GORDON MORGANíS article ("Socialists and the Scottish Question", What Next? No.4) is yet another attempt to fit reality into the framework laid down by Stalin. It does not deal with any of the basic issues which confront the working class in Scotland. Marxists should move on from an antiquarian discussion on the national question which ignores the history of the past eighty years and rigorously excludes any examination of power, economics or practicalities. Should we not ask what good would independence bring to Scots workers, and what prospect there is of it happening? To achieve independence you need powerful friends, as the examples of Bosnia/Slovenia/Croatia show. All Morgan offers us is a "political-cultural milieu" where participants "redefine the terms of the subjects under debate". It sounds like a media studies seminar reported in Private Eye.
Morgan was not to know that his observations written before the general election would appear so absurd once the votes were counted, while comments on it can now utilise the exact science of hindsight. The results for the Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA), apart from one good vote for Tommy Sheridan, a candidate with an excellent record of class struggle, were pathetic. It seems clear that if Scottish Militant Labour (SML) had stood on its own, rather than as part of a gaggle of Greens, Stalinists, Nationalists and soft leftists, it would have done better. I believe comrades in the Socialist Party/SML are now considering whether it was worth participating in the SSA at the cost of blunting the message of class struggle. A discussion with those comrades would be more valuable than Morganís tartan nostalgia.
As for the Scottish National Party, which Morgan elevates to a serious force, it has now been reduced to its traditional rural base of blue-nosed teuchters. It can sound to the left of Blair, but so on occasion can the Liberal Democrats. Morganís trawl through Scots history, describing how the Scots gentry were robbed by English imperialism, is an attempt to justify Scotland Forwardís Popular Front.
IN WHAT NEXT? No.4 Gordon Morgan of the Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA) defends the Scottish Militant Labour line of a "socialist charter" of demands which have to be addressed to the new Scottish parliament ("Socialists and the Scottish Question"). He writes: "The SSA would call on all socialist MPs whether Labour or SNP [Scottish National Party] to back this programme." In other words, the SSAís strategy is to convince parliamentarians from the reformist and bourgeois nationalist parties to adopt a charter that could transform the capitalist parliament into a vehicle for the implementation of socialism. This is an even worse mistake than the one proposed at the time of Allende by the Chilean left, who created a "Popular Unity" front with the so-called socialist section of the bourgeois Radicals in an attempt to achieve socialism by legal and parliamentary means.
Marxists are for a workersí state in Scotland, England and every other country. We donít want another government, even one based on workersí organisations, to administrate the capitalist state and system. Morgan advocates an independent Scotland that could elect a "workersí government" based on Labourites and SNPers. This is an illusion prevalent among many Scottish socialists. They think that an independent Scotland would not be a revolutionary paradise but that things would improve with a social democratic reformist government.
For Morgan, "socialists should support independence in [a] hypothetical referendum. We should point out the limitations of separate development but also the resources at our disposal Ė with equal exchange Scotland has immense natural and technical resources. We would point out that these resources could only be brought to fully benefit the working class by confronting capital and this would require a workersí government to take power."
This shows an adaptation to nationalist propaganda. SNP leader Alex Salmond claims that Scotland should not continue subsidising England. He argues that Scotland has oil and other immense natural resources. It has one-third of British territory and one-tenth of Britainís population. If Scotland could take all the revenues from its own resources it would become a country with one of the best per capita incomes in the world. Separated from a declining England, the SNP argues, Scotland could be like a wealthy Scandinavian country.
The SNP is proposing the unity of all Scottish classes in a split with the English. Marxists, on the contrary, want to split the Scottish workers from the Scottish bosses and unite them with the workers of the rest of Britain and the world. Revolutionaries should never enter into the nationalist game of creating the illusion that the solution of social problems could be achieved if only "our" country could cease to subsidise others and become independent.
Scotland does have a lot of resources but we could say the same about the rest of Britain and other countries. The solution lies not in national egotism but on the international plane. It is only through the unity of the working class internationally and the expropriation of big business that these huge resources can be utilised for the benefit of the majority. If we want the workers to take control of Scottish resources, why should we tail-end SNP separatism instead of advocating an all-British and international class unity against the capitalists?
