EDITORIAL: Unite the left to meet the new challenge!

Submitted by Anon on 21 March, 2003 - 2:26

There are openings for the growth of the revolutionary left such as we have not had for two decades. The tremendous upsurge of opposition to Bush's and Blair's war on Iraq, together with the rise of the anti-capitalist movements and the as yet limited, but radically important, revival of real trade unionism in Britain, have combined to create this situation.

A united revolutionary left organisation could now hope to recruit and politically educate thousands of new people. We have opportunities - and also dangers, in the first place the pressing danger that this chance will be missed. It will be criminal if we let ourselves miss it.

Unfortunately the united left organisation the working class needs does not exist. Neither, to a considerable extent, does a politically adequate Marxist left.

What exists is a sizeable number of organisations which have roots in the Trotskyist tradition - the tradition of those communists who, from the early 1920s, fought the Stalinist ruling class which seized power in Soviet Russia and control of the Communist Parties - but have evolved and mutated in different ways over decades.

Typically these groups are organised as more or less authoritarian sects. For many, many years the groups and groupuscules in the neo-Trotskyist archipelago had little contact with each other, almost no collaboration even on things on which they agreed, and no dialogue at all over the political issues that divided them.

In the last several years that has changed for the better in the Socialist Alliance. For practical purposes the Blairite coup in the Labour Party deprived the trade unions, that is, the bedrock labour movement, of effective parliamentary representation for the first time in a century. Sections of the Marxist left responded to this situation by doing what the French left has done with spectacular success - combining to fight elections.

That has led to the creation of a loose umbrella organisation, within which there is more intra-Marxist dialogue than for decades, and some attempt to create the democratic structure without which long-term regular collaboration of different strands will be impossible.

In principle the Socialist Alliance might be made to evolve, stage by stage, into a revolutionary party in which its component organisations would achieve an organic unity. However, the Alliance shows no sign of doing anything like that.

Conflicts with the biggest Socialist Alliance group, the SWP, have already led its second biggest organisation, and one of the Alliance's founders, the Socialist Party, to withdraw.

There are two sorts of contradictions which probably rule out the Alliance's development into a revolutionary party.

A loosely-structured entity like the Socialist Alliance which, though it does other things and could do more, nonetheless coheres fundamentally around one defining activity, fighting elections, has no possibility of democratically resolving serious political differences except by its biggest organisation, the SWP, having its way and outvoting the others.

That means that the essential political processes that determine what the Alliance will say and do take place outside the Alliance, in the component organisations.

The Alliance, whatever form of democratic debate and decision-making it employs, can only be as democratic as its component parts, in the first place its biggest, the SWP. The SWP, however, is an autocratic, not a democratic, organisation, with no debate in its public press and rather little internally.

So, while the Alliance in its time amounted to a big step towards left unity and was an enormous improvement on what had gone before, and while the AWL is and intends to remain part of it, it is a very limited form of left unity - and, simultaneously, a barrier to the creation of organic left unity in one rational and democratic revolutionary party.

We need a great deal more than that. The new opportunities made a great deal more than the Alliance both an urgent necessity and an objective possibility.

But is it really possible? What can be done to achieve what may now be possible?

Any answer to the disease of needless disunity necessarily implies an account of how we got into the present situation.

Revolutionary politics is a process of grouping and again regrouping around answers to the day's all-shaping political issues. For example, the limited unity so far achieved in the Socialist Alliance is a regrouping in response to the most important event in working-class politics for many decades - the hijacking of the Labour Party by the Blairites. The core idea that led AWL to help found the Alliance (known at first as 'United Socialists') was the need to restore working-class and labour-movement representation in Parliament.

Eighty years ago, the Communist Parties were differentiated from the Social Democrats and organised around a response to the Russian Revolution, the foundation of a new working-class International (the Communist International), and a determination to learn the lessons that had led to working-class victory in Russia in 1917 and apply them elsewhere.

The Trotskyist movement, which stood on the foundations of the Communist International, was also the product of a world-reshaping event, but a negative one for the working class - the Stalinist counter-revolution in the USSR.

The big Communist Parties and the Communist International fell under the control of the Stalinist autocracy that had seized power in Russia. During the world crises of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, those, led by Leon Trotsky, who stood on the founding politics of the Communist International were reduced to tiny groups, persecuted and often jailed or murdered by fascists, Stalinists and bourgeois democrats alike.

