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Burnsall Strike: with friends like these, who needs enemies?

August 31, 2010 1 comment

From Subversion, No. 13 (Summer 1993)

For over a year the strikers at Burnsall Ltd in Smethwick, where the conditions workers have to bear are appalling even by capitalist standards, have had to contend with the double enemy of the boss and the unions.

The GMB, to which the strikers “belong”, has been sabotaging their strike in the time-honoured fashion. It has now plunged the dagger deep into the workers backs and called off the strike.

Despite this, and despite serious intimidation by the GMB to make the strikers comply, it seems they are determined to continue their fight.

What they need is support from other workers.

The only way forward for workers in struggle is to link up, and gain the active support of more and more workers. The bosses and unions, despite their charades, are in the last analysis united against the working class and we must be united against them, and not be taken in by the unions pretence at being on our side. This is true in all strikes and all struggles.

The case of the Burnsall strike, however, reveals another false friend of the workers – left-wing groupings with their own political agenda to superimpose on the strike.

DIVIDE AND RULE

The Manchester Burnsall Strikers’ Support Group has produced several leaflets which have been portraying this strike as a black issue (most of the strikers being Asian women) rather than a workers’ issue. For instance their leaflets have slogans such as “Black Workers Fighting Back” and “Black Workers Demand JUSTICE” (sic); one of the leaflets relates that on one occasion “the strikers were attacked by three white scab workers from the factory”. As though the fact that the scabs were white, rather than the fact that they were scabs (or indeed racists) was the problem. An approach such as this “support group” is taking is practically calculated to strengthen “racial” divisions and hatred between workers.

If it needs saying, let us say it again – the working class can only free itself from present day slavery by uniting as a class, all workers together, black and white, male and female, whatever the divisions our rulers use to keep us weak. The dead end of “racial” or national identity will only lead workers to perdition, as it has always done in the past (e.g. the anti-colonial movements which have given the workers nothing but more of the same). Only realising our identity as workers with a common interest world-wide, against all capitalist factions, will lead us to victory.

Groups like the Manchester Burnsall Strikers “Support” Group should be roundly condemned Their politics are a lethal poison for workers and for the cause of liberation of the whole working class.

Categories: Subversion Tags: ,

Solidarnosc ~ Trade Unionism in Poland

August 31, 2010 1 comment

From Subversion, No. 14 (Spring 1994)

The 1980 workers’ uprising in Poland was not the first time the working class there had fought back against state capitalism. ln 1956, 1970 and 1976 workers had taken to the streets when the state had tried to impose cuts in their standard of living by raising food prices.

The strength of the working class was such that, despite severe repression, in each case the state gave in. These uprisings underlined the fact that there was a line beyond which the state could not go at that time. They also meant that the state was forced to constantly rethink its strategies for increasing the competitiveness of Polish capital. The state’s solution to the 1970 revolt was to try to modernise the economy by importing western capital and technology. This was to be paid for by exploiting the peasantry in order to subsidise the money wages of the workers with cheap food After 1976 the idea of autonomy for enterprise management was introduced. This was to prove crucial in the early stages of 1980.

Despite their best efforts, the Polish state built up a huge debt to western banks by 1980 – approximately $28 billion. It’s response was to try to cut the subsidies to workers and on June 30th announced a “reorganisation of meat distribution”, which meant a 60% increase in the price of meat.

The working class responded with a wave of strikes effecting factories in Ursus (tractors), Huta Warzawa (steel), Poznan (metallurgy), Tczew (transmissions), Mielec (aviation) and Swidnica (aviation).

The party’s response was to try to negotiate locally. They couldn’t risk losing the goodwill of the West, nor risk a major disruption of production which would endanger its ability to service the massive foreign debt. The policy of local enterprise autonomy made this policy easier to put into practice The hope was that it would keep workers divided. The result was the exact opposite. Workers in other plants saw their fellows winning demands and immediately went on strike themselves’ They took the opportunity to elect strike committees and organise themselves. By July 15th there were 50 strikes going on. Two days later the city of Lublin, with a population of 300,000 started a general strike.

Even at this stage there was a major change with previous uprisings. In earlier years workers had taken to the streets, this time they remained in their workplaces to avoid being gunned down. They remained where they were strong and united.

The strike wave continued until early August. At this point the state decided on a new approach. If the carrot had failed, now they would go back to trying the stick. The problem they faced was in finding who to repress. These strikes were examples of workers organising themselves. There were no obvious leaders who had instigated it, nor easy targets to pick on. There were underground groups and “free trade unionists”, but they had not played a central role in the struggle up to this point. Failing anyone else to repress, the state turned on these people.

Repression started on August 11th when a bin man was arrested for 9 hours. Two days later, 3 Lenin Shipyard workers connected with underground unions were arrested. Up to this point, Gdansk, Sopot and Gdnyia (the centres of the shipbuilding industry) had been mostly quiet. The result was a general strike that spread rapidly from shipyard to city. A strike committee of 10 was elected (including Lech Walesa who had climbed over the wall when the strike broke out) which was soon joined by 100 delegates from other departments. They published a list of demands, some of which were economic, some political.

By 18th August 100 enterprises in a 100km area around Gdansk were on strike. An inter factory strike committee (the MKS) was set up with two delegates from each factory on strike. The MKS controlled the entire region and resolved all problems of food and transportation.

MKS were set up in Szczecin and the Silesian mines. The strike wave had spread all over Poland, accompanied by self-organisation of the working class that was challenging the authority of the state in a way that had never happened before in Poland or most of Europe. But it also contained the seeds of its own destruction. Soon the strike wave was to be hijacked by those with quite specific objectives that turned out to be against those of the workers.


ENTER THE KOR.

The repression that followed 1976 led a group of intellectuals to set up a Committee for defence Against Repression, the KOR. This was to provide legal defence for those in need and material support for families. It was to become an important centre of opposition to the Communist Party (PUWP). It was soon joined by supporters of free trade unions. The political objectives of the KOR and the free unions were to Iiberalise the Polish state and to make Polish capital more competitive. These objectives can be summed up by quoting from the founding charter of underground unions in Northern Poland drawn up in April 1978. It stated:

“Only free unions and associations can save the state. since only democratisation can lead to the integration of the interests and the will of the citizen and the interests and power of the state.”

Lech Walesa was one of the signatories of this charter.

Supporters of KOR had a lot of respect in Poland. They endured state repression and carried on their work. There is no denying that they were brave men and women. It is right to deny that their objectives coincided with the needs of the working class.

They had little role in the early days of the uprising. Ironically it was the state which turned them into its leaders. Looking for someone to pick on, it was supporters of KOR that they found. This reinforced the idea that they were the state’s strongest opponents, so workers looking for new ideas increasingly turned to them for leadership. Thus it was that Walesa got elected to the strike committee at Gdansk. even though he did not work in the shipyard he represented. Other oppositionists became members of the MKS Praesidium on the basis of their being experienced negotiators.

NEGOTIATIONS

The original demands of the Gdansk strikers were as political as they were economic. They contained all sorts of mystifications about democracy, free elections and judicial independence, but nonetheless their central thrust was simple – to get rid of the Communist regime in Poland. This terrified the oppositionists. Bogdan Borusewicz, a leader of KOR in Gdansk said “Asking for pluralist electionss is maximalism. If the Parry gave in, Moscow would intervene. There must be no demands which either force the government to resort to violence or lead to its collapse. It was the ending of censorship that led to intervention in Prague. We must leave them some exits.” By the time the demands had been finalised, the KOR had got their way. The state would be allowed a way out.

The government realised that it had to negotiate On September I st the Gdansk Accords were signed. Lech Walesa immediately called for a return to work. He said: “The strike is over. We did not get everything we wanted, but we did get all that was possible in the current situation. We will win the rest later because now we have the essentials: the right to strike and independent unions.”

Kuron, an important KOR leader, said “The unions ought to be partners in the administration, protectors of the workers. “

Work resumed. The MKS at Gdnask and Szcezin formed themselves into branches of Solidarnosc. By the end of the month it represented 90% of the workers in Poland.

UNION AGAINST THE WORKERS

Wałęsa

What was really amazing was just how quickly Solidarnosc began to act like established trade unions in the West. Its leaders quickly get themselves into positions of being intermediaries between the workers and the state. In the guise of “representing” the working class they went around stopping strikes, toning down wage and other demands in the interests of “national unity”. As early as September 16th, Solidarnosc in Gdansk warned against wildcat strikes – even though it was these same strikes that had started the uprising just two months before!

The Gdansk Accords had left unsettled the workers economic demands. Very important amongst these was the right to not work on Saturdays. There were many strikes in the winter of 1980-81 over this. The Solidarity National Coordinating Committee issued a statement on January 28th asking branches not to call any more strikes. Walesa said: “The situation is dangerous. We need national unity. To achieve it, we, government and workers, ought to seek a common path: we should unite in the country’s interests. We extend out hand to the government.”

The government again tried repression as a tactic. After a particularly nasty incident at Bydgoszcz in March, Solidarity was forced to do something when some of its organisers were beaten up by the militia. They called for a token 2 hour work stoppage. When the government refused to yield, Solidarnosc called for a general strike on March 31. In the best tradition of union bosses, Walesa negotiated with the state, got a few minor concessions
and called the strike off, without consulting anyone.

A pattern was beginning to emerge. Faced with pressure from the working class, Solidarnosc called for token strikes, did deals and called off strikes. A common spectacle was Walesa flying round the country in a government helicopter telling workers to go back to work.

However, the strikes continued. October and November 1981 saw the beginning of street demonstrations which the union could not control. By the middle of November there were more than 400,000 wildcat strikers in Poland.

After its September and October Congress, Solidarnosc started to make political demands of the state. It wanted to move towards Poland becoming a western style democracy, so it could operate as a western style trade union. Having lost much of their political control over their members, Solidarnosc’s leaders hoped that such reforms would enable them to regain it.

The state could not permit such a challenge to its authority. Solidarnosc was useful when it could control the working class. Faced with a working class outside its control the state called upon the Polish military to take over and reestablish order. In 1980 the military, faced with a united and confident working class, and trusting in the Party’s ability to rule, had been unwilling and unable to do this. Fourteen month’s of Solidarnosc’s malign influence had undermined the unity of the working class, at the same time as the Party had lost its legitimacy and ability to govern. The army took over in the first military coup in a state capitalist country. Workers fought back but were put down ruthlessly by the army. Many were given long prison sentences, others killed. Walesa was put into “preventative custody”. Clearly he was not someone who should he dealt with too harshly. Maybe they saw him as a person they would need to deal with in the future.

HOW DID IT ALL HAPPEN?

It is too easy to look at the Polish uprising as being a simple case of good workers against bad bureaucrats. We have tried to show that the aims and activities of Walesa, the Solidarnosc bureaucracy and the KOR were against the interests of the working class. They were able to substitute their own agenda for that of the working class. What we have not tried to show is that the working class were champing at the bit for revolution in 1980 and only held back by the bureaucrats. Such a view, favoured by many, pays no regard to reality.

The uprising was a result of the self-organisation of the working class. It wasn’t the result of any planning by underground bodies. The initial objectives of the working class were economic, but we have seen how many workers had political objectives which included getting rid of the Stalinist state.

However, most workers saw Solidarnosc as being their own creation. Even after a year of backstabbing, Solidamosc had a membership comprising 90% of the Polish working class. There was a very real tension between the centre and the branches, with rank and file members pushing demands forward, fighting for them and then the centre acting to diffuse the situation. Within the branches there was still a healthy tendency to struggle which had not at this stage succumbed to the ideology of trade unionism. It was the failure of the bureaucrats to gain control of the branches that led the army to seize control in the end.

It is hardly surprising that for many workers Solidarnosc was a creation they supported. For years they had been fighting against the Polish state. Each time they rose up their gains were snatched back. They were looking for something that would guarantee their gains. Because they knew no different, they believed that free unions were the answer. What they had in mind was the kind of idealised conception of unions that keeps workers supporting them throughout the world.

If workers here, who have years of experience of sell-outs still support the unions, is it surprising that Polish workers should see them as an advance?

Further, Polish workers knew that they were on their own. There were no similar actions in other parts of the Soviet bloc, and especially no similar activity in the USSR itself. They knew that if they pushed too far the result could only be Soviet intervention and massacre. This situation was made worse by a strong nationalist tendency which saw the situation as being a purely “Polish” one. Active revolutionaries would have tried to spread the struggle as internationally as possible.

LESSONS

Any attempt by workers to set up permanent organisations to negotiate with the state and employers will eventually go the same way as Solidarnosc. Trying to fulfil that role immediately raises questions of reaching compromises, doing deals, seeing the other side’s point of view. For workers that means accepting speed ups, productivity deals, lower living standards, job cuts and so on. It means accepting the boss’s right· to own and control the means of production.

The logic of class struggle is the opposite of this. It questions the right of the boss to manage and ultimately brings into question who controls society. It is clear to us that the only way forward for our class is to get rid of the whole buying and selling system and the state and bosses who go with it.

Despite the failure of the workers in Poland, despite their setting up of Solidarnosc, their uprising shows us many positive things.

It shows us that even in the most unlikely of situations, up against ruthless enemies, the working class is capable of fighting hard and taking on the enemy. The way they organised themselves, in their strike committees and the ways their delegates reported their deliberations were an example for others.
It shows the limits of struggles within national borders and the need to spread the struggle internationally. When our class is united and the struggle is international, there is nothing that can not be accomplished.

Timex Strike ~ Time For A Change

August 30, 2010 1 comment

From Subversion, No. 13 (Summer 1993)

The courageous resistance of 343 Timex strikers in Dundee to massive cuts in their wages and conditions and the subsequent threat to close the factory has been well documented else where.

They, along with other smaller groups of workers such as those at “Burnsalls” and “Middlebrook Mushrooms” have demonstrated a long overdue militant determination to stand up against the bosses ever increasing demands for cuts in our standard of living and the preservation of their profits.

But courage and militancy on their own aren’t enough to win this kind of dispute in the current world economic crisis. If they were, then much stronger groups such as the printers, seafarers and miners would not be in the disarray they are today.

Although Timex strikers rejected the attempts of national union ‘leaders’ to negotiate shabby deals with their bosses, they were content, initially, to leave the wider struggle, away from the workplace and the locality, to what they felt was ‘their’ union.

The support for regular mass pickets from workers in Dundee and elsewhere in Scotland and England was indeed impressive and achieved some notable, if passing, victories. But those of us with longer memories couldn’t help but listen to the echoes of previous failed disputes, like Grunwicks in London, which relied heavily on picketing as a solution. The calls for “consumers” to boycott Timex products, however valid, also has worrying echoes in the Seamen’s Unions efforts to derail the Channel Ferry strikes.

Timex workers recognised the need for ‘solidarity’, as other workers recognised the important knock on effect of a victory for the Timex workers on their own disputes. Support in the form of union resolutions, donations, demonstrations and attendance at pickets has been forthcoming.

What has been missing is the active solidarity involved in spreading the strike, not only to other workers in the multi-national of which Timex is just part, but across both industrial and geographical boundaries. The development of common actions, with common demands, directly under the control of those involved.

This isn’t just the responsibility of Timex workers but something which we all need to take on board.

In the current situation ‘isolation’ means defeat and leaving things in the hands of the union, much less the political parties of all hues means isolation.

Timex workers have begun to organise themselves to seek active solidarity from others both in the multinational and locally. This may prove to be too little, too late, but the fight certainly isn’t over yet.

Whatever the outcome we should take heart from the determination and courage of our class brothers and sisters at Timex and learn both from the positive and negative lessons of this strike in the struggles to come.

Categories: Subversion Tags:

Bollocks to Clause Four

August 30, 2010 6 comments

From Subversion, No. 16 (Spring 1996)

The Miners lead the way

Miners triumphantly return to Tower Colliery after the miners strikes of 1984/5

What a sight, 239 miners, relatives and their supporters marching up the hill singing triumphantly (in Welsh), the Internationale and the Red Flag, as Tower Colliery was re-opened under employee ownership’ . . . just as their predecessors had in 1947, when the coal mines were nationalised! Each miner had invested £8,000 of redundancy money and in addition collectively taken on huge additional debts to launch this new venture.

Tyrone O’Sullivan – NUM official, a driving force behind the buyout and now personnel director (no change there really!) said of all this, in confused comment to the press:

‘. . . yesterday was a triumph for a different kind of socialism and for a fight back against old-fashioned state capitalism’

‘. . .this is what I call real nationalisation’

‘Making a profit has never been a problem for socialists. . . here we’ve got equal shares.’

Ann Clwyd, Labour MP, added for good measure:

‘It’s not the Union Jack that’s going to be raised over this pit but the Welsh dragon.’

So there you have it. The ‘new venture’ is ‘real socialism’ not ‘state capitalism’, but also at the same time it is ‘real nationalisation’. It also apparently combines the best spirit of both workers’ internationalism and Welsh nationalism’

One of the miners on the other hand (not one of the new directors) had a more pragmatic view:

‘I don’t really feel I’m an owner of the pit I don’t see myself as a capitalist but as a lucky man who can go back to work at last after nine months.’

Well fair enough – but for how long? At Monktonhall colliery a good deal further along the road with its own employee buyout they’ve just gone on a wildcat strike in a dispute very reminiscent of the old NCB days.

Miners leaving Tower Colliery after their final shift in 2008

What’s it all about then?

Certainly nationalisation either as part of the so-called ‘mixed economy’ or in its recently deceased full-blown form in Russia and Eastern Europe, has been no friend of the working class. It can as O’Sullivan initially suggested best be described as (one form of) ‘state capitalism’, with all the usual trappings of money, markets, wages, profits and hierarchy.

Of course, O’Sullivan and his ilk fought to save nationalisation despite this, because they had a niche within the old system to protect. The revelation that it was really a load of crap only came after the battle had been lost and he’d got himself a new niche in the workers’ company.

Nationalisation of the coal mines and other key industries in the past had its role to play, but for capitalism not the workers. As Victor Keegan, a supporter of past nationalisation put it:

‘. . . because public ownership provided a humane and efficient umbrella for the rundown of the mines that would have been impossible to achieve with the old owners.’

Well. we’re not sure redundant miners and their families would agree with the ‘humane’ pan of that, but you get the drift.

Apart from anything else, nationalisation in Britain involved generously buying out the old owners, largely with government bonds on which the state continued to pay interest. So profits in the re-structured industry went into the state coffers and then out again to the capitalists the state borrowed from. The new coal industry also continued to provide a secure source of power to the rest of capitalist industry in the postwar period and released capital investment for the reconstruction of other sectors of the economy.

So-called revolutionaries like Militant and the SWP of course saw through this and demanded ‘nationalisation without compensation’. The fact is this would prove disastrous if carried out by an isolated national government, as a result of market isolation and military intervention. In the case of Russia where the state nationalised industry already taken over by the workers or abandoned by its capitalist owners, the party bureaucracy simply substituted itself for the old bosses at the expense of the workers and then sent them off to fight a war on their behalf.

Mr. Blair and the Modernisers

When you think about it, that nice Mr Blair is right – nationalisation is out of date. It served its purpose (for capitalism) in the past, but in a world of major economic power blocs, like the European Union, NAFTA and APEC etc, spanning many countries, and with industry hungry for huge sums of capital investment beyond the scope of nationally-based organisations to provide, nationalisation is a hindrance to the expansion of capital.

There’s another problem though. Nationalisation ( or public ownership, if you prefer) whether by the central or local state (sometimes called municipalisation) was dead useful to capitalism to get its own way, while kidding workers that they were on the way to socialism, or at least a ‘fairer’ society. Tories as much as Labour recognised the value of this. There was pretty much a consensus between them in post-war Britain, backed up by the common assumptions of Keynesian economics philosophy.

Now they need to perform the same sort of trick without nationalisation, which is where the Tories “people’s capitalism’ and the Labour Party’s redefinition of socialism and the debate on Clause 4 come in. We are witnessing the emergence of a new consensus.

The New Fool’s Gold


We now find the Labour Party very interested in promoting employee ownership schemes. For inspiration, they are looking to the widespread systems of co-operative ownership in Europe, particularly in the agricultural sector, the employee ownership of industry in the USA (like TWA and North West Airlines) where some 10, 000 companies are at least partially owned by those who work in them and even to some older established systems in this country like the consumer Co-operative Society and the John Lewis Partnership. Other ideas about worker share options and worker directors are also being explored.

It’s a short step from this to suggesting, as Andrew Bennett MP and the Guardian’s Victor Keegan do that workers’ investment in pension funds and more directly in the likes of British Gas etc. is already well on the way to some new form of social ownership.

Stephen Pollard, head of research for the Fabian Society (didn’t they have something to do with the original clause 4?!) now says that, on paper at least, Britain already has ‘common ownership’ via the Pension and Insurance Fund Industry. Socialism really has come ‘like a thief in the night’ after all! Of course for Daily Mirror pensioners the thief wasn’t ‘socialism’ but Robert Maxwell.

Andrew Bennett, who by the way thinks it’s a mistake to re-write clause 4, has already re-written it in his own mind by referring to ‘. . . shared ownerships’ of the means of production, distribution and exchange’ in line with the new philosophy.

Turning in his Grave

Peter Hain MP, being a bit more of an intellectual, tried his hand at providing a few historical precedents in support of the new approach when he says:

‘An alternative libertarian socialism, embracing figures as diverse as William Morris, Tom Mann, Robert Owen and Noam Chomsky, stresses decentralised control, with decision making in the hands of producers and consumers.’

Though his real reason for opposing nationalisation is the more mundane one of its ‘costing too much.’

Hain obviously isn’t a Radio 4 listener, otherwise he would have heard the serialisation of William Morris‘ ‘News from Nowhere’ in which the view of Socialism as a moneyless, wageless, marketless society of free access is made quite clear. In this story of a futuristic society, the Houses of Parliament are put to good use as a store for manure. So in one sense at least things are the same – the contents of that place still stink!

Ownership and Control

Apparently behind Hain’s support for New Labour’s ideas is his belief that ‘control is as important as ownership’ (in fact he opposes one to the other). But this differentiation only makes sense if ‘ownership’ is perceived in a purely formal or legalistic sense. In the real world, ownership can only be defined in terms of control. Private ownership means exclusive control of something by a private individual, group or section of society to the exclusion of all others.

In Russia for instance. where the state used to own most industry and agriculture, the ‘people’ were legally the owners, but it was the bureaucracy which had exclusive control of the means of production and therefore they who in PRACTICE owned the means of production.

Equally, a workers co-op whilst instituting common ownership amongst its members (if we ignore for the moment the rights of its creditors), is a form of private ownership as against the rest of society.

So long as the relationship between workers co-ops (or any other forms of worker controlled units) is governed by money and the market or indeed by any means of equal EXCHANGE, then so long will people as a whole fail to exert conscious social control over society as a whole. So long as production remains primarily geared towards exchange on the market rather than towards directly satisfying peoples self-expressed needs them ‘common ownership of the means of production and distribution’ will not have been achieved.

Furthermore, in time, the pressures of production for the market inevitably take their toll of any innovative attempts at equality within individual co-ops or other similar set-ups.

As an aside, you’ll note that we don’t talk about common ownership of the ‘means of exchange’ since as you have probably already gathered we consider this to be a totally contradictory statement. You can’t exchange that which is held in common or the products of that held in common.

Thus, Clause 4 is in both theory and practice a statement of state capitalist aims and has nothing to do with socialism in its original sense. Labour’s ‘new’ ideas are a just a mixture of traditional and worker-administered forms of capitalism regulated by the state. Just a different form of state capitalism really!

Just remember, painting America’s TWA airline red didn’t make it part of a communist transport system!

