN delegate announced that, despite its abstention on this resolution, "my government has taken the relevant steps to ensure that our country too complies with it." On 25 August, the Cuban Stalinists failed to oppose the UN resolution for a naval blockade, and again merely abstained (US Hands Off the Mideast!, Pathfinder [SWP], 1990). In refusing to combat the sanctions campaign consistently the Cuban Stalinist regime and their followers gave a left liberal cover to the initial stages of the imperialists' Middle East aggression which culminated in the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

The Cuban republic is now in desperate straits, having been set adrift by its former allies in the ex USSR. In September 1991, soon after the victory of the counterrevolution in Moscow with the defeat of the Stalinist coup, Gorbachev—whom Yeltsin kept around briefly as a transitional figurehead—announced that the USSR's subsidies to Cuba, already scaled down drastically over the previous two years, were to be cut off completely. With severe rationing for many basic items and with tractors being replaced by oxen and horses, the working people of Cuba are under threat of being driven back into the Stone Age. What is needed is not Stalinist "peaceful coexistence" but the revolutionary internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky, to extend the revolution worldwide.

The complete abandonment of the Cuban revolution by Moscow was a direct consequence of the victory of Yeltsin's counterrevolution in August 1991, an event which the Communist League perversely labelled a "giant victory" for workers (Militant, 6 September 1991). In contrast, the PRG called for a military bloc with the Stalinist coup leaders against the Yeltsinites, for we knew the reactionary consequences that the coup's defeat would have for workers in the USSR and all around the world (1917 Supplement, September 1991). The fact is that the so called Cuban defencists of the Communist League, in supporting Yeltsin's side, aided and abetted the undermining of the Cuban revolution.

CL Courts North Korean Stalinists

In 1992 the SWP/CL spread their net wider in their search for anti working class, Stalinist regimes. The SWP's leader, Jack Barnes, has twice sent "revolutionary greetings" to the Stalinist regime of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), once to "Comrade Kim Il Sung" on his eightieth birthday and, on an earlier occasion, to Kim's son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Il, in his capacity as head of the army (Militant, 8 May & 17 January 1992). On his New Zealand tour last year, the SWP's be suited Presidential hopeful, James Warren, reported that his "eyes were opened" during his recent trip to North Korea—at a Wellington CL forum on 19 April Warren spoke stirringly of the allegedly "strong links" between the regime and the North Korean people.

All revolutionaries must defend the North Korean deformed workers' state against imperialism. As with Cuba, the achievements of the collectivised economy in the DPRK have been immense: in the wake of the utter devastation wrought by imperialism in the war of 1950 53, North Korea was transformed from an impoverished Japanese colony into an industrialised state. Poverty has effectively been eliminated, with housing, health care and education provided free.

But there is something truly nauseating about this attempt to cosy up to Kim Il Sung's vicious regime. The SWP claim that the purpose of their fawning messages to the regime is "solidarity" with North Korean workers—but genuine solidarity demands communist criticism of Kim's thuggish bureaucracy and its suppression of workers' democracy. Kim Il Sung has been the DPRK's dominant political leader since it was established in 1948; since the 1960s the quasi religious idolisation of Kim promoted by his regime has plumbed even greater depths than the grotesque cults of personality that surrounded Stalin in the USSR and Mao in China. The 80 year old Kim has tried to establish a ruling Stalinist dynasty, having anointed his son, Kim Jong Il, as his successor.

In the DPRK—as in Cuba—there are no organs of workers' democracy, but rather a democratic fig leaf based on the forms of bourgeois democracy. The national legislature, the "Supreme People's Assembly", meets for only several days a year, and elections to it are from a single slate of candidates decided on by the ruling Korean Workers Party. Official DPRK sources report that in the 1982 and 1986 elections all candidates were elected unanimously! In both elections, the voter turnout was reported as virtually 100 percent.

