Red Action Responds to Wachla and Stanley

In his article in the first edition of 'Open Polemic', 'experimentia est optima rerum magistra', Jan Wachla draws attention to the singular position of Red Action on the British left. He writes;

'It is ironic that an organisation that spends the least effort in raising the consciousness and theoretical development of its members has perhaps made the greatest progress in raising the revolutionary consciousness of its members. The organisation I refer to goes by the name of Red Action.'

However, in introducing Red Action to this discussion the initial reason given, i.e. that of contemporary organisations on the left it is Red Action that has made the 'greatest progress' in 'raising revolutionary consciousness ', is in conflict with his final analysis - that Red Action has failed to marry its raw potential to revolutionary 'theory'. This raises the question, how does Wachla believe it possible to oppose the raising of 'revolutionary consciousness' to the development of revolutionary 'theory' as if one could evolve independently of the other?

Though the initial endorsement is quickly qualified with the introduction of other descriptive terms, 'lumpen', 'anarchistic', 'leftist', 'adventurist', the author clearly feels that further classification is needed. 'I am not by the way advocating the wholesale involvement of disillusioned and homeless communists in the ranks of Red Action (although there are conceivably worse courses of action for those at a loose end).'

So having walked the numerous itinerant communists with whom he appears to be familiar to the top of the hill a theoretical rat run is provided so that they can gratefully slither back down again. So if Red Action is not a fitting vehicle for 'serious' communists to join, then obviously what is needed is a serious vehicle for Red Action to join.

However before that happy day arrives, Britain's revolutionary youth need to be convinced that "our" revolutionary theory has been tested by revolutionary praxis and is not merely an intellectual by product of university campuses.'

In other words, those working elements who display a robust and direct approach with none of the left's characteristic inhibitions about ' getting stuck into fascist groups' will be duly awarded a place in the great scheme of things; as foot soldiers, flunkeys, and doormen albeit only if armed with a revolutionary consciousness. Not for us the rarefied air of pure logic (probably ruin us!) Wachla's analysis could be summarised as 'Good lads, lack leadership!' That analysis in itself is customary rather than novel; what Jan Wachla should be commended for, is having the courage to analyse the Red ActIon phenomenon at all, rather than dismiss us as an embarrassing but irrelevant aberration like many others have done.

His belief that the occasional incisive brutality on the streets of Britain is evidence of, and consistent with a further raising of revolutionary awareness is in direct contrast with the political reaction of the largest 'Marxist parties' who regard violence as in no way progressive. Instead their membership find it both repugnant and accidental. Accidental in the sense, that if Red Action were not preoccupied with bashing the far right, we might Just as easily any day now bashing the far left. Their repugnance is based on the belief, that if their politics do not provide and cannot justify such actions, then the principal motivation 'of the working class youth in the employ of Red Action' must be the violence itself. With exemplary logic it follows that if the implementation of revolutionary politics on the streets is not responsible for the confrontations, then the violence occurs due to the absence of revolutionary politics - or in the case of Red Action, any politics.

It is no coincidence that the very same organisations who are quickest to condemn the simple direct tactics of an organisation like Anti-Fascist Action are the same card carrying members of the RSPCF (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Fascists), who are quickest to celebrate any misfortune such as Enniskillen or Loughall as a justification in itself, for their consistent condemnation of the most direct and simple tactic of them all - armed struggle. Of course, If you choose not to stand with the Republican movement against the common enemy then by default you are party to a collaboration that helps reinforce the common front sponsored by the capitalist class against the revolutionary nationalism of the IRA.

Similarly, If any organisation is consistently reluctant to adopt direct tactics when faced by fascist aggression, while it is possible that any alternative tactic is preferred due to physical fear, in realty the instinctual choice of any alternative tactic is dictated principally by the inevitable illegality of the simple and direct tactic.

While the Marxist by name but reformist by nature hold fast to legality at any price, so for them there is never 'the common revolutionary dilemma between legal and illegal work', it is not true that a reaction against legality at any price is the polar approach. Anarchist adventurers who prefer certain actions because they are illegal are only the flip side of the same coin, and neither one is a legitimate heir to the revolutionary tradition. Simply because both tendencies still allow the actuality of the law to retain its legitimacy in the eyes of those that upheld the law and more importantly in the eyes of those who refuse to be restricted by it rather than break it.

'When total communist fearlessness with regard to the state and the law is present the law and its calculable consequences are no greater (If also no smaller) importance than any other external fact of life with which it is necessary to reckon when deciding upon any course of action. The risk of breaking the law should not be regarded any differently than the risk of missing a train on a very important Journey.'