The Revolutionary Alternative to Left-Wing Politics

August 30, 2010 3 comments

From Subversion, No. 16 (Spring 1996)

The Left has not failed. And that is one of the greatest disasters ever to befall the working class.

Most people think that the Left is the movement of the working class for socialism (albeit riven by opportunism and muddle-headed interpretations on the part of many in its ranks).

Nothing could be further from the truth.


We in Subversion (and the wider movement of which we are a part) believe that left-wing politics are simply an updated version of the bourgeois democratic politics of the French revolution, supplemented by a state-capitalist economic programme.

Consider;

In the French revolution, the up and coming capitalist class were confronted not only by the old order, hut also by a large and growing urban plebeian population (the working class in formation, artisans, petty traders and the like), who had their own genuine aspirations for freedom from oppression, however incoherent.

Bourgeois democracy was the device that enabled the capitalist class to disguise their own aspirations for power as the liberation of everyone outside the feudal power structure.

The notion of the People (as though different classes, exploiters and exploited, could be reduced to a single entity) was thus born.

The notion of Equality and the notion of Rights possessed by all presented a fictitious view of society as a mass of individuals who all stood in the same relations to the law completely ignoring the difference between the property owners and those whose labour they exploit.

And, above aIl the notion of the Nation – that the oppressed class should identify with those of their oppressors who live in the same geographical area or speak the same language, and see as alien those of our class who are on the other side of “national borders”.

By means of this imaginary view of society, capitalism was able to dominate the consciousness of the newly forming working class. Bourgeois democracy is the biggest con in history.

Consider also:

As capitalism developed more and more. the material position of the working class forced it to engage in struggle despite its bourgeois consciousness thus enabling this consciousness to be undermined.

The existing capitalist regimes often came to be hated. Thus there was a need for a more radical version of bourgeois democracy with a more specifically working class image. Left wing politics fulfilled this role in the 19th and 20th centuries, first in the form of Social Democracy or Labourism and then in the form of Bolshevism: Both of these variants managed to dress up support for capitalism in working class language, and became major players in the full development of capitalism (this was especially true in Russia. where State Capitalism, introduced by the Bolsheviks, a supposedly working class party, was the only way capitalism could be developed.

SO WHAT DOES LEFTISM CONSIST OF?


At first blush it seems to be about supporting the struggle of the workers. but when you look more closely everything is on the terrain of capitalist politics.
The main features of Leftism are

SUPPORT FOR RADICAL CAPITALIST PARTIES

Such as the Labour Partty in this country and the ANC in South Africa (precisely because its goal is to widen bourgeois democracy – the vote etc ).and support for Parliament. Some “revolutionary” groups who don’t support the Labour Party nevertheless still suppnt participation in parliament – thereby helping in practice to uphold the ideology of bourgeois democracy.

SUPPORT FOR STATE CAPITALISM

Already referred to above, State Capitalism (a term with various meanings, but here we mean the form of society that developed in Russia and its imitators) collects all property into the hands of the state. And this is a capitalist state, not a “workers’ state” because capitalist property relations still exist – wage labour, money, the market – and of course the workers do not control the state. The state, indeed, confronts the workers as the ‘collective capitalist” extracting surplus value from them for the ruling bureaucrats. who are themselves the “collective bourgeoisie’.

Let us be clear about this the only way capitalism can be dismantled is for the working class to immediately abolish money and the market, and distruibute goods according to need (albeit with scarce goods being rationed for a time if necessary). Those who argue that this cannot be done immediately are in fact arguing for retaining the very core of capitalist social relations – if that is done the revolution is as good as dead.

The idea that state capitalism is not capitalism doesn’t merely justify support for anti-working class dictatorships like Russia, China, Cuba etc., but creates the very real danger of such a society being created in any future revolution.

SUPPORT FOR NATIONALISM IN ITS “RADICAL” FORM

Left wing groups routinely advocate support for weaker, e.g. ‘third world’, nation states – meaning the governments of nation states, against stronger ones (Iraq in the Gulf War, etc.),- This is described as anti-imperialism as though the victory of the weaker country would do more than slightly alter the ranking of states within the world imperialist pecking order. Imperialism is a historical stage of capitalism and opposing it as opposed to opposing capitalism itself via working class revolution, is meaningless.

The most common form of this “radical” nationalism consists of so-called “national liberation movements”. such as the IRA, who don’t yet have state power. As soon as they do come to power they always crush the working class – that is, of course, the nature of bourgeois state power.

Often the line will be used that, even if one disapproves of nationalism, that nevertheless nations have a right to self-determination, and one must support their rights. A purer example of bourgeois democratic double-talk could not be imagined: Rights are not something that actually exists, but are a bourgeois mystification (see above). The working class should not talk about its rights but about its class interest. Talking about a right to national “self-determination’ (as though a geographical grouping of antagonistic classes can be a ‘self’!) is like saying that workers have a “right” to be slaves if they want to, or a “right” to beat themselves over the head with a hammer if they want to. Anyone who supports the ‘right’ to something anti-working class is actually helping to advocate it. whatever their mealy-mouthed language.

Siding with the working class against all capitalist factions necessitates opposing all forms of nationalism whatsoever. Any wobbling on this will lead the working class to defeat yet again.

SUPPORT FOR TRADE UNIONISM

Seemingly the most working class activity of all. Trade Unionism is above all a movement to reconcile the workers to capitalism Its stated aim is to get workers the best deal within capitalism, but it’s not even that:

The mass of workers have bourgeois consciousness, but because capitalism forces them to struggle, they can resist despite that consciousness and thereby begin to change that consciousness.

Struggles of the working class are the seeds of revolutionary change. But because Trade Unions are made up of the mass of workers (with bourgeois consciousness) and exist all the time – i.e when there’s no class struggle (and although the day-today life of workers can well be called a struggle, we are of course talking about collective struggle) the said Unions inevitably fail to challenge capitalism, and furthermore become dominated by a clique of bureaucrats who rise above the passive mass of workers. These bureaucrats get their livelihood from the day-to-day existence within capitalism that is Trade Unionism. They are thus materially tied to it. That is why when struggle breaks out, the Union machine sabotages it and stabs workers in the back in the time honoured tradition. This will always be the case – the workers can never seize the unions. The very nature of Trade Unionism produces anti-working class bureaucratic control.

We believe the workers must create new structures, controlled from the bottom up, to run every struggle that occurs, outside and against the Unions, if the struggle is to go forward. Left wing groups support for Trade Unions is just one more way in which they help shackle the working class to capitalism.

AND LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST. ADVOCACY OF THE LEADERSHIP OF “REVOLUTIONARIES” OVER THE WORKING CLASS

This division between a mass of followers and an elite of leaders mirrors the divide in mainstream capitalism (and indeed all forms of class society) between rulers and ruled, and serves well the project of constructing state capitalism, after the future revolution.

None of this means that all workers will come simultaneously to revolutionary ideas, because to begin with only a minority will be revolutionaries, but their task is to argue their case with the rest of their fellow workers as equals.

What the left do however, is to perpetuate the sheep-like mentality workers learn under capitalism and harness it to their aim to be in charge after the revolution. We say that if anyone is in charge, if the working class does not lead itself and consciously build a new society, then it will fare no better than in Russia and China and all the rest.

We believe that all left wing groups, whether Stalinist or Trotskyist (or Maoist or Anarchist or whatever they call themselves) are merely radical capitalist organisations which, if they ever came to power, would erect new state capitalist dictatorships in the name of the very working class they would proceed to crush.

This is not a matter of the subjective intentions of their members, whose sincerity we are not questioning here. but the objective result of their policies.

This is why the Left has not failed Its aim was never more than to save capitalism by disguising it as something it was not -just as the original form of bourgeois democracy did in an earlier age.

In opposition to the Left there exists a political movement, consisting of both groups and individuals, some of whom might call themselves Communists, while some might call themselves Anarchists (the Marxist-Anarchist split is an outdated historical division that bears no relationship to the real class line, which cuts across it), but who all stand united against the fake radicalism of the Left, and for a genuinely communist alternative. We in SUBVERSION area part of this movement.

WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE?

We believe that, despite the obstacles put in its way by both Right and Left, the working class has the power to destroy capitalism for real, and create a society without classes, without the state, national boundaries, oppression or inequality. A society not based on money or other forms of exchange, but on collective ownership of, and free access to, all society’s goods on the part of the whole of humanity.

This society. which we call Communism or Socialism or Anarchism interchangeably, will be the first truly free society ever to exist.

The social movement that will create this society will grow from the existing struggles of the working class. As part of this process, our class must surmount the barriers put in its way by bourgeois ideology, including left wing ideology. Our task in SUBVERSION is not to be leaders (see above), but to be part of the process of creation of a revolutionary working class movement that will put an end to our world’s long history of oppression and exploitation, and begin the long history of the free, world human community to come.

Categories: Subversion Tags: , ,

Problems of Communist Organisation

August 29, 2010 2 comments

J. Conrad, Problems of communist organisation (London: November Publications, 1993)

Dedicated to Ted Rowlands: An old Bolshevik who, even when his Party deserted him, never deserted the Party.


CONTENTS

Introduction

1. Democratic centralism
2. Bureaucratic centralism
3. Reforging the Communist Party
4. Our progress
5. Chronology and character of debate
6. A ‘Marxist’ critique
7. Building and strengthening what?
8. Fetishising formal democracy
9. Content of debate
10. Conclusion

Appendices
I. Democratic centralism and our strategy
II. Building and strengthening the Communist Party
III. A Marxist critique of Democratic centralism and our stratergy
IV. Resignation letter
V. 6th Conference statement

References

Introduction

Party struggles lend a party strength and vitality: the greatest proof of a party’s weakness is its diffuseness and the blurring of clear demarcations: the party becomes stronger by purging itself. (Lassalle to Marx, June 24 1852)

Members of the Communist Party were from July to September 1993 consumed in a fierce discussion on the issue of democratic centralism. During the course of debate a minority emerged which -claimed that our organisation was dominated by a bureaucratic regime. The majority rejected this attack and insisted on the contrary that we practice and are developing the most healthy democratic centralism.

It is futile now to regret intemperate utterances, bad formulations and hurt feelings. As is natural, both sides targeted what they thought were their opponents crasser statements and most vulnerable points. Nevertheless for us a serious fight was carried through which enabled the majority to clarify many problems that exist around the question of democratic centralism and flush out weak, unstable elements. That has enabled us to bring into sharper focus the fight to reforge the Communist Party of Great Britain and thus become stronger.

As the reader will find, I not only expose the mistakes and hypocrisy of our lightweight (both in terms of commitment and numbers) minority, but also explore the theory of proletarian organisation, the positions of Leninism as against opportunism, the proletarian philosophy as against formalism and scholasticism. Because of this, class conscious workers can, through careful study of what was in contention, learn a great deal from the struggle we have conducted over democratic centralism – a struggle that will undoubtedly have a significance for many years ahead.

For reasons, I willingly confess, more to do with supplying necessary information than philanthropic fairness, we publish not only the views of the majority, but the minority as well. Opponents of communism will of course sneer, lay hold of minority polemical passages about immanent bureaucracy, show trials or restrictions on democracy to ‘prove’ that not even Leninists can achieve the unity necessary to reforge the CPGB. There is no need to worry ourselves overmuch with such people and their illadvised malevolence. We Leninists have been steeled in over a decade of ideological battle and political combat. Let our opponents publish the debates and disagreements within their own ‘parties’. They dare not. Without hesitation, we do.

JC
September 1 1993

1. Democratic centralism

In his ground breaking and now renowned pamphlet What is to be done?, written in 1902, Lenin argued for the highly centralised proletarian Party. He systematically and ruthlessly attacked the you-do-what-you-please association of intellectuals or the Labourite type party then being peddled by ‘democratic’ opportunists. Though a number of his proposals were specific to Russia under the Tzars, the Communist Party, the Bolshevik party of the new type, proved universally applicable. Proletarian revolution is national in form but in content it is international. Russia was the world’s revolutionary centre, which, as such, held up a mirror of what was to come and what was necessary everywhere. And as Marx said, what is necessary inevitably becomes real.

Following the October 1917 revolution communist parties were formed throughout the world, including, in July 1920, in the “most bourgeois of nations”, Great Britain. On the basis of the Bolshevik model, the rules of the Communist Party of Great Britain stated that not only are members required to accept its programme, but regularly pay dues and work actively in one of its organisations under a single leadership. A vital socio-political fact. For in its struggle for power, the working class has “no other weapon but organisation”.(1) The Communist Party is indisputably the most powerful weapon the working class can have, the highest form of organisation it can achieve. Strict centralisation makes the Communist Party more than a sum of its parts. As is well known to even the most stupid populist journalist, because it operates as one, the strength of the Communist Party is fifty, a hundred times greater than its membership figures would suggest. That is why through the political leadership of such a vanguard organisation the working class can take on and overcome the might of the capitalist state and establish a socialist society, the first stage of communism.

The Communist Party is a voluntary union of communists, ie the union of the most advanced members of the working class who have grasped the need for the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism. This theory is inseparable from the organisation of communists. The Party can only fulfil its role as the vanguard of the working class when it combines revolutionary theory with the unity of action represented by its centralism. Organisation is, in other words, built upon unity around Marxist-Leninist theory. “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” runs Lenin’s celebrated maxim.

Because the Communist Party exists to provide the working class with the highest form of organisation and consciousness, it unites revolutionary theory with revolutionary practice. Communists cannot tolerate those who do not fully carry out agreed tasks, who make excuse after excuse, who confine their revolutionary enthusiasm to meeting room or pub room rhetoric. Members must act as one under a leadership which can change direction at a moment’s notice according to new circumstances. Achieving that means developing both independent minded, self-activating cadres and the theory of the whole Party. None of that can be arrived at by mechanical means such as arithmetic congress majorities or issuing leadership dictats. It requires the realisation of democratic centralism, a term first used by Lenin in December 1905 at the Bolshevik conference at Tammerfors.

Democratic centralism is a fundamental organisational principle which comprises the dialectical (ie, the moving, developing, changing and interconnected) unity of democracy and centralism. To use a well known phrase, democratic centralism is required to ensure that members and organisations of the Communist Party not only act as one fist, but strike in the right direction. Acting as one means the subordination of the minority to the majority when it comes to the actions of the Party. To strike in the right direction means the fullest debate of theory, strategy, tactics and organisation.

Few debates result in instant clarity. Lengthy ideological struggle around different views are therefore an inevitable and healthy feature of Party life. That is why, in the Communist Party – unlike the practice of the Socialist Workers Party, Militant Labour and other opportunist organisations – minorities should not be gagged (eg, when the SWP came out with the old WRP slogan demanding the TUC gets off its knees and calls the general strike in 1992, there was no debate about this sudden mutation in its press; as to Militant, its founder-leader ended up using The Guardian to present his criticisms of the tum from deep entryism). Minorities must have the possibility of becoming the majority. As long as they accept in practice the decisions of the majority, groups of comrades have the right to support alternative platforms and form themselves into temporary or permanent factions. Hence democratic centralism represents a dialectical unity entailing the fullest, most open and frank debate along with the most determined selfless revolutionary action. Democratic centralism allows members of the Party to unitedly carry out actions, elect and be elected, criticise the mistakes of the Party and self-criticise their own failings without fear or favour. In essence then, democratic centralism is a process whereby communists are united around correct aims and principles.

Because of their dialectical understanding of democratic centralism, communists do not fetishise formal democracy. Obviously, in countries where capitalism rules using dictatorial methods, the Party has to operate illegally. That means many aspects of democracy have to be curbed. For example, appointment from above takes precedence over election from below. However, as Lenin and orthodox communism, as opposed to opportunism and centrism, made clear, if there is trust among comrades not even the most terroristic capitalist dictatorship can prevent the Communist Party operating freely among the masses and openly struggling for the correct aims and principles. Formal aspects of democracy cannot function. Yet as long as there is open criticism and discussion there is democratic centralism. In the communist press different ideas contend, criticisms are made and answered. Though, in other words, there might not be formal democracy, there is genuine democracy.

In a parliamentary democracy like Great Britain we Leninists argue that there is no need for the Communist Party to emphasise centralism as against formal aspects of democracy. The Party can, without tob much difficulty, operate freely and publicly. That does not mean our Communist Party should have legalistic illusions. No matter where a Communist Party operates, it must combine legal with illegal work. Nevertheless, under such conditions, within the Party there is no need to curb democracy. There should be public meetings and debates, ease of joining the membership, election of leaders from below and regular congresses and conferences.

2. Bureaucratic centralism

Things originate from themselves and take on their different forms from the contours of their own logic. The morphology of our organisation has therefore not only to be seen in light of our aims, but movement from our origins towards our ultimate goal.

Lenin impersonator at the 2003 Asian Social Forum.

Though some innocents might think it irrelevant to our tasks today, it should never be forgotten that the opportunist cliques which used to dominate the CPGB claimed to operate democratic centralism. That was a big lie which discredited democratic centralism and communism itself. Their British Road to Socialism was a reformist, not a revolutionary, programme. Their concern was not arriving at revolutionary clarity but silencing all oppositionist forces. Minorities, above all the Leninist minority, had no access to ‘official’ Party publications, which were treated as factional or private property. Far from having the possibility of becoming the majority, the minority was denied places on leading committees proportional to its support and was subjected to a crude bureaucratic centralism which meant persecution and expulsion. Congresses might have been held every two years where a leadership was elected, but that did not mean we viewed them with equinimity.

Congress delegates cast their votes for a representative leadership; however, the leadership was representative of opportunism. To ensure that always remained the case, congresses were gerrymandered, stage managed affairs that atomised delegates into workshops, allowed leaders to speak for an hour but put a one minute limit on rank and file speeches. Such a state of affairs had nothing to do with unity in action. Most members were completely inactive and theoretically illiterate. What actions these ‘official communists’ wanted were not motivated by Marxism-Leninism, rather a craving for respectability in the eye& of bourgeois society.

3. Reforging the CPGB

From the very first our founding comrades stressed that the main political question in Britain was reforging the CPGB – without the Communist Party there is no hope of socialism.(2) To achieve the aim of reforging the CPGB they came together and in November 1981 began a principled and unremitting open ideological struggle. Principled, because there was nothing sectarian or narrow about the rebellion we led against the opportunists. They were wrecking the CPGB and betraying the working class. We Leninists were determined to re-equip the working class with a revolutionary programme and a disciplined, revolutionary Party. Unremitting, because that fight remains the sole reason why the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB exists. Once the CPGB is reforged, the PCC will hand over all its properties, records, presses, funds and other resources and dissolve itself.

For us, reforging the CPGB is a political question. The Communist Party is by definition the organised vanguard part of the working class. Although it will almost certainly be necessary to build a Party of many millions to make revolution in a country like Britain, exactly when a refounding congress of the CPGB is called depends on political not numerical criteria. Has the theoretical basis been laid for the communist programme? Have communist leaders been trained? Have roots been dug in the working class? Have advanced workers been won to communism? These questions tell us what we need to do in order to reforge the CPGB.

It was under the onerous conditions of bureaucratic centralism and cancerous liquidationism that the Leninist wing of the CPGB underwent the incredibly difficult process of organising itself in order to provide the political basis and the authoritative centre from which the Party could be reforged. Bureaucratic centralism meant that to all intents and purposes we communists had to operate under illegal conditions. That did not mean there was no democratic centralism among us. There was always openness in our publications. That created the ideological and organisational unity that enabled us to establish centralism and genuine democracy even though many formal aspects of democracy were lacking. Moreover, despite inauspicious circumstances, the Leninists of the CPGB have to date organised five conferences of communists (and, as these lines are written, are just about to have a sixth). Though participants were appointed from above because of the trust among comrades, they were respected as fully representative, authoritative and democratic. Besides electing a leading body of comrades, these conferences debated a wide range of motions. They were submitted by the leadership and individual comrades. Minorities have, if anything, found themselves over-represented, certainly not under-represented. There has never been any restriction on discussion or criticism. As long as discussion and criticism takes place on the basis of the principles of Marxism-Leninism, as long as it aims to develop the work of the Party, it helps strengthen centralism.

As well as a vigorous press, conferences organised round particular issues and controversies, an annual week-long school and monthly membership aggregates, the Leninists of the CPGB present weekly seminars in London where members, supporters and friends of the Party are able to debate theoretical questions, current events, Party activities and finances. There has always been a free and open atmosphere. We intend, and are beginning, to reproduce that pattern in other parts of the country as the Party re-establishes itself.

4. Our progress

Since we began our open ideological struggle in November 1981 there has been a profound turn in world and domestic politics. The working class has suffered huge defeats, crucially the 1984-85 Great Strike, the final liquidation of the CPGB and the collapse of bureaucratic socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union through the democratic counterrevolutions of 1989-91. The period of reaction this unleashed saw many opportunists drop all pretence of having anything to do with communism, weak elements scurrying off to seek individualistic solutions in career and private life, and the suffocating isolation of genuine communists. The whole political spectrum has moved to the right; even petty bourgeois leftists joined Thatcher and Major, Reagan and Bush in enthusiastically welcoming the “death of communism”. So, despite capitalism showing all the signs of pre-general crisis, bourgeois ideas are stronger than ever before. Nonetheless, though communists have had to swim against a tidal wave of reaction, we have made some advances. Recapturing the name of our Party, forming the Provisional Central Committee, standing CPGB candidates in the 1992 general election and the Newbury by-election, two trial relaunches of the Daily Worker, the establishment of the Weekly Worker and our role in support of the miners, Timex and other workers all testify to real progress.

That said, there remains a long way to go before we can reforge the CPGB. Party membership is tiny and mainly London based. Furthermore, though there is now a layer of carded-up supporters of the Party, most of them are not organised in branches and those that are operate on a very low level. However, taking into account our progress, crucially the fact that we are beginning to seriously organise outside London, the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB considered that the time was ripe for a further, albeit modest, broadening and deepening of the democratic centralism of the organisation.

Following the membership aggregate in July 1993, the Provisional Central Committee agreed the resolution Democratic centralism and our stratergy in order to present comrades with a detailed thesis on the question (ie, in abstract form which discards supporting evidence or descriptive argument). Based on a wide ranging report delivered by comrade John Bridge, it outlined what we understand by democratic centralism, under what conditions we fought and developed it, and how we can now take it one step nearer our aim of full democratic centralism – which can only be truly realised when we have reforged the CPGB. The document concluded with four specific proposals:
1. Monthly membership aggregates should (for the moment) be given the formal right to call conferences of the organisation, leadership elections and decide on specific matters of strategy and tactics by a simple majority – none of this affecting the rights of the PCC nor its secretary.
2. Where appropriate the PCC should introduce written motions and submit them to vote and amendment at membership aggregates.
3. Measures to ensure that the Weekly Worker becomes a real organiser, educator and agitator, ie a full sized paper that combines the achievements of The Leninist and the Daily Worker.
4. Measures designed to facilitate the development of our layer of supporters; crucially, organising them in branches and fully involving them in the struggle to reforge the CPGB.

