The following letter (published in lightly edited form in today’s issue of Weekly Worker) is my latest contribution to the discussion on the attitude Marxists should take towards Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democrat’s presidential nomination.
In his letter in Weekly Worker #1097 (replying to my letter in #1095), Paul Demarty provides three historical precedents to justify the CPGB’s position of political support to capitalist politician Bernie Sanders.
Demarty chides me for not giving “any consideration to the surely not irrelevant fact that there is no independent party of the working class in the United States, which means that we have to fight for one”. Demarty links this to an argument that “Marx aggressively supported Abraham Lincoln in two American elections – why? Because Lincoln was the man most likely to destroy slavery – a necessary (though, as it turns out, hardly sufficient) condition for working class politics in the States.”
It is true that Marx wrote a few letters and articles supportive of Lincoln and his efforts to end slavery, most notably the 1865 “Address of the International Working Men’s Association to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/iwma/documents/1864/lincoln-letter.htm). The US civil war was in essence the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution, and Marx’s support was wholly correct in the era before the advent of imperialism. Are the CPGB asserting, as the logic of Demarty’s argument implies, that Bernie Sanders’ election campaign is in some sense revolutionary, and that the outcome of his proclaimed “political revolution” will lay the basis for an independent party of the working class? This is pure fantasy.
Demarty then refers to the Bolsheviks’ electoral arrangements with the bourgeois-constitutionalist Cadets in a few Duma elections in the early 1900s. The different understanding of the CPGB and IBT on what this represented is an existing dispute which was definitively dealt with in the letters pages of Weekly Worker less than 10 years ago – see “Bolsheviks, Ballots & the Class Line” (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no32/ibt_1917_32_10_CPGB_Cadets.html).
As we explained in that exchange, the Bolsheviks were quite clear that these electoral arrangements with the Cadets did not involve any political support and, to quote a 1907 RSDLP conference motion, “the only agreements permitted are those of a purely technical nature”. This reality is something that to my knowledge the CPGB have never subsequently contested – I presume because the facts presented by the IBT are simply incontrovertible.
The third supposed precedent is Lenin’s support for the 1916 Easter Rising, an analogy which borders on the obscene. On the one hand we have Lenin’s support for a military uprising against British imperialism in the midst of World War I. And on the other hand we have the CPGB’s political support to a politician with a long political history of backing US imperialism (see for instance http://screechingkettle.blogspot.de/2015/07/if-bernie-sanders-was-against-invasion.html).
I can’t help but notice that Demarty, presumably unintentionally, gives away what is probably the real reason for the CPGB’s position, i.e., his reference to the “external ridicule” that the IBT’s consistent defence of the principle of working-class independence elicits. I for one have indeed suffered ridicule from many on the reformist left in Ireland for applying this principle in the context of the recent Irish elections by telling the truth about Sinn Fein’s pro-capitalist political nature and that there should be no political support to them. Being a Marxist is not about popularity for popularity’s sake – sometimes we are unpopular and suffer ridicule, and worse, for telling the truth.
It seems that, like many other fake-Marxists, the CPGB are more interested in avoiding ridicule and courting immediate political popularity than they are about applying the principles of Marxism in any consistent way in their concrete political activity.