Saturday 22 January 2011

Blogging Language and Criticism

In the comments on the recent Ed Balls post (below), Modernity asks "Why is it that ex-Trots in the Labour Party seem to dance around criticising the LP leadership? If I read you, Dave Osler or even [Andy] Newman, instead of saying the LP leadership are right-wing shite and utterly useless politically, instead of that I find understatement, careful wording and opaque criticism."

I can only speak for myself. And I don't accept this is the case.

Since joining Labour almost a year ago and thereby ending my association with Trotskyist politics (though I haven't regarded myself a Trot from long since
before joining the Socialist Party), I've penned 18 pieces looking at some aspect or another of Labour's leadership. In the few months since Ed's election as Labour leader I think seven blog posts could be described as commentary on his leadership (that doesn't count guest posts like this). One - the most recent - might utilise understatement, but previous reflections on Ed Miliband certainly do not. This and this critically analyse the position of the Labour party leadership in relation to the contradictions emodied by the organisation as a whole. This piece criticises Ed on workers' struggles ("on further commitments he's proving more slippery than an eel dipped in KY jelly"), and here and here criticises Ed for his appointment of Alan Johnson and the subsequent evolution of their economic "alternative" to the Tories' sole preoccupation with deficit reduction.

True, they fall well short of explicitly calling out the Labour leadership as "right-wing shite and utterly useless politically", but then again, so are this blog's many critical posts about the Tories and LibDems.

As far as I'm concerned what's written here is part of a
political project. My arguments are an effort to persuade readers of the merits of my positions. They are not, like many a Trotskyist denunciation of Labour and trade union leaderships, exercises in revolutionary identity politics. They're an attempt to grasp hold of the political situation to see what can be done to push things in a socialist direction. The language used and the form adopted by critique are conditioned and disciplined by these concerns. And it should go without saying that when you're pitching these arguments to left and labour movement audiences there's no need to extraneously drop in the fruity stuff when it's obvious your default position is critical.


Mark P said...

The usual self-justifications as you slowly adapt to a useless milieu.

Actually, scratch that. The process hasn't been particularly slow.

Phil said...

How's the building of that new workers' party going, Mark? Signed up many to the CNWP statement lately?

Boffy said...


I couldn't agree more. Generally speaking I've found that those who use the most strident language and denunciation are those who are most politically impotent, a political equivalent to the small dog syndrome, whereby its the smallest dogs who yap the most. There is a clear difference between the kind of sharp polemic, and even biting wit used by Marx and Engels, and the kinds of denunciatory politics that manifested itself later. Its probably one of those things I'd criticise Lenin for.

There is also a clear difference between being wrong, and simply seeing things differently, and being some kind of class traitor. The standard Leninist/Trot stance is basically if you don't agree with me, then you are a traitor. But, as I wrote some time ago in a discussion here about the LP, on the basis the Leninists/Trots ought to write off the vast majority of the working-class as traitors because they hold positions even further to the Right than Blair and certainly much of the TU bureaucracy. Perhaps that's why they believe in an elite party made up only of petit-bourgeois who agree with every dot and comma of their particular road to Socialism, and are so anathema, and uninviting to even class conscious workers!

The question of War is a classic example of that, and the division that arose on the outbreak of WWI demonstrates that. Yet, the reality is that the vast majority of workers were more than happy to sign up for the War whatever the leaders of the socialist parties said about it. In large part those parties caved in to the pressure from the workers. But, what is more the question of what attitude should have been taken to War was not at all as clear cut as would be made out. I shall shortly be writing a blog about what Engels had say about it. In short, he wrote to Sorge that if Germany was attacked by Russia or its Allies, then the Germans, including the SPD should let them have it with all it had got. His argument was that the SPD represented the spearhead of the revolution,and a victories War gainst Germany would wipe them out, whereas the War itself would almost certainly require the SPD to come to power, and a victory for germany would ensure the success of the SPD, and with them the revolution. Now, actually I think Engels was wrong, but I certainly don't think he was a class traitor!

Mark P said...

Well, Phil, actually we're making some progress towards creating a new party of the working class, at least in this country. As a starting point, we've assembled an alliance of the left and are reasonably confident of getting some TDs (members of parliament) elected in a few weeks time.

We have a handful of self-described "socialists" wasting their time in a neo-liberal Labour Party here too. Unfortunately, few of them take the time to entertain us with their critical but friendly assessments of our local equivalents of Tristram Hunt.

It really is impressive how fast you've adapted politically. A much faster process than that undergone by Newman, but not yet so far advanced.

Or perhaps I'm wrong: Tell us Phil,how many people in your local New Labour branch have you won over to revolutionary socialism in the last year?

Alex Dawson said...


I do not know about Ireland, but it cannot realistically be claimed in England that any progress has been made towards a new left political formation. In fact, it is now further away than at any point in at least the last 20 years.

I was a Labour party member who tore up his card in 2003 and posted it back to the regional office. Disgusted with Blair's crimes and warmongering and arrogance, I left Labour and joined the Socialist Party.

I joined because it seemed to me that the SP had the most realistic grasp of the political situation, and did not appear hostile to disenchanted left Labour people. Crucially, I did not detect the whiff of rabid sectarianism that I did with other groups.

I left the SP for various reasons, but not least because I realised the window for creating that new alternative had closed with the creation of the Coalition.

I'm not sure what the hell has changed with the SP approach, but it is clear from everything I read now - such as the decision to set up another anti cuts campaign because the others are apparently not critical enough of the Labour party - that the SP considers Labour members like Phil and me as the enemy.

In fact, anyone associated with Labour is the enemy. Forget the Tories, forget the BNP, forget the treacherous liberals, forget the tax-evading scum lecturing us to tighten our belts - first and foremost the Labour party must be attacked even more than at the time it was in government at the height of Blairs mania.

There appears to be no recognition that objectively the situation has changed on the ground. It is parroted by the SP that masses of workers "hate" the Labour party and its representatives and only reluctantly support it in the absence of this grand new workers party that has still yet to emerge.

Of course, anyone with a realistic grasp of the situation can see the sands have shifted and the favourable conditions to create an alternative that were present for many years are not there any more.

The only reason I can see for this behaviour on the part of the SP is that the bureaucracy is terrified that people, including its own members, are starting to gravitate back towards the Labour Party again thus threatening the position of the paid professional revolutionaries at the top of the party.

Therefore they must instil a sense of hatred in its cadres towards Labour party activists in order that Socialist Party members and supporters get the message that rejoining the Labour party as the single biggest crime it is possible for a socialist to commit.

This is all evidenced by the stupid and infantile attacks on Phil on here, in a disgusting socialist-on-socialist political slagging match.

If a new workers party did start up then as a trade unionist I for one would certainly be critically supportive and possibly consider my own political memberships as the situation developed. The sole reason being that anything that can assist in improving the lot of working people is to be welcomed and encouraged by trade unionists.

Because at the end of the day, it is not a competition between those who believe the Labour Party can be reoriented and those who want to see a new political formation supporting working people. It is actually possible to support both positions.

