Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers’ Movement

Why Paul Foot Should Be A Socialist
The case against the Socialist Workers’ Party


I. SOCIALISM IN THEORY: What are the fundamental ideas of socialism and what has PF substituted for them?

Marxism is not a complicated doctrine. As we have already pointed out, the whole of Marxist thought on the current era of history boils down to the two concepts ’proletarian revolution’ and ’dictatorship of the proletariat’. We have already quoted Lenin as saying that these two concepts constitute the ’touchstone’ for distinguishing genuine from sham Marxism. They have also been described as the two ’pillars’ of Marxism. If this is all so clear, then how can PF get away with writing a whole pamphlet that directly contradicts these two concepts and yet still manage to represent himself as a Marxist, a ’revolutionary socialist’ and so on?

The answer, of course, is that Marxism is not widely understood in Britain. What passes itself off as ’Marxism’ in Britain today includes many schools of thought that take particles or limited aspects of Marxism and use them as starting points for arguments that are in themselves bourgeois. In spite of the fact that Marx, let alone Lenin, set it down as clear as day that Marxism is the doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat, you will not be able to find even so much as a reference to this concept in nine out often books on ’Marxism’ published in Britain today. Go to any paperback bookshop and you can verify this. This explains how PF can find it so easy to represent his arguments as ’Marxist’ while at the same time denying the fundamental concepts of Marxism.

It is of course true that PF docs not set out to write an exposition of Marxist doctrine. He is aiming to provide an easy-to-read argument for socialism, in an easily accessible, journalistic vein. Fair enough. We will not criticise him for omitting the actual terms ’dictatorship of the proletariat’ and so on. What we do criticise him for, how ever, is that even the points he does make in his own straightforward, familiar language actually argue against the need for proletarian revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat. What he and his SWP colleagues have cooked up is actually a substitute for socialist ideology, a body of ideas effectively opposed to socialism.


PF tackles the task of defining socialism in his chapter entitled “What would you put in its place?” “Socialism is built on three principles, all vital to one another.” he writes (p.35). These principles are: social ownership of the means of production, equality, and workers’ democracy. This sounds fine, but unfortunately real-life socialism has a bit more to it than PF suggests, and he evades some of the crucial questions about socialism which people might find more difficult to accept than this beguiling trinity.

PF paints a very rosy picture of socialism – and ’paints’ is the word, because his kind of socialism is entirely a creation of the imagination – it has never existed in reality and never will. He talks a lot about democracy under socialism, and socialist Britain will certainly be far more democratic than capitalist Britain; but with any democracy there must be dictatorship, and PF sweeps this fact under the carpet. In Britain today, there is only a false democracy for the great majority of the people – if they tried to make it really serve them, then it would be taken away, as it was in Chile. Power is in reality in the hands of the capitalist class, who exercise their class dictatorship over the rest of the population. Under socialism this situation is reversed. For the only guarantee of democracy for the working class is the class dictatorship of the proletariat over the capitalist class; the latter will certainly not accept their overthrow but will seek by every means to stage a comeback. The experience of the Paris Commune and thee fate of the Russian Revolution show that. Consequently there will be a necessity for repression of counter-revolutionaries, and also for defence against reactionary external forces, and thus a strong slate apparatus will remain necessary for some time – a workers’ state apparatus that will embody the dictatorship of the working class over the capitalist class. In his demagogic eagerness to paint his rosy picture. PF has fostered illusions about these crucial questions.

In order to clear the air, then, we must briefly recapitulate out definition of socialism. Socialism is that era in the history of class society when the working class has seized state power and uses that power against both the remnants of the overthrown capitalist class and their system, and against any new class forces that emerge in the socialist system and threaten to become a new-type bourgeoisie in the mould of the Khruschev revisionists. In Marxist-Leninist terminology, this period of working class rule is called “dictatorship of the proletariat”. This is in line with the Leninist thesis that any state is an instrument of dictatorship by the ruling class, a thesis which applies NO less to the workers’ state than to the state of the bourgeoisie and its predecessors. At the same time, the working class is the first non-exploiting class to be able to seize and exercise state power; this makes it possible for the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the socialist era to lay the basis for a classless society. The socialist era, which may last several centuries to come, is thus the last period of class society, a transitional period towards the beginning of the communist era, when human society will no longer be plagued by the division into antagonistic classes.

This is in itself a very simple idea and it is in fact the central idea of socialism. PF, however, shows himself to be totally oblivious to the idea. This is very serious. It is the top priority of the proletariat, on seizing state power, to move on to the higher stages of class struggle which are called for by the new conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Far from rallying their cohorts to this task, bourgeois ’social democrats’, (sham socialists of the Labour Party type) have always stepped in in a desperate attempt to lull the proletariat to sleep with demagogic promises of a cosy world without class struggle. Socialists have the task of repudiating this manoeuvre, so as to ensure that the proletariat remains mobilised to grapple with the central political task – defending, consolidating and strengthening the proletarian state power. PF, needless to say, takes the line of least resistance, of cheap, demagogic promises: “A free education service;. . . transport... old people . . . warmth, and light, and comfort,. . . health service . . . housing; free meals for children at school; free basic foods; . . . day nurseries ... – these basic needs of society become the top priorities of socialism” (PF’s emphasis) (p.36). Well, is he a prospective Labour councillor or what? In the 1977 borough elections, there was a big hullabaloo about free London Transport passes for pensioners, but the working class has heard all these election promises many times before, and correctly stayed away from the polling booths in their millions. How do PF’s words differ from the standard promises made by the Labour Patty? Not at all – he just dishes up all the old fairy tales, displaying even more ingenuity than the Labour Party in thinking of new promises to make, and then going one better again in seeking to apply them to some hypothetical future situation of ’socialism’. Let us hope the proletariat thank PF no more for these promises, which cost him nothing, than they thank the Labour Party. Let us hope that the victorious proletariat places at the top of its list of priorities, in fact as the guiding line of all its undertakings, active mobilisation to smash the remnants of the capitalist state and to expose the tricks of PF and his ilk who would seek to lull them to sleep and thus facilitate a capitalist comeback. Otherwise, all the free bus passes will prove to have been valid for a short period only!

PF’s magic wand has thus spirited class Straggle nut of its central place in the political arena during the socialist era, and we are left with much airy talk about “democracy” with no more awkward questions as to its class nature. For Marxism, however, every social phenomenon has a class nature, and this applies no less to democracy than to anything else. For instance, bourgeois democracy amounts in effect to democracy for the moneybags and dictatorship over the working people: conversely, socialist democracy means democracy for the working people and dictatorship over the remnants of the overthrown capitalist class and its hangers-on. PF just isn’t in the picture here; all his bandying-about of such phrases as “workers’ democracy” turns out to be a smokescreen behind which lurks the un-Marxist view that democracy is something that exists outside of any specific class content. Having thus failed to grasp the dialectical relationship between democracy and dictatorship, and their respective class content, PF, as we have already seen, falls flat on his face when it comes to the question of the state; he idiotically rages against capitalism for providing “no democracy at all” in the “places which really matter ... the police force, the army,” etc. (p.37), when those are, precisely, organs not of democracy but of dictatorship – doesn’t he know?

Having ’elevated’ democracy in this way to the heights of Olympus, i.e. above the realities of class struggle, PF makes democracy an end in itself and not a factor that is, for working people, dependant on and subsidiary to socialism. Thus; “Socialism and democracy ... are indispensible to one another. You can’t have socialism without democracy, and, more importantly, you can’t have democracy without socialism” (p.37). Both these statements are false. To take the first one first, let us cite the example of the Soviet Union during the war of resistance against the Nazi invasion. Here was a case of unparalleled mobilisation to defend the workers’ state, one of the greatest achievements of socialism, and indeed of mankind, to date; yet under the conditions which prevailed, proletarian democracy obviously could not be fully functional – there was in fact very little democracy. So there was a case of socialism without democracy. As for democracy without socialism, primitive society functioned democratically before the origin of classes and the state, and even some quite sophisticated societies have maintained democratic features without being socialist. One would have thought that a bourgeois education would have dinned the achievements at least of ancient Greek democracy into PF’s ears. Ancient Greek democracy was most creative and ingenious and yet, far from being socialistic, it co-existed with slave-ownership. Again, bourgeois democracy can be very democratic for the bourgeoisie and indeed can be forced to concede certain personal freedoms for working people as well. (Surely PF can’t be fortunate enough never to have been told by the bourgeoisie about the benefits of British democracy even if he missed his lessons on ancient Greece.) There is always quite a difference between bourgeois democracy and fascist dictatorship and it serves no useful purpose to pretend this difference does not exist.

