Crackers, cheese and pickled herring

Forgive me for indulging in a little whimsical digression, but I was just thinking there of a scene in The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood where Robin (George Segal) is running after some bad guys, and divers peasants gather round to watch. “Look,” they exclaim, “it’s Ivanhoe!” Whereupon Robin has to stop what he’s doing and patiently explain that Ivanhoe wears black, not green.

And so, by popular demand (well, at least as indicated by the site statistics), we return to the Swips. I’ve been meaning for quite some time to have a look at the Democracy Commission report, because there’s quite a bit in it that’s useful, and perhaps to proffer some constructive thoughts on the matter.

Which feeds into this running theme that on the left, it’s not only a question of what you say and what you do, but how you say and do it. How you say it brings up the importance of tone, and the dreadful frequency of hate speech on the left; there’s also the issue of how we do what we do. If I may, I was struck by something johng said over on SU about this:

The decision to wind down SA and go with Respect was I think a correct decision. The WAY it was done I think was a problem, but at the time (thankfully this is no longer the case) such criticisms would have been regarded as ‘non-political’.

This is, I think, a very important point, regardless of what you think about the proximate issue. Somehow we arrived at this position where, for instance, winning a vote in a campaign to march on this Saturday rather than that one was the “political” issue; while arguing internally about whether it was right to pack a meeting to win that vote was “non-political”. And the extraordinarily un-Leninist view that the internal conduct of the party was the most non-political thing of all. As Cannon explained, in general political questions should take precedence over organisational ones, but the question of the regime is itself a political question.

Which brings me to the DC report, and there’s plenty of meat there. It’s pleasing that the Commission members have taken their job seriously, canvassed a wide range of opinion and obviously had some serious discussions. To be honest, the backlash from the membership post the Respect split probably meant the majority leadership couldn’t have done less, while the Rees-German minority did themselves huge damage – and the party a favour – by setting their faces against democratisation. Let’s skip over the generalisms in the preamble and get stuck in, with the role of the National Committee:

The Democracy Commission believes that the party constitution should be amended [to] make the NC’s decisions binding on the CC. The political reality is that the CC could not ignore or defy NC decisions. Formally recognising this would help highlight the importance of the NC’s role.

At least here we have a recognition that some sort of leadership body is needed that is wider than the dozen or so members of the CC (or even the half-dozen or so core CC members who have been in situ for a very long time). Nor would we want a return to one of the nadirs of the Cliff years, when the NC supinely voted itself out of existence. The task, then, is to have an active and combative NC rather than a rubber stamp – the test will be whether you get an NC with independent-minded members or one full of hand-raisers. There has been sufficient experience of the latter.

What the Respect crisis brought to a head was a tendency on the part of the CC to act on its own, in isolation of the rest of the party – as a vanguard that had lost touch with the rest of the army. What is therefore necessary is a rebalancing of the relationship between the CC and the rest of the party, and, as a crucial part of this, a major strengthening of the role and functioning of the National Committee. This stronger NC should be buttressed by the systematic use of fraction organisation in united fronts as well as trade unions.

But this necessary rebalancing should not be allowed to undermine the importance of the CC as a centralised political leadership that takes the initiative in ‘the national direction of all political and organisational work’. For all the many mistakes the party and the CC have made over the years, the many successes we can be proud of derive crucially from having a strong political leadership.

Translation: the CC can’t go on having the virtually untrammelled power it has hitherto enjoyed, but we don’t want to admit we are actually reducing the power of the CC because that would undermine its authority. Some tweaking of the slate system notwithstanding, it would make sense that the CC would be the body least amenable to reform, no matter what some of its members might prefer.

We then move onto a discussion of the fulltime organisers, and generous tribute is paid to these people who work very hard for very little material reward. It’s not surprising, when virtually the entire CC is made up of fulltimers, with only Lord Callinicos representing the lay membership. But this is an area where serious attention needs to be paid, and where things have been got badly wrong in the past. So we have a defence of the idea that organisers are centrally appointed by the CC, and a dismissal of the old IS practice of electing them:

If we accept that the main role of the organiser is to push through the areas of activity prioritised by the CC, then the organiser must surely be, answerable to, and replaceable by, the CC, not the local comrades.

District Organisers must be able to win respect and support in their districts, but that is not the same thing as winning a popularity contest. If a section of the cadre of a district fall into opposition the organiser should ordinarily be fighting for the agreed national position, not that of local dissidents.

Having said that, a district organiser should be alert to the mood of their district, should have respect for the comrades within it, and be able to feel free to bring concerns from the district back to the CC.

That is as may be, but comrades will be well aware of the culture that exists whereby organisers like to see themselves as the CC’s enforcers in the districts, whose job description does not involve being alert to the local mood but rather stamping on any signs of independence. Moreover, I would argue that, if you’re not going to allow local members to elect their organiser, it would be nice if there was a procedure whereby the local members could vote no confidence in their organiser and remove him. There have been far too many cases of organisers behaving destructively and being backed up by the centre as a matter of course for the comrades to be blithe about this.

Finally some representations from members have talked about organisers not treating members with respect. It is vital that organisers take seriously Cliff’s maxim that every member is gold dust. Members should be treated in a comradely manner at all times.

(Laughs hollowly…) It would also be nice if the central leadership, who are supposed to set an example, took that maxim seriously. And in fact, the comrades seem more concerned about the feelings of the fulltimers:

Having said that, this is a two way process. Comrades in Districts must afford the organiser the same level of respect and comradeship that they would expect to receive. Often the organiser will be young, dedicated, and enthusiastic but will not have the experience of some of the district cadre. However anyone using that experience to patronise, belittle, or undermine the organiser is certainly acting outside the spirit of our tradition.

Given the real balance of forces in the organisation, this is almost grotesque. I have seen, for instance, a 25-year-old organiser literally screaming in the face of a comrade twice her age who thought he had a better idea of what was happening in his own union. I have known an experienced organiser who made it his practice to arrive at meetings half an hour late, then to announce that what had been discussed up to that point could be forgotten about because he had fresh instructions from the centre. Or there are countless stories about organisers who will behave in an arrogant way towards local campaigns when they have only just arrived in an area and really don’t have a clue what is going on. Not that I want to belittle good and dedicated organisers, but this sort of thing is much too common to be put down to a few disgruntled members who don’t get on with their organisers.

Partly it’s a question of getting the right people in the right jobs. If Martin Smith asked me, for instance, I could tell him that Comrade X would make a brilliant industrial organiser but should on no account be put in charge of a party district, and if he was put in charge of a district it would soon become a hotbed of dissidence. It would also be an idea to try and avoid appointing people with severe personality disorders. Organisers should be encouraged to have some modesty and humility, to be good listeners above all, and not to regard themselves as pocket commissars sent out to whip the stage army into shape. Of course, the CC sets the tone here.

There is further discussion about CC members operating in “united fronts”, where the uncharitable might be tempted to see a reference to the factionalists at Stop the War; some sensible stuff about industrial and student fractions; and a rambling discussion about use of t’internet, which at least marks an advance on the days when Alex Callinicos was arguing that anyone working with a VDU was middle class. There is here too a belated acknowledgement that technology has vitiated some of the old practices of secrecy – all right, there is some genuinely sensitive information about finance or people’s personal details, but I’ve never seen why political arguments had to be kept secret. If your conference bulletins are going to be leaked to the Weekly Worker anyway, why not publish the bloody things? Indeed, if memory serves the party did publish its pre-conference bulletins as a supplement to Socialist Review at some point in the 1980s.

Oh, and I can’t pass by this pure piece of comedy gold, about the fraternal conduct of discussions:

We debate in order to decide and act – and (this) in no way precludes vigorous political argument, but vigorous political argument should not include personal denigration or abuse. There should also be some regard for proportionality: erring, i.e. Minority, comrades should not in general be crushed to the point of humiliation. All party meetings – branch, district, national, CC , conference – should be conducted and chaired with this in mind.

Quite. But my view is that the culture will be much more difficult to change than the formal rules, and the culture of the organisation has some deeply weird features which new members often take several years to figure out. One is that, for an organisation whose formal politics are all about spontaneity and the rank and file and socialism from below – and an organisation that doesn’t have much in the way of formal structures – the SWP is intensely conscious of status and pecking order. And this seems to have no rhyme nor reason to it.

If I may, let’s compare the Socialist Party, whose structures in some ways echo those of the official labour movement. It would be absurd to say there was no pecking order in the SP, but it’s a more or less transparent one, where status is conferred by belonging to various party bodies – national, regional or branch leadership, various specialist roles etc – and is closely linked to experience and time served. I may joke about Peter Taaffe being general secretary for 45 years and counting, but it makes sense in that Peter has been around longer than just about anyone else and has a unique breadth of experience. And people who have been in both the SWP and SP comment that in the SP, for all its more overt formality, it’s much easier to fraternise with the leadership. (This was not the case in the heyday of Militant, but that’s another story.)

No, you have quite a weird set-up where there is the formal central leadership, elected (almost always in an uncontested election) at conference, below that there are the appointed organisers who sort of function as feudal fiefs in their districts, and below that a very informal, miasmic set-up of cliques, personal relationships, informal networks and shifting in and out groups. This is why, by the way, disciplinary procedures often seem so arbitrary – if you belong to the in group you can get away with almost anything, if you belong to the out group then the slightest infraction can see you being summarily kicked out. And if you move from the in group to the out group… well, look at John Rees being pilloried for things that his latter-day opponents defended for years.

This comes into play with the current faction fight. I commend the position of Comrade Harrods, and will add a few points of my own. Some comrades are arguing at this point that there are two tasks facing the SWP – the first is to defeat the Rees-German faction, the second is to get away from the practice of using disciplinary procedures to resolve political arguments. I think the two of these are distinct tasks, and at some points may be antagonistic.

The factional issue, for me, should be about politics rather than personalities. When it comes to John and Lindsey, I really don’t give a stuff if they retain their membership or not come February. But there is a strong argument that the party needs to make a break from the sort of RCP-style voluntarism they have come to represent. (Which was also present to some considerable extent under Cliff, although the CC’s need to do a Thomas à Kempis On The Imitation Of Cliff routine may stop them fully acknowledging that.) I’d be in favour of that as a precondition of a more healthy organisation, the same way as the Catholic Church in Ireland will never renew itself unless it makes a definitive break from Jansenism – though there’s a similar issue of whether you really can purge something so encoded in the DNA.

Now, on the issue of discipline. There are, as we know, formal procedures. I used to know control commission chair Pat Stack reasonably well, and can attest that Pat is a thoroughly decent comrade who will weigh each case on its merits, and in no way allow himself to be influenced by hating John Rees’ guts. Pat, I am certain, will be sure that minority supporters will get a fair trial before being hanged.

But it’s telling that we can even be flippant about such matters. There’s such a thing, you know, as the slippery slope, and in the case of IS I think it can probably be traced back to Cliff’s bright idea in 1968 to bring John O’Mahoney into the group. It is a mark of the then liberal regime in IS that it took three whole years to get rid of the Mahoneyites when Healy and Grant had taken far less time to dispense with John’s services; it is also true that the regime was much less liberal when they left. (John, of course, has long since graduated from serial expellee to expeller himself.) After that there’s a constant search for “tightening”, with the so-called Right Opposition (progenitors of the later RCG and RCP) being expelled for no reason I can recall other than being a pain in the arse; the big purges of the mid-70s; then, what should have rung serious alarm bells if nothing else had, the “squadist” purge. I say this not to defend the squads, who really were a menace, but to point out that there was no squadist faction, the ideology of “squadism” was almost entirely a straw man of Cliff’s own construction, and by their own account those who went on to form Red Action had no contact with each other until after their expulsion. Sending them expulsion letters in prison was a particular low.

So the current fight takes place in an atmosphere where the leadership hasn’t had to face a factional challenge for maybe thirty years, and where the apparat has become accustomed to expulsion as a way of ensuring political homogeneity. This is not good. Even from the cosmetic viewpoint, expulsions look bad unless there’s a very good reason for them. Expulsions are dumb politics in a faction fight. They are doubly dumb if they are done ahead of conference on vague grounds of “factionalism”, where there is a recognised faction. (I don’t know the details of Alex or Clare‘s cases, but as an outsider there’s nothing that looks compelling to me.) There may be a certain Sopranos appeal in sending a message to John and Lindsey by picking off their followers, but it still looks really bad. Nor does it cut much ice to point out that the current “Left Platform” were the people who resisted the Democracy Commission and all its works and pomps. John and Lindsey as born-again democrats may look absurd, but a leadership that manages to turn them into martyrs would be really congenitally stupid, and only serve to prove to outsiders that the shiny new regime of Democratic Martinism is more of the same.

Again, it’s not just a question of what you do, but how you do it. As Madam Miaow is fond of pointing out, Trotsky wrote a book called Their Morals And Ours, not Their Morals And We Ain’t Got None. A break from the bad habits of the past does not necessarily require John Rees’ head on a stick, though that may be an incidental bonus; more heartening would be a demonstrative break from this cod-Machiavellian attitude that says that, once the correct line is decided, all methods are righteous in pushing it through. If John wants to be a martyr, it would be dumb to give him an alibi; the smart move would be to let him immolate himself. Selah.

326 Comments

  1. Harry Monro said,

    December 3, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I’m sure everyone can add their own little horror stories about deranged district full timers, and of course they were outnumbered by nice folk who burnt themselves out and are no longer with us now. However the lunatics’ shenanigans were fuelled by two factors, one you mention (they were always backed by the CC even when they made arses of themselves) but secondly it was the voluntarism they believed in that often caused conflict in the first place. Personally I think in these days of twenty emails from the centre a day, the number of organizers could be vastly reduced.
    The quotes you have on organizers show I think that there are still problems with how the Centre sees itself relating to the cadre on the ground, but I do think this has a lot to do with an overheated analysis of the opportunities available to us in the current climate. I saw someone at the Tomb suggest this is not the 30s and I think said they thought maybe it’s the 1860s. Well I’d echo the first part but on the second I’d go for the 1880s or 1890s. Plenty of crises around but to fully exploit them you need to be realistic about the prospects. I remember Cliff and the stopped clock (who did he nick that one off?) I sometimes feel I’m looking at a stopped clock as read the odd article in SR or SW.
    Oh I disagree about the squadists. Sure they were not a faction, and maybe they weren’t in contact (though many knew of each other) but squadism was a name for tendency in us all which had to be combated. Defending meetings, protecting comrades, showing we couldn’t be intimidated: all could lead to a confrontational mode of operation – the expellees just took that way too far and endangered comrades and the party with activities any sober person could see were crazy. Another problem was that some of the stunts were done while not very sober.

  2. December 3, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Cannon, although a terrible weirdo on many subjects, was absolutely right that the organisational question is a political question. Which prompts the further thought: if an organisation holds a political programme which (on paper) is about bringing about the most thorough regime of true human freedom, democracy and self-determination, then if the internal regime of that organisation continually resets to strangled bureaucracy (or, worse, outright cultism), then perhaps the political programme needs to be looked at more closely.

    This is aimed at all leftish groups, of which the British SWP is a far shot from the worst – but since their paper programme appeals to me more than any other groups, it disappoints me the most.

  3. Andy Newman said,

    December 3, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    “look at John Rees being pilloried for things that his latter-day opponents defended for years.”

    This is what i find odd.

    Unless there is some public disassociation from some of the things like the “witchhunt” petition, then those who have become born-0gain critics of Reesism can hardly expect to be treated entirely seriously.

  4. johng said,

    December 3, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    A brief point on informality. I think it must be recognised that there can be levels of respect for individuals which is not based on matters of formal hierarchy. One of the reasons I respected the CC as a young member of the SWP was the enourmous respect they commanded amongst a layer of industrial militants in the party. Not because of their brilliant speechifying. Important socialists in any given locality may not occupy particularly high rungs in the formal structure of the organisation, but for all that, their opinions and views might command the respect (and sometimes not a little trepidation!) from those formally higher up the hierarchy. Recognising that authority and respect are not always entirely symmetrical with who is on a particular commitee seems to me evidence of one’s own maturity as a socialist as opposed to some more disingenious cliquyness. Of course the latter may exist as well, but I think its important to register the former. For this to work properly obviously the internal life of the organisation has to be healthier then it has been of late. But, as you concede, this is a fairly meaty document, and it seems apparent to most of us that its a serious process.

  5. Andy Newman said,

    December 3, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    jOhn

    I would agree with some pf what you say here.

    One of the somewhat bizarre characteristics of the SWP has been that the informal practice of networking between expereinced long term members has been often orthogonal to the official party structures, and this has had positive benefits in preserving some of the better long term politics and behaviours of the SWP’s tradition.

    The other counter-intuitive practice is what i would describe as franchising, where comrades in smaller towns or in single issue campaign,, trade unions,or what the SWP calls “united fronts” could often do pretty much their own thing under the banner of the SWP, as long as they didn’t publicly contradict or obviously compromise some other SWP project elsewhere.

    the combination of franchising and informal networking makes the actual communications and command structure very different from the formal one

  6. johng said,

    December 3, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    At the heart of any socialist organisation is its cadre. The notion that there can be leading socialists in a variety of capacities is not really rocket science to anyone who is one.

  7. johng said,

    December 3, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Actually traditionally in the SWP there was a word for those who didn’t get these things. They were called hacks.

  8. Phil said,

    December 3, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    There’s a curious slip in one of those autocritiques, referring to

    a tendency on the part of the CC to act on its own, in isolation of the rest of the party – as a vanguard that had lost touch with the rest of the army

    (My emphasis.) They mean “as Chiefs of Staff”, shirley? I hope the party’s main governing & representative body doesn’t really see itself as a detachment sent out into enemy territory, to blaze a trail against fearful odds and generally do or die.

  9. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Well its a critique of that notion.

    • Phil said,

      December 4, 2009 at 8:44 am

      Maybe – it depends how you read it. You could argue that the (old) CC is being criticised for losing touch with the rest of the party, not for being a vanguard. But I hope you’re right – the idea of the CC seeing itself as ahead of the party (rather than (accountably) above) gives me the willies.

  10. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Actually thinking about it, whilst Andy was agreeing with me, I’m puzzled by his notion that all this is counter-intuitive. To me the existence of such a thing marks out the difference between a socialist organisation and a sect.

  11. Doloras said,

    December 4, 2009 at 12:53 am

    As far as I can tell, Andy’s central point is “the combination of franchising and informal networking makes the actual communications and command structure very different from the formal one”. I think that’s a good point, in that it indicates a lack of transparency, which can’t be good for democratic decision making. How is a new or inexperienced comrade, or just one who doesn’t “know the right people”, supposed to know about the “real” command/communication structure, as opposed to the formal one?

  12. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 1:30 am

    Except that, whilst of course such things exist as vices to be combatted (they do in any organisation) that does not all subsume what I was talking about. How do I know that I should respect someone who is widely respected in the movement? How do I know that there are some comrades who might not speak a lot in branch meetings but who are in certain situations worth their weight in gold? How do I know to respect the opinion of certain militants etc? Well the same way I do outside of any organisation. Through experiance and bascically becoming a socialist. Similarly with the question of what I think a cadre is. If I think a cadre is someone who just says what the CC says but a little louder then I have’nt yet understood. Given the discussion of Aristotle on the Tomb perhaps it could be called socialist nous. And that only develops through organic relationships with the movement, and, given my own politics I believe, practical involvement in a socialist organisation. Its why, I emphasised, the cadre is at the centre of any socialist organisation. In many ways how good an organisation is can be judged in terms of how good its cadre is. Gramsci once posed the question of whether its harder to create the general staff or the NCO’s. He concluded that the hardest thing was to create the general staff. He was partly debating with himself about the mistake of letting the fascists arrest him. This might have been true in the Italy of that period. I think in Britain today the most valuable commodity organisations have is their NCO’s. By which I think Gramsci met the cadre. And its a mistake, as any half way decent organiser knows, to mistake measure the cadre purely in terms of what internal commitee they sit on.

  13. Mark P said,

    December 4, 2009 at 1:48 am

    This is a fascinating post.

    I’m very familiar with the formal differences, both in terms of politics and in terms of structure, between the Socialist Party and the SWP, but there are a lot of cultural things described here that seem very different. We don’t really have the “organiser” role as described here, which in and of itself is a substantial difference. There are a small number of regional fulltimers, but they don’t have that title or, it seems, that role.

    There’s also a substantial difference in terms of leading committees. The English and Welsh EC or the Irish NEC are both subordinate to the NC – which a lot of the time doesn’t mean a lot, but sporadically does mean that the NC imposes its will on the smaller leadership body.

    These sort of cultural distincitions are very interesting from my point of view. My expereience in the SSP, brief as it was, was also enlightening. SWP members in Glasgow found CWI platform members in their branches sort of staid and rigid politically, while CWI members seeemed to find SWP members politically unreliable or untrustworthy. There were very real differences in the way the two platforms operated, and those differences werne’t always predicatbale from formal politics. I remember this mostly because I used to socialise mostly with SW Platform members rather than CWI people – my branch was full of absolute nutcases and the SW people had a similar wtf reaction to most of them and were generally good people. I think they later moved out of Britain.

  14. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 2:06 am

    “my branch was full of absolute nutcases and the SW people had a similar wtf reaction to most of them and were generally good people”

    Always a tricky situation that one Mark P. LOL. Been there, done that etc. Funnily enough, despite “cultural differences” its instructive to see how differently comrades from different traditions relate to each other in the work place then they often do in other contexts. Now this can raise accusations of syndicalism and the like (if truth be told sometimes this might be the case). However I think it is instructive for those of us concerned about any future re-alignments. It is in workplaces that comrades have to lead on a day to day basis and moreover where any mistake is immediately punished very harshly. That produces a certain sense of perspective. It was perhaps this perspective a certain leading member of the SWP had in mind after a somewhat ranty speech by another much respected figure within the organisation. “The great thing about the comrades” he stated, “is that they know just how seriously to take X”. Which was not unseriously you understand. But its why I think a cadre is important. A good cadre knows the strengths and weaknesses of their leadership. And a good leadership knows they know. And is prepared to learn as well as to teach. If that sounds a bit hard to define thats because it is. These things are not created over night. And if they fall apart it can take a while to get things back on track. But in the absence of a cadre it won’t happen. I think whatever differences exist between different organisations there is a sense in which this is always true.

    • Mark P said,

      December 4, 2009 at 2:31 am

      I remember having a few pints with the two SW Platform people in that SSP branch and wondering if someone had put the three of us in this same branch because we’d all managed to register as nutcases without realising it or if we were just unlucky. We never reached a solid conclusion on that issue.

      The experience was interesting because it both made apparent many of the things I did and didn’t share in common with the SWP politically and also because it made some of the cultural diffences quite stark. In our branch we operated as allies partly because we liked each other and partyly because for all our differences we had much more in common than we did with most of the other branch members. But periodically disagreements between our platforms would arise on a city-wide basis and it became apparent that we had very different attitudes about how things should be done.

      • Mark P said,

        December 4, 2009 at 2:56 am

        At one of the first branch meetings I was at, someone from the SSP leadership gave a very, well, liberal speech about environmentalism and one of the SW members and I criticised it in a sort of, that’s all very well but we should also emphasise the class issues as well sort of way. We were immediately followed by a succession of people “agreeing” with us by announcing that environmentalism was counter-revolutionary. The other SW member was laughing so hard at our faces that he nearly cried.

        The experience has been useful in two ways. Firstly it hammered home the point that socialists in other groups have pretty much exactly the same motivations as people in your own organisation. Secondly it reminded me that there are some headcases out there, and sometimes they are loudly involved in socialist politics.

  15. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 2:08 am

    Its in that context that the old statements about every member being gold dust need to be understood. Not in any drippy sentimental or merely constitutional way. Its hard politics. Its what a revolutionary socialist organisation is for.

  16. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 4:21 am

    God that sounds a nightmare Mark. Even if very funny. I hope the comrade managed to stop laughing and help you out.

  17. Andy Newman said,

    December 4, 2009 at 9:20 am

    JOhn

    The issue is however, that the informal networks and franchising exist orthogonal and sometimes opposed to the formal structures.

    That is not a good thing.

    Quite often independetly minded and outspoken militants with decades of experience are sidelined by an enthusiastic organiser straight out of college, and there can be whispering campigns to undermine expereinced people saying they are “oppositionist”, just because they are sceptica of the latest wheeze.

    I have known a number of comrades 30 years in the SWP who go out of their easy to never speak to a full timer or the centre if they can possible help it.

    Now you can put a positive gloss on that, but in reality it is a structural weakness.

  18. harry monro said,

    December 4, 2009 at 9:36 am

    One request Johng, if Lenin could build the Bolsheviks without constantly blattering on about Aristotle, could we try do do the same. I’m not workerist but there is a reason we have small rooms set aside for this at Marxism, which most of us can avoid. (I’ll be honest I find s/s’s digressions into Catholic theology more entertaining than some of the more pretentious threads at the Tomb).
    I think what Johng said at 4 and at 6 & 7 is crucial. During the downturn debates the documents brimmed with both theory and experience, while Harman and Cliff argued against each at the start of it all you could respect them both. My point here, and on another thread, is about hacks began to dominate among the district organizers (it was the CC that put them there and empowered them) and hacks regularly started to appear on the CC and presumably vote in favour of the increasingly voluntarist perspective the Party was slipping into. But as other people say organizational questions can often be political, but sometimes they are a substitute for an honest accounting of the political reality. How many newish people did we lose as small braches were merged, then big branches broken in an incoherent reaction to the failure to grow quickly in a period that demanded it? Perhaps were not in such a period of looming revolutionary crisis at all?
    Now it worries me not one jot that a party’s leadership can make a big miscalculation, but at some stage in banging our heads against the wall they need to rethink things. We need, to take one example, to understand how the wars play out in the British class struggle, not just call another national demonstration every three months or so. 5000 will not become 2 million again just because the leadership of STW will it or shout at comrades to make it so.
    If the cadre become tired become of endless activities that don’t produce the results they are told they will, and increased level in the class struggle, the solution is not to follow that Brecht poem and have the CC and organizers elect a new cadre. For period the transmission belt from cadre to leadership has become weak, my guess is hackish organizers tell the CC only what they think they want to hear (and anyway until recently some of the CC have been cloth eared). The need for the DC is evident and its needs to continue but ultimately the solution to our problems is political and only solvable by the CC and cadre.

  19. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    No Andy those are obviously not good things. I did suggest that these things only work in a healthier atmosphere.

    Agree with much of what you say here Harry.

    On the Tomb I think an attitude of live and let live can be afforded. As it happens I’m a big fan of MacIntyre, even if when, on discovering that the IS was not the polis, he wandered off. But I’m not at all keen on Zizek. There is though quite a large audience opening up for some of these debates. Its not important in itself but rather is symptomatic, that if in the 1980s in universities everyone was ideologically moving to the right, today a huge layer is moving to the left: but not at all in an orthodox way. Thats how Historical Materialism could get seven hundred people to its conference last weekend: most of them non-SWP members,

    Whilst I can quite see that there can be suspician about this I think it would be a mistake to be dismissive or to refuse to engage.

  20. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    “ultimately the solution to our problems is political and only solvable by the CC and cadre”
    Thats a crucial point.

  21. skidmarx said,

    December 4, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    SS – are you waiting with bated breath for Martin Smith’s call?

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      December 4, 2009 at 3:59 pm

      No.

  22. julesa said,

    December 4, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Yes I have agree #18 hackish organisers tell the CC exactly what they want to hear – or they are very biddable and that is part of the job description.

    My feeling is that they are largely selected on this basis. As the CC grew ever more remote and unaccountable over the years then so necessarily the org’s became less susceptible or receptive to pressure from the branch / district. Perhaps I am getting older but organisers seem to getting younger and, alarmingly, more politically callow and this does not seem to bother the CC at all.

    Maybe this is partly because the org is intended to be the ‘voice’ / enforcer for the CC, pushing through the line etc. You need someone who is ‘enthusiastic’, will run around and around and who is prepared to work for less than a public toilet attendant.

  23. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    strangely enough I’ve had some bloody good one’s of late. Aside from anything else they did,nt kill me.

  24. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    “Perhaps I am getting older but organisers seem to getting younger and, alarmingly, more politically callow”

    I’m sorry julesa but this is just a bit of an embarressing sentance which should never have been uttered :)..

  25. Andy Wilson said,

    December 4, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Regarding Gramsci on the General Staff and NCOs, my conclusion (surprisingly, perhaps) is that it’s the cadre that let the side down. For a variety of reasons it would give me a great deal of pleasure personally if it could be proven that John Rees really was the primum mobile and demiurge of disaster, uniquely responsible for the current crisis, but what has disturbed me more in recent years is the way the cadre allowed him to run them ragged without holding him to account (I mean, his own role in events seemed entirely predictable). The collapse of the relationship with Respect was the last straw but the cadre should have seen it coming: instead of having to swerve to avoid a crash they should have changed lanes some time ago.