5. Chronology and character of debate

I expected the proposals put forward by comrade John Bridge in July to be welcomed. And it has to be said that the majority of comrades did. Much to my disappointment though, instead of concentrating on the concrete proposals and constructively criticising them, two comrades in particular used the occasion (as was their right) to express their general frustration and a haughty impatience with comrades at all levels. They put forward a number of their own proposals which centred on the call for an annual leadership election and conference. Some of their general points were worthy of consideration but I must say that, overall, what they presented smacked of formalism. That did not mean I adopted a position of the unthinking partisan (indeed with hindsight it could be said that I found myself in a minority, with only comrade Stan Kelsey clearly taking a similar position). I felt that a number of leading comrades reacted badly (or inexperiencedly) to criticism. There was clearly a hidden agenda for many of the personalities involved. Yet I would still say that as far as I am concerned some of what the proto-minority argued was valid (what they said in specific areas was fully in accord with the proposals of the PCC, eg on the Weekly Worker). That is why I initially treated their proposals and criticisms in a.sympathetic way and on face value. Nevertheless while in tone and content some comrades counter-attacked in a wrong way, it also had to be admitted that they had easy targets. They were impatient and offended with what they saw as attacks from comrades who had, on the moral plane, the most problems and the least right to criticise others. Or at least that is how it seemed to me.

As already said, I argued that the minority’s proposals be treated with respect. I criticised a number of comrades on both sides. Differences were, as far as I was concerned, ones of nuance or detail. That did not imply some golden mean. I defended the extension of democracy in the organisation that served the extension of centralism. That said, in the course of debate just as much heat as light was generated (the most advanced supporter 0 tho CPGB in Crawley, who had been invited to the aggregate, was shocked by our sharp exchange of accusation and counter-accusation that his report back nearly resulted in his branch declaring UDI). Because the matter was unresolved I moved that we continue the discussion at the next membership aggregate and to facilitate debate comrades submit written contributions (that at least was agreed).

In my opinion the bickering we witnessed at the July aggregate did not presuppose bad motives. Anyone who grasps the first thing about what the worldwide period of reaction means, let alone appreciates how difficult it is to be a communist in an organisation that is only the nucleus of a Communist Party, will not be surprised that all sorts of silly allegations were levelled and harped on about. They were surely more the product of isolation and adverse conditions than reality. No clearheaded comrade will begin by hunting out bad motives in these bickerings, however unpleasant they may be. Adverse conditions accounted for sordid rumours, backbiting, hurt egos, imagined insults and slurs. Adverse conditions breed such hurts among us by the score, and a Leninist organisation would be unworthy of the name if it did not say so and search for the cure in growth.

I will not go into the ins and outs of the four contributions that were submitted, nor the cut and thrust of debate – yet (we had documents from the PCC, Jack Conrad, Mike Marshall and one jointly signed by David Rhys, John Praven and Mike Marshall). Suffice to say while the next membership aggregate in August cast what I thought was an illuminating light on the political direction and method of our minority, it was obvious that more time was needed. A vote could have been taken and easily won for what had become the PCC’s position and its set of proposals, but the debate was taking a new direction, taking on a new significance, perhaps revealing more about the problems of what had become our minority than the organisation as a whole. That is why I proposed a two day membership conference in September and further written contributions (this being one of them).

Unfortunately, instead of putting their ideas to the test of debate and a vote, comrades David Rhys and Mike Marshall sent in a miserable resignation letter in late August. Excusing their cowardice and lack of principle, they dishonestly claimed that our conference would have been a “show trial”. Having stood on the platform of abstract democracy, they showed their true worth by running away from its living reality.

Frankly, I cannot say I was surprised. When a heated debate is in progress there usually begins to come into focus the central, fundamental points at issue, compared with which all minor and petty points fade more and more into the background. I think this is how matters stood in our organisation by mid-August 1993. Though on paper the differences between the specific proposals of the majority and minority do not appear great, I would even say that they were small, we were dealing with a process of divergence, whereby small differences were used as the starting point for a split.

In the working class movement splits can only be justified if they serve the struggle for communism. An organisational schism can only be principled ifit concerns a matter of principle. Surely there was no principle at stake in whether we have for the moment leadership elections when the majority wants it instead of an annual election. Likewise, what does it really matter if there is an education commission or job descriptions? These things matter little. But backsliding elements need to turn such questions into principles to hide their political direction. The truth of that can be seen from studying what has been written and said; which I believe revealed the existence of two different shades within our organisation, one honest and revolutionary, one opportunist and cowardly.

6. A ‘Marxist’ critique

I shall now turn to the minority documents Building and strengthening the Communist Party (signed by comrades Mike Marshall, John Praven and David Rhys) and A Marxist critique (signed by comrade Mike Marshall), what claims they made and what lay behind them.

For Marxism-Leninism, categories like democratic centralism are permeated with movement. After all, we only establish such categories in order to break them up. That is why the PCC’s document Democratic centralism and our strategy made clear that Marxism-Leninism has “no ready made blueprints for communist organisation”. And yet our minority suffered from just such a static view. With formal democracy all shortcomings would, they assured us, be overcome; crucially -despite the fact that no political criticisms were advanced – a leadership which is meant to be bureaucratised and undemocratic (and presumably always has been). To prove all this the comrades treated us to a dubious’ dialectical’ education, quoted in a scholastic fashion a variety of authorities and sources, and all in all showed that they had neither the theory nor the firm grip on reality that is vital if we are going to reforge the CPGB.

To see why I say this let us begin with A Marxist critique. Here is a strange document. It is reminiscent of the Gerry Healy or Proletarian school of ‘dialectics’. Instead of dealing in a straightforward manner with a straightforward question, pseudo-dialectics is used to provide a thick smokescreen for political weakness and political retreat. It is certainly far removed from the Leninist approach to method and organisation. This is said in a spirit of self criticism as well as criticism. Comrade Mike Marshall clearly had discovered a new idea but we did not teach him to master it. Intoxicated by heady words and concepts, he could not see the obvious fact that it was he and his fellow “fighters for democratic centralism” who were actually guilty of “merely sprinkling some dialectical jargon over their threadbare formal logic” … even in the midst of the most tortured formulations that possibility did not occur to him. Guided by his ‘method’, diabolical and hysterical, he was determined to attribute all sorts of bad motives and howling gaffs to a perfectly rational treatment of our origins, development and immediate prospects outlined in Democratic centralism and our strategy. So instead of businesslike proposals and a realistic assessment of our changing tasks, we got a sustained petty bourgeois attack on our organisation – all dressed up in “dialectical jargon”.

Marxist dialectics must never be confused with opportunist obscurantism. Genuine dialectics is not about instant answers or using “imaginary wisdom” to safeguard the dignity of certain easily bruised individuals. Marxism demands that concrete questions be examined in all their concreteness. So it is a basic principle of dialectics that there is no abstract truth. Comrade Mike Marshall violated Marxist dialectics with every step he took. He countered every concrete idea with an abstract diversion. To support his topsy-turvy world view he would have it that we were cleaved between the superior minority who were thinking dialectically and the lesser comrades who possess nothing but “threadbare formal logic”. Thus instead of having a real argument with our mighty dialecticians, the PCC of the CPGB had to set up Aunt Sallies with claims that our minority was “following” a “timeless recipe” for organisation.(3) Countering this caricature is easy.

First, the PCC statement that there is “no timeless recipe” in organisation was a general observation showing why it has been correct for our forms to evolve over time according to objective circumstances. It was not written with the intention of misrepresenting our minority’s “dialectical” arguments – a charge that veers towards paranoia. But if the cap fits …

Second, it should be said that it was the PCC which initiated the discussion on democratic centralism throughout the organisation. This was done in a extensive verbal report (summed up in Democratic centralism and our strategy) dealing with the development and growth of democracy in our organisation as part of the process of being and becoming.

Passing over comrade Mike Marshall’s missive on formal logic with which he began his document, let us proceed directly to his supposedly Marxist critique of the PCC’ s Democratic centralism and our strategy. We can be brief. Comrade Mike Marshall possesses not the dialectical method but a vulgar version of linguistic sophistry. He said he had a problem with our proposal to develop democracy (and thus the centralism of the organisation) because of a “logical non sequitur”, because of “abstraction”, because they are “logically flawed”.

With a modesty that becomes him, comrade Mike Marshall claims he folIows “Marx’s example” in his analysis. of Democratic centralism and our strategy.(4) Sadly it must be said that the ‘credit’ should go to Ludwig Wittgenstein not Karl Marx. For instead of our proposals being subjected to an all rounded materialist analysis- which would have been rewarding – we get a cynicism and superficial language games. Because comrade Mike Marshall thinks questions about words are the truth, he launches his polemic by quoting and answering the PCC in the following semantic fashion: ”’Party membership is tiny and mainly London based. Though there is now a layer of carded-up supporters of the Party most of them are not organised in branches and those that are, operate on a very low level. Under these conditions suggestions that there should be full democracy from below, including the election of cell secretaries, annual conferences of members and elections to the Provisional Central Committee are misplaced. ‘”

This PCC position, says comrade Mike Marshall, is “a logical non sequitur.” Despite “under these conditions” the “assertion in the second sentence,” he maintains, “is not supported by the first.” Surely, if anything, he says, “the organisation of supporters is conditioned by the organisation of the membership, rather than the other way round.” Finally, as for the size of the ‘Party membership’, it is given in paragraph 3 [of the PCC’s Democratic centralism and our strategy – JC] that even the refoundation congress of the CPGB will be called on ‘political not numerical criteria “‘.(5)

What was actually being put forward here by our PCC is the simple and unfortunate fact that politically we still have a long way to go before we can reforge the CPGB and hence a long way before we can realise the operation of the full rules of democratic centralism, which most surely require living and deep ties with the masses. Based on the actual conditions under which we operate the PCC proposed to develop democratic centralism in accordance and in step with the modest political level our organisation has reached. After all, among the criteria we put forward necessary to reforge the CPGB are “roots” in the working class and the winning of “advanced workers to communism”.(6) Criteria we readily admit we have yet to achieve.

Regular (in most legal communist parties biennial) congresses and central committee elections are essential for an organisation that has won the advanced section of workers, has become part of the working class and thus operates throughout the country in every town and city. It is necessary in such a Party to regularly bring together elected delegates because of the different views that result from different experiences, conditions and levels of the ongoing class struggle and the different impact of communist propaganda, agitation and leadership. In our organisation it is possible to bring together all comrades within one meeting room (and we are not talking about Wembley Conference Centre) once a month and allow a general airing and sorting out of views. Also in our organisation most members meet together in weekly seminars and work on a day-to-day basis in the closest proximity. That is why when it comes to democratic centralism the emphasis of the PCC is on monthly membership aggregates, not annual conferences. Conferences will, for the moment, as has so far been the case, be arranged if there is a major difference in the organisation or we want to make an authoritative public statement, eg the reclaiming qf our Party’s name. Of course all these arguments were placed before comrade Mike Marshall at the membership aggregate in July 1993. In his document he takes no notice of any of that. He is intent on setting his high linguistic analysis out of context.

We read: ”’Cells are, we have to admit”’, he is quoting our resolution again, ”’essentially sub-committees of the PCC enabling it to carry out its national work. Members are, and have to be regularly moved from one cell, and one area of responsibility to another. None of our cells are geographically based, except the one we have implanted in Scotland. Appointment of officials from above should therefore be maintained for the present.'” “Here,” announces comrade Mike Marshall with the triumph of the truffle hunter, “is another logical non sequitur.” “Why,” he says, “should cells not be essentially sub-committees of the PCC?” Along the lines of A should equal A, question follows question. “Must the essential nature of cells be changed before democratic centralism can be permitted? Will there be a time when members are not regularly moved from one cell to another? Despite ‘therefore’ the assertion is unsupported by the preceding observations”.(7)

Yes, our present cells have to be “essentially sub-committees of the PCC” because we want to edit and produce the PCC’s publications, organise and coordinate its finances, members, supporters and campaigns. In the reforged Communist Party local, ie geographical cells will be autonomous organisations. But to suggest autonomy for cells concerned with central responsibilities in a reforged Communist Party, let alone in our nucleus, is anarchism.

Then, as cited above, comrade Mike Marshall asks whether the “essential nature of cells [must] be changed before democratic centralism can be permitted?” Here is an example of when did you stop beating your wife trickery if ever there was. In our organisation democratic centralism is a reality. Being one of the three authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party, which more in sorrow than joy is forced to admit that “we already have some democracy in the Party” and “open ideological struggle” (that is the “essence of real democracy”), he should be clear on this matter. Patently, because he was not, we will have to explain our position yet again. Party organisation must. become national, ie local, before this autonomous aspect of democratic centralism can become real. This has nothing to do with “permitting” democratic centralism, rather laying the material base for this aspect of it. What about moving comrades? Yes, in the future, when the CPGB is rooted in the masses, then there will not be the moving of locally based comrades from one local cell to another. The professional revolutionaries we have and are trying to cultivate today are one thing, the militant communist workers of tomorrow another. But then those that do not want to, will never grasp what goes to make a real Communist Party. A Communist Party represents the merger of the subjective movement of revolutionaries and their theory with the objective movement of the working class. Not for our minority, who want us to believe that all we lack is their leadership.

Comrade Mike Marshall continues. After quoting the PCC to the effect that conferences of the Leninists of the CPGB “have been and should for the moment continue to be held around specific issues, controversies or moments” he makes the following statement. “Can we assume then that, in the last four years since the last election [of the PCC-JC], there have been no issues, controversies, or moments worth holding a conference for, aside from the reclaiming of the party name two years ago? Such an assumption,” he says, “would not ‘smack’ of formalism, it would reek”. What is our reply? It is unambiguous and unashamed. Yes, over the last four years there has been “significant change” but till now no significant controversies that have divided our organisation. Debate, discussion and sharp exchanges there have been in our press and at weekly seminars, monthly membership aggregates and our week long annual schools. But, for members, all positively and quickly resolved. Nothing demanded a conference because all comrades were united round the substantial theory and practice of the elected leadership. To prove our ‘reeking’ formalism, comrade Mike Marshall should have put down in black and white what issues or controversies he thinks we should have organised a conference on. His silence speaks volumes for the profundity of his critique.

He goes on to claim that the “proposal of regular conferences (annual or whatever) seeks to break from this so that, if within 12 months there has been no [sic] conference, we can find out if the PCC is correct.” “Break” from what? The truth is that in our organisation there is the constant weekly, monthly and annual collective questioning of every theoretical controversy, current development, campaign and shift of emphasis. Comrade Mike Marshall’s accusation that we inhabit a “static universe” which can “only exist in the abstract, as a result of formal logic” is entirely misplaced. He judges us according to the formal criteria of conferences, not real life.

What of membership aggregates? They obviously offended the democratic sensibilities of comrade Mike Marshall. He quotes the PCC: “‘Regular aggregates of the whole membership have been organised where proposals and experiences of agreed actions are subject to lengthy discussion and debate. ‘” “But,” alas, “even for members, attendance at an aggregate is by invitation only”.(8) That is true. Nonetheless from the first invitation aggregate the PCC initiated, all members of the Party have been invited. For communists who base themselves on the trust they have in elected or for that matter unelected leaders and leaderships, reality should count for more than formal procedures. Not for comrade Mike Marshall. The fact of the matter is that the PCC has used its Power of invitation in an attempt to broaden aggregates, So as to include various supporters of the Party in our debates and discussions. Invitation has in other words never been about excluding comrades but about including them.

According to comrade Mike Marshall the PCC’s “commitment” to “allow selected members to vote .on written motions at such times as the PCC sees appropriate” is not “true” democratic centralism but “an abstraction .of it”. (9) The evolving reality of our organisation has not, as has just been explained, been about allowing select members to vote on “written motions at such times ,as the PCC sees appropriate,” but the maximum democratic centralism (and we mean by that not the maximum numbers talking but facilitating the maximum unity in action) Possible at our stage of development. As has been said, all members have attended aggregates and the PCC has always responded to the confusions, doubts and criticisms .of members. Though the pec rightfully sets the agenda, this is done in a responsive and enabling fashion. The PCC is there to facilitate debate, not stifle it. Transparently comrade Mike Marshall’s approach to democratic centralism is legalistic, the PCC’s approach is dialectical.

For comrade Mike Marshall – a recent recruit from the world of petty bourgeois protest Politics – the reason Party membership is “tiny” and “mainly London based” has nothing to do with material circumstances, everything to do with the organisation not being led by comrade Mike Marshall and his friends. He therefore makes the phantasmagorical claim that “quantitive restrictions on democratic centralism are already having a qualitative effect”. (10) “No wonder,” he says, “seminars reveal a passive membership … No wonder the national organiser believes that there is whispering in the ranks”.(11) The only ones who know about “whispering in the ranks” are, of course, comrade Mike Marshall and Co. As to a “passive membership”, well the majority o(the organisation has worked exceedingly hard to ensure that, despite the most difficult conditions of worldwide reaction, we have made real progress. Far from “restrictions” on democratic centralism having a deleterious effect, the active synthesis of democracy and centralism we have achieved has allowed our organisation to enjoy a (comparatively) wide influence among militant workers, produce a regular press and recruit a layer of supporters throughout Great Britain.

At last we approach the poisonous conclusion of comrade Mike Marshall ‘s diatribe with its shameful pretext for desertion and political abstentionism. Without the slightest foundation he claims that the PCC’s supposed “formal logic” means it views democracy as a “distinct package which can be chopped off or grafted on at Will”(12). Obvious nonsense. As shown by reality and everything above, we most definitely view democratic centralism as a living process. Democratic centralism develops and gains strength through the ongoing struggle to unite communists around correct politics and the forging of links with the masses.

Unperturbed, comrade Mike Marshall claims the PCC displays the “formal logic” of the “mad microbiologist” who “surgically removes a major part of a tadpole’s central nervous system with the intention of eventually grafting it back into the adult frog. “(13) I will refrain from commenting on reactionary anti-science prejudices about “mad” microbiologists. Suffice to say the PCC has from the first consistently developed the democratic centralism of the Leninist organisation of the CPGB. What “surgical” removal there has been exists entirely in the mind (mad or otherwise) of comrade Mike Marshall. But comrade Mike Marshall knows the experiment will not work. Or should we say, in order to desert the selfless and principled communist fight for the reforged CPGB he must say it will not work. Hence we are told with absolute certainty “materialist dialectics” reveals that “the post-operative tadpole will never become a frog” .(14) Nothing, comrade Mike Marshall, certainly not materialist dialectics, “reveals” any such thing. All that is revealed is that no matter how many times we kiss you, you will never make the transition from petty bourgeois individualism to the modern prince that the class struggle requires.

Using his A does not equal A critique of “formal logic,” comrade Mike Marshall delivers what he thinks is the knockout blow. The fist is entirely misdirected. He admits that there is at least the “appearance” of the unity of communists “around correct aims and principles” under the PCC.(15) Moreover, though correct thinking is always dialectical, because he feels personally aggrieved appearances must be deceptive. He has learnt that we communists fight to make trade unions “schools for communism”. Sadly, as with dialectics, he has remembered something but not even reached the level of mere understanding. Comrade Mike Marshall actually calls trade unions “essentially schools for communism” .(16) Rubbish! Essentially trade unions are an expression of the working class operating as a class within the sphere of capitalist politics and economics. Under conditions of heightened class struggle or socialism they can become schools for communism. But to thus become requires the conscious intervention of the communist vanguard, not the spontaneous flowering of comrade Mike Marshall’s essence.

Comrade Mike Marshall has a point to make though. If trade unions are “essentially schools for communism” (which they are not), if “we built a school for communism” it would not mean it “would ipso facto be a trade union”.I? A does not always equal A. Using this device comrade Mike Marshall thinks he has us. He tells us once more what we already know, have said on countless occasions and consistently put into practice. Democratic centralism is “essential” to unite communists around the correct aims and principles. IS But then without what, when and where, let alone logic he claims that “quantitative” limits on democratic centralism are damaging our “aims and principles”19 By equating our appropriate democratic centralism with bureaucratic centralism he can then equate our “revolutionary intentions” with the “degeneration of official communisms [sic] into opportunism and bureaucracy”.20 A equals B and B led to C therefore A equals C.

How does comrade Mike Marshall know that the PCC will dissolve itself when the CPGB is reforged? He does not. Comrade Mike Marshall considers that such a proposition “relies on the law of identity, the first law of formal logic, which assumes that the bag of sugar remains a bag of sugar’?1 We can do without such idiocy. Our organisation has always tested itself according to our aim of changing, changing from communist nucleus to Communist Party, from, if you like, A to B. It is according to the goal of reforging the CPGB that we assess all of our actions and campaigns – a process of constant self criticism which enables us to monitor, direct and accelerate our forward movement. Of course change can take a negative form. Comrade Mike Marshall is a case in point. He has undergone a personal change from petty bourgeois individualism to communism and now with further change he inhabits the swamp of Individualistic ex-communists. Or does comrade Mike Marshall claim “Immunity” from this “dialectical process” which has inexorably affected very other opportunist deserter? Yes individuals, like all phenomena, tum Into their opposites. Comrade Mike Marshall and his ally David Rbys prove it.

When it comes down to it, democratic centralism is for comrade Mike Marshall a chicken and egg situation, but the paradox entirely passes him by. Instead of understanding things in their real movement he wants to define them as being one category or another. Only chickens lay eggs, he says to himself. So for the egg to become a chicken it must behave like a full grown chicken now. No, the CPGB will not be reforged by our nucleus behaving as if it was the CPGB and having the “fullest” democratic centralism, if by “fullest” we mean the operation of the rules of a mass Communist Party which can operate among the masses freely, as implied by comrade Mike Marshall.22 We have to recognise what we are, and what our material constraints are. And in terms of our analogy there is no doubt that we represent the potential chicken of the egg. With the right conditions we will, when the time is right, leave behind this provisional stage and tum into our opposite – the Party. But to call for this before we are ready is to call for the death of our organisation. For the moment the shell is not a hindrance, it is a necessity without which we cannot exist. Reforging the CPGB is the only way to realise the “fullest” democratic centralism. That has nothing to do with “blind faith” as insidiously suggested by the jaded comrade Mike Marshall. It is the tested conviction of revolutionaries who devote their lives to the proletarian revolution and the struggle for
communism.

7. Building and strengthening what?

The essence of the PCC’ s position is that democratic centralism can only be understood as a process which broadens and deepens in step with the development of our organisation – an organisation which at the moment consists of members of the Communist Party, stands in the name of the Communist Party but is not the Communist Party. The title (and content) of the document produced by our three dissenters says it all: Building and strengthening the Communist Party. The fact of the matter is that there is no Communist Party in Great Britain, only a nucleus organised under the banner of the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB – one would have thought that for all of us this is axiomatic. Yet nowhere do they deal with the evolution of our struggle, nowhere is there a concrete analysis of where we are at the moment.

The main problem with Building and strengthening the Communist Party is that, for all its claims, it does not treat democratic centralism dialectically but undialectically. Its authors take no account of the fact that though our struggle to reforge the CPGB has gone through many different stages it is still in its infancy. That, therefore, it is not right to begin now in terms of form where we mean to end up in the future. The fact of the matter is that the minority’s document judges our organisation scholastically, primarily “working from the definition provided by the Communist International”, ie against a small quote from a resolution of the 2nd Congress of the Third International in 1920, which was in fact designed to equip newly formed, often mass communist parties, with the lessons of Bolshevism. What does it say?

The Communist Party must be built up on the basis of democratic centralism. The chief principle of democratic centralism is the election of higher party cells by the lower, the unconditional and indispensable binding authority of all the instructions of the higher bodies for the lower and the existence of a strong party centre whose authority is generally recognised for all the leading party comrades in the period from one party conference to another.23

We have no problem with this general description of democratic centralism in a Communist Party. However it ought to be pointed out that Comintem provided other even more centralist recipes. At the very same congress cited above delegates agreed the famed 21 terms and conditions. The twelfth on democratic centralism reads in full as follows:

The parties belonging to the Communist International must be built on the basis of the principles of democratic centralism. In the present epoch of acute civil war the Communist Party will only be able to fulfil its duty if it is organised in as centralist a manner as possible. if iron discipline reigns within it and if the Party centre. sustained by the confidence of the Party membership. is endowed with the fullest rights and the most far-reaching powers.24

I wonder why our ‘democratic’ dissenters did not take this definition as the starting point to work from? Could it be they have no fancy for discipline. let alone “iron discipline”. No, as the PCC has correctly said. there are no “ready made blueprints for communist organisation”, no “timeless recipes” for structures and election procedures.25 This, to restate our position once again, is “even more the case” when it comes to the struggle to reforge the CPGB, which is still in its “infancy”.26 In other words there can be no question of projecting the mass Party of the future or the past as some model to be copied now in our conditions.

