Revolutionary action is unstoppable
by Andy Brooks
IT'S not easy being a communist in Britain. We come under constant attack from the ruling class; from social-democracy in all its forms; from the revisionists; the Trotskyites and the rest of the ultra-left fringe. Though often disturbing to those who are new to our ranks we should be glad that this is happening because to be attacked by the enemy is a good thing and not a bad thing.
Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong, writing in 1939 when the communists were battling Chiang Kai Shek's war-lords and the Japanese invaders, said: "I hold that it is bad as far as we are concerned if a person, a political party, an army or a school is not attacked by the enemy, for in that case it would definitely mean that we have sunk to the level of the enemy.
It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves but achieved a great deal in our work".
It would take an encyclopedia to sum up the entire historical experience of Trotskyism and Anarchism, nor do we need to do it. But we do need to occasionally focus on these two schools of thought which cause so much diversion and harm within the labour movement particularly as they masquerade as socialist movements. Indeed many militant workers, who see that social-democracy is essentially class-collaboration, assume these other trends are socialist in their theory and practice simply because that is what they claim to be.
trotskyism and anarchism
Most of us have experienced the disruptive and splittist results of Trotskyite action at first hand in the labour and peace movement. Trotskyite movements in Britain are distinct and organised even when they work within the Labour Party as "entryists" -- a ploy favoured by the old "Workers' Revolutionary Party" until they were expelled by Wilson and continued today by other Trotskyite factions, or the "deep entryism" of the old Militant Tendency until some of their leaders were driven out during the Kinnock leadership.
Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism is something different. There are a handful of anarchist groups in this country which publish journals or organise around the Industrial Workers of the World movement.
But the trade unions never produced a syndicalist movement anything like the one which grew during the pre-war Spanish republic or a trade union leader like the American Joe Hill. Though it did found a co-operative movement which continues to this day which also provided a basis for syndicalist ideas.
Though the old Independent Labour Party, which briefly flourished in the Thirties, was a haven for a rag-bag of hair-baked syndicalists and Trotskyites, it essentially was no more than a left social-democratic movement -- much like Scargill's Socialist Labour Party today.
But syndicalist ideas, which originated towards the end of the 19th century, are deeply rooted within the left of the organised trade union movement, amongst many who do not even realise the source of these ideas, how old they are and why they will always fail.
An old Soviet book defined Anarchism as "a social and political trend which rejects the necessity of state authority (including working people's power). Adherents of anarchism disapprove of organised struggle of the working class and working people's political activities", and it summarised Anarcho-Syndicalism as "a trend in the working-class movement alien to Marxism-Leninism and ideologically influenced by anarchism. Its supporters reject political struggle and deny the need for an independent workers' party and for the conquest of power by the working people. Anarcho-syndicalists erroneously consider that only through "direct action" (boycott, sabotage, economic strikes) is it possible to destroy capitalism and build a new society in which the trade unions (without the conquest of state power by the workers) will expropriate the means of production belonging to the capitalists".
The same book described Trotskyism as "a petty-bourgeois opportunist movement hostile to Marxism-Leninism, which arose in the early 20th century and was named after Trotsky, who engaged in revolutionary phrase-mongering while actually preaching capitulating views on all basic questions of the revolutionary struggle.
"Thus, Trotskyites opposed the creation of a Marxist party of the working class and also the leading role of the proletariat in the revolution. They denied the revolutionary possibilities of the proletariat, regarding it as ideologically immature, and the need for an alliance of the working class and the peasantry, considering the latter to be an enemy who could betray the proletriat.
"Characteristic of the Trotskyites were an adventuristic striving to "spur on" the revolution through promoting revolutionary wars in other countries, rejection of the possibility and necessity of peaceful co-existence of states with different social systems and a negative attitude to general democratic movements (they declare the struggle for democracy to be a stage that had already been completed). In our day Trotskyist ideas have been adopted in some countries by ultra-left adventurist groups whose activities do harm to the international working-class movement".
Now lets look at these definitions -- which correspond to the reality of the experience of the revolutionary movement over the past 150 years. In Britain we see with our own eyes that Trotskyite groups are indeed drawn from the petty bourgeois -- the student movement, intellectuals and the rest of the middle strata.
On the other hand it is equally true that syndicalist ideas are mainly found within the trade union movement and the working class. But they have one thing in common -- they are all anti-communist and though they would deny it -- they all elevate individualism and the illusions of bourgeois democracy. And they all dismiss the revolutionary experience of the Soviet Union, People's China and the remaining socialist countries as at the best irrelevant, but mainly as an obstacle to what they call socialism.
