Sunday, 21 December 2008

Put work in its place: the bosses wont

Good news that the European Parliament has voted to end the right of members to opt-out of the Working Time Directive. The Directive prevents employers from forcing employees to work longer than 48 hours per week. It is a pity that the Commission itself reversed its opposition to keeping the opt-out only the week before Wednesday’s vote thereby undermining the impact of the MEPs’ stand. Or perhaps it was the Commission’s change of mind that gave rise to such a large majority of MEPs (421-273) voting against the opt-out safe in the knowledge that without the Commission’s blessing there is no chance of the opt-out actually coming to an end?

Closer to home, how strange that at a time when 100s of thousands of skilled and experienced workers are faced with being thrown out of their jobs leaders of the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry should greet the vote as `misguided’ and with the demand that they be allowed to impose as long a working week as they see fit? It is their human right you see and their operational needs, not the worker’s, are paramount. They want fewer workers doing more and more and they want to use this recession to `lock in’ these `productivity’ gains by making longer hours and lower wages the norm in post-recession Britain should that ever emerge.

Of course, some workers will echo the employers’ sentiments on the grounds that they should be allowed to work as long as they want to further their careers or earn extra money or simply enough to cover food bills and mortgage payments. The truth is, however, that those who work long hours, when its not imposed by employer fiat, are selfish and cost the rest of us money and happiness. We, along with their put-upon partners, pick up the tab for looking after their socially neglected children even more so if the partner too is working excessive hours. We pay higher prices in the shops and for houses because of their `extra’ earnings. Their ruthless careerism creates an unfair competition at work which some, particularly those with young children that they care about, cannot hope to compete with. At a time like this, hours (but not pay) should be cut dramatically so that the newly unemployed can be absorbed into the workforce before their skills and experience are lost forever. This should be incentivised in the tax system until it becomes the norm by reducing PAYE tax on the first 20 hours worked. Employers would then have a reason not to work us to death, our children and the elderly would be looked after by . . . ourselves (instead of policemen, social workers, borstals, nannies and care homes) and we’d all have a lot more time to participate in our communities and in democratic life. Alternatively, we could just kick back and enjoy a rest from our productive, manageable, fulfilling and, above all, short working week.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Recession: Socialism the middle ground?

The debate on how best to respond to the financial crisis and the worsening recession has now become completely polarised between the New Labour government on the one side and the Tory Opposition on the other. The Tories, 1980s style, want to cut off public spending and allow businesses and the most bankrupt banks to go to the wall. Let it rip they say and we can profitably rebuild from there. This is monetarism. Arch Thatcherite John Redwood is waiting in the wings for a chance to enact such a policy. Unfortunately there can be no way back for Britain from such a devastating contraction of the economy. Not this time. Everything that can be privatised has been privatised. Huge swathes of the economy are owned abroad and the financial and service sectors that led us out of the Tories’ last mess, but which have made this mess so much worse, will be irredeemably destroyed and the remnants relocated to the continent. It will be us heading to Poland in our millions and not the other way round if the Tories get their way. On your inter-continental bicycle, as they say.

New Labour takes the opposite tack. Fiscal stimulation has become their new mantra having so quickly and rudely replaced Gordon Brown’s once legendary prudence. Public borrowing, public spending, tax cuts and so on to inject money into the economy so that people will spend, spend, spend to save jobs and prevent bankruptcies. What about the pound, say the monetarists, and inflation? In the not so long run, they warn, it is 1930s Germany here we come. In the long run, replies New Labour, echoing the recently rediscovered economist John Maynard Keynes (although he was never forgotten by the reckless lenders), we are all dead. Very cynical but the Government’s must act or at least be seen to be acting.

In the excluded middle is a possible solution that incorporates both monetarism and fiscal stimulation but also reaches beyond the capitalist system itself to the possibility of a better future. It is a debt amnesty. A debt amnesty would wipe out the mortgages, credit card, student and personal loans of individuals and the debts of small and medium enterprises to the banks. That represents both a monetarist policy wiping out billions in accumulated, unprofitable capital (the dead capital which weighs on the living) and a huge fiscal stimulation as the newly debt-free can go on to spend on the things they need instead of paying off crippling debts. Yes, the banks would be wiped out by such a move but better they are wiped out than the entire economy. You will notice that both the Tory and New Labour plans are geared to saving the private banking system – the last of our net earners (cough!). They should be replaced by a single state bank which, by cutting out the private middle man, could lend at just above the Bank of England base rate to the businesses and individuals that need it. The state should also of course repudiate the accumulated toxic debts of the City geniuses who brought them in shiny packages from their seemingly more sophisticated rivals in Wall Street. The US had no qualms leaving Britain holding the pawned baby when they let Lehman Brothers go bankrupt effectively ending London’s once central role in world finance for ever.

The recently nationalised Northern Rock, in an effort to be more capitalist than thou after its nationalisation, started viciously repossessing homes. It has now reversed that policy. The more it repossessed, the more homes it was putting on the market, the more it was driving down prices and undermining its own (or our own) asset base. Now it is bending over backwards to help people to stay in their homes offering, in some cases, to virtually wipe off all mortgage arrears. This, essentially, is a nascent debt amnesty. It needs to be extended to the population as a whole.

Of course, like GM and Ford in the US many of our biggest companies are effectively bankrupt. They are being eyed-up by rivals for purchase and asset stripping. The massive unemployment that results will undermine any fiscal stimulation one cares to make and render it pointless. These big companies need to be nationalised to prevent this happening. Giving them money wont work as they will simply use it to buy out others and close them down or take it offshore where it will sit and wait for better times in other places and they’ll shed jobs anyway.

Keynes said it would be a good idea to get half the population burying five pound notes in bottles and the other half digging them up. The modern equivalent is to build airports and golf courses across the whole country to keep people working and stimulating the economy. Japan tried it and it didn’t work and now it is covered in unused airports and golf courses. Better that people are doing socially productive work. The unemployed from the luxury goods manufacturing and selling sectors must be incorporated into the wider economy by sharing the work. The forty-hour week must become the twenty-hour week. For instance, when the ten or so private banks that litter the high streets are organised into one state bank, instead of the economic benefits of such a rationalisation going to the few in the form of job cuts let them accrue to the workers in the form of cuts in working hours. Apart from the economic benefits of keeping everybody working in proper jobs, the social benefits to the family and community of everybody working a twenty hour week are incalculable.

