Is a yes vote for an independent Scotland a revolutionary tactic ?

20 07 2014

Neil Davidson has recently advocated a tactical vote for Scottish independence on anti-war  grounds to weaken imperialism. (1) In his view,the Break up of Britain would make it more difficult for Westminster to help  American Imperialism . Yet whatever the form of independence, Steve James and Jordan Smith have pointed out the obvious : given the pro NATO position of the SNP,Washington will have two allies instead of one. (2) Alternatively another imperialist country could fill the power vacuum so that there would be no weakening of imperialism. The reality of any independent Scotland will probably result in more militarism as a former comrade of Davidson writes,”the SNP are committing a future  independent Scotland not only to remain in an imperialist alliance dominated by the US  ,but to potential foreign interventions in yet more countries”. (3) The other point is one made by Davidson himself back in 2007: inflating the role of Britain on the world stage makes its demise a matter of priority. (4) In any case,  the consequence of a yes vote will not be the break up of the British State.The programme of the SNP is independence lite. Key aspects of the British state apparatus such as the Monarch,the currency,and the Bank of England,  will be shared with England and Wales.



Neil Davidson does not  accept that the future of an independent Scotland  depends on what the SNP wants or envisages. (5) He assumes Scottish nationalism has a proletarian content .He asserts that”most Scots who want independence do so for eminently social  and economic measures without any embrace of nationalist ideology”,(6) Nationalism is seen as some kind of neutral class void which could be filled with socialist content. The power of nationalist ideology is ignored. It’s almost as if the saltire signified nothing but the pressure of Scottish working class interests. The assumption is that pressure from the Scottish people will push the SNP left or a Scottish capitalist state will be more susceptible to pressure from below.  The anti-war movement might have failed to stop Westminster from going to war in Iraq, but at least the Scottish people will with have a chance to stop war by influencing their new state. Some fragmentation of the British state, even on a lesser evil capitalist basis, makes the yes vote worthwhile for Davidson.

Again back in 2007 Neil had a different view. Bourgeois nationalism in Scotland was powerful and flexible : “Everything looks national  if you look at it through national spectacles”.(7) Exactly.What he had in mind was the misinterpretation of a number of significant class issues in terms of nationalism. For instance, the poll tax in Scotland was not an example of national oppression. The poll tax was an attempt to shift the tax burden onto the British working class. It was not  confined to workers in Scotland. The associated nationalist illusion was that the Scottish people are more militant than workers in England and Wales. But while the poll tax non-payment campaign started in Scotland, the poll tax was finished off by the London riots. The militant core of the great miners strike 1984-5 was in Yorkshire  not Scotland. And we should remember how Scottish nationalist sentiments helped to  undermine  the miners strike 1984-5 by  keeping the  Ravenscraig Steel Works open by using scab -coal.

Another of Neil’s former comrades, Alex Callinicos, also wants to downplay the influence of nationalism and fudge it’s bourgeois character.  (8) He emphasises that  not all capitalists are Scottish Nationalists, some businesses are not comfortable with the aim of independence. For example, Standard life and RBS.  Callinicos simply describes how the introduction of the poll tax in Scotland prior to its introduction in the rest of the UK was seen as a national humiliation. He is tolerant of this nationalist view. This is because the rise of the SNP and the prospect of an independent Scotland are not seen as nationalism, but a reflection of something else. The Vote for the SNP is seen as  a vote for Social Democracy or a Welfare State . The anti-war movement in Scotland was ignored by Westminster, and therefore it is understandable that a anti-war, anti-imperialist movement in Scotland  will look to a more representative parliament in  a new Scottish state. However, there was no national oppression in the lack of response at Westminster to anti-war demonstrations : that’s just the way bourgeois parliaments work.

The views,of Davidson and Callinicos have been taken from left nationalism. The SWP even has its own nationalist demand : Scotland should have its own currency.  The statements of Standard life and the RBS Bank about relocating if there is a Yes Vote was part of an orchestrated scare campaign : it remains to be seen if they carry out these  threats.In any case, no class is fully united in historic changes of direction.  The SNP does have  enough capitalist support from billionaires like Brian Souter of Stage Coach for a viable independence movement. All the evidence indicates that Capitalists can live with an independent Scotland. One of the reasons is that the start-up costs of a new Capitalist State is seen as a way of slashing welfare measure as the new State faces up to economic realities. The economics of the SNP are Neo -Liberal, and cutting corporation tax and business rates is their nationalist aim. As Callinicos concedes, the low wage, low tax, economy of Ireland is still the model for Scottish independence. (9 )

In contrast, in 1999, Callinicos was keen  to highlight the dangers of nationalism. The Nationalists aim to carve out a new capitalist state would result in coming to terms with the system of capitalist states, and the dominant powers in that system. (10) For the SNP this means cooperating with the EU, NATO and international capitalist financial institutions. There is also the small matter of a high level of foreign ownership of the  gas and oil industry. This is why Scottish Nationalism is not  progressive. This is another way of saying the workers have no country. It was the German Social Democratic tradition which regarded workers representation in parliament as representing the  nation. British Labourism is another example.As Roman Rosdolsky put it: “the workers have no country because they have to think of the national bourgeois state machine as a machine of oppression directed against them”. (11)  This is why internationalism is not just an aspiration.  Davidson was aware of nationalist dangers  in 2000: “It is futile to imagine that merely setting up a Scottish Nation State will by itself remove the poison of racism and hostility towards cultures which are perceived to be different” . (12)

Davidson and Callinicos do not support independence for Scotland because it is an oppressed nation. It never has been oppressed as Davidson has amply demonstrated in his historical research.  They support secession as a general democratic political right. Nonetheless, echoing Rosa Luxemburg, Hillel Ticktin makes the point that  “the simple demand for the right of nations to self-determination cannot be fulfilled under capitalism except in a formal way.” (13) Look at the austerity policies superimposed on  sovereign established nations such as Greece and Ireland by European and international financial powers. Political independence for small nations has been hollowed out. Politics and economics are intermingled. Nor is there a general right to self-determination above class interests. Nationalism destroys or reduces class antagonism. Tactical unity with Scottish nationalists is a popular  front which undermines class independence. What do Davidson and Callinicos really stand for : welfare capitalism?

Unity with the bosses,however tactical and temporary are very much the politics of the old Stalinist CPGB. The CPGB in line with other Stalinist’s throughout Europe in the 1930’s adapted nationalist symbols and flags. (14) In  Scotland the CPGB sometimes wore tartan sashes and banners showing Wallace and Bruce, and carried the Saltire. Stalinist leaders of the NUM in Scotland scaled back picketing at Ravenscraig Steel Works to save Scottish industry.The yes campaign is very much nationalist in character in the popular front tradition.Tommy Sheridan’s nationalist Referendum Campaign has the same explicit Scottish Nationalist cultural references.  The Republican Independence Campaign have the left nationalist slogans such as : Britain is for the rich, Scotland could be ours.  These campaigns Paint Scottish nationalism red as if nationalism could be proletarian.

