MY SOCIALISM being of the utopian rather than the "scientific" kind, I can only view Marxism as one vision or story among many that guide our efforts to change the world. However, it is particularly in moments of reaction that Marxism proves its value in giving people backbone and the will to fight.
During the Cold War, survivors of high points in working-class achievement like Raya Dunayevskaya and Harry McShane founded the Marxist Humanist Group, and in small meetings they worked on many of the ethical breakthroughs that have become important to such a huge slice of the world since 1989. Others have retreated into "scientific socialism" as a compensatory fantasy of omniscience – their analysis was repeatedly wishful and their predictions were repeatedly wrong.
Al Richardson’s article on Bosnia in What Next? No.3 ("Bosnia and the Rights of Nations to Self-Determination") is a prime example of the latter kind of reactionary Marxism, being both boastfully inhumane and completely out of touch with historical fact. Dominated by little-boy Civil War fantasies of "Trotsky would have been on my side" and tough dismissal of mass rape as of concern only to middle class ladies, his analysis relies for its most recent background information on a book published (in London) in 1946. Perhaps I could just fill you in on a few high points from the years in between?
Al states breathtakingly that "the only [Yugoslav] capital in which there has been a mass demonstration against the war has been Belgrade". On the contrary, Belgrade was the last capital to have such demonstrations, and a wonderful sight they were. But there were massive demonstrations against nationalism and warmongering in almost all the other republics far earlier. In Slovenia in 1988, when a single free magazine faced a show trial manipulated by the Yugoslav National Army as a pretext for a possible coup, over half the population of Ljubljana came onto the streets. And half the population of the whole country signed a petition against the Army and calling for Slovenia to become a demilitarised zone.
After the fighting had begun in Croatia, a series of huge demonstrations against the war took place in Sarajevo (then a city of 400,000): in July 1991 there were 15,000 people, in March 1992 there were estimates of up to 100,000 people, and on 6 April 1992 the last and greatest demonstration against the war was broken up by sniper fire. This last demonstration, called by "Tito’s Children" – not because they supported Stalinism but because they believed in the possibility of a multi-ethnic state – spread to other cities throughout Bosnia. Some of the organisers of this heroic effort are living in London as asylum seekers. Their stories (like the stories of the concentration camp survivors) are there for anyone who cares enough to find out.
To go back to the Second World War, a period which always seems to dominate any English discussion of international events: Tito was a Croat and therefore aware of the power of Greater-Serb nationalism. But his five-nation Partisan high command never included representatives of the muslims from Bosnia and Albania who were joining the rank and file of the resistance army. The Serb commander Rankovic, a chauvinist and fanatical anti-muslim, later became Yugoslav Minister of the Interior, and over his two decades in power presided over the expulsions of more than 300,000 people from Kosovo, Macedonia and Sandzak (the Bosnian muslim region of Serbia itself). Later, during the 1980s, some 60 Albanian conscripts per year were being killed by their fellow soldiers during army service.
It is well known that the Kosovo region was finally granted autonomy at the end of Tito’s reign and that Slobodan Milosovic rode to power by ending that autonomy and instituting an apartheid state in the middle of Europe, where the 90 per cent Albanian population is deprived of all employment and schooling while subjected to constant beatings and murder. These are not "atrocity stories in the bourgeois press" – far from it, the bourgeois press has been largely indifferent. And so, to our shame, has much of the left.
Both groups spent much of the war in former Yugolslavia attempting to prove (along with the Foreign Office, Doctor Death and John Simpson) that in Al’s throwaway words "all the combatants can be shown to have indulged in massacre, rape, ethnic cleansing, etc" (well they would have, wouldn’t they? Being just rabid Balkan tribes). If this convenient proposition could have been proved, it would have – all the money was on it. But it couldn’t be done.
It was left to isolated groups to try and get the facts of the Bosnian genocide to the public. Some of these facts have as yet been only grudgingly accepted in Britain because, like the story of the Holocaust, acceptance involves acknowledging that the West could have acted to prevent it.