A debt amnesty will of course require mobilising the population in support of such a thing as it will not happen if the bankers and politicians get their way. It is people who must act when governments will not or will only give the appearance of acting. On the back of such an achievement it would be possible for the first time to discuss what kind of bank we want and what kind of things we want it to finance. We could have a bank that is socially and environmentally responsible because that is its job and that is what it wants to be not because it is `regulated’.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Bonfire of the Cold War Sects

Marx-Engels Correspondence 1871

Marx to Friedrich Bolte
In New York

[London,] November 23, 1871

The International was founded in order to replace the Socialist or semi-Socialist sects by a real organisation of the working class for struggle. The original Statutes and the Inaugural Address show this at the first glance. On the other hand the Internationalists could not have maintained themselves if the course of history had not already smashed up the sectarian system. The development of the system of Socialist sects and that of the real workers' movement always stand in inverse ratio to each other. So long as the sects are (historically) justified, the working class is not yet ripe for an independent historic movement. As soon as it has attained this maturity ail sects are essentially reactionary. Nevertheless what history has shown everywhere was repeated within the International. The antiquated makes an attempt to re-establish and maintain itself within the newly achieved form.

And the history of the International was a continual struggle on the part of the General Council against the sects and amateur experiments which attempted to assert themselves within the International itself against the genuine movement of the working class. This struggle was conducted at the Congresses, but far more in the private dealings of the General Council with the individual sections.

In Paris, as the Proudhonists (Mutualists) were co-founders of the Association, they naturally had the reins in their hands there for the first years. Later, of course, collectivist, positivist, etc., groups were formed in opposition to them.

In Germany--the Lassalle clique. I myself went on corresponding for two years with the notorious Schweitzer and proved irrefutably to him that Lassalle's organisation is nothing but a sectarian organisation and as such hostile to the organisation of the genuine workers' movement striven for by the International. He had his "reasons" for not understanding this.

At the end of 1868 the Russian, Bakunin, entered the International with the aim of forming inside it a second International called the "Alliance of Social-Democracy," with himself as leader. He--a man devoid of theoretical knowledge--put forward the pretension that this separate body was to represent the scientific propaganda of the International, which was to be made the special function of this second International within the International.

His programme was a superficially scraped together hash of Right and Left--EQUALITY Of CLASSES (!), abolition of the right of inheritance as the starting point of the social movement (St. Simonistic nonsense), atheism as a dogma to be dictated to the members, etc., and as the main dogma (Proudhonist), abstention from the political movement.

This infant's spelling-book found favour (and still has a certain hold) in Italy and Spain, where the real conditions of the workers' movement are as yet little developed, and among a few vain, ambitious and empty doctrinaires in French Switzerland and Belgium.

For Mr. Bakunin the theory (the assembled rubbish he has scraped together from Proudhon, St. Simon, etc.) is a secondary affair--merely a means to his personal self-assertion. If he is a nonentity as a theoretician he is in his element as an intriguer.

For years the General Council had to fight against this conspiracy (which was supported up to a certain point by the French Proudhonists, especially in the south of France). At last, by means of Conference resolutions I (2) and (3), IX, XVI, and XVII, it delivered its long prepared blow.

Obviously the General Council does not support in America what it combats in Europe. Resolutions I (2) and (3) and IX now give the New York committee legal weapons with which to put an end to all sectarian formations and amateur groups and if necessary to expel them.

The New York Committee will do well to express its full agreement with the decisions of the Conference in an official communication to the General Council.

Bakunin, personally threatened in addition by Resolution XIV (publication in Égalité of the Netchaev trial) which will bring to light his infamous doings in Russia, is making every possible effort to get a protest started against the Conference among the remnants of his followers.

For this purpose he has got into contact with the demoralised section of the French political refugees in Geneva and London (a numerically weak section, anyway). The slogan given out is that the Geneva Council is dominated by Pan-Germanism (especially Bismarckism). This refers to the unpardonable fact that I am by birth a German and do actually exercise a decisive intellectual influence on the German Council. (N.B. The German element on the Council is two-thirds weaker numerically than either the English or the French. The crime therefore consists in the fact that the English and French elements are dominated by the German element where theory is concerned (!) and find this domination, i.e., German science, very useful and indeed indispensable.)

In Geneva, under the patronage of the bourgeois Madame Andrée Léo (who at the Lausanne Congress was shameless enough to denounce Ferré to his executioners in Versailles), they have published a paper, La Révolution Sociale, which conducts arguments against us in almost literally the same words as the Journal de Genève, the most reactionary paper in Europe.

In London they attempted to establish a French section, of whose activities you will find an example in No. 42 of Qui Vive? which I enclose. (Also the number which contains the letter from our French Secretary, Seraillier). This section, consisting of twenty people (including a lot of spies), has not been recognised by the General Council, but another much more numerous section has been.

Actually, despite the intrigues of this bunch of scoundrels, we are carrying on great propaganda in France--and in Russia, where they know what value to place on Bakunin and where my book on capital is just being published in Russian....

N.B. as to political movement: The political movement of the working class has as its object, of course, the conquest of political power for the working class, and for this it is naturally necessary that a previous organisation of the working class, itself arising from their economic struggles, should have been developed up to a certain point.

On the other hand, however, every movement in which the working class comes out as a class against the ruling classes and attempts to force them by pressure from without is a political movement. For instance, the attempt in a particular factory or even a particular industry to force a shorter working day out of the capitalists by strikes, etc., is a purely economic movement. On the other hand the movement to force an eight-hour day, etc., law is a political movement. And in this way, out of the separate economic movements of the workers there grows up everywhere a political movement, that is to say a movement of the class, with the object of achieving its interests in a general form, in a form possessing a general social force of compulsion. If these movements presuppose a certain degree of previous organisation, they are themselves equally a means of the development of this organisation.

Where the working class is not yet far enough advanced in its organisation to undertake a decisive campaign against the collective power, i.e., the political power of the ruling classes, it must at any rate be trained for this by continual agitation against and a hostile attitude towards the policy of the ruling classes. Otherwise it will remain a plaything in their hands, as the September revolution in France showed, and as is also proved up to a certain point by the game Messrs. Gladstone & Co. are bringing off in England even up to the present time.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Multipolar Disorder

Here is a little tet-a-tet I had with a member of the SWP recently. It is a comment I posted in the discussion on the fine Splintered Sunrise blog here:

It was very hastily written in the last five minutes of a lunch break so please excuse the clunkiness. I should really work on it further.

`However I still don’t understand the relevence as we are not here dealing with a bipolar world.’

And here is the SWP’s sophistry out in the open. In a bipolar world the major powers fight proxy wars, in a multi-polar world the major powers fight each other directly. This is a multi-polar world, Russia is fighting Georgia therefore Russia is fighting the West. Therefore Georgia can go to hell and we won’t take sides. And why do the SWP peddle this line? Because they have Stalinist friends in the Stop the War Coalition who support this war outright either because they still have some nostalgic or financial relationship to the ultra-chauvinist and ultra-servile Russian Communist Parties or both. Unfortunately the cost of maintaining their alliances will be the complete and utter discrediting of the coalition itself at a time when it needs all its strength to organise against an attack on Iran. It is ironic that the same people who bang on about Cuba all the time support this Russian onslaught as if the Oligarchy who completed the blockade of that island and nearly starved its people to death and who have plundered the people’s property through outright theft or state organised financial scams are capable of anything remotely progressive whatsoever.