But the SP does not allow for this. You have to chose one way or the other - and if you chose the wrong option you become the hated enemy.

If SP members cannot see that they are being manipulated and positioned into "competing" with Labour people by a bureaucracy terrified that its position as a group of paid revolutionaries is under threat from the changed political situation in the UK, then I despair for the future of left unity in general.

Andrew Coates said...

Phil, I'm not surprised to say the least. I wonder if the people doing the denouncing are engaged in the traditional 'party-building' binge that afflicts most Trostkyist groups ever so often.

The serious issues now are about Labour economic policy, and in my opinion (argued for a long time) appropriate state/public means to implement socialist polices (in place of the market-state that Blair adpated to, accelerated and is now known as the 'big society').

To engage in that debate we have to situate ourselves. Coming from a labour movement family I've always regarded my own fundemantal loyalties to that movement - whatever particular party or faction I've been part of.

Since you are involved in local politics Phil I'm sure you realise that the kind of anti-Labour bingeing you cite (apart from moaning in the pub) is not only a political crime but a fault of idiocy.

Despite leaving Labour for the distater that was the Socialist Alliance I personally have always worked with Labour members, councillors and organisers. They even made by Chair of a Council Trade Union Forum (when they were in power) despite having been the election agent for a Socialist Alliance candidate. At present I and the left (including SP members, who have something of the attitude you cite) work closely with the Labour Party in Ipswich, and with two socialist Labour party council candidates.

That's the reality of labour movement politics.

Follow the guiding light of Tendance Coatesy Phil: liquidate, liquidate, and liquidate!

Anonymous said...

""Why is it that ex-Trots in the Labour Party seem to dance around criticising the LP leadership?""

Not this one ;)
Though have been described as a Trot in the LP. Am I bovvered by that? Not particularly. I have been in the LP for 25 yrs, left and then joined the Socialist Alliance (2000-2004) and a grave bloody mistake that was, various Trot groups vying for cult of leader....RIP Socialist Alliance :(

Anyway, carry on what you're doing Phil, organising within the LP gets you further than joining a dem cent group.

Waterloo Sunset said...

How's the building of that new workers' party going, Mark?

At a guess, as well as that whole "reclaiming Labour from the left" project is. Not sure that the many failings of the left outside of Labour in any way vindicates the utter failure of the left inside Labour...

Anyway, carry on what you're doing Phil, organising within the LP gets you further than joining a dem cent group.

Those are hardly the only options. For every Labour party meeting you attend, you could be at a meeting/demonstrating/carrying out direct action against the cuts.

Unless it's a hobby, in which case fair enough. I like getting off my face and dancing stupidly at the weekend. Other people like going to Labour Party meetings and having political discussions which have absolutely no bearing on the policy of the Labour Party. To each their own, but neither are really doing much to change society.

ModernityBlog said...


This is not a personal attack on you or any of the other ex-Trots.

But my observation that the language used by a few ex-Trots seemed very moderate when dealing with the Miliband leadership.

I fully accept that there are other interpretations, and that not *all* ex-Trots do this, but please rest assured the evidence is there.

I would hate us to argue over mundane words, please let me know if you feel there isn't evidence of a certain tempering of criticism when it comes to the Labour leadership, with *certain* blogs?

ModernityBlog said...

PS: just got back, so might be a bit slow in replying, still let me know if you feel there's NO evidence, and I'll provide it :)

Phil said...

How do you define a revolutionary socialist, Mark? Going from my familiarity with the SP, would that only be people who accept the authority of the infallible executive committee?

As Loz says, the conditions for building a left alternative in Britain simply do not exist any more. Your leadership's perspective for here might appear credible to you because your politics are conditioned by the more favourable situation that exists for the far left in Ireland. Don't take my word for it, you can see it in the existing levels of trade union combativity, the very low vote for hard left candidates in the general election, the massive influx of new members into Labour and the SP's stubborn inability to break through the 2,000 member barrier.

I'm not interested in your kind of revolutionary identity politics or the project of building small but "perfectly formed" sects. What I do try and do in my own modest way is analyse things as they are - not how we would like them to be, find what opportunities exist for getting socialist politics out there, how we can help organise a fragmented and diverse working class, and work toward regenerating the labour movement.

I used to think the SP was interested in those things too. But the denunciations that have come my way since leaving your anointed ranks have disabused me of that notion.

Phil said...

There's nowt wrong with a bit of liquidationism if you think it makes you more effective as a socialist, Coatesy.

At the risk of further denunciation socialists should keep the door open for Labour councillors who do vote for the cuts. Not because the left are happy clappy and are all for turning the other cheek, but because it's good politics.

In Stoke the council have had a cut of £36m visited upon it by the Tories. Cuts have been identified and the budget will be balanced - with all the awful consequences that entails for service users, workers, and the local economy. As far as the SP are concerned those Labour councillors are no better than the Tories.

But what happens the next year when the Tories want £20m further cuts? This risks sending the council over the edge into bankruptcy. In these circumstances there is talk of the council making a stand (and if this is doing the rounds in the civic centre here, you can bet other Labour-led town halls are considering the same). Would the SP use their influence in local anti-cuts groups to refuse to back them on account of their earlier cutting?

Phil said...

With a root and branch review of the party and policy ongoing, 50,000 new members, a leader elected on the back of a trade unionist vote, economic policy heading in a more Keynesian direction, and LRC membership up by a third, I would say the opportunities for socialist ideas are greater inside Labour than those accruing from trying to build an independent alternative on the outside, Waterloo.

As I've said time and again Labour won't be "reclaimed" because it's never been a socialist outfit in the first place. That it was a myth peddled by "the Marxist Voice for Labour and Youth" when it was inside, and has now been strangely inverted by the SP now it's on the outside.

Like it or not, Labour remains the political vehicle f the organised working class. And it dominates the allegiances of working class people still. If you're a socialist, if you care about reenergising working class politics in Britain, you cannot bypass Labour.

Phil said...

As I said, Mod, the others can speak for themselves.

I will say I've always preferred the understated style of commentary and criticism. What goes unsaid can often be as effective as putting it in black and white.

modernity said...


I accept that you have *tried* to engage with my point, but I think you miss my central argument

I am NOT arguing that there is *no* criticism, rather that the tone, from THREE blogs, was surprisingly moderate when it came to Ed Balls.

By that I mean, his past, as a ministerial adviser, in his advocacy of PFI and time with Gordon Brown certainly should be dealt with.

My impression, and I accept your reasons (as they are honest and clear), is that there is too much gilding of the lily concerning Ed Balls *overall* (not necessarily from you but on Labour supporting blogs).

There seems to be too little history, and too little acknowledgement that this is more of the same.

More of the same means less chance of beating the Tories, and we know where that leads....

Mark P said...


I don't regard you or Phil as the "class enemy". Firstly, that ascribes too much important to you. Secondly, it ascribes malice where foolishness is an entirely adequate explanation.

Nor do I regard everyone who is inside the Labour Party as "the enemy". What sort of party New Labour is and whether work inside it is viable or useful is an issue of analysis and tactical judgment on which principled disagreement is possible.

