Chapter 4: Superstition or struggle?
The workers against Stalinism
The search for the original sin of Bolshevism has exercised tired and demoralised socialists for at least 50 years. Like characters in an ancient Greek drama, they seek the explanation for the Stalinist plague in some violated taboo.
Was not the sin in the way the Bolshevik Party organised itself? That has always been a popular explanation, and shows signs of life now among some tired ex-radicals in the Labour Party and on its fringes. For Foot, the great sin was revolutionary violence.
The diagnosis of what exactly was Bolshevism's original sin may vary, but the very notion that there was an original sin, a single flaw which contaminated everything else, has led most of its devotees away from rational socialist politics and effectively to the conclusion that the great sin of the Russian workers was to dare to take power at all.
This is Foot's conclusions, as it must be the conclusion of anyone who accepts bourgeois democracy as the culmination of historical progress.
In fact, of course, Foot's method of argument is incompatible with serious historical analysis; reducing the question to one of broken taboos, it leads straight to a superstitious approach to politics, and away from a rational account of what went wrong - and what must now be done to put it right.
Inevitably, it leads to irrationality in current politics too. Foot's compulsion now to submit to Thatcher in the name of high democratic principle is as irrational as anything you will find on the hysteria-prone "revolutionary" left! For if you think, even subconsciously, in terms of broken taboos and look for some original sin committed by the revolutionary working class to explain Stalinist totalitarianism, then you must tread carefully! You don't know where the hidden taboos, curses and voodoos may be lying in wait for you!
"Democracy" is seen outside of history and imagined to be miraculously raised above the struggle of classes in history. (So too for Michael Foot is totalitarianism, as we will see.) For the future there is a terror of blundering into worse than we have now. For the present, the existing, hollowed-out British bourgeois democracy is fetishised into a decadent set of constitutional rules, forms and regulations which must be treated with reverent superstition.
Socialism as a distinct system to replace capitalism is, according to this view, an "apocalyptic" dream: and you will probably end up in the nightmare of the Stalinist gulag if you dare to strike out from the rules and constraints of the existing British parliamentary system.
Even when that system allows the sustained and savage tyranny against millions of people which the Thatcher government is legally inflicting, the working class must still submit, lest worse things follow from a resistance that overflows the hallowed constitutional channels of the sacred system. For no earthly power has the right to suborn an anointed British prime minister until her full five years are up!
In Britain now, the conclusion from the idea that the working class cannot take state power, and should not try, has to be this: the last class with the historic right to fight for and take power was the bourgeoisie - back in the 17th century. Why the curse against perpetrators of revolutionary violence has not jinxed the British system this last 300 years, Foot forgets to explain to us.
He will not be able to explain it to himself either: one does not reason with one's fetish! You chant the mantra and contemplate the holy relics, touch wood, be glad it still works, and move on, spitting contemptuous curses at the unbelievers and threats at the heretics.
In the 1930s the effete bourgeois liberals and their radical understudies repelled the rebel youth who were being ground down by the capitalist crisis. Some went over to fascism. Those who thought they were choosing communism found Stalinist totalitarianism acceptable in part because of revulsion against Foot-style worship of passivity cloaked in commitment to formal democracy.
The disintegration of society seemed to show the impotence and irrelevance of democracy. Democracy had either to be renewed and continued as a weapon of socialists fighting to re-make society or sink into discredit along with capitalism.
There is a fine scene in one of Luis Bunuel's films. A woman sits in a chair, and a man, a fetishist, crouches in front of her, fondling her leg, putting it against his face, kissing it. His sexuality is expressed in this way because in his subconscious the fetish has taken on all the meaning that other people find in a partner's body. The man is experiencing his ecstasy, locked into a private world - and the woman finds it impossible to suppress a big bored yawn. The symbolic links in the man's subconscious, rooted in childhood memories and associations (and childish misapprehensions) mean that her leg has the power to trigger his emotions. But they can't mean anything to her. They exist only in his private world.
That is how the legalistic concerns of Michael Foot's political ancestors appeared to the radical youth in the '30s. And today the Parliamentary Labour Party are not active, creative, improvising fighters of a living democracy but tired worshippers of an ancient fetish to which they will willingly sacrifice the living stream of youth - because they have forgotten what the struggle for democracy was all about in the first place!
