Pierre Broué: The March Action

The following short article was first published in Fourth International vol. 1 no. 2, Summer 1964.

March 1921. An atmosphere of civil war. Armed nationalist bands provoke workers suffering from crisis and unemployment. In central Germany hard-fought strikes break out; the miners have bloody tussles with the police. On March 16, Horsing, the Social Democratic security chief, announces that the police will occupy the mining district of Mansfeld. Objective: to restore calm, disarm the workers.

The police were welcomed with firing. Rote Fahne, organ of the German Communist Party, on the 18th appealed for resistance: ‘Every worker should defy the law and take arms where he can find them.’ On the 19th a thousand police occupied the district: the strike spread to all trades in the affected region. The workers barricaded themselves in their factories; on the 23rd there was fighting throughout the district. On the 24th the Central Committee of the German CP called for a general strike. It was not followed. Fights between workers broke out everywhere: the strikers, few in number, took on the ‘blacklegs’ who remained in the majority, the Social Democrats and the trade unions indignantly denouncing the attempted ‘rising’ of the communists. . . .

Here and there Communist officials organised false attacks on themselves in order to provoke the indignation of the masses and bring them into the struggle. In the centre of the country the factories were surrounded and bombarded and gave up one after another: the Leuna factory, the last to do so, surrendered on the 29th.

On the 31st the CP rescinded the strike order. Illegal once again, it was to experience an unprecedented crisis: a number of its leaders, including Paul Levi, denounced its adventurist policies and were expelled. Shortly afterwards the Third World Congress of the Communist International gave its verdict on the ‘March Action’, in which it saw a ‘forward step’ at the same time as it condemned the theory of ‘the offensive at all costs’ which its supporters had put forward. The German party lost a hundred thousand members, including many trade union cadres, who had refused to follow it, condemned its actions or been overwhelmed by the publication in the bourgeois and socialist press of documents which incriminated its leaders.

It was some time before it was understood that the March Action brought to a close the post-war revolutionary period, that it was the last of the armed actions of the proletariat which had begun with the struggles in Berlin in January 1919. The contribution which this affair made to the failure of the German Communists to build a revolutionary mass party, a Communist Party of the Bolshevik type, has yet to be measured.

The building of the party

The Bolsheviks thought that their revolution could only be the forerunner: the problems posed in Russia could only be resolved on a world scale and, in the meantime, the decisive battlefield was Germany, where the bourgeoisie, after November 1918, owed its survival to the alliance between the officer corps and the Social Democratic and trade union apparatus against the Workers’ Councils. The murderers employed by the socialist Noske won the first round: by assassinating the revolutionary leaders Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the outstanding founders of German communism, they decapitated the young party which was coming into being.

The vanguard, moreover, was deeply divided. Years of opportunism had fed a violent anti-centralising reaction in the German working class; the years of war pushed the young generations towards impatience and adventures. Against the leadership around Paul Levi a strong leftist minority called for the boycotting of elections, condemned work in the trade unions and wished to retain from the Russian experience only the lesson of the insurrection, which was possible at any time since the workers were armed and the bourgeoisie was provoking them. Lenin, who polemicised against them in Left Wing Communism, nevertheless wished to keep them in the party, but Levi took steps to expel the leftists.

Despite the difficulties, the new perspectives seemed to confirm his viewpoint. The Independent Social Democrats [USPD], born of the split from the Social-Democratic Party during the war, had recruited hundreds of thousands of instinctively revolutionary workers whom Levi hoped to win for communism en bloc. Their leaders had collaborated in the crushing of the Councils in 1918, but the difficulties of the working class in post-war Germany, the prestige of the Russian Revolution, the tenacious action of the International, radicalised them and won them gradually towards communism. In September 1920, at their Congress at Halle, the majority of the Independents decided to ask for affiliation to the Communist International and to accept its 21 conditions. In December the Unified Communist Party was born: it had over half a million members, a solidly organised vanguard with strong fractions in the big unions, control over local unions in several industrial towns, 40 daily papers and several specialised reviews and periodicals, an underground military organisation and considerable financial resources. It was the instrument which had so far been lacking to bring the proletarian revolution in Germany to a successful conclusion, all the communists thought.

The conquest of a majority of the proletariat

The Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920 had set itself the task of the construction of such parties, with the perspective of an early conquest of power in several countries. Summing up its work, Zinoviev, president of the International, declared: ‘I am profoundly convinced that the Second Congress of the Comintern is the prelude to another congress, the world congress of Soviet republics.’ And Trotsky explained why the Communists wished to see a split in the working-class movement: ‘There is no doubt that the proletariat would be in power in all countries if there had not been between the Communist Parties and the masses, between the revolutionary masses and the revolutionary vanguard, a powerful and complex machine, the parties of the Second International and the trade unions, which, in the epoch of the disintegration and death of the bourgeoisie, placed their machine at its service. From the time of this Congress, the split in the world working class must be accelerated tenfold.’

