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Hal Draper and the International Socialists

HAL DRAPERís document, "Toward a New Beginning" (What Next? No.10) is an important and interesting historical text. Although I, for one, disagree with it quite radically, I welcome its inclusion in the journal. The same cannot be said for Ernie Haberkernís Introduction, which purports to put the article in context but in fact grossly distorts that context.

The Independent Socialist Clubs mentioned in the article were formed from 1964 onwards by Draper and others who had broken with the rightward-moving Shachtman. In 1969 the Independent Socialists renamed themselves International Socialists. The choice of name was not random. It represented a political and organisational rapprochement with the British International Socialists. Although most members of the American IS (ISUS) held the "bureaucratic collectivist" position, there were growing fraternal links between the two organisations.

In September 1970 an international conference was held in London, sponsored by the International Socialists of Britain and the US, together with Lutte OuvriŤre of France. The aim was to begin a regroupment of organisations not affiliated to any Fourth International and who believed that workersí states could not be established without the self-activity of workers. Again this conference marked a further development of co-operation between the British and American International Socialists.

When the conference was planned, early in 1970, it was intended that Draper, a leading member of the ISUS, should be part of its delegation. However, he withdrew from the conference, and finally left the ISUS in January 1971. It is clear, therefore, that this 1970 document is a polemic directed explicitly against the direction in which the ISUS was going, towards what Draper calls the "small mass party". Yet a reader of Haberkernís Introduction would not even know that the ISUS existed.

While denying any concrete identity to Draperís opponents, Haberkern gives it to be understood that Draper was addressing himself exclusively to middle-class students whose knowledge of the American working class was based exclusively on what their "bourgeois professors" had told them. This is a false and grossly patronising account of the ISUS as it existed at the time. Apart from anything else they had learnt a great deal from ... Hal Draper, whose fine writings, above all his magnificent The Two Souls of Socialism, helped to educate a generation of socialists in both Britain and the US. By rubbishing Draperís political opponents, Haberkern actually trivialises Draperís own work.

I met a number of the leading figures in the ISUS in the early seventies and they scarcely fit Haberkernís picture of bright-eyed innocents straight out of college. Just a few names for the record: Joel Geier, who built the Young Peopleís Socialist League (YPSL) to a membership of a thousand in the early sixties; Sy Landy, a member of the editorial board of New Politics from the early sixties; Steve Zeluck, an experienced trade union activist, and author of the pamphlet Toward Teacher Power; Sam Farber, a member of the YPSL and the British IS in the early sixties. Perhaps Haberkernís archives contain an ISUS pamphlet by Kim Moody (now a well-known labour journalist) entitled The American Working Class in Transition. (The text appeared in Britain in International Socialism [first series] No.40.) It is a sophisticated account of the relation of economic and political struggle, thoroughly documented from both official statistics and rank-and-file publications. Moody scarcely fits the caricature of an ignorant student who believed that "the immediate enemy was not the employers but the unions", though he does provide a sharp critique of the union bureaucracy.

Of course, the development of the ISUS was not unproblematic. It suffered several splits, notably that of 1977 which led to the foundation of the International Socialist Organisation, now part of the SWPís international tendency. But to deny the identity and qualities of oneís political opponents is not a helpful way of presenting a political argument. Indeed, as Haberkern well knows, such a method does not belong to the tradition of revolutionary socialism, but to a quite different tradition.

Hal Draper was a supremely honest revolutionary. By setting a target of ten years he gives us a standard against which his perspective can be assessed. Unfortunately the historical record shows that while Draperís books are an asset which can benefit all socialists, his organisational legacy was zero. Only if we tell the truth about history can we learn from it.

Ian Birchall

Once More on Bosnia

I SEE FROM the latest issue of What Next? that our anti-Serbian racists, most of whom appear to have degrees and are convinced that they are some sort of socialists, are so upset by being out-argued by a self-taught worker like Mike Jones that they are now calling upon expert help, in the shape of a "Bosnian professor" ("Bosnia: A Reply to Mike Jones", What Next? No.10).

