From International Socialism 2 : 7, Winter 1980; pp. 108–109.
Transcribed by Marven James Scott.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Chris Harman’s article The Crisis of the European revolutionary left (International Socialism 2 : 4) has aroused interest on the part of revolutionaries in several countries. Written comments have been received from several sources, including the one from Riccardo Albione (DP, Italy) published in our last issue, but perhaps the most interesting development has been a conference, held in Paris in October, which took Harman’s article as the main starting point.
The core of organisations which initiated the conference originally came together to plan a united response to the elections for the European Parliament. The SWP declined to participate in this, feeling it was irrelevant to the class struggle in Britain; but we gladly agreed to participate in a series of meetings dealing with wider political questions. Further meetings are planned to discuss the Stalinist states, new technology and women.
The Paris conference was attended by some fifty people, representing nineteen organisations. These were: the Unitary Organisation of Portuguese Workers, Makitis and OSE (Greece), EIA and Movimiento Comunista (Spain), the Left Socialists and the Socialist League (Denmark), Pour le Socialisme (Belgium), the Socialist Youth (Norway), The Socialist Work Circle (Luxemburg), Sinn Fein (Ireland), Communist League (Sweden), SWP and Big Flame (Britain), and from France CEDETIM, Parti Pris, the Organisation Communiste des Travailleurs, as well as two groups which have split from the latter organisation and are currently negotiating fusion with the LCR, French section of the Fourth International.
Many, though by no means all, of these groupings belong to the political current which the SWP has traditionally characterised as ‘soft Maoist’ – that is, groups making a positive appreciation of the Chinese Revolution, at least up to the time of Mao’s death, but maintaining a critical attitude towards Stalinism and rejecting the dogmatic formulations of the so-called ‘Marxist-Leninists’.
In differing ways all the groups at the conference accepted that the last two or three years have seen a significant downturn in the level of struggle. In France, for instance, the failure of the Union of the Left to come to power seriously disoriented all the revolutionary groups, who had focussed their activity on the accession of a ‘left government’. And, in Spain the high level of struggle which followed Franco’s death was defused by the Moncloa Pact which enabled the reformists to regain the initiative.
It was generally agreed that the revolutionary left had had to revise its analysis of the effects of the world crisis of the seventies. Most of us believed that the crisis would push workers to the left; in fact it gave anew lease of life to reformism, albeit a reformism qualitatively different from that of earlier decades.
Moreover, the downturn led to a fragmentation of the movement. In a period of rising struggle, the revolt of women, blacks and other oppressed groups fuses relatively easily with the struggle of the working class. In a period of declining struggle, such groups develop their own rhythm of development. The problem of the relation between such ‘movements’ and the revolutionary left poses acute tactical and strategic problems.
Where the conference began to show divergences was on the question of how to respond to this new situation. One position, put in its sharpest form by the Communist League (FK) of Sweden, was that it was necessary to respond by ‘offensive demands’, that is, proposals for alternative production, alternative forms of energy, etc., as a means of mobilising workers against the system. Other groups supported, this strategy in rather more pragmatic terms, white others again, including the SWP, argued that such a strategy opened the door to reformism.
There was also considerable discussion about the analysis required of the current situation. Several speakers stressed the need to re-examine the nature of the working class in the light of changed economic and social circumstances. Another factor cited as having serious impact on the level and forms of class consciousness was imperialism and national oppression, as in Ireland.
The SWP delegates stressed the important distinction between reformism and the struggle for reforms. In the current defensive situation revolutionaries had to be present in even the most minimal and economistic struggles by workers, rather than getting themselves embroiled in proposing alternative solutions to the crisis. The key was the united front, provided this was understood as concrete unity for concrete aims, not an abstract proposal for alliances between apparatuses.
While no clear conclusions were reached, the conference provided a useful exchange of views, and showed that many of the major revolutionary organisations in Europe are now engaged in an open and constructive reassessment of their strategy.
We are publishing below two documents which were submitted by participants in the conference.
One comes from a member of the OCT (Organisation Communiste des Travailleurs), a group formed in 1976, its main constituent being Revolution! (a 1971 split from the LCR). The OCT was strongly influenced by the politics of Avanguardia Operaia in Italy. Over the last year the OCT has had a deep internal crisis, leading to a serious loss of members and finally a split in which just under half the remaining members decided to seek membership of the LCR.
The other document comes from the Spanish organisation Movimiento Comunista, the biggest revolutionary group in Spain, and probably in Europe. MC originated from a split in ETA in 1967–68. Its politics were originally more or less orthodox Maoist, but it moved away from this position in the early seventies, and is currently reassessing its traditions. It fused with the OIC early in 1979.
Last updated on 9.9.2013