THE DEMISE and implosion of the Socialist Workers’ Party (UK) has, I would admit, a morbid fascination for some of us. Some regular visitors to/readers of Storyboard4 will recall the ‘love-in’ between the former International Marxist Group (IMG) and the SWP (UK) in the late 1970s — a short-lived romance — ‘Socialist Unity’ I think it was called. The issues, regarding the SWP (UK) today, have involved alleged sexual violence against women — these are serious accusations; the fact that the issues involved were, for many of us, resolved, at least partially, many decades ago only makes the SWP’s crisis seem all the worse. Are other currents on the revolutionary left (nationally and internationally) any better at, not just confronting the present-day situation in the SWP, but with regard to many other issues, any better? I wonder if the left’s language needs an overhaul. (“’Language‘ again Roland?”) Oh … piss off!
There are always difficult moments — it could be the birth of a child, the discovery that you have a child — but does any of that beat the obfuscation of a debate inside the Fourth International (FI)? Worryingly, I am almost inclined to think not. If there were a ‘market’ demand’ for such obfuscatory practices or skills the International’s financial/resource problems would be solved in the blink of an eyelid.
Of course no-one would take their 30 pieces of silver would they? Oh no. No need to hang yourself if you have democratic assemblies (World Congress, International Committee, commissions …) to utilise in order to differentiate yourself even if there is little differentiation to be genuinely had.
I have to hold my hands up. I skulked away from the British section of the FI in a sulk about this or that (although, ‘ironically’, the very same section of the FI is engaged in political activity today which, in the past, I had been ridiculed for suggesting it should be engaged with, even if tentatively. “C’est la vie”? Bugger off!
I feel that these days that I can only, in any real sense of engagement, comment on discussions with regard to Europe. My self-imposed political exile does not put me in any ‘qualified’ position to comment on events and mere mortals in Latin America or elsewhere. I have impressions but they may well be controversial even to those who would have readily denounced me in the past.
“… language … definition …”
What seems to be at issue in Europe is the political character of new broad mass parties of the left. The “tasks and role of the FI” document (approved by a majority I assume at its most recent ‘world congress’) agreed, as far as my addled mind can fathom, that such parties will, or even must be, “anti-capitalist”. Alan Davies, from Britain, raises an objection and I don’t think it’s an entirely ‘anglo-centric’ one. There is agreement that the International should be working towards creating, building new parties to the left of traditional social democracy. What they can’t agree upon is the language, definition used; in short, the peculiarities of ‘national specifics’. Davies argues (in his contribution “… to the broad parties debate”, June 2013) and, as an indication that much water has gone under the proverbial bridge, I’m inclined to agree with him on is that those of us who would describe ourselves as Fourth Internationalists and sympathisers, can argue for a new “anti-capitalist” party but that is not necessarily what will (immediately) emerge; the new party of the left will, more than likely be radical but, ‘programatically’, be a left-reformist party. The implication in the “tasks and role …” document would seem to be this: if the new broad mass party declares itself to be “anti-capitalist” then it would, by some strange process of osmosis, be organising for a revolutionary break with capitalism. The constitution adopted by Left Unity (in Britain) declares that it is “socialist” and “against capitalism”. Who would claim that Left Unity is a new mass revolutionary party? This is a particular totem, I think, in Britain; a ‘peculiar specific’ if there ever was one. Leading members of Left Unity talk glowingly, gushingly of “old Labour”, the “old ‘Left’”. They come across as suspicious of anything “new”. The radical/revolutionary left in Britain missed the boat. We should have been the one’s who could claim that “we are New Labour”! We weren’t even on the quayside. Left Unity is a ‘work-in-progress’. Frustrating, isn’t it?