    Elsewhere on this thread people have said that the problem is one of political culture. I’m not convinced about the terminology but it seems clear anyway that the weak link in the SWP chain was the cadre’s collective refusal to act early enough. Of course it’s always easier to keep your head down (the price for not doing so can be dramatic for the individuals concerned – expulsions, ostracism, etc.) but the consequences of avoidance can be far worse. The solution for the party would be to revisit the Democracy Commission and make a thousand adjustments to the structures and procedures, all aimed at encouraging an atmosphere in which it is no longer automatically considered heresy to suggest that the party might have gone awry, either in the large or the small (which is not much to ask for, when you think about it.) Of course, it is the cadre that must push for this to happen. In comp-sci this would be called a ‘bootstrapping problem’.

    In defense of the SWP I’d add that it’s cadre do not seem any worse in this regard than any others I know of, and far better than most. The default position everywhere seems to be a variation on the theme of ‘my party right or wrong': the revolutionary left turn out to be a highly clubbable lot, and surprisingly pliant, despite their self-image as fearless controversialists and implacable class warriors. Perhaps there really is room for taking a sociological view of this phenomenon, it is so widespread.

    Incidentally, I disagree with Harrods view that Alex S and Clare S should not have been expelled: I think the particulars of the case (not all of which have been aired publicly) justify expulsion. Opposition to the expulsions seems to be based on the idea that it represents a routine attempt on the part of the CC to close down opposition, and thus a return to the ways of old. I disagree – in many ways (certainly when compared to the norms of the last 20 years) it is rather impressive just how much space John Rees has been given to put his arguments (he’s currently shuttling around the country to present his case at a series of pre-conference aggregates.) It is simply inconceivable to me that any opposition would have been granted as much room for maneuver on his watch.

  26. julesa said,

    December 4, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Yes I did hesitate over that sentence / confession…I might as well have admitted I have Alzheimers (still not a bad defence if I’m ever before a party disciplinary body…no jokes about the memory of the class please.

  27. David Ellis said,

    December 4, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I’ve always thought joining the SWP must be like getting a job in the British Civil Service, where endless meaningless consultations are held over decisions that have long ago been taken and are already halfway through being implemented, crossed with a touch of swivel-eyed Maoism.

    I have the utmost sympathy with those who are calling for this crisis within the SWP to be dealt with politically. Unfortunately this is not a political crisis and you cannot invent politics where there are none (or rather you can which is what the CC has always done in the past). Neither the SWP or indeed any sect or bureaucracy can act politically. They zig-zag between fixed dichotomies, party building or United Fronts of a special kind, like some stiff, robotic Frankenstein creature incapable of reason or politics depending what they perceive to be in their own best interests at the time. Bureaucratic centrism is like that. It is not like some living, breathing political organism.

    The crisis this time is that the two extremes of this dichotomous approach have met each other mid-zig whilst they have near equal power on the CC (or at senior leadership level) and are clashing head on. Normally when the CC makes a decision it quickly gets rid, sidelines or stores away the representatives of either the party builders or the special united fronters (depending on which way they’ve decided is correct this week) and the switch is made with just a few hundred casualties. Not this time and of course either side will promise a democratic regime once this crisis is over by which time it won’t be needed and there’ll probably not be much left to be democratic with. The only hope is that one of the factions or an entirely new faction can break decisively from the entire method and save what can be saved for scientific socialism.

  28. Andy Wilson said,

    December 4, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    #27: “They zig-zag between fixed dichotomies”

    No offense, David, but the abstract zig-zagging between antinomies seems to be taking place mostly within your mind. The SWP represents a particular political formation, at a particular stage of development, with contradictory tendencies involved, for sure. Only in the realm of the purely ideal, however, is it condemned to oscillate as you describe. Of course, from the point of view of idealism, messy reality always appears to be ‘incapable of reason’.

    “saved for scientific socialism”

    I’ll get me (lab) coat…

  29. David Ellis said,

    December 4, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    #28 `No offense, David, but the abstract zig-zagging between antinomies seems to be taking place mostly within your mind.’

    I don’t think so Andy. I think anybody could recognise the way the SWP lurches from one side of a debate to the other and the way it deals with internal differences via fiat, hubris, bureaucratic and administrative methods. So much has this become the norm for it that it has drifted far away from anything recognisably Marxist. I doubt there is anything of substance in the split regarding perspectives or programme or theory for instance.

  30. David Ellis said,

    December 4, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    #27 By the way Andy I didn’t intend to offend by raising the question of scientific socialism. I know you and johng were a bit `funny’ on the previous thread about the whole thing.

  31. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Truth is Andy I tend to believe that the reasons for this were structural. Rather then a grand sociological theory of members of the far left, I think what you had was a mismatch between a top down internal model and an attempt to relate to wider forces. Both positions were held with complete sincerity at the same same time. That turned eventually into an ideological problem inside peoples heads. But when it did so where exactly did you go to raise these questions? And where did those sections of the CC go who had doubts. Whoops where’s my party?

  32. julesa said,

    December 4, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Johng the structural problem argument, overly top down internal org etc is very plausible and it is easy to see how over time this would become more and more of a problem especially given the wider context of retreat and defeat in the wider movement. I would still retain the ‘culture of the far left’ though – at least as a description: it captures a lot but perhaps it is best treated as effect rather than original cause (or else your driven to some fairly pesimistic conclusions about revolutionary organisation and democracy).

  33. andy newman said,

    December 4, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    JOhn

    This is an inherent methodological problem with vanguadism abstracted from any form of transitional politics.

    We can see the problem especially clearly with Lukacs, that you referred to earlier.

    If the working class have unique access to truth because of their priveleged position as thinking commodities, and their assumed potential to understand the totality of society by becoming a universal class, then the “truth” has become externalised from any actually existing referent and only exists in a telelogical sense.

    Since the working class does not in fact actually have this ideal consciousness (Lukasc discusses this in term of kantian “is” and “ought” (“sein” and “Sollen”) then the consciousness is only immanent within the working class. And the class standpoint of the working class exists independent of the actual views held by the real living, breathing and farting working class.

    the danger of substiutionist vanguardism is clear, because “truth” has been subjectively determined not as what actually exists, but that which is assumed to be, and this truth is the consciousness of the working class not as it exists, but in its idealised form which only exists in the form of a political party that has greater access to truth because it understands the “science” of the future possibility of working class self emancipation.

    it is a small jump to see that if the party knows what is the truth independence of any external referent, and vindicated only by an immanent futture posibility, then what is really needed are some gifted leaders with more flair and imagination, who can overcome the unevenness and sectionalism in th party with their even more ethereal grasp of this teleological truth.

    Basing a party on the actual experience of the working class movement requires some mechanism whereby a transitional social formation can be constructed that both embodies the gains and partial class consciouness immmenent in social democratic and trade union practice, but can also challenge capitalism in such a way as to suggest its transcendence.

    Any top down leadership party model is incompatible with this, because the transitional and self-organisation of the workers movement cannot defer to a leadership outside itself. The leadership of a socialist party needs to be people with practical expereicne in the living workes movement coordinating and making effctive their activity like a caucus, not intellectuals and functionaries who have learned their socialist trade by reading books, selling papers, and speaking at public meetings to other socialists.

  34. Mark P said,

    December 4, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Reading this post again, while sober on this occasion, it strikes me that the SWP has some rather peculiar cultural and structural quirks which are if not unique then at least unusual on the broader left.

    One is the relative absence of structures between the very top leadership and the rank and file. This is a real contrast with my own organisation, which if anything tends to err in the other direction with a frankly endless series of intermediate committees.

    Another is the general ban on factions for most of the year which is, as I understand it unique in the British Trotskyist movement (or maybe the rump WRP does it too?).

    Another is the core position of “organiser”, which again seems to be unique to the SWP. The Socialist Party is the only other left group currently big enough to give a reasonable comparison and it doesn’t have them. Some of its Regional Secretaries are full time but their role is quite different. In particular there is no conception of fulltimers in the regions as emmisaries or enforcers for the leadership. The SSP, back when it was big enough to compare, didn’t have anything directly akin to the SWP’s “organiser” position either.

    The SWP leadership also seem to have a semi-theorised “organised distrust of the membership”. That is, there is a view that the leaderships first job is to fight collectively for their latest line or orientation amongst the membership. This is linked as well with their view that “bending the stick”, which is to say exaggerating for polemical effect with the goal of bolstering a case for reorientation, is not only acceptable but desirable.

    Then there’s the use of expulsions and suspensions. As I understand it, the individual members of the CC have the right to expel rank and file members on there own say-so. That sort of personalised power is again very unusual, but perhaps more significant is the very fact that expulsions and suspensions happen so often.

    It isn’t at all unusual for left organisations to respond badly to major factional disputes, and splits stemming from them would hardly be unique to the SWP. Where the SWP is unusual is in the regularity with which it expels or suspends people during times of relative factional calm, when sanctions are directed at individuals or very small groups. It’s not that they do that sort of thing constantly, its just that they do it quite a bit more than any other existing left group. Not counting the Spart family.

    Then there’s the voluntarism, which in turn links back to “the organised distrust of the membership” to result in the fingering of people as “conservative elements” when things don’t work out as the CC had planned.

    I suppose I hadn’t really thought about just how unusual the SWP is in these terms before. It really does have quite different ideas about the relationship of leaders to members when compared with the rest of the socialist left.

  35. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    “I understand it, the individual members of the CC have the right to expel rank and file members on there own say-so”

    Not true. Well certainly not anymore anyway. I don’t think it was ever constitutionally true.

    Andy one difficulty with your argument (on this terrain I’d tend to enter a critical rather then overly enthusiastic defence of Lukacs) is that the most top down organisations in Britain today are electoral ones. All of the three main partys for one.

    • Mark P said,

      December 4, 2009 at 5:50 pm

      “Not true. Well certainly not anymore anyway. I don’t think it was ever constitutionally true.”

      Fair enough.

      • Neil said,

        December 4, 2009 at 10:53 pm

        “I was at an SWP forum – an open public meeting – and was just waiting for it to begin with a couple of other comrades when I was approached by the Tower Hamlets organiser. She asked for a quick word and told me that Martin Smith wanted me to call him.

        I did so and he told me, oddly, that he had been waiting to speak to me after leaving a message two and a half months ago – a message I had not received. I mean, if he was waiting that long, why didn’t he phone back? When I said this to him, he told me he wasn’t going to waste his time chasing me up. His manner was dismissive and arrogant.

        Anyway, he told me I was out of the party. Now, I don’t know when this was decided, by what party committee, what evidence was presented, or even when I ceased to be a member as far as Martin Smith was concerned – from the moment he spoke to me, or from two and a half months ago? It’s crazy.”

        http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker2/index.php?action=viewarticle&article_id=751

        I realise this is from the Weekly Worker and so must be taken with a shovel full of salt. It’s quite possible the person in question was actually a member of the CPGB sent into the SWP to pick up juicy gossip. Something similar happened to the SP in Sheffield a few years back. Still it does bring us back to this culture of impunity members of the CC seem to have in the SWP.

  36. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Oh and Mark P, I could have sworn that the Militant had organisers at one time (huge numbers of them as I recall). I could be wrong about this I hasten to add, its a query not an accusation.

    • Mark P said,

      December 4, 2009 at 5:56 pm

      You could be right about that.

      Militant had an absolutely enormous full time apparatus certainly and it may well have had a role similar to that of the SWP’s organisers. I’d have to ask someone who was about then, (and if such a title did exist find out if it was a post with the same function or merely one with the same name). I genuinely don’t know.

      The Socialist Party today doesn’t have anything directly akin to the SWP “organiser” role however, either here in Ireland or over in Britain.

      • Neil said,

        December 4, 2009 at 11:14 pm

        Back in the day the Militant used to have what were known as District Fulltimers who’s job it was to act as liason between a specific number of branches, usually somewhere between 3-5.

        I’ve heard stories of empire building and overbearing behaviour although they were rare. There were two practical reasons for this.

        One was the fact that even then the DF was never a law unto him or herself. They had to operate in co-operation with the District Committee which was staffed by branch secretaries and other leading members in the area, all of whom would be lay activists elected to those positions by the branch itself. As well of this there was the Regional Committee to act as a check on potential mini Napoleans. A Branch Secretary would also have direct access to the Regional Secretary who would generally be a member of the National Committee.

        The other factor was that Militant was part of the Labour Party. So while a DF would have the authority of being appointed by the centre the Branch Secretaries they were dealing with would quite often be at the same time the Chair of the local Constituency Labour Party, or Chair of the trades council or or even a sitting councillor. A young member of 17 might be the secretary of the local LPYS. In other words people with standing in their own right in the movement with authority equal and often greater than the DF.

        You also have to remember that membership of the LP meant the grounds for hare brained schemes, either from the centre or the DF him or herself was much narrower.

  37. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Also on the Lukacs point much of the argument of the DC (some of which Splintered handily drew attention to) is directly blocking what I would see as Lukacs excesses.

  38. redbedhead said,

    December 4, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    “If the working class have unique access to truth because of their priveleged position as thinking commodities, and their assumed potential to understand the totality of society by becoming a universal class, then the “truth” has become externalised from any actually existing referent and only exists in a telelogical sense.”

    I think you’re over-egging the argument by Lukacs. You can’t use the term “class consciousness” if you don’t believe that there is an objective basis for a particular subjective standpoint. But just because it has an objective basis doesn’t mean you can have a different subjectivity – there’s the role of ideology here, or even just mistaken ideas.
    Your second point:
    “it is a small jump to see that if the party knows what is the truth independence of any external referent, and vindicated only by an immanent futture posibility, then what is really needed are some gifted leaders with more flair and imagination, who can overcome the unevenness and sectionalism in th party with their even more ethereal grasp of this teleological truth.”

    This doesn’t follow at all. One can have a general view of what is in the interest of the working class – ie. socialism. That doesn’t necessarily – or usually – solve the rather more difficult problem of figuring out what to do every morning to get there. And it doesn’t imply that the way to know what the answer to that question is requires transcendental meditation or yogic flying. It is a pretty material problem that requires a material engagement with the class in the manifold ways that one can engage. And it requires an overall view that locates specific experiences, struggles, etc. within a framework that analyses where the class struggle as a totality is. I doubt you would disagree with this: it’s the basis upon which socialists argue for occupations vs information pickets, marches vs general strikes. And that doesn’t imply an all-seeing leadership but rather a politically sophisticated and engaged leadership that is, crucially, connected to a politically sophisticated and engaged membership who are leading particular struggles.

  39. andy newman said,

    December 4, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Mark P

    Then there’s the use of expulsions and suspensions. As I understand it, the individual members of the CC have the right to expel rank and file members on there own say-so. That sort of personalised power is again very unusual, but perhaps more significant is the very fact that expulsions and suspensions happen so often.

    this was certainly true of the WRP as well, where Cyril Smith would rubber stamp expulsions ex post facto on behalf of the control commission.

  40. julesa said,

    December 4, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Mark P #34 – the ‘organised mistrust of the membership’ definitely grew stronger over time. I’m sure that if the CC could dismissed / dissolved the ‘membership’ a la Brecht they would have done so many times over. Also over the years I can recall seeing / hearing the argument that ‘members’ were too conservative (or whatever) to carry out and ensure the success of this or that line of the CC (usually in IBs, aggregates etc), many times.

    Pretty sure Militant had organisers in the 1980s.

  41. andy newman said,

    December 4, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Redbedhead

    You can’t use the term “class consciousness” if you don’t believe that there is an objective basis for a particular subjective standpoint. But just because it has an objective basis doesn’t mean you can have a different subjectivity – there’s the role of ideology here, or even just mistaken ideas.

    Well i am being specific about the argument from Lukasc. he certainly argues in H&CC that the bourgeosie can only develop partial knoweldge of truth, and that only the working class can develop a true knowledge of society.

    Which bears the question where is truth located, and that question is not solved by talking about ideology. For Lukacs, truth is located in the objective interests of the working class. he is also explicit that this is an argument about what is being transcended into what “ought” (sollen) to be. So it is an argument based upon a teleological immanent possibility forming the basis for truth.

    he found himslef there by seeking to reject his caracature misunderstanding of quietist positivism (derived from his own background in German universities) in preference for dynamic political action that could transform existing reality into simething different.

    So for Lukacs, class consciousness is not the consciousness of the working class of their class position in capitalism, but their asumed immanent consciousness of their potentiality to become a univeral class that transcends capitalism. hence the role of the leninist party in Lukacs’s conception of it as a supra-historical agent that embodies the “true ” understanding of the working class’s interests, independent of the actual erroneous consciousness of the working class.

    What i am arguing, and I think the actual practice of those in the SWP most associated with the defence of lukacs bears this out, is that it is an inherently substitutionist and “leftist” position; and that indeed is the only reason i can think why some of them have chosen the name “left platform”

    One can have a general view of what is in the interest of the working class – ie. socialism. That doesn’t necessarily – or usually – solve the rather more difficult problem of figuring out what to do every morning to get there.

    But if you look at the actual existing practice of the SWP, that is exactly what they assume. that the CC, (which almost entirely comprises (especially its inner circle) people who entire political practice has been internal politics within the SWP, rising from being organisers to being on the, often proving themselves by writing and public speaking rather than actual experience in the weorkers movement) has superior knowledge of tactics, passed ion down by over eager organisers, who then instruct militants with real life exerience at the coal face what to do.

    that political practice, which I alluded to above, and which John G suggested that he recognised, is not just a function of organisation structrure, it is based upon a philosophical understanding of leadership.

    we don’t have to base this argument on Lukacs, although Lukasc’s theroetical infleunce on the SWP is acknowleged; it is also present in Cliff’s “Lenin Building the Party”

  42. julesa said,

    December 4, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    CC members could be pretty beastly to a comrade and if they took against you, well…but I am honestly not aware that they ever had the power to expel someone just on their own say so.

    • andy newman said,

      December 4, 2009 at 7:09 pm

      They do now have that power, i don’t know when it was brought in

  43. andy newman said,

    December 4, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Incidently, I don’t make this criticism to damn the SWP, I think it will be hard for them to overcome some of their problems, but not impossible, and in terms of resources at their disposal, they still do represent the single largest group of level headd=ed socialist activists, although they also have more sectarian numpties than they have in the past.

    But the problem with the Democracy Commission report was that it didn’t look at their fundamental conceptions of socialist leadership, and open up a discussion about them.

    This is a shame becasue arguments like Harman’s “party and Class” are very rich and insightful and can form the basis of a serious debate, even if you disagree with him.

  44. ejh said,

    December 4, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    But so what?

    The usual elephant in the chatroom here is that if such-and-such a party isn’t performing as its critics would like it to, then surely some other party should be able to do so, or indeed the critics should be able to organise such a party which would proceed to do so.

    But it doesn’t, and they don’t.

    Now this would suggest to me that there’s something wrong with the fundamental idea that’s being discussed, something that can’t really be addressed by this or that change of line, or of internal organisation, or of anything, much as it’s not really sensible to keep throwing a coin in the air in the hope that eventually, if one throws it in precisely the right way, it will land on its side and stay there. And in its turn, this suggests that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the whole discussion, in which vast amounts of energy are expended and enormous knowledge of detail paraded involving obscure events and even more obscure individuals.

    Step back a bit, in the way in which most of the participants do not, and it’s really weird.

    • December 4, 2009 at 8:32 pm

      “There’s something fundamentally wrong with the whole discussion” – either you have an idea what that might be and you’re not telling us for some occult reason, or you have no idea and your contribution is just as useless as everyone else’s.

      The impression, possibly erroneous, I get from your contribution (and similarly some defending the SWP on SU) is that there’s something dodgy or suspect about non-members discussing the SWP. Which seems in many cases a simply dishonest way for people who can’t actually defend their positions to try to divert attention elsewhere.

      • ejh said,

        December 4, 2009 at 8:49 pm

        Indeed, if I had said something I haven’t said I would have said something that I didn’t say.

      • skidmarx said,

        December 5, 2009 at 12:02 pm

        Ther’s something dodgy or suspect about non-members thinking that what they have to say about the internal organisation of the SWP should carry more weight with the SWP than what its members itself think. Especially when it comes from those clearly hostile to the SWP posing as disinterested commenters wanting to help correct its mistakes. There’s something dodgy about stealing internal bulletins, and claiming that the SWP has no right to decide whether its internal discussions should be held in public. And there’s something dishonest about mixing up “defending their positions” with internal discussion.
        And given the way SU has become a platform to try and make SWP members lose their jobs, I suggest you stop with the selective blindness.

      • David Ellis said,

        December 5, 2009 at 2:23 pm

        Skidward: you really are a self-selecting little sectarian aren’t you? There’s something dodgy about a group that claims to want to lead millions in struggle keeping its politics and the way they are arrived at secret. We are not talking operational matters here, we are talking politics.

      • skidmarx said,

        December 5, 2009 at 2:43 pm

        David Ellis – you are right in every detail, except possibly about the “little”, and not just engaging in playground name-calling.

        It’s not your business to decide how the SWP does its business. You may disagree all you want, but I don’t think that someone who stands by hs comment that the SWP is indistinguishable from the Khmer Rouge is really in a position to give advice on the SWP’s organisation that anyone would think it worth listening to.

      • December 5, 2009 at 8:47 pm

        Skiddy, if you really think I’m “hostile to the SWP”, then you know absolutely nothing about me. But I suppose in your world any criticism is hostility. Which is the logic that led to the declaration of nuclear war in RESPECT.

      • skidmarx said,

        December 6, 2009 at 4:07 pm

        Doloras LaPicho – I didn’t say that you specifically were hostile to the SWP, though what appears to me a tendency to place all the blame for the Respect split on them (I’ll admit I think almost all the blame for the split lies elsewhere), and what seems like a double standard as far as judging the tone of those sympathetic and critical of the party (you seem to only be able to see flaws in the former) would suggest some hostility. I wish I was wrong.
        But my comment referred to the many bitter uninformed and abusive ccritics of the SWP to be found on socialistunity, and how critics may disagree with how the SWP chooses to organise itself, but it is not the business of the external bulletin crowd to dictate to the SWP how it should do so. Is that an unreasonable point to make?

  45. redbedhead said,

    December 4, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Andy:

    Well i am being specific about the argument from Lukasc. he certainly argues in H&CC that the bourgeosie can only develop partial knoweldge of truth, and that only the working class can develop a true knowledge of society.

    It has been, admittedly, a long time since I read H&CC – probably 15 years. However, my recollection is that Lukacs is speaking of classes as a whole, not individual members of a class. It is self-evident that the bourgeoisie can’t have “total knowledge of truth” since it would require relinquishing their position as the ruling class – something that no ruling class would do. It’s also my recollection that part of what Lukacs is doing is providing a counter to 2nd International Marxism which under-emphasized the role of workers self-activity and struggle. Lukacs places the working class literally in the centre of the struggle for socialism.
    As for this:

    So it is an argument based upon a teleological immanent possibility forming the basis for truth.

    I don’t have a problem with this. Every critique of what exists – even of a bad cup of coffee – contains immanence (there could be a better cup of coffee), if not teleology. It just so happens that with Marxism, there is a conception of totality so that the telos is inseparable from the critique and the immanent “utopia”. That still doesn’t require a transcendent conception of leadership.
    As for Lukacs’ arguments on the party – I simply don’t remember them at all. But I don’t think his conception of consciousness necessitates “substitutionalism”. As for the sociological character of the CC or executive committee of any organization, well, I’m not that rigid on this. There are organizations led by workers that are shit and organizations led by intellectuals that are good. I’ve heard SP members go on disparagingly about “intellectuals” and “students” and I don’t really have any time for it. The world is a lot more complicated than that and so are the factors that determine whether a party is likely to take the right position and act effectively in the interest of the working class.

  46. redbedhead said,

    December 4, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    ejh – I don’t get your point. Is it that parties are fundamentally a flawed way to organize for liberation?

    • ejh said,

      December 4, 2009 at 9:02 pm

      There’s not really a yes or no answer to that, because it’s the answer to a question I wasn’t asking. The observation I’m making is that all brands of revolutionary politics, and indeed class-centred politics, have been in serious decline in Western societies for quite a while now. They’ve had less and less attraction to the people whose support they need to attract. That’s the big picture. This being so, people talking (or, indeed, screaming) endlessly about the minutae of personnel, history, party line or internal regime of this tiny organisation or that seems to me not only to miss the point, but to be a way of avoiding it.

      It’s all a bit too much (if I may employ another metaphor, my original one having apparently failed to fulfill its purpose) like people sitting next to car explaining how if only they were in charge and everybody else could be chased away, it’d go at 200 mph – and ignoring the fact that the car had no engine and no wheels and was in fact abandoned and rusting in a junkheap…

  47. andy newman said,

    December 4, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    No ejh

    I have no desire to be in charge, I have no special insight or experience that suggests to me that people should follow my advice,

    I am just trying to make sense of stuff.

    Why does that seem so bad to you?

  48. Anndy Wilson said,

    December 4, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    #30: “By the way Andy I didn’t intend to offend by raising the question of scientific socialism.”

    Not in the slightest. Since I have already shared some of my senile reminiscences about Marxism disputes of old, I am happy to tell you that, in tandem with the debates about the dialectics of nature, the group I was associated with in the SWP also strongly defended the idea that Marxism is a science, and once again we had to argue against a group clustered around John Rees (and Sheila McGreggor, to be entirely fair). Our idea, however, was that the scientific nature of Marxism consisted of it’s being rational and realistic, and therefore subject to testing and debate. My problem is only that, while this is true, casual talk about ‘Scientific Marxism’ can have the effect of implying that Marxism is somewhat remote and detached, and can be worked out based on first principles and simple observation, as opposed to being passionate and engaged. Cuffing people for not adhering to Scientific Marxism can sound awfully, presumptiously superior. I just mean that the scientific status of your Marxism can only be proved after the event, and there is no use in appearing to lecture the cadre from a lofty tower. At this stage in the game, claiming that your Marxism is scientific is really not much more than claiming that you believe in it yourself,. You haven’t created communism, therefore you are still generally speculating, more or less coherently. To claim much more is to say too much.

    #31: “what you had was a mismatch between a top down internal model and an attempt to relate to wider forces”

    Or, possibly, a tripartate problem in which you had a top down internal model, an attempt to relate to wider forces, and a somewhat enervated cadre who failed to navigate the problems this inevitably opens up, to hold their leadership to account and therefore close the gap. As Jules says, though “the ‘culture of the far left’… – at least as a description: …captures a lot but perhaps it is best treated as effect rather than original cause”, and the problem with my description is that as a description of the problem it doesn’t help to indicate the solution. If it did, the solution, in a rather Reesite way, would simply be for the cadre to try harder. Well, maybe they should, but the particular form this effort should take is to address the famous ‘democratic deficit’ by arguing for better structures that would help subjectively well-intentioned cadres to begin to actually express themselves within the context of the party. This is ‘the bootstrapping problem’. Myself, I don’t think it is such a huge problem just as long as the cadres apply themselves to resolving it.

    #33: Bizarrely (and I mean no offense by saying that) Andy N is onto something here. The problem, however, is not the failure to master ‘transitional politics’ but a failure to master the idea that the working class is a subject in formation that will not finally exist this side of communism. Therefore, anyone who tries to sell you the idea that they or their party are ‘the actually existing form of imputed class consciousness’ (or some such Lukacsian formulation) is basically selling snake oil. That’s why I object to the glib and casual use of the term ‘Scientific Marxism’, as though it were something you possessed rather than something you aspired to. Rees, in the debates about Lukacs and in his meeting at Marxism this year, quite clearly represented that appropriate leaders such as himself really embody as objective truth. It’s at this point that my nerves begin to get frayed, and I prefer JohnG’s rather practical approach to the problem of cadre formation, in which many loose ends are woven together based on a slowly accumulated practical sense of what it is like to build class consciousness and confidence. I think some of the discussion on this thread accurately reflects that sense and the way that it is shared across different traditions. I much prefer that to grandstanding about who does and who does not embody ‘Scientific Marxism’. This side of a communist revolution,, Marxist thought is inherently negative and critical, and any attempt to try to lend it a more positive complexion by bigging-up its scientific stature is closing the problem prematurely, and passing off what is not yet fit for purpose.

    On the power of the CC to expel. The practice the last time I knew anything about these things was that an individual member of the CC took against you. They would then convince Cliff that really you were a bad sort that the party could well do without. Then the CC would meet to confirm that intuition and you would be expelled. If you protested, there would be a meeting of the Control Commission, chaired and effectively led by some of the CC. The Control Commission, all of whose members essentially got their jobs by being proposed for the role by the CC, would then meet to decide whether the decision the CC had just arrived at still made sense to them in the light of a new day, or whether they themselves wanted to get into a spat with the CC. As nothing in particular was likely to have changed very dramatically in between meetings, the conclusion was invariably that, indeed, the CC had made a splendid decision in deciding to turn you into toast. Naturally, in a formal sense this was all rather bizarre, but if you protested on those grounds you would invariably be denounced for ‘petit-bourgeois legalism’.

