This is the second part of A Critique of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left Social Democracy, written by Allan Armstrong. the first part can be read at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/09/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy/
2. EMANCIPATION, LIBERATION AND SELF-DETERMINATION AND INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW
IN RESPONSE TO NATIONAL SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, AND OFFICIAL AND DISSIDENT COMMUNIST
INTERNATIONALISM FROM ABOVE
Contents of Part 2
a. Why did Corbynism and Left social democracy appear in the UK?
b. The rise and fall of proto-parties outside Labour
c. To party or not to party, that is the question
d. Autonomous organisations
e. International organisation
f. Labour bureaucracy or dissident communist sects – a false choice
a. Why did Corbynism and Left social democracy appear in the UK?
i. One thing that needs explained is how did Corbynism and Left social democracy make a revival which nobody predicted? If we look to Greece, Spain, Portugal, France and Ireland, we can see well-supported independent Left organisations, which have developed outside the traditional social democratic parties. One answer to this question is the sheer resilience of conservative organisational forms in a state like the UK with such a long and deep-rooted unionist and imperial history.
ii. The only state where the electorate is even more wedded to the existing constitution and its two principal parties is the USA. Political conservatism in the USA is based on the long term impact of the counter-revolution within the original American revolution, which meant that the new republic became an imperial presidency. The Republican and the Democrat parties, which still uphold this constitutional set-up, have such an overwhelming political influence, that the two populist candidates in the recent presidential election – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, Right and Left respectively – felt obliged to join these parties. Trump is finding this quite hard to deal with, despite having the support of a section of the US ruling class. In the unlikely event of Sanders having being elected, he would probably have been spat out pretty quickly.
iii. Corbyn’s and Sanders’ campaigns have represented local variants of the wider upsurge directed against years of neo-liberal onslaught which led to the 2007/8 Crash. Yet Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, La France Insoumise, Left Bloc in Portugal and the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit in Ireland, all developed outside the traditional social liberal or social democratic parties. The campaigns for IndyRef 1 in Scotland and for Catalan independence have also been part of this international phenomenon. Certainly, these two campaigns have been led by long standing nationalist parties, albeit both pushed beyond their earlier conservatism. Nevertheless they have offered a challenge to their state’s constitutions, and to this degree were more radical than the independent Left challenges, which all worked within the existing state set-up.
iv. However, another thing, which must be addressed, when looking to the rise of Corbyn, is the failure of the Left in the UK to provide an attractive alternative. This is highlighted by the Left’s inability to sustain any progress in the years when social democracy was dominated by the politics of the neo-liberal Right and there was a wider political space to occupy.
v. We have long had socialist sects masquerading as parties – the old WRP, the post-1989 CPB, the SWP and the SP – as well as a myriad smaller organisations that claim to be the embryo of socialist parties, e.g. the CPGB-PCC, the old Militant, and countless dissident communist sectlets, whether they are in, orientate upon, or remain outside the Labour Party.
vi. When these would-be parties come into contact with wider movements, they can instantly be recognised by the ‘Intervention’. Some of their members are able to reproduce the skills of those old charismatic dissident preachers. But instead of turning to tears before worshipping followers, they usually settle for cheering and foot stomping, particularly from well-placed sect members in the congregation/audience. Others, in a more Jonah like mode, make long tedious contributions, more for their own benefit than that of the audience, and are happy with the silence or some sporadic polite applause at the end of their sermons.
vii. Relatively few people have the psychological make-up whereby either of these types of intervention is persuasive in the longer run. So sects tend to grow slowly, one individual at a time, although a good revivalist rally might produce a few more in the short term at least. Those members who stay come to accept that their chosen sect’s operating methods constitute proper ‘revolutionary’ behaviour. They develop a socially created form of autism. They always cheer on their own members’ interventions, often jeer those of other sects, and become annoyed when others curtail their interventions. The best form of self-treatment for such social autism is to leave the sect. Many do, but sects looks to new members to replace them.
viii. A recurrent problem with many of these sects is the personal power of particular individuals, protected by the leadership, who can often be psychologically, physically or sexually predatory – the WRP and SWP spring to mind – but this problem is more general. It reflects wider society.
xix. Ironically, despite the very strident denunciations of ‘the State’ by many of these sects, in reality, the UK state recognises their marginality, seeing that ‘their bark is far worse than their bite’, and understanding their continued capacity for self-destruction. Therefore, for the most part, it leaves them alone.