They do not notice how badly their beloved parliament has fallen into disrepair, how deficient it all now is as a living democracy. They are unable even to face up to the questions about British democracy posed to honest democrats by what the minority-based Thatcher government is now using parliament to legally do to this "generation".
They are obsessed with their own symbols and reminiscences of the infancy of parliamentary democracy. The labour movement has its own concerns. In the here and now, the PLP fails to speak to more and more workers about the things that concern them.
That is why the Labour Party is in crisis. In the present condition of Britain, either democracy will be linked with an effective programme of socialist transformation, or democracy will be radically undermined and discredited.
Foot is an elitist, not a democrat
Foot's view of Stalinism is all of a piece with his views and perspectives for Britain, and his self-avowed Fabian politics. Foot - in 1982! - does not understand that Stalinist totalitarianism is the rule of a distinct social formation. Neither does he understand that the British parliamentary system is a shield and an instrument for the rule of a distinct social class. There is no more blatant example of Foot's class blindness for British politics than his inability to understand who rules in the USSR - the fact that totalitarianism arises because a minority rules over the vast oppressed majority (and therefore, Comrade Foot, it follows that totalitarianism is simply inconceivable as the instrument of a self-ruling working class majority).
The truth is, Foot himself has an elitist conception of "socialism" - a civilised Fabian elitism which he contrasts with Stalinism, and Thatcherism, but elitism, nonetheless.
Condemning Stalinism's sacrifice of generations, he insists on the need "to let them establish for themselves what may be the nature and scale of the sacrifice". But this shows he has missed the point. In a socialist democracy no elite would "let" the people decide matters: no-one else but the people could decide.
And when Foot contrasts his view of socialism to trade union direct action, the elitism is again clear: "Increasingly as the years passed, he [Aneurin Bevan] placed his confidence in collectivist, social power, to be wielded by the central state, acting through parliament, with all the devices, chances and protections of open debate which he knew so well how to exploit on behalf of...his people and his party."
But overwhelming social power always remains directly in the hands of the bourgeoisie who own factories, banks, newspapers and TV stations. The social power wielded by the central state is now in the hands of Thatcher - who got a minority of the votes cast in 1979 - and who is using that power, Jacobin fashion, to strike terrible blows at the working class and at the organised labour movement. Backed by the social power of the bourgeoisie, Thatcher is using the central state power to conduct naked, open, vindictive class warfare.
And Foot is using these arguments now to dissuade the labour movement from taking direct action to defend itself. Only the elite and the elite institutions - crowned by parliament - have the right of initiative. The working class does not have even the right of resistance to tyranny. When Foot accuses us of being anti-democratic, he takes his own elitist and bureaucratic - and parliamentarian ~ concept of socialism and accuses the Marxists of wanting to realise it too rapidly, too brutally and too completely.
When the Fabian looks at Stalinism, he is looking at himself in a distorting mirror - or rather in a different historical dimension. The Fabians recognise in Stalinism a development in a barren climate of their own "socialism". Most now recoil in horror, though others, like the Webbs in the 1930s, embraced Stalinism for its family likeness to themselves. The statist "socialisms" of Fabians and Stalinists are cousins if not twins. Both rest on the rule of an elite over the masses (in Britain, with a five-year release mechanism).
Marxists oppose state socialism
The Marxist programme - of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky - has always, from the 1880s at least, stood in sharp contrast to the state socialism to which both the Fabians and their monstrous cousin, Stalinism, belong on the level of ideas. Marxism proposes socialisation of the means of production to be achieved by the working class and to be administered by and for that class. As a precondition for the healthy development of the socialist society, there is to be no state in the old sense.
The workers' state is not Stalinist collectivism, a tyrannical all-controlling state which is the instrument of the bureaucracy against the people and especially against the working class. Nor is it any version of the existing state collectivism of the Fabians, writ large or modified. Socialist transformation by the working class will only be possible if it is linked to an expansion of liberty: "every cook shall govern", as Lenin put it. When the supposedly anti-democratic Marxists advocate something other than parliamentary democracy, this expansion of liberty is what they advocate.
