ON DRUGS AND DEMOCRACY
One result of our policy of "continuous improvement" in our organ's size and quality has been a corresponding upward direction in the coherence of our correspondence. We no longer get idiotic letters from anarchists in Manchester. Here we publish at length some of our recent discussions with our readers, on some of our favourite topics: drugs, democracy and the poll tax.
LETTER TO SUSSEX POLL TAX RESISTERS
To : Sussex Poll Tax Resisters, 6 Tilbury Place, Brighton BN2 2GY.
We were concerned to hear about a member of the Resisters becoming a member of the Militant Tendency.
This does not mean that we think prisoners' support groups or local anti-poll tax union - the Resisters being a bit of both - can be as pure as driven snow. For example, we would not argue that such a group should exclude someone for being in the Labour Party, though we hate the latter as much as the Conservative Party or the fascists. The fact is, that members of the Labour Party have done useful work against the poll tax.
As long as they are kept carefully under the control of class-struggle militants, they should be grudgingly tolerated. But you have to draw the line somewhere. This cannot be based on some ad-hoc empirical case- by-case criterion, because who you allow to be involved sends a signal to the anti-poll tax movement in general.
Conversely, the expulsion of a Millie would tell them that certain things cannot be tolerated. It would also prevent Militant from having a spy in the group. It's not enough to say that you give the "donkey work" to your token Millie, as you have done. This is an argument about principles, not just immediate issues. But even on an immediate practical level, if we went to a Resisters meeting, we would feel inhibited about what we said, knowing that it would get back to the police informers who run Militant. This is a serious issue.
Finally, we don't think such an expulsion should be carried out by open discussion and democratic debate. It should be a manoeuvre by the more radical elements. They should be prepared to make it clear that they will not take part in organizations which tolerate such blatantly anti-working class elements. Those of you who supported the Keep Off The Grass leaflet about the TSDC surely must disagree with putting up with people who are a bit confused on the police question.
REPLY FROM SUSSEX POLL TAX RESISTERS
Our initial reaction to your letter regarding the "Millie" in the Resist Group was twofold: firstly we were perhaps a little affronted that you should doubt either our political acumen or, even worse, our political integrity; secondly, bearing in mind the individual in question, we were not a little bemused that you should take this issue so seriously. However, on further reflection we feel that the position that you adopt in your letter is symptomatic of a certain rigidity in your thought and analysis which all to easily reduces matters of principle into little more than dogmatic posturing, unrelated to the world that we have to change. Unfortunately we have been too busy in the last few months to formulate our reply any earlier; we apologise for the delay.
As you know, most of us have been actively involved in the anti-poll tax movement for more than four years, both at a local and at a national level. In Brighton, perhaps in stark contrast to London, Militant have been the dominant force in the local anti-poll tax movement from its very inception. Whether we like it or not, here in Brighton, it was Militant, more than any other of the Labour and left groups, that did the hard slog of door to door canvassing and organising that built the basis for the Brighton anti-poll tax movement. As a consequence, it was never enough for us to merely dismiss Militant as a lefty group trying to hi-jack the movement; rather we were obliged from the very start to establish a minimum practical relation with them in the local anti-poll tax groups in order to carry out such basic campaigning work as canvassing that would have been ludicrous to carry out in isolation from them.
Of course this is not to say that such a working relationship was not problematic and that we did not make important political and tactical mistakes with it. Nor is it to say that Militant did not seek to manipulate the movement in order to re-integrate it into the dead end of Labourism and Social Democracy. Indeed, they used every trick in the book to maintain their stranglehold on the local anti-poll tax movement and at the level of the Sussex Federation we found ourselves in constant struggle with the local leadership of Militant. But it is through this practical and concrete experience of dealing with, and confronting Militant that we have developed our understanding of them as a political force.
As you know, the Sussex Poll Tax Resisters Support Fund was established in the aftermath of the Poll Tax Riots of March 1990 at the zenith of the anti-poll tax movement. The SPTRSF was established for two closely related reasons: firstly it was obvious that the all important defence of those being victimised after the events of the 30th of march could not be left up to the Militant and the leadership of the "official" anti-poll tax movement who, at the time, were threatening to grass people up to the police; secondly, the poll tax riots had both shattered and discredited Militant's attempts to dominate the anti-poll tax movement, both at a national and at a local level, and it was hoped that Resist, along with similar groups up and down the country that were organising around the defence of poll tax prisoners, would provide an alternative organisational focus to that of the Militant dominated ABAPTF. It was for these very same reasons that we both aligned the SPTRSF to the TSDC and subsequently supported the criticisms of the TSDC in the infamous Keep off the Grass leaflet.
