Accelerationism… Decelerationism?

Trumping

Worker’s Spatula are continuing their running joke about Donald Trump being the answer to the US’s problems. The joke, such as it is, insists that US comrades have to vote for Trump as nothing else will force the US left into action and all reformist methods are condemned by the political mainstream as “divisive”. I know that the comrades at Worker’s Spatula are being facetious, but I still find this to be a worthy jumping off point for a few thoughts I’ve been wanting to make publicly on account of some private debates.

The idea behind accelerationism, to its credit, has its roots in a basic Marxist idea: Capitalism creates its own contradictions. States create their own enemies. In short: actions have reactions. But does this work in the vulgar sense of “the worse a capitalist state is, the more the people will want to demolish capitalism”?

No. First of all, because the people do not automatically associate what we consider “the bourgeois state” with capitalism. They may just see a specific government which can be replaced with another government with slightly better policies. This may be frustrating, but successively worse governments often teach the people to long for a “return” to “a better era” in the past. Successively better governments may teach the people that they can always demand better. But let’s give a practical example of accelerationism failing: Few would deny that Margaret Thatcher was a case of the rapid dismantling of the trappings of the social state accepted as “workable capitalism” by much of the British working classes. If a qualitative shift to a much worse form of capitalism caused the working classes to view themselves as politicised by class and made them conscious of the idea of proletarian power, then Thatcher should’ve been the beginning of the end for capitalism in Britain. She certainly enraged many proletarians at the time.

However, Thatcherism had the opposite effect, with Labour surrendering to its right wing, starting a long process by which only now has the left of Labour been able to rebuild a party that might even be able to fight for moderate reforms for the working class.

To give an example from the US, it is widely acknowledged that there are many “red states” in the US which the Democratic party effectively surrenders to the Republicans. Bernie Sanders publicly criticised this in one of his last speeches before effectively conceding to Clinton. Aside from this, many US leftists have accused the Democrats of sliding consistently to the right, following the Republicans, in search of a “centre”. Has this helped the Left in the US?

This is not to say that disasters can’t be good, that there is never any truth to Mao’s famous dictum: “There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent”. But such disasters should be situations in which the enemy are exposed and themselves feel panic (hence the chaos), not where they are simply allowed to be as cruel to the people as they like. An example of this is the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis did not result in proletarian revolution, but it sparked widespread political mobilisation against a system which was clearly shown, to the average person, to be corrupt. In the US, as usual, this meant more gains for the (bold, confident) Right than it did for the (timid, conciliatory) Left: An embryonic fascist movement had to be unleashed, or had to be accommodated, depending which section of the bourgeoisie which operates within the Republican Party this is considered from. Meanwhile, because the Left is so weak in the US, it was enough for the Democrats to present themselves as relatively youthful and rebellious (Obama), and even accept some (very moderate) rebels into serious discussion (Sanders), without allowing for any meaningful change to the rhetoric, leadership, or practical behaviour of the party in the final instance (hence Sanders’s support for Clinton following a completely farcical primary campaign). However, the Sanders campaign was still a step forward compared to anything in years in the US context, and it owes much to the same crisis which produced Trump.

Another example of an opportunity in crisis is Brexit. There are those who felt that “Lexit” was an “accelerationist” line akin to saying “Let’s support UKIP because it’ll wake people up!”. But the “Lexit” supporters I know had a line more akin to “calling the bluff” of the pro-Brexit political classes (Tories and UKIP alike), who were claiming Brexit would allow for British money to be used to look after British people again, instead of going towards a nebulous “EU bureaucracy”. And indeed, Labour seems to have made it to a stronger relative position, albeit with the danger of Owen Smith trying to derail the principled social democrat Jeremy Corbyn right when he may have a chance to hit the Tories where it hurts in the upcoming elections (nobody makes the claim that UKIP has been “emboldened” by Brexit anymore).

