SWP open letter to the left: Reviving the electoral corpse

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Following the recent elections in which the Labour vote plumbed new depths and the British National Party sensationally won two seats in the European parliament the Socialist Workers Party (9/6/9) addressed an "open letter to the left."

The SWP is worried about the Nazis, concerned about a possible Conservative government, and anxious that the revelations of MPs' corruption have put people off voting Labour. It thinks that there should be a "single, united left alternative" and that the left should "urgently start a debate" in advance of the next general election. Accordingly it is "prepared to help initiate" a conference "of all those committed to presenting candidates representing working class interests at the next election."

The ‘open letter' has proved very popular among leftists. The Weekly Worker (11/6/9) welcomed the initiative, although it thought the SWP would have to "publicly account for the disastrous mistakes of the past." Workers Power (10/6/9) also welcomed the proposal: "The dangerous reality is that the fascists have formed a party while the socialists have not. All the socialist groups in Britain are propaganda societies, not parties." The Alliance for Workers Liberty (10/6/9) welcomed the letter and said it was in line with their "call for a new Socialist Alliance". The Socialist Party of England and Wales (24/6/9) (that used to be Militant) took a dim view of the SWP's idea in the light of its previous experience. But they were still able to say to their comrades that "if you have reassessed and changed your methods, and are now willing to work together with others towards the creation of ‘a socialist alternative' for the general election, we will of course welcome this."

Leftist unity ... against the working class

Apart from all the various quibbles and nitpicking the one thing that already unites the leftist groups is their commitment to basically the same approach, the same politics. For example, in its letter the SWP ask how it would be possible to ask workers to vote for people like Pat McFadden the man who is "pushing through the privatisation of the post office." All the leftists oppose privatisation, that is to say they defend nationalisation, defend the Royal Mail - the very body that militant postal workers have been fighting for years.

The SWP say that "If Cameron is elected he will attempt to drive through policies of austerity at the expense of the vast majority of the British people". This is quite clearly the case, except it ignores the most obvious reality that a Conservative government will be in complete continuity with the current Labour government. Yet the leftists warn about the Right being worse than the Left and of course the BNP is the worst of all. From the point of view of the working class it is necessary to remember that the massacre of jobs and all the other attacks on our living standards during the last 12 years have been under a Labour government, not under Tories or Nazis.

The leftists also agree that capitalist elections can be used to present a ‘left wing alternative.' The past experience of the Socialist Alliance and Respect show that they always try to give capitalist democracy some credibility, while putting forward their idea on how best to run British capitalism.

Workers Power said of the groups of the left "in a sense we are factions of a party that is yet to be built." They all have their factional differences, but at one level they are in agreement, on the need to strengthen state capitalism, on the need to defend the unions that help keep the working class divided. In an article in the same issue of Socialist Worker as its ‘open letter' the SWP says that the Labour Party has "abandoned ordinary people and gone on the offensive against them". This is true to the extent that from the time of the First World War the parties of social democracy lined up with the capitalist class, recruited for the war effort, imposed labour discipline throughout the conflict and have been serving their national capitals ever since. The impression given by the leftists is that the Labour Party was somehow acceptable until quite recently. That is to say, the Labour Party was OK when its rhetoric was left of centre.

Filling a gap in the political spectrum

What the leftists in Britain are doing when they respond positively to the SWP's appeal is similar to a process that's already underway elsewhere in Europe. In Germany with the Linkspartei and in France with the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste we have seen new parties created to fill a gap on the left. With the world wide imposition of austerity measures there is a great potential for a response from the working class. The bourgeoisie internationally knows that it has to have political forces that can present a false alternative in the face of workers' struggle, and that its current line-ups are not all up to the job.

A party like the Labour Party could once pose as ‘socialist' or at least parade a set of left-wingers. Now they don't even pretend to be a party of the working class. As for the leftists, in many countries they are mere shadows of what they were in the 1970s and 80s. Whatever comes of the SWP's latest project it shows that at least some on the left are aware of the function they need to fulfil for capitalism. The working class should not be taken in by this latest attempt at a makeover.  