Zinoviev indicated the meaning of the split at Halle: ‘We work for the split, not because we want only 18 instead of 21 Conditions, but because we do not agree on the question of the world revolution, on democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat.’ For the Communists the split was not simply a state of affairs destined to last for some time, but an immediate necessity in order to eliminate definitively from the workers’ movement the reformist leaders who acted as ‘agents of the bourgeoisie’. It was the preface to the reconstitution of unity on the basis of a revolutionary programme, a condition for victory in the struggle for power.

Once the split had been realised there was still the question of wresting from the reformist chiefs the millions of proletarians who made up their following. Lenin, more than anyone, sought to win support in the Communist Parties for the understanding of the necessity for a United Front policy; later, Zinoviev said of this policy that it was ‘the expression of the consciousness that (i) we have not yet won a majority in the working class; (ii) the social democracy is still very strong; (iii) we occupy defensive positions and the enemy is on the offensive; (iv) the decisive battles are not yet on the agenda’.

It was from analysis such as this that at the beginning of 1921 the leaders of the German CP addressed an ‘open letter’ to the trade unions and workers’ parties proposing common action on an immediate programme of defence of living standards. The letter, which Lenin described as a ‘model political initiative’, began with the recognition that more than ten million workers still followed the Social Democratic leaders and the trade union officials and obeyed their orders. ‘Communist strategy,’ wrote Radek, ‘must be to convince these large masses of workers that the trade union bureaucracy and the Social Democratic Party not only do not want to fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat, but also do not want to fight for the most fundamental day-to-day interests of the working class.’

However, the Second Congress fixed as a first objective the construction of parties capable of leading the struggle of the masses for power: for Zinoviev and a part of his group, in the headquarters of the International, the idea of the ‘conquest of the masses’ apart from the march to power was an opportunist conception. They saw the ‘open letter’ as an instrument of demobilisation.

Destructive activism

Rallying to the Zinoviev line after having been one of the authors of the ‘open letter’, Karl Radek then wrote to the German CP that it was necessary to break with the wait-and-see attitude which it had followed while it was still a sect and become conscious that, now that it was a mass party, it had become a real factor in the class struggle. It was necessary, he wrote, ‘to activise our policy in order to draw in new mass support’. For his part, Rakosi, emissary of the International at the Italian Socialist Party Congress at Livorno, adopted the same activist position and took pleasure in the perhaps inevitable but catastrophic split, which left the overwhelming majority of the revolutionary workers behind the centrist leaders of the Socialist Party and reduced the scarcely founded Italian CP to the status of a sect. Against Levi, who maintained that they had no right to split when the movement was in retreat, he boasted before the Central Committee of the German CP of the necessity and virtue of splits, developing the theme of a ‘too large party’ which ‘would strengthen itself by purging itself’.

Another collaborator of Zinoviev, a compatriot of Rakosi, Bela Kun, bore the responsibility, as emissary of the International, for having thrown the German CP into the ‘March Action’. Did he, as has been supposed, follow the suggestions of Zinoviev, who was frightened by Russian internal difficulties at the time of the Kronstadt revolt? Did he try to ‘force’ a revolutionary crisis in Germany to prevent the Russian communists from having to make the retreat of the New Economic Policy? In the present state of documentation no certain answer is possible. What is certain is that Kun placed his prestige as Comintern delegate behind a theory of the offensive which was to be used to justify the position of the CP in March and was to end in disaster.

It is equally unquestionable that the centralised structure of the International, the doubtful practice, introduced by Zinoviev, of Comintern agents not responsible to the parties which they supervised, raised a problem of organisation which would be pointed out by Lenin at the Fourth Congress, but never really tackled.

Lenin on the party and the March Action

It is known today, on the other hand, that Lenin and Trotsky had to wage an energetic political struggle in the leadership of the Russian CP and the CI against the partisans of the offensive, at the head of whom stood Zinoviev, before imposing their point of view at the Third World Congress. It was upon Trotsky that the task devolved of showing that the international situation had been modified since 1919, that the taking of power was no longer on the agenda, but that the Communist Parties had to turn to the conquest of the masses: a condition for the struggle for power in the next phase of revolutionary advance.

To Lenin fell the task of denouncing, ‘wringing the neck’ of, the theory of the offensive, holding up to ridicule the puerile arguments of its defenders — the ‘kuneries’, as he called them, of Kun, as well as the boasting of the Italian Terracini, who took advantage of the Bolshevik example in order to excuse the small size of his own party.