To be clear, I think that the idea that revolutionary socialist work in New Labour will get anywhere is completely wrong and the tactical assessment which led yourself and Phil to move into that party is foolish bordering on demented. But that in and of itself wouldn't move you beyond an ad hoc category of "mistaken comrades".

The Labour left was once a major political force with tens of thousands of activists, its own national institutions, leaders who were household names, its own programmes etc. Now all of that is gone.

The last remaining institutions of the Labour left can muster a few hundred to their open conferences, markedly less than the far from mighty extra-Labour left. Their attempt to build a youth wing died on its arse after mustering less activists than the youth wings of even runts of the Trotskyist litter, like Workers Power. Even the laughably small LRC doesn't actually do anything much in between its talking shop conferences and exercises almost no wider influence in the party. There is for all intents and purposes no Labour left, left.

But as I said, that's a difference of tactics and analysis. It's not a difference of principle. Whatis a difference of principle is the conmplete and utter failure of people like Phil to attempt to carry out revolutionary socialist work in the Labour Party.

That's why I ask Phil how many people he has won over to revolutionary socialist ideas in his last year in the Labour Party. He can't answer that question honestly, because the answer is zero. If he was serious about working as a Marxist in the Labour Party, his first priority would be to win over some people in his local branch or region to broadly Marxist ideas. Then he would be looking to build an organised force for Marxism in New Labour.

That could mean trying to build a disciplined cadre organisation like the Militant, or it could mean something looser. I don't have a fetish for particular forms of organisation. But if he isn't seeking to win people over to revolutionary socialism and he isn't seeking to organise for revolutionary socialism within Labour at all, how meaningful is it for him to claim his politics haven't fundamentally changed? How meaningful is it for him to claim to be a Marxist activist at all? In my view it isn't meaningful.

He's doing the routine work of an isolated leftish Labourite, one of the remaining social democratic leftovers in the neo-liberal New Labour. There's nothing to distinguish him in practice from an honest moderate reformist, turning up at an LRC conference, making big play of the "differences" between Ed Balls and some other neo-liberal shitbag on the internet, handing out a few leaflets and writing the odd friendly but critical word about Tristram Hunt. He isn't in fact doing revolutionary socialist work in Labour.

He doesn't merely disagree with the Socialist Party's view of Labour and of the possibilities open to revolutionary socialists in Labour. He is instead adapting to the rump Left Labourite milieu. He has become in practice part of that dwindling reformist milieu, no matter how he regards himself in the privacy of his own head. And this isn't merely a tactical disagreement. It's an absolutely fundamental disagreement of principle. And no amount of defensive whining or lashing out at the alleged failures of the Marxist left will obscure it.

Chris said...

Add Boffy to that list Modernity, he is quite taken with Ed Balls. Though you could hardly accuse privately educated ED Balls of being a class Traitor!

Boffy believes the outgoing boss of the CBI, Sir Richard Lambert is against the Condems spending cuts and so it appears does ED Balls, when actually he is all for them and says they are a good idea! What he does have a problem with is that the Tories are not right wing 'populist' enough! Nigel Lawson articulated the position, business needs less red tape and their hands freed from all this worker friendly legislation. (He managed to say that without laughing as well!).

Sir Richard failed to say exactly how the government could help private sector growth, other than they need initiatives supporting private sector growth. Yes these wealth creating entrepreneurs need some initiatives to help growth, I thought that’s what they got paid all that money for?

But with the left so laughably divided over the most trivial of differences then the only choice we have is to work within the anti worker New Labour and hope to change it radically. Whether you achieve that by slagging off the leadership is hard to tell but it seems to me that it will take a lot more than that!

modernity said...

I wouldn't dream of "accusing" anyone of anything, because that's not my point.

Again I had noticed on three Labour party members' blogs an inability to critique their leadership in any meaningful way.

That's the evidence, so naturally before wanting to draw a premature conclusion (as some might) I asked the obvious question, WHY?

The answers have hardly been lucid or stunning.

Such rationalisations that I have received are part and parcel of politics, and rather unsatisfactory.

I suppose when it comes down to it, it's a simple case of party members not wishing to criticise their party leaders, been going on for hundreds of years, from the Tory party leftward to Lennists, Trots, etc and and now in the LP.

Not a surprise, but a bit disappointing(understatement), a form of Party conformism...not radical, and certainly not revolutionary..

D.B. said...

Excellent debate this, following on from a similar post over at Harpy Marx last week. Would be interested to hear Phil's response to Mark P's last comment, which raises some interesting issues regarding the viability of revolutionary socialist politics in the Labour Party and the potential lure of Labourism, left social democracy, soft leftism or whatever we want to call it. I say this as someone identifies as a revolutionary socialist -- but I simply have no faith in any of the "sects" and my patience with them has run out. I'm increasingly tempted to try my luck arguing for socialism inside Labour instead.

And oh god, here we go again...

Modernity: "I accept that you have *tried* to engage with my point, but I think you miss my central argument"

Ho ho.

Alex Dawson said...

Well Mark, the hostility and denunciations towards Phil that have been evidenced suggests to me that even if you ascribe people like us theoretically as being "foolish" or "mistaken comrades", in practice we are still seen as dangerous counter-revolutionaries who will need to be dealt with come the day.

Whatever your position over the state of the Labour Party, the basis of which is questionable considering you are on the outside of it and apparently not even based in the UK, I can report there is definitely a different mood within the Labour party. It is not revolutionary in character, but it is certainly very different to the mood in the same party I left in 2003.

For the record, in our CLP within the space of 12 months Phil has successfully reintroduced the crucial concept of the political discussion as a means to educating members, and members are encouraged to discuss such issues as socialism and Marxism as part of a broader analysis at left politics in general.

This has led to detailed discussions in the local party, with councillors, on the nature of capital and even on different tactics to take towards cuts. Trade unionists have also started to re-engage. Some councillors are very visibly moving to the left as a direct result of their experiences. (Although if the NSSN national anti-cuts movement has their way with its absolutist position, that move to the left will be stopped in its tracks through denunciation on minor failures to tick prescribed boxes on how to behave)

This is all leading to a point where the neoliberal status quo is being questioned in our local party, and the basic argument behind why cuts are taking place - the nonsense that the UK has "maxed out its credit card" - is now unravelling after being held up to scrutiny.

Simply "winning people to revolutionary politics" cannot be the only measurement of success unless you hold a purist position.

I must say your denunciations of the state of the Labour Left seem a bit rich when it is clear that the turnover of active membership in the SP and SWP and all other groups means that their figures continue to remain static along with the fact that electoral support for the far left, in the UK at least, is at an all time low for many years.

(There is even an argument to be made that the pressure new members in the smaller parties come under to get overly active leads to the burn out and drop-out rates that keeps the parties small and irrelevant).

I would rather spend a year getting 10 members of the Labour party start to question neo-liberalism and start to draw conclusions that an alternative system is needed than win one or two disaffected people to revolutionary political doctrine and then burn them out on paper stalls in the rain.

It is a slow process, but it is clear to me that trying to turn the oil tanker round is more fruitful than pissing about on the flotilla of assorted rubber dinghies, throwing insults at each other.

