Redmond O'Neill, Socialist Action and "respect for the dead"

Submitted by AWL on 28 October, 2009 - 7:31 Author: Sacha Ismail
O'Neill

Redmond O’Neill, a leader of the Socialist Action group, has died aged 55 of cancer. Because O’Neill was an official in Ken Livingstone’s London mayoral administration, his death has received wide attention, for instance in the Guardian.

Ken Livingstone’s obituary describes him as a “lifelong revolutionary socialist and leading figure on the left for three decades”. In fact, for many years it has been an abuse of language to call O’Neill and his organisation socialist, or even really part of the left.

It was not just their grim support for Stalinist and other ‘progressive’ authoritarian regimes and movements in the developing world. (Hence the cant in Livingstone’s obituary about internationalism – though in fact Socialist Action’s politics are the polar opposite of international working-class solidarity.) Such ideas are, unfortunately, fairly common on the left, though Socialist Action has taken them to an extreme. What was and, to the extent that the group still exists is, unique about Socialist Action is their crawling to the rich and powerful in Britain itself.

Thus O’Neill was paid over £100,000 a year to work, alongside a number of his comrades, for a mayor who was quite openly a servant of the ruling class – breaking strikes, sucking up to bankers and property developers and lavishly praising the Blair and Brown governments. There is little evidence that Socialist Action had any interest whatsoever in workers’ struggles – except in so far as they came into conflict with their project for a “Progressive London”, in which case they had to be opposed ruthlessly (the Tube workers).

The group's politics could be summarised as a kind of popular-front Stalinist Fabianism - seeing the 'class struggle' not in the living battles and movements of workers and the oppressed, but concealed in all kinds of 'progressive forces', from the Stalinist states to politicians like Livingstone. By working and gaining positions of 'influence' within these movements, they would, despite all appearances, remain revolutionaries. Any betrayals of what real socialists would understand as class struggle could be explained by this framework.

An announcement of O’Neill’s death on the Socialist Unity website prompted some debate, with negative comments deleted by the moderator on grounds of respect for the dead. Clearly any individual’s death is a tragedy for their friends and family. But O’Neill was a politician, not a private individual. We would benefit no one by pretending he was anything other than what, by the end, he certainly was – a mortal enemy of working-class socialism.

Comments

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 29/10/2009 - 10:18

Sylvia,

Let's start at home. O'Neill sided - no, in his official capacity helped to organise - the TfL bosses against striking Tube workers (including, let it be noted, migrant, mostly African, cleaners working for cowboy contractors on the minimum wage). He was paid over £100,000 to work for an administration that was straightforwardly pro-capitalist, that not only attacked workers and sucked up to the bankers and developers, but boasted about its support from business (see Livingstone's article in the Guardian after his defeat, quoted here). What kind of revolutionary is that? What kind of class-struggle politics is that?

Internationalism? You list lots of things no left-winger could object to, but your phrases mask the reality. Unity of Ireland? Support for the sectarian carve up of the Good Friday Agreement and uncritical backing for the petty bourgeois communalists of Sinn Fein. Against attacks on Yugoslavia? Back-handed support for Serbia's blood-soaked war against the Kosovars. Defending the Russian people against mafia capitalism? Last-ditch support for 'Soviet' Stalinism. Defending Muslims? Whitewashing far-right Islamist reactionaries. And so on and so on and so on.

If such politics represent any kind of internationalism, it is a million miles from the internationalism of global democratic and working-class solidarity.

"Small sectarian sites" is typical Socialist Action bile - and ironic given the size (and recent decline) of Socialist Action itself. In any case, let me stress that all this is said totally without personal rancour against O'Neill. I didn't know him, and he may well have been a perfectly decent person in his private life. However, that is not what we are debating.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 29/10/2009 - 10:27

Andrew Murray of the Stalinist CPB writes in the Morning Star:

"Unlike most other groups from the Trotskyist tradition, Socialist Action maintained a clear focus on working within the labour movement and eschewed anything that could be regarded as ultra-leftism.

"Under Redmond's leadership, it also had the wit to recognise that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the other socialist systems in Europe was a bad thing for the international working class."

