14
Feb
19

Cutting through the verbiage to get to the nub of the dispute

Back in November 2018 I wrote a short critique of a 1998 piece by Ian Donovan written as part of his departure from the International Bolshevik Tendency – of which we were both members at the time. The subject in dispute being whether it is principled for communists to vote for the candidates of the working class component of a Popular Front.

Ian responded to my short critique with a lengthy document which led me to respond with a more substantive piece of my own.

Ian has now written a 19,662 word follow-up three part response (part 1, part 2, part 3) which I believe makes the substantive difference between our political approaches very clear.

Ian describes my critique as just a series of non-sequiturs. I guess from Ian’s methodological starting point my arguments could indeed be seen that way. In this short response I will attempt to outline what I understand to be the revolutionary Marxist alternative to Ian’s approach.

I considered also taking a little time to point out some of the more egregious bald assertions and blatant misrepresentations that his three part piece is littered with. Trying to provide some context to help the reader evaluate the truth or otherwise of those assertions and misrepresentations. However I am confident that any attentive reader of the exchange so far will notice Ian’s debating tricks.

What I want to do here is highlight what I believe is the underlying difference in our approaches which leads us to such different interpretations of the issues in dispute.

This simply boils down to a difference in the importance we give to the idea of working class political independence. Is that an idea which has an impact on the tactical decisions we make about how to relate to the various non-revolutionary leaderships of the working class in the various electoral arrangements they may be part of at any time?

I understand working class political independence as standing at the very centre of the revolutionary Marxist project.

Ian would no doubt claim to agree with that statement. However, as far as I can tell, this is merely verbal genuflection as for him working class political independence has no real impact on his practical politics.

Basis for critical support

When there are non-revolutionary working class candidates standing in bourgeois elections a primary consideration in evaluating whether to give them critical support is the extent to which they are actively projecting the idea of working class political independence separate from, and in conflict with, the bourgeoisie.

My critical support will be about engaging with the consciousness of workers attracted by that idea. While explaining the contradiction between that idea and the actuality of the programme of the non-revolutionary candidates which cannot fully express that idea and will lead to betrayal through accommodation with capital and its political representatives.

Ian disagrees. For him a non-revolutionary workers’ party with mass support (like the British Labour Party) is, just by existing, a representation of this contradiction.

For Ian and Socialist Fight, the organisation he is currently a member of, there is therefore no difference between the electoral tactics to take towards the British Labour Party led by Corbyn in 2017 and the Labour Party led by Gordon Brown in 2010 (and by implication the Labour Party led by Tony Blair in the decade or so preceding that). They believe that the contradictions, and the critical support arguments made to engage with the wider working class about those contradictions, are fundamentally the same in each case.

Popular Fronts and the suppression of contradictions

When non-revolutionary working class candidates are standing in elections on a joint political programme with elements of the bourgeoisie (a Popular Front) I believe there is no basis for even considering giving critical support.

The contradiction between non-revolutionary working class candidates projecting the idea that they will fight for our independent interests as a class while standing on a programme that cannot achieve that and will lead them to betray that idea is necessarily suppressed when they are standing on a joint political programme with elements of the bourgeoisie.

The only potential electoral tactic open to revolutionary Marxists in such a situation is conditional critical support. Saying that we will only consider giving them critical support IF they break from the joint political programme with elements of the bourgeoisie and stand separately as working class candidates on their own programme.

This is not to argue that all contradictions between those non-revolutionary candidates and the wider working class who vote for them are suppressed when they are standing on a joint programme with elements of the bourgeoisie – but the particular contradiction that allows for potentially giving critical support is certainly suppressed.

Ian disagrees. He makes his decisions on giving critical support to working class candidates standing on a joint political programme with elements of the bourgeoisie in exactly the same way that he does when they are standing on their own programme separately from any bourgeois elements.

Critical support to bourgeois politicians?

The importance I give to working class political independence means that I will never, as a matter of principle, give political support to bourgeois political forces.

Ian disagrees. In part 3 of his opus he specifically references giving political support to Provisional IRA/Sinn Féin member Bobby Sands in the 1981 British election. It should also be noted just how far Socialist Fight will take this approach as when they called for political support to Jacob Zuma against Cyril Ramaphosa in the 2017 intra-bourgeois struggle over who should be President of the ANC.

Conclusion

I believe the above is a fair representation of the differences as outlined in the exchange of documents Ian and I have had.

I give qualitatively greater importance to the idea of working class political independence than Ian does when we make our respective assessments of who to potentially give critical political support to.

This is a issue of principle for me while for Ian it is just tactical.

I leave it to the reader to assess which approach they find more appealing and/or consistent with the thrust of Bolshevik-Leninism – the political tradition that provides my general political framework.

Alan

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10
Feb
19

Heading for extinction and what to do about it

Today I’m travelling on the bus up to Dublin for a meeting hosted by Extinction Rebellion (ER) to plan for an action on March 3rd as part of an international day of action on climate change.

So I watched a video of a talk at a September 2018 ER event in Britain titled Heading for extinction and what to do about it.

I would encourage everyone to watch this video – though it comes with a political health warning.

The first section outlining the current situation is an excellent overview of what the science tells us and how conservative/inadequate the Paris targets are – not to mention that even those targets are not anywhere close to being met.

The conclusion that the time to act is now is one I completely agree with.

However I believe there are serious weaknesses in the second “what to do” part of the video.

The general strategy is presented as being about putting pressure on the existing governmental power structures to make them do the right thing.

This strikes me as hopelessly naive.

As is pointed out in the first part of the video the super-rich who run the world simple believe their extreme wealth will make it possible for them to survive after social collapse caused by ecological catastrophe in something like the style they have become accustomed to. Perhaps they are right but that is of little comfort to the 99.99% of the rest of us.

The truth is that what happens to the great unwashed masses is of no real concern to them. This is of course merely an extension of how they already value (really devalue) human life for the masses in the “Third World”.

These super-rich parasites control the institutions of capitalist governmental order through various forms of indirect and direct bribery. And these are institutions whose fundamental framework is based on maintaining the capitalist social order. It is not an accident that so far the world’s capitalist governments, even the most liberal, are failing to meet even the very modest targets of the Paris agreement – as they failed to meet the targets of all the international conferences on climate change that came before.

The reality is that a strategy of putting pressure on the lackeys and puppets of the super-rich is doomed to failure. We need a revolutionary transformation of the way society is organised rather than relying on the capitalists reforming their system.

I also have serious problems with the emphasis on non-violence and self-sacrifice.

The video points to the US civil rights movement as an example of how non-violent civil disobedience by a relatively small number, especially those prepared to get arrested, was the fulcrum for change in US race relations.

I actually have some disagreement with the narrative that it was only non-violent protest that caused the changes that did occur but for the purposes of this political health warning I will assume their narrative is correct.

We should indeed look at the changes that occurred in US race relations as a result of the civil rights movement.

Very important reforms were achieved it is true but does anyone seriously believe that racism and oppression of the vast majority of the non-white population in the US has disappeared?

To the extent an analogy between race relations in the US and the movement against climate change can be made I believe an equivalence of the successes of the US civil rights movement and what we need to achieve in terms of combating climate change would mean at best postponing the coming ecological catastrophe by a decade or two at most.

Fighting for those kind of reforms of the existing system are important but we should not fool ourselves that they are the solution.

To use my own analogy with that period in US history we need to think about whether what we need is the strategy of Martin Luther King or something more like that of Malcolm X

In terms of non-violence I would counter that certainly we don’t want to be seen as the aggressor in our actions – but I stand by the maxim that self-defence is no offence.

And in a more strategic way I would draw people’s attention to where the video correctly points to the social pressures of mass migration and food scarcity which will, without the building of a strong alternative political pole of attraction, be a breeding ground for fascism and increasing authoritarianism. This is something we can already see around the world and I agree with the video that the effects of climate change will only increase those pressures.

But that poses a problem in terms of a strategic commitment to non-violence. The presenter can recount as many stories about how their initial small stunts have not resulted in aggression from the police etc. while generating good amounts of publicity.

But that is a million miles away from what confronting fascists and totalitarian military governments will be like – something which the presentation rightly projects will be an issue in the near future (within a couple of decades at most and quite possibly sooner). We need to recognise this reality and have a strategy which includes building self-defence structures which will be able to respond to this threat. While at the same time retraining a sense of proportion in regard to the very immediate situation we confront in liberal Western democracies where, thankfully, we are not yet confronted with this as a daily reality.

As a final point I would also disagree with a strategy which writes off the possibility of building a mass movement which can bring millions into direct political action. As opposed to just relying on the hundreds or few thousands outlined in the video.

The history of the past 100 years or so shows that mass movements of working people which pose the possibility of a revolutionary transcendence of capitalism are possible. Having a strategy which, in advance, writes that off is a major mistake in my opinon.

Anyway, with those political health warnings out of the way, here is the video.

15
Jan
19

Another report on the faster than expected effects of climate change

Nothing hugely new in these findings about the speed of ice loss in Antarctica for anyone keeping an eye on the effect climate change is having on the planet but worth noting none-the-less.

https://www.sciencealert.com/antarctic-ice-loss-is-already-happening-a-shocking-six-times-faster-than-in-the-1970s

Here is the graph that shows the escalation in the speed of ice loss.

articiceloss

13
Jan
19

Working class independence and Popular Fronts

Ian Donovan of Socialist Fight has responded to my short critique of his 1998 document Trotskyism, the United Front and the Popular Front: Against Class Collaboration and Sterile Sectarianism with another lengthy document on the Socialist Fight web site – Critical Support, Popular Fronts and Bourgeois Workers Parties.