North Korea is one of the most tightly regulated societies on the planet: internal travel is strictly controlled; radios are sold with their dials fixed to the state network frequencies and are inspected annually. In North Korea everyone must subscribe to "Kim Il Sung ism", including the conception of "juche" (self reliance), Kim's own version of Stalin's anti revolutionary doctrine of "Socialism in One Country". Even relatively trivial remarks against Kim's regime can earn a ticket to join the 100,000 North Koreans in "re education camps".

The Militant has not uttered a word of criticism of this Stalinist regime. But what's worse, the SWP/CL have announced that defence of collectivised property in the DPRK is secondary to the reunification of North Korea with the South. At his April 1992 forum the SWP's James Warren made it clear that the SWP/CL support reunification regardless of whether this means the restoration of capitalism in the North.

Trotskyism and the Socialist Workers Party

Despite their betrayal of the heritage of Lenin's Bolsheviks and of Trotsky's fight against Stalinism, the Communist League and their American parents still sometimes claim some continuity with that heritage. In reality the politics of these reformists is far closer to the class collaborationist programme of Menshevism and Stalinism, against which Lenin and Trotsky fought. This is a tragedy, because for a long period the US Socialist Workers Party played a critical role in the struggles of the world Trotskyist movement to uphold Leninist revolutionism against the betrayals of Stalinism.

After usurping political power from the Soviet proletariat in the 1920s, Stalin turned the Third (Communist) International of Lenin and Trotsky into an instrument for advancing the narrow diplomatic interests of the ruling Kremlin bureaucracy. One of the Stalinists' key weapons in their bureaucratic manoeuvring was the revival of the Menshevik strategy of building coalitions with capitalist forces. This led to a series of disastrous defeats internationally. In Shanghai in April 1927 for example thousands of Chinese communists were massacred at the hands of Chiang Kai shek's bourgeois nationalist Kuomintang, with whom Stalin had forced them into a dangerous alliance.

In the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, the workers and peasants of Spain were led to defeat in their struggle against Franco's fascists by the attempt of the Stalinists and other working class misleaders to hold together a "Popular Front" bloc with the weak kneed Spanish liberal bourgeoisie. The Stalinists argued that the workers and peasants must not interfere with private property, nor arm themselves independently of the capitalist government; the effect was to undermine the mass action which was necessary to defeat Franco.

Against these Stalinist betrayals Trotsky and his followers founded the Fourth International in 1938, of which the Socialist Workers Party was the US section. Led by James Cannon, the SWP played a key role in the new International's fight for Leninist politics against the misleadership of Stalin's Popular Front. But by the end of the Second World War the Fourth International had been devastated, with many of its cadre murdered by either the Stalinists or the fascists. The International was politically disoriented by the temporary postwar expansion of Stalinism into Eastern Europe, and it was soon destroyed by a split—a liquidationist tendency emerged, led by Michel Pablo, which called for the dissolution of the Trotskyist International into the existing mass Stalinist and social democratic reformist organisations, as well as into petty bourgeois nationalist movements. As the leading section of the "International Committee", founded in 1953 in opposition to Pabloist opportunism, the SWP attempted, however imperfectly, to uphold the necessity for independent revolutionary political leadership. However, after the pressures and isolation of the McCarthyite 1950s, the SWP degenerated politically. By the early 1960s, it was giving essentially uncritical support to the Castroites.

The Socialist Action League—the precursor to the Communist League—emerged in New Zealand in 1969, in solidarity with the SWP's popular frontist politics. The SWP was by then thoroughly reformist: in the mid 1960s it had embraced a liberal "pressure group" strategy against the imperialist war in Vietnam, raising the social patriotic slogan of "Bring Our Boys Home!". Instead of trying to harness the power of the US labour movement against the imperialist counterrevolutionary war in South East Asia, the SWP sought to build a mass "peace movement" by adapting politically to the imperialist US Democratic Party.

The Socialist Workers Party and its followers around the world continued to move rightwards through the 1970s and 1980s. In 1983 the SWP leadership decided to dump the purely formal lip service these reformists still occasionally paid to Trotskyism. Now Trotsky's perspective of "permanent revolution" was derided as an error and an "obstacle" (New International, Fall 1983).