x. Then there is also the abstract propagandist sect, like the SPGB. The SPGB adapts to the UK state in another way. It takes no account of the nature of this state with all its anti-democratic Crown Powers. The SPGB accepts that the state run elections offer the party the means to take office and provide a mandate to bring about their ideal society. Before that though support has to be built up by making propaganda for the SPGB’s pure undiluted Marxist message and through long term educational work. To its credit, the SPGB does not behave like other sects. It rejects their often arrogant interventionism or revivalist meetings and tries to recruit members through patient exposition and by their personal conduct. They are the pietists of the Left. But, never having made much impact, the UK state has not had to reveal its iron fist and just ignores them.
xi. Some sects have attempted to move beyond their self-created ghettoes by setting up of front organisations – the SWP being the most prolific in this regard – e.g. Right to Work, Anti-Nazi League, Globalise Resistance, Unite Against Fascism, Stand Up to Racism. A key thing with these fronts is that the controlling sect’s central body decides upon their continued existence and their main focus of activities. Should those front members or supporters ‘not in the know’ raise unwanted questions or suggestions, the atmosphere quickly turns sectarian, as those ‘in the know’ turn upon them. And woe betides any actual sect members who publicly challenge the official line!
b. The rise and fall of proto-parties outside Labour
i. Some sects go through phases where they might adopt any of these techniques – the ‘Intervention’, abstract propaganda or fronts. However, during the 1990s, 2000s and up to the rise of Corbyn, there were also attempts to set up broader parties, or proto-parties that united the sects, Left social democrats and sometimes populist celebrities. The Britain-wide Socialist Labour Party (SLP), set up in 1996, and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), set-up in 1998, are two examples. These broader parties understood that the sects’ predictable self-righteous interventions limited their wider appeal. Their solution was often to promote charismatic leaders to help them get round this problem. This just created a new problem as these parties developed personality cults, which eventually led to splits. Most members deserted the SLP because of the total personal domination of its leader, Arthur Scargill. The SSP had Tommy Sheridan. At its height it had 2 councillors and 6 MSPs. However, the SSP split, with Tommy going on to form his own personal fan club, Solidarity. He initially dragged the SP and SWP in tow. But they could not restrain his ego, and eventually had to leave too.
ii. The Socialist Alliance (SA), made up of several sects and some Left social democrats in England and Wales, formed in 1999 but fell apart in 2003, following the feuding of the two main sects, the SWP and SP. The coup de grace was delivered by the SWP. The breach between the SWP and SP did not stop these two from trying to join up again, along with a few trade union bureaucrats, in the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in 2010. This electoral alliance survived long enough before becoming a victim of the rise of Corbyn and Left Labour. In between the SA and TUSC, the SWP allied with celebrity populist politician, George Galloway to create Respect. Galloway’s ego was far too big to be contained in any organisation, so Respect soon fell apart, leaving the SWP split, with the first of several breakaways – Counterfire (2010), ISG in Scotland (2011), ISN, (2013) and RS21 (2014) – of which only Counterfire and RS21 remain. In 2013, some other sects created the Left Unity Party (LUP), jaded as they were with the behaviour of the larger sects. LUP became another proto-party hoping to win over Left social democrats in the ‘Spirit of 45’.
iii. In Wales, there was briefly the post-SA Forward Wales (FW) set up in 2003. It was fronted by the decidedly non-charismatic, but nevertheless would-be populist, former Labour MP, John Marek. The SA’s inability to state clearly what it meant by Welsh self-determination, coupled to Galloway’s strident anti-Welsh language prejudices, contributed to the split, when Respect appeared on the scene. FW did not last long and, as is quite common with populists, they can quickly turn from Left to Right – Marek into the Conservative Party, whist Respect’s Welsh-language hater Galloway headed into the arms of Nigel Farage.