In a contribution from France, Sandra Demarcq describes how, with the launch of the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), the former Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire (LCR) sought to build a new party:
“…broader than the LCR. A party which did not take on board the entire history of Trotskyism and which had the ambition of making possible new revolutionary syntheses. A party that was not reduced to unity of revolutionaries. A party that conducted a dialogue with millions of workers and young people. A party that (sic) expressed its fundamental programmatic references in explanations, agitation and popular formulas. A party that could conduct broad discussions and influence, along with others, the fundamental questions facing society: the crisis of capitalism, new feminist questions, climate change, bio-ethics, the protection and the development of common assets (water, air, forests, energy …). A party of activists and members, able to integrate thousands of young people, women and workers, with their social and political experiences, (preserving their) close links with their communities of origin. A pluralistic party that brought together a whole series of anti-capitalist currents.
We did not want an LCR or an enlarged LCR. To succeed in our aim, this party had to represent a new political reality, to situate itself in the tradition of the revolutionary movement, and to contribute to inventing the revolutions and the socialism of the 21st century.”
Who in today’s Fourth International could disagree with these sentiments? Clearly some do and I think that Davies was right to refute the arguments of the US Socialist Action who appear to be still clinging to a myopic view of how revolutionary parties might be built in the 21st century as if it were still 1913. It both saddens and infuriates me that there are still revolutionary marxists out there who have this ‘tick-box’ mentality; “if only you had read page 93 of ‘(…)’ you would have created a proper, bang-on ‘Mc’workers’ state”. ‘Fordism’ never died; it incorporated itself inside elements of the revolutionary left. “If you stick to a model, Lenin, you and your family will reach their destination. Now, if you could just sign here that you agree that we have no responsibility should anything go wrong. Thankyou.”
What does this obfuscation reveal? I repeat: we have, thankfully, moved away from an over-centralised conception of the International, a “world party of socialist revolution”. Yet, with one good step forward we trip over other, previously unforeseen obstacles. LANGUAGE. We all use it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of (at least I hope not; some of us have to make a living using words and sub-constrictive clauses. You wouldn’t normally want to leave your home if you’d heard one of those was in your neighbourhood). But we don’t always mean the same thing even if we use similar words.
Above, I quoted Demarcq as saying a new French left party must “situate itself in the tradition of the revolutionary movement” (my emphasis). In Britain we might have phrased it thus: “… the ’radical’ movement”. Is there a substantial difference? Now comes the hard question. Is the weight and piss-poor influence of post WWII social democracy the same in France as it is in Britain? I would contend that it’s not; but I am open to persuasion. In Britain, I would contend, the weight of social change through the (now) ‘social-liberal’ Labour party, via the ballot box, is heavier than it would appear to be in France with the Socialist party (Parti socialiste or PS).
This is an important point in a country such as Britain (and following the referendum vote in Scotland in 2014 it may be even more difficult to come to a simple conclusion; politics is not always simple) given that a large proportion of Left Unity supporters/voters often appear to be drunk on nostalgic and romanticised notions of what left-reformism/social democracy achieved in the post WWII years. Genuine gains were made but are now being demolished with a neo-liberal free market axe that not even Thatcher was comfortable wielding. Hayek, Friedman and their evangelists have come out of their ‘think-tank’ bunkers. If a new left party takes the struggle against austerity and cuts seriously then it will be a party that is sooner or later faced with stark choices. If it can support and build those struggles, and the social movements around it Fourth Internationalists, should be building it, intervening and, to the best of their abilities, shaping it because it furthers the interests and demands of the workers’ movement, the oppressed, the socially marginalised, the vulnerable … I could go on … and on; we are furthering important social interests over and above any closeted ideological mantras of our own.