As revolutionaries in Ireland will tell you, 'the armed struggle is not a holy cow' - it is a tactic. So properly regarded the questions of legality and illegality for communists in Britain reduces itself to a mere question of tactics where the agents of the state, indeed the state itself, is seen merely as a power factor to be reckoned with which has no inherent right to determine our actions, Ireland is the litmus test for revolutionaries. The use of physical force is the litmus test for anti-fascists. For all British revolutionaries worthy of the name the two issues - the employment of physical force in response to fascist aggression and the provision of political support for the use of physical force against the state really belong together - are in fact related, are in fact bound up in an indivisible dialectical unity.

The adoption and implementation of this approach to tactics, automatically provides a vital flexibility, but is indispensable in raising the revolutionary consciousness of working class youth. It liberates the working class from an instinctive conformity with the status quo; is a rejection of our former subservience and acceptance of the capitalist state as the only natural environment, and so provides the vital contribution to complete the comprehensive self-education of any revolutionary (regardless of class origins or any other qualifications, real or imaginary).

So when Wachla comments, 'To the revolutionary youth it must be said by our jail sentences must we be judged', though leaving himself open to charges of 'romanticism' he is still right. It is not just a simple case of 'vulgar macho posturing' as our mutual detractors from the Leninist allege: if a revolutionary movement is ever to be built in Britain, then to become and remain effective the law will have to be broken. If the law is broken then activists will land up in Jail. As stated before, it is not the law that is in itself important, with the decision taken on the basis of expediency, but also the attitude of the lawbreakers to it. Neither is there any 'merit or street cred' associated with a prison sentence, being in this case only a by-product of political activity.

Any professional criminal or in RUC parlance, ordinary decent criminal (ODC), who having infringed the law and been apprehended will naturally be disappointed, but will also feel guilty without necessarily feeling any remorse, This is because he understands that he is being punished for breaking the law ('fair cop guv') and that is no less valid for him than for everybody else, in the same way that most villains if they vote, vote for the party of lawn order. Revolutionaries by contrast, whose ideology is itself a rebellion against the legitimacy of the existing order, and the action itself being consistent with the ultimate aim, who have confidence in their own moral, intellectual and political superiority may feel disappointment, but feel neither guilt nor remorse. Fascists/loyalists, who are being punished by the very state they sought inopportunely to strengthen, are prone to doubt, confusion and fear (a considerable factor during interrogation).

So if 'revolutionary consciousness' is the key ingredient, If it is not instinctive, it can only develop from the practice of implementing revolutionary theory.

'Discover the truth through practice, again through practice verily and develop the truth. Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it into a rational knowledge. Then start from rational knowledge and actively guide revolutionary practice to change both the subjective and objective world,' (Mao Tse Tung)

So at best, Wachla's assessment of Red Action is flawed in that at best, he can only be half-right as his conclusion is clearly in conflict with the initial introduction.

Red Action's alleged 'disdain for theory' or our 'lack of respect' for the Leninist concept of the party is and has always been a disdain for theories that interpret the world in various ways, but who are unwilling or unable to change it. Either the 'correct theory' is not implemented, or one is constructed that renders change untenable, unnecessary or unwelcome.

'If you want knowledge you must take part in changing reality.' (Mao Tse Tung)

As result of displaying an unerring accuracy for the soft option, realty and the left, the left and the working class, are but distant cousins. Akin to sex experts who produce volumes on the correct sexual techniques, but who in private admit that they find the idea of actual intercourse abhorrent. Like charlatans in any other field, they 'discover' old theories but because they are not involved in the business of changing realty, they are unable to add anything new, or even aspire to advance beyond that which is already known.

As Wachla acknowledges, the orthodox defence of democratic centralism,

'is a trite regurgitation of the principle itself devoid of any recognition of development any change......Democratic Centralism, as argued by the priests of orthodoxy, is the tool by which the revolutionary programme can be upheld against Internal as well as external enemies.'

Criticism could be tolerated only as long as it does not conflict with the 'revolutionary interest'. The rub was that all too often (an omniscient leadership bordering on a faction) ruled such criticism out of order and against the revolutionary interest. Wachla also accepts that the root of the problem is not mechanical but intellectual.

'It is perfectly conceivable that a football club could arrange itself along impeccable lines of democratic centralism, but this hardly makes them a revolutionary unit.'

Furthermore, it should be added that the principle of democratic centralism is not worth the paper it is written on, If it is divorced from the fundamental essence of Marxism - revolutionary action!

If a party consists of a hierarchy of superior beings, who order by decree but restrict all activity to mundane propaganda work then there is no need for real cohesion or internal democracy. Blind faith, spiced by apathy and indifference can be passed off as the appropriate relationship between the membership and the leadership. A kind of 'gentlemen's agreement' is struck which is based on complete trust. It attracts the type of recruit that will dutifully propagate 'the party line' based on the implicit understanding that he/she will never be asked to risk everything (i.e. career, lifestyle, freedom) worthwhile other than perhaps, his integrity and self respect. In a reciprocal fashion it is perfectly clear to the leadership that once such a bargain is struck revolutionary demands could never again be countenanced for fear of losing the entire membership, who would If the bargain was broken, indignantly defect.