I post this reply to Ian’s piece not so much because he, and his current group Socialist Fight, are of any particular importance but his justifications for voting for candidates standing on the class-collaborationist programme of a Popular Front are quite popular among much of the centrist swamp that self-describe as “Trotskyist”. As such, our discussion could be of more general interest to a wider audience.

Working class rebellion against Popular Fronts and the fight for revolutionary consciousness

Ian seems to believe it was effectively impossible for any of the most class conscious Chilean workers to have rejected the Popular Front programme of class collaboration they confronted in the early 1970s:

“The most conscious elements of the working class no doubt considered that a bloc with the liberals was not ideal, but nevertheless not of major significance if the workers could use them as a stepping stone to put their parties in power to achieve the gains that they sought.”
Ian’s Critical Support, Popular Fronts and Bourgeois Workers Parties

Even if I assume he is correct in his “no doubt” assertion about the political perspective of the most class conscious Chilean workers at the time, all he has established is that these workers did not yet have a revolutionary consciousness. The question facing revolutionary Marxists was how to expose the leadership of the SP & CP and win those workers, or at least as many of the most class conscious as possible, to supporting revolutionary politics.

Ian recognises that “A working class rebellion against the popular front in this situation was entirely possible.” However, he rules out the possibility of making electoral support conditional on breaking with the Popular Front and taking power alone in the name of the working class because that is – “Virtually impossible! That is not how class consciousness works and develops”. I am therefore left wondering what Ian makes of the Bolsheviks’ use of the “Down with the ten capitalist ministers” slogan in 1917, the importance of which Trotsky describes as follows:

“The enormous role of the Bolshevik slogan “Down with the ten capitalist ministers” is well known, in 1917, at the time of the coalition between the conciliators and the bourgeois liberals. The masses still trusted the socialist conciliators but the most trustful masses always have an instinctive distrust for the bourgeoisie, for the exploiters and for the capitalists. On this was built the Bolshevik tactic during that specific period. We didn’t say “Down with the socialist ministers,” we didn’t even advance the slogan “Down with the Provisional Government” as a fighting slogan of the moment, but instead we hammered on one and the same point: “Down with the ten capitalist ministers.” This slogan played an enormous role, because it gave the masses the opportunity to learn from their own experience that the capitalist ministers were closer and dearer to the conciliators than the working masses.

“Slogans of that type are the best fitted for the present stage of the Spanish revolution. The proletarian vanguard is fully interested in pushing the Spanish socialists to take over the whole power. For that purpose, it is necessary to split the coalition. The next task is the fight for the expulsion of the bourgeois ministers from the coalition. The achievement of this task in full or in part is conceivable only in connection with important political events, under pressure of new mass movements, and so on. Thus, in Russia, under the constant pressure of the masses, first Guchkov, Miliukov, then Prince Lvov, were ousted from the coalition government, which was then headed by Kerensky; the number of ‘socialists’ in the government rose, and so on. After the arrival of Lenin, the Bolshevik party did not solidarize itself for one moment with Kerensky and the conciliators, but it helped the masses to push the bourgeoisie out of power and to test the government of the conciliators in practice. That was an indispensable stage on the road of the Bolshevik movement to power.”
Problems of the Spanish Revolution (AG: my emphasis)
(
https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/spain/spain06.htm)

I would strongly argue that giving critical electoral support is exactly an example of the type of solidarising that the Bolsheviks did not do for even “one moment” with the workers components of the Provisional Government popular front. I therefore have to challenge Ian’s assertion that Trotsky perceived the voting patterns of the French working class in 1936 to be inherently rebellious against the Popular Front government. In fact, Trotsky was responding to what reformist workers tried to do within the context of parliamentary politics and the absence of a revolutionary alternative:

“The voter, therefore, has expressed his will – so far as he generally can in the straitjacket of parliamentarianism – not in favour of the People’s Front policy but against it.”
“The Decisive Stage” from Whither France (AG – my emphasis)
(
https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/whitherfrance/ch03b.htm)

That is quite different from Trotsky’s view of the real rebellion of the working class that revolutionary Marxists should be trying to promote and lead. If you read Trotsky’s material on the situation in France at the time you will see that it is primarily concerned with extra-parliamentary activity and building militant proletarian organisations that pointed in the direction of Soviets. The issue of voting in parliamentary elections was completely secondary to this:

“Committees of Action will be built only by those who understand, to the end, the necessity of freeing the masses from the treacherous leadership of the social-patriots. Yet Pivert clutches at Zyromsky, who clutches at Blum, who in turn, together with Thorez, clutches at Herriot, who clutches at Laval. Pivert enters into the system of the People’s Front (not for nothing did he vote for the shameful resolution of Blum at the last National Council meeting!) and the People’s Front enters as a wing into the Bonapartist régime of Laval. The downfall of the Bonapartist régime is inevitable. Should the leadership of the People’s Front (Herriot-Blum-Cachin-Thorez-Zyromsky-Pivert) succeed in remaining on its feet in the course of the entire approaching and decisive period, then the Bonapartist régime will inevitably give way to Fascism. The condition for the victory of the proletariat is the liquidation of the present leadership. The slogan of “unity” becomes under these conditions not only a stupidity but a crime. No unity with the agents of French imperialism and of the League of Nations. To their perfidious leadership it is necessary to counterpose revolutionary Committees of Action. It is possible to build these committees only by mercilessly exposing the anti-revolutionary policies of the so-called “revolutionary left” with Marceau Pivert at the head. There is of course no room in our ranks for illusions and doubts on this score.”
“Committees Of Action – Not People’s Front” from Whither France
(https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/whitherfrance/ch03.htm)

“Suppressed” contradictions and the fight to change political consciousness

Ian makes a great deal of what he believes must be meant by the term “suppressed” – a term the Spartacists used to describe what happens to the “profound contradiction between their proletarian base and formal ideology and the class-collaborationist aims and personal appetites of their leaderships” within reformist workers parties when they participate in a Popular Front. He recognises that the contradiction outlined by the Spartacists does exist but it is just not all that is involved:

“The problem with this is it is one-sided. The counterposition of the reformist parties to the parties of the bourgeoisie is not just one of ideas. It is also a material counterposition. The working class party is seen as not simply an ideological force, but a material one, the embodiment of the social power of the working class in capitalist society as a force whose mass membership and support acts as a counterweight to untrammelled bourgeois force trampling the working class into the ground. This is the problem that the above does not really deal with.”
Ian’s Critical Support, Popular Fronts and Bourgeois Workers Parties

The key here is Ian’s use of the phrase “Is seen as…”. This is the core of the political problem revolutionaries face: how to change what reformist workers parties are “seen as” by the militant vanguard of our class.

Revolutionaries aim to break reliance on seeing parliament as the motor engine for social change and replace that with an understanding of the centrality of class struggle based on our own proletarian organisations separate from, and in conflict with, the organs of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. The question is HOW to engage with that false consciousness and change it. Ian’s position amounts to adapting to that consciousness and necessarily downplaying the centrality of working class independence by voting for the most virulent advocates of class collaboration in the workers movement.

It is true that calling for ‘no vote’ to the workers component of a Popular Front will likely be seen in the way Ian describes, unless of course the organisation making such a call holds a widely acknowledged leadership role in the extra-parliamentary struggle and there is something approaching a situation of dual power. The number of workers who will be directly convinced by a small revolutionary organisation making this call when those revolutionaries don’t represent any significant extra-parliamentary social strength will indeed likely be small. But is this a reason to stop telling the working class the truth?

I can therefore concede that Ian’s position would likely make any group applying it seem more immediately acceptable to most workers with their existing reformist consciousness. But at what cost, when the core Marxist political principle of working class independence is completely lost? This question appears not to enter Ian’s deliberations at all.

Electoral tactics and the principle of working class independence

Trotsky’s outline of the situation in France in 1936 offers useful lessons:

“Should the leadership of the People’s Front (Herriot-Blum-Cachin-Thorez-Zyromsky-Pivert) succeed in remaining on its feet in the course of the entire approaching and decisive period, then the Bonapartist régime will inevitably give way to Fascism.”
“Committees Of Action – Not People’s Front” from Whither France

This contains the contradiction which stands at the very heart of Ian’s position: how to call for a vote to 5 of those 6 leaders of the Popular Front (Herriot being the leader of the bourgeois Radicals with the others representing the different shades in the SFIO & CP) who are standing as open advocates of the platform of the Popular Front while at the same time telling the truth about the deadly danger posed by the Popular Front and ALL its leaders?

Ian would rather avoid dealing with this very real issue. For instance, in the 2005 election the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB – who publish Weekly Worker) called for only giving critical support to “working class anti-war candidates” (meaning in this case the SWP and fellow-travellers) of the RESPECT popular frontist coalition. It was no accident that the idea of working class political independence was largely absent from the CPGB’s critical support material and where it was mentioned it was only presented in an abstract, aspirational sense. Marxists recognise electoral critical support is a form of political support. So how can revolutionaries come up with tactics which do not involve giving any political support to the programme of popular frontist class collaboration? In my discussion with Ian (and the many other similar conversations I have had with other denizens of the British labourite centrist swamp) the real difference is over how much importance is given to open political struggle for the idea of working class independence.