Well, it is obvious from his letter that this professor needs to go back to his books. For the names of the Greek inventors of the old church Slavonic script, he should learn how to spell Cyril (or rather, Constantine) and Methodius. Nor would any modern scholar accept the label "Manichaean" applied by their Orthodox and Catholic enemies to the Bogomils. Maniís dualism, as shown from his authentic writings preserved in Coptic and several Central Asian languages, was an ontological one. The Bogomils, with their belief that Satanael and Jesus were elder and younger sons of God, were very different sorts of dualists. The French scholar Duvernoy established over twenty years ago that their religion was influenced by Origenism. No modern scholar of any standing any more accepts the view put forward by Runciman and Stoyanov that there is a continuous secret tradition that goes back all the way through the various dualist faiths of the Middle Ages to Mani in the third century. Indeed, a substantial body of modern opinion believes that Bogomilism was not the state religion of Bosnia at all, but that it was a church caught between Catholics and Orthodox that developed its own local peculiarities. Its Gospel texts do not seem to imply any more than this.

Indeed, Professor Bajric does not seem to be entirely at home in the Medieval history of the Balkans. Who, for example, is "the Bosnian king, Kulin Ban"? A Ban, of course, is not a king, but a high official, and Ban Kulinís superior was King Emmerich of Hungary. As for his command of modern history, it is obvious from his argument that he believes that a "nationality" can exist even when it does not have a national consciousness behind it.

Even if bourgeois nationalists appear to believe that their nations exist eternally outside of space and time, should Marxists entertain this ludicrous idea?

For goodnessí sake let us have an end of this silly correspondence, which is now starting to verge on the neurotic.

Al Richardson

In Defence of the SWP

APART FROM Ian Birchallís article in What Next? No.8 ("The Case for the SWP"), contributors to your journal never have a good word to say for the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Why is this? The SWP may not be perfect but, as Ian points out, it is by far the largest organisation on the revolutionary left in Britain and is responsible for winning thousands of young people to Marxism. This strikes me as a lot better way of contributing to the struggle for a socialist society than producing a discussion journal with a minuscule circulation in which, as Ian puts it, the politicised spend their time talking to the already politicised.

Of course, size isnít everything. The old Communist Party was once a big organisation. But unlike the CP, the resources the SWP has built up are not the result of being bankrolled by some foreign power Ė they have all been paid for by the partyís own members. And unlike other organisations from the Trotskyist tradition which at various times have acquired some size and influence, the SWP has weathered the present harsh political climate without collapsing entirely (the Workers Revolutionary Party) or declining into virtual irrelevance (Militant). Doesnít this suggest that the SWP must be doing something right?

Martin Sullivanís comment piece in What Next? No.9 ("The Socialist Workers Party and Elections") is typical of your carping attitude to the SWP. He accuses the SWP of sectarianism in its rivalry with the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) over next yearís elections to the Scottish parliament. The fact is that the SWP has approached the SSP to propose a joint socialist slate for the elections, only to have their offer rejected. So whoís being sectarian here? Not the SWP.

Iím not saying that you shouldnít subject the SWP or any other political organisation to reasoned criticism, merely that your correspondents could find a better use for their literary talents than repeatedly sniping against comrades who are more interested in socialist activity than in endless impractical discussions.

Jo Green

Against Fundamentalism: A Reply to Gerry Downing

THE IRRITABLE and dogmatic tone of Gerry Downingís "Why We Must Defend the Essentials in Order to Condemn the Errors" (What Next? No.10) suggests that he is happy to dwell in the uncomplicated world of the fundamentalist. Possessing a monopoly of political truth carries with it responsibility for rooting out heretics who, by definition, must have rejected "all revolutionary positions". I would like to say a few words before the chief Inquisitor passes the inevitable sentence of excommunication.

He really should have read my article properly before firing off his reply. He bases a lengthy peroration against Bukharinism on the notion that I advocate that Trotsky should have "politically collapsed by blocking with Bukharin". Of course, I suggest no such thing. I suggest that once the Bukharinites had themselves become an opposition, after 1928, it might have been possible for the Left Opposition to block with them purely on the struggle for party democracy. What is wrong with this? Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky all spoke out against Trotskyís deportation from the Soviet Union in January 1929. Such a bloc might have been possible. What made it impossible was the Left Oppositionís position that Bukharin was more of a danger than Stalin. According to Gerry Downing, my view that this was mistaken is tantamount to a political collapse into Bukharinism!