Undaunted, the comrades call for annual congresses on the basis of the authority of their 1920 Comintern quote (we follow the Bolshevik and general communist practice of distinguishing between a congress, which debates all issues and elects leading bodies, and a conference, which comes together to consider one or a limited range of issues). There is no misunderstanding about what our minority wanted: Building and strengthening the Communist Party says the annual ‘conference’ will elect a leadership, vote on reports from the PCC, members and cells and will thus be “the cardinal decision making body of the Party”.27

Again taking the rules of an established Communist Party as its starting point, Building and strengthening the Communist Party says that a congress can be called by a majority on the PCC or “one third of either Party cells or members” .28 In a Communist Party this tilting of democracy and initiative towards the minority is justified. One third of the basic organisations or membership even of a small Communist Party represents a real movement, a real body of opinion. But in our context we arrive at absurdity.

It is worth asking the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party what new developments have come about which demand an annual congress of our organisation? Or should we have staged annual congresses from 1981? This certainly seems to be the contention of comrade Mike Marshall.

What of the PCC? The PCC starts from where we are now in relationship to where- we have come from and where we intend to go. There has never been anything timeless or abstract in our approach. Since our inception we have steadily extended both the democracy and centralism of the organisation as we have built it top down. Starting with a mere handful of comrades, recruits were won to our politics which from the beginning were always as open as they were principled. On that basis, despite limited formal democracy we always had maximum genuine democracy. How can the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party deny it?

Suitable comrades were added to the leading body by cooption, others were organised as best we could till we reached the point where we could establish cells. Besides that, conferences have been staged at which not only have the entire membership of the organisation been present, but sympathisers and fraternal delegates (they had full speaking but no voting rights). Conferences debated a range of issues and though the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party do not deal with it, -elected and changed the personnel of the leading committee.

Within the last period the PCC has been promoting aggregates of the whole membership – part of the ongoing process of institutionalising discussion and debate (as said above, selected sympathisers have also been invited). It is now proposed to formally give aggregates voting and amending rights on motions presented by the PCC and, through a simple majority vote, the right to call for a conference. That in effect amounts to a monthly sub-conference of the whole organisation, something that is necessary and possible due to two main factors. We have made the first tentative steps towards organising outside London and yet we are still small enough for the whole membership to meet and have the fullest exchange of individual views. That will not last forever. Sooner rather than later we will have to bring together aggregates of cell secretaries or elected delegates or some such other form of representation.

What is the aim of all our proposals? They are designed to develop th political understanding and political practice of the whole organisation, ie, to take another step towards realising our overriding aim of reforging the CPGB.

The authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party say that it is “a fundamental truth of dialectics that the essence of a thing is only realised through its expression, ie form. Therefore, ideological struggle can only realise its potential as a dynamising force if its result is expressed in a vote of those who have participated in that struggle where possible (ie, in the context of this discussion, the Party membership)” . We can go along with the first sentence about essence and form. But because we must make the elementary point to them that the essence of the thing, and especially the form, is undergoing a process of constant change, we must question the logic of what then follows. As comrade Mike Marshall should have told his fellow authors, the “therefore” is a “logical non sequitur”. Nothing in logic or life demands that ideological struggle must end in a vote if it is to “realise its potential as a dynamising force”. We have ideological struggle against the SWP in the pages of our press, for example. Should we do a readership poll? We have had public debates with all sorts of left groups. Was it wrong not to end them in votes? Here we surely have a sorry example of our minority’s bureaucratic thinking. Ideological struggle can act as a dynamising force without a vote – fact. That does not mean we are against votes. It all depends on circumstances. Yes, we will put your proposals to a vote of the Party membership … as we will put our proposals to a vote by the Party membership. We now know, however, that you so-called “fighters for democratic centralism” will not accept the result nor abide by it. I unhesitatingly will.

The minority carry on with the claim that discussion in our organisation has a low level of participation. I must say that at the two membership aggregates we arranged on the question of democratic centralism I did not notice that. And the last seminar comrade David Rhys attended (and after saying not a thing slinked away from shamefaced) lasted well over four hours with debate ranging over many issues but centring on socialist democracy and the class nature of the former Soviet state. It cannot be denied that our debates are less impressive than the Bolsheviks who “engaged in many fierce battles”.29 But would our minority deny that our organisation has a record of honest and open ideological struggle second to none on the British left today?

Seminars on many occasions last well into the night. Is this because the “line” has been decided by the leadership? Take the vital questions of democratic counterrevolution, feminism and women’s liberation, European unity, parliamentary elections, the daily paper and the general strike. Have these not been fully debated over a whole series of meeting, sometimes spanning years?

Discussion has never been stopped, always encouraged. Those in and around our organisation with differences have from the commencement of our press and invitation meetings been offered a platform to defend and
argue for their views. Leaving aside the brilliant open ideological snuggle of The Leninist, we have had numerous face-to-face confrontations with all sorts of ideological tendencies ranging from ‘left’ communism to left Labourism. What applies nationally has been applied internationally. Friends from Iran, Turkey, Ireland, the USA and India have attended our schools and been given the fullest opportunity to criticise our theory and practice.

Though we have rarely if ever bothered with votes after such debates, are they not the essence of democratic centralism, which is open ideological struggle not “formal democracy”. I would answer in the affirmative. Would the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party answer in the negative? It would appear to be the case. They actually state that the “unity of form and essence – of formal democracy and ideological struggle – is the only way to ensure the convinced and united action of all comrades”.30 The 3rd Congress of Comintem in 1921 agreed an interesting resolution in flat contradiction to such fetishistic worshiping of formal democracy. “Formal democracy,” it reads, “by itself cannot rid the workers’ movement of either bureaucratic or anarchisttendencies because these in actual fact result from this type of democracy. All attempts to achieve the centralisation of the organisation and a strong leadership will be unsuccessful so long as we practice formal democracy”.31 A slight bending of the stick perhaps, but a powerful antidote to the completely one sided approach of our minority and a valuable pointer to why it displays both anarchistic and bureaucratic tendencies.

8. Fetishising formal democracy

What of day-to-day practice within the organisation. This is what seems to really bug the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party, who bureaucratically write of “confusion and disorganisation” and anarchistically of a ”’leaders and led’ situation in our Party”. 32 Reference has also been made by both sides in the argument about the curmudgeonly language that characterises some of the exchanges between comrades. Perhaps the minority has been guilty of this more than others. That said, there can be no excusing rudeness by comrades, especially leading comrades. But that should not be made in its tum into a reason for not carrying out agreed assignments or launching an attack on the concept of leadership itself. These are very difficult times for communists. We have to work together with the utmost discipline in order to tum outwards and lay the basis for reforging the CPGB and winning the broadest following for it. That is the best way to develop comradely relations and a comradely atmosphere. Something not obtainable through bureaucratic formal democracy which wants to model us on the “example” of the Chinese Red Army and give out written job descriptions nor an anarchistic plea that there should be no personal “pecking order”. 33

We are well aware of the advantages of being able to neatly slot comrades into specific positions within the Communist Party with specific, well understood tasks. Along the same lines we want to move towards the situation where organisational relations among us are expressed through a well ordered chain of command between committees from central committee, to district committee, to local committee, to cell and from cell back to local committee, to district committee, to central committee. But at the moment, as well as the organisational relationship between cells, supporters groups and the Provisional Central Committee there is also a web of leadership expressed through the personal chain of command not only via cell secretaries but PCC members in charge of specific campaigns or tasks. The reason for this is the primitive level of our development.

Within our Communist Party nucleus – working with the maximum flexibility for the maximum effect – there is bound to be more tension between individual comrades than in the reforged Communist Party. We are trying to carry out national tasks without a fully fledged national organisation. The lines of communication are therefore more complex and confused because individual comrades have to carry out a whole range of different, and sometimes conflicting tasks. The answer is growth, not a list of formal “operating procedures and structures”.34

Because the minority rejects our practice of democratic centralism by using the incorrect method of counterposing to it the rules of an established Communist Party, they are compelled to fetishise formal democracy to an extraordinary degree. How this leads to completely unintended conclusions can be seen all too clearly in the following statement taken from Building and strengthening the Communist Party. If, it says, a leadership is “democratically elected” there “can be no real grounds for distrust in it, complaint that it is unrepresentative, and so every basis for its support by the membership”.35

Well apart from the fact that our leadership has been democratically elected, I can only tell the comrades that their contention is untrue. As we have pointed out on numerous occasions, the opportunist cliques that used to dominate the CPGB claimed to operate democratic centralism. Their Executive Committee was elected every two years. But we certainly did not trust it and there was plenty of ground for that mistrust. It was made up of opportunists who produced the British Road to Socialism and dreamed of the Labour Party introducing socialism. They manipulated congresses, curtailed debate and relied on a membership which was in the main politically ignorant, passive and therefore of little support for the actions they deigned to organise.

What of countries where capitalism rules using the naked fist? Countries where it is not possible to elect the leadership in an unfettered way. Do these hardly untypical conditions mean the membership should mistrust the leadership? We say, in the last analysis, comradely trust comes through ideological correctness and understanding. Though formal aspects of democracy have of necessity been curbed there can nonetheless be genuine democracy.

Now we come to education? Instead of an “education commission” what we should have been concentrating on in the summer months of 1993 i! ensuring the success of our school in Greece. It will inform our subsequent plans. That is not to deny the importance of systematic and constant education of communists. Indeed we have devoted considerable time and resources to developing correct consciousness among our comrades. Ever since 1985 we have been running weekly seminars which have had at their heart openings on theoretical questions. True, since October 1992, because of the changed political situation through which we were able to recruit a layer of supporters and develop roots among various sections of militant workers, our seminars have been based on the detailed political report, plus shorter reports of particular campaigns and developments. The idea of this was to make them accessible to new worker recruits and involve the whole organisation in the change of emphasis from polemic with the left to dialogue with advanced workers. Certainly seminars need to be kept under constant review, as does the timing of publication of our draft programme which our minority refer to. What should be underlined on the latter point though is the role practice and growth has in adding to and enriching the work we have already done. The main short term question before us, however, is transforming our layer of supporters into a layer of Party members. The PCC has argued that the development of our Weekly Worker into a full sized paper is crucial here. Perhaps we could begin to . weld the whole organisation together and put in place the framework for the reforged CPGB through debate in the paper and an eventual vote by all supporters on a draft programme. It is more than a pity the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party do not address such questions, because without that happening there can be no possibility of rebuilding, let alone strengthening the Communist Party’.

9. Content of debate

In Building and strengthening the Communist Party our minority claimed that any hint or suggestion that the debate within our organisation revealed the opposition of “hard Bolshevik centralists versus soft Menshevik democrats” would be “formalistic and wrong”. 36 From our present vantage point though, it can only but be concluded that in broad terms this is exactly what was revealed. Behind all the minority’s pious claims to “agree that the present period demands strong leadership and greater centralism” lay the opposite.37 The fight of democracy versus bureaucracy was in fact a fight between the organisational principles of communism and the organisational principles of opportunism.

Opportunism tends to proceed from the bottom upward. Wherever possible and as far as possible, it seeks to bureaucratically uphold the rights of the (backward) individual and champion ‘democracy’ often carried through to the point of anarchism. Communism, in contrast, strives to “proceed from the top downward, and upholds an extension of the rights and the powers of the centre in relation to its parts”.38

In this period of reaction, where the CPGB has been liquidated and most communists have been thrown into utter confusion, the top from which we strove to proceed organisationally in order to reforge our Party inevitably had the character of a group, but the one enjoying most influence in relationship to isolated communists and other communist groups by virtue of its activity and its revolutionary consistency (expressed through the pages of The Leninist and now the Weekly Worker). When the Party is reforged and communists are reunited, the top down principle will continue, but in another form, ie the congress. As the supreme decision making body of the Party the congress elects the central committee (and if we have done our work well it will have a membership pleasing to the advanced elements of the Party more than the backward) which will then proceed to lead the whole, yes, top down. This will not only give the Party coherence, it will institutionalise the “organised distrust” of the vanguard towards the backward, the Party towards its sections, the whole towards the part, in other words the centre’s leadership over all local, district, national and other organisations.

Our minority’s platonic objection to being given “orders”, its fetishising of “fonnal democracy”, its hostility to the “pecking order”, its factional “distrust” of the part for the whole revealed a method of proceeding from bottom upwards. There is and must be a logic here. Communists who have advanced no political criticism of a leadership but all of a sudden express their loss of trust in it, who elevate their petty grumps and frustrations to matters of principle, who admit that there is “some democracy” and call for more but refuse to abide by it, are already sliding down the slippery slope towards the ideology of anti-communism. That is why our organisation has had to suffer constant outbursts of peek, abstention from work and proposals designed not to further the work of reforging the CPGB but to give freedom for those whose communism is withering into a narcissistic love affair with the sound of their own ‘brilliant’ voices.

After I, among others at the August membership aggregate, dared point to the backsliding that has characterised members of the minority, we were treated, as I expected, to a torrent of anarchistic accusations ranging from “rank pulling” to being “tin gods” who, fearing genuine debate, “hound” and “browbeat” the minority and can only “sling mud” at them. Oh how the tender feelings of these would be “leaders of the working class” were hurt. No thick proletarian skins here – but the boil was lanced. There is incidentally in my view a close political connection between the minority’s bucking against discipline and the incessant nagging on about the personal injury they suffer which can easily be detected in their documents.

Being vain men with a lot to be modest about, any reference to facts
about themselves naturally offends. They now tell us that it is impossible to work in our organisation because instead of honestly dealing with arguments themselves we engage in “personal attack”. 39 Put another way, we go for the player not the ball. The charge that we ignore the arguments of opponents is of course ridiculous. Anyone who takes the trouble for even a cursory examination of our publications from November 1981 to the present day would testify to that, as will comrades who attended the July and August membership aggregates where the ideas of the majority and minority on democratic centralism were debated in both great scope and detail. We might also add here that comrade David Rhys announced at the August membership aggregate that besides democratic centralism his differences with the leadership centred on historical materialism and crisis theory (I think he meant his differences with Jack Conrad). Does he not recall how we took two seminars to explore his musings on historical materialism and how we sorted out his trifling and incorrect criticisms of the book Which Road? in the pages of The Leninist (Nos 119, 121, 122). Did we or did we not deal honestly and in a comradely fashion with these questions? I know we did.

What our minority is really saying though is that it is wrong to take into account the interests, record and affiliations of the individuals who develop or misuse certain ideas. But ideas cannot be separated from individuals or social strata. The object and subject exist as a unity and must be studied as such. It would be a poor goalkeeper who kept his eye only on the ball and ignored the related movement and positioning of the other 21 players on the field. And we would be poor Marxists if we did not try might and main to take into account all factors contained in a phenomenon.

For example, looking back to the ancient world and the ideas of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, it would be completely erroneus if we only saw the philosophy and failed to notice the class position of these philosophers. In the name of not indulging in “personal attacks”, should we not mention the fact that these leisured gentlemen lived off the forced labour of slaves and philosophised about the world from the position of ruthless exploiters?40 To use another example, how can we know the ideas of religion – from the worship of nature by the primitives to the Branch Davidians – without studying the peoples who make and remake gods in their own image? (Incidentally, I shall here point out to comrade Mike Marshall that both the philosophy of the ancients and medieval religion often displayed a rigorous internal logic.) How about when the capitalist bosses say everyone should pull together for the benefit of the country, is it wrong to point out that they are damned hypocrites? And in the workers’ movement only a halfwit would take on face value the revolutionary pronouncements that on occasion come from the lips of clever left Labourites and calculating trade union bureaucrats. Likewise we can only cast doubt on a minority led by a (unskilled) leader who proposed to draw into its ranks an individual whose name in our ranks is synonymous with pompous phrase mongering and desertion – I am referring to a certain Paul Clark who recently resigned as a supporter of the CPGB apparently because his honour was sullied by the spot on description of him as a “pub room revolutionary”. Maybe we should have just tackled his ideas and ignored his catalogue of broken promises and unprincipled practice? No, unless we want to fall into error we must analyse every aspect of the whole (whether that be an idea, an individual, a faction or anything else for that matter).

Sometimes truth hurts. I for one touched a raw petty bourgeois nerve with my rather innocent observation that the “real complaint” of the minority seemed to “amount to the fact that they are in a ‘subordinate’ position in the ‘pecking order’ to women .comrades and are not the leadership of the organisation.” With hand on outraged heart it was vehemently denied. Misogyny is not trendy nowadays. Needless to say that was not really the point I was making. For the life of me I simply could not see what made our minority a political entity other than objection to the promotion of two comrades who (not unimportantly for us) happen to be women to leading positions: namely editor of our paper and national organiser.

Our minority could well have felt slighted – particularly I think comrade David Rhys, who for reasons of indiscipline and laziness, not theoretical differences, had been removed first from the PCC and then, after a brief tenure, as editor of our paper. Obviously he did not really accept these decisions. When during the course of debate he was cross examined by comrade Tam Bum at the August membership aggregate he had the residual honesty to admit that he did not support the election of the new editor nor the new national organiser. As such surely I was right not only about him but his one consistent ally of convenience, Mike Marshall. The minority’s cries about bureaucracy amount to no more than an unconscious displacement strategy for dissatisfaction with the personal composition of the leadership, a flg leaf to cover the anger these personalities feel at not being “rewarded” with leading positions. In other words, you are a “tin god” because you were appointed not in accordance with our wishes, but against them; you indulge in “rank pulling” because you are fighting for the decisions of the elected leadership to which we do not belong; you “possess nothing but threadbare formal logic” because you cite the genuine democracy of our organisation and pay no heed to our wish to do as we please; you are a “bureaucrat” because you refuse to hand over power to us.

So, comrades, what is bureaucracy really? For Leninists bureaucracy in
the Party is characterised by a concentration on place and position. Bureaucracy means subordinating the interests of the Party to the interests of the sullen ego; it means fulminating against bad organisation in general and not fulfllling one’s own tasks; it means expressing mistrust in elected leaders while not advancing any serious political criticisms; it means agitating for formal democracy and then refusing to accept conference
votes. That bureaucracy of this kind is undesirable and detrimental to our aim of reforging the Party is unquestionable, and we can safely leave it to the reader to judge which of the two sides that were contending in our organisation was guilty of such bureaucracy.

It is no accident that comrade David Rhys only began to complain about the lack of democracy in our organisation after his removal as editor of the Daily Worker (after weighing up the qualities of comrade Mike Marshall and comrade Lee-Anne Bates, we chose the latter). In the heady closing months of 1992 when preparation for a general strike was on the agenda of the working class, comrade – I mean the ‘great’ leader – David Rhys, announced his decision to give only a part time commitment to the paper and capped it by unilaterally taking a lengthy winter holiday without permission of his cell or the central leadership. He could have accepted his replacement as editor with good grace and worked with the devotion and discipline expected of the genuine communist. Instead he chose to adopt the politics of the Marxist trained intellectual who arrogantly uses pseudo-Marxism to justify flight from the proletarian organisation and cause. That in the course of struggle he ended up losing comrade John Praven and boasts just one follower, the mercurial Mike Marshall, from among our ranks does not surprise me. And it is easy to predict that they will soon tire of each other and go their own ways.

Pathetic and insubstantial though our opposition may have been, communists use such internal struggles to draw general lessons. For instance, here, the difference between workers on the one hand and declassed petty bourgeois elements on the other. Worker communists do not have hours to wile away in self indulgent disputes. Their time is valuable. At meetings they want to hear and discuss what will be useful to them: an accurate evaluation of the unfolding political situation and how we should respond. They value leaders who do this using the clearest language and have demonstrated their trustworthiness because of their correctness over the years. In the Party worker communists give their all as part of the collective without any prospect of personal advantage or personal glory. They do their best in any position they are assigned to with a voluntary discipline which comes from their instinctive feelings and thoughts. We all know who they are in our organisation.

De-classed individuals are quite different. They have little or no experience of fighting collectively. They lose faith easily and degenerate even faster. For them reputation is everything. Meetings are seen as an opportunity to show off, positions are viewed as rewards and woe betide the leadership that puts work before their feelings. Disagreement is their natural element. They feed on rumour and gossip and fault finding. No amount of democracy is enough for them. It is only with difficulty that they submit to being a part subordinate to the whole, and then only from necessity, not inclination. Some recognise the need of discipline only for others, not elect minds. And of course our would be leader and would be college lecturer David Rhys came to consider himself just that. What a pity he decided to follow the well trod road to academic ‘Marxism’ rather than the infinitely harder path taken by Marx and Lenin from the academy to full time revolutionary activity. Both Marx and Lenin were brilliant examples of intellectuals who cast aside the specific mentality of the intellectual and thoroughly imbued themselves with the discipline of the proletariat. They despised those who expect to be leaders by right, who whinge and whine when given orders by intellectual ‘inferiors’, who flounce off if they happen to find themselves in a minority. With Marx and Lenin, like us, the cause always comes first.

10. Conclusion

I think I have proved that the struggle in our organisation was not a revolt by advocates of democratic centralism against a bureaucratic centralist regime, but a revolt by petty bourgeois individualists who, using the perennial cover of democracy, clashed with the supporters of proletarian organisation and discipline. Though they began their revolt with the persuasive call to extend existing democracy, though they approvingly quoted Comintem, Lenin and even Jack Conrad, it did not take long before they revealed their contempt for not just the new leaders of our organisation but the organisation itself. Putting their ego before everything, certainly above the rights of the majority, they decided not to risk what for them would be unbearable humiliation – seeing their proposals and politics democratically rejected by a conference of Communist Party members.

They now tell us that those “who are serious about revolution” “will” “know where to find” them. Well we certainly do. Having rejected the one and only organised nucleus committed to reforging the CPGB, it will not take these deserters long before they drop their pretended commitment to the Communist Party. Perhaps they really believe they are doing the right thing for the working class. That we can leave to the psychologist. For our part we will carry on with the exacting but rewarding fight to reforge the CPGB.

Appendix I: Democratic centralism and our strategy

1. There are no ready made blue prints for communist organisation. Timeless recipes for the structures, election procedures and the relationship between the various component bodies that make up a Communist party are the result of formal, not dialectical, thinking. This is even more the case when it comes to that struggle to reforge the CPGB, which though it has gone through many different stages is still in its infancy. In other words there can be no question of beginning now on the basis of how we mean to go on organisationally. There can be no projecting the mass party of the future on to our embryonic nucleus, no testing our still modest achievements against some perfectly functioning Communist party of the imagination. The Communist party is a living organism. It evolves and constantly changes according to objective circumstances and the struggle to put the revolutionary programme into practice. In that light communists approach the question of organisation.

2. From the very beginning our founding comrades stressed that the main political question in Britain was reforging the CPGB. To achieve that aim they came together and in November 1981 began a principled and unremitting open ideological struggle. Principled, because there was nothing sectarian or narrow about the rebellion we led against the opportunists. They were wrecking the CPGB and betraying the working class. Leninists were determined to re-equip the working class with a revolutionary programme and a disciplined revolutionary Party. Unremitting, because that fight remains tho sole reason why the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB exists. When the CPGB is reforged the Provisional Central Committee will instantly hand over all its properties, records, presses, funds and other resources. Then it will dissolve itself.

