Thursday, June 28, 2012

Revolutionary socialists - our past and our future.

Spanish miners strike: class warfare
By John Throne

I was talking to an Irish friend and ex Irish Committee for a Worker’s International (CWI) Comrade last week. He was at one time a CWI full timer, an EC member and before that an electrician. We were talking about experiences. My friend is an alcoholic but has not touched a drink for over a decade. He is in AA. He said that he is amazed at how many people in AA are ex IRA.
  It makes sense. They threw themselves into a struggle with great hopes and these were dashed. There are thousands of such anti-capitalist anti-imperialist people in Ireland. I know many of them. Many of them were in the left groups and let down by them also. On a world scale there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of revolutionary fighters who are no longer active at least in revolutionary organizations. In Ireland and the US, the areas I am most familiar with, there are many more people who consider themselves revolutionary socialists outside the revolutionary organizations than inside the revolutionary organizations.

This is a powerful and tragic reality.  What do we do about this? First I would suggest that we have to recognize this and then recognize that this is not simply due to objective factors but that there is something wrong with the left organizations.

Some long in the tooth revolutionary socialists like myself are trying to consider what is wrong with the left organizations and why there are more revolutionary socialists outside them than inside them? Can the weakness of the left organizations be attributed only to the objective situation? The objective factors were of course of major importance ----the power and ferocious reaction, military, political and economic of capitalism and the equally ferocious reactionary policies military and otherwise of Stalinism.

The post war upswing and the size and influence of the mass workers organizations of Stalinism and Social Democracy, all these combined to isolate the revolutionary left and to allow all its worst features to magnify. All these also gave a longer lease of life to capitalism than any of the left organizations anticipated. This wrong perspective of the revolutionary left was a major factor.  However I do not go along with the idea that the weakness and crisis of the left groups is only due to the objective situation and mistaken perspectives. For years this is what I thought. For years I consoled myself and avoided serious self criticism with the idea that it was the post war upswing, the mass Stalinist organizations, the mass social democratic organizations, the isolation of the left from the working class mass organizations and these factors alone which made it impossible for mass revolutionary left organizations to develop. 

Returning to the countries I know best. In Ireland tens and tens of thousands of young people and workers looked to and joined organizations they thought were revolutionary in the late 1960's early 1970's. These were initially the Labor Parties, then as these exposed themselves tens of thousands of youth and workers moved on to the Republican movements.  The small left Trotskyist and Stalinist organizations were sidelined, partly because of the weakness of their traditions, partly because of their sectarianism, partly because of their ultra leftism.

Here in the US I think I remember that an estimated 1 million people in the late 1960's considered themselves revolutionaries. And remember the revolts in the military, the Panthers, the black revolt, the women's revolt. We have to remember also the great events like France 1968, Greece, Portugal and of course the tens of millions in the colonial revolution. Tens of millions of workers were prepared to and sought to organize as revolutionaries. But the left revolutionary organizations were not able to organize them. I may be underestimating here the massacres by Imperialism of the left in areas such as Latin America and Indonesia and the massacres by Stalinism in areas such as Hungary etc. 

I believe there were many opportunities for the left revolutionary groups to grow and become influential and become mass organizations. I want to draw the lessons from these missed opportunities as I see it. That is why I keep discussing the issues of the CWI the organization to which I belonged and the left organizations in general. The CWI because it was one of the best of them and I was in it for so long and this combination leaves me in a better position to draw conclusions from that experience than from any other left group. The reluctance of many socialists to discuss our own past mistakes (myself included as I have pointed out) might be rooted in how painful it is to do so and how they represent a lot of wasted years. If so I would suggest we do not waste any more years but draw the lessons.  

Some of my long-time comrades have said that all I keep on about is the internal life of the CWI, the organization to which I belonged. This is not correct. Even though I especially have lessons to contribute on this as I did not leave the CWI but was expelled after setting up a faction and fighting. The setting up of a faction was crucial to learning more about the false internal methods. How bad they were. I made numerous mistakes in the early period because I could not believe the organization I had given 25 years of my life to was so bad. I have gone over the mistaken internal methods, too unconditional and entirely wrong perspectives, a rigid adherence to these, an inability to reconsider these when they were so obviously wrong as the 1980's unfolded. On top of this, an over centralized internal life, a leadership that saw itself as the know everything teachers of the membership; a leadership that saw itself as never making any mistakes, a leadership that was not collective, a leadership that was determined to stay in control no matter what they had to do and a leadership that was in case after case male macho dominated. These mistaken methods combined to make it impossible for the CWI to correct its mistaken perspectives in a timely fashion when world events proved them so very wrong. As a result it split and plunged in membership and influence and its internal life became even more deficient and in many cases openly corrupt. 

I believe that all the left groups were sectarian in their internal and external lives and this was a major factor in their inability to grow and develop into mass organizations. Their internal lives put workers and youth off. Their attitude to other left groups put workers and youth off.  All left groups saw the other left groups as competitors and enemies, as all of them put their own interests above that of the working class and the struggle. This sectarianism also prevented the revolutionary left from taking advantage of the desire of millions of workers and youth for revolutionary organizations. I now consider the CWI was also a sect even though much healthier than most of the others due to its working class base.  The rising movement of the working class in some countries now is pushing many of these left groups to try and overcome their sectarianism and work together. 