In the end it is a theoretical divide, and perhaps on that you are right. But I know I am still just as angry as ever about this shitty system, particularly exploitation and unfairness in the workplace, and I have never moved from this position. I just don't agree that the only way to change things - particularly at the moment - is to doggedly stick to one line of thought decided by the executive committee...

Boffy said...


Pretty spot on. Who says that revolutionary socialist activity in the LP means the very narrow definition of winning the odd person to revolutionary socialism? That is certainly the role that the sects have set for themselves, and it has been pretty useless as a strategy. It was not what marx and Engels viewed as revolutionary politics. They saw their involvement in the German Democrats not in that vein, or even in the vein of transforming what was a bourgeois party to socialism, but merely that they needed to be there in order to be able to speak to the mass of workers, because it was to the Democrats that the German workers turned.

It was also the strategy that Engels described to US socialists towards the end of his life, saying bluntly that it was far more important to mobilise a few million people on an inadequate platform than to mobilise a few thousand on a perfect one. Trotsky took a similar line in the 1930's. He made no fetish of making day to day work impossible by insisting on tokenistic attacks on the Party leaders. Actually there is a good article by him I'll look up attacking the Mexican sectarians for that approach.

The problem is that the sects think that "attacking the leadership" is the essence of revoluiotnary political activity as opposed to actually getting on with working with real workers - many of whom would actually be put off here and now by such attacks. I know lots of Labour left worker militants who were very critical of Blair, and before that Callaghan, but would out of Party loyalty defend them to the hilt against anyone outside who attacked them. That kind of criticism is much better done inside the tent than out. Its easier to criticise the inadequate reformist nature of Ed Balls Keynesianism, if you do it from the inside, and in a calm way that locates what he gets right as against the Tories with what is wrong or limited with it, than if you simply denounce him.

Moreover, in response to Mod I'd say that your question "Why?" is a bit of a "Have you stopped beating your wife question?" isn;t it, ebcause to provide an answer to why would require accepting the premise of your argument, which is that those comrades have failed to make criticisms of the Labour leaders.

Phil said...

Tbh Mod I didn't think it was necessary to flag up Ed Balls reputation because I took it as read that readers would be aware I didn't approve of his less than ideal politics and behaviour (did you see what I did there?)

The point of the piece was to welcome his appointment as someone who can harry the Tories' hapless record on the economy and who would push Labour policy in a better direction. That's all.

Phil said...

Mark, your argument encapsulates precisely why the SP will never get anywhere. To ascribe people like me and Loz who you apparently see as "mistaken comrades" "foolish bordering on demented" isn't a way of winning friends and influencing people. Having been cast as an outsider who is fair game since daring to analyse and criticise the poor performance of the far left as a whole in the general election, I can now see why many comrades on the outside regard the SP and its tradition as intolerant, bristly and brittle.

Re: the Labour left, it is a bit rich to be lectured on what is and isn't possible in a party you and your tradition have had no direct experience of for nearly 20 years. Conditions change, and that is precisely what has happened. I have argued at length on here that the space to Labour's left has more or less closed and the opportunity for socialists has opened out. For you because what was and wasn't possible during the Blair years has been frozen into a dogma applicable for all time. You don't need to take my word for it. The pronouncements in your press about Labour will only consider it worthy of joining again if it adopts a a left reformist programme and stands up for working class interests. You know that's never going to happen, and you also know - despite the mythology your propaganda has spun - that Labour has never been like this.

Therefore your pronouncements on the LRC, while true a few years ago, are totally out of date now. Because it is embedded in the one party the organised working class looks to it has an incipient mass character TUSC or whatever electoral lash up you come up with will always lack. The LRC is far better placed to influence trade unions and the tens of thousands of new members than the SP and, what is more, its recent conference actually laid out a strategy for broadening its influence.

As for the stuff about disciplined cadre organisation, sorry, I don't buy it. Time and again they have proven entirely unsuited to advanced capitalist societies. You can only go so long blaming the 'balance of forces' before you realise there is something fundamentally unsound about its appeal to even class conscious workers. So yes, it is a matter of principle. It's one that turns around a realistic assessment of the opportunities for pushing the labour movement in a socialist direction versus nearly five decades of repetitive dogmatism with very little to show for it.

I will carry on doing the stuff Loz describes, pushing the envelope here, introducing a bit of socialist argument there, encouraging people to get involved in trade unions, protest activity and so on. That might not be to your taste - fine. But all I'm doing is pretty much exactly the same stuff I did in your organisation, except without having to convince people to part with 70p for a deadly dull newspaper.

modernity said...

"Tbh Mod I didn't think it was necessary to flag up Ed Balls reputation because I took it as read that readers would be aware I didn't approve of his less than ideal politics and behaviour (did you see what I did there?) "

Sorry Phil, it has NOTHING to do with reputation, it has everything to do with history and what people *do*, what Ed Balls did.

Politicians and politicos have a long history of airbrushing, conveniently forgetting, taking "as read" certain items, the net result is the downplaying of the *certain* issues.

And that is happening on **three blogs**, not just yours.

Coincidentally, blogs which are playing down criticism of the useless Labour Party leaders strangely enough belong to LP members.

So in the end, it is just a form of "particularism". Pity.

Phil said...

DB, there is always going to be the 'lure' of Labourism when you're a member of the Labour party. There is no escaping it. You can, for instance, see the degree to which Militant adapted itself to Labourism - and this is despite its schooling in Trotskyism and the ground breaking theories of Ted Grant.

Social being conditions consciousness and being inside the party will always be a challenge to revolutionary socialists. I found it quite difficult at first because the culture was extremely different. In the SP our branch had a fairly democratic culture, though it was very much absent at a wider level, but nevertheless the culture of comradeship was there. In Labour it was anything but. That said I did join as a pretty vicious local factional battle reached its climax.

Since then I sought out positions Id find most comfortable - the Political Education Officer and Trade Union Liaison. This allowed me to carry on doing pretty much the kind of stuff I was used to. Also I joined around the same time as a gaggle of ex-SP comrades - having a collection of comrades from similar backgrounds and views has an insulating effect, as well as providing sounding boards for thinking about what to do.

If you haven't got that, I'd recommend you keep a leg out of the party and carry on with the protesting and trade union stuff and get involved with the LRC and/or any other grouping that takes your fancy.

Lastly in my case carrying on with the blogging has been very useful for keeping my politics and actions on the straight and narrow. As much as I disagree with Mark's criticisms, I'd rather he makes them than didn't.

Phil said...

Mod, what Boffy said.

Boffy said...

In 1938, the Mexican Government produced its Second Six Year Plan. At the time Mexico was ruled by a bourgeois Bonapartist regime under Cardenas, which has some resemblance to the regime under Chavez in Venezuela today. Trotsky was at this time in exile in Mexico, and Stalin was trying to get him thrown out of the country, as he had done elsewhere. When the Cardenas' regime nationalised the British oil companies, the bourgeoisie probably with the support of Stalin, attempted to portray this as the work of Trotsky. There are two important documents written by Trotsky at the time which are relevant to the discussion over how to go about revolutionary criticism and politics.