Car 24/6/9

Comments

Functions of internationalist workers' parties

The July 2009 WR article on 'The SWP's open letter to the left; reviving the electoral corpse' and the re-webbed article 'Polemic: confusion of communist groups over the present period' and my comments on the latter one of July 11, 18.32, and July 12, 14.25, 15.20 and 20.15, bring me, at any rate, to think again on the question of what exactly would be the functions of an internationalist workers' party here in Britain. If all intention to get into Parliament and engage in parliamentary democracy is rejected, would the intention be to combine workers' forces to gain some other sort of centrally focused power base ? It seems to me that it would be impossible to organise such big things and railways and road transport without such a centrally focused power base. Myriad anarchist groups would be incapable of getting such a necessary combined act together.
Regards, DKT - 13-7-2009 - 13.26.

More on the functions of internationalist workers' parties

Taking up responsibility for the fate of society is the theme of the article of July 11, 2009 on the website as per rcpbml.org.uk.
Regards, DKT - 13-7-2009 - 13.45.

The "centrally focused power

The "centrally focused power base" through which the working class will organise society will the workers' councils not the party.

The centrally focused power

Following Samyasa's comment on July 13,2009, is the following O.K.? Whereas an internationalist workers' party might co-ordinate and lead, are the proposed workers' councils intended to be horizontally equal, or should they form a superstructure or hierarchy, with a centrally decisive command centre ? Without a workers' command centre (as distinct from a parliamentary cabinet), it is difficult to see how nationwide arrangements such as railways could be provided for and managed. Presumably management is essential for running society, whether capitalist, socialist or communist.
Regards, DKT - July 13, 2009 - 21.51.

"coordination and leadership"?

Other people are more able to comment on you vision of the period of transition than I, DKT. However, I would like to point out that the role of the "Internationalist workers' party" is not to "coordinate and lead" the working class. This view of the party as the class' general staff in pre-revulationary and revolutionary periods is not only dangerous, but fundamentally ignores the actual relationship between the working class and revolutionaries. It is dangerous because it can lead to, in times when the working class' actions aren't conforming to what the party's conceptions of those actions ought to be, to several erroneous and anti-revolutionary conclusions. The first such is that the working class has lost the capacity to bring about revolution for whatever reason, an argument popular in the sixties and seventies among the New Left and the third-worldists, groups into which any actual communist organization would be wise to avoid morphing. Another such dangerous conclusion is substitutionism, that is, that the "Internationalist revolutionary party", in its impatience or for some other reason, substitutes itself and its actions for the class and its actions. Neither, I deem, is a fitting conclusion for an "internationalist revolutionary party".

The party is part of the class, albeit the most political. That said, it is a truism that its actions and the class' actions must be one. As for where the party's and class' impetus to action come from, there is a dialectical relationship there which depends, more than anything else, on the conditions prevailing at the time, the material forces available to the class and the party, the development of theory and practice by the party, and the penetration of these innovations among the class. At points, the class might lead the party; at others, the opposite might occur. The task of the party is not to lead at all times, but rather its true task, the one that never stops being necessary, is to examine in-depth the problems facing the class in reaching its objective goal (first communist revolution, then the reconstruction of society, as far as those may be seperated), and then to adapt a praxis that wil allow it to intervene in the broader class struggle so as to propel the class over and past those obstacles.

In a word, the party's task is not "coordination and leadership", but rather examination and intervention.

The council form in Russia

The council form in Russia functioned by mass assemblies electing delegates to work in their local Soviets. These local Soviets co-ordinated across the country by sending delegates to meet in regional soviets, national soviets, etc. The ultimate body was the Congress of Soviets, which elected the executive bodies such as the Council of People's Commissars.
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This was as far as the system went in Russia, but ultimately there will have to be a global Soviet that will co-ordinate activity across the entire planet.
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Whether the working class eventually chooses to follow the exact system created in Russia, will depend on many different circumstances. The ICC doesn't have a written constitution ready-prepared for the great day! What we can do is point to general principles of how the working class can manage its affairs, but ultimately it is the working class AS A WHOLE that will decide how it will work as well as actually doing the work. The party will play a role, as all components of the class will, but it will not be ruling organism of post-revolutionary society.

Reply to Zimmerwald on co-ordination & leadership

I thank Zimmerwald for his commentsof July 14, 2009, 01.49.
Regards, DKT - 14-7-2009 - 11.20 AM.

