Time to take principles seriously
The Socialist Platform’s claim to the mantle of principled politics is entirely bogus, says Daniel Harvey
Some may recall that on September 14 2013 the drafters of Left Unity’s Socialist Platform in Left Unity and their supporters found themselves voting against basic principles like extreme democracy, opposition to the bourgeois constitution, working class formations being organised “democratically, not bureaucratically”, “human freedom” and communism. The Vauxhall meeting decided that the platform as drafted could not be changed and that the amendments submitted would be subject only to an “indicative vote”. Yet the ‘group of four’ who originally drafted the platform – not least Nick Wrack – still could not bring themselves to support them.
Comrade Wrack is also a leading figure in the Independent Socialist Network, which has brought together individual supporters of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition who are not members of the Socialist Party in England and Wales or the Socialist Workers Party. The ISN has just had a special conference, which adopted the (unamended) Socialist Platform as its own, so now the ISN operates within both Left Unity and Tusc on the same political basis.
Unsurprisingly, the Socialist Platform does not mention its Vauxhall fiasco, let alone try to justify it publicly. In fact, to read the latest ISN bulletin, entitled ‘Support the Socialist Platform’, you would not know that Vauxhall ever happened at all. Mind you, much of the bulletin is a reprint of what had been published back in August of last year, including in this paper.1 Nonetheless, we are told how important it is to “lay solid socialist foundations”, because “those who believe that fudging the aims and principles … are a quicker way to achieve support will find very quickly that it is not”. Therefore it is important to “get things right at the beginning”, whilst winning people “slowly” to “principled positions”.
It even has a few paragraphs about language, and how often opposition to the use of Marxist language has nothing to do with accessibility, but really “hides the real objection, which is to the ideas of socialism themselves, not the way they are presented”. This obviously will cause some confusion among those who attended the meeting in Vauxhall, and heard those who drafted the SP statement, and Nick Wrack in particular, object to an important amendment on the “withering away of the state” after a revolution, because they thought the word “withering” was not accessible, and people would not know what it meant. But we are helpfully assured that “we welcome criticism, suggestions for improvement, additions”.2 Not from the CPGB though, clearly.
The only amendment that was accepted to the Socialist Platform (before the Vauxhall meeting) was put forward by a friend of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Moshé Machover, which called for “opposition to all imperialist wars and military interventions”. This certainly added to the platform, but it had a second purpose: to try and ensure the SP would not accept the support of the notoriously social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. However, a majority of the September 14 meeting appeared convinced by Martin Thomas waving a copy of Solidarity, with its headline against “US bombs” in Syria, to vote against a motion declaring support for the AWL leadership incompatible with supporting the Socialist Platform.
That decision turned out unsurprisingly to be embarrassing, as (another) horrendous article by Sean Matgamna – the grandfather of the AWL, so to speak, whose Vogon-style ‘poetry’ proudly adorns its website – has since come to light, in which he chauvinistically ranted against world Islam. Its most atrocious passage bears reproducing:
Like desert tribes of primitive Muslim simplicity and purity enviously eyeing a rich and decadent walled city and sharpening their knives, or country folk in former Yugoslavia eyeing a city like Dubrovnik, so, now, much of the Islamic world looks with envy, covetousness, religious self-righteousness and active hostility on the rich, decadent, infidel-ridden, sexually sinful advanced capitalist societies.3
The article was reposted twice – once approvingly, and once with some critical comments – on far-right websites allied to the English Defence League and other nationalist and anti- Islamic groups.4
As you might expect, none of this is mentioned in the ISN bulletin either – or anywhere on the ISN website or by Nick Wrack himself. All we do know is that Nick thought excluding AWL loyalists from the platform would “send the wrong message”.5 Quite what that message could be is difficult to comprehend – maybe it would be something like: ‘People whose politics is laced with social-imperialism cannot be principled socialists’. Nothing “wrong” with that.
The only half-decent attempt to justify the decision to allow the AWL social-imperialists to remain part of the Socialist Platform has come, as far as I know, from one of our former members, Chris Strafford, who is currently clinging to Nick’s coat tails on the Socialist Platform steering committee. He writes on Facebook:
On the AWL, people have very short memories, but I would suggest that comrades have a think about who the CPGB formed a pro-party bloc with in 2003 in the Socialist Alliance and which of their comrades was one the initial signatories next to the AWL’s Janine Booth. So any kind of nonsense against the AWL being involved in the Socialist Platform was just hypocrisy in the service of sectarianism.6
The first part of this is partially true: the CPGB was involved in the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform, alongside the AWL and others. It was part of the forlorn attempted to stop the liquidation of the Socialist Alliance, by the SWP and International Socialist Group (now Socialist Resistance) – supported by their ally at the time, Nick Wrack, funnily enough. That was in order to set up Respect, on the popular frontist political basis masterminded by John Rees (I do not know in what sense the Democracy Platform was a “pro-party bloc”, however).
In fact there had been joint meetings between the respective leaderships of the CPGB and AWL between 2000 and 2003. All of this is published on our website and easily accessible, but it bears no comparison to the acceptance of the AWL into the Socialist Platform. There is nothing inherently unprincipled about forming an alliance with another group for a specific purpose, even if you fundamentally disagree with them on other important issues. But in the case of the SP the group in question fundamentally disagrees with an important part of what we are supposed to be uniting for!