If Callinicos and Davidson are voting Yes with illusions,Sandy McBurney is voting No with illusions. (15) He rejects any parliamentary road to state socialism in Scotland.Instead, he puts his faith in the British Labour Movement which he  manages to conflate with every class struggle in Britain in the last two hundred years. Revolutionary Chartism is lumped together  with Labourism,the great unrest 1910-14, which circumvented trade union and Labour party leaders, with the modern  trade union bureaucracy  and so on.  While he is quick to say that the nationalist left take the SNP social democratic promises as good coin, he takes the occasional historic socialist rhetoric of the Trade union and Labour party leaders as good coin. He writes that we  should not write off the socialist potential of the British Labour movement.

In effect, this is a choice for a British parliamentary road to Socialism or the British State. The Trade Union bureaucracy  and the Labour Party, are the primary components of the British Labour Movement. They are committed to the British national interest and constitutionalism. The Labour Party was a party of nation not class from the outset. He paints Labourism red. Sandy is also nostalgic for the liberal and national collectivist spirit of 1945.  He asserts that to break up the historic unity of the British Working Class movement would weaken the fight back against austerity,but admits there has been no serious fight back. This is political incoherence. Davidson and Callinicos are surely correct that it’s not about bureaucratic unity across borders, but fighting solidarity from below. Although they are inconsistent. If borders are not a barrier to solidarity then why be against separate Scottish Trade unions?  The choice is the working class struggle from below not  a British or Scottish capitalist state :a boycott of both yes and no campaigns.

Barry Biddulph


1 Neil Davidson, For a Yes vote without illusions : on the Scottish independence referendum,in The Project: a Socialist Journal,  July 2014.

2 Steve Jame and Jordan Smith,Former Scottish Socialist Party leader promotes nationalism in referendum campaign,left network,  July 2014

3 Keir Mckechnie,Yes to independence-No to Nationalism,Irish Marxist Review, Vol 12, Number 8.

4 Neil Davidson,Socialists and Scottish independence,International Socialism Journal,Spring,2007,p.47

5 Neil Davidson, for  Yes vote.

6 Neil Davidson, for a Yes Vote.

7 Neil Davidson, Socialists and Scottish Independence ,International Socialism Journal Spring , 2007,p.40

8 Alex Callinicos, Towards the Break up of Britain,International Socialism 143,2014.

9 Alex Callinicos as above

10 Alex Callinicos, Marxism and the National Question,in Scotland : Class and Nation, edited by Chris Bambery Bookmarks, 1999,p.44

11 Roman Rosdolsky,The Workers and their Country,in  In Defence of Marxism number 2,p.56 (LTT Pamphlet)

12 Neil Davidson, The origins of Scottish Nationhood,Pluto Press, London ,2000,p.202

13 Hillel Ticktin, Marxism and the National Question, in Critique 36-7,p.21

14 Lenin’s Social democratic schema of  Bourgeois Democratic revolutions in oppressed countries subject to imperialism, and tactical support for nationalists, undermined the political and organised independence of the working class and carried the seeds of the popular front. It also contributed to serious defeats and destruction of communist movements. For example in China in the 1920’s. Why would Landlords and Capitalists tolerate communists in the factories and fields even in a temporary alliance. Callinicos has made the main point in his Marxism and the National Question. Lenin did not explain how support for the national Revolution or democratic demands related to the specific struggle for Socialism. It also wrongly associated the bourgeoisie with democracy following Kautsky. It simplified bourgeois revolutions. The Bourgeois revolution was often a top down affair led by reactionary forces on Bismark’s principle of if we have to have a revolution, let us carry it out in a conservative way, rather than suffer one from below. Davidson has shown how the Bourgeois Revolution in Scotland was a top down affair.

15 Sandy McBurney, For a No Vote without illusions on the Scottish independence referendum, on-line in The Project,A socialist Journal,July 2014. The birth of Labour party was not an attempt of the working class to make a parliamentary party accountable to the working class. It was set up by the trade union bureaucracy and separated economics from politics. The Labour party was a product of defeats for the class struggle and contributed to those defeats. Sandy’s invocation of the reverential blanket phrase, the British Labour Movement, serves to mystify and obscure the complexities of the class struggle in Britain.

Nostalgia for the golden age of Labourism.

21 06 2014

Barry Biddulph review’s, The People. The rise and fall of the working class 1910-2010, Selina Todd, (John Murray,2014,£25.)

Salina Todd’s The People  is nostalgia for the spirit of 1945 :  when ” the working class became the people whose interests were synonymous with those of Britain itself”. (1)   Despite the academic research,this is  very old Labour  mythology : the people as the nation, united by Labour parliamentarians,  in the people’s war, and then the people’s peace.   It’s  patriotic nostalgia for the golden age of  Labourism and one nation welfare capitalism.(2) But her historical narrative of the  triumph of British Social Democracy, reveals a political incoherence :  the people’s  victory was not the triumph of the working class. The Attlee administration was not all it is cracked up to be.





Salina Todd informs us that the Attlee government was an austerity government, which ultimately put the demands of employers first, and gave priority to the economic demands of post war capitalism, led by the American government. The  financial elite in the city of London was allowed to conduct business as usual, and  the  public and grammar school elites were allowed to retain their privileged position. Inefficient and failing businesses were nationalised, with massive compensation, and put firmly in the control  of the old managers and owners, who ran them on conventional business lines. Most wealth remained where it was prior to the war with the majority of the economy owned by capitalists.   But all this is played down as if it didn’t really matter.

The main thing for Salina Todd is to  give all the political credit for policies  of full employment and free access to health care and secondary education to the leaders of the  Labour party.  In Salina’s words ,”It was Labour who had ensured that the people’s war brought about a people’s peace of welfare and full employment”. (3) This is a myopic,labourite and nationalist view of post war history.The post war order of top down welfare states in western Europe to modernise and strengthen Capitalism, to keep out the threat of Socialism and Communism, was built up by American capital, military power, and the new deal liberalism of Franklin Roosevelt and Dean Acheson. As Keynes, who negotiated a huge American loan for the Labour government, said at the time : “our post war domestic policies are impossible without American assistance” (4)Full employment was generated by an upswing of capitalism created by the world-wide destruction of values, commodities, and the built environment during the war which made the adoption of Keynesian policies feasible.

