Wretched Third Campism

Letter to the CPGB's paper, Weekly Worker, on military vs. political support of the Iranian government against imperialism. Published in Weekly Worker,  700 Thursday December 6 2007.

We note with interest the recent debate in the letters page of the Weekly Worker on the question of the advisability of a military bloc with the Iranian regime if it were to fight back against an attack by US imperialism. This debate touches on a long-standing difference between the International Bolshevik Tendency and the CPGB over the question of whether the two distinct categories of political and military support exist or not. This letter brings some new evidence to that debate.

An important historical example of this disagreement is our different interpretations of Lenin’s position concerning the Kornilov-led revolt against the provisional government in Russia in August 1917:

“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” 
(VI Lenin, to the central committee of the RSDLP, September 12 1917).

The IBT understands Lenin to be explaining a type of bloc that communists can be involved in that is of a purely technical/military form and involves no political support - where we are on the military side of one political enemy against another political enemy for the period of their military conflict.

The CPGB, on the other hand, understands this to mean that there was no bloc of any kind between the Bolsheviks and the provisional government against Kornilov in 1917 because every bloc where you take a military side must also necessarily involve political support. Lenin explicitly says there was no political support; therefore, for the CPGB, there cannot have been a bloc of any kind.

However, this leaves the CPGB unable to explain the following description by Lenin of the relationship between the Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in the fight against Kornilov:

“The alliance of the Cadets with the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks against the Bolsheviks - ie, against the revolutionary proletariat - has been tried in practice for a number of months, and this alliance of the temporarily disguised Kornilovites with the ‘democrats’ has actually strengthened and not weakened the Bolsheviks, and led to the collapse of the ‘alliance’, and to the strengthening of the left opposition among the Mensheviks.

“An alliance of the Bolsheviks with the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks against the Cadets, against the bourgeoisie, has not yet been tried; or, to be more precise, such an alliance has been tried on one front only, for five days only, from August 26 to August 31, the period of the Kornilov revolt, and this alliance at that time scored a victory over the counterrevolution with an ease never yet achieved in any revolution; it was such a crushing suppression of the bourgeois, landowners, capitalist, Allied-imperialist and Cadet counterrevolution, that the civil war from that side ceased to exist, was a mere nothing from the very outset, collapsed before any ‘battle’ had taken place”
(VI Lenin, ‘The Russian Revolution and civil war’, September 29 1917).

The IBT and CPGB both agree with Lenin’s insistence that there is no question of any political support to the SRs and Mensheviks in the fight against Kornilov - and yet he describes the relationship during the opposition to Kornilov as being an “alliance”. This is obviously consistent with only one of the two understandings outlined above - Lenin can have only be referring to a military alliance.

However, the point of this letter is not to indulge in some apparently abstract point-scoring over the historical record. We expose the CPGB’s revisionist interpretation of history because mistakes in understanding the theory and programme of Bolshevism have very real concrete consequences in the here and now.

In this case the wilful inability of the CPGB to recognise the distinction between military and political support forms an important part of the ideological justification for their refusal to take a side in imperialist wars of aggression against non-imperialist capitalist states - eg, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Because the CPGB (correctly) gave no political support to the Milosevic regime, the Taliban and Saddam’s dictatorship, they were (incorrectly) opposed to taking a military side with these non-imperialist regimes against the imperialist aggressors.

The debate in the pages of Weekly Worker makes it clear that the CPGB are set to continue this wretched third campism if US imperialism attacks Iran by refusing to take a military side with the Iranian regime if it fights back against that attack.

Alan Davis

Posted: 21 December 2007