Dave Isaacson responds to the Revo national committee
The letter from the Revolution national committee claims to be a response to the letter sent to them by the Communist Students executive, yet it completely fails to deal with the issues which we raised. For the most part it is simply a restatement of their belief that there a great opportunities for a national student coordination and that the task of revolutionaries is to throw themselves into building it. Where the Revo NC does seek to engage with CS they blatantly misrepresent our positions.
They write: “The inconsistency of CS is astonishing. When wildcat strikes took place at the Lindsey oil refinery and Staythorpe brandishing the slogan ‘British jobs for British workers’, CS decided to support the strike. We are now left with the bizarre situation in which CS does not support a ‘radical coordination of student struggles’, but does support a strike with a reactionary goal: British workers first, before migrants”.
We are quite clear – despite the lofty hyperbole there is not actually a real radical coordination to support – if there was then we would be in it arguing for the politics of Marxism.
We are also clear that Lindsey was a strike that required critical support. Yes, many of the workers may have had all sorts of strange ideas and illusions in their heads but that is the nature of things when workers move for the first time. It is struggle and politics that decide.
Moreover, it is slightly odd that you lump us together with the out and out uncritical supporters of the strike, such as the Communist Party of Britain, who have banned us from their new electoral adventure, No2EU. Why? Our ‘ultra-left’ opposition to the strike, apparently.
Elsewhere you argue that “Communist Students have wrongly counter-posed the need for uniting students in struggle to the need for a revolutionary communist students organisation”. This is something we explicitly argued against in our letter where we state that “Communists must always be at the centre of the struggles of our class.” Indeed, Revo and CS were both involved together in the Leeds occupation for Gaza, likewise our other comrades threw themselves into this wave of protest right across the country. Take a look at our website to see the reports.
But throughout this work we argued for Marxist politics and for a communist organisation. Without such an organisation how can we win effective working class or student unity?
Unity is all well and good, but we cannot build unity and a new movement through some lowest common denominator lash-up. To achieve real unity on the left we must first challenge all the wrong-headed opportunist nonsense that passes for common sense on the left today. That does not mean that we cannot work together in common actions in the meantime. Indeed this is very important, and can actually heighten the discussion of differences and pinpoint exactly where we agree and where we differ, as our comrades involved in the Sheffield University occupation have experienced recently. But these issues of dispute cannot be pushed to the back in order to facilitate some cosy compromise deal. How we unite in action is of fundamental importance.
On the CS website, Revo comrade Simon Hardy posted up some more constructive comments. He argued that a new movement will have to be built “in debate and discussion, principally amongst the already existing organisations and activists”.
But then Simon went on to argue that: “The stop the war movement was built without ‘marxist’ unity … and mobilised millions. How could we have built that if the left instead focussed its energies on debate and discussion as an a priori process before action? That is a recipe for passivity and paralysis.”
What? You take action before thinking and discussing what you are going to do? This is voluntaristic anarchism, not Marxism.
Without any qualifications Simon holds up the Stop the War Coalition as a positive example. Certainly we agree that its programme of opposition to war was not one that was based on Marxism. But this is not something to celebrate! STWC’s politics were based upon pacifism, Stalinism, and Labourism, along with overtures to outright liberalism and a cosy seat at the table for Islamism.
Now we would not have opposed the involvement in STWC actions of people with any of these ideas. But when the ‘Marxists’ of the SWP (who Revo share a common methodology with) uncritically promoted those with these politics and failed to put forward a Marxist/proletarian internationalist alternative it is not something we applaud. It was not an example of the united front – certainly not in the way that the Bolsheviks described it.
On the issue of numbers, perhaps the fact that STWC had such broad, shallow politics meant that some people who would not have been comfortable with a proletarian internationalist stance got involved when they wouldn’t have otherwise. But the opposition to the war was going to be massive anyway, reflecting a genuine anger from below, as well as splits within the ruling class.
Yet the involvement of the masses swiftly ebbed away. Was this down to a hard turn to Marxism on the part of STWC? Of course not. But it can partly be explained by the absence of Marxism – a politics that could genuinely explain the world situation, the nature of imperialism, and the route to success – in STWC.
“How can Revolution unite with the AWL as ‘Marxists’ when we fundamentally disagree on major issues (imperialism, resistance movement, Palestine) and so on?” asks Simon.
1) Simon, were there no differences on “major issues” in the Bolshevik party? Imperialism? Insurrection? To a large degree these differences can be ‘overcome’ through democratic centralism as an organisational principle.
By this we do not mean gagging critical minorities in public, getting members to sign up to an almost religious set of beliefs (a la Revo and Workers Power). What we are interested in is a programme of definite demands and goals of Marxism – which members are asked to accept as the basis of common action, not necessarily agree to. This is a crucial distinction that Lenin and the Bolshevik faction upheld as the basis for revolutionary unity at the start of the twentieth century.
2) Nowhere do we suggest that revolutionary unity can be won without a fierce ideological battle against opportunism on the left. Unity is not a slogan which can be won with a flick of a magic wand; it is something we have to fight for in a culture of open, sharp and frank exchange in front of the class. Again, read the Bolshevik press and its open publication of disagreements and differences between leading members.
3) Lastly, while debating the united front is useful and throws some light on the issue, it does not directly address the issue of this student coordination as this will not be a united front. The Comintern policy of the united front is about unity of the working class movement as a whole – as a way for the Comintern’s parties to win over the rank-and-file of mass organizations the majority of workers were aligned to such as the SPD or the Italian Socialist Party.
It is not about the small campaigns or blocs composed of tiny sects and individual activists. This is what today’s left tends to call ‘united fronts’, but they are wrong. That does not mean to say that such campaigns and blocs cannot take us forward and be useful, but we are kidding ourselves if we think they are united fronts.
As we have said, this particular bloc – the student coordination – is being proposed on vastly insufficient politics. It is being consciously set up on a non-Marxist basis. This is why it is risible for you to suggest that our Marxism is a “comfort blanket” which we can snuggle around to avoid having to put forward a strategy for students.
Our strategy is that radicalised students need to be won to the politics of communism – ie the mass party, the fight for extreme democracy, independent working class political action, and proletarian internationalism.
This needs to be expressed concretely in relation to the struggles we face today. Let us take the issue of Gaza and the protests and occupations that took place recently. Will Revo, in the name of unity, fudge this question and concede political space to Zionism when it comes to this student coordination? Despite an initial reluctance on the part of their student organiser, Sacha Ismail, the AWL has now jumped onboard and are supporting the call for a student coordination. This poses sharply the problem that we highlighted in our first letter to Revo – and which they fail to address; the question of what politics they want the coordination to be based upon. So far the AWL and Revo seem to be getting along very cosily, which clearly must be an issue for a coordination which is supposed to build upon the Gaza solidarity movement. After all it was the AWL who opted to denounce the fantastic outpouring of anger at Israel’s actions as being characterised by “Islamo-fascism”. Somehow some AWL students managed to square this with involvement in the student occupations, but even then they argued that the left is “confused about the meaning of Zionism”. A fudged unity will not help the Palestinians, other oppressed groups, or the working class – it would only set us back.
We will attend the meeting on April 18 and argue for what we think is necessary: the politics of Marxism. On the question of Palestine this cannot mean conceding any ground to Zionism. We must put forward a proletarian internationalist position of opposition to Israeli occupation; for the right of return for all Palestinians; for solidarity with secular working class forces; and for the smashing of the Zionist state. Put another way, this means revolution.