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The collapse of Stalinism

The other prop of Merseyside's case against the Socialist Party leadership is in relation to the collapse of Stalinism.

They clearly claim that they assessed the situation more accurately than us and at an earlier stage: 'In relation to Stalinism internationally in the 1980s, comrades from Merseyside originally raised a number of points. Namibian independence and the possibility of a cold transition to majority rule in South Africa (both of these were raised at the World Congress and Conference 1988-89) are a couple of examples.'

To those who know the history of Militant and the Committee for a Workers' International in the 1980s and 1990s, this is unbelievable.

The ideas of a revolutionary party are not sucked out of the heads of a few isolated leaders. They are formulated, tested and retested in a constant dialogue between the ranks and the leadership - and with the working class over a protracted period of time.

Initiatives, changes of programme or suggestions for change sometimes emanate from the base upwards and sometimes from the 'top' - the leadership -downwards.

There are many examples of proposals from a branch or region taken up by the Socialist Party leadership and generalised into a national and even an international campaign.

When this happens it shows the maturity of an organisation. The cadres are capable of thinking for themselves, coming to conclusions and acting on them.

On the other hand, the national leadership of the Socialist Party and the leadership of the CWI have given a lead to the membership, have been ahead of the ranks, on important theoretical and tactical issues.

But, unfortunately for Dave Cotterill, he was not ahead of us either on the issue of perspectives for Stalinism or on Namibia or South Africa. In The Rise of Militant we gave a balance sheet of the evolution of our ideas set against the developments in the Stalinist world in the 1980s:

The crushing of the Solidarity movement in December 1981 by Jaruzelski had a decisive effect on the consciousness of the Polish working class.

So discredited was the 'Communist' Party, the party of the privileged elite, that the Stalinist counter-revolution took place through the military elite, personified by Jaruzelski.

Together with the 1980s boom this completely undermined the idea that the ills of Polish society could be cured on the basis of a movement against the bureaucracy alone.

Pro-capitalist ideas occupied a minority position in the Polish movement of 1980-81. But on the basis of the crushing of the movement, the imprisonment of Solidarity workers, a further period of stagnation and regression of the Polish economy, led to pro-capitalist ideas becoming the predominant trend both within the ranks of the intelligentsia and also within the working class.

There seemed to be no way forward on the basis of Stalinism, even the 'reformed' version. The upswing of the 1980s, particularly the period of 1985-1990, contrasted favourably in the minds of the masses with the dire situation in the Stalinist states.

The processes at work in Poland existed, to a lesser or greater extent, in all the Stalinist states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

However, illusions in the "market" were more pronounced in Poland and at an earlier stage this became clearer to us, after some comrades had visited the country.

The most visible expression of this was approval given to Thatcher on her visit to Poland in 1988. Open support for the ideological fountainhead of capitalist reaction, particularly by the Gdansk workers, came somewhat as a shock to those, such as Militant, who looked towards a political revolution as the most likely outcome of any movement against the regime.

One of the difficulties for Marxists in correctly assessing the mood in the Stalinist states was the totalitarian character of these regimes.

The assembling of a sizeable force, able to gauge the mood of the masses, was difficult, if not impossible, because of the pervasive grip of the police and severe repression.

This was the case even in those regimes, like Poland and to some extent Hungary, where the hold of the Stalinists had been considerably loosened.

Even then it would not have been possible to have easily corrected what subsequently proved to be an inaccurate assessment of the mood of the masses in these states as it was developing in the 1980s.

Indeed, the consciousness was very confused, particularly in countries such as East Germany and the Soviet Union.

The movement against the regime in these countries initially contained elements of political revolution.

In the first instance, the mood of the masses was to look for democratic change but on the basis of the planned economy.

However, once the grip of Stalinism had been lifted and the masses were able to gauge the situation fully, the extent of the obscene privileges of the elite were revealed.

This had a decisive effect on consciousness. These societies were not just standing still but going backwards.

The "fireworks" of the world capitalist boom and with it the living standards of the 1980s contrasted favourably in the minds of the masses with the stagnation and decay of Stalinism.

These regimes had stood still or even gone backwards for a large part of the 1970s and the 1980s.

Following the events in Poland, Militant, at least the majority of its leadership, attempted belatedly, but honestly, to face up to this situation.

Rather tentatively the "theoretical possibility of a bourgeois counter-revolution" unfolding in the Stalinist states was posed.

At an international gathering in Belgium in December 1988 of the co-thinkers of Militant, myself, in agreement with what subsequently became the majority of the Militant leadership, Lynn Walsh, Tony Saunois, Bob Labi, Clare Doyle and Peter Hadden, from Northern Ireland, raised the possibility of bourgeois counter-revolution.

Neither Ted Grant nor Alan Woods spoke in that discussion but Ted Grant privately complained that he disagreed with my analysis.

We were the only Trotskyist tendency internationally that had begun in the late 1980s to pose the theoretical possibility of a bourgeois counter-revolution.

Following the collapse of Stalinism and the moves towards the "market", Militant is also the only tendency to have fully and correctly analysed and foreshadowed how events developed and to show the limited possibilities for capitalism in these countries. [pp 327-329]

Neither Dave Cotterill nor any of his present supporters questioned these words when they were written, either in a written form or verbally.

He now states: 'The comrades on Merseyside were much more emphatic in relation to the re-establishment of capitalism in Eastern Europe and Russia. In 1991, Andy Ford, for example, raised the effect of the restoration of capitalism and its repercussions for world capitalism.'

