The following text is the rewritten statement of political purpose of Socialist Fight, a magazine initiated by a grouping led by comrade Gerry Downing, a long time Trotskyist whose political origins were in the Workers Revolutionary Party. The magazine has now broadened out its political basis and I have agreed to join the editorial board. This re-written statement contains some important departures from some characteristic political weaknesses of the Trotskyist movement.
In particular, attention should be drawn to items 20 and 21 in the statement, which in effect argue for a different type of party model from that of the Trotskyist movement, and indeed different also from that movement’s progenitors in the early Communist International. In explicitly recognising the right of members of a revolutionary party – which we seek to build – to engage in public debate, criticism and disagreement about matters of theoretical analysis, and about strategy and tactics, the statement goes beyond the flawed model of the Third (and by political inheritance, the Fourth) International.
It recognises that we need the kind of party where members are not expected to publicly argue positions that they disagree with. Joining a revolutionary party should mean that members accept the positions of the majority of the party have the authority of being … the positions of the majority. It obliges members who may hold disagreements with aspects of these positions to accept that the majority therefore has the right to take practical decisions regarding interventions that have been democratically agreed upon, and that therefore criticisms of the majority’s tactics and strategy should not be done in such a way as to disrupt such practical actions.
But apart from that, comrades whose views differ from the majority should have the full right to argue with, and criticise, positions that they consider to be mistaken, and to recruit other members who may agree with the positions of the minority to party membership, if they can sustain that level of commitment. This is a more flexible and democratic form of what is known as democratic centralism than the over-rigid, politically over-centralised model of party that was mechanically put forward by the early Communist International, particularly in the Organisational Resolution of the Third Congress of the Communist International.
An attempt was made by the founders of the Comintern to reproduce, by a set of rigid ‘guidelines’, an international version of the Russian Communist Party, that under its original name of the Bolshevik Party, led the Russian working class to power. However, this was a self-defeating endeavour, as the real dynamism and revolutionary nature of that party could not be re-created voluntaristically. It could only be derived from practical experience. Communists elsewhere had important things to learn from the Russian Communists, but simply absorbing this text without having their experiences was and is a poor substitute.
Lenin, as undoubtedly among the most far-sighted of the Russian leaders, expressed considerable misgivings about the mechanical nature of this resolution, but was unable to do much to counteract its flaws. As he later said to the Fourth Comintern Congress:
“At the Third Congress, in 1921, we adopted a resolution on the organisational structure of the Communist Parties and on the methods and content of their activities. The resolution is an excellent one, but it is almost entirely Russian, that is to say, everything in it is based on Russian conditions. This is its good point, but it is also its failing. It is its failing because I am sure that no foreigner can read it. I have read it again before saying this. In the first place, it is too long, containing fifty or more points. Foreigners are not usually able to read such things. Secondly, even if they read it, they will not understand it because it is too Russian. Not because it is written in Russian—it has been excellently translated into all languages—but because it is thoroughly imbued with the Russian spirit. And thirdly, if by way of exception some foreigner does understand it, he cannot carry it out. This is its third defect. I have talked with a few of the foreign delegates and hope to discuss matters in detail with a large number of delegates from different countries during the Congress, although I shall not take part in its proceedings, for unfortunately it is impossible for me to do that. I have the impression that we made a big mistake with this resolution, namely, that we blocked our own road to further success. As I have said already, the resolution is excellently drafted; I am prepared to subscribe to every one of its fifty or more points. But we have not learnt how to present our Russian experience to foreigners. All that was said in the resolution has remained a dead letter. If we do not realise this, we shall be unable to move ahead. I think that after five years of the Russian revolution the most important thing for all of us, Russian and foreign comrades alike, is to sit down and study. We have only now obtained the opportunity to do so. I do not know how long this opportunity will last. I do not know for how long the capitalist powers will give us the opportunity to study in peace. But we must take advantage of every moment of respite from fighting, from war, to study, and to study from scratch….