We believe that the approach adopted by Gordon Morgan the comrades of the SSA is a big mistake. Instead of adapting to reformism and bourgeois separatism, Marxists need to unmask them.
J. Stone and M. Hill (LCMRCI)
MAB SEYMOURíS article ("Hegemony Revisited" in What Next? No.4 is a bit of a shocker. Obviously she prefers to rubbish the left rather than critically respond to what I actually wrote on Lenin and hegemony in issue No.3 of the journal ("Leninís Concept of Hegemony"). However, I will deal first with the supposed weaknesses of my article.
I didnít write an article on what the British left should do. I wrote an article on Leninís concept of hegemony. I tried to justify this with a few references to the "Trotskyist" leftís chronic lack of an understanding of strategy. As part of the "Trotskyist" left, I too am a victim of this weakness. My article was not presumptuous enough as to offer a strategy for the British left. I tried to perform the more humble task of looking at Leninís analysis.
However, I think Mab misunderstands my article. She has reduced Leninís concept of hegemony to the question of leadership Ė precisely what I was trying to warn against. Everyone knows that Lenin talks about leadership. The point is, what else does hegemony refer to? The Bolsheviks may have "achieved the socialist revolution", but there were problems concerned with establishing hegemony at a deeper level.
Hegemony is not simply the dominance of one class over another. Since classes are not homogeneous, there is the problem of hegemonic relations within classes. And hegemony refers not just to the relation between different social groups, but also to the relations between these groups and social structures.
Part of Mabís problem is that she seems to relegate ideology (and by consequence hegemony) to the superstructure. But Marx argued that the most powerful form of ideology is commodity fetishism Ė that ideology secreted by the capitalist production process itself where social relations are treated as things. Part of the problem with Marxists like Gramsci is that they seek to promote theories of hegemony and ideology by emphasising the importance of the superstructure at the expense of the base (and replacing economism with culturalism). Actually, the problem of emphasis is better dealt with by getting away from the base/superstructure dichotomy and stressing the connectedness of economic, political and ideological factors at all levels of the social hierarchy.
Mab complains that my article goes up in the smoke of academic Marxism. Apparently it is just an attempt to justify my Marxism (whatever it is) in the eyes of academia. But the desire to give patronising advice seems to have affected Mabís concentration. For I can give a clear list of points that my article makes that require some attention. Lest these points get lost once more, I will list thirteen of them.
1. The necessity of hegemony reflects the fact that leadership is not automatic and that successful revolution is not an inevitability. Leadership must be put together and developed.
2. Leninís rejection of mechanical materialism is intimately connected to his understanding of political practice and the role of the "subjective factor".
3. An analysis of objective developments (in Leninís case the study of imperialism) is a necessary prerequisite for understanding the social stratification of different groups and their interests.
4. Marxism has to confront the integration of sections of the working class into the ruling hegemonic projects.
5. The task of a revolutionary strategy is to break up these alliances and establish the political independence of the working class.
6. On the basis of this the working class should provide the leadership for a revolutionary alliance that involves other sections of society.
7. That the ruling class must suffer a hegemonic crisis based on an underlying material crisis.
8. That the proletariat is in a weak and disenfranchised position within capitalist society. This makes the task of constructing a hegemonic project a difficult one.
9. That there is a distinction between the dictatorship of the proletariat and proletarian hegemony. Whilst at one level the dictatorship of the proletariat might represent the hegemonic power of the proletariat, at a deeper level it represents the weakness of proletarian hegemony Ė a necessary transitional form between bourgeois hegemony and classless society.
10. That the Leninist conception of a vanguard party rests upon an understanding that social classes are stratified and that different layers must be related to in appropriate ways. Revolutionary leadership asserts itself through these layers and reaches out to those beyond them.
11. This is based on an understanding of the revolutionary party as an active, organic party whose task is to organise and direct.
12. This is done by reaching out to the most conscious layers in society. But the hegemonic project must reject adaptation to spontaneity and offer a leadership that goes beyond the mere collectivisation of different social experiences.