iv. In 2016, Scotland saw the creation of another proto-party – RISE-Scotland’s Left Alliance. This was made up primarily of the socialist wing of the Radical Independence Campaign with the participation of the now much smaller SSP. In the 2016 Holyrood elections, RISE went through the bruising experience of testing out its own essentially Left social democratic programme against that of the massively influential Centre social democrat SNP, which also had the backing of several prominent Left social democrats. RISE’s rout almost led to its demise. RISE decided not to stand in the June 2017 Westminster general election. Now facing two large competing social democratic parties – the SNP and the spectre of Corbyn’s Labour Party (in reality the official campaign remained very much under the control of the Right in Scotland) – RISE became politically paralysed (as it had over the EU referendum) and did not even make a voting recommendation. Afterwards it found its leading activists almost evenly split between those who had voted SNP and those who had voted Labour!
v. The biggest electoral success for socialists in the UK state has been in Northern Ireland. Here the SWP front, People Before Profit (PBP), gained a councillor in West Belfast in 2014, and two MLAs at Stormont, one in West Belfast, the other in Derry in 2016. In the Irish Republic, PBP had originally been part of a wider electoral coalition, the United Left Alliance (ULA), which formed for the 2011 Dail general election. Along with other sects, the ULA also included the well-placed Socialist Party (SP). Predictably, when two relatively evenly matched, and in this case larger sects unite, they soon fall out – in 2013 in this case.
vi. In Northern Ireland, however, the partitionist nature of the UK’s local Stormont statelet ensured that the SWP and SP never united. PBP operate mainly out of the nationalist community, the SP mainly out of the unionist community. In their considerably more hostile environment, the SP has little electoral support. Therefore the SP was amongst the first to openly bow before Corbyn’s Labourism by forming Labour Alternative. Being an essentially partitionist party, they did not try to create a section north of the border, for their front south of the border, the Anti-Austerity Alliance. Labour Alternative had its own local message, which was to try to recreate the old Northern Irish Labour Party (NILP) (which also operated primarily out of the unionist community). NILP failed precisely because it was unable to challenge the unionist and imperialist nature of the UK-imposed Stormont regime. Labour Alternative, after standing, with little impact, in 3 unionist areas in the March Stormont elections, made no challenge in the 2017 Westminster general election.
vii. PBP has also suffered a setback, after it decided to back Brexit. This was not popular in the nationalist community, where it mainly operated, especially since Brexit’s principal backers in Northern Ireland are the DUP, TUV, PUP, UKIP and the Orange Order! PBP lost one of its MLAs in the March Stormont election. Nevertheless, alone of all the socialist organisations in the UK, it still decided to stand in June Westminster general election. However, PBP’s vote fell by 35% compared with 2015, when leaving the EU when not been mentioned in their earlier Manifesto.
c. To party or not to party, that is the question
i. Now whilst political setbacks are inevitable, either for reasons beyond the control of the party or proto-party, or because of bad decisions (which can be rectified in a genuinely democratic organisation), the sheer volume of bad practice – e.g. the stranglehold of the central committee, anti-democratic forms of behaviour, including psychological, physical and sexual abuse – has prevented honest self scrutiny and accountability in the sects. Instead, scapegoats are usually found for any failures. The SWP has a long record of expelling individuals and factions. Beyond its ranks, this has helped to contribute to an anti-party culture. Given the record of the sects, which many have come into contact with, this is not at all surprising.
ii. This anti-partyist reaction has led to another problem, which limits the effectiveness of the Left. That is a worship of spontaneity, with a disregard for proper debate and decision making, record keeping and accountability. This led to a kind of semi-anarchistic movementist or Left populist politics. However, this has created its own problems. One example would be Occupy, where because anybody could have their say, individuals emerged who blamed the post 2007-8 crisis on Jewish financiers, revealing their underlying anti-semitism. Other dubious material began to be circulated. Sexually predatory individuals entered some Occupy camps, which because they were open to all, its supporters found a difficult problem to address.
iii. Any longer-term organisation needs to have agreed principles and a code of conduct as a condition of membership. This means every member can then have equal rights, expect to be treated with respect by all, and have their voice listened to. So, if someone expresses views or acts in ways, which are collectively recognised as undermining the principles of the organisation, then they should not be included in its decision making, and sometimes, if necessary, be excluded from the organisation.
iv. Furthermore, it is true that psychologically damaged people do join parties and campaigns, and display socially autistic behaviour, which needs to be addressed. Indeed, under the pressures of capitalism, most of us lie somewhere along the socially autistic spectrum. A certain degree of collective emotional maturity needs to be developed to address this problem.
