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Submitted by martin on Wed, 26/08/2020 - 10:58

Neil Faulkner has said that he's happy for these exchanges to be published as a comment on the web.

MT to NF:

I've written a response to your Marx/ Lenin/ Trotsky on the party articles, which you describe as sparked by our joint meeting on 12 July.

We'll be happy to publish any comment or reply you want to write.

NF to MT

Thanks for sending the link, Martin, and thanks for the invitation to reply.

I don't think there's any need. I stand by the main arguments in the articles - and, indeed, the details in them, but it is the main arguments that matter - and that is what we have to keep focused on. I think your piece shifts the terrain too much, moving it onto a detailed argument about the early 1920s, for example, instead of engaging with the substantive argument, which is about drawing on the Marxist tradition to help us in the task of creating a mass revolutionary party today.

What worries me especially is arguments along the lines of, the SWP does such and such, Red Flag does something else, Mutiny is this or that, the AWL's approach is … Examining the respective histories of tiny groups with minimal influence in the class struggle can't get us anywhere, and that's because, if you are tiny, you have no real influence, and if you have no real influence, nothing can be properly tested. This means that we could argue forever about sectarian history. The only way to know is the test of the struggle itself, and that depends on the revolutionaries achieving critical mass.

There will be further opportunities to exchange ideas. Daniel has set up a meeting, as you will know, for mid October. And I'm happy to debate the substantive issues - in the case of the next meeting, creeping fascism, but will avoid 'the history of sects' (even though I'm a Marxist historian!).

MT to NF

Thanks. But what do we do before we achieve critical mass, and how do we work out how best to achieve critical mass?

And a critical mass that can be deployed in a revolutionary way, rather than, as with the German SPD or for that matter the French CGT, a critical mass which we find has been achieved at the cost of gutting our ability to act in a revolutionary way?

We can only resolve those questions by exploration and discussion on the basis of the experience and observation we actually have.

How did you change your views on Brexit from the (since 1971) "traditional" SWP/IS view? How did you develop the ideas in your series of articles? Not by waiting until you had a mass revolutionary party and could observe its experience, but presumably by inquiring, discussing, debating?

Anyway, we'll no doubt talk further.

NF to MT

What I am saying, Martin, is this. We have to seize the key link in the chain. I agree with Trotsky when he said, in 1938, The crisis of humanity is the crisis of revolutionary organisation. Only we might now say, The crisis of humanity /and the planet/ is the crisis of revolutionary organisation. (He actually used the word 'leadership', but it comes to the same, as revolutionary leadership is collective: it is the vanguard of the working class and the oppressed organised into a political force.)

The key link is: building a united revolutionary organisation rooted in the vanguards of the working class and the oppressed.

Brexit was very simple. I asked my partner how she planned to vote in the referendum several months before it happened. She is not an activist, but she is firmly and consistently on the left in attitude. She told me she would vote Remain because it was more internationalist and anti-racist. That was decisive. It was immediately 100% clear that the progressive section of the working class would vote Remain on that basis. Everything that happened after that confirmed it. And of course that is precisely what happened.

What matters is the consciousness, confidence, and combativity of the working class and the oppressed. That is because the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class. Brexit is an ideological victory for the Far Right. The workers and the oppressed could smell it. They knew it stank of Farage and racism. So they voted Remain. The middle class, the Tory-voting workers, and the Sun-readers voted Leave.

It's not rocket science. You don't have to be the greatest Marxist theoretician to understand Brexit. You just need good class instincts.

MT to NF

Thanks. Yes, as Lenin put it:

"Every question 'runs in a vicious circle' because political life as a whole is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding and taking as firm a grip as we can of the link that is least likely to be struck from our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that most of all guarantees its possessor the possession of the whole chain..."

But building a mass revolutionary party is nearer to being "the whole chain" than the link we can seize straight away.

When Lenin wrote that about "seizing the link", what he meant was: get an all-Russian weekly newspaper and organise around it, as a way of going from the (large number of) scattered Marxist circles to the beginnings of a (not yet mass) Marxist party.

In the "years of reaction", the link that he "seized" was holding together a Bolshevik faction which, so Trotsky tells us, had in the low years no more than 30 or 40 reliable activists across Russia.

It would be good if we were in a similar situation to 1918-21, when many thousands enthused by the Russian Revolution wanted to build a party in Britain on Bolshevik politics, and the next "link" was pulling lots of different groups together into a party (actually, not yet anywhere near a mass party) on that political basis. Not yet, I think.

There are a few more "links" to grasp, one by one, and "grab the whole chain" doesn't tell us which or how.

Yes, most left-minded workers, especially younger ones, voted Remain. Good! But the older workers influenced by the "old" Labour left, SWP, or SP, who backed Leave, were and are not "middle class... Tory-voting workers... Sun-readers".

And the "follow the left-minded workers" rule can't always tell us what to think. There's almost always a question of which left-minded workers. And how do the left-minded workers themselves decide? How do they know what is good class instinct, and what is bourgeois prejudice derived from the world around them?

For decades the majority of left-minded workers in Britain were pro-Brexit. That shifted because increasing fractions of the socialist left, as well as the liberal bourgeois bien-pensant left, argued the issue year after year. Starting off, in fact, as I remember well, with a very small minority of us.

NF to MT:

A key point for me is the exceptional global polarisation to left and right. With this difference. The right is increasingly organised in the framework of the bourgeois state - for the bourgeois state is always the primary instrument of fascism repression - whereas the left has to create its own alternative structures, bases of resistance, forms of mass democracy, etc, etc. On our side, there is the polarisation - witness eruptions like BLM - but it's not rooted in proper class-based organisation. This is what we must change fast. Because we have about ten years in which to do it. It is the timescale that makes me thing building united mass revolutionary organisation is the key.

MT to NF:

Thanks. There is a polarisation, but the left is weak. The BLM mobilisations have been great, and the very good sales of Solidarity and willingness of people on them to sign up to keep in contact signalled to me an openness to socialist ideas, but the demonstrators are but by no means necessarily left-wing in a socialist sense, let alone organised as such.

The illustration which sticks in my mind is a former school student of mine who has a Malcolm X pic as his "icon" for electronic media, but when writing his "personal statement" for uni said that he wanted to get a job in private equity. (He's a maths whizz.) He did delete that when I explained what private equity does.

Yes, we need to move fast. But to get up the hill we need to look for the next toeholds, and the best paths, as well as telling ourselves to jump as high as we can?

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