Communist Worker

Archive of Communist Workers Group of Aoteaora/New Zealand up to 2006

Archive for the ‘IBT’ Category

Reply to IBT: Why spoil your ballot when you aint got no bullet?

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The International Bolshevik Tendency criticised CWG’s call for critical support for the NZ Labour Party scroll down to ‘Vote Labour Now to Smash Capitalism Later’. The IBT article is on its website scroll down to ‘Spoil your Ballot’
Labour gone awol

First, the IBT says that workers no longer have illusions in Labour as a party that represents their class interests. It is therefore no longer a bourgeois-workers party. Its program hasn’t changed but it ha lost its historic roots in the labour movement. This is the result of a rightward move of the Labour Government since 1984 and the defeats suffered by workers over that period. The Labour Party no longer embodies a class contradiction between its bourgeois program and an organised labour base.

Is it true that class contradiction no longer exists? Has there been a qualitative change in the Labour Party? The moderate unions formed the Labour Party in 1916 as a reformist alternative to the Red Fed and IWW program of expropriation. While it’s program talked about the ‘socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange etc’ this was no more than the nationalisation of some key industries like coal, transport like rail, telecom and a central bank plus some income redistribution. The ‘welfare state’ made huge subsidies to private capital reducing their risk and boosting their profits in the period of the formation of the New Zealand capitalist economy.

Thus the historic class compromise of 1930s Keynesian policies of state intervention from the 1930s onwards partially suppressed the contradiction between the bosses program and Labour’s working class supporters for another generation. Where necessary Labour could back up these reforms with emergency legislation to break strikes and lock up dissidents. Despite periodic outbreaks of dissent, economic insulation created relatively full employment and a generous welfare state to keep workers loyal to Labour right up to 1984.

In 1984 the Fourth Labour government abandoned this compromise as the bosses demanded deregulation and restructuring to open the economy to the global market. This ‘revolution’ was necessary to overcome the barriers to profitability resulting from a limited domestic market. Cutting costs to become competitive on the world market meant cutting jobs and wages. While National continued these attacks in the 1990s it fell short in its attempts to complete the new right agenda and fully open the country to free trade and foreign capital investment.

Since 1999 Labour has reforged a new Blairite class compromise to suppress the basic contradiction once again. Labour uses state intervention to steer away from a ‘quarry’ economy where MNCs rip out unprocessed commodities for the global market in favour of increased productivity in a ‘knowledge’ economy. The state picks ‘winners’ by subsidising high tech industries to ‘add value’ to exports. Of course this extra productivity is due to the rising rate of exploitation of skilled workers, as well as the deteriorating wages and labour conditions of casualised workers.

Under Labour profits and CEO incomes have continued to rise rapidly. Skilled workers in the EPMU, the PSA and education unions, and the SFWU, have been able to claw back a small part of the extra surplus value they produce. Low paid or casualised workers, and long term unemployed, have their falling incomes partially made up by income transfers and Working for Families. While this Blairite compromise continues to suppress the class contradiction, critical support for Labour is necessary to put it in power in order to activate the class contradiction.

The question of the popular front

The second IBT criticism is that critical support for Labour under MMP is not permissible because Labour (assuming it were a bourgeois workers party) must enter a popular front with bourgeois parties like the Greens or NZ First. The reason we call these parties bourgeois parties like National, is that they were not formed out of the labour movement and have no claim to represent the interests of workers. Even the Greens who try to squeeze out of monopoly capital policies that favour small business is still a bourgeois party because the tendency of small business is to become big business at the expense of workers.

The IBT correctly opposes popular fronts because bourgeois workers parties can shift the blame for failing to implement a workers’ program onto their bourgeois partners and thus still suppress the class contradiction.

Since we do say that Labour is still a bourgeois-workers party, should we refuse it critical support because it may have to form a popular front? No, we call on it to govern without bourgeois partners. Obviously Labour would need bourgeois or petty-bourgeois partners if it failed to get a majority of seats itself. That’s why we called for the maximum working class vote for Labour, and at the same time oppose workers votes for any of the minor bourgeois parties.

We did not do what the left political ‘commentator’ Matt McCarten did, which was to assume that Labour could not get a majority itself and call for votes for minor bourgeois parties like the Greens, Maori Party and NZ First to provide Labour with coalition partners. (He even called for a vote for the National Candidate in Eden to stop ACT from winning seats and increasing National’s ability to form a government).