v. The sects, in their usual superior manner, have been quick to recognise the political weaknesses of the movements without programmes or clear longer-term aims. However the sects’ own unattractive behaviour puts off most people. This limits the sects to individual recruitment on the margins, following their interventions.
vi. Nevertheless, the movements’ ability (whilst they last) to involve more people in a more open fashion has had its impact on some of the smaller sects. They have already had direct experience of the dogmatism and poor behaviour of the larger sects. The organisational breakaways from the old Militant and SWP have taken on board some of these new organisational methods, with both their advantages and their drawbacks.
vii. Circles, which were first widely used in the movements, can bring together members with every level of experience. They are an entirely appropriate way to come to some decisions. But, at other times, particular expertise needs to be introduced. By way of an analogy – in the event of a particular group of people confronting an accident involving one or more of its members, a collective decision about what to do immediately is the best approach. However, if the accident is serious, no amount of circle discussion will produce the needed solution. That will need expertise.
viii. Some party or proto-party members will have considerable political experience and theoretical knowledge. This needs to be used. However, even the most talented, in this regard, also need to acknowledge that best practice comes from collective decision-making. New less politically experienced people, not only need to contribute for this process to succeed, but they may often bring their own direct experiences, which others in the party are unfamiliar with. They may also think ‘outside the box’, helping to undermine dogma and make members more aware of new opportunities. As the old story goes – if the plane you are on crashes in the middle of the Australian desert, who would you rather meet up with – another crashed passenger who happens to be a nuclear scientist, or a local Aborigine?
ix. The manner in which experts become involved and conduct themselves will often have a key bearing on the organisation’s success in addressing any situation. We aim to create a society in which we collectively take direct responsibility for running the world. We need to be able to resort to many types of expertise to achieve this. At the same time, we need to ensure that these experts remain part of collective decision-making, and their personal reward comes from the contribution they make to the betterment of others’ lives, and their recognition that they also depend on others’ skills.
x. The development of parties is vital, but this requires a very different culture from that associated with large bureaucratic organisations like the Labour Party or the usually quite small sects, and an ability to see the limitations of movements.
xi. To encourage proper debate, a party or proto-party needs to move beyond the old practice of having factions (including the undeclared leadership faction). These are often found in the sects and bureaucratic social democratic parties. Factions nearly always act in a superior manner towards anybody else, and can resort to personalised abuse and worse when dealing with those they perceive not to be with them. Instead, platforms are required. Since all party members should have joined up on the basis of agreed principles, then the purpose of debate between different platforms is to further develop ideas for all party members, including other platform and non-platform members. Discussion and debate should be conducted, not to impose one particular line on others (or force them to leave), but to achieve a new synthesis, that is a higher level of understanding. This may still involve majority voting when programmatic positions need to be taken and particular actions agreed. But, these decisions can be returned to later, in the light of experience, and be revised if necessary.
d. Autonomous organisations
i. Parties should represent the highest form of organisation, because their activities are not confined to one arena, e.g. workplace, community, particular oppressed group, or field of cultural endeavour. The party is where the experiences from all these other arenas can be discussed, debated, leading to more effective political work. However, that does not mean that organisations working in particular arenas should be subordinate or directly affiliated to the party.
ii. In the UK, we have the example of trade union affiliation to the Labour Party. This has had the effect of privileging trade union officials who have the time, money and influence through their appointment of lower level officials. Furthermore, officials often enjoy a standard of living well above, and a lifestyle very different from the members they represent. They are often in regular contact with employers and politicians, including wining and dining, attendance at cultural events, paid out of employers’, councils’ or particular parliament’s hospitality budgets. Indeed, many officials spend more of their working (and in some cases leisure) time mixing in these circles than they do with their members,
iii. Furthermore, despite claims of trade unions being based on the sovereignty of ‘the members in conference’, any decisions, which are made at AGMs or other decision making bodies, tend to be vetted by the head office officials. They decide what shall and what shall not be implemented. In reality most trade unions mimic the UK constitutional set-up with its sovereignty of ‘Crown-in-Westminster’, but with their own sovereignty of the ‘Union HQ-over-the-AGM’, and control by an ‘inner cabinet’ led by the general secretary.
