David North the Chairman of the Socialist Equality Party in the United States and the theoretical leader of the Fourth International, which bases its ideology on Leon Trotsky and the Internationalism contained therein sat down with the Daily Mirror for an interview. The Author and international socialist spoke of a wide range of issues of which excerpts are published below.
- The opposition to Kavanaugh was not based on his real demons
- History is rife with defending unpopular positions and being absolved of such defence
- We have never once betrayed our principles in search of quick solutions
Q David, we welcome you to this interview, I believe the first of its kind with the . To start off with, about the “Left” in Sri Lanka- Socialist, Communist parties one of the main issues is about the preoccupation with theory. A theory, which has failed to convince the masses, in Sri Lanka. You could feel that the message has not been conveyed to them. Why do you think the Left as we deem it is still caught up in this theoretical bubble?
I have to be critical frankly about the way the question is posed. It depends on how one understands politics, on how one understands also the relationship of politics to theory. Let me put it this way. I have come to Sri Lanka to give lectures on the theory of the history of the 4th International.
Building a political party is a very complex process. It is not like a businessman building a hotel. But when one deals with politics, one deals with much more complicated processes involving the lives of millions of people. One has to investigate the objective processes, which give rise and also the different influences in terms of the political experience of the masses. Now, for us, the 20th century was the most revolutionary in history.
You can say it was the century of world revolution. Massive social movement embracing the working class.
Undoubtedly the most important political event of the 20th century was the Russian revolution.
The October revolution, the coming into power of the Bolsheviks resulting in the first workers state in history, which not only transformed Russia and established the Soviet Union but it had immense global consequences. Politics was changed throughout the world. The Bolsheviks believed this to be the beginning of the world’s Socialist revolution and in many fundamental aspects, they were right.
We also believe that the masses are going to come to conflict with established political parties and our work is based on it. Now it isn’t a guaranteed success but it does point a way forward
And yet we know, that by the end of the century the Soviet Union had been dissolved. China which also went through massive social revolution underwent the restoration of capitalism.
And how is this to be explained? I mean if you ask the question about the masses, they are increasingly dissatisfied with the world that exists – the world of massive inequality, the concentration of the wealth among a small elite. And yet how can you expect the masses to be drawn to socialism without understanding the fate of the socialist movement?.
Any discussion of that brings up the fate of Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism. That was the most monumental political, the theoretical struggle of the 20th century. Stalin came to power representing a bureaucracy which claimed that socialism can be built in one country apart from the socialist revolution in the world. Flowing from these policies which were in stark contrast to what gave rise to the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, tied the fate of socialism throughout the world. That produced catastrophic defeats to the working class in the country after country.
Fascism took power in Germany, the world war erupted. The working class suffered massive defeats. During that time Trotskyism was a small minority, only in a few countries. Yet, the objective events have vindicated the perspective upon which the 4th International was based. And so a historical standpoint- explaining these lessons, building a political movement upon assimilation is important. These are complicated issues. What will return the message to the revolution? What are the powerful forces that will return the working class to it? Only fundamentally objective forces of the global economy and the breakdown of political forces which we are seeing now…
Q But aren’t we seeing that all these objective forces you speak of are giving rise to the exact opposite. The rise of Right Wing movements and the rejection of Globalism across the world?
I think what we are seeing here is first all that it is fundamentally a crisis of the Bourgeoisie System. The breakdown of the Bourgeoisie system is what we are seeing here. This is what also gave rise to the 4th International because at that time it was claimed that Bourgeoisie democracy would be defended which led to disaster. But what you must understand is the breakdown of Bourgeoisie democracy is an expression of a deep and fundamental disease of the capitalist system.
Now, why is the Right wing gaining momentum? Because so-called “Left movements” which are not really the Left- it is really an indictment of all those parties which have fundamentally abandoned the working class who have abandoned the causes of the working class and either taken up to various forms of identity politics and taken up to middle-class politics. If you examine the social layer which propagates identity politics – it really is the politics of the middle class. They really don’t address the issues of the working class. Let’s look at the situation in the United States.