The perspective of the "permanent revolution" had in practice been the political foundation of the Bolshevik led revolution of October 1917, for it opposed the Menshevik notion that the Russian working class should ally with the liberal bourgeoisie and instead it put socialist revolution on the agenda. Trotsky subsequently generalized his theory and concluded that under modern imperialism the stunted bourgeoisies of the colonies and semi colonies were transformed into the agents and accomplices of the metropolitan imperialists. This meant that the tasks of the classical bourgeois democratic revolution in those countries could only be achieved under the leadership of the working class, which must take state power, expropriate its capitalist bosses and extend the revolution internationally (see Permanent Revolution: Yesterday & Today, PRG, 1988). The SWP had rejected permanent revolution in deed long before it rejected it in word; but its formal renunciation of Trotskyism made even more explicit its previous rejection of Lenin and Trotsky's revolutionism for the politics of the Menshevik Stalinist popular front.

The Struggle for Revolution in South Africa

The bankruptcy of the class collaborationist perspective has perhaps been most clearly demonstrated in the attitude of the SWP/CL to the struggle for black revolution in South Africa. The Communist League's adulation of Nelson Mandela and the leadership of the African National Congress goes far beyond the necessary call for the military defence of this petty bourgeois, procapitalist organisation against the butchers of the Pretoria regime.

Having rejected Trotsky's permanent revolution the Communist League has reverted to the theory of socialism by "stages". This was the classic Stalinist "Popular Front" scenario of the 1930s and it goes hand in hand with the strategy of allying with the liberal bourgeoisie. The CL insists that in South Africa today only the first stage is on the agenda—a struggle which is inevitably and exclusively a struggle for bourgeois democracy (New International, Fall 1985). The CL argue therefore for the building of cross class alliances of all forces opposed in some way to apartheid, including such dubious fighters for liberty as the South African capitalist mining bosses of the Anglo American Co.

In January 1992 the ANC participated with other anti apartheid groups and the de Klerk government in a "Convention for a Democratic South Africa" (CODESA), which has become a framework for the ANC's reformist negotiation strategy. Mandela referred to this example of ANC conciliation as a "milestone in our struggle", and he spoke further of "establishing mutual trust" with the vicious apartheid state (Militant, 10 January 1992). CODESA and other such class collaborationist structures serve only as a millstone around the necks of South African workers, for a "negotiated settlement" will at best mean only that the cumbersome and unworkable system of legislated apartheid is replaced with a de facto variant.

The ANC's strategy of class collaboration and a negotiated settlement—applauded by the Communist League—renders those struggling to end apartheid extremely vulnerable to attack by the South African police and military, Buthelezi's Inkatha and the likes of Eugene Terre Blanche's fascistic Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB). This raises the prospect of the kind of bloody defeat suffered by the Chilean working class at the hands of Pinochet in the early 1970s. In Chile a militant proletariat was crippled by Socialist Party leader Salvador Allende's strategy of the "Unidad Popular", a popular front bloc with Chilean capitalists which took governmental power in 1970. In reply to workers demanding weapons, Allende argued that moderation and respect for bourgeois legality were the best defence against the fascist gangs and the Chilean military.

In fact, as confirmed by the slaughter of tens of thousands of leftists and other workers in the days that followed Pinochet's September 1973 coup, the popular front was the best recipe for defeat. Today, Allende's resistance to workers' demands for arms finds chilling echoes in Mandela's response to his supporters in the wake of the brutal massacre carried out by the South African security forces at Boipatong in June 1992. Instead of arming black workers, the ANC has called for the Pretoria regime "[b]anning the carrying of all dangerous weapons in public on all occasions, including so called cultural weapons" (Militant, 17 July 1992). Of course the ANC's proposed ban would not extend to the police and armed forces responsible for the butchery of Sharpeville and Boipatong!