Lenin joined Levi in denouncing the March Action. He was careful, in approving someone who had broken party discipline, not to anger those who, through discipline, and in good faith, had followed absurd slogans. He conveyed his inner thoughts to Clara Zetkin, who, very fortunately, later recounted them. Lenin thought that Levi’s criticism was justified. Unfortunately, he made it in a ‘unilateral, exaggerated and even malicious fashion’, in a way which ‘lacked a sense of solidarity with the party’. In short, ‘he lost his head’ and thus concealed the real problems from the party, which turned against him. For this he had to be condemned by the Congress and was. But Lenin added: ‘We must not lose Levi, both for ourselves and for the cause. We cannot afford to lose talented men, we must do what is possible to keep those that we have.’ Lenin declared himself ready, if Levi ‘behaved himself’ (for example, by working for the party under an assumed name), personally to ask for his re-admission after three or four months. ‘The important thing,’ he said, ‘is to leave the road open back to us.’

Speaking to Clara Zetkin of two workers, Melzahn and Neumann, supporters of Levi and delegates at the World Congress, who had even been reproached by hecklers for the posts which they held in the trade unions, while they replied by attacking ‘hair-splitting intellectuals’, Lenin said: ‘They are wonderful . . . I do not know whether they will make shock troops, but there is one thing of which I am sure: it is people like these who make up the long columns with solid ranks of the revolutionary proletariat. It is on their unbreakable force that everything depends in the factories and the trade unions: these are the elements who must be assembled and led into action, it is through them that we are in contact with the masses.’ He added, speaking of the Independent leaders who had come to communism in 1920: ‘With them also patience is necessary, and one mustn’t think that the “purity of communism” is in danger if it sometimes happens that they do not succeed yet in finding a clear, precise expression of communist thought.’

Through these informal words of Lenin to the German militant can be seen the constant concern of the revolutionary leader for his party. Lenin saw that a leadership cannot be built in a few days by bureaucratic decisions, but develops and raises itself up in years of patient effort. It was vital not to ‘close the doors’ by purely negative attitudes to erring comrades but to aid them, develop a deep sense of the solidarity of the party and enable them to take their bearings. The party of the workers’ vanguard had to bring together different generations, comrades with varied experience: the young, the impatient, the ‘leftists’ together with the older, more solid and prudent, often ‘opportunist’ members. The intellectuals had to be brought into harness with the practical men of the trade unions. The contacts of the party had to be enriched and its understanding, consciousness and means of action developed by the qualities brought into it by people from very different, yet close, backgrounds: syndicalists, socialists, anarchists — who sought a common goal by different roads, like the proletariat itself. All these men had to be brought into a common struggle by a constant effort to construct the party, raise the level of its consciousness and by fighting to raise the level of the consciousness of the masses. ‘Learn, learn, learn! Agitate, agitate, agitate! Be prepared, prepared to the utmost in order to use the next revolutionary wave with all our conscious energy.’

These are the real lessons of the March Action. Thus, as Lenin stressed in a letter of August 14, 1921, to German militants, revolutionaries must learn ‘to determine correctly the times when the masses of the proletariat cannot rise with them’. Ten years later, in the face of the Nazi hordes, there would not be a revolutionary party in Germany, but a Stalinist party and a Social Democratic Party which equally shared the responsibility for the disaster of 1933. The responsibility of those who were unable to build the party which was necessary in Germany is no less crushing. After them, however, it is no longer possible to underestimate the difficulties of the enterprise, and to believe that it is enough to ‘proclaim’ ideas in order to win, without undertaking the hard labour of construction of the historic instrument for their victory.

More on this general theme can be found in Tony Cliff, “Trotsky on Substitutionism“, and Duncan Hallas on the collapse of the WRP.

68 Comments

  1. May 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    1921 was the tragedy … and now the farce

  2. robert said,

    May 23, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    SWP – an infantile disorder

    http://luna17activist.blogspot.com/2010/05/political-roots-of-substitutionism.html

    • harry monro said,

      May 24, 2010 at 2:18 pm

      ha ha Rees/German (or should I enter into this theme Radek/Fischer) opposeded adventurism and stunts, anybody whose been in the Party a few years knows what bollocks that is.

  3. Harrods said,

    May 23, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    I thought it was daft – as did most comrades I’ve spoken to.

    But so daft, or so destructive, as to deserve a comparison to the March Action – no, that would be more stupid.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      May 23, 2010 at 9:45 pm

      Where did I make such a comparison?

      Of course, daft things happen, especially when people have spent all day in a hot conference hall and hear that The Enemy is down the road. It’s when you set it alongside something like the attempted storming of Leinster House a couple of weeks back that I get a little jittery.