In actual fact, what is happening is that the major powers are redistributing the world between each other, smashing up, betraying, making false promises, pandering to semi-colonial nations, invading them, conceding what they have to to each other. When the redistribution is finished and it is clear who has won and who has lost the most then and only then, due to their own internal contradictions, will the major powers confront each other directly in a full blown, global conflagration. Before that, however, they will have to smash the will of the world proletariat, that spectre which haunts them all but which, in the SWP’s hands, looks more like Casper the Friendly Ghost.

If you oppose the SWP’s tacit support for the Russian invasion of Georgia you will be called a `liberal bomber’ and an `ethnic cleanser’ which would be correct if you supported direct Western intervention but which, are in fact, a lie. If a direct confrontation between Russia and the USA comes about on Georgian soil then we will be for the defeat of both sides through the self-organised opposition of their respective working classes.

The reverse arguements are used by the AWL to support Zionism. They are prepared to justify ANY Israeli assault on Iran and anybody who isn’t is an anti-semite and a BNP supporter. Doubtless when Iran is attacked we will get the same arguement about the major powers and the main enemy being at home intended to make us turn a blind eye to what has been done to Iran as the SWP want us to turn a blind eye to what is being done to Georgia. The AWL has handed its organisation over to Zionism lock, stock and smoking barrels. The SWP have handed theirs over to Stalinism.

Tough negotiations are taking place between the US, Britain, Poland, the Czechs on one side and the Russians, French and Germans on the other on how this conflict will play out in the near future. How far can the Russians take their assault on Georgia, will they finally give the green light to an Israeli/US strike on Iran in exchange for Israeli complicity in their invasion and getting the missile shield moved onto Russian soil where they all agree it would be better placed to confront the `real’ enemy China, possibly the last thing the imperialists will agree on before tearing each other apart.

The SWP and the AWL are centrist remnants of the Cold War whose theoretical weaknesses stand exposed in their inability to cope with the new realities and in their treacherous and opportunist alliances.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Bureaucratism and Factional Groups

By Leon Trotsky (1923)

THE QUESTION of groupings and factions in the party has become the pivotal point of the discussion. In view of the intrinsic importance of the question and the extremely sharp form it has taken on, it demands to be treated with perfect clarity. Often enough, however, the question is put in an erroneous manner.

We are the only party in the country and, in the present period of dictatorship, it could not be otherwise. The different needs of the working class, of the peasantry, of the state apparatus and its functionaries, act upon our party, through the medium of which they seek to find political expression. The difficulties and contradictions inherent in our epoch, the temporary discord of interests of various sections of the proletariat, or of the proletariat and the peasantry, act upon the party through the medium of its workers’ and peasants’ nuclei, of the state apparatus and of the young students. The nuances of opinion, the episodic divergences of view may express the remote pressure of definite social interests and, under certain circumstances, may transform themselves into stable groups. The latter, in turn, may sooner or later take on the form of organized factions which, pitting themselves as such against the rest of the party, are by that token even more subject to external pressure. Such is the logical evolution of groupings in an epoch when the communist party is obliged to monopolize the leadership of political life.

What results ensue? If one does not want factions, there must be no permanent groups, if one does not want permanent groups, temporary groups must be avoided; naturally in order that there be no temporary groups, there must be no differences of opinion, for where there are two opinions, persons inevitably group themselves together. But how, on the other hand, are divergences of view to be avoided in a party of half a million men which directs the country under exceptionally complicated and painful conditions? This is the essential contradiction that resides in the very position of the party of the proletarian dictatorship and from which it is impossible to escape by purely formal procedure alone.

The partisans of the “old course” who vote for the resolution of the Central Committee with the assurance that everything will remain as it was in the past, reason about as follows: Just see, the lid of our apparatus has barely been lifted and already tendencies toward groupings of all sorts are manifesting themselves in the party. The lid must be brought down again vigorously and the boiler hermetically sealed. This is the short-sighted wisdom with which numerous speeches and articles “against factionalism” are permeated. In their innermost conscience, the partisans of the apparatus regard the resolution of the Central Committee either as a political mistake which an effort should be made to render harmless, or else as a manoeuvre which should be utilized. In my opinion, they are grossly mistaken. And if there is a tactic calculated to introduce disorganization into the party, it is that of those persons who persist in the old orientation while feigning to accept respectfully the new one.

It is in conflicts and divergences of view that the working out of the public opinion of the party inevitably takes place. To localize it in an apparatus charged with subsequently supplying the party with the fruit of its labor in the form of instructions, of orders, is to sterilize the party ideologically and politically. To make the whole party participate in the working out and the adoption of resolutions, is to promote temporary ideological groupings which run the risk of being converted into lasting groups and even into factions. What is to be done? Is it possible that there is no way out? Is it possible that there is no intermediate line for the party between the regime of “calm” and that of crumbling into factions? No, there is one, and the task of the leadership consists, every time it is necessary and particularly at turning points, in finding the line that corresponds to the given real situation.

The resolution of the Central Committee says plainly that the bureaucratic regime is one of the sources of factions. This is a truth which now hardly any longer needs to be demonstrated. The “old course” was pretty far from democracy, and yet it did not preserve the party from illegal factions any more than the present stormy discussion which, one cannot conceal it from himself, may lead to the formation of temporary or lasting groupings. In order to avoid it, the leading organs of the party must lend an ear to the voice of the mass, without regarding all criticism as a manifestation of the factional spirit and thereby driving conscientious and disciplined communists to maintain a systematic silence or to constitute themselves into factions.

But this is neither more or less than a justification of Miasnikov [1] and his supporters! – the bureaucrats will say. How so? In the first place, the phrase which we have just underlined is only a textual extract from the resolution of the Central Committee. Furthermore, since when is explanation equivalent to justification? To say that an ulcer is the result of a defective blood circulation due to an inadequate afflux of oxygen, is not to “justify” the ulcer and to consider it a normal part of the human organism. The only conclusion is that it must be scarified, the wound sterilized, and above all, the window must be opened up to permit fresh air to supply the oxygen needed by the blood. But the trouble is that the most militant wing of the “old course” is convinced that the resolution of the Central Committee is wrong, particularly in the passage dealing with bureaucratism as a source of factions. And if it does not say so openly, it is only because of formal reasons, quite in harmony with a mentality impregnated with that formalism which is the essential attribute of bureaucratism.