Firstly, Trotsky wrote directly about the Second Six Year Plan. In one section he writes about the problems of Governments and State's which seek to bring about economic growth, and transformation through investment without the necessary resources.

“Considerable international capital is seeking areas of investment at the present time, even where only a modest (but sure) return is possible. Turning one’s back on foreign capital and speaking of collectivisation and industrialisation is mere intoxication with words...

“The reactionaries are wrong when they say that the expropriation of the oil companies has made the influx of new capital impossible. The government defends the vital resources of the country, but at the same time it can grant industrial concessions, above all in the form of mixed corporations, i.e. enterprises in which the government participates (holding 10 percent, 25 percent, 51 percent of the stock, according to the circumstances) and writes into the contracts the option of buying out the rest of the stock after a certain period of time. This government participationwould have the advantage of educating native technical and administrative personnel in collaboration with the best engineers and organisers of other countries. The period fixed in the contract before the optional buying out of the enterprise would create the necessary confidence among capital investors. The rate of industrialisation would be accelerated...

“The authors of the program wish to completely construct state capitalism within a period of six years. But nationalising existing enterprises is one thing; creating new ones with limited means on virgin soil is another.

History knows only one example of an industry created under state supervision – the USSR. But,

a) a socialist revolution was necessary;
b) the industrial heritage of the past played an important role
c) the public debt was cancelled (1.5 billion pesos a year).

Despite all these advantages the industrial reconstruction of the country was begun with the granting of concessions. Lenin accorded great importance to these concessions for the economic development of the country and for the technical and administrative education of Soviet personnel. There has been no socialist revolution in Mexico. The international situation does not even allow for the cancellation of the public debt. The country we repeat is poor. Under such conditions it would be almost suicidal to close the doors to foreign capital. To construct state capitalism, capital is necessary.”

Boffy said...

Trotsky in other words is proposing the same kind of strategy as that proposed by Lenin in 1920 when he attempted to get large, western Capitalist countries to invest in Russia. Its interesting that the same kind of strategy today adopted by the Stalinists in China and Cuba, or by New Labour in the form of PFI can only provoke the ire of the sectarians. But, Trotsky had to deal with the same kind of sectarianism himself from the Mexican sectarians, and their co-thinkers such as the Oehlerites in the US. The sectarians not only attacked Cardenas for failing to nationalise the oil companies without compensation, but attacked Trotsky for not himself criticising Cardenas for that failure. One of the main leaders of the Mexican section, Luciano Galicia, to pose the problem in these terms:

“Comrade Trotsky turns his back on his own principles when it comes to Mexico [by giving unconditional support to the law expropriating foreign oil—AB] because his foremost concern is to preserve his right to political asylum in Mexico.”

In response, Trotsky wrote a reply in which he says, that they were applying his Theory of permanent Revolution mechanically, and as a consequence attempting to “jump over stages” of the historical process in order to arrive directly at the proletarian revolution, rather than taking the working-class in Mexico as they were, and working with them. Describing Galicia and the sectarians in terms that equally apply to today's sects he says,

“Petty-bourgeois windbags restrict themselves to criticism, protests, and conversations.”

(Problems of the Mexican Section – Writings 1938-9)

And in “For The Reorganisation of the Mexican Section” (writings 1937-8), Trotsky ridiculed this kind of sectarianism when he wrote, of the action of Galicia and his group to post their criticisms of Cardenas not to nationalise without compensation on the way of the left-wing Bakers Union.

“This is the 'policy' of these people.”

In Nationalized Industry
and Workers’ Management
, Trotsky says,

“What should be the policy of the workers’ party in this case? It would of course be a disastrous error, an outright deception, to assert that the road to socialism passes, not through the proletarian revolution, but through nationalization by the bourgeois state of various branches of industry and their transfer into the hands of the workers’ organizations.”

Which is something the current defenders of State capitalism should bear in mind. He goes on, to argue that where as in Mexico the State is forced by economic conditions to invite the workers to participate in the management, revolutionaries cannot refuse to do so, because the workers would not understand such a position, but he goes on to illustrate exactly what the problems with such participation are. Its a useful document to read.

Boffy said...


Being in the LP always has a danger from the lure of Labourism. I think this is over played by Leninists. After all the basis of Labourism i.e. reformism does not reside within the LP. It resides within the Trades Unions who created the LP, and upon which it continues to rest. Trades Unions are THE definitive reformist organisation as every Marxist learns from day one. However, the Trades Unions and their reformist nature are themselves only a reflection of the material conditions of the working-class, and the Capital-Labour relation itself, i.e. the fact that workers have to sell Labour Power, and in doing so reproduce themselves and capital, and existing social relations.

If you are worried about the lure of Labourism then logically, not only is it necessary to stand aside from the labourist/reformist Trades Unions, but also from the Capital-Labour relation itself i.e. to become a drop out. Now various sectarians at times - like Garcia in Mexico I've referred to above have drawn the logical conclusion and refused to work in reformist TU's, but its the same kind of attitude that has led the sects to effectively isolate themselves from the real working-class for fear of contagion, and that is why they are irrelevant, why they are left making pointless denunciations rather like Garcia's posting of his "Manifesto" on the wall.

Of course, you are right about material conditions determining consciousness, and for the working class as a whole, as opposed to the few who periodically break out of the domination of bourgeois ideology, the only possible means of transforming consciousness IS by transforming material conditions i.e. breaking the Capital-Labour nexus in the way Marx describes in numerous places by the workers themselves becoming the bosses through the establishment of workers Co-operatives.

Mark P said...

And there we go:

There's a whole load of self-pitying bluster from Phil and Loz about how they are being demonized and when it comes to describing their political practice in New Labour...

Well it's exactly the sort of practice we might expect from a good, solid, honest social democrat trying to shift his local Labour Party branch away from neo-liberalism and back towards good old fashioned social democracy. And if I were a good solid social democrat, I might even be impressed. Well, if I was a good solid social democrat and inclined to take Phil and Loz's self assessments at face value I might be impressed, but let's do just that for the purposes of this discussion.

What exactly differentiates Phil and Loz's practice as self described socialist revolutionaries from the practice of a solid, sincere, thoroughly anti-revolutionary, social democrat? The answer is nothing at all.

That leads to a second question: Is revolutionary socialist political work in a mass organisation distinct in important ways from the work that a social democrat would carry out?

Let me suggest to you that the answer is yes, that there should in fact be some difference between Phil the social democrat and Phil the revolutionary socialist which is detectable to the naked eye and goes beyond interspersing an occasional article about Gramsci in amongst his panegyrics to the wonders of Ed Balls and his critical but friendly remarks on Tristram Hunt on his blog.

Even when Labour actually was a social democratic party, far to the left of what it is now, it exercised an extremely strong pull to the right on the politics of revolutionary socialists within it. British left wing history consists in very large part of the story of well meaning revolutionaries "going native" in the reformist swamp. Some of the ways in which revolutionaries attempted to combat this drift were through political clarity and argument and revolutionary organisation.