  4. ejh said,

    May 23, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    I thought the whole point of the internet was that there was no longer nothing to do on a Sunday.

  5. May 24, 2010 at 8:38 am

    the big difference of course was, that the 1921 uprising was lead by two mass parties with a solid base among the workers in the area, reflecting the mood of some layers of the proletarians of Central Germany

  6. Stringer Bell said,

    May 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Bananas. I wonder what Jimmy Kelly will make of it all? I thought the Dail stunt was rush of blood to the head stuff but apparently not.

    • lionel messi's socks said,

      May 24, 2010 at 9:19 pm

      I suspect it’s less a matter of what Jimmy Kelly thinks and more a matter of what his boss Tony Woodley thinks, given that Kelly is just an appointee.

      Woodley probably han’t noticed so far that the Irish Right to Work campaign is sponsored and partly bankrolled by the Irish region of Unite. The Irish SWP will presumably hope that doesn’t change, given that their most important front PBP has an office in the UNITE building in Dublin too. If he does notice, I wouldn’t be overly optimistic about the longevity of either of those little arrangements. The Irish appointed satrap can generally do as he likes, including doing some harmless favours for his ex-comrades, but sponsoring a campaign that seriously pissed off the head honcho would be pushing it a bit.

  7. chjh said,

    May 24, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Tony Cliff and Duncan Hallas were both enthusiastic supporters of stunts – direct action by a few comrades aimed at getting a cause some publicity – and I really can’t see either Leinster House or the demo outside ACAS as any different from the stunts that most left groups staged in the 1960s and 1970s.

    I’m mystified by the hysterical,wholly disproportionate reactions from a number of lefty bloggers, and I’m sorry to see one of the better sites jumping on this bandwagon.

    • neilcaff said,

      May 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm

      Indeed, in 1977 at a TUC conference to discuss the firefighters dispute members of Right to Work physically attacked Joe Gormley, the right wing President of the NUM.

      So this stunt, while silly and counterproductive, is actually quite mild compared to some of the high jinks the SWP/Right to Work have gotten involved in in the past.

  8. Dr Paul said,

    May 24, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Well, somebody’s got to stage some student-style stunts now that my old lot, the Revolutionary Communist Party, have given up on this sort of thing for other pastures. I’m surprised that it has taken so long to happen.

    • May 24, 2010 at 2:19 pm

      do you mean the RCP-USA or the RCP-UK?

      • Dr Paul said,

        May 24, 2010 at 9:09 pm

        The British one. The US one is a Maoist outfit, whilst my old lot was kind of Trotskyist. Mind you, the British RCP’s predilection for student stunts bore some resemblance to the shenanigans of some Maoist groups.

  9. Mezhrayontsii said,

    May 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Its a thought-provoking piece in its own right, quite sophisticated in its analysis, makes me think that perhaps we have gone backwards in our thinking since 1964 when it was written. Paul Levi seems one of the good guys in history, didn’t help him much though…

  10. prianikoff said,

    May 24, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    “Tony Cliff and Duncan Hallas were both enthusiastic supporters of stunts – direct action by a few comrades aimed at getting a cause some publicity”

    A better example being the Pentonville 5 “stunt”, when the Socialist Worker printshop was more or less donated to the dockers for the week and hundreds of thousands of leaflets printed in their support. Result; rank and file dockers speaking alongside Cliff, threat of a general strike, Official solicitor dusted down and taken out of the cupboard etc.
    Whatever happened to the SW printshop?

  11. redbedhead said,

    May 24, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Comparing the March Action with 100 socialists picketing a union-busting, rat bastard? Boy-o-boy, the left has become utterly pathetic. This is nothing compared to the anti-globalization stuff of just a few years ago – lockdowns involving, perhaps, a few dozen to shut down a major street, civil disobedience actions to stop clearcutting, die-ins outside of major corporations, Reclaim The Streets, et al. Thankfully youth rarely listen to cranky, old lefties who hate to be outdone by people with more energy than them.

    • harry monro said,

      May 25, 2010 at 9:42 am

      I’m surprised rbh, not that I disagree with you (though mostly I think your posts are sound) but that you miss the point on two levels.
      Firstly who cares what the Party haters say about us, not comrades or blogs like s/s which could never be described as anti SWP (critical of course thats what we need in the workers movement). Of course anti Party people will make the most of it, folks like the SP, but hey I have no illusions in them – does anyone in the Party?
      Secondly all your demos have nothing to do with what internal critics are saying, you think I renouce Lewisham? On this occasion 200 conrades (their numbers not mine) without any discipline just decided to enter into the area crucial negociations were taking place. Now I think they were crucial in this sense, that TU leaders were preparing to sell out a strike, but that message has become obscured by comrades who got “excited”, or as you prefer energy. Of course the Bolshiviks were built by anger, excitement, energy and chanting the tsar is a wanker. The stunt was stupid and will be forgotten soon, but its symbolic of a mood within the Party that in this period of defensive strikes, and a lack of confidence in the class, our response should be more anger, more shouting and more anger. Just read the (Angry) Party Notes.
      One final thing if you lead in a industrial workplace you cannot lie or bullshit. When you make a mistake you come clean or at the next elections you are out. We still have a culture in the Party were we will not admit mistakes, no one takes responsibility, instead we continue in the style of JR/LG.