13. That hegemony is a realist concept based on an understanding of the world and the need to organise to change it.
If Mab had really wanted to address the problems of the British left, she might have developed some of these points. For example (on points 1 and 2), many groups on the left believe in their own God-given right to leadership (e.g. SWP, the Socialist Party/Militant, Workers Power), or in spontaneity (SWP, Militant, Socialist Appeal), or mechanical materialism (Militant or Socialist Appeal on inevitability). The Alliance for Workersí Liberty clearly fails to base its analysis on objective conditions (point 3) in failing to see the specific economic determination of the loyalist working class in Ireland (and their failure to understand imperialism in general).
The next five points are usually rejected by the left groups because they have some belief that the working class is homogeneous, both in its objective determination and in its interests. For the most populist sections of the British left, the struggle for hegemony and leadership is displaced by crude unite-and-fight demagogy (syndicalist, economistic, rank-and-filist, workerist phrasemongering).
This also relates to the last points about the need for a vanguard party. Often this is subordinated to populistic calls to the masses (Militant, SWP) or a sectarian abstention from work with the vanguard (Workers Power, the WRP fragments, the Sparts) or an opportunistic relation with the (mis)leadership of these layers (AWL, Socialist Outlook, Socialist Action etc).
But instead of addressing these issues, Mab descends into psychobabble.
The state of the left, often distorted by sectarian/opportunist leaderships, does leave a lot to be desired. However, there is a difference between addressing these problems and simply rubbishing everybody. The weakness of the left is not a psychological weakness Ė at best this could be described as a symptom but not a cause. The weakness of the left is historical and political. It is based on the historic setbacks in Eastern Europe and the new capitalist offensive, the betrayals and retreats of social democracy and so on. In this period there are bound to be sharp divisions and serious debates.
The vanguard is not non-existent; this is just middle class haughtiness. The vanguard is battered and confused. Itís the bosses and the bureaucrats who have done this. But the vanguard is still there Ė the Liverpool dockers and all those who participate in the support groups, members of left organisations in the unions, like the Campaign for a Fighting Democratic Unison, anti-racist activists, the rank and file in the Labour Party and the SLP. And the majority of the rank and file of left groups like the SWP, the Socialist Party/Militant, Socialist Outlook, Workers Power, AWL etc are good, decent activists who may have some wrong political positions, but are active in the class struggle, the workplace and so on, and have genuine intentions. They are not psychologically deranged trainspotters. They do not assist the bourgeoisie, at least not so much as Mabís diatribe against them does.
As a member of the Workers International League I agree strongly with Gerry Downingís article ("Revolutionary Regroupment"in What Next? No.4. Here Gerry tries to patiently address the problems of the left and to make the case for left regroupment in a non-sectarian manner. Our approach has always been for principled regroupment. We criticise the political positions of other groups where necessary. But we do this in order to clarify, to establish areas of agreement and disagreement. We do not tell the rest of the left to go to hell.
Mab rubbishes all the activity of the left, but nowhere does she offer an alternative approach. Nowhere has she said what the left should be doing and how it should intervene in the class struggle. Instead she has arrogantly written off the whole of the left as "a tool ... of bourgeois hegemony" and completely socially-dysfunctional. Well, if we are going to be dismissed so completely we might at least be offered an alternative. Otherwise, Mab, you do exactly what you accuse us of Ė reproducing the class relation, reinforcing bourgeois prejudices, upholding the moral values of the middle classes.
If the left wants to go forward it has to discuss things thoroughly and address the needs of the class struggle. Most of us would accept that we conduct ourselves badly at times, that we have "male" arguments and create a somewhat oppressive environment. But this wonít be dealt with by dismissing it as social-dysfunctionalism. Indeed, it strikes me that vitriolic outbursts against all and sundry are themselves often a sign of social dysfunctionality.
It is still necessary to thrash out a line that can be offered to the class. It is a painful but necessary thing. Politics is based on the dialectic of struggle not comfort. Things are by nature unstable; even "bourgeois hegemony"! There is still a vanguard of class-conscious workers worth talking to. The working class can and will fight back. Bourgeois hegemony can be challenged. Society can be changed. Even by us!
BEFORE I make some points on Rosa Luxemburg, in response to Tony Daleís Introduction to the article by Max Shachtman reproduced in What Next? No.3, I would just like to add to my letter on the early German Communist Party (KPD) that appeared in issue No.4 ("German Communist History").