For Salina Todd,  Ernest Bevin personifies the aspirations of the workers for a better life because in the second world war coalition cabinet he “saw the demand for factory workers as an opportunity to turn the working class into the people”.(5) This  suggests that   Bevin and Labour in government, were motivated by working class interests. Yet state intervention to regulate the capitalist economy was instrumental for Bevin: a  workforce united by a national purpose was a  more productive workforce. (6) This bourgeois liberal approach had dominated the ideas of the parliamentary Labour party from its inception. Ralph Miliband summed  up the post war continuation of this approach :”from the beginning the nationalization proposals of the government were designed to achieve the sole purpose of improving the efficiency of the British capitalist economy,not as the  beginning of its wholesale transformation.”(7) It was not about a neutral state driven by the working class,but the capitalist state “operating within market dominated structures and having no fundamentally different objectives than those of private capital”. (8)

Selina Todd glosses over the wider non working class interests served by state intervention. The welfare state proposals emerged from the liberal intelligentsia, and war-time coalition government committees, which included conservatives. “The main architects of the post war reforms were in fact the progressive liberal bourgeoisie who had become committed to Keynesianism and the interventionist state in the crisis of the 1930’s.”(9) Prominent liberals such as  Keynes and Beveridge wanted to save capitalism from above not construct an alternative from below. The Churchill led coalition government accepted  the Beveridge report, and  Correlli Barnett is clear that “Churchill even accepted that  there was a broadening field for state ownership and enterprise.” (10) It was  about the capitalist state taking responsibility for unprofitable sections of the economy at the public’s expense and creating a healthier and better educated workforce for a more competitive economy.

Ernest Bevin might have introduced better facilities for workers in the royal ordinance factories, and facilitated more trade union recognition in industry during the war ,as Salina Todd notes, but the aim was to make employees work harder  for the war effort. A view shared across the political spectrum. Ernest Bevin acknowledged that”the trade union movement has become part of the state”. (11)  The integration of leading trade union officials into the state apparatus often meant workers on the shop floor had two bosses.This class collaboration at a local factory level saw union officials and employers uniting in production committees.  The autobiography of an Oxford car worker, and left trade unionist, Arthur Exell, gives us a glimpse into life on the production line during the war. (12) As secretary of the joint works production committee his job was to enforce factory discipline on trade union members. The manager approached him for help about what he considered unacceptable behaviour and  absenteeism among young women in the factory. Arthur seems to have taken a similar point of view : the problem with ” these girls” was that they were fed up and kicking against the system. what could Arthur do ? They were not members of the union. So the manager gave him permission to take time off the production line to get them into the union. The plant became 100% union. But Arthur confessed he had to come down  a bit hard on those females. (13)

Salina Todd the historian does acknowledge that ” Bevin put productivity before civil liberty. He swiftly introduced order 1305 which made strikes illegal during the war”. (14) This anti working class legislation was kept in place by the Labour Government after the war. Shortly before the  election of the post war Labour Government Churchill organised  hundreds of troops on standby to break a strike on the Surrey docks in London. Attlee and Bevin had no hesitation in following Churchill’s lead and ordered the troops to give the employers a helping hand. Troops were used as a reserve army of labour to break strikes on “at least 14 occasions between July 1945 and October 1951. ”  (15) The strikers were obviously not seen in terms of the nation as the people, and strikes were always scandalous from a parliamentary point of view.  Dockers were angry about low pay,poor working conditions, and the insecurity of daily hire and fire by the employers. Union leaders put loyalty to a Labour government before the rank and file workers.

The Attlee government had a  bureaucratic top down  paternalistic connection  with the working class. There was no attempt to draw in working class participation in decision-making . Instead, there was confidence in experts of all kinds, and Whitehall civil servants in particular. Salina Todd states the obvious, “the Labour  front bench was not committed to establishing economic and political equality”,  (16)   The military,civil service, and juridical hierarchies remained intact as did elite grammar and public schools. All this could hardly improve opportunities for workers.There was continuing  deference to unelected hereditary lords and of course the unelected Monarch. Gerrymandering continued unchallenged in the orange state in Northern Ireland, and a Labour promise on Scotland’s  devolution was ditched. The great power status of the British state was continued at the expense of working class living standards at home and workers aspirations for an alternative to capitalism internationally.(Greece)  In his understated manner, James Hinton points to the “failure to make inroads into the subordinate position of women”  (17) War time nursery and crèche provision was ended,welfare measures often  assumed a male bread-winner, and there was no provision for birth control on the NHS.  And so on.

Salina Todd  presents an image of the Labour government of 1945 as a party that, unlike Thatcherism, was based on cooperation not competition and the free market.(18)  Yet as an  historian She knows all Labour governments have been based on competition and the market.  Neo- Liberalism did not originate with Thatcherism, but with the James Callaghan’s Labour government in 1976.  The first and second Labour governments of 1924 and 1929 supported conventional capitalist economics and the gold standard : Workers benefits and pay were cut in a desperate attempt to solve capitalism’s economic crisis. There was no support from Ramsay MacDonald for the miners fight against pay cuts in the General Strike in 1926.The mass unemployed marches in the 1930’s were organised without the leadership of the Labour party.  Salina’s narrative obscures old Labour responsibility for working class defeats in the interwar years. The slump is associated with the Tory party and the post war boom is identified with Labour . Hence, the election of a Labour government in 1945  is presented as the forward march of the working class as the people. There was cooperation with trade union leaders, but this was to freeze or cut workers wages in policies of wage restraint, as in the politics  of Harold Wilson’s Labour governments of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Tony Blair was not more  wealth and market friendly than previous Labour leaders. The requirements of administrating capitalism change over time.

Even in council house building the Attlee administration relied heavily on the market and refused to nationalize the land or disturb land ownership. Land to build was bought at market prices,money was borrowed at high interest rates from finance markets and, the houses and flats were often constructed by private contractors. This followed the  pro market policies of the first Labour government  in 1924 : John Wheatley, Labour’s Housing minister said : “I have left private enterprise exactly where I found it….as the protector of the small builder I am the defender of private enterprise”. (19) In 1945 as in 1924 private enterprise was the norm. Peter Malpass  provides the overall picture of housing provision in Britain : “the idea that the market could and should provide for most people, most of the time, has underpinned British housing policy since the start of the 20th century”. (20) There was an acute housing shortage for working people in 1945, but Labour built less housing in 1948 than 1938 and fell well short of their own house building target.  Council tenants were subject to petty rules based on a notion of respectability. Salina Todd reveals that Nye Bevan, the minister responsible for housing, instructed that larger houses should go to managers and middle class professionals. Universal provision ,in housing ,as elsewhere, was adopted to avoid challenging class inequality and  income redistribution. Many workers had to resort to squatting to meet their housing need.