The only way to achieve clarity on the relationship of democracy and dictatorship is to retain a grasp of the class dialectics involved – then all falls into place. Bourgeois democracy means democracy for the capitalist class: it may mean certain individual freedoms for working people too but this circumstance is secondary to the fact that, through their ownership of the means of production and their exercise of state-power, the capitalist class nevertheless continues to exercise overall dictatorship in all fields except parliament. Proletarian democracy is an important ingredient of proletarian class rule; but it is conditional on the exercise of dictatorship over the bourgeoisie; it strengthens the proletarian dictatorship by ensuring that, even when acting in the strictest coordination and unity, the creative power and enthusiasm of the masses are given free rein. Such are the class dialectics of democracy and dictatorship. By ignoring these simple points, PF has confined himself to what is secondary, to the appearance, and ignores the class essence, thus placing himself firmly outside the camp of Marxism.

Although PF’s democracy-in-the-clouds lacks the basic principle of serving the working class, it does have a “basic principle” of its own – namely “the accountability of the representative to the represented” (p.38). To be more precise, he says that this will mean “far more elections than there are at present .. . discussion and argument between different workers’ parties around these elections,” as well as some reforms in democratic procedure (p.38). Thus PF does not bring forward anything specifically proletarian – just bourgeois “parliamentary cretinism” (as Lenin used to call it) given a new lease of life. As for his “workers’ parties”, we have seen, in our discussion of party-building, that this is a blind for refusing to grapple with the task of uniting the proletariat. We saw that since there is only one working class, there can only he one party of the working class. Of course one knows that the bourgeoisie has many different parties: they can afford this, since their power ultimately docs not depend on political parties – they can always dispense with such things altogether and rule through, say, a military dictatorship: different sectors of the bourgeoisie may also have differing interests, etc. There are many reasons why the bourgeoisie can afford to have many parties, but none of these reasons apply to the proletariat. Unlike the bourgeoisie, the proletariat has, in Lenin’s words, “no other weapon than its organisation”; its only strength lies in uniting. Hence proletarian class interests can only be represented by one party: hence the constant struggle by socialists actively to conduct ideological struggle for principled unity among the proletarian forces. Why else does PF think they do it? For fun? Of course the forty-odd volumes of Lenin’s polemics would have been pointless (an eccentric emulation of the “Dissenting religious sects” mentioned by PF on p.91) if socialism could come, as PF says it can, through channels identical to bourgeois parliamentarism (“far more elections”, discussions between parties, etc.). PF’s “basic principle” of “accountability” thus turns out to be an inability to break free from the apron-strings of bourgeois parliamentarism. The version of socialism he foresees amounts to a new lease of life for bourgeois ’social democracy’, slightly prettified perhaps, but still the same old con.

The institutional form of PF’s “workers’ democracy” has as its “fundamental unit . . . the workers’ council” based on “the workplace”, which is “a far better basic unit for a democratic system than the home” (p.37). “Parliamentary democracy,” by contast, ”. . . is an extremely limited democracy. It works on geographic lines.” By approaching the question of democracy from a supra-class perspective, PF becomes limited to such reformist issues. Approached from the Marxist perspective of analysing the class content of democracy. clarity on the question emerges. The individual “home” is in fact the ideal unit for one form of democracy, namely bourgeois democracy. Also, a certain devolution of management to bourgeois-democratic bodies at the place of work, under such labels as ’workers’ control’, is all the rage these days as a manoeuvre to divert workers’ discontent (the recent Bullock Report, etc.). By thus playing up a secondary consideration (workplace versus geographical area), and ignoring the primary consideration (whether the democracy of either kind takes place under a capitalist state or a workers’ state), PF is once again leaving the field wide open for bourgeois gimmick-mongers and reformists.

So much for his treatment of the details of workers’ democracy; as for his treatment of the other side of the coin, i.e. workers’ dictatorship, it can only be described as criminal negligence. Never once docs he mention the armed power of the proletariat. For anyone who has any grasp of socialist theory, this will be the main thing they will be looking for in PF’s pamphlet – and what does he give them by way of a sop? Verbal trickery! He says that workers’ councils will be set up throughout “industry and the services” (p.37); by this, he could mean either ’service’ industries or the armed ’services’, presumably those of the capitalist state! Overleaf (p.38), we are back in the rosy world where “in the armed forces there are no appointed officers who are paid more than the people they order about .. .,” etc.; again with no mention of whose armed forces! No mention of the fact that, for socialism to have come about, the capitalist state’s forces must have been defeated and disbanded, and working class armed forces must have come into existence! So much for PF’s treatment of the question of the main pillar of proletarian dictatorship, the workers’ army; as for subsidiary pillars in the judiciary, etc., all we get is a brief paean (p.38) for the good old British jury system (“profoundly democratic” bla-bla-bla) which PF graciously bequeaths to the socialist era.

PF, then, has substituted ’eat, drink and be merry’ for socialism. This is ideologically disarming: it puts workers off-guard in the face of very real dangers. For instance, PF states that “if the means of production are owned by society as a whole, then it becomes impossible for one group of people to grow rich from other people’s work” (p.35). For someone who sets himself up as a critic of the Soviet experience, this statement once again displays criminal negligence. The Soviet experience has shown that the objective social relations of production do permit inequality and exploitation to survive even in the socialist stage, even to the point where a capitalist restoration can occur. Of course one knows that Brezhnev & Co. haven’t declared any changes in the legal ownership of the means of production. On the contrary, they naturally strain every nerve to try to gloss over the changes that have been occurring in Soviet society, and the legal ownership has, by remaining the same, been a useful weapon in this struggle to pretend that everything is still the same as before. But the Marxist theory of society insists that behind the forms lies a class reality; for instance, even in capitalist society, it is normal for all individuals to be equal in law – but Marxism goes behind this appearance to grasp the essence. PF has been taken in by the legal clothing of the Soviet revisionist wolf. He is thus not in a position to learn from the biggest lesson for socialism in our time – the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union – the lesson that conscious class struggle must remain the central preoccupation of the proletariat after it has seized state power, so as to prevent a new exploiting class, or new-type bourgeoisie, from emerging out of the administrative institutions of socialist society. Far from sounding the alarm here, PF tries to lull us to sleep with dreamy tales of free bus-rides, etc.

Mind you, he tries to have his cake and eat it too, for the Soviet Union is also depicted as a land of reaction, where “all power was assumed by a handful of bureaucrats” (p.72), etc. Where we differ with PF here is only a matter of dating – for us, the definitive seizure of power by reactionary forces occurred during the 1950s, whereas for him, as we shall see, it dates back much earlier (to about 1921). So, just confining ourselves to the present period, where there is, at least superficially, a measure of agreement between us and PF, let us ask this question: isn’t the very fact that counter-revolution has taken place a demonstration of the need for the working class to exercise dictatorship over reactionary forces? The whole Brezhnevite ideology concerning Soviet society boils down to the argument that antagonistic classes no longer exist in Soviet society (the term now used by the revisionists for the Soviet state is a “state of the whole people”). They turn to such arguments to mask their vicious class dictatorship. PF condemns the Soviet regime in such typically supra-class terms as “bureaucracy”, without mentioning what is more important: is or was the bureaucracy an ill of a socialist state or a feature of a capitalist state? By glossing over this fundamental question, PF reduces the matter to the contrast between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois dictatorship: he implies that the answer for Soviet society is liberalisation, perhaps bourgeois democracy – Vote Khruschev, Vote Brezhnev, Vote Solzhenytsin. Well, PF is quite a clever fellow, and it may well be that, if the Brezhnev dictatorship got really shaky, such a manoeuvre might come in handy as an attempt to deceive the Soviet masses. We wouldn’t know, as we are not in the business of concocting prescriptions for ailing reactionary regimes. By failing to expose the class essence of the Soviet regime, and confining himself to counterposing liberal and bourgeois-democratic principles to the fascist excesses of the Brezhnevites, he is in effect giving the Soviet bourgeoisie a way out. In denying the need for the working class to exercise dictatorship, he is peddling the same confusions as Brezhnev & Co. and thus effectively aligning himself with the poisonous Brezhnev doctrine. ’Who should the working class need to exercise dictatorship over?’ Brezhnev might ask, trying to sound innocent. Well, few criminals call for more crime-prevention!


