Study Bolsheviks critically

Submitted by martin on 16 May, 2003 - 9:30

Two comments on Alan Johnson's discussion of how to unite the left ("Left Unity with the movement of movements", Solidarity 3/28) - one positive and one negative. The negative one is that I think he spins fantasies about the SWP.

Having detailed a string of that group's political misdemeanours over the last twenty years, he then writes hopefully of "a snap-back, a coming-to-senses". But the SWP's degeneration has involved the destruction of huge swathes of political culture among its rank-and-file, and the closing off of any avenue by which the membership can influence the organisaton's direction - making it pretty much inconceivable that the organisation as a whole could "snap back" (particularly after thirty years of rot). That is not to deny that many individual SWPers could eventually find their way back to something recognisably like Marxism, or advocate sectarian aloofness in our dealings with SWP members; but we need to make propaganda and embarrass the SWP by example, not put our hopes in an "international socialist tradition" that was effectively dead years ago.

On a completely different point, I think Alan's approach to the Bolshevik tradition and the historical experience of the Russian revolution is the only rational, sane one for socialists to take. At the moment, the only far left criticism of "really existing Bolshevism" comes from anarchists and so-called libertarians whose blind prejudices lead them to repudiate the Russian revolution and crazily equate Bolshevism with Stalinism; even the militantly anti-Stalinist Trotskyist left has traditionally been reluctant to criticise the Bolsheviks. Any criticism needs to be balanced with the imperative of defending the Russian revolution from its bourgeois and anarchist detractors, but it is nonetheless important that the AWL does not shy away from studying and discussing this issue. I would recommend comrades read Hal Draper's book The "dictatorship of the proletariat" from Marx to Lenin, which deals with the evolution of Bolshevik ideas after 1918, and Sam Farber's Before Stalinism, a detailed survey of democratic institutions and ideas during the revolution and civil war.

Sacha Ismail, South London

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