Andy Ford is not a supporter of Dave Cotterill but remains a member of the Socialist Party. His article was very good, a useful addition to the ongoing analysis that was being made by the whole party at that stage.

But both his article and another article written by Dave Cotterill (under the name of Dan Cooper) dealing with the restoration of capitalism in East Germany were not in advance of the analysis that was being made by the national leadership.

An article in Militant on 23 February 1990, made the following point: 'Unification is now taking the form of counter-revolution, welcomed by many East German workers at the moment - but which they will come to regret as the full consequences of capitalist rule are brought home to them. The nationalised, planned economy will be rapidly dismantled by the West German capitalists, and the East German workers will experience ruthless exploitation by the big monopolies - who will arrogantly take their revenge for the loss of the eastern zone after the defeat of the Nazis in 1945.' Andy Ford's article and another article quoted by Dave Cotterill appeared in our Internal Bulletin in January 1991.

The Merseyside comrades declaim: 'Recognition of the process of capitalist counter-revolution was made by the national leadership later in the year, though edged with warnings that the "process has not been completed and certainly not consolidated". Furthermore, "new attempts to impose open military rule are inevitable".' They are quoting from our document, Revolution and Counter-revolution in the Soviet Union, which came out in October 1991, as proof of the superior foresight of the 'Merseyside ex-comrades'.

But they know, as every member of the party at that stage knew, that this document, a major contribution to an understanding of what happened in the Stalinist states, was a summing-up of the general conclusions of the CWI of events in the Stalinist states over the preceding 18 months.

If it was the only document produced by the CWI on the process they would have a point. But they know that literally dozens of articles in the press of the British section of the CWI, apart from the other different national sections, appeared prior to this (as we see from the extract given above) which clearly detail the process which was developing in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Trotsky pointed out that if there was one mention of God in a 'scientific' work then that would be sufficient for a Marxist to condemn this as a work of social quackery. What would he have said about 'Marxists' who go in for historical falsifications in order to bolster an image of their own theoretical superiority?

Similar methods have been used by Merseyside when they were members of the Socialist Party, when they attempted to recruit Lenin to reinforce their argument in favour of a regional journal (in effect, a factional journal) in opposition to the national journal of our party. When we produced the real views of Lenin in a written form, which spoke directly against the claims of Merseyside (Lenin was opposed to a separate Petrograd journal in the period leading up to the events of July 1917), the only reply was silence!

Merseyside attempts to perpetrate a similar sleight of hand in relation to Namibia and South Africa. In the period prior to the Congress of the CWI in 1988, both Peter Taaffe and Lynn Walsh had fought against the dogmatic position of Ted Grant and a section of the South African leadership who refused to admit that the apartheid regime could withdraw from Namibia.

Dave Cotterill, it is true, spoke at the congress against the position of Ted Grant on this issue. But in the period leading up to the congress, Lynn Walsh and Peter Taaffe had already clashed several times with the South African leadership and Ted Grant on the issue of Namibia.

So Merseyside, instead of trying to make honest criticisms of the Socialist Party's positions and thereby clarifying issues in the minds of the advanced workers, sneers at the alleged 'infallibility' of the Socialist Party leadership while seeking to show his own theoretical 'superiority'.

European Monetary Union

A similarly dishonest approach is taken in relation to the issue of Europe, and particularly on the question of prospects for the European Monetary Union.

There are serious, deep-going differences between the position of the Socialist Party leadership and that of Merseyside.

But that is no excuse for seeking to distort and misrepresent the position put forward by the Socialist Party in their document

Firstly, they argue that we advanced the 'orthodox line inherited from Ted Grant, who frequently predicted the collapse of the Common Market and the European project. In the early 1990s the national leadership were initially repeating this line, with a slight modification, "shattering of the EC is only likely in the event of a deep slump".'

Just how dishonest are the selective quotes used by Merseyside is shown when we give the whole passage from the document on World Relations carried at the 1993 Congress of the CWI: 'This does not mean that the EC will immediately shatter into its national component parts. The intensified competition with Japan and US imperialism, and the tendency for the productive forces to integrate across national boundaries, compels the European capitalists to lean on one another while at the same time striking blows at each other like so many criminals chained to a single cart They will oscillate between cooperation and competition. A shattering of the EC is only likely in the event of a deep slump when it would be a question of each man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.'

Thus we have never put forward the idea of the imminent collapse of the European project. On the contrary, we have argued that, given the competition with Japan and the US, the European powers will be compelled to oscillate between cooperation and competition with one another over an extended historical period. Only in the event of a 'deep slump' would the EU collapse.

Yes, the Socialist Party does defend the 'orthodox' Trotskyist position that European capitalism can go a long way in cooperating to create a 'common market' but will never be able to overcome the separate national interests of the different capitalist powers.

Dave Cotterill, on the other hand, does believe that the 'European project', in the sense of economic and monetary union and, by implication, political union as well, is possible on a European basis.

This is made clear in an article written for Militant International Review in 1993. It was not published at the time, although it could have been submitted to our discussion bulletin, because it was contrary to the accepted position of the organisation at that stage.

Incidentally, in his unpublished article, Dave Cotterill makes a stab at economic predictions: 'Japanese investors are transferring their money to Germany or Eastern Europe to be at the centre of the market. Such a move threatens to devastate Britain's economy within the next five years.' The reason for this 'perspective' was a mystery to the editors of Militant International Review, but his economic 'prognosis' in relation to a 'devastated' Britain remains unfulfilled.