We must be clear that those who supported “Lexit” at the time did not campaign for pro-Brexit Tories or UKIP, but rather seized upon the disgrace of the pro-Brexit Right after Brexit actually happened in order to demand that the social services like the NHS which ordinary British people hold dear be saved, just as the people were promised. Their bluff has been called.

The point is that what appears to be a bad situation may be a good one, if you can seize control of the narrative. Giving unlimited power to the Right does not achieve this effect, however, one should take advantage of all the Right’s mistakes to score points for the Left and push for changes that the masses feel are worthy of support and possible in practice at a given moment.

But while making clear that we do not endorse “accelerationism” and being clear on what it is (actively supporting reactionary leadership on the mistaken belief it will “wake people up”, NOT seizing on moments of crisis to rally the masses against the reactionary leadership which they see has failed), we should note that the US now faces a question which is almost the inverse, which one might term “decelerationism”.

Decelerating crisis through Clinton?

In light of the current prospects for President of the United States being Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, many people feel they are “caught between a rock and a hard place”. On the one hand, voting for Clinton will teach the Democrats that they can trample all over the political will of millions of Sanders supporters, not only by denying them their preferred candidate through underhanded methods, but by making no concessions to the political differences between the two candidates (who both objectively received many many votes), which could have easily been done by choosing Sanders or someone with Sanders-like politics as Clinton’s running mate. On the other hand, other than Clinton, the only candidate who can win in the current circumstances is Trump, who is more or less an open fascist. Isn’t any vote other than one for Clinton in this context an example of accepting accelerationism’s core premise, that we have to objectively support more reactionary leadership? Should US citizens not simply “decelerate”, and vote for Clinton?

First of all, I think it’s a mistake to tell those who are convinced they have to vote for Clinton not to do so. If their mind is made up, spending time telling them to vote for Jill Stein will only make you both more upset. The point is there are many who won’t vote at all, or who will vote for a smaller candidate that their particular communist party endorses, who can be convinced to rally around Jill Stein to make clear that there are real masses of people who are critical of Clinton “from the left” and whose votes the Democrats lost by making no concessions to the left wing of their party.

However, the actual vote is not what concerns me per se. The issue is the logic one hears in the discussions which invariably take place. The logic goes that Trump is worse than Clinton, so “we have to keep him out of office”. Certainly this is true in the most vulgar sense: If the next four years are to be considered on their own, I would prefer to have Clinton be the President of the United States rather than Trump, and not merely because I wouldn’t want to be forced out of the country prior to the completion of my PhD. So it would seem that Sanders is right: Now that it’s Trump versus Clinton, we all have to support Clinton, our saviour from the Trump madness.

However, while Sanders did play an extremely valuable educational role for the masses in the US, proclaiming in every single speech that it was not leadership which mattered most but the masses who take part in mass politics, a problem with his thinking, in common with that of the revisionist CPUSA, is that he understands Trump or the Republicans as existing in a vacuum from the Democrats. The Democrats are part of the same status quo as the Republicans. The Democrats and Republicans together have built a status quo which allowed for Trump to reach as far as he has. It may be that Trump chose the Republican Party as his home (for obvious reasons), but the Democrats cannot solve this problem, as they created it. They created it, and they do not acknowledge they created it. Millions know that something is wrong with the status quo in America: They express it in the Republican Party by following Trump with his jingoistic plans to “Make America Great Again”, and they expressed it with their massive support for Sanders despite the entirety of the Democratic establishment being against him (no one can compare Clinton and Sanders’s crowds on the campaign trail and reasonably conclude that Clinton was actually more popular). And how does the Clinton campaign respond to this clear mood of dissatisfaction?

America is already great! Everything is fine right now! What’s more, all these millions of people who demand answers should vote for me, and I’ll promise them… more of this thing that they’re so unreasonably angry about! I wonder why I’m not doing so well in the polls?

