Communist University 2012 – August 20-26

Communist University 2012 starts on Monday August 20 at 2pm. Because of the Olympic Games, we have moved to a new venue:
Glenthurston Apartments, 30 Bromley Rd. London, SE6 2TP

5 min walk from Catford railway station – there are trains leaving London Bridge Station every 10-15 minutes. Click here for a map.

Our annual school – the Communist University – takes place in a world in great flux. Given its explanatory power and practical programme, Marxism has huge potential in this period – a potential that is irresponsibly squandered by the sectarian in-fighting and opportunism of the Marxist groups. Communist University points a way out of this mess. Over seven days of intense and open discussion, comrades from a variety of left political backgrounds teach and learn from each other. Differences between comrades are debated in fiercely partisan ways – but without the fear of excommunication that characterises the confessional sects of much of the rest of the left. The aim is clarity and fight to show the relevance of contemporary Marxism to the huge battles the workers’ movement will soon be squaring up to.

Come and join us this year and make your contribution to the job of politically tooling our side up for war.


Pause for thought

We do not live in a democracy, we live in a ‘rule of law’ state, argues Mike Macnair

The Christmas vacation will inevitably involve a pause in the student campaign against fee rises and cuts in universities and colleges and – in the 6th forms and further education sector – in defence of the education maintenance allowance (EMA). This is in the nature of things: it is harder for students to mobilise out of term. The pause will be and should be a pause for thought: where does the campaign go when everyone comes back next term?

This article is an attempt to contribute to that process of thought. I don’t want to claim that its answers are certainly right or should be the end of a discussion, but rather to contribute to the necessary discussion. I offer three basic points.

First: the use of force against the Con-Dems, their paymasters, and the paymasters’ other agents, is morally justified. This point has to be emphasised and repeated as often as it takes, because we are already seeing a media campaign against ‘violence’ and fraudulent allegations that it is the work of ‘infiltrators’, and we will certainly see more of this crap in the next period.

Second, and however: the display of student anger through what remain minority attempts to use force has real tactical limits, and those limits are rapidly approaching. We have seen militant demonstrations which have displayed a laudable fighting spirit. But when the police have had their act together – which has varied – the numbers have not been enough to break the ‘kettles’ or to deter police attacks. The demonstrators represent broader support, but remain a minority. The movement needs to dig deeper into building up and connecting with the mass support – so far passive – for the cause, which certainly exists.

Third: the movement needs to aim higher in what it fights for. Immediate defence of what exists against the Con-Dems’ obvious attempt to make it worse is an understandable starting point. But ‘what exists’ is already massively deformed by previous neo-liberal ‘reforms’ and the existing student fees arrangements. So there is a risk that by sticking to ‘defence of what exists’ the pass is sold: the campaign lacks an alternative vision, the Con-Dems are able to win grudging acceptance of the principle of their attack from people who aren’t students, lecturers or otherwise immediately involved, and the mobilisation peters out in a grumbling retreat.

The responsibility for aiming higher rests in the first place with the left. United campaigns are excellent. But we also need a united party of the Marxist left to intervene in the public debates about the issue with an alternative to the neo-liberal ‘human capital’ theory of education which claims that education recipients should pay for ‘what they get’.

Justified force

The use of force by demonstrators – from the assault on Millbank to fighting back against the police kettles, to attempting to put fear on the royals – is morally justified. This is, as I said, the first and most fundamental point. It is the most fundamental because we are already having it drummed into us, and will hear it over and over again, that it is morally unjustified, will damage the campaign, is the work of ‘extremists’ and ‘infiltrators’, and so on.

Fortunately, the initial gut reaction of many people to the ‘student unrest’ has been “good on them!” The Daily Mail was most disappointed to find in a poll of its readers that the majority still supported students. This was almost certainly an artificial result; but the artificial poll result reflected a certain reality: relatively few people are led by the ‘violence’ to want to express an opinion against the students.

However, the tidal wave of media against the most militant students will inevitably shift the climate to some extent. It is hard, if you are constantly lied to over a prolonged period, to hang on even to prior knowledge inconsistent with the lies – let alone to hang on to a mere gut instinct that it’s a good thing someone is fighting. We need to counter this wave of lies by explaining, patiently, over and over again, why the use of force against this government is morally justified.

The basic starting point is that the use of force is a normal and humdrum element of modern capitalist society (and of all the societies that went before it back to the beginnings of class society). Suppose you don’t pay your rent, mortgage or taxes. A court order will be obtained and bailiffs will come to enforce it. If significant resistance is anticipated, the bailiffs will be backed up by the police. Suppose you arm yourself sufficiently to drive the police away (say, with a gun) police marksmen will come and kill you. Suppose, like the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, in 1993, a larger group of you arm yourself sufficiently to defeat the police marksmen, full-scale military weapons (tanks and artillery) will be used against you.

Such extreme cases are rare. But this rarity is because most people, most of the time, think that the law is legitimate and acceptable and put up with it, even if they grumble, when they lose out by law. For those who don’t put up, the ordinary humdrum laws remain backed by willingness of the state, if push comes to shove, to use extreme force to enforce them.

The escalation does not always happen. Sometimes the state backs off from law enforcement. For this to happen there have to be either powerful interests opposed to the law, or broad masses of people who think that the law, or its enforcement in this case, is illegitimate.

The ‘powerful interests’ type of case can be seen in the Sunday trading confrontation of 1994, where the large retailers faced down the government, or the fuel duty protests of 2000, where the oil companies backed the trucker protesters and the government backed down.

The ‘mass hostility’ type of case can be seen in the mass squatting movement of 1946, in the case of the Pentonville Five in 1972, where spreading mass strike action defeated the court order to jail the dockers, and in the poll tax struggles of 1989-91 – especially in Scotland, where mass resistance inflicted partial defeats on the bailiffs.

Sunday trading and the fuel duty protests in reality had also an element of mass support behind the opposition to the laws. Christians and shop worker unions did not succeed in persuading a majority that the Sunday trading laws were an acceptable use of state power. Nor did green campaigners succeed in persuading a majority on the fuel duty escalator. Without that mass backing, the state could not face down the retailers’ or the truckers’ defiance of the law.

Law in general claims to set the limits of the legitimate use of force. Most people most of the time accept it as doing so. Even people who are in jail for crimes, though they may think that they ought not to be in jail, mostly think the laws in general justify the use of force against (other) criminals. Conversely, the law defines what counts as ‘force’ in public argument. Action which is legal is called ‘peaceful’ though it involves coercing others; action which is illegal is called ‘violent’ though it is initially merely unlawful entry into property or sitting down in the street.

