“Before us stands a fortress. That fortress is called science, with its numerous branches of knowledge. We must capture that fortress at all costs. It is our youth who must capture that fortress, if they want to be builders of the new life, if they want to be real successors of the old guard.” (Stalin, Speech at Eighth Congress of the AULYCL, 1928)
In the early years of the SLP, the Youth Section’s journal Spark was one of the principal vehicles for promoting Marxist understanding in a young, inexperienced, but essentially honest, party – a party that was full of potential for making a final break with its social-democratic roots. Spark was named in recognition of the profoundly important role played by the revolutionary Russian journal Iskra (the Russian for ‘spark’) under the editorship of VI Lenin, the idea being that Spark should follow the inspirational path set down by Iskra, helping to educate the party and to bring workers towards scientific socialism.
How apposite then (given the eventual fate of Iskra) that Spark – through means of bureaucratic manoeuvring and under-the-table dealing – should fall into the hands of opportunist demagogues, intent on stripping it of all political value and filling its pages with liberal, social-democratic pulp which, at best, bores workers to death by telling them what they already know and, at worst, relentlessly and duplicitously pushes bourgeois ideas in the working-class movement through its promotion of reformism, its contempt for revolutionary theory and its infatuation with the most banal forms of ‘practical’ activity.
Anyone familiar with the history of the Russian revolutionary movement will immediately draw the startling analogy with the way Iskra was won by the Menshevik opportunists, who proceeded to turn it into a tool for the spreading of bourgeois reformism.
In this article we analyse the first issue of the new Spark and demonstrate to the reader that it can only play a reactionary role.
Opposition to theory, promotion of reformism
“It is the specific duty of the leaders to gain an ever clearer understanding of the theoretical problems, to free themselves more and more from the influence of traditional phrases inherited from the old conception of the world, and constantly to keep in mind that socialism, having become a science, demands the same treatment as every other science – it must be studied. The task of the leaders will be to bring understanding, thus acquired and clarified, to the working masses, to spread it with increased enthusiasm, to close the ranks of the party organisations and of the labour unions with ever greater energy.” (Engels, Preface to The Peasant War in Germany, 1874)
There are two central crimes (not altogether unrelated to one another) that the new Spark stands accused of. First, of opposition to the working class developing working class ideology; second, of taking a reformist, anti-revolutionary stance.
For any honest person who has thought seriously on the matter, it should be abundantly clear that: “Without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement:” that “the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory”. (VI Lenin, What Is To Be Done?) Such is the strength and historical entrenchment of capitalist ideology that ‘instinctive’ socialism can only take the workers as far as petty reforms for better pay and conditions. The truth of this statement is fully borne out by history (look, for example, at the outcome of the 1926 British general strike, or the election to power of Allende in Chile, or the whole history of British trade unionism).
So all communists must consider it their responsibility to educate, to raise the level of understanding of the working class: “All worship of the spontaneity of the working-class movement, all belittling of the role of ‘the conscious element’, of the role of [communism], means, quite irrespective of whether the belittler wants to or not, strengthening the influence of the bourgeois ideology over the workers.” (Ibid)
Yet the new leadership of the SLP Youth Section, at one time themselves pseudo-theoreticians, joined the SLP leadership – with Scargill at the helm – in attacking attempting to bring socialist theory to the membership, on the basis that we were being ‘dogmatic’ and ‘intellectualist’ in our insistence that any struggle against capitalism, and for socialism, would be doomed to dismal failure if it was not guided by “the most advanced theory” and that whilst demagogic rabble-rousing may provide certain short-term gains, it certainly wouldn’t help us along the road to revolution. Now, with us pesky ‘intellectualists’ out of the way, new Spark has become an accurate reflection of these charlatans’ hostility to Marxist theory.
Indeed, the magazine’s second paragraph puts forward a characteristically bombastic challenge: “This is our lives. Who is talking about it? Forget talking about it, what about doing something to change our situation for the better.” This unoriginal demagogic tirade is designed to appeal to prevailing prejudices about ‘armchair philosophers’ – forget discussion, forget theory, forget science, do something! But do what exactly? Start a youth club or a football team? Fight to save a school or for decent pay? All these pursuits have their place, but if they are not drawn together by understanding, by a “party guided by the most advanced theory”, their net result will be … absolutely nothing.
Moreover, plenty of well-intentioned and perfectly competent people, with absolutely no knowledge of Marxist theory, have been doing this sort of practical activity for over 100 years – and yet the system is still standing!
The rest of the magazine does not attempt to bring even a hint of Marxist understanding to its (tiny) readership. Beyond an almost religious repetition of the term ‘working class’, there is no actual mention of what classes are and why one class is irreconcilably hostile to another.
Struggle against reality
The new Spark contains not a single mention of the nature of the capitalist state, of the laws of capitalist economics, of the crisis of imperialism, of the necessity of the overthrow of capitalism, etc. There is no mention of what capitalism or socialism are – or at least nothing more profound than how our government spends money on bombs when it could be spending money on us. Is this our idea of socialism: capitalism with a few more youth clubs? Have the writers forgotten the contradictions of imperialism that make ‘nice capitalism’ impossible?
