By Sean Matgamna
O, sing me not that song again
My lovely Nora, dear,
The strong, the proud defiant strain
It breaks my heart to hear.Charles J Kickham
Reading through some old issues of the East End News and Chronicle (I think I might have mentioned by local labour history nerd-ism before), I stumbled across this short article. Although much as changed since the days when Socialist was spelt with a capital 'S' and paragraphs went on forever, some things haven't - notably, it seems to me, hostility from union bureaucrats to rank-and-file initiative and, linked to that, terror on the part of Labour right-wingers about the prospects of actually changing the world.
BOLSHEVISM IN ENGLAND - A WARNING TO LABOUR
The Bureaucratic Collectivist/State Capitalist theory says that a new ruling class emerged in the Soviet Union. This class ruled not by ownership, but by control of the meansof production. If this theory were true then by the time the USSR collapsed such a class should have consolidated itself like all such classes and castes by passing on this control to its children. If true then the Godfather of this class should have been the child of some high ranking bureuacrat. What in fact was Mikhail Gorbachev's background.
Notes for AWL day school 5 and 18 November 2006, on the Russian Revolution.
8 November 1917
The workers’ and peasants’ government, created by the Revolution of 6-7 November and basing itself on the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, calls upon all the belligerent peoples and their governments to start immediate negotiations for a just, democratic peace.
By Dan Jakopovich
Fifty years have passed since the great uprising of the Hungarian people against the Stalinist dictatorship.
The long history of Stalinism and the struggle against it encompasses all the problems of the international labor movement for the past thirty-three years Many articles, pamphlets and books—classics of Marxism—have been written in the course of this long struggle. It is the most important question in the world because it directly affects the struggle for socialism at every point.
Fifty years ago, in 1956, the cult of Josef Stalin — the man who had imposed terror on the workers of the USSR while simultaneously being revered by millions of workers as the “genius” leader of world communism — was abruptly shattered. USSR leader Nikita Khruschev, denounced him. Khrushchev’s speech caused huge crises in Communist Parties across the world.
Events in East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in
1968 showed the anti-working class character of Stalinism. But, more
importantly, it demonstrated workers' ability to oppose Stalinism. In
Hungary in 1956, workers set up factory councils and district-based
revolutionary councils to maintain the general strike.
Eric Hobsbawm somewhere discusses one of the oddest conundrums in labour historiography, one paralleled now in the historiography of IS/SWP: the 20th century reputation of the Fabian Society as far-sighted pioneers of independent labour representation - the gap between what was and what is afterwards widely accepted as having been.
What follows is a summary of the political and ideological traditions on which Workers’ Liberty and Solidarity base ourselves.
Isaac Newton famously summed up the importance of studying, learning, and building on forerunners. “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”, he wrote, referring to René Descartes, his contemporary Robert Hooke, and presumably also to his direct predecessor Isaac Barrow.
In science few people think they can neglect the “tradition” and rely on improvisation. In politics, alas, too many.
This excerpt from Leon Trotsky’s “New Course”, written in December 1923, delineates the fundamental characteristics of the Bolshevism which Trotsky advocated and defended against the encroachment of Stalinism.
Leninism cannot be conceived of without theoretical breadth, without a critical analysis of the material bases of the political process. The weapon of Marxian investigation must be constantly sharpened and applied. It is precisely in this that tradition consists, and not in the substitution of a formal reference or of an accidental quotation.
La vie et l'œuvre d'un grand historien, par Vincent Présumey
Il faut donner le goût de la vérité. C'est ainsi que la science s'est formée. C'est ainsi que la révolution forge la victoire. Marceau PIVERT.
The Russian Question: A debate between Raya Dunayevskaya and Max Shachtman
May 25, 1947
Arguing that the educational work of Marxists was essential if the “spontaneous” working class trade “unionist” movement were to become socialist, Marxist movement, Lenin cites the experience of the German labour movement.
Lenin’s 1902 book, What Is To Be Done, is one of the most important of all the great texts of revolutionary Marxism.
Lenin’s What Is To Be Done?, written in late 1901 and early 1902, is one of the most important books ever written. Certainly it is one of the most important socialist texts in existence.