Salina Todd ties the formation of the modern working class with the origin  of the parliamentary Labour party. According to Salina : “in 1900 the formation of the Labour party testified to the rising significance of the industrial workers as a political force”. (21) It certainly related to the rise of the trade union bureaucracy, and its modest and defensive attempt to have a parliamentary voice to moderate  anti-trade union legislation or pass legislation in the interests of trade unions. It was very much a Liberal voice . All the early Labour leaders, Keir  Hardie, Arthur Henderson, Phillip Snowden, and Ramsay MacDonald were liberals or were influenced by Fabian blue prints for class harmony and regulated capitalism. But, between 1910 and 1914, the mass of grass-roots workers in the unions defied their union bosses,conciliation procedure, and bypassed parliament in a serious of violent mass strikes which challenged the state and parliament. The Labour Representation Committee was rendered  irrelevant. George Dangerfield described the workers actions as a “movement which took on a revolutionary course and might have reached a revolutionary conclusion”. (if not for the war in 1914) (22) The L.R.C, and later the parliamentary Labour Party served to constitutionally separate politics from economics to blunt class struggle.

In 1985 Marcel Liebman  described the liberal collectivism of Labourism as a ghost : ” a nostalgia ridiculous and poignant for something which once existed and will never exist again”. (23) But it is a nostalgia that grips the mind of many of the left in Britain today in terms of conviction or tactics.  For decades there was a hope which was  rooted in the occasional radical rhetorical flourishes,and ambiguous phrases of  Labour politics, that the Labour Party embodied a promise of Socialist change. However, with the passing of each Labour government these tactical illusions, and expectations,  have dwindled along with the influence of the purveyors of these false hopes. Then the  expectations became more vague. Did Labour offer voters a promise of  some kind of change ? John Rees, considering the prospects of a Tony Blair government in 1997 was keen to silence the ultra left pessimists who thought the pro business agenda of new Labour would  make the struggle for socialism harder or just as hard as under Thatcher. For Rees it would be easier. Why? Because expectations are not just passive electoral stuff : “expectations are something very different if they begin to force demands for a change”. (24) There was, of course, no crisis of expectations following the election of Blair. Why call up the grey and oppressive spirit of 1945 when  life has moved on ?



1 Salina Todd,The people, the rise and fall of the working class 1910-2010,John Murray, 2014,p.1

2 Salina Todd’s tabloid politics can be seen from her comparison of the rise and fall of the working class with the rise and fall of Viv Nicholson. Viv was a pools winner who coined the phrase spend, spend, spend to describe what she wanted to do  and did which brought about her downfall back into poverty. Salina’s political views are often contradicted by her views as a historian.

3 As above,p.2. With the help of Marshall aid, and other financial assistance, a variety of political forces in western Europe  introduced welfare measures. Only a narrow British view could identify welfare measures solely with Labourism.

4 Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin,The Making of Global Capitalism,Verso,London,2012,p.77

5  As above, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, p.96. According to Leo and Sam, American financial assistance  was 15% of the combined gross domestic capital of France Italy and Britain,during the Marshall Plan period.

6 Ernest Bevin had been an authoritarian trade union leader who was not overly concerned with the wishes and participation of his union membership. He was not a  leader reflecting some kind of popular class struggle or directly expressing working class demands. His connection with the working class was indirect and bureaucratic. Salina Todd’s views him as some kind of hero which reveals her own old Labour politics. Although as an academic Oxford historian she does record his anti working class actions, which again undermines her nostalgic Labourism.

7 Ralph Miliband Parliamentary Socialism,Merlin London,p.288

8 Willie Thompson,The Long Death of British Labourism,  Pluto press, London,p.29

9 Norman Ginsburg,Class Capital and Social policy, Macmillan, London, 1979,p.9

10 Corelli Barnett,The audit of War, Papermac, London,1986,p.32

11 As above , Willie Thompson,p.24

12 Arthur Exell,The politics of the production line, History workshop journal 1981. Arthur was a member of the CPGB . His reward for helping managers run a section of the Cowley car plant in Oxford during the war was exclusion from the factory during the cold war. Although he was officially a Communist, he seems to have  been rather  moderate. If he was in a factory, he was there to work not voice socialist views. He had little sympathy for one of his comrades who had the he said had the gift of the gab,  and was sacked for his communist agitation.

13 As above Arthur Exell, p.55

14 Salina Todd,as above,p.124.

15 Steve Peak,Troops in Strikes,Cobham Trust, London 1984,p.83 There were 8,000 unofficial strikes between 1947 -1951. These strikes showed a significant degree of frustration and disillusionment with the Attlee government. It was difficult to take on the trade union leaders,the employers, and the government,especially in the period when strikes were illegal.  See also  more details in A. J Davies,To Build a New Jerusalem, Abacus, 1996

16  Salina Todd as above .p.152,

17 James Hinton,Labour and Socialism, Harvester Press,Brighton,1983, p.71

18 Salina Todd p.319

19 Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein, The Labour Party-A Marxist History, Bookmarks,London 1988,p.101

20 Peter Malpass,Housing and the Welfare state, Palgrave , London, 2005,p.209

21 As above , Salina Todd,p.15

22 George Dangerfield,The Strange Death of Liberal England, serif, London,1997, p.179.  This rebellious energy was in stark contrast to the early Labour leadership’s love of Royal garden parties and enjoying the company of the rich and famous. The parliamentary leaders were obsessed with respectability and trying to shake off propaganda about wild men in parliament. See also Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein,The Labour Party,a Marxist History,Bookmarks,London 1988. And Tom Nairn,The Anatomy of the Labour Party, in Revolution and Class Struggle, edited Robin Blackburn,Harvester press. Keir Hardie stood for a Labour party based on nation not class or socialist. Hence the name  Labour party,not Socialist party.

23 Marcel Liebman, Introduction to Socialist Register 1985,Social Democracy and After, p.21.

24 John Rees, The Class struggle under New Labour, International Socialism journal, summer 1997,p.10. At one level this was probably a cynical attempt to keep the SWP activists active and cheerful.At all levels it looked for activity in something that did not exist : a campaigning Social Democratic constituency. Lenin’s dubious category of the Labour party as a bourgeois workers party might have had some relevance for 19th century classical Social Democracy in Europe which created mass campaigning organisations. But in Britain the parliamentary Labour party was not part of any extra parliamentary mass struggle. Indeed it was an alternative to mass struggle it helped to defeat.  So there was no contradiction between a mass Socialist struggle and it’s pro- capitalist leaders. There was a separation of the political from the economic. Lenin’s critical support for Labourism simply resulted in accommodation to Social Democracy.

Is Scotland an oppressed nation?

29 04 2014

Originally posted on Sráid Marx:

Scot2 scot1

‘Is the a Scottish Road to Socialism?’, edited by Gregor Gall, Scottish Left Review press, 2007.

