|Defending the objective interests of the working class is the opposite of sectarianism|
This article was prompted by a recent post on Phil Dickens’ excellent ‘Property Is Theft’ blog, which he uses to sketch out a theoretical basis for his anarchist beliefs.
In ‘Communism Through The Eyes Of Corpses‘, Dickens argued that:
“Yes, some dead guys with beards said some things which are spot on. But they were still flawed people who got things wrong as well. That’s why anarchists are anarchists and not Proudhonists, Bakuninists, Kropotkinites, etc. If you use the fact that some revered thinker of the past said it as proof of your argument instead citing them as someone who made a particular point more articulately, then what you have is dogmatism and not reasoned argument.”
This much is obviously true. ‘Marx or Kropotkin says…’ is not an argument in of itself. But quotes from dead guys with beards (and dead women) can still help shed light on situations facing us in the here and now. Unfortunately, they are often deployed to confuse rather than enlighten; to ‘prove’ a point by silencing the opponent, rather than engaging with them. As a result, the theories of the dead guys and women often seem as dusty and lifeless as the remains of those who wrote or spoke them in the first place. In my experience, the worst offenders here are representatives of the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party, though I wouldn’t exempt representatives of any ‘left party’, with the possible exception of the orthodox Trotskyist Socialist Equality Party, who publish the almost encyclopedic WSWS.
And yes, ‘left party’ is in inverted commas. The reason for that is the same reason why their leading voices often take quotes out of context. Though they sometimes quote Marx, and display his image on their website etc., they are not Marxists. Neither – though I have major problems with Trotskyism and Leninism – are they Trotskyists or Leninists. At best, they are left reformists. Of course there are many genuine revolutionaries amongst their rank and file, but I believe their beliefs have no place in their organisations, and could not be expressed democratically without challenging the leadership.
No Marxist encourages any illusions in the trade union bureaucracy or any ruling class parties – you could say it’s a deal breaker so far as Marxism is concerned. But the fake ‘Marxists’ of both the SWP and SP do it with great regularity.
For both parties’ papers, the pattern is the same whenever a major industrial dispute comes along. Step one: attack the bosses in question as using tabloid language such as ‘greedy’, ‘fat cat’ etc. Step two: advise the relevant union bosses (i.e. only the ones whose sector is immediately concerned) to ‘fight’, also using tabloid language. Step three: rhetorically ask why the relevant trade union bosses aren’t fighting, but don’t provide any answers. Step four: call on workers to ‘put pressure on’ the relevant trade union bosses. Step five: celebrate the calling of a one day strike, and lead readers to believe that this alone will force a rethink. Step six: when the union bosses sell out the strike, either a) express regret that they didn’t provide sufficient ‘leadership’ or b) absurdly declare victory.
During the current implementation of unprecedented cuts to working class living standards, this process gives much comfort to the international banking elite. To understand why, imagine the following scenario: a newly minted, inexperienced activist takes to their first picket line, march or other demonstration. Hungry for some context and advice from more experienced strugglers, the newcomer reads that the union leaders will hopefully sort things out for them if they are asked nicely. The union leaders then don’t sort things out for them, and the new activist becomes alienated from radical politics. It’s a perfect system: the ‘lefts’ cover for the union bosses, the union bosses cover for the Labour Party, and the Labour Party cover for the very ‘fat cats’ denounced on the pages of Socialist Worker and The Socialist.
This could be put down to simple naivety on the part of these ‘left’ writers, if we didn’t take the class composition of their parties into account. But if we are to be Marxist, this is precisely what we must do. The fact is that a significant proportion of leading SWPers and SPEWers are either trade union bureaucrats, or aspire to be trade union bureaucrats. In the case I documented in my 2008 postal workers’ strike, then SWPer and Communication Workers Union exec Jane Loftus voted to sell out the strike just when it was gaining momentum, condemning posties to attacks on their jobs, pay and conditions. For their part, the SWP were mildly critical and claimed “There is no reason for the CWU to have signed up to such an agreement”. No reason? Really? When bureaucrats always sign up to such defeats? But that was as nothing compared to the treachery of the Socialist Party, who went so far as to celebrate the notion workers had “force[d] management back”.
Another hoary old Marx quote is that communists “have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.” In other words, they are not sectarian. The same can’t be said about the careerists and opportunists at the top of the main ‘left’ parties. That’s why it sounds like they have corpses in their mouths when they quote genuine revolutionaries.