The difficult issues for socialists involve recognising that state socialism has so far been the main progenitor of modern European fascism – aka national socialism. Together with the emergence out of capitalism of an ultra-liberal wing, exemplified by George Soros’s recent attacks on multinationals as the main enemies of his "Open Society", these developments give socialists a lot to think about. As we blunder out dazzled into Blair’s New Dawn we’re going to need sharper eyes, quicker reflexes and (dare I say it) softer hearts if we want anyone to listen to what we have to say.
YOU PUBLISHED Walter Held’s text on the German Revolution ("Why the German Revolution Failed") and a reply by Jean van Heijenoort ("The German Revolution in the Leninist Period") in the first two numbers of What Next?. Bob Pitt followed up with some points in No.3 ("Lenin, Levi and Ultra-Leftism"). I would like to make a contribution to the debate, too. Before I do, I would just add that I saw Held’s text as at least an attempt to understand events from some independent critical thought, and note the fact that Held, together with the Scandinavian supporters of Trotsky, had opposed the latter’s line on the Finnish Winter War, instead supporting Shachtman’s, whereas Jean van Heijenoort presents a hack view typical of an office-boy.
Those on the left who advanced the claim of the betrayal by Brandler in 1923, in the past tended to do so for factional reasons. A legend was created and then took on a life of its own. Today there are more possibilities of getting at the truth due to archives being opened up and a more humble or critical attitude among at least some left-wingers. If we want to learn anything from the past to serve our future we must submit our own history to a thorough critical assessment. Something made Held do just that and we should follow on in that spirit.
In November 1928, after leaving Moscow and returning to Germany in order to fight the "new line", Heinrich Brandler made a speech before an audience of the Frankfurt communist student fraction and the Offenbach KPD membership where, among other things, he spoke about the 1923 events. The speech was reported In Das Volksrecht November 4th edition, 1928, the organ of the Offenbach communist councillors, and I extract the part on 1923 below:
"Brandler then reported how the political situation in Germany at the time developed in the course of 1923. The mass movement against hunger and scarcity due to the inflation, and the strikes in the Ruhr, reached their peak in August. He then spoke about the first mistake he, and the whole Zentrale with him, had made: one had believed that the bourgeoisie had no way out. One neither supposed that they were capable of ending the inflation and carrying out a stabilisation of the currency, nor did one think it possible that the Ruhr crisis could be ended without the detaching of important areas to France. The whole political plan of the party was constructed on this basis. One called-off the Cuno Strike once it had collapsed in Berlin after three days, and counted on a fascist coup as the Ruhr crisis ended with new territorial losses for Germany. To confront this coup the Zentrale, under Brandler’s leadership, aimed to further extend the combat organisations of the party – proletarian hundreds and factory council organisations – and to transform the whole party apparatus onto an illegal and combat footing, in order to act against the fascist attack with energetic defensive measures and to transform those into offensive ones, onto the fight for the proletarian power. The prospects for that were not bad, since the broad masses actually stood behind the KPD, not because they had been in agreement with its political aim, but because they had confidence in the revolutionary leadership of the party.
"With these decisions of the Zentrale, Brandler went to Moscow on 31 August, where he then negotiated for seven weeks with the Russian comrades over the necessaiy politics. The analysis of the situation was approved in essence. Though the Russian comrades, in fact under Trotsky’s leadership, came to other conclusions. One declared that the KPD was strong enough, and the bourgeoisie and its position in Germany was so weak, that instead of defending against a fascist attack, one should go over onto the offensive oneself. And so the individual times of the preparations up to the armed uprising were fixed in detail. It was not possible for Brandler to convince the comrades of the ECCI, that an offensive by the party alone would weaken the position of the party among the masses and could lose it a great part of the sympathy.
"Brandler also submitted to the majority decisions of the ECCI in a second decisive question for Germany: in the question of entering the Saxon government. One considered this question purely on the basis of exnediencv. It concerned ensuring the possibilities of the arming of the proletariat and its supplying with Russian grain and food in the most important and, for the most part, disputed areas of struggle. Brandler’s political considerations, that a large part of the sympathising workers would simply say: ’Now the communists are in the government, now everything will go better’, and thus no longer be prepared to go into action, that others would also now reproach the KPD with haggling over ministerial seats and lose faith in it, were rejected as unsound. So Brandler returned to Germany with quite precise decisions with which he personally disagreed, but which he, however, according to discipline, had to carry out.