3. Reforging the CPGB is a political question. The Communist Party is the organised vanguard of the working class. That means, though it will almost certainly be necessary to build a Party of many millions to make revolution in a country like Britain, exactly when a refoundation congress of the CPGB is called depends on political not numerical criteria. Has the theoretical basis been laid for the communist programme? Have communist leaders been trained? Have roots been dug in the working class? Have advanced workers been won to communism? These questions tell us what we need to do in order to reforge the CPGB.

4. Because the Communist Party exists to provide the working class with the highest form of organization and consciousness, it unites revolutionary theory with revolutionary practice. Communists cannot tolerate those who do not fully carry out agreed tasks or confine their revolutionary enthusiasm to pub room rhetoric. Members must act as one under a leadership which can change direction at a moment’s notice according to new circumstances. Achieving that means developing both independently minded, self-activating cadres and the ideology of the whole Party. None of that can be arrived at by resolution mongering or issuing dictats. It requires the realisation of democratic centralism.

5. Democratic centralism entails the subordination of the minority to the majority when it comes to the actions of the Party. That does not mean the minority should be gagged. Minorities must have the possibility of becoming the majority. As long as they accept in practice the decisions of the majority, groups of comrades have the right to support alternative platforms and form themselves into temporary or permanent factions. Democratic centralism therefore represents a dialectical unity entailing the fullest, most open and frank debate along with the most determined, selfless, revolutionary action. Democratic centralism allows members· of the Party to unitedly carry out actions, elect and be elected, criticise the mistakes of the Party and self-criticise their own failings without fear or favour. In essence then, democratic centralism is a process whereby communists are united around correct aims and principles.

6. In countries where capitalism rules using the naked fist the Party has to operate illegally. That means many aspects of democracy have to be curbed. For example, appointment from above takes precedence over election from below. However, if there is comradely trust among communists not even the most terroristic capitalist dictatorship can prevent the Communist Party operating freely among the masses and openly strug~ gling for the correct aims and principles. In the communist press different ideas contend, criticisms are made and answered. In other words, though there might not be formal democracy, there is genuine democracy.

7. In a parliamentary democracy like Great Britain there is no need for the Communist Party to emphasise centralism as against aspects of democracy. The Party can without too much difficulty operate freely and publicly. That does not mean the Communist Party should have legalistic illusions. No matter where a Communist Party operates it must combine legal with illegal work. Nevertheless under such conditions within the Party there is no need to curb democracy. There should be public meetings and debates, ease of joining the membership, election of leaders from below and regular congresses and conferences.

8. The opportunist cliques that used to dominate the CPGB claimed to operate democratic centralism. That was a big lie that discredited democratic centralism and communism itself. Their British Road to Socialism was a reformist, not a revolutionary, programme. Minorities, above all the revolutionary Leninist minority, had no access to ‘official’ Party publications, which were treated as factional or private property. Far from having the possibility of becoming the majority, the minority was denied places on leading committees proportionate to its support and was subjected to a crude bureaucratic centralism which meant persecution and expulsion. Congresses might have been held regularly but they were gerrymandered, stage managed affairs that ended in the farce of workshops and one minute limits on speeches. Such a state of affairs had nothing to do with unity in action. Most members were completely inactive. The actions the petty careerists wanted were not motivated by Marxism-Leninism, but rather a craving for respectability in the eyes of bourgeois society.

9. It was in such difficult conditions that the Leninist wing of the CPGB organised itself. Bureaucratic centralism meant that to all intents and purposes communists had to operate under illegal conditions. That did not mean there was no democratic centralism. There was always ideological openess in our publications. That created ideological and organisational unity at all levels and enabled us to establish genuine democracy even though many formal aspects of democracy were lacking.

10. Despite adverse conditions the Leninists of the CPGB have so far organised five conferences of communists. Though participants were appointed from above, because of the trust among comrades they were respected as fully representative, authorative and democratic. Besides electing a leading body of comrades these conferences debated a wide range of motions. They were submitted by the leadership and individual comrades. Minorities have if anything found themselves over-represented, certainly not under-represented. There has never been any limitation on discussion or criticism. As long as discussion and criticism takes place on the basis of the principles of Marxism-Leninism, as long as it aims to develop the work of the Party, it helps develop centralism.

11. Apart from an open press and conferences organised round particular issues and controversies, the Leninist leadership of the CPOB presents weekly London seminars where members, supporters and friends of the Party are able to hear reports on current events, Party activities and finances. There has always been an atmosphere of free and open debate at these. That pattern is beginning to be reproduced in other parts of the country as the Party reestablishes itself.

12. Since we begun our open ideological struggle in November 1981 there has been a profound tum in world and domestic politics. The working class has suffered huge defeats -crucially the 1984-5 miners’ Oreat Strike and the collapse of bureaucratic socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union through the democratic counterrevolutions of 1989-91. The period of reaction this unleashed saw many opportunists drop all pretence of having anything to do with communism. The whole political spectrum has moved to the right; even petty bourgeois leftists enthusiastically welcomed the “death of communism”. So despite capitalism showing all the signs of pre-general crisis, bourgeois ideas are stronger than ever before. Yet despite the fact that communists have had to swim against a tidal wave of reactionary ideas we have made some real advances. Recapturing the name of our Party, standing CPO B candidates in the 1992 general election and our role in support of the miners, Timex and other workers all testify to real progress.

13. Nevertheless there remains a long way to go before we can reforge the CPGB. Party membership is tiny and mainly London based. Though there is now a layer of carded-up supporters of the Party, most of them are not organised in branches and those that are operate on a very low level. Under these conditions suggestions that there should be full democracy from below, including the election of cell secretaries, annual conferences of members and elections to the Provisional Central Committee are misplaced. Cells are, we have to admit, essentially sub-committees of the PCC enabling it to carry out its national work. Members are, and have to be, regularly moved from one cell, and one area of responsibility to another. None of our cells are geographically based, except the one we have implanted in Scotland. Appointment of officials from above should therefore be maintained for the present. As to annual conferences and elections, that smacks of formalism. Conferences have been and should for the moment continue to be held around specific issues, controversies or moments. At present most members of the Party work in the closest proximity. Perhaps the majority meet together every week, and are able and are encouraged to express their views on every conceivable subject. More than that, regular aggregates of the whole membership have been organised where proposals and experiences of agreed actions are subject to lengthy discussion and debate. Obviously this cannot be a permanent state of affairs. As membership grows so will the need to institutionalise representation in policy making forums of debate.

14. At our present primitive stage, to further develop democratic centralism the Provisional Central Committee will introduce written motions when appropriate and submit them to votes and amendments at Party aggregates. That can only take the revolutionary unity of our organisation to a higher level because it will help to sharpen and clarify political positions. In the same spirit if a simple majority of members brought together at an aggregate agrees, then the Provisional Central Committee should organise a conference and/or elections to the leadership. Obviously that does not affect the right of the Provisional Central Committee nor the general secretary have in calling a conference.

15. The main task at the moment is to transform our layer of supporters by organising them in branches and into members of the Party. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that without some sort of a national framework there can be no possibility of reforging the CPGB. Here the 1993 school being built by the Provisional Central Committee is of particular importance in winning the battle of ideas and organisation. However, to fully involve our layer of supporters, to add to them, to facilitate their transition into Party members, it is essential that the Weekly Worker becomes a real organiser, educator and agitator. That cannot be done while it remains a single sheet. The new press we are ready to purchase will allow the Weekly Worker to combine the achievements of The Leninist and the Daily Worker. After publication of an expanded, proper sized Weekly Worker has begun, every effort will be made to draw supporters together at a national level. Debate on a major strategic political question should be initiated and carried in the pages of our paper and then crowned through a national conference of supporters. In this way we can begin to weld our supporters into a united body and prepare comrades for membership of the Party.

Appendix II: Building and strengthening the Communist Party

Under certain circumstances, it is true, communists will organise with “the maximum of centralisation and restricted democracy. The balance between the two is determined by objective conditions. Naturally though, in a bourgeois democracy like Britain the democratic side of democratic centralism in a Communist Party does not need to be curtailed (Jack Conrad Which Road?).41

What is democratic centralism?
In 1922 George Lukacs stated that there was an inadequate theoretical understanding of the problem of organisation, that it had “often been seen in purely technical terms rather than as one of the most important intellectual problems of the revolution”.42

Seen in a technical way the question of party organisation, and therefore of democratic centralism, falls prey to pragmatism; to technical solutions to what are in reality and of necessity crucial political problems.

The aim of this document is to put democratic centralism in its necessary political context, and so to determine how we must operate now in order to get where we all want to go – towards the mass party of the working class capable of leading the overthrow of capitalism and building socialism.

So what is democratic centralism? The 2nd Congress of the Communist International in 1920 defined it as follows:

The Communist Party must be built up on the basis of democratic centralism. The chief principle of democratic centralism is the election of higher party cells by the lower, the unconditional and indispensable binding authority of air the instructions of the higher bodies for the lower and the existence of a strong party centre whose authority is generally recognised for all the leading party comrades in the period from one party conference to another.43

Working from the definition provided by the Communist International, we will move on to look at the relationship between its two components.

The dialectic of democracy and centralism
‘then is no trade off between democracy and centralism. The Party is not a box with only room for so much of one and c:n much of the other. The relationship is a dialectical one, and so each one determines and develops the other in the course of its own development:

Democratic centralism is a fundamental organisational principle which comprises the dialectical unity of democracy and centralism. Centralism is required to form an organisation which strikes simultaneously as one fist; democracy is required to ensure that the blows are struck on correct principles. Democratic centralism is a vital mechanism which enables the majority to adopt correct positions, ensures unity of will on the correct principles and subsequently imposes unity in action through the submission of the minority
to the majority.44

It is evident from this that the caricature some comrades have tried to draw in the course of this debate – that of the hard Bolshevik centralists versus the soft Menshevik democrats- is formalistic and wrong. Democracy and centralism are united: democracy gives you the strength to centralise. Comrade Silahtar continues in warning of the dangers of such formalism:

There is an important point which must be made on the subject of democratic centralism: that it is the formalistic, and solely formalistic, interpretation which rejects the essence of this principle and robs it of its content. This danger is especially pertinent for parties with young and inexperienced cadres and which are passing through a process of re-establishment. The formalistic understanding imposes ‘bureaucratic centralism’ in the name of centralism.45

To counteract this, the fullest realisation of democratic centralism possible is necessary.

Some comrades have argued that we already have some democracy in the Party (true) and that this is sufficient (untrue). Often, this claim is based on the potential for open debate within the organisation and confidence in existing channels. It is correct to state that open ideological struggle is the essence of real democracy. But it is wrong to counterpose this against the formal democracy of votes on issues, conferences, elections, etc.

It is true to say that where such formal democracy exists in isolation from free debate within an organisation it is gutted of the essential feature of democracy and acts as a rubber stamp for the status quo. Comrade John Bridge recently described this as a characteristic feature of ‘official communist’ organisations. But if our understanding of democracy is confined to the level of “sticking up your hand for a vote” we reduce it to the level of the ‘official communists’: ie, a bourgeois concept of democracy.

It is a fundamental truth of dialectics that the essence of a thing is only realised through its expression, ie form. Therefore, ideological struggle can only realise its potential as a dynamising force if its result is expressed in a vote of those who have participated in that struggle where possible (ie, in the context of this discussion, the Party membership).

As things stand, the degree of initiation of debates and the level of participation in them by our comrades is low. This is not because we have gone through so much together and therefore established a broad base of agreement. The Bolsheviks had gone through much more together, had themselves established a greater programmatic basis for agreement than has been seen within the revolutionary movement before or since, and yet still engaged in many fierce battles. Indeed, it is only through such battles that a real and lasting basis of agreement can be built. It is a healthy and normal aspect of Party life, and one that is brought fully into play by the democratic decision-making process.

The unity of form and essence – of formal democracy and ideological struggle – is the only way to ensure the convinced and united action of all comrades.

Lenin fully understood this, and when conditions allowed in 1905 he seized on the opportunity to democratise the party structures, knowing that it could only strengthen party organisation and the confidence of the working class in that organisation:

The St Petersburg worker Social Democrats [communists] know that the whole Party organisation is now built on a democratic basis. This means that all the Party members take part in the election of officials, committee members and so forth, that all the Party members discuss and decide questions concerning the political campaigns of the proletariat, and that all the Party members determine the line of tactics of the Party organisations.46

One problem we experience today is that our comrades are not developed to engage in such necessary, constant assessment. In part this is a question of cadre development through education, an integral aspect of democratic centralism which is discussed below, But it is also because comrades often see little point in participating in debates whose result they regard as already determined by the leadership line. Often, when an instantaneous reaction by the Party as a whole is needed, such leadership action is necessary. But when it becomes habitual it distorts the development of a healthy Party life. If this becomes so, then leadership does not develop; centralism and communist leadership degenerate merely into issuing orders, a situation which cannot produce the confidence that communist leadership needs to function.

Election to leadership is a necessary facet of democratic centralism – indeed, one of its defining features, as we see from the Communist International resolution. Lenin emphasises the need “to see to it that all the higher standing bodies are elected, accountable and subject to recall”.47

We have already outlined why votes and decisions are not just ‘nice’ things to do, but why they facilitate the smooth running and effective centralisation of the Communist party.

In the course of discussion and activity within the Party it becomes clear who the best leaders are. In debate, comrades will see who represents what, who is right and who is wrong. On this basis it is possible to select the most effective leadership. The collective decision of active communists is the best way to select their collective leadership. Either that, or the leadership must acknowledge that it has been unable to develop a membership of such active communists, which itself must call into question the quality of that
leadership.

By such a process the identification of the membership with the leadership increases, as does its trust. This, therefore, is essential to the development of centralism within the Party. Where a leadership is democratically elected, there can be no real grounds for distrust in it, complaint that it is unrepresentative, and so every basis for its support by the membership.

In speaking of the election of the leadership, we must also be clear on the role and tasks of the leadership, both individually and collectively. The fundamental task of a Party leader is to guarantee the training and development of leaders, producing all communists as leaders, and so removing the perennial complaint of a ‘leaders and led’ situation in our Party. To facilitate this, a clear delineation of duties and responsibilities of comrades, especially those in leading positions, is urgently needed to reduce to the minimum confusion and disorganisation.

We need to establish standard operating procedures that both simplify legal work and are indispensable for illegal work. Byway of example, the Chinese Red Army had few problems with its chain of command: orders went through the immediate superior. The chain of command was simple and understood by all. It was therefore easy to fit into.

Such methods include delineation of responsibilities: what and who a particular comrade has responsibility over, and what they do not. Methods like these simplify Party work by removing the mystique of leadership. Comrades have collective responsibility as a member of the committee on which they serve, and individual responsibility for the particular tasks or posts assigned them.

The existence of an attitude in the Party which states ‘you shouldn’t speak that way to the holder of a particular position’ can only mean that such an attitude is permissible if reversed. This is wrong. One comrade’s dealings with another should not have the character of a pecking order. Comrades should deal with each other as comrades. Collective subordination of one body to another does not mean the subordination of anyone individual in the latter to anyone individual in the former, unless such a relationship is outlined in the clearly defined operating procedures and structures of the Party.

The Paper
We agree entirely with comrade Bridge’s proposals on the role of the Party press: the need for its expansion, enabling it to draw together the polemical and propagandist strengths of The Leninist with the immediate response reportage and agitation of the Daily/Weekly Worker.

One important facet of the former that we currently lack is the ability to engage in debates both within our ranks and within the wider workers’ movement; a process that Lenin argued was necessary for any “real sorting out” to occur:

[W]e desire our publications to become organs for the discussion of all questions by all Russian Social Democrats [communists] of the most diverse shades of opinion. We do not reject polemics between comrades, but, on the contrary, are prepared to give them considerable space in our columns. Open polemics, conducted in full view of all Russian Social Democrats and class conscious workers, are necessary and desirable in order to clarify the depth of existing differences, in order to afford discussion of disputed questions from all angles.48

[T]he Party leadership must open these discussions to the rank and file, taking great care that they are presented correctly.49

Debate must take place in front of the class conscious workers in order that they can learn and judge from the debate who is right, and so the correct line of march for their own struggles.

In this context, it is important that we encourage comrades to express their views and disagreements in the Party press – including this current discussion.

Education
Education is in no way a separate subject from democratic centralism. It
is essential to the development of communists, and so of the Party in all respects: “what determines discipline is correct consciousness” .$0 Correct consciousness is not formed through the passive absorption of any line that the leadership hands down, but through the active search for truth: the full involvement of each comrade in ideological struggle. Education providing the raw material and method for each comrade – enables this.

The Communist International understood the importance of education,
and emphasised its role.

Educational work must be systematically organised and constantly carried out by the entire system of party organisations, in all the party’s working collectives; thereby an increasingly high degree of specialisation can also be
attained.51

To equip our comrades as leaders of the working class, its collective consciousness, it is necessary to approach this question with far more seriousness and rigour than has been the case until now. Proposals for this will be advanced in the concluding section of this document.

Concrete proposals
Resulting from this discussion, we wish to make three main proposals:
1. The convening of an annual conference
In addition to the provisions made available for conferences on particular questions agreed by the 4th Conference of the Leninists of the CPGB, there should be an annual conference representing all members, with the basic structure of:
a) Political and organisational reports by the PCC, supplied beforehand to
members for discussion.
Discussion on these reports.
Amendments to, and voting on, these reports.
d) Additional resolutions from members, Party committees, etc, supplied
to members beforehand
e)E1ection of the Provisional Central Committee
The first of such conferences should be convened within six to nine
months.

We also propose that extraordinary conferences may be called by a PCC majority, or one third of either Party cells or members.

Conferences should be the cardinal decision making body of the Party.

2. Elections
We propose:
a)The election of the Provisional Central Committee at the annual conference.
b) That the PCC is accountable and recallable.
c )The development of a clearly understood and applied division of labour by the Party with regard to leading positions, and that comrades in leading positions should be accountable to the Party membership.
3.Education programme
Alongside the continuing development of the induction programme, we propose:
a)The restructuring of London seminars to allow scope for the inclusion of an education programme of a more structured theoretical nature. The establishment of similar seminars outside of London where possible, and if possible on a weekly basis.
b) The organisation of regular day schools on both theoretical issues and practical issues.
c) The establishment of an education commission to develop communist education, to be convened within not less than a one month period, to report material progress to an aggregate meeting of the membership in not more than a two month period from now.

Any education process must continue to involve comrades in discussion around the development of the Party programme (which has disappeared from view over the last year or so).

Towards this end of education and open ideological struggle, the contributions to this debate should be published in full. We all agree that the present period demands strong leadership and greater centralism. This document outlines the way forward for this necessary development, through the vital extension of democratic centralism. What is the objective barrier to the deepening of democratic centralism to the extent proposed in these pages? There is none. The only question for Party members is, comrades, do you trust yourselves with the future of your Party and class? We believe you do.

Mike Marshall
John Praven
David Rhys


Appendix III: A Marxist critique of Democratic centralism and our stratergy

“There are no ready made blue prints for communist organisation” but is that any reason for throwing away the spirit level and the plumb line? There can be no question of not “beginning now as we mean to go on” as far as democratic centralism is concerned.

It must be emphasised that those of us proposing “structures, election procedures, or relationships between the various component bodies that make up a Communist Party” are not following some “timeless recipe”. To misrepresent our dialectical arguments in this way is to set up an Aunt Sally, easily knocked down, rather than to have the real argument which is now shaping up over who is actually thinking dialectically and who is merely sprinkling some dialectical jargon over their threadbare formal
logic.

Please bear with me then while I attempt to clarify what is meant by
“formal thinking” and “formalism”. Formal logic is based on three laws: 1) The law of Identity (A equals A). I am me. A two pound bag of sugar is a two pound bag of sugar.
2) The law of non-contradiction (A is not equal to non-A); I am not somebody else. A two pound bag of sugar is not a jar of pickles.
3) The law of the excluded middle (If A equals A, it cannot equal non-A as well). We are not me. If all we have is a two pound bag of sugar and a jar of pickles, and if one of those things is not a jar of pickles, it must be a two pound bag of sugar with no pickles in it.

These three fundamental laws have a material content and an objective basis; that they are explicit formulations of the instinctive logic of common sense. They constitute the prevailing rules of thought in the bourgeois world. Comrade Z [name changed] expressed them beautifully in this
debate when she said:

1) “I am on the PCC because I am politically advanced.” The law of identity.
2) ”The other members are not on the PCC because they are politically backward.” The law of non-contradiction.
3) “If the other members were advanced enough to have a vote, they would be on the PCC.” The law of the excluded middle.

So what is so wrong with “formal thinking”?
Formal logic demands a static universe.
Even a two pound bag of sugar is no longer itself if we have equipment sensitive enough to show its constant changes in weight and volume. Ifwe move the bag of sugar through space, we notice that it also changes according to where it is. As soon as we admit motion and time into the scenario we find that nothing remains itself. For A to be A requires a snapshot view of reality, and therefore a view that is only true in the abstract.
2. Formal logic erects impassable barriers between things.
A world is presupposed in which everything exists in isolation, whereas we know that all matter is interconnected, however indirectly. Every phenomenon exists in relation to its surroundings.
3. Formal logic excludes difference from identity.
Even in inorganic nature, identity as such is non-existent in reality. Every body is continually exposed to mechanical, physical and chemical influences, which are always changing it and modifying its identity. Without the continual generation of variety, natural selection alone would not bring evolution.
4. The laws of formal logic are presented as absolute.
At various stages in the development of the physical sciences, chemical elements, molecules, atoms electrons, were considered by metaphysicalminded thinkers to be unchanging substances. Beyond and behind these mankind could not go. With the further advance of the natural sciences, each one of these e”temal absolutes has been in tum overthrown. Each of these constituent parts of material formations has been demonstrated to be conditioned, limited, and relative. All their pretensions to be absolute, unlimited, and unchanging, have been proven false.
5. Formal logic can account for everything but itself. One of the superior features of materialist dialectics over formal logic is the fact that, unlike formal logic, dialectics can not only account for the existence of formal logic but can also tell us why it supersedes formal logic. Dialectics can explain itself to itself and to others. That is why it is incomparably more logical than formal thinking.

Dialectics is the logic of movement, of evolution, of change. It deals with an ever changing complex and contradictory reality. Everything that happens is not the result of arbitrary forces but the result of definite and regularly operating laws. This is true of the mental processes with which logic directly concems itself. The laws of mental processes exist.

All that is real is rational (Hegel).

Hegel, in his Logic established a series of laws: change of quantity into quality, development through contradictions, conflict of content and form, interruption of continuity [discontinuity], change of possibility into inevitability, etc, which are just as important for theoretical thought as is the simple syllogism for more elementary tasks.’52

Marx, as we all know, turned Hegel’s idealist dialectics up side down, to put them on their feet, and invented materialist dialectics, the plumb line and the spirit level alluded to in my opening metaphor. Glance at any page of say Marx’s Critique of Hegel’ s Doctrine of the State and you will mostly fmd Marx picking through Hegel’s arguments and taking the piss whenever he discovered an unsupported assertion camouflaged by a “therefore” or some other rhetorical means of juxtaposing ideas to make them look as if they logically flowed from each other. Everything that exists must have a necessary and sufficient reason for existence – and that reason can be discovered and communicated to others. So, before I discuss the concept of form and essence, let me now attempt to follow Marx’s example and analyse Democratic centralism and our strategy with all the rigour my inferior intellect will allow.