The work of people like Phil and Loz involves none of this. They are not seeking to win people over to revolutionary (as opposed to reformist) politics. They are not trying to work out a revolutionary programme. They are not putting forward a coherent strategy for revolutionaries to follow within Labour. They are not organising for revolutionary socialism (and despite Phil deliberately misrepresenting my point by talking about "cadre organisations", I mean by this that they are not organising in any form or way).

There is nothing at all distinctively revolutionary about their practice. From the point of view of someone who did not happen to know that the two of them were once members of a Marxist organisation, there is absolutely no reason why anybody would take them for anything but solid, honest, social democrats.

Now it's possible that Phil or Loz might come back and tell me that in fact revolutionary work today is simply the work of solid old fashioned reformism, that there should be and is in fact nothing to differentiate the two. That's an argument I'm willing to go into, but let's be clear it is certainly not an argument that is compatible with the claims of people like Phil that his politics haven't changed and that he just has a different tactical analysis of the possibilities open to work in New Labour.

Phil's politics are adapting to the milieu he finds himself - a small, scattered and bewildered milieu of reformists trying to shift a neo-liberal party back towards reformism. The evolution of his opinions makes perfect sense in this context.

Mark P said...

Finally a note on the Labour Representation Committee. Firstly, it is of note as an organisation precisely because it is the last remaining institution of the Labour left, reflecting the obliteration of the Labour left as a social force. Secondly, and this fact is notoriously absent from the remarks of ex-revolutionaries now nestling at Labour's bosom, it is a reformist organisation with inadequate politics from a Marxist perspective.

Thirdly, I did not at all exaggerate its impotence when I pointed out that it gathers markedly less people than the larger organisations of the extra Labour left; that it's failed attempt at a youth wing would be regarded as embarrassingly small by the likes of Workers Power; that it does little between talking shop conferences. These are all rather easily verifiable facts. Now these facts do not make work in the LRC inherently worthless, but we should expect revolutionaries to acknowledge and adapt to these facts if they were actually serious about doing revolutionary work. That instead they bridle at these rather mild criticisms of their reformist political focus tells us just how serious they are about their "revolutionary socialism".

Mike F said...

Mark P

Tell us, what is 'distinctively revolutionary' about the political practice of the leadership of PCS?

Many of the union leadership are members of the SP or are politically very close to the SP. Does PCS as a union support the CNWP? No. Does the union presently hold any policies which could be described as 'distinctively revolutionary'? No.

In terms of the day-to-day work of industrial politics, what distinguishes PCS from, say, the RMT or NUJ? Not much.

This is not to criticise the PCS leadership. Because they deal with workers as they really are, they understand that pursuing socialist politics under present conditions requires a step-by-step approach. That means, as a first step, building collective self confidence around defending jobs, pay, services and so on. At some future point, under different political conditions, opportunities to adopt a more explicitly socialist approach may arise.

What exactly is the point of developing a ‘revolutionary programme’ when there is no constituency of any significance that is willing to support it? You, and those like you, appear incapable of confronting the reality of what most workers actually think.

How many more appallingly low votes for TUSC candidates does there have to be before you begin to realise that the conditions for building Leninist parties of any size are simply not present?

The task for socialists is to come to terms with the extremely difficult political conditions they confront and work out ways of moving whatever union or party they are members of in a direction that will prepare the way for a possible revival of socialist politics.

Alternatively, you can always substitute anger and frustration for analysis and argument – and become a political zombie in the process. You appear to have chosen the latter course.

Alex Dawson said...

Marks arguments are theoretically valid and intellectually understandable, but completely purist in nature and detached from the objective reality on the ground as Mike correctly points out.

Mark - I never started out as a "revolutionary socialist" and to correct you, I would never have described myself as this, even at the height of my activism in the Socialist Party.

My experience of looking to revolutionary socialism were as a union rep annoyed with low pay when working for a very rich employer - a pretty classic Marxist route - at a time when the traditional workers political voice was busily in office waging illegal wars abroad and privatising things at home and being "intensely relaxed" about bankers raping everyone for money.

Today, I remain a trade unionist committed to making things better for members at work in whatever way is possible, and also ultimately wanting to challenge and replacing the system of profit and exploitation with one that is fair and humane.

As I have said many times, IF a new and serious political formation were to come into being, I would reconsider my position. I actively sought to build one for a time and would actually be glad if the left managed to get over itself and build an alternative as it would help shift the wider political discourse back to the left - as evidenced in Germany.

However, I believe that politically it isn't possible to do this at the current time.

You can call me a "social democrat" in some kind of bizarre Third Period insult if you like, but my position as regards what I believe in has never changed.

We can carry on pretending we're in the political situation we were 10 years ago if we want - a dominant and disgraceful New Labour government enacting the worst excesses of Blairs quasi-religious bidding while an insignificant Tory rump appeared to be withering and dying, meaning an urgent need to form a political alternative on the left for working people.

Or we can realise we are in an entirely different situation with a resurgent Tory government and with workers once again looking to the Labour party for a fighting route - as evidenced, yet again today, by a poll that gives Labour 43 points - therefore a clear indication that the bulk of the public wanting opposition against cuts have politically homed in on Labour again.

I'm sure you're going to come back with a load more stuff about us moving to the right and being "comfortably ensconced" in some bourgeois bubble while you and the other prolier-than-thous battle on pure of heart and mind safe in the knowledge that, even if you make no difference to anything at all, you can say on your deathbed that you were right all along.

And to be honest that would confirm to me exactly why I left the SP.

Boffy said...


You stole the reply I was going to make to Mark. My only differene would be that I actually WOULD criticise the leadership of PCS for their collapse over the Pension fight, and their agreement to a two tier workforce in the process. Even a decent left reformist militant should have stood firm against that. But, the reason they didn't was that in reality although they had been elected, they had not been elected by a majority of PCS members, and had built only an electoral support not a real political support for the ideas they proclaim to support - even those Left Reformist Economistic ideas on pay, pensions and conditions, let alone any revolutionary ideas -and so they were left in the position Engels describes of such leaders in his "The Peasant War in Germany". So, they had to face the reality and cave in in order to remain in their positions. Where such people have been told to toe the line by their organisation they have in many cases simply resigned from their organisations.

If they were true to their principles they would follow the path trod by Galicia and the other sectarians I have describe above, or those attacked by Lenin in Left-Wing Communism. They would protect themselves against the danger of being dragged to the Right by reformist workers and their organisations like the Trades Unions. They would leave those unions and establish their own "pure" revolutionary unions.

From the votes the sectarian are able to garner from workers for their ideas in elections, we know how succesful such unions would be. But, I tend to agree with Engels in this matter. I wonder why Marxists bother with them. Let them go off and create their own "pure" Labour Movement that meets their requirements. Let them sink into oblivion.

Alex Dawson said...

Too true Boffy.

I remember a meeting at which a senior and long-serving SPer actually said he thought it was time for new "red" trade unions to be formed on the basis of something or other to do with Unite that had annoyed him and made him reach the conclusion the existing unions were worthless.

As you say Boffy - if that's the solution, let them go for it. The IWW might be a good place to start such a project with its estimated 200 members in the UK.