  49. andy newman said,

    December 4, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Andy Wilson:

    “The problem, however, is not the failure to master ‘transitional politics’ but a failure to master the idea that the working class is a subject in formation that will not finally exist this side of communism. ”

    Well, I reject the Trotskyite idea of “transitional demands”, what I said was that we need a “transitional social formation”

    which is actually fairly compatible with the idea that “the working class is a subject in formation “, except that i would argue that formative process might take some surprising detours.

    A shop stewards movement is more likely to be a transtional social formation becoming conscious of its own transformative power, than a progapagda group running seminars about Zizek, however well meaning the latter activity might be.

  50. Anndy Wilson said,

    December 4, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    #49: “A shop stewards movement… seminars about Zizek”

    Or maybe we could do both, and much else in between? What we need here is more dash and imagination. (not that I personally would ever attend a seminar about Zizek, you understand.)

  51. ejh said,

    December 4, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    NNo kidding.

  52. jamie said,

    December 4, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I have no competence at all in this debate, but would like to congratulate the author for adorning it with a rather funky old picture of Kang Sheng.

  53. sw member said,

    December 5, 2009 at 10:35 am

    there are lots of interesting points here, but what i want to know is what on earth is the title about? herrings? wtf?

  54. David Ellis said,

    December 5, 2009 at 11:52 am

    #31 Johng I would like to take us back to your contrbution at #31 because I believe that if you were to follow the strategy implicit in that contribution, one of the pithiest and best you’ve made (I can’t think of any others), then you would have a damn good shout as saving something substantial out of the SWP or perhaps even the SWP itself.

    Here is the contribution to save scrolling up:

    `Truth is Andy I tend to believe that the reasons for this were structural. Rather then a grand sociological theory of members of the far left, I think what you had was a mismatch between a top down internal model and an attempt to relate to wider forces. Both positions were held with complete sincerity at the same same time. That turned eventually into an ideological problem inside peoples heads. But when it did so where exactly did you go to raise these questions? And where did those sections of the CC go who had doubts. Whoops where’s my party?’

    At first glance it may look like a compromise is being proposed but in actual fact it is the only reasonable response to the SWP’s curret crisis. In order to realise such a strategy you would need to outline the correct method of party building for the `party builders’ and the correct method of forming or entering into a united front for the `united fronters of a special kind’. This would win you enemies in both camps, as you say their positions have become ideologies, but may be enough to gather a critical mass of support for this third reasonable faction and the success of such a faction would amount to a virtual revolution within the party sweeping away the old apparats.

    The party cannot be built without a flexible but principled approach to united front work and a principled approach to united front work cannot take place it the party’s programme is constantly being downplayed or ditched. United front’s are made for specific agreed ends. Rees’s mangled use of dialectics we saw earlier is merely a rationalisation for programme mixing.

    Party building without the united front tactic is ultra left and abstract propagandism, united fronts that downgrade the party’s programme is opportunist and doesn’t build the party. In fact a united front that casually tosses aside the hard won programme pisses off the membership because the party’s programme and perspectives are the property of the party.

    This is the essence of the transtional approach. But the SWP doesn’t even have a transitional programme let alone a transitional approach. Even the ultra-left sectarian party builders, who privately might believe in a maximum programme of revolution, even they when they approach the class temper their programme in their leaflets and press until it comes across as the weakest of minimum reformist rubbish.

    A faction that took up position between the two warring CC factions and which made immediate party democratisation its principle, not something for the future after the other lot have been sorted out, would stand a good chance of success. It would have to promise to cast a critical marxist eye over everything: party history, theory, perspectives, programme all the way back to WWII. It would have to promise to kick out all the theological and bureaucratic obscurantist muck, especially that third periodist state cap nonsense, that has accumulated over the decades and it would have to promise a completely inclusive process by which the party will struggle to develop a full set of perspectives and a living breathing transitional programme worthy of the moment and which is the property of the party as a whole. It must then pledge to enter united fronts (not party fronts) on a principled basis. Making specific agreements for specific ends, acting in exemplary fashion within those fronts, whilst recruiting to its programme. The programme and the exemplary practise is what builds the party in opposition to the others in the united front. That is why the SWP is in crisis now: in their coalition to build respect they neither acted in exemplary fashion nor maintained their own programme.

    p.s. you should always enter a united front with the aim of winning the base of the others but also with the hope and intention of gathering up some of the leaders.

    This was written very quickly on a library computer on which I only had 15 mins so apologies for it not being more coherent.

  55. David Ellis said,

    December 5, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    # 48 ` #30: “By the way Andy I didn’t intend to offend by raising the question of scientific socialism.”

    Not in the slightest.’

    You realise I was being sarcastic?

    You realise that you are not responding to any of the criticisms. You say that marxism can never be a science because it is tied up with class consciousness. It isn’t, but for you mythical self-emancipation and marxism are one and the same so every time there is a set back it’s because Marxism is wrong not its carriers. Way to remain blameless.

  56. Andy Wilson said,

    December 5, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    #55: “You realise I was being sarcastic?”

    Oh really? I’m normally far too affable to notice things like that.

    As a matter of fact though, I didn’t say that “Marxism can never be a science”. In fact I said that I thought Marxism *is* a science. The statement I think you are bridling at is where I added that, despite that, people who spout of about their ‘Scientific Marxism’ are usually blowing sunshine up their own arses, so to say.

  57. johng said,

    December 5, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    David what you propose is the actual position of the current CC of the SWP. Which is why, on the whole I support them. The alleged divide between united fronters and party builders is the way in which Left Platform present the argument (although they also claim to have a strategy for party building as well as turning water into wine). I think this perspective is false. Given that you appear to share their perspective on the nature of the argument I’m afraid I think your diagnosis is false too.

  58. Danny said,

    December 5, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Some comments on the process of this debate..

    I think ejh makes a fair point in that instead of analysing the SWP to death, why dont we organise something better ourselves?

    That said I think its fair enough to have an idea of what sort of organisation we DONT want, so some analysis of whats currently on offer is justifiable.

    Personally I think having a laugh at the petty tyrannies of the SWP is legitimate too. This was a widespread discourse within the organisation when I was part of it, its how many people kept their sanity and kept going.

    The argument that the SWP is basicaly a private members club and no one elses business is really quite weak for any outfit that aspires to the revolutionary leadership of the working class.

    They should really be flattered with the attention or at least try to engage with it, which johng seems to do and fair play to him for that.

    Im also impressed that we’ve only had one personal insult so far at #44, this is how these debates usually get derailed

    • andy newman said,

      December 5, 2009 at 3:45 pm

      “Im also impressed that we’ve only had one personal insult so far at #44, this is how these debates usually get derailed”

      blimey I am slipping behing quota

    • ejh said,

      December 5, 2009 at 8:59 pm

      I think possibly the point is that if somebody says that something of theirs is private, then other people have an ethical obligation to respect that. You have to have a spectacularly good reason not to, and by and large people on the far left are not very good at understanding that, or why it might matter, or why respecting one another’s wishes whether liking them or not might be a good idea. There’s a damned sight too much of the self-appointed about a damned sight too many far-leftists, and its one of the things that causes other people to keep their distance.

      • andy newman said,

        December 6, 2009 at 12:08 am

        ejh if you keep your distance from me, then I am all the happier.

      • ejh said,

        December 6, 2009 at 8:19 am

        The difference is, I know when I ought to.

  59. andy newman said,

    December 5, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I think the importance of some sort of transitional approach is that a socialist party has to address itself to how its activity as a party intersects with with the mass of the working class, and helps t transform the mass of the working class into being aware pf thei9r interests in transcending cpaitalism.

    In other words, a socialist party needs to have some conception about how to transform the political consciousness of the whole working class, not just have a project of getting itself bigger.

    So unless the long term work of building relationships with other militants and activists is seen as the central task, then those comrades who do unglamourous long term work will allways be seen as conservative compared to the keen party buildrers running from campaign to campaign.

    Over decades the SWP have paid lip-service to recognising this problem but in the absense of a theoretical recognition that the force for socialism will be built out of tranforming the working class and progressive movements, not by the “party” getting bigger, then when push comes to shove there will always be an institutional bias favouring the “party builders” and the people who suck up to the centre.

    It seesm to me that the SWP don’t actually have a strategic cnception about how socialism will come about in britian, and there is therefore a gap between their day to day practice, often a propagandist routine or being simply the soi dissant “best activists” in single issue campaigns; and thei eventual goal which involves a conceptual leap forward to some revolutionary situation, but a revolutionary situation that exists entirely in the abstract and in the future, without any obvious roots in contemporary relaity.

  60. johng said,

    December 5, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Except Andy, as stated, I don’t think the Left Platform diagnosis of the argument has any merit. I don’t think anyone is arguing that socialism will come simply on the basis of recruiting ones and twos. But its equally true that you can’t have united fronts with anyone if you do not exist.

    • andy newman said,

      December 5, 2009 at 5:12 pm

      I have no real interest in the Left platform, nor am I convinced that the particulaly voluntarist strain of Lukacs inspired left ist leninism is confined to their ranks within thr SWP. I think they share many common assumptions, and that indeed is why the political differences seem so opaque and apolitical between the Reesites and the CC majority.

  61. johng said,

    December 5, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    On the more substantive point of transitional politics. This has to be rooted in some actually existing process rather then simply dreamt up in someones head (though it must be dreamt as well of course!). In the SWP’s tradition such dreams were routed in actual empirical analyses of the conjuncture. So from the 1960s onwards there was a focus on the potentialities of ‘do it yourself reformism’ to transform itself into an organising focus for an alternative site of socialism from below to what was at the time the increasing irrelevence of the Labour Party. Others differed with this perspective and continued to burrow away in local Labour Party wards. I was interested in Mark Ps perspective of district secretaries of the LP providing the roots of an independent cadre but don’t think this could have played an identical role to shop steward’s directly engaged in the class struggle at the point of production. Nevertheless whatever the in’s and out’s of arguments about this, by the late 1970s it was clear that the struggles associated with this had gone down to defeat as capitalism re-structured itself, leaving different types of socialist tradition struggling with the consequences. At this point the SWP was forced back on a more propagandistic model, although in this respect the picture of the period is often exaggerated given the real struggles comrades were involved in, and a constant and I think realistic perspective on the limitations of a turn that had been forced on us. Almost any opportunity, however limited, to open up was taken. In other words the search for a transitional politics (as opposed to a particular model of one taken as holy writ by some) continued in the absence of an actually existing one. The post-seattle moment was seen as an opportunity to broaden out (after a very lengthy period in which such attempts had met with occassional, but if truth be told, frustratingly limited success) and moves were made to think through the possibilities of re-alignment on the left, a process deepened and made more concrete by the scale of the anti-war movement. Here I think two potentialities were happening at once. On the one hand the opportunities for a re-alignment of the left and on the other hand more classical united front work reaching beyond the audience for a re-constitution of the far left. For a moderately sized organisation which found itself at the centre of quite massive re-orientations and movements this was a mixture of the heady and the daunting. As is well known we came unstuck at a certain point for a variety of reasons. But part of recognising that we came unstuck is to re-assess the precise balence between re-alignment and united front work (in other words our approach) rather then either simply banging on as before (part of Left Platforms method of argument seems to be that any re-assessment at all is a retreat from both processes: a fairly standard rhetorical response to criticism and self criticism if you think about it) or on the other hand proclaiming a new dawn at every possible opportunity. The tasks in terms of transitional politics I think remain the same. The setback means both a sensible discussion of how to avoid mistakes associated with it, and how to move foward from the objective difficulties created by it. This as far as I can see is the response of the SWP today. In other words how do we proceed with being part of more global processes of realignment and how do we relate this to reaching out beyond the far left itself.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      December 5, 2009 at 5:19 pm

      The realignment bit we can see some progress towards in terms of opening up the ISJ, the variety of people at the HM conference, an increasing willingness to argue the toss rather than indulge in the “our tendency alone” routine. That’s one reason why Chris Harman is such a loss at this point.

      As for reaching out, there will be opportunities to do that, but there will be some thought needed. I don’t think partying like it’s 2003 is an option. It’s still less of an option if a few dozen people find themselves outside the party, and discover that what they’d like to do is even less sustainable in that situation.

  62. johng said,

    December 5, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    “after a very lengthy period in which such attempts had met with occassional, but if truth be told, frustratingly limited success”

    I actually think that the toughness of a protracted period in which the left remained frustratingly marginalised is understated in accounts of where voluntarism and moralism come from. I also think that those who imagine that any correct perspective or collection of incantations can be a full-proof guarantee against these things are operating with assumptions akin to idealism. One symptom of which is that objective circumstances can never have anything to do with the marginalisation of the far left. I think not to recognise this is bad for your mental health. This does not of course provide reasons for not correcting errors but it can prevent a situation where one moralism confronts another in an endless downward spiral. Something to be avoided at present in my view.

  63. andy newman said,

    December 5, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    All of that is very sensible John, and I agree with a lot of what you say here; particularly the fact that it is necessary to reassess in the different conjunctures what forces may be developing; and clearly the 1970s focus on the shop stewards movement was relating to a social phenomenon that no longer exists,. so it would be bizarre to hold that as a stick to beat the SWP.

    However, it does lead to a big gap, and the turn towards the social movements after Seattle was very much undertheorised I think; and the SWP did play a very positive role in working through that process, but at the same time this was accompanied with a certain tendency to see it as a raid, and that the aim was to get recruits.

    It must be said though, in prasie of the SWP. that although I think an organisational rupture with the ISO was inexplicable, over the politics of the situation, the SWP has been proven correct. And it is to the SWP’s credit that they have avoided the trap of going down the model of Socialist Alternative on Australia. Who seem to think that if “building the party” is seen as the only criteria, then why not make life easy for yourself and only work on among students on campus, and avoid the whole messy business of the working class altogether.

    the SWP has tried, and to a certain extent succeded, in hanging onto a toehold in the organised working class – even though Lyndsey Oil Refinery did damage your reputation in the big manual unions; and the split in Respect wasted a lot of the good will and political capital you had built up.

    Perhaps what i think is necessary is some hard thinking about the state of the working class and progressive movements, because it isn’t obvious to me how the role of a vanguard party works at the present time; and from the SWP’s writings, it doesn’t seem that you really have a clear idea either.

  64. johng said,

    December 5, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    “a certain tendency to see it as a raid, and that the aim was to get recruits”

    This has always struck me as a very puzzling criticism as it seems very far from having been the case in the SWPs relationship to the movements and indeed other formations it was involved in. If anything the reverse was the case. I certainly think there needs to be both further thought, and indeed more detailed assessments of the balence of class forces (although its not the case that such discussions have not been on-going in our own publications). On the question of the Leninist Party I don’t share your puzzlement. For me the existence of a network of activists on the ground capable of intervening in and leading struggles, rooted in a socialist tradition could not be clearer. This is particularly so in a period when a range of struggles are taking place in a dispersed way and the left (of any kind) hardly gets a look in. I am against the left putting all their eggs in one basket. We have to have our fingers in every pie. But that is a daunting task obviously requiring considerable work. Building Socialist organisation in every locality is a part of that.

  65. andy newman said,

    December 5, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Well JOhn

    I can see the need for a network of socialist activists deeply embedded in the working class organisationa and the social movements, coordinating their activites for maximum effect.

    What is far less obvious to me is how that is helped by having a directing body of full timers who themselves have an entirely different social practice..

    There simply is a dualism of “building thw party” and “building the movement” which has been very hard to reconcile and that failure to reconcile is partly attributable to under-theorisation, I beleive.

    When you say :

    “I certainly think there needs to be both further thought, and indeed more detailed assessments of the balence of class forces (although its not the case that such discussions have not been on-going in our own publications). ”

    Certainly little evidence of it from the ridiculous indutsrial perspectives in IB2, that read like you tasked writing them to the rawest 17 year who joined last week.

  66. johng said,

    December 5, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Well Andy I see no dualism in what I said, beyond perhaps the recognition that you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. On the question of industrial perspectives I don’t really see what the age of contributers has to do with anything. Perhaps it would be more worthwhile to engage in substantive discussion. Understandable bitterness about the past should not stand in the way of reasoned fraternal discussion on the left. Unhelpful downward spirals of opposing moralisms are not only problematical within organisations. They’re also problematical between them.

  67. johng said,

    December 5, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    On another note I think there is something worth recalling about the Respect split. Whatever the mistakes made on both sides during that period (and in my view they were many) much of the argument was structured by what one observer called a blame game whose context was the fact that Respect was percieved to be underpreforming by both sides. On the one side there were accusations about the SWP not putting in enough resources, on the other side there were accusations about some of Georges commissions and ommissions and their effect. I think the belief that the SWP ought to dissolve itself into respect and not mantain a seperate identity were part of the particular mood of desperation about Respects fortunes that prevailed at the time. Redbedhead earlier made a comment on SUN that rather then engage in ‘pissing contests’ about who is strong where and on what front (this being what the debate has degenerated to), it was best to look at the strength and weaknesses of different organisations in order that in the future we might find ways of pooling our resources for the good of the movement as a whole. I think that’s what socialists should be looking at rather then continuing to play the blame game. and insisting that everyone has the same politics and the same priorities (we just don’t). Its why I think Michael Rosen’s suggestion about federal arrangements was a good one.

  68. johng said,

    December 6, 2009 at 4:00 am

    It is of course also true that we contributed ourselves to heating things up around the question of mantaining a seperate identity partly because our own position was confused at the time. However I do think that everyone shares responsibility for a situation where an organisation which initially involved different forces coming togeather on the basis of a real desire for unity on the left beyond our own ranks has ended with, going on two years now, groups of activists hurling ridiculous accusations at each other in an escalating war of words which I think not only does none of us any favours but also badly lets down those who had a right to expect better from all of us. Michael Rosen pointed out a long time ago that the more we seek to pin blame on each other the more ridiculous we look to everyone else and the more the left is discredited. Its why concerns about the tone of these debates are more then a kind of pompous egotism. I think its time to call a halt to the worst of this. Sorry late night thoughts.

    • andy newman said,

      December 6, 2009 at 7:19 pm

      ” hurling ridiculous accusations at each other in an escalating war of words”

      but apart from ejh’s ridiculous brother, is anyone still doing that?

      Haven’t we in fact seen some movng on, and isn’t this debate on this thread itself an example of a fraternal attampt to explore differences and common ground.

      • ejh said,

        December 6, 2009 at 7:38 pm

        but apart from ejh’s ridiculous brother

        Sorry, could you explain this reference?

  69. ejh said,

    December 6, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Michael Rosen pointed out a long time ago that the more we seek to pin blame on each other the more ridiculous we look to everyone else a

    Well quite. I’ve been trying to make this point for a very long time. If an outsider sees a screaming match, they’re likely to be less interested in the rights and wrongs of it than in the fact that there’s a screaming match and they want to be somewhere else.

    A lot of people have a great deal of difficulty in seeing this, partly because they’re so convinced of their own supreme righteousness that they can’t see they’re doing (or capable of doing) anything wrong, partly because they’re so deep into sectarian warfare that they simply interpret any reproof as evidence that their critic is working for the other side. (This is a syndrome you see in any factional situation, by the way, even situations very far from politics.)

    I’m sceptical as to how much can be done about this, but it is at least possible to point it out.

  70. johng said,

    December 6, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    “simply interpret any reproof as evidence that their critic is working for the other side”
    This has at times reached surreal proportions.

  71. andy newman said,

    December 6, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    JohnG

    “I think the belief that the SWP ought to dissolve itself into respect and not mantain a seperate identity were part of the particular mood of desperation about Respects fortunes that prevailed at the time. ”

    Well not really, beacsue we have seen this dynamic from the expereince of thre SSP, what is heppening with the DSP in Australia, and the LCR in France, as well as the SWP’s own comrades in germany.

    This is a genuine strategic debate indepenence of Respect’s issues

  72. ejh said,

    December 6, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    I really don’t think Andy’s Newman’s comments at #68 are acceptable. It can’t be right to make irrelevant reference to people’s family relationships and clearly there’s no cause to do so here other than spite.

  73. ejh said,

    December 6, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    (I’ve emailed our host about it. Sorry to make a fuss, but I do think a line has been crossed here.)

  74. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 6, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    I’m calling for everyone to settle down here. We’ve had a fairly good discussion with very little personal slagging, and it would be nice to keep it that way.

  75. johng said,

    December 6, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    I think there is a debate about the precise form that realignment should take, but I also happen to think that this debate was shaped in Respect by disapointments with the objective position Respect had arrived at. I think it is counter-productive as well as mistaken to continue arguing as if the only possibility of left re-alignment is the dissolution of organisations, which, for very good reasons in IMHO would refuse to do this. Far more fruitful is the recognition that on the actually existing left there are various strengths and weaknesses which should allow co-operation in various spheres. So I think it is true that Respect given how it is positioned cannot focus all of its efforts on Trade Union campaigns (although that does’nt mean socialists should not debate and possibly support, for instance Jerry Hicks canidature) but for members of Respect to draw the conclusion that such work is unimportant for the left as a whole would be a mistake. I’m struck by how much more marginalised the left as a whole is then it was three or four years ago (with some exceptions natch) and certainly when current circumstances are taken into account. Lines of argument which boil down to zero sum games between existing formations are therefore not productive at the moment in my view. And I do think there has been a tendency to pose the question in that way in this country.

  76. David Ellis said,

    December 7, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    #57 `David what you propose is the actual position of the current CC of the SWP. Which is why, on the whole I support them. The alleged divide between united fronters and party builders is the way in which Left Platform present the argument (although they also claim to have a strategy for party building as well as turning water into wine). I think this perspective is false. Given that you appear to share their perspective on the nature of the argument I’m afraid I think your diagnosis is false too.’

    I don’t share any perspective with the Left Platform people believe me but I’ll bet they could make an equal claim against the `party builders’ as you are making against them. The truth is nobody is gonna believe a word whilst these arbitrary expulsions are taking place and the `party builders’ are determined to close down the debate. You need to stop rationalising previous and current practises and take a long hard look without your rose tinted spectacles.

  77. johng said,

    December 7, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    The tinted spectacles are yours David.

  78. David Ellis said,

    December 7, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    I don’t think so Johng. Neither side is proposing what I suggested above. Neither are the reasonable transcendence of the two ideologised, dichotomised approaches that have split the CC and the upper leadership. THe party builders will say `of course we are for the united front’ but they will mean the usesless programme dropping non-exemplary united front of a special kind and the united fronters will say `of course we are for party building’ but they will mean the disconnected, sectarian, self-serving, apolitical kind of party building. Two wrongs do not make a right.

  79. December 7, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    [...] of the SWP over at Splintered Sunrise, that have managed to provoke quite constructive discussion: one on the Democracy Commission and the  other on the Left Platform, and the philosophy of the early Lukács. The influence of the [...]

  80. johng said,

    December 7, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Well so you keep saying David. On the other hand its just possible that you see a split in the SWP as an opportunity to recruit to your own ideas and so prefer to portray arguments going on in a serious socialist organisation as meaningless rubbish. What organisataion are you in by the way?

  81. David Ellis said,

    December 7, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    The Revolutionary Girl Guides of America.

  82. KrisS said,

    December 7, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    And how have you come to the decision that we are “the party builders”?

  83. Harry Monro said,

    December 7, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Firstly on dietary concerns, I think s/s is making too many concessions here, it should be “Boiled Eggs, Pig’s Feet and Dulse”.
    One of the difficulties debating with non Party members is that while we appear to use the same language (roughly) we can mean very different things: many ex-members being the exception of course. For instance I know of no SWP cadre who sees a contradiction in building the confidence of the class as a whole through strike work or campaign work with non Party members (they are after all the vast majority of the working class and we are insignificant in numbers) and building the Party. The two, are for us indissoluble. The main problem is that given the unevenness of class consciousness and the class struggle: we see the focus of being in this campaign or that campaign as being whether it aimed at the class as a whole or sections of it. All of these are tactical decisions but absolutely dependent on the current situation. If we inflate the possibilities in the analysis then the tactics can disastrous. Hence Respect I’d argue.
    A new Party was only possible if a section of the Labour left would break and join it, they were never going to do that, therefore a new party (disguised under the stupid formulation about new forms of united fronts) was a going to screw everyone up. What was possible was a basic election front behind the Anti-War slogan in a few constituencies, which would not have created the tensions and which we could have pulled back from, as our priorities changed. Having only so many members and money we can’t fetishize any issue.
    In Germany a substantial section of the reformists split and our comrades are in an excellent position to build this new party and build our politics within it – nothing remotely sectarian about that.
    In France I think the LCR are wrong to liquidate themselves but that is another debate on “anti-capitalism”, however where they go we have to go. In this country I’d welcome the chance in the future for the German situation, but I for one could not go along with any attempt for the SWP to follow the LCR example, if that is what Alex C has in mind for us.

    • Mark P said,

      December 7, 2009 at 6:05 pm

      Harry,

      I don’t think that many on the revolutionary left see “a contradiction in building the confidence of the class as a whole through strike work or campaign work with non Party members (they are after all the vast majority of the working class and we are insignificant in numbers) and building the Party”. Or more precisely, while many can see certain difficulties that can arise from time to time in trying to do both, few at least on the Trotskyist left, therefore think that both shouldn’t be attempted.

      I tend to agree with you that the LCR have made a significant mistake in dissolving themselves into the NPA. The closest parallel is the dissolution of the ISM in the SSP, which had very damaging consequences.

      Something important is missing from your comparison of the NPA and Die Linke however. The difference between the two is not centrally that “the revolutionaries” have dissolved themselves in one but not in the other. The main difference is that the NPA is a very much more radical and left wing party than Die Linke, which is essentially a reformist party in the old social democratic tradition (that is in the social democratic tradition prior to the major ruptures of the 1990s). The political differences between the two are very significant and obviously that should have an impact on how revolutionaries should relate to the wider party membership.

      There is also, I think, a widespread misunderstanding amongst SWP members about the course taken by their former sister group in Die Linke. This in turn ties into a general point that for good or for ill, SWP members tend to be much less well informed about their tendency abroad than members of other left wing groups are about their own. Successes are reported in Socialist Worker to serve as inspirations, but other than that there is little in the way of regular information and a near total lack of criticism unless the organisation concerned is in the course of drastically falling out with the SWP leadership.

      The former Linksruck have, as Andy notes, very considerably altered their political approach. Andy of course thinks that this is great and admirable, while I think its mistaken and opportunist, but we are talking about the same phenomenon.

      The former Linksruck has officially wound itself and launched itself as “a network”, presenting itself as broader and looser. The new network hasn’t formally affiliated to the IST, essentially because it thinks that doing so would cause friction inside Die Linke. It has gone from having a fortnightly paper and other publications to producing only a not very substantial magazine which comes out four or five times a year.

      These are obvious, uncontested, structural changes to the organisation, but they coincide with other changes. For starters, the organisation has been in serious numerical decline for some years now and currently claims about a third of the membership it had at Linksruck’s height. A significant number of the leading cadre have been given jobs working as assistants to Die Linke parliamentary groups and as staff for reformist parliamentarians, at the national or regional level. Whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of the Respect split (and I didn’t have a dog in that race), you can I’m sure see the tensions and contradictions such relationships can lead to.

      Marx21 have in effect toned down criticism of the reformist leadership of Die Linke in exchange for access to the bureaucracy of that party. This has meant jobs within the party bureaucracy, positions on leading committees, positions on electoral lists and so on. But it has also meant serving the leadership loyally. This of course isn’t the first time that a Trotskyist group has tried such a thing in a new party of the left – the USFI sections tried it in the early PRC in Italy and in the PT in Brazil. In both cases the party concerned was, at least when they adopted the strategy of integrating into the leadership faction, considerably to the left of Die Linke. In both cases it nevertheless bit them on the arse.

      • andy newman said,

        December 7, 2009 at 8:32 pm

        “The former Linksruck have, as Andy notes, very considerably altered their political approach. Andy of course thinks that this is great and admirable, while I think its mistaken and opportunist, but we are talking about the same phenomenon. ”

        Mark P is correct here.

        However, the degree to which this turn in Germany is undertheorised is also true in marx21 itself. I was talking to a leading comrade in one of the SWP’s other international sistter orgs, who was telling me they had one of the German comrades over in their country for several monthjs, and they were quixxing them in the very different political practice that Marx21 has from the SWP(GB), and the German comrade had not really appreciated how far the diveregce had gone.

    • David Ellis said,

      December 8, 2009 at 11:28 am

      `In Germany a substantial section of the reformists split and our comrades are in an excellent position to build this new party and build our politics within it – nothing remotely sectarian about that.’

      Harry, this is surely the triumph of hope over reality, of blind loyalty over a healthy dose of scepticism. As sure as eggs is eggs the SWP will eventually either wind this `united front’ up or find itself the victim of a `witch-hunt’. As we know, foreign policy is the continuation of domestic policy and the SWP and its international franchises adapt the bureaucratic, administrative and arbitrary techniques they use to control the party to their united front work. They cannot behave in an exemplary fashion in the united front because it doesn’t reflect their internal regime. Politics is never the issue. They are happy to dump their politics at the drop of a hat. Control is the issue.

