Monday, 21 May 2012

The Trendies are back!- the unwelcome return of Euro-communism.

During the current crisis in Greece  bourgeois newspapers have looked into the various left wing parties and descibe both elements in Syriza and the Democratic Left as Eurocommunist. I like most people under 35 on the left have never met anyone who calls themselves a Eurocommunist and their remains nothing of this current on the British left today but a few sad hacks pumping out articles for the broadsheets. However we do see an unconscious echo of the language, ideas and modus operandi of “Euro’s” by groups of Socialists who would formally call themselves Trotskyists. Its necessary to know a little bit about this squalid history of the Stalinist offshoot that called itself Euro-communism if we are to identify where its ideas are re-emerging. 

By the late 1960’s the Stalinists Communist Parties of Western Europe where clearly in decay. Their memberships where aging and declining, Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution and the spat between Moscow’s version of Stalinism and Beijing’s version of Stalinism had dealt a serious blow to these parties. They had lost their hegemony of left wing thought to Trotskyist and other groups who were much more attractive to younger students and workers not interested in being border guards for the Soviet empire. Yet the CP’s were still powerful in many European countries and had a genuine base amongst the working class in countries like Italy, France and Greece.

 The worldwide uprising of workers and students in 1968 at best passed the Communist Parties by or at worse like the French CP they were actively opposed to it. The Anti Vietnam War protests were an even clearer reflection of the CP’s irrelevance. The North Vietnamese regime was loyally part of the Kremlin’s block and the western CP’s had been pushing the “peace front” since the 50’s.  Yet it was the Trotskyists and others who often took the lead in marches and agitation. Following on from 1968 there was a rapid rise in the women’s movement, the anti-racist movement and the LGBT liberation movement throughout the west. The conservative, chauvinist and aging Stalinists of the CP were hostile to these movements as well.

As a response many of the leading intellectuals of the CP’s in western Europe began to look to ways of adapting their moribund parties for politics post 1968. There was also a move towards a more critical stance towards Moscow. Already in 1968 the leadership if the CPGB and the Italian CP had come out against the crushing of the Prague Spring. Alongside this slight detachment from Moscow they pushed a particular reading of Gramsci’s recently published writings to justify a re-branded popular front. They argued for uniting the women’s movement, the green movement, liberation movements, Social Democrats and liberals in one united  classless “rainbow coalition”.

They called this Euro-communism and argued it was a new ideology with new shiny terms and new shiny thinkers. But it was fundamentally a new version of a very old phenomenon in our movement - reformism. The Western Eurpean CP’s had been committed reformists since the second world war at least and the Popular Front goes back to the mid 30s. In Britain since 1951 the CP’s policy set out in the British Road to Socialism was to lash up with the leadership of the Labour Party then win elections to institute economic nationalism, withdraw from Nato and be friendly to the Soviet Union. What the Euro communists did was reduce that to simply trying to form a coalition to form a “progressive government” that was socially liberal and Keynesian.  By the end of the 1970’s the leadership of the Italian, Spanish, British and Greek CP’s were Euro Communist. One key element all these leaderships shared was a utter contempt for trade union based working class struggle. Eric Hobsbawn, the leading ideologists of the Euro-communists in Britain argued that because industrial workers were declining in numbers that meant the  working class had to join up with middle class moderates (including some Tories) against Neo-Liberalism of Margaret Thatcher. They used left wing language to oppose trade unionism- talk of the dangers of “Economism“, “Labourism” or “Workerism” was used to avoid genuinely supporting the miners strike. The house magazine of the British Euro Communists, Marxism Today, printed gushing interviews with the leaders of the anti union SDP and left bashing Neil Kinnock. Although they got a lot of press for a short while in the early 80’s Eurocommunism quickly began to disappear. On the one hand the re-branding of the Communist Parties had accelerated these parties decline as old school trade unionists left the parties. For instance in the 1980's what was left of the British CP tore itself apart in a viscious fight between the middle class intellectual "Trendies" and the more working class ageing "Tankies".  On the other hand the entire drift of Euro-Communist politics logically pointed towards liquidation into mainstream reformist parties. Indeed in Italy the PCI transformed itself into a mainstream social democratic party (PDS). After the fall of the Berlin wall the "Trendies" in the CPGB wound it up and the ideologues of Euro-communism everywhere often drifted into well paid positions in academia, lobbying or the media. In Britain some of the “Euro’s” cropped up as advisors in the New Labour government. Some of Tony Blair's speeches echoed the Jargon of the "Trendies"- People's this, Progressive that, New everything etc.

 Now in the current economic crisis, much of the British left is going through a crisis of its own. This is because it sees the conditions in which large groups of people could be won over to working class socialism but at the same time many of the sects they are in are stagnating rather then growing. In the meantime its obvious that some of the new social movements such as Occupy and UK Uncut have attracted young people and even the Labour and Green parties have attracted a modest increase in new members.  So disorientated and disheartened socialists look for a short cut out of this impasse, a shiny new way vehicle. Both the Counterfire grouping and Socialist Resistance argue for dropping everything to build a grand anti-cuts coalition on the basis of the most basic anti-cuts stance. Lindsey German has argued for Counterfire to play down their socialism because it puts people off. The recent split off from Workers Power seems to want to liquidate into a anti-capitalist milieu rather then an anti- cuts milieu but much of there appeal for new thinking for new times is similar to Counterfire‘s. None of these groups would claim any of the politics of Euro Communism. It would also be untrue to say they do anything but support workers in struggle even if we disagree with the advice they give to these workers. However the minute that socialists do not see the working class as the central agent for transforming society and look towards a coalition of classless movements united around tailing the most broadly defined opposition to cuts, anti-capitalism or just of self defined “progressives”, they will begin to head down the road that the Euro-communists took.

There is another road for socialists in uniting with anti cuts movements and non socialists opposed to cuts. This is to engage with these groups but try to win them over to seeing the centrality of working class struggle against cuts, Women’s or LGBT oppression or man made climate change. This is how Workers Liberty have related to Climate Camp, the feminist movement and the anti cuts movement. We also seek to offer a strategy for struggle for these groups that also advances the power and combatively of the workers movement.  The first rule of the First International drafted by Karl Marx was “That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”. You cannot be a Marxist and believe that the working class can be liberated by any middle class deliverers, “progressive” Tories and Liberals or classless lash ups.

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