Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Group

Reply to Anti-Capitalist Alliance

Time for a Real Anti-Capitalist Alliance

Issued: Class Struggle #50 May-June, 2003
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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When we distributed our leaflet Anti Capitalism or Stalinism in Nepal? at meetings organised by the Anti Capitalist Alliance (ACA) on Nepal, we offered the ACA space in Class Struggle to reply to the arguments in the leaflet. All we have received, though, is a very brief reply from Phil Ferguson, a prominent member of revolution, one of the two groups in the ACA. Here we reprint Phil’s reply and respond to the important issue it points toward.

Phil wrote:

“Given that the ACA doesn’t have a ’line’ on Nepal, it would be rather difficult for the CWG to demolish it. On the other hand, since Dave [Dave is a member of the CWG – ed.] claims to be in ’military blocs’ with people who don’t even know he exists, demolishing non-existent political ’lines’ is maybe understandable. Actually the ACA, as the ACA, has not written even a single article on Nepal, let alone writing “extensively” on the subject. I guess the fact that two left-wing groups, *revolution* and the WPNZ, have been able to form a working relationship despite historical differences and some disagreements over current issues is a bit difficult for Dave to swallow.”

Phil Ferguson is right when he says that the Anti Capitalist Alliance has not discussed and democratically decided upon an attitude toward events in Nepal and the politics of the Communist Party-Maoist of Nepal. But he is wrong if he is suggesting that the name of the ACA is not being tied to a very specific attitude toward Nepal and the Communist Party-Maoist.

We suggest that Phil take another look at the four-page leaflet the ACA has been distributing to promote its meetings on Nepal. Half of this leaflet is taken up with an article urging readers to join the Anti Capitalist Alliance; the other half discusses the situation in Nepal and advertises the ACA’s meetings. Phil seems to be implying that the Workers Party, not the ACA proper, has been the group publicly backing the Stalinist politics of the Communist Party-Maoist, the politics our leaflet criticised. Why then is the view of events in Nepal put across in the ACA’s leaflet completely pro-Communist Party-Maoist, completely Stalinist? Why is no attempt made to differentiate this Workers Party view of events in Nepal from any view the ACA might hold? Why is the Workers Party invisible through the whole of the four-page leaflet promoting the meetings on Nepal? The leaflet talks again and again of the ACA, but not once about the Workers Party. The Spark, the newspaper of the Workers Party, is mentioned briefly by the leaflet, but it is presented as a paper of the ACA, not of the Workers Party. Jared Phillips, who was the speaker at the meetings on Nepal, gave a completely pro-Communist Party-Maoist, Stalinist account of events in that country. Yet the leaflet promoting the meetings describes Jared as a member of the ACA, not the Workers Party. No mention of his membership of the Workers Party is made.

Readers of the ACA’s leaflet could not help but think that the ACA fully and enthusiastically endorsed the Stalinist view of events in Nepal – the view which Phil now suggests is held only by the Workers Party.

We have no objection to the Workers Party holding its own meeting on Nepal, or the ACA organising a meeting at which the Workers Party puts across its views as the Workers Party, not the ACA. We would still criticise these views, of course, but we could not criticise the way they were packaged. After all, the Workers Party is an openly Stalinist group which openly argues that national capitalism not socialism is the answer to imperialism in the Third World.

But we think it is wrong for the ACA to give every impression it is fully behind a political perspective which belongs only to the Workers Party, and which the rest of its members have not had the chance to debate, let alone decide to endorse.

It’s clear that the Workers Party has been using the ACA as a sort of ’flag of convenience’ to fly over its Stalinist politics. The Workers Party has been around Auckland for a while now, and most members of the activist community know about its 1930s-style pro-Stalin politics. Most of these people would guess what was coming if they saw the Workers Party’s name on a leaflet promoting a talk on Nepal. But the Anti Capitalist Alliance – that’s a little-known and quite cool-sounding name, and might just be able to bring a few punters in...

Origins of the ACA

The dishonest way that the talks on Nepal were advertised raises some fundamental questions about the ACA, and about the way the left should work together. When discussions took place last year about forming an alliance of New Zealand anti-capitalist groups, our group argued that any alliance needed to kick off with a conference at which all interested groups, plus of course all interested individuals, could debate and democratically decide a common platform. This is how socialist alliances in Britain and Australia have been launched – with everyone sitting down and arguing and voting until some sort of common platform has been decided upon.

We had some big problems with the positions of some other groups interested in forming an anti-capitalist/socialist alliance. For instance, we didn’t agree with the claim by the Workers Party that Stalin was a ’great Marxist’. We think that Stalin was a bastard and a bureaucratic dictator. We also strongly disagreed with revolution’s opposition to the right of Maori to Tino Rangatiratanga (self-determination). But we were pretty confident that dodgy positions like these would be defeated, in the to and fro of open debate at a conference to establish an alliance.

We were sure that workers would not be keen on the Workers Party’s Stalinophilia. And we were sure that Maori at the conference would tear revolution’s opposition to Maori language and land rights to shreds. Of course, we knew that we wouldn’t get our way on everything. As orthodox Trotskyists, we’re used to being in a minority on the New Zealand left! We were prepared to accept the decisions the conference made, because we believed we could always argue against them and organise to defeat them at future meetings. And, of course, we knew that we’d be able to continue to promote our own politics independently of our membership of any alliance. This is what groups in the Australian and British Socialist Alliances have been able to do, after all.