I don’t see any way, either in theory or practice how it is possible to give critical political support to candidates standing on the class collaborationist platform of a popular front while at the same time highlighting the importance of working class political independence and the dangers posed by this class collaboration. Perhaps this idea of open political struggle for this core principle of Marxism means a lot less to Ian than it does to me. He instead replaces it with a reliance on an objective process he imagines will magically reveal the importance of working class independence. This is of course one of the big differences in general between Bolshevik-Leninist Trotskyism and the centrist swamp:

“To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s program on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrives – these are the rules of the Fourth International.”
The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International – The Transitional Program
(
https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/tp-text2.htm)

Trotsky says nothing about GBL electoral support to workers parties in the French Popular Front

In his latest piece Ian introduces the example of the Groupe Bolchevik-Léniniste (GBL) applying the tactic of giving critical support to just the workers component of the Popular Front in the 1936 French elections. Ian points to Trotsky not making any commentary about this as evidence that Trotsky must therefore have supported the tactic. In a private Facebook message Ian provided me with his reference for this new information about the GBL’s voting tactics in the 1936 French election. It was a comment by Jan Norden (now the central leader of the Internationalist Group and then a member of the Spartacists and the editor of Workers Vanguard) in the article “No ‘critical support’ to Popular Frontism” in Spartacist No. 27/28 Winter 1979:

“Now I want to say something about a little historical research I’ve been doing, and that is the question of the popular front in the 1930s. The French GBL (Groupe Bolchevik-Leniniste) had the position of supporting the social democrats or Stalinists in those districts where it didn’t run its own candidates in the 1936 elections.

“So what was the situation in 1936? First of all, nobody paid any attention to this question at all. In the internal bulletin of the French GBL there is one sentence on its policy in the election – and two pages of discussion in a later bulletin – compared to more than a hundred pages on the split with the Molinier group. Nor was the GBL policy mentioned in any of the post – June 1936 issues of Lutte Ouvriere. It was not a big issue. I’m not even sure Trotsky knew what the GBL policy was; he might have, but it’s not clear. I  was looking through the [Trotsky] archives [at Harvard University], and Trotsky writes big notes over everything putting triple exclamation points every time Vereecken opens his mouth. But here there’s no marks at all on his copy [of the GBL internal bulletin referring to electoral policy].
(https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/spartacist-us/1972-1980/0027-0028_Winter_1979-80.pdf)

Norden’s conjecture that the reason Trotsky did not comment on this issue, either positively or negatively, was because he might not have known about it, has the advantage of simplicity. The fact that Trotsky had left France in June 1935 and was living in Norway at the time of the 1936 election also lends some credence to this idea. But it is clearly not decisive either way. Interestingly, the editors of the book The Crisis of the French Section (a collection of Trotsky’s material dealing with the splits and fusions of the French Trotskyists in 1935/36) note they had been “unable to locate any letters by Trotsky about the crisis of the French section between March 4 and the article he wrote on June 7” (p137) – this coinciding fairly directly with the period when the 1936 election was occurring. Looking at Writings of Leon Trotsky 1935-36 we see that Trotsky was still politically active – just not focussing on the French situation. He writes on the persecution of the Left Opposition in the Soviet Union; critiques positions taken by Stalin; writes a major article on the new Constitution of the Soviet Union; and gives advice to the US, British, Belgium and Dutch comrades. Perhaps this resulted in Trotsky taking his eye off the French ball during the period of the 1936 elections which he considered to be an irrelevant diversion from the real class struggle.

It is also important to understand this action of the GBL in its political context. This election happened just after the period when Trotsky had been struggling to reverse the “French Turn” against a general unwillingness across all the factions to leave the SFIO and varying degrees of political accommodation to the left of the SFIO as represented by Pivert and his group. In fact it is not so much that Trotsky fully convinced the GBL of the need to end the entry but rather the expulsions and bureaucratic internal manoeuverings made it impossible for them to remain. Trotsky was also trying to push the French comrades towards emphasising the building of revolutionary Committees of Action – which he viewed as much more important than elections which are at best a subsidiary issue. Indeed, for Trotsky the whole parliamentary arena was something of a diversion away from the growing class struggle in the factories and on the streets:

“There is no way out on the parliamentary road. Blum will not invent any gunpowder, because he is scared of gunpowder. The further machinations of the People’s Front can only prolong the death agony of parliamentarianism and give de la Rocque time to prepare a new and more serious blow if the revolutionists do not forestall him.”
“The Decisive Stage” from Whither France

Or as Trotsky puts it in March 1936 just before the election campaign would have begun:

“The coming parliamentary elections, no matter what their outcome, will not in themselves bring any serious changes into the situation…”
“France at the Turning Point” from Whither France
(https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/whitherfrance/ch03a.htm)

An example from Spain

To bolster his argument Ian refers back to his original 1998 document where he quotes Trotsky’s call for revolutionaries to join the Spanish Socialist Party while it was in the Popular Front – something I had not dealt with in my initial short piece. However, he has never seen the need to deal with the response to this point that was made at the time by a comrade in the Marxist Bulletin group. So I will remind him:

“The other classic example of a popular front government is Spain. Ian quotes from the ‘Down with Zamora-Maura’ text but seems to fail to understand the significance of the following passage:

‘The proletarian vanguard is fully interested in pushing the Spanish Socialists to take power into their own hands. For that to happen, it is necessary to split the coalition (my emphasis). The achievement of this task is conceivable only in connection with important political events, under pressure of new mass movements, and so on.’

“The task is to split the coalition, i.e. the popular front. A similar passage can be found in his letter to the Dutch section dealing with the POUM. It is worth noting that Trotsky does not discuss the question of the popular front in terms of electoral tactics very much. On both France and Spain he stresses the need for the independent activity of the masses against the bourgeoisie and its lackeys in the popular front government. He was obviously convinced that you cannot get rid of the popular front at the ballot box.

“But was he in favour in [sic] voting for the reformist parties participating in the popular front? Again Ian cannot provide us with a clear quote confirming his interpretation of Trotsky. He said in 1931 that the revolutionaries would help the masses (not the Socialist candidates) to force their Socialist leaders to take power into their own hands. This is all. It does not necessarily mean electoral support. Lenin’s call in 1917 on the SR’s and Mensheviks to take power did not imply any support at all, it was meant as a tool in order to expose them in front of the masses, to expose them as cowards and ideological slaves of the bourgeoisie.

“But back to Spain. Again I would like to use a passage quoted by Ian himself:

‘1. To condemn and denounce mercilessly before the masses the policy of all the leaders participating in the Popular Front.’

“I do not think that this would square with voting for those parties that intend to establish a coalition with the bourgeoisie in the first place. Why vote them into the popular front government when you do not want them to be in it?

“Ian might reply that Trotsky went further than that by advocating to ‘join the Socialist Party and the United Youth’. However, it is important to see how Trotsky continued ‘in order to work there as a faction in the spirit of Bolshevism’. Working in the spirit of Bolshevism means absolute opposition to the government and a perspective of splitting the working class base away from its misleaders.”
The Popular Front: A well-covered trap in Marxist Bulletin No. 8
(http://bolshevik.org/mb/8popfront.htm)

So not only is Ian incorrectly generalising and extending this historical instance of entry to include electoral support (not something that Trotsky ever advocated), but he takes it out of context and misses the essential ‘spirit of Bolshevism’ behind Trotsky’s motivation to advocate temporarily joining the Socialist Party whilst it was technically part of the popular front. The SP was in revolutionary flux, with its left wing and layers of militant workers inside and outside the party, pushing for independent action from the popular front government itself. Entry was in the context of the need for an imminent and urgent split away from the bourgeois and reformist forces.

Driving electoral wedges to sabotage the Popular Front?

Ian argues:

“Critical support in elections is one valid tactic, to drive a wedge between the coalition and try to sabotage the bloc with the smaller bourgeois parties and force the reformists to take responsibility for their own policies. But how can tiny micro-sects refusing to call for votes for the reformists against the bourgeois parties (including against their hoped-for coalition partners) do that?”

How exactly would Ian expect this tactic to work in real life? He just makes the assertion without any attempt to explain how that process could be expected to occur. I am therefore forced to speculate on what that process might look like. Perhaps it is based on an idea that through this critical support, the vote and consequent number of parliamentarians, for the workers component becomes larger and the opposite occurs for the bourgeois component – thus lessening their political influence. This seems to be the “logic” as far as I can tell.

As an aside I would invert Ian’s comment about how a “tiny micro-sect” could hope to successfully apply the BT’s approach and ask how the minuscule number of extra workers voting for the workers component of a Popular Front as a result of Ian’s own “tiny micro-sect” calling for critical support will likewise affect anything. Unlike Ian, I don’t make this point about organisational size a serious part of my critique. Of course the political positions taken by tiny groups like SF or the BT usually don’t make any significant difference to any aspect of the class struggle, let alone national elections. But what we are talking about here are general guidelines which if enacted by organisations with significant social weight could make a real difference in outcomes. And even for “tiny micro-sects” the taking of these positions can be useful in making an impact on the consciousness of the small layer of individuals they are able to reach (and especially so if this can take place alongside any small examples of exemplary leadership they are able to provide in the militant class struggle that usually accompanies Popular Fronts).

The problem is that Ian’s defence of critical support as a way to “drive a wedge” to “sabotage the bloc” misses the essence of the political problem that is the Popular Front. The leaders of the reformist workers’ parties are doing everything they can to prevent revolutionary anti-capitalist politics spreading among the working class. As we were to see in Spain they even effectively invent a bourgeois partner (“the shadow of the bourgeoisie” as Trotsky put it) to help them achieve this. They are not being held back from fully fighting for the interests of the working class by the size and social weight of their bourgeois partners in the Popular Front – they are held back by their own fear of, and opposition to, the working class taking power. As Léon Blum (the “socialist” Prime Minister of the French Popular Front government) put it:

Il n’y a pas de majorité prolétarienne, il y a une majorité de Front populaire. Il s’ensuit que nous agissons à l’intérieur du régime social actuel.
(Léon Blum, « Discours », 31 juin 1936, cité par Danielle Tartakowsky, Le Front populaire, 1996, Gallimard, p. 71)

Which Google translates as:

There is no proletarian majority, there is a majority of the Popular Front. It follows that we act within the current social system.
(Leon Blum, “Speech”, June 31, 1936, quoted by Danielle Tartakowsky, The Popular Front, 1996, Gallimard, 71)
(https://groupemarxiste.info/2016/07/15/1936-1938-la-coalition-de-front-populaire-empeche-la-classe-ouvriere-de-prendre-le-pouvoir-en-france/)

Or perhaps Ian is hoping that by decreasing the vote for the bourgeois component this will somehow put pressure on them to withdraw from the bloc. Once again, I think this misses what it going on with a Popular Front – this time from the side of the bourgeois component, which in the first place, is usually a tiny rump. I fail to see why a change from 90% vs 10% to 95% vs 5%, or even right down to a “shadow”, in the balance of parliamentary deputies is going to in-and-of-itself make the bourgeois component leave the Popular Front. The only thing that might really make it consider leaving would be a concern that the workers component was not capable of holding up its side of the bargain by keeping a lid on expressions of militant working class struggle. And that has nothing to do with the results of the parliamentary elections and everything to do with building revolutionary proto-Soviet organisations to prosecute militant class struggle – as runs through the heart of all Trotsky’s material on France in this period.