In other words: Socialist Action had long ceased to be anything that could be described as Trotskyist, conforming instead to the Stalinist pattern of adaption to the labour movement bureaucracy in Britain and support for anti-working-class 'communist' dictatorships.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 29/10/2009 - 11:09

Sylvia,

There is no hatred or bile involved here - not on our side. Whenever Workers' Liberty has criticised Socialist Action - and we have done so repeatedly and vehemently - it has been on the basis of politics, not personalities.

I've been quite concrete about Redmond O'Neill and SA's political practice - which is, for Marxists, far more important than your theoretical self-justifications. How many socialists in the last century have abandoned working-class principles in practice while continuing to uphold them in theory?

An answer to what I've actually written would be much appreciated.

Having said that, one quote for you:
"The destruction of at least some of the workers' states [sic] in Eastern Europe, and the imperialist reunification of Germany are both the greatest defeats suffered by the working class since World War 2 and overturn the post-war world order." (1990)

So the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracies in East Germany and Czechoslovakia was, far from being a cause for celebration, the biggest defeat for the international working class since 1945? Worse than the imposition of apartheid in South Africa, the smashing of the Hungarian revolution, the slaughter of half a million leftists in Indonesia, the Chilean coup, the coming to power of Khomeini over the backs of the Iranian workers, the crushing of Solidarnosc...

Let us call these politics by their right name: degenerate. So degenerate they are Stalinist, not anything that even remotely resembles Trotskyism.

Sacha

Submitted by Matthew on Thu, 29/10/2009 - 11:20

Sylvia, how about coming up with some answers yourself?

1. did O'Neill receive in excess of £100,000 a year working for Livingstone when he was mayor of London?

2. did Livingstone side with the TfL bosses against the RMT, calling on its members to cross picket lines?

3. did either O'Neill or Socialist Action condemn that?

4. is Socialist Action a 'small site'/group, smaller in fact than the AWL?

The answers are I suggest Yes, Yes, No and Yes. I challenge you to contradict any of those.

Submitted by Matthew on Thu, 29/10/2009 - 12:14

So no answers from you then? You can't answer four simple questions about O'Neill's political record and that of the group he led?

'the class struggle continues-with some of us on very different sides'

Indeed. 'no more need be said' as you say.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 29/10/2009 - 16:51

But Sylvia, you still haven't answered any of our political points, or even the straightforward questions we asked. If you're so sure of your politics, why not answer?

The list of tributes is indeed revealing, but it proves that O'Neill was anything but a socialist.

They include the bosses of TfL and the Tube (no trade unionists: no surprise!); the Islamist reactionaries of the BMI; the representative of Venezuela's Bonapartist capitalist government; the representative of China's Stalinist regime; and George Galloway. All people the AWL is proud to regard as enemies.

Sacha

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 29/10/2009 - 17:22

Sylvia,

Could you explain why you think tributes from the bosses of TfL - who have repeatedly and savagely attacked Tube workers and their union, and slashed back and privatised our transport system - is something socialists should be proud of?

Sacha

Submitted by trevor_chaplin on Fri, 30/10/2009 - 23:38

I looked at the socialist unity website first, I can't judge the deleted posts but the Redmond O'neil that I came across about 12 times in my political life was not reflected in the fawning comments that remain. Even his biggest fan must admit he gave no quarter or respect to those who he considered his political enemies. And he made no secret of it, I always got the impression that he revelled in it, he enjoyed it. I don't think martin's post conveys this glee, nor do the fawning posts on socialist unity either. I think his politcs were terrible, and so were his methods but my limited contact with him suggest he would be more honest in writing his own memorial. To pretend that this was not part of his make up does him injustice. I'd hate it if people that knew me pretended that I was "nice" after I died.
Are critical comments untimely?
If they were on a memorial site, or his family's I would say yes, but the bleeting on the socialist unity site illustrates what is wrong with the socialist movement in the UK.
One of the posts says the criticism is an illustration of their claim that Britain's left is to nasty to each other. The dishonesty, the failure to account is what makes the "left" in the uk so feeble, not criticism.

Submitted by AWL on Sat, 31/10/2009 - 16:11

Absolutely, Trevor. On your last point, the pious carping about how the left argues too much is particularly ironic because Socialist Action are masters of behind-the-scenes lying about and slander of their political opponents - while refusing to engage in open and honest political debate. They are an extreme case of the phenomenon which, as you say, cripples the British left. The problem is not too much debate, but too little!

