Friday, April 01, 2005

Communist Legacy 2

This is a follow-up to my previous post about AV Lannon's article, Angela's Children: How The Communist Legacy Turned Against Itself in ILWU Local 6.

Lannon's concluding lines make this important point:
In their mad dash to lead the working class, they sowed seeds that almost destroyed the one instrument [the trade union] that those workers have to defend themselves against employer arrogance and greed.

The legacy of Angela [Davis]'s children points out the fatal flaw of communist ideology, of Marxism-Leninism. Appointing themselves leaders/saviors of the working class, communist cadre are not accountable to anything except their party, and any and all means are justified in their bid to advance The Revolution. When that ruthless lack of accountability is combined with state power the logical results are what happened in the Soviet Union, and, on a smaller but no less telling scale, in ILWU Local 6.
My reading of his article led me to draw slightly different conclusions. Three things come out very strongly from the story.

1. The gangsterism and ethnic machine politics rife in the labour movement. Although there were clearly toughs and heavies in the CP orbit, and Lannon makes much of the Angela Davis crew's fascination with guns, the perpetrators of the real violence in the story were not in fact CP folk but various factions within the union's rival ethnic machines, and the CP folk seem to have been more amongst the victims. Such gangsterism is a sadly common feature of working class politics, perhaps because working people have so few resources other than muscle.

The ethnic machine politics (if not necessarily the gangsterism) Lannon describes will be familiar to anyone who has experienced mainstream urban politics in immigrant communities, such as South Asian or Irish Labour Party activism in Britain. (See here, and here for some examples).

2. The sectarianism of the Marxist-Leninists. In Lannon's story, we see the CP ruthlessly destroying rival factions and, in the process, abusing and ultimately destroying democratic processes and open debate. This is something I have seen many times with left grouplets, such as the SWP.

3. The opportunism of the Marxist-Leninists. Again, Lannon's story is one of a left grouplet (in this case the CP) more or less arbitrarily designating particular factions within ethnic machines as progressive and cynically using them to recruit amongst people from that ethnic group. (A recent example of this, of course, would be the opportunistic courting of reactionary Islamic leaders, such as MAB, by left grouplets like the SWP/Respect - see previous posts here, here and here.)

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