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.


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.



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