The debates that took place in the Russian revolutionary movement during the decades preceding the October revolution, during the subsequent period of revolutionary civil wars, and during the decades following the foundation of the Soviet Union, were very wide-ranging. There is scarcely a debate anywhere in socialist or would-be socialist circles today that is not prefigured in some way in the debates that took place in Russian and Soviet society during that period. Indeed, some would-be socialists are so carried away by that period that they can hardly open their mouths without drawing upon the holy texts laid down by their departed masters of that time. PF is one such writer who, while normally at a loss as to what line to take on any of the current questions facing the working class in Britain, has a knack of twisting any political discussion around to what was happening in the 1930s and before. There he finds himself on safe ground, for no matter what the issue, he can look it up in the works of Trotsky to see what he ought to be thinking.

We have discussed the organisational principle of ’democratic centralism’ that was developed by the Bolsheviks, and which has been bequeathed by them to socialist parties ever since as the way to unite a revolutionary vanguard that can give leadership to workers’ struggles. Both centralism and democracy are essential to this task. Just centralism on its own will obviously not release the great force of mass initiative. Conversely, just democracy on its own will not enable the working class to concentrate its blows most effectively. Mao Tse-tung expressed this by calling for “a political situation in which we have both centralism and democracy, both discipline and freedom, both unity of will and personal ease of mind and liveliness.” Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) was one of those who was all for talking of ’democracy’ and ’freedom’ for himself, and set great store by his own “ease of mind and liveliness”. But the very idea that ’centralism’ and ’discipline’, let alone “unity of will”, should apply to him, he considered as anathema. He was in fact a petty-bourgeois individualist. Lest anyone should think that this makes him sound rather an attractive figure, then we’d better add that if you disagreed with Trotsky, then he wouldn’t be so bothered about your freedom, democracy and ease of mind as he was about his own. Trotsky’s vision of the Soviet regime was in practice more along the lines of a military dictatorship than of the rosy ’workers’ democracy’ that is played up by such gullible acolytes of Trotsky as PF: he was all for applying discipline to other people!

Trotsky spent fourteen years in open opposition to the Bolsheviks, from 1903 to 1917. Throughout this period he pitted his own version of petty-bourgeois rebellion against Bolshevik democratic centralism. Showing a flair for self-dramatisation, he tried to set himself up as a rival to Lenin. Trotsky openly villified Lenin, calling him a ”professional exploiter of every kind of backwardness in the Russian working-class movement”. However, in the autumn of 1917, Trotsky saw that to retain credibility as a ’revolutionary’ he had to join the Bolsheviks, which he proceeded to do, a few weeks before the October revolution. Within less than four years, Trotsky (who now styled himself an ’old Bolshevik’!) was once again openly advocating the right to organise factions within the Bolshevik Party, and during the period of political regrouping that took place in the Bolshevik leadership during Lenin’s illness and after his death Trotsky nearly succeeded in splitting the party into warring factions. However, the party held firm, and Trotsky was finally expelled from it and exiled from the Soviet Union in the late 1920s.

PF does indeed call for “a strong socialist party” (pp.86,90), but he has nothing to say about the principles on which it should be built, and it is clear that he supports Trotsky’s opposition to democratic centralism. It is true that he alludes to the need for “centralised and disciplined organisation” (p.51), but this is mentioned in connection with “the workers” and their trade union struggles, not in the context of the party. He thus reveals the Trotskyist attitude that all the discipline, organisation, etc., is for the workers at large; as for discipline within the party, not on your nelly – the party must be kept as a kind of boxing ring in which the various factions hammer each other (unless, of course, it’s necessary to silence strong opposition elements who don’t fit into the Trotskyist happy family). PF thus maintains a discreet silence about democratic centralism, which might put off the enthusiasts with “that singular flame” in the head (p.75) whom he hopes to attract into the SWP. PF allows one such model recruit to describe himself in the following words: “I’ve just left the Communist Party because I was constantly told I was a splitter and a sectarian; and that the party mattered above what I had to say. I was fed up being given the line, so I decided to join the Labour Party because I thought it would be more democratic. Now I’m told I’m a splitter and a sectarian and the party still matters more than what I think” (p.74). The implication is that he should at last find a happy home in the SWP, where there won’t be a line on anything, and where he can think whatever he lines without having to take anyone else’s ideas into consideration.

PF is, in fact, not offering people an ideal that is sufficiently inspiring to attract their selfless dedication. On the contrary, he is offering them an arena in which to indulge in their own individualistic self-worship. This is a typically Trotskyist feature, helpfully illustrated for us from the Master’s works by PF himself, who quotes the following weird remarks by Trotsky (remarks which echo the sentiments of the Victorian writer Samuel Smiles, author of Self-help and other such morally uplifting tracts, suitably up-dated with a smattering of psychoanalytic jargon): “Lastly,” says Trotsky, to PF’s spellbound admiration, “in the deepest and dimmest recesses of the unconscious, there lurks the nature of man himself. On it, clearly, he will concentrate the supreme effort of his mind and of his creative nature . . . Man will strive to control his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the height of his conscious mind ... to channel his willpower into his unconscious depths; and in this way he will lift himself to new eminences” (p.4S). Needless to say, this pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo is the polar opposite of Marxist thinking, which holds that “the human essence is the ensemble of the social relations”, i.e. that individuality is a product of a person’s social interactions. Smiles, Adler, Trotsky and PF, by contrast, take bourgeois individualism to its extremes and find human nature lurking at the back of each individual’s mind if only one probes deep enough.

In the other passage from Trotsky quoted by PF, Trotsky applies his doctrine to a concrete example. He describes himself addressing Russian audiences in 1917. “At times, it seemed as if I felt with my lips the stern inquisitiveness of this crowd ... I felt as if I were listening to the speaker from outside, trying to keep pace with his ideas, afraid that, like a somnambulist, he might fall off the edge of the roof at the sound of my conscious reasoning . . The whole crowd was like .. . infants clinging with their dry lips to the nipples of the revolution” (p.68). This kind of stuff has nothing in common with Marxism. Quite the reverse. The author of Mein Kampf is said to have commented favourably on Trotsky’s autobiography, and the passages quoted by PF shows why. The Trotskyist political stance is one of intense self-dramatisation, consciously based on psychological individualism, and essentially irrational. If you want a vivid confirmation of this, then go to one of the WRP (’Workers’ Revolutionary Party’) meetings addressed by the Trotskyist Gerry Healey; there you will find the NF totally outclassed in Hitlerite technique.

Many middle-class people have been attracted to the ideas of socialism. Some aspects of socialist politics, however, are very painful for middle-class people to accept. Collective forms of activity, ’unity of will’, and so on, are largely foreign to the middle class way of life. It takes a long period of close, practical involvement in mass struggles tor middle-class people to overcome the bourgeois individualistic outlook they inevitably bring with them. There are, besides those who actually join the socialist movement, many other middle-class people who are attracted by certain aspects of socialism, but are plagued with doubts and uncertainties about others: say, what they see as ’threats to individuality’; certain collective aspects of socialist life; the suppression of political freedom for counter-revolutionaries, etc. Where Trotskyism plays a reactionary role is that instead of patiently explaining to middle class people the hollowness of bourgeois ’individuality’, the noble features of proletarian individuality, etc., it cynically plays upon these doubts and uncertainties and seeks to convert them into anti-communist hysteria. Trotskyism presents an irrational, conspiratorial view of history, in which socialism could have been one great garden of daisies had it not been for Stalin, ’Maoist bureaucracy’, and so on. Trotskyism provides a pseudo-revolutionary rationale for those who give more weight to the needs of their own ego than to the needs of the working class. How can a core of proletarian leadership possibly be forged in such an atmosphere? “I was fed up being given the line,” says PF’s model recruit, and objects that he was told that “the party mattered above what I had to say”. Life in the revisionist ’Communist’ Party and the Labour Party, both bourgeois parties, is indeed oppressive and undemocratic, and this person’s bitterness and frustration are perfectly justified. PF, however, is cynically playing on the individualistic aspects of this person’s reaction, and seeking to magnify them into a prejudice against discipline as such, even if it is the healthy, democratic centralism of a proletarian party.


Trotsky’s claims to be a socialist theoretician centre on his theory of ’permanent revolution’. This theory has two main elements. First, it holds that socialism cannot be established in only one or a small number of countries, particularly if the country or countries concerned are economically backward. Socialism can only be established if and when revolutions occur in most or all of the advanced capitalist countries. Secondly, the theory holds that only the industrial proletariat is a revolutionary class. The peasantry, the overwhelming majority of whom are small proprietors, do not have revolutionary potential, neither do other non-proletarian classes and strata of society.