Paragraph 13 states: “Party membership is tiny and mainly London
based. Though there is now a layer of carded-up supporters of the Party most of them are not organised in branches and those that are, operate on a very low level. Under these conditions suggestions that there should be full democracy from below, including the election of cell secretaries, annual conferences of members and elections to the Provisional Central Committee are misplaced.” This is a logical non sequitur. Despite “under these conditions” the assertion in the second sentence is not supported by the fll’St. Surely, if anything, the organisation of supporters is conditioned by the organisation of the membership, rather than the other way round. As for the size of the “Party membership”, it is given in paragraph 3 that even the refoundation congress of the CPGB will be called on “political not numerical criteria”.

And further: “Cells are, we have to admit, essentially sub-committees of the PCC enabling it to carry out its national work. Members are, and have to be regularly moved from one cell, and one area of responsibility
to another. None of our cells are geographically based, except the one we have implanted in Scotland. Appointment of officials from above should therefore be maintained for the present.” Here we have another logical non sequitur. Why should cells not be essentially subcommittees of the PCC? Must the essential nature of cells be changed before democratic centralism can be permitted? Will there be a time when members are not regularly moved from one cell to another? Despite “therefore” the assertion is unsupported by the preceding observations.

“Conferences have been and should for the moment continue to be held around specific issues, controversies or moments.” Can we assume then that, in the last four years since the last election there have been no issues, controversies, or moments worth holding a conference for, aside from the reclaiming of the party name two years ago? Such an assumption would not “smack” of formalism, it would reek. The proposal of regular conferences (annual or whatever) seeks to break from this so that, if within twelve months there has been no conference, we can find out if the PCC is correct. Has there been no significant change since the last conference? Such a static universe can only exist in the abstract, as a result of formal logic.

“Regular aggregates of the whole membership have been organised where proposals and experiences of agreed actions are subject to lengthy discussion and debate. ” But, even for members, attendance at an aggregate is by invitation only. In paragraph 14 “At our present primitive stage, to further develop democratic centralism the Provisional Central Committee will introduce written motions when appropriate and submit them to votes and amendments at Party aggregates.”

Although in paragraph 7 “There should be public meetings and debates, ease of joining the membership, election ofleaders from below and regular congresses and conferences”, Democratic centralism and our strategy takes us from a transitional stage to a primitive stage and the PCC’s commitment to democratic centralism and open ideological struggle is now further limited to allowing selected members to vote on written motions at such times as the PCC sees appropriate. This is not true democratic centralism but an abstraction of it. It may readily be seen from paragraphs 13 and 14 that the PCC’s concept of democratic centralism is a formal identity rather than a dialectical living process.

No wonder the seminars reveal a passive membership. No wonder Party membership is tiny and mainly London based. No wonder the National Organiser believes that there is whispering in the ranks. It would appear that the quantitative restrictions on democratic centralism are already having a qualitative effect. There had to be a reason why we don’t organise as well as we know how to.

To return to paragraph 1 : ”There can be no projecting the mass Party of the future on to our embryonic nucleus” is a product of formal logic whereby democracy is viewed as a distinct package which can be chopped off or grafted on at will. This is the formal logic of a mad microbiologist who surgically removes a major part of a tadpole’s central nervous system with the intention of eventually grafting it back into the adult frog. ”The Communist Party is a living organism.” Materialist dialectics reveal that, the postoperative tadpole will never become a frog.

The essence of any thing does not and cannot come into existence all at once and remain there in immutable form. It is an integral and inseparable aspect of the object, sharing all the vicissitudes of its history.
In the algebra of formal logic, if A equals B, then B equals A. The two are synonymous and interchangeable. But the dialectical relation between essence and appearance is not reversible in the same way that the law of
identity is reversible.

So when we read paragraph 5 we must not draw the common sense,
formal, conclusion that: if democratic centralism is a process whereby communists are united around correct aims and principles, then, so long as we appear to unite around correct aims and principles, we objectively have democratic centralism, so that’s all right then! Trade unions are essentially schools for communism. This does not mean that if we built a school for communism it would ipso facto be a trade union. Essentially man is an animal that makes tools for labour. This docs not mean that every time a naturalist reports that another chimp has made a tool, the chimp has just qualified as a member of the human race.

So we have to say that the process of democratic centralism is literally
essential to the uniting of communists around correct aims and principles. Quantitative limits on democratic centralism inflict qualitative damage to the uniting of communists around correct aims and principles. What are we going to do about it then?

“Communists cannot tolerate those who do not fully carry out agreed tasks or confme their revolutionary enthusiasm to pub room rhetoric” (para 4). This is true and, without the fullest commitment to the living reality of democratic centralism, the best of our revolutionary intentions remain a promise on a piece of paper. Surely the degeneration of officialcommunisms into opportunism and bureaucracy, despite volumes of such papers, (and presumably the best intentions of their founders) reveals that this is not
enough.

In para 2 we are assured that “When the CPGB is reforged the Provisional Central Committee will instantly hand over all its properties, records, presses, funds and other resources. Then it will dissolve itself’ (para 2). How do we know? Well, because the fight to re-equip the working class with a revolutionary programme and a disciplined Party is the sole reason why the PCC exists! But that again relies on the law of identity, the first law of fonnallogic, which assumes that the bag of sugar remains a bag of sugar. In reality even the bag of sugar is gradually turning into its opposite. In Democratic centralism and our strategy the PCC implicitly claims immunity from this dialectical process.

The fundamental proposition of Marxian dialectics is that all boundaries in nature and society are conventional and mobile, that there is not a single phenomenon which cannot under certain conditions be transformed into its opposite.53

Blind faith is not scientific socialism. We have to be rational to become real. The fight for democratic centralism in its fullest sense is essential to the reforging of the CPGB and the execution of the proletariat’s historic mission.

Mike Marshall
July 31 1993

Appendix IV: Resignation letter

We have found it necessary to resign, not to curtail debate but to develop it. On raising our criticisms and proposals within your organisation we met with a response of personal attacks, answering none of the substantive points raised in Building and strengthening the Communist Party or A Marxist Critique. As time has gone by, far from ideas being clarified, more and more mud has been thrown; misogyny and sexism being merely a unifying theme between three signatories of Building and strengthening the Communist Party. A Reply to ‘Marxist’ Critiques states that “the real complaint of the comrades seems to amount to the fact that they are in a ‘subordinate’ position in the ‘pecking order’ to women comrades and are not in the leadership of the organisation.” Even were this true – and it is an unsubstantiated lie – it does not invalidate the criticisms we have raised.

Given that it has proved impossible to debate seriously within your organisation, we are compelled to develop and express our ideas outside.

The forthcoming conference was due to be a show trial with the PCC in the role of Vishinsky. The majority has been secured to the PCC’s satisfaction, with the conference as no more than the coup de grace, formalised with elections – ironically, with a recommended list, a device only introduced into the communist parties under Stalin to ensure the continuity of an opportunist leadership by a membership not trusted to make up its own mind without the great leader’s guidance.

The PCC shamelessly violated the key principle of open ideological struggle, relying instead on personal abuse. The original PCC statement claimed that minorities have always been overrepresented. This is a lie. This has been the first time a real minority has appeared in the organisation, and the response is clear. It has set a dangerous precedent. Any comrade raising substantive criticisms can expect the same treatment: a catalogue of their iniquities paraded before the organisation and then whispering behind their backs. This is not the conduct of a communist leadership, but of petty individuals intent on defending their position above all else _ certainly above principle.
It is. therefore necessary for communists to build independently of the PCC clique. Those comrades who are serious about revolution know where to find us.

For communism,

Mike Marshall
David Rhys

August 1993

Appendix V: Statement of the 6th Conference of the Leninist of the Communist Party of Great Britain

The Provisional Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain initiated debate on democratic centralism on July 111993 at a Party membership aggregate. There followed a sharp and extensive debate during which all comrades were given maximum opportunity to express and develop their ideas. Members of the Party have gained a great deal from the debate. As shown by the 6th Conference of the Leninists of the CPGB, the fight to reforge the Party has been greatly strengthened.

The Conference met in a spirit of unity, optimism and comradeship.
After a businesslike meeting comrades unanimously agreed the resolution Democratic centralism and our strategy and unanimously elected a new Provisional Central Committee.

However, it is to be regretted that two of the three members of the minority who claimed to stand for democratic centralism did not see the discussion through, let alone observe democratic centralism. This is not the act of serious communists.

They have run away from submitting their views to the conference of the Communist Party. Their commitment to democracy in practice and the essentially petty personal nature of their disagreements are therefore
revealed.

September 4 1993

References

  1. VI Lenin CW Vol 7, 1977, p412
  2. See ‘Founding statement’, The Leninist No1, November 1981.
  3. A Marxist critique p1.
  4. Ibid p3.
  5. Ibid p3.
  6. Democratic centralism and our stratergy p1.
  7. A Marxist critique p3.
  8. Ibid p4.
  9. Ibid
  10. Ibid
  11. Ibid
  12. Ibid
  13. Ibid
  14. ibid
  15. Ibid
  16. Ibid
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid
  19. Ibid pp4-5.
  20. Ibid p5.
  21. Ibid
  22. Ibid
  23. From point 14, ‘Theses on the role of the Communist Party in the proleterian revolution’, The Second Congress of the Communist International, Vol1, 1977, p97.
  24. Alan Adler (editor) Thesis, resolutions and manifestos of the first four congresses of the Third International, 1980, p95.
  25. Democratic centralism and our stratergy p1.
  26. Ibid
  27. Building and strengthening the Communist Party p7.
  28. Ibid
  29. Ibid p3.
  30. My emphasis, Ibid p3.
  31. Alan Adler (editor) Theses, resolutions and manifestos of the first four congreses of the Third International, 1980, p236.
  32. Building and strengthening the Communist Party p5.
  33. Ibid
  34. Ibid
  35. Ibid
  36. Ibid p2.
  37. Ibid p9.
  38. VI Lenin CW Vol 7, 1977, p394.
  39. Resignation letter.
  40. Ibid
  41. J Conrad Which Road?, 1991, p60.
  42. G Lukas, ‘Towards a methodology of the problem of organisation’ in History and class consciousness, 1983, p295.
  43. From point 14, ‘Theses on the role of the Communist Party in the proleterian revolution’, The Second Congress of the Communist International, Vol 1, 1977, p97.
  44. C Silahtar Party discipline, 1979, p15.
  45. Ibid p16.
  46. VI Lenin CW Vol 10, 1977, pp502-3
  47. Ibid p376.
  48. VI Lenin CW Vol 4, 1977, pp320-330.
  49. C Silahtar Party discipline, 1979, p54.
  50. Ibid p42.
  51. Guideline on the organisational structure of Communist Parties, on the methods and content of their work, adopted at the 24th Session of the THird Congress of the Communist International, 12 July 1921, Prometheus Research Library, 1988, p31
  52. L. Trotsky In defense of Marxism, 1982, p66.
  53. VI Lenin CW Vol 19, 1977, p203.

Maurice Brinton – The Balkanization of Utopia

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

M. Brinton, The Balkanization of Utopia, in D. Goodway (eds), For Workers’ Power: The Selected Writings of Maurice Brinton (Oakland: AK Press, 2004), pp. 69-71

“Until he has witnessed an easter march, the average citizen can have no idea of the number of groups hell-bent on the balkanization of Utopia and the diversity of magazines and badges which they produce. Yesterday Ilford Liberation Group, the Fellowship Party, and the Anarchists were groups for the connoisseur, while the Young Communist League, the district committees of London area Communist parties, and the Young Socialists provided more familiar forms of dissent” (Guardian, April 19, 1965).

The Press, the police, and representatives of the established political parties must share a certain incredulous surprise on occasions like Aldermaston. For there, surfacing into broad daylight, emerging from the anonymity of their daily lives, are literally dozens of different political (or anti-political) groupings, scores of rank-and-file papers, subversive to various degrees of the Established Order, and thousands upon thousands of individuals – with strongly felt opinions of their own – united in their opposition to the Bomb and in their determination to take responsibility for their own actions.

What vision of the future do these people hold? The categories of traditional politics are quite inadequate to define them. These crowds are unlikely to be demonstrating for either Mr. Wilson’s or Mr. Gollan’s “alternatives” to the established order. This mass of humanity on the road, “hell-bent on the balkanization of utopia”, must be a bureaucrat’s nightmare.

The procession – as is well-known – is filmed and photographed from every angle, dissected, enlarged, submitted to the most refined technologies of identification known to the Special Branch. This rabble, this horde of potential troublemakers must be identified, their affiliations established, the files kept accurate and up to date. How much easier it would be to treat them all as “reds” or “pacifists”, as “communists” or “anarchists”, without having to worry about the finer shades of doctrinal difference, without having to document this massive dissent.

But that wouldn’t do in this scientific age! The clerks and computers must be kept busy. Tagged, the rebels must be. Who is “dangerous” and who is “daft”? Who owes allegiance to Moscow and who to Transport House? Who lives in the past and vho in the present? Who believes in non-violence and who doesn’t? Who believes in Parliament and who does not? Who are the “resolutionaries” and who the “revolutionaries”? And how the hell can we make sure their beliefs remain static, and that they won’t split, and shift allegiance, and bugger up the card index? Who are sheep?
Who are goats? And in which pigeonhole do we put the hybrids?

The politicians must view it much as the police does. Why don’t all these peoIe just stay at home and leave it to us? Why don’t they trust their elders and betters? Why aren’t they happy just to vote for us every few years? Why do they argue so much – and in the streets too?

And is all this just the top of the iceberg? How many others, today, think as they o? How many will, tomorrow? Could this scruffy lot be the “don’t knows” of the Gallup polls? Are these the solid core of non-voters? How often does their “don’t know” mean “won’t tell”? And how often does “won’t tell” mean “fuck the lot of you”?

Why, oh why, won’t all these people accept our “realistic”, parliamentary alternatives? Why don’t they leave complicated things – like their own life and death – to the professional politicians? If they must have their utopias, why can’t they accept our standard models, prefabricated, provided and priced by official society itself? We may bemoan their apathy, but surely this is better than having them turn up in hundreds at May Day and shout us down, or make awkward comments about ‘Vietnam” or “MPs’salaries” or “old age pensioners” or other unpleasant subjects.

The press – although aware of the newsworthiness of the esoteric – is less concerned about getting facts straight. They worship at the altar of power. They are the mouthpieces of those who have arrived. And these marchers are getting nowhere. They are all “weird” anyway. Why bore our readers (and tax our own grey matter) by going into their beliefs more fully? Our political vocabulary is limited, our knowledge of sects’ anatomy more limited still. We have so consistently got things wrong when venturing to the left of the Communist Party that we had better keep to safe ground. So let’s tidy up reality a little. Let’s just call them all “beatniks”, “anarchists”, the “lunatic fringe”. After all Gaitskell called them “peanuts”.

And what about the demonstrators themselves? The “balkanization” of their respective utopias is too obvious to deny. Geography and history get muddled. For some Mecca is Moscow, for others Peking. Some live in Petrograd (in 1917) – others in Barcelona (in 1936). Internationals and ideologies interpenetrate. Revolutionary Gods (Marx, Bakunin, Luxemburg, Malatesta, de Leon, Lenin and Trotsky) jostle one another on the narrow summits of a revolutionary Olympus. The truly godless are also clamouring for room to breathe.

For some, this fragmentation has solely negative aspects. These groups echo the views of the powers-that-be: dissent should be centralized, co-ordinated, channeled along the lines of one particular revolutionary development, which they alone, of course, have grasped. Everything else is diversion and irrelevance. They alone are the conscious agents of an Almighty Historical Providence. They alone have understood the “laws” of history. They alone are carried forward by the historical floodtide. Such groups are elitist to the core. They (and they alone) are potential leaderships. Other groups are dangerous competitors in the permanent auction for revolutionary clientele. The masses, by themselves, can do nothing. They are but an amorphous infantry at the disposal of a self-appointed general staff of revolutionary generals. That ordinary people could themselves make history – and could make it in ways unforeseen and unsuspected by the professional revolutionaries – would never occur to the residual legatees of Bolshevism. History is thus turned upside down. Monolithic conceptions of the road to “utopia” foreshadow utopias in their own image, i.e. monolithic to the core.

For others in the movement “men make their own history” – and in ways much wider and fuller than is usually conceded. There is no one road to utopia, no one organization, or prophet, or Party, destined to lead the masses to the Promised Land. There is no one historically determined objective, no single vision of a different and new society, no solitary economic panacea that will do away with the alienation of man from his fellow men and from the products of his own activity.

For groups holding such views the “balkanization of utopia” need convey no disparaging overtones of incapacity or futility. Established society is being corroded at many points, in many ways, here and now. Hundreds of thousands are contributing to the process, both consciously and otherwise: brick-planting policemen and lying Labour politicians, young people rejecting traditional sexual morality and students questioning the categorical imperatives of death “for Queen and Country”, train robbers and “Spies for Peace” evading arrest month after month, and well-paid trade union officials pontificating about the merits of an “incomes policy” for their members. All are playing a worthy part in a vast and essential process of demystification.

So are South Bank clergymen de-godding God and Catholic priests acting as salesmen for Durex. So are Trots still building left-wings in the Labour Party and calling on Labour leaders to legislate for workers’ control, while Labour MPs vote themselves a £30 a week wage increase and thunder against those who “rock the boaf’. So are French Stalinists supporting de Gaulle and Chinese Stalinists supporting the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, Negroes exposing the whole fraudulent nature of the American judicial system and White House politicians showing the world their notion of the “rule of law” in the Dominican Republic. So too, finally, are workers at Paisley using sit-in tactics and having to be carried out by the police, while Labour leaders lambast latent Luddites, confer baronetcies on the Brockways and Sopers of this world and encourage the half-pissed platitudes of “brother” Brown.

For those who hold that mass consciousness rather than a change of leadership is an essential precondition of social change, the events of the last few years can be viewed with reasonable satisfaction. Starting from very different premises, various groups are making fundamental critiques of established society. Some have been through the mill of traditional “Ieft” politics, others not. Some start from their experience in production, others from their experience in the anti-Bomb movement, some from the total crisis of culture and values in the admass society, and others still from the void of their own daily lives. These critiques are slowly converging. They are literally ploughing up every acre of established thinking, including the so-called revolutionary ideologies. They are preparing a resurgence of libertarian thought and action, based on more genuinely socialist objectives than at any previous period of history. The era of closed ideologies (including totalitarian “revolutionary” ideologies) is slowly coming to an end. The cults of efficiency, of hierarchy, of production for production’s sake, of consumption for consumption’s sake, of organization for organization’s sake, of “ever more” (of the same) are slowly being subverted and replaced by genuinely human values.

The “balkanization of utopia” bemoaned by bourgeois and Bolsheviks alike is therefore neither tragedy nor farce. It is the sole guarantee that “utopia”, if we ever get near to it, will be worth living in.

SOLIDARITY, III, 9 (JUNE 1965).

Maurice Brinton – The Events in France

August 25, 2010 Leave a comment

M. Brinton, The Events in France, in D. Goodway (eds), For Workers’ Power: The Selected Writings of Maurice Brinton (Oakland: AK Press, 2004), pp. 103-104

This book,(1) although hastily compiled to meet the mass demand for such works which followed the events of May 1968, is nevertheless essential reading. It is an exciting piece of living history, written by articulate and active participants, one of whom became the spokesman for a wide layer of student revolutionaries. The original French version was called Le Gauchisme – remede a la maladie senile du communisme – a witty and meaningful rejoinder to Lenin’s denunciation of left-wing communism as an “infantile disorder”. The English title is unfortunately quite meaningless.

Starting with the student revolt in modern industrial societies, the authors analyze the background to the March 22 Movement, the spread of the ideas of May to sections of the working class, the strategy of the bourgeois state, the Gaullist phenomenon and _ in considerable detail – the role of the Communist Party and its historical roots in ideology and previous practice.

The authors’ thinking is throughout clearly influenced by material published in Socialisme ou Barbarie, Internationale Situationniste, Informations et Correspondance Ouvrieres, Noir et Rouge, and Recherches Libertaires, an ideological debt freely, but rather erratically, acknowledged. The “plagiarism” is extensive, intelligently selective and thoroughly commendable, ensuring a wide audience for views as yet insufficiently known. Great chunks, for instance, of the Solidarity Pamphlet on The Workers’ Opposition are to be found in the authors’ discussion of the nature of Bolshevism. As the authors nicely put it: “Cohn-Bendit is simply the anonymous author of all these reviews”.

I have but one criticism and it has been voiced before. It is a note of scepticism concerning the implied proximity of total revolution. It is hard to accept that, last May, it was touch and go whether everything would be swept aside. Or to believe that if, on the morning of May 25, Paris had awoken with several ministries occupied, Gaullism would have collapsed … and self-management become an objective immediately to be fulfilled. ‘

The grip of class society unfortunately exerts itself at a much deeper level than the authors appear to suspect. Even the decomposition of bourgeois state power and one could argue whether it was as profound as they believe – is no guarantee that bourgeois institutions will be replaced by consciously created socialist ones. The essential precondition for a radical and total social transformation is the change, brought about through the class struggle itself, in the attitudes of the mass of the population, i.e. the working class. These attitudes today are not only coloured by the traditional organizations but are constantly reinforced by the very conditions of capitalist production and of life in capitalist society (passivity of workers subjected to domination by machines, pressure of financial insecurity, preoccupation with only immediate things, etc.). These attitudes (which add up to the more or less widespread acceptance of slavery by the majority of the slaves) are one of the main causes for the perpetuation of bourgeois or bureaucratic rule. (Other factors act in an opposite direction, constantly compelling people to question the methods, priorities and relations of capitalist production.) The ideological superstructure of capitalist society isn’t as “fragile” as many revolutionaries seem to think. It has enormous resilience and to shatter it a whole epoch of sustained and conscious struggle will be necessary. The French events undoubtedly initiated such a period. But by ignoring this facet the Cohn-Bendit book at times unconsciously lapses into a system of ideas in which the role of active minorities would seem to be paramount. Paradoxically, it is a system of ideas which thus explicitly formulated the authors would be the first to reject.

SOLIDARITY, V, 9 (APRil 1969)

____________________________________________________________

1) Gabriel Cohn-Bendit and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: The Left Wing Alternative (London: Andre Deutsch, 1968) also: (Oakland: AK Press,2000)

Maurice Brinton – France: Reform or Revolution

August 25, 2010 Leave a comment

M. Brinton, France: Reform or Revolution, in D. Goodway (eds), For Workers’ Power: The Selected Writings of Maurice Brinton (Oakland: AK Press, 2004), pp. 91-94

Maurice Brinton circa 1968

French bourgeois society is today being rocked to its foundations. Ten million workers are on strike. Factories, building sites, shipyards, shops, schools and universities have been taken over by those who work there. The whole transport system is at a standstill. The red flag has been hoisted over railway stations and state theatres, pitheads and sedate educational establishments. Tens of thousands of people of all ages are discussing every aspect of life in packed-out, non-stop meetings in every available schoolroom and lecture hall. Even the peasants are moving, driving their actors into the market places of country towns and challenging the authorities. The police force is vacillating. Even the “elite” paramilitary formations of the bourgeois state – the CRS – are being subjected to repeated drubbings in the streets.

No one “called” for this general strike. No one foresaw this tremendous upsurge of the masses, which caught all the traditional organizations of the “left” with their pants down. The pent-up criticism, anger, resentment and frustration of millions of young people against a society which treated them as objects is exploding in the greatest challenge to established French society since the days of the Paris Commune.