‘Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose’, edited by Gregor Gall, Scottish Left Review press, 2013.

I remember having a brief chat with a left nationalist who argued that, in the context of a reference to Ireland, that there are degrees of national oppression. And so undoubtedly there is. What is demonstrated by the Scottish independence debate is that the measure of it, if it even exists, is very small. We know this because there is no real demand for change.

What we have had are references to “bluff, bullying and bluster” by Alex Salmond over leaders of the Labour Party, Tories and Liberal Democrats, rejecting use of sterling by a new ‘independent’ state. But even here the essential nationalist case is not that Scotland is being told what it can and cannot do…

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the jab of tragedy, the righthook of farce

9 04 2014

Originally posted on the commune:

David Broder reviews First as tragedy, then as farce by Slavoj Zizek

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profane (Marx, Communist Manifesto)

As we reach the end of the ‘noughties’ this month, there is much scope for reflection on the events of the last decade. There remains a crisis of alternatives to capitalism, yet together with the current dark spectres of recession and ecological crisis, two events bookmarking the decade disrupted the ideology of ‘the End of History’. The September 11th terrorist atrocities in New York shattered the illusion of the invulnerable American military hegemon, while last October’s financial meltdown has fatally undermined the gospel of free-market economics. George W. Bush’s speeches on each occasion were the same, of course: ‘action’ was needed to defend ‘our way of life’. As Slavoj Zizek acerbically comments, this brings to mind Marx’s quip that “History always…

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2008 : The spectre of Karl Marx returned.

8 04 2014

Originally posted on the commune:

From the Commune, May 2009, a view presented at the outset of the Great Recession.

In January 2007, the Financial Times, declared that emerging market economies would continue to power ahead. Capitalism was triumphant. The ghost of Karl Marx had been laid to rest. But then just when the progress of the unfettered market appeared unstoppable it spectacularly crashed.  Some of the world’s biggest banks collapsed. The housing and credit bubble burst. In September 2008, Northern Rock in Britain and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the USA were rescued by governments with huge sums of tax payers money. The Bradford and Bingley building society was salvaged by the state and the Lehman Brothers financial empire fell to the ground. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the federal bank, in the USA, confessed that his free market confidence in the self-interest of bankers had been wrong. (1)

Bourgeois politicians were…

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The horror of the assembly line at Ford Dagenham.

18 03 2014

Barry Biddulph reviews Notoriously Militant,by Sheila Cohen,Merlin Press,2013.

This is the story of the TGWU 1/1107 Branch at the Ford Dagenham plant and how the workers on the shop floor experienced, and responded to the harsh working conditions inflicted on them by the Ford Motor Company.Sheila Cohen lets the workers speak for themselves about what they had to endure: “Imagine bending down to tie your shoe lace.Its a simple job. But imagine doing it once a minute ….during the period of a work shift. (1) The unending tedium of fixing the same nuts bolts and screws over and over again in a zombie like manner with damage to mind and body. Add to this pressure the unpaid and unpredictable lay offs, intrusive supervision and speed ups, particularly in the post war period, and you have the anger which sparks rank and file resistance.


Sheila Cohen argues in, Ramparts of Resistance ,that it is the raw material reality of exploitation on the factory floor which generates the objective possibilities of collective resistance. (2).This gives rise to what she describes as the two-faced nature of trade unionism as a movement of radical struggle from  below,rather than trade unionism as an official institution from above  in partnership with capital. But before we consider the limits and possibilities of trade unions, we will look at some aspects of her narrative of the militancy at the Ford Dagenham plant .

Ford Motor Company had forged a useful working relationship with the national officials of the trade unions in April 1944 in the Ford National Joint Negotiating Committee.(FNJNC). The TUC had helped Ford to keep out shop floor negotiating rights. The workers in the plant had a different approach.In 1946 they walked out and then occupied the plant to demand better pay and shop steward representation. The formal right to shop steward representation was won.  This left a battle for what they could and could not do. It was in the same year in the context of this Class struggle that the TGWU branch 1/1107 was established at the Dagenham factory.

In the decades that followed there was an explosion of unofficial inspired strikes and disputes at Fords Dagenham which were part of a wider grass-roots struggle which culminated in the high tide of militancy in the period 1968-1974. Although the Winter of discontent in 1979, triggered by a strike at Dagenham which smashed the governments 5% pay freeze, even topped this militancy. In 1960 there were seventy-nine walkouts at Dagenham with 100,000 hours lost; by1961 the number had risen to 184,000. Alan Thornett recollects a similar militant record in an Oxford car plant : the number of strikes at the Morris plant averaged around 300 a year from 1966-1968 culminating in 1969 with a record 624 strikes. (3) But not all these strikes ended in victory.

In 1962 there was a serious defeat at Ford Dagenham which left  17 workers on a company hit list outside the factory gate. The dispute originated in a shared outlook  between union officials,and the Ford labour relations director Lesley Blakeman. The feeling was that something had to be done about those militants who had shown disrespect to union and company procedures.  Les Kealey was sick of the trouble makers who got in the way of good relations with Ford management: a number of stewards had got into the habit of solving their own problems and order had to be restored. (4) The tactic employed was to link  wage increases to constitutional good behaviour. Further,Kealey and other national officials agreed that ” unions recognise the right of the company to exercise measures against employees who fail to comply with the conditions of their employment by taking unconstitutional action”.   (5) Days later, Bill Frances, the chair of the pain and trim shop(PTA)  which was at the core of 1107 TGWU branch, was sacked for holding a lunch time union meeting.

There was a walk out and then an overwhelming vote to stay out on strike. But a return to work was then engineered by Kealey and Blakeman. Kealey claimed that he had reached an agreement with Blakeman for a return to work for everyone without victimization. This assurance was put to the shop stewards who narrowly accepted the return the work proposal. The return to work became a carefully planned, management controlled ,phased return. The management would “decide how the shop would start again,when it would start and who would start it,no longer at the end of a wild cat strike would the men be automatically come back to their jobs” (6)  Most workers were eventually allowed back except for the 17 men who Ford management regarded as undesirable agitators. These leaders of rank and file resistance would not be allowed to return for the peace of mind of managers and national union officials .  Hours lost in strikes dropped from 184,000 in 1961 and 415,000 in 1962 to 3,400 in 1963. (7)

However, resistance resumed. In May 1968, women sawing machinists at Ford walked out on strike and into history. Their long outstanding and neglected claim for upgrading from semi skilled B grade to skilled C grade was  rejected by management. There was a four-week shutdown of the plant. The company was desperate for help. It turned to the Labour Government for assistance. Barbara Castle rushed in to rescue Ford. Over cups of tea with strike leaders Castle tried to get the women back to work with a promise of negotiations. When this failed she then met them for a second time, and persuaded the strike leaders to accept a deal  which appears to have been suggested by Blakeman following a visit to the AEU conference.The AEU and Reg Birch  had made the principle of equal pay for women the issue for the strike and given it official backing on that basis. They had not taken up the women’s demand for C grade, because this would have meant challenging the Ford Company wage structure. Claims for upgrading would have flooded in : many other workers jobs had been wrongly assessed. The compromise,accepted by the women as a basis to return to work,  was a 7% wage  increase which was 92% of the mens grade B rate,a step towards reducing differentials in pay.

