How do we build a climate movement that can win?

By Lisbeth Latham.

The unprecedented glacial melting, diminishing sea ice shelves, and extensive fires globally have fuelled growing existential angst around the looming climate catastrophe. This angst has been a major source of the emergence and growth of the climate strike movement globally which has seen millions of people drawn onto the streets with the strikes on September 20 and 27.

Growing numbers of people – particularly young people – have become aware of both the depth of the crisis and the refusal of state actors or the fossil fuel industry to take serious steps to address climate change. This has given rise to the urgent question of how and in what circumstances the necessary changes can be made, particularly around energy use, to halt the planet’s slide into irreversible and escalating climate change.

Yes, socialism is the solution, but so what?

Arguing for ecosocialism is not enough

The response to this crisis from many revolutionary organisations has been to make arguments against the capacity of the climate crisis to be addressed within the framework of capitalism. Of course, the Anthropocene began with the start of the industrial revolution and has been driven and accelerated by capitalism’s inherent drive to constantly expand and increase profits.

It is also the case that an environment-focused socialised economy would be able to mobilise both the population and the economy to meet the challenges confronting the planet in ways unimaginable in our current context.  However, as Marx argued, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

In almost no country do we have a revolutionary government. As a consequence of the betrayals of social democracy and Stalinism, and the social defeats in the face of triumphant neoliberalism, almost nowhere on the planet are there the social forces or leadership required to carry out the necessary revolutionary process to achieve such governments.

Given this reality, arguments that capitalism can’t address the crisis give the impression that the task of combating climate change is utopian and something that has to be put off to some unstated future – something that ends up sounding a lot like capital’s dominant response to the crisis.

Can the climate crisis be addressed under capitalism? Frankly, who knows, and it doesn’t matter. Capitalists and their representatives in government act to defend their interests, which is primarily achieving constant growth in profits, but ultimately is about maintaining a stable system within which capital accumulation can occur.

Divisions on climate action among capitalist class

This means that sections of capital, particularly those not tied to the fossil fuel industry, have the potential to view action to address climate change as being in their own interests – hence the thousands of companies encouraging their staff to participate in the climate strikes. Obviously this action has a range of motivations, including for some cheap greenwashing PR.

However, a number of capitalists may actually be confronting the reality that the climate crisis will disrupt capitalist accumulation. They too may see the planet dying and might come to the conclusion that there is no planet B, or they may see ways in which they can profit from transformations in the economy.

The current solutions gaining traction internationally around combatting climate change are notions around a Green New Deal, alluding to Roosevelt’s New Deal response to the Great Depression, and the reproduction of the Second World War industrial mobilisations that massively expanded productive forces in war industries to support and sustain, particularly the US war effort.

While both these examples highlight how the economy can be mobilised to transform and defend the economy and society, they are also examples of capitalism and capitalists mobilising to defend the capitalist system from an existential threat.

In both historic examples, working people played a key role in seeking to ensure that saving the system had some benefit for the popular classes in society – rather than simply re-securing the conditions for capitalist accumulation. This resistance took the form of building and renewing unions, fighting for improvements in wages and conditions, in government projects ensuring that workers were paid union rates, and attempts to shift some of the war profiteering into improved wages and conditions for workers in war industries.  

More importantly, what can be achieved under capitalism can’t be prejudged. It is a consequence of the conjunctural balance of forces – between what the ruling class believes is necessary to concede to maintain order, and the consciousness and confidence of the popular classes to carry forward the struggle.

In the wake of the mass strike and protest wave in France during May and June 1968, employers offered massive wage increases to help enable the ending of the strikes. While these wage rises would have eaten considerably into company profits, it was a small price to pay for saving the capitalist system.  

During the development of his Transitional Program, Leon Trotsky held discussions with US Trotskyists about the intents and purpose of the program. Part of this discussion focused on the extent to which the demands, particularly the transitional demands contained within the program, were achievable under capitalism. In addressing this point, Trotsky made it clear that what could or couldn’t be achieved could not be prejudged, but also that what does or doesn’t seem possible is a consequence of the march of events and dynamics of consciousness and working-class power.

This approach is also consistent with Lenin’s discussion of the development of class consciousness through the lived experience of workers and poor peasants during the Russian revolution of the unwillingness of pro-capitalist forces to deliver on the Russian revolutionary forces’ demands of peace, bread, and land rather than the specific limitations of the capitalist system itself.

Formulating immediate demands

The real and immediate challenge facing socialists (and anyone who genuinely is concerned about the environment) is not the struggle to convince people of the necessity of socialism, or even the need to change the system – but the need and possibility of achieving immediate concrete action to confront the climate crisis.

After decades of inaction and backsliding, this may feel impossible, and as the climate moves closer to tipping points it may mean even more rapid transformation than the movement’s current demands of no new coal, oil and gas projects; 100 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030; and funding a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and communities. 

These demands appear radical and potentially impossible at the moment, but they are more likely inadequate and too slow given the urgent need to not only stop the release of more carbon into the atmosphere but to massively increase the planet’s capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere – and to reverse the other practices destroying the biosphere, particularly the massive waste of water and the use of toxic chemicals associated with both mining and industrial agriculture.

It is in this struggle for such demands that the limitations of capitalism in the struggle to save the planet will be highlighted, particularly in confronting market-based solutions aimed at creating new speculative markets rather than achieving serious reductions in carbon emissions and extracting carbon from the atmosphere.