At the time of Keep off the Grass we still believed that there was a distinct possibility of the Government responding to the anti-poll tax movement by an openly repressive policy of mass jailings and the aggressive and widespread use of bailiffs that may then have led to a further escalation of the anti-poll tax movement. Such a prospect meant that we faced a two-fold imperative: firstly it was important that we did not allow Militant to regain its credibility amongst the more radical sections of the movement through its accommodation by the more liberal elements within the TSDC; secondly, it was important to challenge the very dominance of these liberal elements that was allowing the TSDC to drift towards a soft-cop policing role and becoming an advice agency for the state.
In such circumstances, as we saw it, it was vital for us to press home the fact that only a few months before, leading figures in the Militant tendency and the ABAPTF had gone on television announcing that they would "name names" and fully co-operate with the police in bringing "rioters to justice" : that in short, the Militant were grasses whose position was directly opposed to the basic position of the TSDC of unconditional defence of all poll tax prisoners. Further, we believed that it was vitally important to give voice to a class perspective within the TSDC which saw the poll tax riots as a positive expression of class violence; in counter-distinction to the all too prevalent liberal whining about police brutality.
It was on these grounds, and in such circumstances that we supported Keep off the Grass. This does not mean to say that we simplistically conclude that because leaders of Militant acted in particular circumstances as grasses that they are nothing other than police grasses, at all times and in all circumstances: that because they act in the interest of the state they are nothing more than a branch of the state. It does not take much subtlety of dialectical thought to see such conclusions which reduce everything to simple identities as being crass nonsense that explain nothing; and little better than the paranoid conspiracy theories that can only see wars in terms of the evil designs of the international protocols of "capital" hidden somewhere in the recesses of the CIA and the KGB (the latter of which has now, no doubt, faked its own disintegration after inspiring the break up of the USSR!).
On the contrary, we do not simply identify Militant with the state and dismiss them as nothing more than police informers - nor do we simply identify rank and file members of Militant with its leadership. For us Militant will act as grasses in particular concrete circumstances due to their political position and perspective. Because they seek to represent the working class as it is, or more precisely what they see the working class as being - respectable "law abiding" working class families - through the remnants of the traditional Labour Movement, they had little option in the aftermath of the poll tax riots but to present themselves as reputable upholders of law and order and the "peaceful and democratic traditions" of the Labour Movement. Even if it meant that they had to set up a witch-hunt on the same lines as Kinnock uses against them, it was necessary for them, in the face of a hostile media, to present both themselves and the ABAPTF as a respectable and democratic working class movement. It was for these reasons, and in such circumstances, that Militant came to threaten to "name names".
Furthermore, we must remember that in the face of the overwhelming outrage at the behaviour of Steve Nally and Co., not only from the rest of the anti-poll tax movement but also from Militant's own rank and file (some of whom had been involved in the fighting at Trafalgar Square), the leadership of Militant were forced into an embarrassing climb down in which they pleaded that they had been "quoted out of context"! The proposed "internal inquiry" never happened and the ABAPTF never came to publish any names of supposed trouble makers or "agents provocateurs".
Whether we like or not, many working class people are members of Militant because they see it as a well organised and effective organisation. While we may deplore their slavish support for the Party line we cannot totally dismiss them, and some are far more committed to the ideas of the party than others. The individual Millie member of Resist is to say the least a little politically naive. He joined Militant not so much because he accepted the ideas but because for him they were the political group that seemed to be doing the most. At the same time, through his practical involvement in the Resist group he has demonstrated an unswerving commitment to the unconditional defence of all poll tax prisoners. Of course there is a latent contradiction between his involvement in Resist and his membership of Militant but it is a contradiction that, in present circumstances, is not realised and has no practical consequences. If it was to become realised then "our Millie" would have to make his choice to resolve or we would have to make it for him; but this is not the case.