Don’t get us wrong, we don’t for a moment suggest that communists should not fight for reforms alongside the workers – this would be foolish. However, in fighting alongside the workers for reforms, we must take the responsibility to widen the understanding of the workers, make them understand that their problem is not an isolated problem but a social problem, a problem that cannot be alleviated in the long term except by getting rid of capitalism; the struggling worker must know that, whether or not this or that pay increase can be won, the interests of the working class and the bourgeoisie are irreconcilably hostile, and that the path of reform must be turned into a path of revolution if it is not to be another tool of the capitalists. The new Spark does not have any of this. It is full of trite demands for more capitalist profits to be spent on making young people’s lives a tiny bit better; its solutions are shallow:
“Plenty of us are up for expressing our reality and uniting ourselves. We need to get hold of the facilities to help us in this process, such as youth clubs, music equipment and sports facilities” (how about the means of production, distribution and exchange?!);
“We want an education system which is geared towards working class people” (under capitalism?);
“It is only by ending the oppression of the third world and by investing in our own social problems can peace, self-determination and prosperity be guaranteed” (make what sense of it if you will, reader! If the charlatans producing new Spark had even a semblance of understanding of the workings of imperialism, they would have realised that oppression and superexploitation of the so-called ‘third world’ are a necessary precondition for such facilities under capitalism. But then, sorry, Arthur has banned the use of such words as imperialism, for it puts the workers off and stands in the way of building a ‘mass’ party);
“We have so much in common to stand up for – a life with a decent secure house and a job and free from oppression”.
It’s all contradictory reformist nonsense – we want some nice things that are associated with socialist society, but we want the capitalists to give them to us. You’ve heard it all before, straight from the Socialist Worker (although the remarkable idea of demanding from the capitalists both a secure job and freedom from oppression is an oxymoron that we will have to get back to you on!)
Embarrassing and patronising
Whilst pandering to the prejudices of the most backward elements of the working class (especially the gangster element – the part of the working class most imbued with petty-bourgeois thinking), and whilst pretending in the most see-through, hypocritical and frankly embarrassing way to be ‘ghetto youth’ themselves (private-school-educated, middle-class twentysomethings talking about it being “us who get the bum deal out of education” and “flipping on its head all the negative shit they put on us” would be hilarious if it were not so tragic), the writers of new Spark in fact take a totally patronising attitude towards the working class, assuming that workers simply do not have the capacity to understand and be interested by politics. Perhaps if they actually joined the average picket line or got involved in a campaign, they would find that the more conscious sections of the working class are very keen to develop their understanding.
Since there is such a striking similarity between these modern-day opportunists and those of Lenin’s day, we hope the reader will excuse another quote from What Is To Be Done?:
“Attention must be devoted principally to raising the workers to the level of revolutionaries; it is not at all our task to descend to the level of the ‘working masses’ … I am far from denying the necessity for popular literature for the workers, and especially popular (but, of course, not vulgar) literature for the especially backward workers. But … you, gentlemen, who are so much concerned about the ‘average worker’, as a matter of fact, rather insult the workers by your desire to talk down to them when discussing working-class politics and working-class organisation. Talk about serious things in a serious manner, leave pedagogics to the pedagogues, and not to politicians, nor to organisers! Are there not advanced people, ‘average people’, and the ‘mass’, among the intelligentsia too? … You must realise that these questions about ‘politics’ and ‘organisation’ are so serious in themselves that they cannot be discussed in any other but a very serious way. We can and must educate workers (and university and high-school students) so as to be able to discuss these questions with them; but once you do bring up these questions, you must give real replies to them, do not fall back on the ‘average’, or on the ‘masses’; do not try to get off by resorting to empty phrasemongering … the masses will never learn to conduct the political struggle until we help to train leaders for this struggle, both from among the enlightened workers and from among the intellectuals.”
* * *
Some comrades will no doubt castigate us for excessive intolerance and vitriol; some may accuse us of being unfair or sectarian – after all, surely these are just a group of enthusiastic young people who are trying to improve life on the estates? Surely we should help them to develop their work and their understanding? Are these not the type of radical youth we want to develop into communists? On the surface such arguments seem persuasive. However, dialectical materialism proves that no phenomenon is static and no phenomenon exists in isolation, so all phenomena must be analysed on the basis of their interconnectedness and their motion.
From revolution to renegacy
The fact is that the present leadership of the SLP Youth Section were, only two years ago, apparently ardent fighters for Marxism Leninism, talking of the necessity for developing the SLP into a Marxist-Leninist party, and criticising the SLP leadership for its obsession with parliamentary politics and its disgraceful backtracking over 11 September. Yet now they have firmly aligned themselves with the most consistently reactionary elements of the SLP. In the name of building a ‘mass party’ they have dropped their ‘Marxism Leninism’ like a hot potato and adopted a more ‘acceptable’, visceral, unscientific ‘socialism’, adding weight to the meek chorus of social democrats complaining that there were these terrible people who were going round actually trying to educate fellow party members in the principles of scientific socialism (whatever next?) They certainly did not shed any tears (except perhaps of joy!) at the unconstitutional expulsion of 13 SLP members for crimes against ignorance, and there is every chance that they were involved in this process. The sad fact is that these peddlers of panaceas have sold themselves for 30 pieces of silver, hoping that an alliance with Scargill will help to bring them the ‘left celebrity’ status they crave. We very much doubt that they will mend their ways at this late stage, but it is our sincere hope that this article will help to penetrate their demagogy and expose them in the eyes of honest workers and fighters for socialism.
We are on a hill with a very steep incline. We slip up here and there. Sometimes we put our foot on what looks like a secure foothold but turns out to be anything but. Sometimes it rains and temporarily demoralises us. But we are climbing. We know we can climb faster and more efficiently, and all the time we are looking out for the path that will get us to the summit in the most expedient manner. However, the leadership of SLP Youth have deserted this hill altogether, in the hope of finding another hill which promises glory and quick results without effort. We would remind the reader of the profound words of the great North American rebel slave Frederick Douglass: “Without struggle, no progress.”
May the CPGB-ML stay on the revolutionary path!