In the circumstances, the demands put forward by different sections of the French “left” are most revealing. The bourgeois politicians can see no further than a ministerial reshuffle. They are prepared to sacrifice a few big names in order to canalize the movement back into safe, parliamentary channels. Their game is so obvious at no one is likely to be fooled by it. As for the Socialist Party (SFIO), it is utterly discredited by years of opportunist and class-collaborationist policies. After all, it was a ‘socialist” Minister of the Interior, Jules Moch, who created the hated CRS. When the million-strong demonstration marched past the SFIO headquarters on the Boulevard e Magenta, on May 13, they shouted “Guy Mollet, to the museum”.

The Communist Party and the CGT have been dragged into a tornado which ey had not foreseen, do not understand, and whose development has constantly escaped their control. From the outset they have been more concerned about being outflanked on the left than in developing this tremendous mass movement. During e last three weeks every issue of L’Humanite has contained denunciations of the students and warnings against “provocateurs”, “irresponsible elements”, “anarchists” and ‘Trotskyists”. (The bourgeois press speaks much the same language.) The Communists refer to Cohn-Bendit, one of the student leaders, as an agent of the CIA (while Prime Minister Pompidou hints that he is an agent of the Chinese). It seems beyond their combined comprehension that he might be what he claims to be: an “agent” of the Nanterre students.

The demands put forward by the CGT are very limited ones: a wage increase, a shortening of the working week, a lowering of the retiring age, the abolition of charges recently imposed on social security benefits, and the recognition of trade union organization in the factories. These demands are perfectly legitimate and justified, but also perfectly compatible with the continued rule of the bourgeoisie. Yet it . precisely this rule which the advanced sections of the workers and students are prepared to challenge. None of the industrial demands put forward by the CGT is in any way revolutionary. Even if granted, the ruling class could take everything back tomorrow through inflation or devaluation.

At the political level, the Communist Party sees no further than the replacement of the Gaullist regime by a “popular front” led by Mitterand, in which the CP would be “adequately” represented. At a time when every social institution (from the lycees to the Football Federation, from managerial authority in the factories to Parliament itself) is being questioned and challenged, the Communist Party can see no further than a reshuffle of seats in the Palais Bourbon.

The present movement started earlier this year at Nanterre, near Paris, when groups of students decided to challenge the central assumptions of bourgeois education by direct action methods (interruption of lectures, holding political meetings on the campus, etc.). They proclaimed that they rejected the whole hierarchical structure of the university, its selection and examination procedures, its administrative methods and more especially its function as a provider of industrial sociologists and psychologists whose purpose in life would be to help control and manipulate the working class. Confronted with this quite deliberate and openly admitted “provocation”, the state authorities committed one bureaucratic blunder after another, each of which was to permit the student movement to take another leap forward. The police were eventually called into the faculties, thus provoking the total and irrevocable disaffection of the whole student community.

None of the traditional parties has really grasped what the students were after … or rather they grasp it only too well. None are prepared to face the implications of the student challenge – namely that to explode the class basis of the university is to present established society with an intolerable threat. That is why the Communist Party still talks about the “student agitation” in terms of “bigger educational budgets”, “more teachers”, “better facilities”, etc, instead of describing its real and profoundly revolutionary content.

This also explains why every attempt by the revolutionary students to link up with rank-and-file workers now occupying the factories is being strenuously and often physically opposed by the CGT apparatus. The students are talking about workers’ power, about a free society, things which the bureaucrats do not want the workers to think too much about. At Nantes, a student delegation from Paris, sent to establish contact with an occupied factory, was handed over to the police by a group of CGT pickets who happened to be Stalinist hacks. These attempts at dividing the movement, successful at first, are beginning to break down as the students show, in action, their militancy and their readiness to pursue the struggle to the bitter end.

It is this student militancy which terrifies every conservative layer of French society, from the readers of the Figaro to the elderly functionaries of the CGT The students have shown that Gaullism is not omnipotent, that it is possible to fight back against the oppressive apparatus of the bourgeois state, and that it is possible to pass from a critique of bourgeois education to a total critique, in action, of the capitalist state.

Alone, of course, the students cannot change society. But student militancy has triggered off a massive working class response, compounded of sympathy, hatred of the police, and the advocacy of their own specific demands. The fate of the revolution now hinges on an unanswerable, yet all important question. Will the workers’ objectives remain confined to improvements within the system? Or will they, like the students, take up the struggle on a much broader front? Will they eventually struggle against modern bureaucratic capitalist society, in all its multiple manifestations? Only if the workers undertake this far more difficult fight, a fight which no one can wage for them, a fight which implies a ruthless struggle against “their own” organizations, will the revolution be successful in any real sense. Only on the basis of such a struggle will it become impossible for various bureaucratic leaderships to take the movement in hand again, and lead it up a blind alley.

What of the other groups, to the left of the Communist Party? At a time when everything is still possible, when more and more people are realizing that the future will only contain what people put into it now, the imagination of many self-styled “revolutionaries” remains caught up in the bureaucratic thinking of a previous epoch.

The various Trotskyist groups fail to see the tremendous potentialities of the situation. Their main preoccupation is to establish their leadership over the mass movement. They all say that what is missing is the Party (which they all interpret as their particular party). None of them have confidence in the ability of the workers or students to solve their problems without this kind of tutelage. Some call for the Communists to take power Gust as in this country they asked you to vote Labour at the last election) in order to “take the masses through the experience”. Their economic demands only differ quantitatively from the Stalinist ones. They all engage in a kind of revolutionary auction. For instance, Voix Ouvriere advocates a minimum monthly wage of 1000 new francs, instead of the 600 new francs advocated by the CGT.

Trotskyist groups such as the FER (Federation des Etudiants Revolutionnaires) are calling for organizational measures such as the setting up of a hierarchy of strike committees (with a national strike committee at the top) representing the various strike-bound factories and enterprises. Given the present relationship of forces, the Stalinists would be in an overwhelming majority on such bodies. The idea is to “expose” the Stalinists, should they seek to liquidate the strike in exchange for financial concessions from the employers or parliamentary concessions from the bourgeois state. From this “exposure”, the Trotskyists hope to benefit. The incalculable damage done to the working class in the process is dismissed as an inevitable overhead.

The practical acts of the Trotskyists have proved equally nefarious. On the “night of the barricades” (May 10, 1968), despite repeated appeals for help, the FER refused to cancel its mass meeting at the Mutualite and to send reinforcements to assist the students and workers who were already engaged in a bitter fight with the CRS, on the barricades of the Rue Gay-Lussac, hardly a mile away. When several hundred FER members and sympathisers eventually turned up at l.00 am, it was only to advise students to disperse. In the words of Chisseray, one of the Trotskyist “leaders”, it was “necessary above all to preserve the revolutionary vanguard from an unnecessary
massacre”. The fact has been widely discussed in the mass assemblies, held night after night in the packed amphitheatres of Censier and La Sorbonne. Thousands are Jndergoing an extremely rapid education, through practice, as to the nature of Stalinism and Trotskyism and how they both seek to manipulate the mass movement
their own respective interests.

At first only a handful of revolutionary socialists and anarchists appreciated the tremendous opportunities now opening up. These groups, which are tending more d more to get together, are talking in terms of a total social revolution, of workers’ management of production (autogestion) and of the need for workers’ councils. In fact this radical viewpoint now presents the traditional left with the most widely-based challenge it has ever had to face. On the initiative of the revolutionaries, hundreds of Comites d’action have been set up in various factories and districts of Paris and other large towns. These committees consist of workers and students, agreed upon a programme of direct action in a given locality or enterprise and who also see the need to develop the mass movement as quickly, widely and radically as possible. Their activities are already getting an enthusiastic response, not only among wide layers of the student popUlation but among smaller layers of young workers. If and when the working class as a whole itself takes up these demands (and gives them flesh and blood) the door will at least be open for a total, final challenge to French capitalist society, a challenge it will no longer be able to contain.

SOLIDARITY LEAFLET (MAY 1968).

Solidarity and the Neo-Narodniks

August 24, 2010 1 comment

M. Brinton, Solidarity and the Neo-Narodniks, in D. Goodway (eds), For Workers’ Power: The Selected Writings of Maurice Brinton (Oakland: AK Press, 2004), pp. 117-131

Big Flame (henceforth abbreviated B.F.) is a Merseyside group which publishes occasional broadsheets relating to working class struggles. Some of their publications have been excellent – we have even used some of their material – but others re pretty confused. They have never made any clear statements about their political beliefs, largely because as a group they do not appear to have any. In private conversations some call themselves anarchists, some Maoists, and some “third world”. Still others boast about being non-political. What unites them is a certain concept of industrial work, which they believe can transcend politics.

A few weeks ago Solidarity (London) and other Solidarity groups received a couple of undated photostated sheets from the publishers of B.F. In these they severely criticise our most recent pamphlet Under New Management? The Fisher-Benndix Occupation. They even describe some of the views put forward in this pamphlet as “criminal”. The subject matter they object to had not previously been discussed between us.

We feel that the matters raised – and the method in which they were raised – deserve wider discussion. They are examples of much that is wrong with the movement. We have therefore decided to publish the B.F. letter in full, together with a reply. The course of this reply we hope to initiate a wider political discussion of the differences between “militants” and “revolutionaries” – and of the differences between the concept of “autonomy” and the concept of “spontaneity”. We hope that this discussion will transcend our particular differences with Big Flame.

To give readers a better insight into the way B.F. viewed the recent struggle at Fisher-Bendix we are also publishing excerpts from their Broadsheet about the dispute. Having read these documents carefully we suggest that readers look again at our pamphlet – and draw their own conclusions.

THE BIG FLAME LETTER
This is a letter of criticism addressed to Solidarity (London) about their recent pamphlet, Under New Management? The Fisher Bendix Occupation. We think that the pamphlet itself is a product of the way in which Solidarity works, and that it shows a large gap between your theory and practice. Despite your theory of self-activity and self-management, you are mainly a pamphlet-producing group. Therefore your response to any important issue is to write a pamphlet or an article bout it. But because as a group you are divorced from working class struggles you are unable to write about the situation with any real understanding.

A clear example of this is the way Solidarity acted about Fisher-Bendix. Three your members came up to Kirkby to visit the factory. But what can you understand from a visit? The draft for the pamphlet was written on the basis of a discussion with members of the Occupation Committee. Coming in from the outside, not knowing anyone in the factory, you could only speak to the Committee, but remember, you get their view, which is not necessarily that of all the workers.

Throughout the pamphlet there is a constant confusion between workers and shop stewards. You say: ‘The stewards remaining in the factory had given the signal for workers to join in a march to the Admin Block as previously arranged with the stewards who were ‘negotiating”‘. In fad, this march on the Admin Block was not organized or led by the stewards, but by a group of young workers. Effectively you have denied the autonomy and self-activity of these workers – something which Solidarity has spent much time denouncing other groups for doing. But, as we said, this kind of thing is inevitable from the whole way in which you write about struggles, whilst being divorced from them. At least, when groups like IS [International Socialism] do this, they know they’re doing it – though this is also the logic of their positition, which says that they must recruit shop stewards as being the vanguard of the working class. Obviously they cannot criticize them too much if they want to recruit them. And they were trying very hard to recruit Jack Spriggs, the convenor.

Although you say “the stewards then started to plan a course of action’: and that “the stewards were now negotiating with their own objectives in mind’: and again, “It was agreed that the workers would respond to a call from the stewards … ‘: yet you are also able to say “the workers set about organizing committees to take charge of various aspects of the occupation”. This is not so, the stewards did it.

Towards the end of the pamphlet we have some euphoria about how the occupation was run. We quote: ‘The workers are developing their own self-confidence to act for themselves. They are showing in practice how to solve problems on the basis of real democratic decision-making. I learned something very new at Fisher-Bendix. We asked about how decisions were made. How did the committees function?” ‘The Occupation Committee was based on the original Shop Stewards Committee covering the workers as members of different unions. But it was now an autonomous committee with many additions designed to run the occupation in daily contact with all the workers. This is the great advantage of an occupation. There are always rank and file workers on hand to see what is going on. They can constantly be consulted, or for that matter intervene if they feel it is necessary”.

The reality was very different. All the decisions and all the interesting activity was done by the committee. Relationships did not basically change during the occupation. There was still a passive majority and an active minority, who ran the show. The mass meetings did not “send a thrill right through” anyone. They were passive events. The only speakers were those from the platform, sometimes only the convenor would speak. The speeches were followed by applause and a ritual show of hands for the TV cameras. There were no important questions asked or any general discussion. Everything was left to the committee and merely ratified by the mass meetings. Even at the last mass meeting, there was no discussion about the details or the implications of the agreement, which had been mediated by Harold Wilson.

When you say that the committee “was now an autonomous committee” that was truer than you think. It was autonomous unto itself and not really accountable to the workers because, with so little real involvement or information themselves, they were in no position to question the committee. There were several workers who were very critical of the way the committee was set up and the way it operated. But there were not enough of them, so they did not feel confident or strong enough to voice their criticisms.

Whilst saying all this, we don’t really blame the people on the committee.
They acted in the way that good trade unionists always do and within the structures that they have always known. Because of this it is all the more criminal for revolutionary groups like solidarity to bolster up these attitudes and these structures, which help to maintain the passivity of masses of working class people.


EXCERPTS FROM THE B.F BROADSHEET (“BENDIX: HOW THE WORKERS TOOK OVER (A GROUP OF WORKERS SAY HOW IT HAPPENED”))
After the Xmas holiday the factory grew tense. Thorn’s said the run down would begin on January 3rd, a Monday. Everybody felt things were coming to ahead. Sit-ins were being discussed.

There was a false start on the 4th, Tuesday, when the stewards issued a half hour ultimatum to the bosses. But it was soon extended for 24 hours. It was obvious Thorn’s didn’t really take our threats seriously. They weren’t taking any precautions against a sit-in. Over the last few weeks some of us had got together because we felt something had to be done about the close down. There were about eighteen of us. Our idea was to stage a demonstration that would prove to management that we were dead serious, the stewards were not alone in the struggle. On Wednesday the ultimatum ran out and the stewards were meeting the management in the boardroom. We were only certain about five minutes before it happened that we wanted a demo. And we had to keep quiet because of security.

So when we started the march to the Adminstration, it wasn’t really spontaneous for us. About 150 workers filed up the stairs shouting “Industrial Assassin”, but as we got nearer to the boardroom it turned into a softer chant of “Out, out, out!”

This was it. We’d forced the issue, and shown how militant we were, but outside the boardroom door we suddenly felt childish. Nobody wanted to go in. It was like a barrier at the door that we hadn’t the nerve to cross, after we’d spent months and years taking orders from the managers. Outside there was this terrible feeling of frustration because nobody would walk in. Suddenly, Tom, probably knowing there was no choice, stepped in and the rest followed. Once you’re in, there’s no problem – they’re only men.

Within a few minutes the boardroom was packed tight with over fifty of us. The atmosphere was so tense that one wrong word would have turned it into a barney. Then Jack Spriggs, the convenor, got up and told the management they had fifteen minutes to make up their minds or we would have to ask them to leave the premises. If they were scared – and they must have been, seeing the looks on our faces they didn’t show it. Of course they left. You see, there comes a point when demos have to stop and action begins. We’d no idea until it happened that there would be an occupation that morning. It just happened spontaneously, it came out of the situation, and suddenly everybody knew what we had to do without anyone saying right, lad, we’re going to have a sit-in!”

During the nine week strike, only about fifty of us were involved, it was difficult to find pickets and some workers were out there fourteen hours a day. I also think We’re doing Thorn’s more damage this way. Of course a sit-in would be useless if :horn’s were skint, but we don’t believe they are. They’ve got orders for £1 m worth of radiators for the next few years. I think this has shown the utter folly of strikes. Women we couldn’t get out with us on the nine week strike are now involved as anyone else in the occupation.

And there’s another thing about sit-ins. He (pointing to a worker across the table) works nine feet away from me but this is the first time I ever talked to him. This has brought us all closer together and everybody’s talking about things. In a way, we’re not so inhibited now! These sit-ins should be the start of our industrial revolution. The workers should be left to run the factories providing they do it efficiently. We can’t leave it to anybody else anymore. There’s no choice between the governments.

The problem here is that we’re not all involved in what’s going on. Twenty stewards are doing nearly everything. I’m just a glorified telephone arranging pickets, so that a few people can go to meetings to make decisions I’ll follow. There weren’t enough stewards – one department has two for 240 men. It’s a big problem we’re going to have a sort out together if we’re going to stick together.

OUR REPLY
Leaving aside for the moment the abuse (“criminal” bolstering up of reactionary attitudes and structures), the snide allegations (“mainly a pamphlet producing group … divorced from working class struggles”), and the factual inaccuracies (“coming from the outside … you could only speak to the Committee”) – all of which we will deal with later – the B.F. letter contains two main criticisms of the Solidarity pamphlet.

The first is that the Solidarity pamphlet understressed the action of the rank and file and overstressed the role of the shop stewards. Solidarity, it is alleged, constantly failed to differentiate between workers and stewards. Underlying this criticism is, of course, the assumption that the stewards at Fisher-Bendix were totally integrated into the trade union bureaucracy. According to B.F. the march on the Admin Block and the occupation of the Boardroom were “not organized or led by the stewards”. The march and occupation are described as “spontaneous” events, led by a group of young workers. ‘We’d no idea, until it happened, that there would be an occupation that morning. It just happened spontaneously. It came out of the situation”. According to B.F., the Solidarity pamphlet “effectively denied the autonomy and selfactivity of these workers, something which Solidarity has spent much time denouncing other groups for doing”.

The second criticism is that the Solidarity pamphlet did the very opposite. It was “euphoric”. It overstressed rank and file participation during the occupation and understressed the bureaucratic manoeuvres of the union machine. To our version of what happened at Fisher-Bendix, B.F. counterpoises another reality. “All the decisions and all the interesting activity was done by the Committee. Relationships did not basically change during the occupation. There was still a passive majority and an active minority, who ran the show”. Solidarity is no longer accused of denying anyone’s autonomy. We are now accused of alleging autonomy where in fact there is none.

According to B.F. both defects in our pamphlet stem from a common source: the fact that we “are divorced from working class struggle”.

Let us deal with these criticisms one by one, bringing them down from the realm of fantasy and submitting them to a confrontation with a few hard facts.

Firstly to dispose of some red herrings. We reject the allegation that Solidarity is “mainly a pamphlet producing group”, divorced from working class struggle. We certainly produce pamphlets (which is presumably better than not producing pamphlets, and probably marginally better, i.e. of more lasting value, than producing broadsheets). But we also try to produce and propagate ideas, not just about working class struggle, but about all areas where the system is being challenged, about politics in fact. We also feel that these ideas should be coherent. In our opinion an informed and conscious working class, understanding what it wants, knowing how it will have to struggle to achieve it and aware of the obstacles (internal and external) it will have to overthrow, is an essential pre-condition for any significant social change. We hold this belief most deeply, as it is for us the basis both of meaningful struggle today and of non-manipulated, self-managed society tomorrow. And because of this we are as much concerned with the direction in which we are moving as with the movement itself. “All movement and no direction” is certainly not our motto. We are concerned with the lasting effects of what we do or say, rather than with demagogic declarations or mindless buzzing around from one dispute to another.

Secondly, did we get an accurate idea of what was going on at Fisher-Bendix? Seven comrades visited the place, two of them twice. They were experienced comrades with long records of struggle as militants, stewards and convenors. We don’t like to engage in such “prolier than thou” declamations and are only prompted to do so to refute the innacurate allegations of the B.F. letter.

Who did our comrades speak to in their search for information? It is quite untrue that they “only spoke to the Committee”. They spoke to many rank-and-file workers, in addition to stewards and to those active on some of the Committees. They spoke to workers just sitting around, and to others playing cards or bingo. It is true – and here B.F. may have a point – that had we spoken to more workers, on more occasions, other facts may have emerged, But we preferred urgently to disseminate those facts we did get hold of (in the hope that they would further the development of the struggle itself) than to stay at home and get none of the facts (for which we would doubtless also have been criticized by B.F.).

Let us now turn to the two specific areas of B.F.’s criticism of the Solidarity pamphlet. We can imagine no better way of vindicating our view of what happened than by taking up some of the statements made by … B.F. itself. When one is as politically confused as B.F. one doesn’t worry unduly about holding and disseminating mutually contradictory views. Unfortunately they can’t all be simultaneously true and some of the chickens will inevitably come home to roost.

First, was the occupation “spontaneous”? Was it decided on the spur of the moment by people who “had no idea, until it happened, that there would be an occupation that morning”? This is what B.F. alleges.

Let the B.F. Broadsheet refute the B.F. letter. In their article, “Bendix: How the workers Took Over (A Group of Workers Say How It Happened)”, we are told that er the Christmas holiday “sit-ins were being discussed”. So the idea of a sit-in was undo The day before the sit-in started a group of workers were discussing a demonstration to show that “the stewards were not alone in the struggle”. If this revealing sentence means anything at all, it means that the stewards were contemplating action and that the groups of workers were also feeling the need for it and re planning for it.

Let us now turn to the central event: the famous march onto the Admin Block. Was it really decided only five minutes before it happened? If the march was as “spontaneous” as B.F. alleges, can they explain why, during the march, the master keys to all parts of the plant were taken from the place where they were usually kept (as we reported in our pamphlet)? Was this some kind of “spontaneous”, divine foresight? Did those who “spontaneously” started the demo think of the keys … before they even knew there was going to be an occupation of the Boardroom? Or does B.F. deny the whole episode of the keys?

We now reach the door of the Boardroom. According to the B.F. Broadsheet there was “a terrible feeling of frustration – because nobody would walk in. Suddenly Tom, probably knowing there was no choice, stepped in and the rest followed”. But who was this mysterious Tom, whose hand was being thus guided by an inexorable destiny? Why has Tom got no surname? Could he possibly be one of those reactionary stewards, whom Solidarity is constantly mixing up with workers? To be more specific, could he be one Tom Staples, Treasurer of the Occupation Committee, Secretary of the Kirkby, Huyton and Prescott Trades Council, and a member of a political party for which neither B.F. nor Solidarity have much time?

Let us continue our “spontaneous” excursion with B.F. Jack Spriggs, the Works Convenor, gets up in the Boardroom. He tells the management “they had fifteen minutes to make up their minds”. Was Jack really saying the first thing that passed through his head? Was he really acting on the spur of the moment? Was his statement really an impromptu utterance, not previously discussed with other stewards? Are we really to believe that Jack Spriggs had been inadvertently sucked into a demonstration led by eighteen young workers, not quite knowing what was happening to him and what it might all lead to?(1) B.F. should really not project its own naivety onto others.

In our pamphlet we mention the systematic preparation for the sit-in. We describe how workers from Fisher-Bendix had, over a period of weeks, visited U.C.S. and Plessey’s – and more recently Allis-Chalmers. We report how they had studied various types of occupation, to see what would best suit their own particular circumstances and needs. Is this true or isn’t it? Would B.F. like to face our informants and tell them they were inventing all this? Had there or had there not been extensive discussions about appropriate modes of action? Are we really to believe that nobody knew the occupation was going to take place on that particular day? Anyone saying this at Bendix would be laughed out of court.

There are other strange omissions in the B.F. account of events. There is no mention of the fact that there had been a joint meeting of staff and manual workers (the/first for many a month) on the day before the occupation. Or of the fact that the workers and some of the staff in the Admin Block immediately joined the shopfloor workers, as part of a concerted plan,of action. Why are these crucial facts omitted? Could it be because they clash with B.F.’s account of how the occupation developed?