  12. BH said,

    May 24, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Unfortunately many trade unionists, including large numbers of those not usually active, but drawn into action during a strike, tend to feel culturally and socially distant from the youngsters (and SWP fulltimers) who carried out this action: and it wasn’t a picket, it was…well what the fuck was it exactly?

  13. Andy Wilson said,

    May 24, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    nice point rbh

    The reaction from the left blogs has been remarkable for its pissy-ness, jumping to conclusions based purely on a media agenda and the sheer glee with which people put the boot into the militants involved. It drew an interesting line for me and, I hope, others too. I know what substitutionism is, but I know what bureaucrats sound like too.

  14. johng said,

    May 25, 2010 at 8:33 am

    yeah well I’m quite pleased to have been wrong on this one. my reaction was initially somewhat hysterical as well (one might as well be honest about these things), but its the reactions of rank and file workers that are key.

  15. neilcaff said,

    May 25, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I really don’t think you grasp the seriousness of what you’ve done.

    If this dispute goes south (which I certainy hope it does not) then the bureaucracy will make you the scapegoats and the mother of all witch hunts might just descend on the SWP (maybe even onto the marxist left in general)

    I’ve already heard the Unison bureaucracy have clocked a few Unison members at that protest and are sharpening the knives…

  16. Martin Wisse said,

    May 25, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Ehhh, Unison has had the knives out for SWP members for years. If you have to judge an action on whether or not it gives an excuse to people who already hate you to attack you, you can’t do anything.

  17. neprimerimye said,

    May 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    The union bureaucrats are always looking to attack Marxists when they feel threatened. And I would speculate that they do feel threatened now by the possibility of a rise in the level of class struggle. There is nothing the bureaucracy fears more than class struggle!

    But that is not a good reason why minority backed actions, such as the one that emerged from the RtW conference or various recent workplace occupations, should not be backed. Indeed such actions are quite possibly going to be an important tool in the near future as they can both enthuse workers and act as detonators for larger struggles.

    And Splinty is a VERY cheeky boy. Oh, yes.

    • neilcaff said,

      May 25, 2010 at 3:24 pm

      “The union bureaucrats are always looking to attack Marxists when they feel threatened.”

      Exactly! Which is why it’s important not to give them open an open goal with ill thought out stunts.

    • Andy Wilson said,

      May 25, 2010 at 4:18 pm

      “The union bureaucrats are always looking to attack Marxists when they feel threatened.”

      Exactly! Which is why it’s important not to threaten them. Unless it’s in Greece, or somewhere equally primitive and exotic.

      • redbedhead said,

        May 25, 2010 at 4:49 pm

        “The union bureaucrats are always looking to attack Marxists when they feel threatened.”

        Exactly! Which is why it’s important not to give them open an open goal with ill thought out stunts, like the boss-nappings in France. Better that we put the blankets over our head so that they don’t notice us…

    • neilcaff said,

      May 25, 2010 at 6:22 pm

      Spurious comparisons to other countries won’t get you anywhere lads. I’m talking about this country with this particular bureaucracy.

      Look I hope the whole thing furore blows over and is forgotten about. I’ve no desire to see the SWP witch hunted in Unison any further.

      Lets be clear stunts like this do not threaten the bureaucracy at all but it does alienate trade unionists from you. That is precisely playing into the bureaucracy’s hands. Both of you come from the IS tradition and it seems you do not understand the way the bureaucracy operates. RBH comment is particularly revealing. Through your comparison you make no distinction between the trade union leadership and the bosses. That attitude is folly and will win you no friends in the trade union movement.

      • redbedhead said,

        May 25, 2010 at 6:44 pm

        Who was there to attack the Woodley and Simpson? Nobody. People showed up to picket Walsh and demonstrate solidarity. The door was open, they walked in and ba-da-boom-ba-da-bing, the devil himself was there having a yak on his cell. So, they chanted at him a bit, Woodley showed up told them to leave and they did.
        Nobody argued that stunts would undermine the bureaucracy, so you’re having an argument with shadows.

    • neilcaff said,

      May 25, 2010 at 7:08 pm

      Don’t you read other people’s posts? Read Andy Wilson’s reply again. He mentions threatening the bureaucracy.