The syndicalists like the rest in the social-democratic camp reject socialist revolutions as "undemocratic" -- they call them "communist dictatorships" and during the Cold War they flocked to side of reactionaries and Western agents. like the leaders of the Polish Solidarnosc union movement or the Afghan mujahadeen militia in the 80s. So did virtually all the Trotskyites.
Trotsky's followers claim it is impossible to build socialism in one state and that socialism can only occur when the working class take power in several imperialist countries at the same time. It is based on Trotsky's crackpot theories of "permament revolution" and "world proletarian revolution". They claim that an alliance between workers and peasants is impossible which means that socialist revolutions can only succeed in the industrial heartlands of Western Europe and the United States.
It was an idea also upheld by mainstream European social-democracy before the First World War to justify the vast colonial empires of the imperialist states. It's an idea which lurks behind the babble of talk about "globalisation" by so-called left-wingers who ignore the continuing revolutionary upsurge in the Third World.
For all of these people the struggle for national liberation is completely futile. Like the leaders of international social-democracy, Trotsky himself brushed aside the problems of the anti-imperialist movement in the colonial empires of his day, regarding them as of no consequence as long as capitalism remained entrenched in the developed imperialist countries. When fascist Italy invaded Abyssinia (as Ethiopia was then known) in 1935 Trotsky declared that "Socialists have nothing to do there, as the defence of Abyssinia would amount to defence of feudalism".
Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin attached immense importance to the national liberation struggle. Trotsky's heirs usually dismissed liberation movements as "petty bourgeois nationalism".
For the Trotskyites the Soviet Union and the socialist countries are at best "deformed workers' states" -- at worst they are "state capitalist". Therefore the peace campaign is meaningless. They claim to defend socialist revolutions when they come under attack from imperialism -- in practice they normally side with imperialism.
To deny the possibility of building socialism in one state or in any non-industrialised country leads to the hidden conclusion that socialism is simply unattainable today and can only be conceived in the remote future when the Trotskyite movement of their dreams gets mass support in the imperialist states.
Lenin drew the opposite conclusion. In his study of capitalism at its imperialist stage he concluded "Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone".
Lenin explained that the world socialist revolution would consist of several stages separated by longer or shorter periods of time. Revolutions in individual countries would emerge as relatively independent links in a single world-wide socialist revolution which embraces an entire epoch in history.
Marx and Engels waged an uncompromising struggle in the First International against sectarianism and anarchism in all its forms.
The common theme of all these movements is the claim that the structure of communist parties is undemocratic and that socialist states are in essence dictatorships of the Party -- not the class. The other thing they have in common is that they all fail.
Democratic Centralism is based on the trade union principle that a majority decision is binding on all members, whether they voted for it or not. It is the only way to organise effective industrial action. It's a concrete expression of solidarity.
Lenin made the decisive and historic break with the Mensheviks on this cardinal principlewhose Soviet definition was "the guiding principle of Marxist-Leninist communist and workers' parties ... means that all leading Party bodies from top to bottom are elected and that periodical reports are given by Party bodies to their Party organisations and to higher bodies. It calls for creative initiative by communists, strict Party discipline and the subordination of the minority to the majority. It means that the decisions of higher bodies are binding on lower bodies. It means inner-Party democracy, criticism and self-criticism".
It's amplified in the statement on Inner Party Democracy issued by the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1957 which provides the basis for the New Communist Party's rules except where subsequent NCP Congress's have changed them. It stresses the fact that the principle of democratic centralism arose from the experience of the British labour movement, as well as from the experience of the working class in other countries, in the late 19th century when the class found itself pitted against a ruling class which had established a highly centralised direction of its forces.
It is the guarantee of genuine class democracy within the Party. It should not be confused with the parody of democratic centralism practiced by sectarians in the communist movement.
Marx and Engels warned that any organisation that relied exclusively on centralism and rejected democratic leadership would suit only secret societies and sectarian movements. Groups which work in this way are doomed to a shadowy existence and they can never hope to win the trust or confidence of the working class.
Some Trotskyite groups claim to practice democratic centralism because they want to pass off Trotskyism as Leninism. What they in theory and practice elevate is the principle of factionalism.
Now factionalism is not the invention of Leon Trotsky. It is simply an expression of bourgeois and social democracy. Bourgeois Parties find it quite normal to have open factions in their ranks -- the Tories with their "Eurosceptics", Monday Clubs and Bow Groups and Labour which has had all sorts include the Tribune Group, Manifesto Group, Clause Four, Socialist Campaign and the Socialist Forum during its long history.
