Workers Hammer No. 196
Workers Power splits over who to tail: Pro-imperialist Labour Party or imperialist-funded social forums
On 1 July Workers Powers League for the Fifth International (LFI) announced it had expelled a minority that included half the membership of the leading British section and most of its historic leadership. The bitter dispute centred on perspectives, including whether or not we are experiencing a worldwide pre-revolutionary situation today. In a political climate dominated by the triumph of counterrevolution in the Soviet Union in 1991-92, one might ask what planet Workers Power exists on. But the view that the world is on the verge of revolution did not drop from the sky — it flows from this organisations fulsome support for counterrevolution.
When Boris Yeltsins forces seized power in Moscow in 1991 it signalled the beginning of the end of the state that issued from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The imperialist ruling classes around the world rejoiced, hoping to bury forever the prospect of proletarian revolution. Workers Power too rejoiced, as part of a headlong rush by the pseudo-socialist left to repudiate any remaining trace of association with the programme of Bolshevism, having long ago renounced its central aim: the dictatorship of the proletariat. Justifying their support to Yeltsin, as well as to other counterrevolutionary forces from Poland to the Baltic states, Workers Power aped the imperialist propaganda mills saying: These movements brought an end to decades of Stalinist dictatorship. All genuine revolutionaries rejoiced at the downfall of these bureaucratic, totalitarian monstrosities (Workers Power, October 1997).
This statement is from the manifesto for their Fourth Congress — held within months of the election of Blairs Labour government in 1997 — which proclaimed a new dawn for humanity. Thus it captures their visceral hatred of the Soviet Union and their loyalty to democratic imperialism, particularly under a Labour government. Like much of the Labourite left, Workers Power deluded themselves that, with the Soviet Union dead and buried, they would now be rewarded with unprecedented opportunities for growth. By 2003, following the mass mobilisations of youth against global capitalism and the mammoth protests against the Iraq War, Workers Powers new dawn was elevated to a global pre-revolutionary situation. This was to justify their opportunist capitulation to the anti-globalisation movement, which they claimed could be transformed into a new revolutionary international. But their hopes were not to be fulfilled and failure to realise their overblown projections was a major factor in the split.
Workers Power are not unique in facing a crisis of expectations in the post-Soviet world. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) welcomed Yeltsins countercoup saying: Communism has collapsed, it is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing and exhorted their members to now fight for real socialism (Socialist Worker, 31 August 1991). The SWP leadership then tried to conjure up a mass radicalisation, but despite having led the mobilisations against the Iraq War on a programme of little England pacifism, the party didnt grow and in fact lost upwards of 5000 members. This led dissident SWP honcho John Molyneux into revolt at their January conference, complaining bitterly that the SWP not only hasnt grown (despite innumerable urgings to do so), but is now numerically and organisationally weaker than it was in the 90s (Why I intend to stand, by John Molyneux, published in Weekly Worker, 5 January. See SWP wanted the post-Soviet world, now theyve got it, Workers Hammer no 194, Spring 2006).
Following the expulsion of Workers Powers minority, documents published by both sides reveal the sorry state of its international, which had barely 100 members before it expelled the minority numbering over 30 people. The much-hyped youth group Revolution is a sham, having only one putatively stable branch on the whole planet (in Leeds) and a handful of people in Germany and the Czech Republic, five of whom left after the split. What now remains of Revolution youth is aligned with the majority while the minority has launched a paper called permanent revolution.
Majority: shameless adaptation to social forums
Neither side in the split rejects any fundamental aspect of Workers Powers politics; they differ mainly over how best to pursue their different opportunist appetites. The majority thinks revolution is on the immediate agenda, as evidenced by the fact that people can be mobilised in the streets, regardless of the level of political consciousness, or the aims of the movement. Thus it fully embraces the trendy, petty-bourgeois, imperialist-funded and -sponsored social forum movement and presents it not only as a vehicle for revolution, but as the embryo of its new Fifth International. The majoritys call for a Fifth International — ie one that is free of any even nominal association with Leninism or Trotskyism, is blatant pandering to the vitriolic prejudices against Leninism and the dictatorship of the proletariat among anarchists and liberals in the anti-globalisation milieu. In fact, in its international perspectives document, which runs to over 30 pages, the majority avoids any identification of itself as Trotskyist and does not call for a Leninist or Trotskyist party (except in Nepal!).