As the examples of defeats of the law given above show, the enforcement of laws ultimately rests on mass consent to the use of force to enforce them. If broad masses withdraw their consent to a particular law or a particular use of law, the use of force to enforce it may become impracticable.

The consent rests on two pillars. The first is the belief that the laws in general are broadly just. No-one thinks – for example – that the laws against murder, rape or burglary should be abolished. The second pillar is mass acceptance of, or ‘putting up with’, the state as such, or of the constitution. Thus we are constantly told by politicians and the media that ‘violent’ protest is unacceptable in a democracy. The idea is that the procedures by which laws are made bind us all to obey them.

This would be fair enough if we lived in a democracy. Law-making and elections would then be a means by which we take collective decisions; and the minority would have to accept that the majority is entitled to have the decision carried out, even if it is wrong or unjust.

But we do not live in a democracy. We live, on the contrary, in a ‘rule of law’ state. And what this means is that the state is fundamentally committed to defending the interests of property owners and creditors, even if this costs the lives of non-owners and debtors. This commitment is expressed strategically in the ‘rule of law’ itself, but more immediately in the form of institutional corruption.

Elections to parliament are fundamentally governed by institutional corruption and fraud, through the role of the advertising-funded media. Lawsuits and judicial law-making are similarly governed by corruption through the ‘free market in legal services’. The 2010 election was unusually fraudulent, because none of the parties were telling the truth about what they intended to do in relation to the cuts.[1]

Suppose a government has not been democratically elected, but still makes only just laws (like the law against murder). The law would remain a proper moral guide to the legitimate use of force: not because of the procedure by which the law was made, but because of its content.

Suppose, however, a government does not have a democratic basis, but proceeds to make unjust laws. Now there is no case for regarding the law as setting the limits of the legitimate use of force from the content of the law itself; and there is no case for regarding the law as defining the limits of the legitimate use of force from the procedures by which the law has been created. The legislators have, in effect, become criminals: and the use of force against them is just as much morally justified as the use of force against any other criminal.

This is the present situation. The financial industry got itself into deep trouble through speculation. We can admit that this was a necessary consequence of the normal development of the business cycle from boom to bubble: while it lasted, the financiers were still very well paid. The outgoing Labour government then used vast amounts of taxpayers’ money, borrowed money and simply invented money to bail out the financial industry. Now the new government – of parties which were very heavily funded by financiers – proposes that the rest of society should pay for the resulting debts. But the financial industry and the ‘savers’ who gained from the speculation are not – except at trivial levels of new regulations – to pay. Oh no: that would be to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

This result is unjust. I do not mean by this that it is not in accord with a transhistorical value of justice or with some general moral standard of distributive justice. I mean that it is conduct which is unjust by the standards of capitalist society: if it was done by anyone other than a government, it would be recognised as theft and attract a substantial jail term.[2]

What we have with the Con-Dem cuts project is theft from the general public, protected by the fact that the electoral system is institutionally corrupt. This fact lies behind the widespread gut feeling that student demonstrators’ expressions of anger by using force are ‘OK’. It lies particularly behind the hostility to the Lib Dem MPs who voted for the fee rise, whose promise to vote against student fee increases turns out to have been in substance dishonestly obtaining MPs’ and ministerial salaries by deception, contrary to section 15 Theft Act 1968 – or, at best, to dishonestly making off without payment, contrary to section 3 Theft Act 1978.

The gut feeling is there because it is true. It is morally justified to use force against the Con-Dems, against their paymasters, and against their paymasters’ other agents.

Tactically limited

A guy points a gun at you and demands your money. It is morally justified to use force to resist him. But this does not mean that it is always the best practical thing to do. On a larger scale, when William the Bastard brought his large gang of armed robbers into England in 1066, the English were certainly morally entitled to fight; but Harold Godwinson would have been better advised to wait for reinforcements rather than – as he did – marching immediately to fight the invasion at Hastings with small forces.

The student direct actions of the last few weeks have not been a real attempt to coerce the Con-Dems by the use of force into giving up their attack. Rather, the use of force has been a – strong – display of anger: a way of dramatically reinforcing the message of the strength of feeling against the government’s unjust scheme for privatising higher education and dumping the cost on graduates. The anger has been displayed. Where next?

One possibility is to try to up the ante: more occupations, more street-fighting, and so on. Meanwhile, the government has upped the ante with more kettling and longer lasting kettles, police cavalry charges, an OTT legal charge of ‘violent disorder’ against Charlie Gilmore over the ‘Cenotaph flag’ incident, and so on. In practice, it is likely that a good part of next term’s student political effort will have to be put into defence of those victimised after these protests. Meanwhile, the government has threatened to up the ante with kite-flying for the use of water cannon.

Where does escalation lead? One historical possibility is May 1968 – all too fresh in the memory of many of today’s leaders of the far left. The injustice of the government’s actions is kept fresh in people’s minds by the street-fighting and brings to mind all the government’s other injustices; workers begin to come out on unofficial strikes, initially in protest against the repression; the political order is thrown into crisis. A more extreme version would be February 1917: both sides up the ante until the government begins to make more widespread use of lethal force; people get killed, but the illegal strikes and street fighting go on: the cops and soldiers begin to refuse orders to fire on demonstrators. That would, of course, be a revolutionary crisis. In these patterns, the initial minority action brings out the broader masses and by doing so brings down the administration and its projects – or, in extreme cases, the state.

Another historical possibility is the fate of direct action supporters in the US and Germany (and other countries) growing out of the later 1960s student movement. The workers do not come out; the street fighting does not trigger a revolutionary crisis. The majority become demoralised and retreat. A minority who are still determined on direct action conclude that ‘you do need a Weatherman’: what you need is more effective use of force against the government and capitalist criminals. Minority direct action slips over into individual terrorism. Terrorism becomes a ground for more widespread repression and consolidates a bloc of political support round the government.

Which is the more likely outcome of a policy of continuation or escalation of minority use of force by the most militant students in 2011? Regrettably, the answer at the moment is the second. There is considerable anger among broad masses at the Con-Dem coalition and its cuts threat. But we have not reached the point which Lenin famously and perceptively identified as the moment of revolutionary crisis: when the rulers cannot go on in the old way and the ruled will not go on in the old way.

Revolutionary crises are less like earthquakes which come completely out of the blue, more like storms which are (usually) preceded by signs warning of the coming storm. The last period has been one of acute weakness of the workers’ movement and low and until recently declining levels of strike action. It is true that this decline has probably bottomed out and that strike action has begun, very slightly, to rise. But the movement remains very weak. In this context, the student direct actions have to be seen as at most a harbinger of a future storm: not its immediate starting point.

