Het lijkt me inderdaad nuttig om daar op in te gaan. Om meteen helder te zijn: met “rechts” binnen de SP heb ik het niet over wat men in algemene termen begrijpt als politiek rechts (liberalisme, etc.), maar over sociaal-democratisch rechts. Ik ga hiermee eigenlijk terug naar de definitie zoals die gebruikelijk was vóór 1914, toen de sociaal-democratie in fragmenten brak met de linkervleugel die uiteindelijk de Communistische Partijen zouden gaan vormen na 1917. Het is dus een relatieve plaatsbepaling.
The right: reform v ‘utopianism’
The underlying common idea of the right wing of the movement was that the practical task of the movement was to fight for reforms in the interests of the working class. In order to win these reforms, it was necessary to make coalitions with other tendencies which were willing to ally with the workers’ movement. And in order to make coalitions, it was necessary in the first place to be willing to take governmental office: it was by creating a coalition government that the possibility really arose of legislating in the interests of the working class, as well as of administrative measures (creating social security systems, etc).
Secondly, it was necessary to be willing to make substantial political compromises. Thus Engels, in The peasant question, polemicised against Vollmar’s programmatic concessions to the peasantry in relation to positive subsidies for family farming and in relation to trade union issues affecting agricultural labourers employed by small farmers.
The largest compromise – but, from the point of view of the right, the smallest – would be for the workers’ party to abandon its illusory and futile revolutionism; and, with it, equally illusory Marxist claims about crisis, and the notion that in an economic downswing reforms, as concessions made to the working class, would tend to be taken back unless the working class took political power into its own hands.
In the view of the right, the revolutionism was, after all, already empty of content. The German party, for example, did not call openly for the replacement of the monarchy by a republic and, though the Erfurt programme contained a good set of standard democratic-republican demands (for example, universal military training, popular militia, election of officials, including judges, and so on), these played only a marginal role in the party’s agitational and propaganda work.
The claim that economic downswing would produce attacks on concessions already made could perfectly well be conceded by rightists as true of the bourgeoisie; but the argument that this was also true of the state depended on the claim that the state was a class instrument in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and was thus intertwined with revolutionism.
The right did not simply argue that getting rid of revolutionism would make the workers’ party into a respectable party with which other parties could do business, and which could therefore achieve coalitions, and hence concessions. It also offered a variety of theoretical objections to Marx and Engels’ arguments, based on christianity, Kantianism, nationalism and early appropriations of the marginalist economists’ critiques of Marx. A relatively sophisticated version was Bernstein’s Evolutionary socialism, which argued that the scientific approach of Marx and Engels was diverted by their residual Hegelianism into a utopian revolutionism.
The actual content of the various theoretical objections to Marxism need not be considered here. The core question is the relative value of Marxist and ‘constitutionalist’ arguments in terms of predictive power and, hence, as a guide to action. To address this question it is necessary to separate the rightists’ positive claim – that coalitions based on programmatic concessions can win real reforms – from their negative claim, that ‘revolutionism’ is unrealistic, worthless and illusory.
The right’s positive claim
It should be said right away that the positive claim is true, to the extent that we are willing to treat partial gains for particular groups of workers (eg, workers in Britain; or workers in industry; or in particular industries) as gains for the working class as a whole.
This does not, in fact, depend on the workers’ party being a minority party and hence in need of formal coalitions. If the workers’ party presents itself purely as a party of reform, it will also win members and voters from the existing parties of reform. It may then, like the British Labour Party after 1945, become a party which is in form a workers’ party capable of forming a government on its own, but is in reality in itself a coalition between advocates of the independent political representation of the working class on the one hand, and liberal or nationalist-statist reformers and political careerists on the other: to use Lenin’s very slippery expression, a “bourgeois workers’ party”.
The positive claim is, however, illusory as strategy. Part of this illusory character is due to the fact that the negative claim is false. But part of it is internal. The policy of coalitions based on programmatic concessions is, as I said earlier, based on the need to form a coalition government in order to get effective reforms. But this supposes from the outset that reforms will take the form of state action to ameliorate the situation of the workers. The reform policy is therefore a policy for the growth and increasing power of the state and increased state taxation: as the Conservative press puts it, for the “nanny state”.
The internal problem is that working class people are no more fond of being in perpetual parental leading-reins from the state than the middle classes: the aim of the emancipation of the working class is an aspiration to collective and individual freedom. The policy of reform through coalition governments therefore contains within itself – quite apart from the falsity of the negative claim – the seeds of its own overthrow. The petty tyrannies of the council house manager, the social services officials, the benefit officials, etc, become the ground of a conservative/liberal reaction against the “nanny state” among important sections of the working class.
This is not merely a British phenomenon (the Thatcher victory in 1979). It was seen in the largest possible scale in the fall of the Stalinist regimes in 1989-91. And it has characterised the French, German and Italian electoral cycles and those of Australia, Canada and the US at least since the 1970s (in the case of the US, the Democrats play the role of the reformists).
The right’s negative claim
The predictive failure of the reformists’ negative claim results, most fundamentally, from the national limit of its horizons. Capitalism forms itself, from its beginnings, as a global socioeconomic formation. It is an international greasy-pole hierarchy of competing firms. Within this formation the nation-state is unavoidably a firm, and there is also a hierarchy of competing states. The understanding that the nation-state is a firm competing in the world market is a trivial commonplace of modern capitalist politics: the need to preserve or improve ‘British competitiveness’ is a constant mantra of both Labour and Tories, and equivalents can be found in the major parties of every country. It also forms part of Marx’s criticism of the Gotha programme (quoted in chapter one). To form a government within this framework therefore necessarily commits the participants to manage the interests of the nation-state in global competition.