      • neprimerimye said,

        December 8, 2009 at 10:57 pm

        Some years ago Cliff intervened in a most decisive manner within the old SAG. For a number of reasons this cannot happen in relation to Marx21.

  84. johng said,

    December 7, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    “they were never going to do that”

    Depends who we’re talking about. I personally think if the CP(B) had jumped it would have made a big difference at the time. And they almost did.

  85. johng said,

    December 7, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    There also remains a very serious issue about the absence of an all-national political alternative. This may not be possible at the moment. But we have to be aware of what a setback this is for the whole left. Barking is an example where the costs are very serious. I’m convinced we will stop Nick Griffen this go round. But I’m also convinced that the absence of a left political alternative at the national level means that the BNP are likely to get a boost they might not otherwise get. Of course we’re never in the best of all possible worlds. But we’re starting the race with considerable handicaps. And it is a race.

  86. andy newman said,

    December 7, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Harry Monro

    ” For instance I know of no SWP cadre who sees a contradiction in building the confidence of the class as a whole through strike work or campaign work with non Party members (they are after all the vast majority of the working class and we are insignificant in numbers) and building the Party.”

    Well maybe you don’t see it, buit that doesn’t mean that the tension isn;t there. Nor is it a recent phenomenon, recall how many of the “commitee (wo)men” who were central to the branch and paper sale routine were only peripherally involved in the poll tax or campiagns aginst the first gulf war.

    A few years ago Lindsey german desctribed a related phenomonen as “our very own sectarians”, and the shift to activist beramnches, and later effective dissolution of branches were designed to push the SWP out of this tendency to routineism.

  87. andy newman said,

    December 7, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    “In Germany a substantial section of the reformists split and our comrades are in an excellent position to build this new party and build our politics within it – nothing remotely sectarian about that.”

    I think you underestimate the practical discontiunity in Marx21’s politics, where their practice is quite divergent from the SWP’s approach, and the diffrence is undertheorised because it doesn’t suit anyone’s interest to think about it too hard.

  88. skidmarx said,

    December 7, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    What the Respect crisis brought to a head was a tendency on the part of the CC to act on its own
    What this seems to indicate is that it is the SWP’s settled view that there were mistakes made by the SWP in the way it responded to the Respect crisis, but not that it now accepts that it was entirely in the wrong, a re-writing of history that Andy Newman and his friends not only try to propagate as their own opinion, but to insist that it is the SWP’s too, because it is trying to move on and deal with things as they are, while he and his friends want to characterise everything the SWP does in terms of their version of those events, rather than do any hard thinking themselves.

    83. johng -But we’re starting the race with considerable handicaps
    Surely one of those is those who don’t wish to build a left political alternative? [sorry for calling you Shirley]

  89. lafayette sennacherib said,

    December 7, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    There are about as many comments on this thread as there are members of the SWP or any of the other bizarre little leftoid sectlets. Here’s a perfect example of why:

    “… If the working class have unique access to truth because of their priveleged position as thinking commodities, and their assumed potential to understand the totality of society by becoming a universal class, then the “truth” has become externalised from any actually existing referent and only exists in a telelogical sense.

    Since the working class does not in fact actually have this ideal consciousness (Lukasc discusses this in term of kantian “is” and “ought” (“sein” and “Sollen”) then the consciousness is only immanent within the working class. And the class standpoint of the working class exists independent of the actual views held by the real living, breathing and farting working class. ”

    Being working class sounds like you have to spend years at university to do it – not for the likes of us.

  90. andy newman said,

    December 7, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    “Being working class sounds like you have to spend years at university to do it – not for the likes of us. ”

    That iis exactly the point, and why the Lukacsian philosophical position is elitist and substitutionist.

    However, I didn’t read Lukasc becasue of any university exposure to idea like that, I came to them via the SWP, as an engineeting worker.

    The specialism I actually studied was elecronics and systems engineering.

  91. johng said,

    December 7, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    “83. johng -But we’re starting the race with considerable handicaps
    Surely one of those is those who don’t wish to build a left political alternative? [sorry for calling you Shirley]”

    “We’re” refers both to us in the SWP and to the rest of the left, all of us facing this problem. In both cases its neccessary to recognise that this is a handicap without allowing that realization to paralyze us. In terms of discussions of how blame ought to be apportioned I think this is of great importance to those directly involved, but as noted previously, the importance given to this, is a source of great, and I think justified, disapointment and despair to everyone else. This is I think much more important then our own feelings on the matter.

  92. harry monro said,

    December 7, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    On Germany, I’m sure our comrades are making mistakes, that is the nature of an organization growing to maturity and should be welcomed, as long as they don’t lose a grip on our politics. Numbers is not the most important thing; on any antifa rally the head bangers in black would outnumber us 10 to 1. Irrelevant. Our group has been bigger but no matter our good individually they were largely irrelevant to the class as a whole (as our nearly all our international groups are, they are still into the primitive accumulation of cadre). For our German group to be connected to real changes in German mass politics is worth all risks.
    In the past many of our international groups have been damaged by a leaden attempt by some in the CC to impose an international line, but what might fit the SWP could be destructive to a tiny propaganda group (especially if the line is over optimistic). To have one or two of our international groups become influential (even in a small way) in their own countries would be immensely useful not just to the IST but to the Party in Britain, we might learn some things. Perhaps we need a Democracy Commission for the IST.
    Regardless of the idiocies of the past we should kiss and make up with the ISO.

    • Mark P said,

      December 8, 2009 at 1:26 am

      Harry,

      I don’t think the point was simply that Marx21 are “making mistakes”. I certainly think that they are making some fairly fundamental ones, but Andy for example thinks that they are doing exactly what should be done. The point is more that what they are doing is very, very different from the SWP’s approach.

      While what they are doing might seem like a brand new experience to them and to you, it is in fact quite similar to the experiences of other currents in the past – notably those of the USFI in Italy and Brazil some years ago. Those of course were substantially larger organisations and they were taking their approach in substantially more left wing parties. Those things should have made the situation more favourable to their approach, but the results were still very damaging.

      In the specific case of Die Linke, the central problem is precisely that Marx21 are not particularly influential, or at least they aren’t influential in their own right. They are a very small organisation, with little profile independent of the leadership inside or outside the party. They are bag carriers essentially and are now substantially dependent on the good will of the Die Linke bureaucracy for whatever influence they do have and for the jobs of much of their leading cadre.

      I agree that numbers alone can’t tell you everything about the significance of a political organisation, by the way, but it’s not entirely irrelevant either. If Marx21 were, for instance, winning substantial chunks of the rank and file to their politics that would give them an independent base within Die Linke. Instead their membership has been falling and their paper has been wound up.

  93. Daphne said,

    December 8, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Well, my organisation has a suggestion for our IST comrades, and we’ll see what kind of reaction it gets: http://unityaotearoa.blogspot.com/2009/12/historic-decision-to-form-socialist.html

    • neprimerimye said,

      December 8, 2009 at 11:00 pm

      Contempt one hopes.

      • johng said,

        December 9, 2009 at 12:10 am

        bemusement?

      • Daphne said,

        December 9, 2009 at 10:16 pm

        Thank you, guys, you’ve restored my faith in the ability of comrades in the IS tradition to debate politics rather than hurl snide remarks. It’s no wonder that the British SWP and its sister parties have such a good reputation on the broader left.

        John, I direct you to my comment below beginning with “leaving the sarcasm aside…”

  94. johng said,

    December 8, 2009 at 2:08 am

    Incidently I have just realised that there is something very strange about this comments/reply system with stuff appearing all over the place. If I’ve not responded to someone its probably because their comment appeared halfway up the bloody discussion or something…

    • Mark P said,

      December 8, 2009 at 2:56 am

      The reply system doesn’t form proper sub-threads. You can reply to a reply, but you can’t reply to a reply to a reply. So conversations start halfway up a thread but if they go back and forth a couple of times they suddenly skip to the end of the comments.

      • johng said,

        December 8, 2009 at 3:07 am

        Can’t it just be dropped? I mean its painful to have to trawl through all the rubbish you wrote the day before. If you just read the latest you can pretend you did’nt write it with enjoyable indignation. In terms of enjoyable indignation someone called Spencer, over on Socialist Unity blog, has just accused Liam of representing everything that is poor and inadequate about the British left because he wanted to know what socialist action stood for. I thought this was great.

      • Mark P said,

        December 8, 2009 at 4:12 pm

        The first rule of Socialist Action is you do not talk about Socialist Action.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        December 8, 2009 at 5:33 pm

        There are some interesting smoke signals re Socialist Action. But I don’t have anything concrete as yet.

      • Mark P said,

        December 8, 2009 at 6:37 pm

        You tease.

        Is this the stuff about SA, or at least a fraction of SA, joining Respect?

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        December 8, 2009 at 7:45 pm

        It’s not unrelated to Respect, but has more to do with happenings in other quarters. Might happen or might not, we will see in due course.

  95. johng said,

    December 8, 2009 at 3:08 am

    I think Liam should immediately join the fifth international, as should we all, and everything would be instantly totally different.

    • Daphne said,

      December 8, 2009 at 8:37 am

      Leaving the sarcasm aside, John, it is to be hoped that a real International based on mass parties might have the kind of “critical mass” needed to persuade everyone who’s worth persuading that sectarian bullshit isn’t worth it. That’s a big “might”, of course, but always look on the bright side of life.

  96. dennis said,

    December 8, 2009 at 6:45 am

    “A good cadre knows the strengths and weaknesses of the leadership…”

    And how do they know that? In the main, by being imbedded within the working class constituency they are attempting to influence, However, despite the constant exhortations to ‘build a network of activists and militants’ and root the branches in the local working class, that relationship remains fairly weak and tenuous. Therefore, that layer of militants, who are both rank and file leaders and have a relationship with the organisation doesn’t exist. It may have existed in the ’70s, sustained by a rising tide of struggle, but not today.

    The truth is the SWP ‘cadre’ has become steadily over-reliant on the ‘leadership’. A culture has built up within the organisation that looks, far too often unquestioningly, to that leadership for answers. When I first joined the SWP, about thirty years ago, it was in a branch outside London. I don’t remember us ever even having a full time organiser. We sometimes made stupid mistakes, but on the whole managed to get along quite well without one. There was both a respect and a sort of ( I would say healthy) distrust of ‘the centre.’

    It was the implosion of Respect that brought all these festering problems out into the open. Now, many SWP are admitting that mistakes were made. However, when I spoke to friends in he SWP when this was happening no one would allow any such thing. The party leadership were wholly blameless, SWP members victims of a ‘witchhunt’. What leading cadre there were that were not prepared to tag along behind this unutterable nonsense, like Jerry Hicks, felt forced to resign. Whatever they might be saying now, at the time leading SWP bloggers simply said that the blogosphere was ‘not the place’ to discuss such sensitive issues, and it’s at the time that matters, not a year down the line.

  97. bout_ye_biglad said,

    December 8, 2009 at 9:44 am

    “… for an organisation whose formal politics are all about spontaneity and the rank and file and socialism from below – and an organisation that doesn’t have much in the way of formal structures – the SWP is intensely conscious of status and pecking order. And this seems to have no rhyme nor reason to it.”

    It’s usually that way. Ironically enough the more socialist the movement, the more you will have the types who fancy themselves as cut above the rest of ‘the herd’ – possibly even cult leaders – you can never tell these days. Many of the seemingly sincere up-and-comers are all or mainly about me, me me.

    Don’t analyse the tendency too deeply – you might get disillusioned.

  98. bout_ye_biglad said,

    December 8, 2009 at 10:05 am

    The greater irony in all this shock and awe going on here is that if you brought the average punter in here he/she wouldn’t know what the fuck half of you’s are on about.

    Does that not make you think you might just be a wee bit out of touch?

  99. johng said,

    December 8, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    To suggest that in the absence of an upturn in class struggle and a mass layer of militants to recruit its impossible to have democratic accountability strikes me as self defeating. It isn’t at all true that there isn’t a layer of comrades in the SWP leading day to day struggles in localities and in trade unions. In fact its probably one of the largest organised groups of people doing so. That this does’nt equate with the upturn of the 1970s is obvious but does’nt get us very far. The structural difficulties that produced an over-reliance on the centre despite this have been much discussed and pretty seriously discussed at that. On the other hand, yes, its true, its better to have one hundred per cent hindsight and always be correct, as well as to conduct yourself in entirely rational fashion during a faction fight. All these things are highly desirable. But not always living up to these standards is hardly restricted to the SWP.

  100. David Ellis said,

    December 8, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    #96 Some nice points there Dennis but leadership does have a special responsibility. It would however be very good if a rank-and-file faction were to take advantage of the schism in the CC and top leadership to come through the middle and initiate a political revolution. It would need to topple the bureaucratised propagandist regime and prepare the resulting organisation for serious intervention into the increasingly sharp class struggle.

  101. johng said,

    December 8, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    “leadership does have a special responsibility”

    How lucky for all of us that you recognise this Comrade Ellis.

  102. David Ellis said,

    December 8, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Yes Johng, I am here for you. Call me. 0800 1917 1917.

  103. johng said,

    December 8, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Gotta admit the man’s got a sense of humour.

  104. julesa said,

    December 8, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    #100. Gosh what a supercilious comrade. Your animus toward the SWP is overblown. More importantly you are clearly unaware how arrogant and sectarian you sound here. If I had written your last post I would feel a fool.

  105. dennis said,

    December 8, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    I don’t deny that SWP members are often very active in their unions and localities, and generally doing their best to encourage resistance. For all its faults, the SWP is the largest organisation on the left doing this in any systematic way.

    For democratic centralism – a formation fraught with difficulties and pitfalls at the best of times – to operate productively, however, arguably requires a far deeper relationship with the working class than the SWP has, as well as a higher level of combativity. The model it’s based on, the Bolsheviks, enjoyed a far stronger implantation in the working class, even in the depths of reaction and downturn in Russia, than the SWP has ever had. It also, by the way, had a far more vibrant democratic culture and tolerance of internal dissent than the SWP currently has.

    Sometimes the experience of being an activist can lead people to the left. Sometimes it can lead to demoralisation and frustration. When the accepted notions and routines of an organisation are not being challenged by an influx of new blood, when efforts to grow and expand are frustrated and activity is sustained by encouraging false expectations, the delicate balance between the democracy bit and the centralism bit is likely to tip in the wrong direction. Rather than a two-way relationship where the party also learns from the class, it begins to see itself just as the teacher. The leadership, rather than learn from the membership, sees its role as a parent that shouldn’t let the children have too much leeway. In turn, some of the most rotten aspects of capitalism, the hierachy
    and deference to authority, are more likely to manifest themselves.

    It doesn’t mean that democratic accountability is impossible, but it’s that much harder to sustain.

    Once again, one of the things the Respect bust up exposed was a very deep crisis in the internal political culture of the SWP. For me, the expulsions and general climate of hysteria whipped up by the leadership of the SWP represented a line in the sand I personally wasn’t prepared to cross in my continued support for the organisation. Because there’s been a Democracy Commission, a purge of a few individuals and ‘structural diffficulties’ discussed doesn’t mean, I fear, thart everything is now hunky dory. Despite that, I hope the SWP can play a positive role in developing unity amongst the left in the months and years ahead. For that to hap[pen, I think a lot more needs to change yet.

  106. johng said,

    December 8, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I whole heartedly agree about the pitfalls and difficulties and the relatedness to external circumstances. I also agree that it would be very foolish to imagine that everything is hunky dory. But partly recognition of your original point about objective circumstances is what lay behind Molyneux’s correct observation both that these are political questions (they need to be recognised as important) and that they imply a perpetual battle (inside any socialist organisation), in his article on democracy in the ISJ (complaints on the blogs about the absence of a decisive conclusion rather missing the point here). But I also think the battle inside and outside has always to be linked, and its really not possible to treat of this as an internal process which will one fine day, issue in the correct external practice. In any organisation these things develop in tandem.

  107. harry monro said,

    December 8, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    “The model it’s based on, the Bolsheviks, enjoyed a far stronger implantation in the working class, even in the depths of reaction and downturn in Russia, than the SWP has ever had.”
    105 – Oh do give us a year by year sociological breakdown on membership, readership of paper etc of both organizations Lenin’s crowd 1904-1916. IS/SWP 1968- to now.
    Did the fact that most of Trotsky’s groups in his lifetime have little connection to the organized working class mean “he walked on water” or 25 % he wrote was bollocks, or 50% was bollocks or 100%.
    I await your fresh insights with baited breath
    On German the proof of the pudding, if they fuck up so be it, after all its not the 1930s with Hitler in the wings

    • andy newman said,

      December 9, 2009 at 9:52 am

      I thin 50% bollocks, 30% sense, 20% tyrannical mass murderer would be a fair assesmment of Trotsky

      • David Ellis said,

        December 9, 2009 at 1:42 pm

        Just for arguements sake Andy can you name the mass murders Trotsky was involved in?

    • D_D said,

      December 9, 2009 at 4:35 pm

      Andy you’ve been reading the new biography haven’t you.

      Eh, Trotsky was President of the Petersburg Soviet in 1905 and throughout the years was, like the Bolsheviks, a member of the mass membership RSDLP.

  108. Danny said,

    December 8, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    I dont know where you going with that one Harry.

    The SWP that I was part of though very much saw itself as latter-day Bolsheviks, the ‘real’ communists (in comparison with Militant who appeared to see themselves as ‘real’ labour)

    Given that its worth having a look at what the Bolsheviks really were about. They had a relatively large concentration of members in the working class heartlands of Petrograd even before the revolutions broke out in 1917, which is often understated in accounts of the events.

    Everybody to the left of the Czar was formally a revolutionary. What distinguished Bolsheviks was working class independence – that was the programmatic difference with the Mensheviks was all about and it went right through the organisation.

    The Bolsheviks had an internal regime that didnt expel people for open dissidence even under a dictatorship and during an insurrection!

    We have this cartoon charicture of the Bolsheviks as ideologically obsessed conspirators, the truth was both more simple and profound and still has an appeal to me, for one.

  109. johng said,

    December 9, 2009 at 2:17 am

    Danny have a look at Lenin’s Moscow by Rosmer (you might have done all ready). No agenda, just you’d find it interesting.

  110. dennis said,

    December 9, 2009 at 3:03 am

    In reply to Harry Monroe, the best place to look for an answer to that is maybe Donny Gluckstein’s book ‘The Western Soviets’. As I’m not living in the UK at the moment I don’t have acces to it, but there are both membership figures for the Bolsheviks and evidence related to their strengths and influence inside the working class in Petrograd and Moscow.

    As for the comment about Trotsky, I’m sorry but I don’t really know what you’re on about. Of course, the fact that the vast majority of Trotskyist groups had very liyttle connection to the organised working class did of course mean that they were not democratic centralist organisations in any meaningful sense.

  111. andy newman said,

    December 9, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Incidentlly, perhaps I shoudl make something clearer, when I wrote

    “Since the working class does not in fact actually have this ideal consciousness (Lukasc discusses this in term of kantian “is” and “ought” (“sein” and “Sollen”) then the consciousness is only immanent within the working class. And the class standpoint of the working class exists independent of the actual views held by the real living, breathing and farting working class.”

    The significance is that in the original German, “ought” is being translated from “Sollen” not the conditional form of “Koennen”. So Lukacs is basing his transformation of the working class into a class for itself as something that is obliged to happen, not as something that might happen.

    The teleological determinism, and therfore messianic vanguardism of Lukacs is slightly lost in English.

  112. Andy Wilson said,

    December 9, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Nothing about the ‘Sollen’ aspect of Imputed consciousness implies determinism. The problem is really that Lukacs sees the revolutionary party as the “actually existing form” of that consciousness. This is a fairly literal projection of Lenin’s idea in What is to be Done? that socialist consciousness is injected into the working class. Lukacs himself says that that was the intention of his work at that time, to translate What is to be Done? into philosophy.

    Lukacs doesn’t propose a historical teleology. On the contrary, his philosophy is oddly static – his claim that the revolutionary party embodies the correct class consciousness already implies in a sense that history, in one aspect at least, has already ended. Of course there is still the trivial matter of making a socialist revolution in practice but, for Lukacs, on the side of consciousness this process has already achieved its terminus in the directives of the Central Committee. All we have to do now is pay careful attention while the CC issues their commands. I had enough of that when I was in the military.

  113. johng said,

    December 9, 2009 at 11:37 am

    I think its neccessary to start from the fact that the problem of democracy as experianced by most people on the let is the problem of bourgoise parliaments, social democratic organisations and mass trade unions, and the ways in which democracy in these have proven, despite the elective principle, to be limited and deceptive in various ways. This meant that both in the 1920s and in the second flowering of dissent with capitalism in the 1960s that debates about alternative modes of organisation for those on the left have flourished. Lukacs had little real influence in the 1920s (his work was castigated) but was eagerly read by many in the 1960s and an earlier phase when various remenants of the 1920s read him. The strong part of what he had to say on the subject was related to the contrast between party’s which sought to represent the working class (ie established social democrat party’s) and party’s which sought to organise militant minorities and the very different nature of such organisations. The weak part of what he had to say reflected the danger of too philosophical an approach to the concrete history of the bolsheviks he was seeking to generalise. This involved the danger of a repetition of Marx’s earlier more philosophical work where he saw philosophy as the brain and the working class as the body and their reconciliation solving the riddle of history, a position he was to move on from after more concrete involvement in the workers movement. In Lukacs this abstract position takes the form of a leadership that generalises the experiances of the working class (making little distinction between the working class and the cadre of the leninist party in this respect) in other words thinks on their behalf (this despite the otherwise fascinating discussions of working class consiousness in terms of ‘commodities with personalities’). It is ultimately what Chris Harman was to refer to as a kind of ‘intellectualist’ deviation (a self criticism he made of his own pamphlet on party and class, although I’m never quite sure why). The result presents Lenin’s thought as standing somehow outside its concrete relations with the thought of different layers of organised militants, the mileu of party meetings, factions debate and argument etc, without which no Lenin would have been possible (this fact making it a somewhat empty question what role Lenin would have played without a party: Lenin quite simply would not have been Lenin). So from fascinating (and I think valuable) philosophical remarks about problem of class, agency and ideology in capitalism we somehow arrive at an extremely static and abstract model unmediated by any sense of workers becoming cadre and making generalisations themselves and presenting them before the Party. The vanguard party as a community of militants disapears and becomes instead its merely philosophical embodiement. That to me is the problem with Lukacs and his nevertheless important work on these questions. I’d say that read critically it is still a very important work for those who do see problems with established organisations. However read uncritically and treated as a manual it can become dangerous. But then the same is true of almost any text in our tradition. One reason why concrete organisation (as opposed to philosophical embodiements of it) are important is because concrete organisations give us an index with which to make judgements about these things.

  114. Andy Wilson said,

    December 9, 2009 at 11:51 am

    #113: agreed

    But may I ask: where (and when) did Chris Harman make his criticism of his Party & Class pamphlet? (I’m interested because the old IS Group made (what sounds like) a similar criticism of it in an article by Ian Land, “The SWP vs. Democratic Centralism”)

  115. johng said,

    December 9, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    It was in the preface of the new edition even way back when.

  116. David Ellis said,

    December 9, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    #104 `#100. Gosh what a supercilious comrade. Your animus toward the SWP is overblown. More importantly you are clearly unaware how arrogant and sectarian you sound here. If I had written your last post I would feel a fool.’

    Never mind all that Julesa. What about the recent expulsions? Should they be revoked for the congress? Should the defeated faction and the congress be forced to wind up or face expulsion? How do you think it should be played?

  117. Kent said,

    December 9, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Harry Munro says “we” (i.e., the SWP) “should kiss and make up with the ISO.” Hear, hear. It is hard for me to take the CC’s position seriously until it rethinks its relationship with the ISO. The ISO-SWP split was ridiculous. Suck it up, people.

  118. redbedhead said,

    December 9, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Kent & Harry – I’m afraid it’s not so simple, since the IST isn’t a wholly owned subsidiary of the SWP. The Greek organization – which was split with the assistance of the ISO, and was the reason for the split – would have none of it. And the Canadian IS, of which I’m a member, would also be very hesitant. For one, it would affect our relationships with people in the US movements – in particular the anti-war movement but also some trade unionists. We have a different strategic orientation to the ISO that is not complementary, shall we say. Any “unity” would be a mockery of the term – though I wish them well.

  119. redbedhead said,

    December 9, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    “The teleological determinism, and therfore messianic vanguardism…”

    ouch. I tried to say that in front of the mirror and my jaw popped out.

  120. johng said,

    December 9, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    “Suck it up, people”

    One can only admire the obviously well intentioned interventions of those who want better fraternal relations between organisations.

  121. Kent said,

    December 9, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    The narcissism of minor differences comes to mind.

  122. redbedhead said,

    December 9, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    kent – to what are you referring?

  123. chjh said,

    December 9, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    I’ve some sympathies on both sides here. The truth is that the differences are minor – the ISO remain within the fundamental politics of the IST, will be far easier to work with than any other group in the States, and have prospered in what have been for the US left a difficult period.

    But the Greek situation that redbedhead refers to at #118 remains a live one. There is a still a split group in Greece, and the ISO still supports it. That’s the stumbling block, which can’t be wished away.

    Doesn’t mean we can’t talk to and learn from each other, though.

  124. redbedhead said,

    December 9, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    I think that there is actually a bigger gap than people in Britain are able to realize. Having a state cap analysis is nowhere near enough to qualify as a tendency organization in my view. The ISO had an unproductive relationship with the main anti-war organizations, for instance, either abstaining from debates or having a sectarian orientation towards it, demanding that they support the Iraqi resistance. Certainly in Britain the SWP argued against that and it was an argument here in Canada. They had a similar sectarian attitude towards the war against Serbia, the NAFTA debates, Seattle (of course), et al. Now, they seem to have done some solid work inside of the lgbt movement viz. Sherry Wolf and good on them for that. But where they aren’t in the leadership – because of size and implantation, etc. – the orientation that I’ve seen is sectarian.
    I’m not saying have no communication with them but it should be done with care and with reference to those who will be most affected by such engagement, ie. the Canadians and, of course, the Greeks.

  125. martin said,

    December 9, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    “erring, i.e. Minority, comrades should not in general be crushed to the point of humiliation”

    Is this a Freudian slip? Is it for real? A minority is necessarily erring? How far should a minority be crushed?

  126. redfox said,

    December 9, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    rbh: How do you feel about having organisations like the NZ Socialist Worker in the tendency, then?

  127. redbedhead said,

    December 9, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I don’t know much about them, to be honest, though they seem kinda bonkers. They don’t damage our work here and I suspect that they fly under the radar a bit because they’re pretty irrelevant. I also don’t know what, if any, arguments are being had with them by IST organizations (the Australians would obviously have the greatest relationship with them). They also haven’t split another organization in the tendency.

    • Daphne said,

      December 9, 2009 at 10:24 pm

      Socialist Worker in New Zealand have (a) suggested that the IST should be taking a more positive attitude to the Bolivarian Revolution – and the new International which is proposed to arise from it – than it currently is; (b) criticised the British SWP’s conduct in the Respect debacle. If – as I think Richard from Lenin’s Tomb once said – these are considered by some as good reasons to exclude us from the Tendency (or declare us “bonkers”, for that matter), I wish someone had told us that when we joined the tendency.

      I think, however, the actual politics of the above debates have less to do with the issue than whether how much IST parties are allowed to publically disagree with each other. Certainly one could make an argument that member parties should not interfere in each other’s internal affairs, but the British SWP has certainly intervened in factional disputes in other IST members. Is sauce for the “mothership” also sauce for the “colonial outposts”?

      • redbedhead said,

        December 10, 2009 at 12:35 am

        A sectarian is one who determines their priorities not on the basis of the actual class struggle but on the basis of their own, internally generated priorities or wishes. To make a priority of the Venezuelan, or Bolivarian, revolution above its real impact on the workers movement and the left internationally, is sectarian. It is simply not the top priority of the workers movements in New Zealand, frankly, nor Canada or the US, which – I suspect – have significantly larger Latin populations and consciousness of Latin politics. As it happens, we have members involved in the local Venezuelan solidarity committee – it is not our top priority. Your obsession with Venezuela when there has been no mass movement internationally, not a single mass demonstration in NZ or Canada or the US or the UK in favour of Venezuela is, not to put too fine a point on it: bonkers.
        As for the Respect split, what was bonkers about that was that you chose to publish a public open letter, including publicizing it on very hostile blogs in the middle of a dispute. By all means raise debate but there is a responsible way to do it.
        And, you know, NZ is hardly a nation oppressed by the British, so get over the inferiority “colonial outpost” complex. The SWP has intervened in arguments within the IS, the Greeks intervened in the debates post-Seattle involving the ISO. There have been more than once arguments directed at the Brits that I have heard.

      • Daphne said,

        December 10, 2009 at 1:15 am

        “A sectarian is one who determines their priorities not on the basis of the actual class struggle but on the basis of their own, internally generated priorities or wishes. To make a priority of the Venezuelan, or Bolivarian, revolution above its real impact on the workers movement and the left internationally, is sectarian.”