The majority is also bowled over by Venezuelan bourgeois populist president, Hugo Chavez. While admitting that certainly his socialism of the twenty first century and internationalism have a reformist/populist character these opportunists cite the classic argument for tailism — Chavez is moving left under pressure — talking of socialism — scornfully defying the offensive noises of US imperialism (International Perspectives of the League for the Fifth International, July 2006). We have exposed the fake lefts fawning over Chavez (see Venezuela: populist nationalism versus proletarian revolution, Workers Hammer no 194, Spring 2006) as well as their wholesale adaptation to the popular-frontist social forums, which are funded and backed by capitalist states, NGOs, as well as banks and big corporations from the Ford Foundation to the Bank of Brazil. These forums have been supported by serving heads of capitalist states such as Lula and later Hugo Chavez, and in Britain by London mayor Ken Livingstone and the TUC. In our article Churches, charities and CIA cash, Social Forum con game (Workers Hammer no 191, Summer 2005) we also indicted Workers Power for their shameless adaptation to them, saying: the crackpot conception of the L5I, Workers Power and its youth group Revolution, is that they can build not only a movement but even a revolutionary party out of these cross-class, state-funded alliances. Although they whined over right-wing bureaucratic control of the social forums, as we pointed out, left out of Workers Powers equation is any political fight in opposition to the whole purpose of these Social Forums, which are premised on the maintenance of the capitalist system, merely trying to give it a more democratic and humanitarian face lift.
Minority: cosying up to Labour and Gordon Brown
The minority derides the majoritys liquidation into the anti-globalisation movement, not mainly because of its opportunism, but because it hasnt paid off. It rightly points out that the majoritys call for a Fifth International within the World and European Social Forums is a call for a new revolutionary international led by the likes of the Rifondaziones Bertinotti! (permanent revolution, July 2006). But the minoritys real problem is that: The masses at the WSF/ESF had not responded to [the LFIs] shrill calls to form the Fifth International in the months or years following the 2003 call. Indeed no allies amongst other organisations had been found to unite with to fight for the Fifth International — or even take the next step in that direction (permanent revolution, July 2006). And while it makes noises about the need to break with the reformist leaders and describes the social forums as an obstacle, not a vehicle for the constitution of a revolutionary International, nowhere does the minority criticise the LFI for having built them and given them a left cover.
The minority sees fewer prerevolutionary situations than the majority (and sees them mostly in places where Workers Power does not exist, such as in Venezuela and Bolivia, as well as France during the anti-CPE protests earlier this year). But overall the minority views the prospects for revolution as pretty hopeless. Therefore while it objects to capitulating to the social forums under Bertinotti, its alternative is... to rally round the Labour Party! Today this can only mean joining the pathetic appeals of dissident union bureaucrats and MPs to reclaim Labour, under Gordon Brown. Upholding Workers Powers years-long practice of critical support to Labour, the minority writes:
The united front — placing demands on Labour, trying to win its working class supporters to struggle and revolutionary politics, and mobilising reformist workers in a fight with their leaders, inside and outside the Labour Party — is still a critical tactic in our view. Critical electoral support was part of this tactic — gaining a hearing with reformist workers, putting their party to the test of office, winning these workers to a revolutionary alternative.
— permanent revolution, July 2006
The idea that New Labour needs to be put to the test of office beggars belief, after nine years of a government that is responsible for the Iraq occupation, the racist war on terror and relentless attacks on the working class. The minority adds a rider that voting Labour was a tactic and not a strategy for Workers Power, which:
supported class struggle candidates where workers in struggle represented a real break from Labour and stood against the party. We actively supported and helped build the Socialist Alliance (SA). One of our factions members was a parliamentary candidate for it in Greenwich while another was on the SAs executive.
