Appendices To Essay Nine Part Two
This page used to form part of Essay Nine
Part Two. It has been moved here
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Appendix A -- The Degeneration Of The WRP
Appendix B -- Yet More
Enver Hoxha On Mao
Mao On Khrushchev
Mao On Stalin
Trotsky On Ordjonikidze
Raya Dunayevskaya On Mao
Mandel On Stalin
Paul Hampton On Tony Cliff
International On Stalinism
John Molyneux On
The Socialist Party
(10) Pat Taaffe On
The World Socialist
Party On Plekhanov
Mandel On Djilas
Mark Rainer On The SEP
Party Of Great Britain Contra Edward Conze And David Guest
(C) Appendix C -- James Burnham: The Politics Of
(D) Appendix D -- The
Origin Of The Slate System
(E) Appendix E -- Hallas On
Appendix F -- Trotsky And The Democratic Degeneration Of The CPSU
(G) Appendix G --
Resignations From The UK-SWP And The IST -- 2013
Appendix H --
The Crisis In The UK-SWP Rumbles On
Appendix I -- The Last Death Throes Of The UK-SWP?
From The December 2013 Conference
Appendix J -- Recent Split In The ISO (USA)
Abbreviations Used At This
To Essay Nine Part Two -- for
an explanation why these splits and scandals keep happening -- and, alas, also
the reason why they will continue to do so.
Why I Oppose Dialectical
The following material has been quoted
here. Formatting has been altered to conform to the
conventions adopted at this site;
typos have been corrected, spelling has been changed to UK-English.
Emphases in the original. Anti-Leninist sentiments have been omitted.
Recall, all of this was 'justified'
by WRP hacks using dialectics. It is important to add that the Healyites rejected
the 'proof' below as a pack of lies and fabrications. I have no way of knowing whether this
material is accurate, but it certainly agrees with what
about the WRP; readers will plainly have to make their own minds up.
THE REVOLUTION BETRAYED
Tom Burns, Solidarity,
issue 16 (new series), spring 1988
Elsewhere in this issue, in a dramatic exclusive, we publish a damning
extract from the secret report of an internal inquiry into corruption within the
Workers Revolutionary Party. The full report, which has been leaked to us,
chronicles an astonishing tale of abject perfidy by leading members of the
group. In this article, Tom Burns gives the background and comments on the
inquiry's extraordinary findings.
We publish this document in the interests of political hygiene. It consists of
about half of the confidential internal interim report on Gerry Healy's Workers
Revolutionary Party prepared by a "commission" of the International Committee of
the Fourth International (ICFI). Following his expulsion from the WRP
on October 19 1985, Healy and his supporters were expelled from the ICFI in
December 1985. This was as a result of allegations of sexual abuse, even rape,
of women in the party, physical assault on other members, and the establishment
of a "mercenary relationship" with a number of Arab despotisms (see
Solidarity issue 11).
The text deals with the WRP's
financial and other dealings with their foreign backers. It is largely
self-explanatory, but a few background details may be helpful. The commission
was set up at the insistence of David North, long-time chieftain of the Healyite
Workers' League in the United States. North, together with the anti-Healy
coalition inside the WRP
headed by Michael Banda and Cliff Slaughter, was instrumental in the summer of
1985 in the ousting of Healy.
The ICFI inquiry had the reluctant support of the Banda-Slaughter WRP,
who correctly foresaw that an exposure of the facts could be a means of bringing
pressure to bear to transfer control of the IC to North. (Indeed, the WRP
was suspended by the ICFI on December 16, the day this report was submitted.)
The commission nevertheless had an interest in protecting the reputations of
Healy's erstwhile supporters, since they had all been aware (to some extent) of
what had been going on. One result of this was that the report as circulated to
leadership in late 1985 was censored. The names of those who had taken sides
against Healy, together with those of Arab politicians and intelligence agents,
were suppressed, and the copies of the documents from Healy's files which were
attached to the original report as exhibits were removed.
The commission only had access to fragments of the documentary evidence. On
October 9 1985, when the crisis in the WRP
came to a head, Mike Banda and his anti-Healy supporters walked out of the party
offices in Clapham. This left Healy's acolytes in control of the premises for
about forty-eight hours, during which time they removed large quantities of the
most sensitive documents. This report is therefore based on the few documents
they overlooked, plus some material from other WRP
files and accounts.
Healy Of Arabia
Even these remnants disclose payments of over a million pounds to the
WRP from Arab regimes and the
Palestine Liberation Organisation. The report clearly shows that for nearly a
decade the WRP
acted, quite literally, as the paid agent of brutal and oppressive foreign
powers. This lasted from at least as early as 1975, when the first contact was
made with the
until 1983. During this period a series of agreements was concluded with the
Libyan regime and the WRP's
political perspectives were amended to suit their paymasters.
The document alleges that the WRP
acted -- through Gerry Healy, Alex Mitchell,
Vanessa Redgrave, and a number of others -- as a collector of information for
Libyan Intelligence. This function had, as the report puts it, "strongly
anti-Semitic undertones". Put plainly, they were Jew-spotting in the media,
politics and business. The
Khomeini revolution and the Iran-Iraq war -- in which the WRP's
efforts to support both sides soon collapsed -- put paid to their employment by
the regime of Saddam Hussein. But before this disaster the WRP's
connections with Iraq clearly generated more than the £19,697 identified in the
The Iraqi connection had sinister aspects. From 1979 on, the WRP
provided the Iraqi embassy with intelligence on dissident Iraqis living in
Britain. Since Saddam Hussein's dictatorship does not scruple to arrest the
relatives of opponents, to use torture on a vast scale, or even to murder
children, it seems likely that the WRP
were accomplices to murder.
One example of the depths to which these corrupt practices drove the party
occurred in March 1979, when with only one dissentient [dissenter? -- RL] the central committee of
voted to approve the execution (after prolonged torture) of more than 20
opponents of the Iraqi government. One of the victims, Talib Suwailh, had only
five months earlier brought fraternal greetings to the conference of the WRP's
own front organisation, the All Trade Unions Alliance (see the Slaughter group's
News Line, 20 November 1985).
In addition to the £1,075,163 identified by the document as having come from the
Middle East and Libya between 1977 and 1983, the report gives, in a section
dealing with the WRP's
internal finances which we do not print, breakdowns of a further £496,773
received between 1975 and 1985 from other sections of the International
Committee, almost entirely from North America, Australia and Germany. This
raises further questions about how additional Middle Eastern money may have been
recycled to the WRP
via other IC sections; it is known, for example, that the Australian section
received at least one substantial payment from Libya.
Death Agony Of The
fission products included, at last count, six organisations plus a large number
of dispersed and semi-detached individuals. On the anti-Healy side, in early
1986 Slaughter's WRP
was expelled from North's International Committee; it in turn ejected North's
British supporters, led by Dave and Judy Hyland, who then formed the
'International Communist Party'. Mike Banda was also expelled with a more
politically disparate group who established a short-lived discussion circle,
Communist Forum; Banda himself repudiated Trotskyism completely, and a number of
his associates have joined the Communist Party.
In the summer of 1986 the WRP
began negotiations with the LIT,
Nahuel Moreno's Argentinean-based international apparat, (notable mainly for their
enthusiastic support for the Argentine junta's invasion of the
Falklands/Malvinas). These talks have, in turn, generated yet another internal
opposition (Chris Bailey, Gerry Downing, David Bruce, et al), who face expulsion
if the marriage is consummated.
It is certain that the anti-Healy camp know far more about the dirtier aspects
of the WRP's
past than they have so far publicly admitted. Indeed, their coyness about the
past is one of the few things which unites the warring factions. Probably none
of them know the full story, but virtually all of them know more than they have
revealed so far. These include North, who has resolutely chosen not to make
public even the skeletal information we publish; Cliff Slaughter, who for many
years was secretary of the International Committee; and Dot Gibson, who was
responsible for running -- and falsifying -- the accounts of the WRP
and its companies. Silence denotes consent.
Healy and a number of his supporters are even better placed to be held
accountable for the despicable practices which this report alleges. It states,
for example, that Alex Mitchell and Corin Redgrave were as deeply involved as
Healy himself in the dealings with Arab governments. So was Vanessa Redgrave,
whose personal finances are alleged to have merged with the inflowing money.
One part of the document not published here states, "It was learned from cde
[name suppressed] that one large IC donation of $140,000 to the party was never
recorded. Under instructions from G Healy it was given to Vanessa Redgrave who
had run into tax problems."
The pro-Healy WRP
which emerged from the October 1985 schism has also had its problems. From the
beginning Healy had an uneasy relationship with Sheila Torrance, who ran the
organisation and the restarted daily News Line. In the summer of 1986,
Mitchell suddenly quit, returning to Australia, and the association between
Healy and his showbiz 11 on the one hand and Torrance on the other deteriorated.
The break came in December. Torrance kept a majority of the remaining membership
and News Line, which by now had a circulation in the low hundreds.
Healy, the Redgraves, and a small rump, resurfaced in August 1987 as the
Party, which has discovered a new messiah in Gorbachev, apparently due to
lead a political revolution in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, in early 1987 yet
another faction, headed by Richard Price, broke away to refound Trotskyist
orthodoxy as the "Workers International League". Torrance, with what remains of
is currently embroiled in a tussle with yet another group led by Ray Athow over
the party's remaining assets. Tedious, isn't it?
Their Morals And Ours
One important aspect of the corruption of the WRP
not covered by the report is the mercenary relationship it established with
certain local authorities. For example, the financially scandal-ridden Lambeth
council was effectively dominated by a group of councillors who were covert
members or supporters of the party (one, at least, received a party salary and
car) with all that implies in terms of jobbery and corruption.
The Labour Herald, an important journal of the Labour "left" and
formerly co-edited by
Ted Knight, was financed and controlled by the WRP.
The party also had important influence in, and access to, the highest levels of
GLC. We hope in future issues of Solidarity, with the help of our
readers, to explore this further dimension of corruption. Incidentally, the
WRP was far from being the sole
beneficiary of such influence....
What is relevant about this tale is not that the WRP
was led by a monster (or monsters) -- after all, there are plenty of those
around -- but that numbers of intelligent, self-sacrificing, and idealistic
people (but what ideals?) accepted such a regime for decades. Psychiatry as well
as ideology is needed to explain such a phenomenon. Masochistic party or leader
fetishism is only one facet of the problem....
THE CORRUPTION OF THE WORKERS
Extract from the Interim
Report of the International Committee Commission, December 16 1985
issue 16 (new series), spring 1988
Here, published for the first
time, we extract four key pages of the 12-page report on corruption in the
WRP, prepared by a special
commission of the International Committee of the Fourth International
Relations With The Colonial Bourgeoisie
The Commission was able to secure a section of the correspondence relating
to the Middle East from the files in G Healy's former office. The documents
examined by the Commission are seven relating to Iraq, four relating to Kuwait
and other Gulf states, 23 relating to the PLO and 28 relating to Libya. The
following report bases itself mainly on these documents.
From internal evidence in the documents under our control, it is obvious that
much more material must exist, which was either taken out of the centre when the
rump was in control or kept elsewhere. Therefore the actual amount of money
received from these relations and the extent of these relations must be
considerably bigger than what we are able to prove in this report. The documents
at our disposal clearly prove that Healy established a mercenary relationship
between the WRP
and the Arab colonial bourgeoisie, through which the political principles of
Trotskyism and the interests of the working class were betrayed.
In late June 1976, the ICFI was informed for the first time that the WRP
had established official contacts with non-party forces in the Middle East.
These contacts were with the PLO, a national liberation movement. However, in
April 1976, two months earlier (and more than a year before a public alliance
was announced between the WRP
and Libya), a secret agreement with the Libyan government was signed by [name
suppressed in original] and Corin Redgrave on behalf of the WRP
(exhibit no 5). This was never reported to the ICFI. The Commission has not yet
established who in the leadership of the WRP,
beyond the signatories, knew of the agreement.
This agreement includes providing of intelligence information on the
"activities, names and positions held in finance, politics, business, the
communications media and elsewhere" by "Zionists". It has strongly anti-Semitic
undertones, as no distinction is made between Jews and Zionists and the term
Zionist could actually include every Jew in a leading position. This agreement
was connected with a demand for money. The report given by the WRP
delegation while staying in Libya included a demand for £50,000 to purchase a
web offset press for the daily News Line, which was to be launched in
May 1976. The Commission was not able to establish if any of this money was
In August 1977, G Healy went himself to Libya and presented a detailed plan for
the expansion of News Line to six regional editions, requesting for it
£100,000. G. Healy also discussed the Euro-marches with the Libyan authorities
and responded positively to a proposal to have the "Progressive Socialist
Parties of the Mediterranean" participate in the marches. This would have
PASOK, a bourgeois party in Greece. These plans did not materialise. G. Healy
reported this in a letter to
Al Fatah leader
[name suppressed] (exhibit no 6).
This letter and a number of further letters to [name suppressed] (exhibit no
14) demonstrate that the relations with the PLO -- which according to the claims
made by the WRP
before the ICFI were supposedly based on the principled resolutions of the
Second Congress of the Communist International -- were cynically used to make
the PLO an instrument for obtaining money from the Arab bourgeoisie, thereby
destroying any chance of building a section of the International Committee among
The complete political opportunism of the relations to the Arab colonial
bourgeoisie is most clearly revealed in a redraft of the WRP
perspectives signed by G. Healy (exhibit no 7). This document was presented to
the Libyan authorities during a visit in April 1980. It reconciles the WRP
perspectives with the Green Book. Instead of the "working class" we find "the
masses" and the Libyan Revolutionary Committees are identified with Soviets. The
criterion of the class character of the state is completely abolished. Like
almost every document found by the Commission relating to the Middle East, it
ends with a request for money.
G. Healy lined up publicly with the reactionary forces in the Middle East. During
a visit to Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai in March-April, 1979, G. Healy, V.
Redgrave, and [name suppressed] met with the Crown Prince of Kuwait, Sheikh
Sa-ad, and some of the ruling bourgeois families. When they were invited however
to have dinner "with a group of left oppositionists led by the Sultan family,"
according to their own report "the delegation declined to accept this invitation
as we did not wish to intervene in the political matters in Kuwait" (exhibit no
8). The sole purpose of this trip was to raise money for the film
The trip ended finally by the delegation urging the feudal and bourgeois rulers
to censure a journalist of the
who had written an article on the real purpose of their visit. The delegation
finally received £116,000. In October 1979, Vanessa Redgrave visited Libya and
asked for £500,000 for Youth Training (exhibit no 9). As of February 1982 the
WRP had received "just over
200,000 pounds" from Libya for Youth Training (exhibit no 10). In addition to
this a £100,000 fund was raised in the British working class. While
approximately £300,000 was raised for this project, the real cost for the
purchase, legal and building expenses for seven Youth Training Centres as of May
21, 1982 was £152,539.
In April 1980 a WRP
delegation led by G Healy visited Libya, presenting his redrafted WRP
perspective and asking for more money. From March 8 to 17, 1981 G. Healy made a
further visit to Libya, putting forward demands totalling £800,000. The
Commission found a report in Healy's handwriting of this (exhibit no 11). This
report contains the following statements: "In the evening we had a two hour
audience with [name suppressed]. We suggested that we should work with Libyan
Intelligence and this was agreed. ... March 13. The delegation was visited by
[name suppressed] from the intelligence". This has a special significance,
considering the fact that the Libyan Intelligence has excellent relations with
the German Special Branch (BKA).
The Commission has not been able to establish to whom in the WRP
leadership, if anyone, this written report was shown. The same applies to all
other written reports and correspondence.
At that point G. Healy had considerable difficulty getting all the money he was
asking for. The report goes on: "March 15th. We were told that [name suppressed]
had promised £100,000 which we said was welcome but inadequate.... April 9th.
Met [name suppressed] for the first time since he returned from Tripoli. He had
no news but paid up £26,500 to pay for youth premises already decided. This
brings the total to date paid from the promised £500,000 to £176,500. It looks
as [if] our visit made no impact whatsoever".
In May 1981, G. Healy's letters asking for the money became more and more
desperate. On April 15th he writes a letter, marked "confidential", to [name
suppressed] of the People's Committee in the Libyan People's Bureau (exhibit no
12) urging him to give the money. On May 17, 1981 a "private and confidential"
letter is sent to "dear [name suppressed]" (exhibit no 13) through Alex
On August 25th Alex Mitchell asks PLO representative [name suppressed] for an
immediate meeting to discuss "the very grave questions which have arisen
regarding our revolutionary solidarity work in the Middle East". He informs him
that "with the full agreement of the Political Committee, our Party's proposed
visit to Beirut and Tripoli has been cancelled".
In a Memo to G. Healy, Alex Mitchell reports that [name suppressed] proposed to
write a letter to Gaddafi and forward it through [name suppressed] of Libyan
Intelligence. On August 28th, G. Healy writes a letter to [name suppressed] in
the name of the Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party,
complaining that he didn't get the money from Tripoli and blaming the Libyans
for the price raise in the News Line (exhibit no 14). The same day G.
Healy writes another "private and confidential" letter to "Brother [name
suppressed]" (exhibit no 15).
The last document in the hands of the Control Commission is a letter from G.
Healy to the secretary of the Libyan People's Bureau, dated February 10th, 1982,
under the heading "Re: 1982 Budget" (exhibit no 10).
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 and the right-wing turn of the Arab
bourgeoisie led to the drying up of the finances coming in from the Arab
colonial bourgeoisie. Only a few documents could be found on the relations with
the Iraqi bourgeoisie, although we know that many trips have been made there.
The relations came to an abrupt end when the Iran-Iraq war started in 1980. The
total amount obtained through these relations, according to the available
documents, is listed below.
The Commission has not yet been able to establish all the facts relating in the
case of the photographs that were handed over to the Iraqi embassy. We do know
the two WRP
members were instructed to take photos of demonstrations of opponents of Saddam
Hussein. One of the members, Cde. [name suppressed], refused the order. A
receipt for £1600 for 16 minutes of documentary footage of a demonstration is in
the possession of the Commission.
Money Received From The Middle East
The following report on monies received from the Middle East was put
together by the Commission from a careful analysis of many documents and cash
books. We were told repeatedly that Healy wanted no formal record kept of the
money coming in. A full list and graph of what was found is in exhibit no16.
A list by year shows the following amounts coming in:
Analysed by country, where it is possible to distinguish, the amounts are:
Abu Dhabi £25,000
Unidentified or other sources £261,702
The Commission was told by both [name suppressed] and [name suppressed] that
frequently cash was brought to the centre which would not be immediately banked.
Therefore, it was possible for large sums of cash to come and go without ever
Yet more dialectics; yet
more principles ditched...
Appendix B -- Yet More
In this section I will be posting
several more examples (in addition to those in Essay Nine
Part Two) where dialecticians use their theory (1) to prove other
dialecticians wrong, or (2) to argue for one conclusion and its opposite.
I have chosen a
wide range of examples from the major tendencies in Marxism, from leading
individuals to more minor figures in order to show how widespread and pervasive
this approach to theory is. More will be added over the coming months.
I have re-formatted these passages
to conform to the conventions adopted at this site, and altered the spelling to
UK English. I have also corrected a few minor typos.
(sic) thought" is opposed to the
Marxist-Leninist theory of revolution.
writings Mao Tsetung makes frequent mention of the
role of revolutions in the process of the
development of society, but in essence he adheres to
a metaphysical, evolutionist concept. Contrary to materialist
dialectics, which envisages progressive
development in the form of a spiral, Mao Tsetung
preaches development in the form of a cycle, going
round in a circle, as a process of ebb and flow
which goes from equilibrium to disequilibrium and
back to equilibrium again, from motion to rest and
back to motion again, from rise to fall and from
fall to rise, from advance to retreat and to advance
again, etc. Thus, upholding the concept of ancient
philosophy on the purifying role of fire, Mao
Tsetung writes: "It is necessary to 'set a fire
going' at regular intervals. How often? Once a year
or once every three years, which do you prefer? I
think we should do it at least twice in the space of
every five years, in the same way as the intercalary
month in a lunar leap year turns up once in three
years or twice in five". (Mao) Thus like the
astrologists of old, on the basis of the lunar
calendar, he derives the law on the periodical
kindling of fire, on the development which goes from
"great harmony" to "great disorder" and again to
"great harmony", and thus the cycles repeat
In this manner,
"Mao Tsetung thought" opposes the
materialist dialectical concept of development,
which, as Lenin says
"...gives us the key to
understand the 'selfmovement' of every existing
thing;... gives us the key to understand the
'leaps', 'the interruption of graduality', 'the
transformation into the opposite', the abolition of
the old and the emergence of the new", with the
metaphysical concept which "is lifeless, pale and
dry". This becomes even more obvious in the way Mao
Tsetung handles the problem of contradictions, to
which, according to Chinese propaganda, Mao has
allegedly made a "special contribution" and
developed materialist dialectics further in this
field. It is true that in many of his writings, Mao
Tsetung frequently speaks about opposites,
contradictions, the unity of the opposites, and even
uses Marxist quotations and phrases, but,
nevertheless, he is far from the dialectical
materialist understanding of these problems. In
dealing with contradictions, he does not proceed
from the Marxist theses, but from those of ancient
Chinese philosophers, sees the opposites in a
mechanical way, as external phenomena, and imagines
the transformation of the opposites as a simple
change of places between them. By operating with
some eternal opposites taken from ancient
philosophy, such as above and below, backward and
forward, right and left, light and heavy, etc.,
etc., in essence Mao Tsetung negates the internal
contradictions inherent in things and phenomena and
treats development as simple repetition, as a chain
of unchangeable states in which the same opposites
and the same relationship between them are observed.
The mutual transformation of the opposites into each
other, understood as a mere exchange of places and
not as a resolution of the contradiction and a
qualitative change of the very phenomenon which
comprises these opposites, is used by Mao Tsetung as
a formal pattern to which everything is subject. On
the basis of this pattern, Mao goes so far as to
declare that "When dogmatism is transformed into its
opposite, it becomes either Marxism or revisionism",
"metaphysics is transformed into dialectics, and
dialectics into metaphysics", etc. Behind such
absurd assertions and this sophistical playing with
opposites, lurk the opportunist and
anti-revolutionary concepts of Mao Tsetung. Thus, he
does not see the socialist revolution as a
qualitative change of society in which antagonistic
classes and the oppression and exploitation of man
by man are abolished, but conceives it as a simple
change of places between the bourgeoisie and the
proletariat. To confirm this "discovery", Mao
writes: "If the bourgeoisie and the proletariat
can't transform themselves into each other, how
does it come that, through revolution, the
proletariat becomes the ruling class and the
bourgeoisie the ruled class?... We stand in
diametrical opposition to
Kuomintang. As a result of the mutual struggle and
exclusion of the two contradictory aspects with the
Kuomintang we changed places...". (Mao)
This same logic has also led Mao Tsetung to
revise the Marxist-Leninist theory on the two phases
of communist society. "According to dialectics, as
surely as a man must die, the socialist system as a
historical phenomenon will come to an end some day,
to be negated by the communist system. If it is
asserted that the socialist system and the relations
of production and superstructure of socialism will
not die out, what kind of Marxist thesis would that
be? Wouldn't it be the same as a religious creed or
theology that preaches an everlasting god?" (Mao)...
These questions which we have analysed do not
cover all the anti-Marxist and anti-Leninist content
of "Mao Tsetung thought". However, they are
sufficient to permit the conclusion that Mao Tsetung
was not a Marxist-Leninist, but a progressive
revolutionary democrat, who remained for a long time
at the head of the Chinese Communist Party and
played an important role in the triumph of the
Chinese democratic anti-imperialist revolution.
Within China, in the ranks of the party, among the
people and outside China, he -- built up his
reputation as a great Marxist-Leninist -- and he
himself posed as a communist, as a Marxist-Leninist
dialectician. But this was not so. He was an
eclectic who combined some elements of Marxist
dialectics with idealism, with bourgeois and
revisionist philosophy, indeed, even ,with
ancient Chinese philosophy. Therefore, the views of
Mao Tsetung must be studied not only in the arranged
phrases of some of his published works, but in their
entirety, in their practical application, while also
considering the practical consequences they have
brought about. [Quoted from
here. Bold emphases added. Italic
emphasis in the original.]
(2) Mao On The
At the 22nd Congress of the CPSU
Khrushchov (sic) openly raised another banner, the alteration of the proletarian
character of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He announced the
replacement of the party of the proletariat by a "party of the entire people".
The programme of the CPSU states, "As
a result of the victory of socialism in the U.S.S.R. and the consolidation of
the unity of Soviet society, the Communist Party of the working class has become
the vanguard of the Soviet people, a party of the entire people". The Open
Letter of the Central Committee of the CPSU says that the CPSU "has become a
political organization of the entire people".
First, it is necessary to apply the
Marxist-Leninist law of the unity of opposites to the study of socialist
society. The law of contradiction in all things, i.e., the law of the unity of
opposites, is a fundamental law of materialist dialectics. It operates
everywhere, whether in the natural world, in human society, or in the human
The opposites in a contradiction
both unite and struggle with each other, and it is this that forces things to
move and change. Socialist society is no exception. In socialist society
there are two kinds of social contradictions, namely, the contradictions among
the people and those between ourselves and the enemy. These two kinds of
contradictions are entirely different in their essence, and the methods for
handling them should be different, too. Their correct handling will result in
the increasing consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the
further strengthening and development of socialist society.
Many people acknowledge the law of
the unity of opposites but are unable to apply it in studying and handling
questions in socialist society. They refuse to admit that there are
contradictions in socialist society -- that there are not only
contradictions between ourselves and the enemy but also contradictions among the
people -- and they do not know how to distinguish between these two kinds of
social contradictions and how to handle them correctly, and are therefore unable
to deal correctly with the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
SECOND, socialist society covers a
very long historical period. Classes and class struggle continue to exist in
this society, and the struggle still goes on between the road of socialism and
the road of capitalism. The socialist revolution on the economic front (in the
ownership of the means of production) is insufficient by itself and can't be
consolidated. There must also be a thorough socialist revolution on the
political and ideological fronts. [Quoted
Bold emphases added.]
Mao On Stalin
As the Soviet Union was the first, and at the time the only,
country to build socialism and had no foreign experience to go by, and as
Stalin departed from Marxist-Leninist dialectics in his understanding of the
laws of class struggle in socialist society, he prematurely declared after
agriculture was basically collectivized that there were "no longer antagonistic
classes" in the Soviet Union and that it was "free of class conflicts",
one-sidely stressed the internal homogeneity of socialist society and overlooked
its contradictions, failed to rely upon the working class and the masses in the
struggle against the forces of capitalism and regarded the possibility of
restoration of capitalism as associated only with armed attack by international
imperialism. This was wrong both in theory and in practice. [Quoted from
here. Bold emphases added.]
Revolution has not perished. I never said it has. I
do not believe it has. But I did say that it is
possible to ruin the October Revolution, if one
really undertakes to do so -- and that you have
already accomplished a few things to that end.
entire thinking on this question, comrade Ordjonikidze,
dialectical but formal. You ignore the
question of the conflict of living forces, the
question of the party. Your thinking is utterly
permeated with fatalism. You differentiate between
optimism and pessimism as if they were two immutable
categories independent of conditions and politics.
According to your way of thinking, one can be only
either an "optimist" or a "pessimist", i.e.,
either think that the revolution has completely
perished or that it will not perish under any
circumstances no matter what we did. The one and the
other are false. Has not the revolution already
passed through a number of ups and downs? Didn't we
have a stupendous upswing in the period of the
October overturn, and didn't we hang suspended by a
hair in the period of the
Recall to your minds what Lenin said during the
struggle against the Left Communists -- that it is
extremely difficult to control the automobile of
power in the epoch of revolution, because it is
necessary to keep making sharp turns all the time.
Brest-Litovsk was a retreat. The
NEP, after the
Kronstadt uprising, was a retreat. And did not each
wave of retreat engender in its turn opportunist
moods? It is clear as noonday that when these
movements of retreat and of downward swings in the
revolution are prolonged for a year, or two and
three years, they engender a more profound drop in
the moods of the masses and of the party as well.
Comrade Ordjonikidze, you are a native Caucasian and
you know that a road that leads up the mountain,
does not go straight upward, but winds and zigzags,
and often after a steep rise, it is necessary to
descend two or three
approaches the question of the victory or defeat of
the revolution independently of any connection with
the dialectic process, i.e., independently of
the mutual interaction between our policies and the
objective conditions. He poses the question in the
following manner: either the inevitable victory of
the revolution or its inevitable defeat. Now, I say:
If we proceed to make real and thorough mistakes,
then we can doom the revolution. But if we apply all
our forces to rectify a false line, then we shall
triumph. But to assert that no matter what we may do
-- either in relation to the
kulak, in relation to
the Anglo-Russian Committee, or in relation to the
Chinese Revolution -- it can do no harm to the
revolution; that the revolution must triumph
"anyway" -- is to reason in the manner that only
indifferent bureaucrats are capable of doing. And so
far as they are concerned, it is precisely they who
are capable of ruining the revolution. [Quoted from
here. Bold emphases added.]
The drastic change from the first
"Soviet" period (1928-9) to the
second (Yenan period, 1935-1945) was naturally questioned by many Communists.
When some in his "Red Army" called the merger with the Chiang regular Army
"counter-revolutionary," Mao replied that they were "dogmatists." This political
struggle underlies the period of Mao's alleged original contribution to the
philosophy of Marxism.
Objective research has since
cast considerable doubt as to the date (1937) when the essays "On Practice"
and "On Contradiction" were written;
they weren't published until 1950-52. We, however, are willing to accept the
official date for their writing at face value because they are objectively,
subjectively, for yesteryear and for today, so very Maoist that it does not
matter that Mao may have back-dated them to make them appear prescient or
re-written them to suit his present style. The point is, in order to sell the
policy of class collaboration, Mao evidently thought a frontal attack on
"dogmatists" would be insufficient. Hence he chose the form of "Philosophic
Essays." These are so filled with empty abstractions that it is difficult to
discover either his subject or his aim.
In "On Practice", Mao writes,
"The epistemology of dialectical
materialism...regards human knowledge as being at no point separable from
practice." If knowledge is at no point separable from practice, he would have
done well to tell us what practice he is talking about. But, no, Mao is anxious
to make this reduction of theory to "practicality" appear to be based on nothing
less authoritative than Lenin's Philosophic Notebooks. Mao quotes Lenin's
sentence, "Practice is more than cognition (theoretical knowledge)." He fails
to tell us, however, that Lenin was only restating Hegel's analysis of the
relationship of the Practical Idea to the Theoretical Idea before the two are
united, as Lenin puts it, "precisely in the theory of knowledge."
Far from theory being reduced to
"practicality," Lenin asserts, in the very
section from which Mao quoted one sentence, the following: "Alias: Man's
consciousness not only reflects the objective world, but creates it." Since this
preceded the quotation Mao used, it would have seemed impossible for even a
Confucian like Mao so totally to have misunderstood its meaning -- unless, of
course, he had set out deliberately to pervert Lenin.
In any case, the world the
sophist Mao created was for such a low purpose -- to compel obedience to a new
united front with Chiang -- that one hesitates to dignify the writing as
Only because this state-capitalist tyrant rules over no less than 650 million
souls is one compelled to attempt an analysis of his "original contribution to
Evidently, Mao failed to convince his hearers or his readers (we are not told
which) because he soon followed with still another "philosophical essay", once
again directed against the dogmatists and this time called "On Contradiction".
We are told that it was delivered as a lecture at the anti-Japanese Military and
Political College in Yenan, August, 1937.
In "On Contradiction" Mao used some
"practical" examples. This has at
least one virtue: it shows exactly how he has to rewrite his own previous period
of rule in order "to balance" the mistakes of "dogmatists" against those of the
Kuomintang. It turns out that only "after 1927 (my emphasis -- R.D.), the
Kuomintang turned in the opposite direction" from the "revolutionary and
vigorous" period of united front in 1925. The defeat of the Chinese Revolution
is now laid at the door of "Ch'en Tuh-siu-ism," that is to say, the
revolutionary Trotskyist leader, Ch'en Tuh-siu! Even the loss of "Soviet China"
(now called merely "revolutionary bases") is blamed, not on Chiang's
extermination campaigns, but on the "mistakes of adventurism".
"Since 1935", Mao pompously continues amidst a great deal of pretentious phrasemongering on the philosophic meaning of
"Contradictions," "it (the
Communist Party) has rectified these mistakes and led the new anti-Japanese
united front". It follows that after "the Sian Incident in December, 1936, it
(the Kuomintang) made another turn," obviously in the "right revolutionary
direction" since they are once again in a united front. In "On Contradiction"
this demagogic class collaborationist says benignly, "We Chinese often say:
'Things opposed to each other complement each other.'"
So permeated to the marrow of his bones is Mao with Confucianism that it is
doubtful he is even conscious that he is thereby perverting in toto the
Hegelian-Marxian theory of development through contradiction. Seen in all its
profundity for the first time by Lenin, in 1915, as he re-read and commented
upon Hegel's Science of Logic, this development through contradiction,
transformation into opposite, helped Lenin get to the root of the collapse of
established Marxism, the Second International. Blind to the developing
oppositions, contradictions, antagonisms, Mao on the other hand invented a
"truly original" division in the concept of contradiction, which he called
"Principal Aspect of the Contradiction." This division between "the principal
contradiction" and "the principal aspect of contradiction" permits Mao to make
as complete a hash of philosophy as he has previously made of history. Thus it
turns out that under certain conditions, "even principal contradictions are
relegated temporarily to a secondary, or subordinate, position" and because of
"uneven developments" and "mutual transformations," the economic basis becomes
"subordinated" while "political and cultural reforms become the principal and
decisive factors." Trying to make up for this insipid subjectivism, Mao proceeds
to tell his readers that Communists "of course" remain materialists since "as a
whole," they see that "material things determine spiritual things...". All one
can say of such a hodge-podge is what Kant said of "the cosmological proof",
that it was "a perfect nest of thoughtless contradictions."
A recent traveller to China cited what a local party secretary from Shensi
said: "Through the study of theory, I clearly understood the principles of
uninterrupted revolution and of revolution by stages and put them into concrete
application in pig breeding". Senseless as the local party secretary's statement
is, it is only the logical conclusion of "The Leader's" reduction of theory to
"practice" compelling the Chinese to follow his dictum that "dogmas are more
useless than cow dung."
Before, however, we flee in disgust from the vulgarities that pass for
"philosophy", and become too anxious to dismiss what totalitarian China lovingly
calls "Mao's thought", let us bear in mind his present power. Let us remember,
also, that when Mao made the Chinese Communist Party accept the new united front
with Chiang and initiated his "three-thirds" principle -- that one-third
Communist Party members, one-third Kuomintang, and one-third non-party people
constitute the administration in Communist areas -- the fight against Japan
stiffened. This was the period when visiting foreign journalists, whose cultural
standards were greater than those of Mao's cohorts, were impressed with his
"exciting speeches on culture". Wearied of the Kuomintang corruption and its
ineffectualness in fighting Japan, they were impressed by the Communists, not
only in the fight against Japan, but in the dedication "to go to the people",
i.e., to establish schools among the peasants in remote areas, and proceed with
agricultural reforms. Still others, including many of the bourgeoisie and
landlords, were attracted by the moderate agricultural program, and hence, many
anti-Communists began accepting the Chinese Communists as mere "agrarian
reformers". Mao contributed nothing to Marxian philosophy, and denuded its
politics of its class content. But he certainly carved out an original road to
power. [Quoted from
here. Bold emphases added.]
the Gerry Healy Prize for 2014 -- awarded to the individual who manages
to write a totally irrelevant 'dialectical' critique
-- goes to the following 'analysis'
of Mao by Dunayevskaya -- RL.]
As I was reading Mao's "revelations" on how contradictions continue to exist
under "the people's republic" with even "people" redefined, I remembered
Leontiev with his admission that value still operated in Russia, with even
"Chapter I" of CAPITAL redefined as something of the "past."
But while it is true that Mao does with the philosophical concept of
contradiction the same thing that Leontiev did with the economic concept of
value -- somewhere in a footnote in Volume I Marx laughs at the bourgeois
philosopher for understanding every sort of senseless contradiction but being a
stranger to the Hegelian contradiction which is the source of all dialectic --
this is 1957, not 1943, and it is China, not Russia.
What is new in the date and the country is what we have to grapple with. In 1943
Russia was about to win a war and was telling its workers there will be no
difference in their conditions of labour. In 1957 the whole world, even the
dominant rulers who are aiming for war if that is what is needed for world
mastery, are scared senseless that they might all be blown off the earth. In a
way it bears a parallel to the rise of Nazism when the depression so shook up
the world and the workers were in such violent revolt that even fascism had to
call itself National SOCIALISM.
Moreover state capitalism in an industrial country is one thing and something
else again in so vast an underdeveloped country as China -- Mao says five million
of its six million population is peasant! They must still talk about their bowl
of rice and ask the bourgeois intellectual's collaboration, something like some
of the Czarist officers who were given a place under political leadership of the
CP [Communist Party] in Russia in those bitter communist war years.
Philosophically it is a very great advance indeed for a Mao to put
contradiction, even though he makes it meaningless by his application to all so
it applies to none, in the centre of his speech. Grace Lee Boggs didn't go
beyond that in her philosophic section -- neither in "Dialectics and the Fate of
Humanity" in 1947 when revolution was in the air, nor in 1950 when Hegel got put
into our thesis only to have him equivalent to development through contradiction
while the age of absolutes remained an abstraction. [T]he new article in the Russian journal of philosophy suddenly took issue
with Hegel and claimed Marx considered the unity of opposites as "greater than
negativity," denying the Hegelian negation of the negation as central to
I said then, wasn't it peculiar that they all bandy about unity of opposites so
freely just in order to evade the resolution of the contradiction and face the
Absolute Idea. Mao now says Lenin said some marvellous things on contradictions.
