"AWL vs SWP" day school (Nov/Dec 2005): discussion points

Submitted by AWL on 11 November, 2005 - 9:54


Short plenary introduction

Small-group discussions one: Transitional programme vs fake ultra-leftism

Small-group discussions two: Marxism vs Apparatus Marxism

Small-group discussions three: Striving to be "the memory of the class" vs invention of tradition

Discussion points:

1. Transitional programme vs fake ultra-leftism

A. Consider the following slogans advanced by the SWP.

i. "TUC must call a General Strike!" (1992)

ii. "March on Parliament!" (1994)

iii. "Troops Out Now!" (yesterday Ireland, today Iraq)

iv. "One solution, revolution!"

For each: What arguments can be given for them?

And against?

If they were bad slogans when they were used, when could they be good? E.g. when could it make sense - when has it made sense - to call for a General Strike?

B. All of them have the advantage that they appeal to a chosen target audience and yet are unrealisable, i.e. they serve to expose reformists, etc. Isn't that what transitional demands are?

C. How would you explain transitional demands (to someone new to Marxism, and in a couple of sentences)?

2. Marxism vs Apparatus Marxism

A. "Marxism is not just an academic body of theory. It is an instrument for building a movement which can make a revolution, or it is nothing. Socialist ideas which are correct in isolation are not correct at all, since socialism has to be a movement of the immense majority, or nothing. The SWP's politics have enabled it to grow. It is probably the strongest revolutionary left organisation in the world today. That justifies the SWP. Socialist ideas which don't enable you to grow and build in the working class are simply irrelevant".

What's to be said for this view? And against?

B. In relatively recent times the SWP has done two big U-turns.

i. Before late 1987 it was opposed to "Third Worldism" and hostile to the idea in international politics that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" (thus, "Neither Washington nor Moscow!") Now it is gung-ho for anyone militantly opposed to the USA (Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Iraqi "resistance", etc.)

ii. Up to about the mid-1990s it was mostly ultra-militant in industrial politics ("all out, tomorrow, forever"), and very insistent about being "revolutionary" and focusing on "the militant minority". In recent years it has shifted so that its website "About Us" presents it as following four maxims: Build the movement; Keep it broad; Keep it radical; Fight to win.

How could these turns be justified in terms of different circumstances requiring different policies?

How do "Apparatus Marxism" and genuine Marxism differ in their approach to how "different circumstances" can call for "different policies"?

3. Striving to be "the memory of the class" vs the invention of tradition

A. "You sectarians are always squabbling about old historical questions. But young working-class people don't care about Stalinism, and even less about what Tony Cliff said in 1971. They want to know what you've got to offer now." Comment?

B. "Our major theoretical contributions and distinctive political positions — the state capitalist analysis of Stalinist states, the theory of deflected permanent revolution in the Third World, the analysis of the arms economy boom and the new economic crisis, the critique of the trade union bureaucracy — have two things in common: they have been developed as responses to real problems faced by the workers' movement in the struggle to change the world, and they have taken as their starting point and emphasise as their conclusion the fundamental principle of Marxism — the self-emancipation of the working class" (John Molyneux of the SWP: "What is the real Marxist tradition?") Anything wrong with this summary? Anything "Apparatus Marxist" about it?

C. Someone keen but new to politics, who can see that there are lots of different groupings calling themselves Marxist and Trotskyist, asks you: what sort of Trotskyist are you? How can you reply in three sentences? (Short sentences!)