In the event that Labour does form a government with bourgeois partners we make this fact a fundamental criticism of the Labour Party to expose the class collaboration of the popular front and condemn its betrayal of the class interests of workers. In other words, we do not run in terror from the prospect of a popular front but try to block it in advance, and failing that, to oppose it in practice to explode the suppressed class contradiction.

Why does the IBT make these criticisms?

The IBT criticizes the Anti-Capitalist Alliance failure to offer transitional demands or means of moving from the most basic democratic or immediate demands to the seizure of power and a socialist republic. Yet the IBT then falls foul of the logic of its own critique when it is applied to critical support for Labour. Rather than follow Lenin’s method from the 1920s – that of communist workers entering a united front with reformist workers – the IBT fixates on superficial ‘facts’ that workers do not ‘see’ Labour as their party, because Labour’s attacks on workers have exposed it as an open bourgeois party.

Yes, the world situation is very different today from 1920. In 1920 a revolutionary situation existed in Europe. The majority of workers had not joined the communist party and despite being much further left than today, still had illusions in the Labour Party. Lenin argued that it was necessary for the mass communist party to vote the Labour party into government to expose it in practice and split reformist workers away from its bourgeois leadership and program. The tactic of critical support was a special form of united front in which the revolutionary movement would demand that the Labour bureaucracy and the Labour Party leadership implement a revolutionary workers program. When it failed to do so, its program and leadership would be exposed and detached from its working class body of support like a “rope supports a hanged man” so that these workers would then join the Communist Party.

Critical support and democratic counter-revolution

Today no such revolutionary situation exists, and there is no revolutionary party to put pressure on Labour parties to explode the suppressed contradiction. Since 1989, global capitalism has entered a period of democratic counter-revolution. This means that its attacks on workers are typically made under the cover of bourgeois democracy. In the former degenerated workers states workers voted for capitalist restoration. Capitalism has used right-wing social democratic parties to solve its crisis at the expense of their working class base. The large majority of workers who retain any trade union consciousness still vote for social democracy to defend their fundamental gains because they are caught up in a defensive reliance on bourgeois democracy. As yet there is revolutionary situation to put pressure on social democracy, and explode the class contradiction.

However, if the world economy enters a new period of depression and the isolated revolutionary upsurges today are generalised into new revolutionary period, we can expect pressure from below to split the Labour Party. Rather than write off Labour as already bourgeois it is necessary to prepare for its revival as a barrier to rising workers’ expectations. To both activate and to take advantage of a coming revolutionary upturn it is necessary for communists to maintain the united front tactic with social democracy to split its working class base from its bosses program.

The failure to understand this, and to argue that Labour Parties have become open bourgeois parties in the last two decades is an ultra left response to the democratic counter-revolution. It rejects social democracy as necessarily counter-revolutionary when in fact it still plays the critical role of suppressing the class contradiction. It is this contradiction that will be activated first by the renewal of revolutionary movements and to ignore it is to abstain from revolutionary politics. It is a sectarian fear of becoming tainted by the almost universal opportunism, that today paints democratic imperialism as a progressive force. Instead of contesting opportunism and bourgeois democracy inside the gigantic malls where workers consume. the sectarians preach to passing workers from their boutique shop front about the picture of the revolutionary party in the window.

As we argue in our original article, workers will not break from social democracy until a revolutionary upsurge and a revolutionary program exposes the open treachery of the social democratic program and leadership, and the formation of independent working class dual power organs are in place capable of taking and holding onto power.

From Class Struggle 63 Sept/Oct 2005



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From Class Struggle 50, May-June 2003
War concentrates politics even as politics concentrates economics. The US/UK attack on Iraq has brought to the surface all the contradictions and deep antagonisms of capitalism today. Who saw the war as the outcome of imperialism in crisis forced to recolonise Iraq to get its oil? Who on the left understood this and took the next step to defend Iraq against imperialism? Those who did are the core of a new revolutionary international. Those who didn’t must be condemned as betrayers of the socialist revolution.

We can dispense with the reformist left who looked to the UN to deal with Iraq. These forces already conceded that the UN had the authority to impose sanctions on Iraq.They wanted a UN backed invasion. In other words they rejected the fundamental revolutionary position that Iraq is an oppressed country and must be unconditionally defended against imperialism. The UN is a ‘den of thieves kitchen’ and represents the deals that the imperialists make to advance their interests.