To ignore some facts and to distort others – in order to show that the FisherBendix occupation was the outcome of a purely “spontaneous” action by a group of young workers – and to assert that the stewards had nothing at all to do with it – is rather pointless. It is not going to kid any of those who took part. Are the “facts” being presented in this way in order to encourage others to act in a similar way? Is the purpose to create a myth? Such cynical manipulation of the facts reveals a basically contemptuous attitude, unfortunately quite widespread among certain sections of the “revolutionary” movement today. What is implied is that workers are too stupid to accept reality as it is and therefore have to be jogged along with injections, at appropriate time, of doses of revolutionary mythology.

Let us now turn to B.F.’s second point. Was the occupation as bureaucratically as B.F. implies? Didn’t the relationship change, just a little, during the sit-in? Didn’t _ thing new emerge? Is the balance sheet totally negative? Was it a dispute “just like any other”?

To ask these questions is to answer them. We presume (although we would like reassurance on this point) that B.F. would not have been interested in this dispute if had been “just like any other”. Again their own account (in their Broadsheet) refutes
they say (in their letter). We are told (in the Broadsheet) that “these workers no longer leave everything to their shop stewards and the negotiators” and that they “have a new attitude to politics”. Either this is true (in which case the criticism make of Solidarity’s decription of the occupation collapses). Or it is untrue (in which case they are again engaging in their little game of revolutionary myth-making. The Broadsheet claims that “women we couldn’t get out with us on the nine strike are now as involved as anyone else in the occupation … this has brought us closer together and everybody is talking about things“. (Hardly a picture of “a passive majority and an active minority’.)

We are finally told (again in the Broadsheet) that “in the last few days, at Bendix, .ers have got to know for the first time people who often worked right next to them. For the first time they are all working together themselves.” How do B.F. square this with their statement that “relationships did not basically change during the ation”. How basic is basic? If they mean that there was no revolution they are If they mean that hundreds of people didn’t find themselves doing things or thinking things they had neither done nor thought before, they are wrong. Is B.F.’s to such facts? Or is it just that they are not too concerned about such trifles as reality, coherence and consistency?

But B.F’s muddleheadedness doesn’t end there. Their Broadsheet tells us that “twenty stewards are doing nearly everything”. Their letter implies that these twenty odd characters were dominating everyone of the very numerous Committees, taking every decision, miraculously getting everything endorsed, systematically denying a voice to the rank and file. If B.F. believe all this, the first prize for Utter Confusion surely go to their statement that “there weren’t enough stewards”. B.F. must their readers are utter morons!

We don’t dispute that there were, in all probability, bureaucratic and manipulatory aspects to the behaviour of certain shop stewards at Fisher-Bendix. We are not claiming that from one day to the next people nurtured in the tradition of bureaucratic maneuvering changed their spots. In our pamphlet, written at the height of the occupation, we warned that “if occupation is pushed and manipulated by such peoby trade union officials or members of ‘vanguard’ type parties) the very form may result in workers being denied the right themselves to manage their own struggles. Under such circumstances occupation would not automatically result in a advanced type of struggle”. But at Fisher-Bendix this was not, at that stage, the point. We were interested in what was new in Fisher-Bendix, not in what is the on denominator of so many industrial disputes today.

The point of a pamphlet like ours was to bring to other workers information them by the mass media and by the traditional revolutionary press. This information to be helpful must, of necessity, hinge on the new developments thrown up in the course of the struggle itself. If nothing more important emerges from the reading of our pamphlet than that some workers in struggle grasp the need to concentrate in their own hands as many as possible of the physical resources of the firm (i.e. the full implications of the “raid” on the Moorgate Road stores), as well as the need to involve their relatives in collective decision-taking then our pamphlet, in our opinion, will have been well worth producing. If B.F. believe that all stewards, in all circumstances, are irreversibly integrated into the trade union bureaucracy, they should say so openly in their publications. They don’t. One can only conclude that they speak with one voice in their public utterances – and with another when they throw shit on other groups.

All this flows, of course, from an inability to think dialectically, to see contradictory aspects of reality at any given time, to recognize what is a developing tendency (to be encouraged, assisted and publicized) and what is a declining one (to be helped to the grave or just ignored).

In the simplistic world of B.F. everything is seen in black and white. The workers are seen as the embodiment of good (even when they talk of running the factories “efficiently”, which in the context of their present consciousness means according to the norms of bourgeois cost-effectiveness). The shop stewards, on the other hand, are seen as totally integrated into the trade union bureaucracy. The fact that stewards are usually elected regularly and are revocable (whereas the trade union officials are often neither) just doesn’t come into the picture. Things can’t be described as they are; they must conform to models. “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts”. For instance B.F’s letter claims that the members of the Occupation Committee “acted in the way that good trade unionists always do and within the structures they have always known”. This is both inaccurate and leads B.F. to turn a blind eye to what was really new and immensely encouraging in the Fisher-Bendix occupation, namely the notion of mass meetings attended by wives and relatives, who in this way would be less liable to the pernicious pressures of the mass media.

Did the stewards in fact “act in the way that good trade unionists always do’?
Sit-ins bring workers from different unions together as workers. Is this really one of the traditional concerns of the trade union bureaucracy? Why does B.F. regard the stewards, also faced with the sack, as the inevitable enemies of the workers, under all circumstances? Are they not workers too, also liable to be affected by the redundancies, and also interested in struggling against them in the most efficient way possible? We have repeatedly denounced the usurpation of the function of shop steward by members of various vanguard sects. We saw no reason however to drive a wedge between stewards and men in a situation like Fisher-Bendix, where there was not much conflict of interests.

Blindness to what was new also led B.F. to underestimate the signficance of the seizure of the stores from the Moorgate Road Depot, at a very early stage of the dispute. Are raids of this kind now to be regarded as routine operations, run by trade union officials? We felt such events were important and we stressed them because they show that workers are beginning to think with their heads (instead of with their balls), to plan their actions (instead of just reacting to events). Some revolutionaries could well follow the example being set.

In our pamphlet we welcomed the development of sit-ins, for which we have been systematically campaigning for many years. We also warned of their limitations. We tried to place this tactic in the context of a number of possible methods of struggle. All this is too complicated for B.F., who in their new found enthusiasm for the sitin denounce “the utter folly of strikes”. We would have enjoyed watching them expound this doctrine to the miners’ pickets, outside any large power station. This nonsense again flows from B.F.’s “all-or-none”, “one-or-the-other”, totally undifferentiated approach to real problems. We don’t consider this particularly helpful. Sure, the B.F. Broadsheet makes no great demands on those who read it. But this is for the simple reason that it makes no such demands on those who write it.

Where the confusion of B.F.’s “politics” (or rather “non-politics”) reached its zenith was in their publication – in the Broadsheet – of a “Statement from the Workpeople”. This wasn’t a statement from the workpeople at all, as anyone with an ounce of political savvy would immediately have recognized . It was a Stalinist inspired political document, signed by a number of the real local trade union bureaucrats. B.F. published it without comment. They therefore appeared to endorse what the document said. The document supports the actions of Merseyside Labour M.P.s in the House of Commons. These fakers want to call for an “enquiry” – in political terms an investigation sponsored by a government representing the interests of Capital. The “statement” then proceeded to denounce the Tories for their attitude to c;osures and unemployment. But it didn’t utter a squeak about massive closures and sackings under a Labour government, which also represented the interests of Capital. If all this isn’t mystification with a vengeance, what the hell is it? Solidarity is accused of not being able to distinguish between workers and shop stewards. We deny this charge, but it is certainly a less serious one than confusing the voice of the ‘workpeople” with the farts of the local Stalinist apparatus.

There is no vacuum in politics. The “non-politics” of B.F. leads directly to the uncritical dissemination, by an allegedly revolutionary paper, of the politics of our opponents.

***

This leads us to discuss, in conclusion, two important areas which differentiate us from groups such as B.F.. One concerns “autonomy” and “spontaneity”. The other the difference between being a “militant” and being a “revolutionary”.
There seems to be a great deal of confusion, in the revolutionary movement, about such concepts as “autonomy” and “spontaneity”. The words are not synonymous, as is so often assumed.

Autonomous, strictly speaking, means that “which makes its own laws” and therefore, by implication, “which acts in its own interests”. An autonomous working class action is one in which workers have acted with their own, independent, class objective in mind. These objectives are totally different from the objective of “their” employers, of “their” firm, of “their” country, or of “their” union leaders. Autonomous –dIss action becomes possible when the working class see itself as “a class for itself’ (to use Marx’s phrase) – i.e. as a class consciously, explicitly and collectively conumed with its own fate in society.

Full autonomy has both ideological and organizational components. Ideological and organizational components. Ideological autonomy denotes that one has gained as much understanding and insight as possible into the influences that mould one’s thinking. It means that one’s thinking has been freed, as much as possible, of alien class influences, of alien class values, of alien class “rationality”. To gain ideological autonomy is a difficult process. It requires that one identify the numerous residues of bourgeois thinking we all carry with us, because of the society in which we live. These are often much more powerful and deeply implanted than people imagine. The working class struggle for autonomy is the struggle to free itself of all that lingers on, in its thinking, in its habits and in its own patterns of organization, of the society it is fighting against.

For revolutionaries, to assist working class autonomy means to denounce the various mystifications that prevent the working class form achieving this kind of insight. Among such mystifications are the Leninist myth that “the working class can only achieve a trade union consciousness”, the myth that socialist consciousness has to be injected into the working class movement by middle class professional revolutionaries, the myth that Russia and China are some kind of “workers’ state”, the myth that the Labour Party is a working class party, etc., etc. To assist the development of genuine autonomy means a conscious refusal to pander to working class backwardness, to working class confusion or to working class illusions, for the sake of immediate popularity. It means consciously vaccinating oneself against the disease of “workeritis”, a condition in which everything the working class says or does, however reactionary, is miraculously endowed with transcendentally positive qualities.

Organizational autonomy means the creation or development of organizations totally controlled by the workers themselves and with which they can totally identify. No such organizations exist today. At certain times and in certain places workers’ councils have approximated to this type of organization.

Revolutionaries should constantly be advocating the organizational autonomy of the working class, the breaking of all bonds which tie the working class to bodies controlled by the employers or by their state. They should denounce the stranglehold of the trade union bureaucracy on working class organization. But if such organizations are to be genuinely autonomous, revolutionaries will also have to denounce their usurpation or their manipulation by Stalinists, Trotskyist or Maoist micro-bureaucrats. In practice this would mean explaining the real nature of the Stalinist-controlled Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions, of the SLL controlled(2) All Trades Unions Alliance and of similar bodies. Patiently explaining the real nature of these bureaucracies is a political task. It cannot be done by simply piling invective on particular opponents because of their ethnic background or sexual habits. These methods do not contribute to autonomous politics. On the contrary they pander to the most backward tendencies among workers.

It will be seen that autonomous action requires a high level of working class consciousness. It can take place suddenly – or on the contrary be spread out over a considerable period. It is not in the least “spontaneous”.

Spontaneity“, on the other hand, denotes something which seems to happen without apparent cause, without obviously being the result of previous preparation. In the sense of an “effect without a cause” there is probably no such thing as “spontaneity” in politics (or in life). Human reactions are always largely determined by previous experiences.

If the person who reacts “spontaneously” is not consciously aware of why he is acting in a given way, this does not at all mean that there are no causes for his actions. It only means that the causes elude him because they are subconscious. Such subconscious drives reflect previous conditioning. From a class point of view “spontaneous” actions may be positive or negative. They may reflect tendencies to genuine autonomy or they may reflect all the prejudices of established society.

“Spontaneous” action is usually taken to mean action which breaks out without having been planned beforehand. It does not in the least follow that such an action will be in the long-term interests of workers. It could be “spontaneously” reactionary.

Of course, when there are positive “spontaneous” actions (i.e. “spontaneous” actions which assist or reflect the development of class autonomy) these should be reported fully. Of course groups of conscious militants can play an important role in triggering off crucial events. We have described this process repeatedly in our publications, whether dealing with particular industrial disputes or with larger events like the Hungarian Revolution or May 1968 in France. But one shouldn’t invent “spontaneous” actions, out of deference to some nebulous concept of “spontaneity”. And it is even less permissible to ignore real actions, because you have disagreements with those who initiated them. This history “a la carte” helps no one: tidying up reality is a fruitless pastime. Only the truth is revolutionary.

Because of our opposition to traditional (Bolshevik) types of revolutionary organisation, Solidarity is often accused by the trad revs of being advocates of “spontaneity”.(3) With a blissful disregard for evidence they do this, despite our constant endeavour to avoid using politically meaningless terms like “spontaneity”. B.F. reflects another kind of confusion. We are accused of denying “autonomy” to a group of workers because, in our pamphlet, we did not mention one of their allegedly ·spontaneous” actions. We have argued earlier about the facts themselves. It is difficult to argue here about the ideas, because words are used without any real thought as to their meaning.

There is also much confusion in the political scene today, as to the differences between “militants” and “revolutionaries”. The main difference between them is a question of politics (we don’t mean party or institutionalized politics, but politics in e full sense of the term, namely concern about everything that goes on around us and in particular about the relations of people to the society they wish to overthrow).
A militant is someone who sees only a part of social reality. His or her struggle confined to a limited area (industry, education, the tenants’ movement, women’s ration, etc.).

A revolutionary, on the other hand, seeks to develop an overall understanding d hence an overall theory) concerning the structure of class society. He is interested in the various mechanisms which hold it together and whereby it perpetuates itself. This should lead him to examine a wide range of phenomena, including the internalization of the values of class society into his own thinking and behaviour.

A militant may be involved in a very radical struggle, say at work, and then come e and wallop his kid (or his wife) who want to play or talk, whereas he wants to the telly. He will not realize that his actions at home are in complete contradiction with his struggle at work, because he does not relate them. He does not realize relevance of his personal attitudes to a generalization and a better understanding of the meaning of his struggle. He is not aware of the necessity to place his struggle at work into the wider context of the struggle for the liberation of people in aspects of their lives and at all levels.

Similarly many women may achieve deep insight into their centuries-old itation (by both men and class society) and yet fail to perceive the significance
of authoritarian relations to other areas of life. Some of the most vociferous militants of women’s liberation can, for instance, consider themselves “Maoists”. They can boast of the “equality of women in China” and ignore the fact that, until recently, of over a hundred members of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party there were only two women: Lin Piao’s wife and Mao’s. And we don’t know what’s happened to the former!

A revolutionary, aware of the need of this wider outlook and of integrating his experiences (and those of others) into a coherent pattern, will therefore make a more total criticism of the social and economic order. He or she will consider any form of human self-activity in struggle – be it economic, political, sexual, social or cultural _ as relevant to the general struggle towards a self-managed society.

It does not follow that a revolutionary holds any truth or blueprint, nor that he or she has solved all the contradictions of his or her life, or of his or her relationships with other people. These contradictions being social cannot be solved on an individual level.

But the fundamental difference between revolutionaries and militants is that the latter will rarely be even aware that they (and everybody else) have such problems. They will often dismiss any attempt at discussing them as irrelevant to _ or a “diversion” from – their particular struggles, precisely because they haven’t yet (for various reasons) generalized the meaning of these struggles into a total critique of society at all levels.

We have been told that the production of historical pamphlets  – or of such pamphlets as The Crisis of Modern Society and The Irrational in Politics _ are “a waste of time” because they are not “activity”. We have been told that work among scientists or heated arguments about ideas are a “diversion from the class struggle”. We shudder to think of the type of “socialism” that would be introduced by those who feel that the subjects dealt with in these publications are “marginal” and “can be left to look after themselves”. It is because of our belief that they can be rationally discussed – with industrial workers as with any other group of people, and that this is important – that Solidarity is a political organization and not just a journal of industrial agitation. We feel that lasting effects on people’s thinking is more likely to flow from involvement in all that affects them in their everyday life, and not just from involvement in their struggles at work.

But our concept of being “revolutionaries” (as distinct from just militants) is very different from what is generally understood by the term. By “being revolutionaries” we don’t mean – as the Leninists do – belonging to some Vanguard Party, destined to lead the masses into the promised land. The Leninists consider themselves as embodying some kind of absolute, “revealed” truth, and as being the incarnation of the “historical interests of the working class”. For us, being revolutionaries only means seeing a little further than others. What we see should change, as does society itself. For us there is no such thing as an absolute truth, whether in politics or elsewhere, and the idea of a complete and final theory – embodied in the practice of some Party – is, in the modern era, nothing but a bureaucrat’s dream and, moreover, a tool helping him manipulate the oppressed. For us, revolutionaries are not an isolated elite, destined to any vanguard role. They are a product (albeit the most lucid one) of the disintegration of existing society and of the growing awareness of what it will have to be replaced by.

***

Heated political arguments are useful among revolutionary groups, provided they share a certain measure of understanding. Argument is difficult if one group consistently refuses to spell out its views, an attitude which itself reveals much more
than it conceals.

B.F.’s sudden outburst against our coverage of the Fisher-Bendix occupation highlights this problem. We have attempted to answer their misrepresentation, point by point. But that is not enough. What prompted B.F. to launch such a caricature of a critique? Was it a difference in political outlook? To grant this would imply that B.F. had previously expressed its own political conceptions, its own “world-view’. But this is precisely what B.F. has failed to do. Nowhere, to our knowledge, has B.F. explained its reason for existing as a tendency separate from the rest of the left.

This would involve answering certain questions. For instance what does B.F. think of the shop stewards movement, of the different trade union bureaucracies, of the very concept of trade unionism, of the Labour Party, of the Communist Party and its industrial base, of the traditional groups of the Leninist left? What do they think of the various “national liberation struggles’, of Premier Castro, Che Guevara, Chairman Mao, Uncle Ho, peasant struggles, urban guerillaism, the IRA? And what about all the other areas of everyday life which express clearly the decay and instability of this system, outside of the mere economistic emphasis of B.F?

Is this not politics? If not, why not? A philistine disregard for substance is seen in this pearl, culled from their Bulletin (October 1971): ‘We want to help establish a network. But we want it to be a network of activists, who attempt to link and show the relevance of different struggles. We don’t want to send (our Bulletin) to people who aren’t prepared to do anything”. The criteria for earning B.F.’s approval is then doing … “anything”. But what? Populist activism is based on myth, the myth which claims that working class origins themselves constitute a guarantee for being revolutionary. Such an attitude is found mainly among impatient middle class radicals, who have half-digested socialism and are ashamed of their background. Since the trade union bureaucracy is mostly composed of people coming from the working class, some of the intellectuals infected with this kind of populism tend to confuse the bureaucracy with the class itself. Thus an informal fusion, usually ideological, occurs between the “worker-populist” and various currents which seek to reform the unions. Such a trend has already emerged, for example, in B.F.’s uncritical publication of Lessons of the Postal Strike by the Merseyside Postal Alliance. The pamphlet has good material in it, but is marred by mystifying conclusions such as “our union needs to be democratized”.

B.F.’s lack of coherence is understandable. The “worker-populist” considers that support” for “masses in struggle” is enough. Criticism of the political content of these struggles is considered divisive, sectarian or coming from “academic quarters”. The attempt is thus made to consciously castrate any revolutionary critique, based on dear theoretical concepts. B.F. attempts to drive a reactionary wedge between revolutionary workers and other revolutionaries. It does so by pandering to the worst anti-intellectual prejudices of many workers. Historically these prejudices have been whipped up by the trade union bureaucracy (the nauseating recent example of Ray Gunter is there to emphasize the point). Prejudices have also been whipped up by various political parties that have acquired a working class electorate, often with disastrous results for working people. B.F’s anti-intellectualism isolates those numerous rker-intellectuals, within any working class, who by their own sustained efforts and persistent devotion to the liberation of their class, have long since abandoned prejudices which still haunt B.F.

If all that B.F. can offer as a political explanation of itself is recipes for collective “involvement”, certain questions still remain. On what basis will decisions be taken? What are the group’s politics? The last ten years have seen dozens of groups appear which have sought to avoid “politics” (some within the Solidarity movement itself). They have all either disappeared without leaving a trace or – more particularly in the United States – they have degenerated, and in their decrepitude become either liberal or Stalinoid “third-worldist”. “Going to the working class” is not a political programme or a critique of society. It is not even the basis for a viable group, as our “neo-Narodniks” will sooner or later discover.

B.F’s practical activities (or those of any group) implicitly define a world-view. It is high time the supporters of B.F. sought explicitly to ascertain the views of those who founded their group. The fact that B.F’s politics haven’t been made clear up till now leads one to suspect that a deeply manipulative game is being played, a game in the tradition of the Leninist left. The example of certain Italian groups is there for all to see.

The libertarian left in Britain has been weak in showing that conscious intervention can help make an “uncritical” mass action a more coherent and lasting one. The difference is enormous. Working people don’t live in a vacuum and part of their age-long problem is the deep cleavage between what they do and what they say they are doing. The question is not to clap from the sidelines and enter into raptures about “self-management” whenever one sees a group of workers attempting to control their own lives in living struggle. Varying degrees of “self-management” are implicit in the daily existence of working people, and become deeper and explicit in struggle, simply because no struggle can be won, even in trade union terms, without a measure of self-activity. The revolutionary dimension appears and develops when the conscious and deliberate critique of society by the working class fuses with its practical “self-activity”, reinforcing it, and in turn being nourished by the elemental drive of a class striving for full self-consciousness. It is here that groups of “pamphleteers” – yes, “pamphleteers” like Solidarity – can and must intervene and fuse their politics with the revolutionary action of masses of people. People who just do “anything” will probably end up doing the donkey work for the reactionary tendencies in any such mass activity.

B.F. has no consistent politics, on any issue. On any particular issue, it must therefore have a whole series of formulas, copied from the whole range of left organizations in Britain and elsewhere. Thus at times it might appear to uphold the strivings of the rank and file; at others it will confuse these strivings with the actions of the trade union bureaucracy (thus consciously adopting a semi-Trotskyist stance). This “attitude” must of course extend to all areas of the group’s involvement: student milieu, “youth culture”, women’s liberation, Claimants’ Unions, community politics, etc. And, if its roots were Leninist yesterday, they might become Leninist again tomorrow. After all, if politics is just a question of “doing something” then the rest can all be bought – at bargain prices – in any revolutionary supermarket.

We have no monopoly of the truth and do not for a minute deny B.F’s – or anyone else’s – right to be as critical as they like of Solidarity’s ideas or methods of action. We do however demand that criticisms be honest and informed – aimed at helping the movement forward – and not just ignorant gossip. We are, we confess, surprised at B.F’s method. To disseminate “information” about the allegedly “criminal” attitude of another tendency in the movement (without having first attempted to ascertain the facts by approaching that organization directly – and while maintaining a facade of comrade relations) is not in keeping with expected norms of behaviour between libertarians. It smacks of a very different tradition. We can see no rational reason for the malevolence behind BPs letter, which we can only construe as a hostile act. We will not be mealy-mouthed or pull our punches in answering back. Our reply however, unlike their attack, will be both political and principled. Nothing but good can come from such a confrontation of views and methods.

SOLIDARITY DISCUSSION BULLETIN, FEBRUARY 1972.

_______________________________________________________________________________________
1) As far back as December 11, 1971, Socialist Worker carried an interview with Jack Spriggs in which he explained how “inside the Fisher-Bendix factory a 50p levy is being built up as a fighting fund…ultimately, our main weapon will be the sit-in-strike… A sit-in here will provide a focal point for a fightback against unemployment throughout Merseyside”.

2) Socialist Labour League

3) The latest example of this nonsense isto be found in Tariq Ali’s The Coming British Revolution (Jonathan Cape, 1972), p.143 Apparently “Solidarity’s belief in spontaneously-generated political consciousness” leads us to “deny the need for any organization”. Both the premise and the conclusion are false. The “Argument”, moreover, is a non sequitur.