        It would be, if that were what was happening. However, we disagree about the “real impact” of the Venezuelan revolutionary process on the workers movement and the left internationally. We think having a head of state and a political party who talks about “socialism”, “workers’ power” and “revolution” and makes (however flawed and halting) steps towards it in their own country and elsewhere is having a major effect on the struggle worldwide. Just like the global financial meltdown is hitting capitalism’s economic legitimacy, and the Iraq/Afghan debacle is wrecking imperialism’s military legitimacy, so the example of the Venezuelan and other broad-left radical movements taking power in Latin America is the single biggest “weak link” in imperialism’s political legitimacy, as we see it. If not there, then where – would you say – is the political legitimacy of world imperialism most threatened?

        “Your obsession with Venezuela when there has been no mass movement internationally, not a single mass demonstration in NZ or Canada or the US or the UK in favour of Venezuela is, not to put too fine a point on it: bonkers.”

        So… only subjects on which there are already “mass demonstrations” in our own countries should motivate revolutionaries to action? Isn’t that what Lukács would have called “tailism”? I would also dispute the use of the term “obsession”. How would you distinguish that term from “interest in”?

        “As for the Respect split, what was bonkers about that was that you chose to publish a public open letter, including publicizing it on very hostile blogs in the middle of a dispute. By all means raise debate but there is a responsible way to do it.”

        You have the wrong end of the stick. Our letter was not open. It was sent privately to comrades on both sides of the dispute, and published by Liam MacUaid’s blog without our say-so. But that’s not really the issue. The issue is you think it was “bonkers” not to automatically take the SWP’s side and to regard people who disagreed with the SWP as ipso facto “hostile”. Again, the issue is – to what exent is it permissible for IST members to disagree publically? Your answer seems to be “not at all”, is that correct?

        “And, you know, NZ is hardly a nation oppressed by the British, so get over the inferiority “colonial outpost” complex.”

        You are so keen to get personal jabs in that you miss the humour of what I was saying. The host of this blog, in particular, often describes the Co-ordination of the IST, facetiously, as the “colonial office”, so I was running with that metaphor. So, to rephrase my comment – opponents often say that all IST organisations are run by remote control from London, and that no disagreement is tolerated. I feel proud in a way that SW-NZ has proved that wrong.

        Lastly – what is the agenda behind calling another IST member organisation “bonkers”? Certainly we never said anything so rude about the British SWP, and yet our contribution was declared “beneath contempt”.

      • redbedhead said,

        December 10, 2009 at 1:53 am

        “where – would you say – is the political legitimacy of world imperialism most threatened?”

        Uh, where it’s getting its ass kicked: In Afghanistan. And prior to that Iraq. And you know how I measure it? Thousands and tens of thousands on demonstrations, resolutions passed through labour bodies, its appearance as a major concern on every poll in the western imperialist countries (particularly NATO/ISAF countries), that it is a daily issue in the newspapers.

        “So… only subjects on which there are already “mass demonstrations” in our own countries should motivate revolutionaries to action? Isn’t that what Lukács would have called “tailism”? I would also dispute the use of the term “obsession”. How would you distinguish that term from “interest in”?”

        Uh, only subjects that have the potential to generate mass movements – like the Iraq war, resistance (on a lower level at the moment) to the crisis, the nazis (in the UK & Europe), climate change – should be in the category of highest priority. Is it tailism to not think that workers councils should motivate revolutionaries to action? How about the revolution in Nepal? Or the maoist struggle in India? Of Hizbullah – certainly their resistance can be said to have mobilized tens of thousands in the western countries at least.
        As for obsession: an unhealthy and unreasonable focus on something.

        “The issue is you think it was “bonkers” not to automatically take the SWP’s side and to regard people who disagreed with the SWP as ipso facto “hostile”. Again, the issue is – to what exent is it permissible for IST members to disagree publically? Your answer seems to be “not at all”, is that correct?”

        I never said that at all. There’s a question of public solidarity, particularly in the middle of a dispute. In the case of a major, principle-breaking disagreement over something that would negatively effect your own work, then, yes I could see disagreeing publicly. But this is something that should be carefully weighed. It’s a pretty basic principle that you should “have the back” of sister organizations, to break that is a big deal.

        As for “colonial office” – if S/S calls it that then he merely demonstrates his own ignorance. But I would be very upset if the NZ-SW or the SWP publicly opposed our position in the middle of a difficult dispute regarding an external intervention. If it negatively effected what we were doing, I would certainly call for the group that did so to be sanctioned. At its most extreme – like the ISO’s intervention into the Greek internal dispute – it would be reasonable grounds for ending an organizational relationship.

  128. Chipmunk said,

    December 9, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Just on the SWP-NZ, it “might” worth recording that there have been two main splits in that tendency there in the last dozen years or so: the first was a fight between the original IST group (who left the SWP-NZ to form their own party an ISO-NZ). What ISO were objecting to was the combination of a Stalinist culture within SWP-NZ (the leadership were the successors via Maoism of the official CP-NZ). The UK leadership sadly went with the SWP-NZ people; I rather suspect Alex has regreted that decision since.

    More recently, a split in the SWP-NZ has led to the formation Socialist Aoteoroa (socialistaotearoa.blogspot.com), some of whose members have attended IST meetings. SA’s politics are much like the UK SWP’s as of 1999-2000.

    My sense from a distance is that SA is a much healthier organisation than SWP-NZ and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it wasn’t the larger party in say a couple of years or so. As far as I can tell, I don’t think the SA and SWP-NZ people are in much competition (not unless there is a authentic mass movement of dozens of rootless Kiwi socialists saying “I’ll join anything, so long as it says Chavez is the bees knees”).

    My impression is that SA works ok with other NZ socialist tendencies (apart from SWP-NZ); although in fairness, they might see it differently: this perhaps give a flavour: http://workersparty.org.nz/resources/second-open-letter-to-socialist-aotearoa-december-2008/

    • Daphne said,

      December 10, 2009 at 1:17 am

      Chipmunk, SW-NZ and Socialist Aotearoa have been working very well together. Both organisations have been involved in circulation a nationwide petition for an increase in the minimum wage, and SocAo leader Joe C spoke at SW-NZ’s last monthly forum in Auckland, so it’s hardly a “cold war” situation. You’re right that we’re “not in much competition” – comrades have different priorities.

  129. andy newman said,

    December 9, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    #113

    JOhnG

    What current publication would you say best explains the SWP’s prevailing theory of party and class now?

    What would a newish member be encouraged to read to understand it?

    • johng said,

      December 10, 2009 at 12:43 am

      In terms of general principles (which is what I would prioritise) I’d encourage people to read Harman, Hallas and Cliff. Obviously we need something to orientate around the large changes and challenges we face today. To that effect I’m writing a longish pamphlet on the errors of Liam.

      • redbedhead said,

        December 10, 2009 at 1:02 am

        Weird, I just wrote a long pamphlet on the errors of john’s analysis of Liam’s errors and the tasks of the proletariat.

        I may be nostalgic but I am still a big fan of Molyneux’s Marxism and the Party. I burned through four copies of that because I kept lending it out and never got it back.

  130. andy newman said,

    December 9, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    #112

    “Lukacs doesn’t propose a historical teleology. On the contrary, his philosophy is oddly static – his claim that the revolutionary party embodies the correct class consciousness already implies in a sense that history, in one aspect at least, has already ended”

    What is regarded as inevitable is that the working class will acheive its ideal consciousness, as you say an ideal consciousness that already exists in the brains of the party.

  131. Andy Wilson said,

    December 9, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    #129: references to HCC please, Andy

  132. Liam said,

    December 9, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    #94 I was rather disappointed that none of its partisans took the opportunity to explain to the world what Socialist Action is and does.

    As for the 5th International I’ve just commissioned an article on why it’s not a great idea.

  133. johng said,

    December 9, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Liam I would just like to take this opportunity to remind you that you are a symbol of EVERYTHING that is wrong with the British left. I don’t think this can be emphasised enough particularly at any point when I might be losing an argument.

  134. johng said,

    December 9, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    In fact thats what I’m going to do in future. If ever I find mysel in a bit of a tight spot over something or other I’m going to explain why Liam is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the British left. At length.

  135. Richard Searle said,

    December 10, 2009 at 1:20 am

    “what was bonkers about that was that you chose to publish a public open letter, including publicizing it on very hostile blogs in the middle of a dispute”

    Not correct.

    Can I just state that the NZ-SW did not ‘chose’ to publish their letter, it slipped out by other means, all too easy when you send things electronically to a number of organisations around the world.

    I can remember a rather resigned posting from Daphne at the time after the letter had slipped its leash

    However, its provenece was not important as it contents, and that is what had the resonance.
    Read it back now and ask youself what the NZ comrades were warning off, didn’t come to pass

  136. Daphne said,

    December 10, 2009 at 2:23 am

    “where – would you say – is the political legitimacy of world imperialism most threatened?”

    Uh, where it’s getting its ass kicked: In Afghanistan. And prior to that Iraq.”

    As I said, that’s precisely where imperialism’s military weakness is being shown up. But a political alternative to capitalism isn’t being put forward in any of those countries. The Iraqi and Afghan resistance, although we back their struggle 100%, don’t have a programme which could offer a way forward for the global workers’ movement. There’s nothing we can practically apply from the approach of the Iraqi freedom fighters in Toronto or Auckland – is there?

    The Venezuelan revolutionaries, however, do (even if it’s pretty damn far from perfect), and are putting it into practical action. Obviously, given the destabilisation, media terrorism, pre-emptive coups in neighbouring countries, etc. the US war machine see Venezuela as a real threat to them – and that can only be a political threat, since Hugo isn’t going to invade anywhere.

    “And you know how I measure it? Thousands and tens of thousands on demonstrations, resolutions passed through labour bodies, its appearance as a major concern on every poll in the western imperialist countries (particularly NATO/ISAF countries), that it is a daily issue in the newspapers.”

    It’s certainly a massive “no”. But where is a “yes” going to come from? What is happening in the world which suggests a positive, practical alternative to globalised capitalism? Or are you arguing that such things should be irrelevant for socialists in the here-and-now, in favour of being the loudest voice on protests against things?

    “Uh, only subjects that have the potential to generate mass movements – like the Iraq war, resistance (on a lower level at the moment) to the crisis, the nazis (in the UK & Europe), climate change – should be in the category of highest priority.”

    The key here is “potential”. We are running a campaign against “Bad Banks” in the wake of the global financial crisis. Working people we run into on our stalls certainly agree that the banks are a problem, so we believe this certainly has the potential to become a mass movement. But the next thing they say is “what’s the alternative?” So – in this case – we can point towards the Communal Banks (or whatever they’ve been renamed to) in Venezuela, or the Chávez government’s willingness to nationalise corrupt banks rather than give them billion-dollar bailouts.

    “How about the revolution in Nepal? Or the maoist struggle in India? ”

    The Workers Party of New Zealand are doing very well building solidarity for both of those movements, and we see no reason to reduplicate their efforts.

    “Of Hizbullah – certainly their resistance can be said to have mobilized tens of thousands in the western countries at least.”

    Despite what John Rees said about “trade unionists with guns”, I don’t think that Hizbullah’s political programme has much to teach us for the practical struggle here and now. You’re talking about broad nationalist or anti-imperialist movements worldwide that need support. You’re right. I’m talking about an actual self-described socialist alternative running up the flag in Latin America. And you say that this is irrelevant.

    “There’s a question of public solidarity, particularly in the middle of a dispute. In the case of a major, principle-breaking disagreement over something that would negatively effect your own work, then, yes I could see disagreeing publicly.”

    Certainly, after SW-NZ had spent four years going up and down the country calling for a broad left coalition to fight the neo-liberal Labour government, and held up Respect as a shining example of what was possible when revolutionaries worked with sincere reformists, we thought that when it blew to pieces, yes, it did negatively affect our own work.

    “But this is something that should be carefully weighed. It’s a pretty basic principle that you should “have the back” of sister organizations, to break that is a big deal.”

    Here we come to the nub of the matter. Do you expect us to blindly support (which I think you mean by “have the back of”) the SWP leadership, when – from everything we could see – our British sister organisation was getting it badly wrong? Is it comradeship to cheer on your comrades when they are driving headfirst over a cliff? Kevin O and Rob H were our IST comrades until the SWP expelled them. Were we to simply accept the SWP-CC’s say-so that they were now beyond the pale?

    That’s not the model of internationalism I want anything to do with. It is distressing to see our contribution skewered, not because our criticism was shown to be ill-founded or mistaken, but because it was made at all. That is not how a “scientific Marxist” tendency ought to work. That’s the model of cliquism, or tribal adherence.

    “I would be very upset if the NZ-SW or the SWP publicly opposed our position in the middle of a difficult dispute regarding an external intervention.”

    Yeah, I’m sure you would be, but the Kiwis or the Brits might be right and you might be wrong.

    • redbedhead said,

      December 10, 2009 at 4:00 am

      Frankly, we just disagree. It seems that it’s a pretty basic methodological difference frankly: I believe that the priorities of an organization are set primarily by the class struggle in the countries and milieux where we operate – again, not by what we wish they would be. We use the conditions we’re given to make a general critique and argue for alternatives.
      But, more than that, the experience in Venezuela is a mixed and complicated one, and remote to most workers in this country and the USA and, I suspect, in the UK. I don’t believe that it warrants the front page news that you do – and that difference is not just one that I hold. I believe it extends through our different organizations.
      And you ought not to distort my point, which was never about not having disputes. Comrades should have arguments. But there’s a question of how to have debates. When you are in a union and the union votes for a strike, even if you don’t agree with the vote, you don’t break solidarity with your union – even if you argue at your union meetings for different strategies. The same basic approach applies to political organizations. And that’s what it means to “have the back” of your sister organization.

      • Daphne said,

        December 10, 2009 at 5:39 am

        Yes, we disagree. And it doesn’t mean either of us are “bonkers”! The priorities of a revolutionary organisation must be to concentrate on how best to increase working-class confidence and understanding. This means, as you rightfully say, getting stuck in on where public opinion is excited here and now. But it also means having an overall strategic overview of the world situation, and being able to draw lessons from it for our practice here and now. If you don’t do that… exactly what do you do in the here and now? Certainly, build a huge mass movement against the war in Afghanistan. But that in itself won’t increase revolutionary consciousness one iota. Learning from the actual successes of socialists in other countries, on the other hand, can do so.

        It almost sounds as if you’re saying that because workers in Toronto or Auckland don’t know about Venezuela, it’s not worth telling them. But we feel that – of course, yes, things are “mixed” and complicated. Everything’s always mixed and complicated. Things were mixed and complicated in Petrograd in 1917.

        But in Venezuela you have a radical government making serious anti-neoliberal and, yes, even anti-capitalist steps. Equally exciting, you have a militant (although fairly weak) organised union movement holding occupations, demanding nationalisations under workers control, etc. This is a radical movement which is actually really in power and really pushing capitalism, here and now – not just protesting. One thing that always amazed me is that the British SWP would shout about the wonderful advances being made in Die Linke – and rightfully so – and yet the PSUV is actually in power, and somehow this is less relevant to us?

        Venezuela, we feel, is a political threat to world imperialism, just like Afghanistan is a military threat. It has been so long since anti-Stalinist socialists have had a good example to point to – not of a classless society or even a workers’ state, but what a broad radical movement including revolutionaries can accomplish. Of course it’s not perfect. Whoever wants to wait for a perfect revolution has given up on revolution altogether, to paraphrase Lenin.

        As to the question of solidarity, your analogy is very faulty. The IST is not organised like a trade union – federated branches under a central leadership. It has always been made clear that every IST party is autonomous and is linked only by shared politics and comradely relations, not with any central leadership or obligations to back one another up. Alex C explains this at length in his section of Cliff’s autobiography.

        The IST did not “vote for” conducting civil war within Respect. The SWP leadership did, and we disagreed. We are an autonomous party, like all IST groups, and we are not bound to support the SWP leadership – any more than they are bound to support what we, or the Canadian IS, do. It’s not as if there was an IST International Executive Committee (like the toy-town Fourth Internationals have) that laid down that the British SWP was right over Respect.

        In any case, it will be interesting to see where the debate within the IST goes on the possibilities of a “Fifth International” coming out of the Bolivarian experience. I especially look forward

    • redbedhead said,

      December 10, 2009 at 2:59 pm

      “Certainly, build a huge mass movement against the war in Afghanistan. But that in itself won’t increase revolutionary consciousness one iota. Learning from the actual successes of socialists in other countries, on the other hand, can do so.”
      a) Venezuela isn’t socialist. Even Chavez wouldn’t say it is. It is a mixed economy. And nobody has argued against pointing to Venezuela in its proper time, place and proportionate to its real influence in any given locale. Comrades in South America would obviously give it much more play.
      b) This formulation sounds straight from What Is To Be Done?, that socialist consciousness can only come from outside the actual struggle. Luckily it doesn’t work that way and in mass struggle, the education of thousands, tens of thousands and, sometimes, millions, is of much more enduring value than a series of propaganda articles and meetings attended and read by hundreds.

      “Things were mixed and complicated in Petrograd in 1917.”
      – Not a comparable situation, I’m afraid, in its implications. Not just because the 1917 revolution was more radical and thoroughgoing. But because it brought to an end the First World War, led almost immediately to a revolution in its neighbouring countries and spread from there.

      “One thing that always amazed me is that the British SWP would shout about the wonderful advances being made in Die Linke – and rightfully so – and yet the PSUV is actually in power, and somehow this is less relevant to us?”

      The SWP has had numerous articles on Venezuela both longer and shorter ones. Ditto Die Linke. But unlike Venezuela, Die Linke could reshape the character of the European left in short order on a mass scale. The launch of a similar initiative in France with Melanchon is an indication of that. There have been no Chavista splits from any European parties (or any other parties for that matter).
      What’s more, it’s not as if Chavez & Venezuela are directly going toe-to-toe with the USA (thank goodness, because it’s buying them room). There are maneuverings and positionings: the bases in Colombia, the Honduran coup, etc. But this is not causing a politicization – certainly not in North America, Europe, et al. If there is a direct conflict then this will change the balance of our relationship to the issue but you can’t generate a radicalization out of nothing. And our method is to start with the really existing class struggle and the really existing level of class consciousness as the key link to move things forward.

      “As to the question of solidarity, your analogy is very faulty. The IST is not organised like a trade union – federated branches under a central leadership.”

      I never said you were under any centralized discipline. The union metaphor was just that, a metaphor, because it has elements that are akin to the point I’m making. But in this instance it is a question of solidarity – not backed by any administrative authority. That’s why I said groups in the tendency should feel that sister organizations “have their back”, as opposed to saying they should “submit to discipline.” So, yes, you’re under no “obligation” to back up the SWP or the IS but, frankly, if you don’t want to back them up – which is not the same as not arguing with them – why are you in the same tendency?

      • Daphne said,

        December 10, 2009 at 8:06 pm

        “a) Venezuela isn’t socialist. Even Chavez wouldn’t say it is. ”

        Never said it was. But Hugo Chávez is a socialist and he leads a broad left mass party in government.

        “This formulation sounds straight from What Is To Be Done?, that socialist consciousness can only come from outside the actual struggle.”

        Only if you think that “the struggle” in Europe, North America or Oceania is completely divorced and separated from the struggle in Latin America! Venezuela is a living example that socialist consciousness comes only from the struggle. Chávez has continually shifted from populist nationalism to radical reformism to something approximating a revolutionary position. This is a really dishonest argument, since we IST parties are expected to learn from the experience of the British SWP even though I personally couldn’t be further from London if I tried – is that not correct?

        “Not a comparable situation, I’m afraid, in its implications. Not just because the 1917 revolution was more radical and thoroughgoing. But because it brought to an end the First World War, led almost immediately to a revolution in its neighbouring countries and spread from there.”

        Now this is actually the What Is To Be Done? line in its purity – “socialist consciousness comes from studies of historical examples I’ve read of in books”. You appear to have a prior standard in your head of what a real revolution looks like, and anything happening here and now in our time frame which doesn’t measure up isn’t worth worrying about. You seem to be arguing that – barring barricades in the streets and soviet power – anything that happens in other countries is irrelevant to “the really existing class struggle”. That’s not internationalism as I understand it.

        I ask again. Where else but in Venezuela is there a political movement – as opposed to a military one – which has made these kinds of strides against neoliberal globalisation or imperialism? You’ve mentioned Nepal, but I don’t think “People’s War” is an applicable strategy in either Canada or Aotearoa.

        “But unlike Venezuela, Die Linke could reshape the character of the European left in short order on a mass scale.”

        Holy crap, we’ve hit the nail on the head here. Die Linke matters because it’s EUROPEAN. I can see arguments as to why Europe is more relevant to the British, but why is it more relevant to Canada? The PSUV has reshaped the Latin American left on a mass scale – the names Morales, Correa, and (sadly) Zelaya leap to mind. The Venezuelan socialists have done this. The German socialists have a chance of doing this. I still don’t see why the latter is more interesting to you or I.

        To put things a bit closer to home – our journal has run articles on Québec solidaire. Not because anyone in New Zealand really knows or cares about the politics of Québec (except perhaps me), but because the rise of a serious broad left party with a revolutionary current, which has won a parliamentary seat under first-past-the-post, should be something that all serious leftists in advanced countries should be looking to learn from.

        “There have been no Chavista splits from any European parties (or any other parties for that matter).”

        What does “Chavista” mean in this context? Certainly the Venezuelan revolution has been an influence on many, many leftist movements worldwide – from Hizbullah to Ken Livingston.

        °If there is a direct conflict then this will change the balance of our relationship to the issue”

        I’m sorry, did you just say that Venezuela only becomes interesting to you if war breaks out? I suppose that makes sense in the frame of an attitude that socialists should only act based on things that are in mass consciousness here and now. But surely the trajectory of the anti-war movements tell you that there’s a pretty huge gap between massive street protests and building a political alternative.

        “but you can’t generate a radicalization out of nothing.”

        Tell me, is the anti-war movement in Canada “generating a radicalisation”?

        “And our method is to start with the really existing class struggle and the really existing level of class consciousness as the key link to move things forward.”

        Now I’m really confused. How did we get from the anti-war movement to the class struggle? What role is organised labour playing in the anti-war movement in Canada?

        “So, yes, you’re under no “obligation” to back up the SWP or the IS but, frankly, if you don’t want to back them up – which is not the same as not arguing with them – why are you in the same tendency?”

        Because we believe in the same things – socialism from below, the state capitalist analysis, the necessity of revolutionary activism in the here-and-now as opposed to abstract propagandism or capitulating to social liberalism. I was under the impression that that was the basis of our tendency. If I’m wrong, if the basis is “backing each other up, right or wrong”, I’m sure we’ll be told quite soon.

      • redbedhead said,

        December 10, 2009 at 8:49 pm

        “Only if you think that “the struggle” in Europe, North America or Oceania is completely divorced and separated from the struggle in Latin America!… This is a really dishonest argument, since we IST parties are expected to learn from the experience of the British SWP even though I personally couldn’t be further from London if I tried – is that not correct?”

        I never said that nothing could be learned from Venezuela, or anywhere else. I talked about its impact on the class struggle, organization and consciousness outside of Latin America. I think it would be crazy, however, to put coverage in your paper of the SWP’s conference. And I think it’s wrong to place so much emphasis on Venezuela as though (at this point in time – it could change, of course) it is the key next step in the struggle.

        “Now this is actually the What Is To Be Done? line in its purity – “socialist consciousness comes from studies of historical examples I’ve read of in books”. You appear to have a prior standard in your head of what a real revolution looks like, and anything happening here and now in our time frame which doesn’t measure up isn’t worth worrying about. You seem to be arguing that – barring barricades in the streets and soviet power – anything that happens in other countries is irrelevant to “the really existing class struggle”. That’s not internationalism as I understand it.”

        Well, it wasn’t what I argued. It was you who used the example of 1917 Petrograd and I said that its significance, its impact – not the character of that revolutionary process – was much greater than that of Venezuela.

        “I ask again. Where else but in Venezuela is there a political movement – as opposed to a military one – which has made these kinds of strides against neoliberal globalisation or imperialism? You’ve mentioned Nepal, but I don’t think “People’s War” is an applicable strategy in either Canada or Aotearoa.”

        Well, there’s political, military and politico-military movements all over the place and at the right moments we should point to each of them – whether it is the movement in Iran, the big strike waves in Egypt, Hezbullah, or Venezuela. But none of those is, at the moment, decisive on its own in the way you are implying Venezuela is.

        “Holy crap, we’ve hit the nail on the head here. Die Linke matters because it’s EUROPEAN.”

        No, that’s not what I said – Britain is in Europe – and you were referring to the British SWP viz Die Linke. Die Linke is of greater immediate importance viz left regroupment in Europe than is Venezuela.

        “To put things a bit closer to home – our journal has run articles on Québec solidaire.”

        Well, good for you. Quebec Solidaire is an important formation and we are members of it in Quebec, including members in the leadership. But it hasn’t had a big national resonance in English Canada, having to do with the character of regional and ethnic politics in Canada. We carry articles on QS fairly frequently, but we’re not running around saying “this is the answer” in English Canada for the simple reason that the configuration of forces that existed in Quebec does not exist in English Canada.

        “Certainly the Venezuelan revolution has been an influence on many, many leftist movements worldwide – from Hizbullah to Ken Livingston.”

        There is not a single example of regroupment, or organizational formation outside of Latin America that has been reshaped significantly by the Venezuelan experience. Which is not to say nothing has happened – people know about it, some of the left have been inspired by it, there are public meetings and articles. But nothing on the scale of Die Linke, for instance.

        “I’m sorry, did you just say that Venezuela only becomes interesting to you if war breaks out? ”

        No. Never.

        “Tell me, is the anti-war movement in Canada “generating a radicalisation”?”

        It did. A significant one that is still felt in politics – including in the election of a QS MLA in Quebec, actually. But the movement is on the ebb at the moment, as such things go.

        “Now I’m really confused. How did we get from the anti-war movement to the class struggle? What role is organised labour playing in the anti-war movement in Canada?”

        Publicly opposing your government’s war effort is part of the class struggle, which is political and not just economic. But, as it happens, the union movement has been pretty strongly anti-war for quite some time – passing anti-war resolutions at all levels of the union movement, providing financial and organizational support (never enough, of course), mobilizing members (never enough, of course).

        “if the basis is “backing each other up, right or wrong”, I’m sure we’ll be told quite soon.”

        Abstract agreement on certain principles is fine up to a point but there’s something about putting them into practice. And this is where I have a problem with the ISO. In the abstract they are very similar to us – and yet their orientation to UFPJ, for instance, was very sectarian and because of our own prominence in the Canadian anti-war movement, we had to make clear that we were different organizations as a component of building relationships with leading anti-war activists in the US. So, state capitalism and socialism from below are not really enough as a basis of unity, to my mind. But different people have different views of this question. In any case, I think that public solidarity – or keeping quiet when you don’t have all the facts – is a pretty basic sine qua non.

      • Daphne said,

        December 10, 2009 at 10:01 pm

        “I talked about its impact on the class struggle, organization and consciousness outside of Latin America”

        Hizbullah put Hugo Chávez on its posters during the invasion of Lebanon. I think that’s a signal of “significant impact”.

        “I think it would be crazy, however, to put coverage in your paper of the SWP’s conference.”

        Agreed, since the SWP in Britain is not a major player in the class struggle. The PSUV is a mass party of millions of members – and in government, to boot. There is a qualitative difference.

        “It was you who used the example of 1917 Petrograd and I said that its significance, its impact – not the character of that revolutionary process – was much greater than that of Venezuela.”

        Probably true. But Venezuela is – and I will repeat this until blue in the face – the biggest political alternative right here right now. If we wait for another Petrograd 1917 we will wait forever, and even on that day people will probably be sniffily declaring that it’s not revolutionary “enough”.

        “none of those is, at the moment, decisive on its own in the way you are implying Venezuela is.”

        Venezuela is a decisive break from global capitalst consensus in the political sense, in the same way that Afghanistan is a faultline in the military sense. I repeat that nowhere else in the world is a self-described socialist government with mass popular support making real radical reforms. I think that’s vitally significant.

        “We carry articles on QS fairly frequently, but we’re not running around saying “this is the answer” in English Canada for the simple reason that the configuration of forces that existed in Quebec does not exist in English Canada.”

        Do you think English Canada has anything to learn from the QS experience? If a party like QS is not going to appear, then what do you think the immediate way forward for the anti-neoliberal left in English Canada?

        “There is not a single example of regroupment, or organizational formation outside of Latin America that has been reshaped significantly by the Venezuelan experience.”

        The membership shuffling of small socialist groups is not, I feel, of any relevance to actual political strategy. I would think it a terrible waste, in fact, if there were “Chávista splits” from any organisation – if for no other reason that “Chávism” is not an ideology. Hugo changes his mind all the time.