Still no reply from Sylvia, I notice.

Sacha

Submitted by AWL on Sat, 31/10/2009 - 16:27

Submitted by Bruce on Mon, 02/11/2009 - 12:51

Maybe I'm one of those much described as an 'fundamentalist atheist', but I can't understand why the dead are considered worthy of a special kind of respect not available to the living. Of course, one can mourn, show recognition for a person's life and achievements (or otherwise) and empathise with those living for whom the person had a special significance. But the idea that one should refrain from criticism of someone because they're dead (especially when you've made the same criticisms during their lifetime)seems to me rather odd.

2p worth on Redmond: I was in the same LP branch as him in the late 80s and the thing that particularly annoyed me was how he always tried to present Socialist Action's views as some kind of left Labour orthodoxy that one couldn't disagree with because it had been passed by CLPD, Black Sections etc. He spoke as if teaching this to a group of rather backward pupils and if anyone dared to disagree would go bright red in the face. No need to think for yourself, just do as I say!

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 06/11/2009 - 19:54

Sylvia,

Nobody's contributions have been "bitter and twisted" in the sense you imply, ie personally bitter. I didn't know Redmond O'Neill, and I have no personal feelings about him one way or another. This is a political argument - which is why no one has made any "personal comments" or attacks. Can you cite a single one?

Meanwhile, you still refuse to answer our questions. For instance, what do you think of O'Neill/Socialist Action's support for strike-breaking on London Underground? And of the TfL and Tube bosses paying tribute in thanks? Can we get an answer, please? (Preferably a straight answer, but any kind of answer would be a start!)

We do feel politically "bitter" ie angry about such betrayal of socialist principle, but that is not a personal thing.

You write that "his principles were articulated through his actions". Yes, actions such as supporting strike-breaking and taking £100,000 to work for a pro-capitalist politician. Which is what we've been arguing - trying to argue - about. So can we have some answers, please?

As for being confined the blogosphere - we are active in places you would never meet us, for instance workplaces, union branches and the rank-and-file of the labour movement. We make numerous interventions in all kinds of spheres, the difference from Socialist Action being that for us 'politics' is not about getting highly paid bureaucratic positions and then manipulating things from above, but about helping workers and the oppressed to struggle and developing open, honest, clear ideas about how to take the struggle forward.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Sat, 07/11/2009 - 11:56

1. "Recognise your true class enemies".
So are the bosses of TfL and the Tube class enemies of the working class? When they - hand-in-hand with Livingstone and Redmond O'Neill - sought to break the RMT and impose worse terms and conditions on the Tube workers, which side should socialists have been on? Which side do you think Trotsky would have been on?!
An answer, some kind of answer, please!

2. Where in the Transitional Program does Trotsky say anything like that? Wasn't the Trotskyists' approach always to debate and polemicise openly and honestly with their opponents? (Which is why they were called sectarians by some, as we are by you.)
I find it bizarre that you, defending the behaviour of Socialist Action, can even claim to stand in the tradition of Trotskyism. See for instance in the Transitional Program this section. An excerpt:
"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."
Are you seriously trying to claim this is what O'Neill did and Socialist Action does?

3. On imperialism, see here.
Excerpts:
"In fact, Stalinist imperialism corresponded more fully to Lenin's theoretical model (monopoly in economics, violence and reaction in politics) than anything in the West, or even anything that existed in 1916, though it was not 'the highest stage of capitalism' but rather, in the long view, a dead-end episode within the capitalist epoch...
"The 'orthodox Leninists' claim great strictness in their definitions. Because the strictness is not true theoretical rigour, developed by constant checking and revision of theory against reality, but rather a matter of esoteric codes and buzzwords, they invariably end up slipping and sliding between their 'high science' and looser usages imported from current radical politics (such as 'dependency theory', as above). Politics becomes wordplay. The USSR was not dominated by finance capital, hence its conquests could not really be imperialist, hence they could not represent domination, oppression and plunder of the weak by the strong. Or at any rate they were less grievous examples of such evils than 'proper' imperialism...
"The only way to break through this word-play is to recognise flatly that we must use a broader definition of imperialism, and within that to distinguish between forms of imperialism. Advanced capitalism continues to be imperialist, but less-advanced capitalism, or Stalinist state-capitalism, is not necessarily less imperialist. The evil in advanced capitalism is capitalism, not advance...
"Stalinist imperialism (Russia in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, China in Tibet, etc.) was and is as much to be opposed as ordinary capitalist imperialism."