Militant class struggle vs. voting in parliamentary elections

Popular Fronts tend to occur in, and are in fact usually a direct response to, situations of heightened militant working class struggle. The call on the reformist workers parties to break from the Popular Front as a pre-condition for electoral support is just an auxiliary  part of explaining to the working class base of those parties the reality of the contradiction between their day-to-day involvement in the extra-parliamentary class struggle and the explicit denial of our separate and conflicting class interests in the bourgeoisie’s Popular Front programme, which in turn limits the militancy of our class struggle.

Calls on the reformist workers party to break with the Popular Front, such as “Down with the ten capitalist ministers”, are necessarily linked to calls on them to support the workers in their day-to-day struggles against the capitalists. We demand the reformist leaders stop using the existence of the Popular Front, the need to consider “national unity” and so on, as an excuse for not supporting the building of revolutionary Committees of Action, for not supporting building for a General Strike. We make these calls on the reformist mis-leaders not because we believe that they will respond positively (even if the very rare individual may come over from reform to revolution) but to expose their claims to stand for the interests of the working class and thereby win over their militant working class base to support of revolutionary politics – to the fight for working class power.

I will leave the last words to Trotsky writing in March 1936 – a month before the French election. Readers can decide for themselves what electoral advice they think would have been consistent with his approach:

“But, we are told, not without indignation, the People’s Front is not a cartel at all, but a mass movement. There is, of course, no lack of pompous definitions, but they do not change the nature of things. The job of the cartel always consisted in putting a brake upon the mass movement, directing it into the channels of class collaboration. This is precisely the job of the People’s Front as well. The difference between them – and not an unimportant one – is that the traditional cartel was applied during the comparatively peaceful and stable epochs of the parliamentary régime. Now, however, when the masses are impatient and explosive, a more imposing brake is needed, with the participation of the “Communists”. Joint meetings, parade processions, oaths, mixing the banners of the Commune and of Versailles, noise, bedlam, demagogy – all these serve a single aim: to curb and demoralize the mass movement.

“While justifying himself in the Chamber before the rights, Sarraut declared that his innocent concessions to the People’s Front were nothing else than the safety valve of the régime. Such frankness may have seemed imprudent. But it was rewarded by violent applause from the benches of the extreme left. There was no reason, therefore, for Sarraut to be bashful. In any case, he succeeded, perhaps not quite consciously, in providing a classic definition of the People’s Front: a safety valve for the mass movement. M. Sarraut is in every way fortunate with his aphorisms!”

“Unbelievable as it may seem, some cynics attempt to justify the policy of the People’s Front by quoting Lenin, who if you please, proved that there is no getting along without “compromises” and, in particular, without making agreements with other parties. It has become an established rule among the leaders of the present Comintern to make mock of Lenin: they trample underfoot all the teachings of the builder of the Bolshevik Party, and then they take a trip to Moscow to kneel before his mausoleum.

“Lenin began his activities in tsarist Russia, where not only the proletariat, the peasantry and the intelligentsia but also wide circles of the bourgeoisie stood in opposition to the old régime. If the policy of the People’s Front has any justification at all, one should imagine that it could be justified first of all in a country that has yet to achieve its bourgeois revolution. The Messrs. Falsifiers, however, would not do badly at all if they were to point out at what stage and under what conditions the Bolshevik Party ever built even a semblance of the People’s Front in Russia? Let them strain their imagination and rummage among the historical documents!

“The Bolsheviks did conclude practical agreements with the revolutionary petty-bourgeois organizations, for example, for joint illegal transport of revolutionary literature; sometimes to repulse the Black-Hundred gangs. During elections to the state Duma they did, under certain conditions, enter into electoral blocs with the Mensheviks or the Socialist Revolutionaries, on the second ballot. That is all. No common “programs”, no common and permanent institutions, no renunciation of the criticism of temporary allies. Such episodic agreements and compromises, confined strictly to practical aims – and Lenin never spoke of any other kind – have absolutely nothing in common with the People’s Front which represents a conglomeration of heterogeneous organizations, a long term alliance between different classes, that are bound for an entire period – and what a period! – by a common program and a common policy of parades, declamations and of throwing up smokescreens. The People’s Front will fall to pieces at the first serious test, and deep fissures will open up in all of its component sections. The policy of the People’s Front is the policy of betrayal.”

“The coming parliamentary elections, no matter what their outcome, will not in themselves bring any serious changes into the situation: the voters, in the final analysis, are confronted with the choice between an arbiter of the type of Laval and an arbiter of the type, Herriot-Daladier. But inasmuch as Herriot has peacefully collaborated with Laval, and Daladier has supported them both, the difference between them is entirely insignificant, if measured by the scale of the tasks set by history.

“To pretend that Herriot-Daladier are capable of proclaiming war against the “200 families” who rule France is to dupe the people shamelessly. The 200 families do not hang suspended in mid-air but are the crown of the system of finance capital. To cope with the 200 families it is necessary to overthrow the economic and political régime, in the maintenance of which Herriot and Daladier are just as much interested as Flandin and de la Rocque. The issue here is not a struggle of the “nation” against a handful of magnates as l’Humanité pictures it, but the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. It is a question of the class struggle which can be resolved only by revolution. The strike-breaking conspiracy of the People’s Front has become the chief obstacle on this road.”
France at the Turning Point (March 26, 1936) in Whither France
(https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/whitherfrance/ch03a.htm)

 

 

11
Jan
19

Ocean Warming Is Accelerating Faster Than Previously Thought

The New York Times has coverage of a new report on the speed with which the oceans are warming – https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/climate/ocean-warming-climate-change.html

The report “found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

But as with many of these reports a picture tells a thousand words:

oceansheating

The full report is available here – http://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6423/128

18
Dec
18

Some “Spartoid sillyness” on the method of the Transitional Programme

In response to my blog post of our Facebook discussion concerning our different understandings of the method of the Transitional Programme claimed in a comment that, against my assertion that his last post in the discussion contained nothing new, he had only repeated one point, which I had supposedly failed to refute, and that it contained new material “about the precise way in which the workers government demand is transitional” that was “sufficiently granular to be very difficult to refute”. As this implies I am either a liar or a political idiot I feel compelled to respond with a detailed breakdown of Ian’s last post in the discussion.

So here is Ian’s last post in our discussion with my comments on each point.


 

No, the simple point is this. If we do not lead the working class, we demand that the forces that do lead them do what is necessary in order to secure a working class victory. In a revolutionary situation where dual power exists that is particularly important. In 1917 the Bolsheviks called on the Mensheviks and SRs to break with the 10 capitalist ministers and take power through the Soviets. They refused to do so and the Bolsheviks took power without them.
But what if they had felt compelled to do so? What kind of government would that be? It would be a workers and peasants’ government. Yes. But it would not be the dictatorship of the proletariat. Why not? Because it is led by reformists who cannot lead such a class dictatorship of the workers by their very nature. It would be an episode on the way to the d of the p (or reaction!) but not the proletarian dictatorship itself.

I have already dealt with this.

I have accepted that the slogan of a workers government can refer to forms of government which are short of the D of the P. The example you refer to is explicitly dealt with in the Comintern debates that are reported in the John Riddell links I provided. It is one of the examples of what the Comintern resolution refers to as a “genuine” workers government which is not the dictatorship of the proletariat. The kind of workers government Trotsky said “would represent merely a short episode on the road to the actual dictatorship of the proletariat.” – https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/tp-text2.htm

All you are doing here is agreeing with a point I had made in my previous comment but trying to package it as though I had not already made the point.

This is crucial because such things may occur when communists are a much smaller minority of the class than the Bolsheviks were in 1917. We do demand that the existing leadership of the class do as much of what is necessary as possible, and to force them to do so, but we do not spread the illusion that eg. Jeremy Corbyn can create a proletarian dictatorship. He cannot, and will not.

It seems here that again you are just agreeing with me that a Corbyn led government would be a “workers government” of the first illusory kind as per the Comintern resolution – that is that it is not really a workers government at all.

It is a transitional demand that points the way to the dictatorship of the proletariat without being simply synonymous with the thing itself. It is a bridge to it.

Certainly the “down with the 10 capitalist ministers” demand did form part of an overall programme that is based on using what we would now call the method of the Transitional Programme for that situation. An important demand alongside it in that programme was All Power to the Soviets.

There is nothing different from what I have argued in what you are saying – unless you are saying that the demand for the reformists to take power was transitional in-of-itself separate from it being part of the overall revolutionary programme.

But that is a point I have already repeatedly critiqued which you have refused to be clear about. Earlier in our FB discussion you said “As to transitional demands, yes the programme is a unity” which would seem to indicate some kind of common ground. But you also seem to treat demands as transitional in-of-themselves as per your next point.