It is incontestable that factions are a scourge in the present situation and that groups, even if temporary, may be transformed into factions. But as experience shows it is far from enough to declare that groups and factions are an evil for their appearance to be prevented. They will be forestalled only by a correct policy, adapted to the actual situation.

It is enough to study the history of our party, be it only during the revolution, that is, during a period when the constitution of factions is especially dangerous, to see that the struggle against this danger can not be confined to a formal condemnation and a prohibition.

It was in the autumn of 1917, in connection with the cardinal question of the seizure of power, that the most formidable disagreement arose in the party. The furious rhythm of events invested this disagreement with an extreme sharpness which led almost immediately to the constitution of a faction. Involuntarily, perhaps, the opponents of the forcible overturn made a bloc with elements not belonging to the party, published their declarations in outside organs, etc. [2] At that moment, the unity of the party hung by a hair. How was a split averted? Solely by the rapid development of the situation and its favorable outcome. The split would inevitably have occurred if the events had dragged out, and even more certainly if the insurrection had terminated in a defeat. Under the firm leadership of the majority of the Central Committee, the party, in an impetuous offensive, passed over the heads of the opposition; the power was conquered and the opposition, not very numerous but qualitatively very strong, adopted the platform of October. The faction, the danger of split, were overcome at that time not by formal decisions on the basis of the statutes, but by revolutionary action.

The second big dissension arose on the occasion of the Brest-Litovsk peace. The partisans of the revolutionary war [3] constituted at that time a genuine faction with its own central organ. How much truth there is to the recent anecdote, according to which Bukharin was almost prepared, at one moment, to arrest the government of Lenin – I am unable to say! [4] However that may be, the existence of a Left communist faction represented an extreme danger to the unity of the party. To proceed to a split at that time would not have been difficult and would not have required on the part of the leadership ... any great intellectual exertion: it would have sufficed to issue an injunction against the Left communist faction. Nevertheless, the party adopted more complex methods. It preferred to discuss, to explain, to prove by experience, and to resign itself temporarily to that menacing anomaly represented by the existence of a faction organized in its midst.

The question of organizing the military work also engendered the constitution of a fairly strong and fairly obdurate grouping, opposed to the creation of a regular army with a centralized military apparatus, specialists, etc. [5] At times the struggle became extremely sharp. But as in October, the question was resolved by experience: by the war itself. Certain blunders and exaggerations of the official military policy were straightened out under the pressure of the opposition, and that not only without harm but with profit to the centralized organization of the regular army. As to the opposition, it exhausted itself little by little. A large number of its most active representatives participated in the organization of the army, in which they often occupied important posts.

Clearly defined groupings constituted themselves at the time of the memorable discussion on the trade unions. [6] Now that we have the possibility of embracing this whole period at a glance and clearing it up in the light of subsequent experience, we observe that the discussion did not at all revolve around the trade unions, nor even around workers’ democracy. What was expressed in these disputes was a profound uneasiness in the party, whose cause was the excessive prolongation of the economic regime of war communism. The whole economic organism of the country was in a vise. The discussion on the role of the trade unions and of workers democracy concealed the quest for a new economic road. The way out was found in putting an end to the requisitioning of food products and to the grain monopoly, and in the gradual liberation of state industry from the tyranny of central economic direction. [7] These historical decisions were unanimously adopted and completely smothered the trade union discussion, all the more so as, following upon the establishment of the NEP, the role of the trade unions themselves appeared in a completely different light and as, a few months later, it became necessary to alter radically the resolution on the trade unions.

The most lasting and, from certain aspects, the most dangerous group, was that of the “workers’ opposition”. [8] It reflected in a distorted manner the contradictions of war communism, certain mistakes of the party, as well as essential objective difficulties of socialist organization. But this time also we did not limit ourselves to a formal prohibition. On the questions of democracy, formal decisions were made, and on the purging of the party effective and extremely important measures were taken, giving satisfaction to what was right and healthy in the criticism and the demands of the “workers’ opposition”. And what is most important, it is only thanks to the decisions and the economic measures adopted by the party, the result of which was to lead to the disappearance of the divergences of view and the groupings, that the Tenth Congress was able to lay down a formal prohibition against the constitution of factions, with reason to believe that its decision would not remain a dead letter. But, as experience and political common sense show, it goes without saying that, by itself, this prohibition contained no absolute or even serious guarantees against the appearance of new ideological and organizational groupings. The essential guarantee in this case is a correct leadership, attention to the requirements of the moment which are reflected in the party, the flexibility of the apparatus which must not paralyze but rather organize the initiative of the party, which must neither fear criticism nor seek to put a stop to it by the bugbear of factions. The decision of the Tenth Congress prohibiting factions can have only an auxiliary character; by itself, it does not give the key to the solution of all the internal difficulties. It would be “organizational fetishism” to believe that regardless of the development of the party, the mistakes of the leadership, the conservatism of the apparatus, the influences from without it, etc., a decision is enough to preserve us from groupings and from the disorder inherent in the formation of factions. To look at things in this way would be to give proof of bureaucratism.

A striking example of this is furnished us by the history of the Petrograd organization. Shortly after the Tenth Congress, which interdicted the constitution of groups and factions, a very lively organizational struggle arose in Petrograd, which led to the formation of two groupings flatly opposed to each other. The simplest thing, at first thought, would have been to issue an anathema against at least one of these groupings. But the Central Committee categorically refused to employ this method which was suggested to it from Petrograd. It assumed the role of arbitrator between the two groups and, in the long run, succeeded in assuring not only their collaboration but their complete fusion in the organization. There is an important example which deserves to be kept in mind and which might serve to clarify some bureaucratic heads.

We have said above that every important and lasting group in the party, and this is even truer of organized factions, has a tendency to become the spokesman for some social interests or other. Any deviation may, in the course of its development, become the expression of the interests of a class hostile or semi-hostile to the proletariat. Now, bureaucratism is a deviation, and an unhealthy one; that, let us hope, is not open to dispute. From the moment that this is the case, it threatens to run the party off the right road, off the class road. Therein precisely lies its danger. But – and this is a fact which is instructive to the highest, and at the same time the most alarming degree – those who asseverate most flatly, with the greatest insistence, and sometimes most brutally, that every difference of opinion, every grouping of views, even if temporary, is an expression of the interests of classes opposed to the proletariat, do not want to apply this criterion to bureaucratism.