What convinces me that I may be right, and this is an error which continues to haunt "orthodox Trotskyism", is Gerryís reaction: "Whilst the introduction of even a bureaucratically deformed plan proved the superiority of socialist planning ...". Really? Stalinís murderous and chaotic industrialisation-by-terror barely qualifies as a "plan" at all, let alone a socialist one. How did the five year plans of the 1930s "prove" the superiority of "socialist planning"? If the Left Opposition were right, and I am wrong, then tell me which faction of the Bolshevik Party was worse than Stalin?

Stalinophobia? I prefer to think of it as sound political judgement coupled with a healthy survival instinct.

Having denounced me as a Bukharinite, Gerry Downing moves on to denounce me as a disciple of Ted Grant. Evidently, I "admire" Militantís strategy, including, by implication, its perspective for taking power with the passing by a left Labour government of an "enabling bill". Again, I say no such thing, other than in Gerryís imagination. I merely describe Militantís strategy for what it was. I think revolutionary Marxism needs a strategy for taking power, although not Militantís. Gerry seems to think we can do fine without one. Time will tell who is right.

Pseudo-Gramscite? Well, I think Gramsci had considerable insight into the political culture of western Europe. In that context, he saw the limitations, or specificity, of the Bolshevik project in Russia. His insight has been ignored, or derided, by 1917 re-run fantasists who prefer to rely on facile, primitive sloganising and bible-thumping, rather than think for themselves; and who nurture the hope that, one day, power will be lying in the street for them to pick up.

Gerry regards it as "exceptionalist" to suggest that Trotsky did not understand the west European working class. In fact, he knew more than most Bolsheviks, but he still tended to underestimate reformism, reducing it to swindles, bribes and manoeuvres, rather than an ideology, and a set of structures. Anyway, west Europe is a pretty big "exception", and it happens to be where Gerry and I actually live. To use "exceptionalist" as a term of abuse is as pointless and irrelevant as calling Lenin a Russian exceptionalist because, up to a point, that is what he was. His strategic vision based itself on a particular conjunction of the Russian working class, peasantry and bourgeoisie, its economy, its backwardness, its late development and its place in the world economic system. That did not prevent him from being an internationalist as well. Surely we must take into account the peculiarities which Lenin and Trotsky could not, because they were Russian and because they are dead.

I thought that the most important point I was trying to make in my original article was that it is now impossible to speak of Trotskyism as a coherent and recognisable body of theory and practice. Gerry Downing ignores this point, and simply refers to "Trotskyism" and a "Trotskyist" leadership in the context of regroupment. What is this "Trotskyism" that he wants us to sign up for? Is it the "Trotskyism" which supported Solidarnosc or the "Trotskyism" that wanted it suppressed? Is it that "Trotskyism" that supported the defence of Bosnia, or that which does not? This "Trotskyism" is obviously more hole than mint. What is also obvious is that, from the invective used by Gerry in his reply to me, I would not be welcome in his regroupment project. Presumably, anyone else who wished to keep an open mind on the basic tenets of "Trotskyism" would be similarly denounced as having "rejected all revolutionary positions".

In any case, I cannot share Gerryís enthusiasm for split and fusion discussions with every inveterate sectarian on the planet, all convincing themselves of the epochal significance of their attempts to create, out of a "clarification" of 60 or 70 year old texts, some pure Trotskyist sect. In fact, I doubt whether the political sack of ferrets he proposes will do even that. To me it sounds cultish, cranky and, from the point of view of the development of Marxist theory and practice, a complete blind alley. Potential members of a new generation of militants will stay away in droves. Gerry loftily alleges that his critics wish to escape from the "discipline of the class struggle", but the existence of sectarian "regroupment" bear gardens is one of the symptoms of the current low level of class struggle, and of the relative isolation of revolutionaries from the labour movement.

Given Gerry Downingís apparently compulsive oppositionism, and his propensity for doggedly tracing disagreements back to his opponentsí original sin, be it "Bukharinism", "Mandelism" or "petty-bourgeois pessimism" (the opposite of "proletarian optimism", presumably), I think his reference to an "annual international conference on revolutionary regroupment" is a tad optimistic. If there is a second one, the chances are he wonít be there.

Nick Davies

A Lambertist Conference in San Francisco

I WAS INTERESTED to read critical comments made in What Next? No.5 ("In Defence of Al Richardson") about the conference organised by the Lambertists in London in early 1997, and I thought your readers might be interested in this report of a similar conference held in the United States later that year, under the grandiose title "The Western Hemisphere Conference against the Free Trade Treaty and Privatisation". The report is translated from issue No.10 of the magazine El Nuevo Topo (New Mole):


Everywhere they are holding conferences whose sole aim is to call more conferences ...