“That resolution must be carried out. It cannot be carried out overnight; that is absolutely impossible. The resolution is too Russian, it reflects Russian experience. That is why it is quite unintelligible to foreigners, and they cannot be content with hanging it in a corner like an icon and praying to it. Nothing will be achieved that way. They must assimilate part of the Russian experience. Just how that will be done, I do not know. The fascists in Italy may, for example, render us a great service by showing the Italians that they are not yet sufficiently enlightened and that their country is not yet ensured against the Black Hundreds. Perhaps this will be very useful. We Russians must also find ways and means of explaining the principles of this resolution to the foreigners. Unless we do that, it will be absolutely impossible for them to carry it out. I am sure that in this connection we must tell not only the Russians, but the foreign comrades as well, that the most important thing in the period we are now entering is to study. We are studying in the general sense. They, however, must study in the special sense, in order that they may really understand the organisation, structure, method and content of revolutionary work. If they do that, I am sure the prospects of the world revolution will be not only good, but excellent”. (http://www.prl.org/prs/prs1/promresser1.html)
Those who are accustomed to treating Lenin’s words as holy writ, have a big problem with this passage. Because it is self-contradictory. Its congratulatory tone is contradicted by its biting critique of the impossibility of putting the resolution into practice. In the end, says Lenin, the only way to implement the ‘principles’ embodied in the resolution, is to “study”, and to “assimilate part of the Russian experience” through practical experience of the class struggle at a very high level. But this is not consistent with the mechanical copying of the supposed practices of the Russian Bolsheviks, which as Lenin implies, is the real import of the resolution in its concreteness. Such things cannot be learned from such a resolution.
The practical effect of this was to set a precedent which would be repeated over and over again in the subsequent history of the Communist and Trotskyist movement. This has little to do with the rise of Stalinism, which arose from profound causes arising from the failure of the Russia revolution to spread and the resultant isolation of the first workers state, except of course that every element of over-centralisation made things easier for the Stalinists. It was emphatically not the cause of this phenomenon. But this idea, that something that is successful in one national environment can be sort-of ‘cloned’ and produce replicas of itself in other countries, expecting thereby to repeat the original success, is actually profoundly anti-internationalist in its implications.
Stalinism, which was a much more serious problem than this, had the effect of obscuring this issue from the consciousness of subsequent generations of Marxists. But it was also Stalinism that exposed the inadequacy of the model of the early Comintern in another sense. At the time of the Comintern’s first four Congresses, the assumption made was that the kind of differences likely to arise among Communists were largely about tactical matters, and that the main problem was combating the influence of centrism (that is, left-wing trends that had only partially broken from reformism), syndicalism, and radical bourgeois and petit-bourgeois nationalism in the colonial countries. These were relatively simple compared to later differences. The degeneration of the USSR under Stalinism, however, produced the obvious potential for wide-ranging differences among Communists who shared all of the early Comintern’s ideological gains and conquests, but differed markedly about how to analyse and deal with the highly complex problems posed by the degeneration of the revolution.
In a way this produced a perfect storm, of pressures that were bound to blow apart a movement built on the rigid model of the early Comintern. It would have sorely tested the left-oppositional Communist movement even if this model had not existed. But the repeated splintering of the movement into tiny fragments, some centrist, some even reformist, and where organisations with a horrendously right-wing practice can maintain a ‘revolutionary’ pretence within a sectarian shell, with no clarity, is the result of this model. It provides the blueprint for numerous international sects, where an organisation that may have a limited weight in one country runs tiny satellites in several others, built around the principle of loyalty to the ‘mother-ship’. Examples are legion: Cliffites, Healyites, Morenoites, Sparts. This again, is a caricature of internationalism. Today there are so many such trends, that all pay lip-service to this early Comintern model of organisation, either using it as a talisman to ward off internal or external criticism, or in the case of the most reformist, such as the USFI, treating it like a sermon to be dragged out on special occasions while carrying on a practice indistinguishable from left social-democracy.
The statement below stands as a break from this framework. It was the product of a process of discussion and amendment, and there are important theoretical and practical differences that will no doubt be debated in the future within this new pro-party trend. Including some important differences on the Labour Party, which however is becoming less of a divisive issue with the dramatic rise of the Corbyn movement, which is generally agreed to be crucial to fully engage with. If Corbyn fails to win, and Labour elects a neo-liberal leader to the right of Ed Miliband, the tactical differences could widen.
