I’m entirely with David Pendletone (Solidarity 452) that we should seek to win the labour movement and the Labour Party to a programme for a workers’ Europe.
But what if we fail to win a majority for that before March 2019?
We should assume no “inevitability of gradualness”. But even if we, around Solidarity, increase our forces twenty-fold in the next year — twenty times more activists, twenty times more readers, twenty times more influence — we may not win Labour conference 2018 to that programme.
And, even if we do, a workers’ Europe is not a programme that can realised by action in one country alone. A revolutionary socialist stand by the Labour Party would surely spark great upheavals in labour movements across Europe, but we cannot guarantee that we will have revolutionary socialist majorities in the big countries’ labour movements, and they will have won government, by March 2019.
If we don’t, even a Labour Party entirely won to the politics of this newspaper will have to offer an immediate response when the Tories try to ram through their Brexit package.
What do we do when the Tories try to force through a nationalist, rights-removing, anti-migrant, economically-regressive deal in early 2019?
We should try to stop them. We should demand a referendum, even if the Labour Party doesn’t, and even if Labour’s official line on Brexit is as rubbish as it is now.
Not to do so would be like workers faced with a wage cut saying: we want our union to commit to socialist revolution. If we can’t win that in time, or if we do win it in time but other unions are not yet sufficiently revolutionised to enable a workers’ government, then we should not busy ourselves with crappy alternatives like low wages or even lower wages, but just grin and bear it.
Yes, a referendum is a poor form of democracy. Yes, pretty much all referendums are a choice between the status quo and some description of change. Yes, of course we might lose that 2019 referendum, or face a nasty backlash after we’d won it narrowly.
But a poor form of democracy is better than none. A referendum, as the only way to exorcise the June plebiscite, is better than giving the Tories free passage.
The status quo — however nasty the politics of many pro-EU politicians, like France’s president Macron — is better, as a baseline from which to fight, than a re-raising of barriers between Britain and the rest of Europe which will be very difficult to reverse in any medium term.
David, if I understand him right, would not be opposed to a Labour Party which had been won to a workers’ Europe programme demanding a referendum on a Tory deal.
But, as socialists, we should not limit ourselves by what the top leaders of the Labour Party may or may not be pushed into in this or that timespan. We fight for our ideas in the Labour Party.
We also say what we think independently, and promote it as energetically we can, in the workplaces, in the unions, and on the streets, as well as in the Labour Party.
Stalinists worse than sectarian
Steve Cushion’s Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution contains valuable research on Cuban workers’ struggles in the 1950s. However its theoretical framework is flawed, allowing modern Stalinists to use his findings to boost the ruling Cuban Stalinists.
Cushion’s response to my review (Solidarity 452) only reinforces my original criticism.
Cushion says he accepts the Cuban Communist Party was Stalinist, but found a “wide divergence between the sectarian ‘party line’ and the actions of individual communist militants”. This is the standard recourse of historians who are soft on Stalinism, but it misconceives the characterisation. Stalinist parties were not just “sectarian”: they were active agents of Russian foreign policy and embryonic agents of a potential new ruling class. They were not simply a strand of the labour movement (analogous to social-democratic reformists), but a poisonous, external class force. The virtues of individual militants is beside the point: the key is to determine whose interests these parties served. The same applies to Castro’s 26 July movement.
Cushion claims the January 1959 general strike thwarted efforts to prolong the civil war and averted US intervention. The evidence for this view is thin, but suppose he is right. It only underlines my fundamental point: the Castro forces used the general strike as a battering ram for getting their rebel army into power. Working class action was subordinated to the Castro movement’s drive for power. The Cuban workers did not make the general strike to assert their own interests.
Cuban workers’ power was used by the Castroites to clear away the last elements of the old bourgeois state. While smashing Batista’s state was undoubtedly in workers’ interests, the general strike did not inaugurate any form of workers’ rule but within a year, Stalinist totalitarianism.
Cushion claims he takes no position on subsequent developments in Cuba after the 1959 revolution.
This is evasive and disingenuous. The same forces that led the revolution (and who subordinated workers’ struggles to their cause) came to power in Cuba and have ruled ever since. After nearly sixty years it is not unreasonable to expect a socialist historian to define the class character of the Cuban revolution and the subsequent regime that has dominated the workers.
My position at least has the virtue of clarity. The Cuban revolution was never a socialist revolution. Sadly, Cuban workers did not assert themselves as an independent class force, or established their own forms of class power (such as soviets), nor their own workers’ state. The Castro movement smashed the old bourgeois Batista state and proceeded to establish its own state. The Castro leadership became the new ruling class of a new exploiting bureaucratic collectivist society. They constituted new exploitative (but non- capitalist) social relations of production similar to the Stalinist USSR. They atomised the Cuban workers and filleted the trade unions.
The Cuban Stalinists have made tentative moves towards capitalism since the 1990s, while retaining their grip on power – effectively the Chinese model.
The Castroites are therefore the enemies, not allies of the Cuban workers. Clarity on Stalinism is the prerequisite for socialist history and current politics.