I refer comrades to Kevin McDermott and Jeremy Agnew, The Comintern: A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin, 1996, a volume based on the latest findings from the Russian archives. Drawing on the work of Fridrik Firsov, the authors state: "Recent research in the Soviet archives has confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt that "the plans for a German revolution were discussed and adopted in the Politburo of the RCP(b) [Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks)], while the German Communists were assigned the role of providing information and fulfilling the adopted decisions. The Comintern played the role of a driving gear between Moscow and Berlin" (p.37). In fact, Firsov asserts that the RCP(b) discussed and adopted a line on all key issues before they went before the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI), where the RCP(b) delegation advanced them and were never turned down. So the period 1919-43 was an interlude between the situation where Communist affairs were under the control of the Foreign Ministry and post-1943 when the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had charge of them, but the same small body really determined Communist International (CI) matters.
Let me say that I have no objections to Tony Dale promoting Max Shachtman, and Iíd be interested to read more of what he was up to in the 1940s and í50s before his sad decline into anti-communism. But the "all-inclusive party in the revolutionary Marxist sense" he supposedly attempted to build sounds like the opposite to a Bolshevik or a Trotskyist one. That difference was one of the fundamental causes of the polemics between Luxemburg and Lenin in the years prior to October 1917, and would be a continuing source of friction between her followers and the Bolshevisers of the CI in the decade between its foundation and their expulsions.
In Revolutionary History, Vol.6, No.2/3 (Summer 1996), I reported on recently-discovered materials by Luxemburg, and five newly-translated letters were included. An analysis of the state of affairs in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party prior to the final split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, written in 1911 but never published (presumably because the split came first), is reported as being considered by the eminent Luxemburg scholar Feliks Tych as a link between her article "Organisational Questions ..." (1904) and the incomplete brochure on the Russian Revolution (1918). I quoted from an article on the split she wrote for the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL) organ Czerwony Sztandar (July 1912), where she castigates Lenin and his anti-democratic features as follows: "the Central Committee is everything whereas the real party is only its appendage, a mindless mass which moves mechanically on the orders of the leader like the army exercising on the parade ground and like a choir performing under the baton of the conductor." So while Luxemburg did welcome the occasions when Lenin moved away from his "Blanquist" conceptions, as occurred during revolutionary events, the fundamental differences remained, and would manifest themselves not only over the Lenin-Trotsky conception of the dictatorship but over the Comintern too.
Rather than recognising a "debt to the Bolshevik tradition" when going along with the setting up of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) at the end of 1918, Luxemburg had succumbed to impatience and would later recognise that it had been an error. Her mentor Leo Jogiches had opposed the move, her friend Clara Zetkin stayed in the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) until 1920, and Paul Levi recognised that they had erred in leaving the USPD to launch the KPD. The 1918 decision had been urged on them by Leninís agents and supporters in Germany, and it delayed rather than promoted the creation of a mass Communist Party. Paul Leviís leadership succeeded in that by disregarding Leninís advice and methods.
Almost all of the KPD (Spartakusbund) leaders were opposed to the foundation of the CI in 1919. The few sources available to us allow us to conclude that they feared it would be built on "a very narrow, sectarian basis" and be dominated by the Russians. I submit that they were correct in thinking that. Paul Levi clashed with the Bolsheviks and their supporters over the "21 Conditions" for adherence to the CI. He opposed the "mechanical" as opposed to "political" method of sorting the sheep from the goats. Splitting over resolutions would be incomprehensible to Western European workers, who would expect deeds to be the determinant. Levi was not happy about the structure and role of the ECCI either.
The way the ECCI delegates broke up the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), a section of the CI, at its Livorno conference in 1921, fragmenting the Italian socialist movement and setting up a rigid Communist sect, set Levi on a course that would lead him to recognise the Communist movement as a blind alley, and he returned to the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to establish a revolutionary pole. The speech he made on the PSI split to the Central Commission of the KPD on 24 February 1921 sets out his views. I would like to quote some parts.