There are important differences on the class nature of the former Stalinist states, which is however more of a historic question at this point in time, not something that should on its own divide Marxists from collaboration on issues that are live today.
There are nuances of differences on the nature of Russian and Chinese capitalism, though all see them as intermediate forms of capitalism that embody aspects both of semi-colonial and of imperialist forms, a manifestation of combined and uneven development. From my side I tend to see the imperialist element in Russia as being of more significance than others in the trend. However, we are agreed on the need for Marxists to defend the Russian-speaking population of Eastern Ukraine/”Novorossiya”‘s resistance against Western expansionism and forcible incorporation into a Ukraine that has become an outright neo-colony of NATO and the EU. Though there may be differences of emphasis on how this defence should be organised, what form of united front activity is the best way to express this defence, which may need more debate.
Regarding the Middle East, which is another crucial political question, there is agreement on the crucial demand for the unconditional right of return of the Palestinians to Israel, and thus the need for a Palestinian state that covers the entire territory of present-day Israel, which was established by force. This state must be unitary but multi-ethnic – once the Palestinians return, all who live there and want to continue doing so must do so on the basis of complete equality. We of course fight for this to be a workers state, and see permanent revolution, centred on the Arab working class of the region, as the way to restore the rights of the dispossessed Palestinians.
We have also achieved some measure of agreement on the need to criticise and expose Israel’s ethnocentric supporters in the ruling class in the Western countries, who currently hold a hegemonic position in the political discourse. This was the basis for the analysis of the Jewish Question and the emergence of a Jewish-Zionist caste within the imperialist bourgeoisie in the Western countries, in the draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism, which I vainly attempted to present to the CPGB-led Communist Platform of Left Unity last September. While the extent of agreement has yet to be tested in depth, and there may be nuances of difference, such matters are entirely within the framework of debate about how to apply Marxism regarding complex phenomena relating to the national question. Those who declare that Marxists are not allowed to analyse and criticise oppressive behaviour by particular layers within the imperialist ruling classes, are in effect siding with nationalism, and in the case of Zionism, with the nationalism of the oppressor at that, against Marxism and the interests of the working class.
Regarding the wider Middle East, there is agreement that all forces in semi-colonial countries that are attacked by imperialism, including actually or potentially Iran, Syria’s Assad, or even the Islamic State ‘caliphate’, should be defended against imperialism. There are disagreements about some aspects of which side to take in the war within Syria, for instance, with myself favouring supporting neither side in the conflict between Assad and IS, while others tend to lean towards Assad. But there is agreement on the need to defend the Kurdish right to self-determination against all anti-Kurdish chauvinist forces.
Related to such debates on the national question, we are agreed that there is no viable two-nations theory regarding Ireland; that the Protestant-Unionist population do not represent a national population but rather a reactionary historical anomaly; and that a complete British withdrawal is imperative to finally resolving the national question, which has not really been resolved, but rather frozen, by the Major-Blair peace process. Though in my view the full implications of the bankruptcy of Irish republicanism, including the marginal dissident republicans (who should of course be defended against the British state), have yet to be fully analysed by Marxists and a concrete alternative strategy elaborated.
Notwithstanding the harsh words for the CPGB above, it is worth recognising that one valuable contribution this organisation, a left-wing trend that emerged from British Stalinism during the Cold War of the 1980s, has made to Marxism today is its rediscovery of the true record of Bolshevism on the question of freedom of criticism about theoretical and programmatic questions. Lenin’s slogan ‘Freedom of Criticism, Unity In Action’ is presented by some advocates of publicly unanimous revolutionary sect politics, as a tactical compromise during the period when the Bolsheviks were involved in a joint party with the Mensheviks, the early RSDLP. For them, the model was the Bolshevik faction within the RSDLP, not the RSDLP. The Bolsheviks only became a separate party after 1912. According to them, Bolshevik factional discipline, and later the discipline of the Bolshevik Party, rejected such public debates.
