Aug 11 2017


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:-






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. Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 2”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jan 21 2015




Photo of RCN banner – Patricia Kirk & John Lannigan


A) The emergence and clash of Left British unionism and Left Scottish nationalism

B) The politics of the Scottish independence referendum campaign

C) How the Left responded to the demand for greater national self-determination in Scotland

D) Carrying over lessons learned from the SSP experience

           i)   the need for political platforms

           ii)  the need for a revolutionary pole of attraction

           iii) the need for political balance sheets to avoid repeating earlier mistakes

E) Promoting socialist republicanism and ‘internationalism from below’

           i) The political legacy of the Republican Socialist Conventions and the Global Commune events

           ii) Debating with other socialists during the Scottish independence referendum campaign

           iii) promoting socialist republicanism and ‘internationalism from below’ in RIC

           iv) the debate over secularism

           v) the debate over Ireland

F) Debates and differences within the RCN

          i) in the lead up and during the referendum campaign

          ii) since the September 18th referendum

          iii) the future for RIC, the all-islands Republican Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Left Project






Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Apr 26 2010

A reply to Alan Johnstone of the Socialist Party of Great Britain” from Allan Armstrong

In his letter to Weekly Worker, no. 812, Alan Johnstone attacks my claim that Marx and Engels would have been supporters of an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy from the time of the First International.

On Alan’s first point, that what socialists should do in 2010 does not depend on what Marx and Engels may or may not have done in the nineteenth century, I am in agreement. I had already made the case for socialists/communists adopting an of an ‘internationalism from below’ approach in these islands on the basis of an analysis of the current political situation.

Nevertheless, I still think there is something to be gained by learning from historical experience. Of course, you have to be aware of the different contexts. Yet, I think a very strong case can be made for Marx and Engels’ adoption of an ‘internationalism from below’ stance. Alan maintains that Marx’s support for certain independence movements stemmed from Marx’s opposition to the three great feudal powers – Russia, Austria and Prussia. Certainly Marx and Engels’ support for the Polish and Hungarian national democratic movements in 1848 can be attributed to such strategic thinking.

However, the founding conference of the First International in 1864 declared that, It is imperative to annihilate the invading influence of Russia in Europe by applying to Poland, ‘the right of every people to dispose of itself’ and re-establishing that country on a social and democratic basis. Quite clearly, Marx and Engels were already beginning to move towards a more general democratic principle, in giving their support to Poland.

Furthermore, if Alan reads Marx and Engels’ quite substantial writings on Ireland, particularly from the period of the First International, he would realise that their support for Irish self-determination – sometimes advocating a confederal relationship with Britain, other times complete independence – amounted to much more than a desire to weaken the position of the English landed aristocracy, although this was certainly a consideration. Alan’s attempt to equate this landed aristocracy with the remnants of feudalism, to justify his own interpretation, is frankly wrong. The landlord class in Ireland may have been a strong supporter of Tory reaction (by the end of the century, the same could be said of the industrialists of north east Ulster), but they were very definitely capitalist landlords, as was demonstrated by their actions during the Great Famine.

If Alan’s argument is sound, then by the 1880s, when Marx and Engels no longer saw Tsarist Russia as the ‘reactionary strong man of Europe’, they should have abandoned even their tactical support for Polish independence. Instead, in a letter to Kautsky, in 1882, Engels wrote that,

So long as Poland is partitioned and subjugated, therefore neither a strong socialist party can develop in the country itself… Polish socialists who do not place the liberation of their country at the head of their programme appear to me as would German socialists who do not demand first and foremost repeal of the {anti-} socialist law, freedom of the press, association and assembly. In order to be able to fight one needs first a soil to stand on, air, light and space. Otherwise all is idle chatter.

Furthermore, Alan highlights the fact that Marx and Engels denounced many other nationalist movements such as the Slavs. This was certainly their earlier attitude, accentuated by the defeat of the 1847-9 International Revolutionary Wave. However, in 1888, Engels wrote to the Romanian Social Democrat, Ion Nadejde, that, Once Tsarism is overthrown… Austria will disintegrate… Poland will come to life again… the Romanians, Hungarians and Southern Slavs will be able to regulate their affairs and their border questions free from foreign interference.

So, far from Marx and Engels’ support for national democratic movements being confined to a select few countries for particular strategic reasons (undoubtedly their earlier stance), from the 1860s onwards, they gave their support to he right of every people to dispose of itself. Furthermore, as I showed in Engels’ response to Hales, a British Left unionist, Marx and Engels fought for the organisational principle of ‘internationalism from below’ within the First International.

I too like Eugene Debs quote, but I note that after 106 years of the SPGB’s existence, the World Socialist Movement, of which it forms a part, seems confined to the richer English-speaking countries of the world. How can this be explained?



A Letter from Alan Johnston (SPGB) to Weekly Worker no 812


How disappointed I was when I read the article title Misusing Marx and Engels (April 1) and learned how its author, Allan Armstrong, himself misuses Marx and Engels by declaring that they would have somehow supported the slogan ‘Internationalism from below’.

That Marx and Engels supported certain independence movements (yet also denounced many other nationalist movements such as that of the Slavs) is sometimes used to try to justify socialists today supporting the demands for independence.

Two points can be made. Firstly, what socialists should do in 2010 does not depend on what Marx or Engels may or may not have done in the 19th century. But, secondly and more importantly, the circumstances which led Marx to support some independence movements of his time no longer exist in today’s world.

After the failures of 1848, Marx pretty much dropped out of active politics and devoted more of his time to his studies. However, he later began actively to participate in political struggle within the First International. His strategy was the long-term one of preparing the working class to win political power for socialism. This involved Marx advocating various democratic and social reforms. This process was continually threatened by the three great feudal powers – Russia, Austria and Prussia. The bourgeois democratic victory over feudalism was far from complete, even in a rapidly industrialising Britain.

In these circumstances, Marx considered it necessary to support not only direct moves to extend political democracy, but also moves which he felt would weaken the feudal powers of Europe. He supported Polish independence as a means of weakening tsarist Russia. His support for Irish independence was for a similar reason. It would, he thought, weaken the position of the English landed aristocracy.

World War I destroyed the three great European feudal powers, making it no longer necessary for socialists to support moves to weaken them. Once industrial capitalist powers had come to dominate the world, and once a workable political democracy had been established in those states, then the task of socialists was to advocate socialism rather than democratic and social reforms. That is the position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Marx’s strategy was concerned with furthering the establishment of political democracy. It was not, as some think, an anticipation of Lenin’s theory of imperialism, according to which independence for colonies will help precipitate a socialist revolution in the imperialist countries. Nor was it, as Allan Armstrong would like us to believe, an early endorsement of ‘internationalism from below’. Marx clearly wrote of the independence movements helping to overthrow the remnants of feudalism, but not capitalism itself.

With regard to all nationalisms generally, I suggest that socialists heed Eugene Debs when he said: I have no country to fight for; my country is the Earth, and I am a citizen of the world.


(see Alan’s original letter at:-

Tags: , ,