Sacha

Submitted by Matthew on Sat, 07/11/2009 - 15:03

Sylvia, you say you will take Trotsky's advice in the Transitional Programme about the 'fake left' and 'calmly move on and ignore you'. Leaving aside Sacha's point that as far I as remember Trotsky says no such no thing (an exact quote and page would help), that is clearly not what you have done so far. Instead of ignoring what you see as the lies of bitter sectarians, you chose to reply with a piece of hagiography.

When you were challenged on O'Neill's role at the GLA, specifically by some straightforward questions we put to you, you decided to ignore them, replying with evasion and bluster.

I'll repeat the central charge: O'Neill, in his official capacity, helped to organise the TfL bosses against striking Tube workers (including, let it be noted, migrant, mostly African, cleaners working for cowboy contractors on the minimum wage). He was paid over £100,000 to work for an administration that was straightforwardly pro-capitalist, that not only attacked workers and sucked up to the bankers and developers, but boasted about its support from business.

You could answer that allegation - by attempting to disprove or justify it - but by ignoring it you implicitly accept it.

Submitted by Matthew on Sun, 08/11/2009 - 16:07

I take it from your failure - yet again - to address the central charge that O'Neill ended up a well-paid scab-herder for the bosses that you accept it is true. Any quotes from Trotsky about people who start out as revolutionaries and end up as renegades, Sylvia?

Submitted by Matthew on Mon, 09/11/2009 - 09:23

While we're waiting for an answer from Sylvia, these lines seem apt. They're from the poem 'To a Party Boss' by Kurt Tucholsky, a member of the German USPD in the 1920's:

"You knew the books and pamphlets,
You knew best how to wield a pen.
Comrades in arms - we really believed in you!
Comrade, do you still remember?
Today that's all in the past.
We can only get you through the intercom.
You smoke thick cigars after dinner,
You laugh at street agitators and fools.
Know nothing any more of old comrades,
You're invited everywhere.
You shrug your shoulders over good brandy...
Don't you sometimes hear in the dark night
A quiet voice reproaching:
'Comrade, aren't you ashamed?'"

I'd guess in O'Neill's case the answer was 'No'.

Submitted by Bruce on Tue, 10/11/2009 - 00:18

In reply to by Matthew

...was the great satirist of the Weimar Republic. I wasn't aware that any of his writings had been translated into English - some are written in Berlin dialect, others refer to fairly obscure parts of German life and politics. He committed suicide after Hitler came to power.

I grew up with odd bits of Tucholsky as my mother had learnt some bits by heart - particularly the piece 'Wie wird man Generaldirektor?' (How does one become a director general?) in which Tucholsky wittily notes the loss of a friend who had got to a high position and now looked down on previous associates by asking questions like:

"How does one become a director general? Does one pass an exam? No, it's the only thing in Germany for which one does not have to pass an exam."

Redmond also got to be a 'director general'...

PS: Some of Tucholsky's books were illustrated by the Communist artist John heartfield.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 09/11/2009 - 13:13

Sylvia,

1. The section you quote from the Transitional Program refers to tiny splinters from the Trotskyists who took ultra-sectarian positions such as refusing to support national liberation struggles, eg China against Japan, or refusing to take sides in the Spanish civil war. Your criticism, in contrast, is that of ultra-opportunist bureaucrats (so bureaucratic that to use the term opportunist almost seems misplaced) aimed against genuine revolutionaries and class-struggle activists. Trotsky repeatedly pointed out that when the Stalinists attacked the "ultra-left", disingenuously quoting eg Left-wing Communism, they were actually attacking the genuine Leninists.

2. Yes, please be concrete - no more of your pseudo-Hegelian mumbo jumbo!
i. Why was it right for O'Neill, as a supposed revolutionary and socialist, to take £100,000 a year to work for Livingstone?
ii. In what way was Livingstone anything other than a down-the-line pro-capitalist politician?
iii. Why was it right for O'Neill to side with the TfL bosses against the Tube workers and their union?
iv. Isn't siding with workers against capitalist bosses a violation of class principle, and not just a question of tactics as you imply?