The Boipatong massacre threw a spanner in the ANC's strategy. The ANC withdrew from the CODESA negotiations and went ahead with a brief "campaign of mass action". This was aimed at gaining a stronger negotiating position and relieving the pressure building up among blacks enraged by the Boipatong slaughter and impatient with the snail's pace of change. The culmination of the campaign was a two day general strike which once more demonstrated the explosive potential of South Africa's industrial proletariat. However the ANC kept a tight rein on the campaign, the strike being merely a temporary tactic to strengthen its hand in negotiating for a stake in administering the South African capitalist state of the future. The ANC recently returned to the negotiating table—in February this year it reached a power sharing deal with the Pretoria regime towards a "national unity" government in 1994.

If Mandela is able to pull off his minefield stroll towards a "political settlement" and achieve some form of limited, formal democracy, the result will be the integration of the ANC and its armed forces into the capitalist Pretoria regime, the overseer of black workers. Umkhonto weSizwe, the ANC's military wing, held talks with the bloodsoaked thugs of the South African military as early as May 1990, discussing the prospect of the fusion of their forces. While "apartheid" as a set of legal rules may be completely dismantled, the real guts of apartheid will remain—the brutal superexploitation of black workers. Mandela has made it clear that as far as he's concerned capitalism is here to stay in South Africa: in 1992 he joined with President de Klerk in calling for a free market South Africa with a very tightly limited public sector (Guardian Weekly, 9 February 1992).

The Militant has covered for the ANC's shamelessly reformist approach by writing things like:

Today, the African National Congress is leading a fight to open up more political space for the kind of revolutionary action on the part of tens of millions needed to bring an end to the white minority regime (Militant, 2 August 1991).

But as just about everyone except the Communist League and its cothinkers can see, the ANC leadership is in fact committed to derailing any "revolutionary action". As Mandela said at the CODESA convention last year, "Threats about civil war are irresponsible and totally unacceptable. The time for such talk is long past".

On the contrary, the time for sustained working class struggle against the apartheid capitalist regime is now. While the Communist League argue that in South Africa the material conditions for socialist revolution do not yet exist, it is clear that South Africa has a modern industrial infrastructure and, after the massive growth of black labour unions in the 1980s, one of the most combative and organised proletariats in the world. What is absent in South Africa is not the necessary objective context for a socialist revolution, but rather a real revolutionary leadership, a mass Bolshevik party which can lead all workers in smashing apartheid capitalism at its roots.

Defeat in Nicaragua

The serious setbacks suffered by the Nicaraguan revolution are testimony to the dangers of attempting to straddle the class line. While the Communist League followed the Sandinista (FSLN) misleadership slavishly and uncritically, the Permanent Revolution Group criticised the Sandinistas' illusions in a third historic path which could avoid both capitalism and socialism; but any criticism of the Sandinistas was held by the Communist League to be a betrayal of the Nicaraguan revolution and, apparently, tantamount to siding with the US backed contra movement.

When the radical nationalist FSLN guerrilla army overthrew the horrific Somoza regime in July 1979, all revolutionaries had to call for the military defence of the new government against US imperialism and its murderous contra hirelings. But it was clear from the beginning that revolutionaries could give no political support to the Sandinista leadership—the latter did not have a revolutionary Marxist perspective, but stood openly for some vague new form of pluralistic democracy based on a predominantly private enterprise economy. Despite some early nationalisations the bulk of the economy remained privately owned throughout the 1980s.

Defying reality the SWP/CL leaders painted a picture of an inexorable movement towards socialism under the firm guidance of the Sandinistas, seemingly equating the Sandinistas with the Bolsheviks of 1917:

... the Sandinista leadership has correctly charted a course of avoiding any unnecessarily rapid moves towards that second qualitative turning point [the expropriation of the bourgeoisie]. They have done everything in their power to gain the maximum time to advance the consciousness and organization of the workers and peasants to prepare for the decisive challenge of the transition to a workers' state (New International, Fall 1985).

In fact the only way forward was to create a revolutionary Marxist party in opposition to the Sandinistas' muddled, utopian "Third Road" strategy. What was necessary was to fight for the establishment of a workers' government that would expropriate the bourgeoisie and from there extend the revolution throughout Central America and beyond. But this was never the policy of the Sandinistas: they sought instead to forge a "national patriotic" front with Nicaraguan capitalism and to appeal to the more moderate imperialists.