"Brandler then spoke of the reproaches made against him in the party during the criticism of the October defeat on account of the entrance into the Saxon government. He who, already In 1903, had demanded the expulsion of the revisionists from the SPD, who since that time had fought the ’magical centre’, was accused of being a social democrat and of wanting to go to the SPD.
"He declared: ’It has been my belief since 1914 and still is, that the destruction of the Social Democratic Party is the precondition for the victory of the revolution.’ His activity in the Saxon government only consisted in utilising the positions of power given there for the preparation of the armed uprising and of the struggle for the political power. The Chemnitz Conference should also originally have served such aims: to find a cover for the illegal import of Russian grain. But in the previous night, the Reichswehr had marched into Saxony and Thuringia. As Brandler heard the representatives of the SPD at the Chemnitz Conference argue, that the Reichswehr had really only marched in as a protection against Bavaria, as even KPD comrades inclined towards the same view, then he understood that somewhere contact had been lost with the masses, and he went along with postponing the general strike he had intended to lead, in the recognition that such a decision would not have been feasible. And Brandler thereby spoke about the second important mistake of the October defeat: one had miscalculated with regard to the further sharpening of the situation. Since the Anti-Fascist Day, the party itself had become militarised and excited and it had failed to sense the ebbing away of the mood in the masses. The political events expected by the party and the ECCI had not occurred. The crisis in the Ruhr had been ended by the mediation of the USA without loss of territory, and the promise of credits from America ensured the beginning of the stabilisation. Brandler saw the last-minute retreat of the party at the Chemnitz Conference as having been correct, as the party would have fought in isolation, which was indeed the case in the Hamburg uprising." (Translated by M.J.)
Considering that the German October plays such a pivotal role in the Trotskyist catechism, one searches in vain for any analysis or balance sheet. As I pointed out in Revolutionary History, Summer 1990, replying to a Spartacist statement on my sketchy history of the KPD up to 1933, in the previous RH, "Trotsky’s writings on 1923 are too superficial to be taken seriously" (p.50). He casts out accusations from time to time making broad statements such as: "The Comintern, directed by Zinoviev and Stalin, and the German Communist Party, led by Brandler, wrecked this exceptional opportunity" (Writings 1930, p.64). Yet the minutes of the meetings in Moscow to plan the October events show that Trotsky played a key role and there were no differences between the top Russians, except Trotsky’s support for Brandler on factory councils.
The best investigation of the 1923 events available in English, as far as I know, is Werner T. Angress, Stillborn Revolution. Just how out of touch with the reality in Germany the top Russians were, can be seen by a few quotes. "After Cuno’s resignation the men in the Kremlin believed that they had discovered a revolutionary atmosphere in Germany. They thought in terms of 20 million proletarians, ready to act and bent on fighting. They developed illusions about the proletarian elements of the Reichswehr, ’which, in the decisive moment, would hardly defend the bourgeoisie very steadfastly’" (Trotsky in Izvestia, 21 October 1923; Angress, 1973, p.461 – German expanded and revised edition). In the Rote Fahne, 1 September 1923, Zinoviev wrote that "no force in the world would be able to defeat 20 million proletarians" (ibid, p.447). In Problems der deutschen Revolution, he spoke of "22 million German workers", and went on to draw in the "seven million agrarian workers in the countryside [who would] exercise a strong influence" (ibid, p.435).