Reply to Samyasa re the council form in Russia

Gratefully noting Samyasa's comments of 14-7-09, 09.18, especially his third paragraph,I'm wondering how 'the working class AS A WHOLE will decide how it will work as well as actually doing the work'.
Whether or not we adopt our own version of Soviets in this age of information technology, presumably there would need to be some form of voting, rather than only with our feet. We are torn between not having blueprints in advance, and making ready, planning, to 'Be Prepared' as the Scout motto goes. Some sorts of agreed orderly procedures would probably seem beter than a chaotic succession of ad hoc one-offs, as under capitalism.
Regards, DKT - 14-7-09 - 12.14.

The Soviets didn't come

The Soviets didn't come about because of revolutionaries, but because the working class formed them spontaneously in the struggle. Initially, many revolutionaries were surprised at their appearance and the more conservative ones were suspicious, afraid that they would overshadow either the unions or the party or both.
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Those revolutionaries who had a real faith in the proletariat as a living class with its own consciousness, rather than a mass to be moulded by intellectuals, very quickly celebrated the creation of the soviets. Their role from that point was to show the mass of the class the real significance of the organs they had created - that they represented a new form of social organisation for the proletarian management of society.

Here, not only somewhere else

Samyasa's comment 'The Soviets didn't come' of 14-7-09 are encouraging for confidence in the ability of the working class to tackle the problems of how to run society for our benefit. It seems to me that in order to visualise a world communist system, we need to think of how it will apply where we actually live, for instance in London or a village. Certainly the Soviets experience has lessons for us, but how to apply them wherever happens to be local is a real challenge. Either Streatham and Manchester and Oxford and Devon villages can eventually each be run in a communist manner or it won't happen, no matter how successful it might be somewhere else abroad. Confidence, yes, practical analysis unavoidable for workers' success.
Regards,DKT - 14-7-09 - 22.24.

And yet, as far as I know,

And yet, as far as I know, none of the classical Marxists ever felt compelled to think up a "cook-book recipe" for the future society. I believe Marx, in particular, was particularly scornful of such efforts. Nearly all the efforts in this regard are either very general points of principle or comments on the unfolding of the real struggle.
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Obviously, when the working class approaches a revolutionary situation, these questions will become more important - but, at the same time, the workers will be creating the organs required in the heat of the struggle.
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What "practical analysis" do we think we need or can actually provide today?

Practical analysis

Following on from Samyasa's comments, although they seem to be very perceptive and probably historically accurate, the problem today is to recognise that whilst workers generally know what we are struggling against, it is not generally known what we are struggling for. Scornfulness is very prevalant these days. Engineering requires clarity. Telling folk that we'll be sorting something or other out when the time comes hardly seems the way to promote the concepts of planning for a communist planned economy. Any proposed recipes will get modified in the course of time, but let's talk of what workers want and need positively, as well as negatively. Organise, agitate, study ! Maybe this is not an adequate answer to Samyasa's question, but hope this reply is useful. Regards, DKT-15-7-09 - 10.12AM.

It's certainly true that the

It's certainly true that the mass of the working class at present don't perceive the ultimate goal of communism in the same way that we do. And our primary task is to push our class to reappropriate this vital understanding.
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But this is more about excavating communism from the muck of Stalinism and bourgeois propaganda than communist organisations producing detailed plans about how to run, say, the steel industry!
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The first task of the proletariat, before it can even think about launching an offensive, revolutionary struggle is to develop and take control of its defensive struggles. This is the only way for the working class to once again feel its own strength and develop its consciousness. The struggle itself and the solidarity and organisation it requires and engenders, points the way towards a different society. We need to be able to organise our struggles before we worry about anything else! It is by learning to do this more pressing task that we will develop the consciousness and organisation required to finally launch an insurrection. And, from the insurrectionary struggle will come the organs needed to reorganise society.
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The riddle of how to manage the new society is thus answered by the more immediate concern: how to struggle against the existing society.

Existing society

Samyasa gives a set of steps for the working class in his comment of 15-7-09 - 11.05. However, without wishing to be pedantic, the struggle is against capitalist control of 'existing society', rather than against society itself. Existing society is all that we have to work (or not work) in. Anyway, thanks to Samyasa. I've said enough for the time being.
DKT - 15-7-09 - 18.35.

DKT, I think you

DKT, I think you underestimate the real content of the proletarian struggle. It really is a combat against existing society! The communist society of the future will be utterly transformed: no wage labour, no commodity production, no money, no exchange, no countries, etc. The sort of vision you seem to have (and it's difficult to tell based on the limited exchanges on this medium, so forgive me if I've misinterpreted you!) is that of a kind of capitalism but with the workers in charge. Obviously this will characterise the immediately post-revolutionary society but if the working class were going to limit its long-term goal to this, it would be an impoverished vision indeed.
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In fact, it is combatting this limited vision (which has its roots in Stalinism) that is an essential task of communists today. I strongly recommend you read our book on Communism, the early chapters of which amply detail the truly radical scope of Marx's vision.