— permanent revolution, July 2006
Far from being a break from Labour, leading forces in the Socialist Alliance (SA) such as the SWP openly called for votes to Labour where there was no SA candidate, which is why we refused to give SA critical support. Moreover, at its launch in 2001, the wretched SA refused to call for British troops out of Northern Ireland — and met nary a whimper of protest from the spineless souls of Workers Power who had sneaked this demand into the SAs draft manifesto! Today both wings of Workers Power are reeling from the fact that the SWP pulled the rug from under their feet by abandoning the SA in favour of the Respect coalition, a cross-class alliance with a section of Islamic forces. The Socialist Party has stepped into the breach and taken upon itself the task of trying to resurrect a version of the old Labour Party, the so-called campaign for a new mass workers party, which the Workers Power majority enthuses over. It boils down to building a party based on the trade union bureaucracy — starting with the Socialist Partys own supporters in the PCS union bureaucracy who agreed a sellout deal on civil service pensions. Whether they want to reclaim Labour from Blair, or to revive its rotten traditions under the Socialist Party, both wings of Workers Power are wedded to revitalising the politics of Labour, a party with a decades-long history of betrayals of the working class and minorities at home — from strikebreaking to virginity tests for Asian women entering Britain, to sending British imperialist troops to Northern Ireland and presiding over the bloody partition of India.
Workers Power: defined by the Russian Question
In the post-Soviet world, the minority acknowledges some of the impact of capitalist counterrevolution, saying it allowed the imperialists to offset structural crises of capitalism, but does not acknowledge its own support for it. Nor does any side own up to what Workers Powers political past actually contributed to: counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was a defeat of historic proportions for the working and oppressed people of the entire world. In the former Soviet Union alone, from 1991 to 1997 gross domestic product fell by over 80 per cent; even according to official statistics, capital investment dropped by more than 90 per cent. By the middle of the 1990s, 40 per cent of the Russian population was living below the official poverty line and a further 36 per cent only slightly above it. Millions were starving; unemployment was massive; life expectancy plummeted and life for women was dramatically altered for the worse. This was the culmination of a tide of counterrevolution that swept the former deformed workers states in Eastern Europe and led to the capitalist reunification of Germany in 1990. The net result was that US imperialisms domination of the world was greatly enhanced. Its military strength far outstrips that of its imperialist rivals and allows it to plunder neo-colonial countries such as Iraq with impunity, while the capitalist ruling classes of the world feel emboldened to further grind the working class and poor.
The destruction of the Soviet Union by counterrevolution in 1991-92 represented the final undoing of the Russian Revolution of October 1917. A defining event of the 20th century, the Bolshevik Revolution was the greatest victory for the toiling masses in history. For the first time ever, the programme of proletarian socialist revolution became reality. Under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, the newly founded workers state replaced the class dictatorship of capital with the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the form of a government based on workers and peasants soviets (councils). The revolutionary government was a beacon of liberation: it decreed land to the peasants; pulled Russia out of the imperialist war; abolished laws discriminating against women and homosexuals and recognised the right of self-determination for oppressed peoples. It set about organising a planned economy based on collectivised production and planning according to need — for jobs, housing, healthcare and education.
Under tremendously difficult conditions imposed by imperialist encirclement, extreme poverty, scarcity and social backwardness, a bureaucracy developed around JV Stalin. The proletariat, particularly its vanguard, had been decimated by the imperialist war of 1914-18 followed by the civil war of 1918-20 against internal counterrevolutionary forces that were backed by invading armies of no less than 14 capitalist countries. The Bolshevik programme was premised on the idea that a successful proletarian revolution in an advanced capitalist country was needed to aid the Soviet workers state and the defeat of the German revolution in 1923 was a critical factor in the degeneration of the Soviet state. The Stalinist bureaucracy usurped political power in 1923-24. This was a political counterrevolution, later adopting the nationalist dogma that socialism could be built in one country — a repudiation of the Marxist understanding, upheld by the Bolshevik Party under Lenin and Trotsky, that socialism is a classless society based on the abolition of scarcity and creation of abundance, requiring an international division of labour, which in turn means it requires proletarian revolution in several advanced capitalist countries.