As we see it, the Government's tactical retreat over the issue of the poll tax has meant that the anti-poll tax movement has gone into decline. This is clearly the case in Brighton, where once there were more than a dozen local anti-poll tax unions now there are none that are active. The SPTRSF now no longer seeks to be the alternative focus of the Brighton anti-poll tax movement but is solely conceded with the important, but low level tasks of providing practical and moral aid to the remaining poll tax prisoners. In such circumstances our relation to the Sussex Federation can only be one of mutual indifference. As a consequence, there now seems little point in making grand gestures to the rest of the anti-poll tax movement by expelling Millies and breaking off relations with the official anti-poll tax movement; such actions belong in the past.
Furthermore, the idea that we have a spy in our midst is simply ludicrous since there is nothing to spy on. Even if we were doing anything of interest to the police such matters as these would have never been conducted in the semi-open meetings in the pub!
One final point concerns your dogmatic insistence on using anti-democratic methods even in the completely inappropriate context of the Resist group. An insistence that amounts almost to the point where we are expected to launch an anti-democratic coup against ourselves! We are well aware of the realities of democratic ideology, indeed the democratic manipulations of Militant within the Sussex Federation were a practical example of its power. However, unless we are to condemn ourselves forever to a principled isolation we have to work with others of differing views and politics, as you concede when you acknowledge our need to work with members of the Labour Party. But for this we have to grasp the kernel of truth of democracy; namely necessity for a minimum level of trust and openness between groups of divergent interests and perspectives. Without this, political co-operation becomes impossible. The simplistic idea that we should use anti-democratic methods almost on principle, regardless of their implications or context seems to us as little more than ridiculous. Indeed it reveals that your position on democracy and anti-democracy has not really been worked out; it is another example of adopting the easy way of dogmatism.
REPLY TO SUSSEX POLL TAX RESISTERS
Once again, it was only to be expected that a single issue campaign limiting itself to nothing more than destroying the prison system, based on a broad alliance of different classes, should fail to understand the role of the left as a fully integrated arm of inter-national capital, thus leading the proletariat off its own autonomous terrain and into the arms of the police.
On the other hand, we have to accept much of what you say in your letter. We did take a dogmatic stance. Involvement in the class struggle inevitably involves working alongside members of reactionary organisations. The question is how and to what extent. You go a long way in your letter towards answering this question, using the example of your own experiences ducking and diving the manoeuvres of the Millies. The question is one of tactics, and you rightly point out that even Militant is not simply a branch of the state, neither are its members police. Most of them would fail the IQ test.
We would like to correct one factual point. The Resisters group did not support the Keep off the Grass leaflet. True, the most radical elements in the Resisters helped write it, distribute it, and defend its illiberal approach to supporting class war prisoners in our many friendly discussions with the comrades of the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign. But because you could not be sure of the support of some of the Resisters, Class War supporters and the like, you wouldn't even let us use the Resisters address on the leaflet. (Keep off the Grass is available from our address). You have had to make a lot of concessions in order to keep the Resisters group going. The practical consequences included producing newsletters in which a class viewpoint was smothered by being surrounded by liberal rubbish. It is not dogmatic principles, but practical experience, which leads us to advocate that the more revolutionary bods should be prepared to undemocratically outman-oeuvre the less. We can't see why the need for trust and openness between divergent groups is "the kernel of truth of democracy". Democracy is opposed to trust and openness - it provides a framework for groups to lie to and conspire against each other while presenting a public front of unity.
But having said all this, we reiterate that we accept the gist of your reply. There is a lot to be learned about tactics in the class struggle from your analysis of what we did in the anti-poll tax campaign.
Just one more thing. We defend our penchant for conspiracy theories. We are not sure about the KGB in Russia, but we know that the Securitate in Romania faked its own disintegration. It is not enough to simply describe our position as "paranoid". We hope to hear from you soon.
LETTER FROM A COMRADE WHO WORKS IN THE HEALTH SERVICE IN LONDON
When reading your article on drugs and moral panics in W15 I couldn't help thinking about the similarity between the crack scare and the earlier panic over heroin, typified by the DHSS anti-heroin campaign started in 1985. This was the one with the laughable "Heroin Screws You Up" posters. This slogan was not an accurate description of reality.
For a start they made no mention of the fact that most of the severe problems associated with heroin are a result of it being taken by injection rather than from the effects of the drug itself. In fact they made no attempt to differentiate between relatively safe and unsafe use at all. This was not the result of ignorance. Their own reports on the matter were cynical in the extreme. A preliminary study done by the advertising company Andrew Irving Associates identified a growing tendency for heroin to be used "irregularly and episodically" by people who smoked or snorted it and were "apparently able to control their habit". This development -
"creates new and serious problems for for any attempt to contain misuse because it provides non-users with a series of arguments that undercut established resistances: heroin is not instantly addictive, not dangerous, a good "buzz", controllable."