Samyasa recommends ICC book on Coommunism

Thank you, Samyasa, for your comments. Maybe you as well as I have been trying to imagine society running without money. Sometime ago, maybe via the IBRP, I raised the question of why a plumber would bother to go and mend a leaking pipe if he wasn't going to get paid. Whilst rhetorical answers evoking altruism serve some purposes, it still seems to me that the question remains open for further thought.
It might do society a good turn, maybe absolutely necessary, for me and everyone to read yet more vital books... Cheers, DKT - 15-7-09 - 21.40.

DKT, I seem to remember a

DKT, I seem to remember a similar question being raised at one of our public meetings, possibly even by you? At one level, the answer is simple and again is found in the preparation of the struggle itself. No-one in the ICC is "paid" for what we do, we give our time and talents (such as they are) to the organisation and to the proletarian struggle voluntarily. Similarly, when workers go on solidarity strikes they often have nothing to gain for themselves and risk losing a great deal - and yet we celebrate these strikes because they demonstrate the bedrock of working-class solidarity. It is the rediscovery of this type of solidarity which is essential for the advancement of the struggle. These two aspects, solidarity and struggle, condition and reinforce each other, strengthening both.
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Marx mentioned that in transforming nature, humanity also transformed itself. This is also true of the proletariat - it is the process of struggle itself that transforms us from limited, amputated creatures with horizons limited to the grumbling of our stomachs (or the next paypacket) into something better and nobler than we have been before. It is because the proletariat is forced to struggle in this way by its social conditions that makes it a truly revolutionary class.

Better and nobler than before

Thank you, Samyasa, for your comment of 16-07-09- 7.35, which is inspiring. However, without wishing to detract from what you wrote, there is a difference between workers who really want to do something (such as in the examples you give) and some who maybe don't want to do something else (such as going out in the middle of the night to mend a stranger's or comrade's leaking pipe). Do you expect that a fully communist society not using nor relying on money will entirely depend on almost total unselfishness by almost the whole of the working class ? That might seem like all workers expecting that the whole of the working class will do anything for us and so we will do anything for any and all of the working class. Sounds good.
All this ICC stuff has set my brain spinning at 78rpm, so some jazz seems called for! Regards, DKT-16-7-09-10.25 AM.

DKT gets ICC book per Amazon

Samyasa, maybe you'll be thinking that if only I'd read the ICC book sooner, much of the recent exchanges of views would have been obviated, but, even so, they might help folk who also haven't read it so far. I've ordered a copy by free delivery per Amazon.
Regards, DKT - 16-7-09 - 10.55 AM.

... and and and and, Struggles of Classes?

.... and and and and, Struggles of Classes? ...
What happens to the CCI? , neither in France, nor in England! , less in NOBODY more;
does not exist capacity of intervention of the Proletriat?
What happens in `New Fabris'?
What happens in `Nortel'?
Since when to `terminal crises' of the World-wide Capital, and their Supervisory Bourgeoisie, the only exit as Working answer is `to fly', or `to jump', the Means of Production?
Only the EXTENSION the INTERNATIONAL of any conflict within the Working Class can guarantee the TRIUMPH!
Only by means of the TAKING OF the CONTROL ON MEANS OF PRODUCTION on the part of the PROLETARIAT will guarantee the triumph!
NEVER the destruction of Means of Production is an OBJECTIVE of the Proletariado and its World-wide Working Class!
Labors and WORKERS of World, TOGETHER!

The stumbling around of the

The stumbling around of the trotskyist left, post comrade Cliff, in the intelectual and propaganda minefield of electoral politics is lamentable.
Careerist trots like John Rees on Richard and Judy, and Martin Smith on Newsnight are surely the clowns of the reactionary face of trotskyist politics and are guilty of not just pedalling illusions to the working class, but crimes against the class and stand as counter-revolutionaries.
They do have some active branches, routed in their areas, that suck in and kick out working class people who hate capital and want change desperately, somewhere in excees of 200,000 people have been in these groups over the years, few have been able to stomach the smoke and mirors to stay.