Now Clinton may be able to cheat to beat Trump just as she cheated to beat Sanders, so maybe she doesn’t have to worry about the fact that so many people hate her. But leftists who put their faith in the Democrats to “decelerate” the madness which manifests itself in Trump should worry about this. They should worry because if there is not a concrete left answer to the status quo by 2020, the fascist threat will only grow stronger then (no matter who won the 2016 election), and Clinton may not be able to beat the fascist they nominate then.

…And they will nominate a fascist, because if Clinton wins and gives the world more of the same conditions, people are just going to get angrier than they are now. Time is not unlimited, and the fascist forces will grow stronger. What will the US Left’s response be? To just think they can decelerate this process without ever articulating real solutions to the social conditions in which fascists can draw so many followers? To recreate the status quo again and again out of cowardice? I pray to the god I’m not sure I believe in that that’s not what happens. Because what happens in the US will affect all of us, and even if it didn’t, the peoples of the US deserve better than a future dictated by a Clinton or a Trump.

Brar and Galloway on Scotland and Wales

In the past, I have alluded to, but rarely directly discussed, the importance of a correct line on the national question for Marxist-Leninists in any country. Because bourgeois democracy continues to provide some checks and balances in imperialist countries like the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, and several other English-speaking countries where my blog might be read, the right to espouse “secessionist” views for minority nationalities is more or less protected. Because of this, many radicals don’t see the revolutionary potential in national movements in their own countries. This is a grave mistake. By the same reasoning, imperialist extraction of super-profits make it so that the bourgeois state does not regard union organisers in these same countries as an immediate existential threat, and indeed, by the same reasoning the labour aristocracy in charge of the unions is able to take a weak stance because it does not view the communists as a force among the masses. We must not deal with politics with our eyes trained only to what makes us look radical at present, but to our long-term goals*.

Two faces well-known on the Left in Britain, Harpal Brar, the Chairman of the CPGB-ML, and George Galloway, the most famous figure associated with the Respect Party, are extremely fond of posturing as radicals, occasionally together. Both defend various states which find themselves in conflict with UK and US imperialism, provoking the expected shrill cries of the Trotskyites and liberals. Additionally, Harpal Brar is well-known for his vigorous defence of Comrade Stalin, something which makes him popular by default with foreign “Stalinists”.

But what are their stances on “internal issues” of British politics, such as the national question?

Both of them uphold the correct line on the North of Ireland, condemning the British presence there as imposed to cement imperialist interests and contrary to the national aspirations of the Irish people. But such a stance is hardly controversial in the British Left. Indeed, it is expected.

Brar and his CPGB-ML take a stance on Wales and Scotland which runs totally contrary to the Leninist position on the national question. This is especially striking given their strong association with a defence of Stalin, who was responsible for the work “Marxism and the National Question”, the authoritative Marxist-Leninist answer to this question to this day**.

What is the CPGB-ML’s “Marxist” explanation for their patriotic defence of the maintenance of the bourgeois AND imperialist British state’s present borders on the island of Great Britain? It can essentially be boiled down to two parts, one of which refutes the other. Firstly: There are no such nations to begin with, as the bourgeoisies of Scotland, Wales, and England are unified. Secondly: The demands for greater cultural autonomy or independence are being pushed by the bourgeoisie (in Scotland and Wales?). The Scottish bourgeoisie is apparently simultaneously so totally unified in its interests with the English bourgeoisie as to present no contradictions between the two, but somehow also has contrary economic interests which may be pursued through a campaign for national independence!

The CPGB-ML’s stance on Wales stands in opposition with the views of almost the entire population of Wales. The CPGB-ML holds that the Welsh are more or less “British” in national character and are unified with other “British” people in speaking English. The majority of Wales’s population, bourgeois and proletarian, conceives of itself as having a separate Welsh national character, and considers its own language to be Welsh (even if British rule has beaten back the predominantly Welsh-speaking territory somewhat, the majority of Welsh certainly regard all attempts towards the restoration of their national language positively). Regardless of the questions of how to relate to Plaid Cymru or the Welsh Maoists’ attempts at building a Welsh Socialist Republican Party and Congress, there is a Welsh nation with its own Welsh language and territory, and this fact must be reflected in our politics, whether in Wales or in England.