The present type of parliamentary democracy is organically tied to the old historical form of state power - rule of society by minorities, typically through bureaucracies. Socialism needs the destruction of that form of state power. If the bureaucratic form of state power were fused with control of the wealth-producing activities of society, then it could, even in a relatively rich society like Britain, lead to corruption, inefficiency, and abuse of power, perhaps even to a bureaucratic dictatorship. So Foot, Kinnock, etc. are right to beware of themselves and their socialism! But they should not attribute it to us.
In the view of Marxists, such a qualitative expansion of democracy in the running of society lies at the other side of a socialist revolution which overthrows capitalism (and, in the Stalinist states, the bureaucracy). But that revolution is in turn inconceivable except as the culmination of a great explosion of working class democracy and of struggles to defend, expand and deepen democracy.
Workers' socialist revolution would undoubtedly present itself to the ruling class and its hangers-on as highly authoritarian, but to the mass of the people as a great expansion of democratic self-rule. This paradox merely expresses the fact that our society is divided into two antagonistic classes, one of which must go down so that the other can rise.
In sum, then, Foot's difference with unfalsified Marxism over democracy is that he is himself a mere bourgeois democrat and an elitist, who counterposes the limited accomplishments of bourgeois democracy to the necessary future development of democracy which the working class must achieve if it is itself ever to rule directly in society. More: he has abandoned the notion of developing and deepening democracy, and maybe never understood the revolutionary Marxist goal of developing democracy beyond the present system into social and economic self-rule and self-administration.
There are two distinct but interwoven strands in the attitudes the labour movement has taken to parliamentary democracy. The first was and is ardent championing of parliamentary democracy and democratic liberties. In varying alliances with sections of the middle class, early labour movements fought to extend the suffrage and enlarge the power of parliament - often by revolutionary means.
The first mass political labour movement, Chartism, took shape around demands for the reshaping of the existing parliamentary system so as to admit the working class to the suffrage and make it possible for workers to be MPs. In Britain, as late as 1917, the Workers' Socialist Federation, led by Sylvia Pankhurst (emerging out of the Workers' Suffrage Federation, which in turn came out of the left wing of the suffragette movement in the East End) based themselves on an extremely radical programme of democratic reform, attempting to graft on to the British parliament features of the workers' council system that had just emerged in Russia.
In 1934 Trotsky suggested a united front with reformist workers in France for a similar programme.
"As long as the majority of the working class continues on the basis of bourgeois democracy, we are ready to defend it with all our forces against violent attacks from the Bonapartist and fascist bourgeoisie.
However, we demand from our class brothers who adhere to 'democratic' socialism that they be faithful to their ideas, that they draw inspiration from the ideas and methods not of the Third Republic but of the Convention of 1793. Down with the Senate, which is elected by limited suffrage, and which renders the power of universal suffrage a mere illusion! Down with the presidency of the republic, which serves as a hidden point of concentration for the forces of militarism and reaction!
A single assembly must combine the legislative and executive powers. Members would be elected for two years, by universal suffrage at eighteen years of age, with no discrimination of sex or nationality. Deputies would be elected on the basis of local assemblies, constantly revocable by their constituents, and would receive the salary of a skilled worker. This is the only measure that would lead the masses forward instead of pushing them backward. A more generous democracy would facilitate the struggle for workers' power.
We want to attain our objective not by armed conflicts between the various groups of toilers, but by real workers' democracy, by propaganda and loyal criticism, by the voluntary regrouping of the great majority of the proletariat under the flag of true communism. Workers adhering to democratic socialism must further understand that it is not enough to defend democracy; democracy must be regained.
The moving of the political centre of gravity from parliament towards the cabinet, from the cabinet towards the oligarchy of finance capital, generals, police, is an accomplished fact. Neither the present parliament nor the new elections can change this.
We can defend the whole sorry remains of democracy, and especially we can enlarge the democratic arena for the activity of the masses, only by annihilating the armed fascist forces that, on 6 February 1934, started moving the axis of the state and are still doing so. "
The second strand has consisted of a drive to create new, different, specifically working class organs of democracy - either by converting old forms to the purpose, or by establishing completely new ones.
The Paris Commune in 1871 was an example of the taking over of old forms - the Paris City council! The creation of new forms began in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1905, when striking workers who did not have political rights elected their own local parliament or council of workers' deputies - the "soviet".
After the overthrow of Tsarism in February 1917, a vast network of such soviets developed, pyramids of city, district, and all-Russian gatherings. In their own way, from the ground up, the soviets realised such old working class demands as direct control of the legislature - delegates could be recalled and replaced, easily and repeatedly.