Another factor in addition to the sectarianism that led to the isolation of the left groups was their ultra leftism. I consider this as presenting the full revolutionary program to all movements and seeking to recruit these movements to this. Did the big movements in the early period of the working class not take place around such issues as the  8 hour day with the setting up of 8 hour day committees. Did the CWI not have its greatest success and influence when it set up the Poll Tax committees on the simple single slogan Can't Pay Won"t Pay and when it overwhelmed the courts with mass direct action. I have long had the opinion that here in the US we should set up $15.00 or $20.00 a day minimum wage committees. Within these movements we would of course build a revolutionary socialist current, but we would not try and make these into revolutionary socialist movements. They would be more united front organizations fighting on these limited demands, setting up fighting committees on these limited demands and using mass direct action tactics to take on the capitalist offensive where it met the workers in their daily lives. The use of mass direct action tactics would be crucial to these movements developing as they would demonstrate that they were taking on the capitalist offensive and that victories could be won and in this way help them grow and put down roots in the working class.  

I would also see that these movements would throw up new mass parties like Syrzia in Greece but that these would be more united fronts of struggle and political action rather than fully formed unified parties from the start; more like the 1st International in the latter part of the 19th century.  As I say more united fronts maybe like the ULA in Ireland. I made a suggestion here in Chicago that the left organizations and locals and community groups come together and run a candidate for mayor when Daly was stepping down. In this city where there are hundreds at least of left activists I got one response. It was to tell me that I was arrogant. The refusal of the left in Chicago to put an alternative to Daly and Emmanuel is sectarian and ultra left and damaged the potential of the working class movement.

When these issues are raised in forums and discussions it is not uncommon for the responses to be hostile.  Name calling, distortions are often used to prevent a serious investigation in to the failure of the left and particularly our own individual roles in this process. At times, this can make it a real difficult struggle to discuss the topic.

The other issue that caused big problems for the left forces was opportunism, the tendency to make concessions to other socially powerful forces, the capitalist class, the labor leadership all its wings, both political and union. In so many cases the surge of youth and working class forces into organizations turned them into mass organizations and then the leadership of these organizations were unable to take these movements forward and opportunist concessions, ultra left adventures, sectarian mistakes developed and splits and collapse followed. I think now of the thousands upon thousands of youth who joined the Republican movement in Ireland after initially moving towards the social democracy and being let down by these. The left groups due mainly to their sectarianism and ultra leftism and yes also their lack of a base and tradition were unable to win over the best of these forces and develop more of a mass base as these forces looked for an alternative. 

I now look at every movement that arises in this way. It will come under the pressure of sectarianism, ultra leftism and opportunism. Revolutionary socialists must aghresively seek to defend these movements against these. To do so I think that it is necessary for these issues to be openly discussed and put on the agenda of the movement. In Ireland now there are some serious problems in the ULA with different factions and with sectarianism especially from the SWP and the SP. My position is that this has to be openly discussed. Not to attack any of the individual groups directly but to make sure that the issues are on the table and openly discussed and calling on the members of all the groups to take a stand against these ills.

Sectarianism, ultra leftism, opportunism are always lurking threatening the movements and the movements have to be conscious of these. This means openly discussing them. And if this is to be done effectively the different forces and individuals like ourselves have to start with our own sectarian, ultra left and opportunist mistakes, openly admitting these and explaining them. 

I now see every movement that arises and ask myself how best to defend it against sectarianism, ultra leftism and opportunism. At different times one of these can represent the greatest threat at another time another one. The movement has to be continually analyzed and looked at and the relevant tactics and emphasis used. For example every new movement here in the US in the past 15 years, the WTO movement, the Occupy movement, has been jumped on by the liberal wing of the union bureaucracy who link with a wing of the anarchists and with forces in the left groups  and introduce a combination of opportunism and ultra leftism that weaken and derail the movements. 

But there are other factors in which the left groups have been deficient and prevented them becoming mass organizations. One is the issue of the battle against sexism and the special oppression of women. 50% of the factory workers in the world today are women. The giant Chinese proletariat has hundreds of millions of women. The left organizations with practically no exceptions have failed on this front. The CWI had a very successful campaign against domestic violence but it threatened the male leadership so much that the main women comrades who led and developed this initially long ago left that organization.

The programs of most left groups contain the demands for equality for women. But the day-to day-life and struggles of these organizations are in the main inadequate on this issue. What steps are taken to open the road to the leadership for working class women and women comrades? What is the program of these organizations so as it is not too ultra left and puts off women workers? How is the male macho culture in which all male comrades were wrapped in an aura of special privilege being combated and changed? All these issues too have to be out on the table for open discussion and debate. I now believe not only in an open campaign against sexism and the extra exploitation of women in society but also within the left organizations themselves. I believe in affirmative action to correct this extra exploitation. Capitalism creates an unequal playing field. We cannot start off with accepting this. Sexism has to be openly and practically combated.  

Along with this is the issue of racism. This has been more central in the agenda of the left. There has been a greater consciousness of this and this is very good. Perhaps the biggest weakness here has been the failure of many on the left to root this struggle in the working class and link it to the divide and rule policies of the capitalist class. And to the need to fight racism in a way that unites the working class in struggle. 

Along with this while it is changing for the better the struggle to defend gay people and all people no matter what their sexual orientation was very weak on the left for a long period. 

Contributed as part of a discussion to fight sectarianism, ultra leftism, opportunism, sexism, racism and toward the building of a mass revolutionary socialist international. 


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