2011WelshSpeakers
Wikipedia disputes your claims of Welsh linguistic unification with England, CPGB-ML.

There are both similarites and differences between the Welsh and Scottish cases. Similar to the Welsh, the majority of Scottish people still hold on to a specifically “Scottish” national identity. Whether or not they were “colonised” the way Ireland was is irrelevant: There is a separate nation, from the proletariat up to at least a certain section of the bourgeoisie (the national bourgeoisie, if you will), as evidenced by the bid for independence, which failed after the fanatical Better Together campaign by the Scottish wings of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Tories, and apparently approved of by the CPGB-ML!

It is however worth noting that unlike in the case of Wales, the people in Scotland are divided about a key feature of their national identity: Their language. In the Highlands, Gaelic traditionally predominated, and is having difficulty reasserting itself in part because of the Lowlands traditional use of Scots, which, being mutually comprehensible or close to mutually comprehensible with English, dilutes the strength of a campaign against English’s hegemony over all of Scotland. Could Scotland itself contain multiple nations? Perhaps. But even if there is an oppressed Gaelic nation within Scotland after independence, this independence would be a step forward, as it would qualitatively change the dynamics in the relationship between Scots and Gaelic.

But Harpal Brar and his CPGB-ML avoid all such questions, choosing to disregard the still-living languages of Great Britain entirely and insisting that all of Great Britain is one territory with one language and one people, claiming that the continuing unity of the bourgeoisies of Great Britain will bring about a greater unity of the peoples of Great Britain in struggle, and will hasten a socialist revolution (one which itself will apparently continue the trampling on the Welsh language in the name of unity of the now-socialist “British nation”!).

George Galloway praises Irish resistance to Britain, but, as an open reformist who does not even pretend to be guided by Marxism-Leninism, he does not need to prove that Scotland is not a nation. When the question of Scottish independence was raised, he informed us that the Scottish should continue to “choose” to be united with the English, that rather than splitting off from Britain, the Scottish ought to look to the EU to build a brighter future for Britain (why the Irish in the North cannot simply accept partition and live happily through the EU’s beneficence is not explained).

Fast forward to 2016:

GallowayBrexit

Mocking Galloway’s inconsistency is almost too easy. But I do so to point something out: Like Galloway, the CPGB-ML seem to see salvation for the Scottish and Welsh peoples only within the borders of the current British state (minus the North of Ireland). Unlike Galloway, the CPGB-ML consistantly has said that the EU is an imperialist and bourgeois project (although just about anyone who follows Lenin could tell you that). But do they realise that the UK is an imperialist and bourgeois state?

We cannot tolerate the CPGB-ML’s lies about the non-existence of a Welsh nation on principle. But even ignoring principle, if the CPGB-ML’s members really seek to overthrow the British state (which I do not assume to be the case for all of them), do they not see that the panic of “their own” imperialist bourgeoisie during the Scottish independence referendum indicated the danger that Scottish and Welsh political identity pose to the bourgeoisie and the imperialists? Or do they subscribe to the Kautskyite view that inter-imperialist contradictions are of no consequence?

But we should expect nothing from the CPGB-ML, which is virtually silent on the national democratic revolution led by the progressive PYD, allied with real revolutionary Marxists in Turkey and Kurdistan, while breathlessly cheering on the Baathist regime in Syria, allied only with revisionist parties and defensible only against the pro-imperialist jihadist forces which, to their credit, the CPGB-ML do rightly condemn.

For internationalism, Marxist-Leninists in Britain, and in England in particular, cannot look to the CPGB-ML, with its infantile grasp of Lenin’s revolutionary writings and sensationalist attempts to insert itself into the political picture only to condemn everything which exists as a reformist trap. In all likelihood, a new organisation may have to be built.

