Taking Up Cudgels

Red Action v The Left
(Issue 75 - Autumn 1997)
Marx or Lenin

The following article is not the kind normally associated with the publication Red Action. This is not because we are anti-theory but because we are working class socialists and as such judge things very differently from the middle class academics and the pseudo intellectuals that populate the sects on what passes for the revolutionary Left today. The importance of this 'discovery' is that it clarifies and enlightens. Its particular relevance to Red Action is that in sentiment it is entirely consistent with everything we have ever stated to be valid true or correct. It offers up this delightful prospect (depending on your point of view) that if on this issue [dictatorship of the proletariat] we are right then it follows that their [the Left's ] basic approach is completely and utterly wrong. What can no longer be in dispute is that on this vital question choice is necessary. It is not a case of Marx and Lenin but quite simply Marx or Lenin.
For Marx and Engels from the beginning to their end of their careers and without exception, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat meant nothing more and nothing less than the rule of the proletariat, the conquest of political power by the working class, the establishment of a workers' state in the immediate post-revolutionary period. It did not mean the rule of one man, clique or party. It means the rule of class. Class rule means class dictatorship by the class, not over the class. What Lenin clearly understood by the term was a dictatorship of a minority - a complete negation of Marx.
RA - Issue 53, 1989

Workers' State

Before Stalin could use a bastardised Marxism as its formal political basis, Marxism had to be rehashed and re-processed and warped into something entirely different. The Bolsheviks did not cause Stalinism but this justification for substituting the dictatorship of the party over working class rule from below certainly facilitated it. Trotsky took the lead in gutting socialism of its organic enrootment in the mass of the people. It was also he who found it necessary to justify what had been done in the name of Marx by the Bolsheviks, by accepting "workers state" for Stalin's totalitarian regime solely and exclusively because it maintained control of property in the hands of the state; continuing his lamentable record of separating the concept of workers state from the question of working class control from below.
The Trotskyist groups currently dancing on the Stalinist graves will be unable to detach themselves from the mistakes of the past face a similar crisis themselves in the near future.
RA - issue 54

Dustbin of History

While it is hard to imagine a group of Leninists who explicitly reject Marxism, the article in RA 53 on the 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' makes a case for rejecting Leninism on the principle of Marxism itself. First, that the position of Marx and Lenin regarding the "dictatorship of the proletarian" are completely divergent. Second, that Leninist principles led to the dictatorship of the party as distinct from the class. Thirdly, that the "traditional Left" is utterly and completely wrong in their estimate of the principles and consequences of Leninism. The re-evaluation of Marxism and Leninism is valuable and long over due. Nevertheless the sweeping rejection of Leninism/Bolshevism, and the rest of the British Left contained in the article, throws a number of theories and principles into the dustbin of history that may have to be fished out again.
RA - letter, Issue 54, 1989

Leaders and Led

What many people, presumably anarchists among them, fail to understand is that anarchism denounces most ideally democratic forms of decision making as authoritarian and evil; for the will of the individual must not bow before an outside demand. What do you do when people disagree in an organised society, where individuals have to, live in concert? Anarchism has no answer! In words it rejects both despotism and any form of democracy as authoritarian and gropes for a third alternative. But none is found, just more talk about freedom. The real choice before anarchists is this. The safety of high minded but meaningless rhetoric, or a resort to special forms of an elite dictatorship. In other words there will always be leaders, the real question is whether they will be accountable or not. It was Bakunin who inaugurated anarchism on the basis of the second solution.
RA - issue 56

No Blueprint

'The Leninist' reacted in typical fashion at the suggestion that their idol Lenin might not after all a have been infallible: "Those great contributors to the rich tapestry of Marxist thought Red Action have recently taken up polemical cudgels against Lenin and the dictatorship of the proletariat." Their middle class indignation heightened by the fact they believe semi-literate ruffians should be content to wield cudgels of the more traditional variety and refrain from trespassing on their intellectual preserve. We are not looking for a blueprint or the Holy Grail. We are just after the truth. All other alternatives have been exhausted but no effective substitute has been discovered. We need to know the truth because if we are going to do it by ourselves we need to know what works.
RA - Issue 56, 1990

Invisible Dictatorship

Bakunin's lust for absolute power - to be a secret chief over an invisible dictatorship - isn't necessarily true either. I've read lots of versions of this and it all depends on who you read and how you interpret what he meant. But even if the most paranoid accusations about him are true its irrelevant today - just as its been for 100 years. It's easy to take quotes out of context to try to prove anything, especially when such quotes were written as part of a propaganda war from Marx onwards.
RA - issue 51, letter from Liverpool Direct Action