There is also a pressing need for industrialised countries to fundamentally address our consumption patterns (which are promoted and encouraged by the capitalist system) to more accurately reflect the resources available to the planet as a whole, at the same time as the living standards of the global south need to be uplifted to overcome poverty caused by centuries of colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism.

More important than the development of demands that could potentially address the climate crisis is the development and escalation of the movement. Although this youth-led movement is remarkable and extremely inspiring, it still remains far too small and intermittent in its mobilisation to build the level of pressure necessary to force action by governments on the climate.

A focus on the struggle to build the movement and achieve immediate demands to address and redress the crisis confronting us – rather than simply posing abstract arguments for socialism – is far more in keeping with the socialist tradition and is the only way to build a movement that can win.

Lisbeth Latham is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow her on Twitter @grumpenprol.

Trotskyism today and Cold War hysterics

By Fergal Twomey.

“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language” – Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

If I were a Trotskyist, alarm bells would be ringing in my head. Globally the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) is coming apart at the hinges in one of Trotskyism’s perennial cycles of splits, as the dialectic seems to be unfolding backwards towards further fragmentation rather than unity of opposites.

In Ireland, the foremost outpost of the international Trotskyist movement, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Socialist Party (SP) cadres are finding themselves in uncertain waters. By financing core parties through state funding, they have rendered the majority of their small membership into full-time organisers and in turn managed to craft a delicate eco-system of fronts to carry the burden of the very same electoral machine that enables their existence.

Such a stable system has, in fact, initiated a unique convergence of factors in Ireland that have enabled the existence of unprecedented “Internationalism in One Country”, as Irish cadres distance themselves from their counterparts abroad, who are, of course, back to their usual habit of depraved theoretical disputations in the case of the CWI, and are, well, just embarrassing to be associated with in the case of the International Socialist Tendency (IST).

In such a context, we can only feel sympathy for our Militant comrades who are discovering for the first time the frustration of having pragmatic responsibilities to their class run into direct contradiction with Trotskyist gospel. To paint the dispute in broad strokes, their electoral focus on popular social struggles in Ireland has invoked the dreaded appellation of ‘identity politics’ from their more ‘class-oriented’ contemporaries abroad. 

However, to waffle on about this dirty laundry would be a waste of paper (or electricity). It would be far too tempting, for instance, to end up “using Kerensky as a gun-rest to shoot Kornilov” by implying that there is a global crisis in Trotskyism based on the poll doubts and international hostility facing the Irish Trotskyist movement. Moreover, it has already been covered accurately and in excruciatingly fine detail by Paul Demarty for the Weekly Worker in articles with catchy titles such as What will be left? and Drop the Dead Donkey, which I recommend be enjoyed ironically.

‘Stalinist’ as a political slur

For the purposes of this article, I want to draw attention to one of the most amusing idiosyncrasies of this clash of personalities (apart from the existence of the non-faction faction) which has been the use of ‘Stalinist’ as a political slur between competing Trotskyist factions. When I turn back through the pages of my memory, I can find countless occasions on which I’ve been called a Stalinist by errant supporters of the goateed prophet for doing such relatively innocuous things as walking my cat, holding a divergent opinion on the 1938 transitional programme, or being in the wrong Facebook group at the wrong time.

The term ‘Stalinist’ can’t be said to have lost any appreciable meaning, for it never held much meaning in the first place, but it has reached the point of sheer parody in the life-course of any decently debased word where it has come to mean everything and anything, approaching the final terminus of “nothing”. 

It is thus with some enthusiasm that I welcome a new article authored by John Molyneux for the SWP’s theoretical journal Irish Marxist Review, entitled The Return of Stalinism? The first thing that springs to mind is an old adage in journalism, Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, which states “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘No’ ”.

Revival of ‘Stalinism’ among Irish youth

This article, at a glance, is a brief overview of the history of ‘Stalinism’ written with the aim of responding to a “certain revival of various forms of Stalinism among a layer of young people on the left, including in Ireland”. I hope I can be absolved of flattering myself in the assumption that this bold claim refers to the recent consolidation of the Connolly Youth Movement (CYM) as a fixture of radical politics on an all-Ireland basis, given its explicit reference to the CYM’s comrades abroad in the UK and Greece.

Comrade Molyneux, hoping by this venture to dissuade a new generation of youth activists from veering too far from the truth of his brand of Cliffism, has divided Stalinism into a series of historical categories, each with an inevitably sordid history reflecting the folly of Marxism-Leninism. 

His characterisation of the Soviet Union inevitably drudges through the hoary old clichés about Lenin’s will, degenerated (or is it deformed?) workers’ states and intra-party feuds, and it is not my wish to contest the documentary evidence surrounding these century-old grievances. It condenses, as always, a complex story of human aspiration and mass socioeconomic development into a neat bundle of betrayal, even going to the extraordinary lengths of comparing Stalin to the blueshirts, a charge I am relatively confident he would have denied.

Material reality of life in the Soviet Union

This whole operation is carried out under the ostensible premise of lip service to material analysis, but even the fundamental trends it cites as the basis for its speculations do not hold up to scrutiny. The standard of living in the USSR, for example, did not fall under Soviet socialism. In fact, it increased year on year until in the 1960s life expectancy in the USSR briefly surpassed that of the USA.

Of course, socialised medicine is not socialism, and institutional ossification eventually slowed the growth of the economy, but central planning, rational development, and workers’ democracy existed in the USSR and were salvageable from its flaws. For those who are interested in a more balanced approach to Soviet history that does not revolve around mental gymnastics in service of failed factionalists, I emphatically recommend the works of the scholar Geoffrey Roberts, as well as other writers such as Eric Hobsbawm, Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny, and Moshe Lewin.