It only goes to prove that what was central for Lenin in 1915 is not for us for
today, except as methodology.
Nothing, absolutely nothing short of Absolute Idea are the Communists afraid of
any more. How we have them beat now!
If you will bear with me, we will, before we reach Mao and the special place
Hegel assigned to him in the Spirit in Self-Estrangement, go through the
previous stages of alienation:
1. In SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, the Unhappy Consciousness or Alienated Soul arises
as "a personality confined within its narrow self and its petty activity, a
personality brooding over itself, as unfortunate as it is pitiably destitute."
Hegel continues on the very next page, "Through these moments -- the negative
abandonment first of its own right and power of decision, then of its property
and enjoyment, and finally the positive moment of carrying on what it does not
understand -- it deprives itself, completely and in truth, of the consciousness
of inner and outer freedom, or reality in the sense of its own existence for
I have brought this down in a footnote in the book to a description of the
ex-radicals who can find no place for themselves either in or outside of the
bourgeois fold and end up on the green couch.
You can put in characters you yourself know and get your own illumination.
2. In REASON alienation takes the form of "The Law of the Heart and the
Frenzy of Self-Conceit: The heart-throb for the welfare of mankind passes
therefore into the rage of frantic self-conceit, into the fury of
consciousness to preserve itself from destruction; and to do so by casting out
of its life the perversion which it really is, and by straining to regard and
to express that perversion as something else."
If not [C.L.R. James] then any fainthearted Marxist or labour bureaucrat will
do, including Khrushchev.
3. But Mao doesn't appear till "Spirit in Self-Estrangement
-- the Discipline
of Culture" which "constructs not merely one world, but a twofold world,
divided and self-opposed."
And just look how Hegel follows Mao through with his discovery of
contradiction so long as there is "unity": "The equilibrium of the whole is
not the unity which abides by itself, nor its inwardly secured tranquillity,
but rests on the estrangement of its opposite. The whole is, therefore, like
each single moment, a self-estranged reality."
And two pages further on Hegel continues: "The sphere of spirits at this stage
break up into two regions. The one is the actual world, that of
self-estrangement, the other is that which spirit constructs for itself in the
ether of pure consciousness, raising itself above the first. This second
world, being constructed in opposition and contrast to that estrangement, is
just on that account not free from it...."
That is what Mao is blind to -- he
thinks he can construct two opposite worlds, and as soon as he assures it "100
flowers can bloom," even if he does deny any flower the right to be a second
party, which is "bourgeois," thereupon he has assured his poverty-stricken land
"unity." Marx, in his "Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic," where he speaks of
how many fields of exploration lay hidden in Hegel if only critically
understood, points precisely to this spot which Hegel calls "The Noble Type of
[A]t another place [Hegel says], "This type of mind is the heroism of service"
and, finally "Such a type is the haughty vassal; he is active in the interests
of the state-power": "This estrangement, however, takes place in Language, in
words alone, and language assumes here its peculiar role.... [I]t is the power
of utterance QUA utterance which, just in speaking, performs what has to be
performed.... Speech, however, contains this ego in its purity; it alone
expresses I, I itself."
It is equivalent, in economic terms, to the Fetishism of Commodities which
kept even classical political economy, which had discovered labour as the source
of value, its prisoner. Throughout that remarkable first chapter in CAPITAL Marx
keeps talking of the perverse relationship under capitalism where dead labour
dominates living labour. In Hegel "this entire sphere of perversion" of the
spirit in self-estrangement ends with: "This type of spiritual life is the
absolute and universal inversion of reality and thought, their entire
estrangement the one from the other; it is pure culture. What is found out in
this sphere is that neither the concrete realities, state-power and wealth, nor
their determinate conceptions, good and bad, nor the consciousness of good and
bad (the consciousness that is noble and the consciousness that is base) possess
real truth; it is found that all these moments are inverted and transmuted the
one into the other, and each is the opposite of itself."
THAT opposite Mao did not grasp,
nor could he, since this state he is leader of has its own dialectic of
development, irrespective of the noble consciousness of its leader. Just as every single thing has its own dialectic of development,
so the various stages of alienation go through their transformations. Or rather
vice versa since "the moving and creating principle" (to use Marx's expression
for the principle of negativity) is this very negativity. Neither Khrushchev nor
Mao can escape this, but that each has tried a different aspect of it because of
the compulsion from the objective movement and the subjective aspirations of
their working people denotes the true absolute of our age, the counterrevolution
in the very innards of revolution and (and that is the vision) the revolution in
the innards of their counterrevolutionary states. Wait till the book [MARXISM
AND FREEDOM] appears and we go to battle. [Quoted from
here, where the source of Dunayevskaya's quotations can be found. Capitals
in the original. Bold emphases added.]
Admittedly, the above comes from a letter, so
its obvious incoherence is mitigated somewhat. Even so, any Communist or Maoist
reading the above is going to exclaim
"WTF is she on about?"
Mandel On Stalin
It is precisely because, the Soviet
man is not yet completely master of his economic destiny that the conscious
conduct of the economy, the concrete economic policy, assumes such elemental
importance! But think of Stalin understanding such a dialectical truth. He is
too busy shuffling the deck, keeping all the contradictory pieces of his system
of thought in their place. This is the conscious expression of the contradictory
nature of the Soviet bureaucracy....
Stalin asserts that agricultural
production in the USSR is socialist production. He speaks of the "collective
farm form" of socialist production. But agricultural production in the USSR is
not only collective farm production. Stalin himself mentions the private
property of the "collective farm households" (families comprising the collective
farms). His enumeration of their household goods as composed of several "cows,
sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, geese, fowl, turkeys" might give the impression that
this is a trivial matter in Soviet agriculture taken, as a whole. But this is
not the case. On the eve of the war, 50% of Soviet livestock was private
property, and even today this figure has not seriously altered. An important
sector of private property therefore subsists in agriculture. And the products
of this private sector play a growing role as commodities delivered to the
collective farm and "free" market.
Then, it is absurd to
characterize the collective farm sector as a socialist sector. It is even more
absurd to say that "collective farm properly is socialist property." This would
lead us to the conclusion that there are two "socialist" forms of property:
socialist property, "belonging to all the people," as Stalin says, and
collective farm property, belonging to the producers' cooperatives. Since these
two forms of property are in economic conflict with each other -- otherwise
there is no explanation for their coexistence, but that would be too
dialectical for Stalin to understand -- the economic antagonism, the social
conflicts, would be perpetuated under socialism, which is the negation of one of
the fundamentals of Marxist theory. [Mandel (1952), quoted from
here. Bold emphases alone added.]
Paul Hampton (Of The
Cliff exhibited the crudest of
"determinism" derived from Stalinism. He confused two distinct elements: the
fightback which workers put up against their exploitation under capitalism
(which is inevitable); and the victory of socialism, which is not a foregone
conclusion. He deliberately downplayed Shachtman's real point: the exceptionally
conscious character of the socialist revolution. For Shachtman, as for Marx and
Trotsky, the working class (unlike other previous classes) had to make its own
revolution, and had to understand the meaning of its fight in order to lay the
basis for self-conscious (i.e. democratic) working class rule, and wider
universal human emancipation. This was part of the rationale for revolutionaries
organising themselves as a party, together with combating the ruling ideas of
the epoch. However. Cliff, writing at the end of the '40s, defined consciousness
as basically "accidental" in this fight, despite his protestations of its "big
role", and of the need to avoid "complacency".
Cliff also assailed Shachtman
with the familiar orthodox Trotskyist insult that he had abandoned dialectics by
adopting bureaucratic collectivism, but gave this argument a novel twist. He
deduced the nature of Stalinist Russia straight from the laws of dialectics:
capitalism was the negation of feudalism; capitalism was the unity of wage
labour and capital, "the existence of each of which is dependent on the
existence of the other"; as capitalism developed, from free competition to
monopoly, and then to state capitalism; so the polar opposites came into
conflict until the working class triumphed over the capitalists, "the negation
of the negation". (1949: 20)
For Cliff, bureaucratic collectivism
fit into this schema, it is impossible in Marxist theory because of his version
of dialectics (straight from the
Course). Instead, during this "transition period", "today all the
exploiters are compelled to use more and more elements of the socialist future,
such as planning, etc., in defence of their interests, is only a sign of the
historical obsoleteness of capitalism" (1949: 22-23). The sub-text here (with
shades of Ted Grant) is that Russia can only be socialist or some form of
capitalism -- the structure of logic will permit nothing else.
Overall Cliff substituted
logic-chopping for the study of real relations in Russia. His mistake
recalled precisely the error Marx had in mind when he wrote to Danielson that,
"My critic must needs metamorphose my outline of the genesis of capitalism in
western Europe into a historic-philosophical theory of the general course,
fatally imposed on all peoples, regardless of the historical circumstances in
which they find themselves placed.... He does me too much honour and too much
shame at the same time.... but one will never succeed with the master-key of a
historico-philosophical theory whose supreme virtue consists in being
Cliff's tunnel-visioned version
of history made all societies pass through the same stages of development and
pass automatically from one to the other under the lash of the development of
the productive forces. He must have glanced at the Communist Manifesto and
imagined Marx chanting the mantra: "the country that is more developed shows, to
the less developed, the image of its own future." However, for all his apparent
orthodoxy, he never could decide on whether the Stalinist bureaucracy
represented the highest stage of capitalism, or its birth pangs. No doubt
Cliff would shriek about the unity of opposites, but even the over-burdened
dialectic would find it difficult to carry the weight of such confusion. He was
subject to the same kind of ambiguities of which he was to accuse Shachtman!
here. Bold emphases added.]
Theorists From The Fifth International Criticising Stalinism In General
A scientific understanding of the system, of its processes of change, of the
contradictions in the enemy camp as well as our own are vital for any party that
wants to lead the struggle, not just tail behind it.
A commitment to dialectical thinking is, in and of itself, no guarantee of
success. The universities of Stalinist Russia were full of self proclaimed
experts in dialectical logic who -- when it came to concrete reality -- could
not tell their arse from their elbow (to use a famous Marxist phrase).
But without some attempt to understand change systematically, would-be
revolutionaries will always be lost in a sea of change. Two thousand years ago
the philosophers discovered that "everything flows". Only scientific socialism
has the answer to "which way?" [Quoted from
here. Bold emphasis added.]
John Molyneux On
summed up the contradictory character of the Labour Party by defining it as a
'capitalist workers’ party'. So when Labour moved rightwards under Blair or
it was a quantitative shift rather than a fundamental change. Moreover what
constituted the 'workers' element in this capitalist workers' party, namely its
working class base -- as expressed in its vote, its membership and its organic
relationship to the trade unions -- was weakened but clearly did not disappear.
By adopting the undialectical view that the Labour Party
was now a purely capitalist party the SP threw away decades of Marxist analysis
of Social Democracy in favour of a position they would previously have denounced
This is what lies behind the Irish SP's current dogmatic and
sectarian refusal to contemplate sharing a platform with even former Labour
Party representatives in campaigns. These, it is argued, must first prove, their
genuine socialist credentials before being allowed to share platforms. This
sectarian approach misses out on opportunities to bring many more people over
from Labour to the radical left. [Quoted from
here. Bold emphases added.]
(10) Pat Taaffe On
On the issue of Taiwan, our
critic is equally at sea on the question of nationalism. He says, on the one
side, that Taiwan has "never" been a nation. Yet a little later, when he deals
with its history, he says that, "The growth of Taiwanese nationalism came after
the successful land reform" and as a result of "the support from US imperialism
after 1972". So a Taiwanese nation does not exist but Taiwan nationalism exists!
He adopts a completely undialectical, black and white approach, which does
not see and examine phenomena from an all-sided point of view. There is now
clearly a consciousness of a separate entity, Taiwan, and a broad "national
consciousness" amongst the majority of the population. There is also a mixed
consciousness with a section considering themselves both "Taiwanese" and
"Chinese" and, as Laurence [Coates] explains, still other layers with a
different consciousness. [Quoted from
here. Bold emphasis added.]
The World Socialist Party
On Plekhanov And Russian Communism
As can be seen, this conception
of the universe is both materialist (since it posits the existence of a world of
reality independent of men's perception of it) and dialectical (since it sees
the world of reality as a changing, differentiated unity). It was for this
reason that Dietzgen called his philosophy 'dialectical materialism', a
phrase he first used in his 1870s articles in the German Social Democratic
press. This was some years before Plekhanov, who is generally said to have
originated this phrase (which is not to be found in the writings of Marx or
Engels), even claimed to be a Marxist. Plekhanov, it should be noted, meant
something rather different by it than did Dietzgen; he was the father of the
undialectical state philosophy of present-day Russia which also, unfortunately,
goes under the name of 'dialectical materialism' and with which Dietzgen's quite
different theories are not to be confused. [Quoted from
here. Bold emphasis alone added.]
Instead of examining such real problems as the
material base of bureaucratic power, instead of analyzing concretely
the history of the bureaucracy's rise to power, Djilas prefers to devote himself
to a confused analysis of the "contradictory development of the dictatorship of
the proletariat" which has no few surprises in store for us....
In his vain search for 'capitalist contradictions' in
Soviet society, Djilas overlooks the real contradictions in the economy of the
USSR. Because of this, he is incapable of putting his finger on the real crimes
of the bureaucracy. Like any society in transition between capitalism and
socialism, Russian society "must necessarily unite in itself certain traits and
peculiarities of both these forms of the social economy" (Lenin, Economy and
Politics in the Epoch of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,
Selected Works, French Edition,
p.634). Within it, as Lenin said, the forces of capitalism and of socialism are
engaged in a constant struggle for supremacy. From Lenin's time up until the
forced collectivization of agriculture, this struggle between two
fundamentally antagonistic modes of production continued to exist in its
essentials: small scale production for the market by millions of small peasant
enterprises, and production by large industries which were collectivized
property. This struggle has today been decided in favour of the non-capitalist
mode of production. This doesn't at all mean, however, that no vestige of
capitalism remains in the USSR. Quite the contrary. The struggle has simply been
transferred to another plane, that of distribution. The bureaucracy defends its
privileges on the plane of distribution with remarkable ferocity against the
proletariat. These privileges, the historic origins of which we have described
above, give a bourgeois, capitalist character to the norms of Soviet
distribution. There is nothing astonishing in this. It was foreseen by none
other than Marx himself, in the well-known section of his
Critique of the Gotha
Program, and by Engels, in a more general form, when he wrote in
(1951). Spelling altered to conform to UK
English. Bold emphases alone added.]
Mark Rainer On The SEP [Socialist
Just as I was being expelled from the SEP I contacted Alex
Steiner and Frank Brenner of www.permanent-revolution.org I thought they could
help in my situation, but that didn't really interest them, they instead wanted
me to read their polemic. While in the SEP I was neutral toward their polemic,
but afterwards I came to agree with several of their positions.
Their polemic can be summed up very briefly, the SEP has failed to provide a
consistent leadership for the working class. The failure to lead and engage the
working class can be shown in many examples from Iraq war, the protests in
Mexico, the 2008 elections, etc. The SEP has fallen back into a contemplative
mode, most party work is devoted to commenting on events on the World Socialist
This retreat can be explained in good part from the personal circumstances of
the leading members and also the political conditions during the 80s and 90s.
Over the years they have become burnt out on political work for which they have
seen few results, at the same time they have grown to be more middle class and
comfortable. They still show up a picket lines from time to time but not with
serious intent to provide leadership.
It is wrong to suggest that the retreat is result of the adoption of certain
philosophical conceptions. I would say instead that the SEP's embrace of
objectivism and determinism is a rationalization of their retreat. I think that
Steiner and Brenner are both wrong when they accuse the SEP of abandoning
dialectics, Steiner and Brenner and the SEP share the same muddle headed
conception of dialectics. The problem with the SEP is not their ability to cite
the "law" of quantity of quality. Both the SEP and Steiner and Brenner
miss the fact that dialectics was a critical method for the last three thousand
years, even for Marx....
The SEP today has departed significantly from the theory
and practice of Marxism. In its theory it has abandoned dialectical materialism,
and in its place it has increasingly adopted methods based on pragmatism and
positivism. Corresponding with its decline in theory, the party has
undergone a decline in its practice. The party has abandoned the struggle for
socialist consciousness in the working class and has abstained from intervening
in major political events such as the New York transit strike, mass protests in
Mexico, and the Iraq war....
The lack of theoretical understanding is not just confined to
the younger members, leading members of the party, ones with over thirty
years of experience, show an inadequate understanding of basic concepts such as
dialectics. Some of the older members simply defer to David North, or worse,
Joe Kay, for answers to theoretical questions. While the former is simply
inaccessible to most members, the latter actively works to suppress
Within the Marxist movement few understand Marx's
dialectic. Marx's dialectic is commonly understood as the opposite of
Hegel's dialectic, yet the term dialectic is not understood, and few can point
to concrete examples of Marx's dialectic. Often Marx's dialectics is associated
with Hegelian concepts like, quantity into quality, negation of the negation,
and the unity of opposites. While Marx makes passing reference to such Hegelian
conceptions in Capital, his dialectic has a fundamentally different basis.
Bold emphases added.
The above is in reference to the 'debate' between
David North and Alex Steiner.]
The Socialist Party Of Great Britain
Contra Edward Conze And
To illustrate the
subject let us glance at two or three interpretations of the laws of dialectical
materialism by two writers who published short books on the subject,
David Guest and
Edward Conze. Guest, in
his "Dialectical Materialism," quotes the second law of dialectics as follows:
"The law of unity is interpenetration, identity of opposites." This is the
phrase he uses and later quotes Lenin's blessing for the same wording.
Note the word
"identity." Opposites cannot be identical as long as they are opposites,
and to say that one cannot exist without the other is not very illuminating
because a thing cannot be opposite to nothing. It must be opposite to
something that is opposite to it. Marx didn't mix unity with identity. Writing
of the two poles of the expression of value in the first chapter of Capital, he
said: "The relative form and the equivalent form are two intimately connected,
mutually and inseparable elements of the expression of value,' but at the same
time are mutually exclusive, antagonistic extremes, that is poles of the same
expression." That is Marx's wording and that is the essence of the matter.
Mutually dependent, inseparable but mutually exclusive. Identity of opposites
is just nonsense.
And referring to
the inner contradiction in opposite sides of society. Guest makes the following
"Marx found the
basis of the class struggle to lie in a contradiction between the methods of
production and the existing social relationships. It is this contradiction
which, during a certain historic period gets expressed in an external antagonism
of classes. When this is so, one class represents the force of production
seeking to expand and another class represents those social relations which are
hemming in the productive forces. But the basic contradiction will continue to
exist in classless society and will cause a progressive development of social
relationships as the productive forces themselves develop."
In this last
sentence we can see the creeping paralysis of Russian propaganda. The basic
contradiction is the contradiction between the method of production and the
existing social relationships but, according to Guest, it will continue to exist
under communism. In his breathless pursuit of contradictions he makes the
mistake of thinking that they must always be of the same kind, and he has missed
the basic contradiction which will be solved for good and all -- the
contradiction between social production and private ownership which originated
in primitive society, developed during succeeding centuries and will be finally
solved by socialism.
Now let us take
two examples of Conze's interpretation of dialectical materialism as contained
in his book: "An Introduction to Dialectical Materialism." Conze is also in a
jam over the question of opposites as can be seen by this gem: "I know no
general reason why opposites always must be united. The study of scientific
method is not yet advanced enough to give us proof of this kind." Conze has
evidently walked up the wrong street. The human race in its wisdom has decided
that when two things turn up in a certain relationship to each other they will
be called opposites. As long as the human race sticks to this view we can't have
one opposite on its own. Conze is apparently prepared to concede that all the
black door handles that have so far turned up have.
Love And Hate
On another page,
Conze, with the backing of Freud, gives us this information:
"Freud has shown
that we can have no feeling of love towards anyone without simultaneously having
a more-or-less feeling of hatred towards the same person. And vice versa. No
hatred can exist without containing some love. Love is the regular component of
hatred, even if the quantity of love is sometimes microscopic."
That is a peculiar
way of looking at the unity of opposites. On the basis of this we can prove
anything and get nowhere. But let us see if we can translate it into
something more obvious. A wooden stick has two ends. They are the names we give
to two opposite parts of the stick, and while the stick exists as a stick the
ends exist as separate, antagonistic, mutually dependent opposites. As long
as we retain our sanity the ends will appear to us as two different parts of
this stick, and we can't have even a microscopic bit of one end existing
alongside, let alone inside the other. Of course we can throw the stick in a
fire and put the same end to both, but this is a different end altogether. Let
us use language reasonably and for its purpose. Love and hate are two opposite
expressions of a common human emotion. They cannot both exist at the same time
for the same object but they can alternate, or they can both dwindle with the
dwindling of emotion.
But let us look at
love and hatred from the point of view of the development of these two poles for
the expression of emotion and not their temporary equilibrium in an individual
who both loves and hates. Human emotion develops until it becomes differentiated
into what we call love and hatred. In its earlier development the distinction is
blurred but in the course of time it becomes clearly defined and it is love and
hatred as such, and as opposition, that Conze is writing about. Love is love and
not hate, and in a given situation they are mutually exclusive. Mixing
interpenetration with identity seems to be the cause of the confusion. If we
pass our finger along the stick we come to a point where it is neither one end
nor the other; but we never have our finger on a little bit of one end and a
large part of the other. What happens is that one end passes into the other.
There is a
progressive change in nature, and thought, an evolution. What does this mean? It
means a movement from the simple to the complex, an evermore complicated mixture
of a comparatively few elements. An example might make this clearer. A modern
piece of highly developed mechanism such as an aeroplane engine, is a mystifying
sight to the uninitiated, and yet it is made up of a multitude of simple
movements that taken by themselves, would mystify nobody. The human mind thrives
by learning and contriving and thus craves for an evermore complicated life. It
is more satisfying and therefore progressive, to the majority in the long run.
here; accessed 18/08/2015. (This is available to
download as a PDF.) Bold emphases added. The SPGB are rabidly anti-Leninist,
using DM -- or, rather
Dietzgen's dogmatic version
of this theory -- to prove that
interpretation of DM is woefully misguided.]
More to follow...
The Politics Of Desperation
I am reproducing
James Burnham's response to Trotsky's criticisms of his analysis of events
in Europe in 1939-40. Any who object to this on the grounds that Burnham later
repudiated Marxism, and even later defended US imperialism, should read
this first, and then
perhaps think again.
Those most likely to
complain are probably fellow Trotskyists, who will, however, not extend
to cover my quoting of Stalin, Mao, or Enver Hoxha -- nor will they notice this
article appears at the Marxist Internet Archive. Perhaps that is
because, unlike Burnham,
three characters didn't abandon 'the dialectic'.
Even so, no one should assume
that the present author agrees with everything Burnham says -- and certainly
with nothing he later went on to say about either Marxism or US Imperialism.
I have re-formatted this
article to conform to the conventions adopted at this site, and have altered the
spelling to UK English. I have also corrected several minor typos, and have
added several links.
What a comfort it
will prove to
Max Eastman! For ten years he insisted that what separated him from us was
-- dialectical materialism. For ten years we replied: No, Max Eastman, you are
only fooling others and yourself, and trying to fool us; what separates you from
us is your unwillingness to accept the political program of the international
revolution, and the practical political consequences that flow from that
program. We will not permit you to evade the political issues by turning the
debate aside into the abstract regions of speculative metaphysics.
But Eastman, it seems, was right
all along. The real root of the matter, the ineluctable heart and core -- it is
now Trotsky who makes it at last clear to us -- is, precisely -- dialectical
materialism. Burnham rejects dialectical materialism: from this original sin
flow, like the conceptual links of the endless closed chain of the Hegelian
universe, all the errors and crimes of the party opposition. But, we recall, it
is not today or yesterday that Burnham rejected dialectical materialism. Indeed,
since he never accepted it, he can hardly be said ever to have rejected it. His
opinion of dialectical materialism has been a constant: it has not been unknown
in the Fourth International. A curious coincidence, and a mark of almost
criminal laxity, that Trotsky waited until 1940, in the midst of a bitter
factional struggle on concrete political issues, to discover its burning and
The rule says: we must think
things through to the end. The discovery having been made, even if so belatedly
and under such exceptional circumstances, the International must draw the
consequences. Trotsky must, I would feel, now propose a Special Commission to
investigate and weed out all traces of anti-dialectics that have crept into the
Socialist Workers Party through Burnham's activities during these years. It
will, I am afraid, have plenty of work cut out for it.
It might begin, for example,
with the party's Declaration of Principles, its foundation programmatic
document, which was, by an oversight, written by Burnham. With the war actually
started, it will have to devote particular attention to most of the pamphlets
and articles on war, since most were written by Burnham. Surely it can't
overlook the political resolution for the last convention, also the product of
Burnham's Aristotelian typewriter; or, for that matter, a fair percentage of all
the political resolutions for conventions and conferences and plenums during the
past live or six years. And not a few special articles and lead editorials in
the Appeal and
New International, the political
document motivating the break with the Socialist Party -- as well, come to think
of it, as the first resolution proposing entry into the Socialist Party (the
anti-entrists were, evidently, right, since the whole orientation sprang from
anti-dialectics). And the Spanish resolution, around which centred the chief
political light in the Socialist Party. Let us not speak of the fact that
perhaps the bulk of motions, resolutions, articles on American politics
(the main enemy is, is it not, in our own country?) came from the same tainted
And let us above all not mention
that even today, when anti-dialectics has come into the lull anti-revolutionary
open, the party was compelled to turn -- to Burnham, in order to formulate a
political plan in connection with the Congressional session (Appeal,
issue of December 30th) and to ask -- Burnham, to defend the policy of the party
when criticized by a local branch (Rochester; unanimous PC motion, meeting of
January 9), and to accept Burnham's motions (as against both
Cochran) when an important branch (Newark) asked how to handle the spreading
Food Stamp Plan.
But the investigation will
unearth even more curious, and ironic circumstances. It will find, to take one
instance, that at the founding convention of the SWP, the lengthy Russian
resolution itself, the resolution which defeated Burnham was, with the sole
exception of the paragraph or two repeating the dictum that "Russia is a
workers' state," -- written by Burnham. All, that is, of the concrete analysis,
all that dealt with origins and sources and conditions and relations and
predictions and history and changes, was the product of anti-dialectics
(anti-dialectics operating, true enough, largely on material unearthed by
Trotsky); dialectics contributed to the resolution -- the "fixed" category
("workers' state") of "vulgar" and "Aristotelian" thinking.
The reply comes: Agreed, Burnham
has done some service in his day; when, a tame petty-bourgeois journalist, he
submitted himself docilely to the "proletarian element", he could reach correct
Marxist conclusions in spite of his dialectical peccadilloes; now, with the war
broken, he capitulates to the mighty pressure of the
Eastmans, becomes a petty-bourgeois "enraged", and all his proposals, motions,
speeches, articles, are false and "absolutely stale". If he were a dialectician,
he would understand how this happens. If he would recognize his heresy, confess,
and resubmit it, he might even live to do further service in the future. But a
more central point is: not whether Burnham has done service in the past or will
behave in the future (both very minor problems), but how the past illumines in
its own way the sudden appearance on the scene of dialectics at just this
time, at the time when Burnham is in an opposition struggling against
Trotsky and Cannon over the concrete political issues of today and tomorrow.
Perhaps, however, it was only
that the American comrades were naive, being only (by their own admission)
"students" of dialectics rather than ordained dialecticians, and did not
recognize the monster they were harbouring. But then there is a new, and this
time international, scandal to explain: Two years ago Max Eastman wrote in
Harper's Magazine a theoretical
attack on Marxism. Trotsky thereafter wrote me a personal letter requesting and
proposing to me that I
answer Eastman and defend the theories of the Fourth
International against his attack (which, a few months later in the
I did). I was neither more nor less of a dialectician then than today. My views
on the subject were as well known to Trotsky then as today. I therefore enquire:
By what right did Trotsky make this proposal to me? By what right did he entrust
the theoretical defense of the Fourth International against a theoretic opponent
who was himself an anti-dialectician to -- an avowed anti-dialectician? Was he
ignorant then about the importance of dialectic, but suddenly wise today? Or was
he light-minded and irresponsible in giving the defense over to a theoretic
enemy? Equally astounding: last June, after the article
Retreat, after my review of Haldane in
where I once more summarized flatly my point of view toward dialectics, Trotsky,
through Abern, requested me to edit and cut 1,000 words from his introduction to
the Longmans Green edition of Capital
-- and to do so at my own discretion. An extraordinary attitude toward
one's own theoretical work: to turn it over to an irreconcilable enemy for
that I do not take dialectics seriously, limiting myself to "rather cynical
aphorisms". I have not, it seems, the proper attitude of respect toward sacred
doctrine, and this is unbecoming in a Marxist. It is true that, considered as an
alleged scientific theory, I do not take dialectics seriously, any more than I
would take seriously, as alleged scientific theories, any other theology or
metaphysics. How can I take a doctrine seriously when, during the course of an
entire century, its alleged "laws" or "principles" have never even been
formulated -- they have only been named, given titles. How can I
even say whether I agree or disagree with, for example, the "law of the change
of quantity into quality", when no one yet has told me or anyone else what that
law says? Of what use are all the metaphors (good and bad) and the "examples"
brought forward to illustrate the "law" when no one has yet stated what
they are supposed to be illustrating?
It would be the easiest thing in
the world to make me take dialectics seriously, and to persuade me of its truth,
if it is true. All that would have to be done is the following: Formulate its
laws in a clear and unambiguous manner, in such a manner that the terms used in
the formulation refer directly or indirectly to objects or events or procedures
or operations that are publicly recognizable in the experience of any normal
human being; and show what predictions can be made about the future on the basis
of deductions from these laws. Then I will grant that dialectics is significant,
and will take it seriously. Show, second, that on the basis of deductions from
these laws predictions about the future can be made that are verifiable and
verified, and that they enable such predictions to be made as well as or better
than any alternative proposed hypotheses. Then I will grant that these laws are
not merely significant but true. An
Open Letter to Burnham on dialectics is announced. It will give an
opportunity for this enlightenment. Looking back over the hundred years'
failures of the past, I am not over-optimistic about its coming this week.
I do not take dialectics
seriously as a scientific doctrine, but I take very seriously indeed the uses to
which dialectics is put in some political disputes, in particular by Eastman,
the anti-dialectician, in his way, and by Trotsky in the current dispute. I
object, and very strongly, to the substitution of theological disputation in the
manner of the
Council of Nicaea (which split Europe over the question of whether
the Son of God was of "one substance" or "similar substance" with the Father),
of loose metaphors and platitudes about science and pseudo-science in the style
of the 19th century popularisers of Darwin, for clear discussion of the genuine
issues of the politics of 1939 and 1940.
Consider: the opposition raises
questions with reference to the war, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the actions of the
Soviet Union, the invasion of Finland. The reply is: the problem is whether or
not Russia is a workers' state. The opposition demonstrates convincingly that a
decision on the definition of the class character of the Soviet Union can't
answer the strategic and tactical issues posed to the movement. The reply is:
the problem is the laws of dialectics. (There is a fourth stage which does not
appear in written documents: the abominable personal gossip with which the
Cannon clique corrupts its followers.) In an analogous manner, the opposition
makes and proves concrete criticisms of the conservative and bureaucratic Cannon
regime. The reply is: the problem is the alien petty-bourgeois social roots of
Why is dialectics
brought into the dispute? In the first instance, as an obvious and mechanical
manoeuvre, which deceives no one of "trying to drive a wedge into the ranks of
the opponents." But more generally: to evade issues that can't be and have not
been answered on their own legitimate plane, to escape from an inconvenient
reality to a verbal jousting ground, to confuse and turn aside the attention of
the membership from the actual problems that face them, to -- in the
century-sanctioned way of all "authority", all "dogma", all bureaucracy -- brand
the critic as heretic so that his criticism will not be heard. The
textbooks ("the school bench") give a name to this device:
Ignoratio Elenchi or Irrelevant Conclusion. The remarks on it of
-- a contemporary of Darwin, by the way -- are not, however, themselves
"Various kinds of propositions are, according to the
occasion, substituted for the one of which proof is required:... and various
are the contrivances employed to effect and to conceal this substitution,
and to make the conclusion which the sophist has drawn answer, practically,
the same purpose as the one he ought to have established. I say 'practically
the same purpose', because it will very often happen that some emotion
will be excited -- some sentiment impressed on the mind -- (by a dexterous
employment of this fallacy) such as shall bring men into the disposition
requisite for your purpose, though they may not have assented to, or even
stated distinctly in their own minds, the proposition which it was
your business to establish."
Let us suppose,
however, that I accept the entire first half of Trotsky's article, that I grant
my errors on dialectics, and accept dialectics as the key to truth and
socialism. What has changed with reference to the political issues in dispute,
the problems discussed in the second half of his article? Nothing has been
changed a centimetre. Everything remains just as it was when dialectics had
never been mentioned. For Trotsky does not in any respect whatever establish any
connection between what he says about dialectics in the first part of
his article, and what he says about the defense of Russia, the Soviet-Finnish
War, and the "organizational question" in the second half. Does anyone doubt
this? Let him re-read the article, and see for himself. It follows therefore
that the entire discussion of dialectics is totally irrelevant -- as Trotsky
himself presents the discussion -- to the political questions. "Consciousness
grew out of the unconscious, psychology out of physiology, the organic world out
of the inorganic, the solar system out of nebulae...." Very well; let it be so.
Now show us how from generalizations of that type it follows -- even by the most
dialectical of logics -- that...the Red Army is introducing workers' control in
Finland and we ought to defend it.
The fact that Trotsky thinks
and says there is a necessary connection between his dialectics and his
politics has nothing to do with the question of whether there actually is such a
connection. All through history, men have thought and said that there were
connections between their scientific investigations or practical decisions on
the one hand and their theologies or metaphysics on the other.
said that there was such a connection between his bacteriology and his Catholic
faith; Einstein today between his field physics and his pantheistic idealism;
Millikan finds God proved in his cosmic rays.
Either the dialectics is
relevant or irrelevant to the empirical and practical questions in dispute. If
it is irrelevant, to drag it in is scientifically useless. If it is relevant,
the empirical and practical questions can in any case be settled on their own
merits on the basis of the available evidence and our goals. In neither case is
a decision as to dialectics required.
Trotsky writes: "To
demand that every Party member occupy himself with the philosophy of dialectics
would be lifeless pedantry." I want to enquire: if it is true, as Trotsky
claims, that dialectics is "the foundation of scientific socialism", if
rejecting does, as he declares, define the one who rejects as an alien class
influence, if dialectics is indeed the method whereby we can solve
correctly political problems, then by what conceivable principle does Trotsky
conclude that it would be "lifeless pedantry" for more than a few Party members
to occupy themselves with it? Rather would we have to say that dialectics must
be the first and last study of all party members if they wish to be
consistent and clear-headed revolutionary socialists.
Or must we seek another kind of
explanation for Trotsky's dictum: There is one doctrine -- the "secret doctrine"
-- for the elite, the leaders, the inner circle; and another -- the vulgar
doctrine -- for the mass, the ranks, the followers. What is the relation of the
followers to the secret doctrine? They are not to know it, to study it, to test
it in their own conscious and deliberate experience: that is excluded as
"lifeless pedantry." But may they then consider it unimportant, or reject it?
Not on your life: then they are alien class elements. No: they must believe,
they must have faith. As for the doctrine itself, it is safe in the
hands of the elite; they will bring it out on appropriate occasions (a
sharp factional fight, for example) to smite and confound the Enemy.
For my own part, I do not
believe in Faith.
My friend and colleague Max
Shachtman (may he forgive me for the reference, as I must, perforce, forgive him
for what he has recently written about me) says: I do not really understand much
about dialectics; I am only a humble student of the subject; of course I believe
in it as all good Marxists must. This attitude is not unique in Shachtman.
Whenever I have talked to any pro-dialectics party comrade about dialectics --
or tried to talk about it -- I have been given the same response (except, to be
complete, in the case of Wright, who seems to think he understands dialectics
because its words so well express the conflicts and shifts and confusions in his
own attitudes and actions). We do not really understand it; we believe of
course; we can't formulate its laws; we can't tell you how you can test them;
some day we hope to get around to studying it. This response is as
characteristic of pro-dialecticians in the Cannon clique as in the opposition.
Few even pretend to "understand", for example, the first part of the Trotsky
article which I am now discussing.
Now I ask Shachtman and all
these comrades of the party: if you don't understand it, if you can't explain or
prove it, why then do you "believe" it? Whence springs your faith?
Throughout the centuries, it has
been characteristic of religious groups to have two doctrines: the "esoteric"
doctrine of the "inner circle", the monopoly and carefully guarded secret of the
high priests; and the "exoteric" doctrine of the "outer circle", for the
followers. Is this not exactly the situation with dialectics -- whether
or not you "believe" in dialectics? And the existence of an esoteric doctrine is
always potentially reactionary, anti-democratic. It is so because the esoteric
doctrine is by the nature of the case irresponsible, not subject to control by
the humble followers, a weapon in the hands only of the priests.
For the method which I advocate
-- the method of science -- there is only one doctrine, available to all. And
what it says is subject always to tests that can be made by any normal man.
There is no revelation, and no short cut, and no prophet.
I conclude on dialectics with a
In the letter dated
January 3rd it is clearly implied that my attitude toward dialectics is
incompatible with my being editor of the theoretical journal of the party. In
the article (p.11) it is stated explicitly that my rejection of dialectics
represents the influence of another class.
First I want to ask: Where in
the program of the Socialist Workers Party or the Fourth International is a
belief in dialectics made part of the programmatic basis of our movement, the
acceptance of which defines the conditions of membership? And if it is not, by
what right does Trotsky or any one else attack me politically or object to my
editorship of an organ of the International
on the grounds of my attitude
Is not our movement founded on
its program, decided by conventions representing the membership? Or -- do we
communists hide our views, and is our real program something different from our
public and adopted program?