RA reply
: Like Bakunin, Proudhon (the father of anarchism) is revered as a great libertarian because of his industrious use of the word liberty with a big 'L' and constant talk of revolution from below. You may indeed be willing to regard his Hitlerite form of ant-semitism (the Jew is the enemy of human kind, it is necessary to send his race back to Asia or exterminate) as an irrelevance. Or his principled racism in general (he thought it was right to keep blacks in slavery since they were lowest of the inferior races), or his glorification of war for its own sake (in the exact manner of Mussolini), or his view that women had no rights; "I deny her every political right and every initiative, for women's virtue lies solely in marriage, motherhood and domestic duties". But as you agree "he helped shape and influence your movement" can you also regard as irrelevant, or does it depend on how you interpret it, his violent opposition not only to trade-unionism and the right to strike (even supporting police strike-breaking) but to any and every idea of the right to vote, universal suffrage or the very idea of constitutions:
"All this democracy disgusts me, what I would not give to sail into this mob with my clenched fists".
His notes for the ideal society notably include suppression for all other groups, any public meetings over 20, any free press or elections.
Was he completely insincere about his professed love of liberty? Not at all! It is only necessary to understand what anarchist liberty means. The central principle meant; That any man who cannot do what he wants has the right to revolt against the government even if the government were everyone else."
Contrary to your central contention anarchism is not concerned with the creation of democratic control form below only with the destruction of "authority" over the individual. This includes the most extremely democratic regulation of society that it is possible to imagine. Anarchists do not advocate political freedom but freedom from politics. Anarchism is on principle fiercely anti-democratic since an ideally democratic structure is still authority. Anarchists who are freest with all this talk about 'something from below' reject this goal. The anarchists who rightfully take their place in the roll of honour of the Spanish Civil War do so not because of their attachment to anarchism but in spite of it. The anarchists who fought hardest and with the most confidence and conviction were not those who remained loyal to doctrinaire anarchism but those like Durrutti and later the Friends of Durrutti who deviated from it."
RA - issue 51, 1990

Ho Hum

Why does a group whose very existence is due to breaking with the anti-democratic policies and practice - the lies and smears of the SWP - resort to those same methods against anarchism or, let's be honest, just Class War? ...So what has got your back up comrades? Why do you lower yourselves to this level? Why do you accuse CWF of "throwing in a few fucks to disguise their dilettantism and lack of analysis" when you know this is pure shite? I personally believe it is because CWF has achieved what you would like to have achieved. From the proud beginnings you sadly have come nowhere - in influence , members or paper sales. Yes, you have a good record on anti-fascism, but in building political organisation and influence you have failed.
RA - issue 57, letter from London Class War 1990

Stalin - Patron of Anti-Fascism?

I really can't understand why your newspaper, which is firmly anti-fascist, which puts the fight against fascism at its centre, and which has no time for the petty utopian cries of the lefties, should devote 2 pages to praising people who were obviously aiding fascism!...The article says that in '36, 25,000 of the party's members were urban middle class lefts - that just 10% - ie it was 90% working class and peasant! What the article doesn't mention is the enormous contribution of the communists - the arms supplies and military volunteers from the Soviet Union. Fascism would have taken Spain in months had it not been for the Communist Movement in Spain and internationally.
Letter from Communist Action Group

RA reply
: 'CAG' suggests that 90% of the communist party membership consisted of workers and peasants. In fact 76,000 of the peasants - almost a third of the entire membership were peasant proprietors as distinct from agricultural workers.
CAG talks of the 'worker-peasant' alliance as if the peasant proprietors represented progressive forces in rural areas. There were two social forces in these areas; the proprietors themselves, and the far more numerous agricultural workers who after the revolution, formed the village committees and co-operatives to work the land collectively. In this context, the peasant proprietors were a counter revolutionary force. Realising that the communist party represented a return to the conditions of the bourgeois republic, they swarmed to it in droves.
Stalin had decided that a revolutionary Spain would drive the democratic countries into an alliance with the fascists, instead of, as he forlornly hoped, an alliance with the Soviet Union. To this end, a trickle of Soviet armaments was allowed to enter Spain under the control of the Spanish communist party, now itself under the control of Soviet 'advisors'. So much for Stalin as the patron of anti-fascists.
RA - issue 67, 1994

Squeamish Utopian Stalinists

Workers Power recently published an article on Red Action, in which they concluded that RA rejected Marx's concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They have since apologised and acknowledged that RA does not reject this concept - just the reverse. It [the apology] is accompanied by a second attack on RA. RA is stigmatised as practising "vulgar sociology" and of being - wait for it - "squeamish utopian Stalinists".
In their article Workers Power say that Marx criticised the Commune for not being "authoritarian enough".Let us see what Marx himself wrote in his major published work on the 1871 events, the Civil War in France:
"In their reluctance to continue the civil war..the Central Committee made itself guilty of a decisive mistake in not at once marching on Versailles."
What was this Central Committee? Marx says it was the "provisional government" of the working men's revolution of March 1871. Workers Power tell us further that the Central Committee was "self selected" and praise it for being so: "The Central Committee of the National guard gained power not through an election but through an uprising."
This is quite unequivocal: the Central Committee, say Workers Power, was not elected and allege that Marx supported it against the elected body of the Commune. It is difficult to know whether this is a conscious effort at mis representation or simple incompetence.
It is too late for Workers Power to sneak back in the closet and claim they didn't really mean to endorse the imposition of a "self selected" putchist and explicitly anti-democratic clique over the authority of the elected representatives of the call, or that the process was somehow not a 'real' election.
Marx himself bars the way unequivocally: "The Central Committee was elected by virtually the whole body of the National Guard...Never were elections more sifted, never did delegates more fully represent the masses from which they were sprung." All of this, let it be carefully emphasised refers to the election of the Central Committee which Workers Power praise precisely for being "unelected", and as being evidence of Marx's support for the dictatorship of unelected authoritarian cliques over the class!! It must rank as one of the most bizarre, contorted and embarrassing arguments ever produced by a revolutionary sect.
RA - issue 63, 1992