Another notorious strike at Dagenham was the 1971 strike for wage parity with other car workers. This was the 9 week-long strike for parity not charity. The strike was brought to an abrupt end by  Jack Jones, leader of the TGWU, and Hugh Scanlon, head of the AEU. Jones and Scanlon,  negotiated a settlement with the government and the Ford motor company behind the backs of Dagenham shop stewards. The deal still left the Ford workforce as the lowest paid car workers. There was an increase of 9 pence an hour. Further increases of 5 pence an hour at the end of the year, and 5 pence an hour the following year. A few days prior to the sell out, Dagenham shop stewards had met Jones accidentally at Euston train station. They asked him about press reports of a backroom deal. He was deceitful saying :” I am not involved. It’s up to you lads-your running the strike”. (8) In effect the deal was imposed on Dagenham. Union Strike pay was stopped , no discussion was allowed, and a secret ballot adopted instead of the traditional show of hands at a factory meeting.

This sellout and others are not surprising. As Huw Beynon reminds us: “the trade unions are so rooted in the fabric of capitalist society that the sell out of the rank and file is bound to occur” (9)Marx had no experience of modern trade unionism or the  extent of trade union bureaucracy with its links to the state,and was  too optimistic in advocating the Unions adopt the slogan of abolition of the wages system. Nevertheless , he did identify their main fault: “they fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system” (10) Although the phase guerilla war exaggerates the feeble response to the employers of trade union officialdom today.The nature of trade Unions is located in negotiating or even accepting  the terms of exploitation not in superseding exploitation. In the words of Alex Callinicos : “confining the class struggle within the limits of capitalism presumes the interests of labour and capital can be reconciled”.(11)

Sheila does not really discuss the politics of those involved in the militancy at Dagenham in any detail so we have no understanding of what possibilities there were in going beyond workplace resistance to a wider challenge to Capitalism. Sheila view seems to be that collective action in itself is objectively  a step in a revolutionary direction. Sheila does argue elsewhere,” the need to go beyond the workplace through promoting a programme of broader political demands which would connect with existing not the desired level of consciousness among activists”. (12) This is undogmatic but politically vague. It is not a clear argument for  the politics of an alternative to the capitalist state. The problem with simply identifying something real with present consciousness is that the separation between politics and economics is reinforced, and revolutionary ideas are left at the factor gate and office door.

The contours of modern capitalism in Britain with the Labour Party and Parliament on the one hand, and trade unions on the other, was strengthened rather than weakened by the Trotskyist and Leninist  left during the period of mass militancy at Dagenham and elsewhere. The International Socialists (IS) Rank and filism was about more trade union militancy. Alex Callinicos articulates these politics when he writes: “experience shows that national rank and file movements can only be built on the initiative of revolutionary socialists . The actual programme of these movements may consist chiefly of straightforward trade union demands” (13)   The Socialist Labour League ,the forerunner of the Workers Revolutionary Party, was  very significant at the time ,but despite its hysterical revolutionary rhetoric it focused its demands on the Labour Party parliamentary left  as if there was a parliamentary road to socialism. It called for a vote for the Labour party at elections as if the party  could or would implement a revolutionary Socialist Programme.

This is where realistic politics are totally unrealistic. The tactical views of the SLL and other Trotskyist influenced militants originated in the false perspectives of the early Communist International for a workers government based on the capitalist state and the trade unions . The assumption was the traditional workers organisations and the capitalist state could be revolutionised. Despite Trotsky’s  accurate polemics against trade union and Labour leaders, he held the completely unhistorical and plain wrong view that “a revolutionary Labour Party resting on the trade unions will become in their turn a powerful instrument of recovery and resurgence” (14)  Whether it was the Great Unrest 1910-14, the General Strike or miners strikes 1926, and 1984-5, the Labour Party  was not transformed by a revolutionary dynamic.Looking to the Labour Party and the state was not a way to transform capitalism.

From Sheila’s account of the struggles on the factory floor at Dagenham we do know some of the sacked stewards were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain : Johnny McLaughlin , Bill Frances, and Kevin Halpin. But we do not have an indication of   the political role of the CPGB at Dagenham. In Huw Beynon’s study of the Ford Halewood plant, in the Liverpool area, he refers to the role of the Communist Party at Dagenham. The CPGB had a considerable number of members at the Dagenham plant, including senior stewards. Yet the CPGB “was reluctant to take a definite stand against the official union hierarchies. It had no committee based on the car industry until after 1965. (15) Johnnie Cross of the AEU, who was one of the 17 victimized workers in the defeated 1962 strike at Dagenham,  complained that the CPGB leadership was against wider rank and file links in the car industry at the time, in case it offended leading union officials.  He said that “the leading party members among the leadership of the stewards movement ducked down their little holes and stopped there” (15)

To return to Sheila’s story of the militant 1107 branch. The 1980’s into the 1990’s saw a lower level of struggle in the wider context of the surrender of the trade union bureaucracy to the anti union laws and the employers offensive. There was a rapidly growing feeling among the car workers at the plant “that the union cannot do anything about it”, and the grass-roots members were “not behind the union like they used to be”. (16) Job insecurity has a massive negative impact on confidence as well. In 1979 total employment at Dagenham was 28,583 ,by the end of  1985 it had fallen to 14,700″. (17) The Ford drive for flexibility, quality circles , and other forms of greater productivity increases were also impacting on workers independence from management. By 1985 job classifications had dropped from 550 to 52. The gap between stewards and the rank and file workers opened up.

Sheila’s title is based on a newspaper headline about the activities of the 1107 branch in this period of relative downturn. A radical leadership had  taken over the branch from an allegedly corrupt and right-wing leadership. But we do not have any explanation of why such a leadership could have arisen in such a militant branch. Nor do we have any critical assessment of the politics of the prominent members of the 1107 branch,(left Labour?)  and how this related to the world outside the shop floor.Steve Riley and Mick Gosling had taken a lead with others in tackling racism and sexism in the plant, but both were later forced out of the plant by management with the help of union officials.