The reality this implies is that minority student direct action is unlikely even to mutate into terrorism. If people stick with the direct action tactic past its initial legitimate and effective effect as an expression of anger, it is likely that they will in effect be banging their heads on police batons in preference to finding a brick wall to bang them on. And the result will probably be really what Tory and Blairite commentators call it: ‘1970s re-enactment’, but without much impact.

Dig deeper

What has been said above is not an objection to the use of force or illegal action as such. It is merely a point about the tactical limits of minority forcible action.

What follows from it is the need to work to increase the numbers actively involved. It is necessary to dig deeper into the broader passive support for the demonstrations and hostility to the government’s project.

This sort of work is less spectacular, more tedious and more localised than direct actions. It means unambiguous recognition that the advertising-funded media is part of the enemy, not an instrument that can be used by the movement. It therefore implies building up counter-networks of communication to allow the activists to speak with the broader masses without media filtering.

E-forms of communication have been creatively used, but in spite of their potential they have their own limits.

Print is needed to make more sustained arguments: leaflets and regular campaign bulletins or local alternative press can counter the integration of the mainstream student press into the ‘journalism career ladder’.

Face to face argument and contact are needed to engage effectively with the arguments put in circulation by the enemy: student activists should be thinking of initiatives like, for example, canvassing the halls of residence door to door. Regular open meetings, not limited to the ‘practicalities’ but discussing wider issues of policy as well, are vital. These spread ideas, develop the ability of activists to defend themselves in argument with the hesitant or the hostile, and can increase the number of activists and their solidarity.

For these tasks the student far left tends to substitute the idea of reconstructing, or democratising, the National Union of Students. A good example is provided by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s leaflet for the December 9 actions: a third of a column on local tasks, itself not bad; slightly more than a column on the NUS, the demand for an emergency NUS conference, and national unity of ‘activist’ student unions – pretty certainly diversionary.[3]

Treating the NUS as if it was a trade union has been a persistent weakness of the student left in the recent past. Focussing on the internal constitutional forms and mechanics of the NUS adds to this mistake the fundamental weakness of the recent policy of the far left in the real trade unions. That is, that the far left has given too much weight to efforts to win ‘left’ policy and elections within the normal bureaucratic framework of the unions, as opposed to efforts to rebuild the rank and file structures of the unions at the base and their effective relationship with their members.

Even so, I doubt any leftist trade union militant would argue for a main focus on the national bureaucratic game in the midst of an actual industrial dispute: and to the very limited extent that student unions can be analogised with trade unions at all, the present struggle with the government over fees is analogous to a dispute. The problem is to mobilise and to organise at the base.

Aim higher

The far left’s comments on the struggle over fees are overwhelmingly simply about the means of fighting this attack. Prominent in most of them is the idea of a student-worker alliance, to be created by students carrying the news of their struggle into the (currently very weak) trade union branches, trades councils, etc, and by giving picket-line solidarity to industrial disputes.[4] The implicit assumption is made that the campaign is simply to defeat this attack – not to fight for anything more.

The problem of building wider unity is necessarily connected to the issue of what the movement is fighting for. Certainly, trades councils (where they survive) and union branch meetings (perhaps, with luck, quorate) will be happy to pass supportive resolutions. Seeking mass support involves larger arguments. For many people who aren’t immediately contemplating going to university in the near future, the false logic of Dearing and Browne – that graduates are the main beneficiaries of higher education (HE) through increased wages, so graduates should pay for it – has some degree of purchase. Activists seeking to mobilise mass support will need to counter these arguments.

There are two possible responses. The first is to suggest ‘realistic’, merely marginal, changes. Thus the AWL leaflet remarks of the NUS that it (presumably meaning its leadership) “wants to tinker around the edges of the payment system but accepts as inevitable (desirable, even) the idea of education as a paid-for commodity.”

A variant is to assert that the money can come from somewhere else – without answering the argument of principle. Thus the Socialist Workers Party suggests that bank bonuses last year were higher than the total university income from student fees in the same year: “Take the bonuses and abolish fees!”[5]

The real alternative is to argue in principle against the idea that HE is or should be a commodity. A step in this direction is taken by the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain’s ‘Education workers’ advisory committee steering group’. “The Communist Party regards education not only as a service to individuals which should be provided regardless of ability to pay, but also as a centrally important basic industry vital for the development of all aspects of an advanced society.” They propose that raising UK corporation tax to the average in the G7 central capitalist countries would pay for higher education without fees.[6]

It’s a step in the right direction – but insufficient, for two reasons. The first is the question posed by the person who isn’t contemplating themselves or their kids going to university. OK, the money could be found by increasing corporation tax (assuming this didn’t lead to a flight of capital, causing the higher tax rate to bring in lower returns). But if corporation tax is to be increased, why spend it on students rather than on hospitals, or social services, or nurseries, or any of the other activities facing cuts?

The second reason is that the argument of principle – that education is “a centrally important basic industry vital for the development of all aspects of an advanced society” – is deeply ambiguous, because it is half-way to being within the terms of the nationalist argument that HE is essential to ‘British competitiveness’. Suppose it turned out that HE didn’t increase national competitiveness. Surely the CPB comrades would still think that it should be provided regardless of ability to pay. But why?

The answer is that education at all levels is not, and should not be, merely training to fill your future assigned role in society. It is, and should be, the provision of the means of access to the riches of choices and culture which the society is capable of providing. Governments ration it out and give it grudgingly in order to keep the poor in their place. HE is, and should be, education for power: for the ability to form your own rational opinions and participate in social discussions in the face of imperfect and contradictory information and uncertainty. This is a political right, an aspect of citizenship.

It is this political character of HE that – on the negative side – produces too many Oxford politics, philosophy and economics graduates in the leaderships of the main parties. It is this political character which makes it obviously and scandalously unjust that graduate MPs who studied under the old grants regime should pull the ladder of access to HE up behind themselves.

This political character means that HE should be available freely to all who want it. There are, of course, practical prerequisites – for example, it is no use trying to do a humanities degree without prior effective literacy or a science degree without fairly well-developed prior maths; but the real prerequisites are a lot lower than the hurdles which are set by the annual competition for university places. This approach, then, means fighting for an expansion of HE, not the mere maintenance of what already exists. It means in particular an expansion of adult education and mature access to university education.

What is involved in aiming higher is an alternative vision of society. For Browne, and the Con-Dems who have adopted his report, their vision is of a society purely governed by the capitalist market: in which everything has a price and nothing a value. The alternative is a society whose aim is the fullest and most rounded possible development of every human being. The name of that aim is communism.

Why aren’t the far left working away in this campaign to propagate this alternative vision of society, which also represents an alternative vision of the role of education? The answer is a combination of two illusions. The first is the illusion that ‘moderate demands but militant action’ (Tony Cliff) is the way forward. ‘Transitional demands’ and ‘the transitional method’, as interpreted by the modern Trotskyist left, is merely a variant on the same idea. The place it leads to is either the cul-de-sac of minority direct action, if we stick to the ‘militant action’ side; or merely tailing the Labourites, if we are willing to settle for less.