It is my personal hope that the comrades of Red London, who have made contact with ICOR, the premiere international Marxist-Leninist organisation of our time, will attempt to learn from ICOR member organisations and reach out to others in Britain of like mind to begin the construction of a new revolutionary organisation for Britain. If any Red London comrades are reading this, I hope that they will consult the writings of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor (USA), the only ICOR member from a predominantly English-speaking country (unless South Africa is included), for a model of how to build a Leninist organisation in an imperialist English-speaking country. In particular they should note the importance that must be placed, especially in imperialist countries, on weakening the bourgeoisie’s power over the masses by calling attention to and building up resistance of minority nationalities, who, once they become nationally conscious, gain a special progressive potential in resisting the propaganda of the bourgeoisie of the dominant nationality. As Red London comrades know, organisations in ICOR take very seriously the cause of national liberation as part of their internationalist practice, unlike the patriotic “Stalinists” of the CPGB-ML.

Workers of the world – unite!

Gweithwyr y byd – unwch!

Wirkers o the warld – unite!

Obraichean den t-saoghail – tig còmhla!

*It is also for this reason that communists even in bourgeois democracies would do well to practise a certain amount of secrecy, in view of the long-term potential for the rise of fascism and the curtailing of bourgeois democratic rights.

**Indeed, it is so authoritative that even the Trotskyites feel the need to appropriate it. Isaac Deutscher famously claimed, based on nothing but his own irrational hatred of Comrade Stalin, that Stalin could not have penned such a work. The absurdity of such a claim aside, many Trotskyites follow Deutscher in claiming that Stalin was not the true author of the work, using this unfounded conspiracy theory to rationalise their own lip-service (not practical adherence) to the line espoused within.

The CPGB-ML, Revolutionary Purity, and Entryism

The current political culture in Britain is such that most readers, upon seeing the picture of Stalin at the top of my blog, will assume that I am sympathetic to Harpal Brar and the CPGB-ML, due to the particular zeal with which they defend Comrade Stalin. It is my personal view that Harpal Brar is far from the saviour of British anti-revisionism that his followers make him out to be, and that there are both theoretical and practical problems with the CPGB-ML which cannot be blamed on the subjective or objective conditions in Britain at large, but rather stem from the party’s own strategy and tactics. Indeed, I believe that in some ways, the CPGB-ML is now less relevant than some processes which are ongoing within Labour. I wish to discuss “entryism” and the Labour Party, and how it relates to “ultra-leftism”, with the CPGB-ML acting as a foil of sorts.

What is “entryism”? At the risk of sounding too philosophical, all of us “enter” into something when we take part in practical politics. We enter into the party, it changes us, and we change it. We enter into a trade union, or a publication for which we write. The question is not whether or not to “enter”, but what to enter and how. As an organisation, most readers would agree, one may “enter” into popular fronts. Entry into a party is, in my view, similar. One wouldn’t enter into a front or an alliance where the terms were sure to benefit the other side and possibly destroy your organisation. Similarly, the idea of working within a larger party or Syriza-esque “party of parties” for tactical reasons should be dealt with in terms of how beneficial this tactic is for the overall strategy of the organisation.

Internationally, the term “entryism” is associated with Trotskyism, hence why it may be easily used as an insult. In Britain in particular, the term is most strongly associated with the much-publicised controversy surrounding the Trotskyite group “Militant”. But it may surprise more more anti-Labour readers to learn that Lenin took a much more nuanced stance. I quote:

I cannot deal here with the second point of disagreement among the British Communists—the question of affiliation or non-affiliation to the Labour Party. I have too little material at my disposal on this question, which is highly complex because of the unique character of the British Labour Party, whose very structure is so unlike that of the political parties usual in the European continent. It is beyond doubt, however, first, that in this question, too, those who try to deduce the tactics of the revolutionary proletariat from principles such as: “The Communist Party must keep its doctrine pure, and its independence of reformism inviolate; its mission is to lead the way, without stopping or turning, by the direct road to the communist revolution”—will inevitably fall into error. Such principles are merely a repetition of the mistake made by the French Blanquist Communards, who, in 1874, “repudiated” all compromises and all intermediate stages. Second, it is beyond doubt that, in this question too, as always, the task consists in learning to apply the general and basic principles of communism to the specific relations between classes and parties, to the specific features in the objective development towards communism, which are different in each country and which we must be able to discover, study, and predict.