But if Trotsky is justified in
what he says about dialectics, and the conclusions he draws in connection with
dialectics, I say further:
Let him propose to
the forthcoming convention that this lack in our program be filled, that the
convention adopt a specific clause, to be added to the Declaration of
Principles, affirming acceptance of the philosophy of dialectical materialism.
If he does not make such a
proposal, then only one of two conclusions is possible: either what he is now
writing about dialectics is not meant seriously, is mere polemical rhetoric for
the faction fight of the moment; or dialectics is indeed an esoteric doctrine,
not suited for the public opinion of the party to pass upon, but a private
monopoly of the priests.
If he does make the proposal, it
is true that he will have only one precedent in the history of labour politics:
Stalin's program adopted at the
Congress of the Comintern, in which the abandonment of Marxism was
consummated. I confess that I should not like to feel that our movement is ready
to regard such a precedent as appropriate.
If by a "workers'
state" we mean that form of society transitional from capitalism to socialism,
then Russia today can be considered a workers' state only on the basis of its
nationalized economy. Of those various major features of the "transitional
society" described in advance (in
Revolution, for example), no one, absolutely no one in any
political camp except that of the Stalinists themselves, maintains that any
other socialist factor remains in Russia today except the nationalized
economy. Nationalized economy, must, therefore, in the view of those who hold
that Russia is a workers' state, be a sufficient condition for so characterizing
it, and by a workers' state Marxists have always meant, from Marx on, that form
of society which is transitional from capitalism to socialism.
The assumption therein involved
I, of course, reject. I hold that at least one other major condition is
necessary for that form of society which is transitional to socialism -- namely,
workers' democracy; and that therefore Russia today is incorrectly characterized
as a workers' state. This was Marx' opinion; and his opinion has been entirely
confirmed by the experiences of the last fifteen years of Soviet history.
Nevertheless, even if the
assumption is granted, if it is thus further granted that Russia today is a
workers' state, this will not at all suffice to motivate a tactic of defense of
the Soviet State and the Red Army in the present war (just as, conversely, if
the assumption is denied and it is thus denied that Russia is a workers' state,
this will not by itself suffice to motivate a tactic of defeatism). We can't
deduce a tactic of defense from our definition of the Soviet state any
more than we could deduce it from the "law of the negation of the negation." Nor
are we aided further in determining our tactic by the assumption that
nationalized economy, in and by itself, divorced from the concrete social and
political and historical relations which form the context of the nationalized
economy, is "progressive" (an assumption which is involved in the initial
assumption of our "dialectical" defenders of the workers' state doctrine -- an
assumption which effectively eliminates all the changing actual reality
which they say dialectics teaches us to take into account, and substitutes: a
static, abstract category).
The general strategic aim of our
movement is the world proletarian revolution (and socialism). We all hold (in
words, at any rate) that this aim is now a goal not for the indefinitely remote
future, but for the present period, that is, for the war and the postwar period.
We concretize our goal in the statement of our "war aims" -- united socialist
states of Europe, the Americas, a free Asia and Africa, a world federation of
socialist republics. Presumably we mean these seriously.
Any tactic we propose,
therefore, can be justified only by proof that, directly or indirectly,
it is in fact the best available means for reaching our general strategic goal.
Even granted, then, Trotsky's
assumptions, granted that Russia is a workers' state, the tactic of defense can
be justified only if certain additional propositions are, in fact, true.
These would have to include: (a)
Defense of the Red Army is in fact the best available means of defending the
nationalized economy (which, for the purpose of discussion, let us assume
to be in and of itself progressive); (b) Defense of the Russian nationalized
economy as a primary task is the best available means for promoting the world
But everyone grants (in words,
at least) that the defense of Russia is not the only major necessary
means for achieving our general strategic aim; other necessary means include,
certainly: the overthrow of Stalinism; colonial revolts; the lifting of the
revolutionary consciousness of the masses; the deepening of the class struggle
throughout the world, in at least several major nations to the point of
successful proletarian revolution. In and of itself, defense of the present
(i.e., Stalinist) Russian state and the Red Army, even if 100 per cent
successful, would be of not the slightest value in achieving our goal; on the
contrary, would make our goal impossible, since it would mean only the
continuation in power and the extension of Stalinism.
The two propositions required by
Trotsky to justify the tactic of defense therefore involve a third: (c)
Defense of Russia in the present war does, in fact, serve as the best available
means, or as an integral part of the best available means, for promoting
colonial revolts, the lifting of the revolutionary consciousness of the masses,
the overthrow of Stalinism, the deepening of the class struggle throughout the
world (including, naturally, Russia itself and those countries against which
Russian military action is conducted), and the completion of this struggle in
Unless these three propositions
are true, then the tactic of defense is not justified -- no matter what may be the
truth about dialectics and the definition of the Russian state. Their truth can
be established in one way and one way only: not by changing quantity into
quality or uniting opposites, but by relating them to the relevant evidence that
can be brought to bear from modern historical experience -- including
prominently the evidence presented by the first months of the war itself.
As soon as these propositions
are formulated, it is clear that Trotsky and the Cannon clique have utterly
failed to present sufficient evidence to permit us to regard them as true.
Proposition (a), especially on Trotsky's premises (which include the belief in a
"fundamental contradiction" between the bureaucracy and the nationalized
economy) is certainly at best very doubtful, and becomes increasingly doubtful
as we observe the economic program in the small Baltic countries -- now Russian
provinces, in the declaration of the Kuusinen government, and for that matter in
Poland, or if we estimate the probable effects of increasing economic
collaboration with Germany.
But it is Propositions (b) and
(c) which are crucial; and any child should be able to realize that all the
evidence from the beginning of the war, far from giving any remote likelihood of
their truth, shows them to be undeniably false.
Trotsky, concentrated on the
sociology and psychology of polemics, does not recognize explicitly the nature
of the scientific problem posed in the dispute. Nevertheless he is
compelled to give it implicit recognition. He seems to sense that all the
thousands of words he has been writing since September on the "workers' state"
and dialectics are beside the point; and he tries to introduce at last -- a few
hundred words out of the many, many thousands (chiefly on p.10 of the
mimeographed version of the article I am now discussing) -- some evidence
for the truth of the key proposition (c).
What is this alleged evidence? I
will quote the central sentences:
"In the second case (Poland and Finland) it
(the Stalinist bureaucracy) gave an impulse to the socialist revolution
through bureaucratic methods....
"...the resolution (of the opposition on
Finland) does not mention by so much as a word that the Red Army in Finland
expropriates large land-owners and introduces workers' control while
preparing for the expropriation of the capitalists...they (the Stalinists)
are giving -- they are compelled to give -- a tremendous impulse to the class
struggle in its sharpest form.... The Soviet-Finnish war is evidently
already beginning to be completed with a civil war in which the Red Army
finds itself at the given stage in the same camp as the Finnish petty
peasants and the workers, while the Finnish army supports the owning
classes, the conservative workers' bureaucracy and the Anglo-Saxon
imperialists...in this 'concrete' civil war that is taking place on Finnish
"As for the Kremlin it is at the present time
forced -- and this is not a hypothetical but a real situation -- to provoke
a social revolutionary movement in Finland...."
Now the first thing
to be observed about this alleged evidence is that the whole world --
including Trotsky himself -- knows it to be false. Nothing of this kind has
happened or is happening. Trotsky, indeed, admits it to be false when,
in the letter dated January 5th (to "Joe"), evidently replying to the qualms his
statements about Finland had raised even in the stern breasts of the Cannon
clique itself, he "explains" what he wrote by saying...that such things did
happen -- in Poland! -- and will happen in Finland. But what he said in
the article was that they had happened and were happening in
Finland. (From where, by the way, Comrade Trotsky, did you borrow this
method of "explanation"?)
(In passing, it was the
opposition that pointed out, long ago, that an embryonic civil war began in
Poland; and this fact was repeatedly denied and ridiculed by Cannon.)
What did actually
happen -- so far as we can learn by sifting all the reports -- in Poland,
Finland (and let us not forget Lithuania and her two sisters), up to now?
In Poland, important
manifestations of the class struggle, including embryonic revolutionary steps,
began -- before the Red Army marched and independently of Russia -- with
the military and civil breakdown of the Polish bourgeois government. This is a
normal and natural occurrence in all countries, whatever the character of the
opposing army, when the home government goes to pieces. In a number of towns
(including, apparently, Vilna and Warsaw itself) embryo "Soviets" arose on a
loose basis, with labour and other popular organizations assuming de facto
many of the tasks of sovereign power; in the villages, peasants began ousting
the landlords -- or, more exactly, the landlords had already run away.
It is quite possible (though the
evidence is far from clear) that in some sections the march of the Red
Army excited certain hopes -- at least hope in comparison to the fears
of the advance of the Reichswehr, and even encouraged some peasants to
bolder steps in occupying the land of their former masters (who were no longer
there to oppose them). These hopes were in the shortest time liquidated,
together with the persons of any peasants or workers hardy enough to persist in
them. The regime of Stalinism -- and Stalinism without completely collectivized
economy -- was imposed by the representatives of the
GPU. In the Vilna region the embryo "soviet" was smashed and the militants
killed, in preparation for handing the territory back to bourgeois Lithuania.
Then the Red Army took over the
three small Baltic states. Anyone who thought that in that action "the
Kremlin (was) forced...to provoke a social revolutionary movement" was rapidly
undeceived. From the reports, a few underground communists began to show their
heads. With public statement (released in the world press) and by police action,
the Red Army joined the Baltic government in shoving those heads down again, and
in reinforcing bourgeois rule and capitalist economy in those nations.
Meanwhile, it was revealed to
all who had initially doubted it that Hitler and Stalin had divided Poland in
complete and prior agreement.
These events were observed by
the workers and peasants of the world, and above all, we may be sure, by the
workers and peasants of the other nations bordering Russia -- not least by the
people of Finland. Not being highly skilled In sociological definition nor
belonging to the inner dialectical circle, they drew nevertheless, in their
humble way, certain conclusions (where they had not already drawn them from the
Trials and Spain). Their conclusion, in short, was: the Red Army in this war is
not our ally.
The propaganda campaign began
against Finland, and then the invasion. For a number of days, the Red Army
triumphantly advanced. The Kuusinen government was proclaimed, issued its
program (a bourgeois, not a proletarian program, by the way, in spite of
Trotsky's dialectical deduction that the Kremlin must use social
revolutionary policies -- bureaucratically carried out; the Kremlin did not
What was the effect -- the
actual effect that happened, not the effect that we can read about in our former
theses (which coincides with what Trotsky writes in the present article) or
deduce from theories? The effect was, not to stimulate, but to wipe out
what there had been of the class struggle (and there had been more than a trace
of it) in Finland, to throw the Finnish workers and peasants into the hands of
their own bourgeoisie. This is proved, first, by reports which,
properly sifted, can legitimately be believed; but, second, independently, by
what may be deduced from (1) the failure of the Kuusinen government to excite
any favourable response and (2) the high morale of the Finnish army which is
obviously supported by a huge percentage of the population. This last fact the
NC majority and Trotsky explain by the shockingly Philistine argument that the
Finnish army has such good supplies and training -- as if the Red Army were
equipped with bows and arrows.
This reaction was not
surprising. Knowing the Red Army fought against their interests, and
seeing no third alternative, the Finnish workers drew what seemed to
them the only possible conclusion under the circumstances: to fight desperately
for the bourgeois "fatherland"; with the third alternative (an Independent
struggle for freedom and power against the main enemy, at home, and the invading
enemy) excluded, they chose what appeared to them as the "lesser evil". Those
responsible for this reactionary conclusion are the imperialists on the one hand
and the Stalinists on the other (and all others!) who, ruling out the third
camp, posed the choice exclusively as either
Mannerheim's army or Stalin's.
On the other side, according to
our theses (War and the Fourth International), the Russian soldiers and
workers should have been reacting as follows: "Within the USSR war
against imperialist intervention will undoubtedly provoke a veritable outburst
of genuine fighting enthusiasm. All the contradictions and antagonisms will seem
overcome or at any rate relegated to the background. The young generations of
workers and peasants that emerged from the revolution will reveal on the field
of battle colossal dynamic power." But (to paraphrase a remark of Trotsky's),
"events did not recognize our theses." In the Finnish war, the Russian soldiers
and workers have shown -- just the opposite, as everyone knows. There is no
mystery here. The soldiers fight so poorly, so unenthusiastically, because
-- though without benefit of dialectics -- they understand clearly enough that in
this war the Red Army fights not for but against their interests and
the interests of workers everywhere, and of socialism.
Who is it who is closest to
socialist consciousness; those Soviet soldiers and workers who recognize
the reactionary character of the war, are resentful and distrustful of it, and
show no enthusiasm for it; or those (notably including the GPU) who are whipped
up into a frenzy of Stalino-patriotism for it? We, the opposition, say: the
former. Trotsky is compelled by his doctrine to say: the latter.
But, in the further course of
the Finnish war, will not the class struggle re-assert itself in Finland?
Certainly, as we have declared from the beginning. When the Finnish defense and
the Finnish government begin to crack, just as in Poland the overt class
struggle will re-appear; workers and peasants will take social revolutionary
steps, will, perforce, begin moves toward independent power and sovereignty.
Above all will they do so if there are revolutionists and militants among them
who have not, meanwhile, been functioning as spies of the counter-revolutionary
Red Army, but have made clear to them that their struggle, in the first instance
directed against the main enemy at home, finds an also implacable enemy in the
Kremlin and all its institutions, that the Red Army marches in not to
aid them but to crush them; and if internationalists within the ranks of the Red
Army have guided in a parallel manner the ranks of the Red soldiers, urging them
to throw off the yoke of the Kremlin-GPU and to join in common struggle against
their oppressors with the Finnish workers and peasants -- not to obey the orders
of the Kremlin to reduce the workers and peasants of Finland to a new type of
Does the policy of the Kremlin
(through "compulsion" or voluntary will, it does not matter) in reality
stimulate the class struggle, the social revolution? If so, then Marxism has
been wrong from the beginning, for then the struggle for socialism can
be carried on by bureaucratic-military means as a substitute (good or
bad) for the popular, conscious and deliberate mass struggle of the workers and
peasants. To accept Trotsky's interpretation of the events of the present war is
to accept the theory of the Bureaucratic road to socialism. I refer the
reader to Max Shachtman's excellent discussion of this point in his recent reply
to this same article of Trotsky's.
But is not the Kremlin
stimulating the social revolution by its new policy, both directly through its
own state agencies, and by the new line of the Comintern? If this is true -- as
Trotsky now holds -- we can't possibly explain intelligibly to the workers the
meaning of the new line of the CI (and we have not done so up to now -- everyone
recognizes that from reading our press), we have no sufficient reason for not
re-applying for admission as a faction of the CI. [CI -- Communist
No. The present policy of the
Kremlin stimulates the class struggle and is "socialist" only in the same
general sense as Wilson's policy with reference to "defeatism" in Germany in
1917-18, or Chamberlain's policy in his broadcasts to and leaflet-droppings on
Germany today, or Hitler's similar appeals. These "revolutionary" policies --
with respect to the enemy country -- are all simply supplementary
military-strategic devices. As a matter of fact, in this sense the most
"radical" of all of them at the present time is Hitler's, not Stalin's:
Hitler's New Year speech was far more "socialist" than the proclamation of the
Kuusinen government. True enough, the nation employing this device is always
playing with social dynamite -- above all in this war. Even Chamberlain's
propaganda is capable of "stimulating the class struggle" within
Germany under appropriate circumstances -- but we hardly support it, for that
reason (though we do support the class struggle, no matter how
stimulated). But the more usual effect is for it to aid in stifling the class
struggle in the enemy nation, (precisely because it is not internationalist in
character, and because the workers understand it as merely a manoeuvre of a
rival oppressor). This is just what has happened in Finland, just as in Germany
after the Chamberlain leaflet raids.
Cannon and Trotsky tell us: But
then you want the imperialists to take over the Soviet Union. This is nothing
but the standard slander which has always been directed against those who uphold
the internationalist position of revolutionary defeatism. We are for the defeat
of all the belligerent armies and the overthrow of all the
belligerent governments; but for defeat and overthrow not by the
opposing armies in the field, but by the third camp, by the workers of
each respective country.
But Cannon and Trotsky say
nothing of the meaning of their alternative in relation to the general
strategic aim, to the world proletarian revolution. How, just how, will
a defensive tactic with respect to the Red Army serve the development of the
revolution, how in this war -- not the war of our theses -- where the
Red Army fights, in alliance with the Reichswehr, for the defense,
preservation and extension solely and simply of the power, privileges and
revenues of the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy? Trotsky and Cannon do not
tell us, can't tell us. And yet their position could rest only upon a clear,
convincing and reasonable answer to this question.
The position of the
opposition is based upon the perspective of the collapse of existing
governments, upon the optimistic expectation of mass revolt against the war. It
is summed up as: the strategy of the third camp. In this war, the
actual war which has broken out and is now going on, the revolutionists must
take their stand unambiguously in the third camp, the camp of the workers and
peasants, of the oppressed of the entire world, of the peoples of India and
Africa, the camp of struggle against the camps of all the belligerent
powers and the belligerent governments. Today the troops of the third camp are
atomized, disordered and disorganized, scattered through the framework of
society. Tomorrow their ranks will close; they will form in great army corps;
the popular army of India, the revolting Negro divisions of Africa, the workers'
fronts of Germany and the Ukraine and France and the United States.... But they
will do so successfully only if the troops of tomorrow can hold clearly and
simply and unambiguously before themselves the firm strategic aim: the third
camp, the camp of struggle against the war and the war-makers, for workers'
power and socialism.
Trotsky and Cannon,
desperately clinging to a doctrine no longer adequate to meet the test of
events, have abandoned the strategy of the third camp. How revealing that even
the phrase (used so effectively -- after being mistakenly borrowed from the
opposition -- in putting forward the revolutionary position in the ALP controversy
between Rose and the Stalinists) has dropped out of the party press and
agitation! They have joined one of the belligerent camps, one of the war camps.
In this can be seen the basic defeatism of their perspective (they, who
accuse us of being defeatists!), defeatism toward the possibility of successful
proletarian revolution in the course of the war. They are compelled, more and
more, to argue for Stalinism as the "lesser evil" (their description): this
lesser evil is the goal they place before the workers -- a fine goal indeed to
inspire revolutionary struggle! They must reason in terms of the maintenance
of existing governments (what if, Cannon asks in debate, Finland takes over
northern Russia?). Everything is turned upside down. The strategic aim of world
revolution issuing out of the war is subordinated to defense of Russia.
Their whole policy becomes oriented around the tactic of defensism with respect
to the Red Army -- on the very best account, the part usurping the place of the
whole. For the sake of a hand the head and heart are sacrificed.
Trotsky has permitted a frantic
clinging to a false doctrine to drive him, in short, to a policy of defeat
What The Record Shows
In the article,
The War and Bureaucratic Conservatism, we analyzed the character of the
Cannon group, its regime, and its present policy. We showed that it is not a
principled tendency, but a permanent clique; that its only real policy is
self-maintenance; that it on all occasions subordinates political to
organizational questions; that in actuality it has no genuine program, but only
the substitute for a program -- the substitute being usually borrowed
In the present dispute, Trotsky
puts forward the program which the Cannon clique appropriates, and Trotsky
supports -- unconditionally -- the Cannon clique. It does not, however, follow
that the analysis which we made of Cannon's present policy applies also to
Trotsky. I wish now to examine briefly the political record of Trotsky since
August 21st with the aim of throwing some light on the problem of how Trotsky
has reached his present impasse, in which he finds himself upholding an
incorrect political perspective, a false analysis of events, and a sterile,
cynical and rotten bureaucratic clique. I will draw only upon facts which are
well known, and which can be checked at every point.
For more than a week following
the first announcement of the Nazi-Soviet agreement -- the most startling
International shift of recent years, and obviously of the most peculiar moment
to the Fourth International -- Trotsky made no public statement to the press. He
then gave out two short and very general statements in which he did not attempt
any analysis or prediction; in fact they summed up to little more than the view
that there was nothing much to be said about the agreement. Trotsky issued no
statement -- so far as we know -- on the outbreak of the second world war, the
most momentous event in the history of mankind. In fact, he has to this day made
no general analysis of the war and its meaning, a lack which has been widely
remarked among the general public.
Since the war began, Trotsky has
made only two specific predictions of any importance. The first was when the Red
Army was mobilizing on the borders of Poland, when Trotsky stated that Stalin
did not know why the army was mobilizing. A short time later he was compelled to
recognize that the Polish invasion had been carried out by prior agreement with
Hitler. A few weeks before the Finnish invasion, Trotsky was preparing an
article for a magazine. According to an outline of this article which was
received in New York, he therein predicted that there would be no Finnish
invasion (that year at any rate) but that the issues would be "compromised".
The first major article written
by Trotsky was the one which was published in the
USSR and the War). This did not concern itself in a single sentence
with the problems and prospects of the war already started, but with the most
general possible theoretic issues. The second (published in an internal
bulletin) was on the class character of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile (and
continuing through the present) have been numerous shorter documents dealing
with the internal factional struggle, the overwhelming percentage of them
concerned with such issues as the character of the groups in the party and their
methods, etc. The next long document (the one here under discussion) brought in
one new subject: the dialectics; and a new document (the
Open Letter to
me) on the same subject is now promised. The only specific statements about
current events in this document (those on Finland) turn out, by Trotsky's own
admission, to be false.
So far as I am aware, he has
said nothing about the taking over of the three Baltic countries. And nothing
was said about the taking over of Poland and the invasion of Finland until after
these events occurred.
Let us sum up the undeniable
general features of this 4½ months' picture: virtually no specific predictions,
and those made disproved by events; nothing specific foreseen in advance; no
proposals or guides for action in advance; a minimum concern with the major
historical action now occurring -- the second world war; a maximum of energies
devoted either to general theoretic questions (up to and beyond dialectics) or
immediate internal polemic.
This picture has a great
political-symptomatic importance. This is easily grasped when we compare it with
Trotsky's almost invariable political record in connection with other
major historic occurrences (none of which since the Russian revolution
approaches the significance of the second world war) -- such as, for example,
the German events or the Trials. There, while not neglecting general theoretic
concerns or internal factional struggle when necessary, Trotsky has been
distinguished over all other political figures in the entire world for precisely
what is absent now: for immediate and constant reaction to the events; for exact
predictions, so often brilliantly confirmed; for stating at every stage guides
for the action of the workers; for illuminating by specific analysis the meaning
of actually occurring events. The whole world knows this.
To the present picture, we must,
unfortunately, add further elements: Trotsky not merely supports the Cannon
regime, but whitewashes it 100% -- an attitude which even its most ardent
follower in the party could not even pretend to justify by objective reference.
Trotsky not merely condemns the opposition, but slanders it, misstates and
distorts not merely its views but its very words. Trotsky (for example, in the
sheaf of letters of the first days of January) indulges in absurd exaggerations.
Now Trotsky has amply proved by
his entire career that he above all takes ideas, doctrine, principles seriously,
that he bases himself upon and operates from principles. When we keep this in
mind, the picture of these months falls into a classic and often repeated
pattern: the pattern of one who proceeds from a theory, who is motivated in his
actions by that theory, but where the theory itself is false. Clinging
to the theory becomes under these circumstances an act of desperation;
and the desperation communicates itself to the actions, even to the very style.
The theory, the doctrine, at
all costs. But the doctrine is not in accord with events. Then, refusing to
abandon the doctrine, there are only two solutions: to evade events (by
treating, say, of very general theoretic questions or of dialectics), and to
falsify events to bring them into accord with the (false) doctrine. No
intent to deceive is involved in this: it follows almost automatically when one
clings desperately to a false doctrine.
Therefore also the opposition
must be smashed at any cost. The only vehicle for the doctrine is
Cannon (who will accept any doctrine that suits his clique['s] purpose). Therefore
complete support for Cannon. But here, too, just as in treating
international events, Trotsky must pay a heavy price -- and the price, alas, is
assessed not merely against Trotsky but against the International and indeed in
the last analysis against the workers everywhere -- for his false doctrine. To
implement his (false) doctrine he finds he can utilize only a rotten
bureaucratic clique; but by supporting this clique he becomes an accomplice in
and defender of its crimes against the movement.
If we realize that Trotsky
proceeds seriously and firmly from theory, and that this theory with relation to
the war is false, his present political position, and the manner of his
political and organizational intervention in the party dispute -- so puzzling
and often shocking to many comrades -- become at once intelligible. (This of
course is not that "class analysis" which Trotsky demands from all Marxists. All
that such analysis could mean in his case would be: what social group is aided
by the effects of Trotsky's present policy? The answer is perfectly
evident: the Russian bureaucracy. His present policy is a deviation from the
direction of the international proletarian struggle for socialism, toward
The party and the International
face in the immediate future the most serious decision of many years. We will
either be dragged by a false doctrine, a distorted perspective, and a bankrupt
regime into a blind gulf where the waves of the war will leave us floundering
and finally drown us; or we will, with however painful a wrench, break out onto
the high road, the best soldiers in the one army to which we can give our
loyalty; the army of the third camp.
January 10, 1940
Much of the subject matter of the post-war
debates in the Fourth International is pre-figured in the above, especially
Burnham's comments about the allegedly progressive role of the Red Army in
spreading socialism by bureaucratic means. Indeed, if we ignore Burnham's
comments about dialectics, this critique would later form an important part of Tony
Cliff's criticism of Stalinism and of the orientation of the Fourth
International toward it.
Indeed, many of the points Burnham
raises here, and in
Science and Style, anticipate some of my own criticisms of DM.
The difference is: I remain a Trotskyist, and always will...
Appendix D: The Origin Of
The Slate System
reproducing here an edited version of an account of the origin of the slate
system found in most Bolshevik-style parties that has appeared on the Internet
recently. I have re-formatted it to conform to the conventions adopted at this
site. I have also added (1) details of the reference this comrades uses, (2) one
link, and (3) the sub-heading: 'Introduction'. The full version of this article
can be found at the link given at the end.
The leadership-recommended slate
system for internal elections to the national leadership is used in most
Leninist groups. It is not a natural system arising from the workers own
experiences and democratic instincts but something artificially imported into
the workers movement.
In theory, the
leadership-recommended slate system can be used to recommend a list that
consciously includes a good balance of talents and personalities. In practice,
it gives the existing leadership a tremendous advantage in elections and
experience has shown that it has allowed leaders to secure their continuous
re-election along with a body of like-minded and loyal followers. The leadership
slate system is a confrontational system. By recommending a slate, the
leadership is imposing a loyalty test upon the delegates. And it makes it
extremely difficult to change individual members of the national leadership
without overturning the leadership as a whole. By electing a group en bloc it
makes it hard to express discontent with particular members of the leadership.
Thus individual leaders avoid accountability and hide behind the slate as a
whole. The bottom line is that the leadership-recommended slate system has
become an important way in the 'Leninist movement' for the leadership to
maintain itself in power and prevent any challenge to its authority. Combined
with other rules this has created the basis for the stultifying, monotone,
autocratic regime that operates in almost all the various wings of the Leninist
movement. This regime may vary in intensity from one group to another but it
forms a common feature of the movement....
The following information comes
mainly from a study made on how Communist Party internal elections were carried
out in Revolutionary Russia. The study, 'The Evolution of Leadership Selection
In The Central Committee 1917-1927', was written by the well-known sovietologist
and academic Robert V. Daniels who drew most of his information from the
official records of Bolshevik and CPSU party congresses. His essay was published
in a fairly obscure academic study of Russian Officialdom which covered Russian
society from the 17th to the 20th centuries.
The first thing that may be
surprising to state is that the Bolshevik Party did not operate slates. By
Bolshevik Party we mean the party that led the Socialist Revolution in October
1917. This party, the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party (majority),
used the normal system of electing its leadership that has naturally emerged in
every workers movement across the world -- voting for individual candidates in a
competitive election. Thus those successfully elected to the Central Committee
(the leading body of the Party) had to receive higher votes than the
unsuccessful candidates. Of course, unofficial slates did exist based on
political questions and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But there
was no official list of candidates recommended by the outgoing leadership with
all the advantage and status that would have conferred on any candidate included
in such a list.
This normal election procedure
continued after the revolution and the Bolshevik Party changed its name to the
well after the Revolution the makeup of the Communist Central Committee was
governed by genuine elections at the party congresses, however they may have
been influenced by factional controversies and pressure by the leadership (i.e.
Lenin). Congress delegates voted for as many individuals as there were seats on
the Central Committee, and the appropriate number with the highest votes were
declared elected. Candidate members were originally the runners-up, but by 1920
they were being voted on separately after the roster of full members was
announced. Under these conditions the membership of the Central Committee was
naturally drawn from well-known revolutionary activists and key figures in the
central party leadership." [Daniels (1980), pp.357-58.]....
-- Turning Point
A significant change in the
Soviet Communist Party's leadership election system occurred in 1921. 1921 was a
key year in the development of the Soviet Union. In many respects it was the
turning point from which we can trace the degeneration of the Communist Party
and the Soviet state it ruled. This was the year which saw mass hunger in the
countryside and strikes in the cities. Reflecting this a major factional battle
over how to solve the economic crisis ensued that came to be referred to as the
Trade Union Debate. The old Central Committee was almost evenly divided in the
debate with Lenin and Stalin pushing for the partial reintroduction of the
market and small-scale capitalism, while Trotsky's faction argued for the
extension of war communism into the factories. In the elections for the
delegates to the Tenth Party Congress Lenin's more flexible and positive
position won a large majority. But the delegate election campaign also reflected
the growing ability of the official party bureaucracy to manipulate the party
machine with many examples of the packing of meetings etc.
The Tenth Party Congress met in
a crisis atmosphere with the serious revolt of the sailors at Kronstadt seen as
threatening the whole future of the revolution. This brought the divisions
inside the Party to a head. Quite apart from the dispute within the party
leadership caused by the Trade Union Debate, discontent was rife at all levels
of the Party. There were two rank and file opposition factions: the Democratic
Centralists who protested that the democratic aspect of the party and state life
was being lost; and the Workers Opposition who were pushing for direct trade
union control of industry. It was in this situation that Lenin introduced his
disastrous proposal to ban factions. Although this was only thought to be a
temporary measure to prevent the party being torn apart in the crisis, it became
a permanent rule within the Soviet Party and was used by Stalin again and again
to silence dissent....
Introducing The Leadership Slate
The third organisational measure
that was to soon make it much easier for Stalin to assert and maintain control
was the introduction by Lenin and his faction of a block slate system in the
elections for the Central Committee:
at the Tenth Party Congress, the first signs appeared of a basic change in the
actual manner of selecting Central Committee members. This was the practice of
making up a semi-official slate of aspirants, to be voted on de facto as a group
by the Congress delegates. The occasion happened to be the most acute crisis
ever experienced by the Soviet leadership, when it came under attack both
externally from peasant rebels and the naval mutineers at Kronstadt, and
internally from the left and ultraleft factions represented by Trotsky and the
Workers' Opposition. Having decisively defeated his critics within the Communist
Party in the pre-Congress delegate selection, Lenin evidently decided to use his
influence not only to oust several key oppositionists from the Central Committee
but to expand the body from nineteen to twenty-five, thereby creating in all
nearly a dozen openings for new people.
"The fact that a slate of recommended
official candidates was prepared for the Congress delegates to vote on is made
clear by the totals of individual votes announced after the ballot. Lenin was
everyone's choice, with 479 votes. But nearly unanimous votes were received by
numerous other people, tapering down to 351 for the twenty-fourth member, the
newcomer I. Ia. Tuntul,...far ahead of the next contender, the deposed
Trotskyist party secretary Krestinsky with 161." [Ibid., pp.357-58. (In
fact, this passage comes from pp.358-59; I have also restored a paragraph break
which occurs in the published version -- RL.)]
In addition to successfully
supporting the 'old Bolshevik' leaders against Trotsky's group and other
candidates, Lenin used this unofficial slate system to promote less well-known
figures who he thought would be more supportive of his position:
Lenin's slate making to curb the opposition factions that so plagued him in 1921
relied on the award of Central Committee status to loyal but not widely known
provincial functionaries who would have stood little chance in the earlier style
contest for a smaller body of stellar personalities." [Ibid., pp.359-60.]
-- Stalin Consolidates His Power
At the Eleventh Party Congress
in 1922, in which Lenin was unable to play a major role due to illness, the
individual results for the elections to the Central Committee were for the first
time in the Party's history not announced. Presumably this was because it would
have appeared strange and embarrassing to see the unofficial leadership slate
all gaining similar votes, way ahead of the rest of the candidates.
1922 was also the year in which
Stalin was able to decisively take over the party machine. As with other
measures introduced by Lenin that were intended to temporarily minimise dissent,
the tactic of increasing the size of the Central Committee was seized upon by
Stalin who combined it with a leadership-organised slate as a means of securing
the election of new more loyal members. This culminated at the Twelfth Party
Congress in 1923 (with Lenin absent):
twenty-three was the year of Joseph Stalin's signal breakthrough in setting up a
personal political organization in the Party, following his designation as
general secretary the year before. Turning Lenin's proposal for an expanded
Central Committee to his own advantage, Stalin persuaded the Twelfth Congress to
increase the body from twenty-seven to forty. This substantial expansion,
together with three vacancies, gave him sixteen slots to fill.
"Slate making was
in evidence once again when the Twelfth Congress came to the election of the
Central Committee, though the mathematics of it were covered up by a motion at
the Congress to withhold announcement of individual vote totals.
a footnote:] "Trotsky led the
opposition to the proposed expansion, holding out for a small body that could
continue to exercise quick day-to-day decision-making authority." [Ibid.,
p.360. (I have restored a paragraph break which occurs in the published version;
I have also separated the section that was in fact part of a footnote to p.360
At each succeeding Party
Congresses up to and including the Fifteenth in 1927 Stalin used the
behind-the-scenes leadership slate system and increases in the size of the
Central Committee, to promote yet more grateful party and state functionaries
and thereby increase his domination of the leadership:
Thirteenth Party Congress of May 1924, was the first to come after Lenin's
demise and the open break between Trotsky and the party leadership. It was the
occasion for another substantial expansion in the ranks of the Central
Committee, this time from forty to fifty-two. While practically all incumbents
were confirmed in office.... [This sentence has been cut-off in mid flow -- RL].
a footnote:] "One -- Lenin -- had died; one was transferred to
the Central Control Commission, which ruled out Central Committee membership,
and one -- Karl Radek -- was dropped for his activities on behalf of Trotsky."
Fifteenth Party Conference, held in December 1927, a year later than the rules
called for, saw the dramatic expulsion of the Left Opposition headed by Trotsky
and Zinoviev. The unprecedented number of eight Central Committee members were
dropped for oppositionist activity....
"With the seventy-one members of 1927, the
Central Committee had reached a level that was to hold constant through the
post-purge Eighteenth Congress of 1939....
"121 members and candidate members in
total...." [Ibid., pp.363-64. (I have restored two paragraph breaks which
occur in the published version; I have also separated the section that was in
fact part of a footnote to p.361 -- RL.)]
Daniels concludes his assessment
the short span of five years under Stalin's organizational domination the
central leadership body (Central Committee members and candidates) was expanded
more than two and a half times and almost totally realigned from an elected
group of the articulate and politically popular to a body de facto appointed on
the basis of bureaucratic constituencies." [Ibid., p.366.]
Trotskyist Movement And The Slate System
How and why the slate system was
adopted by the Trotskyist movement would be a very useful subject for detailed
study. Interestingly, there was a reference to its introduction into the British
Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) at its conference in 1950:
conference Healy introduced another novelty -- a slate for election to the
National Committee. The EC had drawn up this slate and if any delegate wanted to
nominate someone who was not on the slate they also had to nominate someone else
to be taken off!" ['The
Methods of Gerry Healy' by Ken Tarbuck,
published in Workers News No.30, April 1991, under the pseudonym of 'John
Walters' and with the title 'Origins of the SWP'.]
Bear in mind that the 1950
conference of the RCP was the one where Healy was able to overcome all his
opposition. The slate allowed him to get a Central Committee entirely to his
liking. In previous years the RCP had operated a system where the factions in
the organisations automatically had a number of seats on the CC according to the
level of support they had among the membership. And the faction's
representatives on the CC were democratically decided by the faction themselves.
Pat Byrne, May 2010 (2nd version).
Daniels, 'Evolution of
in the Central
in Walter M. Pintner and Don K. Rowney, eds., Russian Officialdom: The
Bureaucratization of Russian Society from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth
Century (Macmillan, 1980), pp.355-68.
Quoted from here:
above link no longer seems to work!]
Duncan Hallas On
This is an edited version of an article -- written by a genuinely working class
revolutionary -- which originally appeared in 1971 as part of a collection called
Party and Class, pp.38-55 (i.e., Cliff, et al (1996). Quoted from
[I am currently checking the on-line version (reproduced below) against the
published version for any typos, etc. Formatting has been altered to conform to
the conventions adopted at this site. Bold and some italic emphases
added; links also added.]
It will be seen from this that Hallas greatly underestimated the difficulties
revolutionaries faced, especially those arising from within his own movement
as it degenerated. Even so, its lessons need to be re-learnt.
Towards A Revolutionary
by Duncan Hallas
The events of the last 40 years
largely isolated the revolutionary socialist tradition from the working classes
of the West. The first problem is to reintegrate them. The many partial and
localised struggles on wages, conditions, housing, rents, education, health and
so on have to be co-ordinated and unified into a coherent forward movement based
on a strategy for the transformation of society.
In human terms, an organised
layer of thousands of workers, by hand and by brain, firmly rooted amongst their
fellow workers and with a shared consciousness of the necessity for socialism
and the way to achieve it, has to be created. Or rather it has to be recreated.