The second illusion is sectarianism. The SWP tries to speak to broad masses or ‘newly radicalising forces’ by blocs with the Labourites, and tries to ignore the rest of the far left ‘sects’. The same is true of the Socialist Party in England and Wales … and of the AWL … and so on. The same is most of the way true of the Morning Star’s CPB. But the result is that for each competing group, the level of political argument has to be lowered to fit the aim of a bloc with the Labourites. When broad masses or ‘newly radicalising forces’ are actually engaged in action, what they see of the left is 57 varieties – selling pretty much the same product.

The movement needs the vision of an alternative society that Marxism offers. To present that vision, however, we need to overcome sectarian divisions and create a real – even if, in the first place, small – communist party.
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  1. More detail on these points in my articles in this paper: ‘Sleaze is back’ July 20 2006; ‘It is not enough to call for abolition of anti-union laws’ April 8 2010; ‘From an instrument of deception’ April 29 2010.
  2. I do not mean by this to retract what I said a couple of weeks ago (‘Arming the resistance’ Weekly Worker December 2 2010) about the underlying motive of the cuts being to maintain London’s standing as a global financial centre. Theft is still theft when its underlying motive is not personal enrichment but (for example) to give someone else’s money to charity.
  3. Also and more detail in Dan Randall, ‘NUS fails to back its members: its members must turn it upside down’ December 7 2010,
  4. AWL leaflet, above n3, and editorial, Solidarity December 8; ‘Mass walkout shows the way – now let’s link up students and workers’ Workers’ Power November 27; ‘The fight goes on against fees and cuts’ The Socialist editorial December 8; ‘Workers’ support for students is key’ Socialist Worker December 18.
  5. Socialist Worker editorial December 11.
  6. ‘Education experts set out fair alternative to tuition fees’ Morning Star December 13.

Communist University 2010 (August 7-14)

Communist University 2010, summer school of the CPGB, will be held from August 7-14 in south London. Confirmed speakers so far include Lars T Lih, Hillel Ticktin, Yassamine Mather, Mike Macnair and Jack Conrad. For more information visit the Communist University blog, here.

Funding cuts in Oxford next year: The Breakdown

This post is written by Sean Ambler of Workers Power and is taken from the Anti-Cuts Oxford blog, which can be found here:

Oxford and Oxford Brookes universities face devastating funding cuts to their budgets for the next academic year. Teaching at Oxford will face a 12.16% cut in real terms (9.1% in cash terms), while Brookes will face 3.74% cut in real terms (0.37% in cash terms). This means that there is a shortfall of £8,333,000 for Oxford University teaching funding in real terms which to maintain current standards will have to be found by the university from elsewhere. Brookes’s equivalent figure is £1,141,000. If the universities are unable to find funding for cover this gap the student experience will decrease massively, meaning large class and tutorial sizes, less lectures, and less academic staff time for assisting students individually. For staff this will mean redundancies, pay cuts or freezes (real terms pay cuts) and high workload. For those wanting to enter academia it will mean the possibility of a total or near total hiring freeze by the Universities, meaning many will either join the dole queues or have to switch trades.

The Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE, have today released the figures for education funding for academic year 2010-11. Overall the budget has gone up in cash figures slightly by 0.4%, but with inflation running much higher this is actually a severe cut (Consumer Price Index at 3.5% and Retail Price Index at 3.7%, also these are government figures which are known to often underestimate real inflation).

Oxford and Oxford Brookes have both had a slightly higher total funding increase in cash terms than the national average, but this is still a severe cut overall.I will discuss the implications of this later, but first here are the figures and the percentage changes (some worked out by myself using figures from this year compared with the upcoming one).

Oxford University:

Teaching 2010-11: £60,195,000

Teaching 2009-10: £66,211,000

Teaching percent CUT: 9.1% in cash terms (12.16% when you include inflation at 3.5%)

Research 2010-11: £126,036,000

Research 2009-10: £119,434,000

Research percent rise:  5.53% in cash terms (a less impressive 1.96% increase when including inflation at 3.5%)

Total 2010-11: £188,131,000

Total 2009-10: £187,450,000

Total change: 0.36% in cash terms increase, 3% in real terms decrease with inflation at 3.5%

Oxford Brookes University:

Teaching 2010-11: £36,384,000

Teaching 2009-10: £36,520,00

Teaching percent CUT: 0.37% in cash terms (3.74% when you include inflation at 3.5%)

Research 2010-11: £4,273,000

Research 2009-10: £4,290,000

Research percent cut:  0.4% in cash terms (3.76% cut when including inflation at 3.5%)

Total 2010-11: £42,556,000

Total 2009-10: £42,516,000

Total change: 0.1% increase in cash terms however this is a  3.29% in real terms cut with inflation at 3.5%

The totals include research and teaching funding, but also other types therefore do not match up. See HEFCE website for more complete figures, although calculations will be required to figure out changes between years.


While surprisingly there has been research increases at Oxford University, the overwhelming trend here is negative and especially on the core teaching which is what students get from universities. The move towards research shows the government see universities as having the role of providing research for business rather than teaching for students.

Students and staff at both universities need to organise to resist these cuts. At both universities it will be possible even without the government altering these figures (which we should also demand) for cuts to be stopped. This also doesn’t require the cap of fees to be lifted as the Oxford Uni administration is pushing for as the money is already there, just misspent. The number of senior managers at both institutions with wages above £100,000 is ridiculous – we’re writing a post on this which will appear soon. If all management that earns these ridiculous sums had a pay cut to £100,000 or better yet £50,000 then it is clear these funding cuts would not be necessary.

These figures mask something however – other sources of funding. Oxford has millionaire and billionaire alumni who donate vast sums to the university, and it’s investments provide large dividends. It can weather the storm if it chooses to. Our job is to make sure it does! But for Brookes the situation is different and while cuts are by no means necessary or inevitable it is less able to weather the storm using other sources of income. We therefore demand that as a matter of emergency the government increase funding to Brookes to prevent the social catastrophe that cuts might cause to the staff and students at the university.

Both universities are likely to attempt to use these funding cuts to reduce staff pay, and Brookes is likely to make cuts (Oxford uni clearly prefers arguing for higher fees while attempting to maintain staffing levels – although may well cut too). The reason for the governments cuts is ultimately the debt they gained by bailing out the bankers. The question therefore is: Who will pay for the crisis? Our answer has to be: Those who caused it, not us! Profitable banks should be nationalised without compensation to pay for those that were bailed out. There should be ban on bonuses to bankers and a strict pay limit including mass reductions for those earning six-figure and higher salaries. Higher tax bands should be increased. This will provide the necessary funds to reduce state debt while still paying for all our current public services including education, without having to raise the cap on tutition fees (which could also be abolished).