With the political defeat of the Sandinistas in the 1990 elections the Communist League clumsily backtracked on their longtime refusal to brook any criticism of their heroes in the FSLN. The SWP's 1990 resolution criticised the viewpoint that the world is "heading into an era marked by permanent, expanding, and perfecting bourgeois democracy" and continued:

A radical petty bourgeois version of this scenario became prominently associated in the second half of the 1980s with spokespersons of the FSLN in Nicaragua, as well as by those who look to them elsewhere in the Americas and worldwide. ... They have presented the Nicaraguan revolution as a "third road" between capitalism and communism .... The defeat in Nicaragua deals a blow to this ideology in the workers' movement. It is a petty bourgeois ideology—anti working class and anti Marxist at its core ... (Militant, 6 September 1991).

Anyone who ever read an issue or two of the Militant in the 1980s must recognise the colossal gall required for this abrupt reversal. The Permanent Revolution Group persistently raised these same criticisms and was told that they were sectarian and irrelevant; indeed at a PRG public forum on 9 March 1989 PRG comrades were accused by a Communist League leader, Mike Tucker, of being "racist" for not allowing the people of Nicaragua to find their "own way" towards socialism. According to the Communist League this "petty bourgeois ideology" of class collaboration has suffered a blow in the workers' movement. However this ideology is evidently still very strong among the CL leadership—they promote the same perspective for the South African struggle, refusing to counter Mandela's vision of a golden, democratic, capitalist South African republic, free from oppression or excess.

Passive & Irrelevant—The Communist League and Class Struggle in New Zealand

The Communist League leadership suffers from a congenital lack of revolutionary backbone, often rendering them incapable of standing against the stream of mass opinion. In New Zealand the CL has failed to intervene in workers' struggles with an independent revolutionary programme; in particular, it has refused to challenge the leadership of the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour Party in a consistent manner.

The Communist League's inability to break politically with the labour bureaucracy was demonstrated when—as the Socialist Action League—they cravenly called for workers to vote for the Labour Government in the 1987 parliamentary elections (Socialist Action, 24 July 1987). This made a mockery of the occasional Leninist tactic of giving critical electoral support to Labour parties, for this tactic was designed to undermine working class illusions in the social democrats when they were promising to fight for workers' interests in the future—in 1987 the NZ Labour Government had already spent three years openly attacking working people with its vicious Thatcherite policies.

The Communist League's tendency towards passivity was exemplified by their virtual abstention during the struggle against the National Government's union busting Employment Contracts Bill in 1991. This bill constituted the most significant attack on the working class in New Zealand since 1951. Like many workers around the country, the communists of the PRG did their best to fight for militant working class action: at union meetings, workplaces, on demonstrations and around the left, we argued for a general strike against the Bill. We intervened in the final Wellington demonstration on 30 April with several thousand copies of our leaflet "General Strike to Stop the Bill!" (26 April 1991). In all our interventions we attempted to expose the conscious resistance of the CTU leadership to a real general strike.

But Communist League members have so far been unable to tell us of anything their group did to promote the kind of mass action necessary to defeat the Bill. They failed to counterpose a Marxist perspective—or even a militant reformist perspective for that matter!—to the gutlessness and betrayals of the union bureaucracy. Their activity was confined to setting up literature tables on demonstrations and selling their usual collection of banal SWP literature—the US oriented Militant, and various books and pamphlets such as Fidel on Religion and Mandela's The Struggle Is My Life. The Communist League effectively abstained from the fight against the National Government's draconian legislation, a struggle which the capitalists, with the help of the labour bureaucrats, won decisively. In their minor way they are therefore complicit in the defeat of this struggle.

Some CLers may believe that such abstentionism demonstrates "internationalism". But genuine revolutionary internationalism involves drawing the lessons of the history of international class struggle and applying those lessons to the concrete battles being waged by workers. The CL leadership's facile conception of internationalist solidarity is in style liberal and moralistic—and in content it is procapitalist as often as not. Amidst the fight against the right wing, free market policies of the National Government, the CL advises New Zealand workers to study Nelson Mandela—who advocates the continuation of a free market economy in South Africa!