Leon Trotsky pointed out that capitalism was incapable of developing the full potential of the productive forces, science, technique and the organisation of labour, because of the incubus of private ownership on the one side, and the nation state on the other.

However, Dave Cotterill believes that capitalism is overcoming this contradiction, certainly as far as the nation state is concerned.

He declared in his unpublished article: 'A growing-over of the nation state is taking place.' It is true that a few lines later he declares: 'The Common Market and the idea of a single Europe are vain attempts to escape this contradiction.' Why then use vague phrases about a 'growing-over' of the nation state? Growing over from what to what, remains the unanswered question.

Merseyside claims that on the issue of EMU: 'The leadership are hopelessly at sea, so much so that they could marshal little support from the rank-and-file delegates [at the Socialist Party National Conference in 1997].' They claim that this is because the Conference document spoke about the 'shipwrecking of European Monetary Union'.

They also claim that the majority of delegates were opposed to the Executive Committee and that the EC withdrew the section of the document dealing with EMU for fear that it would be defeated.

Their account of the proceedings at the 1997 March Conference is tendentious and false. There is little doubt that if the leadership had proceeded to insist on a vote then the EC's position would have been carried.

It was precisely to allow further discussion and clarification that this section of the document was withdrawn and the promise was made to produce a more detailed statement.

Merseyside then claims: 'Such a document, at the time of writing [1999!] has never been produced or distributed to the National Committee or the party.' They are either completely ignorant or attempting to cover up the fact that we have commented fully on the prospects for EMU in our weekly journal, The Socialist, in Socialism Today and in a special, lengthy statement produced by the International Secretariat of the CWI [No to the Bosses' euro/EMU!] which fully answers all the points of criticism raised in relation to our position.

The fundamental difference between the position of the Socialist Party leadership and our Merseyside critics is over whether the EMU project will be completed.

The EC of the Socialist Party believes that it won't be carried through completely, and Dave Cotterill and his comrades believe that it will.

It is true that a dispute opened up from 1997 onwards on whether the European bourgeoisie would even be able to begin the project.

We believed that on balance, taking all the factors into account and, above all, the prospects of a world recession or slump, the European bourgeoisie would not be able to meet the Maastricht criteria or go ahead on time.

Dave Cotterill and his comrades argued vehemently that the project would not only begin on time but would be carried through.

He declared in January 1998 at a Socialist Party National Committee: 'EMU will happen in 1999. The euro will be a strong euro and any flight to "safe havens" will be to the euro.' We have to remember that the starting date for EMU was delayed and the Maastricht criteria were considerably softened in order to facilitate the project beginning on time.

Nevertheless, we were wrong on the issue of timing: the EMU project began in January 1999. However, in recognising a mistake, even a mistake on timing, it is necessary to explain why.

This we have done in statements submitted to the recent congress of the Socialist Party. We explained that our perspectives in relation to EMU were closely linked to the likely developments of the world economy.

A serious recession or slump, linked to colossal social upheavals of the European working class, would 'shipwreck' the beginning of EMU.

However, as we have explained above, paradoxically, the crisis in Russia, East Asia and now in Latin America has led to a 'flight to quality', above all, a pouring-in of investment to the European and the US markets. This has allowed the euro to begin in January 1999.

It is another question entirely for the EMU project to be completed by the year 2002-03. On balance, we would say that this is extremely unlikely.

Merseyside's arguments, like those of the majority of bourgeois commentators, which they echo, amount to a wing and a prayer capitalism wishes to use EMU to carry through deregulation; the European working class is too weak to resist; ergo EMU will go through.

They leave out of account completely the enormous contradictions which EMU attempts to cover up, as well as the social implications in movements of the working class, once the full effects of a recession or slump are felt.

It is not the first time that currency unions have existed. Prior to the EMU being launched, German capitalism grouped around it in the ERM currency agreement, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and others.

The real problems come when powerful independent states such as France and Italy, let alone Britain, are drawn into a currency union with no exchange rate flexibility and a 'one-size-fits-all rate of interest.

In order to begin the euro, the capitalists have already cooked the books. Currency unions are possible where movements of national currencies are within quite a wide band of ten or fifteen percent.

But EMU prevents such flexibility. What is going to happen against the background of a serious economic crisis when there is no means of adjusting the policies of national governments?

This, in turn, is linked to the world economic situation and, particularly, the role of the dollar. Even before the onset of a serious crisis, the dollar has been weakened.

But, given that the 'economic fundamentals' in the real economy of the USA -rather than the financial bubble that dominates at the moment - will reassert themselves, this inevitably will mean a decline in the dollar.

This, in turn, will introduce colossal currency volatility. No more than in South-East Asia following the devaluation of the Thai baht in July 1997, will it be possible to maintain a zero-movement of national currencies within euro-land.

National governments imprisoned in a currency straitjacket would not have the option open to South-East Asian governments to devalue their currencies.

Such 'adjustments' are inherent on the basis of capitalism, but are denied under the EMU project Yet there is no other means for different national governments to 'adjust' their position.

In the US, the federal government - through taxation and subsidies - plays a role in evening out the economic position of the different states.

There is no similar mechanism in Europe: the European Commission disperses pennies, metaphorically speaking, compared to the largesse at the disposal of the Treasury in the USA.

