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Coughlan, politics and possibilities

By D.R.O’Connor Lysaght.

5 September 2011

Tony Coughlan is correct when he says there is quantitatively a narrow difference between himself and the present writer. However, two things should be mentioned at the outset. Firstly, as will be shown, the difference is there and is important. Secondly, more immediately, to concentrate on one point of dispute, I think public polemics are useful and often fruitful, as was shown, notably, by Engels in Anti-Duehring and by Lenin in his major writings on the national question. It is unlikely that either of us will match these. Nonetheless, this discussion has the possibility of clarifying the issues between the parties.

To begin where there is agreement. This writer is at one with Coughlan in believing that democratic changes, which benefit all citizens are to be supported by socialists even when not initiated or led by socialists. Such changes include, of course, the right of a nation to self-determination. Indeed, the labour movement, the socialists and the left should be to the fore in campaigning for democratic reforms, and foremost in giving the lead in the national independence movement and revolution.

Now here’s the rub. On occasions where the left has made the running in leading a revolutionary national independence movement it has not stopped at setting up “an independent state” in which to introduce the economic/political changes which constitute socialism.  This is partly because such changes cannot be made within the boundaries of a single state, but economic/political changes that go well beyond what the bourgeoisie will accept can and must be made to ensure the democratic gains of the revolution and, in doing so, to strengthen what will be the base for international revolution for an actual (international) socialist state. Of more immediate importance, such changes are accomplished most effectively not by any old independent state, whether bourgeois-democratic or proletarian in form, but by an independent workers’ state. The problem is that keeping the perspective of the struggle to one of a sort of classless “independence” handicaps the workers from achieving that state.  In China, in the 1940s, Stalin tried to stop the Communist Party from going beyond the national bourgeois bounds, but it ignored him to win a form of state power that could claim to belong to the workers rather than the bourgeoisie. Elsewhere, Communist Parties stuck to the bourgeois perspective and went under. It is essential to uphold a class-based perspective even within a broad democratic movement.

Coming to Ireland, there is nothing that Coughlan adds to his account of the northern struggle that subtracts from what the writer wrote thereon. He would remark only that the clause in the draft Bill of Rights providing for British encouragement of north-south co-operation was unlikely to have made for a qualitative increase in existing north-south initiatives. In any case to repeat, the reform could only have had an effect in the very long-term and was initiated too late.

As to the EU, the class question raises its head again.  The EU will be no loss to any state other than the colonial metropolis; although, Europe’s way to socialism will almost certainly be through a confederation of workers’ national states, it will take a totally different form from that of the present Union. The only caveat is that abandoning the Euro is by itself likely to leave Ireland free of the European frying pan only to be subject to the fires of British and/or American imperialism.

Finally,once again, there is agreement on the weakness of the descriptive term “Permanent Revolution”. The disagreement comes over Coughlan’s proposed alternative. “Internationalism” covers so many conflicting strands of politics that it stops being descriptive.  “Permanent Revolution” must remain until there is coined something more precise and acceptable; it has the imprimatur of Marx and Engels as well as Trotsky.  


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