Trotsky’s ’permanent revolution’ is in fact less a theory and more of an amalgam of pessimistic and capitulationist attitudes. Lenin mercilessly refuted this ’theory’. He ridiculed the idea of revolutions occurring simultaneously in all or most of the advanced capitalist countries. He pointed out that reality is just not like that. However desirable it might be to wake up one morning and find oneself in the promised land, the fact is that a whole era of revolutions will be necessary to overthrow world capitalism. Lenin showed that there was very uneven development between countries, particularly since the rise of imperialism, and that the conditions for revolution would accordingly mature sooner in some places than in others. He realised that during this era it might well be that socialism would be established first only in one or a few countries, which could then serve to rally the revolutionary forces of the world for further victories. The real content of Trotsky’s ’simultaneous revolutions’ was petty-bourgeois fantasy, combined in practice with pessimism and capitulation. At the very time when the Russian working class needed to be inspired with confidence that socialism could be built in the Soviet Union, and that this could help to move history forward. Trotsky was effectively telling them that Soviet socialism was futile, that it wasn’t socialism anyway because it didn’t fit in with his theories, and so on.

Why was it so necessary, in Trotsky’s scheme of things, for revolution to occur simultaneously throughout the capitalist world? Why was he so convinced that a socialist revolution in Russia would be unable to hold out on its own? The answer is that he failed to see any revolutionary potential in the Russian peasantry, who constituted the overwhelming majority of the population. He held that it was inevitable that the Russian working class would come into hostile collision with the peasantry. Hence, if the Russian working class came to power, they would need the backing of the working class in the countries of Western Europe so as to be able to clobber the peasants. Lenin, of course, held no such simplistic view of the peasantry. Instead of lumping all peasants together in one category as Trotsky did. Lenin always paid great attention to the complicated world of peasant society, and took care to differentiate the various strata of the rural population and to take account of their respective attitudes to the unfolding revolution. In the poor and landless peasants (who constituted the great majority of the rural population), Lenin saw a potential ally of enormous importance for the proletariat. He consequently placed great emphasis on the need for a ’worker-peasant alliance’, based on alliance with the poor and landless peasants and aiming at the isolation of the landlords (the ’kulaks’ or rural bourgeoisie). The ’middle peasants’, i.e. those occupying an intermediate position, were also to be regarded as potential allies, who would, however, tend to vacillate in their allegiance. Once again, Trotsky’s pessimism and sweeping generalisations contrasted strongly with Lenin’s meticulous analysis and realistic policies.

PF never actually uses the term ’permanent revolution’, but it is clear in his chapter on Russia and in other parts of his pamphlet that he does in fact embrace this ’theory’ which has been so thoroughly refuted by history. “From well before the revolution Lenin and other Russian leaders had predicted the difficulties about a socialist revolution in Russia . ..,” says PF, in a transparent attempt to associate Lenin with Trotsky on this question, and to blur the differences between their respective attitudes to it. “They” (i.e. the Lenin-Trotsky amalgam) “saw that if Russia was left to its own resources, the small socialist element of the revolution would be swallowed by the larger, non-socialist revolution in the countryside. They therefore pinned all their faith on exporting their revolution to other countries” (pp.70-71). PF is here trying to make out that Lenin held to the theory of ’permanent revolution’, which he didn’t. “All the leading Bolsheviks,” PF continues, “knew that without international revolutions” (whatever they are) “the Russian working class would be isolated.” (Note the sleight-of-hand concealed behind the phrase “all the leading Bolsheviks”. It implies that the leading proponent of this idea, namely Trotsky, was himself a Bolshevik in the pre-revolutionary period. In fact, as we have already pointed out, he joined the Bolsheviks only in the autumn of 1917.) The leading Bolsheviks therefore “used all their abilities and influence to unleash revolution in other countries. It did not come. The German revolutions of 1919 and 1923 were beaten down,” and so on (p.71). (The 1923 uprisings in Germany were, incidentally, in no sense a ’revolution’. They were more in the nature of adventurist putsches initiated by Trotskyists in Comintern like Radek, in a desperate attempt to boost Trotsky’s prestige at a time when he was preparing to make his bid to succeed Lenin as head of the Soviet state.)

PF also quotes Lenin as saying that “even before the revolution and likewise after it, our thought was: immediately, or at any rate very quickly, a revolution will begin in other countries, in capitalistically more developed countries – or, in the contrary case, we will have to perish” (p.66). But PF himself dates this remark to May 1919, i.e. after history had placed a contrary situation before the Bolsheviks – a situation in which, despite the absence of other revolutionary regimes, the young Soviet state had won the loyalty of the people and was, contrary to the expectations of many, managing to hold out. PF just rips this sentence clean out of context, and obviously hopes that taken on its own it may lead some of his readers to believe that Lenin was a Trotskyism (PF does not quote his source for this remark by Lenin, and we are unable to trace it.) Needless to say, our readers can rest assured that neither during May 1919 nor indeed at any other time was Lenin seized by a fit of Trotskyist pessimism. It is true that for many years Lenin had accepted the assumption hitherto held by Marxists that ”the Russian revolution . .. cannot possibly hold and consolidate its gains. . . unless there is a socialist revolution in the West” (a statement made in 1906, Works, Vol. 10, p.280). However, the history of the subsequent period, and in particular of the First World War, led him to realise that “socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others remain for some time bourgeois or pre-bourgeois” (Works, Vol. 23, p.79). After the victory of the October revolution, and particularly after victory in the Civil War, Lenin was clear that reality had proved the preconception of the impossibility of socialism in Russia alone (a preconception he had earlier shared himself) to have been wrong. “From the political and military aspects it seemed inconceivable,” he said in 1921. “That it is possible, both politically and militarily, has now been proved. It is a fact” (Works, Vol. 33, p. 51). Lenin was determined to mobilise the Russian peasantry and minority nationalities in support of the proletariat, if need be under conditions of capitalist encirclement. The tremendous success of the October revolution gave Lenin and the Bolsheviks the confidence that this could in fact be done, as indeed it was done. PF’s attempt to make out that Lenin held to the pessimistic Trotskyist ’theory’ of ’permanent revolution’ is ludicrous.

PF’s remarks on the subsequent course of the Russian revolution are, again, based on this ’theory’. He makes the characteristically sweeping remark that, apart from a few who became administrators, the workers had by 1921 “died” in the period of revolutionary civil war. “Over the next few years,” he continues, “the factories and workplaces of Russia started to fill up again. But the new working class was not a socialist or revolutionary force. It came from the countryside.” (As if the pre-1917 working class had not also recently come from the countryside, or indeed for that matter most of the young British working class which gave Chartism its revolutionary strength.) “The peasants in the countryside had risen in order to seize bread and land for themselves from the landlords.” (This is a sin from the Trotskyist point of view. According to Trotskyism, revolution is the exclusive prerogative of the urban working class. If a starving peasant seizes bread and land, he is still branded by Trotskyism as a capitalist like any other capitalist!) “They” (i.e. the peasants) “were not interested in a cooperative society,” says PF, flying straight in the face of reality. So determined is he to lump all peasants together in one category as village idiots, that he forgets the intense polarisation in the Soviet countryside that continued and intensified during the 1920s. One of its results was in fact that when agricultural collectivisation was launched on a wide scale in 1929, one of the administrative problems encountered was the over-enthusiasm of many of the poor peasantry! According to PF’s theory, however, they should not have been interested, so, according to him, “not interested” they were! PF is determined to gloss over all differences between different strata of the peasantry, and just keeps on slamming them regardless of reality. “They were not susceptible to socialist ideas.” (Imagine a Russian peasant being susceptible to PF’s ideas!) “When they came to . . . the cities, they were not a revolutionary working class at all,” and so on (p.70).

PF’s Trotskyist view of the peasantry as lacking all revolutionary potential explains his disinterest in the Chinese, Vietnamese and other revolutions that have been sustained by peasant support. Though he does at one point concede that “workers are not uniform” (p.89), it seems that no amount of evidence will convince him of the even more obvious fact that peasants are not uniform, but are on the contrary sharply differentiated. It is precisely through taking account of these differentiations that the Bolsheviks, the Chinese and Vietnamese and other third world revolutionaries were able to tap the tremendous source of support provided by the lower strata of peasantry, and thus to forge the worker-peasant alliance which provided the key to success in the revolution. PF contemptuously dismisses the very idea that such cases are in any way relevant to genuine socialist revolution. “The only people who can create” a revolution, he writes, “are the rank and file of the industrial working class. No revolution has yet taken place in a country where the industrial working class is the majority. That has yet to come – and no previous revolution is a guide to its development” (p.72). In other words, don’t listen to Mao and Ho and that lot. They don’t know what they’re talking about. You can take it from PF – the voice of experience.