Therefore, EMU and the euro which has begun, is unlikely to be completed by the year 2002.

Even Dave Cotterill, who castigates us for doubting the 'European project', in his 1992 article declared: 'Nevertheless, it is likely, though not certain, that five or six countries could implement a single European currency.' Why add the phrase 'though not certain', when the whole gist of the argument that he puts forward is that, irrespective of any economic or social obstacles, EMU will be completed come hell or high water? His 'though not certain' has the same function as his qualifications mentioned earlier that 'economic slump cannot be ruled out'.

This hopping from foot to foot is the main feature of Merseyside's document. Shaken by the unanticipated turn of events in the 1990s, and succumbing to the notorious ambivalence of academia within which these comrades now operate, they are incapable of defending a principled class analysis and positions in relation to the contradictions of capitalism and the inability of the bourgeoisie to overcome the limits of the nation state.

They are also incapable of seeing how the working class will move on the basis of big events.

Merseyside is swayed by the weight of bourgeois public opinion, which now includes, unfortunately, the right-wing leaders of the trade unions as well.

They point to the support for EMU coming from the CBI, the Chambers of Commerce, the TUC leaders, the social democrats throughout Europe, etc.

They then use the crushing argument: 'Too much has already been invested in EMU by the banks, the multinationals and national governments to go back.' This is like saying, the capitalists have invested too much in industry, and fear the social consequences, to allow an economic slowdown, recession or slump to take place.

They have no control, in the final analysis, in how their system works and the working out of its inherent contradictions.

As we have pointed out on many occasions, theoretically it would be possible to envisage EMU on the basis of a boom similar to that of 1950-75.

During this boom capitalism did partially overcome the limitations of the nation state which, together with the development of world trade, enormously facilitated the growth of the productive forces. However, such a scenario is 'ruled out' for the foreseeable period.

Merseyside enmesh themselves in contradictions by first of all declaring that the ruling class have no alternative but to proceed with EMU.

But then they concede: 'The only way it could be halted or stopped would be on the basis of revolutionary upheavals.' At each stage, every definitive statement meets with a 'qualification' which is generally nothing of the sort, but is a diametrically opposed idea.

Not just 'revolutionary upheavals', but big industrial and social movements can force the capitalists and their governments to step back.

A new mass workers' party

Such will be the effects of the coming recession or slump that national governments will be forced to bend or will be thrown out of office.

Yet even this scenario, in practice, Merseyside discounts: 'Recession, if it unfolds, will drive in the direction of even greater concentration of industry and finance, and further attacks on the working class.' They further go on to say that if 'interest rates fall' it could help to 'postpone recession'.

We have answered this idea above, but what this shows is that their false position on perspectives for the world economy is organically linked to their false prognosis as far as EMU is concerned.

In a rare complementary comment, our critics state: 'A major contribution of the CWI was on the "bourgeoisification" of the social democracy.': in other words, the workers' parties being transformed into capitalist parties.

It was the Socialist Party Executive Committee, well ahead of the rest of our party (including the Merseyside ex-comrades), who understood how far the traditional workers' parties had shifted to the right.

We pointed towards the process of them being transformed into capitalist parties, but we did not just leave it there.

We raised the idea of preparing the basis for the building of new socialist or workers' parties. But the comrades, having pinned a medal to our chest, 'a major contribution', then proceed to kick us in the shins: 'Unfortunately, the consequences of this have been catastrophic, resulting in "ourselves alone".' This inane criticism has been trumpeted, for the benefit of our opponents, by every renegade from the Socialist Party in the last two years.

Conveniently ignored is that we were the only party which clearly raised the need for the building of new broad parties of the working class and, both in propaganda articles explaining the validity of this idea, and in practice, have done more than any other organisation or party, including Dave Cotterill and his supporters, in trying to realise it.

We have not zig-zagged in our approach towards this issue, as is suggested in the Merseyside document.

We have changed the wording of our demands because of changing circumstances. When Arthur Scargill launched the Socialist Labour Party, no organisation or party welcomed this development more eagerly than us.

We offered to participate in a new broad socialist party, organised along federalist lines, which would have opened up the prospect of attracting significant layers, tens of thousands of workers and youth to such a formation.

As is well known, Scargill refused to collaborate with ourselves and others, and the consequence is that the SLP has ended up in a sectarian cul-de-sac.

Unfortunately, Scargill's efforts have complicated the situation now and, together with other factors, delayed the task of creating a new mass party in Britain.

In the debate on our name (which was changed from Militant Labour to Socialist Party) we pointed out that the materials were not yet present for the creation of such a party.

There no longer exists in Britain, as in the past, a significant layer of advanced workers who are repelled by New Labour and looking for a new socialist alternative.

It will take events and the intervention of conscious socialist forces for a new advanced layer to crystallise.

There is every possibility that out of the looming economic crisis and, over a period of time, a new advanced layer will crystallise who could form the basis for the emergence of a new socialist mass alternative.

What Merseyside sees as 'zig-zags' in the formulations which we have used is, in reality, a change in approach by us determined by changes in the situation.

It is true, when we were still called Militant Labour, we promoted the slogan of a new mass socialist party.

However, with the change in our name to Socialist Party - from Militant Labour - it would have been ludicrous for us to continue with this slogan.

Therefore, we promoted the idea of a 'new mass workers' party'. However, at this stage, this remains a largely propagandist demand; it will take events and a big change in consciousness for it to be taken up on a sufficiently large scale where it could become a practical possibility.