The soviet network showed itself to be a uniquely flexible and responsive system of democratic self-organisation and, increasingly, of self-rule by the Russian masses. Whereas even the most democratic parliamentary system was tied to the bourgeois military/bureaucratic structure, the soviets were radically counterposed to the surviving Tsarist military/ bureaucratic state.
In 1917 the Congress of Soviets (with the Bolshevik Party as its driving force) seized state power. Thereafter the drive to reform and develop the existing parliaments gave place, for millions of revolutionary workers throughout the world, to a commitment to soviets as the highest form of democracy. Everywhere on earth, revolutionary-minded people recognised the soviet as the working class form of democracy.
Commitment to soviets became a central part of the programme of revolutionary socialism.
"Soviet" meant, then, workers' councils within which there would be a plurality of "soviet" parties. Nobody in the communist movement ~ advocated the idea that soviets would be ruling organs of state, in a one-party system. Through most of the civil war in Russia and the wars of intervention, non-Bolshevik parties loyal to the workers' state ~ J. Martov's Menshevik Internationalists, for example - were legally active in the soviets.
When, in March 1921, at the end of the civil war, the Bolsheviks banned all other Soviet parties, it was a temporary measure, not the norm of working class rule. Not long after the Stalinists seized control: one party rule became the norm. Inevitably this Russian reality confused many communists as to exactly what soviet rule would be.
The result was to banish concern with democracy and to falsify the very language and concepts in which both the old pre-world war socialist movement, and the early communist movement, had understood democracy. In consequence, "communism" had, partly through confusion and incoherence, arising out of anti-social-democratic polemic, an anti-democratic bias, even before full-blown Stalinism.
After the full-scale Stalinist counter-revolution in the late '20s, the one-party system was proclaimed as the true working class democracy, universally applicable. The basic programmatic norms of revolutionary socialism were being pulped and destroyed. Democratic ideals and goals that had been central to radical thought since the French Revolution or even since the English revolutions of the 17th century, were replaced - though the old democratic labels were still used - by realities which concentrated in themselves the statism and authoritarianism which different embodiments of the left had been fighting for hundreds of years! Mystification and confusion inevitably followed.
Meanwhile, in the hands of the right wing of the international labour movement, the commitment to perfecting the democratic institutions of capitalist society became a commitment to the bourgeoisie against the revolutionary workers and their soviets. In German the 1918 revolution created a bourgeois democratic regime, realising most of the "democratic" demands of the old revolutionary workers' movement, but as part of a landlord-bourgeois counter-revolution against the workers, the right wing socialists allied with the Junkers against the revolutionary workers!
This prostitution by the right wing socialists of the old socialist ideals of enlarging democracy convinced revolutionary workers that only soviet democracy could serve socialist ends. It also softened them up to receive the Stalinist revelations that all the old talk of democracy meant nothing but bourgeois lies. It helped ease them into acceptance of the one-party Stalinist totalitarian state as the true proletarian democracy.
In the mid-'30s the Stalinists dropped soviets from their programme and, pursuing alliances with the right of the labour movements and with liberals to serve Russian foreign policy interests, became hypocritical worshippers of the existing parliaments. At the same time they pushed the debilitating lie that Stalinist totalitarianism was a form of "workers" democracy. This senseless assertion became an article of faith for two generations of revolutionary workers.
The basic idea that socialists must continue to struggle for human liberty and freedom was expunged from the programme of "communism". "Democracy" - like "socialism" - became a cynical catch-cry, shot through with double-think about the "democracy" of the society where the Stalinist bureaucrats ruled.
Trotsky noted the corrupting effect of this on the labour movement itself when he commented on the Norwegian Labour Party: "I soon had occasion to become convinced, by experience, that the old bourgeois functionaries sometimes have a broader viewpoint and a more profound sense of dignity than Messrs "Socialist" Ministers..."
How the question of soviets is posed now
In the class struggle, however, despite both reformists and Stalinists, embattled workers throw up soviet-type structures. Since 1917, soviets - workers' councils elected from factories and districts - have been thrown up in a large number of countries in conditions of large-scale working class struggle. From Austria, Germany and Hungary in 1918, and Hungary again in 19S6, through to Gdansk in 1980, soviets have emerged as flexible forms of working class democratic self-organisation - factory committees generalised to the whole of society.