Our task is to ensure this happens. Our fight is first with the university management but also with the government – victories on a local level can force the government to raise funding nationally. When cuts are announced we will argue for UCU and UNISON to ballot for strike action and for students to support them. If the universities cut we will raise the question – who decided this? Where is the democracy when unelected management has control over our education? We will take all necessary action, inspired by campaigns at other universities such as Sussex, to prevent cuts and fees and to democratize our universities. In Oxford this means demanding mass congregations open to all staff and students.

We can win! Leeds UCU strike has won the concession of no compulsary redundancies already before the HEFCE figures were even announced! Join the campaign: OCCUPY! STRIKE! RESIST!

All views expressed in this post are by the author and not necessarily the position of the campaign.

March 8 protest

On International Women’s Day, women were at the forefront of the fight against the Islamic regime, writes Tina Becker

On International Women’s Day, around 100 people gathered outside the Iranian embassy in London to protest against the repression of women in Iran. Organised by the March 8 Women’s Organisation (Iran-Afghanistan), they heard a range of female speakers, who demanded an end to the Islamic regime.

No wonder that there was not a green scarf in sight. “Moussavi and his supporters are part of the Islamic regime. But we are with those women in Iran who want more than just a few reforms. We want the overthrow of the entire regime,” said Yassamine Mather, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran, which supported the event.

International Women’s Day, which was established on the initiative of Clara Zetkin and the Second International in 1910, has always focused not just on the suffering of women – but their fightback, too. And who can deny that women in Iran have to struggle against more enemies than most of us? Not only do they face the general patriarchal prejudices that all women do. They have also been at the forefront of the fight against the Islamic regime. After all, one of the first actions of the theocracy after the 1979 revolution was to force all women to wear the hijab.

But women also bear the main brunt of imperialist intervention in the country – be it in the form of sanctions or the threat of direct military intervention. “One just has to look at Iraq and Afghanistan to see how the rights of women have been rolled back since the occupation,” said Leila Parnia, the main organiser of the event.

Bureaucratic centralism and ineffectiveness

The split of the John Rees-Lindsey German Left Platform from the Socialist Workers Party has generated a small round of discussion on the party question in the left blogosphere, writes Mike Macnair. But what is missing is a recognition of the need for Marxist unity

The Left Platform split, amidst complaints of a new restrictiveness in the Socialist Workers Party’s regime and a sectarian turn, is not that important in itself: a small number of comrades have taken a step away from partyism towards ‘movementism’. Rees and German can hardly be regarded as principled actors in this affair, and their claim that the SWP’s bureaucratic centralist regime has dramatically and qualitatively changed for the worse is obvious rubbish.

But even if the Left Platform split is unimportant, the question it poses is this. The SWP way of doing things is mirrored in rather less grotesque forms in the Socialist Party in England and Wales and in more grotesque forms in many smaller left groups. The recent substantial split in the International Marxist Tendency[1] and in recent years and on a smaller scale splits in Workers Power (Permanent Revolution) and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (the Commune) provide examples from a very long and lamentable history. Is there an alternative to this way of doing things?

SWP and split

The basic bureaucratic centralist institutional forms of the SWP regime – ie, the central appointment of district organisers, the secret character of internal discussion and the ban on ‘permanent factions’ and ‘factionalising’ outside the pre-conference period – were adopted by the International Socialists-SWP under Tony Cliff in the 1970s. They were copied from the US Socialist Workers Party and the ideas of James P Cannon, and justified on the basis of ‘Bolshevisation’.

Their adoption marked the end of a period of splits in the SWP which had given birth to Workers Fight (now AWL), Workers Power, the Revolutionary Communist Group (aka Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism), the short-lived Workers League (later International Socialist Alliance) and others. The new regime prevented big splits by pre-emptive expulsion of dissenters as soon as they attempted to contact other people or spread their ideas. In effect, the latest split is a merely the latest operation by the SWP Kremlin (central committee) to cut off debate before it really gets going, through provocations, to which the Left Platform have responded by walking out.

The culture which naturally goes along with these institutional forms is one of hiding differences in the central leadership from the membership, secrecy more generally, degradation of the education and political culture of the ranks (since education means developing the ability to make your own informed decisions), a top-down organisational approach, arrogance of the full-timers and permanent leaders and bullying of other members, a tendency to marginalise dissent by ad hominem smears on the dissentients, and, as a result, a growing dominance of a group-think which diverges further and further from engagement with reality.

In the external world the result of the political degradation of internal life and education is that the organisation’s existence and ‘leading role’ becomes its only real purpose: to be attained by bureaucratic top-down control of fronts and by bureaucratic alliances in which ‘the party’ can pose as ‘the left’ for internal consumption without actually fighting for any concrete political positions. The resulting control-freakery inevitably produces a gradual growth of cynicism, demoralisation and demobilisation among everyone involved who is not either an SWP member or employed as a trade union or party full-timer.

Rees and German were slightly junior to the original creators of the SWP’s institutional forms and political culture, but they were full participants in its operation, and the Respect debacle – which centred on the personal role of John Rees – was in a sense the moment at which the unreal group-think came up against reality and its unreality was exposed.

A minority went over to George Galloway. The majority of the SWP, including the Left Platform, preferred to cling to the group-think idealisation of the role of their own organisation and its history. They could not deny that the outcome of Respect was a defeat for their project, but the only explanation they offered was Alex Callinicos’s obviously false group-think idea that it represented a shift to the right by George Galloway – allegedly part of the same process as Bertinotti dragging Rifondazione Comunista into the Unione government coalition in Italy. Not even SWP members could wholly self-deceive to the extent of buying this as an explanation, and John Rees was the obvious scapegoat for the defeat. Since then, as Peter Manson explained in last week’s paper, Rees and his supporters have been looking for a more or less dignified way out of the SWP.[2]


SWPers who have intervened in the blogosphere discussion argue that the negative aspects of the internal regime of the SWP have been overstated, Rees and German got what they deserved and so on. This is trivial. More importantly, they are driven to some extent to recognise the negatives. And they certainly recognise them in other groups. But they argue that we just have to put up with them – either as unfortunate consequences of objective dynamics, or as negative side-effects of the necessities of effective organisation.