The bourgeois parliament elevates this with the concept of government and opposition. The government rules and the opposition opposes. The govemment's decisions are not binding on the opposition -- though they are of course binding on the government. And this is how the Trotskyites work in broad organisations. If they participate they only accept the decisions they voted for -- and reserve the right to oppose what they oppose regardless of any vote to the contrary.
This has now been elevated to a fine art by some Trotskyite theorists. Splitting working class organisations -- on the theory that this isolates the right-wing -- is the rule of the day for some of them. Others maintain extreme hostility to social-democracy, to the extent that social-democratic parties are branded as the main enemy rather than the capitalists' own parties, sowing further divisions within the labour movement. At the same time most of them have no difficulty in closing ranks with social-democracy when it comes to anti-communist campaigns.
Within their own organisations they recognise the right to faction which leads to the inevitable splits and divisions which follow, the multiplication of Trotskyite groups and their inherent instability.
The root of it all is petty bourgeois individualism. During the Chinese revolution Trotskyism wasn't a problem but "ultra-democracy" in opposition to democratic centralism was attacked by Mao Zedong back in 1929 who said: "In the sphere of theory, destroy the roots of ultra-democracy. First, it should be pointed out that the danger of ultra-democracy lies in the fact that it damages or even completely wrecks the Party organisation and weakens or even completely undermines the Party's fighting capacity, rendering the Party incapable of fulfilling its fighting tasks and thereby causing the defeat of the revolution.
"Next, it should be pointed out that the source of ultra-democracy consists in the petty bourgeoisies's individualistic aversion to discipline. When this characteristic is brought into the Party, it develops into ultra-democratic ideas politically and organisationally. These ideas are utterly incompatible with the fighting tasks of the proletariat".
The Trotskyites claim that they are genuine "socialists", genuine "democrats" opposed to dictatorship -- a position naturally shared by the social-democrats and the bourgeoisie.
But bourgeois democracy is not democracy for the working class and factionalism within a Party is not democracy for the majority of its members -- it specifically denies the majority the right to carry out any decision -- but the democracy of faction leaders and cliques.
The basis of bourgeois democracy is the mobilisation of the maximum number of votes by the smallest number of people. The basis of democratic centralism is that the will of the masses is carried out. It's no surprise to see that the first target of the revisionists -- be they Eurocommunists or bogus communists who pose as "left" but are really rightist -- is democratic centralism. They all seek to substitute it with bourgeois democracy -- sometimes in the form of "platforms" -- a pseudo-Marxist term for a faction.
Syndicalist views are something different. They are not the product of tiny groups of intellectuals but the heritage of a century or more of trade union militancy. These ideas are manifested in the concept that trade union work is paramount and ultimately the only revolutionary way and in the idea that mass industrial action can bring down governments, and in the idea that the ruling class can be overthrown through a General Strike.
In the 70s these views were common throughout the left of the labour movement and were upheld in part by the CPGB's Industrial Department and the revisionist leadership.
The experience of the working class movement throughout the world confirms Lenin's thesis that to make a revolution you need a revolutionary party. The failure of the Paris Commune, the experience of the 1926 General Strike and the century plus experience of the British trade union movement all show that trade unions can never play the vanguard role. That's not their purpose, that's not what they were set up to do, nor can they ever fulfill that role -- though it is in the trade unions and particularly at the point of production that communists must be most active, to encourage militancy, to give wise and determined leadership, and to recruit from the best elements of the class to build the revolutionary party.
Only a revolutionary party can lead the class to overthrow the bourgeoisie. It can't be done through bourgeois elections -- because when the ruling class is threatened they abandon the trappings of democracy -- which is after all only democracy amongst themselves -- and go into open dictatorship. It can't be done through General Strikes because they in themselves can so easily be defeated or diverted by our rulers -- though a general strike is part of the arsenal of the revolutionary advance.
A socialist revolution means the transfer of political power from the capitalist class to the working class. It can only succeed with the mobilisation of the masses. It can only succeed when the ruling class are unable to rule in the old way and the working class are no longer prepared to be ruled in the old way. There must be a leading Marxist-Leninist Party around which the working class can close ranks.
Finally we must always remember that it's not Parties that make revolutions it's working people -- the overwhelming majority of the population of this country -- who once they realise their strength are unstoppable.
first published in the New Worker in 1998