Thankfully, we no longer have a FI that comes up with tasks for this or that continent and expects sections and sympathising organisations to go off and implement them — ‘willy-nilly’. Yet the inclination to come up with the strategy, the tactic; it would still seem to be there. Denied, I’m sure, but still bubbling under the surface of the ‘new’ FI. Is Denmark’s Red-Green Alliance an ‘anti-capitalist’ party-cum-alliance or a radical left alliance? It’s an interesting example for British socialists to contemplate: the Red-Green Alliance was formed in 1989 and it has taken 25 years (I think I should say that again; 25 YEARS) to record a 6.9% share of the national vote in recent local and regional elections. Syriza? We wait with bated breath. Of course there are ‘red’ lines which we would not want to cross but the prospect of an anti-austerity, anti-cuts party, that is not, in its majority, explicitly anti-capitalist/revolutionary socialist forming a government rips all the old ‘tick-box’ text books to shreds. Isn’t that a nuisance! We will have to think about things that are happening in the here-and-now and not in accordance with some tedious letter written in 1905. Only two days before publication Storyboard4 received an email from “Occupy Wall Street” promoting an event: “Join Reverend Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping Tomorrow in NYC”. Movements such as “Occupy” and the tactics they employ are not in the text books.
Old habits die-hard. I should know; I’ve been declared clinically dead twice. The FI needs to discover (or, even, rediscover) a ‘common’ language and interpretation that can imbibe the definition of what the FI is about. Do you see the problem? ‘Imbibe’, verb, usually associated with too much alcohol; alternatively, an expression for planting seeds (botanical). Which do you think I meant? Do you go to your local trades-union or campaign meeting and talk to the assembled masses about triptychs? ‘Triptych’, noun, “painting or carving on three-hinged panels, often forming an altarpiece”. (Collins) Of course, I am biased. It woz me wot rote the deafenishun. I obviously didn’t have the foresight to realise it might be used to describe “new period, new programme, new party”. Ain’t I stoopid! If you do talk ‘triptychs’ to your neighbours, comrades or colleagues then you have my best wishes — and my condolences.
Politics is difficult; for lefties — often they make it more difficult for themselves than it needs to be.
I have often ‘rambled-on’ about the need for a transitional programme for the 21st century. Hers’s a stab:
“Death agony of capitalism?” More akin to dementia I think. Ok … I accept that’s a rather ‘piss-poor’ and slightly offensive analogy. Here we go …
• Crisis of leadership? Who’s to blame for that? Free market capitalists don’t want the workers’ and progressive movements to have any leadership. New movements, such as ‘Occupy’ or the disability rights campaigns, have shown leadership whereas traditional leaders` — party or trades unions — have not. Revolutionary socialists must be embedded in these new movements. The often young activists involved in such campaigns are the leaders of the socialist movement tomorrow.
So much of the so-called revolutionary left couldn’t find its way out of a paper bag. That same ‘revolutionary left’ has also got culpability in the “crisis of leadership”. There are obvious services — health, postal, energy, transport … which should be in public ownership. But we can’t turn back to the old-fashioned social democratic model of nationalisation. If we believe in workers’ democracy then let the workers’ decide about how public ownership should be structured — rather than some poxy private school-educated t**t!
• A great amount of the today’s population — across our globe — think that socialism, even when it has ‘green’ and ‘feminist’ tinges, is, historically, totalitarian or dictatorial. They are fed this ‘line’ by a right-wing media which, invariably, is closer to the methods employed by J Stalin than they care to admit. The revolutionary left needs to counter this conception. Not easy … I think we would agree.
• ‘THE PARTY’. This is a tough one. No-one surely expects the revolutionary party to spring out of thin air or the ground. Does the the revolutionary party actually exist or has it ever existed? Fourth Internationalists may have a conception of it; but it is only a “conception”. We have to be for a party or movement that is emancipatory. It is not going to look anything like what is described in the text books. It will be broad, messy and sometimes chaotic; but most importantly, democratic. Revolutionary socialists have an incisive role in building such parties/movements.
• We must be forward in our embrace of egalitarian social policy. Difficult. It might mean making ‘temporary’ alliances (a ‘united front’ is what we used to call it) with social democrats/centrists with whom on a particular issue we have common cause. Consensus is not always a ‘dirty’ word ✪