And yet, the social criterion is perfectly in place in this instance, for bureaucratism is a well-defined evil, a notorious and incontestably harmful deviation officially condemned but still showing no signs of disappearing. Moreover, it is pretty difficult to make it disappear at one blow. But if bureaucratism, as the resolution of the Central Committee says, threatens to detach the party from the masses and consequently to weaken the class character of the party, it follows that the struggle against bureaucratism can in no case be the result of non-proletarian influences. On the contrary, the aspiration of the party to preserve its proletarian character must inevitably engender resistance to bureaucratism. Obviously, under cover of this resistance, various wrong, unhealthy and injurious tendencies may manifest themselves. And they cannot be disclosed save by the Marxian analysis of their ideological content. But to identify resistance to bureaucratism with a grouping which allegedly serves as a channel for alien influences, is to be oneself the “channel” for bureaucratic influences.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to understand in too simplified a manner the thought that party differences and, even more so, groupings, are nothing but a struggle for influence of opposed classes. Thus, in 1920, the question of the invasion of Poland produced two currents of opinion, one advocating a more audacious policy, the other preaching prudence.[9] Did that show different class tendencies? I do not think that that can be affirmed. There were only differences in the appraisal of the situation, the forces, the means. But the essential criterion of appraisal was the same in both camps.

It often happens that the party can resolve one and the same problem by different means. And if a discussion then arises, it does so for time purpose of learning which of the means is the best, the most expedient, the most economical. According to the question involved, these differences may embrace substantial layers of the party, but this does not necessarily mean that there is a struggle of two class tendencies.

There is no doubt that we shall still have many disagreements, for our road is a painful one and the political tasks as well as the economic questions of socialist organization will unfailingly engender divergences of view and temporary groupings of opinion. For our party, the political verification of all the nuances of opinion by means of a Marxian analysis will always be one of the most effective preventive measures. But it is this concrete Marxian verification that must be resorted to, and not stereotyped phrases which are the defense mechanism of bureaucratism. If the road of the “new course” is trod more seriously, it will be possible to control all the better the heterogeneous political ideology which is now rising against bureaucratism and to cleanse it of any alien and injurious element. But this is impossible without a serious turn-about-face in the mentality and the intentions of the party apparatus. But what we are witnessing on the contrary at the present moment is a new offensive of the latter, which pushes aside all criticism of the “old course”, formally condemned but not yet liquidated, by treating it as a manifestation of factional spirit. If factions are dangerous – and they are – it is criminal to close one’s eyes to the danger represented by the conservative bureaucratic faction. It is precisely against this danger that the resolution of the Central Committee directs its main shafts.

The maintenance of the unity of the party is the gravest concern of the great majority of the communists. But it must be said openly: if there is a serious danger at present to the unity or at least to the unanimity of the party, it is unbridled bureaucratism. It is from this camp that provocative voices have been raised. It is there that some have dared to say: we are not afraid of split. It is the representatives of this tendency who dig into the past, hunting there for everything that might be used to inject more rancor into the discussion, who artificially revive the memories of the former struggle and the former split in order imperceptibly to accustom the mind of the party to the possibility of so monstrous, so disastrous a crime as a new split. Some wish to counterpose the need of unity in the party to its need of a less bureaucratic regime.

If the party let itself be swayed, if it sacrificed the vital elements of its own democracy, it would succeed only in exacerbating its internal struggle and in shaking its cohesion. One cannot demand of the party confidence in the apparatus when he himself has no confidence in the party. There’s the whole question. Preconceived bureaucratic distrust towards the party, towards its mind and its spirit of discipline, is the principal cause of all the evils engendered by the domination of the apparatus. The party does not want factions and will not tolerate them. It is monstrous to think that it will smash, or permit anybody to smash its apparatus. It knows that this apparatus is composed of the most valuable elements, embodying the greatest part of the past experiences. But it wants to renew it and to remind it that it is its apparatus, that it is elected by it and that it must not detach itself from it.

In meditating well on the situation created in the party and which has showed itself in a particularly clear light in the course of the discussion, one sees that the future presents itself in a double perspective. Either the organic ideological regrouping which is now taking place in the party along the line of the resolutions of the Central Committee will be a step forward along the road of the organic growth of the party, the beginning of a new great chapter – and that would be the most desirable way out for all of us and the most beneficial one for the party, which will then easily overcome excesses in the discussion and in the opposition and, with greater reason, vulgar democratic tendencies. Or else, passing over to the counter-offensive, the apparatus will fall more or less under the sway of its most conservative elements and, on the pretext of combating the factions, will throw the party back and reestablish “calm”. This second eventuality would be incomparably more grievous; it would not prevent, it goes without saying, the development of the party, but this development would take place only at the cost of considerable efforts and disturbances. For this method would only still further foster tendencies which are harmful, disintegrating, opposed to the party. These are the two eventualities to envisage.

1. Old worker-Bolshevik, expelled in 1922 for Menshevik tendencies. Years later, Stalin sent him into exile, whence he escaped to Persia in 1929, then to Turkey<./p>

2. The principal opponents, Zinoviev and Kamenev, revealed and criticized the party’s plans in Gorky’s paper on the eve of the uprising. They were supported by Rykov, Nogin, Miliutin, Losovsky, Shliapnikov, Riazanov, Larin and others.

3. Led by Bukharin, they published an independent extra-party paper in Petrograd, The Communist, violently attacking the Lenin policy. Others in the group included Radek, Krestinsky, Ossinsky, Sapronov, Yakovlev, Pokrovsky, Piatakov, Preobrazhenskv, Safarov, etc. Trotsky, before abstaining from the vote in order to accord Lenin a majority for his standpoint defended the position “Neither peace nor war.”

4. On December 21, 1923, Pravda published a letter signed by nine of the former Left Communists, confirming the anecdote. At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Soviets, the Left Social Revolutionist, Kamkov, said “in a joking tone” to Bukharin and Piatakov: “Well, what are you going to do if you get the majority of the party? Lenin will resign and we will have to constitute a new Council of People’s Commissars with you. In that case, I think we would elect Piatakov as chairman ...” Later, the Left Social Revolutionist, Proshyan, said laughingly to Radek: “All you do is write resolutions. Wouldn’t it be simpler to arrest Lenin for a day, declare war on the Germans and then reelect him unanimously chairman of the Council ?”

5. The “military opposition” of 1918-1919 was led by V.M. Smirnov, and supported by Voroshilov, Piatakov, Mezhlauk and Stalin, among others, against Trotsky. The Eighth Congress of the RCP in 1919 voted support for the latter’s policy.

6. From November 1920 (Fifth trade union Congress) to March 1921 (Tenth party Congress). The Central Committee was divided into two groups, one of eight led by Lenin, the other of seven, including Trotsky, Bukharin, Dzherzhinsky, Andreyev, Krestinsky, Preobrazhensky and Serebriakov. The party congress supported Lenin’s group. .

7. The directing centers (glavs) of production, vertically divided, as it were, had to be abolished in 1921 as an unhappy attempt at economic organization.

8. Led by Shliapnikov, Kollontay, Medvediev, Kisseliev, Lutovinov and others, who advocated that the management of economic life be turned over to the trade unions.