But the thieves fell out when the US/UK invaded Iraq unilaterally instead of backing the French and German imperialists plan of using the UN to disarm Iraq. So the reformist left championed the ‘peaceful’ imperialists against the US and UK. Thus the reformist left sides with one set of imperialist powers, with just as bad a history of colonial oppression, against another. In the event that the rivalry between these powers turns to open war, these reformist leaders would send their workers to war on the side of their imperialist bosses just as they did in 1914.

There was another more leftwing tendency however, which did not look to the ‘peaceful’ imperialists to deal with Iraq. This is the pacifist left who rejected the UN sanctions on Iraq as much as they rejected a UN backed invasion. They saw that the so-called ‘peaceful’ imperialists opposed the US and UK invasion because that would mean risking their own oil concessions in Iraq. This tendency therefore did not back the UN solution, but instead put their hopes in building a mass movement that would “stop the war”. They even attempted to mobilise workers in unions to take industrial action to prevent the ‘coalition’ military forces from being deployed in Iraq.

They saw that this was a war by the US and UK for oil. It was an attack by a rich and powerful country against a weak and largely defenceless country. Under the pressure of the war on Iraq, when millions marched against the war, and when thousands of Iraqis fought against the invasion, there was a move of some on the left, such as the CPGB, towards a ‘defence of Iraq’ position. But in practice the defence of Iraq was translated into ‘stopping the war’ at home. They said the best way to defend Iraq was to stop the invasion by a combination of sit-ins, marches and strikes. This fell far short of the necessary ‘defence of Iraq’ position of revolutionary Marxists. Why?

To turn the ‘defence of Iraq’ into ‘stopping the war’ at home fails to take the class logic of imperialist war to its necessary conclusion.The defence of Iraq means the ‘defeat’ of the imperialist oppressor not only at home, but also in Iraq. It means a ‘Victory’ to Iraq as an oppressed country.The responsibility of revolutionaries in the imperialist countries is to put their class before their country. They have to mobilise to smash the enemy at home, but they also have to try to smash the enemy wherever it goes to war against an oppressed country. Their duty does not stop at national borders. Class internationalism means that workers have no country.

The crucial test for revolutionaries in this war was to go beyond fighting the ‘enemy at home’ and to join with the oppressed in the trenches of Iraq. This meant entering a military bloc with the national leadership of Iraq, the Ba’athists, for the defence of Iraq. This meant worker volunteers siding with Iraq and being prepared to kill workers in uniform from the same oppressor country as themselves. And it meant doing so with a program that called for the workers to form an independent, armed force that would fight to take the lead in the defence of Iraq away from the Ba’athists and the Clerics.

Almost all the revolutionary left failed this test.Its ‘defensist’ position remained one that did not commit Western workers to class internationalism. The IST (SWO in NZ) took the opportunist position that Iraq should be defended by…its own people, which practically means under its existing leaderships. But should, or could, its ‘people’ defend it under such leadership? While the masses overwhelmingly wanted to defend Iraq, they did not have the means to do so.They were subordinated to a national reactionary leadership who disarmed them for fear that they would rise up against the oppressive regime.

That’s why revolutionaries do not sow illusions in clerical or bourgeois leaders being reliable anti-imperialist fighters. Their class interests are to compromise with imperialism not defeat it. Therefore, to call for the ‘people’ of Iraq to defend their country without putting forward any means of freeing the masses from their treacherous leaders, is not to defend Iraq at all.

Others, like Workers Action, took a defensist line that refused a military block with Saddam. They said that there was no “mass progressive nationalist movement” to support against Saddam. This made a united front to defend Iraq impossible. In other words revolutionaries should abstain from the struggle inside Iraq until Saddam was removed and some progressive nationalist movement came into being. How do these ‘revolutionaries’ think this was going to happen?

This is an ultra-left position similar to the Iraqi Workers’ Communist Party that was for the simultaneous defeat of Saddam and the US/UK forces. In effect this meant sitting out the war away from the fighting and waiting until history was ready for them to intervene.This ultraleft position is in reality no different from the opportunist one, imperio-centric, because ‘history’ by default is the victory of ‘democratic’ imperialism, overthrowing the Ba’athist regime and creating the conditions for the bourgeois democratic revolution.

What stopped these ‘revolutionaries’ from making a military bloc with the Ba’athists?The fact is that they are embedded in the racist, chauvinist,labour aristocracy or petty bourgeois layers of the labour movement.They will not side with the oppressed if this means that workers at home see them as unpatriotic or traitors. This means that their ‘internationalism’ is merely a mask for their ‘nationalism’.