A very curious trade union conference was held in San Francisco in mid-November. AFL-CIO leaders shared a platform with leftists at a meeting against the Free Trade Treaty and privatisation. A spokesman for John Sweeney, the top AFL-CIO leader, spoke against "neo-Liberalism" while Jack Henning, ex-boss of the AFL-CIO in California, delivered the same "revolutionary" speech which he has been giving for the last 30 years, claiming the conference was "the beginning of liberation".

Itís a miracle! The American trade union bureaucracy has changed! The "conference" promoted by the Organising Committee (Lambertist Fourth International) is part of a series of international meetings which unites trade union bureaucrats who have their expenses paid and leftists who have to pay their own way. So, it is an alliance between bureaucrats and leftists. There have already been several conferences such as the "International Tribunal against the External Debt" in Lima in 1989. In July 1990 there was a "Meeting on Unemployment throughout the Continent and against the External Debt". In May 1992 there was a "Meeting in Defence of Public Services". There have also been "World Conferences" in Paris, Barcelona and Mexico, etc, etc, ad infinitum.

What are the practical results of these meetings and conferences? The bureaucrats make their speeches, but they donít allow much discussion Ė "there isnít time". However, when Baldemar Velasquez of the FLOC AFL-CIO, spoke for nearly an hour no one complained.

The truth is that the bureaucrats come to such congresses (staying in luxury hotels) as a substitute for doing anything. The naive believe that something is going to be done, while the leftists keep quiet because they do not want to lose contact with the "sympathetic" bureaucrats.

Some trade union leaders are elected by their members, but not the AFL-CIO leaders. Stan Bacek is a lawyer and Henning and Walter Johnson did nothing at all to support the Hormel strike. Sweeney gave permission for a trade union march in Detroit in June only after the strike was defeated!

The bureaucrats are campaigning for Richard Gephardt as candidate for President. Clinton has ignored the trade union bureaucracy and supports the Free Trade "Fast Track" which they oppose. Richard Gephardt, however, is a protectionist. When America invaded Iraq he supported the war, after first opposing it. Some Democratic Congressmen donít oppose the Free Trade Treaty, but they want some concessions: Imperialism with a human face. The bureaucracy are putting their trust in Gephardt.

One question is never mentioned in the lengthy conference "agreements": Social Security privatisation. Why not? Clinton is arguing for the privatisation of Social Security in the United States. The conference should have concentrated on organising a campaign against this. The fact is that the AFL-CIO have already accepted the partial privatisation of Social Security. They donít want to attack it. A campaign against it will have to oppose them.

It is very easy to reach agreement on generalities Ė as no committee was elected to implement decisions, the Co-ordinating Committee will telephone the non-elected leaders of the AFL-CIO to call for some action. If only! Being against something does not amount to a program. What we needed was a conference which decided what to do. One where everyone merely declares that they oppose the Free Trade Treaty is a farce.

The left and pseudo-left have a long record of turning into trade union bureaucrats. In 1938 Trotsky warned the American Socialist Workers Party that they had become too close to the trade union bureaucrats linked to Roosevelt. In 1937-49 the American Communist Party controlled many trade unions from above.

An alliance should be based on agreement on action. If the trade union leaders were prepared to do anything such an alliance would be justified. However an alliance cannot be based on minimum programs and denunciation of Evil. The opportunism of the Lambertist "Trotskyists" makes them abandon their own Transitional Program.

Within the conference there was a mixture of lies by the bureaucrats and confusion among the left who are old enough not to believe everything they are told. The trade union bureaucracy in the USA, Great Britain and Mexico did not arise out of struggle. In the USA it exists only to negotiate with the bosses, collect subscriptions and control the left. One way of doing this is to bribe them with positions and letters of recommendation. That has little in common with building a rank-and-file revolutionary movement. All that does is create a generation of bureaucrats ... who were revolutionaries in their youth.

The conference slogan was: "Building World Wide Trade Unionism". We would suggest an alternative: "Building a Working Class World Wide Trade Unionism".

(El Nuevo Topo is available from Earl Gilman, PO Box 4725, San Francisco, California 94142, USA.)

Jack Davis