On the United States of Europe Trotsky wrote:

“We have to offer a solution to the workers and peasants of torn and ruined Europe, quite independently of how the revolution develops in America, Australia, Asia or Africa. Looked at from this point of view, the slogan of “The United States of Europe” has its place on the same historical plane with the slogan “A Workers’, and Peasants’ Government”; it is a transitional slogan, indicating a way out, a prospect of salvation, and furnishing at the same time a revolutionary impulse for the future.”

In other words, the US of E and the workers and peasants government are ‘coupled’ not in the sense that they must always be raised together, but rather in that the US of E is analogous, ‘on the same historical plane’ as the workers govt on a European scale. They are both transitional, in a similar way but in a different context.

This is just you repeating the same quote you used previously and ignoring the context of the whole article which I have pointed out makes it clear that these issues are necessarily raised together. As per this from the same article you take your quote from:

“It might be argued that we are in reality speaking of a European Socialist Federation as an integral part of the future World Federation, and that such a regime can be brought about only by the dictatorship of the proletariat. We shall not, however, pause to answer this argument, since it has been refuted by the international analysis made during the consideration of the question of a “Workers’, Government”. “The United States of Europe”, is a slogan in every respect corresponding with the slogan “A Workers’, (or Workers’, and Peasants’, Government”. Is the realisation of a “Workers’, Government”, possible without the dictatorship of the proletariat? Only a conditional reply can be given to this question. In any case, we regard the “Workers’ Government”, as a stage toward the dictatorship of the proletariat. Therein lies the great value of this slogan for us. But the slogan “The United States of Europe”, has an exactly similar and parallel significance. Without this supplementary slogan the fundamental problems of Europe must remain suspended in mid-air.
https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1923/06/europe.htm (my emphasis)

A few years later when returning this question Trotsky is more explicit about the link:

“The question of the United States of Europe regarded from the proletarian standpoint was raised by me in September 1914, i.e. at the very beginning of the (last) imperialist war. In the pamphlet, The War and the International, the author of these lines sought to demonstrate that the unification of Europe was irrefutably advanced to the forefront by Europe’s entire economic development, but that the United States of Europe was conceivable only as the political form of the dictatorship of the European proletariat.”

“The formula Soviet United States of Europe is precisely the political expression of the idea that socialism is impossible in one country. Socialism cannot of course attain its full development even in the limits of a single continent. The Socialist United States of Europe represents the historical slogan which is a stage on the road to the world socialist federation.”

“The slogan of the United States of Europe is not a cunning invention of diplomacy. It springs from the immutable economic needs of Europe which emerge all the more painfully and acutely the greater is the pressure of the USA. It is especially now that the Communist parties must counterpose the slogan of the Soviet United States of Europe to the pacifist concoctions of the European imperialists.”

“In the person of the Opposition the vanguard of the European proletariat tells its present rulers: In order to unify Europe it is first of all necessary to wrest power out of your hands. We will do it. We will unite Europe. We will unite it against the hostile capitalist world. We will turn it into a mighty drill-ground of militant socialism. We will make it the cornerstone of the World Socialist Federation.”
https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1929/10/disarm.htm


I don’t want to get into a “my quotes are better than your quotes” pissing match but it would seem that the content Trotsky gives to the slogan United States of Europe in this 1929 article is much more consistent with what I argue about the 1923 piece than your interpretation of his use of United States of Europe.

And more generally Trotsky argues:

“What is the sense of the transitional program? We can call it a program of action, but for us, for our strategic conception, it is a transitional program—it is a help to the masses in overcoming the inherited ideas, methods, and forms and of adapting themselves to the exigencies of the objective situation. This transitional program must include the most simple demands. We cannot foresee and prescribe local and trade union demands adapted to the local situation of a factory, the development from this demand to the slogan for the creation of a workers soviet.

“These are both extreme points, from the development of our transitional program to find the connecting links and lead the masses to the idea of revolutionary conquest of power. That is why some demands appear to be very opportunistic — because they are adapted to the actual mentality of the workers. That is why other demands appear too revolutionary — because they reflect more the objective situation than the actual mentality of the workers. It is our duty to make this gap between objective and subjective factors as short as possible. That is why I cannot overestimate the importance of the transitional program.”
Leon Trotsky, A Summary of Transitional Demands, March 23, 1938 in The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution

So it appears clear that we disagree on this issue of whether demands can be transitional outside the context of an overall programme but you are raising nothing new by repeating your perspective.

The stuff looking for reformists under the bed is just typical Spartoid sillyness

I do accept that this could be seen as a new point though it is not really a serious one.

However I will treat it as if it was serious.

Once again I would merely refer you to the debates in the Comintern as outlined in the material provided by John Riddell. I presume you must think that spending time worrying about how to relate to the reformist led workers parties and coming up with the distinction between “illusory” and “genuine” types of workers governments was just typical Spartoid sillyness.

And in a more general sense the response of the Lenin and the Bolsheviks to the historic betrayal of the reformist leaders of social democracy in August 1914 which they argued necessitated splitting the international workers movement was also just typical Spartoid sillyness.

You may not think that reformism is something for revolutionaries to be aware of as a specific problem for us in the workers movement but I do. And it would seem that I stand in a fine tradition on this issue.

16
Dec
18

Discussion with a centrist over the method of the Transitional Programme and the Workers Government slogan

In a recent Facebook post Dov Winter announced he had changed his previous position of supporting Britain remaining in the EU to one of abstention between remain and leave as per the final sentence in his post:

“The working class and its parties should not argue for the lesser evil attacks, but how to fight back, no matter what the results from Brexit over being in the EU.”

Dov is currently quite close to the Socialist Fight group in Britain and Ian Donovan intervened in the discussion to try to convince Dov back to his previous position. As part of that Ian made the claim that calling for a United States of Europe was a transitional demand.

I defended what I understood to be how the method of the Transitional Programme (TP) would be used in this context.

There followed a long discussion, primarily between Ian and myself, over the method of the TP and leading on to how the Workers Government slogan might be used.

As these are quite important issues for those describing themselves as revolutionary Marxists I felt it might be of interest to the slightly wider audience on my blog.

I apologise in advance for some intemperate language near the end as I became increasingly frustarted by Ian’s refusal to engage directly with the issues.

Anyway here is the discussion.


Ian Donovan
We do have a side on the question of economic ties between European nations. We want to fuse them into a multinational, federal body, a United States of Europe. In fact we demand that the bourgeoisie does this, to expose the fact that they cannot and will not do so. This was the position of the Communist movement under Lenin and Trotsky. So called ‘Lexit’ is flatly counterposed to that, and neutrality is ambivalent on it.
Dov Winter
The United States of Europe is far from being established by the EU. The heavy weights of Europe: Britain, France and Germany, run the show. And Germany is the dominate imperialist country in Europe that still has the last word when it comes to loans with austerities against the weak European countries.

The 2008 depression or “severe recession”, is far from resolved in Europe. In fact, Brexits is partially about the economic stagnation of Europe, and the delusion of the British bourgeoisie that breaking from Europe can resolve the problems of consistent recessions or stagnations. As long as capitalism prevails in Europe, the deepening economic crisis may force individual countries to break with the EU, as they compete with each other. Imperialism, in which the imperialist countries compete with each other is still a fundamental feature of the imperialist epoch. Unless, you take Kautsky’s position of super-imperialism that Lenin tore to pieces.
Ian Donovan
Dov Winter I agree that the EU is not the United States of Europe, and will not become such a thing because the bourgeoisies that make it up are not capable of uniting Europe.

But we do demand of them the measures that would constitute such a body. Fiscal as well as monetary union. Writing off of national debts. National-regional levelling up not austerity for Greece etc. Democratic political union.

We want a European-wide workers movement to form up and try to force these things on the bourgeoisie, and thus learn through experience the need to overthrow them on a continental level.

This is why the United States of Europe demand is transitional. Brexit is counterposed to that perspective. And the IBT-CPGB neutral position that I used to hold is merely abstentionist, not transitional.

Trotsky’s essay on this was one of his first elaborations of transitional demands. An excellent and much ignored essay.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1923/06/europe.htm
Alan Gibson
Good grief.

The EU is not the Unites States of Europe that Trotsky is referring to – correct.

We demand of them the measures that would constitute such a body – incorrect.

As Trotsky makes clear the slogan/demand of a United States of Europe can only be used by Marxists when it is combined with calling for a Workers Government (or a Workers and Peasants Government as was still more applicable in his time).

Using United States of Europe (on its own without the link to a workers government) as part of demands on the imperialist bourgeoisie who dominate the EU is a complete bastardisation of what Trotsky is arguing. It shows you have no idea of how to apply the method of the Transitional Programme which always links immediate demands under capitalism as part of an overall programme that points through to the seizure of power.

By itself the United States of Europe demand is not transitional (in the Trotskyist sense of the term). In the article Trotsky refers to doing that as being a variation of Kautskyism.
Dov Winter
Many, who call themselves Marxists, tend to quote the great Marxists out of historical context. So, we must take Trotsky writing on the “United States of Europe” in the historical context. He wrote about the “United States of Europe” after the First World War; after Europe was balkanized and torn by the war, and as the masses saw the limitations of the national imperialist states that caused massive destruction and death by the war. It is clear that after the war, the slogan of the “United states of Europe” would appeal to the exhausted masses. I don’t think that reception for the slogan is the same today. However, this slogan is still valid when it is linked to transitional demands that point the needed struggles on the road for working class power.