In the case of the opportunists, their ‘internationalist’ tasks are defined to mean that they, the imperio-centric working classes alone, can defeat imperialism. Workers Action for example got completely carried away by the anti-war movement. “…we have seen the creation of a phenomenal political power across the globe that can start to challenge US imperialism. The anti-war demonstrations on February 15 have had an enormous impact throughout the world, and have opened up a new era in politics”.(Workers Action, 21, 2003 page 2). Shame this ‘new era’ in politics did not stop the war.

‘Talking up’ the anti-war mobilisation as a ‘serious challenge’ to US imperialism means ‘talking down’ workers going to other countries to kill workers in uniform from their own country and challenging colonial oppression as the material basis of the racism and chauvinism in the labour movement at home. If you cannot even confront racism and chauvinism in the imperialist working classes, how can you defeat imperialism?

The reverse side of this imperialist chauvinism is that it then becomes the national task of workers and peasants in the oppressed countries to resist imperialism. Why? Because that is their right to self-determination.

How, say the opportunists, can these peoples determine their own future if workers from other countries who are regarded as oppressors assert their duty to fight alongside them? Well, it doesn’t occur to these ‘internationalists’ that this is the surest way for workers from imperialist countries to prove that they are not oppressors but genuine internationalists.

In the case of the ultralefts, this is the flip side of the opportunist coin.Refusing to enter a military bloc with Saddam Hussein because he is a dictator is also a capitulation to the same imperialist racism and chauvinism at home that leaves the defence of Iraq to its own people. The fact that many in the IWCP are exiles in the ‘West’ and embedded in the same labour aristocracy as the Western left, underlines their ultraleft position. And it also explains why they then flipped to an opportunist line after the war calling for the UN to create a security force to allow Iraq to make the transition to democracy.For these pseudo communists, democratic imperialism is superior to an Iraqi dictatorship.

This is why in practice these ultra-lefts were prepared to leave the defence of Iraq to the Ba’athists and the clerical leaderships who would capitulate as soon as their class interests were threatened. This is exactly why these leaderships made the compromises they have made with the occupiers in the hope of doing deals with the US/UK to become the new rulers. This shows that, like the opportunists, the ultra-lefts are not serious about workers defending Iraq. They are prepared to leave the self-determination of Iraq to dirty deals between the Iraqi bourgeoisie, the Clerics and the imperialists.

The revolutionary way to fight the imperialist invaders was to mobilise the workers and peasants who were oppressed by the Ba’athists and Clerics to prove that only workers and poor peasants militias could defend Iraq. This meant calling on the Ba’athist and Clerical leaderships to arm the workers and peasants. When it became clear that the leaderships would not do this and instead would look after their own skins, workers could then decide how best to defend Iraq. But these questions of strategy and tactics could not even arise when the ultra-lefts did not offer any leadership to the masses under the oppressive control of the Ba’athists or Clerics.

Even those few groups that formally came out in ‘defence of Iraq’ such as Workers Power, and the International Bolshevik Tendency, did so in an abstract way.Workers Power quoted Trotsky on the “ duty of the international proletariat to aid the oppressed countries and their war against oppressors” but did not specify how that aid should be given.

(“The Left that Fails to Back Iraq” ( even a mention of arms to Iraq, and certainly no call for a military bloc with the Ba’athists.

The IBT, who condemn the Spartacists for ‘flinching’ in the face of charges of ‘treason’ at home, also took a defensist position. But nowhere in their statements on the war is there a call for a military bloc with Saddam, let alone a program for revolutionaries to take the leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle in Iraq (

We come to the conclusion that to our knowledge no Trotskyist groups other than the Group of 5 who signed the statement on Iraq lived up to their historic and revolutionary responsibility to fight for the defence of Iraq. (

Who else called for the formation of a military bloc with the Ba’athists, with a program for workers to lead the defence of Iraq and for the formation of a Workers’ and Peasants’ state of Iraq in a Socialist Federation of the Middle East?If they exist and have put forward this position clearly, we want to contact them because they are principled communists.

Those who failed this test must be condemned as imperio-centric misleaders and betrayers of socialism. They are the rotten Stalinist and Trotskyist tendencies with opportunist/ultra-left positions that are a programmatic reflection of their integration into the racist, chauvinist labour aristocracy and petty bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries.

The healthy forces that blocked militarily with Iraq in its defence against imperialism with a program for permanent revolution have shown that they have the method and program to form the core of a new antiwar and anti-imperialist movement and open the way to the formation of a new revolutionary international.

MayDay Leaflet