Just to show you how totally baseless and steeped in Cold War paranoia the work of John Molyneux is, consider the fact that he cites as a source Roy Medvedev – whose massive death counts hung at the door of Stalin were a grotesque fabrication based on the surely unbiased material evidences of White émigré testimony and on gross distortion of population trends. To use such outdated Cold War historians with axes to grind rather than the most recent and comprehensive reviews of the history is a major lapse of diligence and endorses ideological partisanship over fidelity to good scholarship. 

A mature analysis of the USSR’s successes and failures

Comrades, I want to believe at this point that we can engage in a mature and honest discussion of the failings and successes of Soviet socialism within the Communist movement without frothing at the gob or adhering to the comforting simplifications that Trotskyism has to offer.

The function Trotskyism played for Western leftists was as a disinfectant to wash their hands of the legacy of the Soviet Union, allowing them to act with an autonomy of theory and action that ultimately amounted to adventurism and left them briefly mistaken in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s demise that they really were finally the true inheritors of the mantle of revolution that they so coveted.

For us the revolution is not an old knick-knack or a gaudy coat-of-arms to be fought over; it is the lived experience of millions, and the greatest trove of that experience is in the lives of the liberational struggles of the Socialist world. To cast aside the memories of millions for the bitter recollection of a handful of exiles is an injustice against history.

The fundamental and only real material argument put forward by Molyneux is that the Soviet Union was state capitalist. Far from infested by capitalists, the Soviet Union was a state of workers, scholars and agitators, among whom laboured planners and economists who were more than mere bureaucratic boogeymen. They were dedicated workers shaping the economy in trust and consultation with the party, industrial workers and their trade unions.

Although between the 1960s and the 1980s, significant chasms of miscommunication opened between the different channels of Soviet administration and life, their relationship was fundamentally cooperative rather than competitive. Even a culture of corruption and black marketeering did not replace the Soviet system at once, but rather created an underbelly parallel to it.

The ‘state capitalism’ that wasn’t

A capitalist class, as we are aware of it as Marxists, consists of individual actors. Trotskyists would argue that the collective became one gigantic capitalist, devouring the fruits of its own labour. In reality, inflation was virtually non-existent in the Soviet Union as prices were fixed and the exchange rate was static with foreign currencies.

Money in this closed publicly owned economy did not operate according to the principles of money in a capitalist economy and came close to Marx’s conception of the lower phase of Communism described in the Critique of the Gotha Programme. To say that in such an economy, where the majority of re-investment was not through valourised profit, free to be spent on luxuries, but rather through the rational redistribution of materials to new projects, that the state acted as a capitalist and that moreover its planners were capitalists is nonsense.

The main suggestions of the proposed Kosygin reforms in the Soviet Union was the introduction of ‘autonomous enterprises’ and re-alignment (i.e. inflation) of prices to more accurately reflect the cost of production (i.e. to allow the new autonomous enterprises to be able to profit). We can see here that the opportunist ‘reformers’ in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union knew exactly what the socialist elements of the Soviet economy were and how to dismantle them. 

Democratic central planning

When we speak about capitalist economies, especially those of scale, we often forget that the capitalist is a planner. The chaos of production in capitalist society is that of thousands of disproportionate planners each deciding where the investments of owners will go and trying to absorb the profits of the others.

Central planning removes that chaos and replaces its incoherent competition with growth in the interest of all rather than the individual. Regardless of the good or ill health of Soviet democracy at different points in enabling the workers to communicate their desires to planners, fundamentally the goal of the economy was not the enrichment of individuals but the decency of all.

We can’t wear blinders about the inconsistencies in Soviet society that charted it on a course to dismantlement and the mass poverty and death wrought by neoliberalism. Neither should we have fantasies about ‘state capitalism’ to justify counter-revolution over self-criticism. 

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, we turn next to the second and third faces of Stalinism in Molyneux’s categorisation. These are the Stalinism of the Comintern/World War 2 and the Stalinism of the later USSR’s intervention in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, as well as the Stalinism of Ho Chi Minh and others.

As you can see by now, we’re beginning to rack up a lot of Stalinisms. Given that the term is applied to countries and outlooks that are completely removed from Stalin as an individual as well as from orthodox Marxism-Leninism, ranging from other Trotskyists, to Gorbachev, to Ceaușescu, to Kevin O’Higgins and Eamon Gilmore (perhaps Bertie Ahern is the final torchbearer for true Stalinism in Ireland), we ‘Stalinists’ should take care not to become Dizzy with Success or overcome with a sense of vanity at how far our tendrils reach.

Hungary 1956

The highlight of these sections is the description of the counter-revolution in Hungary in 1956 as being a ‘workers’ revolution’ crushed by Soviet tanks. This point of view is so far removed from reality as to need no real response, but in service of my insidious plot to lure the working class to Fully Automated Luxury Stalinism, I’ll point out the most glaring flaws.  

Molyneux asks the rhetorical question “How was it to be explained that after 10 years of ‘glorious’ socialism, fascism suddenly gained mass support in Hungary?” I will showcase my typical Stalinist arrogance here by answering a rhetorical question. One decade before the Great Hungarian Workers’ and Peasants’ Revolution of 1956, ended a World War where Hungary was in the grip of a fascist movement that had emerged in reaction to the legitimate Hungarian revolution. A reactionary past doesn’t disintegrate in 16 years but is a painful and lengthy process of disempowerment and re-education.