Success in this competition allows the basis for reforms in the interests of the national working class. Or, more exactly, of sections of the national working class: there are always groups (particularly workers in small firms, young workers, migrants, etc) who must be excluded for the sake of compromise with the middle class parties, as Engels predicted in criticising Vollmar. But success is not ‘purely economic’. Capitals are able to externalise the costs of economic downswing onto weaker states and the firms (and landlords, petty producers, etc) associated with these states. Competition on the world market is thus military-political-economic.
The policy of reform through coalition governments thus entails (a) the displacement of the downswing of the business cycle onto the weaker states and their firms and populations; and (b) the displacement of the social polarisation which capitalism produces onto polarisation between nations. On the one hand, this gives the reformists’ negative claims their credibility: reforms are actually achieved and social polarisation is reduced in the successful states. On the other, the reformists necessarily commit themselves to sustaining and managing an imperial military force.
Sentimental objections to imperialism and foreign adventures, and the residual commitment to the ideas of universal military service and a people’s militia, inevitably give way, once reformists are actually in government, to the hard needs of sustaining the state’s success and standing in the global hierarchy, which is the only means by which reforms can be sustained.
Even this success at the price of bloody hands cannot forever be sustained, because externalising the business cycle has its own limits. As a world top-dog state, like Britain or the US, and the lead industrial sectors associated with this state, enter into decline, the externalised downswing phase of the business cycle returns, affecting not only them, but the other states near the top of the global hierarchy. Competition between these states intensifies. As a result, if the state as a firm is to remain globally competitive, it must endeavour to take back the reforms which have been given and drive wages and working conditions down towards the global average (their true market value). The project of reform through coalition government thereby comes to offer ‘reformism without reforms’ or merely the ‘less bad’ (Blair in preference to Major, and so on).
But every other state is also doing the same thing and, the more they do it, the more global effective purchasing power declines, forcing more attacks … in reality, this is merely the downswing of the business cycle postponed. It is accumulated in time and displaced onto a global scale, returning as global market pressure on the nation-state. The downswing of the ordinary business cycle must end in bankruptcies, which both free productive capital from the claims of overproduced fictional capital to income, and devalorise overinvested physical capital. It is the bankruptcies which free up space for a new economic upswing.
In the same way, the global downswing must end in the destruction of the global money and property claims of the declining world hegemon state: Britain in 1914-45; the US at some point in this coming century. In its (ultimately futile) efforts to put off this result, the declining world hegemon state must respond by an increased exploitation of its financial claims and its military dominance – as Britain did in the later 19th century, and as the US is doing now. The deferred and transposed business cycle can only overcome this problem by ending in war.
At the point of global war between the great powers, the illusory character of the policy of reform through coalition government becomes transparent. All that maintains the reformists are mass fear of the consequences of military defeat, and direct support from the state in the form of repression of their left opponents. Thus both 1914-18 and 1939-45 produced major weakening of the reform policy within the workers’ movement and the growth of alternatives. In the event, after 1945 the destruction of British world hegemony enabled a new long phase of growth, and reformism was able to revive. We are now on the road to another collapse of reformist politics … but what is lacking is a strategically plausible alternative.
Hoewel de SP natuurlijk niet een-op-een te vergelijken is met de sociaal-democratie van een eeuw geleden, is het mijn stelling dat de partij wordt gedomineerd door een dergelijke rechtervleugel. (Relatief) links staat hierin historisch zwak, geïsoleerd, gedesorganiseerd. Dit heeft de rechtervleugel het mogelijk gemaakt om de partij naar haar evenbeeld te vormen en structuren te creëren die haar positie in stand houden. Dus: Een centralistische top-down en volledig ondemocratische partijstructuur met een cultuur waarin politieke discussie (voor zover ze plaatsvind) louter een interne aangelegenheid is, waarin verschillen tussen leidinggevende partijleden worden verstopt voor de partijleden, waarin politieke scholing van een zeer laag niveau is (aangezien politieke scholing betekend dat leden de capaciteit ontwikkelen om zelfstandig geïnformeerde beslissingen te nemen en ideeën te vormen), waarin arrogantie van full-timers en pesterijen van gewone leden door permanente leidinggevenden de norm is, waarin een tendens bestaat om politieke meningsverschillen “op te lossen” door persoonlijke aanvallen of zelfs karaktermoord, en waarin daardoor een groeiende dominatie bestaat van een groeps-denken die steeds minder zelfstandig denken toelaat en waarin leden de agenten worden van deze cultuur van censuur waarin iedere vorm van zelfstandig denken wordt gezien als aanval op de “partij” en zelfs je “loyaliteit aan de partij” ter discussie wordt gesteld als je volhoud.
Ik hoop dat dit een beter beeld geeft van wat ik versta onder “rechtervleugel”, hoewel “vleugel” voor een vrijwel alles dominerende groep een beetje een understatement is. Ik zal in een latere blogpost ingaan op wat ik dan versta onder “linkervleugel” en wat het alternatief is en welke strategie nodig.