Was the AWL’s social-imperialism evident back then? Yes, it certainly was, and it was becoming more apparent after the September 11 2001 attack on the World Trade Center – it really came to the fore after the invasion of Iraq. The question here is, did we challenge the AWL by publicly criticising its positions for what they were at the time? Or did we pretend they did not exist and keep our mouths shut about them, as some Socialist Platform office holders are doing now?
It is clear that the CPGB did challenge the AWL. We disagreed publicly with its horrid line on Nato and challenged it to debate whether the war in Afghanistan was imperialist or not. The AWL considered the invasion more of a neutral, humanitarian exercise. The CPGB also challenged it on its position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and refusal to accept a Palestinian right of return.
One of the big disagreements we in the CPGB had with the AWL back then was caused by its ridiculous auto- Labourism, which was exemplified in its enthusiasm for the election of Tony Blair in 1997.7 That is not to say the AWL did not do a sudden about-face when the so-called ‘mask’ obscuring Blair’s real Thatcherite intentions slipped away. Peter Manson challenged Janine Booth when she stood for the London Socialist Alliance in the Greater London Authority elections as early as the year 2000: “So do you think the AWL was wrong to call for a Labour vote on May 1 1997?” Janine Booth replied: “Not at all. The main task then was to get rid of the Tories to put working class politics centre-stage.”8
Of course, Labourism and imperialism go together hand in glove, so it should not have been a surprise to us or anyone else when the infamous moment came that the CPGB’s John Bridge was told by Martin Thomas after the Iraq invasion that “the right side won”. Usually the AWL is more circumspect on such matters, being ‘neither for nor against’ things like the occupation of Iraq, the threat by Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear sites or the bombing of Yugoslavia by Nato.
In all of these things the CPGB was not silent, but the Socialist Platform now is, and has no objection to AWL participation in a political platform which has explicitly ruled out support for “imperialist wars and military interventions”. This is clearly not principled. Either remove the clause against imperialist wars or keep it and boot them out – it is that simple. But the idea that you can justify your current hypocrisy by some previous non-existent love-in between the CPGB and the AWL is farcical.
But the problem is not just that leading supporters of the SP obviously have such disregard for their own stated principles. It is also that, by rejecting and voting against amendments like the ones mentioned above, the comrades are purposely not stating things which would clarify where they stand.
Ambiguities never benefit the left, only ever the right. So, for example, the CPGB proposal for the Socialist Alliance left nothing to chance in this respect. We proposed it adopt a full minimum-maximum programme, which specified exactly what the intentions of a Socialist Alliance party would be.9
In this sense, the case of Simon Hardy’s changing relationship with the Socialist Platform is instructive. Originally his position had been that insisting on the divide between a reformist and revolutionary programme in Left Unity “misses the point”, and that because we are attempting such a “desperate rearguard action” as a movement, we have to accept working on a political basis which does not delineate between fundamentally different political approaches. That is, we need to get the movement going again to save the surviving fragments of the welfare state.10 But, in flat contradiction to this, he rejects the idea that he is a left reformist, and has effectively stated in his most recent article, after a lot of the usual polite hedging and throat-clearing, that Left Unity has not got a cat in hell’s chance of bringing about socialism. In fact:
The most disastrous course would be for revolutionaries to survey the terrain of the class struggle, conclude that it is not revolutionary and then abandon their organisations and politics for a purely reformist approach.11
This is great, of course, as far as it goes, but the fact remains that he was in support of the Left Party Platform, until his amendments changing the Eurocommunist clauses on the state were rejected at the November 30 conference. He has since stated that he ended up voting for the Socialist Platform instead because of this. But, hang on, the Socialist Platform says nothing about the role of the state. Only the Communist Platform spells this out, so why not vote for the CP? In fact the Socialist Platform represents a reasonably safe fallback position for those still wanting to leave the door open for reformists in Left Unity, unfortunately.
This is why the Socialist Platform can properly be called centrist - as opposed to the supporters of the LPP, who have given up and gone over to outright reformism in practice. It is the faux leather version of a revolutionary position. In practice it constitutes another roadblock to real revolutionary politics, handing the political initiative to the right.
In reality, Nick Wrack and the rump Socialist Platform have taken two steps back. Therefore the stubborn refusal to vote for principled politics, the apologetics for the AWL and the ignorant and unfounded attacks on the CPGB. Hence the need for the Communist Platform.
So in a few weeks time, the Communist Platform will be having its founding meeting for supporters. Here we will decide what a real Marxist approach in Left Unity will be. That will inevitably mean not just a visionary maximum programme, but the basic elements of a minimum programme: ie, the immediate demands that will help get us there. It will also mean demands for extreme democracy that some leading supporters of the Socialist Platform appear incapable of comprehending.
1. ‘Resistance and socialist change’ Weekly Worker August 8.
5. ‘Headlong collapse into politics of the labour bureaucracy’ Weekly Worker September 19 2013.
7. ‘AWL contradictions’ Weekly Worker February 10 2000.
8. ‘Engage with real politics’ Weekly Worker February 3 2000.
10. See, for instance, https://www.facebook.com/ simon.hardy2?fref=ts.
Originally published in the Weekly Worker.