Their Research Summary Report stresses the same theme -
"Those exposed to positive word of mouth about heroin and the example of "successful" users remain a difficult audience to reach because they could correctly argue that most of the negative consequences of heroin misuse were not inevitable."
In other words: it's difficult to tell lies to people who know the truth!
So the authors recommend an approach "showing the beginnings of a downhill slide. In this context it would be possible to allude to the more serious physical effects without being too specific"
This reluctance to go into specifics is to allow those less knowledgable about heroin "to project their own genuinely believed misconceptions". What can you say? It has to be said that the campaign didn't actually use blatant lies. Indeed its "power" came from taking out of proportion and context and investing with symbolic resonance a genuine phenomenon: opiate addiction (yes, it does happen!). But, as the initiators of the campaign freely admitted (to themselves, anyway), the aim of the campaign was not to "educate" young people liable to actually take heroin but to encourage the ignorant prejudices of those who know nothing about it. This was blatant law 'n' order propaganda thinly disguised as health education.
Yours in Solidarity, George
LETTER FROM COLLIDE-0-SCOPE
I'm writing in response to your latest issue (15) with the long and important discussion of the Russian Counter Revolution. It is remarkable that after so much time and analysis we are still trying to understand what happened in Russia in 1917. Your articles "The Hunt for Red October" and "Remember Kronstadt" for the most part advance the attempt at clarification and are well worth reading. I would like to argue, however, that in one central respect your analysis is still confused and this in an area of specific interest to you, the question of "democracy" in the revolutionary movement. That the question has particular importance for you is clear from the statement you make on p 9: "One of our long-term aims is an international journal of anti-democratic communism".
Part of the confusion evident in your articles stems from your failure to define what you mean by "democracy". From the contexts in which you use the word it seems to mean a formalized process of decision-making based on voting according to rules to which all adhere. But this conception of democracy looks only at forms, not at content. True democracy, democracy of content, needn't be institutionalized in formal voting bodies to exist. In a revolutionary situation especially rules are broken and new rules are made to he broken anew. True, the Bolsheviks seized the state without waiting for a vote. But they would not have been able to seize the state without a majority of the working class behind them in the critical locations - garrisons, naval vessels, streets, factories, railroad stations, communication centers, etc. The Bolsheviks acted when they did because they believed that the majority support was there, that is, the people had "voted", although informally.
If majority backing had been lacking, the insurrection would have failed. That the Bolsheviks themselves were "undemocratic" is true (how you can call such a critique "the most dangerous of all errors made by non-Leninist tendencies" [p 17] is a mystery to me). Nevertheless they knew that their pursuit of power relied on the support of a majority of the working class. As you show, they held their hand until they were confident they could control this support for their own purposes. They struck when the moment was ripe; had they waited, they feared, the fickle masses might have switched allegiance to other parties. The point is that despite their undemocratic mentality, the Bolsheviks depended on the will of the majority for their power. Democracy is the expression of this will, whether in votes or in revolutionary action. Revolution is the most forceful and direct form of democracy.
The Bolshevik Counter Revolution began when they preserved elements of the pre-existing state apparatus and added to them the Soviet components they controlled. Was this activity undemocratic? No, it was democratic. In the areas under Bolshevik/working class control all but a very few, the anarchists, were convinced that a state was necessary. (As they had pointed out for years, all states are counter-revolutionary.) But the Marxist parties and the workers they influenced and drew their power from still were controlled by the fetish of the state. In a formal sense the state the Bolsheviks constructed was undemocratic, in that decisions were made by the Central Committee of the party or the Polit Bureau or by Lenin alone. But in a more profound sense the early Soviet State was democratic, in that the vast majority of the working class believed they needed to have a state that placed their interests first. They believed the Bolshevik state to fit the bill. Of course, when the Bolsheviks tried to impose their machine over the vast stretches of rural Russia and the surrounding areas, the great bulk of the population the peasants, were not interested. As the Makhnovists in Ukraine and the Greens in Tambov and Siberia showed they didn't want any state controlling their lives.