Sacha

Submitted by Matthew on Sat, 14/11/2009 - 09:04

Apart from resurrecting an ancient sectarian lie - that the AWL's predecessor 'first began to distinguish itself by support for imperialism in the Falklands War' - without any evidence to back it up, Mark also fails to address the central charge against O'Neill made in the obituary: 'O’Neill was paid over £100,000 a year to work, alongside a number of his comrades, for a mayor who was quite openly a servant of the ruling class – breaking strikes, sucking up to bankers and property developers and lavishly praising the Blair and Brown governments'. Perhaps, unlike his (ex)-comrades, he could answer an allegation that clearly doesn't fit with his description of the man as a 'working class revolutionary internationalist'.

Submitted by edwardm on Sun, 15/11/2009 - 17:26

So, Mark Brown, that's how you decide to defend your political support for the USSR - "I haven't heard of this guy; and I don't understand what he is saying". Not a good look. Especially when that is all you are prepared to offer in defence of one of the most obscene, anti-working class social systems in human history. That level of debate might have been enough for Stalinists when they were in charge of secret police forces in the East; it might have been the level of debating skill necessary for Stalinists like O'Neill and Ken Livingstone when they were using the massive resources of the state to break strikes - but on the internet, you can't back up your argument with nightsticks and sackings, so here at least you'll have to try harder.

The USSR invaded and dominated other countries for the advantage of its own native ruling class - the bureaucracy. The bureaucratic leadership of the USSR and the Comecon bloc, aside from leading bloody wars all over the world and systematically assassinating and torturing working-class activists who disagreed with them, built an economic system whose barbaric, absurd wastefulness outdid even that of capitalism. The lack of even the most basic democratic freedoms in the Stalinist states left the working class so disorganised and beaten down that when these regimes collapsed out of their own utter political and economic bankruptcy in the late 1980s, the working class was incapable of defending itself against the worst ravages of capitalism. So much for the USSR representing a historically progressive phenomenon! So much for the USSR being, even in a 'deformed' way, a conquest of socialism! The top-down, 'socialism-from-above', the casual disregard for democratic freedoms of the Stalinist ruling class and its deranged cheerleaders in the West, disarmed the working class of the East, left it without its own leadership and organisations, and left it defenceless in the face of capitalism.

Although those regimes are dead that political approach persists, not least in fake-left boss-class partisans of the O'Neill variety. Which is why this debate is relevant today. The paternalistic, top-down approach to socialism of people like the Socialist Party, who believe that the mere fact of nationalising stuff is in itself a step towards socialism, can only disorientate the working class. The carefree attitude to the basic freedoms that the working class enjoys under bourgeois democracy, of people like the SWP, or of genuine Stalinists like yourself, Mark B, makes for sick, undemocratic trade unions and working-class parties, and it fudges the political question of democracy, leading the left down such blind alleys as supporting 'benevolent' dictators (Chavez) or allying with undemocratic 'anti-imperialist' regimes (Ahmedinejad). And the continued glorification of regimes whose basic function was to crush independent working-class organisation; the idea that it is possible to be leftwing and shit on trade unions; the obscenity of 'left' justifications for strike-breaking, whether perpetrated by Gorbachev, Livingstone, O'Neill or Castro, is a debilitating madness that will prevent sufferers from ever doing anything useful in terms of organising for socialism.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 16/11/2009 - 12:56

"Your quote is, frankly, from someone no-one else on the Left has ever heard of"

I don't agree that no one has heard of Martin Thomas - but in any case I wasn't quoting the article as scriptural authority, Mark, but as an illuminating work that puts the thought I wanted to express clearly and concisely.

"in support of the preposterous idea that Stalinism was more imperialist than imperialism."

No - read the article. What we're saying is that certain Stalinist states, like certain capitalist states, are imperialist. Something you totally fail to dispute.

"I have no idea scientifically, what a 'mononopoly in economics' means, it has nothing to do with Lenin, or, more importantly, the real world."

As in "monopoly capitalism"?

"The collapse of the Soviet Union was immediately followed by a plummetting in its population via the disease, starvation and emigration of millions, as well as the imperialist offensive in Iraq and elsewhere, which continues to this day."