        I repeat again that the Chávez government has been massively influential, politically, on various broad-left movements around the world, and the new International is a deepening of this process. And once again, we have the undialectical partitioning of the global struggle – “what happens in Latin America stays in Latin America”?

        “Publicly opposing your government’s war effort is part of the class struggle, which is political and not just economic.”

        But sections of the ruling class have supported the anti-war movement. The Daily Mirror in England 2003 is just an example. You’re missing a link here between anti-war activism and a political alternative. Amir Khadir’s election was only possible BECAUSE there was a broad radical political alternative (as opposed to single-issue united front) in Québec.

        “I think that public solidarity – or keeping quiet when you don’t have all the facts – is a pretty basic sine qua non.”

        Your arguments about what builds a tendency seem to be essentially apolitical, which is unnerving. Could a party disagree with the theoretical basis of our tendency, but stick around on the basis of “having the back of” the current SWP (Britain) leadership?

        But you’re absolutely right that practice is far more important than abstract theory. SW-NZ has committed itself to a strategy of broad-party Marxism. We are fighting for this line within the IST, and we will keep doing so until forcibly stopped. But the long-term question is not what the IST thinks, but what happens in the real world with the test of practice.

  137. dennis said,

    December 10, 2009 at 3:06 am

    Has anything really changed within the internal culture of the SWP? Sadly, you only have to look at these exchanges between the SWP and the NZ group to find the answer.

    The Respect split was not some internal affair that only concerned the SWP. It had far reaching implications for the entire left, one of them being that noiw, just a few months away from a general election, the left will be incapable of putting together any coherent and credible alternative to New Labour. The idea that this didn’t ‘negatively affect’ the efforts of any socialist trying to convince people that the left could build an alternative is just mind-boggling. And yet, the role of anyone connected to the SWP was, according to some, first and foremost to shut their mouths and tag along obediently behind the leadership, agree that it all boiled down to a wicked witchhunt. SWP members were simply to quickly become members of Respect in order to pack the conference and ram through whatever the CC decided was best. Ahhhhhh, democracy.

    Never mind that the criticisms voiced by the NZ group were, on thew whole, right on the money. Their role was to watch the back of the British CC.More like the Masonic Lodge than a revolutionary party. But it’s ok, because a year or so down you line you would be given permission to say that mistakes might have been made. You might even be allowed to discuss it on ‘hostile’ blogs.

    As it’s been pointed out before, there was more open democracy in the Bolsheviks under conditions of Tsarist autocracy and war than there is in the British SWP. There may have been a demcracy commision, some ‘consultation’ and a few cosmetic changes. But everything’s the fucking same.

    • Daphne said,

      December 10, 2009 at 3:28 am

      To be fair, Dennis, redbedhead isn’t in the SWP, he’s in the Canadian IS.

  138. johng said,

    December 10, 2009 at 3:27 am

    I don’t see how this exchange reveals anything Dennis. What it reveals is that people sometimes get bad tempered about political differences. Little else.

  139. skidmarx said,

    December 10, 2009 at 10:30 am

    It certainly seems to reveal that the IST isn’t monolithic[sorry,"Pomintern"]. And perhaps that johng is an insomniac.

    137.dennis SWP members were simply to quickly become members of Respect in order to pack the conference and ram through whatever the CC decided was best. Ahhhhhh, democracy.
    You choose only to attack the SWP side of the split. Where was the democracy in Galloway’s crowd organising a separate conference and then seizing the name by a democratic manouevre ? I don’t really want to go over this all over again,but I think there is a link between Daphne’s talk of “sincere” reformists in Respect and possibly her over-egging of the Bolivarian Revolution, maybe taking a more naive line on reformists than is generally recommended by the Marxist experience.

    136.Daphne – Yes, we disagree. And it doesn’t mean either of us are “bonkers”!
    Doen’t mean that either of you isn’t.

    It has always been made clear that every IST party is autonomous and is linked only by shared politics and comradely relations, not with any central leadership or obligations to back one another up. Alex C explains this at length in his section of Cliff’s autobiography.
    I’ve always understood that that was as much because the SWP didn’t have the authority of Lenin or Trotsky,and so it would be ridiculous to try and impose so much control, as it is a principle. Also it is illegal for US parties to affiliate to foreign organisations, so such a link could never be formally acknowledged.
    There is a difference between having a central leadership and feeling the obligation to back each other up.

    Kevin O and Rob H were our IST comrades until the SWP expelled them. Were we to simply accept the SWP-CC’s say-so that they were now beyond the pale?
    Well you could have looked at the non-political nature of their objections to following party discipline, realised that it was just a cover for their change of allegiance to Galloway and their determination to strengthen his position at the expense of the SWP, and recognise that that placed them outside the IST tradition.

    135.Richard Searle – However, its provenece was not important as it contents, and that is what had the resonance.
    As your current comrades are often accomplices to the theft and publishing of SWP documents you would say that , wouldn’t you.

    128.Chipmunk – SA’s politics are much like the UK SWP’s as of 1999-2000.
    Could you explain how you think they’ve changed since.

    • Daphne said,

      December 10, 2009 at 7:45 pm

      Well you could have looked at the non-political nature of their objections to following party discipline, realised that it was just a cover for their change of allegiance to Galloway and their determination to strengthen his position at the expense of the SWP, and recognise that that placed them outside the IST tradition.

      But this is all kinds of question-begging. Why was there a need to choose between Galloway and John Rees in the first place? Was the SWP CC’s stance politically correct, and if not, surely it was the duty of all comrades to try to prevent the “nuclear option” being pushed and Respect being destroyed? Where did you get the mind-reading powers which enable to you know what Kevin and Rob’s real agenda was? Does the IS tradition mean agreeing with the line of the British party’s CC? If so, what happens if John Rees wins in January? Will the IST parties change line over night or be expelled?

  140. PJ Cullen said,

    December 10, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Re:Post 128

    The old CPNZ which was originally pro-Hoxha (not Mao) became SWP/Trotskyite after Albania collapsed.
    The small group of CPNZ members who continued to support Marxism-Leninism set themselves up as the Marxist Lenininst Collective with a branch in Waitakere City and were active at least up to 2004.

    Might even be around still?

  141. dennis said,

    December 10, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Tony Cliff once wrote a useful description of how a genuinely democratic socialist organisation should debate – “Since the revolutionary party cannot have interests apart from the class, all the party’s issues of policies are those of the class, and they should therefore be thrashed out in the open.”

    Obviously the ultimate decisions are made by party members, conference delegates etc, but there seems to me only two reasons why discussions and debates going on in a socialist organisation shouldn’t be openly published. One is that you’re operating secretly for fear of reprisal from the state or you need to keep certain things hidden from class enemies. That’s perfectly justifiable. The other is that you want to keep things hidden from your own membership, or you have something to hide from the wider left, or you just have a mindset that sees disagreement as a ‘bad thing.’

    Redbedhead seems to have a different view – “As for the Respect split, what was bonkers about that was that you chose to publish a public open letter…in the middle of a dispute.” Heavens above!! What, disagreements?? Discussed openly?! And while those arguments are still relevant!

    The preferred alternative, presumanly, was to blindly follow the leadership, despite the fact that it was leading in such a disasterous direction with such important consequences for socialists inside and outside the SWP? To go along with the mindless escalation of a factional conflict, whilst attempting to manipulate party members with nonsense about a witchunt, presumanly led by such arch-enemies of the left as Alan Thornet, Jerry Hicks and Ken Loach?

    The point is not to rake up past events, but the fact that such arguments are still being seriously put does, I’d suggest, tell us something about the degree to which a democratic culture has resurfaced in the SWP.

  142. chjh said,

    December 10, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Dennis, could you point us to the website where your organisation publicly conducts its discussions and debates, please?

  143. Inspector Clouseau said,

    December 10, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    #139: “As your current comrades are often accomplices to the theft and publishing of SWP documents you would say that”

    Skidmarx: without raising the temperature unnecessarily, would you agree that rather than any ‘theft’ it is more likely that ‘internal’ documents simply get distributed more widely than is compatible with strict security? I mean, if you have a very loose membership, with people being counted as members who have in reality long since left the party, isn’t it inevitable that documents will end up in their hands, and that they will not necessarily feel bound to keep them to themselves if they find them of interest to the rest of the left? What does the distinction between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ documents really mean in the absence of firm membership criteria? And, if you have lost members, eg., due to the Respect split, but still count them as members on the books, isn’t it rather likely that they will end up receiving documents that they might pass on to other Respect supporters and sympathisers? Or does the party now have a two-tier concept of membership, where people are counted as members for the purposes of the published membership lists, but not for the purposes of receiving ‘internal’ documents?

    It is one thing to complain that other socialists shouldn’t publish documents that reach them in this manner, but quite another to assume that they have ‘stolen’ those documents. Of course, you may have evidence that some documents really were stolen but, short of that, it seems an oddly paranoid thing to assume.

    The claim of Left Platform supporters that their computers must have been ‘hacked’ just because an email was leaked seems similarly disproportionate. Surely someone just unintentionally CC’d another, non-LP, party member, who passed it on as they saw fit?

    All the talk of ‘hacking’ and ‘theft’ sounds overwrought to me. Actually, in both cases it sounds like a way of avoiding discussing what was actually contained in the respective documents.

  144. skidmarx said,

    December 10, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    140. Where does Cliff say that? In context it may mean discussing everything in a fully public way, or discussing it openly within the party.

    Your preferred alternative presumably, was for the SWP to pretend that it didn’t have any politcal differences with Galloway, and to make no attempt to defend itself against him and his supporters, and to accept the reduced role in Respect which he demanded, and to be stuck in a united front that may have passed its sell-by date, and never to take any action against those who violate party discipline.

    • Daphne said,

      December 10, 2009 at 8:10 pm

      Well, that course of action might have had a better outcome than what we actually got. Except of course for the prestige of people like John Rees, but I think we have majority agreement that that wasn’t as important as it looked at the time.

  145. Andy Wilson said,

    December 10, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    #143: he says it in Trotsky and Substitutionism, 1960.

    The full quote is: “The party has to be subordinated to the whole. And so the internal regime in the revolutionary party must be subordinated to the relation between the party and the class. The managers of factories can discuss their business in secret and then put before the workers a fait accompli. The revolutionary party that seeks to overthrow capitalism cannot accept the notion of a discussion on policies inside the party without the participation of the mass of the workers – policies which are then brought “unanimously” ready-made to the class. Since the revolutionary party cannot have interests apart from the class, all the party’s issues of policy are those of the class, and they should therefore be thrashed out in the open, in its presence. The freedom of discussion which exists in the factory meeting, which aims at unity of action after decisions are taken, should apply to the revolutionary party. This means that all discussions on basic issues of policy should be discussed in the light of day: in the open press. Let the mass of the workers take part in the discussion, put pressure on the party, its apparatus and leadership.”

    • redbedhead said,

      December 10, 2009 at 2:38 pm

      There’s a difference between a mass party of the working class and small socialist organizations – even ones in the thousands. Frankly, keeping discussions internal and time delimited is a useful tonic against the tendency of microsects to self-obsess. I don’t think that there’s any one ahistorical, decontextualized model of how internal debates ought to be structured.

  146. Andy Wilson said,

    December 10, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Also possibly of interest, and of some relevance to current disputes, an earlier paragraph reads: “Because the working class is far from being monolithic, and because the path to socialism is uncharted, wide differences of strategy and tactics can and should exist in the revolutionary party. The alternative is the bureaucratised party or the sect with its ‘leader’. Here one cannot but regret Trotsky’s sweeping statement that “any serious factional fight in a party is always in the final analysis a reflection of the class struggle”. This verges on a vulgar materialist interpretation of human thought as growing directly out of material conditions! … Scientific socialism must live and thrive on controversy. And scientists who start off with the same basic assumptions, and then use the same method of analysis, do differ in all fields of research.”

    • redbedhead said,

      December 10, 2009 at 3:03 pm

      “wide differences of strategy and tactics can and should exist in the revolutionary party.”

      First, this was written in 1960 and carries the flavour of the perspective of that moment viz organization. I also just think that this is wrong. Differences of strategy? huh?
      Should there be a wide range of opinion inside a revolutionary party? Of course. But a party must unite behind a common objectives, including short term ones and perspectives in order to have maximum effect. Beyond that, the form that differences take must be subordinate to the context – level of struggle, character of the regime you’re operating under, size and implantation of the party, level of consciousness amongst workers and the oppressed, historical traditions, etc. etc.

  147. Andy Wilson said,

    December 10, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    ps. skidmarx: he says controversy, not rancor

  148. redfox said,

    December 10, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    For the record, Daphne, i don’t think your organisation is “bonkers”. But your politics certainly differ from traditional IST positions in some respects, and as far as I can tell much more so than the US ISO’s. My question to redbeadhead was related to the fact that he had reservations concerning working with the ISO based on political differences, so I thought it would be interesting to hear what his feelings were towards some of the organizations still inside the IST.

    • Daphne said,

      December 10, 2009 at 7:36 pm

      Thanks for that. We have developed differences with the “mainstream” of IST thought, sure. But not, I think, differences which are insurmountable given comradely debate.

      And I personally feel that – ignoring for the moment whether the explusion of the ISO-US in 2000 was correct or not, that was before my time – that there is no reason for the split *now*. But then, I see no reason for virtually any of the “57 varieties” splits which bedevil the radical left. One of my reasons for being interested in the Fifth International is that a world organisation based on real mass parties might exercise some centripetal pressure.

  149. Phil said,

    December 10, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Is it tailism to not think that workers councils should motivate revolutionaries to action?

    RBH: could you unpack this rhetorical question a bit?

    • redbedhead said,

      December 10, 2009 at 3:21 pm

      What I’m trying to get at – and failing, obviously – is that there is a difference between ultimate goals and where we are right now. We don’t call for general strikes just because general strikes are important tools in the struggle. There is a time and a place. Workers councils are key forms of workers control – but we’d have no resonance with anyone at the moment by campaigning for workers councils.
      More clear?

      • Daphne said,

        December 10, 2009 at 7:37 pm

        Very clear. Which means I should just add that “Venezuela’s nationalised the banks, why don’t we?” is not an abstract question. It’s a concrete one, much more so than “workers councils” at this point in time.

      • redbedhead said,

        December 10, 2009 at 7:50 pm

        Just because they did it in Venezuela doesn’t mean that it’s of world historic importance. China just pumped $500 billion directly into their economy and another $1 trillion or so in easy, low interest loans. Why don’t we promote that? It’s certainly gotten more play? These questions are more than simply taking events in abstraction from our own context.
        The US government used about $11 trillion in easy money and direct investment to take toxic debt off the hands of the US banking system. They nationalized Fanny & Freddy – a much larger bank nationalization than anything in Venezuela. They spend $600 billion (actually, closer to $1 trillion, including their wars) every year on Defense. It’s pretty easy to make the point that that money could be used to stop people from losing their homes rather than permitting bankers to gamble more money and give themselves fat bonuses.
        And the contradiction of Venezuela in this regard is also clear since, like the US, Chavez just had to nationalize some small banks because they were up to their necks in dubious financial dealings. What’s more, it is the brother of the (now-former) Science Minister. The level of corruption and cronyism is enormous in Venezuela. It is one of the things that is being struggled against. So, it’s not like some sort of one-way model for the socialist future. Just like it wasn’t in Brazil when Lula was elected and the World Social Forum was happening in a PT controlled state. Unfortunately, you sound like some of the left here in Canada during that time, touting the “participatory budget” of the PT as the way of the future for the left internationally.

      • Daphne said,

        December 10, 2009 at 8:18 pm

        “Just because they did it in Venezuela doesn’t mean that it’s of world historic importance.”

        The fact that a self-described socialist government, popular and democratically elected, is doing such things here and now, after the collapse of Stalinism and “the end of history”, in a unipolar world dominated by US-based neoliberalism, is pretty damn important as far as I am concerned. It proves that the age of There Is No Alternative is over. Let us put this in a phrase; “the threat of a good example”.

        As to your points about China and the US, we’re running an article in our next journal on the difference between “capitalist” and “democratic” nationalisations, which should explain why Venezuela’s moves are different and more interesting.

        Also – yes, Venezuela is a terribly corrupt society. That’s what living on an ocean of oil for 80 years will do to a state. You seem to be under the impression that, if we say Venezuela is a good example, we must believe it’s a workers paradise where no-one in the ruling party does anything bad ever and candyfloss grows on trees. We are not Stalinists, nor are we the kind of people who believe that something must be perfect to support it, or refuse to support anything that’s not perfect.

        Interestingly enough, the PT are not going to be in the Fifth International, which shows where the dividing line is coming down there.

  150. julesa said,

    December 10, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    redheadbed agrgues: ”there is a difference between a mass party of the working class and small socialist organizations…”

    Well who could disagree with that? But is it entirely relevant to point that the revolutionary party – or the revolutionary party that aspires to root itself hand and brain in the working class, to represent the most advanced sections of the working class, the partisans of the working class, those ”who really want to tear the heads off the bourgeoisie” (as Trotsky said of those french syndicalist militants he sought to persuade to join the CP in the early years of the Communist International), should allow the maximum argument and debate about all the strategic and tactical issues facing the working class?

    As has been mentioned the Bolsheviks allowed permanent factions in conditions of semi-illegality under a repressive Tsarist state. ”Controversy was the lifeblood of the Bolshevik party” is how Lenin described the internal regime of the party. In other words, the consensus underpinning unity in action – if you like, the centralism aspect of democratic centralism – was the telos of argument /debate NOT its starting point.

    Today there are plenty of micro sects / self appointed vanguards who are quite capable of self-obsessing without the slightest shaft of democracy piercing the gloom.

    • redbedhead said,

      December 10, 2009 at 4:38 pm

      julesa – You and dennis are making the same comparison. And it doesn’t hold. This isn’t Russia in the first decades of the twentieth century. And the form in which party democracy and centralism occurred should not be modeled like a stencil onto small organizations on the periphery of the working class. As Molyneux notes, for instance:
      “The question of repression and illegality plays an interesting and contradictory role here. On the one hand, conditions of illegality create huge obstacles to the proper formal functioning of party democracy, to the convening of regular meetings and conferences, to the holding of regular elections, to the provision of accurate party statistics and so on. Moreover, illegality may strengthen the claims of discipline over democracy, insofar as sometimes they can conflict. On the other hand, repression resolves the problem of an engaged membership: if the penalty for party membership is possible exile to Siberia, or imprisonment, torture and death, the passive armchair member is taken care of and members have a massive, perhaps life or death, stake in the determination of party policy. Of course, this in itself offers no guarantee of democracy, as the example of many Stalinist parties shows, but it does help with one aspect of the problem.”

      But, secondly, you’re making an incorrect assessment in stating that centralism is the starting point in the SWP or the IST. Three months out of the year, there is time for searching and vigorous debate, including the formation of factions. Once a decision is reached, members are expected to implement those decisions, which then creates the basis via experience for further discussion and debate. Now, perhaps you think there should be more than three months (and to be honest, there are also national committee meetings and party councils several times during the year) – but your suggestion that there is only centralism or that centralism is the starting point doesn’t stand up.

  151. ejh said,

    December 10, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Threads like this are great, but they’ll never replace Advent calendars.

  152. skidmarx said,

    December 10, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Andy Wilson – you calling me a rancor?

    I first came across the Respect dispute without any rancour, it is the abuse on the laughably named socialistunity which sometimes makes me impatient with the narrative whereby John Rees led the SWP into creating a huge catastrophe (check the archives for the last couple of years if you don’t believe me). I think it may have been Chris Harman in one of last year’s(stolen) pre-conference bulletins who tried to put the split into some sort of historical perspective by pointing out a situation where the US Communists had got involved with a reformist chancer. I’m as concerned about the need for the SWP to recognise that Respect was by the end a clearly disunited front and that it should have come to terms earlier with the difference in perspective about how to organise (such as over the Bethnal Green & Bow campaign, and more generally the desire of Galloway to maximise electoral appeal by shifting to a more community style of organisation) as I am about the democratic deficit that meant that a few members of the CC kept the problems to themselves, which weakened the SWP’s response to challenges to its position, and enabled its opponents to portray themselves as only wanting to deal with John Rees’ inadequacies (I can understand why you might be sympathetic to such a case, but I think it’s wrong).Maybe if it had come to terms earlier with the divergence within Respect the split might have been more amicable(unlikely), and it might not have been caught between two stools with the Left List.But to start thinking thatan organisation based on anti-imperialism rather than class was going to provide a permanent home for the SWP, and that everything would be peace,love and unity if only the personnel had made more effort to be nice would seem to turn a temporary loss of direction into a more permanent one.

  153. Andy Wilson said,

    December 10, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    #149: I agree with some of what you say above: there were real political problems and not merely a failure of civility and good-will in the face of some overarching imperative to achieve unity at all costs. On the other hand I agree with much of what johng has said, here and elsewhere, about how everything all too rapidly descended into rather silly point-scoring. Plenty of people on both sides of the argument over-fulfilled their quota in this regard (I wouldn’t absolve myself from that charge.) However, while both sides behaved badly, only the SWP disappointed me (and you should read that as a compliment)

  154. johng said,

    December 10, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    A couple of things I missed. The exchange between AndyN and AndyW on the role of teleology in Lukacs. I’m not able to consult HCC directly at the moment but its certainly true that a commonplace criticism of Lukacs even amongst those (such as myself) who believe that he is an important reference point, is his failure to provide much of an account of precisely how a class-in-itself becomes a class for-itself. Far from positing this as inevitable this accounts for his overly abstract view of the party and its relationship to this process that I referred to earlier. I enjoyed seeing Andy Wilson (correctly) defending Lukacs against the charge that he presents this as inevitable (far from it actually and this is one of the philosophically significant things about the book) even if in a backhanded manner.
    On the question of Chavez’s fifth international my own reaction was bemusement rather then contempt. Bemusement because I think it reflects a blurring of what Chavez symbolises and organisational and political problems. I also think that calls to re-assess our most basic principles and understanding in the light of developments in Venezuela are mistaken. What is happening in that country and the ripples in the rest of that continent are of course very exciting for any revolutionary. But they do not represent anything wholly novel at the level of our conceptual understanding of the tasks of revolutionaries or the nature of the class struggle. Anybody who confuses this with being dismissive about these developments in relationship to the class struggle has simply misunderstood what I am saying. Certainly a debate about these things would be good as confusion about these questions is rife in the wider movement and therefore, in all probability this has an impact on comrades politics if they are at all engaged with it (as they should be).
    On the question of publicity etc I think there is a baby and bathwater problem here. I think inevitably there are questions best debated between comrades who share a political tradition. Such a statement is not identical to the belief that all internal debates are private and nor are they incompatible with the view that it would probably be useful to be somewhat more open about these things. But there is a question of proportion here. In relationship to this question of proportion I think the tendency to rent our clothes and beat our chests about how awful we all are (using such compelling evidence as a few ascerbic exchanges on a blog) are politically increasingly a barrier to engaging realistically with problems that are real, not all of which relate to our own appalling natures, and some of which have to do with the nature of the world. The danger of a downward spiral of competing moralisms is not only that it leads nowhere productive, but that anyone on the far left who buys in too much is likely pretty soon to find themselves a target. The hilarious ‘everything thats wrong with the left’ being an example of how ridiculous this kind of thing can be if it gets out of hand (although in Liam’s case there is of course much to be said for the argument. Again its about proportion and judgement).
    This relates to a point I saw Kevin Ovenden make about the way people are damaged by political splits and how some people are therefore lost to politics. I think this overstates things as everybody goes through phases of being silly about these things. In my own experiance as well as the formal split there was another kind of division that existed on both sides. Between those who understood how devestatingly serious the consequence of such a thing would be both for their own organisation and for the rest of the left but saw no other way foward and those who thought there was no problem involved and even saw it as in some sense ‘liberating’. The latter group on both sides are the most likely to be now so consumed with bitterness and mutual contempt as to be, for the moment, perhaps not the best people to think about the way fowards. Importantly I don’t confuse the latter group with those who thought it best to make the best of a bad job (on both sides). And this reminds us (again) of how important it is not only to have honest assessments of mistakes made but also rooting such analyses in objective possibilities rather then moralism. Those critical of comrades like myself stooping to even conversing with the kind of miscreants who populate blogs like this (some of whom represent everything that is worst about the British left after all) should remind themselves that any group of socialists with ambition might concieve of a not too distant future when we might find ourselves working with such lost souls (indeed in some cases we are now) and even, perish the thought, might find ourselves in the same organisation as them. A frightful prospect but if we are serious about the possibilities of social transformation, and indeed its ‘actuality’, not wholly beyond the bounds of possibility and certainly not undesirable. Again, of course, there are exceptions. Those who represent everything that is worst about the British left for instance.

    • Daphne said,

      December 10, 2009 at 8:21 pm

      “What is happening in that country and the ripples in the rest of that continent are of course very exciting for any revolutionary. But they do not represent anything wholly novel at the level of our conceptual understanding of the tasks of revolutionaries or the nature of the class struggle.”

      If we accept – as I think the British SWP had a few years ago, I’m not sure now – that the way forward in the short-to-medium term for revolutionaries is to build strong broad-left forces independent of the social liberal parties, then Venezuela’s “threat of a good example”, and concrete proof that real reforms are still possible even under the neoliberal globalized order, is vitally relevant to how we operate as revolutionaries here and now. If, on the other hand, we’ve gone back to “building the revolutionary party”, then Venezuela is pretty irrelevant (as are most self-declared “builders of revolutionary parties”).

  155. David Ellis said,

    December 10, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    redbeadhead: `What I’m trying to get at – and failing, obviously – is that there is a difference between ultimate goals and where we are right now. We don’t call for general strikes just because general strikes are important tools in the struggle. There is a time and a place. Workers councils are key forms of workers control – but we’d have no resonance with anyone at the moment by campaigning for workers councils.’

    That is the thing about the sects. They either call for the general strike or for 1p on the top rate of tax and it is not connected with the objective conditions which one they choose either. The article that proceeds either policy will be a saber-rattling attack on the system that could have been written yesterday or 30 years ago. In fact they actually nearly alway zig when the situation calls for a zag and zag when it calls for a zig. They have arbitrary bureaucratic regimes and absolutely no conception of what a transitional programme is. This arbitrary, beaucreaucratic and non-transitional approach they carry over in their relations with others and of course, the others, not being members, are not likely to put up with it if they’ve got any sense unless of course they are winning people to their programme and not the other way round which is quite likely seeing as the SWP don’t have a programme or the understanding upon which to build a programme.

    All the contributions in this thread by SWPers indicates that the split will be goind ahead and Johng’s little phrase `whoops where’s my party’ will soon be a reality. The turkeys will be voting for Christmas, the Lemmings will be heading over the cliff. I’m not happy about that, hundreds of young people will be lost to the wider movement and Marxist politics as usual. The thing is though, the top leadership won’t care in the end, though they will get very swivel eyed about it during the process, because all they want to be is abstractly correct propagandists ticking along (and they can’t even get that right as they alway come under the sway of some ultra left Stalinist bilge or some reformist clap-trap or some fancy revisionist intellectual).

    Come on Swappie apologists stop rationalising and tell us about the arbitrary, random expulsions. What do you think of them? Are you just trying to create an unpredictable paranoid climate of fear on which the CC can base its rule like what the Mafia does? And will you be happy to go along with the mass expulsions once the losing faction refuses to wind up after the congress?

    • redbedhead said,

      December 10, 2009 at 5:12 pm

      “Are you just trying to create an unpredictable paranoid climate of fear on which the CC can base its rule like what the Mafia does?”

      Absolutely! More kneecaps, I say. Break ‘em, break ‘em!

      It’s true that the British do the best slapstick humour. You’re the next Benny Hill.

      • David Ellis said,

        December 10, 2009 at 5:24 pm

        I don’t think the randomly expelled will be laughing somehow do you?

      • redbedhead said,

        December 10, 2009 at 5:38 pm

        Random expulsion is the new black, David. Just draw names out of a hat. It’s like bingo. Everybody loves it!

  156. ejh said,

    December 10, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Has somebody got John Rees’ head in a vice?

  157. johng said,

    December 10, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    David you are the finest example of what Freud called projection that I have ever seen. And I don’t even rate Freud.

  158. skidmarx said,

    December 10, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    not too distant future when we might find ourselves working with such lost souls (indeed in some cases we are now) and even, perish the thought, might find ourselves in the same organisation as them. A frightful prospect.
    THe first part is logical enough, try and work alongside people where you agree. The second raises the questions:
    Should that organisation be like Respect?
    If not,was it beneficial to the SWP that the split has encouraged it to look for a different organisational model?
    Do those who think the new direction for REspect is still a good idea a hindrance or a help to new forms of left organisation?

  159. johng said,

    December 10, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Obviously it raises that question, but it does’nt answer it. and nor can any single organisation. by definition.

  160. Phil said,

    December 10, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Should that organisation be like Respect?

    You’ll have to define what you mean by “like Respect”. (Like Respect when?, for a start.)

    Do those who think the new direction for REspect is still a good idea a hindrance or a help to new forms of left organisation?

    Could we have that again with another verb or two?