Trotsky and the Left Opposition which he led were the foremost fighters against the degeneration of the workers state under Stalin and his henchmen. But throughout his life Trotsky simultaneously insisted on unconditional defence of the Soviet Union, which remained a workers state based on the planned, collectivised economy. Defending the workers state which embodied these gains was a precondition for ousting the bureaucracy through a proletarian political revolution. As he wrote in The Class Nature of the Soviet State, published in 1933:
Every political tendency that waves its hand hopelessly at the Soviet Union, under the pretext of its non-proletarian character, runs the risk of becoming the passive instrument of imperialism. And from our standpoint, of course, the tragic possibility is not excluded that the first workers state weakened by its bureaucracy will fall under the joint blows of its internal and external enemies. But in the event of this worst possible variant, a tremendous significance for the subsequent course of the revolutionary struggle will be borne by the question: Where are those guilty for the catastrophe? Not the slightest taint of guilt must fall upon the revolutionary internationalists. In the hour of mortal danger they must remain on the last barricade.
The ICL upholds the Trotskyist programme as outlined here and, as revolutionary internationalists, we did our duty and remained on the last barricade. We fought against counterrevolution with all the resources at our disposal. While the SWP, Workers Power and sundry other pseudo-Trotskyists were rejoicing for Yeltsin and the supposed triumph of democracy, our comrades in Moscow mass distributed a leaflet dated 27 August 1991 that headlined: Soviet Workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution! and said:
Workers and soldiers soviets (councils) must orient to defeating the counterrevolutionary Yeltsin regime and establishing a government based on soviet democracy such as was established by the October Revolution of 1917. In this hour of dire need more than ever, the key to successful defense of the Soviet proletariat is the forging of a new, authentically communist vanguard party of the working class. Return to the road of Lenin and Trotsky!
— reprinted in Spartacist pamphlet, How the Soviet Workers State was Strangled, 1993
Workers Powers track record on the Russian Question makes them not-so-passive instruments of imperialism. This organisation originated in the mid-1970s as a left split from Tony Cliffs International Socialists (now the SWP). They formally moved to the left and rejected Cliffs state capitalism which was a cowardly renunciation of the Trotskyist programme of defence of the Soviet Union. Workers Power acknowledged the Soviet Union was a workers state and formally adopted a defensist position towards it. This important step was taken in the face of intense anti-Soviet hysteria whipped up by the imperialists over the Soviet army intervention into Afghanistan in December 1979. On the invitation of the Afghan government, the Red Army fought against anti-communist Islamic-fundamentalist forces that were massively backed by the CIA and British imperialism (creating the Frankensteins monster of al-Qaeda today). We said forthrightly, Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! and Extend the gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples!
Unlike the rest of the Labourite left, Workers Power did not call for withdrawal of Soviet troops. But Afghanistan posed point-blank the Russian Question, the question of revolution and under pressure of the Cold War Workers Power waffled. They never drew the key programmatic conclusion that their formal line change meant in practice: unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and internal attempts at counterrevolution. Despite having had a faction fight over their line change, Workers Power did not split because the left wing effectively agreed that the Russian Question was a tenth rate question. That meant capitulating to the right-wing faction led by Keith Hassell, a leading light in todays minority and a visceral anti-communist who called for immediate withdrawal of the Red Army arguing: It simply is not true that a pro-imperialist Kabul government would necessarily be a worse political option for the Afghan masses than Stalinist occupation (Workers Power Internal Bulletin no 36, February 1980). As of today, Hassells programme for Afghanistan has been realised: Kabul has a pro-imperialist government, installed and backed by democratic British and US imperialist troops, under which the Afghan masses suffer untold brutality.
Workers Powers refusal to break theoretically and programmatically from their origins took them ever deeper into the camp of counterrevolution. In the early 1980s they hailed Polish Solidarność, even while acknowledging it was an openly counterrevolutionary movement backed by the Pope, arguing that it was necessary to be with the workers who had been driven into the arms of counterrevolution by Stalinist betrayal. By 1990, such anti-Stalinism led them into the infamous Yuri Butchenko affair. With Socialist Organiser (today the Alliance for Workers Liberty) Workers Power organised a British speaking tour for a fascist-connected Russian trade unionist. Only when Butchenko appeared at a press conference as part of a witch hunt of Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers alongside the scab leader from the coalfields, Roy Lynk, did Workers Power admit that they knew all along that Butchenko favoured capitalist restoration and that his tour was sponsored by Russian fascists. Workers Power had met with his control, the London representative of the Russian NTS, which fought alongside the Nazis in World War II and was a creature of British and US intelligence during the Cold War. (See Chickens come home to roost over Balkans Betrayal, Workers Hammer no 148, November/December 1995.)