At its most brutal this idea is expressed in Mark P’s comment on Louis Proyect’s blog: “… A problem with your line of argument, Louis, is that there has been no shortage of attempts to build socialist groups with less ‘centralist’ structures, including those that reject democratic centralism and those that keep the language but do regularly publish their internal debates. I am unaware of any of these groups being notably more successful in growing than, say, the British SWP. It’s the ISO rather than Solidarity which has grown over the last decade.”[3] Or, put another way (as I have heard it said by SWPers), ‘You can criticise our organisational methods when you’re as big as we are.’

On the other hand, the SWP’s critics have in common the belief that the character of the SWP regime and the endless splits flow from sectarianism. (We in CPGB share this view, but our interpretation of what sectarianism means is so different from the modern, standard leftwing interpretation of the word that the point needs to be flagged here before substantive discussion.)

The SWP’s critics also commonly reject the idea of the ‘Leninist vanguard party’ in favour of something both politically broader and organisationally looser: an attempt to organise the whole of the left, not merely the whole of the Marxist left, or the whole of the workers’ movement (but without the pro-capitalist right wing of that movement, which is assumed to be somehow outside it). And an attempt to do so on the basis of ‘network’ and less centralist forms of organisation.

The problem of this view is that what it leads to – under the conditions which have prevailed since the fall of the Soviet Union – is the abandonment of anything but unorganised commentary from the standpoint of Marxism. Because it insists on broad unity as a panacea for Marxist disunity and the bureaucratic rule in the groups, it refuses to confront the actual strategic political differences in the broad, mass workers’ movement about the state, nationalism and political democracy. The result is the drag to the right – like Rifondazione.

If comrades were to look their line squarely in the face, it implies the policy of the Communist Party of the USA of promoting the ‘left’ in the US Democratic Party and promoting the Democrats against the Republicans; and in Britain, it implies an unorganised ‘soft left’ in the Labour Party (and ultimately the course of the British Eurocommunists, who liquidated their party to become hangers-on of … Blairism).

Bureaucratic centralism

There are, of course, arguments from Lenin, Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders in favour of the institutional forms of the ‘Leninist combat party’ – basically, arguments constructed in the early 1920s. At this time the Bolsheviks were engaged in building a state out of a peasant war against landlordism, and had to construct a collective Bonaparte or ‘man on horseback’ to represent the peasants against the landlords by mastering the peasants’ resistance to giving up their surplus.

Meanwhile, the ‘centrist’ leaders – Kautsky, Martov, the Austro-Marxists and so on – were using arguments for broad class unity and the defence of democracy, meaning the liberties of the pro-capitalist leaders of the broad workers’ movement, against Bolshevik ‘terrorism’ and ‘adventurism’. At the end of the day, these arguments boiled down to a policy of lending political support to the global war against Bolshevism and for the ‘restoration of order’, which the capitalist states were conducting and which capitalist politicians and media internationally, including the pro-capitalist leaders of the broad workers’ movement, certainly understood as a ‘hot war’.[4]

In this context, it is hardly surprising that the Bolshevik leaders produced arguments in favour of a violent military centralism, mitigated only by the congress, as the basis of party organisation. As the revolutionary movements in the west were defeated, the Bolsheviks also emphasised their own unique strengths as against the defeated western left. And in the process – beginning with Lenin’s Leftwing communism, an infantile disorder – they constructed an almost completely fictional origin-myth, in which the military centralism created in 1919-21 was represented falsely as the direct continuity of Lenin’s 1902 What is to be done? and the decisions taken in the 1903 split in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.[5] After Lenin’s death, the historical myth was only emphasised and re-emphasised in the leadership’s struggle against Trotsky and ‘Trotskyism’.[6]

However, apart from ‘orthodox Trotskyists’ and ‘Marxist-Leninists’, defenders of bureaucratic-centralism do not use these arguments. Some of the better educated SWPers are no doubt aware that the origin-myth has been disproved and that the RSDLP (Bolsheviks) down to 1919 functioned in ways totally unlike Tony Cliff’s image of it and equally unlike the institutions and culture of the SWP and similar organisations, and therefore do not want to venture into these waters. Others simply have no real knowledge of the history of their own movement. Either way, the arguments they advance are practical ones about the present situation, rather than theoretical ones about the history of the movement or the inevitability of a future revolutionary crisis.

Effective campaigning

The first positive argument is that a centralised ‘Leninist’ party (or parties) is necessary to mobilising forces in broad mass campaigns. ‘Christian h’ comments on Louis Proyect’s blog that “there’s a reason why so many movements appear as fronts of democratic centralist groups: it’s because those groups do have the organising power to get things done.” ‘Noel’ on Andy Newman’s Socialist Unity blog remarks, in relation to the London Social Forum, that “History might also tell you that to put on an event for 25,000 activists across Europe meant working with the GLA and Socialist Action, something none of us were expecting to be so, ah, fraught … it was a choice between trying to deal with that as best we could or not doing it at all … there was no way the ‘opposition’ could have done anything …”; and ‘Salman Mirza’ says that “… the majority of calls, emails around things like UAF, volunteers needed for leafleting picket lines, stop the closures campaigns, etc are from the SWP”.[7]

This line is a half-truth. The half that is true is important. Without means of collective decision-making for common action and an agreement that decisions for common action are binding, the multifarious efforts of individuals run into the ground. If there are 57 varieties of left groups in Britain, there are 570 varieties of single-issue campaigns, most of them creating absolutely negligible impact on national or local politics, and 5,700 varieties of leftwing ‘independents’ with even less collective impact.

The half that is untrue is equally important. Collective decision-making mechanisms for collective action long antedate the ‘Leninist combat party’ form. Single-issue campaigns go back at least as far as the campaign against the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th century, trade unions emerged from the differentiation of the craft guild tradition between masters and employees over the same period, and so on.[8] It would be ridiculous to suggest that because these organisations and movements had no ‘Leninist combat party’ they were ineffective.

Also before the ‘Leninist combat party’ form emerged, pre-1914 France and Germany had broad-unity socialist parties. Britain had Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, the De Leonist Socialist Labour Party, the impossiblist Socialist Party of Great Britain, and so on. In terms of the ‘level of agreement on fundamentals required for practical common action’ according to SWP supporters (and SPEW supporters) the pre-war British organisations look more like the British far left today. Guess which form was more effective for practical political campaigning: the British or the continental?

The reality is that the bureaucratic-centralist groups dominate decision-making in broader organisations not because the groups are indispensable to decision-making for campaigning, but because the groups form coherent minorities, while the ‘independents’ are scattered – the same mechanism which allows a single shareholder with, say, a 30% minority to dominate a corporation. The issue has been studied at a more general theoretical level by Moshé Machover.[9]

It follows that the strength of the bureaucratic-centralist left groups in broader organisations is not because bureaucratic centralism is actually essential to effective campaigning. It is merely an effect of the fact that the bureaucratic-centralist groups are (currently) larger than any alternative form. The issue therefore has no independence of the argument I cited earlier – the simple point supporters of the SWP (and SPEW, and so on) argue, that their relatively large size proves the success of their organisational forms.