9. Lenin led the former, Trotsky and Radek the latter.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Driving into the night: traffic jams and tragedies, a literary approach

A bit off topic this. A quirky look at the tragedy of traffic jams by a good friend of mine:

By Owen Davies

`The dream of freedom can quickly sour to nightmare, as the defiant boast of the modern (`I take value from myself alone!’) dwindles into a cry of anguish (`I am so lonely in this universe!’).’

Terry Eagleton1

Social and economic science has long appropriated the literary form of tragedy as a metaphor to describe the traffic jam. However, I will argue, whilst the correct metaphor has been selected it has in fact been misappropriated due to a misunderstanding of what a tragedy in literature actually is. What they are describing equates to an all together different literary form.

This misappropriation has serious consequences in the field of policy. It leads to prescriptive, conservative policies which merely tinker with the problem or make it worse. They are either supply-side (more roads) that threaten accelerated environmental destruction or demand-side (road-pricing) that threaten the overnight ruination of huge swathes of the middle classes.

Terry Eagleton’s acclaimed and contemporary theory of tragedy outlined in his book Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic 2, I will argue, can give us insight into the modern phenomenon of the traffic jam where sociological and economic theories have often left us cold.

The idea here is that literature and literary theory has developed a better understanding of the relationship between agent and structure than the social sciences which have long been embroiled in an interminable debate between the advocates of agency and the champions of structure. 3

In literature, character and plot are dialectically related, identical opposites struggling with each other for resolution. An author or dramatist is well aware that only a certain kind of character will make the chosen plot work in the required way. Get it wrong and either the plot becomes unfeasible or the character unbelievable.

Before looking at Eagleton’s theory of the tragic I would outline two examples from sociology and economics that describe the `tragedy’ of the traffic jam.

In 1966, the economist Alfred Khan developed a thoroughly structuralist theory of the traffic jam which owed a great deal to game theory. 4 In Khan’s `tyranny of small decisions’ there is absolutely no room for human agency in establishing or escaping this tyranny. Khan’s theory can be applied to economics, war, in fact a great number of things. Khan applied it to the traffic jam using the withdrawal of train services in Ithica, New York as more and more took to the once empty roads, despite the fact that the majority claimed to want to keep them, as an example of such post hoc decision making.

Two years later came G. Harding’s influential 1968 paper `The Tragedy of the Commons’ which dealt with population.5 Simply stated, it is in the interests of say a group of goat-herders with common ownership of a piece of land to maintain a certain equilibrium in use of that land. However, as individuals it is in their interest to cram as many of their own goats on to the land as possible and, as they all do this, all the goats and subsequently they themselves, starve to death. The traffic jam is thought to be a par excellence modern example of such a tragedy whereby empty roads are soon utilised way beyond their capacity. Harding’s answer to the tragedy is a` fundamental extension of morality’ though it is not clear how this is to be achieved.

Both approaches are hyper-structural leaving little room for meaningful agency and so a more appropriate literary metaphor would be the farce where plot so dominates the characters that they might as well not be there. In farce, the dazzling logic of the plot renders the nature of the characters near meaningless.

At the heart of tragic drama is the hubris of the main character. A character with inflated, even arrogant pride and an overestimated sense of his or her own power. It is important that they are seen as the authors of their own downfall. Aristotle was one of the first and certainly the most influential thinkers to attempt a theoretical grasp of poetics and, of tragedy, he authoritatively declared that it can only depict those with power and high status. With the advent of modern democracy traditionalist thinkers, at least, have declared `the death of tragedy’. Eagleton shows this to be a type of hubris in its own right. Democracy is, after all, only a legitimising of differences, an acknowledgement that we all have different and opposed interests, a breeding ground for hubris if not of kings.

For Eagleton, explained playwright Howard Brenton in his review of Sweet Violence, `tragedy did not die in the 20th century, but mutated into modernism’. 7

Brenton further elucidates on Eagleton’s thinking: `There is a tragic predicament at the very centre of contemporary western culture.

`Hegel defends the Enlightenment with a theory of struggle between reason and what he calls ``the night of the world’’, the chaotic lava of hatred and irrationality within us which can destroy us and what we build, but which is nevertheless the source of enormous energy. For Hegel, our history is about our attempts to negate the destructive negativity of ``the night of the world’’, and turn it to productive thought and social construction.

`Eagleton finds this reinforced by Freud’s vision in Civilisation and Its Discontents in which the death instinct, Thanatos, struggles forever within us with Eros, love, the instinct to build and prosper. Our modern tragedy is that Eros makes us desire individual freedom against all else. But we have made a Faustian bargain with the extremes of the late capitalist world, in which freedom hovers over the nightmare of chaotic social breakdown: ``What if reaching for one’s own fulfilment is the crippling, betrayal and scapegoating of others . . ?’’.’

Where, in this modern world, could we find a better example of the urge to build and prosper coming into conflict with the death instinct than the traffic jam? Millions of people jump into their cars in the morning full of the desire to go out and make a living for themselves and their families and then sit alone for hours on end in a metal coffin vegetating away to the inane chatter of DJs. Having put in a hard day’s work they then climb back into their cars to waste even more precious time such that when they arrive home they find the whole purpose of their labours have either gone to bed or do not recognise them.

Obviously, somebody sitting moribund in their motionless vehicle is not exactly great drama but the consequential social and economic dislocation is, and tragic they are too.

And what of the Faustian bargain that led to this nightmare. The rise of the motor car was certainly not an example of Khan’s post hoc decision making resulting from small decisions but was a conscious effort by late capitalism to prolong its existence. The transport infrastructure was essential but unprofitable and operated by an increasingly well organised working class. In return for the undermining of public transport, particularly the railways, the carrot of leafy suburbs and the open road, a car owning democracy if you will, was dangled in front of the vain middle classes. Their weight was to be used to undermine the growing threat to the domination of the 20th century monopolies.

A massive programme of road building was swiftly followed by a ruinous programme of railway closures and the car was relentlessly sold as the ultimate commodity for the fetishist. Now you could live miles away from the polluted area you worked not to mention the hideous dwellings of the workers.

Every good tragedy is accompanied usually by violence and crime and often ends with everybody dieing. Whilst the social and economic dislocation caused by the traffic jam is tragic, the damage done to the environment is criminal. In escaping smaller pockets of pollution and heading for the suburbs the middle classes have succeeded only in turning pollution into a global phenomenon from which no one can escape. In literary terms that is known as ironic.

Social and economic scientists like Khan and Harding owe the genesis of their work to an observation by Aristotle from his writings on politics: `That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.’ 9

This has long been appropriated by neo-liberals as proof that if a thing cannot be privatised it is not worth bothering with or, if it is worth bothering with it must be privatised. So far efforts to privatise the global environment have failed therefore, it would surely be better if we took Aristotle’s words as a warning and stopped the long drive into `the night of the world’.