The historical experience of soviets as a form of social rule is, of course, limited. Even in the most advanced case, that of Russia, where soviets became the cellular structure of the new workers' state, the soviets had little time to evolve or develop and articulate institutions for the detailed running of society.
The bourgeoisie in countries like Britain has had centuries to evolve their parliaments and law courts and divisions of power. We had a single year! And the civil war and invading armies stifled the soviets. Stalin buried them.
As early as the end of 1918 the soviets in the USSR were being undermined as freely functioning democratic organs by the exigencies of civil war. They were shortly to be gutted of all real life. This process culminated in the ban on every party but the Bolsheviks in March 1921. Intended as a temporary civil war measure, it became fixed, as we have seen, as the norm of the Stalinist political counter-revolution.
Nevertheless it is clear:
- That these soviets, which have emerged in vastly different conditions and countries, are not accidental forms. At the very least they are valuable organs of working class self-organisation in struggle.
- In Russia before they were blasted by civil war, they were a form of democracy more flexible, adjustable and responsive than any other "parliamentary" system. And, for the sake of clarifying things in the British labour movement, it is important to be clear that soviets are a "parliamentary" system only with a more direct democracy, the right of recall, etc.
- Being independent of the existing bureaucratic/military system to which capitalist rule is tied, they are - to go by experience so far - the best form of organisation for a workers' movement that is seriously setting about transforming society against the will of the ruling class.
- That they are more appropriate than any other known form of democracy for the socialist rule of the working class, in so far as it involves a qualitative expansion of the direct exercise of democracy.
- That they can and will re-emerge at intensive levels of mass working class action, when the struggle overflows the channels of the existing system. We may have come close to it in Britain in 1972.
This is why workers, councils are a central part of the programme of revolutionary Marxism.
The word "soviet" has been utterly debased by association with the totalitarian bureaucracy of the USSR - which, as the sour old joke has it, contains four lies in its name: it is not a union, there are no soviets, it is not socialist, and it is not a republic. But Marxists remain committed to soviet democracy. We continue the old socialist commitment to expanding democracy in a qualitative way. We explain the limits of existing democracy and the possibilities of a different democracy.
Is this Marxist commitment counterposed to the basic labour movement commitment to parliamentary democracy? Not at all. Socialism is not possible until the mass of workers want it and are prepared to realise it - neither is an extension of democracy beyond the level already attained. It is in the direct interests of the working class to defend the existing system against anti-democratic attacks. It is in our interest to extend it and better it (for example by making the next Labour prime minister subject to election by the labour movement, outside of parliament; by freeing the existing system from the dead grip of the parliamentary oligarchy of the PLP; and by ensuring that there is some relationship between what aspirant MPs and aspirant majority parties say they will do, and what they actually do). All this is the difference between good and bad circulation in the existing body politic.
Thus Marxists have much in common with people in the labour movement whose best notion of democracy is parliamentary democracy. We can agree to fight to rejuvenate the existing system; we could agree to defend it with guns against, for example, a military coup. Marxists can and do form such alliances with honest "non-soviet" democrats. The reason why we cannot and do not form such relations with the right wing and the soft left is not because we are not democrats, but because they are very bad democrats. They worship the miserably inadequate system that exists.
They have done more than any Marxist to educate sections of the labour movement about the limits of parliamentary democracy: they have even exaggerated those limits and made them far more narrow than they would be for a fighting labour movement intent on defending the working class interest. They have, in successive Labour governments, and especially since 1964, done more than anyone else to discredit parliamentary democracy and render cynical large sections of the labour movement. This cynicism has corroded not only democracy but the political consciousness of the labour movement. Marxists, while we tell the workers who listen to us that they should rely only on their own strength, see no advantage or gain for our politics in cynicism about politics, or even about the existing parliament.
While small groups can advance to a higher understanding by way of such disillusionment, the great mass of the labour movement is thrown back by it. The mass of the labour movement will advance to a better understanding of the limits of parliamentary democracy, not by pure disgust with the Labour right - that is a passive, politically limited response - but most likely by class struggle which includes attempts to use to the very maximum the existing instititutions of the labour movement and of British bourgeois democracy.