  161. harry monro said,

    December 10, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    “I’m not saying have no communication with them but it should be done with care and with reference to those who will be most affected by such engagement, ie. the Canadians and, of course, the Greeks.” Understood redheadbed But..
    After the split I think we saddled ourselves with links to a very strange third worldist group in the US, no doubt they were deemed suitably anti-capitalist but one look at their webpage told me they were “bonkers” (as this is the word of the moment) – but I’m happy if someone corrects me on this I never paid any heed to them after one peek.
    The SWP may not run the IST but its arguments carry weight and I do think after we discovered the anti-capitalist mood we wrongly argued with some small groups they fuse with groups that proved inappropriate if not destructive. Of course none of that equates to the misadventures of the leadership of the ISO US, but I sometimes scratch my head and wonder where they learned their leadership methods from?
    What I do think is in US terms the ISO contains a large number of good militants who hold political ideas not too dissimilar from most IST groups (perhaps closer than some). How do we organizational bring them closer, I don’t think we can bypass the leaders they trust? Some of their leaders may be capable of all sort of opportunistic games but so were Militant when we proposed unity to them (and I again recognise the international dimension complicates things). I believed and supported Cliff at the time when told our branch we were very serious in the proposal, if they responded we’d give a lot to get that unity – however we all thought it unlikely. I think we have to address the American deficit at some time.

    • redbedhead said,

      December 10, 2009 at 6:47 pm

      After the split with the ISO, there was a relationship with a group called Left Turn, that contained some people expelled from the ISO. They initially grew quite quickly, as I recall. To be honest, I didn’t follow them much after that but my sense was that they were very movementist and influenced by, basically, anarchist ideas and quickly ended their relationship with the tendency. Now they publish a magazine, at least online, and are basically a multi-city affinity group with broad left politics. I have no idea how big they are.
      Were wrong moves made? Undoubtedly – though I don’t remember encouragement to fuse with inappropriate groups. That may be just my own memory and I was not following international stuff so much during that period.
      As for the ISO’s leadership method. I think a lot of it was indigenous, frankly. It is a group that has continuity to Hal Draper’s group, et al. But I do think that the SWP treated them with kid gloves for a long time because they were the favourite child for a long time and weren’t challenged even though they had a history of taking – in my view – ultraleft positions on some pretty major issues, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (they abstained because the union-led opposition were nationalist/protectionist and we opposed it as a bosses deal that would be used as a hammer against workers). That made the arguments, when they came, a rude awakening. And then, the arguments weren’t handled very well to my mind and were heavy handed, polarizing things in a way that was not productive. But it was the ISO that facilitated the split with the Greeks and that put them outside the IST, in the views of pretty much everybody.
      As for working with them now. What does that even mean? For you Brits it’s a bit of an abstraction as you don’t have much in the way of relationships with US movements. For us it is less abstract as we do. And the determination of the character of our relationship to the ISO must be according to whether it will damage our relations with activists in the US more than it will strengthen our tendency. I don’t have any easy answers but I worry about the SWP – and already some SWP comrades have spoken at the ISO’s summer school on their own initiative – unilaterally changing their relationship without reference to that.

  162. johng said,

    December 10, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Redbedhead’s argument above is why I tend to stay out of this kind of thing and also illustrate the dangers of making snap judgements on the basis of very little concrete knowledge, something we’re all prone to.

    • redbedhead said,

      December 10, 2009 at 7:41 pm

      Which argument? I make so many that I often don’t even know what I’ve said ten minutes later.

  163. James said,

    December 10, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Paul LeBlanc. “Why I’m Joining the ISO”

    http://links.org.au/node/1323

    A different perspective than the one RBH advances.

  164. neprimerimye said,

    December 10, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    “As for the ISO’s leadership method. I think a lot of it was indigenous, frankly. It is a group that has continuity to Hal Draper’s group, et al.”

    Very little and virtually none left today. Remember that the original faction of IS that became the ISO was very closely sponsored by the SWP and most of its leading figures quit within a few years in any case.As for the team around Shawki that then led the ISO if it was close to anybody it was Duncan Hallas, a good thing too in my book, and drew directly on the SWPs politics of the late 1970 and early 1980s. Its internal organisational methods were drawn from the same source.

    Now that recipe led to a mess in say Australia as Tom O’Lincolns essay on the IST in that country makes very clear. But in the USA it enabled the ISO to develop a small cadre by orienting on colleges and placing a strong emphasis on party building and cadre education.

    As for tdoay I would argue that the ISO is far healthier as a result of its expulsion from the IST. It is certainly more democratic than the SWP and its membership is slowly growing. In addition to which its publishing enterprises are far more extensive than those of the larger more rooted SWP. All this despite lacking an understanding of the period and the crisis to match that of the SWP!

  165. johng said,

    December 10, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    I guess my point is, and this has wider import, that there is no way its possible to come to a judgement on questions like this on the basis of an argument on a blog. It just can’t be done.

  166. redbedhead said,

    December 10, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    fair enuff. but there is a certain sick pleasure in bashing ones brains out against the computer screen, no? Cheaper than drink anyway.
    :P

  167. johng said,

    December 10, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Trouble is it can drive you to drink. I thought your arguments viz the fifth international question were spot on by the way. I was also fascinated by the Quebec stuff. Visited there over the summer and just in conversation with various people found the whole political history fascinating. It was really funny though that I was excused having no French on the basis that I was English. Perhaps the only place in the world where being British is a get-out clause.
    :)

  168. johng said,

    December 10, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    “SW-NZ has committed itself to a strategy of broad-party Marxism”

    What does this mean exactly Daphne? And whatever it does mean might it not be an idea to articulate this seperately from your theses about the fifth international? I have stated my objections to the latter in comment #154.

    • Daphne said,

      December 10, 2009 at 10:36 pm

      John: a few links on what the “broad party Marxist strategy” means for us – one, two, three (not in that order). We’ve been hammering on this issue for years now, long before the new International was mooted – although you can hopefully see why we are excited about it, from those articles. Happy to answer any other questions.

  169. redbedhead said,

    December 10, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Yeah, Quebec is a very fascinating place. It really is a different nation than the rest of Canada. I work for a company in Montreal so I get to travel there on occasion. Anglos and Quebecois really know nothing about each other (especially Anglos). And, while in English Canada, the knowledge of our history is extremely shallow, in Quebec everyone has a much deeper connection to historical reference points – comes with the history of national oppression and resistance to it, I suppose.
    As for speaking English, it depends where you are. In some places people only speak French. But if you were in Montreal or even Quebec City there is a large Anglo population in the former and lots of Anglo tourists visit the latter.

  170. redbedhead said,

    December 10, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    John – I think Daphne responded to you under the original post at #154.

  171. johng said,

    December 10, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    “especially anglos”. Absolutely. Its actually quite offensive. I picked that up just visiting. I was staying with two non-canadian anglos but most of their friends were French.

    Ah yes. Just seen Daphne’s reponse. I don’t think there is one position about what revolutionaries have to do everywhere. I think it depends on the circumstances they find themselves in. It has never, so far as I’m aware, been the position that the project of building revolutionary organisation was dropped. It was the case that we had debates about how organised revolutionaries ought to play a part in the broader re-alignment of the left given the crisis of social democracy. That remains the case as far as I can see, and there is much to learn and discuss about that. But not to see that both the prospects for this and the particular tactics involved in doing so, must vary, both in terms of particular experiances and particular circumstances is a serious mistake. Redbedheads example of the large differences within a single country (which I can attest to) being a good example.

    The example of Venezuela is held up by all sorts of organisations and individuals of very varying politics, ranging from those who are aligned with social democracy (Ken Livingstone for example) through to activists I know in India. In some cases it represents hope for the future in other cases its related to despair about possibilities at home. So we are discussing a symbolism which can mean all things to different people. If this argument becomes a decisive one in substantial numbers breaking away from established social democracy this would be important. Sadly there is no evidence that this is the case, even in Latin America where the impact is understandably much greater, and there is no evidence that proclaiming oneself part of a fifth international would have much greater impact then proclamations of a fourth (would it not in fact be rather comical for small groups of revolutionaries to claim to be the representatives of the Bolivarian revolution on the basis of a flight and a conference?).

    The argument that this is ‘tailism’ suggests both a misunderstanding of the term and the suggestion that the ‘head’ is Chavez. There is, as redbedhead has noted, at the moment no single head. On this we just disagree and I would refer you again to what I said about recognising that there is nothing here that calls for a revision of basic principles and understandings, having nothing to do with disparaging or underestimating the political significance of the phenomenan itself.

    In Latin America the argument is perhaps different (although not for that reason, one suspects, less controversial). I await those arguments with some interest.

  172. redbedhead said,

    December 10, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Daphne – “Hizbullah put Hugo Chávez on its posters during the invasion of Lebanon. I think that’s a signal of “significant impact”.

    And, if Chavez is having a big impact on the political culture in Lebanon, then the Lebanese comrades ought to make use of that. Chavez has made some excellent statements viz Israeli imperialism, no doubt about it (not so good about the movement in Iran). But did it have an impact beyond the production of posters during the 2006 war? I have seen no evidence (which doesn’t mean it hasn’t, I just don’t know). But, in any case, Lebanon is not NZ, nor the EU, nor Canada. And we have to operate in the conditions of our own countries.

    “Agreed, since the SWP in Britain is not a major player in the class struggle. The PSUV is a mass party of millions of members – and in government, to boot. There is a qualitative difference.”

    Of course there is… in Latin America. That significance could take root elsewhere in a serious, mass way – but it hasn’t. We can’t wish that into being. And you have yet to demonstrate that the Venezuelan experience is having a radicalizing effect in NZ, the EU, UK, North America, etc.

    “If we wait for another Petrograd 1917 we will wait forever, and even on that day people will probably be sniffily declaring that it’s not revolutionary “enough”.”
    Who said anything about waiting forever? When there have been opportunities to mobilize people – on single issues, on broader bases – the SWP and other IST groups have seized those opportunities, whether it was anti-war, the ESF/anti-capitalist movement, etc. Our members in Italy joined the PRC when it was the leading edge of the anti-capitalist struggle. Bertinotti spoke at Marxism in the UK. I haven’t been to Marxism in a longtime but I’d be very surprised if there hasn’t been a Venezuelan speaker in recent years. When Israel invade Lebanon we pushed to mobilize – and tens of thousands came out – and if you don’t think that was key to developing consciousness, including on broader questions viz. imperialism, Israel/Palestine, etc. I’m not sure what to say.

    “Do you think English Canada has anything to learn from the QS experience? If a party like QS is not going to appear, then what do you think the immediate way forward for the anti-neoliberal left in English Canada?”

    Sure, there’s some things to learn. We just had our convention and there was a talk on QS and a big article in our bulletin. But it’s not a cookie cutter thing. Quebec is an oppressed nation, the language spoken is French, there was a left break from the Quebec nationalist party the PQ, the small provincial wing of the social democratic party (NDP) was kicked out of the federal party some time ago for being too nationalist and radical, there was a small but still significant CP, etc. etc. Those things don’t hold in English Canada.
    As for the anti-neo-liberal left in English Canada – it’s too long to go into here but really comes down to building the various movements. There was a Good Jobs conference some time ago with shop stewards from around Toronto. And then a Green Jobs conference in Toronto a few weeks back with 700 in the city. And many more initiatives. There’s no single focus or initiative at this point and we’re in no position to launch one (nor is anyone else for that matter).

    “The membership shuffling of small socialist groups is not, I feel, of any relevance to actual political strategy. I would think it a terrible waste, in fact, if there were “Chávista splits” from any organisation…”

    I’m not talking about little socialist groups. I’m talking about Die Linke in Germany, Le Gauche (and the NPA) in France, etc. Mass splits in social liberal parties that push things to the left are good things and are a measure of the impact of political events.

    “I repeat again that the Chávez government has been massively influential, politically, on various broad-left movements around the world, and the new International is a deepening of this process. And once again, we have the undialectical partitioning of the global struggle – “what happens in Latin America stays in Latin America”?”

    Where? Show me? Give me examples from outside Latin America.
    As for your second point, I have never said this. When the Sandinistas overthrew the Nicaraguan dictatorship in 1979 it had a big resonance in North America. In fact, just a year and a half ago I was at something of a reunion event for people who had been involved in the solidarity movement way back when. There were about 200 people at that event – still, all these years later. The Nicaraguan revolution had a powerful impact on the left in Canada and the US, and it had a resonance in the labour movement. A Hands Off Venezuela event in Toronto in April had 70 people.
    This is not to disparage the April event. I think it’s excellent that there are people organizing such events. It’s to keep in perspective the impact that events in Venezuela have had.

    “You’re missing a link here between anti-war activism and a political alternative. Amir Khadir’s election was only possible BECAUSE there was a broad radical political alternative (as opposed to single-issue united front) in Québec.”

    Who is arguing against broad left parties? You’re shadow-boxing.

    “Your arguments about what builds a tendency seem to be essentially apolitical, which is unnerving. Could a party disagree with the theoretical basis of our tendency, but stick around on the basis of “having the back of” the current SWP (Britain) leadership?”

    Huh? I hadn’t realized solidarity was apolitical or unimportant to building and sustaining comradely relations. And I certainly never said the latter.

    • johng said,

      December 10, 2009 at 11:09 pm

      Yes Daphne seems to be mistaken that there is an argument against broad left party’s in the IST. I don’t know where she gets this from. After the much discussed debacle in this country there is obviously a need to work out how to move fowards and on-going discussion about this ranging from a coalitional model to the anti-capitalist model (I would favour the former). This discussion obviously takes place in the pretty bloody dire situation of the aftermath of the collapse of one such project and is therefore neccessarily different in countries which did not have this disaster. Its also just true that objective prospects vary from place to place in ways which do not allow a one size fits all model.

      • Daphne said,

        December 10, 2009 at 11:36 pm

        “Yes Daphne seems to be mistaken that there is an argument against broad left party’s in the IST. I don’t know where she gets this from.”

        Did you read the links I posted above, John? Certainly there has been no “argument”. There has been no response at all to our theses – only to the apolitical question of whether we should have “had the back” of John Rees in 2007.

        An argument could be made that the political practice of most IST parties in actually existing broad-left formations has been on balance destructive, and I think we need to tease out why that might be. My suggestion is when building the broad radical party comes up against building the narrow revolutionary “party”, the latter always takes precedence. This comes down, I feel, to unexplored assumptions at the basis of IST practice which are no longer tenable for a group which aspires to mass politics in the 21st century.

        To reduce the heat around the question of the British situation, we could instead talk about – for example, the then-Australian ISO’s conduct in the Socialist Alliance.

      • redbedhead said,

        December 11, 2009 at 12:28 am

        “There has been no response at all to our theses – only to the apolitical question of whether we should have “had the back” of John Rees in 2007.”

        Boy, I sure used a lot of words to say only that. Perhaps it is you who should have read what was written.

        “An argument could be made that the political practice of most IST parties in actually existing broad-left formations has been on balance destructive, and I think we need to tease out why that might be.”

        Excuse me? There’s a lot of IST groups and in many, many different situations – some where broad left groups are possible, some where it is not. In some places they have been more successful than others. I don’t feel competent to comment on the Australian experience but it’s hardly the case that the IST group there are the only people who had a problem with how the SA was set up. If I’m not mistaken there was a significant split from the DSP over the SA – which is not to say that they were right or wrong, just that it is clearly a broader debate.

      • Daphne said,

        December 11, 2009 at 1:07 am

        Yeah, and that adds to the argument I’m making. Even though the RSP and the ISO have virtually nothing in common in political theory, their attitude to work in the Socialist Alliance bears striking parallels. In contrast, even though we have disagreements with the DSP on many things, we have been working in quite similar ways.

  173. chjh said,

    December 10, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Which does raise the question of what ‘the Venezuelan example’ actually means – what would be a ‘Chávista’ strategy in Britain, say, or Canada?

    • Daphne said,

      December 10, 2009 at 11:38 pm

      Well, for a start I’m not a “Chávista” since that word doesn’t mean anything outside Venezuela, but our attitude is that the main thing we can learn from Venezuela is prioritising the building of a broad left political alternative, in which revolutionaries participate as a loyal minority. You might well ask whether the political practice of our IST comrades in Canada or Britain has helped or hindered that process.

      • redbedhead said,

        December 11, 2009 at 12:22 am

        “You might well ask whether the political practice of our IST comrades in Canada or Britain has helped or hindered that process.”

        The British situation has been rehashed enough times and others can pick it up. I’d be interested to know what your implication is viz. Canada.

      • chjh said,

        December 11, 2009 at 1:14 pm

        Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I get that the NZ comrades believe the strategic orientation of revolutionaries should be on the Venezuelan experience. My question is what are the lessons of ‘the Venezuelan experience’ for the wider left in our own countries? The political lessons, not the organisational ones.

        I ask it because I think the answer is ‘very little’.

  174. Danny said,

    December 10, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    #109 Thanks for that, I googled it and found this by the way http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj/1972/no051/hitchens.htm

    If anyones still reading, years ago I came across a university professor whose mission was to deconstruct Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution – his critique largely rested on the assumption that you hadnt actually read it, so I made him work a bit on this.

    He dug out the eyewitness testimonies from workplace activists in the Vyborg district of Petrograd, who Trotsky mentions only in passing really, though they had been the real organisers of the february revolution. Like bourgeois historians, and later Stalin himself, Trotsky had downplayed the role of the grassroots organisation in the ‘spontanoeus’ february events to contrast with the organisational brilliance of October, of course highlighting his own role in this too.

    Trotsky’s own biography had already put me off him, but reading the acounts of the workers in february only strengthened my admiration for the Bolsheviks themselves. We have too much leadership-fetish in the Marxist left, too much focus on the strategical/tactical brilliance of great men in my opinion – and too much squabbles over who is the heir to all their wisdom and brilliance. I guess the references to Lukacs are in this spirit, though I was always more with Cliff’s Rosa Luxembourg phase myself.

    Working class leadership – and if it comes to it, working class revolution – is really about you where you are and the people around you, and then the networks you have, and then the big ideas that influence and inspire you. A movement grounded as the Bolsheviks still is a better model for me than any of the offerings the left has produced since

  175. johng said,

    December 11, 2009 at 12:20 am

    Daphne I don’t like this idea of a ‘loyal opposition’ at all (either in Venezuela or here). It has a very unpleasent ring to it. One difficulty is that in practice it can be interpreted in a number of different ways. There is working in a non-sectarian manner (which I’m all in favour of) and there is subordinating yourself to particular politicians. I’m not in favour of the latter because it ignores real as opposed to imaginary politics in these settings. It also just does seem to me that your rehearsing the kind of argument about broad party’s which you find being put foward by the ISG in this country and a particular interpretation of the Respect debacle, which we don’t share. Its an argument, but its never been an argument put foward by the SWP (at any point) or, as far as I know excepting your organisation, anyone else in the tendency. It just does seem to me that your repeating the line of one side in the Respect faction fight. Fair enough, it was a bruising experiance. But it might explain why you keep implying that anyone who does not share this argument is against broad party’s, understandably enough the position of those for whom this argument is tied to their identification with a particular party.

    • Daphne said,

      December 11, 2009 at 12:57 am

      I think that, if you read one of the articles I linked to, you will find that it’s not a question of either the SW-NZ line or being “against broad parties”. There is a third attitude, one of participating in broad parties in a narrow manner, if you follow me. And this links back to essential questions of how revolutionaries

      The destruction of Respect (and of the SSP, for that matter) is absolutely crucial because that was the main example of an IST party participating in a broad party. The question of whether the SWP took the right line in both situations is one which we think is still an important question, for the light it sheds on basic questions of how revolutionaries interact with broad movements.

      And I must say again that the way that our arguments have been roundly ignored by other IST parties – except for the one letter from Alex C where he described us as “lacking in intellectual and political modesty”, which I thought was great – is upsetting. I wish that the British SWP and the Canadian IS would conduct a formal debate with us in half as open and useful a manner as you and redbedhead have done with me.

  176. johng said,

    December 11, 2009 at 12:26 am

    I mean Daphne, you never know, you just might find yourself being referred to as ‘everything that is bad about the New Zealand left’ at some point if your not careful. And not by us. If you follow…

    • Daphne said,

      December 11, 2009 at 12:58 am

      If you read any of the works of Phil F from the Workers Party of New Zealand, I think we already are. :)

  177. johng said,

    December 11, 2009 at 12:28 am

    Danny Lenin’s Moscow is fantastic. Sad to be reminded of Hitchen’s descent (or plummet) but never mind. Well worth trying to get hold of a copy.

  178. johng said,

    December 11, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Yes I’m puzzled by Daphne’s reference to Canada. The work of the comrades in Quebec sounds fantastic (and personally I think we should hear more about it).

    • Daphne said,

      December 11, 2009 at 12:52 am

      I only mention Canada because a Canadian comrade is arguing with me. I confess to knowing next to nothing about the state of the radical left outside Québec, which is why I am asking redbeadhead many questions.

      • redbedhead said,

        December 11, 2009 at 3:30 am

        There have been at least a couple of “broad left” initiatives in English Canada – the New Politics Initiative, which was an attempt to re-found the social democratic NDP, basically by getting it to become the party of the anti-globalization movement. This is a mass party with about 100,000 members (last time I checked) and the NPI resolution to dissolve the NDP and begin a process of creating a new, more left wing party with the involvement of the new radical social movements. It involved people both inside and outside the NDP. It got a surprisingly high vote at the 2001 convention – 40% – but then seemed to lose focus and drift, finally disbanding in 2004. The other, earlier – and in part simultaneous initiative was Rebuilding the Left. It had a founding convention in Toronto of several hundred people and then events around the country. I wasn’t involved, to be honest and didn’t follow it that closely. It was pretty sectarian towards the NDP and thus the NPI. It too dissolved after a few years. Those, as far as I am aware, were the last times that there was any sort of conjuncture that made the possibility of a broad left formation possible in English Canada.

  179. redbedhead said,

    December 11, 2009 at 12:33 am

    “He dug out the eyewitness testimonies from workplace activists in the Vyborg district of Petrograd, who Trotsky mentions only in passing really, though they had been the real organisers of the february revolution. Like bourgeois historians, and later Stalin himself, Trotsky had downplayed the role of the grassroots organisation in the ’spontanoeus’ february events to contrast with the organisational brilliance of October, of course highlighting his own role in this too.”

    I wrote a thesis on the History of The Russian Revolution and I don’t recall Trotsky downplaying the role of the masses. In fact, in the first book he doesn’t talk much at all about the Bolsheviks. And, to be fair to the guy, he was in exile trying to reconstruct from his personal archives and memory, without the aid of access to state archives or the internet. He did a pretty bang up job, to my mind – a brilliant piece of Marxist historiography.

  180. johng said,

    December 11, 2009 at 12:38 am

    Yes, and My Life, was written very consiously against the backdrop of a vicious and murderous campaign directed not just at him personally but all those who opposed the Stalinist version of history. Correcting the distortions of this version, which involved negating his role as one of the leaders of October and one of the most well known figures in the revolutionary movement before that was not vainglorious but an act of solidarity with those facing this campaign aside from anything else. Its ahistorical to ignore this.

  181. johng said,

    December 11, 2009 at 2:03 am

    Daphne the difficulty here is to do with the fact that you do seem to simply be repeating the arguments of one side of the respect split. One reason why I don’t want to go into this in a public forum is that we have in fact moved on from this, but part of moving on, is not endlessly rehashing stuff that still divides us (you might have noticed I prefer not to do this). If you look at the actual practice of what we’re trying to do here in Britain, you’ll find its a very different one to the one that charecterised the position during that earlier period. Much of what we do is dismissed or viewed cynically by those who we fell out with a few years back. Fair enough in a way. But its not the case a) that our efforts are aimed entirely at them or b) that we accept their views in their entirety. But that ok. The aim can’t be to achieve unanimity. The left is fragmented and spread across the battlefield in this country, and if truth be told we all face rather similar problems if truth be told. Its in this context that you get an escalation of moralistic spirals which I think are unhelpful. In some ways the kind of argument your making is too reliant on some of this (in my view). On Quebec, just to avoid embarressment, you should know it refers to the Province not the City, and comprises a large chunk of the population of Canada. But unlike the rest of Canada was dominated by left nationalist and not so left nationalist politics in the mainstream (in the 1970s the unions went with the nationalists eschewing a social democrat option) and on the left Maoists who subsequently imploded. The fact that the ISO is now a fixed part of the left there with a French newspaper etc, is considerable achievement for the non-Stalinist left and your in danger of sounding a bit dismissive, and rather too quick to make judgements about stuff. This might have been what Callinicos was referring to. The tendency to view everything the tendency does (or even the SWP in Britain) through the distorted prism of the fight in Respect is something which, for me, marrs your intervention. Again, I understand it was a bruising experiance, but I really do think you need to think a little about what your comrades are telling you. Incidently I discovered that Jack Keruac was a French Canadian. Wrote in French originally but hid it later. Thats what it used to be like. All the licence plates say in French “We shall remember”. On the other hand there is a younger generation sick of establishment nationalist politics. Not unlike where this blog comes from come to think of it…The fact what was an english speaking organisation has a base there is little short of incredible and very impressive (to my mind). I had only one bad language experiance. I forgot to say bonjour before apologising for being English in a suburb of montreal to some workers on a lunchbreak outside a supermarket (I was asking for directions). “par-DON!!!?”. It was montreal. They spoke English. But they were fucked if they were going to talk to me after that. Completely fair I thought having read what it used to be like. Again, that the ISO is part of left re-alignment there is not at all to be sneered at. Particularly as this is a part of Canada where they got thirty thousand demonstraters out on the street over the attacks in Gaza. At 32 degrees below zero. Now thats bolshevism.

  182. julesa said,

    December 11, 2009 at 3:53 am

    Apologies for the belated reply to redbedhead – I have been out this evening.

    To begin with your last point – the SWP and democracy. I do not say there is only centralism but as you know there has been a recognition throughout the party of a ‘democratic deficit’ reflecting recent problems with the relation between leading party bodies and the membership etc. Hence the work of the work of the Democracy Commission. Obviously many different views exist concerning the extent and nature of this deficit and the work of the DC and the discussion it raised is ongoing.

    But these issues are not only relevant to the IS / SWP tradition but the tradition of ‘marginalised Leninism’ more generally.

    ”The party has to be subordinated to the whole. And so the internal regime in the revolutionary party must be subordinated to the relation between party and class…The revolutionary party that seeks to overthrow capitalism cannot accept the notion of a discussion on policies inside the party without the participation of the mass of workers…Since the revolutionary party cannot have interests apart from the class, all the party’s issues of policy are those of the class, and they should therefore be thrashed out in the open, in its presence. The freedom of discussion whcih exists in the factory meeting which aims at unity of action after decisions are taken, should apply to the revolutionary party…” Cliff ‘Trotsky on Substitutionism’ 1960.

    Is Cliff wrong in his characterisation of the relation between party and class? Is this Luxemburgism? If so why and why is it wrong?

    Redbedhead says comparisons between Lenin’s Bolsheviks and the ‘small’ socialist organizations of today are wrong. The Bolsheviks had permanent factions, controversy was the lifeblood of Bolshevism (Lenin) and so forth but this is not appropiate to ‘small’ socialist organisations today. Why?

    Redbedhead answers (in part leaning on John Molyneux’s recent ISJ article) that the context of repression in the Tsarist autocracy functioned paradoxically as a selective process, winnowing out all but the most disciplined, serious and dedicated cadre.

    Sadly in the bourgeois democracies of late capitalism we don’t have the dubious ‘luxery’ of repression to inculcate the requisite ‘discipline’ among the cadre. For this reason Redbedhead argues, the democratic centralism that was appropiate to the Bolsheviks is not appropiate to ‘small’ socialist organisation today.

    Which begs the question. When would fully fledged democratic centralism be appropiate? Who would decide? Is there some critical mass when transition to fully fledged democratic centralism a la the Bolsheviks could take place? Or perhaps the distinction – at least in relation to democratic centralism – between mass party and ‘small’ socialist organisation is a false one.

    Democratic centralism itself is a selective process that ensures – to rework Darwin – the development and survival of the succinctest (as opposed to the windbag), the serious activist (as opposed to armchair socialist), the sharpest (as opposed to the dullest), the fighter whose knows the value of unity (as opposed to the sectarian) and so on.

    Also – revolutionary discipline itself (having nothing in common with the barracks, officers and subalterns and all of that) would develop from this democratic centralist basis.

    So democratic centralism in action ie. debate, argument and discussion and then unity in action leads to the discipline of conviction, the discipline of the partisan of the class, the cadre whose development in the revolutionary party has equipped her to argue with those from different political traditions, confident and at ease in her own tradition without worrying if she is straying from orthodoxy.

    On a number of occasions Johng has – quite rightly I think – spoken of the difficult objective conditions revolutionary socialists faced in the post-war years. These adverse conditions – impossible to wish away as they were – clearly played the major part in shaping ‘marginalised Leninism’, its theory and practice including its conceptions of democratic centralism, conceptions never fully thought through or organisationally embodied in a wholly satisfactory way.