Clearly you recognize the counter-revolutionary nature of the state, as you call for "anti-state communism" on p 22. The creation of stateless communism cannot be the action of a minority any more than the seizure and destruction of the pre-existing state can. All of these acts require the will and action of the majority. As long as the fetish of the state persists as the dominant social ideology (shared by the bourgeoisie, the Marxist "revolutionaries", and the mass of the working class), revolutionary activity will be channelled into counter revolution.
Your critique of the Bolsheviks as counter- revolutionaries who established a new capitalist state and dictatorially controlled the working class once in power shows clearly that you would not consider yourselves Leninists. but your call for "anti- democratic communism" can only serve to confuse the people you reach with your ideas, since you contuse formal democracy with democratic content. Formal democracy (a.k.a. "bourgeois democracy") is a cover for state-imposed political oppression of the working class by the capitalist class, even when it is copied by workers in their own organizations. This is your point, as best I can make it out. But democracy as the expression of the will of the majority (the working class in most countries, perhaps all, as the peasantry is really integrated into global capital just about everywhere today) is the only potentially revolutionary force that exists. To be "anti-democratic" with respect to formal democracy is correct, but to be anti-democratic in the sense that you assert the right and intention to impose your minority will on the majority is counter revolut-ionary. That is exactly what the Bolsheviks, other Leninists and indeed all capitalist classes have done.
But I don't believe you can mean to assert this intention, hence my conclusion that you are confused. Your evaluation of the Kronstadt soviet is revealing in this respect, I would like to think. On p. 24 you say "The debates at Kronstadt were real debates, in which the deputies, even to some extent the Bolshevik ones, decided the issues on their merits, rather than on the basis of the party line." Exactly; this is democracy of content. There is no substitute for making the case for communism on its merits. Perhaps that is not very glamorous or hopeful work at times, but that's the task. I'm afraid your call for "anti-democratic communism" sounds like a call for "undemocratic communism", the Leninist variety, which you know is just another name for capitalism. If you don't mean to give this impression, you've got to make "the case" more clearly.
REPLY TO COLLIDE-O-SCOPE
"The great issues of the day are not decided by fine speeches and majority verdicts, but by iron and blood." Bismarck.
This is a reply to your letter of 19 November. You are right to say we didn't explain what we mean by democracy. Since Wildcat 11, we have not really tackled the issue head-on. We welcome this opportunity to do so.
We didn't intend to give the impression that we regard democracy as a formalized decision-making process. We are against the content of democracy rather than majority voting. Democracy means more than this. It means the dictatorship of individual citizens over the class struggle activists, who are always a minority. Workers' democracy means taking orders from that section of the citizenry who happen to be sociologically working class, rather than from those who actually defend proletarian interests. There is no middle way. Either you are a democrat, in which case you respect the views of the majority, even if you know they are dangerously wrong, or you are for the class struggle, regardless of how many people support it.
You say that the Bolshevik counter revolution in Russia was democratic, yet don't see this as a condemnation of democracy. You try to have it both ways when you say that the Bolshevik Party had "a majority of the working class behind them in the critical locations - garrisons, naval vessels, streets, factories, railroad stations, communication centres, etc.". Well, which is it? The majority of the working class, or the parts of it that occupied the critical locations? It was when the Party was able to mobilize supporters in the key strategic points that it took power. It did not have a majority of the workers in Russia, who remained passive throughout, nor did it need one. Using the term "majority" to describe its supporters is meaningless.
Some have rejected our arguments on the grounds that we are being "elitist". If you think that advocating clear minority leadership by example is dangerous, we can only say that relying on majority votes to make decisions at any stage in the revolutionary process is guaranteed to lead to disaster, because the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. Since we know that revolution is possible, and that it cannot be democratic, we can only conclude that it will be undemocratic, and no number of dire warnings about the dangers of dictatorship will change our minds. You say there is no substitute for making the case for communism on its merits, in other words trying to win the battle of ideas. Fortunately, there is - action. You say that revolution is the most forceful and direct form of democracy. We agree it takes a lot of people to make a revolution, but why a majority? A majority of what?
We are against any state, not for the moralistic reasons put forward by anarchists, but because it cannot be used for our purposes. We are however for taking dictatorial measures. When insurgents in Iraq recently stormed a prison in which Baathist pigs were being held by the Kurdish nationalists and killed them, they did not take a vote on it in the workers councils first. After all, people might vote the wrong way. We are not going to kid people that we are democratic when we support defying the majority whenever necessary.
We hope you will discuss this issue with other comrades in the Bay Area, and let us know when our views are supported by the majority.