iv. Trade unions need to be organised on an industrial republican basis, which means the recognition of the sovereignty of members in their workplaces (or branches). These should be able to take whatever action they see fit, and make their own appeals for support. There should be no union head office right to declare action ‘unofficial’. Action taken by branches is independent action. For independent decision-making and actions to be effective, then the political discussions (as well as specific industrial tactics and strategy) need to take place at branch level. In Labour Party affiliated trade unions, important political discussions are usually conducted at a more rarefied level between trade union and party officials.
v. Trade unions do need to have political funds, but instead of their use being automatically gifted to the Labour Party, as a result of affiliation, they should be under the direct control of the membership in the branches (or other appropriate bodies). Then they can decide which party, campaign, etc. they want to support. This also means a party has to constantly persuade people of its politics. This can also counter bureaucratic conservatism and loyalism in their attempts to obstruct necessary changes.
vi. In the early soviet union after October 1917 (i.e. before it became the official Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922), the problem of the relationship of party to other organisations also arose and not just in relationship to trade unions. Even more important was the relationship to the soviets, which involved workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors. The soviets were meant to form the constitutional basis for a new international communist society, which would be created as the International Revolutionary Wave spread. However, once this wave ebbed, in the face of imperial pressure, the Party, i.e. the Bolsheviks/CPSU, increasingly insisted on imposing its control over the soviets, sometimes at bayonet point. A more outward looking soviet semi-state gave way to the more inward looking Party-state after 1921.
vii. A disregard for the autonomy of non-party organisations can arise in movementist circles too. This can happen if they consider moving on to a new proto-party or electoralist alliance. Those with movementist politics were prominent in the Radical Independence Campaign. Some of those who went on to launch RISE-SLA just used their local RIC branch. In effect, they saw both RIC and RISE as a reflection of their own movementism and did not make the important distinction between (proto) party and autonomous organisation. This made some people, including other RIC members suspicious, and provided an opportunity for politically hostile individuals and the press to go on the attack. Although this was soon clarified at separate meetings of both RISE and RIC, many in RISE moved on to new arenas of struggle, desperate to be where the action is, and showing little appreciation of the necessity to work in RIC, and maintain it as the Scottish internationalist and republican wing of the movement for Scottish self-determination. RISE had no strategy, just a set of tactics for whatever seemed to be moving at the time.
viii. There needs to be a wide range of autonomous organisations reflecting the nature of the capitalism we are up against. To view capitalism as the creation of the market (social democrats) or of the state (anarchists) is to see it in too limited terms. Capitalism rests upon our exploitation, oppression and alienation. Therefore, we need to respond with the appropriate organisations to bring about our emancipation, liberation and self-determination in its widest sense.
ix. In recognising this need for a new party/autonomous organisations relationship, two other traditional bad Left practices need to be abandoned – the creation of fronts, and the sect trying to substitute its own activities for those of wider genuine democratic coalitions. Instead, there should be the active involvement of party members in all arenas of struggle through the appropriate democratic autonomous organisations. Of course, individual party members will be limited by personal circumstances, geographical location and the time available. This is one reason why a party needs to bring the experiences back from each autonomous organisation for its members to discuss. Parties can also learn from wider forces in the autonomous organisations.
x. Capitalism affects different people and groups of people in different ways. We all have our own specific characteristics – e.g. nationality, gender, sexual orientation and particular abilities – which come in conflict with the way the owners and managers of capital and their states try to impose their needs upon us. Yet humans remain social individuals, dependent on the cooperation of others. In the process of bringing these social and individual characteristics together, there is a need to acknowledge that we are not all part of an undifferentiated exploited class. Appreciating our different needs can help to us come to a new unity – Unity in Diversity.
e. International organisation
i. Although capitalism is global, it takes on an imperial form. Allowing ourselves to be dragged through its multifaceted crises – economic, social, political, cultural and environmental – can only lead us to barbarism or worse. International organisation is vital. Unfortunately, the experience of sects and social democratic parties at national or state level has been replicated on the international scene. Sects like to puff themselves up with the appearance of being internationally organised. The SWP and the SP have their own sect internationals, the International Socialist Tendency (IST) and the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). The United Secretariat of the Fourth International has Socialist Resistance (SR) as its British section and Socialist Democracy its Irish section, although its French affiliate, the LCR – now dissolved – has carried far more weight within the USFI. The USFI does not have ideological coherence, though, so its constituent units can find themselves on different sides over crucial issues. The IST and CWI maintain their ideological coherence, through expulsions or bureaucratic marginalisation and harassment until people leave of their own accord.