Towards the end of the 1990’s the remaining workers at Dagenham were worried about the threat of plant closure. The closure was announced on 12th May 2000. Tony Woodley of the T&G ,one of a supposed awkward squad of trade union leaders, was full of strike rhetoric. The reality was there was no real urgency about strike ballots and no evidence of any trade union determination to fight the closure. The workers were kept in the dark. When a vote came no national union officials were to be seen at the plant meetings. The grass-roots workers were left with only one positive action : accept whatever redundancy money was available. Sheila comments that the drift towards closure was an example of “the pivot of union as an institution overcoming,for now,union as a movement” (18)

But for Sheila the workers will rise again as they have done in the past. So in terms of the trade unions “what makes the difference is a choice whether to seek to maximise what possibilities there are,or to remain gloomily preoccupied with the limitations and failures of the movement in a species of self-fulfilling prophesy” (19) But this comment does seem to assume trade union limitations and structures will not prevent a resurgence of workers struggles. Surely we need to take into account the failures of modern trade unionism, and not assume any fight back will go through traditional channels. As one of the militants of the 1107 branch said at the core of the resistance to Ford, the government, and trade union officialdom was the branch within the union branch. Stewards who represented workers from a number of trade unions had autonomy from the individual trade union.

What sheila’s vivid story of 1107 branch demonstrates is that workers did and can strive to transform a harsh capitalist environment. This kind of working class history does show there is a possibility that workers can unite  in the workplace, link up with local activists in the working class community, and become part of struggle against capital, the state and parliament


1 Sheila Cohen,Notoriously Militant,Merlin Press,2013,p.4

2 Sheila Cohen,Ramparts of Resistance,   Pluto Press,2006,p.13

3 Alan Thornett,From Militancy to Marxism, Left View Books, 1987 ,p.93.

4 Sheila Cohen,as above,p.75

5 Sheila Cohen,as above.p.74

6 Sheila Cohen,as above,p.77

7 Sheila Cohen,as above,p.77

8 Sheila Cohen,as above p.107

9 Huw Beynon, Working for Ford,EP Publishing 1979,p.301

10 Dave Stocking,Marxists and the Trade Unions,Workers Power pamphlet 1977,p.4

11 Sheila Cohen,The Ramparts of Resistance.p.170

11 Alex Callinicos, Socialists in the Trade Unions,Socialist Worker pamphlet,1995,p.

13 Alex Callinicos, as above,p.57

14 Leon Trotsky, Writings on Britain, vol2, New park Publications,1974,p.104

15 Huw Beynon as above, p.60

16 Sheila Cohen,Notoriously Militant,p.139

17 Sheila Cohen,as above,p.146

18 Sheila Cohen,as above,p.194

19 Sheila Cohen,Ramparts of Resistance,p.150

Lenin 1917-18 : the road to the authoritarian state.

11 02 2014

The Bolshevik party, by identifying itself with the state, was to become the internal agent of counter-revolution” (1)


Lenin’s focus when he returned to Russia in 1917 was on  the facts of the revolution, rather than  outdated Bolshevik theory . He began with  what was real,rather than an abstract possibility.  (2) Lenin’s approach was about the “demands of the moment rather than abstract theory”. (3) For Lenin to repeat a general Marxist truth  in some circumstances was a distraction from practical priorities. (4) So  Despite the libertarian rhetoric  in his correspondence and political statements in early 1917, an alternative to the capitalist state was merely a theoretical aspiration. His political aim was more immediate , and pragmatic,  not the introduction of socialism,but a state-run economy which he regarded  in some sense as a transition to socialism.

Lenin’s immediate economic programme was modest and coincided with the programme of the moderate Social Democratic leaders of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Peasants Deputies. As Trotsky noted, Lenin regarded this programme as excellent, and the only programme which could provide a way out of economic collapse. (5) The Petrograd Soviet executive committee proposals, in May 1917, for state control and regulation of the economy to save the country from ruin, which Lenin agreed with, was a  programme of national salvation.  The bourgeoisie was worried about where the revolutionary mass activity could lead and would not carry out this programme . The compromising soviet leaders clung to their dogma of the bourgeois revolution led by capitalists.

For Lenin, once the Bourgeoisie was removed from political power, the road would be open to a leadership in the Soviets to head the state to provide the administration to get the economy going again.  However, Lenin’s first assessment of the development of the revolution was mistaken. He assumed a peaceful growth, on the basis of Soviet constitutionalism, as if the revolutionary dynamic would flow smoothly through Soviet elections. He underestimated the reaction of the masses to the crisis. In Trotsky’s opinion “for the party in its immense majority had not yet realised  the mightiest of the revolutionary passions that was simmering in the depths of the awakening people” (6) Writing in the cult of Lenin he left out the infallible leader’s lack of awareness.

The Bolshevik party did not plan for insurrection or connect directly with the rank and file workers and solders moving in that direction. Lenin favoured a tactic of putting demands on the class  collaborationist leaders of the Soviet to compel them into breaking with the bourgeoisie. The assumption they could be compelled to break with the bourgeoisie was the basis of the notion of a peaceful transfer of state power.  Trotsky brings out the reformist logic of this approach in these words:”the transfer of power to the Soviets meant in its immediate sense a transfer of power to the compromisers that might have been accomplished by way of simple dismissal of the bourgeois government”. (7) This policy was the dead-end of the futile demand for the Soviet moderates to take the power which resulted in a serious defeat for the revolutionary forces in Petrograd. This could have been fatal for the Bolsheviks, but Lenin learned a hard lesson enabling  the Bolsheviks to seize the state in the name of the Soviets.

The common outlook on a state controlled economy between the Bolsheviks and the Social Democratic leaders was  possible because Lenin’s political theory  was” constructed on the economic ground of the theoreticians of the Second International”. (8) Capitalist technology and science was a positive and neutral framework for socialist advance. So administrative and hierarchical forms that the bourgeois used for exploitation could be utilised for steps  to socialism. In other words,”the productive forces were unambiguously technical and to develop them meant to follow the trail blazed by Capital” (9) The undercurrent of Lenin’s State  and Revolution is the Social Democratic vision that socialism is to “organise the whole economy on the lines of the postal service”. (10) The vague idea that every cook can supervise leaves out the point about who makes the decisions. Workers power at the point of production was not part of the plan.

In the Impending Catastrophe and how to Combat it ,Lenin argued that the large-scale organisation of capitalism is a means whereby the state can expedite capitalist development. This is because state monopoly capitalism is the material preparation for capitalism and socialism can be seen in the workings of modern capitalism. This is why state control of large-scale capitalism is a step to socialism. In Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power , Lenin  even goes as far as declaring that the administrative apparatus of the banks is nine-tenths of the socialist apparatus. The state and capitalist modernisation was the way forward for Lenin. In any case,  Lenin was a  centralist by conviction and a long time admirer of factory discipline and discipline in general.