Interestingly it's also what the BNP have tried to do with their laughable "Solidarity" outfit.

They, of course, do it on the basis that the unions are TOO left-wing and Marxist in character as opposed to the other end.

Guess you can't win!

Mark P said...

Actually Loz, I have no particular objection to your line of argument as expressed in your last couple of posts here, at least as far as it concerns your own work.

You aren't acting as a revolutionary in the Labour Party, aren't pretending to and aren't presenting yourself as anything other than a relatively militant reformist doing appropriate work from that sort of perspective.

I still disagree with you - both in the general political terms and more specifically on the value of work in Labour even from a reformist point of view - but that's another question.

Mike F:

Actually I have no problem in confronting the reality of what most workers actually think.

Which is one of the reasons why I see no more basis for supporting Labour, still less working in it, in the platitude that most workers vote for it than I see a basis for supporting Fianna Fail or the Democrats in the same line of argument.

I'm not under the impression that the workers are bursting at the seams with incipient revolutionary sentiment. It's just that hiding in a neo-liberal party and adapting to the politics of Ed Balls and Tristram Hunt doesn't strike me as a useful response to that assessment.

What I find interesting (and I use the word out of politeness) in the arguments of the scattered and bewildered bands of left Labourites is their near complete unwillingness to turn the same kind of sneering assessment they habitually apply to the extra-Labour left on their own efforts and on Labour more generally.

It's one thing to say that "the workers" don't want socialism at the moment. That's self evidently true. But the reality is that on a whole range of political questions, the rank and file of the Labour Party is to the right of the population as a whole. What does that tell us about the likely benefits for small groups of socialists of hiding in Labour?

It's one thing to say that the extra-Labour left is smaller than it was 20 years ago, and few people would argue with that. But what does the far more devestating and complete collapse of the Labour left tell us? Why is it that an extra-Labour left which you apparently feel is worthy of such scorn can mobilise many, many more activists than the Labour left can? Why is that the LRC's attempt at a youth wing would have been regarded as embarrassingly small by runts of the litter like Workers Power? Why do LRC conferences attract so many less people than conferences put on by the extra-Labour left? Why are campaigns on just about every issue dominated by the extra-Labour left while Labour lefts are a much smaller presence?

What does all of this tell you about the functionality of hiding in New Labour as a response to the setbacks of the last 25 years? It's one thing to want to draw lessons from the failures of the extra-Labour left, but you people are completely incapable of honestly assessing the lessons of the far greater failures of the Labour left.

Boffy said...

Before you can claim that Marxists in the Lp are not acting as revolutionary socialists, you first have to define what actingas revolutionary socialists means! The only definition you seem to have is that they should proclaim a revolutionary programme that even you admit the workers are not even bothering to read, and certainly do not agree with. In otehr words what Marx described as "revolutionary phrasemongering", setting up a Heinz variety of anti-cuts (or whatever other campaign is the flavour of the month from which they think they might recruit) where they basically - at best talk to each other, and at worst soon break away from if they see no gain from - which of course, they have a high representation in, because no one doubts that the members of these organisations are conscientious - that's why they tend to get elected as militants in whatever organisation they join - but, which are usually politically limited because of their Economistic programme, and which usually have absolutely no lasting effect in terms of promoting the self-activity of the class, or raising its level of consciousness. And, finally a commitment to denouncing the leaders of the Labour Movement - though as PCS showed, doing pretty much the same job of capitulation themselves.

You claim that the rank and file of the LP is to the right of the majority of the working-class on a whole range of issues. Can you provide factual evidence for that? I'd suggest that the number of workers who voted Tory, Lib-Dem, UKIP and BNP, suggests otherwise. The Social Trends Survey, also suggests otherwise with large numbers of people having right-wing views in respect of Welfare recipients, for instance. A talk with most ordinary workers demonstrates ingrained reactionary views on race, gender and sexual orientation. I'm not suggesting you do not find those views represented in the views of ordinary workers in the rank and file of the LP either, but I think your claim that they are to the Right of the workers outside the LP does not at all stand up. In fact, one local TU leader told me recently that many of the ordinary workers on his union Executive had views that were to the Right of the BNP!

Chris said...

It never ceases to amuse me that Boffy sees the need to sanctify all his comments with the divine blessings of messrs Marx and Engels, even when he doesn’t have to! In this case he has felt the need to distort Engels, even though telling the truth would in no way undermine his argument! I understand why he has to distort Engels view on co-ops because to sanctify his own position Boffy has to distort Engels but in this case?

So Boffy said, “It was not what marx and Engels viewed as revolutionary politics. They saw their involvement in the German Democrats not in that vein, or even in the vein of transforming what was a bourgeois party to socialism, but merely that they needed to be there in order to be able to speak to the mass of workers”

But Engels did regard it as a socialist party and what’s more he regarded it more than some vehicle to influence workers. When talking about the party he said we gained so many seats etc.

A couple of examples can be seen in quotes here:

Question to Engels by a journalist: “Mr. Engels on one important matter: the chances of the German socialists at the next elections.”

Enegls reply: "I am convinced," he replied to this question, "that we will gain between 700,000 and one million votes more than in 1890.”

Further question: "Will the socialist party have candidates in all the constituencies?"

Engels reply: "Yes, we shall have candidates in all 400 constituencies. It is important to us that we should muster our forces."

Another question: "And what is your final goal as German socialists?"

Engels reply: "Why, we have no final goal. We are evolutionaries, we have no intention of dictating definitive laws to mankind. Prejudices instead of detailed organisation of the society of the future? You will find no trace of that amongst us. We shall be satisfied when we have placed the means of production in the hands of the community, and we fully realise that this is quite impossible with the present monarchist and federalist government."

Further links to illustrate this point can be found here:

But of course Marx and Engels lived in a dynamic phase for socialism, it was new and growing. We live in a stagnant and declining phase, so the conditions are entirely different. We don’t need to distort Engels to make the point that working in the anti worker New Labour is the best way to advance socialism. This is a very sorry state for socialists, we should make no bones about that. We are in a reformist’s party, being reformist they have to pander to the city and anti worker forces. If you are a reformist there is no other way open to you, in capitalism bosses have all the real power, therefore in a capitalist system they are the guys you have to pander to. Globalisation has made that situation even more pronounced. One argument for not taxing the rich to pay for the crisis is that they can just leave and take their ill gotten gains to somewhere that will tax them lower!

Workers of the World unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

Though today the revolutionary cry seems to be “Workers fight for reforms, there is no other way!”

Boffy said...

I have no intention of engaging in debate with a nasty troll, whether they pose as some kind of socialist or a BNP'er, especially one who clearly does not even know who the German Democrats were, and whose grasp of history is so bad that they can be out by a matter of 50 years!!!!

Chris said...

Is that around the time they were forming the Communist league?

You are comparing a revolutionary period in Germany with Britain in the 21st century. You are claiming that because Marx and Engels supported a bourgeois revolution in 1848 Germany that translates into supporting the anti worker New Labour in 2011. Sorry but that doesn’t work and what is more because the conditions are so markedly different, the divine blessings of Marx and Engels are not required to justify your position. You would have been better to use the 1880's and 1890's as a comparison and even that would have been inappropriate.