Don’t meddle with the big guys

At a certain level, if we take this argument seriously, it reduces to absurdity. None of the groups are anything like the size of the Labour Party or has achieved anything comparable to the gains it achieved for (sections of) the British working class. So it should follow that none of us (SWP included) has any right to criticise the organisational forms of the Labour Party. We can go further than that. The Tory Party is and always has been larger than the Labour Party. So … The biggest organised international political organisation in the world is the Catholic church.[10] So perhaps the far left should adopt papal infallibility …

Oops. It has. That was where we started, with the organisational forms of the SWP. In Cliff’s lifetime these worked from the infallibility of Tony Cliff, backed up by the Vatican (the central apparatus) and the centrally appointed bishops (the district full-timers). Since his death it has worked from the infallibility of the central committee, which has to remain monolithic (hence the need to drive out Rees and German).

Louis Proyect in his post on the topic suggests that bureaucratic-centralist groups can get up to a few thousand members but then get stuck, unable to progress further to real mass influence. One of the commentators remarked that, if so, the advice to the far left should be to build groups like the SWP, but then break with their organisational forms when you get to a few thousand members …

Comrade Proyect’s argument is another half-truth. A few thousand is certainly the usual maximum size of such groups both globally at present and on average across the history of the workers’ movement. But the Italian far-left groups in the 1970s got considerably bigger, and of these only Lotta Continua had a ‘loose’ structure. The Iranian Fedayeen at its height got up to tens of thousands – while retaining the structural and political forms of a far-left sect. And, of course, the fully-Stalinised ‘official’ communist parties were thoroughly bureaucratic-centralist, if – outside of the USSR itself  – they were less inclined to pre-emptive suppression of dissent, leadership bullying, etc, than the SWP. But they were mostly (including the old CPGB) a lot bigger than any of the far-left groups. Hence (in part) Andy Newman’s conversion to ‘official communism’.

Moreover, what happens to far-left groups that get up into the mid-thousands is not usually to get stuck and stay there at that size for a prolonged period of time. Rather what happens is that they explode. Once you are up into the mid-thousands – let alone above – you repeatedly confront political questions for which the distinctive theoretical positions of Cliff-think, or Grant-think, or Moreno-think, or whatever, do not prepare you. What you need is a summary political programme identifying the organisation’s strategic, long-term goals. This can both orient members facing new tactical choices and identify the common political ground that members share, even when they disagree about major political questions like bussing in Boston (which blew up the large US Maoist groups).[11]

The other aspect of the half-truth is that far-left groups commonly start out with the intention to do better on the ‘democracy front’ than the ‘official communist’ parties. The International Socialists, the predecessor of the SWP, grew from around 200 in 1966-67 to around 1,500-2,000 (real members, not paper members) in the mid-1970s. It did so on the basis of a highly open organisational regime. I can personally remember ISers in 1974-75 criticising the excessive centralism of the International Marxist Group. More recently, the IMG has been their usual ‘object lesson’ of how allowing ‘permanent factions’ destroys an organisation. Bureaucratic centralism develops with the growth of the full-time apparatus.

This history – not the history of tactical nous or of ‘real work in the class struggle’ – is the real reason why the SWP is big. In the late 1940s there was a Trotskyist organisation in Britain called the Revolutionary Communist Party. It split into several fragments of varying sizes. By the mid-1960s the largest was Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League (later Workers Revolutionary Party). Second largest was Cliff’s Socialist Review group. Third was Ted Grant’s Revolutionary Socialist Group (Militant, the predecessor of today’s Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal). The IMG was a micro-group of adherents of the European Fourth International. In the 1970s all the groups grew very dramatically, albeit unevenly; but the relation of forces between them did not change.

Since then the number of small groups has multiplied, and the relation of forces has changed. It has changed because the WRP imploded, the IMG broke into fragments (Socialist Action, Communist League, International Socialist Group) and Militant split and the Taaffe wing split again. It has not changed because of the relative success of the organisational forms of the SWP and similar organisations. Their size is no more than their inheritance of their long history, their organisational forms are no more than the (indirect) inheritance of Stalinism.

We’re splintered because we’re small

A very widespread view both among supporters and critics of the SWP’s regime is that these phenomena are regrettable, but result inevitably from the small size of the far-left groups and their isolation from the ‘real mass movement’. Perhaps if the right means were adopted of integrating yourself in the broader mass movement the phenomena would be overcome. Perhaps (SWPers are apt to argue) we just have to wait out the current downturn in the class struggle and put up with it.

Both arguments are nonsense. In the first place, very few of the organised left groups are ‘classic sectarians’ who reject participation in trade unions and mass campaigns in favour of street-stall propaganda. Organise a broad campaign, demonstration or electoral coalition, organise a strike support group or network: most of us will be there (to the extent, of course, that we have the forces). Secondly, integration in the mass movement has in no way been an obstacle to sect-building: look at the multiple, competing left groups within the Labour Party (fewer now that there were, of course); look at the collisions between the projects of different groups in the trade unions.

Secondly, big upturns in the class struggle do not drive the left towards any more effective unity than it achieves already through campaigns, strike support activities, etc. The rising tide lifts all boats, as happened across Europe and in North and Latin America in the 1970s. If anything, the rise in the mass struggle tends to drive towards splits and the multiplication of groups, as all political choices become sharper and more urgent.

Thirdly, at a time when the bourgeois press is dominated by allegations of Gordon Brown bullying Downing Street staff, it is ridiculous to suppose that bureaucratic centralism is a prerogative of small, marginal political groups. To repeat my characterisation of the SWP’s culture above: hiding differences in the central leadership from the membership, secrecy more generally, degradation of the education and political culture of the ranks (since education means developing the ability to make your own informed decisions), a top-down organisational approach, arrogance of the full-timers and permanent leaders and bullying of other members, a tendency to marginalise dissent by ad hominem smears on the dissentients, and, as a result, a growing dominance of a group-think which diverges further and further from engagement with reality. Isn’t this also a characterisation of New Labour (and, for that matter, of the Tories in Thatcher’s later years)?

We are not splintered because we’re small; we’re small because we’re splintered. The ability to construct unity in the parties of the Second International and – for Britain, the US and a few other places – in those of the Comintern – was not a result of a favourable objective situation:[12] the favourable objective situation can exist without producing unity. It was the result of a will to unity, of concrete decisions to fight for unity on the basis of definite political projects.

What alternative?

