by Nick Wright
What kind of marxism leninism does In defence of communism represent?
In its latest foray into British politics the US-based website asks why is there so much noise about the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn.
In this first sentence the author reveals both his ignorance of the British political system and, critically for a commentator with marxist leninist pretensions, an ignorance of the imperialist character of the British state. For Jeremy Corbyn is not the leader of the UK’s Labour Party, he is the leader of the Labour Party in Wales, Scotland and England. On principle, neither the Labour Party nor the Communist Party operate in the British-occupied statelet of Northern Ireland (the remaining part of the UK entity).
In fact, the main bourgeois attack on Jeremy Corbyn has been for decades now, his unswerving solidarity with the democratic and anti imperialist impulses of the Irish people and his engagement with their political representatives including those who defended the armed insurgency. Perhaps then, not quite the typical social democrat and perhaps not quite ‘a purely social democratic party’.
Our marxist leninist sage instructs us that; ‘First of all, Labour Party is a bourgeois party which poses no threat to the capitalist establishment. We don’t speak about a revolutionary party of Marxist-Leninist principles, but about one of the two pillars (the other is, of course, the Conservative Party) of the British bourgeois political system. There is nothing revolutionary in a purely social-democratic party like the UK Labour Party.’
Here a simple and uncontested truth serves to force an undialectical error. The Labour Party is not, of course, a revolutionary party of marxist-leninist principles. The threat it poses to the British bourgeois political system arises from neither its historical or its present-day ideological character but from the hopes and expectations that millions of British people have invested in it; and from its unique organisational and political character.
As Lenin said: ‘For any truth, if overdone … if exaggerated, or if carried beyond the limits of its applicability, can be reduced to absurdity.’ Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder (1920).
The British Labour Party is very far from a UK (even British) version of Syriza. Firstly, it is not and never has been a social democratic formation of the classical type. It was created by the basic class organisations of the British working class in a period of rising militancy.
For example, in 1889 Eleanor Marx and militant workers’ leader Will Thorne launched the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers of Great Britain and Ireland with the aim of reducing the working day from 12 to 8 hours, win double pay for Sunday working and mobilise women workers. As thousands march in London against austerity the Morning Star daily newspaper is being distributed free to marchers – paid for by the trade unions including the one founded by Eleanor Marx.
Unions like the successor to Eleanor Marx’s general union are directly affiliated to the Labour Party, send delegates to its deliberative bodies at local, regional and national level, sponsor Members of Parliament; and trade unionists, including those who pay the political levy as part of their union subscriptions but who do not hold individual membership of the party, have a vote. In addition, cooperatives and affiliated socialist societies have such rights.
Secondly, and arising from this special character, the Labour Party is the site of a continuous and intense political battle which has extra importance because it is not simply the contest for office between two opposing ideological tendencies but is conditioned by the direct intervention of basic class organisations which have the potential to channel working class concerns in a way much more direct than is allowed for in social democratic formations of the traditional European model or even latter-day mutations like Syriza.
Mechanical formulae which simply equate Labour with the Conservatives as twin pillars of the bourgeois system – an error of analysis that Lenin disposed off a century ago – are not a reliable guide to what is happening in Britain today.
Lenin reminds us: “Our theory is not a dogma, but a guide to action,” Marx and Engels always said, rightly ridiculing the mere memorising and repetition of “formulas”, that at best are capable only of marking out general tasks, which are necessarily modifiable by the concrete economic and political conditions of each particular period of the historical process. Drawn from Engels’s letter to F. A. Serge dated November 29, 1886.
We must proceed from contemporary facts. The Labour Party is not simply a bourgeois political formation that enters the electoral struggle in competition with other parties. It is itself the site of intense struggle. If we are to proceed dialectically then we must pay attention to that which is new and growing and that which is contested and on the retreat in our present day material circumstances.
Corbyn is a truly original figure in social democratic politics. Given his simple life style, refusal to accept the material rewards the British political system bestows on politicians, his easy familairity with working people, his lifelong internationalism, his transparent honesty and his lifelong espousal of causes that have put him at loggerheads with both the establishment and,for decades, the leadership if his own party, it is hard to pin the label ‘bourgeois’ on him. To do so in the British political discourse invites ridicule. And to suggest to the millions of people who voted Labour; the hundreds of thousands who have joined the Labour Party in support of his leadership; or the experienced and militant cadres of the communist, socialist and trade union movement that the litmus test of Corbyn’s credibility is his stance on the question… ‘Reformism vs Revolution’ invites the response. What colour is the sky on your planet?
Not even in the fevered discussions of Britains over-supply of trotskyite and maoist sects does the question present itself in this primitive form.
The issue of the European Union divides all classes and all parties in Britain. The battle to achieve clarity on the class and capitalist nature of the EU is one of the most complex and difficult issues which arises from the uneven character of developments in the British capitalist formation in which some bourgeois forces are opposed to British membership. Thus it requires close attention to the manoeuvres of the different class forces at play and, in particular, the intensity and forms of the struggle inside the Labour Party.
But this reality is not simple enough for our polemicist at In Defence of Communism who asserts that… ‘Like Alexis Tsipras in Greece, Jeremy Corbyn has expressed his pro-EU stance’ – as if this settles all important questions.
As the referendum result was declared, Corbyn, whose decades long opposition to the EU is the stick with which the right-wing in the Parliamentary Labour Party beat him with, immediately pledged – to outrage from the right and liberal media – that Labour in government would implement Brexit. And this weekend he sacked three shadow ministers who defied the whip on a vote which would have committed Britain to remain in the single market.
In fact, far from: ‘… clearing the path for right-wing conservatives (like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage) to politically exploit the Brexit vote’ Corbyn’s studied criticism of the EU during the election campaign and his swift endorsement of Brexit were precisely the factors which enabled Labour to reconnect to a substantial part of its working class electorate that had become detached during the Blair and Brown years, and to diminish support for the bourgeois Brexiters.
So, is Corbyn: ‘Like Tsipras …. a Social Democrat who presents himself as a “radical” but in the end of the day he is the best supporter of the capitalist establishment.
The jury is out on Tsipras but in judging Corbyn we must await events.
We can agree with In Defence of Communism that the transformation of society will come from: ‘…the continuous aggravation of class struggle’ and this is precisely what is happening and it is finding but one expression in the change of leadership in the Labour Party.
As Rob Griffiths, general secretary of the Communist Party wrote in his Morning Star message to the 150,000 who yesterday (1 July) demonstrated against austerity ‘It was the convergence of extra parliamentary campaigning by the People’s Assembly, the anti-war movement and trades unions opposed to pay and pension cuts that propelled Jeremy Corbyn into the leadership of the Labour Party. This created the popular and still growing mood across Britain for a change of government and policies.’
Although our British bourgeoisie and its state machine; the parliamentary representatives of the bourgeoisie, including those in the Labour Party; – the media; the security and military elite; the EU and NATO apparatus understand that the political processes and class forces that made Corbyn leader of the Labour Party represent an existential threat to the status quo this truth appears to have escaped the writer at In Defence of Communism.