Now you routinely distort Marx and Engels, and someone needs to point that out. You should not be allowed to get away with such brazen behaviour! They need to invent a new word to describe what you do, Trolling would not be enough!
For example the following passage from a letter by Engels to Bebel in 1891 shows his vision of the path to socialism is not the long road of building co-ops that you claim it is:

“In order to take possession of and set in motion the means of production, we need people with technical training, and masses of them. These we have not got, and up till now we have even been rather glad that we have been largely spared the "educated" people. Now things are different. Now we are strong enough to stand any quantity of educated Quarcks and to digest them, and I foresee that in the next eight or ten years we shall recruit enough young technicians, doctors, lawyers and schoolmasters to enable us to have the factories and big estates administered on behalf of the nation by Party comrades. Then, therefore, our entry into power will be quite natural and will be settled up quickly – relatively, if, on the other hand, a war brings us to power prematurely, the technicians will be our chief enemies; they will deceive and betray us wherever they can and we shall have to use terror against them but shall get cheated all the same. It is what always happened, on a small scale, to the French revolutionaries; even in the ordinary administration they had to leave the subordinate posts, where real work is done, in the possession of old reactionaries who obstructed and paralysed everything. Therefore I hope and desire that our splendid and secure development, which is advancing with the calm and inevitability of a process of nature, may remain on its natural lines.”

the link is here:

And there are many many more examples to choose from. I just thought this tied in nicely with your upcoming military article. I will be watching!

Chris said...

Is that around the time they were forming the Communist league?

You are comparing a revolutionary period in Germany with Britain in the 21st century. You are claiming that because Marx and Engels supported a bourgeois revolution in 1848 Germany that translates into supporting the anti worker New Labour in 2011. Sorry but that doesn’t work and what is more because the conditions are so markedly different, the divine blessings of Marx and Engels are not required to justify your position.

Boffy said...


You might want to consider these views expressed by Engels towards the end of his life about how revolutionary socialists should conduct themselves in respect of their attitude to the workers parties. This is the same Engels who at around the same time advised the British Marxists such as Eleanor Marx, and Edward Aveling and Tom Mann, to avoid the existing sects like the SF and ILP like the plague, and instead to join the existing Liberal Clubs, which is where they could talk to the mass of workers directly.

In advice to the US Socialists Engels wrote,

"”When we returned to Germany, in spring 1848, we joined the Democratic Party as the only possible means of getting the ear of the working class; we were the most advanced wing of that party, but still a wing of it. When Marx founded the International, he drew up the General Rules in such a way that all working-class socialists of that period could join it -- Proudhonists, Pierre Lerouxists and even the more advanced section of the English Trades Unions; and it was only through this latitude that the International became what it was, the means of gradually dissolving and absorbing all these minor sects, with the exception of the Anarchists, whose sudden appearance in various countries was but the effect of the violent bourgeois reaction after the Commune and could therefore safely be left by us to die out of itself, as it did. Had we from 1864, to 1873 insisted on working together only with those who openly adopted our platform where should we be to-day? I think that all our practice has shown that it is possible to work along with the general movement of the working class at every one of its stages without giving up or hiding our own distinct position and even organisation, and I am afraid that if the German Americans choose a different line they will commit a great mistake.”

Letter To Florence Kelley Wischnewetsky 1887

And he also wrote,

"“…What the Germans ought to do is to act up to their own theory --if they understand it, as we did in 1845 and 1848--to go in for any real general working-class movement, accept its faktische starting points as such and work it gradually up to the theoretical level by pointing out how every mistake made, every reverse suffered, was a necessary consequence of mistaken theoretical views in the original programme; they ought, in the words of The Communist Manifesto, to represent the movement of the future in the movement of the present. But above all give the movement time to consolidate, do not make the inevitable confusion of the first start worse confounded by forcing down people's throats things which at present they cannot properly understand, but which they soon will learn. A million or two of workingmen's votes next November for a bona fide workingmen's party is worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect platform.”

In the preface to the US edition of his Condition of the Working Class.

Boffy said...


Just to emphasise the above points made by Engels cited above consider his further advice to the US Socialists.

"“…To bring about this result, the unification of the various independent bodies into one national Labor Army, with no matter how inadequate a provisional platform, provided it be a truly working-class platform — that is the next great step to be accomplished in America. To effect this, and to make that platform worthy of the cause, the Socialist Labor Party can contribute a great deal, if they will only act in the same way as the European Socialists have acted at the time when they were but a small minority of the working class. That line of action was first laid down in the “Communist Manifesto” of 1847 in the following words:

“The Communists” — that was the name we took at the time and which even now we are far from repudiating — “the Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties.”

“They have no interests separate and apart from the interests of the whole working class.

“They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and model the proletarian movement…..”

“…That is the line of action which the great founder of Modern Socialism, Karl Marx, and with him, I and the Socialists of all nations who worked along with us, have followed for more than forty years, with the result that it has led to victory everywhere, and that at this moment the mass of European Socialists, in Germany and in France, in Belgium, Holland and Switzerland, in Denmark and Sweden as well as in Spain and Portugal, are fighting as one common army under one and the same flag.”

Preface To The 1887 US edition Of The Condition Of The Working Class

I've set out these and other arguments in my blog Marxists And The Workers Party

Boffy said...


One final quote, this time not from Marx or Engels, but from much later, from the decisions of the First Four Congresses of the Communist International, the documents that Trotskyists claim to base themselves upon.

“As the experiences of the Russian Revolution teach us – remember this in England and America! – the most important thing of all is to stay in the midst of the masses of workers. You will often go wrong with them, but never leave the mass organisations of the working class, however reactionary they may be at any given moment” (emphasis added).

(Zinoviev’s closing speech at the 15th Session of the Second Congress of the Comintern)

I could also give all of those quotes from Trotsky insisting that Marxists have to "stick with the workers", even to the extent he argued of "sticking with" those workers within the already bureaucratised Stalinist Parties in the late 1920's and early 1930's.

Chris said...

I agree that the best option for socialists is to work within the anti worker New Labour party. Politically I can see no other choice. Marx and Engels were active in a period of real political dynamism, where we are in a period of relative stagnation. Frankly if we use history to learn lessons I think you could make an argument for either position, the one of Boffy and the one of Mark P. The problem with Mark P’s position is that the left is so utterly divided.

The current problem with the argument that by being in New Labour we get the ear of the worker, is that we simply don’t. Things were differnt in the dynamic period of 1848. The workers are not active in the anti worker New Labour, they barely know the names of all but more of the ‘famous’ of the New Labour leadership, so the idea they will be tuned into the ‘radical’ wing of the party is laughable. If you want to get the ear of the workers get off to Stoke City on Saturday and hang out in the shopping districts. And start forming the kinds of organisations that Marx and Engels formed, e.g. the International. I think that is where the sects are actually more pro-active, I remember Chris Harman died while in Egypt. Doing more valuable work I should imagine than the ‘radical’ wing of the LP are.