In August 1991, Workers Powers supporters bragged about having stood on Yeltsins barricades, in the name of supporting democratic rights of course. They wrote that: No matter what the socially counterrevolutionary nature of Yeltsins programme, no matter how many spivs and racketeers joined the barricades to defend the Russian parliament, it would be revolutionary suicide to back the coup mongers and support the crushing of democratic rights (Workers Power, September 1991).
Restoring capitalism in China without counterrevolution
Upholding Workers Powers track record of support to counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, both sides in the split reject defence of the 1949 Chinese Revolution today. The majoritys perspectives document asserts that capitalism has already been restored in China, saying: Restoration of capitalism has undoubtedly created a new bourgeois class within China but it has not yet raised itself to the level of a class for itself. It portrays this new bourgeoisie as a potential ally of the working class and peasants, albeit an unreliable one, saying: Although elements within this class, especially its ideologues, will identify with and champion the cause of democratic reform, its well-grounded fear of social disorder will always ensure that it is an unreliable ally of the majority classes. It further advocates that the working class must stand at the head of this democratic revolution, declaring:
The key to the re-establishment of a revolutionary communist movement in China will be the fight for politically independent working class leadership of what will initially be democratic revolution against the party state as well as the depredations of restoration and rampant foreign owned capitalism.
What Workers Power is actually proposing here is bourgeois democratic counterrevolution, in the form of the proletariat and peasantry mobilised in a bloc with the Chinese bourgeoisie — behind which stands imperialism — against the Stalinist bureaucracy and the so-called party state. To underline the point, Workers Power draws parallels with capitalist-restorationist movements in Eastern Europe, which they themselves supported, saying:
The powerful contradictions within Chinese society will continue to mature. Because of the decades of repression under a communist regime, the forces that will combine to launch a democratic revolution will be at least as varied and politically incoherent as any that have been seen in Eastern Europe or Central Asia. It can be guaranteed that imperialism, when it judges it appropriate, will provide support not only for reactionary neo-Confucian movements such as the Falun Gong and the qigong underground societies but also for pro-capitalist labour leaders and parties.
— International Perspectives of the League for the Fifth International, July 2006
Viewing China as the driving force of the other capitalist economies in the world, the minority declares: The true weight for China in the world is the role it plays in pulling the rest of the world capitalist economy along (Alternative International Perspectives proposed by the Minority Faction, now Permanent Revolution tendency, May 2006). This completely ignores the fundamental hostility of the imperialist ruling classes — centrally in the US, but also including the British bourgeoisie — to the very existence of the Peoples Republic of China. This stems from the fact that it is a workers state created by the 1949 Chinese Revolution.
The American rulers have been trying to encircle China with military installations and last year concluded a pact with Japan to defend the capitalist bastion of Taiwan. We side militarily with China against Taiwan and its imperialist patrons; we also call for revolutionary reunification of Taiwan with China. The Pentagon is planning to neutralise Chinas modest nuclear arsenal in the event of a nuclear first strike by US imperialism, a strategy openly proclaimed by the Bush administration. We Trotskyists stand for the unconditional military defence of China and the other remaining deformed workers states — North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba — against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution. This includes supporting China and North Koreas testing and possession of nuclear arms as a necessary defence in the face of imperialist nuclear blackmail. It is quite revealing that in its lengthy perspectives document, the majority entirely disappears North Korea — which happens to be an immediate target of imperialist nuclear blackmail — and makes no mention of Vietnam, while Cuba is cited only as a trading partner of Venezuela.