But facts contradict that assertion. There were major public debates within the Bolshevik faction/party, both before and after 1912. For such a debate before 1912, see Lenin’s debate with Bogdanov, Lunacharsky and other Bolsheviks about matters of philosophy and Marxism that gave birth to Lenin’s book Materialism and Empiro-Criticism. Far more important that that, the Bolshevik press, such as Pravda, even in conditions of illegality during the World War before the fall of Tsarism, published important debates between Bolsheviks, such as the debate between Lenin and Bukharin/Pyatakov on ‘Imperialist Economism’.
The CPGB were among the most cogent in pointing this out. Their different origins, as a left-wing break from Stalinism, allowed them to see beyond the mis-education of many, if most Trotskyists, and point out the absurdity of the closed sect model that the Trotskyists inhertied from the early Comintern, which was already distored by a misguided and impatient attempt to ‘reproduce’ the Bolshevik Party in all countries, as a short-cut to building a real international. In fact, as the CPGB pointed out, this produced a caricature and a distortion of Bolshevism.
Though as ex-Stalinists, with some Stalinist elements remaining in their wordview, they tended to blame more the Trotskyists than their Comintern predecessors for this, nevertheless they are basically right about the problem itself. Unfortunately, though they are among the best of the ex-Stalinist splits to the left, they stopped short of a complete break from all aspects of Stalinism’s adoption of bourgeois ideology, and flipped to a repeated political flirtation with rightist trends such as neo-Kautskyism and Shactmanism, which are clearly breaks from Marxism. They sometimes resemble a lightweight left-wing version of the Alliance for Workers Liberty.
They are thus an unstable, often left-centrist trend, that formally upholds a correct view of the party question, and has a posture of encouraging serious leftists to join them and fight for their views within their uniquely different type of party. Unfortunately, when anyone seriously to their left actually tries to do so, they cannot cope with this and sooner or later break their own supposed principles to engineer the departure of such dissidents. Including most recently regarding myself, by AWL-style phoney allegations of ‘anti-semitism’ to cover their own classically Shachtmanite capitulation to Zionism and anti-Arab chauvinism, during and in the aftermath of the criminal Gaza massacre in July-August 2014.
They might not be capable of putting these insights into practice, but in that case others have to try. My endorsement of the statement below is in that spirit, and I do hope that this can be the beginning of something fruitful in beginning to crystallise a new partyist formation out of the British and wider left.
Aims of the Socialist Fight Magazine
1. We stand with Karl Marx: ‘The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. The struggle for the emancipation of the working class means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies but for equal rights and duties and the abolition of all class rule’ (The International Workingmen’s Association 1864, General Rules). The working class ‘cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other sphere of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society’ (Marx, A Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1843).
2. In the class struggle we shall fight to develop every struggle of the working class and oppressed in the direction of democratic workers’ councils as the instruments of participatory democracy which must be the basis of the successful struggle for workers’ power.
Revolutionary strategy and tactics
3. We recognise the necessity for serious ideological and political struggle as direct participants in the trade unions (always) and in the mass reformist social democratic bourgeois workers’ parties despite their pro-capitalist leaderships when conditions are favourable. In fighting the attacks of this Tory government it is now necessary to work within the Labour party as well as within other proto-parties such as Left Unity and RESPECT that seek to present socialist and anti-imperialist politics in opposition to the neo-liberalism that is now deeply embedded within the Labour Party. We support all genuine left developments within Labour, such as the Corbyn for leader campaign. We seek to cleanse the Labour Party of neo-liberalism as part of the broader struggle to transcend reformism, but recognise that the Labour party is a reformist party which can never be won to the cause of revolutionary socialism but we recognise it may well be forced to defend the working class in future periods of developing class struggle as it has in the past. Work within the Labour party is a tactical and not a strategic issue in the struggle to cohere a revolutionary nucleus to build the revolutionary party. Whether or not to work within Labour depends on our assessment of the opportunities, whether we still regard it as a bourgeois-workers’ party and if sufficient internal democracy allows us to function within it. Comrades on the EB may have different assessments on this.