      Look RBH just because you can rationalise what happened as a bit of youthful high jinks don’t think the vast majority of people in the movement will. That makes your union comrades vulnerable where witch hunting moods exist as they do in Unison for example.

      • redbedhead said,

        May 25, 2010 at 8:11 pm

        Fair enough – but certainly his point about timidity is valid.

        As for the “vast majority of people in the movement”, this is a rather grandiose claim based upon no evidence. And since the reaction from the picket lines has apparently been mostly positive, based upon anecdotes, you’ll have to do more than point to the left blogosphere, which represents very little of the movement.

        I don’t, in any case, think that this event, which has been blown so far out of proportion by the left blogosphere as to defy comprehension – with Liam’s comparison to Che going to Bolivia and the Red Brigades and S/S posting about the March Action. For God’s sake, not a single pencil was even broken and they left when Woodley asked them to. Sheesh.

    • andy newman said,

      May 25, 2010 at 8:49 pm

      “And I would speculate that they do feel threatened now by the possibility of a rise in the level of class struggle.”

      utterly ridiculous

      • neprimerimye said,

        May 26, 2010 at 5:56 pm

        There is nothing ridiculous about the possibility of a rise in the levl of class struggle if that is what you mean. As for the trade union bureaucracy fearing struggle that is a given.

  18. redbedhead said,

    May 25, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Harry, this isn’t about not admitting mistakes or denying responsibility. And it’s not about voluntarism.
    First off, it wasn’t as planned as the screechers who hate the SWP seemed to think. It was a couple of hundred mostly young people reacting to an opportunity to take on a well known capitalist prick who is in the process of trying to smash a union. And good on ’em – that’s the kind of people we need, the ones who want to rip the head off they system. Did it get sticky in the end – maybe a bit but they left after ten minutes and when they were asked to by Woodley.
    Secondly, part of what revolutionaries do in a period of heightened contradictions is that they test the waters to see the limits of the class anger. And with the EDL/BNP mobilizations, the deepening crisis in Europe, the Tory-Lib Dem victory, et al it seems clear to me that there is a heightening of contradictions. That means testing it in practice, not theorizing about it dispassionately. That also means making mistakes – sometimes big, sometimes small – and learning from them. But the key thing is to have a cadre of activists who are willing to test the limits, rather than miserableists of one sort or another. So, if the picket went an inch or two far I’m less concerned than if the young comrades heard that Walsh was down the street and instead went to a pub and got tanked and watched football instead.
    Third, what have we learned from this? Well, we’ve learned something from the Left – who have gotten timid and will in the not too distant future be outflanked by a new and unruly youth radicalization that won’t give a toss about proper process and will be all over the map (and good for them – we’ll learn something from them because of it). We’ve also learned that there is sympathy amongst a layer of BA workers for direct action, which suggests that the level of anger and politicization exceeds the level of organization, since they also aren’t doing such “stunts” themselves. So, what does that mean in terms of the tasks for socialists? It would be different if the action had happened and the response the next day was to throw comrades off the picket lines as dangerous provocateurs – there would have to be different conclusions drawn.
    Finally, because of all this it’s important to know that categories like “substitution” and “ultra-left” are not static but shift constantly depending on a whole series of conjunctural considerations like the balance of forces, class consciousness, etc. – and sometimes it shifts very quickly. In a period like the present with Greece going up in flames and possible Spain, Portugal and the UK next, it would be a mistake to be hidebound.

    • harry monro said,

      May 26, 2010 at 1:20 pm

      Hi
      we’ll have to disagree on some things but no harm in that. I don’t necessarily see the Greek actions as sparking big responses elswhere and I don’t know enough about Greece and its fractured left to guess how long the current fight back will continue (hopes don’t always materialize).
      In Britain I don’t think, given the power of Labour and the union leaders amongst the working class, we will see Greek style events in the near future; and of course when we do we can hope there there is nobody in the British movement who thinks buring down banks is the way forward.
      The RTW campaign now is of course not the RTW campaign of old, where the party sought to bridge the gap between the angry unemployed youth and the still powerful rank and file committees within the class; hoping both could learn from each other and that the shop stewards committees could lead the fight back.
      This RTW campaign will of necessity have to work with various TU leaders many who disdain us and a few who hate us. OUr approach has to be much measured because of that.
      On testing the water, I think the class has enought anger and power to move, the Bolshiviks were against the womens day demos, it didn’t matter. The class can build up its anger and unleash at any time we have to teach it nothing in that arena.
      At the moment we as a party need to train a disciplined cadre who can relate to a low level of stuggle when most others see no point. We don’t need to continually burn out a new generation of activists every five years with impossible demands on activity with a few stunts thrown in to let off steam. Finally I do believe that to think because the BA strikers didn’t mass picket the talks, that comrades should latch upon the helpful information of a SKY news reporter, and do the picketing for them is substitutionalism (albiet in a tiny way). OK, It wasn’t planned or thought out, but that to me is a problem. And now I should take the advice of Party Notes and move on from here; hoping s/s gives the update on the “one nationalist party” kerfuffle, or maybe thats a storm in a tea cup too.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        May 27, 2010 at 12:50 am

        Oh yes. Declan’s solo run has not gone unnoticed.