The revolutionary potential among the peasantry has in recent years been demonstrated in the national liberation movements that have been raging in a score of third world countries, and that have been based largely on peasant forces. Peasant struggles have therefore assumed special significance, for in today’s world it is the struggles of the third world peoples that represent the main force weakening world capitalism in its present, imperialist, stage – a development as little noticed by PF as it was foreseen by the ’prophet’ Trotsky. The Trotskyist ’line’ on the peasantry is thus more obviously erroneous, and reactionary, than ever. PF, with his insistence on considering each country separately and in isolation from the world system of imperialism, has thus failed to notice the main force opposing world capitalism today! Trotsky used to make a big fuss about the construction of a socialist order in the Soviet Union, insisting that the Soviet peoples should call a halt and wait for the promised day of ’simultaneous’ revolutions, and objecting that Soviet socialism, as it was in his theory impossible, wasn’t socialism at all. This was the context of the debate over ’socialism in one country’. By the time we come to PF, the Trotskyist position on international affairs has become so ludicrous that it can only be described as a perspective of ’capitalism in one country’. We shall have stem words for this outlook later on. For if the peasantry (i.e. most of the third world) lacks revolutionary potential, then only the peoples of the most industrialised countries (i.e. the imperialist countries) can be truly revolutionary. This amounts to importing racism into ’socialist theory’, dressing the notion of the ’backwardness’ of the third world peoples in ’socialist’ language.


Early in 1917 Lenin described Trotsky’s political style in these words: Trotsky, he said, “twists, swindles, poses as a left, helps the right, so long as he can.” Whenever contradictions became evident in the socialist camp, it was always Trotsky’s tactic to try and magnify them into splits, so as to attempt to advance his own position by coming up through the middle. One typical Trotskyist manoeuvre was to exploit the impatience and inexperience of the young by setting them against older revolutionaries, in an attempt to further his own factional intrigues. PF provides an example of this Trotskyist tactic in his account of the mass movement that has swept southern Africa during the past two years. PF writes that for years “the elder, more educated blacks made grumbling noises from time to time, but, in general, they lay low” (p.83). Then suddenly “Soweto exploded. Schoolchildren . . . started to demonstrate . . . Their fathers and mothers were put to shame ... But these children showed more courage and revolutionary spirit than two previous generations” (p.84). We shall deal in more detail with southern Africa later. For the moment, we shall merely point out that PF’s account is a travesty of the truth – south Africans of the “two previous generations” have waged many heroic struggles, and it is libellous to dismiss these as “grumbling noises”; in addition, if PF had not blinkered himself with his ’capitalism in one country’ outlook, he might have noticed the liberation of neighbouring Mozambique and Angola, even if he missed the militant strike waves in Durban and elsewhere in the mid-1970s – events that gave the lead to the young students rather than the other way round. PF is thus caught red-handed in the act of trying to set young against old as a cheap manoeuvre to recruit young people into the SWP.

In 1911, Lenin characterised Trotsky as a representative of the “worst remnants of factionalism”, and we consider that this also applies to the SWP. This is a paradox. For the whole image of the SWP, its signboard, is non-sectarianism. The idea is that in the SWP one is supposed to be able to forget all the apparently ’divisive’ Marxist ’hair-splitting’ and just get on with ’doing something’. The point, however, is that, paradoxically, if one sweeps disagreements of principle under the carpet, it is not firm unity that results on the contrary, factional intrigue thrives. In a Marxist-Leninist organisation run on the basis of democratic centralism, one gets no ideological ’peace’ – and at the same time and for that very reason, an individual’s position is not dependant on factional activity, but can only be based on matters of political principle. How many of the SWP bigshots exert their influence through the dominance of their political line? And how many, on the contrary, exert their influence through being organisationally dominant, i.e. through throwing their bureaucratic weight around? Those who have had experience of the SWP will realise the truth of Lenin’s analysis, that all the Trotskyist talk of ’non-factionalism’ is in reality a smokescreen behind which lurk “the worst remnants of factionalism”. (The numerous factions that have left or been kicked out of IS and the SWP might have something to say about this too!).

In 1920, Lenin made the following comment on one of Trotsky’s documents: “I am appalled at the number of theoretical mistakes and glaring blunders it contains .. He has ... made a number of mistakes bearing on the very essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Like Trotsky, PF also dishes up as ’Marxism’ a mixture that misrepresents the very core of Marxist doctrine – the dictatorship of the proletariat. We have illustrated Trotsky’s habit of coming out with any old fashionable intellectual rubbish and dubbing it ’Marxism’. We should follow Lenin’s example and be on guard against those who, like PF. try to make bourgeois ideas pass off as socialism.

Lenin pointed out that “Trotsky has never yet held a firm opinion on any important question of Marxism”. We have illustrated time and again how this also applies to PF and the SWP. On all the pressing questions facing the working class in Britain today, they have nothing to offer by way of concrete analysis and viable policies. This vacuousness is concealed behind apparently ’extreme’ posturing and ‘left’-sounding phrases. As Lenin warned of Trotsky’s style, “All that glitters is not gold.”

In the next chapter, we shall have a lot to say about the historical record of the Soviet Union during the decades following the October revolution. For the moment, we shall confine ourselves to remarking that Stalin had a perceptive grasp of the nature of Trotskyism, and that, at any rate up till 1934, he led the Bolshevik Party in adopting viable and effective policies to counter the influence of this and other bourgeois ideologies that masqueraded as ’revolutionary’. Bearing in mind the difference of circumstances. PF and the SWP fit remarkably well into the characterisation of Trotskyism made by Stalin in 1930: ̶Capitulation in practice as the content, ’Left’ phrases and revolutionary adventurist postures as the form, disguising and advertising the defeatist content such is the essence of Trotskyism. This duality of Trotskyism reflects the duality in the position of the urban petty bourgeoisie, which is being ruined, cannot tolerate the ’regime’ of the dictatorship of the proletariat and is striving either to jump into socialism ’at one go’ in order to avoid being ruined (hence adventurism and hysterics in policy), or, if this is impossible, to make every conceivable concession to capitalism (hence capitulation in policy).”


PF and the SWP, then, have many similarities in style and outlook with Trotskyism, and as PF’s pamphlet illustrates, they draw heavily on their Trotskyist legacy when called upon to provide historical narrative. However, when it comes to questions of strategy and tactics, the SWP departs from the teachings of Trotsky in some important respects, a fact which draws down upon it the wrath of more orthodox Trotskyists. For what the SWP puts forward in practice is the old error of ’syndicalism’ complete with its long-disproved central idea that socialist revolution can come about as a result of a general strike by the trade unions. This is a pre-Marxist idea that dates back to the early days of trade unions, when it seemed justifiable to place great hopes in these new, fighting organisations of the working class, and before the limitations of economic struggles had been properly understood. History has of course subsequently demonstrated for us dozens of times that a strike movement under trade union leadership is incapable of overthrowing capitalism. How, then, do PF and the SWP still manage to get away with peddling the idea that by being active in a trade union one is thereby somehow helping to bring a revolution about, an antiquated and exploded fallacy that would make even Trotsky himself turn in his grave? The answer lies in the woeful lack of revolutionary experience among so much of the British ’left’, which ensures a steady stream of recruits into organisations such as the SWP which attract politically naive petty-bourgeois ’leftists’ who cannot resist the bait offered and who have never posed to themselves the question ’What is a revolution?’

What, then, is a revolution? Do we just have to apply willpower, as Trotsky’s psychological theories might suggest, and thus pass straight from capitalism to socialism by a process of wishful thinking, as PF constantly does in his pamphlet? Take for instance the opening chapters of PF’s pamphlet. In the first two chapters he exposes the evils of the capitalist system. In the third chapter he just leaps straight into the question, “What would you put in its place?” In this way, he flits from capitalism to socialism without pausing to consider how to get from one to the other. Such petty-bourgeois fantasising (what PF approvingly describes as dreaming “like Shelley and Trotsky dreamt”, p.45) is in direct contradiction with Marxism. For Marxism, far from dreaming the revolution away, insists on placing proletarian revolution as the highest task of socialists, the context in which to place all their actions. The revolutionary seizure of state power by the working class as the essential first step towards a classless society is what Marxism is all about. Incredible though it may be for someone who sets such great store by making himself out to be ’revolutionary’, PF in fact reveals an outlook in which revolution plays only a very marginal role.