The death of Trotsky - murdered by Stalin's assassin in August 1940 - the division of the world after World War Two between the Stalinist empire on one side and the capitalist powers led by the USA on the other, and the revival of capitalist growth and prosperity after the tremendous decline between the two world wars, meant that the surviving Trotskyist groups - many of their most experienced and competent activists had been killed, all over Europe - remained small and isolated, grappling with enormous political problems. In general, they suffered a catastrophic decline in political culture. Most of them adopted variants of the seemingly 'successful' Stalinist party style of organising themselves. (An exception, in some ways a partial exception, was the political current led by Max Shachtman and Hal Draper). The result is the chaos that exists in Britain and many other countries today.

To unite the revolutionary left, or most of it, requires two things: political renovation and renewal, and democratic, rational, anti-authoritarian ways of organising ourselves.

The two things are inextricably linked. There can not be political self-renewal and living political development in response to an always-changing world without free discussion. There can not be free discussion unless the organisation is free alike from dogma-worship, from indifference to the great and clean real tradition of Lenin and Trotsky, from the distorting power of high priests and self-designated prophets and colleges of cardinals, and from the suppression of minority opinion practised in most of the groups (with the consequence that sub-groups fight to make themselves dictator, or, if they lose, easily choose to split and found a new group).

Those preconditions are absent in most of the revolutionary left. One result has been a progressive political degeneration. The most striking current example is the SWP's descent into popular frontism - that is, cross-class alliances - with Liberals, in the Anti-Nazi League even with Tories, and in the anti-war movement with the Muslim Brotherhood (MAB), the oldest Islamic fundamentalist party in the world, which stands for something very like fascism in Islamic countries and within the Islamic communities in Britain.

Is there then no possible way forward? Yes, there is. The first thing is to recognise and define our situation as it really is. Too often people turn away in disgust from the disarray of the left. That only helps keep that situation in being. The pressing job is to change it by way of political renewal and organisational reconstruction.

The prerequisite for serious political dialogue is to recognise that the very structure of the typical left group is inimical to the open political discussion and debate without which no political renewal is possible. The way forward from where we are is to agree on the minimum organisational and political basis for an initially loose but organic unity that - unlike the current Socialist Alliance - would have the possibility of growing into one integrated party.

As the main political planks for a revolutionary regroupment we propose the following:

  • Workers of the world unite! For global solidarity against global capital. Against all wars, except those of national or working-class liberation. Solidarity with the peoples of Iraq against both the war drive and the Baathist dictatorship.
  • Socialism, meaning not the Stalinist model but its opposite, a society reshaped on the principles of working-class solidarity and consistent democracy.
  • Working-class self-liberation as the means to socialism; and, therefore, a fight for the political independence of the working class and opposition to 'popular fronts'.
  • An orientation to the working class and the labour movement as they are, while fighting to transform the movement. Active support for and involvement in working-class struggles at every level, including the smallest trade-union battles. Democracy and open debate in the labour movement; for a rank-and-file movement in the unions. The promotion of working-class representation in Parliament, through independent candidacies but also through campaigning for the unions to assert themselves in Labour's structures, to fight Blair's New Labour machine, and to work towards a refounded broad workers' party.
  • For a workers' government - a government based on and accountable to the bedrock labour movement, which will push through working-class policies against capitalist resistance: trade union rights, rebuilding public services under renewed public ownership and workers' and community control, taxation of the rich and expropriation of the great magnates of capital, etc.
  • Consistent democracy, as a basis of socialism, and as something to be fought for in partial battles now, under capitalism; and internationally. The workers of every nationality must appeal to the workers of other nationalities with the assurance that they tolerate no imposition upon themselves, but equally seek no privilege over the others. Solidarity with the Palestinians, while also upholding Israel's rights: two nations, two states. For a free united Ireland, with autonomy for the Protestant-majority areas in the north-east.
  • For women's liberation; against racism and immigration controls; equality for lesbians and gays.
  • The building of a revolutionary party not as a self-sufficient sect but according to the logic and needs of the class struggle on its three fronts, economic, political and ideological.

And the minimum organisational basis?

  • To organise in the workplaces and in all mass working-class organisations on the basis of majority discipline in action;
  • Democratic structures, allowing free discussion and rights of self-expression in committees and in the public press to minorities;
  • At least for a transitional phase, the right for minorities to have their own subsidiary publications alongside the party's main press.

Solidarity/Workers' Liberty

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