In and by itself, the “United States of Europe” is not a transitional demand. But Trotsky argue, that it has transitional character when linked to Workers and Peasants’ Government: “In connection with the slogan of ‘A Workers’, and Peasants’ Government’, the time is appropriate, in my opinion, for issuing the slogan of ‘The United States of Europe’. Only by coupling these two slogans shall we get a definite systematic and progressive response to the most burning problems of European development. . . The slogan, “workers’ and farmers’ government, is thus acceptable to us only in the sense that it had in 1917 with the Bolsheviks, i.e., as an anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist slogan. but in no case in that ‘democratic’ sense which later the epigones gave it, transforming it from a bridge to Socialist revolution into the chief barrier upon its path.” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1923/06/europe.htm)

So, together with “Workers and Peasants Government”, a “United States of Europe” becomes part of the transitional demands, “a bridge to Socialist revolution”. It also means a working class power via alliances with the oppressed sector of farmers, day laborers, etc. To work, such an alliance must be dominated by the proletariat. We need to tell European workers that only by establishing their own government run by directly by the workers (Soviets, or other forms of workers organs) can they stop the austerities measures and other attacks against the working class by the European bourgeoisie.

When agitating for the “United States of Europe”, we need to tell the workers that it is necessary to go beyond the present capitalist bankrupted EU; that the workers can have real power only if they expropriate the European bourgeoisie. In other words, the “United States of Europe” can be used only as a transitional slogan linked to the workers struggle to take power, and it ultimately linked to the “Socialist United States of Europe”. When exactly it is time change the “United States of Europe” to the “Socialist United States of Europe” depends on the development of the class struggle in Europe, and the workers’ consciousness. The crux of the matter is to bring forward the workers’ consciousness to the next level as they fight for the “United States of Europe”; from the imperative need for the unity of the working class in Europe as it fights against the capitalist attacks, to the only way to defend workers’ unity in Europe, through the struggle for workers power in Europe.
Dov Winter
I am not arguing that the EU is reactionary. It has some Ok elements since its establishment in Nov. 1, 1993, such as the ability of European workers to cross the borders and work in different European countries without hassles; and the EU has a common market among the members with no tariff or impediments to the flow of labor and goods, etc. The EU is good for individual workers who can find a job by moving to different European countries. These measures are certainly good for European imperialism, as it tries to prevail against US imperialism. And it is also good for European companies who can sell their products in different European countries without worrying about tariffs.

But the main question for Marxists is whether the EU enhanced working class struggles and solidarity across the European borders. And the answer to this is far from clear. I don’t think that the level of class struggle and working class solidarity has risen in Europe because of the EU. The historical reasons for the rise and fall of the class struggle depend on the leadership, and the level of militancy of the workers. One can even argue that austerity measures are worse since the establishment of the EU, because the EU demands a cap on public spending, which forces individual countries to force austerity on the throat of the workers. The bottom line is that the class struggle does not depend on the EU, but the leadership (or the lack of it) of the struggles and strikes.
Ian Donovan
Actually the worst austerity effects have been caused by the Euro, not the EU per se. Monetary Union without fiscal union.

It means that in weaker countries like Greece, the currency is persistently overvalued, which forces their economy into permanent depression.

At the same time the strongest economies – Germany! – have an undervalued currency vis-a-vis Greece etc. and thus suck wealth out of those poorer nations.

The solution to this is a proper fiscal union, in effect the abolition of separate national economies. So the whole becomes fully responsible for the parts. That’s what the European workers movement must demand of the bourgeoisie.

It will learn in practice that the bourgeoisie cannot do this, is not capable of doing it, and will hsve to be expropriated to make it happen.

That’s why these demands are transitional, aimed at the EU bourgeois they point to getting rid of them.
Alan Gibson
Demands on the imperialist bourgeoisie to create a United States of Europe are not transitional – that is just reformist Kautskyism.

The demand for United States of Europe only becomes transitional when it is directly linked to the demand for a Workers Government.
Ian Donovan
Alan Gibson Hm. Not a transitional demand eh?

“..the slogan of ‘The United States of Europe’ has its place on the same historical plane with the slogan ‘A Workers’, and Peasants’ Government’; it is a transitional slogan, indicating a way out, a prospect of salvation, and furnishing at the same time a revolutionary impulse for the future.”

Clearly LDT did regard it as transitional.

In other words its not ‘linked’ to the demand for a workers’ and peasants’ government. It is ANALOGOUS to that demand on a European scale.

The Sparts and Spartoids have a real problem with this essay. It explicitly contradicts JR’s dictum that the ‘workers [and peasants’] government’ slogan is synonymous with the dictatorship of the proletatiat.

Trotsky in this essay explicitly contradicted that, saying it is a step towards the d of the p, but not the same thing.

Likewise, Trotsky does not even equate the United States of Europe (USE) slogan with the Workers and Peasants government slogan. He rather says “they are on the same historical plane”. Ie. the first is the European equivalent of the second. But both are not synonymous with the proletarian dictatorship. They are on the plane of the existing regime.

But the call for the workers and peasants govt has a defined class content. It is therefore transitional to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But the United States of Europe slogan? It contains no class element, even in words. How is it transitional then?

Because it demands of the bourgeoisie something they cannot do, that only the proletariat can do. It aims to teach that to the masses through their own experience of trying to force the bourgeoisie to carry that out.

In rejecting this, the Spartacist tradition and the BT/IBT effectively reject the transitional element of the transitional programme. Which amounts to rejecting the transitional programme itself.
Alan Gibson
Ian, I am not going to take advice about the TP from someone who early doesn’t understand the actual method of the TP.

No demand/slogan is transitional by itself.

Demands & slogans only become transitional as part of an integrated programme that leads to the seizure of power.

As Trotsky explicitly points out about this particular demand/slogan of United States of Europe:

“…If we isolate this slogan from slogans of “A Workers Government”, of the united front, and from the class struggle we shall certainly end in democratised Wilsonism, i.e. in Kautskyism…”

Dov also makes a useful contribution about the details of slogans & demands as part of a programme only making sense in their historical context which I would endorse.
Ian Donovan
Alan Gibson You do not mention Trotsky’s point about pacifism, i.e. promoting the idea that imperialist powers that in his day were still at daggers drawn over who dominates even Western and Central Europe, could peacefully grow together. That was the context.

As usual when context comes up, the BT blather on abstractly but never elaborate.

Classically like when Riley said that Trotsky’s remark about centrists who “peddle their wares in the shadow of the popular front” was timeless. He said it “did not need to be contextualised”. In other words, irrespective of what the author meant, these words could be used, Alice-in-Wonderland style, to justify anything Robertson wanted to justify. That is just political cynicism.

No. Its you who do not understand the transitional programme. Trotsky explicitly makes clear here that the demand for a workers and peasants government is NOT simply synonymous with the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is a step towards it.

The point being that if it is so synonymous, it is no longer really transitional. It becomes a maximum demand. By insisting on this, JR sabotages the transitional element of the transitional programme.

So WHO does not understand the TP? Whose political mentor is hostile to the entire method of the TP?
Alan Gibson
I don’t know how to respond to this as it does not address the point I made but I will try.

If you now agree that posing the demand for a United States of Europe without it being part of a programme that links it with issues like calling for a workers government, class struggle, united fronts, expropriation of the capitalists, for workers militia etc then it is simply a reformist demand then we are in agreement.

If you recognise that any demand taken by itself is not transitional then we agree.

If you recognise that there will be demands in any programme based on applying the method of the TP that can be met by our capitalist rulers but become transitional because of being part of the overall programme then we agree.

If you recognise that within a programme based on applying the method of the TP there will be demands that take in isolation can either be met or not met by our capitalist rulers (which are separated into minimum and maximum programmes in the politics of reformism, of either Menshevik or Stalinist forms) then we agree.

However if you still want to use United States of Europe as a standalone demand and describe it as “transitional” merely because you say the imperialists are incapable of fulfilling it then we disagree.

As an aside about the workers government I would refer you to Riddell’s recent work on re-translating the initial debates about the use of the term which does indeed seem to place it more like what you seem to think would be a maximum demand.

Even the fact that you want to call a demand a maximum demand (and by implication other demands as minimum demands) shows you don’t understand the method of the TP.

This is all laid out in the introduction to the IBT’s edition of the TP (an intro reflecting the perspective of my “mentor” Tom Riley – though I think of him as a comrade rather than a “mentor”. And your use of the term makes me wonder who your “mentor” is now – is it Gerry?).

It would seem you disagree with the understanding of the method of the TP outlined in that intro – maybe time for another SF polemic exposing the rotten politics of the IBT tradition?
http://www.bolshevik.org/tp/IBT_TP_1_Introduction.html
Ian Donovan
Alan Gibson How is it reformist to demand of the existing European Union something that would involve destroying the separate state powers of imperialist powers like the UK, France, Germany and Italy?

Do you seriously believe that the United States of Europe can be achieved without destroying these state powers?

If you do, it is your methodology that is reformist, not ours.

We advocate the use of class struggle methods, up to and including general strikes, to force the bourgeoisie to collectivise the debts of nations like Greece through a full European fiscal union. In the struggle to do this, the masses will learn that the bourgeoisie cannot do this, and in order to carry it through the proletariat will have to take power on a pan-European level. That is clearly transitional.

Trotsky’s polemic raising Kautsky was against the idea of the peaceful growing together of France and Germany in an extended period when they were antagonists for European domination.

But ultimately, after WWII, these bourgeoisies were forced to bury the hatchet by the rise of US imperialism to world dominance. This was not a pacific process. So that context no longer exists.

There are bourgeois forces in Europe and particularly Britain who seek to undo what European integration exists. That is 100% counterposed to the United States of Europe demand.

Therefore we are opposed to these forces. From the point of view of the objective need for a united states of Europe under working class rule, these tendencies are retrograde and drive apart the proletariat along national lines.