The Chinese Revolution was led by Maos peasant army, not by a revolutionary proletarian party and therefore the state that emerged was bureaucratically deformed from the outset. Nonetheless this was a social revolution that overthrew the rule of the Chinese capitalists and landlords, liberated China from imperialist subjugation and instituted a workers state based on a collectivised economy modelled on the USSR under Stalin. To this day, the core elements of the Chinese economy, established following the revolution, remain collectivised. Even the LFI majority admits that state-owned enterprises are dominant in the strategic industrial sectors such as steel, electric power, oil refining, etc. Workers Power discovered in 2000 that China had become capitalist (although they couldnt say how or when this happened) but they posited that the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy had transformed itself wholesale into a capitalist ruling class. By investing the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy with the power to single-handedly transform the class nature of the state, Workers Power denies Trotskys understanding of the contradictory nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which balances between a state based on collectivised proletarian property forms and world imperialism.
Today both wings go along with the assumption that the market-oriented reforms and the volume of capital investment in China amounts to a gradual restoration of capitalism. The notion that counterrevolution has come about through incremental shifts from state ownership to private ownership, or that when 51 per cent of the formerly collectivised economy is in private hands, capitalism will have triumphed, without any need for a decisive counterrevolution, is a variety of Labourite parliamentary cretinism. It simply reverses the Labourite notion that socialism can be achieved through nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy without any need for the proletariat to seize state power from the bourgeoisie.
Arguing against such views we wrote in Chinas Market Reforms, a Trotskyist Analysis (Workers Vanguard no 874, 4 August) as was the case in the former Soviet Union, the decisive arena in which a capitalist counterrevolution would have to triumph is at the political level, in the conquest of state power, not simply through a quantitative extension of the private sector, whether domestic or foreign. The article points to the contradictions of the ruling CCP, saying:
The ruling bureaucracy is clearly divided between elements who want the economic reforms to continue unabated, those who want more state intervention to check the ravages of marketization and thereby stifle discontent, and others who seek a return to a bureaucratically planned economy. At some point, likely when bourgeois elements in and around the bureaucracy move to eliminate CCP political power, the multiple explosive social tensions of Chinese society will shatter the political structure of the ruling bureaucratic caste. And when that happens the fate of the most populous country on earth will be starkly posed: either proletarian political revolution to open the road to socialism or a return to capitalist enslavement and imperialist subjugation.
China today is a seething mass of discontent and protest by workers and peasants. We stand for a proletarian political revolution that would sweep away the Stalinist bureaucracy and replace it with a government based on democratically elected workers and peasants councils, under the leadership of a Leninist-Trotskyist party. But such a political revolution can only come about through unconditional military defence of the workers state against imperialist attack and attempts at capitalist restoration from within.
For Leninist-Trotskyist parties!
Its no accident that none of the documents emanating from the split admits that capitalist counterrevolution had a tremendous, negative impact on the consciousness of political activists today. Underlying Workers Powers desperate search for perspectives is the fact that, like the rest of the social-democratic left, they have bought into the predominant myth that class struggle against the capitalist order is a thing of the past; the working class is irrelevant as a factor for social change and new October Revolutions are off the historic agenda. This is what lies behind the headlong dive into the petty-bourgeois social forums and the crass adaptation to New Labour.
Recognising that this is a reactionary period is not a recipe for passivity but a guide for how to intervene in the struggles that inevitably do take place. We addressed these issues in an article on our fourth international conference, saying: While this is a reactionary period, it is also a very contradictory one. The U.S. imperialist war against Iraq engendered the biggest demonstrations in years in North America, Europe, the Near East and many Asian countries — impelling millions of young people into political struggle — and even political strikes and labor actions against the war. At the same time we noted: Yet the political worldview of the generation that has been politicized by hatred of global capitalism and opposition to the war against Iraq is for the most part far removed from historical materialism and a proletarian perspective, and these youth confront a world in which Marxism is widely portrayed as a relic of the past (The Fight for Revolutionary Continuity in the Post-Soviet World, Spartacist [English Edition] no 58, Spring 2004). The article concluded: What is critical is that future workers revolutions must have a Bolshevik political arsenal; their cadres must be educated in the experiences of the Bolshevik Revolution, the early Communist International, Trotskys Fourth International and our own ICL. New gains will be won only by those who prove able to fight to defend past gains. The ICL tenaciously fights to uphold the banner of new Octobers.