Pure fantasy! The Reichswehr recruited in the countryside in order to keep out trade unionists and left-wing workers. Did Trotsky not know that? The 20-22 million workers straining at the leash must have included all those following Christian and even more reactionary parties. The top Russian comrades – General Staff of the World Revolution – created a fantastic scenario and browbeat Brandler into playing the leading role. Angress makes the point that at the Chemnitz Conference "Brandler’s proposal – and that couldn’t have been unknown to him – contradicted all the traditions of the German labour movement with their insistence on correct procedures and correct official channels" (ibid, p. 478). Anyone who knows the labour movement here would know that one can’t always get a matter onto the agreed agenda, and that delegates cannot take a position on matters as far-reaching as a general strike without consultations, behind which, it was public knowledge, a Communist uprising was lurking, at Chemnitz. Though according to Trotsky, Brandler, unconvinced, demoralised everyone else – a bunch of "little Brandlers". If he was responsible for holding back such a movement (20-22 million workers and 7 million farm labourers), then he was obviously a silver-tongued charmer. It really won’t wash, comrades.
Bob sees Levi as lacking in patience for easing the left-communists out of the KPD at the second "Heidelberg" Congress (due to illegality held at 4 different venues). The ultras were a majority in the KPD. They and their actions were putting it on the fringes of the labour movement. They were a mixed bunch and broke up into at least three currents after the split from the KPD. Some wanted the "One Big Union" and no role for a party. They were federalist and did as they wished in the localities. The KAPD, when it was set up, united 40-50,000, but it soon shrank in to 20,000 or so. If one reads the theses on communist principles and tactics, on parliamentary work, and on the trade unions (Dokumente und Materialen zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, Vol.7, part I, pp.131-140), one can see what Levi was up against, but also the concessions made to, for example, the industrial unionists. Ben Fowkes, in Communism In the Weimar Republic, London 1984, describes the problems of the KPD very well in the first two chapters. It was thanks to Levi that a KPD existed by 1920, and that it could then focus on drawing towards it the revolutionary elements of the USPD. Bob wanted him to patiently argue with tens of thousands of ultra-lefts while the USPD. growing rapidly and set to overtake the SPD (at the fateful Halle Congress it counted almost a million members), was moving towards communism.
It seems to me that the great error was to have at all set up the KPD at the end of 1918 and, against the votes of three comrades, Leo Jogiches one of them, to have broken from the USPD. "Levi later suggested that if Jogiches’s advice had been taken, and the Spartacists had stayed in the USPD for another three or four months ... the whole problem of how to divide the revolutionary masses in that party from their opportunist leadership would not exist" (Fowkes, p.20).
Perhaps I can make a few points on Rosa Luxemburg on another occasion?
LETTERS BY Henry Sykes ("Shed Your Illusions in the SLP") and John Archer ("A View of the Journal"), published in What Next? No.3 as part of the debate on Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP), contained comments on the permissibility of alliances with comrades from a Communist Party background that do no service to the cause of socialism and also seriously misrepresent the political character of the SLP. These contributions are a good example of what I meant when I referred, in a review article in What Next? No.2, to the Stalinophobic sectarianism which affects most Trotskyist groups today.
Comrade Sykes accuses those Trotkyists who joined with former Communist Party of Britain (CPB) members to form the SLP of crossing the river of blood that separates Stalinism from Trotskyism. Myself, I think that sort of rhetoric is just childish. This is not to dismiss the memory of those members of the Left Opposition who fought so heroically against Stalinism, often paying for their defiance with their lives. But there are few members or ex-members of the CP today who would defend the atrocities of Stalin’s regime. To describe the currents that have emerged from the old CPGB as Stalinist is not only insulting to some good militants but politically inaccurate, and to argue that they are separated from us by a river of blood is plain daft.Perhaps it is worth quoting what Harry Ratner has to say about the Communist Party "hardliners" of the 1950s in his Reluctant Revolutionary: Memoirs of a Trotskyist 1936- 1960: "In their hearts they were still dedicated revolutionaries.... They, like us, saw themselves as soldiers in the world struggle for Socialism. The difference between them and us was on the road to our common goal. The fact that the Stalinist road did not lead to that goal does not detract from what we had in common" (p.207). If that was true in the 1950s, isn’t it even more applicable today, when the collapse of the Soviet Union has caused many formerly orthodox Moscow-line CPers, from the Morning Star to the Weekly Worker, to fundamentally reassess their political views?