He argues that finished Communists do not exist in the world and that the masses adhering to the CI must be trained through experience rather than by more splits. He continues: "It is the old problem regarding the formation of socialist parties. I do not want to conceal anything: the old difference between Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin emerges here again.... History has produced its judgement. Lenin was right: socialist and communist parties could also be created through the strictest screening proposed by him. In times of illegality he has produced a good party by means of the strictest screening and by the mechanical means of adding one communist to another; and perhaps, comrades, if we were confronted with a period of illegality of ten years we might vote in favour of this way." He goes on to say that, as that is not the case, then one can only create a mass party by having the closest relationship with the masses, by drawing them towards the party, and not by splitting off. He talks of the Russian comrades and the PSI split: "it seems to me that the comrades did not clearly realise that splits in a mass party with a different intellectual structure than, for example, that of the illegal Russian party ... cannot be carried out on the basis of resolutions, but only on the basis of political experience." He compares how the majority of the USPD was won to the CI, "on the basis of a political struggle lasting a year or more", rather than by fetching a resolution from Moscow demanding that all those not in agreement should leave now. In Italy, however, the political differences had not been worked out enough yet for them to be understood by the working class. "In the understanding of the masses there existed no cause for a split with the Serrati people." Serrati represented the CI before the Italian masses and the members of the PSI, and suddenly they are told that he is a traitor. They canít adjust that quickly but need to recognise out of their daily struggle that a split is necessary. We are seen as the splitters, he says. (See Helmut Gruber, International Communism in the Era of Lenin, 1966, pp.304-9.)
The imposition of the top-down structure and all-powerful Central Committee (later power ended up in ever smaller Committees, Politburos and Secretariats, and eventually with cliques around bosses) and the destruction of genuine democracy and accountability, as the Lenin-model was universalised for the whole CI, squeezed the life out of the CPs and eventually turned them into alien entities in their own labour movements (even the jargon used was often German or Russian in origin). The "Bolshevisation" of these parties, begun in 1924 by Zinoviev (and incidentally it was he rather than Stalin who began the anti-Luxemburg campaign) declared its aim of uprooting those Communist leaders tainted by a past in Social Democracy and replacing them with a series of "blank pages" who could be moulded, and supplied with politics, by the Russians.
The clashes in culture between the old associates of Rosa Luxemburg from the KPD and the KPP (Polish CP) between 1919 and 1924 (that is, prior to "Bolshevisation" even) are taken up in an essay by Feliks Tych based on research in the archives and included in a collection of papers from a conference in Moscow in 1994: Centre and Periphery: The History of the Comintern in the Light of New Documents (Mikhail Narinsky and JŁrgen Rojahn, eds, 1996).
A letter from Zetkin to Lenin talks of the ECCIís methods being "sometimes characterised by a brutal, lordly intervention, without real knowledge of the actual relevant conditions". She asked him whether the movement was more important for the CI or "the task of entrenching oneself as a sterile sect?". She saw the Italian split as a greater error than the setting up of the KPD in 1918. Wera Kostrzewa, a KPP representative on the ECCI, in a letter of January 1924 to the KPP Central Committee complaining about the way the Zinoviev-Kamenev-Stalin troika were combating the RCP(b) Opposition, compares the situation with the 1904 dispute over the party-model: "the understanding of democratic centralism" and "the relationship between the partyís nucleus and the broad party masses". She saw it as concerning not just the RCP(b) but also the CI, because its world-party concept had adopted the Leninist anti-democratic party-model and totally disregarded the criticism of Rosa Luxemburg. "We were always stressing that these problems were until now never discussed and considered by our International", she wrote. The other KPP representative on the ECCI, Henryk Lauer-Brand, in a letter of 31 January 1924 to the KPP Central Committee, opined that Trotsky and Radek are "those who represent in Russia Europe and the European labour movement", hence the Polish party should support them against Stalin and Zinoviev, as in that way "we are defending the interests of the International". Of course, the KPP leadership were rooted out by Stalinís personal intervention shortly after. (See Feliks Tych, "The KPD-KPP Political íAxisí Against Zinovíev-Stalin in the Communist International", in Centre and Periphery, pp.81-8.)