  19. May 25, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    “Well, we’ve learned something from the Left – who have gotten timid and will in the not too distant future be outflanked by a new and unruly youth radicalization that won’t give a toss about proper process and will be all over the map…”

    I am increasingly skeptical of “youth radicalisation”. Young radicals end up being cannon fodder for cult leaders and bureaucrats who can give them a framework for burning out their youthful energy. And once thoroughly burned out, the young radicals end up being absorbed into either the union hierarchy or the leadership of a tiny Marxist or anarchist group, ready to assimilate the next generation twenty years down the track. (That is, assuming they’re not in jail for burning down a bank with workers inside.) And the wider class struggle doesn’t notice, or indeed care.

  20. Phil said,

    May 25, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Firstly, if everyone on the Left with a blog is highly critical of this action, that may not mean that everyone on the Left with a blog is a coward, a bureaucrat or an SWP-hater. In fact I think that’s a dangerous conclusion to draw, unless you’re planning to model your party on Millwall fans.

    Secondly, is the line that the stunt didn’t disrupt the talks (so it doesn’t matter that it could have done), or that these are talks which deserved to be disrupted (so it doesn’t matter if they were disrupted)? The first of those strikes me as sophistical, the second as genuinely adventurist.

    Thirdly, how does this bullish line fit with the statement in Party Notes that comrades should be careful not to do that again?

    • harry monro said,

      May 26, 2010 at 1:23 pm

      Point taken Phil but Andy’s SU could drive and sane comrade mad, thats why I avoid it, like Channel 4 news with John Snow, I’d just end up like Cliff shouting at the telly.

    • ejh said,

      May 26, 2010 at 5:06 pm

      In fact I think that’s a dangerous conclusion to draw, unless you’re planning to model your party on Millwall fans.

      What?

      • Phil said,

        May 26, 2010 at 5:53 pm

        “Everybody hates us and we don’t care”

      • ejh said,

        May 27, 2010 at 7:37 am

        Ah. OK. (“No-one likes us, we don’t care” is actually the correct rendering:)

      • Phil said,

        May 27, 2010 at 9:38 am

        Ta – noted for future reference.

  21. robert said,

    May 26, 2010 at 12:06 am

    the swoppie high command realise this was a mistake; they just want to avoid losing face.

  22. chjh said,

    May 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Phil, not every left blogger is highly critical of this action – has anyone said that? My problem is with those who are hugely over-reacting: “Is this the end of the SWP?” and “fundamental break with the tradition” are really not rational, proportionate reactions to one single stunt. And I think our host has somewhat gone along with this particular bandwagon.

    Other people have said, calmly, in a few sentences, that they think it was a mistaken tactic. Which is a rather more proportionate reaction, and one you can have a discussion about.

    There are indeed lessons here, but they’re about the exaggerating nature of 24-hour news, the importance of not believing everything you see on the BBC, the corrosive rot that has replaced the instinct of solidarity with the instincy of repudiation, and the cowardice of many left bloggers. The SWP’s been self-critical about the action – it wasn’t perfect, and lessons are there to be learnt. Any chance of any of those who screamed blue murder doing the same?

    • Phil said,

      May 26, 2010 at 5:55 pm

      it wasn’t perfect, and lessons are there to be learnt

      What lessons? At the risk of stating the obvious, the only lessons you actually mention are lessons you’d like to be learnt by people you don’t agree with – and it’s always easy to come up with a list of those.

  23. Doug said,

    May 26, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    This latest event is entirely consistent with SWP practice – a one off stunt to get the members gee’d up and then a month or two later another one. The concept of long-term political (class-based) work is completely alien to all but a few swappies.

    • redbedhead said,

      May 26, 2010 at 4:10 pm

      yes, those quick fix stunts like StWC, UAF, DCH, fractions in the unions, etc. etc. etc.

  24. redbedhead said,

    May 26, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    what chjh said.