For such a layer existed in the twenties in Britain and internationally. Its
disintegration, initially by Stalinism and then by the complex interactions of
Stalinism, Fascism and neo-reformism, reduced the authentic socialist tradition
in the advanced capitalist countries to the status of a fringe belief. As it
re-emerges from that status, old disputes take on new life. The nature of the
socialist organisation is again an issue.
That an organisation of
socialist militants is necessary is common ground on the left, a few anarchist
purists apart. But what kind of organisation? One view, widespread amongst newly
radicalised students and young workers, is that of the libertarians. In the
nature of the case this is something of a blanket term covering a number of
distinct tendencies. The essence of what they have in common is hostility to
centralised, co-ordinated activity and profound suspicion of anything smacking
of "leadership". On this view nothing more than a loose federation of working
groups is necessary or desirable. The underlying assumptions are that
centralised organisations inevitably undergo bureaucratic degeneration and that
the spontaneous activities of working people are the sole and sufficient basis
for the achievement of socialism.
The evidence for the first
assumption is, on the face of it, impressive. The classic social-democratic
parties of the early 20th century are a text-book example. It was the German
social-democracy that furnished Robert Michels [i.e., in Michels (1916) -- RL]
with the material from which he formulated the "iron law of oligarchy". The
communist parties, founded in the first place to wrest the politically conscious
workers from the influence of conservative social-democratic bureaucracies,
became in time bureaucratised and authoritarian to a degree previously undreamt
of in working class parties. Moreover, the basic mass organisations, the trade
unions, have everywhere become a byword for bureaucratisation and this,
apparently, irrespective of the political complexion of their leadership.
From this sort of evidence some
libertarians draw the conclusion that a revolutionary socialist party is a
contradiction in terms. This is, of course, the traditional
anarcho-syndicalist position. More commonly it is conceded that a party may,
in favourable circumstances, avoid succumbing to the embraces of the
establishment. However, the argument goes, such a party, bureaucratised by
definition, inevitably contains within its structure the embryo of a new ruling
group and will, if successful, create a new exploitative society. The experience
of Stalinist parties in power is advanced as evidence here.
Much of the plausibility of
views of this sort derives from their highly abstract and therefore universal
character. It would be unfair to equate them with the currently fashionable "naked
apery" but there is certainly some similarity in their psychological appeal.
dispense with the difficult and complicated job of analysing actual societies
and actual conflicts in order to deduce from an allegedly unchanging human (or
animal) nature the "inevitability" of this or that. In the same way much
libertarian thinking proceeds from very general ideas about the evils of formal
organisation to highly specific conclusions without much effort to investigate
the actual course of events. Thus Stalinism is seen as the "inevitable"
consequence of Lenin's predilection for a centralised party. A few general
notions, a few supposed "universal truths" which are easily mastered in half an
hour, become the substitute for serious theoretical equipment. Since the real
world is a very complicated place it is highly reassuring to have at one’s
disposal the ingredients for an instant social wisdom. Unfortunately it is also
The equation "centralised
organisation equals bureaucracy equals degeneration" is in fact a secularised
version of the original sin myth. Like its prototype it leads to profoundly
reactionary conclusions. For what is really being implied is that working people
are incapable of collective democratic control of their own organisations.
Granted that in many cases this has proved to be true; to argue that it is
necessarily, inevitably true is to argue that socialism is impossible because
democracy, in the literal sense, is impossible.
This is precisely the conclusion
that was drawn by the "neo-Machiavellian"
social theorists of the early 20th century and which is deeply embedded in
modern academic sociology. It lies at the root of modern social democratic
theory, such as it is. Of course, libertarian socialists will have none of this.
The essence of their position is rejection of the tired old cliché that there
must always be élites and masses, leaders and led, rulers and ruled.
Nevertheless the opposite conclusion is implicit in their approach to
organisational questions for the simple reason that formal organisations are an
essential feature of any complex society.
In fact, useful argument about
the problems of socialist organisation is impossible at the level of "universal"
generalisations. Organisations do not exist in a vacuum. They are composed of
actual people in specific historical situations, attempting to solve real
problems with a limited number of options open to them. Failure to take adequate
account of these rather obvious considerations vitiates discussion. This is
particularly clear in the disputes about the origins of Stalinism.
That Bolshevism was the father
of Stalinism is an article of faith with most libertarians. It is also the view
of the great majority of social-democratic, liberal and conservative writers
and, of course, in the purely formal sense that the Stalinist bureaucracy
emerged from the Bolshevik party, it is incontestable. But this does not get us
very far. By the same reasoning Jesus Christ was the father of the
Spanish Inquisition and
Lincoln the father of United States imperialism, but nobody, one hopes,
imagines that statements of this type lead to any useful conclusion. The
question is how and why Stalinism emerged and what role, if any, the structure
of the Bolshevik party played in the process.
Cohn-Bendit's treatment of the matter in his book Obsolete Communism
is instructive. He sets out to show that "far from leading the Russian
Revolution forwards, the Bolsheviks were responsible for holding back the
struggle of the masses between February and October 1917, and later for turning
the revolution into a bureaucratic counterrevolution -- in both cases because of
the party's very nature, structure and ideology".
The first point is not relevant
here and will be discussed later. The second is developed by means of
quotations, suitably selected to establish the calculated malevolence of Lenin
and Trotsky. It is shown, correctly, that in 1917 Lenin favoured management of
enterprises by elected committees of workers and that in 1918 he came out
strongly for one-man management, that Trotsky in 1920 called for the
militarisation of labour and that the suppression of the
Kronstadt revolt in 1921 was an important turning point in the process by
which the Russian workers lost power. What is really astonishing about
Cohn-Bendit's account of these events is his complete omission of any
consideration of the circumstances in which they took place. The ravages of war
and civil war, the ruin of Russian industry, the actual disintegration of the
Russian working class; all this, apparently, has no bearing on the outcome. True
it is conceded in passing that Russia was a backward country and was isolated by
the failure of the German revolution but, we are told, "these general factors
can in no way explain the specific turn it (the revolution) took".
Now it is usually supposed that
there is some sort of connection between the type and level of the production of
the necessities of life and the kinds of social organisation that are possible
at any stage. No doubt it is very unfortunate that this should be so. Otherwise
mankind might have leapt straight from the old stone age to socialism.
If, however, it is conceded that
one of the preconditions for socialism is a fairly highly developed industry
with a high productivity of labour then some of the "general factors", so
casually dismissed by Cohn-Bendit, assume a certain importance. Russia at the
time of the revolution was not just a backward country. By the standards of the
developed capitalist countries of the time it was very backward indeed. 80% of
the total population was still engaged in agriculture; the comparable figure for
Britain was 4.5% of the work force. The economist Colin Clark estimated the real
income per head per occupied person in Russia in 1913 as 306 units; the
comparable figure for Britain was 1,071 units. Indeed on Clark's calculations,
the figure for Britain as early as 1688, some 370 units, was higher than that
for Russia in 1913. All such assessments contain a large margin of error no
doubt, but even if the maximum allowance is made for this the prospects for an
immediate transition to a non-coercive society in early 20th century Russia were
very slender indeed. True, man does not live by bread alone, the cultural
heritage is also important. And the cultural heritage of Russia was Tsarist
barbarism. Not surprisingly there was no tendency whatever in the
pre-revolutionary Russian Marxist movement that believed that socialism was on
the agenda for an isolated Russia, though this illusion had, it is true, been
entertained by the
Yet the economic level of 1913,
miserable as it was, represented affluence compared to what was to come. War,
revolution, civil war and foreign intervention shattered the productive
apparatus. By May 1919 Russian industry was reduced to 10% of its normal fuel
By the end of that year 79% of the total railway track mileage was out of
action-and this in a huge country where motor transport was practically
non-existent. By the end of 1920 the output of all manufactured goods had fallen
to 12.9% of the 1913 level.
The effect on the working class
was catastrophic. As early as December 1918 the number of workers in Petrograd
had fallen to half the level of two years earlier. By December 1920 that city
had lost 57.5% of its total population. In the same three years Moscow lost
The number of industrial workers
proper was over three million in 1917. In 1921 it had fallen to one and a
quarter million. The Russian working class was disappearing into the countryside
to avoid literal starvation. And what a countryside! War, famine, typhus, forced
requisitioning by red and white alike, the disappearance of even such
manufactured goods as matches, paraffin and thread -- this was the reality in
the Russia of 1920-21. According to Trotsky even cannibalism was reported from
In these desperate conditions
the Bolshevik party came to substitute its own rule for that of a decimated,
exhausted working class that was itself a small fraction of the population, and
within the party the growing apparatus increasingly edged the membership from
control. All this is incontestable, but it seems reasonable to suppose that the
actual situation had rather more influence on these developments than the "very
nature, structure and ideology" of the party. As a matter of fact the party
regime was astonishingly liberal in this period.
The most balanced summary of the
matter is that of
himself a communist with strong libertarian leanings, an eye-witness and a
often said that 'the germ of all Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its beginning'.
Well, I have no objection. Only, Bolshevism also contained many other germs -- a
mass of other germs -- and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first
years of the first victorious revolution ought not to forget it. To judge the
living man by the death germs which the autopsy reveals in a corpse -- and which
he may have carried in him since his birth -- is this very sensible?"
Given the backwardness of
Russia, which germs flourished and which stagnated, which of the several
potential outcomes actually materialised, depended above all on the
The Bolshevik seizure of power
took place in the context of a European revolution. The revolutionary movements
proved strong enough to overthrow the German Kaiser, the Austrian Emperor and
the Turkish Sultan as well as the Russian Tsar. They proved strong enough to
prevent a foreign intervention sufficiently massive and sustained to overthrow
the Soviet regime, assisted of course by the conflicts between the remaining
great powers. But they were aborted or crushed before the critical transition,
the establishment of working class power in one or two advanced countries, was
reached. The failure of the German revolution in 1918-19 to pass beyond the
stage of the capitalist-democratic republic seems, in retrospect, to have been
decisive. The defeat of the
Spartacists sealed the fate of working class rule in Russia, for only
substantial economic aid from an advanced economy, in practice from a socialist
Germany, could have reversed the disintegration of the Russian working class.
The actual outcome, the
transformation of what Lenin, in 1921, called a "workers' and peasants' State
which is bureaucratically deformed" into a totalitarian State capitalism, was
itself complex and lengthy. The point that is relevant to this discussion is
that an essential part of that process was the destruction of all the wings and
tendencies of the Bolshevik party. It was not sufficient for the
counter-revolution to liquidate the various oppositions of left and right. So
little was the party suitable as an instrument "for turning the revolution into
a bureaucratic counter-revolution" that most of the original Stalinist cadre too
had to be eliminated before the new ruling class stabilised its position.
By 1934, the year of the 17th
Party Congress, all open opposition in the party had long been suppressed. The
fate of the delegates to that Congress, Stalinists almost to a man, was revealed
Khrushchev in 1956.
1,966 delegates, 1,108 were arrested.... Of the 139 members and candidates of
the party's central committee elected at the Congress 98, i.e. 70%, were
arrested and shot."
In short, the vast majority of
those who had any roots in the Bolshevik past -- 80% of the 17th Congress
delegates had joined by 1921 -- were liquidated and replaced by new personnel
"uncontaminated" by even the most tenuous ties with the working class movement.
These events, which have had
such profound and lasting consequences, are facts of an altogether different
order of magnitude from the deficiencies, real or alleged, of Bolshevik
organisational practice. To suppose otherwise is to fall into that extreme
voluntarism which many libertarians share with the Maoists.
It does not follow that the last
word in organisational wisdom is to be found in the Bolshevik model. In the very
different conditions of late 20th century capitalism arguments for or against
Lenin's position of 1903 are not so much right or wrong as irrelevant. The
"vanguard partyism" of some of the Maoist and Trotskyist sects is the obverse of
the libertarian coin. Both alike are based on a highly abstract and misleading
view of reality.
What is in dispute here is in
part the usefulness of the analogy. It is clear that any substantial
revolutionary socialist party is necessarily, in one sense, a "vanguard". But
there is no substance in the argument that the concept is elitist. The essence
of elitism is the assertion that the observable differences in abilities,
consciousness and experience are rooted in unalterable genetic or social
conditions and that the mass of the people are incapable of self-government now
or in the future. Rejection of the elitist position implies that the observed
differences are wholly or partly attributable to causes that can be changed. It
does not mean denial of the differences themselves.
The real objection to the
emphasis on the "vanguard party" is that it is often part of an obsolete world
outlook that directs attention away from contemporary problems and leads, in
extreme cases, to a systematic false consciousness, an ideology in the strict
Marxian sense of that term.
A vanguard implies a main body,
marching in roughly the same direction and imbued with some sort of common
outlook and shared aspiration.
When, for example, Trotsky
described the German Communist Party of the 1920s and early thirties as the
vanguard of the German working class, the characterisation was apt. Not only did
the party itself include, amongst its quarter of a million or so members, the
most enlightened, energetic and self-confident of the German workers; it
operated in a working class which, in its vast majority, had absorbed some of
the basic elements of Marxist thought and which was confronted, especially after
1929, with a deepening social crisis which could not be resolved within the
framework of the
In that situation the actions of
the party were of decisive importance. What it did, or failed to do, influenced
the whole subsequent course of European and world history. The sharp polemics
about the details of tactics, history and theory, which were the staple output
of the oppositional communist groups of the period, were entirely justified and
necessary. In the given circumstances the vanguard was decisive. In Trotsky's
striking metaphor, switching the points could change the direction of the whole
heavy train of the German workers' movement.
Today the circumstances are
quite different. There is no train. A new generation of capable and energetic
workers exists but they are no longer part of a cohesive movement and they no
longer work in a milieu where basic Marxist ideas are widespread. We are back at
our starting point. Not only has the vanguard, in the real sense of a
considerable layer of organised revolutionary workers and intellectuals, been
destroyed. So too has the environment, the tradition, that gave it influence. In
Britain that tradition was never so extensive and influential as in Germany or
France but it was real enough in the early years of the Communist Party.
The crux of the matter is how to
develop the process, now begun, of recreating it. It may be true, as Gramsci
said, that it is harder to create generals than to create an army. It is
certainly true that generals without an army, are entirely useless; even if it
is supposed that they can be created in a vacuum. In fact, "vanguardism", in its
extreme forms, is an idealist perversion of Marxism, which leads to a moralistic
view of the class struggle. Workers are seen as straining at the leash, always
ready and eager to fight but always betrayed by corrupt and reactionary leaders.
Especially pernicious are the "left" leaders whose radical phraseology conceals
a fixed determination to sell the pass at the first opportunity.
Such things certainly happen of
course. Corruption in the literal sense is not unknown in the British labour
movement and in its more subtle manifestations it is widespread. But it is
grotesquely one-sided to suppose that, for example, the history of Britain since
the war, can be explained in terms of "betrayals" and it is idiotic to imagine
that all that is necessary is to "build a new leadership" around some sect or
other and then offer it as an alternative to the waiting workers.
The reality is much more
complex. The elements of a working class leadership already exist. The activists
and militants who actually maintain the shop floor and working class
organisations from day to day are the leadership in practical terms. That they
are, typically, more or less under the influence of reformist or Stalinist ideas
or ideas more reactionary still, is not to be explained in terms of betrayal. It
is to be explained both in terms of their own experience and in terms of the
absence of a socialist tendency seen as credible and realistic.
The first point has been
crucial. Reformist policies have been successful in the advanced economies in
the last 20-odd years. Not always or for everyone but for enough people enough
of the time to create a widespread belief in reformism as a viable proposition.
As conditions change the second
point becomes increasingly important and excessive emphasis on the vanguard
concept can become a real barrier to the process of fusing the tradition and the
One of the negative features of
the leadership/betrayal syndrome is the assumption that the answers to all
problems are known in advance. They are contained in a programme which is
definitive and final. To safeguard the purity of the programme is seen as one of
the main tasks of the selected few. That there may be new problems which require
new solutions, that it is necessary to learn from one's fellow workers as well
as to teach, are unwelcome ideas. And yet they are fundamental. Omniscience
is no more granted to organisations than to individuals. A certain amount of
modesty, of flexibility, of awareness of limitations is necessary.
It is, on the face of it, rather
unlikely that a programme written in, let us say, 1938, contains the complete
solution to the questions of the 1970s. It is certainly the case that in the
process of recreating a considerable socialist movement many old concepts will
have to be modified. Ideas, at least useful, operative ideas, have some sort of
relationship to facts and it is a platitude that the world in which we work is
changing at an unparalleled rate.
As a matter of fact the
development of a programme, in the sense of a detailed statement of partial and
transitional aims and tactics in all important fields, is inseparable from the
development of the movement itself. It presupposes the participation of a large
number of people who are themselves actively engaged in those fields. The job of
socialists is to connect their theory and aims with the problems and experiences
of militants in such a way as to achieve a synthesis that is both a practical
guide to action and a springboard for further advance. Such a synthesis is
meaningful to the extent that it actually guides the activities of participants
and is modified in the light of practice and that change in circumstances which
it itself produces. This is the real meaning of the "struggle for a programme"
that is so often turned into a fetish.
Similar considerations apply to
internationalism. Internationalism, the recognition of the long-run common
interests of workers everywhere and of the priority of this interest over all
sectional and national considerations is basic to socialism. Today, with the
increasing weight and influence of great international big business concerns,
this is more obvious than ever. There cannot be a purely national socialist
organisation. It is one of the merits of the Trotskyist groupings to have
consistently emphasised this fundamental truth.
Yet the conclusion often drawn
from it: "one must start with the International" is another example of the
distorting influence of overconcentration on "leadership". An "International"
which consists of no more than a grouping of sects in various countries is a
fiction. It is a harmful fiction because, as experience has shown, it leads to
delusions of grandeur and hence to evasion of the real problems. The ludicrous
situation in which no less than three bodies exist, each claiming to be the
Fourth International and exchanging mutual anathemas like rival mediaeval
popes, is a sufficient indication of the bankruptcy of ultravanguardism in the
To develop a real current of
internationalism -- and without such a current all talk of an International is
self-deception -- it is necessary to start by linking the concrete struggles of
workers in one country with those of others; of Ford workers in Britain and
Germany for example, of dockers in London and Rotterdam and so on. This means
starting where such workers actually exist, namely in the various countries. It
means putting aside grandiose ideas of "International leadership", "World
Congresses" and the like, in favour of the humdrum tasks of propaganda and
agitation in one's own country together with the development of international
links which, however limited at first, are meaningful to advanced workers
outside the sectarian milieu.
Meetings and discussions between
socialist grouplets in the various countries are essential, theoretical
discussion is essential but above all the creation of real links between groups
of workers is essential. Only after this has been done on a considerable scale
will the preconditions for the recreation of the International be achieved. In
the existing situation the analogy of Marx and the
First International is in some ways more relevant than that of Lenin and the
Neither provides a blueprint that can be followed mechanically.
Of course, after all the dross
is discarded, there is an important grain of truth in the "vanguard" analogy. It
lies in the recognition of the extreme unevenness of the working people in
consciousness, confidence, experience and activity. A rather small and
constantly changing fraction of the working class is actually involved, to any
extent, in the activities of the existing mass organisations. A larger fraction
is episodically involved and the vast majority are drawn into activity only in
exceptional circumstances. Moreover even when largish numbers of workers are
engaged in actions, in strikes or rent struggles, etc, these actions are
typically sectional and limited in their objectives, The only major exception
which occurs more or less regularly, the act of voting for a party seen as, in
some sense, the working man's party, is itself increasingly ritualistic in
character. And even at this level it has to be remembered that at every election
since the war something like one-third of the working class has voted Tory.
To state these well-known facts
is sometimes regarded as something of a betrayal, a slander against the working
class. And yet it is merely a statement, not only of what exists, but also of
what must exist for capitalist class society in its "democratic" form to
continue at all. Once large numbers of people actually act directly,
collectively and continuously to change their conditions they not only change
themselves; they undermine the whole basis of capitalism. The relevance of a
party is, firstly, that it can give the real vanguard, the more advanced and
conscious minority of workers and not the sects or self-proclaimed leaders, the
confidence and the cohesion necessary to carry the mass with them. It follows
that there can be no talk of a party that does not include this minority as one
of its major components.
The problem of apathy has to be
seen in this context. As has often been pointed out, the essence of apathy is
the feeling of powerlessness, of inability to change the course of events in
more than a marginal way, if that. The growth of apathy, the increase in
"privatisation", in turning one's back on the world, is naturally closely
connected with the decline in the ability of reformist politics to deliver the
goods as the power of the international capitalist firms to evade "national"
restrictions grows steadily. This is why apathy can be very rapidly turned into
its opposite if a credible alternative is presented.
That alternative must be more
than a mere collection of individuals giving general adherence to a platform. It
must also be a centre for mutual training and debate, for raising the level of
the raw activist to that of the experienced, for the fusion of the experiences
and outlook of manual and white collar workers and intellectuals with ideas of
scientific socialism. It must be a substitute for those institutions, special
schools, universities, clubs, messes and so on, through which the ruling class
imbues its cadres with a common outlook, tradition and loyalty. And it must do
this without cutting off its militants from their fellow workers.
That hoary red herring, the
question of whether socialist consciousness arises "spontaneously" amongst
workers or is imposed by intellectuals from the "outside" has absolutely no
relevance to modern conditions. It is strictly a non-question because it assumes
the existence of a more or less autonomous working class world-outlook into
which something is injected. Whether the relatively homogeneous working class
outlook, so lovingly described by writers like
was ever so autonomous as has often been supposed may be questioned. In any case
it is dead, killed by changing social conditions and above all by the mass
media. It is rather ridiculous to argue about whether one should bring ideas
from "outside" to workers who own television sets. Certainly most workers and
especially the activists see things rather differently than the denizens of the
stockbroker belt. Their whole life experience ensures this. But workers are not
automata responding passively to the environment. Everyone has to have some
picture of the world, some frame of reference into which data are fitted, some
assumptions about society. The whole vast apparatus of mass communications,
educational institutions and the rest have, as one of their principal functions,
what sociologists call "socialisation" and what the old
Wobblies called head-fixing. The assumptions convenient to the ruling class
are the daily diet of all of us. Individuals, whether bus drivers or lecturers
in aesthetics, can resist the conditioning process to a point. Only a collective
can develop a systematic alternative worldview, can overcome to some degree the
alienation of manual and mental work that imposes on everyone, on workers and
intellectuals alike, a partial and fragmented view of reality. What Rosa
Luxemburg called "the fusion of science and the workers" is unthinkable outside
a revolutionary party.
Such a party cannot possibly
be created except on a thoroughly democratic basis; unless, in its internal
life, vigorous controversy is the rule and various tendencies and shades of
opinion are represented, a socialist party cannot rise above the level of a
sect. Internal democracy is not an optional extra. It is fundamental to the
relationship between party members and those amongst whom they work.
The point was well illustrated
Deutscher in discussing the Communist Parties in the late twenties and early
European communist went out to argue his case before a working class audience,
he usually met there a Social Democratic opponent whose arguments he had to
refute and whose slogans he had to counter. Most frequently he was unable to do
this, because he lacked the habits of political debate, which were not
cultivated within the party, and because his schooling deprived him of the
ability to preach to the unconverted. He could not probe adequately into his
opponents case when he had to think all the time about his own orthodoxy.... He
could propound with mechanical fanaticism a prescribed set of arguments and
slogans;... When called upon, as he often was, to answer criticism of the Soviet
Union, he could rarely do so convincingly, his thanksgiving prayers to the
workers' fatherland and his hosannahs for Stalin covered him with ridicule in
the eyes of any sober-minded audience. This ineffectiveness of the Stalinist
agitation was one of the main reasons why over many years, even in the most
favourable circumstances, that agitation made little or no headway against
Social Democratic reformism."
Latter-day parallels will spring
The self-education of
militants is impossible in an atmosphere of sterile orthodoxy. Self-reliance and
confidence in one's ideas are developed in the course of that genuine debate
that takes place in an atmosphere where differences are freely and openly
argued. The "monolithic party" is a Stalinist concept. Uniformity and democracy
are mutually incompatible.
Naturally a party cannot be a
hold-all in which any and every conceivable standpoint is represented. The
limits of membership are democratic collective control by the working class over
industry and society. Within these limits a variety of views on aspects of
strategy and tactics is necessary and inevitable in a democratic organisation.
The heresy hunting characteristic of certain sects is self-defeating; an
atmosphere of quasi-religious fanaticism is incompatible with the reintegration
of the socialist tradition with a broad layer of workers.
The discipline that is
certainly necessary in any serious organisation can arise in one of two ways. It
can arise from a system of artificial unanimity enforced by edicts and
prescriptions, a system that is counter-productive in a socialist group. Or it
can arise from a common tradition and loyalty built on the basis of common work,
mutual education and a realistic and responsible relationship to the spontaneous
activities of workers.
Spontaneity is a fact. But what
does it mean? Simply that groups of workers who are not active with any
political or even trade union organisation take action on their own behalf or in
support of others. From the point of view of organisations the action is
"spontaneous"; from the point of view of the workers concerned it is conscious
and deliberate. Such activity is constantly occurring and reflects the
aspirations for self-government that are widespread even amongst workers
commonly regarded as "backward". It is an elemental expression of the class
struggle. Without it conscious militants would be suspended in a vacuum. To use
the hackneyed but useful analogy, it is the steam that drives the pistons of
working class organisation.
Pistons without propellants are
useless. Steam unchannelled has only a limited effect. Spontaneity and
organisation are not alternatives; they are different aspects of the process by
which increasing numbers of workers can become conscious of the reality of their
situation and of their power to change it. The growth of that process depends on
a dialogue, on organised militants who listen as well as argue, who understand
the limitations of a party as well as its strengths and who are able to find
connections between the actual consciousness of their fellows and the politics
necessary to realise the aspirations buried in that consciousness.
It sometimes happens that even
the best militants find themselves overtaken by events and occupying a position,
for a shorter or longer time, to the right of previously unmilitant workers. The
experience is familiar to active rank-and-file trade unionists. Slogans and
demands that were yesterday acceptable only to the more conscious people can
quite suddenly be too limited for the majority when a struggle develops beyond
the expected point. Inevitably the greater experience and knowledge of the
activists induces a certain caution, normally appropriate, but which, in a
rapidly changing situation, can sometimes become a real barrier to advance. The
same tendency is bound to occur with an organisation. This is the valid element
in Cohn-Bendit's critique of socialist parties.
The danger is inherent in the
nature of the environment. Sudden changes of consciousness amongst this group or
that cannot always or even usually be predicted. What can be predicted is the
need for the sensitivity to detect them rapidly and the flexibility to react
Neither the existence of such
spontaneous changes of mood, unexpected upheavals nor the frequent tendency
towards caution amongst the layer of experienced and committed socialists
constitute an argument against a party. On the contrary, given the unevenness of
consciousness and the industrial and geographical divisions of the working
class, a party, indeed a centralised party, is essential to give to various
actions of different groups that cohesion and co-ordination without which their
effect will be limited to local and sectional gains.
It is an argument against that
bureaucratic caricature of a party that Stalinism has caused many on the left to
confuse with the genuine article. One of Cohn-Bendit's chosen illustrations of
party conservatism, the fact that in July 1917 the Bolshevik party lagged behind
the workers of Petrograd and tried to restrain and limit their demonstrations,
illuminates the point. The party was caught in a dilemma inherent in the uneven
development of the movement in Russia as a whole. As Trotsky wrote
the fear that Petrograd might become isolated from the more backward provinces;
on the other hand there was the hope that an active and energetic intervention
by Petrograd might save the situation."
This "conservatism" was a
reflection of the pressure of the party members in other centres who, in turn,
transmitted the mood of working class circles in these centres. The fact that
there was a party sufficiently flexible to react to that pressure probably
prevented a repetition of the
Commune in 1917. This, of course, was the most extreme situation possible
but similar problems are inevitable at every stage of development.
A revolutionary socialist party
is necessary then; but such a party has been necessary for a long time. Why
should it be supposed that it is possible to create it in the 1970s?
Basically the case rests on the
analysis of the world crisis developed in International Socialism, and
particularly on the thesis that, in the changing conditions of capitalism,
reformist policies will be less and less able to provide those partial solutions
to the problems confronting the working class that they have been able to
provide in the decades since the Second World War. This is the objective factor.
The most important subjective
factor is the decline in the ideological power of Stalinism. The past influence
of Stalinism on the left and its effects, direct and by reaction, in effectively
excluding the building of an alternative are difficult to exaggerate. For 15
years that power has been eroded, slowly at first and then more and more
quickly. Today it is in full disintegration. This ideological decomposition is
not to be confused with the organisational decline of Communist parties. Though
the British party has certainly declined this is not the decisive consideration.
The party still commands the allegiance of a good many industrial militants. But
it no longer commands it on the old basis. It is no longer a Stalinist party.
All kinds of tendencies exist within it and now that the papal infallibility of
Moscow is gone for ever the monolithic party cannot be restored.
The dominant group in the party,
leadership, is effectively reformist. Whether, as some of its critics suspect,
the leadership aims to liquidate the party into the Labour Party, or whether, as
seems more likely, it clings to the illusion that there is room in British
politics for a second reformist workers' party, makes little difference. As an
obstacle to regroupment on the left the party is a rapidly waning force.
Nor is the Labour Party left the
force it used to be. In part this is a reflection of the decline of the
Communist Party, for every significant left-wing in the Labour Party in the past
has leaned heavily on the Communist Party's Trade Union base. In part it is an
effect of the decline of the Labour Party's own membership organisations --
youth, wards, constituencies -- which has become so marked in recent years.
There are still genuine socialists active in the Labour Party as there are also
amongst the passive card-holders. But it seems unlikely, though it is not
inconceivable, that any fairly massive socialist current will develop in the
The basis for the beginnings of
a revolutionary socialist party exists amongst those industrial militants who
used to look to the Communist Party, amongst increasing numbers of radicalised
young workers and students and amongst the revolutionary groups.
The latter are an important
but difficult problem. The root cause of the sort of sectarianism that has
plagued the British left is the isolation of socialists from effective and
influential participation in mass struggles. The isolation is rapidly
diminishing but its negative effects -- the exacerbation of secondary
differences, the transformation of tactical differences into matters of
principle, the semi-religious fanaticism which can give a group considerable
survival power in adverse conditions at the cost of stunting its potentiality
for real development, the theoretical conservatism and blindness to unwelcome
aspects of reality -- all these persist. They will be overcome when, and
only when, a serious penetration and fusion of layers of workers and students
outside sectarian circles has been achieved. The International Socialism group
intends to make a significant contribution to that penetration. Without having
any illusions that it is "the leadership" the group exists to make a theoretical
and a practical contribution to the regeneration of socialism in Britain and
1. This figure and those
following are taken from E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol 2.
Appendix F: Trotsky And the Degeneration Of The CPSU
The story of the degeneration of the CPSU after the gains of October 1917 has
been told many times. Part of that degeneration was reflected in Trotsky's
struggle with anti-democratic forces that were gaining strength in the early
1920s. Much of this can be put down to the effects of the Civil War in the
at the time, the destruction of industry and the near disappearance of the old
working class. But, the fact that these
pressures have existed ever since, and still exist, shows that this isn't
just a feature limited to a unique set events that took place in that country
Although he was a great a revolutionary, by 1924 Trotsky found these pressures
were far too great even for him to be able to defend successfully the
democratic spirit that dominated the party only a few years earlier. In the face
of growing unrest among workers in 1923, the
GPU responded by making a series arrests. Trotsky was ambivalent at first,
but soon came out in favour of (limited) party democracy.
This illustrates once again the forces that exist between centralisation and
open democracy that afflict all such parties, and how these forces, in the end,
always seem to favour the former over the latter.
Here is how Tony Cliff depicted things:
The New Course Controversy
[Formatting has been altered to
conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Some italic emphases
and all links added. Minor typos corrected where they have been spotted.
The Troika of Stalin,
was formed with the prime aim of fighting Trotsky, who had
missed the opportunity at the Twelfth Party Congress (April 1923) to carry
out Lenin's wish to fight Stalin's bureaucratism....
A more serious challenge to the
Soviet government came from two dissident groups within the party: 'Workers'
Truth' and the
The Workers' Truth group was
composed largely of students, disciples of
Bogdanov, the old Bolshevik who broke from Lenin in 1907. It consisted of no
more than 20 members. Outside of discussion circle activity the organisational
work of the group consisted of publishing two numbers of its journal.
Far more influential was the
Workers' Group, composed mainly of workers led by
Miasnikov, Kuznetsov and Moiseev, who had been expelled from the party in
1922. The group was formed in the spring of 1923. Immediately after the Twelfth
Party Congress it issued a manifesto denouncing the "New Exploitation of the
Proletariat", and urging workers to fight for Soviet democracy. In May Miasnikov
was arrested, but his group continued its propaganda. When the strikes of
July-August broke out they wondered whether they should go to the factories with
a call for a general strike. They were still arguing about this when in
September the GPU arrested a number of them, about twenty people in all. The
group apparently had about 200 members in Moscow. It was estimated that about
200 Communists were expelled from the party at the end of 1923 for their
involvement with Workers' Truth and the Workers' Group.
However small the Workers'
Group, its influence was quite widespread. Rank and file party members listened
sympathetically to their appeals. In the presence of mass discontent when the
trade unions did not voice the workers' grievances, and the party paid little
attention to them, a small group could have a far wider impact than its size
warranted. After all, the instigators of the
Kronstadt revolt had not been more numerous or influential.
The party leaders sought to
stamp out the sparks.
Dzerzhinsky, head of the GPU, was charged with the business of suppression.
When he found that many party members were sympathetic to the two groups, he
turned to the
Politburo and asked it to declare that it was the duty of all party members
to denounce to the GPU party members who cooperated with these subversive
groups: in effect this meant their acting as policemen. Dzerzhinsky's stance
could be explained only by the bureaucratic nature of the party and the massive
alienation of the rank and file from it.
Trotsky's Reaction To Workers' Unrest
Dzerzhinsky's statement led
Trotsky to speak out. He did not condone the existence of Workers' Truth or the
Workers' Group and did not condemn their persecution. He did not protest at the
arrest of their supporters. He did not support their incitement of workers to
industrial action. He did not see how the government could meet workers' demand
when industrial output was still negligible. He saw the way to assuage workers'
demands by a long-term industrialisation policy. Nor was Trotsky ready to
support the demand for workers' democracy in the extreme form in which the
Workers' Group and Workers' Truth raised it. But he found that Dzerzhinsky had
gone too far, and on 8 October 1923 he wrote a letter to the Central Committee
and the Central Control Commission complaining about Dzerzhinsky's stance.
Trotsky admitted that he himself
had at first been sceptical about the arguments of the illegal groupings about
democracy. Referring to the
Twelfth Party Congress he stated:
the speeches of that time made in defence of workers' democracy seemed to me
exaggerated, and to a considerable extent demagogic, in view of the
incompatibility of a fully developed workers' democracy with the regime of a
However, things went from bad to
regime which had essentially taken shape even before the Twelfth Congress and
which, after it, was fully consolidated and given finished form, is much further
removed from workers' democracy than was the regime during the fiercest period
of war communism. The bureaucratisation of the party apparatus has reached
unheard-of proportions through the application of the methods of secretarial
selection. Even in the cruellest hours of the civil war we argued in the party
organisations and in the press as well...while now there is not a trace of such
an open exchange of opinions on questions that are really troubling the
As a result,
"Within the basic stratum of the party there is an extraordinary degree of
discontent.... This discontent is not being alleviated through an open
exchange of opinions in party meetings or by mass influence on the party
organisations (in the election of party committees, secretaries, etc.), but
rather it continues to build up in secret, and, in time, leads to internal
Trotsky also renewed his attack
on the Troika's economic policy. The ferment within the party was intensified,
he argued, by the industrial unrest. And this was brought about by a lack of
economic planning. He found out that the concession the Troika had made to him
at the Twelfth Congress was spurious. The congress had adopted his resolution on
industrial policy, but this had remained a dead letter.
Trotsky ends his letter with a
statement that although hitherto he had declined to make his views public, now
he would have to spread his ideas -- not to the public as a whole, not even to
all party members, but to those 'mature' enough.
deliberately avoided submitting the struggle within the Central Committee to the
judgment of even a very narrow circle of comrades: specifically to those who,
given any party course that was at all reasonable, would surely occupy a
prominent place in the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission. I
am compelled to state that my efforts over the past year and a half have yielded
it is not only my right but my duty to make the true state of affairs known to
every party member whom I consider to be sufficiently prepared, mature,
self-restrained, and consequently capable of helping the party find a way out of
this impasse without factional convulsions and upheavals."
Trotsky's letter was kept secret
from the party rank and file.
On 15 October another letter was
written, this time by a group of
forty-six prominent party members. They issued a statement directed against
the official leadership, criticising it in terms practically identical to those
Trotsky had used. They declared that the country was threatened with economic
ruin, because the "majority of the Politburo" did not see the need for planning
in industry. The Forty Six also protested against the rule of the hierarchy of
secretaries and the stifling of discussion:
of the party who are dissatisfied with this or that decision of the central
committee or even of a provincial committee, who have this or that doubt on
their minds, who privately note this or that error, irregularity or disorder,
are afraid to speak about it at party meetings, and are even afraid to talk
about it in conversation.... Nowadays it is not the party, not its broad masses,
who promote and choose members of the provincial committees and of the central
committee of the
RKP. On the contrary the secretarial hierarchy of the party to an ever
greater extent recruits the membership of conferences and congresses which are
becoming to an ever greater extent the executive assemblies of this
hierarchy.... The position which has been created is explained by the fact that
the regime is the dictatorship of a fraction within the party....
fractional regime must be abolished, and this must be done in the first instance
by those who have created it; it must be replaced by a regime of comradely unity
and internal party democracy."
The Forty Six went beyond
Trotsky's letter of 8 October. They demanded that the ban on inner party
groupings should be abolished. They finally asked the Central Committee to call
an emergency conference to review the situation.
