Debate With A.W.L. – Socialism or Trotskyism?
A debate between the Socialist Party and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (“Socialist Organiser”) was held in the University of London Union on 25 October. Although nominally about the events in Russia in October/November of 1917, the debate widened as the evening went on to involve discussions about the nature/politics of the AWL and the Socialist Party in 1995.
Debates about the Russian Revolution have been one of the most common areas of disagreement over the years between Fake-Socialists and genuine Socialists. Fake Socialists of the Leninist-left have of course defended their “heirs apparent”—the Bolsheviks and their coup of 1917, whilst it has been the job of real Socialists to point out that Socialism can only come about when a majority of workers organise democratically for it to happen.
AWL speaker Mark Osborn began his argument by asking us to appreciate the historical conditions of Russia in 1917 and to subsequently try to understand the “real intentions” of the Bolsheviks. They didn’t really want to ban opposition and shoot workers who disagreed with them—”Peace , Bread and Land”, that was their real programme. On one level Osborn is right, the historical circumstances meant that any new ruling class in that situation would be forced to act in a certain way that may appear draconian and repressive—but of course if we really understood the “real intentions” of the new “protectors” of the working class interest we would sympathise, wouldn’t we?
Well no, actually. The Socialist Party speaker, Adam Buick, argued against this point by pointing out that Socialism can only come about when a majority of the working class want it. How could this come about in a society where only 10 percent of the population were working class?
The point is, that whatever the “real intentions” of the Bolsheviks were, the objective materialist reality was that a new ruling class with a state capitalist programme had come to power. Any attempt to rationalise this as being in the interests of the working class because “they said so” is to fall into idealist speculation. After one has defined a situation as being “of the workers” or “workers’ party” or indeed “workers’ state”—anything can be subsequently justified. This is because arguments of this sort are based around the “ends justifying the means” and this is precisely where Leninist logic comes unstuck.
However, the real rub is that the AWL propose a similar way of bringing about “Socialism” in 1995 as the Bolsheviks did in 1917. Despite the feet that the working class is now global, they still insist that workers are not capable of organising a democratic majority revolution. This idea for the AWL is “utopianism”. Workers should treat these self-appointed “Saviours” with the contempt they in turn show the working class.
As this is just a report (as opposed to a full-scale critique of Leninist-Trotskyism), there only remains to briefly mention a few other aspects of the debate. Those aspects can only be described as a succession of parodies, half-truths and lies. According to the AWL the Socialist Party advocate a purely parliamentary strategy, oppose reforms that actually benefit workers and don’t organise in the trade unions. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times we inform them to the contrary that they are not actually arguing against our case, they continue making straw-men out of the Socialist Party’s case seemingly because without these distortions they wouldn’t have any kind of argument at all.
There are supporters of Lenin and Trotsky who do actually know how to argue on the issues without deliberately distorting what you say (although such people are few and far between). The AWL once again showed themselves up for being poorly informed and demonstrating a poor standard of argument even by today’s standard of Leninist-Trotskyist politics.