Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 4 May 2001

I seem to be making a habit of stepping on Tribune readers’ toes. After a couple of months of being slagged off by correspondents for my columns in favour of anti-Tory tactical voting, I’m now getting the flak for having a go at the Socialist Alliance. The deputy editor tells me that this week’s letters page includes several more assaults on me for dismissing the Trots and their allies’ chances at the general election.

Well, once again I regret nothing. In fact, I can’t resist the temptation to wind up my critics even more. Because the truth is that I didn’t go half as far as I could have on the Socialist Alliance. For the Trots and the other Leninists that dominate the Alliance are not just quixotic in their electoral challenge to New Labour, as I argued in my last piece. They are also the enemies of all that democratic socialists should hold dear.

First, though, it’s important to be clear about what the Alliance is. In the pub last week, a couple of Alliance-supporting friends – I do have some, honest – complained that I’d misrepresented it by describing it as essentially Leninist, a coalition of the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Socialist Party (formerly Militant), with only a handful of other participants. It was true, they admitted, that the SWP and the Socialist Party were the biggest groups involved and that most Alliance parliamentary candidates belonged to one of them. But, they went on, simply by agreeing to work together and with non-aligned leftists, the two parties were de facto abandoning Leninism and embracing a pluralist approach to politics.

Now, I wish this were true: nothing would please me more than for the Trots to see the error of Lenin’s ways and recant. But there is absolutely no evidence that it is. The decision of the SWP and the Socialist Party to work together and with other socialists is purely tactical and utterly cynical. Unless I’ve missed something – and I’ve spent several mind-numbing hours searching through their recent publications to check – neither has ever even considered renouncing the elitist, manipulative, anti-democratic politics that is the essence of Leninism. Both retain the long-term goal of establishing, as the Bolsheviks did in Russia, a revolutionary single-party dictatorship that ruthlessly suppresses free elections, independent trade unions and media and “bourgeois” freedoms of speech and assembly. And both still believe that any means is justifiable in pursuit of this goal and that history dictates they must prevail.

Today, they have decided it is “necessary” to pretend to be pluralist and democratic and cosy up to other socialists. But after the election one or other could decide – no, probably will decide – that it is “necessary” to split the Alliance in order to create a purer revolutionary party. And in the distant future, one or other might conclude that it is “necessary” to murder or imprison and torture those who stand in the way of the revolution (including socialists) just as Lenin’s secret police, the Cheka, did in Russia.

Of course, the last scenario is rather difficult to imagine. Revolutionary civil war does not appear to be on the cards in Britain. And it is hard to conceive of the Trots you meet selling papers on the high street every Saturday – a bunch of hectoring students and past-it beardie bores – ever setting up a vicious secret police. Over the past 80 years, Britain’s Leninists have been laughably unsuccessful by any criterion, let alone in establishing themselves as they would wish as the directors of a murderous single-party state, and it is implausible to suggest that their luck is about to turn.

So, say some democratic socialists, why make such a fuss about their long-term goal? If you forget about their daft dream of emulating the Bolsheviks, they go on, Britain’s Leninists are nothing more than socialists of a slightly more left-wing bent than most – and valuable allies in the struggle against the depredations of New Labour.

Call me a sectarian all you want, but this argument sucks. It amounts to: “Sure, they have an evil plan, but we’ll hold hands with them because they’ve no chance of ever putting it into practice.” Apart from being a hostage to fortune – don’t forget that people used to say that Hitler had no chance of ever gaining power – it ignores the extent to which the Leninists’ every action in the here and now is corrupted by their belief that the establishment of a terrorist dictatorship justifies any means. Even unsuccessful Leninists are required by their ideology to be mendacious, manipulative, authoritarian and cynically contemptuous of democracy. Rather than embracing them as allies, democratic socialists should shun them.

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