There is only one sentence in PF’s pamphlet that actually broaches the question of what he considers a revolution to be: “Socialist society can only come about by a revolution; if the masses, through general strikes and mass agitation, seize the means of production from their present owners” (p.59). In other words, PF fails to call for the seizure of state power by the working class. Instead, he places seizure of the means of production in the central place. This reveals once again his failure to see the capitalist stale as itself necessarily a class institution, indeed the main concentration of capitalist power. As we have seen, he makes the fatal error, long warned-against by Marxism, of seeing the state as in itself somehow neutral, an administrative framework that can, with some reforms, be made to serve the working class. PF sees capitalist ownership of the means of production as being the only concentration of capitalist power, and thus diverts the working class from the main enemy they will confront in a revolutionary situation – the forces of the state.

As for the method of seizing the means of production, PF describes it as being achieved “through general strikes and mass agitation”. Though it is not clear what “mass agitation” is supposed to mean in this context, it is very clear that PF’s ’revolution’ is the syndicalist mirage, for throughout his pamphlet he jumbles ’revolutions’ and general strikes together, as though they were pretty much the same thing. For instance, he treats the British general strike of 1926 as though it were a prelude to revolution. He writes that the government challenged the TUC to “call off the strike or carry the workers to a revolution” (p.64). In this phrase he neatly sums up the danger of propagating the syndicalist error, for it hands the initiative over to the reformist leadership on a plate, with the result that there is no chance of the struggle being sustained, let alone led forward to seizure of state power. As for the TUC ’carrying the workers to a revolution’, it is hard to see even how the workers could ’carry the TUC to a revolution’, let alone the other way round. Citrine, the TUC leader in 1926, was obviously no more likely to depose the King and his government than Len Murray is to depose the Queen and her ministers today. Instead of helping to alert the working class to the dangers of placing their hopes in a general strike, PF just dishes up the whole dismal argument (pp.81-82). He grovels before the mass movement (“the response in the working class was fantastic”) and of course repeats the usual, personalised tale of how the “abilities . . . potentialities . . . solidarity” of the workers was “doused ... by the elite” of the TUC General Council. PF is here at his old trick of representing any and every mass movement as socialist, revolutionary, etc., whether or not it is actually directed at seizure of state power. Such indiscriminate flattery of the working class may sound innocuous enough at first, but in fact it stabs socialism in the back by preventing the working class from learning the lessons of its failures. The whole point of socialism is not the similarity but the distinction between general strikes and revolutions. Anyone can see the similarities – that both these kinds of event release a volcano of mass initiative and creativity – there is no need for ’Marxists’ to point that out. Those who, like PF, foster the false hope-that a general strike is an embryonic revolution share responsibility for the fact that general strikes, far from raising the political consciousness of the working class, often leave in their wake widespread disillusion and demoralisation.

This explains why the bourgeois media had such a field day promoting the general strike on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary last year (1976). “This is it!” bellowed the BBC, and did all it could to direct would-be socialists down the false road of syndicalism’. And what did the SWP (then IS) do to counter this propaganda? Nothing. On the contrary, they reinforced it. “This is it!” they echoed, and brought out a special issue of Socialist Worker which peddled all the same odious romanticisation of the general strike that the bourgeois media themselves were peddling. Far from ’straddling the barriers of past and present’ to draw the lessons of l926, far from taking the opportunity of the anniversary to sound the alarm and warn the working class never to place their hopes in a ’social democratic’ leadership again, they merely-acted as an appendage to the bourgeois media, using their false ’left’ image to beckon the working class once more down the road to defeat and disillusion.

Having seen how PF peddles his syndicalist wares in Britain, let us now accompany him on a trip around the world to see what he has to say about ’revolutions’ and general strikes elsewhere. Hardly have we crossed the Channel when we find ourselves enshrouded in the impenetrable fog of syndicalist confusion. In many cases, says PF, “workers throw up mass strike movements which come to the very brink of revolution, and then shrink back. That’s what happened in France in May 1968, the biggest general strike in world history” (according to the syndicalist view the Chinese revolution is just peanuts in comparison). “The workers had the whole capitalist state machine at their mercy, but, after a few moments’ hesitation they settled for a wage rise and handed back their power to a capitalist government” (p.88). PF thus conveniently ’forgets’ that part of the “capitalist state machine” which they did not have at their mercy, namely the crucial one – the armed forces of the French state, in particular those which it had in reserve in Germany. This quotation from PF’s pamphlet neatly illustrates the enormously important role played by opportunist tendencies like syndicalism in diverting the attention of the working class away from its main enemies and sending it off down blind alleys.

(Of course the principal source of opportunism in France is not PF’s opposite numbers but the revisionist ’Communist’ Party of France. PF states that workers in various countries have repeatedly come “to the brink of revolution – only to he ’dissuaded’ by powerful Communist parties representing the whims of Russian foreign policy” (p.73). Why is it, then, that PF oddly omits to use the example of France in May 1968 to illustrate this charge? Is not the role of the revisionist party in those events the most outstanding example of this? The answer, of course, is that PF’s denunciations of “Russian foreign policy” are largely confined to peddling the Trotskyist conspiracy theory in which all revolutionary movements of the inter-war period met failure as a result of Comintern’s policies. We shall have more to say about Comintern’s record in the next chapter. For the moment, we shall confine ourselves to noting that when it comes to the contemporary period, PF is more likely to do a cover-up job for the Soviet government than conduct criticism of it. Conveniently ’forgetting’ to mention the role of revisionist treachery in France in May 1968 is one glaring example. Another is his failure to mention the invasion of Czechoslovakia that occurred that same summer. Such is the rigorousuess with which PF exposes for us “the whims of Russian foreign policy” in the contemporary period!)

Passing on to the Russian revolution, we find that PF in this case, as in fact in many others, actually ignores his own emphasis on the importance of general strikes as a vehicle of revolution. This is in line with his general practice when it comes to the Russian revolution, namely abandoning all attempts to assess events himself and looking it all up instead in Trotsky’s works. Unfortunately for the theoretical consistency of PF’s pamphlet, Trotsky himself was never an out-and out syndicalist. (Although Trotsky drew on syndicalist arguments when it suited him. and once even remarked that a socialist state is essentially the trade unions in power, his actual attitude to trade unions would embarrass today’s SWP. For instance, in 1920 he urged the subjection of the trade unions to a military-style discipline that would have quenched any spark of proletarian democracy in them.) Though in the case of the Russian revolution PF is thus unable to apply his syndicalist outlook, he nevertheless shows that he still retains the fundamental confusion that lies behind that syndicalism – his misconception regarding the state. For he sums up the gains of the revolution as being that the working people won “the possibility of controlling their own lives and their own production” (p.68). In other words, seizure of the means of production, not seizure of state power, is once again elevated to central importance.

The same myopia is evident in PF’s account of Germany in 1918. “The whole structure of power,” he writes, “... was transferred to ordinary workers, shop stewards, army privates and sailors” (p.77). By once again ’forgetting’ that one crucial element in the “structure of power” (namely those sections of the armed forces that the bourgeoisie was still in a position to regroup and remobilise) remained to be confronted, PF is lapsing into the same error he made in the case of France in May 1968.

Both in the case of the Russian revolution, as we pointed out, and also in the case of Germany in 1918, PF conveniently forgets his own theories about the importance of general strikes. The same goes for his accounts of uprisings in Spain and Portugal, as well as in Hungary in 1956 which he also describes as a ’revolution’. (The syndicalist theory is indeed made to look particularly ludicrous in the case of Portugal, where between 1910 and 1926 there were no less than 158 general strikes, but no revolution!) We have to follow PF further afield before we are given any more comments on the alleged importance of general strikes. The school students of Soweto are described as “organising great strikes” (p.84). The Australian Labour leader Whitlam’s greatest sin seems to have been that he “implored his working class supporters not to go on strike” (p.58). And the one and only occasion in his whole pamphlet when he mentions China is in connection with “the great strike waves” of 1927 (p.73). (There was of course a lot else happening in China in 1927 apart from strikes –, it was, for instance, the year when the Red Army was formed and revolutionary guerilla war was launched by sections of the Communist Party in the countryside, relying on the poorer peasantry – but of course PF doesn’t see that, and confines himself to mentioning “strike waves”.) In the cases, therefore of Soweto, Australia and China, where PF docs mention strike movements, he does not attempt to associate them with the idea of revolution.