Imre Nagy was little more than a figurehead, a leader on paper, incapable of controlling a section of society that had years earlier supported Miklós Horthy. He wanted to adopt a position of neutrality between the USSR and Western powers – hardly a workers’ revolutionary position. We have seen with the course countries like Austria, Italy and France took in the 20th century, that in bourgeois democracies ‘neutrality’ quickly became repression of the Communist Party, vote-rigging, and armed opposition to the socialist states.

To call it a ‘workers’ revolution’ is a solecism and abuse of phrasemaking at the expense of meaning much the same way that calling Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (brownshirts) a ‘workers’ revolutionary organisation’ might be correct in that it was an organisation; it called for a reactionary insurrection; and it had workers in it.

I will advance this as one of my primary criticisms of Trotskyism – it embodies the very ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ mentality that Molyneux says he is writing against. As soon as any group acts against ‘Stalinism’, which, as we have seen, means whatever Trotskyists don’t like, then suddenly that group gets the words ‘revolutionary’ and ‘worker’ tacked onto the front of its name with no material basis for such absurd claims.

Trotskyists are fond of trotting out Stalinist disruptions and Stalinist diversions of communist parties and movements across the globe, but in reality Trotskyists have failed to ever achieve the mass mandate or democratic legitimacy of Marxist-Leninist parties in leading the working class into power. The book Quite Right, Mr. Trotsky by Denver Walker elucidates this pathetic history of backstabbing and collaboration, with a unique focus on the history of the SWP. It responds with much panache to many of the critiques of the international role of the Comintern which Molyneux makes. 

Irish Communist formations

On Irish Stalinism, the final Stalinism (I hope in the sense of being the Hegelian absolute), Molyneux weaves a colourful tapestry of the Communist Party of Ireland’s purported intrigues to corrupt the Irish republican left from within with ‘two-stagism’. He levies the charge at the CPI that it is guilty of a sort of ‘Labour Must Wait’ misinterpretation of James Connolly that originated with Menshevism (!) and passed to C. Desmond Greaves through the Comintern’s policy of promoting temporary power-sharing with the national bourgeoisie.

It claims that the two-stage corruption then passed from Desmond Greaves, who is now allegedly responsible for the Stickie-Provo split, to the Workers’ Party. Finally, this wild rollercoaster arrives at Eamon Gilmore. We can answer an intellectual question that no one has ever asked – how do you trace the ideological genealogy of Eamon Gilmore back to his Menshevik and CPI handlers? 

In the Leninist/Comintern sense, the idea of revolutionary power being approached in stages is not an “inheritance from the mensheviks” as Molyneux describes it and is how the Bolshevik revolution proceeded. The Mensheviks saw the industrialisation connected to capitalism and market forces as something that could only be performed by the bourgeoisie. Lenin states, as published in Letters on Tactics

What, then, is the first stage?

It is the passing of state power to the bourgeoisie.

Before the February-March revolution of 1917, state power in Russia was in the hands of one old class, namely, the feudal landed nobility, headed by Nicholas Romanov.

After the revolution, the power is in the hands of a different class, a new class, namely, the bourgeoisie.

The passing of state power from one class to another is the first, the principal, the basic sign of a revolution, both in the strictly scientific and in the practical political meaning of that term.

This is the sense in which Lenin speak of stages of revolutionary transition – as a brief step in removing a more entrenched obstacles before quickly (in the same year in the case of the Bolsheviks) finishing off the state power that the working class had to share. Not the Menshevik concept of the development of the economy according to the impetus of the bourgeoisie, but rather, the transfer of state power from a feudalistic regime to a broad alliance, followed by a workers’ and peasants’ state.

Colonialism and emancipation

However, this is neither what the Communist Party of Ireland or Connolly advocated for Ireland.  For a colonial state like Ireland, which shared many similarities to the level of class development of Tsarist Russia, British colonialism occupied the same position as the local aristocracy in Russia.

Patriotic internationalists, including Connolly, have understood the necessity of allying with the peasantry, which was highly present in the rank-and-file, although not the leadership, of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and Irish Republican Army (IRA). A nationalist revolution for the overthrow of colonial domination was deeply intertwined with the alienation of the landless farmers and workers.

Many falsely believed that a bourgeois revolution would also involve social emancipation, and many others falsely believed that socialist emancipation was possible under colonialism. The workers’ soviets and industrial upheavals that coincided with the War of Independence were crushed by the neo-colonial Free State.

Connolly knew what he was doing. He was temporarily allying with the national bourgeoisie to gain Irish sovereignty, which was a natural predecessor for the working class to wrest power from the national bourgeoisie, which depended on colonial support to maintain its privileged position. His writings show that he was under no illusions as to the nature of who he was working with. The consciousness of the workers and peasants could have developed to the point of making the national bourgeois element redundant.

Moreover, this trend was already taking place more slowly, for example, Liam Cahill writes in Forgotten Revolution: Limerick Soviet, 1919 that IRB and Volunteers were restructuring in 1916, and that working class agitators were taking a more prominent role. This is what happened in the Soviet Union, as first the hold of the Tsar was broken, only to be overthrown by the Bolsheviks as the political situation changed. 

Moreover, the Revolutionary Workers’ Groups (RWG), the CPI’s forerunner, did not attempt to join Fianna Fáil because of some tactical madness in believing that Fianna Fáil could usher in socialism, but rather saw Fianna Fáil as a fertile potential recruiting ground. The Fianna Fáil of that day was releasing regular articles in support of the Soviet Union through The Nation and many radical IRA members had joined.