“Left-Wing” Communism in Great Britain

It must be emphasised that Lenin did not conceive of Labour as a revolutionary party. He insisted that an independent communist party be formed for Britain, as elsewhere. Whether by alliance or entry, the approach of the revolutionary organisation towards a non-revolutionary one must be based on tactics. No illusions may be held that reformism can be substituted for revolution. We must divide between serious debate by revolutionaries on the usefulness of entry into Labour on the one hand, and surrender to Labour on the other. Lest we forget: The worst scoundrels are those who entered Labour as “revolutionary” socialists decades ago and became the core of “New Labour”. (I place “revolutionary” in quotes as all evidence I can find indicates that those blamed for New Labour appear to have a background the revisionist CPGB or in Trotskyism).

Lenin repeatedly emphasised that revolutionaries ought to make tactical compromises in order to unite with the masses. A revolutionary organisation should not become so crippled by fear of liquidating itself and abandoning its revolutionary mission that it distances itself from the revolutionary masses whom it is meant to lead. The Chinese Communist Party did not liquidate itself when operating within the KMT, but did show the Chinese people that it stood on the side of national liberation. The KOE in Greece, as weak as its present position may be, continues to exist even while acting inside Syriza, and can reemerge when it is deemed appropriate. Of course, the worthwhileness of such actions can be disputed (perhaps the time to exit Syriza has already come, perhaps Labour is not worth entering because of the strength of the Blairites, although at present that would seem to be untrue), and it depends on the particular dynamics within the front or coalition or party into which a revolutionary organisation enters. There are no simple answers.

That is, unless you are an ultra-leftist who declares that everything but your own organisation is composed of reformist scum, and that the masses should wake up and flock to your obvious leadership. In this case, the answer is clear: Behave like CPGB-ML, ignore Lenin’s explicit advice, and never actually step closer to bringing political power to the proletariat. You will feel more revolutionary than anyone and have made zero mistakes, as far as your own narrow perception is concerned.

To actually make revolution, one has to get involved in some messy business, while always striving to respond appropriately to the mess around oneself. It should be clear that I think CPGB-ML has delegitimised itself in the eyes of many British workers who would be open to revolutionary rhetoric by taking such a sectarian stance against Corbyn. It seems to me that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership represents a historical opportunity, however brief and limited it may be, to push forward a genuine discussion about socialism in Britain through the Labour Party.

On the other hand, we must be serious about the limitations, and asking what is next: Is a revolutionary organisation in Britain presently moving closer to proletarian revolution thanks to the Corbyn leadership? It is difficult to say. What few Marxist-Leninist groups we can see which do not respond to Jeremy Corbyn with the jeering, unearned arrogance have even fewer masses behind them than the CPGB-ML. Whether defending Corbyn while not supporting him, or supporting him openly, it’s not clear that such groups have a future in Britain at all. Do any British communists have a long-term strategy, or do we just have our messiahs, Brar or Corbyn?

StalinCorbyn
Image courtesy of Worker’s Spatula

It is not enough to support Corbyn because he is, in practice, pushing back against imperialist warmongering, while recreating a much-needed space for class politics. It is also not enough to say to oneself that what is really needed in Britain is a proletarian revolution, without having any power to bring this about, as CPGB-ML does.

What is needed is an organisation with international ties aimed towards establishing a fourth communist international. An organisation that recognises that it must, like Jeremy Corbyn, take part in day-to-day politics in such a manner so as to draw the masses closer to itself. An organisation which will use its place in day-to-day politics not to advance the careers of its nominal leadership, but to build a counter-hegemony against that of the British state. An organisation that will utilise all possible tools at its disposal to struggle against capitalism-imperialism.