The Weekly Worker Group's (CPGB)Turkish Mentors

Submitted by AWL on 12 April, 2004 - 9:21 Author: Sean Matgamna

It will be helpful first to outline the general ideas that formed the basis of the peculiar variant of Stalinism propounded by the group which today calls itself the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and publishes the Weekly Worker.

The group was originally called The Leninist. All its distinctive ideas on Stalinism were picked up from a faction of the Communist Party of Turkey, Workers' Voice, which separated from the Moscow-recognised party at the beginning of the 1980s. Its views were put out in English-language pamphlets and an English-language monthly, "Turkey Today".

Workers' Voice was a subjectively revolutionary strain of Stalinism. It was very eclectic in its politics, picking up criticism of the Stalinist states from the then important right-travelling "Eurocommunists" and even from Trotskyism - in fact, from the liberal-Stalinist mutation of Trotskyism promulgated by the late Isaac Deutscher, the well-known one-time-Trotskyist biographer of Trotsky.

What, despite their eclecticism, made Workers' Voice Stalinists - and hardline "tankie" Stalinists at that - was their attitude to the ruling bureaucracies in the Stalinist states and to the working classes there.

They sided with the bureaucratic ruling classes against the workers. They did that retrospectively in relation to the East German workers' rising of June 1953, the Russian invasion of Hungary in November 1956, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. They did it in relation to contemporary questions: they backed the suppression, in December 1981, of the anti-Stalinist trade union movement in Poland.

They supported the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

They proclaimed that the Communist Parties of the world were the working class, in politics. Where Communist Parties ruled, the working class, not only the local working class but the international working class too, ruled. Such parties had the right and the duty to suppress "spontaneist", "economistic" working-class movements.

One thing that distinguished them from other Stalinists was their blunt and unashamed admission that what they were supporting was the suppression of the working class and the majority of the people. Not for them the pretence that the trouble in East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Poland was the work of a handful of CIA agents. The "spontaneous" mobilisation of the working class, the "democratic counter-revolution", was what had to be suppressed.

As a riposte to USSR president Gorbachev's reforms in the late 1980s, they began to talk about a "political revolution" in the Stalinist states. They outlined desirable political reforms. But they looked to "the communists" - the ruling parties, that is, the organisations of the ruling class in those states - to carry out that revolution. Meanwhile they supported those "communists" in their suppression of "spontaneist" working-class movements.

They blamed and criticised the rulers in, for example, Poland, for the emergence of a "non-communist" labour movement, Solidarnosc. But their solution was for the rulers to reform, and for some of them to lead a "political revolution".

Underlying these ideas was a peculiar conception of the transition to socialism and to its higher stage, communism, the classless, stateless society.

After a socialist revolution, they explained, the working class would "not yet" be able to exercise power "directly". Only in the distant future, after a long period in which a party ruled for the working class, and transformed society, would the workers be able to rule.

"Socialism is a transitional society where the ruling class - the working class - starts out not yet able to rule directly, and in many senses retains the features of an oppressed classÂ…"

(Supplement to The Leninist, August 1991).

That was an organic and ineradicable limitation, rooted in the nature of class society and of the working class under capitalism. For an indefinite period, the working class could only rule through its party - recognised as "its", presumably, on the basis of faith that it will be endorsed retrospectively by the future generation of workers which can effectively rule.

The regime could be more or less liberal, but it would have to be rule by a "Communist Party". Properly it should be backed by the working class, but it could, if necessary, suppress the working class, and should do so, if that were the only alternative to a worker-based "democratic counter-revolution".

This theoretical analysis underpinned their attitude to working-class spontaneity and their ultra-"substitutionist" conception of the relationship of the Communist Parties to the "raw" working class. For practical purposes, the Communist Parties were the working class in politics. They were that even if, like the PDPA, they were sociologically not working-class at all.

All this was the result of a non-Marxist - indeed, quintessentially Stalinist - generalisation from the experience of the Stalinists in power in the USSR and later in other states. They did not assess the ruling bureaucracies for what they were, parasitic ruling classes. Instead, they retained the idea that the ruling machines were "Communist Parties", and adapted their concept of socialism to fit.

They did not understand or in any case did not think through the implications of the fact that the fundamental cause of Stalinist rule in the USSR was that Russia had not been materially ripe for the creation of socialism there, and that the defeats of the socialist revolution in the advanced countries of Western Europe, which were ripe, had left the ruling but isolated Russian working class to be overthrown by the Stalinist counter-revolution, which stamped its characteristic features on the USSR from the mid 1920s.

Not properly understanding the specific peculiarities of the USSR, and accepting Stalinism there as typical, "natural" socialism, they generalised for the whole world from the limited experience of Stalinism in backward countries. They concluded that bureaucratic "Communist Party" rule would, even in the advanced countries, be a normal feature of socialism. They thus wrote a degree of Stalinism into their programme as an inevitable and unavoidable feature of working-class rule all over the world.

As well as reading Stalinism forward onto future socialist revolutions, they also, as we shall see, read it back onto the October 1917 revolution. Arguing that one could deny the authentic proletarian-revolutionary character of the April 1978 Afghan coup only if one also dismissed October 1917 as a coup - that Afghanistan 1978 was as much of a revolution as Russia 1917 - they therefore also, simultaneously, argued that Russia 1917 was as much of a coup as Afghanistan 1978. John-Jack, in his recent polemic on "Solidarity and Workers' Liberty" goes further on this question than his mentors (as far as I know) ever did, saying flatly that "the form" of the October revolution was "a coup".

They were subjectively revolutionary, in the sense of being militant against capitalism. But their perspective, and their invariable alignment with the bureaucratic ruling classes of the Stalinist states against the working classes there, defined them as Stalinists. At best, as when they talked of a "political revolution" in the late 1980s, as liberal Stalinists.

Their world outlook was constructed around a wilful fiction that the working class ruled wherever a Communist Party ruled. Not for them the notion that the Stalinist states had some proletarian character on account of their economic structure, and despite the nature of their political rulers. Their attempt at a detailed description of the USSR's economy portrayed a system that would, in their account of it, have to be defined as a species of "state capitalism" if it were not for the "working-class" rule over it. Except that this "working-class rule" was a thin fiction.

They were eclectic and inconsistent Stalinists, would-be revolutionaries in Turkey, but Stalinists nonetheless. They never succeeded in being anything else for as long as Stalinism survived in the USSR.

The Leninist took their ideas and used them in its journalistic work - and that, since it was never other than a tiny group, was its core work. As far as I can make out, nothing The Leninist said, other than baroque flourishes here and there, was "its own". It was politically a clone of the Turkish group until some time in the 1990s.

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