  25. David Ellis said,

    May 26, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    There is no doubt that if Walsh was a student of left politics the SWP would be facing a shit storm in Unite right now and taking the entire flack for the collapse of talks and the blame for the strike going ahead. Fortunately Walsh was more interested in Simpson’s twittering and said so on telly and openly denied that 100 demonstrators could possibly stop the talks. If BA weren’t going for all out confrontation stopping the talks for that reason would have seen him replaced by the shareholders double quick. So I’d say the SWP got lucky this time because BA management have bigger fish to fry than the SWP even if Unite bureaucrats don’t.

  26. chjh said,

    May 26, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    So the SWP were wrong to pull a stunt highlighting BA management’s desire for a confrontation, because BA management want a confrontation? Must be dialectics.

    • David Ellis said,

      May 27, 2010 at 9:58 am

      Hey, I didn’t say it was right that the SWP would be facing a shit storm for what was an entirely innocuous action just that it would be. But as long as the CC gets on channel 4 news who gives a crap about the welfare or the ability to function of SWP Unite members. No doubt something equally innocuous will provide the trigger for some kind of wich hunt of left thinking people in the unions in these tense times for a nervous bureaucracy. It just means that all actions have to be thoroughly thought through and discussed first and we have a serious think about substitutionism. Anyway, the trouble is that all that has been discussed on the blogs is the SWP stunt instead of the truly awful deal Simpson and Woodley (a deal worse than what the management originally proposed) were cooking up but which Walsh refused to agree with.

      • David Ellis said,

        May 27, 2010 at 10:05 am

        But there is no doubt that if Walsh had come out on TV on Sunday morning and agreed with Simpson that the talks had been broken up by the `thuggish union demonstrators’ that the SWP’s arse would now be grass at least in Unite whose machine would have grasped this straw with both hands.

      • Phil said,

        May 27, 2010 at 12:02 pm

        See also the ‘Unite Left’ statement attacking Jerry Hicks by way of the SWP.

  27. Liam said,

    May 27, 2010 at 12:39 am

    Given the amount of publicity this exemplary initiative generated I’m having trouble finding reference to it in the current issue of the paper.

    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/

  28. arjay said,

    May 27, 2010 at 10:18 am

    There you are , Liam .
    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21347

  29. arjay said,

    May 27, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Posted this earlier but it seems to have vanished. Link to short SW article on protest.
    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21347

  30. chjh said,

    May 27, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks, Arjay. I’m just back from my union’s regional council where we heard a really impassioned BA cabin crew speaker (best line “Every employer gets the union it deserves” – if only that was generally true…..)

    Because of the huge importance of this debate, and the hours of work that left bIoggers have put into writing about it, I thought it only right to offer a verbatim transcription of what she said about the ACAS incident:

    ” “

    • neilcaff said,

      May 27, 2010 at 6:50 pm

      Not surprising really, they were there to talk about their dispute and what can be done to win it. Saturday’s antics don’t fit into either catagory.

      My experience on the pickets has been that Saturday’s flash mob has not really been an issue. Some strikers have definetly been supportive of it. One strike said something along the lines of they thought the stunt was funny but that most of his colleagues didn’t agree with him. However we’ve also come across hostility about outsiders taking over the dispute as well. The Chair of BASSA had a go at one of our members as well at strike HQ thinking we were swoppies. Opinions seem to be fairly divided over the SWP’s stunt although thankfully it hasn’t led to the picketts closing off completely to socialists.

      That said it is doing real damage to the SWP in the unions, no question. The storm that has broken out over the heads of the SWP on the United Left (Unite’s Broad Left) email list is something to behold. Especially considering some of their fiercest critics were people who were pushing the RTW conference quite strongly only a few days before.

      • neprimerimye said,

        May 28, 2010 at 1:38 pm

        A split in the UNITE United Left does not equate to ‘real damage’ in the unions. it is a split in the left of a single union. Indeed it may even be beneficial for both the SWP and SP as both can now pursue their very different strategies within that union. Time alone will show which is the most efficacious.

        I know which I consider closest to good communist practice and principle.

      • neilcaff said,

        May 28, 2010 at 3:39 pm

        Yes I suppose no one outside Unite has even noticed what’s happened.

        The reaction in United Left from people who only a few days ago we’re well disposed to the SWP probably isn’t indicative of anything to be worried about at all.

  31. johng said,

    May 27, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    chjh missing link…

  32. redbedhead said,

    May 27, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    johng – no, it’s sarcasm. i.e. they said not a single word about the ACAS picket.

  33. johng said,

    May 28, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    ah thought it might have been. the sound of one hand clapping. or something.

  34. ejh said,

    May 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Didn’t Bart Simpson illustrate that phrase by clapping the top of his fingers against the palm of his hand?

  35. johng said,

    May 28, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Neilcaff-and if they were to conclude in a week or so that it was all a bit of a storm in a teacup you’d be dead relieved no? no?


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