But revolution and the Workers Party had a very different view about how an anti-capitalist alliance should be created. They favoured creating a mini-platform by picking out a few things that all the groups involved in the alliance agreed upon. Members of the alliance had to promote these things, and then they could add anything they liked to them. We were strongly opposed to this model of alliance. We didn’t want revolution on the campaign trail talking about its views on Maori land rights using the same name as us. We didn’t want the Workers Party praising Stalin under the same banner as us.

Other people agreed with us, and the Workers Party and revolution ended up giving up on the idea of a broad alliance and setting up their own mini-alliance based on a handful of common positions. This mini-alliance held a conference before the 2002 elections, where it was to put up candidates. But the conference was for organising purposes only – there was no debate about the ACA’s platform[1]. People and groups interested in joining ACA had to accept the platform, or look elsewhere. A string of groups were barred from applying for membership, just because the Workers Party or revolution didn’t like them: the Communist League was barred as ’zombie-like’, the Socialist Workers Organisation was dismissed as ’Menshevik’, and so on.

During the election campaign, then, revolution and the Workers Party used the ACA as a sort of flag of convenience. They promoted the ACA’s mini-platform of positions, but mixed them up with stuff that belonged only to their particular group. This led to some absurd situations. For instance, the Workers Party has a history of campaigning in elections in Auckland demanding tax increases for the rich. revolution, though, has the strange idea that the left shouldn’t call for tax increases for the wealthy – apparently that qualifies as ’reformism’.

It’s not surprising, then, that there was no mention of taxing the rich in the ACA’s five point mini-platform of election policies. But anyone who has ever handed out a left-wing leaflet or spoken at a street meeting about health, education or practically any other social issue will know that the most common question punters ask is ’How will you pay for it, then?’ Confronted with this question, the ACA’s two groups were in the absurd position of having either to fudge, or to give two completely different answers to this eternal and fundamental question.

If revolution’s opposition to taxing the rich had been put up for debate in front of a group of militant workers, it would have been exposed in five minutes as the sort of ultra-left rhetoric that makes no sense outside of a university. But because of the nature of the ACA, the ’don’t tax the rich more’ position could never be debated and exposed as incorrect. Indeed, the whole ’flag of convenience’ structure of the ACA actually means that the incorrect policies of its member groups are unlikely ever to be changed. The Workers Party’s Stalinism can never be defeated by the rank and file of the ACA, because it never comes up for debate, even when the Workers Party uses the ACA as a flag of convenience for Stalinist politics. revolution’s anti-Maori policies can never be defeated by the rank and file, for the same reasons.

A real anti-capitalist alliance

A true anti-capitalist alliance has to be a forum where the politics of the various member groups are constantly debated and improved. For all their problems, the English and Australian Socialist Alliances have allowed the debate and testing of some important political positions. In England, for instance, a group called the Alliance for Workers Liberty recently tried to get the Socialist Alliance to stop organising anti-war marches with the Muslim Association of Britain, on the grounds that Islam was a reactionary religion and the leaders of the Muslim Association were ’Islamofascists’.

But when the AWL put its motion to a meeting of the Socialist Alliance it met with strong opposition. Critics pointed out that if the Muslim Association really was fascist it would not be organising marches with revolutionary socialists, and that the presence of tens of thousands of Muslims on the anti-war marches provided the far left with plenty of potential recruits. In other words, the best way to combat Islamism was to work with and argue with Muslims. Other critics pointed to a string of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim AWL policies, policies which include opposition to the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and support for the right of Israel to ’defend itself’ against attack from Iraq. In the end, the AWL’s motion was heavily defeated in a vote, and the AWL’s politics took a heavy hit. Could such a thing happen in the ACA?

Around the world, revolutionaries are regrouping, as imperialist crisis and class struggle replace the capitalist triumphalism of the late twentieth century. We need to learn from the positive aspects of the Socialist Alliances in Britain and Australia, and bring together a real alliance uniting anti-capitalists of all stripes, from Trotskyists to anarchists to Maoists to disillusioned social democrats. We need a United Front where unity in action coexists with free debate and democratic decision making. We hope that both the Workers Party and revolution will be part of such an alliance.


[1] The CWG felt that it could not give any support to the ACA’s election campaign because of the tiny size of the alliance and the undemocratic way it was formed and run. After analysing Labour’s support base and discussing the election with striking teachers and nurses, we decided to use the slogan ’Vote Labour/Alliance and Prepare to Fight Them!’ in the election issue of our paper. In no way did we seek to promote the illusion that Labour/Alliance was a ’lesser evil’ than National/ACT. Our view was that Labour was the biggest block to the formation of a real workers party in New Zealand, because large numbers of workers, including the nurses and teachers who were striking in the lead up to the election, still had illusions that Labour was better than National and ACT. To these workers we said ’If you have illusions in Labour/Alliance, vote for them and fight them when they sell out, as they inevitably will’.