Which is to say that capitalism - which Stalinism prepared the way for - is bad, to be opposed, to be fought by class struggle, to be overthrown and replaced by workers' power and socialism. Which, of course, is what we advocated and continue to advocate.
See 'Market madness: the triumph of unreason in the USSR'.

"But I would expect nothing better from a current which first began to distinguish itself by support for imperialism in the Falklands War."

Except we didn't - we straightforwardly opposed the Falklands war. Oh dear, facts are so inconvenient, aren't they?

"AWL has become enchanted with the forms of bourgeois liberal democracy and has failed to appreciate it content; that its power rests on bayonets, especially but not exclusively overseas."

Oh dear, wrong again! See, for instance, Socialism and Democracy.

"They were each resilient class warriors"

How is someone who took £100,000 a year to, for instance, help break RMT strikes, a working-class warrior?

"Cut Redmond and you would find working class revolutionary internationalist."

Revolutionary, how? Working-class, how?

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 14/12/2009 - 12:13

The first thing I'd say is that at least Claude attempts to make a substantive political argument. He fails, but he tries, in contrast to his comrade Sylvia's raving.

I haven't got time now for a full reply, but to get going:

You're right about Marx, and there are many other examples: not only Engels himself, but, for instance, William Morris and Paul Levi, a prosperous lawyer who was chairman of the German Communist Party in the early 20s. We'd certainly be critical of these examples too. The difference, though, is in what these individuals did with their lives - they devoted their resources to supporting workers in struggle and helping to build up the proletarian vanguard. Nor did they ever claim that their family's factory, inherited wealth, legal practice constituted the essence of their progressive political activity. Maintaining those, rather, was a means to an end (a means you might or might not judge acceptable). O'Neill, by contrast, took an inflated salary to serve a reactionary, pro-capitalist politician, acting as an anti-working class force (see below), while claiming to be an organiser for radical politics. Was he personally bought off by a bourgeois life-style? I have no idea, but that's not the only or even the main point.

On the RMT, it's not a question of a tactical debate with the workers' movement about a particular strike. It's the fact that O'Neill served as transport commissioner for a bourgeois politician who was continually in conflict with the most militant section of the working class in London, siding with TfL and Tube managers in trying to smash them. This included, when these workers went on strike, Livingstone calling for them to cross picket lines.

Now, yes, as you say, sometimes the right thing to do. If there was a racist strike, you might well advocate workers cross the picket line (though you might not; you might think they should stay out and argue; it's a tactical question). However, this is nothing of the sort. This is a case of workers with a relatively strong union fighting to defend their organisation, terms and conditions, pay etc against aggressive, union-busting employers. It's not a question of "compromise" - which can only be approached, as Lenin does, from the point of the workers - but of siding with the bosses against the workers. Not the same thing at all, as I'm sure most socialists can see! The fact that Socialist Action dressed up the Livingstone administration as so progressive that it was justified in strike-breaking (as if it was some sort of workers' government in a difficult crunch, with TfL run by revolutionary workers' commissars) shows how far it has degenerated from anything resembling working-class politics.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 15/12/2009 - 13:04

Having dealt with O'Neill and Socialist Action's work on behalf of bourgeois, strike-breaking politicians, let us turn to their Stalinism.

"...a third of the world was lost to imperialism was a huge blow to them. Unlike you, the international bourgeoisie understood this as a defeat and worked through military threats to reverse this, succeeding in 1989 - to much cheering from you lot and the SWP."
You could argue that a third of the world was lost to *capitalist* imperialism. What you couldn't logically argue - certainly not after 1945 - is that the USSR was 'lost' to imperialism and class exploitation in general, ie that it was anything other than an exploitative class society, and an imperialist state at that.
However, it wasn't capitalist, or at least not capitalist in the way that the bourgeois imperialist states are. So no wonder they were pretty hacked off about it! Doesn't make it a workers' state.