Therefore, does that mean that the Socialist Party seeks to secretly bury this demand in order to emphasise 'ourselves alone'? On the contrary, it is not the very small band of ex-Socialist Party members on Merseyside, nor the myriad sects who criticise the Socialist Party, who are to the fore in the trade unions in arguing for a new mass party, but precisely the ranks of the Socialist Party itself.

The same applies to the demand for the disaffiliation of the trade unions from the Labour Party. We are supporting this demand.

It is finding a certain echo at the present time in the trade unions. But involved here is an issue of timing and the best way to pose this question within the trade union movement.

In most unions, at this stage, the demand for disaffiliation would be ferociously opposed by the right-wing trade union officialdom and would not find endorsement from the majority of the ranks of the trade unions.

It is much more appropriate to pose the question of 'freeing up the political funds' in unions like Unison, to allow financial support to those parties and organisations which further the interests of union members, as opposed to New Labour, which is attacking their rights and conditions.

The same empty rhetoric emanates from our critics on the issue of socialist alliances. We are accused of opposing their creation and, where they have been created, of 'not taking them seriously' and, once again, of 'secretly' wishing to see them disintegrate in order to further our fiendish schema of 'ourselves alone'.

Yet these various critics cannot deny that most of the socialist alliances that were created in Britain came through the initiative of our party.

Dave Nellist is the national chairperson of the Socialist Alliance and our comrades in Wales stood in the 1999 Welsh Assembly elections in an electoral bloc under the name of the 'United Socialists'. The only real functioning socialist alliances in the country are where members of our party intervene, sustain and develop these socialist alliances, such as in Coventry, Newcastle and Wales.

By their own admission, no functioning socialist alliance exists in the Merseyside area. The lame excuse for this is the 'objective difficulties', above all, in the Merseyside area.

Could not the charge which they level at the Socialist Party leadership, of 'lack of commitment', apply with equal and perhaps even greater effect to them? After all, these comrades claim they are the continuators of the great tradition of the Liverpool workers' struggle over the last 30 years.

Why haven't they put their bold demands into practice? Could it have something to do with the fact that on Merseyside, as elsewhere, new fresh layers of the working class have not yet emerged which could sustain such alliances and prepare the way for a mass workers' party at a later stage?

Notwithstanding this, they write: 'Merseyside did not oppose the need for the name change but rather questioned the approach of the work and the repercussions and relations with other left groups.' In practice, some Merseyside comrades did oppose the change of our name from Militant Labour to the Socialist Party (Pete Glover spoke and voted against Merseyside, as did others in the region).

In the debates leading up to, and at, our Special Conference on the name change, they took a 'neutral' position, withdrawing their resolution after the debate.

But, claiming that we bowed to their superior wisdom, they then go on to state: 'Reflecting this criticism, Peter Taaffe told the Australian Democratic Socialist Party (DSP): "We stand for the genuine unity of all socialist forces".' They then declaim: 'Such fine words ring hollow considering the reaction to the events in Scotland where "genuine unity of all socialist forces", achieved by Scottish Militant Labour together with the left, was immediately denounced.'

They quote from our statement on the formation of the Scottish Socialist Party in which we said that it was not 'a clearly-defined revolutionary Marxist organisation'.

They then pose the question: 'How a new broad-based party, which comprises "genuine unity of all socialist forces", can adopt a revolutionary Marxist programme at the very beginning is a mystery.'

But the question should be directed, not at us, but at our comrades in Scotland who argued from the beginning that this party would precisely be a 'revolutionary party' of a 'broad character'. As a perusal of the documents on Scotland demonstrates, we opposed this attempt to describe the SSP as a revolutionary party when it clearly was not.

Moreover, it is now recognised by some of our comrades in Scotland that this party is a 'broad party' and not the 'revolutionary broad party' argued originally.

We never opposed the creation of a broad party (referred to by us as Option Two, the second of two alternative strategies we advocated), i.e. of the coming together of different forces, including SML, into a new broad formation or party.

But we opposed, and continue to oppose, any attempt to weaken or water down the programme and the ideas of the revolutionary trend within such a party.

It was because of our fear of such a development that the leadership of the Socialist Party, and the great majority of the members of the CWI, opposed the dissolving of the revolutionary organisation and its cadres, which had been built up through enormous effort and sacrifice over decades, into a broad formation.

Having made our views clear we, nevertheless, wished the SSP success both in the Scottish Parliamentary elections and in building membership.

We donated £2,000 to the SSP's election campaign even though we did not consider that it was fully 'our party'.

We welcome the election of Tommy Sheridan as a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP). At the same time, we are fighting to make the CWI a more coherent force - both politically and organisationally - inside this party.

Reformists and centrists have always criticised Marxists and Trotskyists for their 'doctrinairism' and 'sectarianism' because of their refusal to dilute and adapt their programme to every episodic change of mood and the situation.

Implacable in programme, extreme flexibility in tactics and organisation, were the hallmarks of the Bolsheviks and the guiding principles of Militant at its height.

The success in the epic Liverpool struggle was not determined, in the first instance, by political or theoretical adaptation to others.

We began as a tiny revolutionary organisation, with people like Tony Mulhearn, Peter Taaffe, Terry Harrison, Tony Aitman and others within our ranks.

We were, however, at all times intransigent in defence of our programme but extremely friendly and approachable to others on the left.

Above all, Tony Mulhearn, with his unique feel for the broad labour movement, always insisted in linking our ideas to the real movement of the working class.