PF, then, when he defines what a revolution is, does so in syndicalist fashion (“the masses, through general strikes and mass agitation, seize the means of production.” p.50). When it conies to specific instances, however, he either discusses ’revolution’ and forgets the general strikes (Russia, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Hungary) or else discusses the strikes and forgets revolution (Soweto, Australia, China). Apart from the British general strike of 1926, the only case where he mentions them both in the same connection is the case of France in May 1968, so that it is important to see what he has to say about the lessons of this case as it should provide the key to the correctness of his definition. What, then, is PF’s explanation for the fact that the French workers (whom he makes to look like idiots) “handed back their power”? The answer he provides is that “the workers had no trusted organisation which could show the way to a new social order” (p.88). This remark makes it look as though PF is arguing against syndicalism, and that he appreciates the tremendous role that a revolutionary party can play at such moments of history in helping the working class to break free from the trammels of reformist, trade union activity and advance to the political offensive. Unfortunately, however, as we have seen, PF’s conception of the ’party’ in reality restricts it to the role of an appendage to the trade unions. PF’s seal of approval consists of the words “rank and file” – the party must be “a new, rank and file, revolutionary socialist party” (p.91), and so on. Both PF’s pamphlet and SWP practice show clearly what is understood by this phrase – to be “rank and file”, decoded, means to be a trade union activist. Thus, when PF breaks with syndicalist dogma, points out the impossibility of the trade unions leading a revolution, and draws attention to the need for a party, he is still not to be trusted. The SWP merely represents ’trade unionism’ in another guise.


One feature of PF’s outlook that comes over very clearly in his pamphlet is ’spontaneism’, by which we mean his tendency to regard the spontaneous activity of the masses as the be-all and end-all in a revolutionary situation. We have already pointed out that PF is always liable to get carried away by the excitement of events, and the tremendous initiative and creativity of the masses, to the extent that he shirks the responsibility to sum up the lessons, positive and negative, of mass struggle. He merely describes these struggles, grovels in admiration, and leaves it at that. Genuine socialists have long warned against such ’friends’ of the working class. Marxism docs indeed hold that it is the masses, and not one or two notable leaders or individuals, who make history. Marxism does indeed hold that the masses have potentially inexhaustible creative power. This is the guarantee that capitalism can eventually be overthrown. What Marxism does not do, however, is just to praise the masses and leave it at that. Marxism warns against worshipping ’spontaneity’. Marxism accepts the responsibility to lead the great struggles of the masses, to distinguish between correct and incorrect tactics, and so on. We saw what this meant in the case of the British general strike of 1926. PF showered praise on the working class . . . and directed it down the same path to defeat again! ’Spontaneism’ is a feature that is common to syndicalism.. Trotskyism and all such petty-bourgeois idealism of the ultra-’left’ variety, which likes to dream (“as Shelley and Trotsky dreamt”) of a transition from capitalism to socialism that does not involve the less rosy prospect of an intervening stage of proletarian revolution, which they feel might deter potential sympathisers.

“’Surely you’re not prepared to use violence to achieve your political ends?’” says an imagined interlocutor to PF (p.59). Having thus allowed the issue to be broached, however, PF shows himself to be embarrassed by this question. He gives a muffled answer in which he draws attention to “the recurring and brutalising violence of the class society in which we live”, “the orgy of destruction which the government of America launched . . . against the people of Vietnam” and “the deep violence of tyrannical governments all over the world”. By contrast, revolutionaries “hate all this violence and want to put an end to it. They are not, by nature, violent people”, and so on. PF’s pamphlet subsequently relates various alleged examples of how nonviolent revolutions are.

In Russia in 1917, “the working masses,” says PF, “overthrew the capitalist government without any difficulty or violence” (p.67), as though the whole thing was dead easy and they finished it just in time for tea. He calls the Russian revolution “the most exciting moment in all history”, i.e. as a matter of a day or two. Who is he kidding? The insurrection in Petrograd and other towns was the prelude to a period of bloody revolutionary civil wars that lasted over three years. Such is the dishonesty of PF’s ’spontaneism’, which sweeps such facts under the carpet and tries to make out that revolution is a picnic. (Even as regards the events of October, he seems for once to have forgotten to look up Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, where he would find accounts of the storming of the Winter Palace by the Red Guards, the battle for Moscow, and other events which can hardly be described as taking place “without any difficulty or violence”.) The German revolution of 1918 is likewise described as having occurred with “little resistance, violence or bloodshed”. It was a “good-natured” affair. These phrases are quoted from a contemporary source, but they evidently reflect PF’s own assessment, for he falls over himself to applaud “this peaceful, sensible administration” (p.77). Likewise in Portugal in 1974, PF states that the overthrow of the fascist regime was accomplished with “little or no violence” (p.80), conveniently forgetting that it was the culminating achievement of more than a dozen years of armed struggle waged by the peoples of the Portuguese colonies in Africa. (PF does not even mention the bare fact that Portugal had any colonies, let alone that its colonial wars had any effect on its domestic political situation. But then, PF can’t be expected to show much interest in the peoples of the Portuguese colonies because they were mostly black peasants and thus “not a socialist or revolutionary force”, “not susceptible to socialist ideas”, and so on.) Similarly, PF describes the Hungarian events of 1956 (which he also calls a ’revolution’) as having occurred “without blood and violence” (p.79). He thus shows that he sees revolutions as being even less violent affairs than the British general strike of 1926, where at least he points out that there was “a constant battle with strike-breaking forces and with the police” (p.81). As for Russia, Germany, Portugal and (sic) Hungary, everything took place ‥without any difficulty or violence”, with “little resistance, violence or bloodshed”, in “good natured” and “peaceful” fashion, with “little or no violence”, “without blood and violence”.

What, then, does PF have to say about events in Chile during the 1970s, events that have brought home to so many people the absurdity of the ’theory’ of peaceful transition to socialism so assiduously promoted by PF? The lessons of Chile are so clear that in this case PF can only retain credibility by ’appearing’ to have learnt them. “There is no prospect whatever of the class with property abandoning that property just because a parliament says so . . .” If working people respond to Labour misleadership, “they are left, as they were left in Chile, utterly defenceless against the inevitable holocaust.” ”The capitalist class, armed to the teeth,” is “prepared for the most horrible brutality in defence of their privileges” (p.59). Though these warnings are weakening by PF’s misconception about the role of the state (he emphasises capitalism’s defence of its property rather than of its state power), it cannot be denied that he has here adopted a position that has positive elements. However, hardly has he vacillated into this correct, proletarian position than, in the classic manner of middle-class leftists, he tries to vacillate back out of it again. For it is at this point that he makes his mysterious statement that “the extent of violence in the war between classes is governed not so much by the instincts of either side as by the relation of forces ... In great, decisive class battles, the only guarantee against violence is for the workers to ensure that they have more strength than the employing class, and to be prepared to use it” (p.60). The example he gives of this “guarantee against violence” is the arrival of 30,000 engineering workers “over the hill” at Saltley in 1972 to join the miners’ picket, whereupon the police, who “had explicit instructions to ’cut up rough’ . .. took one look and closed the depot. No one was hurt.” Thus PF. in the very next paragraph after discussing the lessons of Chile, is back to his old tricks, and peddling a “guarantee against violence” (which, in his fantasised account of the Saltley events, sounds more like the US cavalry at the end of a cowboy film than an attempt to confront the stark realities of class struggle). After appearing to broach the question of violence, therefore, PF pours cold water over the issue.

While PF equivocates in this fashion, then, we had better step in and say forthrightly that history can provide no single example of socialism being introduced without the occurrence of armed struggle. In Russia, Vietnam, Albania, China, Korea, Kampuchea – in all cases where socialist regimes have been consolidated for any length of time, this political power has ’grown out of the barrel of a gun’. As Marx long ago pointed out, “the proletariat can only win its right to emancipation on the battlefield”. Those who, like the Soviet revisionists and the ’C’PGB, deny this and say there are other possible roads to socialism (the ’parliamentary road’ and so on), or who equivocate on the question (like PF with his “guarantee against violence”), are arguing against the fundamental teachings of Marxism; they are denying to the working class all the lessons, learnt in blood, of a century and more of working class struggles.