Soviets in Britain?
How might soviets emerge in Britain? When you look concretely at how the existing British parliamentary system might be displaced by workers' councils, the difference between Marxist democrats and the burnt-out parliamentarians becomes clear. The difference between what we really stand for and the lies they tell about us become clear.
Propaganda by Marxists will not by itself win enough workers to support for workers' councils ("soviets") to threaten the parliamentary system. The relevant historical experience on which the proposal is based is too remote. Propaganda alone could not win the mass of workers away from commitment to the existing parliamentary system.
Even if it is partly eroded, belief in the parliamentary system is still very deep and powerful in the British people and the labour movement. And the system still has a lot of flexibility. Soviets have most often emerged in conditions where parliamentary democracy did not exist, or was severely limited. The precondition for soviets in Britain to move from the realm of propaganda and accounts of history to the realm of practical working class politics would be - obviously - mass struggle, but also and centrally a major erosion of belief that parliament is an accessible democratic institution.
Councils of Action having many points in common with soviets came into existence in Britain in 1920. Something like an incipient soviet emerged in Durham during the 1926 General Strike. But even if a vast network of Councils of Action were now to emerge in a general strike, it is unlikely that they would starkly counterpose themselves to the existing system, as an alternative system of democratic rule - unless there were a serious erosion of belief in parliament as the democratic system. The use of parliamentary elections would be a major weapon of the ruling class and of the right with which to derail and demobilise any general strike movement. That is what they did in France in 1968.
How will such an erosion of belief in Westminster occur? Even if a large revolutionary Marxist party existed, it could not occur, I repeat, as a result of propaganda alone. It will only occur when the ruling class - in response to the exigencies of the struggle against the working class to keep or exert control - is forced to begin to abrogate its own system, to downgrade it, thereby, over time, robbing its processes of credibility.
Thus the existing system would have to be undermined from two sides - by growing self-confidence, self-organisation, and disillusionment with parliament among the working class, and by growing impatience or desperation among the ruling class.
This is what Marxists such as Trotsky teach us on this question. I have already quoted Trotsky's call to the social reformist workers of France to defend parliamentary democracy (1934). In the same vein he warned Marxists not to make a religion of soviets. This advice has one hundred times greater force today, when the experience of the initial liberating Russian soviets is so far back in history. "Soviets" now are, and can only be, a matter of propaganda: and the socialist who would counterpose such propaganda to the necessary working class struggle, which must include struggles around the existing parliamentary system, is a sectarian fool, incapable of learning either from life or from Trotsky's approach in France.
Now, if the Marxist expectation that the ruling class will not be bound by its own parliamentary rules is wrong, then very probably "soviets" will remain a matter of propaganda by Marxists who favour soviets as a different, better system of democracy. In that case, the right and the soft left, who now witch-hunt those who advocate a different form of democracy as enemies of democracy, have little to worry about.
They worry, in fact, because they are not quite naive liberals. Foot, in his Observer articles, talked of the danger of the "storm-troopers". He says that the left gains from the parliamentary niceties because the right has a tradition of fighting and the left does not. He knows the political facts of life, but he lacks the socialist seriousness to try to call new facts into being - like the fact of a working class militia, for example.
What do we do when the bourgeoisie does begin to disrupt democracy and attack it? The labour movement will fight back. We will not abandon bourgeois democracy or democratic rights. Soviets may well arise in defence of parliamentary democracy - as the only way to continue what was valuable in bourgeois democracy, when it is abandoned by the bourgeoisie as the class struggle escalates.
We will defend democratic rights tooth and nail, and with guns. Most of the right wing "professional democrats" won't. The German Social Democrats helped the Junker army to massacre revolutionary workers in 1919 under the banner of preserving parliamentary democracy: they meekly surrendered it to Hitler in 1933. The Party leader in the Reichstag, Otto Wels, meekly offered his and his party's collaboration to Hitler, who didn't need it then.
So it is not our propaganda for a different sort of democracy, soviets, that worries the right, nor is it only that we lack respect for "Parliament". It is not even entirely a matter of grabbing a convenient demarcation line to serve an organisational purpose now. What is it then that worries them7 What is the dividing line between them and us? The dividing line is extraparliamentary struggle now. Their main target is not Trotskyists making propaganda for soviets, it is the serious reformist left. They are using the witch-hunt against the allegedly anti-democratic Trotskyists as a means of frightening the less determined section of the left out of any will that Labour and the unions should fight the Tories now, using extraparliamentary action where appropriate.