Among the Forty Six were
Trotsky's closest political friends:
Evgenii Preobrazhensky, the brilliant economist;
Piatakov, the most able of the industrial administrators; Lev Sosnovsky,
Pravda's gifted contributor;
Ivan Smirnov, the victor over
Antonov-Ovseenko, hero of the October insurrection, now chief political
commissar of the Red Army;
Muralov, commander of the Moscow garrison.
expressed solidarity with the Forty Six in a separate declaration. They formed
the core of the so-called
Opposition, and represented the Trotskyist element in it.
Besides them there were former
adherents of the Workers' Opposition and Decemists (Democratic
Sapronov, V. Kossior,
and V. Ossinsky, whose views differed from that of the Trotskyists. Many of the
signatories appended strong reservations on special points to the common
statement or expressed plain dissent. The Forty Six did not represent a solid
faction, but a loose coalition of groups and individuals united only in a
general protest against the lack of democracy in the party.
The fact that Trotsky did not
sign the document of the Forty Six was symptomatic of his irresolute attitude
and his unwillingness, so long as Lenin's recovery was still possible, to openly
challenge the Troika. He thus also avoided the accusation of 'factionalism'.
The declaration of the Forty Six
lost some of its sting by its admission that
present leaders would not in any conditions fail to be appointed by the party to
the outstanding posts in the workers' dictatorship"
thus accepting that there was no
alternative leadership available. The declaration was also weakened by the fact
that the only concrete recommendation was the summoning of a conference of the
Central Committee and active party workers to consider what should be done.
On 24 October Trotsky wrote
another letter to the Central Committee criticising the inner-party regime, and
referring especially to Lenin's sharp criticism of
The Central Committee and the
Central Control Commission, together with delegates of ten leading party
organisations, met for a plenary session from 25 to 27 October. The Troika used
this session for counter measures against Trotsky and the Forty Six. Trotsky was
kept away from the meeting by the onset of the mysterious illness which affected
him most of that winter. In the latter part of October he had caught a severe
chill while on a duck-hunting expedition, an occasion narrated at some length in
his autobiography and accompanied by philosophical reflections on the role of
accidents in history. The sequel was what he later called "a dogged, mysterious
infection, the nature of which still remains a mystery to my physicians". The
intermittent fever lasted well into January when Trotsky left Moscow for the
At the party conference, which
followed this plenum on 16-18 January 1924, Preobrazhensky was the main
Opposition spokesman, and he continued to carry this major task throughout the
ensuing few months of what has become known as the
New Course controversy. He offered to the Central Committee and the
Plenum of the Central Control Commission a resolution embodying the principle of
workers' democracy, including free expression and discussion, real control and
election by the membership and an end to the dominance of the secretariat.
Preobrazhensky's proposal was
rejected out of hand by the Troika. Instead they counter-attacked, accusing
Trotsky and the Forty Six of factionalism.
The Troika justified the Central
Committee's decision not to distribute the Declaration of the Forty Six on the
grounds that it would violate the banning of factional activities pronounced by
the Tenth Party Congress. At the same time, the Central Committee declared its
acceptance of the principle of workers' democracy.
The resolution embodying both
these elements was carried overwhelmingly at the party conference: by 102 votes
to 2, with 10 abstentions. This was the springboard for the campaign against the
Opposition which was shortly to begin.
News about the Opposition
spread, and interest in their ideas was widespread. So the Troika was not
satisfied merely with the refusal to publish Trotsky's letters of 8 and 15
October and the Declaration of the Forty Six, plus the threat of persecution of
the Opposition. They decided to take the wind out of the Opposition's sails by
adopting its principles as their own. In an article in
Pravda on 7
November, entitled New Tasks of the Party, Zinoviev proclaimed:
necessary that inner-party democracy, of which we have spoken so much, begins to
a greater degree to take on flesh and blood.... Our chief trouble consists in
the fact that almost all very important questions are pre-decided from above
A note appended to the article
announced that the columns of the paper would be thrown open for a discussion in
which party members, trade unionists and non-party people were invited to
participate. The response was massive and the debate carried on in the columns
of Pravda throughout the
greater part of November. The Politburo appointed a sub-committee consisting of
Stalin, Kamenev and Trotsky, to elaborate a resolution on party democracy. The
Troika was ready to make verbal concessions to Trotsky, doing everything
necessary to maintain the appearance of unity. They asked Trotsky to put his
signature next to theirs under the text they had plagiarised from him. Since
Trotsky himself had never come out openly in opposition to the Troika, this
In terms of a description of the
problems facing the country, the government and the party, the resolution
proposed by Stalin, Kamenev and Trotsky was quite close to Trotsky's thinking.
It was vague when prescribing for inner-party democracy, but did demand "a
serious change of the party course in the direction of a real and systematic
application of the principles of workers' democracy". But on the crucial issue
of the control exercised by the centre over the appointment of local party
secretaries it remained equivocal. It recalled that the party statute required
the confirmation of such appointments by the highest party authority, but
thought that the time had come, "in the light of the experience which we now
have, especially of the lower organisations", to "verify the usefulness" of this
and other similar restrictions on the autonomy of local branches. "In any case",
concluded this section of the resolution, "the right to confirm secretaries
cannot be allowed to be converted into their virtual nomination."
Whilst paying lip service to
inner-party democracy, the resolution was adamant in condemning any factional
grouping in the party.
democracy means the liberty of frank discussion of the most important questions
of party life by all members, and the election of all leading party
functionaries and commission by those bodies immediately under them. It does
not, however, imply the freedom to form factional groupings, which are extremely
dangerous for the ruling party, since they always threaten to split or fragment
the government and the state apparatus as a whole."
While accepting inner-party
democracy, the resolution condemned the Workers' Group and Workers' Truth, and
by implication the Declaration of the Forty Six. It cited and endorsed the
earlier resolution of the Central Committee of 25 October approving the "course
set by the Politburo for inner-party democracy", sharply condemned the Forty Six
and criticised Trotsky's letter of 8 October. This resolution was unanimously
approved at the joint session of the Politburo and the Praesidium of the Central
Control Commission on 5 December. The members of the Troika could heave a sigh
of relief: the danger of an open split in which Trotsky would lead the rank and
file of the party against them had once again been averted.
Trotsky attached the utmost
importance to this resolution which he treated as a vindication of his own point
of view. In the heat of subsequent controversy he described it as initiating a
fourth period in party history, the previous periods being 'pre-October',
'October', and 'post-October'. In May 1924, at the Thirteenth Party Congress, he
declared that the resolution gave him the essentials of what he wanted.
In words, the 5 December
resolution was perhaps a victory for Trotsky. But the actual power to nominate
the secretaries of provincial and local party committees, who played a crucial
role in deciding the election of delegates to party congresses and conferences,
remained with the Central Committee. The implementation of workers' democracy
was to remain in the hands of the bureaucracy, and since the bureaucracy was
determined to hold on to its power, the resolution settled nothing.
Trotsky's Elaboration On The
Although he put
his name to the Politburo resolution, Trotsky still feared it could become a
paper concession by the Troika, who tried to use it to escape censure, as with
the concessions they made to the resolutions at the Twelfth Party Congress. To
prevent its becoming a dead letter, he decided to appeal to the rank and file of
the party to put pressure on the leadership.
In a series of
brief articles written for Pravda
in December 1923 Trotsky elaborated on the theme of bureaucratic abuse and the
lack of rank and file initiative and independence. In January 1924 this
collection, together with another couple of hitherto unpublished articles, was
issued as a pamphlet with the title The New
Course. These articles contained in a nutshell most of the ideas
which became the hallmark of 'Trotskyism'.
On 8 December
Trotsky wrote an Open Letter to party members in which he made clear
his position. He described the New Course as a historical turning point,
but warned the rank and file that some of the leaders were already having second
thoughts and trying to sabotage the New Course.
"The excessive centralisation of the apparatus at the
expense of initiative engendered a feeling of uneasiness, an uneasiness
which, at the extremities of the party, assumed an exceedingly morbid form and
was translated, among other ways, in the appearance of illegal groupings
directed by elements undeniably hostile to communism. At the same time, the
whole of the party disapproved more and more of apparatus methods of solving
questions. The idea, or at the very least the feeling, that bureaucratism
threatened to get the party into a blind alley, had become quite general. Voices
were raised to point out the danger. The resolution on the 'new course' is the
first official expression of the change that has taken place in the party. It
will be realised to the degree that the party, that is, its 400,000 members,
want to realise it and succeed in doing so."
Trotsky then went
on to appeal to the youth to assert themselves and not regard the Old Guard's
"absolute. It is only by constant active collaboration
with the new generation, within the framework of democracy, that the Old Guard
will preserve itself as a revolutionary factor. Of course, it may ossify
and become unwittingly the most consummate expression of bureaucratism."
This was the
first time Trotsky charged the Old Guard with the danger of "bureaucratic
degeneration". He supported the charge by referring to the historical experience
"History offers us more than one case of degeneration of
the 'Old Guard'. Let us take the most recent and striking example: that of the
leaders of the parties of the Second International. We know that
and many others were the direct pupils of Marx and Engels. Yet we know that in
the atmosphere of parliamentarism and under the influence of the automatic
development of the party and the trade union apparatus, all these leaders
turned, in whole or in part, to opportunism.
"...we, the 'elders', ought to say to ourselves plainly
that our generation, which naturally enjoys the leading role in the party, is
not absolutely guaranteed against the gradual and imperceptible
weakening of the revolutionary and proletarian spirit in its ranks if the party
were to tolerate the further growth and stabilisation of bureaucratic
Thus, after a
delay of some nine months, Trotsky at last threw the bombshell Lenin expected
him to throw at the Twelfth Party Congress. Now that Trotsky put himself
publicly at the head of the Opposition, open political combat between the
factions became inevitable....
The most damaging
weakness of The New Course was
that it represented the Opposition as the best defenders of party unity and the
strongest opponents of inner party factions. Trotsky proposed not the allowing
of factions, but a style of leadership that would render them unnecessary.
"We are the only party in the country, and in the period
of the dictatorship it could not be otherwise.... the Communist Party is obliged
to monopolise the direction of political life.
"It is incontestable that factions are a scourge in the
present situation, and that groupings, even if temporary, may be transformed
into factions.... The party does not want factions and will not tolerate them."
On the one hand the party was strangled
by the bureaucracy, but on the other Trotsky was unwilling to call on social
forces outside the party to combat the bureaucracy.
The very fact of the Opposition arguing against
factionalism could not but play into the hands of the Troika who repeatedly
accused the Opposition of being a faction.
The New Course
calls on the party to guard its monopoly of power as the sole guarantee of the
survival of the revolution. At the same time, within the party, it objects to
the monopoly of power of the Old Guard. It was quite easy for the Troika and its
adherents to argue that the latter was the necessary consequence of the former.
If one had to substitute the 400,000 party members for the millions of the
proletariat, should not the latter be substituted by the 'more reliable'
veterans -- especially as 97 per cent of the party members in 1923 joined the
party only after the October revolution?...
stand for democracy in The
New Course seemed of questionable validity when compared with Trotsky's
(and Lenin's) position on the same issue at the Tenth Party Congress in March
1921. This is what Trotsky said then:
"The Workers' Opposition has come out with dangerous
slogans, fetishising the principles of democracy. They seem to have placed the
workers' voting rights above the Party, as though the Party did not have the
right to defend its dictatorship even if that dictatorship were to collide for a
time with the transitory mood of the workers' democracy.... What is
indispensable is the consciousness, so to speak, of the revolutionary historical
birthright of the Party, which is obliged to maintain its dictatorship in spite
of the temporary vacillations in the elemental stirrings of the masses, in spite
of the temporary vacillations even in the workers' milieu. That consciousness is
for us the indispensable cement. It is not on the formal principle of workers'
democracy that the dictatorship is based at any given moment, though the
workers' democracy is, of course, the only method by whose help the masses are
increasingly drawn into political life."
...Above all, the
New Course controversy demonstrated the tragic problem of a proletariat
which made up a small minority of the population, weakened by civil war, in the
midst of a mass of peasantry in a backward rural country surrounded by world
capitalism. In 1904 Trotsky wrote:
"It is only too clear that a proletariat capable of
exercising its dictatorship over society will not tolerate any dictatorship over
But what if the
proletariat, due to conditions, ceases to be "capable of exercising its
dictatorship over society"? [Cliff
The Campaign Against Trotsky
The Troika's Reaction To Trotsky's
The reaction of
the Troika to Trotsky's New
Course was vehement. It began on 15 December 1923 with an article by
Stalin in Pravda and a speech
by Zinoviev in Petrograd (published in
Pravda on 20 and 21 December). They both charged Trotsky with
violating the unanimity of the Politburo by making a public statement in
opposition to the unanimously adopted resolution of 5 December. From
mid-December until the Thirteenth Party Conference -- of 16-18 January 1924 --
violent controversy raged in the key party organisations.
The Troika fired
a barrage of criticism against Trotsky. He was accused of disloyalty to the
Politburo, of criminally inciting the young against the Old Bolsheviks, who were
the bearers of the revolutionary tradition. It was said to be wicked to turn the
rank and file of the party against the apparatus: every good Bolshevik was aware
of the crucial role of the apparatus in preserving and leading the party.
Trotsky was equivocal over the ban on factions: he did not dare to challenge the
decision of the Tenth Congress on the ban, but sought surreptitiously to
undermine this decision. The Troika said he pretended to speak for the workers,
but played up to the students and the intelligentsia. His hatred of the party
apparatus, his slander of the Old Guard, his disrespect for the Bolshevik
traditions and his underestimation of the peasantry; all these clearly
demonstrated that he was alien to the party, to Lenin -- that he was still a
opened the floodgates for the anti-Trotsky campaign. It aimed to divert the
party's attention from the New Course discussion. The editor of
Bukharin, made it clear that he supported the Troika by publishing an
article entitled Down with Factionalism, which was described as The
Reply of the Central Organ to the critics, and continued through five
issues of Pravda (28, 29, 30
December 1923, and 1 and 4 January 1924)....
articles attacking the Opposition appeared in
Pravda and only a
tiny number of articles defending it. Certain
Pravda staff members who favoured
reporting both sides of the argument impartially were summarily sacked by order
of the Central Control Commission. Trotsky's pamphlet
The New Course was hardly to be
found in any bookshop, as
recorded. Everything possible was done to propagate the argument that Trotsky
had always been hostile to Bolshevism, and that Trotskyism had always been a
trend hostile to Lenin.
Deutscher is correct when he writes:
"In the long history of inner-party oppositions none had
been weighed down by so heavy a load of accusations and none had been ground
down so remorselessly by the party machine as was the 1923 Opposition. By
comparison the Workers' Opposition had been treated fairly, almost generously;
and the oppositions which had been active before 1921 had as a rule enjoyed
unrestricted freedom of expression and organisation."
The party crisis
of November-December 1923 was the last occasion on which
Pravda provided a forum for
conflicting groups within the party. Thereafter it spoke exclusively as the
official voice of the Politburo.
The Thirteenth Party Conference
for the Thirteenth Party Conference, held in January 1924, were in the hands of
the secretaries. The election of delegates was indirect and proceeded through
several stages. At every stage the secretaries did their best to eliminate
supporters of the Opposition....
The fear of
reprisal was especially great because of the threat of the sack, with
unemployment so massive and the power of the 'Red Manager' so great....
sympathetic to the Opposition were expelled from the universities in large
sympathisers were quite strong in the Red Army, so the oppositionist
Antonov-Ovseenko was removed from the crucial post of head of the Political
Administration of the Army. (Antonov-Ovseenko was replaced by A. Bubnov, a
former Democratic Centralist and one of the signatories of the Declaration of
the Forty Six, who now switched to the side of the Troika and became a supporter
of Stalin until he was purged in the 1930s.)...
The party apparatus
demonstrated its decisive power. The Opposition got only three delegates to the
Thirteenth Party Conference out of 128 delegates with deciding votes (and 222
with consultative votes.)
Trotsky was not present at the
conference. As we have already mentioned, in early January he left Moscow to
recuperate at the Black Sea resort of Sukhum. The leadership of the Opposition
at the conference fell to Preobrazhensky, Piatakov, Osinsky and Sapronov, none
of whom had the authority of Trotsky.
The conference turned into an
orgy of ferocity against the Opposition led by Stalin and supported by Zinoviev
and Kamenev. Stalin's vitriolic attacks on Trotsky, in which he called him a
Menshevik, 'patriarch of bureaucrats', and so on, culminated in a quote from the
resolution of the Tenth Party Congress on the banning of factions in which the
following hitherto undisclosed clause was revealed, requiring the Central
"...in case (cases) of breach of discipline or of a
revival or toleration of factionalism, to apply all-party penalties up to and
including expulsion from the party.... A condition for the application of such
an extreme measure (to members and candidate members of the CC and members of
the Control Commission) must be the convocation of a plenum of the Central
Committee to which all candidate members of the Central Committee and all
members of the Control Commission shall be invited. If such a general assembly
of the most responsible leaders of the Party by a two-thirds majority, considers
it necessary to reduce a member of the Central Committee to the status of a
candidate member, or to expel him from the Party, this measure shall be put into
adopted a resolution denouncing the Opposition -- Trotsky and the Forty Six --
as guilty of "petty-bourgeois deviation from Leninism" and going on to state
"The Party will politically annihilate anyone who makes an
attempt on the unity of the Party ranks. Party unity is more assured now than
"Decisive measures, up to expulsion from the Party, must
be adopted against the spreading of unverified rumours and prohibited
"The Conference orders the Central Committee to publish
the previously unpublished seventh paragraph of the resolution 'On Party Unity'
adopted at Comrade Lenin's proposal by the Tenth Congress, which entitles a
joint meeting of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission by two
thirds majority to demote from member to candidate member, or even to expel from
the Party, any Central Committee member who has violated Party discipline or has
The Thirteenth Party Congress
...In payment for
his support for Stalin at this difficult time Zinoviev earned the right to be
the main speaker at the coming Congress by delivering the political report of
the Central Committee. This turned out to be an almost hysterical call for unity
of the party:
"In this hall there is not one man who would not be ready
to give up everything for our party to be united, for this is the single serious
prerequisite of all further successes of the revolution and all further
successes of the Comintern."
In his extreme
propagation of the idea of monolithic unity Zinoviev accused Trotsky of
responsibility for the formation of factions and groupings. He taunted Trotsky
for his charge of lack of inner-party democracy and the dominance of the
bureaucracy in the party, argued that the party must become "a thousand times
more monolithic than hitherto", and concluded by issuing a challenge to Trotsky
to get up before the Congress and recant his errors....
This was the
first time that dissidents in the party were called upon to disavow their ideas
in order to escape censure. The demand for contrition would later be made of
Zinoviev as well as all those who joined him in his demand for Trotsky to
Trotsky was very
isolated at the Congress. The Congress was attended by 748 delegates with a
deciding vote and 416 with a consultative vote. The Opposition was represented
by two with a consultative vote, Trotsky and Preobrazhensky. The party apparatus
had done its job ruthlessly. Only four months before, on the eve of the
Thirteenth Party Conference, thousands of party members had supported the
Trotsky made a
much shorter speech than he usually did at party congresses. He said very little
about the economic issues, although he reiterated his demand for more planning
and repeated his accusation that "the party, in the form of its leading
apparatus, did not approach the tasks of planned guidance of the economy with
the necessary energy". He spoke with extreme moderation, reasserting his
opposition to factionalism and his loyal submission to the discipline of the
party. He went on to praise the 'Lenin
Levy' as a demonstration of the "increased confidence of the working masses
in the party.... Undoubtedly the Lenin levy brought our party closer to being an
He went on to
vehemently deny the allegation that he supported the right of factions or
groupings to exist in the party.
"...party democracy in no way implies freedom for
factional groupings, which are extremely dangerous for the ruling party, since
they always threaten to split or divide the government and the state apparatus
as a whole. I believe this is undisputed and indisputable....
"The report that I was in favour of allowing groupings is
not true. It was impermissible to draw distinctions between factions and
groupings...under the present historical conditions groupings are merely another
name for factions."
In the final part
of his speech Trotsky could not but express his real anger at Zinoviev's call on
him to recant:
"Comrades, an invitation was extended here for all who
have committed errors to stand up and confess them. Nothing could be simpler or
easier, morally and politically, than to admit before your own party that you
have made this or that mistake. For that, I believe, no great moral heroism is
But the resolution
of 5 December 1923 constituted an admission by the Central Committee that it had
made mistakes and that a new course should be set. Those whose warnings had
prompted that resolution could not now declare themselves to have been wrong.
"Comrades, none of us wants to be or can be right against
the party. In the last analysis, the party is always right, because the party is
the sole historical instrument that the working class possesses for the solution
of its fundamental tasks. I have already said that nothing would be simpler than
to say before the party that all these criticisms, all these declarations,
warnings, and protests -- all were mistaken from beginning to end. I cannot say
so, however, comrades, because I do not think it. I know that no one can be
right against the party. It is only possible to be right with the party and
through it since history has not created any other way to determine the correct
"The English have a proverb: My country right or wrong. We
can say with much greater historical justification: whether it is right or wrong
in any particular, specific question at any particular moment, this is my
Trotsky went on to
say he could not vote for the resolution of the Thirteenth Party Conference
which had condemned him.
"Not only an individual party member but even the party
itself can make occasional mistakes; such mistakes, for instance, were
represented by individual decisions of the last conference, certain parts of
which I believe were incorrect and unjustified. But the party could not make any
decision, no matter how incorrect and unjustified, that could shake by even one
iota our total devotion to the cause of the party, and the readiness of every
one of us to shoulder the responsibility of party discipline under all
circumstances. And if the party passes a resolution that one or another of us
considers unjust, that comrade will say: Right or wrong, this is my party, and I
will take responsibility for its decision to the end."
Trotsky refused to
recant his ideas -- party discipline required only that once outvoted he agreed
to abide by the majority in action.
restrained speech did not save him from torrents of abuse. One delegate after
another attacked him. All the leaders of the European communist parties present,
except the French, rose to add their voices to the shower of abuse rained upon
him. Hypocritically seizing on the ambiguity in Trotsky's statement that "none
of us wants to be or can be right against the party", Stalin and Zinoviev
twisted the knife in the wound....
resolution of the Congress confirmed the verdict of the Thirteenth Party
Conference on the "petty-bourgeois deviation" of the Opposition, and praised the
Central Committee for its "firmness and Bolshevik intransigence...in defending
the foundations of Leninism against petty bourgeois deviation."
"The slightest factionalism must be prosecuted most
severely. The firm and monolithic quality of the RKP, based on the firm
principles of Leninism, are the most important prerequisite for the further
successes of the revolution."
Congress closed the discussion in the party, and prohibited Trotsky from
speaking in public about the disputed questions.
and depressed, had been routed in his absence at the Thirteenth Party Conference
in January; now in May, at the Party Congress, the complete collapse of his
influence and authority was further confirmed....
The real tragedy
of Trotsky was that while he opposed the Troika that dominated the party, he
still was not ready to go to the mass of the workers outside of the party or
even the rank and file of the party as this would violate the ban on
factionalism that Lenin, with his support, had imposed on the party at the Tenth
Congress. Above all Trotsky was afraid to mobilise non-party people, many of
whom were influenced by Mensheviks,
SRs and others, who, together with the new bourgeoisie of the
raised their heads in opposition to Bolshevism. He still considered the
Communist Party to be the revolutionary party and thought that his
place was inside it whatever happened. When many years later Trotsky wrote in an
Krupskaya that "her revolutionary instinct came into conflict with her
spirit of discipline" he was laying bare his own plight. [Ibid.,
In relation to the earlier ban
on factions, this is what Cliff had to say:
The Fight To Defend Party Democracy
The undermining of
inner party democracy did not take place without vigorous protests from party
members. K.K. Iurenev, for example, spoke at the Ninth Congress of the methods
used by the central committee to suppress criticism, including the virtual exile
of the critics: "One goes to Christiana, another sent to the Urals, a third --
to Siberia". He said that in its attitude towards the party the central
committee had become "not accountable ministry, but unaccountable government".
At the same congress, V.N.
Maksimovsky counterposed "democratic centralism" to the "bureaucratic
centralism" for which the centre was responsible. "It is said," he commented,
"that fish begin to putrefy from the head. The party begins to suffer at the top
from the influence of bureaucratic centralism." Iakovlev stated: "Ukraine has
become a place of exile. Comrades unwanted for one reason or another in Moscow
are exiled there." Sapronov declared:
much you talk about electoral rights, about the dictatorship of the proletariat,
the striving of the central committee for party dictatorship in fact leads to
the dictatorship of the party bureaucracy."
Nevertheless, throughout the
civil war, the atmosphere of free discussion in party conferences and congresses
was maintained. During the debate on the
Brest-Litovsk peace treaty the party enjoyed, in the words of
"a freedom and publicity of discussion rarely practised by any party on vital
issues of public policy." Bukharin's pamphlet defending "Left Communism" against
Lenin's position was published in May 1918 in one million copies.
In the trade union debate the
democratic traditions of Bolshevism remained clear. As
Robert V. Daniels, a historian not sympathetic to Bolshevism, put it: "The
fall of 1920 was the high point of open discussion in the Communist Party and of
free opposition to the leaders' authority."
wrote of the situation in the party during the civil war:
"[The party's] thinking is...very lively and free. It
welcomes the anarchists and Left Social Revolutionaries of yesterday....
"Nobody is afraid to contradict Lenin or to criticise him.
His authority was so little imposed, the democratic manners of the revolution
were still so natural, that it was a matter of course for any revolutionary, no
matter how recent a recruit, to express himself frankly in the presence of the
man who headed the party and the state. Lenin was more than once criticised
unsparingly, in factories or conferences, by totally unknown people. He listened
to his contestants coolly and replied to them in a commonsense manner."
The Banning Of Factions
At the Tenth Party
Congress, meeting in the shadow of the Kronstadt uprising, Lenin moved a
resolution to ban all factions, which the congress approved:
"The congress orders the immediate dissolution, without exception, of all groups
that have been formed on the basis of some platform or other, and instructs all
organisations to be very strict in ensuring that no manifestations of
factionalism of any sort be tolerated. Failure to comply with this resolution of
the congress is to entail unconditional and immediate expulsion from the party."
To this was added a
secret article giving the central committee unlimited disciplinary discretion:
"the congress authorises the central committee, in cases of breach of discipline
or of a revival or toleration of factionalism, to apply all party penalties,
Members of the central
committee could themselves be expelled from the party by a two-thirds vote at a
combined meeting of the central committee and the party control commission.
The banning of factional activity was
not regarded as an absolute measure. When
proposed an amendment to rule out elections to the central committee on the
basis of separate groups, each standing on its separate platform, Lenin
"We cannot deprive the party and the members of the central committee of the
right to appeal to the party in the event of disagreement on fundamental
issues.... Supposing we are faced with a question like, say, the conclusion of
the Brest peace? Can you guarantee that no such question will arise? No, you
cannot. In the circumstances, the elections may have to be based on platforms."
That the banning of
factions did not mean the banning of all inner-party opposition was clear not
only from this exchange between Lenin and Riazanov, but also from the fact that
the resolution On Party Unity itself invited dissidents to state their
views in the Bolshevik press as well as in special discussion sheets.
Lenin also went out of his way to
emphasise that there was substance in the Workers' Opposition's criticisms of
the situation in the party and state. He referred to "the services of the
Workers' Opposition". In the resolution on party unity he included the
"the congress at the same time declares that every practical proposal concerning
questions to which the so-called Workers' Opposition group, for example, has
devoted special attention, such as purging the party of non-proletarian and
unreliable elements, combating bureaucratic practices, developing democracy and
workers' initiative...must be examined with the greatest care and tested in
Even in the darkest days
civil war, factions had not been banned in the Bolshevik Party. The
Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries were harassed, now outlawed, now allowed
to come out into the open. Such policy changes were dictated by the
circumstances of the war, and by the vacillations of these parties. But at the
Tenth Party Congress in March 1921 not only were these parties outlawed, but so
also were factions inside the ruling Bolshevik Party. There was a feeling among
the Bolsheviks that there was no alternative. Perhaps the attitude of the party
was best summed up in Radek's words to the congress:
"In voting for this resolution, I feel that it can well be turned against us,
and nevertheless I support it.... Let the central committee in a moment of
danger take the severest of measures against the best party comrades, if it
finds this necessary. Let the central committee even be mistaken! That is less
dangerous than the wavering which is now observable."
In general one can say
that at this time Trotsky was an enthusiastic supporter of the claims of
authority and centralisation in the party. He seems to have been less sensitive
than Lenin to the dangers inherent in the situation -- only later, in 1923, does
he become aware of the bureaucratic threat. But while Trotsky supported this
accumulation of bureaucratic power, he was not himself centrally involved in it.
The party and state apparatus was increasingly falling under the control of
Stalin and his faction -- a fact that was to become immensely important after
the departure of Lenin. [Cliff
It is clear then that the ban on
factions was, for Lenin, a temporary measure forced on the party by
circumstances. However, as Cliff also notes:
The Bolshevik Party programme
adopted in March 1919 made it clear that the restriction of the rights of other
parties was only temporary. Thus it stated: "...the forfeiture of political
rights, and whatever limitations may be imposed upon freedom, are necessary only
as temporary measures." However, the circumstances conspired to demonstrate
that sometimes there is nothing more permanent than what is intended to be
p.193. Bold emphasis added.]
Indeed, they have so conspired ever since...
Appendix G -- Resignations
From The UK-SWP And The IST -- 2013
In this section I will post several relevant letters (that
have been posted on-line) which attempt to explain why their authors were
resigning from the UK-SWP and/or the
individually or collectively -- in the light of the Special Conference of the 10th
of March 2013. There were, of course, several such letters posted before this
conference took place --, for example
used to be a Socialist Worker journalist.]
[In what follows, I have corrected several minor typos, and have re-formatted
this material to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Most of the links have
been added. Spelling
altered to UK English.]
here. (This link no longer works!)]
Resigning From The Socialist Workers' Party
This is the first mass resignation from
Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party
We, the undersigned,
are writing to you to inform you that we can no longer remain in the Socialist
Workers Party. The organisation's tradition of fighting women's oppression has
been seriously undermined by the handling of a number of rape and sexual
harassment allegations by the Disputes Committee and the Central Committee and
the crisis of democracy and accountability in the party this has laid bare.
The SWP leadership has
done everything it can to silence members' genuine concerns on the matter
Expelling four comrades for discussing concerns about how the rape allegation
Gerrymandering and abusing bureaucratic measures in conference, aggregates and
Sitting back whilst the Central Committee supporters have bullied the
complainants, their supporters, and any member of the opposition.
We are not prepared to
accept or abide by the decisions of the special conference. The conference is a
bureaucratic victory which will only lead to the demise of the SWP. The
reputation of the SWP in the movement is irreparably damaged as a result of the
handling of these complaints by the Disputes Committee and the leadership's
determination to protect one member rather than to develop a clear perspective
on rape and consent.
The SWP leadership
have utterly failed to uphold the organisation's core principles of women's
liberation. This is corrosive to the party and thus it is not in spite but
because of our commitment to the struggle that we feel forced to leave in order
that we can remain committed socialists who can build militant activity in our
workplaces and communities. We will not put the party before the class, or the
organisation before our principles.
We stand in solidarity
and comradeship with those who remain in the party and attempt to save it, but
we can no longer do so.
Adam F, Brixton
Adam T, Portsmouth
Aidan B, Sheffield North
Alaina B, Sussex & Brighton
Alan R, Edinburgh
Alex A, Oxford
Alex W, Leeds Central
Alexej K, Bristol North
Alice B, Edinburgh
Alice S, Leeds Central
Alistair H, Sheffield North
Allan M, Luton
Amy N, Cardiff
Amy A, Oxford
Amy W, Portsmouth
Andrew B, Camden/Hackney
Andrew B, York
Andy B, Kent
Andy G, Leicester
Andy L, Hackney East
Ashleigh F, Bristol North
Ayan C, Bristol North
Becca D, Leicester
Becky J, Liverpool
Ben S, Kent
Brian C, Bradford
Bryan S, Camden
China M, Brent and Harrow
Chris B, Sussex & Brighton
Christina R, Portsmouth
Christopher R, Hoddeson
Ciara S, Tower Hamlets
Ciaran O, Lewisham
Damon S, Middlesbrough
Danny J, Manchester City Centre
Darren H, Bradford/Leeds Met UCU
David C, Southend
Dave M, Brixton
David P, Liverpool
Emma R, Norwich
Emma W, Oxford
Frances P, Portsmouth
Gill T, Walthamstow
Gina E, Doncaster
Glenn D, Newcastle
Gonzalo P, Euston
Hannah E, Sussex & Brighton
Hester D, Leeds Central
Holly S, Walthamstow
Ian S, Hastings
Jacob L, Leicester
Jackson B, Sheffield
Jake D, Tottenham
Jake P, Euston
James N, Leytonstone
Jamie A, Euston
Jamie P, Tottenham
Jen I, LSE
Jenny M, Hackney East
Jenny R, Leicester
Jessamie F, Sussex & Brighton
Jessica R, Wandsworth & Merton
Jim K, Hull
Joe R, Portsmouth
Joe W, Portsmouth
John B, Euston
John C, Glasgow South
John G, Euston
John R, Portsmouth
Joseph B, Kent
Jules A, Liverpool
Kaity S, Portsmouth
Kat B, Cardiff
Kathryn G, Bristol South
Keith W, Canterbury
Kieran C, Camden
Kris S, Wandsworth and Merton
Kristina I, Sussex and Brighton
Lewis P, Sussex and Brighton
Liam H, Gravesham/Medway Branch
Linda R, Edinburgh
Mariya P, Leicester
Mark H, Hornsey & Wood Green
Martyn C, Sussex & Brighton
Martin P, Sheffield
Matt H, Sheffield South
Matt H, Bristol North
Max B, Sheffield South
Michele S, Norwich
Mike R, Brighton
Miriam J, Manchester
Naomi J, Canterbury
Nathan A, Oxford
Nick F, Liverpool
Nick W , Brighton
Nicole L, Brixton Branch
Paul L, Leicester
Penny S, Oxford
Peter A, Preston
Pippa G, Liverpool
Raoul L, Coventry
Raymond W, Edinburgh Branch
Rebecca D, Bristol North
Richard S, Hornsey & Wood Green
Richard T, Bristol East
Rob M, Bristol East
Roisin B, Sheffield North
Rosalie K, Hull
Rowan L, Brixton
Ryan H, Liverpool
Ryan P, Brighton
Sam B, Bristol North
Samuel G, Islington
Sarah W, Portsmouth
Sophie S, York
Stacey M, Nottingham/Glasgow
Stephen B, York
Steven S, Liverpool
Tom J, Liverpool
Tom M, Leicester
Tom S, Lewisham
Toni M, Bristol South
Wendy W, Edinburgh
Will R, Canterbury
Will T, Lancaster
Zoe W, Euston
The above list has grown from 70 to 126 since early March.
[Some of these names re-appear in the
C) Resignation Of
Brighton And Sussex SWSS
[This is probably the SWP most effective SWSS, and was a leading
force in the recent
occupation of Sussex University --
Following yesterday's Special Conference, we the undersigned
members of Brighton and Sussex SWSS have decided to resign from the Socialist
Workers Party. The experience of recent weeks has been profoundly disheartening
to us all and we cannot reconcile those experiences with the fundamental tenets
of women's liberation (feminism). We do not make light of this decision however
we cannot continue as members in good conscience. We extend our solidarity to
all those comrades that continue to defend the best of our tradition in the
organisation and reaffirm our commitment to the cause of international
socialism -fighting capitalist oppression in all its shapes and forms. We will
continue to be active on our campuses and in our community, building campaigns
alongside our comrades inside the SWP and elsewhere in the movement.
D) Jennifer Marks
E) Dave Marsh
here. (This link no longer works!)]
[Some Links added -- RL.]
As of 9pm this
evening, I was no longer a member of the Socialist Workers' Party. I have
resigned from the party with an
initial 71 others. [See the
above list -- RL] Further
resignations are afoot. This explanation, for me, sums it up:
"We are not
prepared to accept or abide by the decisions of the
special conference. The conference
is a bureaucratic victory which will only lead to the demise of the SWP. The
reputation of the SWP in the movement is irreparably damaged as a result of the
handling of these complaints by the Disputes Committee and the leadership's
determination to protect one member rather than to develop a clear perspective
on rape and consent."
I will be writing
a lot about what has happened: there is much to say. (It may surprise certain
party members to read this, but I have actually been quite disciplined in the
two months since I first wrote about
the crisis in the SWP. I have held a
lot back.) For now, I just want to say a few things.
First, I think
the party is over. However, many members will stay on in the organisation and
attempt to fight, even within the constraints of post-conference 'discipline',
for a change in the party. These are among the most talented, committed and
active people in the group. Some people weirdly think the current Central
Committee is somehow irreplaceable. I think you could put together any random
collection of people from the faction, in any number or combination, and they'd
make a better leadership. (This isn't to damn them with faint praise.) Their
decision to stay on and continue to fight, though I believe it to be mistaken,
is very brave given the climate in some parts of the party now. Some members
have already put up with months of abuse and stupidity: just off the top of my
head, I can think of the insanely arrogant, self-serving statement by Sheffield
apparatchiks that was included with the internal bulletin, slagging off the
student members for their feminist deviations. Those same wised up hacks are
already cracking knuckles and laying down arbitrary rules. People who are ready
to stick it out in this context have my complete respect, even if not my full
agreement. I stress this because some people outside the organisation, who don't
understand what's happening, will rush to assume that every member who doesn't
leave is tainted, agrees with everything that has happened, and so on. Don't
make that assumption.