Following the October Revolution the new Bolshevik government was located, not in the soviets, but in the Bolshevik party leadership in a ministerial style cabinet, but given the revolutionary sounding name of Council of Peoples Commissars. “The new Government took over the control of various ministerial bureaucracies from the provisional government which in turn had inherited them from the Tsars council of ministers”. (11) A small number of Bolshevik intellectuals ran the ministries and the old Tsarist state bureaucracy was not smashed, but utilised and expanded outside the Soviets and workers democracy. According to Orlando Figes,over half of the bureaucrats in the Moscow offices of the commissariat in August 1918 had worked in some branch of administration before October 1917.  (12) The  bureaucratic state structure became even more massive than the pre revolutionary structure and rested on a smaller productive base: “it owed more to Tsarist bureaucratic traditions than the ideals of the revolution”. (13)

This conservative pattern was replicated in the state economy. Top down pre-revolutionary economic institutions were utilised at the expense of grass-roots workers initiative and action. At the top was Veshenka reporting to Bolshevik state leaders, and lower down were the local branches which followed instructions from above. What had been “created was a central economic department with local offices “.(14) The model was the German war economy which Alexander Bogdanov, Lenin’s old Bolshevik factional opponent, warned should not be mistaken for the emergence of a socialist system.  Lenin was not immediately concerned with an abstract  theory of a socialist economy,but with the nuts and bolts of a state system he had inherited and could pragmatically build on.

Once the Bolshevik regime settled down in the months following the revolution, Lenin outlined his economic priorities in March/ April 1918 in his thesis, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government. There would be a combination of  the Bolshevik state with the up to date achievements of capitalism. The state would create greater productivity of labour and develop the productive forces on the basis of capitalist methods and techniques. The Russian worker had to learn to work with the help of the Taylor system which Lenin once described as the last word in capitalist slavery. Furthermore, ” without the guidance of experts in the various fields of knowledge,technology and expertise,the transition to Socialism would not be possible” . (15) What was required from the workers in the factories was unquestioning obedience to the orders of the factory manager appointed by the Bolsheviks. As in previous bourgeois revolutions, dictatorship could be the vehicle for the revolutionary class. Industrial democracy had no place in this dictatorship over workers.

Prebrashensky, a left Bolshevik, argued that the logical implications of a dictatorship in industry was a dictatorship in the party. He also noticed that in Lenin’s proposals, “the power of the working class in production isn’t mentioned as on of the necessary conditions of Socialism”. (16)  But the most perceptive comment on Lenin’s  politics probably came from Ossinski who became one of the most consistent left oppositionists. Ossinski made a fundamental point: “if the proletariat itself does not know how to create the necessary prerequisites for the socialist organisation of labour,no one else can do this for it ,and no one can compel it to do this”. (17) He added that if the stick is raised against the workers those that wield it would become a new social force against the workers.

Lenin told the left Bolsheviks in 1918 that the historical time was not ripe for the commune state.Yet ironically  it was the time for  the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Not in the sense of the domination of society by the working class,but as the dictatorship of a Bolshevik  regime. This was what the young Trotsky described as substitutionism : the party substituting for the working class. Weeks after the October revolution Lenin chaired  a meeting which decided on setting up a standing army which entailed the help of ex- tsarist officers, with privileges, and later the reintroduction of the death penalty. Only a few months earlier Lenin had given the impression that he stood for  an armed people,and the standing army was part of the state that had to be smashed.  Here, as in industry, the political choice was a traditional one which was at odds with revolutionary values.

Victor Serge’s  summary of his Bolshevik experience  was that on fundamental political points they were mistaken, specifically,”in their faith in statification and in the leaning towards centralism and administration” (18) His basic criticism was that Bolshevism lacked a sense of liberty which is the point made by most of the communist opposition to Lenin following the October revolution. The left Communist critique of Lenin was that there was no freedom for the working class,and the Bolshevik leadership had chosen not to rely on the initiative and creativity of the masses. Rosa Luxemburg also took issue with Lenin’s conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat when she wrote,” but this dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy not its elimination”. (19) The Soviet State was a misnomer. The Soviets were not built up as a revolution against the state. Instead,a  political choice was made to build up the party- state,which gave the name communism to counter-revolution.

Barry Biddulph


1 The Russian Communist Left 1918-30, 2005,P.37

2 V.I.Lenin,The tasks of the proletariat in our Revolution,Progress Publishers,Moscow,p.66. In a sense, he avoided admitting he had been mistaken in his perspectives for the Russian Revolution. Things had worked out differently and the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry was useless in the complex reality of the interweaving of the bourgeois and proletarian revolution. He now agreed with Trotsky that the need for  a state controlled economy would take the revolution beyond the minimum programme. To use the old jargon,the commune state was the maximum programme.

3 Alan Woods,Bolshevism ,Well Red Books,London,p.93.  Alan Woods has an uncritical not to say religious view of Lenin and Trotsky.

4 Lars T Lih ,Lenin Rediscovered,Brill 2006. p.50. Lars repeats this point elswhere about Lenin not stating a Marxist truth because it did not apply in the current circumstances.Was Lenin’s political approach a casual attitude to Marxist theory or creative flexibility? Either way it was a short sighted view.

5 Leon Trotsky,The History of the Russian Revolution,Pluto Press ,London 1974,p.426-7

6 Leon Trotsky as above, p.422

7 Leon Trotsky,as above, p.816.

8 U. Santamaria and A. Manville,Lenin and the Transition,Telos, Spring 1976 p.79

9 Phillip Corrigan,Harvie Ramsay and Derek Sayer,Socialist Construction and Marxist Theory, Monthly Review Press ,New York,p.30

10 V.I.Lenin,The State and Revolution,  CW Vol 25 Progress Publishers,Moscow 1977,p. 432  The state and revolution was published in 1918 and its libertarian themes were no influence on the revolution before or after October 1917. The pamphlet was used internationally to justify the seizure of State power.

11 Sheila Fitzpatrick,The Russian Revolution , Oxford university press, 1994.p. 88

12 Orlando Figes,A people’s Tragedy,Pimlico,1996,p.689

13 Neil Harding,Lenin’s Political Thought, Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1986,p.325

14 E.H Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-23,penguins Books,p.80

15 V.I Lenin,The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, CW Vol 27 Progress Publishers ,Moscow ,1980,p.15

16 The Russian Communist left,1918-30, the ICC, 2005,P.340.

17 As above p.338

18 Victor Serge,Memoirs of a Revolutionary.Oxford University Press,1963,p.76. The Serge Trotsky Papers,edited by D.J. Cotterill, Pluto Press,1994,contain some telling points about Trotsky on Kronstadt and the organisational methods of Trotskyism.

19 Rosa Luxemburg,The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, edited by Peter Hudis and Kevin B Anderson,Monthly Review Press,New York, 2004,p.308


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