Preaching To The Inverted

(Issue 75 - Autumn 1997)
In 1988 a Red Action national conference reached a controversial conclusion that led to a split in the organisation with one of the founding members and de facto editor of the paper leaving. An intense discussion preceded by the circulation of documents and counter-documents voted for the following motion: "Red Action recognises that the representative groups on the Left are neither worker nor revolutionary. The time has come for a clean break from their ideology and philosophy."
This was a belated acceptance that the type of problems inherent to organisations like the SWP; Militant etc were not 'cultural' and would not be automatically solved by a transfusion of working class members. At face value this judgment was straightforward enough. Particularly, as in the end only a small number of members actually resigned as a result RA's rejection of the left's entire philosophy.
However the decision posed far more fundamental questions for those remaining. For instance did the rejection of the contemporary Left as a revolutionary role model mean the rejection of Leninism? And if as the Leninists claimed Leninism and Marxism were indissoluble, did that mean in effect the decision had by default, put RA firmly in the anarchist camp?
In order to answer these questions with authority a root and branch exploration of revolutionary theory and practice was immediately set in motion. It began with the intense scrutiny of the writings of Marx and Engels, Bakunin, Lenin and Trotsky and also lesser known figures. The project was approached from an objective stand point, with no pre-determined bias built in. And equally unique, the subsequent debate was conducted publicly through the paper.
This led to much confusion on the Left. Some felt that the washing of ideological lines in public represented a power struggle within RA which would herald the collapse of the group. Others felt that it represented a mixture of ignorance, naivete and confusion. Many were simply startled by the appearance of theoretical articles in Red Action at all, believing that RA was essentially anti-theory with little interest in "dead Russians."
One of the first articles that appeared tackled the core question of the dictatorship of the proletariat ie the rule of the working class following revolutionary overthrow. The initial conclusions drew wide applause from anarchists and an edited version of the article was printed in the 'Class War' paper.
They were to later choke on their cheers when shortly after the question of anarchist theory and practice come up for scrutiny.
Having created the dynamic, the exhaustive process explored many pivotal areas of working class struggle from the Paris Commune, to the Russian Revolution to the Spanish Civil War. The hunger for debate also spilled over into other journals; notably the theoretical journal Open Polemic, The Leninist, Workers Power & The Starry Plough in many cases with devastating effect. Later some of the key articles were translated and published abroad with the same view of provoking discussion, a development which has continued to the present day.
The initial amusement at RA's efforts from sections of the Left turned to resentment and mortification at RA's energetic and sacreligious destruction of a whole herd of sacred cows. Initially Stalinists, Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyists, & Anarchists rushed to rebut this or that slander, and just as quickly back-pedalled in retreat, ideology and political reputation in tatters. Because they could not discern where RA was coming from; could locate no fixed position, they were more determined that we should have one. This was partly reflex and partly damage limitation. Once a label was fixed the easier they found it to dismiss the challenge. So the RA phenomena was and still is referred to by Leninists as Anarchists and vice versa, while in one glorious moment of Trotskyite delerium one group, squared the ideological circle by referring to Red Action as "utopian Stalinists".
Understandably, due to the corrosive effect on the morale and standing of their own organisations this rich seam of entertainment and enlightenment soon dried up. So there was to be no ultimate victory; no championship belt. Instead RA became like the young fighter familiar in boxing circles, who comes out of nowhere takes on, and destroys all comers and thereafter cannot get a bout. Though middle ranked, and of modest public reputation he is most likely to stay that way, as he is the one fighter everyone else in the division is most anxious to avoid.
Politics apart, what made the demolition so easy was that their research was sloppy when not simply dishonest. As is so often the case with the Left they tend to judge others by their own standards. Their objectivity on a given subject went as far as addressing the guiding principles but never questioning their legitimacy. And because RA's research went further we often knew more about their historical antecedents than they did. As with all sects, their belief is, in essence, religious. And of course the purpose of theology, is to prove, not question, the existence of God.
Judged against the reality of the twentieth century; two World Wars and the emergence of totalitarian twins; Stalinism and Fascism, the record of the Left's guiding ideologies, Marxist-Leninism, Trotskyism and Anarchism is absolutely appalling. While of course for much of the time the strict adherence to the various ideologies eschewed common sense and as a result denied its followers any influence. At critical times when the ideological influence was applied, the results were without exception disastrous for the working class. The career of the exiled Trotsky is a case in point.
Trotsky, who in the early 1930's made partial amends for his earlier rubbish on the workers state with the clarity of his strategy for beating the fascists, (a strategy incidentally that found little favour amongst his followers then or now) found his credibility was undermined by both Stalinist smears, and his promotion of the fantasy of the 4th International.
So here, at a the most critical time for the working class internationally, we had a situation where there was Trotsky, a general, literally without an army, and an army of hundreds of thousands of Communists without any revolutionary leadership .
To a degree this set of circumstances has typified the performance of the Left in a variety of arenas and countries since. Unable to see which way the wind is blowing; unable to form any contemporary analysis as momentous events explode around them, and, as our own research has shown, unwilling or unable to correct fundamental theological errors even with the benefit of hindsight.
As the function of ideology is to conceal contradictions and invert reality its impact on working class struggle is invariably negative when not completely reactionary. All ideologies and their adherents have in the eyes of the broad working class been long regarded as bogus, false prophets or harmless well-meaning idiots.
In direct contrast, Marx and Engels from the very beginning denounced any attempt to label their approach to revolutionary work as either an ideology or an 'ism'. Instead they employed a simple combination as their modus operandi. On the theoretical plane the issue was always squarely addressed from the class aspect of the initiative. On the political side they demonstrated to the working class how to combine two notions: delight that the capitalist class and the state are compelled to resort to certain measures and, at the same time refusal to support them politically.
Had either Marx or Engels for instance been alive in 1969 when Labour prime Minister Callaghan sent British troops to the Six Counties both would have been delighted. First, because it exposed the real nature of the state, its inherent instability, and so on, but simply because they welcomed it, does not mean they would endorse it. That is political support, and does not automatically follow from an understanding of the enemy predicament. On the contrary Marx and Engels would have taken up position in the class struggle as generals in a battle the better to exploit it.
This is why Leninist ideology does not find its converse in anarchism but in Marxism. Marxism is not an ideology but a method that is in essence hostile to ideology. Which is why Marx himself proclaimed: "I am not a Marxist!". This, and the fact that it was people like them he opposed all his political life, is clearly something the Left of the 20th century have not yet come to terms with.