"USSR was a source of support for many other nations that were trying to escape the yoke of imperialism: the Palestinians, the Cubans, the Vietnamese to name but a few. Its very existence limited imperialism's ability to manuevre, allowing colonial revolutions to be more successful. America's defeat in Vietnam set its imperial ambitions back for decades."
Firstly, this doesn't prove that it was socialist or a workers' state. Secondly, and more importantly, it is a highly selective picture. What about the people's of eg Afghanistan and Eastern Europe that the USSR subjugated, the Tibetans and central Asian Muslims 'in' China, not to mention victims of the USSR's allies like the Eritreans? You could say that the US was a source of support for the Afghan people in their attempts to escape from the yoke of the USSR. True, but it wouldn't prove the US non-imperialist.

"Economically, even the burecratically deformed planned economy was able to outcompete capitalist economies for decades. In a few short decades the USSR rose from a third rate economic power to the 2nd most powerful nation in the world. Granted, as surplus labour was mopped up and as the inefficiencies and imbalnces created by bureacratic mismanagement accumulated, these growth rates steadily slowed, but the decline was accelerated because of the military competition it was forced into as (inexplicably according to your theory) imperialism tried to reverse the revolution through the arms race."
No, not inexplicably. Bourgeois capitalist imperialism was hostile to the Stalinist system. That doesn't prove what you want it to. At most it proves that Stalinism is non-capitalist. But in any case, having achieved forced-march primitive accumulation, Stalinism proved to be more reactionary than capitalism in terms of developing the productive forces. After the initial surge of primitive accumulation, it simply couldn't compete. How can you deny this?
The actual Russian revolution was 'reversed' by the Stalinists in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

"The welfare states created in Western Europe were a concession granted to the working class in part to head off the possibility of the russian revolution spreading westward."
They were concessions granted by a bourgeoisie that feared revolution. But since the Russian revolution was dead by 1936, it wasn't a question of it spreading westward. In fact, in addition, the Russian ruling class was one of the main factors preventing workers' revolutions in the West (Germany, Spain, France, Italy).

"Since the collapse of the stalinist states, all these have gone into reverse: a newly emboldened imperialism has attacked Yugoslavia (I know, you think that was a good thing), destroyed Iraq, invaded Afghanistan and is contemplating action against Iran, North Korea and Syria."
That's true. How does it prove that the USSR was non-imperialist, let alone a workers' state?

"The bourgeoisie has become much more emboldened about knocking back the welfare state in Europe and chipping away the meager social provisions in the USA."
Because of the defeat of militant labour movements in the 1970s and 80s. Yes, the capitalists were emboldened by the collapse of Stalinism. But the class balance of forces was decisive. If Stalinism had collapsed when the workers in the West were still powerful you could have seen different outcomes East and West.

"The Left has been decimated worldwide. Unfortunately your jubilant predictions of 'after the Stalinists, us' didn't work out. The collapse of Stalinism has led to the collapse of the entire left. Just look around you at the wreckage. Reactionary currents, like Islamic fundamentalism, have gained strength in the vacuum."
Yes, that demoralisation and disorientation is among the crimes of Stalinism. Our perspective was too short term, but in the longer run its collapse has cleared the way for a revival of genuine working-class socialism.

"The only place in the world where the left is reviving in any significant way is Latin America, led by Chavas and Morales, and for them you reserve particular venom. What a surprise."
You don't engage with our arguments about Chavez and Morales at all. What a surprise.

"And, of course, the people of Eastern Europe suffered too. The Russian working class lost many of their hard won rights: cheap housing, subsidised foods, free healthcare etc and were plunged into an unprecedented reversal in which life expectancy plunged by 10 years in 10 years. Yea capitalism!"
Who has said "Yay capitalism"? See eg our article 'The triumph of unreason: market madness in the USSR' linked to above.
"All that socialists in Britain can do is to understand; to give what help we can to socialists in the former Stalinist territories; and, in the light of the horrors now unfolding, to explain why capitalism is not and cannot be the progressive alternative even to the misery of Stalinism."
Yes, there has been a disaster for the Russian working class. If the collapse of Stalinism had happened when the workers in the West were strong and the bosses not on the offensive things could have been very different.
At the same time, there is now a labour movement in Russia - the movement that expanded, reorganised and armed with Marxist politics will one day overthrow capitalism and create a socialist society there. No such movement existed, or was possible, under Stalinism.

In any case, Socialist Action behaved not like confused orthodox Trotskyists but like Stalinist cheerleaders - look at their articles supporting the Chinese regime.

Sacha Ismail

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