RWG members also had to join Fianna Fáil because their members were being attacked or killed, and their offices and presses were regularly moved, withdrawn or assaulted. They were presented with total illegality and disintegration or joining Fianna Fáil to try to influence the left-most members safely. That this was a mistake is a testament to the terrible conditions these early communists operated in and the trying decisions and stigmatisation they were faced with.

It is not some secret conservative kernel at the heart of the CPI, which has been at the forefront of workers’ and tenants’ struggles in Ireland; it is the reality of doing the best with the hand you’re dealt. The RWG struggled from attack and dissolution to attack and dissolution in the 1930s, whilst in the 1960s the CPI were out and open as communists in one of the most repressive environments in Western Europe, whilst the SWP was attempting abortive entryism into the Labour Party. It is a shame for Molyneux that he cannot recognise the bravery of these visionaries who struggled without credit in the dark. 

It’s clear from this article that the SWP knows which way the wind is blowing. It hasn’t recovered and is unlikely to ever recover from the serious crisis of identity it suffered in the early 2010s. Based on my previous observations of interactions between members of the CYM and the SWP, they are starting to build up a repertoire of talking points that seem to, now, have finally developed into something that purports itself to be a substantial critique.

Poverty of thought

It is telling, then, that all Molyneux can do is inveigh against the CPI for imagined past sins. This escape into the past is very telling of the priorities of the SWP, given that its present is not an enviable position to occupy. It is a reflection of the poverty of thought in the Trotskyist movement that it engages in the vulgar practice of calling for materialist analysis, of claiming to be adept in performing material analysis, but carefully avoiding lifting the hood to discuss the phenomena on which its justifications are based.

This search for moral high ground that it has lost today has led the SWP to bizarre accusations that the CPI is responsible for the defection of the leadership of the Workers’ Party to the Labour Party in 1989. 

The most glaring evidence of this poverty of thought can be found in Molyneux’s self-plagiarism of his past publications in this latest article. The subsection shown below is recycled straight out of his 1983 book What is the real Marxist tradition? without any self-citation:

The Bolshevik party found itself suspended in a vacuum. To administer the country it had to take over and use a vast army of Tsarist officials and against all its intentions it itself became bureaucratised. Bureaucracy is essentially a hierarchy of officials not subject to popular control from below. In Russia the social force that Marxists (above all Lenin) counted on to prevent the development of bureaucracy, an active revolutionary working class, had been cut from under the feet of the party. In this situation it was impossible to implement the Marxist programme in pure form. For a period it was possible to mount a holding operation, relying on the hardened socialist commitment of the Bolshevik old guard, to cling to the basic revolutionary aspirations while making the necessary practical compromises (for example the New Economic Policy or NEP) and waiting for help from the international revolution. This in essence was the course taken by Lenin. But failing the international revolution (and it did fail) a stark choice had eventually to be made. Either remain loyal to the theory and goal of international proletarian revolution, with the possibility of losing state power in Russia, or cling to power and abandon the theory and goal. The situation was extremely complex and the participants did not see it in these clear terms, but, essentially, Trotskyism was the product of the first choice and Stalinism of the second.

You might be wondering what exactly is wrong with this – self-plagiarism is considered a form of fraud in academia, because it repackages an old work as a new one, thus avoiding originality while tricking audiences into believing that they’re consuming novel work.

This brings me to my fundamental criticism of Molyneux’s outlook that I hint at in my opening quote. Trotskyism is a repackaging of various personalities, figures, and feuds of a different age and an attempt to build a cargo cult. By attempting to go through the rituals that Leon Trotsky, Ernest Mandel, Tony Cliff and their contemporaries went through in the great factional hullabaloos of their day, Trotskyists are constantly enjoying a form of live-action roleplay where they are invariably persecuted geniuses and academic revolutionaries chased by conspiracies of conformist Stalinoid bureaucrats.

This re-enactment of the Comintern struggles of the 1930s satisfies egos while providing a safe merry-go-round to dissipate revolutionary fervour of young people in alignment with Western soft power foreign policy and domestic interests. The Trotskyist electoral machine, meanwhile, continues to burn out young activists with potential and enthusiasm in futile and hollow electoralism. Red Youth are building a new revolutionary form of popular struggle from the ashes of the old, and sectarian partisans will have to recognise that their methods are spent and that a new chapter is beginning for socialism in the 21st century. They must decide whether to become obstacles to that progress or actively aid it. 

I would invite the youth activists of today to not go glassy-eyed gazing at the past, nursing old grudges, but to critically and coldly scrutinise it for fundamental principles of theory and action to apply to the present. By working in one mass communist party, along the lines of democratic centralism and a serious commitment to class work and dialectical materialism, we can win back the future.

Decaying capitalism will not inevitably deliver socialism

We shouldn’t wait around for any Trotskyite delusion that the ‘class balance’ or ‘decaying features’ of capitalism are going to bring us socialism on a silver platter. Nor should we, in the name of most revolutionary slogans, lend our voices to any revolution in any country regardless of its class character and its ideology. Let us not forget that it is Molyneux’s erstwhile comrades in the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) who referred to Aleppo as the “Paris Commune of the 21st century”.

Considering that the ISO, like the IST and CWI, are teetering on the brink, we will soon gladly consign useful-idiot gullibility and left-wing anti-Communism to the dustbin of history. No to re-constructed “socialism”, no to counter-revolution, no to euro-communism. Forward to victory and a new unity. 