In the report of the new materials I did for Revolutionary History, I mentioned that Tych tends to see Luxemburgís current as a wholly other one than Leninís, and I believe that he is correct, but not in the sense that the current she represented was more democratic, less autocratic, less sectarian, etc (which one could indeed claim), but more in the sense that it represented a revolutionary current that rooted itself in the European, or Western European, labour movement (remember that Luxemburg operated in the Russian, Polish and German movements), and had a more realistic understanding of how to build and structure parties, and develop strategy and tactics. Her current would be driven out of the KPD and physically liquidated in the case of the KPP, in the course of shaping real Leninist and Stalinist parties.
I AM surprised that no-one has yet written in to defend Al Richardson against John Archerís rather intemperate attack in What Next? No.3 ("A View of the Journal"). Alís article, "The Progress and Stagnation of Marxism", published in issue No.2 of the journal was, I thought, a serious contribution and it deserved a more considered response than Johnís demolition job.
True, you had to put up with a typical swipe by Al at "feminism, black power, Third World movements, ecology, student radicalism" and so on Ė none of which, in his estimation, has anything to do with the struggle for socialism. But the overall thrust of the article was a critique of the sectarian dogmatism which plagues much of the far left, and in that respect I found many of Alís arguments perceptive and helpful.
Alís basic thesis is the need for Marxists to work within the labour movement as it actually exists, however low a level it is on and however confused or even downright treacherous its official politics might be. His point against party-fetishism was particularly relevant, given the inclination of self-styled Marxists to build a small, pure organisations that claim to be the revolutionary party in embryo, needing only to sign up sufficient members in order to become a mass force in the workersí movement. Al quite rightly exposes this for the illusion that it is, pointing out that "there never has been a revolutionary party formed by recruitment in ones and twos to a sect". From what I know of John Archerís politics, I would have expected him to be in sympathy with Alís views on this issue.
Another important point which Al makes concerns the attitude of revolutionaries to the Popular Front. This is a question which has direct relevance to the arguments which have recently taken place within the Scottish left over the decision by Scottish Militant Labour (SML) to participate in the Scotland Forward organisation, formed to campaign for a double "yes" vote in the referendum. Some comrades, pointing to the presence of the Scottish National Party and even dissident Tories in Scotland Forward, condemned SML for capitulating to Popular Frontism. But, as Al points out, it was never Trotskyís view that revolutionaries should refuse on principle to participate in Popular Fronts. On the contrary, it was their duty to intervene in such political formations if significant forces were attracted to them, in order to separate the working class from the bourgeois elements.
It seems to me that Johnís main gripe is with Alís view that none of the existing Trotskyist organisations represents a genuinely Marxist current, and that it is therefore necessary to build one. John believes that it already exists, in the form of the Lambertist tendency, whose virtues he extols at the end of his letter. But this is a tendency which showed a complete inability to grapple theoretically with the major historical turning point of the late 20th century, Stalinismís disastrous collapse into capitalist restoration, which it hailed as a political revolution. And as for the Lambertistsí political practice, the Anti-Maastricht conference in London last February, which John boosted in his letter, turned out to be a Healy-style rally complete with mass audience brought over from Paris, the purpose of which was evidently to put on a show to impress potential recruits rather than actually organise anything concrete.
Finally, I would like to take up Johnís criticism of Alís historical work. Johnís own view of Trotskyist history is that the Fourth International was betrayed by "Pabloism" in the early 1950s, and that the American SWP, the British Healyites and the French Bleibtreu-Lambert group succeeded in maintaining the continuity of Trotskyism by forming the International Committee in 1953. But the SWP capitulated to Pabloism in 1963, while the Healyites broke from the International Committee in 1971 Ė thus the Lambertists alone today preserve the political legacy of Trotskyís FI.
This kind of "golden thread" version of Trotskyist history is adopted to a greater or lesser degree by most of the Trotskyist currents bar the Mandelite USec (which bases its claim to represent the FI mainly on the grounds of organisational continuity). In my opinion, it is an exercise in self-justifying myth-making that has nothing in common with a Marxist approach to history. One of the virtues of the two-volume study of Trotskyism in Britain which Al co-authored with the late Sam Bornstein, and to which John takes such extreme exception, is that it knocks that sort of nonsense firmly on the head.