In any case, the record of post-war Trotskyist groups is scarcely spotless when it comes to basic class solidarity with the Communist victims of reactionary forces. In the late 1970s the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) notoriously defended the execution of members of Iraqi Communist Party by the Ba’athist regime, while the Lambertists supported the Mujahedin fundamentalists who slaughtered Communists in Afghanistan. Would CPers then be entitled to reject alliances or membership of a common organisation with ex-members of the WRP like myself, or with Lambertists like John Archer, on the grounds that this would be "crossing the river of blood"?
John Archer, for his part, adopts the "Stalinism is the root of all evil" approach which is another characteristic of Stalinophobia. He informs us that the SLP is essentially a Stalinist organisaton, regards it as self-evident that the SLP is "an anti-Trotskyist party" and claims that "crushing us is one of its principal functions". As evidence of the SLP’s supposedly Stalinist politics he offers the argument that the SLP is "destructively hostile towards the Labour Party in the same sense as the old Communist Party in both the ’Third Period’ and the ’Popular Front’ – it must never be allowed to get power ".
It is of course true that the SLP contains people from a Communist background like Bob Crow, a former member of the CPB executive, and even some genuine Stalinists like Harpal Brar, the SLP parliamentary candidate in Southall, who today still defends the Moscow Trials. But the party also includes among its leadership people like Carolyn and Pat Sikorski and Brian Heron, who formed a secret Fourth International Supporters Caucus when they joined the SLP and in that capacity have attended meetings of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec) in Paris. Whatever might be said about the politics of such people, they’re certainly not Stalinists.
The reasoning behind their involvement with the SLP was outlined by Dave Osler ("Britain’s Party of Recomposition: Why Trotskyists Should Join Socialist Labour") in What Next? No.3. Drawing on the USec’s analysis of current political developments, they see the launch of the SLP as part of a European-wide recomposition of the left and argue that the role of Trotskyists is to participate actively in the new parties thrown up by this process of recomposition in order to influence their political evolution. Now, you may agree or disagree with this analysis, but the fact that these people hold leading positions in the SLP does rather undermine the crude view of the party as a Stalinist plot to crush Trotskyism.
As for the supposed connection between the SLP line on the Labour Party and the traditional positions of the CP, this is tenuous to say the least. In fact, with the exception of the general elections in 1929 and 1931 (when it denounced the Labour Party as a capitalist party indistinguishable from the Tories) and in 1945 (when it called for a "progressive" coalition government headed by Winston Churchill) the CP has always called for a Labour vote in constituencies where its own candidates are not standing. Certainly that was the position throughout the post-war period.
The Morning Star today supports the Labour left, defends the link between the Labour Party and the trade unions and in the recent general election called for a Labour government while criticising the politics of the Blair leadership. The SLP adopts an entirely different line. It calls on the Labour left to abandon the struggle against Blair, and refuses to defend the union link or to give even critical support to Labour candidates in the general election. Far from bringing the politics of the CPB into the SLP, former Communists like Bob Crow have explicitly rejected their old party’s tactical approach towards Labour.
Anyway, it hardly requires the influence of "Stalinism" to persuade socialists and trade unionists that they cannot support a New Labour Party whose leadership has so enthusiastically embraced a neo-Thatcherite economic and social programme. Indeed, the emotional rejection of the Labour Party and the consequent formation of an alternative centrist party almost inevitably involves the adoption of a sectarian electoral policy. It was this, rather than any CP influence, which led the Independent Labour Party (ILP) to refuse to call for a Labour victory in the 1935 general election and to oppose a vote for Labour candidates who didn’t endorse the ILP’s anti-war line. John Archer, who was a member of the ILP at the time and therefore had direct experience of this infantile leftism, should surely be aware of this.
As John also knows, Trotsky argued against the ILP’s sectarianism and proposed that the organisation should adopt a serious orientation towards the millions of working people who then as now supported the Labour Party. Trotsky’s tactical advice is I think directly relevant to the SLP today, and Trotskyists should be trying to influence SLP members in that direction, rather than dismissing them as dupes of Stalinism.