To quote Che Guevara: “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You must make it fall”.  

To quote Lenin: “To wait until the toiling classes bring about a revolution on an international scale means that everybody should stand stock-still in expectation. That is nonsense”. 

To quote Regina George: “Why are you so obsessed with me?”

Fergal Twomey is the former National Chairperson of the Connolly Youth Movement. Follow CYM on Twitter @ConnollyYM .

This article is part of a general debate and, like all articles we publish, does not reflect the views of the Irish Broad Left editorial team. We welcome responses to this article from those with opposing views.

National liberation, class and the fetishisation of armed struggle

By Alex Homits.

It strikes me that Ireland has many movements which commemorate, glorify and fetishise armed struggle without truly grasping the conditions or consequences that accompany it. It is significant to note that there exists in the western world a large amount of leftists who parade their interest for armed struggle virulently and openly. They talk of violence, protracted people’s war, insurrection and violence.

Ireland is no exception; those who build their political activism on commemorating fallen soldiers of the various strands of republicanism and continue to glorify armed struggle. The paradox is that most of those who actively engage in commemorating, glorifying and creating a fetish around armed struggle are either too young to have partaken in it or have never themselves experienced the devastating consequences armed struggle demands of the people and our class.

All revolutionary leaders who sought the overthrow of capitalism and the redefinition of societal structures argued for the use of armed struggle and defined it extensively, drawing on the historical examples of their time such as the Paris Commune or the Moscow uprising in 1905. They evaluated the conditions that led to the struggle, how it proceeded on a technical level, how the struggles ended and what consequences these uprisings and struggles had.

A tactic, not a fetish

There are efforts to dissuade comrades from being overly keen on the glorification of armed struggle or overly involved in commemoration. Initiatives such as the Peader O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum have been criticised by various republican elements for refusing to acknowledge armed struggle as a legitimate vehicle, and similar criticisms have been made of the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI).

There is an important point of reference here: the open letter that the Communist Party of Ireland wrote to the Provisional IRA in 1988 made several of the points I will make, but you can find the full text of the arguments the CPI makes on the archive website Cedar Lounge Revolution. The context in which the CPI wrote that argument was different to today, and my assessment reflects the material conditions of today.

Militants who have taken up arms, either under the guidance of a Marxist-Leninist party or under the auspices of national liberation struggles have encountered similar issues, utilised similar tactics and faced similar consequences as a result of their political workings. That is the first lesson that must be drawn when evaluating armed struggle: the material conditions, the development of imperialism and by extension colonialism, as well as the national question all play significantly different roles on the psyche of the working class and the makeup of society itself.

In Nazi-occupied territories, guerrilla warfare was almost a given response from significant portions of the population. Not only was the struggle against Nazi forces one of liberation and love for the mother nation, but it was also a necessity given that Nazi rule made life significantly more difficult. The material needs of working people were denied, and their living conditions destroyed.

In Eastern Europe the Nazi occupation was also colonial in nature, with the ultimate intention being mass displacement and the extermination of Slavic people. A dialectical relationship between armed struggle and the oppression of the Nazi regime therefore emerged and armed struggle for survival began.

There was a similar dynamic in Vietnam, where the country was a colony of France, then a colony of Japan throughout the Second World War period, and then, once more, a colony of France. The struggle for national liberation became paramount and the Communist Party correctly assessed and struggled for the fusion of the national question and the social question as the synthesis for revolutionary change in Vietnam.

National liberation and armed struggle in Ireland

Ireland has been through several hundreds of years of revolutionary upheaval. National liberation and the struggle for the independence, nay, for the soul of the nation manifested itself in different shapes and sizes – but all yearned for liberty. From time to time and particularly in the late 18th century, liberation began to take on a social facet: the men of no property, stripped, dispossessed and thrown into the ditches of the country had no longer anything to lose and the nation to gain.

The revolutionary character of the rural community continued to be a dominant feature all the way until the War of Independence, yet we saw another development occur in the urban centres, notably Dublin. When we speak of ‘armed struggle’ in the Irish context, we immediately think of the Provisional IRA, Official IRA or the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), which operated predominantly in the North, yet we do not always give consideration to the forces which led for instance, to the 1916 Rising. This is in part a result of the anti-republican history curriculum in Irish schools but also a result of the absence of a Marxist evaluation of armed struggle within the discussions that are taking place.

Certain political forces simply refuse to discuss it, yet Lenin, Engels, Marx and many other great leaders of the socialist movement pored over it endlessly, assessing, scrutinising and analysing it. It has become clear to me that armed struggle for a Communist is merely another mechanism to advance the class struggle, instigated in the conditions that most demand it.

Again, we need only look to the historical revolutionary movements for guidance and inspiration to concoct a concrete argument. Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Ireland, Russia, China, Yugoslavia, Greece, Cuba Eastern Europe, France, Algeria and on the streets of Oakland, California. What we see is one very clear and definitive piece of evidence in our broad assessment – when the contradictions within capitalism or imperialism heighten, the Party, in any given set of circumstances, must make a decision on the material conditions before them.

Specific conditions required

The Party asks itself and its members, is there a popular will or potential desire for mass struggle? Are there the resources for mass struggle and how can they be attained? No Marxist argues that an armed struggle can be won without setting upon itself the objective of winning the support of the masses.

Armed struggle plays the exact same role in attacking capital as any aspect of Party work, with one important distinction: armed struggle is initiated to conclude the political struggle a Party has been waging as a decisive blow against capitalism, colonialism, imperialism or all three. What does this mean and how should we understand this? It means that the material conditions within any state or society can objectively be used to assess whether armed struggle will yield success or failure.