Second, in stark
contrast, one is dispirited by the complete moral and intellectual degeneration
in some quarters that has been occasioned by this crisis. The hacks, of course,
surprise no one, because they have no moral or intellectual standards. Master
dialecticians, they can defend any barbarity to their own satisfaction. They're
still telling themselves, no doubt, that all this stuff about rape and sexual
harassment is a pack of lies dreamed up to hurt the party: by MI5 agents,
Poulantzians, whoever. They're
telling themselves right now that we can always grow more students, and that
this whole thing has been caused by a hard minority of malcontents, the
Sino-Seymourite conspiracy. But some seemingly normal party members, where they
haven't simply started to sound like
Scientologists, have begun to make
arguments that should shame any socialist. And then there are those party sages
who had a reputation for probity. John Molyneux! What happened to this man? His
letter to SWP members about this crisis, eventually used as the basis for a
motion to be submitted to the National Council, was stunning for its
capitulation to bureaucratic irrationality.
Thirdly, one is
simply astounded by how inadequate, corrupt, stupid, narrow-mindedly
bureaucratic and delusional the leadership of the SWP has proven to be. It is
not just that having covered up serious sexual allegations, and so disastrously
failed at least two female comrades, they can admit no fault. It is not just the
absurd, scholastic, apolitical explanations they give for doing so, or the
tragic retreat into bunkered dogma that has accompanied this. It is not just
that they lie with impunity. It is not just that they ducked a real debate, with
their absurd rules limiting faction speakers at aggregates, and their
gerrymandering of conference. It is not just that even now many of them are
desperate to get the accused back into the leadership as soon as can
conveniently be arranged. It is not just that their response to the most recent
allegations by a female ex-member was to effectively dismiss her as a liar,
without investigating further. It is that, having done a
Jonestown, they think they've just
Finally, as much
as I admire and respect all of those who have fought for the party's soul from
within, I also want to register my gratitude to those in the International
Socialist tendency who supported the fight, and also to those outside the party
whose solidarity has been genuine, and who have - despite real differences with
the SWP -- taken a principled position without using this simply to bash the
party. I include 'the likes of'
Laurie Penny and
Owen Jones in the latter, despite
their movementist, reformist or feminist deviations.
From Liverpool SWP
reluctantly decided to resign from the Liverpool SWP and briefly I will give
my reasons. Firstly let me note this resignation is primarily addressed to my
comrades, the comrades who in the main rallied to IDOOP [In Defence Of
Our Party -- RL], the best in the branch, motivated by the authentic
revolutionary spirit of the IS tradition, those comrades who, unsurprisingly
were the real backbone of the branch, who will probably be counted on to sustain
what is left of the wreckage created by the mendacious behaviour of what is
clearly the politically weakest and most bankrupt CC the SWP has ever had, when
others slope back off into the background.
If all we had lost at the gerrymandered Special Conference was motions to
address the democratic deficit in the party, with the CC enjoining us to
continue living with this sclerotic Zinovievite model of Leninism, or put aside
criticisms of bureaucratic and Potemkin 'united fronts' or our skepticism about
overly sunny evaluations of Tory weakness that evade the impact of
neo-liberalism on the working class, then I would still be in the branch and
active as I had planned. I would have stayed and accepted these political
differences, arguing my corner as revolutionaries must but also fighting to
build an organization of clear eyed, unsentimental revolutionary partisans of
the working class and tribunes of the oppressed, that I still believe is
But I don't think that is possible when it comes to a failure by the party
leadership to address, let us be blunt and honest, an allegation of serious
sexual assault by the most senior figure in the party at the time (within
touching distance of 50 years old) against a 17 year old woman. The SWP CC
imagine they will be able to rehabilitate 'delta' after their bureaucratically
finessed 'victory' but they won't. Far more importantly the SWP CC blew the
opportunity to rehabilitate the party itself. The gravity of the crisis has
entirely eluded this CC and that is no surprise because very early on they
decided they would bury this scandal and the usual methods of indirection -- we
have the Tories to fight, unite, unite, unite, fingers in ears -- would suffice.
Instead a long, painful spiral of decline for a pariah organization that few
will happily work with across the wider movement now surely beckons. So although
I entirely respect your decision to stay for now and appreciate the real
dilemmas we all face as a community of militants in terms of organizing to fight
effectively, I must fraternally I disagree about staying though there is still
much to retrieved from the wreckage.
I will be active in the International Socialist Network and the broader movement
(not the 'outside' or the wilderness as some comrades tend to think of everyone
-- the working class -- outside party ranks in a curious example of sectarian
myopia) and I know that I will be collaborating and working alongside the best
comrades who remain in Liverpool branch in that wider movement. Hopefully we
will eventually come together in the mass revolutionary organization for, and
of, the working class that is required in Britain.
This final part of my resignation is addressed only to the 'comrades' who have
shown they are entirely ignorant of the traditions of the Bolshevik party, its
democracy, its serial controversies (the lifeblood of Bolshevism according to
Lenin), its tumult. It is addressed to the 'comrades' who appear happily
innocent of the IS tradition and its properly rebellious spirit, the comrades
who worshiped at the shrine of 'Cliffy', the 'comrades' who were the most
monotonously hackish in the branch whilst I was there, whose interminable
contributions induced headaches, whose 'experience' was so much bromide and who
sadly evinced a startling absence of anything resembling wisdom that you might
have usefully imparted to, say, the 17 year old woman from the anti-cuts group
who showed at branch to check us out. This wisdom if you had possessed it might
have helped you navigate the SWP's self induced crisis, to see the truth of the
situation, to put yourself in the shoes of any young activist, male or female,
considering whether the SWP was a community of militants worth belonging to,
that they could own. Or that they might be safe in? Outraged and disgusted at my
suggestion? Exactly. Considering whether you will be safe in a socialist
organization ostensibly committed to the emancipation of humanity should not
really be a consideration should it? This addressed to the 'comrades' whose
extraordinary branch emails, all menacing indignation and heresy hunting, by
turns cock of the walk and neurotically insecure, have left me agog at the
arrogance and stupidity and depressed at the future of the branch if it is these
hands. Finally this is addressed to the 'comrades' who would choose to remain
blissfully ignorant of what our ex-National Secretary got up to but arranged to
have Luke Staunton excluded from the branch and party. With your conduct
throughout I believe you have effectively spat in the face of the future and I
have nothing but the utmost contempt for you all.
For you the party became a comfort blanket, and you behaved as bureaucrats,
sectarians, Menshevik birds of passage in your actions, not as revolutionary
tribunes of our class.
here. (This link no longer works!)]
H) Leeds University SWSS
Disaffiliates From The SWP
to the recent crisis engulfing the SWP over its mishandling of rape allegations,
Leeds University Socialist Workers Student Society would like to announce our
disaffiliation from the organisation.
We feel this
step is necessary because of the party's inherent sexism and bureaucratised
democratic structure, which has also historically subordinated the role of
Socialist Workers Student Society. The treatment of dissident voices within the
party and subsequent bullying and intimidation of young members has made our
continued affiliation untenable.
democracy and women's liberation are the foundations of a truly revolutionary
movement. As such, we have decided to reconstitute our group with these
principles at our core, under the name Revolutionary Socialists (RevSoc).
committed to the fight against capitalism, oppression and imperialism and will
work with all those in the movement who share these goals, in a non-sectarian
As a group,
want to work towards left unity on campus, building on our recent successes of
working with other activists. We extend our invitation to all staff and students
to contact us who share our dedication to creating a viable socialist
University Revolutionary Socialists (RevSoc)
As a "paper" member who has done little since the late 90's
but kept as informed as possible while attempting to hold to my principals in
everyday life, I was nevertheless incredibly proud of being part of an
organisation that fought on so many fronts and defended so many from the attacks
they face under this system. However I cancelled by party subs and sent off a
resignation email today. I have read a lot, not evenly from both sides as the CC
seem to be lacking in any specific arguments and the excuses they did put
forward made me physically cringe when reading them. However I have read all I
could find and even based on one or two of the undisputed facts I found it
impossible to feel anything but disgust at the behaviour of a leadership I for
many years looked to for a clear answer on how to make the world a better place.
I am not interested in those that believe they have found justification for
these actions in the writings of Marx and Lenin, you show yourselves to be
deluded in the most complete fashion. Richard I am glad you walked up to the
party stall that day and joined with your convictions and energy and I applaud
your decision and that of those who proceeded and joined you in leaving over
here -- in the comments section.]
J) A Resignation Statement
I joined the SWP in February 1977, just after
the party had changed its name (and always regretted never having been in
the IS). I went straight into the thick of things -- Grunwicks, Lewisham,
Right to Work marches and then the ANL [Anti-Nazi League -- RL]. I lost my
job as a result, got thumpings and death threats from the NF and ended up,
unemployed with a young daughter, selling the paper on my own in Chester
through the Falklands war. Never regretted a moment of it and don't now.
Later in the 1980's I got work in welfare rights, a field I've stayed in
ever since; politically ambiguous because it involves individual advocacy,
rather than collective action but it earned me a living and at least did no
harm. Did my bit during the miners' strike and waited for better times. But
things are a bit different in a modest provincial city rather than a
metropolis. You work with the rest of the left -- Militant and CND at the
time -- because you have to. The SWP kept me active and, yes, probably did
keep me out of Cliff's swamp, preventing cosy compromises.
But by the end of the 80's I had a problem: the poll tax. The SWP took a
disgracefully sectarian turn, in active opposition to the non-payment
campaign. Let no-one tell you this was a principled position, arguing for
action by council workers. It may have started like that but it went on,
long after it was obvious that there was going to be a mass campaign of
non-payment, as a reflex opposition to anything the Millies were doing. So I
ignored the party and worked in the anti-poll tax unions. Fortunately the
SWP changed position -- just in time for the first Iraq war.
We talk about the IS tradition, meaning the ideas of state capitalism, the
permanent arms economy, deflected permanent revolution and so on. But just
as important is the ingrained tradition of praxis found in the party. And in
the SWP perhaps the strongest such tradition is that we know what to do when
our ruling class starts a war. We oppose it, actively and up front, whatever
the difficulties. The period of my political activity of which I am most
proud is the early 90's when the poll tax and the anti-war campaigns ran
into and fed from each other.
And so the reactionary '80's became the nondescript '90's. Without having a
very clear idea what was going on (remember 'the 1930's in slow motion'
anyone?) the SWP grew quite impressively, partly because we were the only
people left standing after the collapse of communism . I joined in
Then came 9/11. Stop the War swept us all up and along. I woke up one day at
a Merseyside aggregate to find John Rees telling us that because a Labour
left challenge to Blairism had failed to materialise we were going to have
to provide it ourselves, through Respect. News to me, having spent the whole
of the 1980's arguing against Labourist perspectives, (and having tried to
make a real go the Socialist Alliance). Never mind, the leadership had real,
earned in action, authority back then.
But has anything gone right since?
TO COMRADES IN THE CC FACTION
You think you won in Hammersmith. You didn't: you lost. For all the
foot-stamping and cheering you lost, comprehensively and probably
I'm not going to go into 'the case'. But just look at the effects. And keep
looking because it isn’t over yet.
● Hundreds of members have resigned with more to come. Hundreds more will
just drift away. You only had 2,500 members to start with (don't bother
lying about the numbers -- ask Mark H about the Merseyside members list).
● UtR [Unite the Resistance -- RL] backing is evaporating, as reported at
last week's branch meeting
● Marxism [the annual UK-SWP political event -- RL] is going to be a small,
dispirited event this year; most of the non-party speakers have already
● the SWP in short is a small, shrinking and ageing organisation, living on
● the CC do not have a clue what to do. They are divided and will split
again at or before next conference (but they won't tell you about it
beforehand). Mark Thomas at last week's meeting might as well have been
represented by an empty chair for all the ideas and spirit he showed (in
fact was he really there? It's all rather vague in the memory...)
And don't be fooled by the fact that people still talk to you. That's
because you're all, as far as I'm concerned, decent socialists and
militants, with your own records to lean on. People feel sorry for you.
I don't feel sorry for you. I feel like giving each and every one of you a
kick up the bum. Most of you have long and honourable records as class
fighters. Yet you allow yourselves to be dragooned and misled by a
completely mediocre leadership. You are each worth 10 of the current CC.
100! (1,000! Cliff would say but he always exaggerated).
Stay members, that's fine, better than being inactive. But don't put up with
being lied to, patronised, kept in the dark, told what you can and can't
discuss, being required to say everything's fine when it isn't and listening
to dreary speakers trying to reheat 30 year old ideas that you have already
learned verbatim. Try not to believe (because it really can't be true if you
think about it) that your party's problems are all being caused by the
internet, young people today, ruling class attacks (they're not attacking
the SWP they're laughing at you), uppity feminists or Richard Seymour. If
bad things keep happening to your party, then it is not unreasonable, or
disloyal, to hold your leadership at least partly responsible.
(But you'll need to be ruthless and stick together or the Professor [Alex
Callinicos -- RL] will get you too).
TO COMRADES IN THE IDOOP FACTION
I apologise. I voted for the sense of the final faction statement and so was
committed to staying in with you. Then I contemplated going public and
selling the paper. And I just couldn't do it. I would be ashamed. For the
first time in my life not just temporarily embarrassed by a turn I wasn't
convinced about but comprehensively ashamed.
I know we voted for the long haul of recovering our party from the present
morass. But I'm not, after all up for it. And I'm afraid it's all your
fault. Yes, each and every one of you. Bastards. Because in the faction I
experienced more creative political discussion and political passion than I
have in years. And I want more of it.
We each have to make our own personal reckoning with the Party and I'm not
going to tell anyone what to do. The faction leadership's claims already to
have made a difference within the party are not empty and I'm sure that, as
you go on, you will force further movement. And I think the struggle is on
the rise again, which will be good for everyone. For myself I'd just say
that my MS is only gently progressive but it is progressing and I would like
to be involved in something politically creative while I still can. Anyway,
that's my excuse for impatience.
The Professor opened proceedings at Hammersmith by announcing that "the SWP
is not an institution of bourgeois society". Note the polyvalent and evasive
"of". But the SWP is definitely an institution within bourgeois society and
duly affected by that. That we have Marxist ideas in no way exempts us from
the Marxist insight that the social relations of production in which we are
embedded profoundly affect both our ideas and praxis. SWP comrades above all
should know this.
And we have a problem with a party bureaucracy which has taken on many of
the forms of the stratified and managerialist society in which it sits. We
never discuss this. But that is the root cause of our current problems. The
party's bloated centre (3% or more of party membership is made up of full
timers by my estimate) is identified with the party itself and must be
defended at all costs. And so a pesky 19 year old making a complaint becomes
a challenge to 'Leninism'.
It doesn't even work well. Our leadership is out of touch and ineffective.
Our branch is working well round the bedroom tax. The leadership contributed
nothing. Indeed they have offered no way forward since the collapse of the
pensions dispute in December 2011 at least.
Of course they have some basic competence. They can produce an OK paper.
They can defend an existing corpus of ideas competently, as can we all. They
can occasionally take an effective initiative -- the RtW [Right to Work --
RL] assault on companies exploiting Workfare springs to mind. But nothing
comes out of it.
Perhaps above all, in unprecedented times, when the ruling class is
conducting open class war as never before in recent times, when Southern
Europe is convulsed by revolt, when existing political and ideological
structures are collapsing around us our leadership have next to nothing to
say: just carry on with the routine, prattle about a weak government (our
Coalition government might be weak; our ruling class is not) and wait for an
What does it mean to be a revolutionary in these times? What do we mean by
socialism after the collapse of the supposed alternatives in the East? What
would a socialist revolution look like and what sort of crisis might
engender it? We actually need answers at this sort of level because history
is asking us questions anew. Every day. Today, for instance, in Cyprus. Is
the bank raid a model for the revolutionary appropriation of private
property? Is there a prospect of a hegemonic alliance of the working class
with small businesses against the oligarchy? Neil Davidson started to think
about this sort of thing in his Big Book only to be slapped down in his
usual patronising way by the Professor.
But it's not just about high theory. What do we say and do about UNITE
community branches? How do we fight back in the war on welfare? How do we
relate to the millions of workers in non-unionised private sector
workplaces? We say nothing or talk about something else, even when faced
with these everyday practical problems.
So, anyway, I say it's time to try again. I actually find myself agreeing
with every single proposition in
this piece by John Game.
So I'm off to join the IS Network (temporary name I hope) and give that a
try. Anyone else tempted is very welcome and there's quite a few people
there you'll know.
Otherwise, I will see you around I'm sure. No particular hard feelings, and
lots of respect, for everyone in the branch on my side; and I propose
happily to ignore the convention that we do not talk to ex-members. Good
luck with your project and if you can turn the SWP round (when you've sacked
the Professor I'll take notice) I will gladly admit my errors.
Resignation -- IS Canada
violence against the oppressed, including violence against women, is a question
of principle for socialists.
2. There has been an allegation of very serious sexual violence involving a
leading member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party UK (SWP).
3. The SWP Central Committee has failed to deal with this with the seriousness
it deserves. It has persistently rejected efforts by a substantial number of its
members and supporters to address this adequately. In fact, members of the SWP
have faced disciplinary action for attempting to remedy this situation.
4. The International Socialists (I.S.) in Canada has been for many years, and
remains, a member of the International Socialist Tendency (IST), of which the
SWP is the largest and leading organization.
5. In January 2013, delegates to the annual convention of the I.S. in Canada
voted (14 to 2, with one abstention) to reject a resolution calling on the
leadership to write a public a letter of concern over these matters.
6. It is now March. The SWP has held a special conference on this issue. The SWP
leadership remains intransigent. The leadership of the I.S. in Canada still
remains silent, and therefore continues to be undifferentiated from the SWP in
7. Silence is not an option. On principle, therefore, we the undersigned can no
longer remain as members of the International Socialists. Regretfully, please
accept this as our letter of resignation.
L) On My Resignation From The International Socialists Of
in the British Socialist Workers Party raises an important issue of
principle for socialists throughout the world. A serious accusation of rape
was made by a teenage member of the SWP against a Central Committee leading
member of the party in his 40s. How socialists respond to allegations of
rape is not a tactical question nor is it the internal affair of a single
organization. Internal organizational practices are reflections of
principles. Although internal organizational mechanisms may vary, when
mechanisms to address violations of principle fail, credibility and capacity
to participate in movements against oppression are damaged.
As a nurse
working in the emergency department, I regularly have patients who are
victims of violence. Furthermore, I have loved ones who were the victims of
sexual assault and abuse. I cannot reconcile my fervent wish to build a
party for socialism with being associated to a political tendency that has
as its most dominant constituent a party that has grossly violated its
opposition to the oppression of women. As of March 19, 2013 I have resigned
from the Canadian International Socialists for its continued association
with the SWP through the International Socialist Tendency.
Rape is a
crime that is equivalent to or worse than violent assault. It is a crime
that not only has the potential to cause life threatening physical illness;
it leaves many emotionally and psychologically damaged. With 90% of rapes
unreported in the UK, any allegation should be investigated as a serious
according to one SWP member, at the 2011
SWP national convention, after the accused spoke to the meeting, "There had
been an attempt by his allies to rally supporters, resulting in some
comrades giving him a standing, foot-stamping ovation." This reaction to
accusations of sexual abuse, regardless of guilt, represents gross misogyny
and creates a threatening oppressive atmosphere.
capitalist courts have failed many people. Sexism and racism in our society
is systematic and police often brutalize the oppressed. In Vancouver, where
I live, the police failed over sixty women murdered or missing since the
1980's. Many of these women were the victims of racism, sexism and other
prejudices that grip our society. I have heard personal testimony of police
arresting a young woman who had called 911 accusing her father of beating
Historically raped women were often forced into marriage. For hundreds of
years it was believed that a pregnant woman could not have been raped
because pregnancy required consent. In 1841 the Canadian civil code put the
onus on the woman to prove she actively resisted rape. For most of history
suspicion was put on the woman and investigation was done into her moral
worth and credibility. In Canada, it wasn't until 1983 that spousal immunity
to accusations of rape was eliminated. In 1984 a Judge of the Provincial
Court of Manitoba said. "Unless you have no worldly experience at all,
you'll agree that women occasionally resist at first but later give in to
either persuasion or their own instincts."
American history, false rape accusations were a major tool of social control
used against blacks and other oppressed minorities. "The accusations against
persons lynched, according to the Tuskegee Institute records for the years
1882 to 1951, were: 19.2 per cent for rape, 6.1 per cent for attempted rape.
Men using rape as a tool of racist oppression stripped the legitimate right
of women for justice against rape by creating a culture of terror. The civil
rights movement mobilized millions in the fight against racism.
Alex Callinicos raising the specter of "lynch mobs" of
angry members if the debate continued after the special
convention of the SWP is a violently sexist statement.
happen to this day, however through the struggle of the feminist movements
of the sixties and seventies to those of today some of the grossest
injustice has been defeated. The police and courts in many instances protect
the vulnerable and bring justice to victims of crime. Bourgeois democracy is
a system of contradictions. While recognizing the role of police and courts
in enforcing hegemony of the ruling class, it also must be recognized that
the mechanisms of society, often fought hard for by activists, can protect
individuals against acts of violence and crime.
is, for all the flaws of British law, in 60% of rape cases that go to court
the defendant is convicted. This proportion is higher than for some other
violent crimes. In many places women have fought hard to change sexist and
racist laws and won. Evidence that consent is absent is no longer defined
simply by a statement of "no." Self-induced intoxication is no longer
regarded as consent. In 1991 legislation was passed in Canada in which
"complainant's sexual history is rarely relevant to the issues properly to
be determined. The focus should be on the event which is the subject matter
of the charge."
there are real limitations to the court system in contemporary society. That
is why it is so important that
in many cities
feminists have fought for and created rape crisis centres.
centres can advocate for women and help mitigate the negative effects
of individual police prejudice and reduce difficulties and feelings of
isolation when approaching the legal system. Were I work in an emergency
department there are specially trained nurses to deal with sexual assault.
These nurses are some of the most caring human beings I have met.
mentality fostered by revolutionary groups of extreme hostility to the
police and courts, often resulting from historic
police harassment of socialist organizations, creates conditions where
victims of abuse by party members are alienated from mechanisms society has
created, under intense pressure from the women’s movement, to bring a
measure of justice. As socialists we must fight to make the mechanisms of
society better, not substitute our organizations for society.
concept of building organizations that attempt to substitute for society
inevitably leads to the formation of cults. I saw this as a member of the
Vancouver socialist cult
Fire This Time. When those with authority
in an organization are only accountable to that organization for criminal
behavior, rampant abuse can occur. After a politically motivated assault by
one member on another, I witnessed what results when a criminal matter is
dealt with as an "internal" issue. At first denial. Next "this is an
internal issue" and a refusal to discuss. Then bullying and marginalization
of those opposed within the organization. Those outside the organization who
expressed criticism of the assault were labeled as slanderers and enemies.
Finally an inward turn occurred in which the "line" was parroted so many
times it became gospel and critical thought was crushed. The parallels
between my brief experience in a cult and the behavior of the SWP leadership
appropriate response of any organization to an accusation of rape is to
fully support the woman in accessing services and professional counsel.
Furthermore the SWP should have offered full financial and moral support
should the woman take the case to court. It should have been made clear,
without a shade of gray, that by going to court for such a serious
accusation she was honoring the struggle of justice for women and that it
would be in the best interests of the SWP.
that friends of the accused were allowed to sit on the dispute committee
that held the investigation is completely unacceptable. Moralizing about
revolutionary credentials is a sad failure on the part of the SWP to
recognize biases. Being a revolutionary does not obviate the responsibility
to respect impartiality. Furthermore, the Central Committee of the SWP
stated that a trade union would deal with rape accusations in a similar
manner. This is false. No trade union would conduct a rape trial.
recognizing the right for party members to form factions, it is implicit
that conversations must be permitted between individuals of similar mind.
The SWP central committee's decision to expel four members of the SWP for
Facebook conversations is an absurd affront to democracy. Furthermore, the
woman making the accusation was refused the right to speak at the 2013 SWP
It would be
hard to imagine the SWP having an internal investigation had one member
stabbed another. This fact alone shows the organization's misogyny.
decision to handle the rape accusation through an internal investigation has
proven disastrous. Not only has the party trial failed the woman making the
accusation; it has led to a split in the organization. There have been mass
resignations from the SWP over the handling of rape allegations, in one
letter alone over seventy people resigned. Many student sections of the SWP
have left the organization. Mainstream media is able to discredit socialism
in public opinion because of the act of a small number of socialists. Had
the case gone to court, a scandal might have brewed in the tabloids, but the
party would have remained defensible.
Ian Beeching is a former member of International
Socialists–Canada. He lives in Vancouver.
Resignations From Sheffield SWP
[I have re-punctuated this to make it more
consistent, and removed the bullet points, replacing them with numbered
paragraphs -- RL.]
SWP Central Committee,
We are hereby resigning our memberships of the SWP. We're sure you've
read enough of these by now to realise that we're all going for similar
reasons, but we're going to explain once more in the hope that at some
point you'll realise what you're doing to this organisation and do
something to rectify it.
Some of us have been in the SWP for many years, others have been members
since the student movement of 2010. This may not seem long to those of
you who have been in for decades, and perhaps you will think you can
just recruit new students when they arrive on campus, but once upon a
time we believe the line was that every member was 'gold dust'. It's a
shame that this no longer seems to be the case.
We are resigning because we cannot defend the catastrophe you have
created. We considered waiting until next conference and proposing a
slate with none of you on it, but we have come to realise that this
would make no difference. You have killed a once brilliant organisation.
The SWP's reputation is in tatters, no credible anti-sexist will touch
us with a barge pole, and the degeneration in the conduct of debate over
the few weeks has been soul-destroying. You ought to write a thank you
letter to the original 30 comrades who formed the IDOOP faction, for
they are responsible for at least 540 members remaining in the
organisation since National Committee. Those 540 were the most
inspirational, principled, determined, brilliant comrades you will ever
have the pleasure of working alongside, and you should be fighting with
every core of your being to ensure that any who remain stay inside the
organisation. You could learn a lot from them.
The response of the CC to the concerns raised by a huge layer of
membership has been staggeringly inept. We won't be able to list all of
the mistakes, but these are the ones that spring to mind. In each case
we have added a suggestion for what we think should have been the
alternative course of action; we sincerely hope you will take this on
(1) Refusing to arrange a commission to
investigate and review our disputes processes as this is 'going
against conference decisions' (followed by the addition into the CC
motion of the review of disputes processes)
You should have: not refused, but set up the commission at national
conference, avoiding this entire fucking mess.
(2) Accusing the factions of being
apolitical because they failed to mention UtR/UAF/crisis of
capitalism in an argument about the handing and fallout from a
You should have: not done this and attempted to win the argument
about the issue at hand -- the handling and fallout from a disputes
(2) Passing around of the Facebook
conversation which was the excuse for the expulsions of the
'Facebook four' around select individuals in our district.
You should have: not passed it around attempted to win the argument
about the issue at hand -- the handling and fallout from a disputes
(3) Allowing the women (yes, there were
two women, unless you're a bureaucrat who needs an official box
ticking to recognise a complaint) to be smeared as police spies,
liars, Trojan horses, politically suspect. Allowing their districts
to ostracise, bully, intimidate, exclude and insult them by denying
all knowledge of it.
You should have: maintained regular contact with both women to
ensure they were being supported through a very traumatic
experience, visited their districts regularly and in no uncertain
terms condemned the above behaviour with promise
of disciplinary action for anyone who continued in this manner, on
the grounds that this is extremely reactionary, sexist
behaviour which should not be tolerated in any organisation that
prides its record on fighting sexism.
(4) Attempting to convince our organiser
to overrule a vote in order to stop one of us, an ex-faction member,
getting elected onto district committee.
You should have: not done this and attempted to win the argument
about the issue at hand -- the handling and fallout from a disputes
(5) Denying that our work outside of the
party has been severely affected (generally by citing numbers of
papers sold) and that our reputation is in tatters among the wider
You should have: not denied this, but thought about what this meant,
and considered a constructive approach to repairing damaged
relationships -- note, you should still do this
(6) Deliberately misrepresenting the
IDOOP faction, (suggesting that comrades such as Ian Birchall, Mike
Gonzalez, Pete Gillard etc. have waited decades to reveal that they
are in favour of permanent factions).
You should have: not done this and attempted to win the argument
about the issue at hand -- the handling and fallout from a disputes
(7) Creating the bogeymen, Richard
Seymour and China Mieville, in order to obscure the argument.
You should have: not done this and attempted to win the argument
about the issue at hand -- the handling and fallout from a disputes
(8) Asking comrades to sign a loyalty
statements to the CC (before realising you had less support than the
faction and conveniently never mentioning it again).
You should have: not done this, and
attempted to win the argument about the issue at hand -- the
handling and fallout from a disputes case.
(9) Passing around of our organiser's
resignation letter to the CC to select individuals in our district.
You should have: not passed it around and instead attempted to win
the argument about the issue at hand -- the handling and fallout
from a disputes case.
(10) Suggesting that for the faction to
call for Comrade Delta to cease to represent the party for the
foreseeable future is 'going against conference decisions' (followed
by the 'political decision' for Comrade Delta to cease to represent
the party for the foreseeable future).
You should have: not suggested this, and accepted that we were
correct, admitted a mistake and gone ahead with ceasing his
representative and paid roles.
(11) Blaming party members for the fact
that a list of academics and trade unionists have raised concerns.
You should have: not blamed party members (it is patronising to
those who signed to say they did not make that decision themselves,
whoever organised it) but thought about what this meant, and
considered a constructive approach to repairing damaged
relationships -- note, you should still do this.
(12) Allowing members of the IDOOP
faction to be treated with utter contempt, suspicion and hostility.
You should have: not allowed this, it is the primary reason that
many members have left. This is unforgivable It is your
responsibility as the leadership to ensure that comrades are treated
with respect, are not shouted down, are not ostracised, bullied,
ignored, smeared and excluded. You should have followed up every
complaint, and ensured that comrades knew that their behaviour was
unacceptable and would not be tolerated. Conduct in this debate has
been despicable, and you have done nothing.
(13) Using phrases like "You were
defeated!" and "Show some humility!" when talking on the phone to
ex-IDOOP members when they tell you they are thinking of leaving the
You should have: remembered that every member is gold dust, and
attempted to engage in a constructive discussion of concerns.
(13) Removing party employees from their
positions based on their involvement in the disputes case/their
votes at conference/their involvement in the factions.
You should have: not done this. Always to remember to think about
what you are doing and how it might look to the membership and the
(14) Using the phrase "This is not a
cover-up" when issuing public statements.
You should have: not done this. If you are being accused of a cover
up, you must patiently explain why it is not a cover up, with
credible justifications, not empty phrases.
(15) Finally, when a union is putting
out a statement regarding safety of oppressed groups in the labour
movement suggesting amendments that state that we 'do not presume innocence or guilt' you should have: not done this, and instead
congratulated the union for it's progressive stance on supporting
survivors of sexual violence.
We hope you find this list helpful. We
noticed that you seemed to be having difficulty recognising and
admitting mistakes, and thinking of alternative courses of action, so we
hope this alleviates that issue.
Rosie Warren (Sheffield North Branch, South Yorkshire District
Committee, University of Sheffield SWSS, University of Sheffield
Palestine Society Committee, NUS)
Tom Maguire-Wright (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS
Alison Worsley (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS,
Patrick McNeill (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS,
Isra Jawdat (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS,
University of Sheffield Palestine Society Treasurer, NUS)
Neill Grant (Sheffield North Branch, Sheffield North Branch Committee,
University of Sheffield SWSS, NUS)
Ben Wadsworth (Sheffield North Branch, Unite)
Christian Hill (Sheffield South Branch, Sheffield South Branch
Committee/Paper Organiser, Unite Community)
Kieran Boden (Sheffield South Branch, Hallam University SWSS, NUS)
Jenny Evans (Sheffield South Branch, University of Birmingham SWSS, NUS)
The following people have already resigned individually for similar
reasons but would also like to add their names to this statement:
Matt Hale (Sheffield South Branch, Unite Community, Sheffield Trades
Andrew Gallacher (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS,
Aidan Barlow (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS, NUS)
Martin Percival (Sheffield North Branch, NUT)
Matt Bond (Sheffield South Branch)
Jackson Baines (Sheffield South Branch)
Gina Elby (Doncaster Branch, Unite Community)
Rhys Lloyd (Doncaster Branch)
*The final point, for those who are unaware,
is in reference to the
Unison women's statement.
The CC were informed about the statement published, and about several
comrades being approached to sign it. In response, the CC proposed the
following amendments (highlighted in bold):
"We recognise the enormous challenges faced
by women victims of male violence, and the pressures which women face,
including from abusive men, not to complain about violence and abuse. We
therefore believe that, when women complain of male violence within our
movement, our trade unions and political organisations should start from
a position of believing women but without making presumptions about
guilt or innocence."
"We believe that all women who complain of
male violence have the right to be listened to and supported, and to
have their complaints properly and sympathetically investigated through
The amendments were immediately rejected
with comments attacking the Party.
The CC position then became that no comrade
should sign the statement.
N) University Of Manchester Socialist Worker
Student Society Disaffiliation And Resignation Letter
'How do you recognise a dissident Marxist?
This term is used to refer to people who did not treat their socialism
as an inherited canon of knowledge, but at each moment were willing to
think their politics anew.' -- Dave Renton
It is with a great deal of disappointment
and a slight sense of demoralisation that the University of Manchester
Socialist Worker Student Society would like to make public our decision
to disaffiliate from the SWP, with those of us who were members of the
organisation now resigning. Many of our reasons for this will come as no
surprise to those who have followed the party's fortunes in recent
months and do not need in depth explanation. Yet at the risk of sounding
self-indulgent we would like to take this opportunity to make a few
basic points both relating to why we are leaving and what we plan to do
It goes without saying that the recent
mishandling of allegations of rape and sexual harassment against a
leading comrade have weighed extremely heavily on our decision. Nothing
further needs to be said on the case itself. Those in the know will be
aware of places online where they can find much better informed opinions
than any we could offer.
The crisis that followed and the
leadership's insistence on untenable 'lines' have caused irreparable
damage to our student work. Our own group has lost hardened activists
who had cut their teeth in countless struggles and who found in our
tradition the articulation of their own revolutionary thoughts. There is
nothing we can say that could possibly better articulate the permanent
damage done to SWSS nationally than the walkout of over 100 delegates at
NUS [National Union of Students -- RL] conference as our candidate for
VPHE [Vice President of Higher education -- RL] -- a loyal supporter of
the Central Committee -- took to the podium
That this situation was not repeated when an
ex-faction member spoke shows that we have reputations inside the
student movement as principled activists, forged over years of
struggle. In the public statement we released during the fall-out of the
original conference we stated that we would not allow our record to be
'undermined by forces inside our own party'. The thought of comrade
Evans addressing a hall of empty seats proves this is exactly what has
This alone would obviously not be cause to
leave the SWP. That decision can only be taken if the party is no longer
the most viable vehicle to reach our end goal of a mass
revolutionary organisation in Britain. We have reached the conclusion
that the Socialist Workers Party no longer has that potential. We're not
in a position to provide a list of reasons for this, not least because
we might not completely agree in our own SWSS group and secondly because
we are yet to have a proper opportunity to openly discuss this. We look
forward to using the coming period to attempt to figure out just what
has gone so wrong (the problems of the party evidently go deeper than
its disputes committee procedures). Genuine clarity around these
questions will be achieved through open debate and the ability to test
ideas out in the movement, not through resignation letters.
However, we can at least make two brief
points on what we plan to do next: firstly we will echo the recent calls
for left realignment being heard across the labour movement. The British
far left has a habit of cyclical degeneration and a paranoid lust for
ideological purity that has to be overcome with the utmost urgency if it
is to be able to offer a genuine alternative to austerity. We have no
desire to build the Party of Socialist Workers. Nor the Workers' Party
of Socialists. We will be arguing for, as a comrade outside of the SWP
has put it, 'a rejuvenation of the left that goes beyond building the
sects'. We have no shortage of ideas for the shape this might take and
look forward to sharing these with anyone who'll listen.
Secondly we would like to introduce a point
that has thus far been omitted from most reflections on the crisis in
the party. For all those who have left the organisation, we would urge
you to consider the political necessity of working with 'CC loyalists'
again. There is barely a campaign or trade union one can be active in
without coming across SWP members and we are prepared to work alongside
any we might encounter. To refuse to work with them out of grudges
either personal or political would weaken any future activism on our
behalf. This is not to say we will forget our disagreements but rather
continue to fraternally argue that the party has run its course.
To conclude, Trotsky started anew when he
realised the Third International was lost. It is with no small degree of
an inflated sense of self-importance that we loosely equate our position
now with his. Admittedly we are yet to be exiled from the country but no
analogy is perfect. We look forward to continuing to build for the
socialist future of humanity and now, with much more spare time on our
hands, we welcome anyone who would like to discuss how we go about
The Marxists formerly known as University of
Manchester Socialist Worker Student Society
Appendix H -- The
Crisis Rumbles On
has just been posted at a new SWP 'oppositional' website:
The SWP's National
Committee met on Sunday 7 July 2013 and voted by 26-6 to suspend four comrades
and make wider moves to shut down any organised opposition to the party
leadership. This move is a smokescreen. It is a deliberate attempt by the
leadership to escalate the crisis rather than address the critical problems
facing the party.
The state of the
party today testifies to the poor quality of the Central Committee's political
judgement. At each stage since the complaints of sexual predation against [name
redacted] first came to light, the CC has decided upon actions that have exacerbated
the situation and deepened the polarisation within our organisation.
