Colombia, Ireland and 'petty bourgeois reformists'

Philip L Ferguson PLF13 at
Tue Oct 26 22:52:56 MDT 1999

I don't have anything to say about the ELN and FARC and Colombia, because I
know bugger all about the situation there and I'm opposed in principle to
the whole 'far away revolutionary expertise' practice.  This is the
practice whereby Trots, Maoites and certain other varieties of lefties
pontificate at length on the 'correct' strategy and tactics to be followed
in some country on the other side of the world and denounce as 'petty
bourgeois', 'reformist', 'counter-revolutionary running dogs of
imperialism' blah blah any radical movement in such countries which does
not belong to their particular weird little 'international' sect or cult.

The job of revolutionaries in the first world is to support struggles of
the oppressed in the third world against imperialism, encourage first world
workers and others in solidarity with people in the third world against our
own rulers, and to get on with making some bloody revolutionary advance in
our own front yard.

Although I have no problem with people in the West and on this list having
opinions (including critical ones) about ELN, FARC or any similar groups -
although it helps if these opinions are based on some real knowledge - I
cannot for the life of me see what is to be gained by people in the West,
and in cyber world in the West in particular, even attempting to be experts
on the way forward in such countries.

Moreover, from a Marxist/Leninist perspective, it makes *no sense*.  The
point about Marxism is that it does not separate theory from practice, but
unites them at the highest level.  You can only work out what to do in
Colombia - or anywhere else - by being part of actually doing it!  A
programme and a theory does not - and cannot for revolutionary Marxists -
exist separate from the practice which creates and changes/develops the
programme, tests the theory etc.  (Trotsky learned this over time and
became a Bolshevik, but the Trots of today have totally lost sight of this.)

One of the things I have also noticed about the 'far away experts' is that
their expertise on the road forward in some third world country is in
inverse proportion to their success at building anything revolutionary in
their own country.  If a group of two people in London or five in New York
or wherever are such experts on the road forward in Colombia or Ireland or
South Africa, how come their brilliance is not reflected in their own
development into a significant revolutionary organisation?

In relation to Ireland I must say, having been a member of Sinn Fein for
eight years, I always found the charge that SF was 'petty bourgeois' most
amusing.  It always came from tiny Trot groups consisting of academics and
high school teachers.  SF, in my whole experience of it, was an
overwhelmingly proletarian organisation in its social composition.  In
fact, it was the most working class organisation I have ever seen up close
in my political life.  Far more so than the friggin' pro-capitalist middle
class Labour Parties which the Trots all vote for at election time.

(In NZ, the LP has only about 6-7,000 members - overwhelmingly  middle
class - and receives most of its funds from the state.  The total number of
working class people involved in the LP here would be maybe a few hundred.
Yet the Trots will tell you this bourgeois-liberal outfit is some kind of
workers' party and SF is some kind of petty-bourgeois party.  Whatever
these groups learned from Trotsky, it wasn't cutting edge political

SF and the IRA were *revolutionary nationalist movements* in the sense that
the Third International - especially Lenin and Trotsky - used this term,
and both consisted overwhelmingly of working class people.  When I was
political education diurector for the Dublin area of SF in the late 1980s,
we had 250 members in the city.  There were only 2 teachers, and both of
these had joined SF from Trot groups.  The only white collar workers I knew
in SF - about three of them - also came to SF from a Trot group.  About
half the membership in Dublin were unemployed working class people living
below the poverty line in areas like the Liberties (where I lived),
Ballymun and Tallaght.  The rest were mainly manual workers.

This was a classic 'lower orders movement', as Marx described the Fenians.
And just as Marx pointed out that this was one of the critical aspects
giving the Fenians a 'socialistic tendency', it was also a key
characteristic that impelled the Republican Movement of the 1970s and 1980s
in a socialist direction.  The tragedy was that the leadership could not
make the transition from revolutionary nationalism to revolutionary
socialism - for while revolutionary nationalism is very much supportable in
oppressed countries it is certainly *not* to be confused with revolutionary
socialism - and thus ended up retreating.  It has now abandoned
revolutionary nationalism and SF is becoming a fairly run-of-the-mill
bourgeois nationalist party, a transition which - as it would have to be -
is accompanied by changes in social composition and orientation.

The programme fanatics, however, like to wall off programme and social
composition.  Because their own social composition is always
petty-bourgeois, they like to concentrate purely on programme, and denounce
revolutionary movements in the third world as 'petty bourgeois' on this
basis.  They see no dialectic at all between social composition/base and
programme or any possibility that a current with a predominantly working
class base engaged in revolutionary struggle might actually be worth
something and that the struggle and composition might impel some
programmatic development.  (And, no, I am not arguing a USEC-type position
that any group with some oppressed people will spontaneously develop
Marxist politics or the 'next best thing'.)

This kind of sterile sectarianism bears no relation at all to the Marxism
of Marx, Engels and the Third International of Lenin and Trotsky.  These
revolutionary greats never blurred the differences between communists and
revolutionary nationalists, let alone between communists and burgeois
nationalists - as Stalinists and Third Worldists so often have/do - but nor
did they run around (in those days you couldn't sit at a computer and do it
on your arse) denouncing genuinely revolutionary movements as 'petty
bourgeois reformists'.

A revolutionary nationalist 'lower orders movement' in Ireland has always
been worth more than all the Trot sects in Britain combined, not least
because such a movement in Ireland represented a more serious threat to the
British ruling class than the Trots (let alone the Stalinists) ever have.

Lastly, when we've built some serious revolutionary organisations in our
own countries, perhaps we might be seriously able to reach out to fighters
in the third world and have some comradely discussions with/suggestions for
them, as they might have right back at us.  Until then, there is just no

Philip Ferguson

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