In the Ireland of 2019 there is no appetite for armed struggle, and groups purporting to be socialist, republican or both must yield this point. Armed struggle as it manifests itself and did manifest itself in Ireland in the past comes under very well-defined objective circumstances and conditions. In fact, the relationship of oppression and resistance is dialectical – the greater the oppressor, the greater the resistance.

Today, oppression of the working class is obfuscated and much of our class holds reactionary or underdeveloped political views. To attempt to lead or manufacture armed struggle at this juncture is to commit to the destruction of your movement and set back the cause of the revolution a decade.

There is also no appetite to accept that armed struggle will not look like it did during the northern struggles or even the War of Independence. Agrarian, non-industrialised Ireland run by small farmers and the Catholic Church parish community is a relic of the past. The majority of the working class live in the major urban centres, or to be precise Dublin. The majority of the working class are born and raised, and live and die, in the streets of large cities and in the workhouses of today. A strategy reflecting no-go territories in the sparsely populated countryside would be crushed by the conventional development of rapid response units that all Western states now possess.

William J. Pomeroy’s anthology Guerrilla Warfare and Marxism made me consider something I had not considered before. We had a brief insight in the shape of the Paris Commune, or the 1905 Moscow Uprising in Russia of what armed struggle would look like in highly urbanised and densely populated Western states. Then, something else sprung to mind for me, the operational and structural nature of the Black Panther Party and groups similar to it. They had organised on the basis of their material conditions, which were urban ghetto communities facing a white supremacist system geared towards exploiting, murdering or imprisoning black people.

We live in a highly exploitative and unjust world; in some parts of it, political struggles utilise armed struggle to achieve political ends. Communists in various countries have determined that the material conditions in their countries have been ripe for armed struggle and engaged in it, though some of them have assessed the conditions and therefore their strategy incorrectly. Their parties have been destroyed, their members imprisoned and their movements discredited. So what was the purpose of their armed struggle? In hindsight it was an error of assessing the material conditions, which means that we must be extremely careful in how we make statements or claims today.

Confronting capital in Ireland today

What does this mean in concrete terms? It means that first and foremost, no real Communist disregards armed struggle as a means to challenge the capitalist system, but more importantly, a Communist or Party possesses the capacity to gauge and judge correctly when the correct or most opportune time for armed struggle presents itself.

Secondly, the option for armed struggle, as we have witnessed historically, has been utilised when deemed correct, rather than as a method of making conditions correct. If we briefly examine Cuba and the oft-misplaced quote uttered by Che, conditions were ripe and any historical materialist analysis would be able to determine that, independently of the contribution Che made. Cuba was in significant turmoil with huge revolutionary urban movements and a peasantry that was more than willing to collaborate with a guerrilla force. History vindicated the course of action taken by the 26 July Movement.

Thirdly, the republican movement(s) that glorifies and upholds a fetish of armed struggle as the only solution to socio-economic issues in Ireland has to be challenged, critiqued and ultimately, corrected.

Fourthly, the revolutionary movement must be patient in its leadership of the working class. Instead of attaching ourselves as if we are sick or destitute of ideas to the back of spontaneous movements, we need to begin to show leadership in class struggle and give direction to movements so that they confront capital and make tangible gains for our class.

That is the primary objective right now in the existing material conditions we are in: the rebuilding of a militant trade union movement that can shut cities down; the raising of consciousness of young people who are apathetic towards their class interest; and the continued politicisation of the working masses.

Finally, armed struggle as a political tool to the development of socialism succeeds in very certain conditions and it takes a very wise and highly disciplined political movement to carry it out. Ireland has neither the conditions nor the party to carry it out today.
 
“But whosoever carries the outworks of the citadel of oppression, the working class alone can raze it to the ground.” – James Connolly

Alex Homits is the General Secretary of the Connolly Youth Movement. Follow CYM on Twitter @ConnollyYM and on Facebook here.

The left must take the lead in building a new Ireland

By Seán MacBrádaigh.

As we approach the centenary of Britain’s partition of Ireland it is important to reflect on how the events of that period continue to influence the reality of Ireland today; how the legacy of political conservatism can be overcome; and why socialists should lead the building of a new Ireland.

By executing the 1916 leaders, the British removed the revolutionary leadership including the most advanced and progressive thinkers and activists, including Ireland’s foremost Marxist, James Connolly.

The revolutionary period was quickly followed by counter revolution and the establishment of two deeply conservative states, controlled and administered in the interests of economic elites, North and South.

What emerged in the North was a sectarian, one-party political slum where nationalists were excluded from power and denied opportunity. The “carnival of reaction” that Connolly predicted would follow partition saw systemic sectarian discrimination in the North’s economy and housing allocation, blatant gerrymandering of the electoral system, and the exclusion of any official manifestation of Irish identity in public life.

The unionist working class, while their living conditions were little different from their nationalist counterparts, were kept in line by an appeal to unity with their wealthier co-religionists through the Orange Order, being offered a marginal advantage in the employment market and made to distrust their fellow workers who were Catholic.

The South too witnessed deep reaction. In the Civil War, the forces of conservatism – the church hierarchy, the media and big business – all supported the Free State regime and opposed those who held out for a republic. The Free State was harsh on the poor, on women and on republicans or radicals of any kind.