Why did Donald Trump come to power? The Democratic Party, which is a Capitalist party is a party which has no programme for the working class, which advocates market economics and American Militarism.
The only difference they seem to have with Donald Trump is on if the War should be with China or with Russia. No one is speaking of the real problems of the workers. Where are they talking about unemployment, social inequality? Elements of the Right are exploiting this vacuum. Steve Bannon was to recently say that every time the Left talks about Gender politics it helps them because they are speaking of the issues of the middle classes.
Take the controversy about Kavanaugh. He is a dyed in the wool reactionary, he helped design the torture programme, he is the worst sort of Right Wing politician. But the Democrats chose – they chose to make the allegation about an incident which may or may not have happened 35 years ago. Why did they do that? Because they weren’t appealing to the working class by opposing Kavanaugh based on profound class factors. Rather they were appealing to an Upper Middle-class layer which is drunk on Sexual Politics of an extremely undemocratic character. And it is not a politics which appeal to the broad masses of people.
The only difference they seem to have with Donald Trump is on if the War should be with China or with Russia. No one is speaking of the real problems of the workers
Q I got back to my fundamental question, as to why haven’t your- Marxist, Leninist Forces -been able to galvanise the masses today?
We have made extreme inroads in the past twenty years or so. The World Socialist Website is one of the most widely read publications in the world, despite the continuous blockings from all major forces. We have fathered around our programme a global audience, yes it isn’t a mass audience but I am convinced that it will do so in the future. For 30 years the working class has been suppressed by the Trade Unions.
This is an international phenomenon to block every independent movement of the working class. Now for the 1st time in 30 years, you could see a resurgence of the class struggle and the working class is radicalizing. You know the situation in America is very contradictory. Let’s take the figure of Bernie Sanders from my stand point he is not a socialist but he spoke of the Political Revolution. If he was the candidate of the Democratic Party he would have easily beaten Donald Trump, but the Democratic Party isn’t interested in any kind of serious reform programme so he wasn’t the candidate. But he was largely a diversion because he was largely a party of the Democratic Party. I raised this to show you that social processes are very complicated- because in America the land which there is supposedly no sympathy toward socialism, a person who called himself a socialist was able to garner the interest that he did. Whether he was or was not a socialist in reality is a different question altogether. But the issue now is, with the resurgence of class struggle internationally new conditions would emerge. What we are witnessing now is a realignment of social forces, the old order is breaking down.
Q To stop you there David has this not been the call always of the Communists? That the Revolution is inevitable and is impending. That the social conditions that came about following the globalist domination after World War 2, it will necessarily give rise to this socialist revolution. Even in Sri Lanka until what took place in the 60’s and the 70’s was this not the slogan or belief?
Socialism is not inevitable if you mean by inevitability that socialism will take place independent of political leadership, no it is not inevitable. What is inevitable is the intense and immense crisis of capitalism by the very operations of the laws which govern it. What we are talking about is about social processes of a conflict between classes, of political forces. The ruling elites are seeking to find ways out of their dilemma. The problem is that within the capitalist framework the solutions they seek don’t help humanity but generally have catastrophic consequences.
Q Again we have established that…
Yes we have. But what we do experience is that Political parties which have a vested interest in the prevailing system doing everything they can to block the emergence of a real social movement. Now, the Revolutionary forces themselves must take the initiative to try to find a way out of this dilemma. We saw what happened in the 1990s with the emergence of technology. We were one of the very first publications to embrace the internet. We introduced newspapers since the very founding of our organization, we saw the internet gave the chance to reach a wide audience and embraced it.
Despite extreme censorship from Google which we have documented, we have a wide readership across the globe. Our readership still persists. We also believe that the masses are going to come to conflict with established political parties and our work is based on it. Now it isn’t a guaranteed success but it does point a way forward. We are counting two factors. One, the objective factors of the development of capitalism and secondly that these factors are going to result in the radicalization of the working class which we are now witnessing.
Within the system, there will be renewed interest in the socialist system. Workers understand almost instinctively that a struggle has consequences. It’s not the outlook of a middle-class student who can protest and go home and enjoy a high standard of living. Workers understand that Jobs, lives are at risk. They have to have confidence in a political party. And how does a party gain its confidence? Firstly by demonstrating that it has the capacity to fight and its capacity to present a correct programme and also to demonstrate that in its history it has upheld principles. So now we find more and more people interested in our programme in America.