ii. As at the national or state level, there has also been an attempt to bring the sects together internationally. This was done in 2000 in the form of the European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL). Like the pre-split SSP and the early Socialist Alliance (in England and Wales), the EACL in Britain brought together the IST (SWP), the CWI (SP) and USFI (SR), (as well as the SSP). As the EACL declined, losing much of its EU parliamentary representation in 2004, its various constituent members withdrew to their own sect internationals, or were drawn more and more into the orbit of the European Left (EL).
iii. The EL is essentially a Left social democratic body, in which the EU parliamentary group, the European United Left – Nordic Green Left) (GUE-NGL) is dominant. The move to bring in traditionally non-social democratic parties, such as Greens, represents some attempt to address a traditional lacuna on the Left – concern for the environment and the human/nature relationship. In these islands, Sinn Fein is the most significant member of GUE-NGL, with MEPs from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. In the process of jettisoning the Republican Movement’s revolutionary nationalist past, and pursuing a constitutional nationalist course, Sinn Fein has also taken on board social democratic, state-orientated, neo-Keynesian policies, which helps to explain its affiliation.
iv. Official social democracy has the Party of European Socialists (PES), which, like its constituent member parties, is dominated by a parliamentary group – the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). The addition of ‘Democrats’ reflects the rise of Right social democracy internationally. In the UK, the British Labour Party and the Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party are members. The Labour Party currently has 19 MEPs; the SDLP has not had any since 2004.
v. The internationalism of the PES/S&D, EL/GUE-NGL and EACL could be termed diplomatic. They proceed by means of bureaucratic negotiations amongst their main component parts. The constituent national parties or sects can have quite different policies over such important things as whether to back or oppose particular wars, e.g. over Iraq in 2003, over the EU, or which party or sect to support in Greece.
vi. A glaring weakness of the parties or proto parties today is their inability to take advantage of the possibilities for organising internationally. These are so much greater than in the times of the classic Internationals – Communist League, the First, Second and Third Internationals. For example, information technology makes international communication so much easier. The possibilities can be seen in the geographical extent and numbers mobilised by the Anti-Globalisation Movement from 1999, the Anti-War Movement in 2003, Occupy in 2011 and the Women’s March against Trump on January 21st 2017. Yet none of these mobilisations have been achieved under the banner of the sect internationals, the EACL, or EL.
vii. As a consequence, a movementist politics has emerged, which makes a virtue out of immediacy and spontaneity, as opposed to the need to set up more permanent organisation. To effectively confront the global corporate order of today, organisations need to develop programmatically. Programmes are not the equivalent of religious dogma, e.g. where Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Programme is given canonical status. Those recognising the need for some changes (after all it is now 80 years later!) tend to become heretics in the eyes of other Trotskyists. Nor are programmes elaborated recruiting statements to be quietly ditched later or forgotten, as with the SWP’s 1998 Action Programme. For a party, programmes are as important as democratic constitutions. In the light of the most advanced experiences from previous International Revolutionary Waves, and an analysis of the current political, economic, social and cultural developments, the maximum component of a programme should outline the society we need to bring about human emancipation, liberation and self-determination. Then by examining the nature and level of current class struggles, the immediate component of the programme should how how to develop the independent class organisations and the policies which are required. A programme is an essential democratic tool. It needs to be revisited at each conference, to see what needs to be amended or added to, in the light of the wider socio-economic developments and ongoing experiences.
viii. Instead of sect internationals, diplomatic multi-sect internationals or no international at all, a new international, based on non-ideological principles (by rejecting adherence to particular ‘isms’ – Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism) would be more appropriate. This would mean the unity of those seeking emancipation, liberation and self-determination. The Second International was initially ideologically based, giving primacy to an orthodox Marxism. This tradition was continued in the Third International, only it was not Marxist primacy, but Marxist-Leninist supremacy that was sought. The CPSU, backed by the USSR state, was able to enforce this. This attempt to establish Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy was taken almost to the point of parody by the Fourth International, which, without state backing, split up into the infamous 57 varieties of Trotskyism.