Possessing an unerring instinct for the mood of the advanced workers on Merseyside, Tony was, at the same time, unbending in defence of our programme and our ideas.

The work through the Broad Left played a key role in our successes on Merseyside. But of decisive importance was a coherent revolutionary organisation with a distinct programme, policy, tactics and organisation.

We jealously defended the borders of our organisation, even at the height of our popularity when we had 1,000 members in the Merseyside area.

Now the Merseyside ex-members are in ideological retreat, clearly cannot perceive of the proletariat rising once more in the foreseeable future, and wish to comfortably coexist (in effect, merge) with other left groupings in an unprincipled fashion.

Their political degeneration has been reinforced with a late introduction to academia. Their document is full of empty phrasemongering.

Its purpose? Dust-blowing and obscurantism, replacing a clear, sober, objective analysis, which allowed for the building of a powerful force on Merseyside, with opportunist adaptation to others.

Marxism, by its very nature, is saturated with the spirit of optimism. This comes not from any kind of religious messianism but flows from an understanding of the inevitable movement of the working class.

This will be effected through the change in the objective situation which is reflected in profound changes in the outlook of millions of workers.

The Socialist Party and its cadres are preparing for these events, looking to the spirit of resistance and opposition within the working class, while the Merseyside Socialist Party ex-members look to the rear of the proletariat.

They have been seduced by the ideas of post-Fordism, post-modernism, globalisation and the growth of information technology: 'Capitalism in the advanced industrial economies was moving away from Fordist models of large-scale production to a service/information based economy,' they state.

Strength of the working class

It is a gross exaggeration to argue that the industrial proletariat, particularly on a world scale, is disappearing and now occupies a secondary position.

Undoubtedly, the decline of manufacturing industry - which now employs less than 20% of the workers in Britain - has meant a decline in numbers.

However, its specific weight, particularly when taken together with transport workers and others, remains a decisive factor.

Moreover, those drawn into the service and information fields are increasingly 'proletarianised' by the conditions, often barbaric, which they face.

The average working week in Britain was 40 hours in 1970 and it is now, due to deregulation, 44 hours!

This conversion of the comrades comes at a time when the more serious bourgeois economists have challenged the post-Fordist model.

While not denying that technology has drawn in significant sections of employees, the industrial proletariat still remains as the most decisive sections of the working class.

Greider has pointed out: 'Despite the presumptions of a "post-industrial age", metalworking remains the prosaic core in the world's industrial production: autos, steel, electronics and computers, machine-tools, aircraft, shipbuilding and some others. Workers like to call these the "metal-bending" industries, and nearly half of the world's largest 500 corporations were centred in those sectors.' [One World, Ready or Not, p60]

The industrial working class has undoubtedly declined in size but its specific weight is still decisive.

Manufacturing industries have shrunk, but the talk of a 'post-industrial age' is exaggerated. It is true that there has been a movement to more flexible labour markets, away from mass manufacturing, but with this has come tremendous economic insecurity, part-time and contract work and portfolio employment in which there is no stable relationship with a single employer.

John Gray wrote: 'The corrosion of bourgeois life through increased job insecurity is at the heart of sordid capitalism. Today the social organisation of work is in nearly continuous flux. It mutates incessantly under the impact of technological innovation and deregulated market competition.' He further points out: 'The effect of the new information technologies is not merely an increased scarcity of many kinds of less-skilled or knowledge-intensive work. It is the wholesale disappearance of entire occupations. For much of the population traditional bourgeois institutions such as career structures and vocations no longer exist.' [False Dawn - The Delusions of Global Capitalism, pp71 -2]

Significantly, his conclusions are: The result is a re-proletarianisation of much of the industrial working class and the de-bourgeoisification of what remains of the former middle classes. The free market seems set to achieve what socialism is never able to accomplish - a euthanasia of bourgeois life.' [Ibid, p72]

Thus, the social props of capitalism have been knocked away as Marx's prediction is being borne out in a peculiar fashion.

We see the enormous polarisation of wealth and stratification of the workforce. A highly-paid strata exists while other sections of the middle class find their incomes and living standards squeezed with a tendency to sink more and more into the ranks of the working class.

The process is evident amongst teachers and civil servants to name but two. In the past they considered themselves 'middle class' but are now increasingly driven into the ranks of the working class.

According to a recent poll, 55% of the population of Britain now consider themselves 'working class'.

The trade unions

The political opportunism of the Merseyside ex-comrades is complemented, as is frequently the case with people who have lost their political bearings, with a streak of ultra-leftism.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in relation to the trade unions. Our organisation has always sought to put a balanced position on the trade unions.

We have opposed the ultra-left position, which has now been embraced by the Merseyside ex-comrades, that it is possible to bypass the official structures of the trade unions.

At the same time, we have always supported movements from below even where they are opposed by the official right-wing trade union leaders.

Long before Dave Cotterill came on the scene, we supported and participated, through Ted Mooney, in the monumental attempt at an occupation by the workers at General Electric Company (GEC) in Liverpool in 1968.

This was a movement from below in answer to the announcement of mass redundancies. The call for occupation was eventually defeated at a mass meeting but, in the period leading up to the strike, our small forces on Merseyside were heavily involved in attempting to convince the workers of the efficacy of the occupation tactic. We also gave support to the strike of 30,000 workers in Pilkington's in 1970.