The print union SOGAT is now proposing strike action in open, proud defiance of the Tory anti-union laws. Are the leaders of the Labour Party seriously proposing to rule out such action? Are they seriously proposing that the labour movement should allow itself to be crippled? Yes, they are! Their fire is directed now at those who want to fight back. They prefer to counterpose the existing parliamentary system to the needs of the living labour movement. They stand for an exaggeratedly slavish legalism - and against resistance to a government that is an outrage against the spirit of even bourgeois democracy.
Their rallying cry, "democracy", is a double lie because they will not fight back against Thatcher even to defend the democracy they now hide behind against the criticism of the Marxists. It is the "anti-democratic" Marxists who want to defend trade union rights and democracy against Thatcher, not the professional democrats!
We have heard Foot's canting, his denunciation of what he thinks is a certain form of socialism - though in fact he is dealing with Stalinism, the rule of a distinct social bureaucracy, and not with any form of socialism - in the now fashionable bourgeois-liberal formula which faults Stalinism for "sacrificing generations". But in Britain now, it is the socialists who reject Michael Foot's fetish of the existing forms of parliamentary democracy, or at least reject the rules that would sanctify Thatcher's work as the distillate of pure parliamentary democracy, who oppose the "sacrifice of generations".
It is Foot and his friends who are willing to sacrifice this generation of British young people! Unlike Foot, we can conceive of a different and better society, and we think the labour movement should fight for it. Politically prostrate, Foot can only hope for a new, tepid Labour government, to do things more humanely than Thatcher.
Foot is no longer even notionally a socialist: his programme now is not that of a socialist, but that of a liberal humanitarian administration of capitalism. He wants to soften the blows of British capitalism's decline, but no doubt will be willing again to obey the dictats of the IMF, and to make secret deals to sustain the state apparatus of potential violence against the working class. That is the grand conclusion from his great historical excursion into Stalinism - don't go for "remote ends" or a different system, go for a new middle-of-the-road or right wing Labour administration.
He is willing to bowdlerise the living historical process by abstracting from it the struggles of socialists for a socialist solution to the present convulsions of British capitalism. He talks of the "treason" of those on the left whom he says are now reconciled to defeat in the next election. But it is the witch-hunters who are willing to gut the party to make it safe for themselves to commit this treason. The left is not reconciled to electoral defeat.
There is another, and more deadly, sort of defeat, though - inner political defeatism such as Foot's which abandons the very goal of socialism and disguises this with a great show of commitment to electoral victory.
Foot's reasoning, and its conclusion of hopelessness, passivity, fetish worship and superstitious dread of action, offers nothing to the working class movement now, or to socialism, or to "democracy". Our great tragedy is that Foot and his friends are the incumbent leaders of the labour movement. Their passivity threatens us with disaster. It is a major factor now on Thatcher's side in the class struggle.
The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who was destroyed in a Mussolini jail, put it all very clearly long ago: "Reality is the result of the application of wills to the society of things...to put aside every voluntary effort and calculate only the intervention of other wills as an objective element in the general game is to mutilate reality itself. Only those who strongly want to do it identify the necessary element for the realisation of their will." (The Modern Prince, my emphasis). By their self-effacing passivity, their refusal to lead the labour movement in a fightback now, Foot and his friends mutilate reality. They help Thatcher and encourage her!
What do we need to do instead? Thatcher's drastic action for the ruling class needs to be met with drastic working class action in self-defence and in pursuit of our own interests. The labour movement needs to rouse itself into a campaign to bring down this undemocratic and anti-working class government!
The labour movement desperately needs a perspective of hope and a belief in the possibility of an alternative system. The labour movement needs to have its vague commitment to socialism honed sharp and clear; it needs to rededicate itself to the fight for a more representative, more flexible and more real democracy than this one.
Only the struggle for a workers' government which will base itself on the roused and active masses of the working class ~ that is, on mass workers' democracy - offers a road out of Britain's impasse. Only a labour movement which is willing and eager to use its strength in industry and on the streets to challenge the government, and to deny its claims to democratic validity, will be able to rally the forces to carve out that road.