The questions of the objective and subjective causes of bureaucratic centralism and unprincipled splits, and the argument that isolation from the mass movement is the real cause, leads naturally to the question of the alternatives offered by critics. Louis Proyect offers merely a negative critique of ‘Zinovievism’. Other critics of the SWP’s party regime offer a more or less common response, though the tactical details vary. What is needed is a broad mass party.

The theoretical basis of this proposal I have just criticised. It is ‘We’re splintered because we’re small’: the idea that the only way the Marxist left can unite is to unite with the broader left – whoever this broader left is be – trade union officials, Labour MPs, ‘anti-imperialist’ nationalists of one sort or another, greens, liberation theologists – take your pick.

Within this party ‘revolutionaries’ may form unorganised trends or even semi-organised platforms, but should not form ‘democratic-centralist’ groups, which tend to ‘place the interests of their group above the interests of the movement as a whole’.


‘Placing the interests of your group above the interests of the movement as a whole’, according to these comrades, is the essence of sectarianism. Surprising as it may at first sight seem, supporters of the SWP agree with them … and so would supporters of a great many … sects.

The ‘formal source’ of this concept of ‘sectarianism’ is in the English version of the Communist manifesto. The passage is famous:

“In what relation do the communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working class parties.

“They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

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

“The communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only:

1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.

2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

In point 2, the reference to “the movement as a whole”, the German Marx and Engels wrote was: “dass sie in den verschiedenen Entwicklungsstufen, welche der Kampf zwischen Proletariat und Bourgeoisie durchläuft, stets das Interesse der Gesamtbewegung vertreten”. Here “the movement as a whole”, the Gesamtbewegung, is the ‘movement’ in the sense of historical process as a whole, the dictatorship of the proletariat as the road to communism. It is not the ‘movement’ in the sense in which we speak of ‘the workers’ movement’ or ‘the trade union movement’ in modern English.

Sectarianism and bureaucratic centralism are quite genuinely two sides of the same face. That face is not, however, separation from the mass movement or ‘placing the interests of your group above the interests of the movement as a whole’. It is the refusal to unite for common action at the maximum possible level at which unity is possible. The essence is an unwillingness to be in a minority: either from majorities which drive out minorities by bureaucratic means for fear that they might just win if the discussion was allowed to go on, or from minorities which walk out in order to pursue their own projects free from the ‘fetters’ of working with the majority round common ground. Both factors seem to have been at work in the Left Platform split from the SWP.

That was then

If the Communist manifesto supplies – falsely – the ‘proof-text’ for comrades’ definition of ‘sectarianism’, the First International and a highly artificial interpretation of the Second supply the practice which is supposed to go along with this orientation: uniting with reformists (especially with trade union leaders) on a minimal political platform, in the hope that this will produce a mass party within which the ‘revolutionaries’ can fight for their ideas. The First International was just such a ‘broad movement’. (The Second was not: the German Social Democratic Party began as a unification of left groups on the basis of a formal programme,[13] and only afterward acquired a trade union base; the French and Italian parties began as unifications, but the trade unions in those countries remained separate syndicalist organisations; and so on.)

But something has changed since 1870. It is a change analogous to that which took place during the rise of the capitalist class in the late medieval to early modern period. Then, the city communes – originally the bourgeoisie’s instruments of class struggle against the feudal lords and kings – were captured through concessions and turned into instruments of the late-feudal absolutist state. From around 1870 the capitalist class and its state began to pursue the same policy in relation to the trade unions and – more gradually, with stops and starts – in relation to the broad workers’ parties. Extensions of the franchise, in Germany partial inclusion of the workers’ organisations in social security arrangements, and so on …

It is for this reason that the ‘broad workers’ party’ idea fails. The capitalist class has integrated an element of the workers’ organisations into its state arrangements. This fact finds political expression among the dominant section of the workers’ leaders in nationalism, class-collaborationism, constitutional loyalism – and forms of top-down, bureaucratic control to force through pro-capitalist policies.

The result is that the ‘broad workers’ party’ is doomed either to fail – because there is already a ‘broad workers’ party’, like the Labour Party – or, if it succeeds, to recapitulate the path of the Labour Party to serving capital, as has happened to the Brazilian Workers Party. In neither case does it provide a road out of bureaucratic centralism and sectarianism.

The workers’ movement is really faced with a fundamental political choice: between nationalism, class-collaborationism, constitutional loyalism and bureaucratic control on the one hand – represented by the actual mass workers’ parties; and class-political independence, the international solidarity of the working class as a class, and radical democracy in the state and in the movement on the other – represented, most imperfectly, by the far left. The path of ‘broad’ unity with class-collaborationist and nationalist bureaucrats as a precondition for unity of the Marxists is therefore a path which unavoidably leads to the abandonment of Marxist politics (class independence, internationalism, democracy) to create or preserve a unity which is in reality under the dictation of the capitalist state.

Breaking with bureaucratic centralism and endless splits is not a problem of changing the objective situation of the left. It is a problem of changing its subjective ideas about organisation and its political culture. If we achieve unity of the Marxist left our ideas will begin to impact on the broader left. If we do not achieve the unity of the Marxist left and an end to bureaucratic centralism, the result will be endless further splintering and even more pronounced ineffectiveness.


  1. See ‘Oil slick divisions’, February 11.
  2. ‘Left Platform throws in the towel’, February 18.
  4. A Read The world on fire: 1919 and the battle with Bolshevism (London 2008) tells the story from an anti-communist, journalistic perspective, but effectively brings out this point.
  5. Lars T Lih Lenin rediscovered (Leiden 2006) is the most recent and most systematic discussion.
  6. Trotsky’s The Third International after Lenin and The Stalin school of falsification narrate this part of the process. The result is a tendency among some Trotskyist critics of SWP-style bureaucratic centralism to blame this set of practices simply on Grigory Zinoviev – when any study of Lenin’s Collected works for the period or of Trotsky’s own How the revolution armed shows that both men played a central role in the development of the new party order.
  8. Slave trade: A Hochschild Bury the chains (New York 2005) and M Macnair, ‘Abolition and working class solidarity’ Weekly Worker March 15 2007; trade unions: RA Leeson Travelling brothers (London 1979).
  9. DS Felsenthal, M Machover The measurement of voting power (Cheltenham 1998); and on decision-making in communist society see (2009).
  10. A point made in one of his posts by ‘Splintered Sunrise’:
  11. M Elbaum Revolution in the air (London 2002).
  12. Except in the limited sense that the 1875 Gotha unification of the German socialists came at the right time to catch the massive expansion of the German working class at the same period.
  13. For all the faults of the Gotha programme, criticised by Marx and Engels, it was well to the left of the programmes on offer by the British left as the basis of unity today.

Hands Off the People of Iran: Week of action (February 13-20 2010)