SINEAD ASH reviews “The Russian Revolution in Colour”, Channel 5
Put out over two weeks in two one-hour parts, The Russian Revolution in Colour was — to judge by the second part — largely a work of historical fiction. Fascinating scraps of old black and white film — of Lenin, Trotsky, demonstrators — were coloured up and spliced into long sections of “dramatisations” and “reconstructions” to let a continuous story, told by a voiceover narrator, unfold on the screen.
I’m not in the least bit concerned about Eric Lee being “harsh”, but I am concerned by what seems like a conscious attempt to misstate the historical facts and misrepresent my arguments (“Respect the Mensheviks”, Solidarity 3/68).
Sacha Ismail’s response to my article on Menshevism confirms my belief that even in the very best Trotskyist organizations, members remain ill-informed about the very foundations of their politics.
By Martin Thomas
“The organisation of the capitalist mode of production, once fully developed, breaks down all resistance… The dull compulsion of economic relations completes the subjection of the labourer to the capitalist. Direct force, outside economic conditions, is of course still used, but only exceptionally… It is otherwise during the historic genesis of capitalist production…”Karl Marx, Capital Volume I, ch.28.
Although Eric Lee’s discussion article on Menshevism (printed on page 8 of Solidarity 3/66 but due to a human/machine error not attributed to him), raised some important points of which revolutionary socialists should take note, its basic line was factually wrong and politically disorienting.
Having now completed reading the third in Sean Matgamna’s series on Iraq (Solidarity 3-63, 64 and 65), I want to return to a point he makes several times in the first of the series.
In attempting to distinguish the views of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty from those of Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ), Sean makes use on several occasions of the word “Menshevik”.
On Sunday 9 January 1905 — according to the calendar that was then in use in Russia, which was 13 days behind that in use in Europe — troops in St Petersburg opened fire on a peaceful procession of workers, led by a priest, Father Gapon. The demonstration was marching to deliver a humble petition to the Russian aristocratic ruler, the Tsar.
Hundreds were killed.
This massacre and the reaction to it triggered the Russian Revolution of 1905. It has been described as the “dress rehearsal” for the October 1917 revolution.
In October 1917 soviets — institutions of working class democratic self-organisation — led by the Bolsheviks took power in Russia. Lenin’s Bolshevik party did not believe that socialism could be created in underdeveloped Russia. The Bolsheviks thought that the Russian workers were but the advanced guard for the German and west-European workers. They expected revolution to erupt in Europe.
I find Solidarity’s obsessive anti-Stalinism extremely tiresome. Dishonest too.
You can’t be blaming everything bad that has happened to socialism on “Stalinism”. Who says that Stalinism was not a form of socialism? Of course it was! State socialism. Dictatorial socialism. Totalitarian socialism. Or, as those who struggled against it in Eastern Europe in the 70s and 80s put it — “actually existing socialism”.
In this article Leon Trotsky discusses the Bolsheviks’ efforts to break the grip of religion on the people of Russia after the workers’ revolution of 1917.
Trotsky explains that simple scorn and administrative methods are not sufficient. Only together with an increase in humanity’s conscious control over both its own social and economic structures, and its interactions with nature, can criticism of religion be effective.
Oh my darling, oh my darling,
Oh my darling Party Line,
You are lost and gone forever,
Dreadful sorry, Party Line.
Leon Trotsky was a Nazi,
And I know it for a fact.
First I read, then I said it,
Before the Hitler-Stalin Pact.
(Anti-Stalinist song of the 1940s, to the tune of “My Darling Clementine”)
Fenner Brockway, the leader in the 1930s and 40s of the anti-war Independent Labour Party, tells a story from 1939 in his second volume of memoirs, Outside the Right (1963).
In The Climate of Treason Andrew Boyle recounts a conversation which took place amongst a group of young communists in the summer of 1933, in Cambridge. Some of them would become the famous traitors who would be exposed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, after having served the USSR as double agents within the British secret services for decades.
In 1991, after the collapse of the USSR, we went on the streets with the headline: “Stand up for socialism”, and the strapline: “Stalinism was the opposite of socialism”.
A common response, gleeful or sad, was: “Socialism is dead, darling!”
But for years and decades before 1991, we had championed the underground workers’ movements and the oppressed nationalities in the Stalinist states. We had waged war on the idea — which used to be held by many in the labour movement — that states like the USSR, China, or Cuba were socialist in any sense or in any degree.