Over 400 people
have resigned their party membership since January. Attendance at the Marxism
festival looks set to be half that of last year. Significant sections of the
left are boycotting the event in horror at the leadership's actions. The
overwhelming majority of our student members have left, and there is no strategy
to rectify this situation. Over 15 party workers have resigned their positions
since January -- or been sacked.
needs to be taken if we are to avoid the total collapse of our organisation. The
latest decisions advanced by the CC and agreed at NC demonstrate beyond any
doubt that the party's leadership would rather shut down political debate by
using crude disciplinary measures than engage with the very serious political
questions this crisis has exposed. This is despite the CC’s own declaration in
January that "members of the SWP are of course free to discuss face-to-face or
online and...to get together to seek the outcomes that they want to achieve".
handling of the second complaint against [Name redacted] -- complaints that he
sexually harassed a party worker reporting directly to him -- further
demonstrate the complete failure of the party leadership to put our politics on
women's oppression into practice.
first reaction was to deny that a second woman had come forward. Then they
turned to delaying tactics, stringing the complaint out for over four months
with a series of contradictory excuses. The disputes committee twice refused to
hear the case. Under pressure they have now offered a hearing, subject to
certain conditions, and are presenting this as an adequate resolution to the
We demand the
following immediate measures as a first step towards acknowledging the
seriousness of this crisis and beginning to redress it:
● the four
suspensions must be immediately lifted
● end all disciplinary threats against dissident members
● open up the pre-conference discussion period now
In the meantime
all remaining party workers who support the SWP opposition have resigned from
their positions in solidarity with the four victimised comrades. We refuse to
fall silent and allow the leadership to continue on a course that will destroy
our party. We urge the central committee to step back before it is too late.
Signed by 256
comrades so far:
Hackney; Adam L, North London; Adrià P, Essex; Áine M, Manchester; Al M, East
Lancashire; Alan R; Alberto T, North London; Alexis W, Central London; Ali S,
Central London; Alice B, Central London; Alicia S, East London/UEL; Amy G,
Cambridge; Andrew O, Cambridge; Andrew R, Leicester; Andy C, Manchester; Andy N,
Birmingham; Andy S, Hackney; Andy W, Leicester; Angela S, Hackney; Anindya B,
East London; Anne A, North London; Anne P, Edinburgh; Arjun M; Arthur G, Kent;
Bartly W, Manchester; Bea L; Becky G, Portsmouth; Ben N, Central London; Bettina
T, Hackney; Brendan D, South East London; Brian P, Leeds; Bunny LR, Kent; Cathy
P; Charlie H, Hackney; Chaz S, Walthamstow; Chris E, Manchester; Chris T,
Leicester; Christian C, Central London/KCL; Christine B, Glasgow; Christine V;
Colin F, South East London; Colin W, Hackney; Connor K, East London/UEL; Connor
K; Dan B, South London; Dan S, Norwich; Daniel G, Manchester; Darren P, South
London; Dave P, East London; Dave R, Leicester; David A; David H, Central
London/KCL; David H, Birmingham; David R, Central London; Debbie J, Glasgow;
Debs G, Liverpool; Deni K, Swansea; Despina M, Hackney; Dexter H, Sheffield; Dom
W, Liverpool; Elizabeth D, Leeds; Elizabeth J, Cardiff; Emily M,
Colchester/Essex SWSS; Emma C, Manchester; Emma C, South London; Estelle C,
South London; Ewan N, West London; Fergus A; Fraser A, South London; Fraser R,
Kent; Gareth B, Birmingham; Gareth J, Cardiff; Gary H, Stoke-on-Trent; Geoff B,
Manchester; Gill G, Hackney; Graham C, Glasgow; Hanif L, Newcastle; Hannah D,
Central London; Hazel S; Helen D, Kent; Ian A, Manchester; Ian B, North London;
Ian C, South East London; Ian D, Walthamstow; Ian H, Edinburgh; Ian S, West
London; Imelda M, Hackney; Imogen C, South London; Imogen PG; Irem A, Hackney;
Iris C, Central London; Isabel D, Central London; Isabel H, Manchester; Jack F,
South London; Jack H, Barnsley; Jack T, Glasgow; Jacqui M, Home Counties; James
B; James K, East London/UEL; James N, Oxford; Jamie A, Cambridge; Jamie D, East
London; Jamie W, East London; Jane P; Jaz BP, South London; Jelena T; Jen W,
Central London; Jennifer R; Jim W, Central London; Jo R, Cambridge; Joel D,
Central London; John W, Oxford; Jon F, Kent; Jonas L, East London/UEL; Jonathan
D, South East London; Jonny J, Central London; Jordan M, Leeds; Judy P,
Manchester; Jules B, Walthamstow; Julian V, South East London; Kaiya S, Central
London; Keith F; Keith M, North London; Keith P, Aberdeen; Kevin F, Leicester;
Kim G, Birmingham; Kirsti T, South East London; Kyri T, North London; Laura J,
Walthamstow; Laura N, South East London; Leo Z; Liam T, Kent; Lois C, South
London; Louis B, North London; Lukas K; Luke E, South East London; Luke H,
Edinburgh; Luke S, North London; Marcos S, Central London; Marie C, Kent; Mark
B, South London; Mark W, South London; Marlyn T; Martha J, South East
London/Goldsmiths; Martyn R, South London; Matt C, South East London; Matt G,
Central London; Matt S, Central London; Matt W, Central London; Matthew C,
Hackney; Megan T, Walthamstow; Michael M, Manchester; Michal N, Bristol; Mike G,
Glasgow; Mike H, Black Country; Mike T, Leicester; Mike W, Bristol; Mikhil K,
Manchester; Miriyiam A, Oxford; Mitch M, Cambridge; Mona D, Walthamstow; Moses
M, East London/UEL; Nathan B, Kent; Neil B, Essex; Neil D, Edinburgh; Neil R,
East London; Neil R, West London; Nick C, Edinburgh; Nick B; Nick E, Oxford;
Nick J, South London; Nicola G, Leeds; Nigel D, Hackney; Oliver L, Essex; Ollie
V, Essex; Owen H; Owen M, South London; Pat S, Central London; Patricia M,
Brighton; Pat W, East London; Paul B; Paul B, North London; Pete C, Edinburgh;
Pete G, Hackney; Peter A, Hackney; Peter S, North London; Phil T, Edinburgh;
Phil T, North London; Pura A, Liverpool; Rachel E, Essex; Rachel P, East
London/UEL; Ray M, North London; Rebecca S, East London; Rick C, South London;
Rick L, Manchester; Rita M, Hackney; Riya A, Central London; Rob O, South
London; Rob S, Walthamstow; Robin B, Central London; Roderick C, Walthamstow;
Rosalind G, Central London/LSE; Ross S, Central London/LSE; Ruairidh M, South
London; Russell D; Ruth L, South London; Sadie F, Cambridge; Sai E; Sam B,
Portsmouth; Sam J, Walthamstow; Samir H, Central London; Sara B, North London;
Sarah P, Essex; Sarah Y, Brighton; Sasha C, Edinburgh; Sean M, Manchester; Seb
C, Cardiff; Sebastian C, Manchester; Shamma I, Walthamstow; Shanice M, Central
London; Shayon S, Manchester; Shereen P, Walthamstow; Siân R, Hackney; Simon B,
Central London; Simon D, Oxford; Simon F, Birmingham; Simon M, Huddersfield;
Somaye Z, North London; Sonja C, Manchester; Sophie SR, Manchester; Sophie W,
Oxford; Søren G, South London; Stef N, South London/Goldsmiths; Stella H, Kent;
Steve H, East London; Steve V; Steven M; Stuart C, Manchester; Sue B,
Manchester; Suhail M, North London; Sundara J, Birmingham; Terry W, Edinburgh;
Theo W, Central London; Tina S; Tom G, Central London; Tom HD, Lancashire; Tom
M, East London/UEL; Tom S, Central London; Tommy M, Edinburgh; Tony P, Luton;
Tony W, Leeds; Valerie P, West London; Viv S, Hackney; Will S, Kent; William C,
Kent; Willie B, Edinburgh.
The CC Backs Down:
On Sunday the SWP
suspended four comrades for association with an oppositional bank account.
The CC has now lifted these suspensions with immediate effect on the assurance
that this account will be closed.
We welcome this
decision. The disciplinary action was always a distraction from the real issues
at stake. The SWP is in a crisis caused by the utter failure of the leadership
to put our principles on women’s oppression into practice, and by its refusal to
engage with the urgent political questions raised by those opposed to its
It is thanks to
the pressure of over 240 comrades who
signed the statement on this website over the last three days that the CC
has had to backtrack on its decision. This rapid about-turn has exposed the
entire episode as a bureaucratic manoeuvre and a farce.
The CC still has
not addressed the political questions the crisis has raised. The party is still
in a potentially terminal crisis. And it is clear that a resolution to this
situation is beyond the ability of the current leadership.
● that the case by
a second woman against [name redacted] is immediately, transparently and
● that the pre-conference discussion period is opened immediately to let an
urgently needed democratic debate occur through official party channels.
● that the leadership and all other members cease the attempts to silence,
sideline and vilify the opposition within the party.
Signed: Hanif L,
Pete G, Ruth L, Søren G
Fighting talk from the CC:
Insightful analysis from: 'Soviet
Davidson's video summary of the crisis so far (i.e., up to November 2013).
Appendix I -- The
Last Death Throes Of The UK-SWP?
Fall-out From The December
The SWP held their
2014 annual conference several weeks early because of the
growing storm within the party. From Twitter feeds it looks like at least
another fifty members have resigned (including Ian Birchall -- check out his
measured resignation letter below --,
Dave Renton, Jonathan Neale,
Neil Davidson, and Colin
Wilson) as a result of several things that were said from the platform and the
motions that were passed. It is highly likely that several hundred more will
soon follow suite. I will post more details when they become apparent.
Indeed, there has now been (i.e., 23/12/13) a
mass resignation of 140 comrades from the SWP.
Return To Essay
Nine Part Two -- for an explanation why this sort of thing keeps happening on the
Ian Birchall's resignation letter (quoted from
It is with
very great sadness that I have decided to resign my membership of the SWP.
It is over
fifty years since I first joined the International Socialists. As Cliff used
to say, it takes many streams to make a river, and I have never seen the
organisation as more than one stream among many -- but for fifty years it
was my stream, the context in which I made my small contribution to the
those fifty years there has been a great deal to be proud of. Cliff's theory
of state capitalism and the body of ideas deriving from it focussed our
politics on the self-activity of the working class and rejected the notion
that socialism is defined by state ownership. Our initiation of the
Anti-Nazi League played a major role in blocking the rise of the far right
in Britain. Our intervention in the miners' strikes, the campaign against
the poll tax, and the Stop The War movement was highly creditable. Equally
important has been the role played by many hundreds of SWP members in
keeping trade unionism alive in their workplaces and in animating local
campaigns in defence of workers' rights, against cuts, and against racism,
sexism and war. The Marxism events and Bookmarks publications have done a
very valuable job of disseminating socialist ideas. If I had died last year
I should have died happy to have been a party member.
Unfortunately the events of the last year have changed everything. The
monstrously irresponsible and self-indulgent conduct of a former leading
member was bad enough. But far worse was the failure of the party leadership
to deal flexibly and intelligently with the situation. The Central Committee
has been at best obstinate and short-sighted, at worst grossly dishonest.
The revolutionary organisation is a means to the end of socialist
transformation, but for members of our self-selecting leadership it has
become an end in itself.
As a result
we have lost several hundred good activists, our student work has been badly
harmed and our relations with our periphery have been seriously damaged.
Last year's Marxism was the smallest for many years. Good comrades have been
treated shamefully, apparently with CC approval. In fifty years membership I
have not seen a crisis remotely comparable to the one we are now going
through. We are urged to be "outward-looking" and to commit ourselves to
activity in the "real world". Most of us would like nothing better, but when
the leadership has broken down all relations of trust, effective action
Committee bears a heavy responsibility for this situation, and that they
should seek re-election en bloc reveals an arrogance that
disqualifies them as a leadership. As senior CC member, Alex Callinicos
bears a particularly heavy responsibility. (When a dog bites me I don't
blame the animal; I blame the owner that failed to keep it on a lead.) It is
a small personal tragedy that his cowardice and dishonesty over the last
year will overshadow forty years' work as a significant Marxist
I make no
apology for "factionalising". Without the activities of the opposition
faction, the few small improvements made would not have happened. The
existence of a vigorous opposition inspired by the best traditions of the
SWP has gone some small way to saving the party's honour. Unfortunately we
were not able to achieve more. I fear the damage is now irreversible. But I
sincerely hope you can prove me wrong, since the SWP's descent into
irrelevance will weaken the whole left. I shall observe with interest
whether those who have been most vocal in demanding expulsions are equally
committed to rebuilding their damaged organisation.
age and health, I do not intend to join any other organisation. I continue
to regard most (sadly I cannot say all) SWP members as my comrades, who
share the same socialist goals and Marxist analyses that I believe in. I
will, within the limits of my capacities, cooperate with the SWP and with
any other genuine revolutionary socialist currents. I know there are many
comrades who will remain in the SWP because they are hoping for a change in
the party's democratic culture; they have my solidarity but I do not share
their stamina or their faith. I hope that there will eventually be a
revolutionary regroupment which draws on the best traditions of the SWP but
avoids its weaknesses.
I have no
desire to engage in further public criticism of the SWP, and, having stated
the reasons for my resignation, I hope and intend to refrain from further
Here are several
It is with
sadness that tonight I resign from the Socialist Workers Party after many
years both in Leeds (and for the past seven years ) in Bristol, where I have
worked hard to build the Party. I have been proud to be a comrade, and of
all our achievements , but the crisis in the past year has seen uncomradely
and undemocratic action, with sackings, bullying and isolation of comrades
who spoke out about the Disputes Committee process.
I had hoped that
this conference would make a serious attempt to acknowledge and rectify
the mistakes made, apologise sincerely to the women at the heart of the
crisis and that we could move forward in unity. Sadly it would appear that
is not possible with a CC based on intransigence.
I remain a
Revolutionary Socialist committed to liberation from oppression but can not
work within this organisation. I offer my solidarity to all my comrades.
here. Minor typo corrected.]
I am writing tonight to resign from the Socialist Workers Party. I am a
revolutionary socialist who has viewed all the events since 2010 with alarm. It
is not just the defence of rape by the upper echelons of the party, but also the
very fact that their is an upper echelon in the SWP. As a blue collar worker
without a university education I have always struggled to be accepted in the
intellectualised atmosphere of the party. I do not think that anyone who joins
should have to smash through a political/intellectual glass ceiling, but we do.
In so many ways the SWP mirrors the society we aim to bring down. There is class
and privilege in the party, that much was obvious to me from early on, I fought
to smash it down, but like any other structure the hierarchy clings to power, at
a national or local level.
Time and again I approached the party to complain of poor comradeship, zero
support and poor organisation in Bristol, at least four times I was fobbed off
the rest ignored. Once at a meeting in my own home I and the Secretary of UAF in
Bristol, were silenced in our criticism of comrades, as it was felt that
important funds from the NUT would be held back. To our knowledge those funds
never materialised. Our local campaigns were jeopardized for the sake of
national money, to prop up National UAF. For all these years as a good comrade I
kept my mouth shut, or had it shut for me.
I can be brutal with language, I recognise Boss-like behaviour when I see it and
I see it in the Party. You are the bosses, people like me, who trail around
doing what we are instructed, are the workers; who are then smashed for showing
a flicker of initiative. Worst of all are the unelected, self appointed, middle
managers who have a position due to their seniority, a woeful parody of the
bosses and managers we are trying to remove. I have a simple rule; anything that
we resist at work, we should resist in our own organisation.
This in turn brings me to the immediate events around Martin Smith. This whole
series of events has been spread over three years, not one and we have long been
aware of the allegations facing Martin Smith. Again as a trade union rep with
experience of discipline and how workers are treated, abused and oppressed, it
was stunning to see the same behaviour occurring in the SWP and from comrades
who have also been long serving Trade Unionists. It goes with the territory to
stand up for the oppressed, not to be the oppressor. I was shocked to hear how
the Disputes Committee had harassed the woman comrade who had been abused, any
half competent trade union official would have stopped a meeting like that and
any half decent revolutionary would never conduct a meeting like that.
I was proud to vote against the CC at the January 2013 conference and have paid
the price in Bristol ever since. I believe in a revolutionary socialist party,
your SWP is not it. You have had successes, yet as the Tories move further to
the right and Labour clings to their coat tails and the Lib Dems face wipe-out
the SWP is dragged further and further into the resulting vacuum. We need to
resist all temptation, on the one hand to oppress other humans and on the other,
to be drawn into the movement in the way you are doing through Unite the
Resistance, amongst other campaigns. As revolutionaries we should always be
firmly rooted in our place on the left and never over stretch into the movement.
There are limits.
I trust you can see that my reasons for resignation are not purely based on the
exploits of Martin Smith. I feel too many concessions are made to movementism
and there is a lack of understanding of how we operate in United Fronts. Too
many comrades can talk the talk, yet when they walk the walk it is to the beat
of the Labour Party drum.
I have stayed in the SWP hoping that I could be a part of changing our
structures from within. The democracy commission was a carve up and so too have
been all the conferences and structures since. A former comrade in Bristol
always used to tell me "Jaz, there are talkers and do-ers", Charlie, I must
report the talkers have won. The party is taking on the appearance of a
retirement home where old bigoted ideals will be savoured as you talk over what
would have been if those "upstart students and no good women hadn't come along
and spoilt it all".
I too hoped the latest conference would make a serious attempt to acknowledge
and rectify the mistakes you and the CC made. I hoped you would have the guts to
apologise sincerely to the women at the heart of your crisis and that we could
all move forward in unity. That is not possible with a CC based on
intransigence. That means I have to leave.
I will end by quoting a comrade from Bristol who has tonight also resigned; "I
remain a Revolutionary Socialist committed to liberation from oppression, but
can not work within this organisation. I offer my solidarity to all my
Justin "Jaz" Thomas
here (in the comments section).]
It is with deep
sadness that I am writing to resign from the SWP.
For three years a
handful of us, growing to an impressive 400-500, have tried to resolve the
appalling handling of the two disputes cases. In this time it became clear that
the CC chose to cover up rather than address their and the DC's mistakes or
confront Martin's behaviour.
opportunities to resolve the situation, the CC chose to allow sexist,
uncomradely and undemocratic behaviour from CC members and Smith supporters,
including condoning lies that the women were spurned lovers and/or politically
This process has
lead to the degeneration of our politics on women's oppression and has destroyed
the small steps we took under the Democracy Commission to open up party
democracy. One of the brightest generations of student revolutionaries has been
squandered and with it our ability to rejuvenate the party.
I stayed in the
party this year with the hope that if enough comrades were made aware of the
situation, they would demand it be rectified. I stayed to win some kind of
justice for the two women comrades so badly treated, and because I believed that
the SWP was worth fighting for. I do not want to leave, but I cannot simply
continue to remain in an organisation which is being destroyed by a leadership
who, out of fear of tackling political and organisational weaknesses, are
trampling our core principles and compounding mistakes at the cost of political
clarity and direction.
here (in the comments section).]
I'm just ringing you up by email, as
it's the method you prefer to use when you expel comrades, so I thought it would
be the appropriate method for my resignation.
here (in the comments section).]
I am no longer a member of the SWP. This is an organisation I
joined 11 years ago while still at school, and to which I have given much of my
life. I do not regret that. I remain proud of having been part of an
organisation that attempted to apply the principles of socialism from below to a
changing world, to unite people around a vision of our politics that can both
inspire and give direction. But this is not the party I joined or built any
more. The party has failed on a basic matter of principle, and destroyed its
reputation. In the process it has become sectarian and inward-looking, and
incapable of playing the role I believe any organisation must be able to --
incapable of looking reality in the face, of grasping opportunities, of changing
itself. It has put its own short term cohesion above any possibilities of
renewing the radical left.
I am immensely proud of the efforts we have made over the past year to resolve
the party's crisis in a principled way. To those who have fought, at every
stage, you have taught me the meaning of the word comrade. To those who choose
to stay, I respect you immensely, and I will never turn my back to you. To those
who are leaving, understand the duty we have to do something better.
The following are the notes from the contribution I made in the debate on the
Central Committee election on Saturday afternoon. I reproduce them because they
are a message more people need to hear:
"I was under the impression we were a party of leaders. Yet apparently certain
individuals are essential to our leadership, so essential that nothing could
remove them. The slate proposed by the central committee puts forward for
re-election those who have done most to damage the party in the past year. The
people who have organised to defend our former national secretary, spread lies
and slander, and are responsible for driving out most of our students. But what
really angers me, is that there are many people in this room who know this, and
who will vote for them anyway. It's these people I want to address. Over the
past weeks, people have said 'just wait a year', 'give it time, we'll get rid of
them eventually', 'we know we need to deal with them, but just not now'. This
isn't dealing with a crisis, it's kicking it down the line. It's not solving a
problem, it's storing one up for later. If I'm honest, this is not likely to be
my problem. But it will be yours, and it will come back again and again. To
those comrades I say, if not now, then when? If our party proves incapable of
turning itself around, of changing itself, in our darkest moment, how can we
ever convince people it can become a useful tool for transforming the world?
Think carefully comrades. If not now, then when?"
One of the victims of the alleged rape:
[Comrade X would
like to continue to remain anonymous. I post her resignation statement from the
SWP with permission below. She is happy for the statement to be shared but
please avoid names.]
There are many reasons I am resigning after the events of the last twelve
months, you can read some of them in my Internal Bulletin piece. I will give
only one reason here: a member of the DC claimed at the SWP national conference
this weekend that my email account might have been hacked but they were
confident that the Central Committee was not responsible. How is it possible
that this hasn't generated outrage? When told that the woman who brought a
complaint of sexual harassment has had her email account hacked and one of the
emails used as evidence in her case deleted, most SWP members seem content that
it is OK because the CC did not personally do it.
This typifies the problems of the past 12 months. There has been no political
will to resolve any of the issues in a principled way. There is no political
will to demand that the person who gave the CC hacked emails should have to
conclusively prove how they got the emails or be expelled. Instead at every
stage smoke and mirrors have been deployed to manoeuvre to win votes and
political positions. In the process I have been sacked, bullied, smeared and
marginalised but this has been tolerated to prevent Martin's supporters from
leaving and to avoid the CC accounting for their mistakes.
What of the apology? I do not accept as adequate or sincere an apology fought
for and said through gritted teeth. I first found out that the CC regretted my
hurt and distress when I read about it in their motion. No-one has met with me
to communicate it personally. In tragic fashion I have had to speak to a motion
to fight for an apology for myself. For months I was told no apology is
necessary. Is it any wonder that I am unconvinced by the apology at conference?
A sincere apology would have political consequences. It would require those who
have bullied and smeared to face some sanction. Instead the party leadership
continue to argue that there is parity between the slandering and smearing of
women who have brought allegations of rape and sexual harassment and people,
angry at the handling of a rape allegation, calling Alex Callinicos a "wanker".
A comrade who called someone an "idiot" faced disciplinary sanction, while those
who claimed I was a police spy have faced none. That this is now the official
party position is reason enough to leave.
The potential for a meaningful renewal of the SWP has dwindled. The last 12
months have polarised and entrenched positions. Debate is now refracted through
the prism of a bitter faction fight. Too many people have left and continue to
leave. For any organisation to remain dynamic and relevant there needs to be a
high level of debate and discussion in order to develop the theory and practice
necessary to relate to the real world. This crisis has not caused all the
problems in the SWP but it has smothered the possibility that the SWP can
develop into a serious revolutionary party.
I am not an MI5 agent, so I am leaving to rebuild the revolutionary left in
Britain. This will be a process of years not months but for now I leave proud of
my time in the SWP, deeply saddened that this is the endpoint and a little
excited at the fresh air I can now breathe.
I am resigning from the SWP after nearly 15 years membership. I have spent the
last year hoping that the party will come to its senses, after this latest
conference, it is clear that the party's current leadership and a minority of
its members would rather save their arses, than stand up for our socialist
I cannot be in an organisation, that puts itself above the class, or the
principles it claims it adheres to.
I enclose a copy of an email I sent to Mark Thomas, after he phoned me in July,
his final angry assertion, was that I was trying to split the party, which in
the final analysis was me being supportive of the EDL and BNP on the streets.
This is how far some of the organisations cadre as degenerated.
He has since not contacted me, even when I requested images for a national
Bedroom Tax newspaper I was producing. And in the course of the last year nobody
has to any satisfactory level answered those questions either, preferring to
retro-fit recent events to fit circumstances.
I hope you can all live with yourselves, after what you have done.
Solidarity, to my friends and comrades who will be continuing the fight for
democracy and accountability within the party, good luck to you all.
Adam Di Chiara.
I'll make myself clear if I haven't already.
I signed the statement because I want to see some change, in my opinion to save
the party (from itself). I don't want to leave. I, like many others love the
party, I feel it has given me a lot, and in return I have given it plenty back.
But if things don't change, or moves aren't made to adapt the structures to our
current situation, and the party fails to learn yet again from this most recent
fracture, then I'll have little choice but to leave the party, but to be honest
I don't think they'd be many left by then anyway, so your point about the Party
punching above its weight and what would the EDL or BNP be up to without us
around, frankly would become moot.
Fundamentally I see a bureaucracy, and an ossification in party structures not
suitable for the now, and as Marxists, as Leninists, and democratic centralists,
I find it my duty to tell you that the CC has made some horrendous mistakes
recently, and is compounding them on a daily basis.
As a body it needs to be more self aware, and self appraisingly critical, but I
don't think it can do this anymore, if it ever did.
It seems to be making perspectives up willy-nilly to suit whichever crisis is
next on the agenda.
Essentially I've lost faith in the ability of the leadership to lead by example,
or by convincing me on some major issues. I'll do my activity like a good
comrade convinced by the needs of the present conditions, and if Gareth wants me
to do an industrial sale, I can try and find time.
But I don't think you can blame a Faction, secret or otherwise, organised, or in
disarray, like the leadership, with bank accounts to fund train fares, or to
start fictitious newspapers, or whatever, for this crisis. The root cause is
well understood, and in January what I saw in emails from Charlie was a
determination to close down debate, shut people up, expel "whistleblowers", and
the CC has since been on a bureaucratic binge ever since.
But by doing all this it has created the circumstances where comrades have felt
the need to leave. It, not the faction, is what is dividing the party currently.
I've even heard of some prominent members saying "expel them all", as if that's
going to do anything other than destroy the party even further. Are they mad?
As far as I know the "faction" is fighting to keep comrades in, if it weren't
for them I suspect more may have left already. Comrades are leaving because of
what has happened and the bullying moralising, and scaremongering coming from
the centre. The blame lies at the top.
How many students do we have left?
How many full timers have resigned?
How many people are coming to Marxism?
How long before even more comrades leave?
How can we claim to have debate and discussion when dogmatic views rule the
And bullying and moralising is seen as an acceptable form of party discipline?
There is a democratic deficit.
These didn't happen because of a faction fight, these things are the
responsibility of the leadership, and its weakness is showing when it resorts to
these behaviours. I always knew when a District organiser wasn't happy about
some activity they wanted me to help with, because this is how they'd act, with
crass politics and moralistic jingoism, its a party trait I've always disliked,
now the CC appears to be at it on a grande scale, it's unbecoming, unreasonable
and untenable as a motivational strategy. As is "this debate is closed". This is
what is losing, what? 400 members? Almost all the SWSS groups!
So please apply your mind to everything that has happened since January
(possibly before), and attempt to see another perspective, and to try and argue
on [sic] the CC for it to sort out this bloody mess it's created for itself, and
to stop blaming others for its lack of responsibly leadership and self scrutiny.
If the email from Charlie had said "the vote was close, let's have a think about
this" then I'm not sure I would have even joined the faction, I'm not even sure
their would have been one, but what those emails said made me think that the rot
had truly set in, and the longer this goes on the more rotten it's getting.
I'll finish with a paragraph from Trotsky which sums up some of my feelings on
the matter. And is hopeful in someways, dependent on how the CC reacts.
From: The Question of the Party Generations
As often happens in history, it is precisely during these last months that the
“old course” revealed the most negative and most insufferable traits: apparatus
cliquism, bureaucratic smugness, and complete disdain for the mood, the thoughts
and the needs of the party. Out of bureaucratic inertia, it rejected, from the
very beginning, and with an antagonistic violence, the initial attempts to put
on the order of the day the question of the critical revision of the internal
party régime. This does not mean, to be sure, that the apparatus is composed
exclusively of bureaucratized elements, or even less, of confirmed and
incorrigible bureaucrats. Not at all! The present critical period, whose meaning
they will assimilate, will teach a good deal to the majority of the apparatus
workers and will get them to abandon most of their errors. The ideological and
organic regrouping that will come out of the present crisis, will, in the long
run, have healthful consequences for the rank and file of the communists as well
as for the apparatus. But in the latter, as it appeared on the threshold of the
present crisis, Bureaucratism has reached an excessive, truly alarming
development. And that is what gives the present ideological regrouping so acute
a character as to engender legitimate fears.
[Both of the above have been quoted from
here, minor typos corrected.]
On leaving the
Like many others
following the SWP’s Annual Conference, I have now left the SWP. Below, for those
are interested, briefly sets out the reasons why and lays out what I think
should happen next. While writing this is in itself a useful exercise for
clarifying my ideas, it also my attempt an explanation for all of those people,
over the last 9 years, that I have recruited, tried to recruit, sold the paper
too, argued with and generally harangued about the brilliance of Leninism.
What went wrong? Part 1 --
the Disputes Committees
I’m not going to go through the
entire story of the way the two complainants were treated here (for a good
overview and background, see
and Dave Renton's blog).
The reality is, however, that the complaint of comrade W about Martin Smith
was seriously mishandled. This needn't have been the case. If the CC had
been honest about what was going on rather than stage managing the 2011
Conference, we may have been able, collectively, to correct the mistakes
then. That didn't happen, however, and when the complaint resurfaced in
2012, it was again mishandled.
I think it's
important at this point to point out that the Disputes Committee failed
politically to deal with this complaint. There's a lot of rubbish out there
about trusting the political judgement of the DC panel. Well, trust is earned
and based on record -- I'm afraid the record shows that the comrades on the
Disputes Committee made a serious error around this. I'll leave aside the dodgy
questions, the grossly unfair processes because I think the central political
question is more important. I can accept that the rape was 'unproven' as an
outcome (though I think they should have done much more to point out this
doesn't mean it didn't happen and comrades have subsequently wrote well about
why the default should be believing the victim) but it simply beggars belief
that the DC did not find Martin Smith guilty of the campaign of sexual
harassment he so clearly carried out. This is especially true when comrade X
came forward with corroborating evidence and a similar story of abuse and
harassment. Just so we're clear, Martin Smith is 100% guilty of sexual
harassment (as the subsequent DC report shows).
All of this would be
bad enough but could still have been corrected. Unfortunately, the Central
Committee chose to try and cover up the case and use bureaucratic arguments to
try and deny the existence of the second complaint. Thus they turned a crisis in
one part of the Party into a crisis of their leadership. From that first error,
all other subsequent errors followed and their constant strategy of increasing
the divide has led now to a serious split at the heart of the SWP's cadre --
turning their leadership crisis into a crisis of the tradition.
What went wrong? Part 2 --
the underlying problems
It's fair to say that over the
last 9 years in the SWP I have found myself in informal tendencies with a
whole lot of comrades over a whole lot of different questions. Most of the
time that has been within the framework set out by the Central Committee,
meaning in general I have been a loyal comrade (and until this year I have
only broken discipline once and that was against Bambery so it doesn't
count). Even where disagreements did exist, such as with the deterioration
of the paper or our poor approach to the Pensions Dispute, these
disagreements took place within boundaries of what I would consider normal
Marxist polemic. Sure, there were problems but again these took place within
acceptable limits and did nothing to shake my view that the SWP, imperfect
though it was, was the best tool in our class's toolbox for building a
better future for humanity.
Like many comrades,
the last year has been a steep learning curve for me. The political decisions
made by the leadership and by their supporters point to one unavoidable
conclusion -- that the politics of the SWP, and of many of its members, has
ceased to be the politics of Marx or Lenin or Cliff. The strategy pursued by the
CC and its supporters only makes sense if you accept the complete contradiction
between their view and actual reality. Nowhere is this more obvious than with
question of Conference votes. The ideal of democratic centralism is full
discussion, decision then unity in action. When the Bolsheviks clarified this
formula (one that finds its roots in real working class struggle) they did so
without taking into account the future degeneration of the SWP leadership. As
such, the Bolshevik method is predicated on the idea that comrades may put
forward many different analyses and strategies and one must be chosen and
tested. This works fine when these analyses are based on actual reality -- it is
a system that can't cope when a majority of comrades simply ignore reality.
Hence, conference votes that the matter was dealt with well, all is resolved,
everyone is a comrade in good standing and apparently, through some Leninist
magic, this then becomes the new reality. This ignorance of reality, the
replacement of real circumstance with wishful thinking reminds me more of
Stalinism than Marxism. It is a method that thinks that SWP Conference votes can
change the world and it is a method that has no place within the international
Thus over the last
year the leadership's strategy has demonstrated time and again why it can no
longer claim leadership over the most advanced workers. As we travelled further
down the rabbit hole, more and more questions were raised about our method and
about the level of politics and discipline in the organisation. At every turn,
the CC almost seemed to willingly answer these questions in the negative.
As so we reach the December
Conference, our third one this year and the last chance for the CC and their
supporters to correct their trajectory and to join with those of us wanting
to rescue something from the fire. Unfortunately and predictably, the
loyalists did not take this opportunity and so I find myself leaving the
organisation to which I have dedicated my entire adult life.
It is important to
say here that my politics haven't changed. I am still convinced that Marxism is
the best and only method for explaining the world around us and the future that
millions hope for. More than this I remain convinced that the organisational
form referred to as Leninism is the best way to organise in order to achieve
that future. I do think, however, that the SWP no longer remains a useful tool
for building that future.
As we move forward,
the SWP-rump will still continue to exist, its members will still play a
positive role in the working class movement and I will still work alongside
them. But in terms of the project to build a revolutionary party, they now have
nothing to offer. The class war tests us all of the time and over the last year
the SWP majority has failed a fundamental test.
While the result of
the last twelve months of battles has been irredeemably negative and sad, it is
now over and the concrete question facing those of us who have left or should
have left is what we should be doing now. You can't be a Leninist without an
organisation so the first step is to try and form something new. I would imagine
this to be fairly lose at first but it should be somewhere for revolutionaries
to debate and plan action, to bring new layers of radical workers and crucially
to produce some sort of publication. The process of the faction fight over the
last year has educated many of our number, myself not least, in some of the
bigger political questions we now face. It is now up to us to put that clarity
into action and to nurture the new culture we have been developing. This project
is a modest one but it should have as its short-term goal the development of
Leninist organisation that unites all of those serious revolutionaries who want
to carry on activity. That means the best elements of both the SWP Opposition
and the ISN, plus their peripheries. In future, it will hopefully mean the best
elements of those still left in the SWP as well.
This step is the
next crucial one -- the ISN contains many lessons, both good and bad, of how to
try and build something new. I want us to avoid throwing the baby out with the
bath water in terms of our politics but equally I think we need to follow the
example of making serious and concrete changes to our method in order to change
the culture we have inherited from the SWP. I also want to get my own house in
order first before I even think about diving into radical reformist projects and
realignment initiatives, of which it’s fair to say I have a healthy scepticism.
What this means for
everyone else out there is that soon I will be selling you some sort of
publication again (and I promise this one will be better than the last!), that I
will still be bending your ear about revolutionary potential and I will soon be
urging you to join me in building a revolutionary organisation.
Andy Gammon Cunningham
here, minor typos corrected.]
On Sunday evening,
after conference had ended, I resigned from the SWP. I will explain why I have
left, but before I do that, I first want to explain why for so many years I
stayed with the party even while I often criticised it.
I first joined the
SWP in 1991; at a meeting in the Sol's Arms pub near Warren Street. A couple of
days before, I had been stopped in the street by a man selling Socialist Worker.
After I had bought a paper, the seller, John Walker, invited me to a meeting.
"I'm not interested in buying one", I told him, "I am much more left-wing than
you are." It was not a wise thing to have said. John had come into the SWP after
years in the libertarian Marxist group Solidarity and knew his left history far
better than I did. After half an hour of standing on the street losing an
argument, I agreed to go to the meeting where I eventually filled in a
membership form. It was assumed that I would pay by cash and there was a grid on
the back of my membership card which could be used to check that I was paying my
each month's subs.
The SWP was the
third left-wing party whose meetings I had attended in less than a year. After a
few months in Slough Constituency Labour Party, I had resigned in disappointment
at Labour's timid response to the then Iraq War. Before then, I had spent a
couple of unhappy months on the edges of the Revolutionary Communist Party
(Living Marxism), from whom I had learned habits of ultra-leftism and
contrarianism, a combination expressed in my premature, fighting words to John.
If it had not been the SWP in 1991 it might have been any one of the left-wing
It was easy to join
the SWP, since I already considered myself a socialist, and in fact had done so
for more than five years. The real bravery had come much earlier, even before I
reached my teens, when I had first begun to identify with the left, a decision
which had set me off into a perpetual civil war with my family, my teachers, and
almost every one of my contemporaries at my school. My reasons for sticking with
the SWP were more significant.
In my first few
months, I considered leaving at several stages. I did not have a worked out
criticism of the SWP and some of my complaints seem daft to me in retrospect.
The group seemed impossibly old to me, with an average age of approximately 27
or 28 (I was just 18). Soon enough, I was selling the paper, but I was genuinely
perplexed by the way in my fellow sellers would shout what sounded to me like
reformist slogans "stop the war", "beat the Tories". Weren't we supposed to be
revolutionaries? I found the meetings dull and the contributions defensive. I
tired of the way in which after the speaker had finished, there would be a long
pause, and then whoever filled the silence would face 40 minutes of speaker
after the speaker from the floor correcting them for some imagined deviation
from the party "line".