ix. One effect of this attempt to establish orthodoxy was that instead of having conferences testing an International’s success over the degree to which it had achieved its immediate programme, based on class struggles, these internationals’ thinking and activities became blurred and refracted through ideological battles. As the leaders of the Second International were defending orthodox Marxism against Right revisionists and Leftists, they failed to challenge the growing adaptation of many of its member parties to their national state. This led to its collapse at the beginning of the First World War. The Third International’s dramatic change from supporting Popular Fronts in 1935 to supporting the Hitler/Stalin Pact in 1939 was not approved by any conference. The jailing or killing of many Third International members marked the lead up to this switch in line, as Stalin used the USSR state apparatus to assert his right to impose Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy.
x. The assertion of Party or sect dogma, often based on a vulgar materialist philosophy, replaced dialectical thinking. Dialectical thinking can appreciate the partial truths in different arguments, and aim for a higher synthesis in thought, to be tested in democratically agreed forms of action.
xi. Today we need something more like the early First International. It organised solidarity for migrant workers, national democratic struggles (the USA, Poland and Ireland) and contributed to the emergence of the Paris Commune in 1871. It was non-ideological but had a set of founding principles. The First International’s meetings were well prepared and recorded. Real debates took place. The eventual collapse into competing sects – e.g. Marxist, Lassallian, Bakuninist – largely came about because of the defeat of the Paris Commune.
f. Labour bureaucracy or dissident communist sects – a false choice
i. The rise of Corbyn and Left social democracy has meant that many people have become involved in party politics for the first time, whilst others have abandoned the unattractive sects to join the Labour Party. Some of the sects have also joined up and others will undoubtedly try. They hope to gain some influence as organised factions. In the process their sect-inherited behaviour will repel many. However, in the Labour Party, they will also come against an equally long tradition of dull routinism, highly competitive careerism, coupled to behind-the-scenes political carve-ups, and the marginalisation of those who oppose the leadership, using all sorts of unsavoury methods. In the Labour Party this is just seen as the ‘normal stuff ‘of politics’. Corbyn already has his gatekeepers in the leadership of Momentum and in approved trade union bureaucrats.
ii. Furthermore, the trade union bureaucracy has played a greater role in the Labour Party than any other social democratic party. Some consider Broad Leftists like Len McCluskey of UNITE to be another component of the Labour Left, like Momentum. Whatever, reservations one might have towards Momentum, it remains a diverse collective of Left Labour individuals. McCluskey represents a social force, that of the trade union bureaucracy. Negotiating within, not replacing capitalism, is their aim. They are not consistent supporters of the Labour Left. McCluskey did not support John McDonnell when he was a candidate for Labour leader, and his first choice for Labour leader was Andy Burnham. This is because the trade union bureaucracy is motivated by getting nearer to the centre of power politics. This can be seen in McCluskey’s and UNITE’s continued support for Trident. Yet the Labour Left and their marxist sect outriders voted for McCluskey to continue as general secretary against a rank and file candidate, and despite McCluskey’s resort to red-baiting. In the event of Corbyn ever getting elected, such trade union bureaucrats would use their position to ensure that their members took no action to undermine a government which had placed them in a prominent behind-the-scenes position. Back in the days of Old Labour, between 1974-79, two powerful trade union general secretaries, Hugh Scanlon (AUEW) and Jack Jones (TGWU), well to the Left of McCluskey, ensured that their members took no action against the Social Contract, which formed the basis of Labour government economic policy at the time.
iii. There is also a danger that new members of the Labour Party will become ground down between the activities of the sects and the party’s bureaucratic apparatus. Many will drop out, joining the others who have become disillusioned with politics. This is why, in any attempts to build new party organisation, nationally and internationally, as well as to develop autonomous groups, it is so important to create a new democratic culture, which rather than having short-term influence, or repelling many, can attract and gain long term adherents.
iv. Furthermore, the social republicanism, which underpins any effective immediate programme, can not be sustained in a period of multi-faceted crisis, unless there is a vision of an alternative society, based on the principles of emancipation, liberation and self determination. This is a key reason for having a party. Perhaps this vision can best be summed up as a society based on the principles:- i) from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs, ii) where the government over people is replaced by the administration of things, and iii) where the freedom of each is the condition for the freedom of all. Such a society can be achieved in a global commune of associated producers, which, in recognising that humanity is part of nature, strives to establish a sustainable relationship with the environment.
Part Three can be seen at:-