I bought a John Molyneux book yesterday: “Lenin For Today”. I probably shouldn’t review it until I’ve actually read it. But I already know we disagree. That’s okay. John’s “Marxism and the Party” was one of the first three books I read after joining the SWP a few days before the Falkland’s War, the others being John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World, as well as the short, wonderful, Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. All three of these texts made a massive impression on me, changing my politics forever, and for the better, pretty much overnight.
I quickly realized that John and Chris Harman were (for me if for no one else) the two outstanding teachers of the Marxist method within the SWP, an opinion I hold to this day. Thanks to this pair, I chose to focus my reading on the writings of Lukacs and Gramsci, as well as the usual four revolutionary Marxist giants: Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. A handful of others were as important for me, a short list that included Rosa Luxemburg and Chris Harman, as well as the far less prolific Comrade Molyneux.
Until very recently, I could easily have echoed the conclusions set out in “Marxism and the Party”. But within the last few months, I feel I have outgrown them. I want to make the case against the kind of Leninism John continues to defend. But I want a comradely dialogue with my ex-comrades. I am not in the least afraid of being dismissed as a reformist, although I doubt anyone will go that far, probably acccepting, somewhat condescendingly, that I am a ‘centrist’. I don’t accept the accusation of centrism, nor do I believe I have abandoned the Marxist method that guided Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky or Rosa Luxemburg. I believe if Chris Harman was still alive he would agree with what I am arguing, and I look forward to convincing John Molyneux too. We shall see. We shall see.
By the way, John Molyneux spoke a few weeks ago about his new book, and the video can be found on Youtube here. I left the following comment on it:
“This might be corrected later in this talk – or a contribution from the floor – [I began this comment as I listened, and the hoped-for correction wasn’t made by John nor anyone else. TD] but John forgets that Lenin started his research for State And Revolution to try to challenge the idea that Kautsky was wrong about the nature of the state. Bukharin alleged this, and Lenin promised he’d prove he had fallen for anarchist gibberish. It was only when he started to reread everything Marx wrote that he realized Bukharin had been right all along. At least that was the conclusion he drew from his research. In reality, the evidence is more ambiguous. But even if it was an open and shut case, that still wouldn’t prove Marx was right. I would now prefer to explore in detail the arguments for and against the parliamentary road. I’m willing to keep enough of an open mind to debate with others because I know I won’t win everyone round in a single go, and want to leave debtes on good terms, to give me a chance to do better next time. More importantly, Marxists need to reeducate the exploited and oppressed about the exploitative nature of capitalism. If only 1% of voters reject the necessity of the profit system, of its legitmacy (and I doubt it’s as much as 1% anymore), whether or not it can be replaced by parliamentary methods, is a purely scholastic question. The left has to accept the historic loss of the gains the Second, then Third International, bequeathed to us ‘Trots’. Tony Blair’s ripping up of Clause Four has lead – courtesy of the BBC, SKY News, Channel4 News etc – to censorship that deprives strikers of the categories they need to wage even the most limited class struggles. Only by means of so-called ‘entryism’ can Corbyn secure his chance to test the parliamentary road. And that is something every Marxist needs as much as he does. Anyone rejecting this necessity of testing the parliamentary road to socialism has forgotten Left-wing communism, an infantile disorder. It is only by focusing the real left in united action against our class enemies that we can ensure Britain’s Allende doesn’t pay with his life, nor the working class end up crushed by a bloody coup that will knock us back decades. With or without TUSC joining Labour, Britain is heading inexorably towards the Chilean experiment. We need to prepare because Labour MPs will be preparing, and very few of today’s PLP will be joining the struggle on the same side as the leader of their party. In today’s circumstances, joining Labour is as essential as when we ‘Trots’ joined after WW2. That doesn’t mean surrendering our backbone at the door, although it is obvious that John assumes that would be inevitable. What it does mean is accepting our class will benefit from our full particpation in all their debates. But we can do this as a tendency within Corbyn’s broad church – an open one, rather than the clandestine ones Trots set up against each other in the 1980s before being witch hunted out by McCarthyites like Tom Watson and Neil Kinnock. Marxists need to welcome dialogue, not stand on the sidelines heckling. Fraternal dialogue, yes. Noisy monologue, no. I’m not accusing John of wanting to isolate himself, but the rise of Corbyn is going to get stronger, and his movement will be derailed by hangers on now rapidly trying to weasel themselves back into Corbyn’s affections having tried to destroy him. Owen Jones name springs to mind. Comrade Owen doesn’t want the SWP to join Labour. And if pissing Owen Jones off isn’t a good enough to join, then I don’t know what is. [slightly edited, mostly to eliminate typos. TD]