Yet one of the
things I liked about the SWP was that, despite the branch culture which I have
just described, there were also comrades who were self-effacing, articulate and
principled. I think of well-known figures such as Duncan Hallas and Paul Foot,
but the real strength of the SWP was far below, in the branches, almost every
one of which had an autodidact Marxist, a worker who had never gone to
university, a person who would quote obscure ideas of Marx or Lenin and use them
to relate events happening in the world outside and to the tradition of the
Over the past 20
years the self-taught workers have almost all left, while the party-liners have
I might not have
stayed in the group but for a series of events which happened in the course of
my third year in the party. I was a student, in a tiny group of just 2-3 people.
Through the unusual tactic of going out of our way to book the SWP speakers who
would be most likely to interest a wider audience, and booking most of our
meetings as debates or in combination with other groups, we were able to pull
off weekly meetings of 100+ people. Locally and nationally (this was the time
when the SWP was claiming 10,000 members) it seemed possible to envisage a
genuinely mass party, something which would be on a scale the British left had
not seen in decades.
Our MP John Patten
was also the minister responsible for education, and was piloting through
Parliament the rapid reduction of the student grant and its replacement with
student loans, and had voted against the equalisation of the age of consent. We
called demonstrations two or three times a week and found an audience for them.
In no time at all the size of our group (its subs-paying membership) increased
to 8 and then 25 people. We had an audience large enough so that we could
legitimately stand people for office in the University and in the National Union
of Students. Then, to coincide with my 21st birthday, the woman who I loved also
joined our party. She and I were Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Trotsky and Sedova.
Communism was our love story.
That spring there
was a racist murder, and our local anti-fascist group met the family, supported
them, and organised a demonstration in their support, while others on the left
stayed aloof. I would not have had the confidence to support them had it not
been for the training I had received in the SWP.
Over the next 20
years there were many other good moments of which I am also proud: the Anti-Nazi
League carnival in 1994, editing a workplace bulletin with factory workers in
Sheffield, organising a student occupation (of sorts) in Oxford in 1997,
supporting refugees through hunger strikes in Liverpool in 2000-1, dispersing an
emergent anti-immigrant campaign in Brent a year later.
In the most recent
years, the best campaigns I have been involved in were ones which the leadership
tolerated but did not seek to be part of: a London counterpart to the TUC's
Tolpuddle festival, then last year's Counter Olympics Network.
I only learned the
main details of the party crisis as recently as Christmas 2012. Long-standing
comrades who I had known for years and trusted sought to set up a "third"
faction, which would campaign within the SWP for the reform of our disputes
procedures. I joined them. The leadership banned the faction, refused to
publicise our documents or to allow us to speak at conference in January. My
initial response to the January conference was to assume that the leadership
would be chastened and that would be the end of the matter and spoke
optimistically at meetings. But at our North London report back I heard Weyman
Bennett promise, in his concluding remarks, "Never again will the SWP allow our
student office to take a line independent from the leadership".
I have been around
long enough to have grasped immediately what he meant -- that the CC were
prepared to restructure the office and tear up the student perspective
unanimously agreed at conference just days earlier, and were prepared to
sacrifice our students to do so.
In February 2013,
outside a meeting of the Defend the Right to Protest campaign, I met the second
complainant, the woman who we were being told did not exist ("there is only one
complaint", as Judith Orr had told the Birmingham aggregate). I gathered from
the woman that she wished to proceed with her complaint, and I decided to spend
some time helping her, in practice by listening to her as we drafted together
her statement about what had happened.
My days are given to
listening to people in court, asking them questions and listening to their
answers, and listening to the questions which other people ask them. I do not
believe that someone is telling the truth merely because I want them to succeed
at a hearing, or because I am their representative. If I get the opportunity to
meet them before a case, I will grill them as intensely as I can. I will look
for any flaw in their evidence, test any contradiction no matter how slight. And
if they want to run a case which I do not believe, I will tell them my doubts
and invite them to reconsider it.
I spent more than 20
hours in the company of the second complainant, read her documents, listened to
her intensely. And at the end of our meetings, I was absolutely convinced that
in every single thing she said she was telling the truth.
Once it became clear
that she was telling the truth, then for me there was no longer any basis on
which to doubt the evidence of the first complainant, who the second woman was
only corroborating. Both women were describing a similar pattern of repeated
unwanted advances by the same man.
I will not go
through the details of what happened next; the shoddy attempts of the Disputes
Committee (the same committee which of course had already heard the first case)
to decline to hear the second complainant, and to put off her case until after
January 2014 in the hope that she would leave the party. What I do want to
explain is what happened at SWP conference last weekend.
approximately 540 delegates at conference; fewer than one in 7 were aged under
40. Of the young people in the room , a large majority were in the faction. The
mood was serious, even grim. The conference was conducted throughout with the
same degree of procedural propriety as you would expect of the conference of a
trade union of about 30-40,000 people. Motions were taken; votes were even on
occasion counted. "Delegates" were reminded of the importance of reporting back
conference decisions, presumably to the 10 SWP members for whom each delegate is
supposed to stand. But here were 500 people, elected from 40 aggregates in many
of which there were had been fewer people in the room voting for candidates than
there had been places to fill.
A number of the
delegates would happily admit to never attending SWP meetings and never selling
the paper; they were there solely because they had been asked to stand in order
to prevent oppositional members attending. How many members does the SWP really
have beyond those who were in the room? If your definition extends to a
requirement that a person attend their branch meeting at least once a year,
perhaps, at the very most, a further 4-500 people nationally. This is not a mass
party; you cannot sustain anything healthy on the basis of the levels of fantasy
that could be seen in the room.
On Saturday morning,
Alex Callinicos made a supposed "apology". The statement he read out was based
on a CC motion which had been circulated in advance, and offered no specific
regret for any specific action by any named individual but blamed merely
"structural flaws in our disputes procedures". Structures of course have to be
carried out by people but there was no acknowledgement that any individual had
done anything wrong. The motion, for which the CC apology stood as an
abbreviation, blamed the faction for politicising the dispute, when it was
Callinicos himself whose article in January's Socialist Review had begun that
process by mixing together the defence of the leadership's handling of the
dispute and the defence of "Leninism". The motion explained the women's distress
in terms of the publicising of their case on the internet. It spoke for women
who the CC does not know, has not asked, and about whom some CC members have
been lying for a year.
supporter R- inadvertently captured the half-hearted nature of the CC's
manoeuvre when she explained to delegates in a later session; "I am prepared to
say sorry. I am not going to apologise."
things were said during the course of conference. Two women who used to be on
the SWP Disputes Committee explained how the majority of that committee had
tried to prevent the second complaint from ever being heard, and the battle they
had had to fight to have it heard, resulting eventually in the appointment of a
new panel. The room quietened when they spoke; but afterwards, no-one voted
The panel which
heard the second complaint explained why they had found that there was a case to
answer, and spelled out that they had heard from her and read her evidence, and
spent 2 full days considering her case, as well as a further period debating
their reasons. Any fair listener would have grasped that the panellists believed
that Smith probably had harassed the second complainant. The comrades listened,
and some were troubled. But they continued to vote for the leadership.
A member of the same
panel explained that the second complainant also made a complaint that her email
had been hacked. It was quite possibly hacked, the panel had accepted, by a
member of the SWP. But if so, and this was the sole matter that interested them,
the hacker had not been instructed beforehand by the Central Committee to hack
her email account, and that meant there was nothing for them to investigate.
In this last
episode, you can find expressed the degeneration of an entire party. What we
were being told was that the DC accepted that a member of the SWP may well have
chosen to hack the email account of a woman who had made a serious, sexual
complaint against a leading member of the SWP. In fact while the hacker was
there, as a comrade from Manchester had explained, he had not just forwarded
emails belonging to the complainant, he had also deleted what he presumably
thought were the only copies of emails passing between Smith and the
complainant, and which subsequently helped to prove her complaint before the
second disputes committee. He was doing what now passes for loyalty in the SWP
-- behaving in secret, destroying potential evidence, doing everything in his
power to protect a man accused of rape.
If the individual
who did this was not acting on orders, he was nevertheless doing something which
he thought the leadership, or at least a section of it, would welcome. And there
is no suggestion that he has ever been sanctioned for what he did. This mindset,
of trying to think into the mind of a leadership, and of doing more and more
grotesque things in the hope of winning their patronage, is associated with dark
moments in history. Yet neither the disputes panel, nor it seems conference,
found anything remarkable in it.
There were other bad
times at conference; as when M- the outgoing chair of the Disputes Committee --
sought to smear the second complainant by insinuating that she had spoken to the
Daily Mail and encouraged them to doorstep Smith.
R-, who was of
course a member of the SWP Disputes Committee which heard the first case, called
the second complainant "obscene" for having supported a faction which had named
Smith as being accused of "sexual predation" and insinuated that the second
complaint had been made only for factional purposes. It was as if she could
blank out of her mind the evidence of her comrades on the second panel who had
accepted that Smith probably had sexually harassed a woman. She ended her speech
with the words, "Honour and Respect democratic centralism! Honour and Respect
I will never again
use the word "socialist" to describe the middle aged trade unionist from my
former branch who went round the edges of conference, confronting the youngest
delegate at conference, a woman in her gap year before university who had never
met him before, with the hostile greeting, "Martin is innocent".
Conference voted by
a majority of 8 to 1 in favour of a CC slate containing Callinicos and Kimber,
with only 69 delegates voting for an alternative leadership (11 others
abstained). I vainly shouted "count" when the vote on the apology was taken, not
because it was close, but because I thought the numbers should be a matter of
record. The chair moved on, having declared the motion heavily defeated.
I believe that about
15 or so more comrades voted for it than for the alternative CC slate; or to put
it another way, only 1 in 30 of the non-faction comrades broke from the
leadership, even on the most significant -- and straightforward -- question of
whether there should be a genuine apology.
Against the many
shameful things I saw, I must also insist that there were many people at
conference sitting there with their heads in their hands, some in tears. You
could see this most clearly among a section of the middle ground, who seemed
visibly in pain at what they were watching.
As well as them,
there were people who spoke out against the party's degeneration. I think of the
longstanding member who spoke twice in the debate about the Central Committee,
and stated in the most direct of terms that a Central Committee which is united
only to cover up a crime of this sort has no legitimacy, and that a leadership
which has driven hundreds of socialists out no longer deserves to lead. It is a
difficult and lonely thing to tell hundreds of people that they are wrong. You
need to be brave to stand up before a room of several hundred people who are
hostile to you, knowing that they will be given many more opportunities to
attack you than you will be allowed friends to speak in your defence. I am proud
to call that man a comrade.
Why did we lose? I
looked at conference and I saw a group of ageing and tired people, who have
watched their party at war with itself over the past year. Among the SWP
majority, a belief is prevalent that nobody can ever really "know" what happens
in the privacy of a relationship between a man and a woman. It follows that in
the context of multiple allegations of sexual abuse, the party is the only thing
that counts. The working class, which is under attack in an epoch of austerity,
is best protected by a revolutionary party which is as strong as possible. The
party is everything. Without the party, we as individuals, and the working
class, are alike nothing. The protection of the party is based on a committed
denial of the reality of what happened, and the self-deception that this small
party whose active members count only in the hundreds, is in fact many times
larger than we know it to be, and represents the whole of the class, the
entirety of the movement. To keep the party you have to protect the leadership;
no matter how many mistakes they have made. These members of the SWP made it a
point of pride that they hadn't read unwelcome articles in the Internal
Bulletins, had not gone online or spoken to people who might disagree with them,
had not tried to think for themselves about what had happened or who they
believed. The leadership had spoken and that was enough for them.
Such an argument may
satisfy my former comrades. But, unlike them, I have heard one of the
complainants directly. Indeed, I have listened to her with more care, and over a
longer period of time that anyone in the SWP ever will. And she is telling the
The history of
socialism is the story of a shifting border between principle and expediency.
Edward Bernstein sought to put the former on a coherent basis when he argued
that for him the socialist movement (i.e. the SPD, the party) was everything. To
which Rosa Luxemburg famously responded that to her the movement was not
everything, only the goal, the liberation of all humanity, counted for
everything. Too many of my former comrades repeat Bernstein's error in
convincing themselves that the party of their (and my) youth still exists, or
that they make themselves "revolutionaries" by giving cover to a leadership
which has disgraced the left.
That in short is why
I left, because I am a Marxist and revolutionary, because I believe in women's
liberation and will not cover up sexual abuse, and -- above all -- because I am
loyal to the socialists of my youth and the principles they taught me. The
decision, in the end, has not anguished me, and I am not in need of anyone's
sympathy. I do convey my best wishes on leaving, my love and my solidarity
greetings, to the principled few who remain.
All of my adult life
has been spent either as a member of or a close supporter of the SWP. Few of my
closest friends are people who I met anywhere but in the SWP. I am not sad
though to leave, if anything I am relieved, and the prospect of being part of a
new left inspires me.
Ex leading member,
Hazel Croft, on the above resignation:
I really want to
thank you for all you have written and achieved over the last year, Dave. This
is a wonderful piece, and your lack of rancour is admirable. It brought tears to
my eyes to read your account of the conference of the party to which I also once
belonged, and in which I know there were sitting people I know and love who will
have listened to what you describe being said and yet still would have still
voted with the leadership. I always hoped that they went along with the
leadership through lack of knowledge of the facts, through a misguided trust in
the leadership. Now I know there is something more than that, and it is painful
to hear it described and to try to understand how and why it has happened. I
still can't get really get my head around how things turned to so much of their
opposite, even though I have been grappling with it for the last 12 months. I
have had mixed feelings over the last couple of days, as a new wave of people
have resigned their membership -- I was happy people were leaving once it was
clear they wouldn't win, but I also feel huge huge sadness for what has been
lost with the degeneration of the organisation, and for the political and
personal ramifications for myself and so many others. I am pleased you feel full
of hope for the future -- although it may take you a little longer than you
think to 'move on', and to stop thinking of the SWP. Certainly it has me --
although perhaps it has taken me longer because I did not feel able to battle it
out to the end. Whatever happens next I certainly hope to be working alongside
you in some capacity, and do believe we can create something better.
here (in the comments section).]
here. (This link no longer works!)]
(This link no longer works!)]
It is with great sadness that I write to
tell you of my resignation from the SWP. February next year will mark 40 years
since I joined the International Socialists, but after last weekend's conference
I can no longer in good conscience remain a member.
The past year has been the worst year I have spent in the SWP, and I think the
worst year in the SWP's history. Over 500 people have already left, including
the vast majority of our students; Marxism was a shadow of its former self, with
numbers badly down and almost no outside speakers; the Unite the Resistance
conference was half the size of last year's; and in the unions and movements,
it's almost impossible to find anyone who thinks that we did the right thing.
Even our successes have been tainted -- the Tower Hamlets demonstration against
the EDL was great, but we initially failed to offer solidarity to the almost 300
people arrested by the police, and the reaction to the 'Sisters Against the EDL'
initiative seemed driven by pure sectarianism.
Over the last year I have fought to get the SWP to change its position on the
two complaints against the former national secretary, and I am proud to have
done so alongside so many other comrades. We started off convinced of the SWP's
principled positions on women's oppression and women's liberation, and
determined that those principles had to apply to every member, no matter how
important. Like many others, I have been appalled by the leadership's
managerialist approach to the crisis, putting party pride above principle, and
by the culture of deference to the leadership that has determined the response
of too many comrades.
I'm aware that both of those elements have been around for some time, but I
always believed before in the SWP's capacity to learn from and transcend its
mistakes. I no longer do so, and I think that an organisation that cannot learn
from criticism, and wilfully ignores it, is an organisation that will calcify
and become sectarian.
I have spent my adult life in the SWP, and I don't regret it for one minute. We
have done great things -- with the Anti-Nazi League (twice), during the miners'
strike, and with Stop the War, among many other things. I have learn a huge
amount from comrades I have worked with over the decades, and I am particularly
grateful for the opportunities given to develop and extend my writing. Many
close friends and comrades I greatly respect will stay in the SWP, and I wish
them all well. After a year's debate, conference's decisions on the internal
crisis are clear and unambiguous -- I cannot defend them, or take any pride in
my membership, and so it's for the best that I leave.
I intend to remain an active revolutionary socialist, and I look forward to
working with SWP members and other socialists in the struggles, campaigns and
movements to come, and to creatively applying the principles of international
socialism in whatever new formation emerges from this crisis.
Yours, Charlie Hore
I'm resigning from the SWP.
I believe all the current members of the CC are brilliant
fighters, each in their own unique and valuable way. I have seen no evidence
of a CC cover up and I accept their word. I do have specific reservations
about one or two on the CC: that is not surprising, and not important; no
one is perfect, including me etc. I also believe that there is tremendous
talent in the membership of the organisation. I am thankful to the party for
introducing me to some of these comrades and also for educating me in the
politics of the IS tradition.
I understand the need for unity within the party and that
this allows for a united CC to roll out whatever policies we have agreed on
and therefore, I also agree that permanent factions cannot be tolerated as
this will hamper the ability of the party to focus on what is important
given current political conditions.
The problem has arisen around the Disputes Committee,
but, having thought about the reasons why the sad difficulties arose, I
think the stresses that built up leading to the crash stem from the
particular way we currently elect the leadership. There are a number of
different ways this could be addressed, but that’s not really what I want to
talk about here.
Comrades naturally, because they believe in the
organisation, want to be loyal to the leadership and to the party. I myself
want to do this and have done so throughout my two dozen years in the party.
I have disagreed with the party direction from time to time, but I have
always continued trying to build the party and to sell the paper etc. When I
have a vote, I loyally vote for the party, for the CC position. And, outside
the party I always argue passionately for our politics and tradition.
A party, with a clear unified message, is a strong party.
And we work to try to build such a party. Comrades intuitively feel this is
a strength of the SWP and loyally vote for CC positions and CC slates. But
building for strength and flexibility is not necessarily a straightforward
task. There is a difficult path for the CC to tread to maximise strength and
I think the system of electing the CC (by slate) has
meant that any error by any individual CC member can tar the whole CC
(perhaps in the view of the CC members as well as those in the know),
because of the joint responsibility conferred by those elections. There will
be a temptation for the CC to close ranks to maintain unity and strength and
also to maintain secrecy on any problematic issues. What has been a strength
under normal circumstances becomes rigid and brittle, and a source of
weakness, under conditions of stress of the kind we have seen lately. The CC
may feel they must hang together or hang separately. Rigid loyalty to the CC
of the kind expressed by some comrades, during most periods a strong
support, can in more difficult periods become its opposite.
To me, admittedly without any detailed knowledge of the
recent cases under dispute, but from the only vantage point I have, it seems
that this rigidity and brittleness has been extended to the DC. Clearly, the
DC fractured this year. The abuse of the power of the party exhibited by the
2013 DC Report Back is evidence, for me, of this weakness. Anybody can make
a mistake, but it must be owned up to for any healing to commence.
I was extremely saddened when the overwhelming majority
of the 2013 SWP conference did not vote for a clear apology to two women
comrades subjected not only to the original misconduct they had reported and
complained about but also to further abuse from the party apparatus. Why
didn’t the comrades want to apologise? They didn't want to? I don't believe
them! I believe they voted to be seen to be 'loyal'. Voting under the
present system is a loyalty test. And of course, comrades want to be seen as
The party has been weakened this year, not because of the
faction, but because of the way the leadership and apparatus has related to
the party given the internal crisis.
It wouldn't be such a problem if it looked as though
there is possibility of changing the situation.
I voted for the faction slate, even though I have never
signed up to any faction, because there was no alternative. I could have
continued to vote loyal, but my heart wasn't in it given the options
available. I actually thought that the combination of comrades on the CC
slate was probably a better combination than the faction slate. However, the
fact that they were bound to one another because of the slate, made that
choice wrong for the reasons given above. I suppose it was a protest vote.
I could have decided to stay in the party, beavering away
from below, disregarding the type of leadership we have, and that is what I
almost decided to do, but I have decided that would probably be wrong and
would be, given the seeming intransigence locked in to the democratic
structures of the party, simply wasting time.
So, because I cannot see any possibility of the change I
think is necessary happening here any time soon, and because I don't want
work in an organisation where I may be thought of as disloyal, and because I
feel, after nearly a quarter of a century fighting for and with the party,
that my time and energy might now be better spent elsewhere, I quit.
I have decided to resign my membership of the Socialist Workers Party.
With conference not apologising to the two women; not one member of our leading
body made accountable; and a lack of recognition of the many mistakes made in
the last year (2013) by the Central Committee. I have no confidence in the
'newly' elected Central Committee being able to lead any of us in the class
struggle. The leadership has broken down all relations of trust.
Consequently, I cannot continue to operate as a revolutionary socialist while a
member of Hornsey & Wood Green branch. The undeclared faction's sectarian
behaviour towards anyone who has any doubts about the behaviour of MS has
distorted the local party in a very destructive manner. I have been
bureaucratically removed from the District Committee despite the objections of
the local branch, systematically undermined, viewed as politically suspicious
and slandered on many occasions.
I have been appalled at the actions of the leadership, the CC, and various
comrades who mobilised to protect our former, disgraced, National Secretary and
defend the indefensible -- rape and sexual harassment -- which now includes a
hacking scandal into the second complainants (Comrade X) email account.
The comrade who brought forward a complaint of sexual harassment experienced
victimisation and bullying (as did the first complainant). She then complained
that her email account had been accessed without her knowledge and 'evidence'
I am shocked and horrified to hear that conference delegates heard this account
and could not bring themselves to challenge the leadership, the DC, and begin a
thorough investigation. Ian A puts it like this:
"The panel chose not to investigate further because they felt confident that
hacking had not been carried out by the Central Committee or on its behalf
(which was never the allegation). So is it OK if another SWP member hacked the
email of a woman who complained of sexual harassment, tried to delete evidence
and fabricated an email? Is it OK if it was on behalf of the man accused of rape
and sexual harassment?"
The CC, and some
senior Cadre, clearly and simply, see the SWP as an end in itself rather than a
means of bringing about a socialist transformation of society. For the current
leadership, the 'Party is everything' and 'the goal (socialism) nothing'.
Fighting against all forms of oppression is an important part of challenging and
overthrowing the Capitalist mode of production. In David Renton's recent
resignation statement he outlines the dynamic of defensiveness and ultra-loyalty
drawing ever so closer to a sect:
"The working class, which is under attack in an epoch of austerity, is best
protected by a revolutionary party which is as strong as possible. The party is
everything. Without the party, we as individuals, and the working class, are
alike nothing. The protection of the party is based on a committed denial of the
reality of what happened, and the self-deception that this small party whose
active members count only in the hundreds, is in fact many times larger than we
know it to be, and represents the whole of the class, the entirety of the
movement. To keep the party you have to protect the leadership; no matter how
many mistakes they have made."
reckoning was absolutely needed and our principles on women's oppression should
have been put in to practise back in 2010 when the CC first heard of the
complaint. Now, the prospect of renew is out of the question for the SWP. The
SWP has politically degenerated to a point where the chances of it becoming fit
for purpose seem ever so slight. A new party is possible; and in that project I
will continue to operate as a revolutionary socialist, locally, nationally and
After having served my political apprenticeship for the last 20 months within
the SWP, it's now time for a fresh start. This is necessary and it is possible.
I have no desire to disengage with the SWP politically -- I will not publicity
criticise the SWP over these matters after this statement. I have stated my
reasons for my resignation and hope to work with, strategically, sections of the
SWP in the near future.
Veteran SWP-er and
ex-CC member, Pat Stack, resigns
Next May I
would have been in the SWP for 40 years. In my 39 years in the IS/SWP, 20 of
those working full time for the organisation, there were of course many ups and
downs. But I was always sure that this was my political home. I was chosen to be
our representative on the NUS executive, became a full-timer, got elected onto
the Central Committee, on which I served for 12 years. I look back on that time
as an honour made all the greater by having worked alongside the likes of Tony
Cliff, Duncan Hallas, Chris Harman and Paul Foot. However after a year of
shooting in the dark trying to put right a wrong, I feel I have been brought to
a crossroads. The SWP's failure to deal with the dispute arising from the
complaint of the two women against the former national secretary, its failure to
correct the errors that arose from that dispute, and the complete lack of honest
accounting as to what went wrong, have all brought me to this point. The
leadership had so many opportunities to do the right thing, to make decisions
that would save the SWP from a huge cost to its reputation and huge loss of
membership. It remains a source of heartbreak and bewilderment for me that you
failed so badly at every turn. Leaderships can only be judged on what they have
done, what results they have achieved. Whatever way we look at it, this
leadership failed to deal with the issue that lies at the heart of the biggest
crisis the SWP ever faced.
problem were exclusively one of failed leadership I might just still be
considering my continued membership. Sadly it is clear that for a large section
of the loyal membership, a short-sighted "defence of the party" has overridden
every other consideration, including principles, and furthermore for them
"defence of the party" has become synonymous with "defence of the leadership".
horror of this was exemplified at conference by the standing ovation for
Maxine's disputes committee report, followed by the complete lack of response to
the revelations of dispute committee members C and J (neither of them faction
members) that Maxine and the majority on the disputes committee had indeed
blocked the second case from being heard.
gave the standing ovation for Maxine -- about a third of the conference -- long
ago decided that the two women were lying, either for factional reasons or
because they were stooges of the state. They decided this way despite having no
reliable knowledge of either case.
laughable to pretend this group of people has not broken fundamentally with our
principles over women's liberation.
In the light
of this I feel I have no choice but to resign from the SWP. I do so with much
sadness. I do so, however, in the company of many others alongside whom I have
fought and who, like me, now feel they have to move on. They have been
outstanding examples of how to fight for what is right in very difficult
circumstances, and I stand by them with pride.
I know that
in doing so I am saying goodbye to something that has been a huge part of almost
my entire adult life. I am also saying goodbye to those members of the faction
who will choose to stay inside the SWP. I would say to them: we fought an
honourable fight together, we did the right thing, we defended principle rather
than organisation. So never ever apologise for what you have done this past
year. I know you think the SWP can still be changed. I think you are wrong, but
wish you every success in your efforts.
I am further
saying goodbye to many comrades who despite their horror at the behaviour of the
IDOOM [In Defence Of Our Martin -- RL] "ultras" (the undeclared faction
committed to defending the former national secretary at all costs), didn't join
our faction. A number of them have contacted me asking me not to leave, to stay
and to try to prevent the party being taken over by those representing this
sectarian distortion of our traditions. I hate having to tell them I am going,
but I fear they are fighting a losing fight. I will always regard them as
comrades and hope to see them in the struggles of the future.
For myself, I
remain a committed revolutionary, a champion of socialism from below, and a
believer in revolutionary organisation. I am just sad that the vehicle I chose
to travel on has hit the buffers, and angry that some of those still on it have
betrayed everything it once stood for.
Mass Resignation (165 so far):
The signatories to
this statement can no longer remain members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
following events at its annual conference on 13-15 December 2013.
We all fought for a just resolution for the two women at the heart of this
crisis. We are proud of having conducted that battle. We are honoured to have
worked alongside hundreds of comrades in an effort to uphold our political
principles on women's liberation.
We remain committed to socialism from below and to the need for revolutionary
organisation. The SWP taught us how to fight and we are indebted to both the
politics that inspired us and the individuals who made this happen.
We have resigned
because our leadership failed to put our principles on women's liberation into
practice. Nevertheless many good revolutionaries who did not fail that test will
remain members of the SWP. We want to work with the SWP and others in campaigns
and struggles ahead.
Over the last year we began debating a wide range of political questions. We
want to continue those debates. The crisis has brought out both the strengths
and the weaknesses of our own political tradition. These questions will not be
resolved in weeks, or even in months. But we do want to assess how we begin
again to organise collectively.
Adam DC, Adrià
Porta Caballé, Alberto Torres, Alexis W, Alice LB, Amy Gilligan, Andrew Osborne,
Andy Cunningham, Andy North, Angela S, Anindya Bhattacharyya, Anne Saxon, Annie
N, Arjun Mahadevan, Arnie Joahill, Bartley W, Bea Leal, Bettina Trabant, Bill
Crane, Brian Parkin, Bunny La Roche, Charlie Hore, Christian C, Colin, Colin
Marchant, Colin Wilson, Cris Johnson, Dan Swain, Darren P, Dave Radford, Dave
Roberts, David Hollings, David Renton, Deborah M, Despina M, Dominic W,
Elizabeth Dearden, Emily McDonagh, Emma C, Emma C, Estelle C, Ewa Barker, Ewan
Nicolson, Fraser Ritchie, Gareth Jones, Gary M, Gill George, Graham Campbell,
Hanif L, Hazel Sabey, Helios Alonso, Ian A, Ian Birchall, Ian Stone, Imelda
Messenger, Imogen PB, Iris C, Isabel H, Jack Farmer, Jack T, James Cameron,
James Norrie, Jamie Andrews, Jaz Blackwell-Pal, Jen W, Jo Robbins, John Walker,
Jonas Liston, Jonathan Neale, Jonny Jones, Jordan Miers, Judd Osborne, Judith
Swift, Kaiya S, Kath Knight, Keith Forbes, Kevin F, Kyri Tsappas, Leon Bond,
Liam Tobin, Linda Nunns, Lois Clifton, Louis Bayman, Lukas K, Luke E, Luke
Henderson, Mark B, Mark W, Martha J, Matt S, Matthew C, Michael McDonnell,
Michal N, Mike Thompson, Mike Williams, Mikhil Karnik, Mireia Chavarria, Miriyam
Aouragh, Mitch Mitchell, Moses Milner, Nancy L, Nathan B, Neil B, Neil Davidson,
Neil Rogall, Nicholas J, Nick Cimini, Nick E, Oliver Lowe, Ollie Vargas, Owen H,
Owen Miller, Pat Stack, Patrick Naylor, Patrick Ward, Pete Cannell, Pete
Gillard, Phil T, Rachel Eborall, Rebecca Short, Rick C, Rick Lighten, Rita
McLoughlin, Rob Owen, Robin B, Roderick C, Ron Smith, Ross S, Ruairidh Maclean,
Ruth Lorimer, Sadie F, Sam James, Sam O’Brien, Sara Bennett, Sarah Pigott, Seb
Cooke, Sebastian Cooke, Shanice M, Shayon S, Shirley Marchant, Siân R, Simon
Behrman, Simon D, Simon Fisher, Sophie Williams, Søren G, Stella Hawker, Steve
Baker, Steve Henshall, Stuart Calton, Sue Bond, Suhail M, Sundara J, Tara
Topteagarden, Theo Williams, Tom Haines-Doran, Tommy Martin, Tony Walker,
Valerie Prechner, Viv Smith, Will Stacey, William Cleary, William S, Yasmin
Appendix J -
2009-2014 Split In The ISO (USA)
Readers will no doubt recognise the familiar complaints about
high-handed, uncomradely treatment of dissenters, and the lack of democracy in
the party -- as well as the obligatory
reference to 'dialectics'.
More importantly, it is related to perspectives which consistently exaggerated
the potential coming struggles -- always just over the horizon -- and turning
points that never became qualitative turning points.
These perspectives errors are related to a failure to come to terms with some of
the key features of the current (and to some extent recent) political period(s):
leftward-moving consciousness, interest in radical ideas, episodic struggles,
low-level of class struggle, a small and disorganized revolutionary and
reformist left, the impact of the fall of Stalinism, etc.
Despite our concerns we did not "air dirty laundry in public." We knew, on
balance, that the ISO contributed a great deal to the development of the U.S.
and international left. We had (and have) no desire to see the organization or
its work harmed. We, like most current and former members, recognize the
important role ISO comrades -- along with other comrades on the left -- played
in the Chicago teachers strike, as well as in the fast food workers struggles,
the ongoing work against racism, and many other important activist arenas. These
successes, however, do not change the fundamental problems and issues at hand.
Moreover, until now, we did not believe our criticisms would be seen as
constructive, believing they would add fuel to the fire of cranks and sectarians
and find little audience among comrades. We thought our criticism would be
perceived as a public attack by comrades eager to defend the organization.
things have changed.
An accumulation of members with different sets of experiences and
backgrounds, the growth of comrades in the organization, a political
maturity attained from putting down roots in certain areas of work (rather
than relying on episodic struggles) means that these comrades' experience
may run counter to the espoused perspective of the “next turn” on the
horizon, raising questions about the functioning of the organization.
The implosion of the British SWP and the failure of a series of political
assumptions associated with the International Socialist Tendency (IST) has
opened up an important space for rethinking the tasks and organizational
conclusions of revolutionaries today. While the ISO did not share all the
same political problems as the SWP, it is nevertheless marked by our common
political evolution. American ISO exceptionalism is an insufficient response
to the questions posed by the failures of the British SWP.
The convergence of points 1 & 2 create a moment that not only invites but
requires responsible political self-reflection. The questions of the moment
are becoming clearer even if our answers to those questions have yet to be
formulated. It is clear to us, based on a reading of last year's convention
documents as well as recent debates in and around the organization, that the
national leadership has not led an adequate discussion about how to meet the
challenges of the current period. This does not mean that the lead being
provided on the ground in specific areas of work is necessarily wrong; there
are many talented comrades leading such areas of work. But the national
perspective/lead seems fragmented and empirical rather than unified and
Whatever mistakes he may or may not have made we are very concerned about
the forced resignation of Shaun J. -- a comrade with 14 years of dedicated
membership in the ISO. This forced resignation comes after Shaun raised a
number of concerns (very legitimate concerns in our opinion) during last
year's convention discussion and concerns (again, very legitimate concerns)
about a national march in Washington, D.C. that was run by some of the worst
liberal shills connected to the Democratic Party. We are not saying Shaun
was right or wrong but rather that the events surrounding his case are
exceedingly troubling. Most importantly, they are indicative of a method of
functioning that is out of step with the demands of the current political
therefore offer the following points for consideration -- all of which relate to
the two main issues of democracy and perspectives that we believe should be up
for discussion in a dialectically linked manner.
There needs to be a thorough accounting of the question of democracy in the
ISO. In the most recent debates around the march in Washington there was,
evidently, a debate among Steering Committee (SC) and National Committee
(NC) members. It was resolved. But when rank-and-file ISO members raised
similar issues their views were treated as outliers. The idea that the
leadership must be seen as infallible is papal not Marxist.
Why is it not appropriate, when there is a substantial debate among the
leadership, to open up that debate to the entire membership? That this is
not seen as appropriate is a hangover from Zinovievist (SWP) notions of
Leninism: the debates are not had out in the open; the leadership is a
monolith; the center leads the party; the party leads the class, etc. This
may lead to an ossification of the political life of the organization.
Not all disagreements with the leadership are anti-leadership or
anti-Leninist. By exaggerating the scale of critiques the leadership itself
runs the risk of escalating debates about organization, theory and
perspectives into existential questions -- that the leadership is "under
siege," etc. -- when in fact no such existential threat exists.
Only a collective nation-wide leadership of a wide layer of comrades (both
ISO members and other socialists) will be able to figure out -- through
discussion and practice -- new perspectives for the current era. This
national discussion, of course, will have to be held in concert with the
global discussions of the revolutionary left.
A relatively small SC or NC does not need to come up with all the answers.
On the contrary it needs to lead and help facilitate democratic discussion.
Any assumption -- whether by the leadership or the rank-and-file -- that
political questions such as perspectives are to be answered solely by the
leadership is a hindrance to the growth and maturation of the organization.
Related to this, there has been a tendency to fetishize talented new members
and denigrate long-standing cadre, an approach influenced by Tony Cliff's
distortions of Lenin. Talented new ISO members were often treated like gold;
experienced cadre -- especially cadre who raised questions or criticisms --
were too often seen as expendable.
In the long run this can create not only a brain drain in the organization
but also a process by which some of the most principled cadre may leave or
are driven out of the organization. See the current sad state of the British
SWP for example. This fact, combined with the exhaustion of "war footing"
and "turning points," is the most important subjective factor for the loss
of ISO members.
Both the IST and the ISO expected that the late 20th century and early 21st
century would produce a larger explosion of struggle than has so far
occurred. This expectation of sustained struggles, whether arising largely
spontaneously or led by liberal or social-democratic forces outside the
radical left, has proven erroneous (noted exceptions aside).
The exaggerated expectations therefore had a contradictory and distorting
impact on the organization's relationship to struggle and its
The organization burned many longstanding comrades out through
hyperactivity. Long-standing cadre who became outliers in terms of the
perspectives tended to be marginalized or removed.
Conversely, the organization was unintentionally passive about the
possibility of initiating new centers of organizing. While the ISO has done
much impressive work, too often it has found itself in the position of "waiting
for Godot" -- waiting for external developments.
This contradiction helps explain the vacillation between "war footing" and
"turning points" on the one hand and recurring "back to basics" campaigns on
The ISO did not make as many or as extreme mistakes at the SWP. Moreover,
the political period has continued to develop. But some of these mistakes
echo into the current failure of the ISO leadership to fully lead.
The current period is marked by the following characteristics in the U.S.: a
widespread interest in socialist and even radical ideas, a low level of
class struggle proper, extremely episodic social struggles, a weak organized
labor movement, a small revolutionary left, increasingly dysfunctional
mainstream politics, the increasing immiseration of the working-class, the
ongoing impact of the global reorganization of capital and production, and
the primitive formation of radical politics among the "radicalizing
In other words the conditions do not exist at the moment for the
revolutionary left to consistently play the role of the "left wing" in
larger reformist or liberal led struggles. Such events and movements do
occur but they are not a defining characteristic of the present moment.
The question is posed to the revolutionary left of initiation of struggle:
ideological, physical and strategic.
For some time it has been axiomatic that we are not in a position like that
of the third international, the fourth or the second. We may be closer to
the position of the first international: one of building almost from
scratch. Of course like all historical analogies this is insufficient.
Regardless, the question that such an objective situation would pose is:
what can the radical left initiate?
here. Some paragraphs merged to save space. Link added.]
Theory And Practice Of Idealism In
Trotskyism And The ISO
Essay Nine Part Two
-- for an explanation why these things keep
happening on the far-left.
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