Liam Mellows’s prophecy during the Treaty debates that, if accepted, partition would see men who assumed political power seeking “above all else” to hold on to that power, was vindicated. The result was an economy built in the interests of a wealthy, merchant class, big farmers, and a society which was morally policed by an extremely conservative Catholic hierarchy.

This claustrophobic, confessional atmosphere witnessed the horrors of the Magdalene laundries, the censorship of Ireland’s greatest literary minds, repeated waves of mass emigration and decades of economic stagnation.

Partition also divided the national movement from the labour movement with socialist and social-democratic forces marginalised by the dominance of  ‘Civil War’ parties in the South and the division between unionist and nationalist camps in the North.

The primary objective of republicans has always been the creation of a reunified, independent country. But the ultimate aim must be to build a  socialist republic. As James Connolly said: “If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the Green Flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic, your efforts would be in vain”.

A country in transition

Ireland in 2019 is a country in transition. The key props that upheld the conservative two-state arrangement since 1921 are being kicked away one-by-one. The power and influence of the Catholic Church has been fatally undermined, through the combined weight of scandals and social modernisation. Much of the liberal agenda has been delivered in the South. Abortion and marriage equality – unthinkable only a few short years ago – are now realities.

In the North, the Orange state has been dismantled as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, demographic changes and an assertive republicanism that has promoted a potent rights agenda. The once seemingly permanent unionist political majority is now gone.

However, with the fundamentalist Democratic Unionist Party blocking any legislative progress to match social realities, the North looks increasingly anachronistic in comparison to Britain or the rest of Ireland. Brexit will bring a further existential crisis for unionism, which it will be unable to withstand.

It is important that the left takes the lead role in shaping the new Ireland that emerges from all this change. A united Ireland cannot be about grafting the North onto the South. Rather, it should about building an entirely new Ireland with political structures that guarantee that the working class are finally in charge.

The father of Irish republicanism, Wolfe Tone, said: “Our Independence must be had at all hazards. If the men of property will not help us, they must fall; we will free ourselves by the aid of that large and respectable class of the community – the men of no property.”

So, the campaign for a united Ireland must be linked to the everyday struggles of the people, whether for a national health service, free public transport, a major public housing programme, or fair pay and decent conditions for workers.

Partition is a class issue

The left has to deal, as a priority, with the constitutional issue. This is not helped by the attitude of certain elements on the left who apparently oppose a united Ireland referendum on the spurious basis that it is ‘sectarian’.

The constitutional question is a class issue. It cannot be avoided or wished away. Maintaining the border – which underpins sectarianism and working-class division, and entrenches the conservative status quo – is an untenable position for an Irish socialist.

The societal changes we are currently witnessing are important in building a modern, inclusive society across the island of Ireland. What is much less certain is whether this will be turned into an opportunity to bring about greater economic equality or further advance the struggle of the working class to achieve political power.

It is therefore incumbent on the broad left to recognise the conditions that now exist to build an equal society that primarily serves the interests of the working class. Irish society is as deeply divided as ever between those who have economic power and those who do not.

For thousands of Irish children in 2019, their ‘home’ is a B&B or hotel room. Banks and vulture funds are taking the roof from over the heads of struggling families. Countless households simply cannot meet their weekly bills.

The notion that the markets can deliver prosperity for all has been relentlessly promoted by the conservative political parties and the establishment media commentariat. In recent decades, many of the rights of working people, which were hard won through popular struggle, have been reversed.

A huge challenge facing those who wish to turn this situation around is that for decades successive Irish governments – influenced by the neoliberal ideology that has dominated the European Union (EU) – have stripped the state of much of its power to build a fairer society.

Even within the narrow confines of liberal democracy, decision-making power has been transferred from political representatives to investors, bankers and technocrats. As a result, when the market inevitably fails, as it did in spectacular fashion in 2008, governments – even if they had the political will – have neither the strength nor the tools to deal with the situation.

The Irish left needs to unite around rebuilding the state and in so doing, rebuild society. The state has a central role in investing in jobs, public services and building sustainable communities. This raises fundamental questions about Ireland’s relationship with an EU that is increasingly marked by a democratic deficit and a neoliberal ideology that seeks to further dismantle the nation state.

A broad-based people’s movement

A courageous, compassionate Irish nation state should be a key objective of the Irish left. If the socialist and republican left fails to lead this fight – and instead indulges in political sectarianism – Ireland will not remain immune to the emergence of the type of radical, right-wing political threat we have seen in other European countries.

The left must harness and utilise the energy and youth witnessed in the marriage equality, Repeal the 8th and anti-water charges campaigns to promote the objective of a deeper and broader notion of equality. We need to learn the lessons of successful campaigns to mount a broad-based movement of people, trade unions and left organisations to directly challenge an economic system that has made life increasingly unequal and precarious for so many.

We must also talk to the working class in their own language and on their own terms and not that of the political class or of US university campus identity politics.

We need also to see the election to the Dáil of greater numbers of genuine working-class voices and radical representatives of rural Ireland.

The establishment media thrives on promoting a false narrative of a rural-urban divide, which unfortunately certain elements of the left play into. This is a barrier to the creation of a truly national movement for radical political transformation.

Parliament, the workplace and the streets are all theatres of struggle for a genuine working-class movement for change. This will require activity beyond the narrow confines of Dáil debates, and the mobilisation of communities and workers will be key to a real political challenge to the unequal and unfair distribution of wealth and power in Ireland today.

Seán Mac Brádaigh is a Sinn Féin press officer and activist. He is the party’s former director of publicity as well as the former editor of An Phoblacht