You are ambivalent on this. We are not.
Alan Gibson
A set of demands that are aimed at forcing the bourgeoisie to do things is a reformist programne based on the Menshevik/Stalinist minimum-maximum approach to programme.

The Bolshevik-Leninist method of the Transitional Programme counterposes an integrated approach of combining immediate and more radical reformist demands from the old minimum programme with demands which get across towards the seizure of power from the old maximum programme

The method of the TP rejects the objectivism of “the masses will learn from this radical minimum programme that the bourgeoisie will not carry this out and then, and only then, we can start raising maximum demands about working class power”.

Read the first section of IBT’s pamphlet on the reformist politics of the CWI for a better explanation of this.

Perhaps you can add a defence of the approach you seem to share with the CWI on this question into your polemic against the IBT tradition’s rejection of the minimum/maximum approach you seem to think the method of the TP is using.

http://bolshevik.org/Pamphlets/CWI/militant_reformism.html
Ian Donovan
Alan Gibson So how about forcing the bourgeoisie to concede a sliding scale of wages, a sliding scale of hours, 30 for 40, etc. Is this reformist also?

Sectarianism is opportunism in fear of itself. You, and your Spart mentors, feared that they would capitulate and become reformists themselves if they actually did try to use transitional demands in the manner Trotsky advocated.

So JR sabotaged this by modifying these demands so they were no longer transitional, no longer a bridge, but instead became part of the maximum programme. You dont need a bridge to help the masses cross over if your real programme is to pull up the drawbridge for fear of being ‘contaminated’ by the reformist-influenced masses.

No, unlike the CWI, we dont think socialism can come through an Enabling Act in parliament. We opt for workers councils, smashing the state, that old-fashioned Leninism.

And btw the CWI are Lexiteers. You are closer to them than we are.
Alan Gibson
If you are saying your demand for a United States of Europe is part of the same integrated programme as demands that pose the question of power then we don’t disagree.

So as regards the demand for a sliding scale of wages. If it is part of a minimum programme of demands that excludes demands posing the question of power then yes it is a reformist demand.

If the demand for a sliding scale of wages is part of a programme also integrating demands that pose the question of power then it is a transitional demand.

You originally posed the issue of the demand for a United States of Europe in isolation as being “transitional” in-of-itself.

That is all I objected to.

I have argued that just like any other demand it is reformist or transitional depending on the programmatic context within which it is raised.

I think Trotsky is pretty explicit about this as well (as outlined in the two documents by the IBT I have linked to).

Stop dancing around the question. Do you agree with this approach or not?

Your continued use of the term “maximum programme” which doesn’t really exist as a concept for anyone using the IBT’s approach tends to indicate that you do not (part of what you learnt from the time John Bridge was your “mentor”?). But just come out and say it either way.
Ian Donovan
Alan Gibson Er no, John Bridge was not my mentor. He rejects the whole concept of transitional demands. He agrees with you on the EU. Does that not tell you something?

Yes, the United States of Europe demand is linked to the need for proletarian power. Thats the whole point of it. The bourgeoisie cannot carry it out. In the struggle to force it into existence the working class learns this in practice.

The maximum programme does exist for JR. His position is that the workers government slogan simply means the d of the p. Trotsky says different in that very article! JR rejects the use of transitional demands.

The equivalent approach in Europe would be to reject Trotsky’s demand for a ‘United States of Europe’ and call for a ‘Socialist United States of Europe’ instead. That is not transitional.

Obviously the Sparts have never endorsed Trotsky’s approach. Their ‘principled’ anti-EU position has been in place since around 1973. They have never endorsed Trotsky’s essay, in fact the two are incompatible. That’s why today the SL/B sound like Ukip.

Obviously the BT to their credit reject that. But you have never endorsed that Trotsky essay either to my knowledge. Its too much at odds with the Spart position.
Alan Gibson
So maybe you agree with me?

Except you say there is a “concept of transitional demands” which is something I reject in the way you are using it as meaning something intrinsic about a demand separate from the overall programme it is part of.

For instance even when you say the United States of Europe demand is linked to the need for proletarian power you pose it in terms of a standalone demand that is transitional because the bourgeoisie cannot carry it out.

Nothing about it needing to be in the context of an overall programme.

And an implication that for any demand to be “transitional” it has to meet that criteria of the bourgeoisie not being able to implement it.

By implication you are therefore saying that any demand that can be met by the bourgeoisie cannot be transitional.

We might be using the same term but your content is quite different.

The IBT has written on this explaining our understanding of the method of the TP.

Have you or SF done something similar for your very different understanding of that method?
Alan Gibson
And while we are talking about different use of terms what about “mentor”.

You have described James Robertson and Tom Riley as my mentors. I have never met Jim Robertson or ever been in the same organisation as him. So I fail to see how he could be my mentor.

I have met Tom Riley a few times at IBT international conferences and I was in the same organisation as him for a long time – though physically separated by thousands of miles.

I guess if my primary political skills were literary there could be a case for saying he was my mentor as it would be fair to say that Tom was the main theoretician of the IBT. However I am only a barely adequate political writer and my main skills are in the area of political campaigning. So once again it is hard to see how Tom could be a mentor in any useful sense of the term.

To the extent anyone could be described as a political mentor it would be the political team of Bill Logan and Adaire Hannah who trained me in the general approach to Marxist politics. But even then it is a stretch to call them mentors as they had a conscious approach to cadre building which was much more like “throw them in and see if they swim” than mentoring as most people would understand the term.

To the extent I have developed a political personality I am largely self-taught from my time in London and more recently Cork. In London I was part of a collective with no standout comrade with more political experience than the others who could play the role of mentor. Though I have probably did some mentoring of my own for some of the newer comrades in the London IBT.

So I wonder how you are using the term. It seems something like “senior political figure” in the group I have been in (Tom) and in the tradition the IBT are part of (Jim).

But when I used the term in that way regarding your time in the CPGB you draw umbrage.

So I am left wondering what content you are giving the term “mentor” as nothing seems to fit. Can you clarify how you are using it?
Ian Donovan
Alan Gibson Im not talking about personal mentoring. Im talking about the tradition you are defending.

I dont ‘take umbrage’ at you saying John Bridge is my mentor. To a degree on the party question you have a point, but only to the extent that he pointed out the contradiction between Bolshevik practice and that of the Trotskyist movement. He was right about that.

However he never located the source of the error. It was not in the Trotskyist movement per se but at the third congress of the Comintern. In the Org resolution which Lenin subsequently expressed vague unease about without quite putting his finger on what exactly was wrong with it.

The article in the new SF, which should be online shortly, addresses that.

As to transitional demands, yes the programme is a unity. But certain demands within it do have a particular element that address questions that are felt needs, but which raise questions the bourgeoisie cannot deal with.

It seems to your tradition Trotskyism and the TP are not enough. You have to have something else, to distinguish you and make you special. Except it doesn’t. It just subverts the ethos of the TP itself.

The polemic over the workers government being simply a synonym for the d of the p was a major polemical totem of the Sparts in the 70s. The BT have never criticised it. That is a prime example of what I mean. The Spart tradition is not Trotskyist.
Dov Winter
Ian Donovan While Trotsky did not raise the call for “a Socialist United States of Europe”, that does not mean that this cannot be raised in the proper historical context. When, for example, there are simultaneous socialist revolutions in a number of European countries, the slogan of “a Socialist United States of Europe” could be not only correct, but critical for the linkage of these revolutions, and for the inevitable struggle against Stalinism and the concept of “socialism in one country”.

Nor, does it mean that we cannot raise the need for world socialism, in a specific article, which is even more advanced demand than the “a Socialist United States of Europe”. For example, when dealing with the dire situation of Climate Change, it is imperative to say that only planned economy via world socialism can transform the outdated technology of fossil fuel and stop the spewing of green gases to the atmosphere.

And I don’t see anything wrong in posing, against the capitalist “European Union”, the “Socialist United States of Europe”. The masses may not see clearly the difference between the “European Union” and the “United States of Europe”. So why is it so wrong to call for “a Socialist United States of Europe”? (Talking about historical context, let not forget that the European Union did not exist in Trotsky’s days).

Today “a Socialist United States of Europe” is not an agitational slogan, but rather a propagandistic slogan (and it is likely to remain this way as long as we remain a propaganda group). It can be used against Stalinism “Socialism in One Country”, and Social Democracy “Capitalism Today and Socialism in the Far Future”.
Ian Donovan
Dov Winter I dont necessarily disagree with any of this depending on the context or the consciousness of the working class. The point I was making was really about the Sparts’ tendency to counterpose more ‘left’ demands out of the maximum programme to transitional demands, thus in reality doing away with the transitional element. When the decisive element of the working class has a revolutionary consciousness the transitional element becomes superfluous as the class has already crossed the ‘bridge’.
Alan Gibson
Ian, Do I take your comment that “the programme is a unity” to be agreement with the perspective I outlined on what the method of the TP means? A simple yes would have sufficed.

I do note that you still seem to be just making stuff up as far as I can see.

Show me anywhere in IBT material where they have ever shown a “tendency to counterpose more ‘left’ demands out of the maximum programme to transitional demands”.

Or evidence that for the IBT “Trotskyism and the TP are not enough. You have to have something else, to distinguish you and make you special.”

Or any examples of anything like that in the material I have produced in Ireland, attempting to apply the IBT’s understanding of the TP, as part of my engagement in the campaigns for abortion rights and against the household and water charges.

https://revolutionaryprogramme.wordpress.com/

If you don’t mean mentoring then don’t use the term. Use Gerry’s “golden thread” – at least people will know what you are talking about even if it is meaningless sub-political rubbish.