Marxism and Women's Liberation

The Communist League's willingness to bury the Marxist programme in their pursuit of friends and influence is demonstrated by their work in the New Zealand women's movement. CL members who participate in united fronts such as the Women's National Abortion Action Campaign (WONAAC) function simply as energetic, reliable coalition members, but fail to raise an independent, Marxist programme.

The PRG has worked diligently to help build WONAAC and other united fronts on women's issues, but we also seize opportunities to put forward our revolutionary programme for women's liberation. By contrast the Communist League has failed to counterpose a Marxist perspective to the bourgeois feminist viewpoint which dominates the women's movement. The CL has long endorsed the feminist conception of an "independent women's movement" (Socialist Action Review, March 1984), which amounts to a rejection of the perspective of a communist women's movement of the type forged by the Bolsheviks in the struggle for the Russian Revolution, which was linked to the Bolshevik party.

As advanced by feminists the concept of an "independent" or "autonomous" women's movement—that is, "independent" of the class struggle—is in fact ultimately counterposed to the struggle for women's liberation, for women's oppression is an integral part of the capitalist system. The feminists' "autonomous" women's movement is defined on the basis of gender, not class or political programme. Any such multi class movement can only serve to unite proletarian women with their oppressors, who are only too anxious to remain "autonomous" from working class revolutionary Marxism.

The fight for women to be freed from sexist oppression is above all a fight to free them from economic dependence. This, in turn, is intertwined with the struggle for socialism and workers' democracy. Communists seek to integrate the struggle against the specific oppression suffered by women into a common struggle for liberation—that is, socialism—by all the oppressed and exploited. The Communist League on the other hand, by accepting the feminist separation of the women's movement from the struggle against the capitalist social system in which sexual oppression is rooted, endorses a strategy which can only weaken these struggles.

In recent years, the SWP/CL has a pretty sorry record on the rights of women in Eastern Europe—for example, they failed to oppose capitalist reunification in Germany in 1990. Women were never liberated in the German Democratic Republic (DDR), with the ruling Stalinist caste in this deformed workers' state promoting the "socialist family" and male domination within it. But nevertheless the destruction of capitalism and the creation of a planned economy meant important gains for women which were not found in most capitalist societies; now the women of the former deformed workers' state are among the most hard hit by the counterrevolutionary offensive.

Whereas previously 90 percent of women in the German Democratic Republic had jobs, compared to 50 percent in the capitalist Federal Republic, now the subsidised childcare system which had made this possible has been almost totally disbanded; abortion rights have also been under heavy attack. But the SWP/CL—who often say what is popular rather than what is necessary—supported the counterrevolutionary reunification of Germany, despite the fact that it was a crucial step in the restoration of capitalism in the DDR. They wrote that "workers' and farmers' rule in a united Germany ... should not be a precondition for working people supporting the just demand for German reunification" (Militant, 25 May 1990).

A Fake International Party

The Communist League makes much of the international movement to which it belongs. However it is clear that the SWP and its "Communist League" satellites do not constitute a real democratic centralist world party as was Lenin's Third International and Trotsky's Fourth. While there are no formal links between the different bodies, the reality is that the Communist League's political line and method is determined in New York by Jack Barnes and Co. The summary dumping of the Socialist Action League's formal adherence to the permanent revolution perspective in the early 1980s is a case in point: when Trotsky's theory suddenly became unfashionable in the SWP, the SAL fell into place without blinking an eye. Every time the SWP twitches so do their New Zealand comrades.

Late in 1991 there was an example: Jack Barnes and another SWP luminary, Mary Alice Waters, made separate visits to New Zealand, giving speaking tours. As it turned out they were in town to give a slap on the hand to the Communist League leadership for, apparently, its "failure to centralise the Communist League to carry out a working class campaign against imperialism and war". The specific political content of this failure is difficult to ascertain—perhaps the explanation for Barnes's trashing of his NZ sidekicks was simply that they hadn't been selling enough copies of the Militant. In the best tradition of a Maoist confessional, the National Committee of the Communist League put forward the handslap as a self criticism. The substance of their vaguely outlined misdemeanours is not really the point—what is crucial is the show of obedience to higher authority.