4. We strongly support campaigns to democratise the trade unions’ traditional link to the Labour party. We are for funding only those MPs who agree to and have a record of fighting for union policies. We demand an end the farcical Warwick-type Agreements which sees top TU leaders, acting bureaucratically as plenipotentiaries and defenders of capitalism, asking for miserable reform, accepting far less and ending up with practically nothing in practice from Labour Governments. National funding of Labour must also be on the basis of fighting for union policies and must be withheld until the Labour leaders agree to represent the interests of trade union members, the working class and oppressed against the bankers and the capitalist system in general. We support union funding for working class left-wing alternatives to Labour when Labour fails to meet those conditions but never the ‘other political parties’ formulation which would mean funding bourgeois parties like the Scottish Nationalist Party, the Greens, the Liberal-Democrats and even the Tories.
5. We fight for rank-and-file organisations in the trade unions within which we will fight for consciously revolutionary socialist leadership in line with Trotsky’s Transitional Programme statement:
“Therefore, the sections of the Fourth International should always strive not only to renew the top leadership of the trade unions, boldly and resolutely in critical moments advancing new militant leaders in place of routine functionaries and careerists, but also to create in all possible instances independent militant organizations corresponding more closely to the tasks of mass struggle against bourgeois society; and, if necessary, not flinching even in the face of a direct break with the conservative apparatus of the trade unions. If it be criminal to turn one’s back on mass organizations for the sake of fostering sectarian factions, it is no less so passively to tolerate subordination of the revolutionary mass movement to the control of openly reactionary or disguised conservative (”progressive”) bureaucratic cliques. Trade unions are not ends in themselves; they are but means along the road to proletarian revolution.”
6. We totally oppose all economic nationalist campaigns like for ‘British jobs for British workers’ that means capitulation to national chauvinism and so to the political and economic interests of the ruling class itself. We are therefore unreservedly for a Socialist United States of Europe.
7. Representatives of all political parties are welcome to participate in blocs to organise and support specific, concrete struggles for quantifiable demands that are in the interest of the working class. Those whose class interests are counterposed to such struggles will exclude themselves. That is the tactic of the united front. But a line must be drawn against anything that even seems to imply a common programme for government, at national or local level, with non-proletarian forces. Such blocs that go beyond practical united fronts for action, with representatives of non-working class parties such as the Greens, Lib Dems or SNP by definition rule out ever fighting for the socialist revolution, the only ultimate solution to all capitalist crises. We are totally opposed to these popular fronts, that is, political alliances of workers organisations with political representatives of the capitalist class to ‘save the planet’, ‘defeat fascism’, ‘stop the war’, etc. These characteristically have broadly defined aims that imply an open-ended bloc tailored to the politics of those parties, or even a joint government. As Trotsky said “no mixing of the Red and the Blue” (or Green – SF). The fact that David Cameron is a member of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) restricts the working class to the politics and programme of its class enemies.”
8. We fully support of all mass mobilisations against the onslaught of this reactionary Tory Government, in particular we stand for the repeal of all the anti-trade union laws and strongly opposed the new ones promised.
9. We are completely opposed to man-made climate change and the degradation of the biosphere which is caused by the anarchy of capitalist production for profits of transnational corporations. Ecological catastrophe is not ‘as crucial as imperialism’ but caused by imperialism so to combat this threat we must redouble our efforts to forward the world revolution.
Special Oppression and Racism
10. We recognise that class society, and capitalism as the last form of class society, is by its nature patriarchal. In that sense the oppression of women is different from all other forms of oppression and discrimination. Sexism and the oppression of women is inextricable tied to the ownership and the inheritance of private property. To achieve sexual and individual freedom women need to fight in the class struggle in general to overthrow class society itself. We cannot leave the struggle against women’s oppression until the revolution but must recognise it as one of the most fundamental aspects of the revolutionary struggle itself or we will never make that revolution. We therefore reject the reactionary “intersectional” theory as hostile to Marxism, to the class struggle and to revolutionary socialism.
11. We also support the fight of all other specially oppressed including lesbians and gay men, bisexuals and transgender people and the disabled against discrimination in all its forms and their right to organise separately in that fight in society as a whole. In particular we defend their right to caucus inside trade unions and in working class political parties. While supporting the latter right, we do not always advocate its exercise as in some forms it can reinforce illusions in identity politics and obscure the need for class unity.