I can hardly wait to see SF’s version of the CPGB’s Kautskyite revisionism…
Ian Donovan
Alan Gibson I just gave you an example from the iSt, not the IBT. But the IBT consider themselves to be the revolutionary continuators of the iSt in its ‘healthy period’ before its ‘degeneration’.

This position, falsely claiming that the workers government demand in the TP is simply a pseudonymn for the dictatorship of the proletariat, was one of their central polemical points in the 1970s (along with their position on workers parties in popular fronts).

Im not attacking you personally. Just expressing surprise at youse (plural) failure to defend this classic ‘healthy’ Spart position – against Trotsky himself.

If youse hold that you are the continuators of the ‘revolutionary’ iSt (which the BT do) then the Golden Thread jibe is not ‘sub-political’ at all. Ditto for ‘mentoring’. Just the same concept in less flattering words.

There’s no Kautsky in our material on the party question. Only Lenin and Bolshevik practice. Lenin never kept strategic differences in his party secret for a decade, or at all as far as I can see.
Alan Gibson
Have you read John Riddell’s research on use of the Workers Government slogan? Using it as synonymous with the D of the P was one of the two main positions held in the Comintern on its use.

The only people who consider it to be some kind of political heresy are those who want to use it to describe reformist workers parties administering a capitalist government.

Now you could make a case that it is inconsistent with the position of the Comintern to completely rule out using it to describe any of the transitional forms which are not quite the D of the P.

But arguing that the IBT (or the revolutionary Sparts) hold that view would require more evidence.

And in general finding an isolated quote (or in this case a remembrance) from the early Sparts and then constructing a “golden thread” argument as “proof” that the IBT is politically rotten is pathetic.

Are you presenting this as your “evidence” of the IBT misunderstanding the method of the TP?

Trying to separate me from your criticism is ridiculous. I am applying the method of the IBT. If this original sin was true then it would be reflected in my material. Just as it would be reflected more widely in IBT material.

But you don’t see the need to find this evidence – probably because you know it doesn’t exist.

So instead you rely on the “golden thread” bullshit. And a very tenuous example of that bullshit at that.

Pathetic.
Ian Donovan
Alan Gibson Well Trotsky in the essay on the US of Europe treats it as a transitional form preparatory to the establishment of a workers state. The Comintern produced a nuanced list of various different kinds of ‘workers government’.

And of course the allegation that anyone who questions JR’s narrative on this, and puts forward a more nuanced position, is a reformist, is pure Robertson. Fear that if such nuances are admitted to exist, they would capitulate. Opportunism in fear of itself.

As for ‘evidence’ on this, look at the issue of Spartacist headlined “Centrists search for halfway house – a ‘workers government’ without revolution”. On the front page.

Looking at the Trotsky essay on the United States of Europe, Trotsky would have had to be included in these ‘centrists’. As with the question of voting for workers parties in popular fronts.

I didnt try to separate you from the IBT. Thats why I used the Scots dialect second person plural ‘Youse’ to make clear I was talking about the BT collectively, not you personally. It seems the BT are very sensitive of its continuity with the Sparts being criticised. There is nothing apolitical about criticising this.
Alan Gibson
Read the fucking material.

Trotsky posits the United States of Europe as transitional to the D of the P ONLY to the extent it occurs under a workers government.

Your demands on the imperialist rulers of the European states to forge a United States of Europe is something quite different.

The method of the TP does not rely on implied conclusions being drawn by the working class. If our United States of Europe is necessarily linked to a workers government then we say so.

Yes there are indeed different forms of governmental forms which are covered by the Comintern’s use of “workers government” (as I referred to in my previous comment!). But I am left to speculate whether your use of “nuanced” is a code for including things like a Corbyn led LP government administering capitalism…

So do you have a link to that issue of Spartacist? Or even which year?

Maybe I will agree with you that are wrong on this issue – but so what?

You have stated that the IBT (including me) are guilty of an ultra-left interpretation of the method of the TP. I have asked for evidence and all you provide is your interpretation of one article by the Sparts. Even if you are right about that it is not evidence of anything about the politics of the IBT. You do understand that don’t you?

I stand by the IBT view of the Revolutionary Tendency and early Spartacists as representing revolutionary continuity of Trotskyism (and therefore revolutionary Marxism) against the Pabloite degeneration of post-war Trotskyism.

I have no problem with critiques of that assessment.

However that does not mean I have to defend every position taken by them during this period. Or that I am forced to defend every interpretation any centrist makes of what they said about anything.

It is highly ironic that the only other political group I have ever experienced taking anything like the approach of you and Gerry is the Sparts in their current cultish sectarian form.
Alan Gibson
So I have found the Spartacist article online – https://www.regroupment.org/main/page_wg2.html

The first thing to note is that it is from 1979 which is well into the beginning of the political degeneration of the Sarts. This is made clear in the 1982 “Declaration of an external tendency of the iSt” (http://www.bolshevik.org/ETB/ET_Declaration.html). Although no definitive date for the ending of the revolutionary period of the Sparts is outlined this document points to various examples from the mid-70s onward which show the beginnings of that process.

This is therefore a fairly tenuous example of the supposed “golden thread” even to the extent that idea touches on something real – which of course it doesn’t in the way the phrase is used by Ian and Gerry.

That being said I think this 1979 article is actually a fine document.

I agree with the argument that IN GENERAL Bolsheviks use the Workers Government slogan as a shorthand for the dictatorship of the proletariat while recognising that there can sometimes be other transitional governmental forms which the term can also cover. These other governmental forms “would represent merely a short episode on the road to the actual dictatorship of the proletariat.” (to quote Trotsky from the Transitional Programme – https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/tp-text2.htm).

As the article points out we can sometimes even find Trotsky being very categorical in terms of conflating the Workers Government slogan with the dictatorship of the proletariat.

“The important thing is that we ourselves under­stand and make the others understand that the farmers, the exploited farmers, cannot be saved from utter ruin, degradation, demoralization, except by a Workers and Farmers Government, and that this is nothing but the dictatorship of the proletariat, that this is the only possible form of a Workers and Farmers Government.
(‘Conversation on the Slogan “Workers and Farmers Government”‘, Writings 1938-39 [first edition])

Perhaps Ian will want to take this as proof that Trotsky also shared what he claims is the IBT’s misunderstanding of the method of the Transitional Programme?

I would of course take it as proof that the IBT and Trotsky do share the same political method – just that it is not a mistaken approach.

For anyone following this discussion thread who is interested in really understanding the positions of, and discussions that took place within, the Comintern on this question I would refer them to John Riddell’s excellent new research:

https://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/the-comintern%e2%80%99s-unknown-decision-on-workers%e2%80%99-governments/
https://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/the-cominterns-workers-government-debate-1-introduction/
https://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/the-comintern-workers-government-debate-2-delegate-speeches/
https://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/the-comintern-workers-government-debate-3-resolution/
https://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/the-comintern-workers-government-debate-4-background/

The key issue here is the distinction between what the final Comintern Thesis, as opposed to the draft which had been taken as the final position before Riddell’s research, describes as “Illusory” and “Genuine” Workers Governments.

The Spartacist article is a polemic against those on the left, particularly among the Pabloite Trotskyist left, who want to give the Workers Government slogan the content of what the Comintern classed as the illusory forms instead of limiting communist propaganda and agitation to promoting the genuine forms.

Like the Spartacist article I oppose this Pabloite use of the Workers Government slogan.

I am left to wonder if Ian’s rant means that this is actually what he wants to use the slogan for…
Ian Donovan
Alan Gibson No, the simple point is this. If we do not lead the working class, we demand that the forces that do lead them do what is necessary in order to secure a working class victory. In a revolutionary situation where dual power exists that is particularly important. In 1917 the Bolsheviks called on the Mensheviks and SRs to break with the 10 capitalist ministers and take power through the Soviets. They refused to do so and the Bolsheviks took power without them.

But what if they had felt compelled to do so? What kind of government would that be? It would be a workers and peasants’ government. Yes. But it would not be the dictatorship of the proletariat. Why not? Because it is led by reformists who cannot lead such a class dictatorship of the workers by their very nature. It would be an episode on the way to the d of the p (or reaction!) but not the proletarian dictatorship itself.

This is crucial because such things may occur when communists are a much smaller minority of the class than the Bolsheviks were in 1917. We do demand that the existing leadership of the class do as much of what is necessary as possible, and to force them to do so, but we do not spread the illusion that eg. Jeremy Corbyn can create a proletarian dictatorship. He cannot, and will not.

It is a transitional demand that points the way to the dictatorship of the proletariat without being simply synonymous with the thing itself. It is a bridge to it.

On the United States of Europe Trotsky wrote:

“We have to offer a solution to the workers and peasants of torn and ruined Europe, quite independently of how the revolution develops in America, Australia, Asia or Africa. Looked at from this point of view, the slogan of “The United States of Europe” has its place on the same historical plane with the slogan “A Workers’, and Peasants’ Government”; it is a transitional slogan, indicating a way out, a prospect of salvation, and furnishing at the same time a revolutionary impulse for the future.”

In other words, the US of E and the workers and peasants government are ‘coupled’ not in the sense that they must always be raised together, but rather in that the US of E is analogous, ‘on the same historical plane’ as the workers govt on a European scale. They are both transitional, in a similar way but in a different context.

The stuff looking for reformists under the bed is just typical Spartoid sillyness.
Alan Gibson
You have just repeated your earlier arguments without addressing anything I raised in my previous comment. There is nothing you raise in this comment that I have not already responded to.

I guess that does at least make the differences clear.

However it is obvious that you are not interested in having an actual discussion so we may as well end it here. Your comment can be the last substantive comment as I see little point in repeating responses I have already made.

You can also feel free to claim my refusal to make a substantive reply as some kind of “victory” in our discussion. I am confident that any attentive reader will recognise the opposite is the truth.




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