The apolitical bureaucratism of its international movement is reflected in the Communist League's internal life, where debate and dissent among the membership is stifled. This leads to flagrant betrayals of the principles of internal party democracy. For example, in 1986 two comrades who later went on to help found the PRG were expelled from the Young Socialists, the SAL's youth organisation (for the document which led to their expulsion, see Permanent Revolution: Yesterday & Today, PRG, 1988). Within the Young Socialists they had argued against the majority line that socialist revolution is not on the agenda in South Africa; in response the YS leadership decreed that their views were incompatible with membership. This cowardly bureaucratism has nothing to do with Lenin's conception of democratic centralism, which allows full and open internal debate so long as outside the organisation its members fight for the positions decided democratically by the party majority.

"We Have No Answers ..."

The Communist League is an organisation which is "communist" in name alone—its practice is reformist and largely irrelevant. In contrast to Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, the politics of the Communist League is founded on a denial of the importance of the conscious factor in history, of the centrality of providing revolutionary leadership in the struggle for socialism. Their viewpoint sees history unfolding inevitably, independent of conscious working class struggle. The reformists who run the SWP and the Communist League see their organisations merely as tools for organising support actions for the existing nonrevolutionary political leaderships, like the ANC and the Cuban Stalinists.

As the Communist League's Wellington mayoralty candidate announced with disarming honesty at a campaign meeting on 16 September 1992, the CL has "no answers", and wants only to be "part of the discussion". But this inevitably raises the question: what reason does this "Communist" League have for its independent existence? The struggle for a revolutionary programme and leadership is the reason for the existence of a communist party independent of all other parties in the working class. But the Communist League's perspective eliminates the need for political clarity—after all, why struggle for a communist leadership if it arises automatically and spontaneously out of the "objective dynamic" of history?

The belittling of revolutionary Marxist leadership leads to a belittling of the struggle for political clarification among the organisations of the left. This has driven the Communist League to curtail workers' democracy at its own public forums: at its forum of 15 August 1992 it announced that members and supporters of the PRG—the only other left group which ever participates in CL public meetings—would henceforth be subject to special restrictions with respect to number of speakers and time allowed. The criterion for such restrictions is whether you agree with the CL's reformist politics and bizarre misrepresentations of contemporary world politics. It is an irony which undoubtedly escapes the Communist League that it describes its public meetings as "Militant Labour Free-Speech Forums", and that the topic of this particular "Free-Speech" forum was the question of ... democratic rights and free speech.

Reforge Trotsky's Fourth International!

Today the Communist League's principal publication is the SWP's Militant, a paper which once had a proud record of communist struggle. The first issue of the Militant in November 1928 marked the founding of the American Trotskyist movement by a handful of comrades led by James Cannon. They had been expelled by the leadership of the, by then, bureaucratised US Communist Party for their struggle to revive authentic Marxism-Leninism against the Stalinists' betrayal of the Chinese Revolution and the 1926 British General Strike. But while the Communist League and its international affiliates claim a formal, organisational continuity with the Militant before its slide into the politics of passivity and class-collaboration, it is the Permanent Revolution Group and our comrades in the International Bolshevik Tendency who can claim a political, programmatic continuity with that journal in its revolutionary heyday.

Today the Communist League and the Militant embrace the same politics against which Cannon and the Trotskyist movement fought. By contrast the International Bolshevik Tendency continues Trotsky's fight for an international Marxist party, to lead the world proletariat towards a humane, classless socialist society; our task is the reforging of Trotsky's Fourth International, the "World Party of Socialist Revolution". The struggle to end capitalism is not predestined for victory by some invisible force; rather victory is dependent on the historical insight, political honesty and revolutionary will of communist workers. We urge militant workers and leftists to reject the reformist politics of the Communist League and to join the International Bolshevik Tendency in the struggle for socialist revolution.

Posted: 22 August 2007