In unravelling the true relationship between things and phenomena it is always necessary to distinguish between word and deed, appearance and essence. Accordingly it should not surprise us to learn that those with the greatest contempt for revolutionary practice may still find it useful (for the purposes of recruitment) to use the language of a revolutionary.

The day to day tasks of a revolutionary group make sense only within the long term perspective of revolution and. more important from the dialectical point of view, the revolution is not just the result of one act but of all the acts which prepare the subjective objective conditions of the socialist society.

Revisionists and opportunists are characterised by their willingness to sacrifice the final goal, to violate any principles, to suffer any humiliation to suit the practical needs of the moment. It is obviously important for all the aspirants to the vanguard role in Britain that the final goal is never formally abandoned, but neither is it necessary. They simply follow the advice given to the 'honest' reformist Eduard Bernstein by the leadership of the SDP in 1898. (German)

My dear Ede. What you suggest is not formally decided. One does not say such things. One does them.'

While never abandoning revolutionary objectives, opportunist methods and tactics are automatically preferred in a way that in practice reinforces the stability of the system.

In contrast a genuine revolutionary party distinguishes itself from the bogus, the bourgeois, the opportunist by the greater demands made by the party on its individual members. And if the activity of every member is extended to every area of work, if every decision by the party must result in actions, and these actions by their very nature have appreciable, physical, legal or moral risks for the membership, then there will be no hesitation in exposing any flaws in the strategy. Doubts will be voiced and strategies or tactics held up to the light and scrutinised. It also follows that if the strategy is not comprehensible, if what's being proposed is not clearly understood by the membership, then it is unlikely to be adopted, and even if adopted, implemented unevenly and without conviction. While the entire membership decide on policy and strategy, it must be left to the elected membership to decide within these parameters day to day tactics. Once the proper relationship between the elected leadership and the active membership is established, democracy and centralism are not contrary - the latter is necessary, the former indispensable.

It must never be forgotten that the vanguard party of the vanguard class is essentially a combat party, and as such, the principle weapon against the capitalist order; 'the weapon is nothing but the combatants themselves.' (Hegel) While Wachla sees the need to reassess the relationship between membership and leadership, paradoxically he appears happy with the equally shallow orthodox defence of the relationship between party and class.

In 'Bureaucracy in Context', which also appears in 'Open Polemic', John Stanley insists that,

'We need to recognise that the dictatorship of the proletariat can take a variety of democratic and even totalitarian an forms.'

If the term 'dictatorship of the proletariat' is to have any contemporary meaning, other than as a code word to distinguish one of them from 'one of us', then it can only mean the exclusive rule of the immense majority (with only the exploiters deprived of their political rights) in pursuit of their own interests.

As soon as it is risen up, a class in which the revolutionary interests of society are concentrated finds the content and the material for its revolutionary activity, directly in its own situation: foes to be laid low, measures dictated by the needs of the struggle, the consequences of its own deeds drives it on.' (Marx)

Is it expected of the mass of the people to acknowledge at some unforeseen point, that the suppression of the worker's press, of the right to strike, of the right of association and assembly, the censorship of their own opinions, to be entirely consistent with their own class interests? No? Then who decides? Above all, who is to determine when in the 'revolutionary interest' it has become necessary to substitute totalitarianism for democracy?

In contrast to the reformist views of social democracy, the true dialectic of change is not through a majority to revolutionary tactics, but through revolutionary tactics to a majority. It therefore follows that any tactic that seeks to rein in or inhibit the development towards the enfranchisement of the immense majority, can be nothing but a reactionary reversal:

'Either the revolution must advance, at a rapid, stormy and resolute tempo, break down all barriers with an iron hand, or it is quite soon thrown backward, behind its feeble point of departure and suppressed by counter revolution.' (Rosa Luxemburg)

Once the revolution ceases to advance, it begins to retreat. The retreat signals that the counter- revolution has begun. The self-emancipation of the working class is a declaration that we no longer wish to serve as instruments, is a fight for no masters, not new masters.

The advocates of an ideology, who unlike Marx, put no trust in the intellectual ability of the class, who anticipate, that at some stage decreed by them, the role of the immense majority will have to be subverted and replaced by the more enlightened rule of a minority, that the revolution to be saved, must be destroyed, are forging an impotence as great as any reformist as they themselves can never be trusted by the class.

A worker, who fails to comprehend what the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie is in essence all about, is clearly no revolutionary. A revolutionary who fails to comprehend what the dictatorship of the proletariat is in essence all about is certainly no Marxist.

Contributed by G. O'Halloran of Red Action