However, in both instances, we always sought to link the unofficial movements with the struggle to change the official structures, in an attempt to change the policies and the leadership of the union.

A failure to heed our advice in the case of the Pilkington's stewards led to a breakaway from the GMWU (now part of the GMB).

This, in turn, weakened the left within the GMWU and, moreover, led to the winding-up of the 'left union' which had been created from the breakaway.

The history of the dock workers' struggle in Britain is one of heroic efforts to create rank-and-file organisations from below which invariably met with the opposition of right-wing trade union leaders.

However, when this led to the extension of the 'blue union' (the National Association of Stevedores & Dockworkers Union) to Merseyside, Manchester and Hull in the 1960s, supported by the ultra-left Socialist Labour League (forerunners of the Workers' Revolutionary Party), the net result was to weaken the left in the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Moreover, in the competition between the 'blue' union and the 'whites' (the TGWU), for the first time in decades, non-unionism developed amongst significant layers of the workers in the ports of Liverpool.

The justification for the development of the 'blue' union was that it was 'impossible' to change the TGWU because of the right-wing leadership of Deakin and Lawther.

Shades of Merseyside's arguments in relation to the TGWU today? Nevertheless, the TGWU did shift towards the left at the top with the election of, first of all, Frank Cousins, and then, of Jack Jones.

A similar process took place in the election of left leaders within the mineworkers' union (Lawrence Daly) and also of Hugh Scanlon in the engineering union (AUEW), who famously declared himself at one time to be a 'Marxist'.

Of course, these 'left leaders' had severe political limitations, which were demonstrated later. However, their election encouraged the shop stewards and other leftward moving workers.

In the process, this opened up greater scope for the work of genuine socialists and Marxists within the unions.

During this period of left leadership at the top of the unions we saw greater rank-and-file initiative and organisation from below.

Not only were there 350,000 shop stewards (once considered as 'unofficial movements') but also we had the development of organisations like the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions.

At one stage this embraced the most conscious, active sections of the British working class, and played a key role in the battle against the Heath government (1970-74), and its introduction of the first postwar anti-union act, the Industrial Relations Act.

In 1972, its provisions led to the jailing of five London dockers (the 'Pentonville Five'). In protest, a general strike began to develop from below which would have almost certainly led to the TUC being forced to call a 24-hour general strike if the dockers had not been released.

On the unions, there is absolutely nothing new in the approach of the Merseyside ex-comrades. History never repeats itself in exactly the same way.

Since the 1960s, 70s and early 1980s the position of the unions has changed and in some senses dramatically.

The level of union organisation and the number of strikes is down. This is accounted for not just because of the contraction of manufacturing industry, in which union density is higher.

The Tories' anti-union laws also had a big effect. But the shift to the right of the trade union leaders and their support for the market, has had a crucial effect in blunting the effectiveness of the unions.

Normally a boom leads to a growth in union membership. Yet the 1990s witnessed a year by year contraction, and not just in Britain, but in most of the advanced industrial countries (significantly the drop in union membership was halted in 1998, largely through women, Afro-Caribbeans and Asians joining up).

This weakening in the unions arose in the main from the unprecedented class collaboration of the leaders with the employers.

In some respects it has gone further than even following the 1926 General Strike, the infamous 'Mondism', or during the 1950-75 economic boom.

More and more the union leaders act as the 'labour lieutenants of capital', as the American socialist Daniel de Leon put it.

Rather than conducting militant struggles for their members they have sought the role of arbiters between capital and labour, with some unions and some leaders acting as complete tools of the bosses.

The AEEU leaders have behaved in this fashion in a number of strikes (as in the Montupet strike in Northern Ireland), as have the GMB.

We support the unity of workers and their organisations in struggle. However, there are circumstances when the right-wing leaders go so far in conciliating the bosses and siding with them in attacking their own members that a split within a union can occur.

Where the majority of workers see no alternative but to take such action, Marxists would have no alternative but to support them.

This was the situation with the majority of South African dockers in Durban who broke away from their corrupt official union and established their own separate union.

This union sought collaboration in action with workers who remained within the old union organisation.

Notwithstanding the class collaborationist role of the British union leaders, a similar situation has not yet occurred here.

We could not discount the indignation of union members at the inaction and sometimes outright betrayal by the union officialdom spilling over into demands for workers to leave a union and form a new organisation, in this situation all the factors would have to be weighed up carefully.

Precipitate action could isolate the militants, who sometimes can run ahead of the mass of union members - particularly those who are not active.

The British workers are also very slow to move and will not abandon organisations lightly, even ones which they see as heavily bureaucratised, before trying to change them again and again.

On the other hand if a majority move to set up a new union then Marxists would support it.

However this is the most unlikely scenario for the trade unions in Britain in the next period. It is more likely that unofficial movements will feed into official structures.

The transformation of the unions would not necessarily take the exact form of the 1960s or 70s. It is likely that the movement from below, rebuilding of shop stewards' committees with fresh forces, etc, will have to develop over a period before they affect the official structures.

However, this does not mean that we must turn our backs on the official organisations of the unions, which still retain a big latent authority amongst workers.

Marxists must work painstakingly within these structures, combining this with the necessary flair in unofficial movements.

It is above all necessary to avoid the crude rank and filism put forward by the Merseyside ex-comrades.

We can understand workers, betrayed by right-wing leaders, like the heroic Liverpool dock workers, venting their frustration and threatening to leave, or even actually leaving, the trade unions.