This is a discussion paper as opposed to a policy paper and so I will leave it at that. Suffice to say that I am not advocating some kind of neo-medievalism. In fact, it is only the incredible technological advances associated with the computer and the internet which allow us to travel virtually and arrive instantly that raises the possibility of a different approach.

Ultimately, however, changing the way people move is going to require a political rather than a technical solution. At the moment the traffic jam is a tragedy, let’s not make it a farce.

1. Terry Eagleton is currently Professor of Cultural Theory and John Rylands Fellow at University of Manchester.
2. (2002) Eagleton, T: Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic, Blackwell.
3. Structuralism seems to be all about history mechanically arriving at system whilst post-structuralism is a purely political explanation of system.
4. Khan, Alfred E. (1966) The tyranny of small decisions: market failures, imperfections and the limits of economics. Kylos 19: 23-47.
5. Hardin, G. (1968) The Tragedy of the Commons, Science 162, 1243-1248.
6. The Death of Tragedy
7. Brenton H. (2002) The Guardian, September 21.
8. Ibid.
9. Aristotle Politics Book II.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Centrism and the Fourth International

By Leon Trotsky (1934)

(1) The events in Austria, after the events in Germany, place definitely a tombstone over “classic” reformism. Henceforth, only the obtuse leaders of English and American Trade Unionism, their French imitator, Jouhaux, Vandervelde, the president of the Second International, and similar specimens of the political ichthyosauri will venture to speak openly of a perspective of peaceful development and democratic reforms, etc. ... The majority of reformists now deliberately employ new colours. Reformism gives place to the innumerable shades of Centrism, which now, in the majority of countries, dominate the workers’ movement. Thus an absolutely new situation presents itself, in a way unprecedented, for work in the spirit of revolutionary Marxism (Bolshevism). The new International cannot form itself in any other way than that of struggle against centrism.

Ideological intransigence and flexible united front policy are, in these conditions, two weapons for attaining one and the same end.

(2) Above all a clear picture must be gained of the features most characteristic of present day centrists. It is not easy; firstly because centrism in view of its organic indefiniteness is difficult to define precisely, being characterized much more by what it lacks than by what it holds: Secondly, never has centrism reflected so many of the colours of the rainbow as now, for never before have the ranks of the workers been in such a ferment as now. The political fermentation from the very depths of its origin signifies a re-grouping, a displacement between the poles, reformism and Marxism, that is a passage through the many stages of centrism.

(3) Difficult as a general determination of centrism, which has always, necessarily, the character of a combination due to crisis- may be, one can and one must separate, all the same, the principle traits and peculiarities of the centrist groupings which are consequent upon the collapse of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals.

• In the sphere of theory centrism is impressionistic and eclectic. It shelters itself as much as possible from obligations in the matter of theory and is inclined (in words) to give preference to “revolutionary practice” over theory; without understanding that only Marxist theory can give to practice a revolutionary direction.

• In the sphere of ideology, centrism leads a parasitic existence: against revolutionary Marxists it repeats the old Menshevik arguments (those of Martev, Axelrod, and Plekanhov) generally without re-evaluating them: On the other hand it borrows its principle arguments against the “rights” from the Marxists, that is, above all, from the Bolshevik-Leninists, suppressing, however, the point of the criticisms, subtracting the practical conclusions and so robbing criticism of all object.

• Centrism voluntarily proclaims its hostility to reformism but it is silent about centrism more than that it thinks the very idea of centrism “obscure”, “arbitrary”, etc.: In other words centrism dislikes being called centrism.

• The centrist, never sure of his position and his methods, regards with detestation the revolutionary principle: State that which is; it inclines to substituting, in the place of political principles, personal combinations and petty organizational diplomacy.

• The centrist always remains in spiritual dependence upon right groupings, is induced to court the goodwill of the most moderate, to keep silent about their opportunist faults and to re-gild their actions before the workers.

• It is not a rare thing for the centrist to hide his own hybrid nature by calling out about the dangers of “sectarianism”; but by sectarianism he understands not a passivity of abstract propaganda (as is the way with the Bordiguists) but the anxious care for principle, the clarity of position, political consistency, definiteness in organization.

• Between the opportunist and the Marxist the centrist occupies a position which is, up to a certain point, analogous to that occupied by the petty bourgeois between the capitalist and the proletariat; he courts the approbation of the first and despises the second.

• On the international field the centrist distinguishes himself, if not his blindness, at least by his short-sightedness. He does not understand that one cannot build in the present period a national revolutionary party save as part of an international party; in the choice of his international allies the centrist is even less particular than in his own country.

• The centrist sees as outstanding in the policy of the CI only the “ultra-left” deviation; the adventurism, the putchism, and is in absolute ignorance of the opportunist right zigzags. (Kuomintang, Anglo-Russian Committee, pacifist foreign policy, anti-fascist bloc, etc.).

• The centrist swears by the policy of the united front as he empties it of its revolutionary content and transforms it from a tactical method into a highest principle.

• The centrist gladly appeals to pathetic moral lessons to hide his ideological emptiness, but he does not understand that revolutionary crisis can rest only on the ground of revolutionary doctrine and revolutionary policy.

• Under the pressure of circumstances the eclectic centrist is capable of accepting even extreme conclusions but only to repudiate them later in practise. Recognizing the dictatorship of the proletariat he leaves plenty of room for opportunist interpreters: Proclaiming the need for a fourth international he works for the creation of the two-and-a-half international.

(4) The worst model of centrism is the German group “New Beginning”.
Reporting superficially the Marxist criticism of referendism, it reaches the conclusion that all the proletarian calamities arise from splits and that salvation lies in the maintenance of the unity of the Social Democratic Party. The organizational discipline of Wells and Co. is placed by those gentlemen above the historic interests of the proletariat. And since Wells and Co. submit the party to the discipline of the bourgeoisie, the group “New Beginning” disguising itself with a left criticism stolen from the Marxists, is in fact, a mischievous agent of the bourgeois order, although an agent of the second degree.

(5) An attempt to create a common testing ground of eclectic centrists is constituted by what is called the London Bureau (now of Amsterdam) under a banner which attempts to unite these centrist groups, both right and left, which have not dared to choose definitely a direction and a banner. In this case as in the others the centrist attempts to lead the movement diagonally. The diverse elements which make up the bloc tend in opposite directions: The Norwegian Labor Party (NAP) goes discreetly towards the Second International, the Independent Labor party of England goes in part towards the Third and in part towards the Fourth International, the Dutch Independent Socialist Party (OSP) and the German Workers Party (SAP) move vacillating towards the Fourth International. Exploiting and conserving the ideological uncertainty of all its participants and seeking to oppose the work for the creation of the new International, the London Bureau plays a reactionary role. The collapse of this grouping is absolutely certain.