12. We support the rights of sex workers and oppose all laws which criminalise them or tend to endanger their lives and health. Whilst recognising sex work as a commercial activity driven by deprivation is a product of the oppression of women and the deformation of sexuality under capitalism and knowing that this will disappear with the ending of the patriarchal-dominated private property structure of class society we raise the demands to protect their rights now such as free and regular health checks under the NHS and a safe working environment for all sex workers.
13. We fight racism and fascism. We support the right of people to fight back against racist and fascist attacks by any means necessary. Self-defence is no offence, we support it. Two people might make racist/far right comments but on challenging them one might turn out be a hardened racist/fascist and the other might be mindlessly repeating the Sun editorial. It is necessary to distinguish. It is a legitimate act of self-defence for the working class to ‘No Platform’ fascists but we never call on the capitalist state to ban fascist marches or parties; these laws would inevitably primarily be used against workers’ organisations, as history has shown.
14. We oppose all immigration controls. International finance capital roams the planet in search of profit and imperialist governments disrupts the lives of workers and cause the collapse of whole nations with their direct intervention in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan and their proxy wars in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, etc. Workers have the right to sell their labour internationally wherever they get the best price.
15. We defend the Leninist position on the differences between imperialist and semi-colonial countries. As Trotsky observed in 1937; “…the difference between England and India, Japan and China, the United States and Mexico is so big that we strictly differentiate between oppressor and oppressed bourgeois countries and we consider it our duty to support the latter against the former. The bourgeoisie of colonial and semi-colonial countries is a semi-ruling, semi-oppressed class.” Leon Trotsky, Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois State? (November 1937).
16. We were and are for the immediate withdrawal and/or defeat of imperialist armies in wars like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Whilst giving no political support to the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Sunni and Shia militias in Iraq, Hamas or Fatah in Palestine, Gaddafi (as was) in Libya, Assad in Syria, the ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq, the theocratic regime in Iran or the Donbass leadership in Eastern Ukraine we recognise US-led world imperialism as the main enemy of humanity and so advocate critical support and tactical military assistance from the working class to all those fighting for the defeat of imperialism as part of the perspective of Permanent Revolution.
17. We defend the ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq against the bombing of US imperialism but do not ally with them against the Kurdish defenders of Kobane and Rojava (Western Kurdistan). We support the Kurdish nation’s right to self-determination and to their own nation state, even though they are scattered over four other nations now. The Islamic State is a reactionary utopia and has no legitimate right to self-determination. We do not object if the Kurds take advantage of airstrikes against ISIS to defend their own territory in a process of nation-building but we reject any strategic alliance with US-friendly forces on the ground, like the Free Syrian Army. The Kurds have every right to accept arms from Assad.
18. We are for the overthrow of the Zionist state of Israel and for a Multi-Ethnic workers’ state of Palestine as part of the Socialist Federation of the Middle East.
19. As socialists living in Britain we take our responsibilities to support the struggle against British imperialism’s occupation of the six north-eastern counties of Ireland very seriously. For this reason we have assisted in founding the Irish Republican Prisoners Support Group and we will campaign for political status these Irish prisoners of war and for a 32-county united Socialist Ireland. We reject all ‘two nations in Ireland’ theories.
20. We recognise that many socialists and working class militants may agree with much of the above statement of principles, but still have differences with parts of it. Therefore, the basis of adherence to our trend is acceptance of the above as the basis for current activity, not necessarily agreement with all of it. We are seeking to create a revolutionary party in which Marxism can be developed through open debate of the many complex developments that exist in the real world. This means members must be free to disagree and debate with each other, forms faction and tendencies, and publish their views by whatever means is available, provided they do not disrupt agreed actions of the collective while they are being carried out. This is the real meaning of ‘democratic centralism’
21. We are for the re-creation of a World Party of Socialist Revolution, a revolutionary international, based on the best traditions of the previous revolutionary internationals, critically understood, particularly the early Third and Fourth Internationals, with their determination to combat and overcome both reformism and centrism. It is by orienting to the ranks of workers in struggle, struggles against imperialism, struggles of oppressed minorities against varied all forms of social oppression, as well as political ferment among intellectual layers radicalised through these struggles, that we will lay the basis for regroupments with forces internationally breaking with reformism, centrism and various forms of radical populism/nationalism, and seeking to build a new revolutionary Marxist international party.