But it is a different question when it comes to 'Marxists' who purport to offer leadership to these workers.

They are merely repeating within the trade union arena the blunders of the ultra-left WRP. They indignantly dispute this, writing: 'When Merseyside opposed the bland perspectives for the transformation of the unions they were accused of abandoning the official structures.' Yet at the end of the dockers' strike, when Dave Cotterill shared a platform with Teresa Mackay, he publicly dissociated himself from her call for the dockers to turn into the TGWU and begin to transform it.

After this meeting, the Women of the Waterfront approached Teresa and said they agreed more with her perspective than they did with Dave Cotterill despite the respect that they had for him for his role during the dockers' strike.

The tendency to ignore the official structures was an ever-present theme on the part of the Merseyside comrades during the dock workers' dispute.

Prompted by Dave Cotterill, the Merseyside organisation, which only infrequently discussed at aggregate meetings the progress of the dispute, opposed the call for the TGWU to make the strike official.

This was challenged by Roger Bannister who, with the full support of Bill Mullins, our national industrial organiser, and the Executive Committee, wrote in Members Bulletin 25 (December 1997):

The whole discussion about the role of the TGWU bureaucracy brings into question our attitude to the bureaucracy, how we expose them to the rank and file and what demands we seek to have the rank and file put upon them.

Treacherous leaderships are exposed in the course of struggle as their policies and tactics are seen to be lacking.

Thus the ground is often prepared to replace them. If no demands are placed upon them, they are 'off the hook' and the impression is given that the leadership is irrelevant to the outcome of the struggle.

It is in this light that the demand to make the dispute official has to be viewed, rather than as 'opening up a second front'.

In the run-up to the Biennial Delegate Conference (BDC) of the TGWU in 1997, when Bill Mullins urged the Merseyside comrades to press the dockers to attend and demand official support for the strike, this was dismissed out of hand by Dave Cotterill.

He said that the BDC was of no consequence. And yet he has the brass neck to write in his document: 'Their "victory" at the BDC in overturning the GEC's resolution of non-support for the dockers, showed that the dockers had not turned their backs on the official structures. However, given the weakness of the left and the absence of any mass pressure, Morris was simply able to continue ignoring the dockers' struggle.'

We have never argued that the dockers by themselves had 'turned their backs on the official structures'.

Our dispute has been with Dave Cotterill, who had been urging such a course on the dockers. Unbelievably, he seeks to recruit Peter Taaffe for his ultra-left posturing on the issue of official support for the strike.

He quotes Peter's interview with the journal of the DSP, which he interprets as supporting his position.

This was an interview, in which it is not possible to always give a precise definition of what is intended.

However, the full quote, rather than the partial selection in the Merseyside document, gives a sense of what Peter was arguing:

The dockers have shown colossal resilience, and inspired a marvellous international movement which had in one day 23 ports around the world taking action in solidarity.

It has revived rank-and-file activity internationally. In this situation, when it was raised by some sections of the left that we demand the official intervention of the Transport and General Workers' Union, the dockers said no and we agreed with them.

They want to use the TGWU building in Liverpool; they want financial assistance. But they don't want any control in the hands of the national leadership of the union.

They do allow one national official, Jack Anderson [should be Jack Adams], to negotiate but all the dock shop stewards are alongside him and every decision is reported back to the 500 strikers who turn up religiously every Friday to hear the report back.

I think this is a sign of the way things are going to evolve given the bureaucratic blockages at the tops of the unions.

Only by ignoring everything else that the national leadership of the Socialist Party argued during the docks dispute would 'It be possible to interpret opposition to 'the official intervention of the TGWU' as opposition to calling on the national leadership of the TGWU to give official support for the strike.

There is a difference between calling for official support at national level and ensuring the control of disputes remains in the hands of those workers who are prosecuting the struggle.

However, the Merseyside ex-comrades give the game away when they write: 'As argued by Merseyside in the amendments to the British Perspectives document in 1997, the union leaders have largely isolated themselves from the pressures of the rank and file by altering the democratic structures.'

The reasoning of the comrades is that the battery of anti-trade union laws now means that official support for workers' action is ruled out.

This is quite wrong. In Unison, as a result of the pressure exerted by our members and the CFDU, the national leadership of Unison, including Rodney Bickerstaffe, was dragged kicking and screaming into officially organising a national demonstration on the minimum wage on 10 April, 1999.

Moreover, when, in 1998, a witchhunt was organised against Glen Kelly, a Socialist Party member of Unison, Michael Morris declared, at the March 1998 national committee meeting, that there was 'not a hope in hell' that the witchhunt could be defeated.

Energetic campaigning by the left as a whole did defeat this witchhunt although, of course, it has not deterred the bureaucracy from further attacks on the left.

This shows that the false position of Merseyside on the unions is not an abstract issue, but leads to pessimistic and wrong conclusions as to the possibilities of struggle both within and outside the unions.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. All the protestations of Merseyside that we distort their position by saying that they want to bypass the struggle within the official structures was answered by the statements of their supporters in debates in the Merseyside organisation.

When supporters of the national leadership, in one aggregate meeting, pointed to our success in having comrades elected to official national positions in the National Union of Teachers, the riposte of Richard Knights - one of the supporters of Dave Cotterill on Merseyside - was that this was of 'no consequence whatsoever'.

This was met with indignation from long-standing teacher comrades who, unlike Richard Knights, had struggled long and hard for a left majority on the National Executive Committee of the union.

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