(6) The definition of the CI’s policy as bureaucratic centrism even to this day retains all its force. Only bureaucratic centrism is capable of continuous jumps from opportunist treason to ultra-left adventurism; only the powerful soviet bureaucracy could for ten years give an assured place to this melancholy policy of zigzag. Bureaucratic centrism, differing from the centrist groupings which spring from the social-democracy, is a product of the degeneracy of Bolshevism, retaining in the form of caricature, many of its features; still followed by an important number of revolutionary workers; controlling material means and extraordinary technique and in its political influence this variety of centrism is now the most inert, the most disorganizing, and the most pernicious. It is plain to all the world that the political collapse of the CI signifies the extreme decomposition of bureaucratic centrism. Our task in this sphere is to spring the best of its elements for the cause of the proletarian revolution. Side by side with untiring principled criticism, the main instruments which will permit use by us to the benefit of workers who still stand under the banner of the CI is the pushing forward of our ideas amongst the large masses, who in their overwhelming majority still hold apart from the influence of the CI.

(7) It is just now – when reformism is constrained to disavow itself, in cleaning itself into centrism or in taking on that appearance – that some groupings of left centrism, on the contrary, halt in their development, and even go back upon it. It seems to them that the reformists have already understood almost everything, that it is only necessary not to frighten them with extraordinary demands, criticism or extreme phraseology, and thus one will be able with a single blow to create a “revolutionary” mass party.

In fact, reformism’s renunciation of itself, made a necessity by the events, with a clean program, without a revolutionary tactic, is only capable of lulling to sleep the advanced workers, by suggesting to them the idea that the revolutionary re-birth of the party is nearly realized.

(8) For the revolutionary Marxist the struggle against reformism now changes itself almost completely into struggle against centrism. The mere empty opposing of legal struggle to illegal struggle, of peaceful means to violent, of democracy to dictatorship in the majority of cases now passes; for the frightened reformists, who must now disavow themselves, are ready to accept the most “revolutionary” of formulas, if only they are not obliged today to break with the hybridity, irresolution, “passivity” which are native to them. That is why the struggle against the hidden or masked opportunists must principally transport itself into the sphere of the practical conclusions from revolutionary promises.

Before taking seriously the fine words of the centrists concerning the “dictatorship of the proletariat” it is necessary to exact from them a serious defence against Fascism, a complete break with the bourgeoisie, the systematic building up of a workers’ militia, its training in a will to fight, the creation of inter-party defence centres, of anti-fascist main centres, the expulsion from their ranks of parliamentarians, trade-union bureaucrats and other traitors, of bourgeois lackeys, careerists, etc. ... It is precisely on this plane that one must now deliver the principle blows at centrism. For carrying out this work with success it is essential to have one’s hands free, which means not only maintaining complete organic independence, but also critical intransigence concerning the most “left” of the ramifications of centrism.

(9) The Bolshevik-Leninists of all countries must render to themselves the clearest accounts of the circumstances of the new stage of the struggle for the 4th International. The events in Austria and France give a powerful impulsion to the re-grouping in the revolutionary direction of the forces of the proletariat; but precisely the general substitution of centrism for reformism offers the development of a strong powerful attraction for the centrist groupings of the left (SAP, OSP) which even yesterday made ready to unite themselves to the Bolshevik-Leninists.

This dialectical process, viewed superficially, may give birth to the impression that the Marxist wing would from its beginning isolate itself from the masses. Profound error! The oscillations of centrism to right and left proceed from its very nature. We shall yet meet on our way some dozens or some hundreds of such episodes. To fear to go forward merely because the route is strewn with obstacles or because all our fellow marchers will not go the whole way with us would be most miserable cowardice.

When the new opportunist oscillations of our centrist allies show themselves to be conjunctural or organic (in fact they will have to be one or the other) the general conditions for the formation of the Fourth International upon the basis of true Bolshevism will have grown most favourable. The chase by the centrists of the “extreme right” of those who are plainly left, by those of the left, after those of the middle, those of the middle after those of the right,—a pursuit which resembled the efforts of a man to catch his own shadow—cannot create a permanent mass organization: The sad experience of the Independent Party of Germany (USP) even yet retains all its force. Under the pressure of events, with the help of our criticism and our slogans, the advanced workers will pass over the hesitations of the most left of the centrist leaders and, if it must be, even the leaders themselves.

On the road towards the new International the proletarian advance-guard will find no replies other than those already elaborated by the Bolshevik-Leninists on the basis of the international experience of ten years of uninterrupted theoretical and practical struggle.

(10) Our politics influence in the last year is considerably strengthened. We can, with relatively little delay, extend and develop our success by observing the following conditions:

Do not try to deceive the process of history; do not play hide and seek with the truth, but state what is.

Render yourself a theoretical balance sheet of all changes in the general situation, which in the present period often take the character of sharp turns.

Lend an attentive ear to what the masses are saying, without prejudice without illusions, without deceiving oneself; for upon the basis of a correct appreciation of the relation of forces within the proletariat avoiding as much for opportunism as for adventurism, leading the masses forward but not holding them back.

Each day and each hour say clearly to yourself what must be the next practical step; untiringly prepare this step, and upon the basis of living experience explain to the workers the principle difference from Bolshevism of all the other parties and tendencies.

Do not confuse the actual tasks of the united front with the fundamental historic task: The creation of new parties and of the new International.

For a practical demand do not disdain even the weakest of allies.
Follow with a critical eye the most “left” ally as if a possible adversary.

Conduct yourself with the greatest attentiveness towards these groupings which actually tend towards us; lend a patient and attentive ear to their criticisms, to their doubts, to their hesitations; help their evolution towards Marxism; do not fear their caprices, their threats, their ultimatums (the centrists are always capricious and susceptible); do not make any concession of principle to them.

Yet, once again: Do not fear to state that which is.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Left Centrism: Britain's Once Big Three

Unfortunately, Trotsky's Fourth International did not survive his assassination, WWII and the emerging Cold War and post-war economic boom. It split and degenerated into many forms of left centrism. The most prominent trends in Britain became the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party and The Militant led by Tony Cliff, Gerry Haley and Ted Grant respectively. All three have been through a fatal or near fatal process of splits and fragmentation since just before the end of the Cold War. Below are links to a history of each of the three organisations. I do not agree with all the politics on display (particularly Bob Pitt's Preface, Ratner's hostile attitude to Trotskyism and Jim Higgins's underly critical take on the SWP's politics per se) but there is plenty here to give more than just a flavour of the nature and history of British left-centrism during the Cold War. Despite the grimness of a lot of the material there is plenty of great humour on display too:

The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy – Bob Pitt

More Years for the Locust – Jim Higgins

Ted Grant and Trotskyism: The Unbroken Thread? - Harry Ratner