Although PF is vague on the means of achieving socialism, he is definite enough about the political base-unit under socialism. It is the workers’ council, which he calls “the fundamental unit of workers’ democracy” (p.37). “The workers’ councils run through each part of industry and the services . .. They operate within the structure of an overall plan, drawn up by the government,” which is itself “made up of workers’ representatives, elected through the councils ... to a national Congress of Councils, which then elects its executive or government ... The precise details of these structures can’t and shouldn’t be laid down in advance” (though PF seems to be having a pretty good try!). “In all revolutions, or attempted revolutions, workers have found different patterns of workers’ councils and congresses.” Thus in Russia in October 1917, “the Soviets, the workers’ councils,... had grown up during eight months of crisis” (p.67). However, “the soviet structure . . . was quickly done to death in Russia” (p.70), and the “workers and soldiers councils” established in Germany in 1918 were also short-lived (p.77), so that it was now left for Britain to show the way: “In 1926 .. . rank and file Councils of Action were thrown up in almost every town and city” (p.81). After the Francoist coup in Spain in 1936, “the workers resisted ... by taking power themselves and electing their own workers and soldiers councils” (p.78). “In Hungary, 20 years later, the workers of Budapest rose against the Russian tyranny” and “chose . . . directly-elected councils, founded on the workplace” (p.78), and he applauds their “spontaneous origin” (p.79). PF does concede that there are other organs of struggle besides councils: “The workers’ councils form the core of socialist democracy, but they are not the only organs of democracy or of power. They co-operate and coexist with a whole number of other democratic organisations, such as tenants’ and consumers’ cooperatives” (p.37), and he gives examples of various such organisations which existed in Portugal during his visit there in 1975: “Workers’ commissions in industry, residents’ commissions in the estates, workers’ control of several newspapers and cooperative occupation committees in the farms sprang up all over the country” (pp. 79-80). Nevertheless, it is clear that the workers’ council in general occupies pride of place in PF’s estimation. (His emphasis on workers’ councils is one more reason for his lack of interest in third world revolutions. Being largely an urban phenomenon, and thus less in evidence in third world revolutions, PF would presumably see in this circumstance yet one more confirmation of the fact that the peasantry are “not susceptible to socialist ideas”.)

What accounts for this infatuation with the institution of workers’ councils that is shown in PF’s pamphlet? While occasionally paying lip-service to the crucial importance of a revolutionary party, he does not give the party anything like the emphasis he gives to workers’ councils in the specific cases he discusses – in fact he only mentions the existence of a revolutionary party in one case, namely Russia. Still less does he place, say, the institution of workers’ armed forces in the lime-light: the Red Army in Russia comes in for one solitary mention (p.70), otherwise there’s no mention of them at all, let alone their crucial role in accomplishing the revolution’s highest task – seizure of state power. The reason why PF plays up the role of workers’ councils at the expense of the party and workers’ armed forces is his spontaneism. For the councils are precisely the spontaneous form of organisation of the working class. They are formed irrespective of whether or not there exists a revolutionary leadership that can carry the working class forward to revolutionary seizure of power. Thus, behind a smokescreen of remarks about the need for a party and even the need to confront the violence of the capitalist class, there lurks a worship of spontaneity. What really draws his applause is not conscious revolutionary organisation, but the spontaneous origin of such institutions as the workers’ councils.

Thus PF, who cannot in fact bring forward any concrete grounds for hope from his dismal catalogue of failed revolutions, consoles himself with his paeans to spontaneity. The workers’ councils “grew up”, “were thrown up”, “sprang up”. He refers to the “dramatic meetings” (p.68) and “astonishing power of the revolution” (p.70) in Russia, where women’s liberation was achieved “in a flash” (p.70). He applauds “the leap into the unknown” taken by the German revolutionaries in 1918 (p.77), the “fantastic” response of working people in Britain to the general strike of 1926 and their “instinctive solidarity and will to cooperate” (p.81), the “electric” reaction of Spanish workers to the Franco coup in 1936 (p.78), the “tremendous explosion of popular power” in Portugal in 1974 (pp. 79-80), the “rampaging demonstrations” when “the town of Soweto exploded” in 1976 (pp.83-84), in short the “froth, excitement, agitation, ferment” of it all (p.79). Visionary dreaming is highly recommended: “countless times . . . socialists have dreamt like Shelley and Trotsky dreamt, and have fought the harder for it” (p.45). PF’s faith is summed up in his quotation from the novel Clayhanger by Arnold Bennett: “In that head of his a flame burnt that was like an altar fire, a miraculous and beautiful phenomenon . . . Whence had it suddenly come, that flame? After years of muddy inefficiency . . . that flame astoundingly burst forth, from a hidden unheeded spark” (p.75). In case the significance of this symbolism should be lost on any of his readers, he makes things quite clear later in the chapter: “The ’flame’ which Arnold Bennett wrote of so brilliantly in the extract quoted at this chapter’s head burns up into a great conflagration at times of revolution or general strike” (p.82).

In PF’s conception of socialism, then, much is made of the excitement of it all, less of the lessons of history which must be learnt if all the activity is actually to result in real gains for the working class. We have examined the main lessons of the history of workers’ struggles, as summed up in Marxism, and have found that in every case PF’s doctrine constitutes an obstacle to propagating these lessons. He fosters illusions that socialism can come about without an intervening historical stage of proletarian revolution. He practises demagogy, and hides the need for the working class to exercise dictatorship over the capitalist class once it has overthrown it: he does not even raise the question of the building of a workers’ state, or mention the components of that state, principally the proletarian armed forces. His attitude towards non-proletarian classes among the oppressed peoples of the world verges on racism. His over-readiness to blame all revolutionary failures during previous decades on the Soviet Union in the Stalin period is matched by a failure to expose the reactionary role of the Soviet Union in world affairs today that amounts almost to criminal negligence. His conception of the role of theory seems to be not that it is something to integrate with contemporary practice, but on the contrary a source of isolated and scattered quotations and allusions taken out of context, or (in the case of Trotskyism) a source of clever-sounding historical narrative. Where he docs allude to overall questions of tactics in the current situation, he reverts to the pre-Marxist (and pre-Trotskyist) doctrine of syndicalism, though when it comes to specific cases of revolutions and general strikes he abandons that as well as he is unable to establish that there is any intrinsic connection between the two. While paying lip-service to the need for a party, when it comes to specific cases he forgets all about this and just worships spontaneity. He tries to pretend that he has learnt the lesson of Chile, and poses as an opponent of the theory of ’peaceful transition’, but he equivocates on this issue and in general represents revolution as a very peaceful affair indeed. The common thread linking all the elements of his doctrine, as also all his errors on current affairs, is his failure to sec that the question of state power (not ownership, etc.) is the central issue in revolutionary politics.

How, then, are we to categorise PF’s doctrine? His brand of petty-bourgeois dreaming is quite deeply-rooted in the intellectual tradition of this country, and harks back in many ways to Utopian writers such as Owen and Shelley, and to later socialists such as William Morris. The difference between the standpoint of PF and the standpoint of these writers, however, is that they represented views that were comparatively progressive, even revolutionary, in their time, whereas for PF in 1977 still to cling to errors they made is unpardonable. Much water has flowed under the bridge since their day, and many lessons have been learned through bitter experience. Were Owen and Shelley still alive today, they would be eager to learn and apply these lessons, and PF does them no justice by clinging to those aspects of their outlook that that have been shown by history to have been erroneous. PF can, then, be broadly categorised as a petty-bourgeois Utopian of a quaintly old-fashioned nature, up-dated as far as the 1930s with a smattering of Trotskyism, but up-dated no further.

In short, PF’s doctrine is an opportunist amalgam of heterogeneous elements, into which anything is ’incorporated’ that he feels might function as bait to attract potential recruits into the SWP. To what extent does PF’s own particular mish-mash reflect the ideas current in the SWP as a whole? Our experience is that, while of course in an ultra-liberal organisation like the SWP each has his own individual doctrinal recipe. PF’s doctrine is a pretty good example. It reflects most of the characteristic errors to be found in the SWP, and where it does leave gaps in this respect, we have tried to fill them in for him. We feel justified, therefore, in placing responsibility for this travesty of socialism not only on PF himself but also on Chris Harman, Tony Cliff, Margaret Renn, Laurie Flynn, Geoff Ellen, and Jim Nichol who read and “improved’” his pamphlet, and beyond them on the SWP as a whole which published it.