Many of them have told us that they could not imagine that a year ago they would be talking to a Socialist party. I know where you are coming from and I hear this argument very often but politics is a much more complicated realm. You say you haven’t been successful and I don’t agree.
Q Let us take your argument that is a complicated process. But we are seeing forces that appeal to the masses across the world. My main dilemma is with this insistence on theoretical purity by the Hard Left. Now let’s take the example of Corbyn, or Melenchlon in France, even Sanders who have been able to galvanise the masses. But yet, the Hard Left still seems to be still insisting on theoretical purity and rejecting them. If you take Sri Lanka the reality is that the Socialist Equality Party has not made any inroads. You could be patting yourself on the back with regard to its purity but the reality is they have not made inroads.
I must say I rather welcome this discussion. I am not offended and it is a very fundamental and critical issue. First I would make it clear that the problem of the Left has been anything but theoretical purity.
The establishment of unprincipled alliances, what is called opportunism – which is the search for easy and quick solutions which don’t correspond to an objectively correct evaluation of a political situation that is the real problem. Take for example Corbyn or Sanders. Now it is well known that when masses begin to first radicalize, safety models emerge which direct the anger of the masses into political channels which do not ultimately challenge the establishment.
Now, you are correct to say that masses don’t come into politics with a great amount of theoretical knowledge, without an unwareness of political history or processes. The masses don’t begin with that and they may initially give their allegiance to charlatans. If a person is sick with cancer he is prepared to listen to almost anybody. Also, sorts of cures gain popularity. The obligation of a serious political party is not to go along with them. Take a concrete example, Syriza ( Greek Left Wing Party) came with the promise of the political revolution. We opposed it, we said that Syriza will betray the masses before it did. It didn’t take years for it to happen, it took only weeks. We saw the consequences. Jeremy Corbyn is another similar example, he comes under attack and his reaction is to retreat. The Right Wing still control the Labour Party and it always will. But the masses go through these experiences and learn through mistakes provided that it learns through a party which consistently seeks to educate them and wins their confidence. Now I present to you the question what is the alternative? Because in presenting your argument the fundamental basis is “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em”.
Now you spoke of my comrades of the SEP in Sri Lanka and I must defend them. It is true that they have yet not been able to win the confidence of the masses, but have their positions been? They opposed Tamil Nationalism, they opposed Sinhalese chauvinism. Trotsky once said, “we can’t be responsible for others, we can be responsible for only ourselves.” The fact that a principled line doesn’t immediately translate in a narrow pragmatic sense is not an argument against a political position. You know when you look back in history, if you look at Lenin who opposed the War in 1914 he was a part of a small minority, and now you look back and think what a brilliant position he took- to defend an unpopular position and to be in a minority in doing so.
What we are talking about is about social processes of a conflict between classes, of political forces. The ruling elites are seeking to find ways out of their dilemma. The problem is that within the capitalist framework the solutions they seek don’t help humanity but generally have catastrophic consequences
Q I still haven’t got the answer I was seeking at the start of this interview.
I have been telling you, but you haven’t been listening…
Q One of the main arguments among the middle class, so to say, in Sri Lanka at least, against Marxist- Leninist movements, is that the local movements are far from being truly international, far from progressive politics. If you take the recent struggles of the so-called Left, it lacks a very basic component of international or progressive ideology or of technology. I should be excused for using this term, but what it really is- is a village like Socialism despite all the advances we as a species have made. How do you think this should be addressed?
Well what you are speaking of is a Sri Lankan manifestation of an international phenomenon of the Pseudo Left. I speak of the Pseudo Left which can be identified as a strand of the Frankfurt School of thought. It rooted in the rejection of enlightenment, rejection science. You are right, what dominates today is not Marxism, its various forms of irrationalism and anti-progress. The middle class is always going to gravitate to these types of theories because they are not a progressive class, they don’t have a perspective. So, I think it is important to see through these ideologies.