    On last point and another point of agreement with Johng (and I suspect Redbedhead), is the need to work with other socialists and activists. In this context comrades have spoken of re-alignment but perhaps we might also pursue, in parallel, rapprochement among revolutionary socialists. A revolutionary party with a democratic culture that allowed full democratic rights to its minorities might make that possible. Certainly all the important issues facing the working class ”would be thrashed out in the open” and benefit the work of us all. Perhaps that is a goal worth pursuing too?

  183. johng said,

    December 11, 2009 at 4:07 am

    Actually thinking it through I don’t disagree with any of that. My only proviso is that I just do think the SWP (and any other organisation) has the right to discuss some things privately. But I am increasingly of the view that, in the main, if something can’t be justified publicly, its probably bullshit. And I don’t think we can afford bullshit.

    • redbedhead said,

      December 11, 2009 at 5:25 am

      johng – the idea itself of an “internal bulletin” getting into the hands of the left, I don’t really care that much one way or another (other than the disrespect it shows). That’s not what concerns me. It’s that to go down the road of making a big deal of internal discussions, sharing them with the world, etc. can easily lead to several distortions, including an inaccurate sense of one’s importance to the class struggle, a focus on debates with other left groups, and a general sense of politics as a talking shop rather than these things being about us doing our business, hashing out our experiences and what they mean and moving on to implement those lessons.

  184. redbedhead said,

    December 11, 2009 at 5:20 am

    “The party has to be subordinated to the whole. And so the internal regime in the revolutionary party must be subordinated to the relation between party and class…The revolutionary party that seeks to overthrow capitalism cannot accept the notion of a discussion on policies inside the party without the participation of the mass of workers…”

    The first clause of this argument, I accept absolutely – and that is Molyneux’s overarching argument. The second clause is more difficult here for the simple reason that you can publish as many internal bulletins as you want, stick ‘em up on billboards even – that won’t create the “participation of the mass of workers.” The “mass of workers” are only occasionally interested in the work of the SWP (or the SP) through the united fronts in which it is involved or initiates. It certainly isn’t interested in the internal debates. Who is interested in the SWPs internal debates – left sectarians who dig through it like it’s a pile of chicken bones to be deciphered for the true underlying meaning. And as a means to denounce the renegades, etc etc etc.
    One of the things that I have always found attractive about the IS tradition is its scorn for the swamp of left sects writing denunciatory appraisals and counter-appraisals about each other, and instead being focused on the world outside and trusting the class, as it were. That is something that is unique to our tradition. It informs our analysis of the Respect split, which recognizes errors, for instance, but subordinates it to an overall analysis of the state of the class struggle, the lack of a significant breakaway from Labour (a la the SDP in Germany), etc. This is different and more satisfying to me, as a Marxist, than the usual stuff about personalities, lack of a programme, or evil internal regimes. The internal regime of the SWP may have played a role in making what happened much more difficult but it wasn’t the first cause.

    As for other features of the Bolshevik party, the question is raised when would be the appropriate time to adopt those elements – permanent factions is always the main point of contention it seems. As to when: beats me, maybe never, maybe next year. It has to be judged on an ongoing basis. There is no fixed and fast rules for organizational form.
    But the fetishization of permanent factions is something I find fascinating and it seems to me to indicate a desire for an endless talking shop. But this is precisely what the SWP and the IST has always sought to avoid. For small organizations, which are inevitably less stable than larger organizations that command more social forces, the focus on endless talking is a disaster that the far left repeats over and over. Far more, actually, than dictatorial internal regimes. For every Healey there are a dozen bickering sectlets.
    Likewise this idea of working with the rest of the revolutionary left. The thought, frankly, gives me the shudders. In Britain there are two “sizable” groups, the SP and SWP, which makes the idea one that seems to make some sense. Sometimes such “regroupments” can work. Usually it just means multiple sects getting together to be a slightly larger, still irrelevant sect. And it is a recipe for endless bickering over the finer points of x, y and z, rather than acting together as a fist for maximum effect. A revolutionary party is supposed to be a weapon, not a place where we can feel safe and warm, nor is it a prefigurative socialist society. I am much more interested in working with people to my right who aren’t revolutionaries. Certainly in Canada the number of revolutionaries is so vanishingly tiny that it would make no difference except for those unfortunate enough to be a part of it, for whom it would be the world’s smallest hell.

  185. johng said,

    December 11, 2009 at 6:49 am

    No, no redbedhead I agree with most of that. I just think it would make sense if, for example, we published our internal bulletins (as a supplement or something). aside from anything else it would act as a discipline to avoid that sort of thing. i think there are problems with Cliff’s pamphlet in the sense that they were written when in fact the IS WAS in fact a talking shop (which of course it had to be). But I’m also suspicious of arguments in the present situation when any discussion of democracy is presented as an injunction to turn the organisation inwards or into a talking shop. i actually think it could act as a discipline. But I’m not a fanatic about it or anything. I agree that these things have to be in step with the class struggle itself. I just think that in Britain at the moment it fits very well. As to the joy of sects business. No, I agree with you.

  186. Phil said,

    December 11, 2009 at 8:11 am

    to go down the road of making a big deal of internal discussions, sharing them with the world, etc. can easily lead to several distortions, including an inaccurate sense of one’s importance to the class struggle, a focus on debates with other left groups, and a general sense of politics as a talking shop

    To begin at the end, I think the sad fact is that right now the revolutionary Left is a talking shop, in most places, most of the time. You don’t fix that by talking about it, but neither do you fix it by deciding that the talk has to stop.

    Apart from that, I think what the SWP has now is the worst of both worlds – on one hand it is involved in inter-party debate, which (as you say) has a tendency to degenerate into self-important bickering, thanks to the leaks emanating from the Weekly Worker and others. (Strange how much ire focuses on SU in this respect – the WW is a thundering culvert of purloined material compared to the trickles from the renegade Newman.) On the other hand, SWP cadre can’t really take part in that debate, even the more civilised & constructive end of it – in fact I’d go so far as to say that they especially can’t take part in constructive debate; denunciation seems to be less problematic. I’ve seen this more than once on SU: after a few rounds of name-calling, the debate’s just starting to turn into something potentially interesting when the SWP sympathiser picks up their ball and goes home, since “we” have mechanisms for deciding these things – and they don’t include discussing them with the likes of “you”. (I’m clearly not referring to johng here.)

    Publish the IBs, I say. Apart from anything else it would really annoy the WW.

  187. ejh said,

    December 11, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Whether or not it’s a good idea to publish them – personally I couldn’t care less either way – it’s a really bad idea for somebody else to publish them having been asked not to. This is the basic ethical point that for some reason people fail to grasp. You* can’t be publishing other people’s confidential stuff, whether or not you think it ought to be confidential, for all sorts of reasons that I would like to think were obvious, not least that it’s creepy on a personal level.

    [* third person "you"]

  188. johng said,

    December 11, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Yeah I think ejh is right here. its part of the general problem of factional situations. people treat each other as if they’re the enemy. The result is modes of behaviour quite unthinkable in other situations. Of course everything then is justified in terms of the crimes of the ‘others’. The fact that this just makes the whole left look like a bunch of lunatics takes second place to the centrally important question of who is in the right of course. And what could be more important then that?

  189. ejh said,

    December 11, 2009 at 10:57 am

    Before anybody weighs in with a reductio ad absurdam (or more than one, if I could remember what the plural was) I’m of course not saying that nobody should ever, ever, publish a confidential document. I am, however, saying very clearly that we need a really, really good reason for doing so. And that in doing so we necessarily create bitterness and hostility between ourselves and the people whose private information it is.

    And that do so as a habit is, genuinely, a bit creepy.

    • ejh said,

      December 11, 2009 at 10:59 am

      (The italics should have ended before the bracket, of course, and then restarted at “necessarily”. Damn WordPress and its lack of a preview.)

      • belle le triste said,

        December 11, 2009 at 3:24 pm

        it’s reductiones ad absurdum, boringly enough

      • ejh said,

        December 11, 2009 at 3:27 pm

        I am obliged to you.

  190. skidmarx said,

    December 11, 2009 at 11:12 am

    160. Like Respect Classic, but any other answer would be good.
    I thought there were enough verbs to make sense.

    186. I’ve seen this more than once on SU: after a few rounds of name-calling, the debate’s just starting to turn into something potentially interesting when the SWP sympathiser picks up their ball and goes home,
    How objective.Not! While SWP members and sympathisers are often prepared to discuss the most awkward points despite the local abuse, when the boot is on the other foot answers are rarely if ever forthcoming.That’s without pointing out again that if you steal people’s documents you can hardly expect them to discuss them on your terms.

  191. dennis said,

    December 11, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Getting back a bit late to the question asked of me by Chjh about where ‘my’ organisation publishes its internal documents. The only political organisation I’ve ever belonged to is the SWP, so I can’t really answer that. I felt uneasy with the internal political culture of the SWP for a long time, but for me the final straw was the way it behaved around the arguments in Respect. In terms of its core politics, I’d still say I’m broadly in agreement.

    Just one final comment. Redbedhead writes that “Three months out of the year, there is time for searching and rigorous debate.” Ok, but life’s not really like that, is it? There are times when important political crisis occur and the way socalists respond may have serious repurcussions. They might not conveniently coincide with a pre-conference discussion period, (although interestingly the Respect crisis did, making the expulsions even more shameful.) Such a situation might call for honest criticism and uncomfortable truths being faced up to, as well as the humility to admit that some of the criticisms being levelled against the SWP, and in particular certain individuals, had some merit.

    Instead, what was demanded was a dumbheaded ‘loyalty.’ As the SWPs response to Galloway and others became increasingly hysterical, it managed to reinforce every perception of control-freakery and alienate almost everone else on the left involved in the project. As a result, an opportunity for the left to make a serious impact in the GLA elections, which had been looking quite promising, turned into an embarrasing farce, and we’re now – all of us – in a far worse position than we would have been had the split been avoided, or at the very least handled differently.

    Sometimes you have to publicly debate, discuss and disagree with the organisation you belong to, and bollocks to whether its the pre-conference discussion period or not.

  192. johng said,

    December 11, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I’d entirely agree with Dennis’s last sentance incidently. But I don’t think it has much to do with the length of a pre-conference discussion period or whether or not factions should be temporary or permenant (increasingly my feeling is temporary). I think the reasons for failures in this respect (I should say that I don’t accept the whole of the analyses Dennis is presenting but agree with enough that it merits a response) were much more to do with the disorganised state of the structures of the organisation, some of which are now being addressed, but whose origins I don’t really believe lay in some evil genius or in some philosophical text book. I think they lay in a small organisation caught in the rapids of something very big and struggling to adjust. Whilst I’m sure I’d disagree with a lot of Dennis’s political take on all this, I fully understand his frustration, and would like to register that.

  193. chjh said,

    December 11, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Well, I wouldn’t agree with Dennis’ last sentence. If the debate and disagreements are that important, and are actually widespread within the party, then surely you’re working towards a special conference at which the policy can get changed. In practice, a real inner-party debate will become a pre-conference discussion.

    And I don’t see how going public with those disagreements helps. Part of the problem with the whole discussion around Respect was that comrades felt the need to be loyal because we were being very publicly attacked – the atmosphere created by the blogs and the sectarian press made it more difficult to raise criticisms internally.

    There’s also a related point about ‘publish and be damned’ that follows on from what ejh said at #189. If someone knows that the SWP membership disapproves of publishing internal documents, and they go ahead and do so anyway, that necessarily makes it a hostile and disrespectful act. You may believe that we shouldn’t think that, but don’t insult our intelligence by pretending you don’t know what we think.

    And my question to Dennis was a genuine one – apologies if it came out wrongly. But the point behind it was that every organisation has internal documents which they would not want published. People differ about where the boundaries should be, but in practice every left group has those boundaries.

  194. skidmarx said,

    December 11, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    the Respect crisis did, making the expulsions even more shameful
    Why? They weren’t for declared factional behaviour.

  195. neprimerimye said,

    December 11, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    It is very curious to note that most of the cpontributors to this thread do not appear to understand the difference between a faction and a tendency. That factions might have differing natures too is neglected.

    The feeling on the poart of SWPers seems to be that factions are always negative and ought always to be short lived.

    A series of conceptions that are very different from those of the Classical Marxist school upon which the SWP bases itself.

  196. skidmarx said,

    December 11, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    195. And the differences are? And the failure on the part of SWPers is what?

    • neprimerimye said,

      December 11, 2009 at 11:53 pm

      In short a tendency, whether formally declared or not, seeks to reorientate the group on a single area of policy. A faction by contrast has a wider critique of the groups policies and perspectives. It may be the case that a faction seeks to replace the leadership with its own candidates and policies.

      Historically the parties and groups of all four internationals allowed both factions and tendencies at any point the comrades felt them to be needed. But without the Bolshevik faction of the RSDLP would there have been an October? Had the German communists formed a faction prior to 1914 might the birth pangs of the KPD been less traumatic?

  197. Phil said,

    December 11, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    I thought there were enough verbs to make sense.

    You wrote: “Do those who think the new direction for REspect is still a good idea a hindrance or a help to new forms of left organisation?”

    I honestly don’t know what that means. Do those who think the new direction for Respect is still a good idea… what?

  198. skidmarx said,

    December 11, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    I’m sorry, please relace “Do” with “Are”. One extra verb.

  199. Phil said,

    December 11, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Oh, got it. But the answer’s “I don’t know, because I don’t think the judgment of history on the new direction for Respect is in yet”.

    For what it’s worth, I think keeping a bit of distance from son-of-No2EU was probably correct, but I think the way Galloway chose to hammer that point home was very unfortunate. I agree with Liam, in other words (I very often do) – although I may be a bit more concerned about Galloway reverting to type than Liam appears to be; I think Alan Thornett needs to watch his back, politically speaking.

    Should a new Left organisation look like Respect (of any period)? I think if the Socialist Alliance could have turned into Respect in a different way – with a longer timescale, less bold and decisive leadership, and more open discussion – we might have ended up with a really valuable organisation, albeit one which didn’t make quite as big a splash to begin with (bold and decisive leadership is quite good at making a splash). Whether we can get back to that now is much more debatable. But that’s not only a problem for Respect.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      December 11, 2009 at 8:41 pm

      We might add that bold and decisive leadership, of the sort advocated by the Left Platform, is great at launching big initiatives but not so good at doing modest and targeted work over the longer term that might lead to something good if you stick with it. It also might explain why many SWP members are breathing sighs of relief that they are getting a bit of a break from the bold and decisive leadership of most of the last decade. If the current CC is tending towards a consolidation perspective, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. (It might have been if they’d had a consolidation perspective in 2003, but that’s another story.)

    • skidmarx said,

      December 12, 2009 at 12:12 pm

      “I don’t know, because I don’t think the judgment of history on the new direction for Respect is in yet”.
      I’m reminded of Chou En-Lai’s comment that it was too soon to judge the impact of the French Revolution, and Cliff’s comment on that that he was a “bloody idiot”.

      • johng said,

        December 12, 2009 at 1:28 pm

        Taking fully on board chjh’s perfectly correct critique of my anarchist outburst (we all have our off days) I’d have to say that Cliff was wrong about Chou En Lai’s comment (although this does not mean of course that ‘bloody idiot’ might in other contexts not be a too polite ephitet for this prominant representative of China’s state capitalist ruling class).

      • skidmarx said,

        December 12, 2009 at 2:09 pm

        So we should expect you to fully come to grips with the Respect split in about 2170?

  200. julesa said,

    December 11, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    That is a yo to splinteredsunrise’s last sentiment.

  201. johng said,

    December 12, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Well I was referring to the legacy of the French Revolution, a somewhat more important event. Fully comprehending the legacy of the French Revolution would probably come some time after the demise of capitalism. Fully understanding the legacy of the Respect split will probably come rather sooner, hopefully when the left is somewhat less dispersed and divided then it is at present. The early experiments in building some sort of left alternative out of a rather fractious British left were never going to be easy and I thought Phil’s observations not entirely off the mark.

  202. David Ellis said,

    December 12, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Johng: …that ‘bloody idiot’ might in other contexts not be a too polite ephitet for this prominant representative of China’s state capitalist ruling class).’

    This particular piece of theology is why you’ll never be a marxist johng and why the split in the SWP is not between a Marxist current and a petty bourgeois deviation but between two petty bourgeois deviations in a propagandist sect. `State capitalist ruling class’ ??? what does that even mean? Nothing, it is both ultra-left sectarian nonsense and opportunist pandering to Western middle class sensibilities designed by Cliff to differentiate his grouping from the others so he could establish his franchise. The entire Cold War as giant conspiracy. It is as ideological as the Stalinists claim to have created really existing socialism under their bureaucratic police rule.

    Now johng, what about these randome expulsions? Good thing, bad thing? And how about this ridiculously arbitrary three month cut off point for political discussion? Should it go?

  203. chjh said,

    December 12, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    What was that our host was saying? Oh, yes: “this running theme that on the left, it’s not only a question of what you say and what you do, but how you say and do it. How you say it brings up the importance of tone, and the dreadful frequency of hate speech on the left.”

  204. redbedhead said,

    December 12, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    john – I knew it! You’re not a marxist. Finally the Great Arbiter, David Ellis, (no relation to the Great Helmsman, though a fan of his apparently) have revealed the truth. Whew.
    In the real world the income gap in China is vast and growing; 96% agree that the rich in China are resented; there’s riots involving tens of thousands of workers and strike rates that dwarf anything in the west; vicious repression of national minorities; a growing problem with vandalism against luxury cars and; if you have $90,000 you can buy an artificial heart.
    These are clearly all marks of an advanced socialist society.

  205. johng said,

    December 12, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    I’m glad that David Ellis has cleared up precisely why all debates in the SWP are meaningless. Its because all of us are a vicious bunch of anti-Marxists!!! Glad that one has been cleared up. Incidently a state capitalist ruling class are those who control decisions about what and how much is going to be produced and where to put the surplus, ie those who control production. That tends to be the criteria for identifying ruling classes anywhere I believe. Given that Dave believes either that there was and is no ruling class in China, or that they are the workers and peasents I would suggest that he does’nt go all analytical on us: I mean what exactly does a ‘deformed workers state’ mean? Hmmmmm? And what do you mean by mean? Hmmmm? Incidently I could have sworn Dave was a Spart (its the engaging angular style). He seems to claim to be a member of Respect elsewhere though. Perhaps this is just angular.

    • andy newman said,

      December 12, 2009 at 9:10 pm

      “Incidently a state capitalist ruling class are those who control decisions about what and how much is going to be produced and where to put the surplus, ie those who control production.”

      really. Well goodbye marxism then.

      Wouldn’t the mode of production also have to be capitalist???

      • johng said,

        December 12, 2009 at 10:09 pm

        The question was about what could the statement ‘state capitalist ruling class’ mean. I was tackling the ruling class end of it. In terms of capitalism as you know I have no problem with Hilferding, Bukharin or Lenin, and therefore have no problem with the term ‘state capitalism’.

  206. johng said,

    December 12, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Phil, back on planet earth, are you a member of respect yourself? I’m just playing the all important game of trying to ‘locate’ people. This does not of course mean I am planning anything arbitrary.

  207. David Ellis said,

    December 12, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    That’s right Johng. It is why the forthcoming split is so utterly apolitical. It is no more than a struggle for control of resources between two factions of the leadership taking place completely over the heads of the membership who are discovering just how arbitrary these people can be. The basic theology remains uncontested, unquestioned. No perspectives are challenged, no programmatic disputes have arisen, all we have is one lot saying the situation is goodish and the other saying its badish.

  208. johng said,

    December 12, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Ah so thats why…Its probably why you don’t bother listening to anything anyone says but just trot out the same old gibberish every time. I thought it was because you were a dogmatist of some kind. Now I realise its because you have a correct theory.

  209. Phil said,

    December 12, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    John – I’m not, but for reasons which have more to do with age and burnout* than ideology. I came very close to joining shortly after the Unpleasantness, and the only thing that stayed my hand was the thought of all those weekday evenings I’d be giving up. Similar considerations would apply to SR, assuming they’d have me (which I hope they wouldn’t, precisely because I’d only be a paper member).

    I’ve never been at all attracted by the SWP. The first groups I was involved in made it an article of faith that no existing group could do it all alone; the message we seemed to be getting from the SWP at the time was “fair enough, but we’ll give it a go anyway”. And on the ground there was a headline-chasing, signature-harvesting style of campaigning which repelled me – it smacked of “milk the issues, build the party”. But it would be idiotic to assume that anyone who buys into something that I can’t buy into must be someone I can’t work with.

    *Socialist Society, socialist, Socialist Movement (Manchester), Red Pepper. The Socialist Society was a terrific experience, of which I have almost entirely positive memories. After that it went downhill.

  210. johng said,

    December 12, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    Fair enough. Feeling deeply toy bolshevik but what WAS the socialist society? (this is not intended to be an ‘angular’ david ellis type question.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      December 13, 2009 at 12:48 am

      This was out of the Chesterfield Conference, wasn’t it? I remember said conference happened, but as I was probably in Bulgaria at the time – usually was back then – I’m extremely hazy on it.

  211. johng said,

    December 13, 2009 at 1:19 am

    Oh the chesterfield conference. I have this vague memory of John Palmer replying to a contribution of mine by telling me that he helped write the theory of state capitalism which he no longer agreed with, but I could at least do justice to it. Was that you John? Or was it Kidron?

    I also have a memory of Dennis Skinner telling me and a comrade otherwise known as battersea that some SWP member had made a bad contribution at a meeting he’d done the week before. Which branch? we demanded to know like juvenile chekists. ‘I’m not telling you buggers he seemed like a nice bloke’ was his response.

    Yeah I remember that. I remember a group of us driving back and being quite interested about how large it was. It was always a surprise when that happened back then. Oh look. Socialists. That actually reminds me. Things really were quite bad back then (though the chesterfield conference was a good one). Its not just some kind of an SWP invention.

  212. Daphne said,

    December 13, 2009 at 1:31 am

    Sorry, I took a couple of days off to put a paper together and play football? Did I miss anything I need to address? ;)

  213. Richard Searle said,

    December 13, 2009 at 2:01 am

    You Kiwis are just so chilled

    Did you missed anything…

    No

  214. John Palmer said,

    December 13, 2009 at 11:26 am

    johng. Extraordinary question of your’s. I made no such statement at Chesterfield disowning the theory of “state capitalism.” By which I guess you mean the version of “Bureaucratic State Capitalism” developed on earlier ideas from dissident US Trotskyists by Tony Cliff. Other versions go back to Lenin and Bukharin and are totally different in orientation. There is also a version of the SPGB version of Russian State Capitalism developed by C.L.R. James (J.R. Johnson) which is also very different to Cliff, Kidron et al which takes the global market and global competition as a matrix. Nor did I make any claim to “write the theory.” That would have been very silly. I did speak at the first Chesterfield Conference which, alas, produced no really positive outcome.

  215. Danny said,

    December 13, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    #179

    “I wrote a thesis on the History of The Russian Revolution and I don’t recall Trotsky downplaying the role of the masses. In fact, in the first book he doesn’t talk much at all about the Bolsheviks”.

    Well it could be said that was because he wasnt a Bolshevik himself, until very late in the day, and my feeling has been the tradition that he founded supposedly based on their legacy suffered from this.

    Trotsky had other qualities of course, a great speaker and writer by all accounts, but qualities again that have been overstated perhaps as the be all and end all of leadership too many times, as against things like listening to working people and building roots, organising etc

    Reading ‘My life’ outside of a Trotskyist mileu doesnt read so well either, especially the final quote at the end ‘men are fools’ etc

  216. Phil said,

    December 13, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Actually it was the Socialist Movement that emerged – or was created – out of the third Socialist Conference, which was held in Sheffield in 1989; the Socialist Society was one of the organisations sponsoring the Conferences, along with the Campaign Group and the Conference of Socialist Economists. The Socialist Society itself was founded in 1981(?), by a group including Raymond Williams and Ralph Miliband. I joined in 1987, after being deeply impressed by a Soc Soc fringe meeting at the END Convention in Coventry.

    As to who was involved, I think it’s safe to name a couple of names. We had ex-IS (including cde Palmer), ex-IMG (including Hilary Wainwright) and some perfectly nice people who turned out to be ex-WRP. Pretty sure nobody joined us from the SWP (nobody active, anyway – we did have quite a sizeable paper membership); I don’t remember any ex-CPers, either, although at least one person jumped that way from the Soc Soc. (We were less hostile to New Times than some, but we had a major baby:bathwater problem with it.) Quite a few political virgins, too – myself included – as well as a boarding party from a tiny group called Socialist Self-Management, which was the British franchise of Michel Raptis’s Not The Fourth International. (Yes, real live Pabloites.) Peter Tatchell was on our steering committee for a year, too. We were generally big on green issues, electoral reform and Europe; Socialist Action described us once as a stalking horse for European capital in the labour movement, which on balance I was quite pleased with.

    As for nothing coming out of Chesterfield, I don’t think the SM was completely worthless – apart from anything else, the SM begat the Scottish SM, which (with a little help from the Mils) begat the SSP. But it certainly didn’t live up to its vision – I think it was formed too quickly and too much from the top down – and it degenerated fairly quickly into an body for the smaller sects to colonise (“you lot can have the feminists, but we’re keeping the Labour members”). The ISJ were the last to go; I think they got out in 1994, when the SM renamed itself the Socialist Network, with an eye to linking up with the roads & anti-CJA protests.

  217. johng said,

    December 13, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Hey John it was a hazy recollection of being very effectively put down (and yes it was at that conference). I think you made a great joke at my expense (my contribution was idiotic) and if i’ve misremembered apologies. Perhaps it related to your fury that I still use state capitalism as a short hand for the theory of bureacratic capitalism developed by Cliff. See. I have’nt learnt anything.

    Danny on Trotsky, I think your missing the point that My Life was written as a weapon against stalinists attempting to remove Trotsky from revolutionary history. And the motivaton was’nt just hubris on Trotsky’s part but an act of solidarity with those facing Siberia and worse who were opposing this re-writing of history. Said something about this before.

  218. Danny said,

    December 13, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Hi John, rather than missing the point of Trotsky’s motivation (which is understandable, of course), I think I’m just making a different point.

    My Life ends with Trotsky’s comments on a quote from Proudhon
    ‘”……Destiny – I laugh at it; and as for men, they are too ignorant, too enslaved for me to feel annoyed at them”.

    Despit their slight savor of of ecclesiastical eloquence, those are fine words. I subscibe to them.’

    I have a second hand copy, to which the previous reader has written in pencil ‘Rather doubtful words to subscribe to and end with’

  219. John Palmer said,

    December 13, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Your correction is factually correct Phil. But when I said “no really positive outcome” from the first Chesterfield Conference I meant that I had hoped for much more than the brief and sadly marginal existence of the Socialist Movement. Ditto the rather longer lasting Socialist Society (in spite of the well intentioned and intelligent people involved.) At least the Socialist Society led to Red Pepper though. I do not mean to sound bitter in the slightest. Rather I think these experiences (and the also rather dispiriting recent histories of the further left fragments of the original 1940s RCP (SWP, SP etc) do beg some rather fundamental questions about how the changes in the would outside have been understood (or misunderstood) by so much of the left. Hence a question I have tried to raise before on this and other threads: “Does the seemingly long term decline of class consciousness (a class FOR itself not just a class IN itself) mark a fundamental turning point in the nature of left politics potentially as great as the transition from the era of the revolutionary plebian artisans (Jacobins to Chartists) to that of the industrial proletariat (the socialist movement(s) of the past 150 years? If so what are the implications for left politics?

  220. Phil said,

    December 13, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    The alternative reading is that there’s still an industrial proletariat, just not in Europe. As wonderful as the Internet is, there are still mines being dug out there, shirts being stitched and ships being loaded (OK, containers being loaded).

    Either way, the implication is that the next wave of left politics is going to find us as spectators at best.

  221. johng said,

    December 13, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Well I guess the short answer to the question would be ‘no’. That there are major changes is obvious. But that anything like the kind of social transformation that underlay the shift from the Jacobins to the socialist movements is on-going is, I think, highly questionable. If this was the case I think the conclusions that would have to be drawn would be most unedifying. In particular I believe it would mean that any project connected to social rather then private, collective rather then individual solutions to the problems of contemporary society would be doomed: there being no existing social force, even on the horizons, which could be the bearer of such values. There are of course plenty of movements and ideas about. But very little in the way of real social forces.

  222. johng said,

    December 13, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    I should clarify that the last sentance holds true in the absence of the possibility of the existing working class being an agent of social change.

  223. julesa said,

    December 14, 2009 at 11:20 am

    John Palmer asks does the ”seemingly long-term decline in class consciousness” mark a fundamental turning point in left politics – with the apparent dissolution of a class for itself (the objective basis, presumably, of Laboursim / Social Democracy). John mentions that he raised this issue earlier – one place was an earlier s/s thread in response to a post I posted. Sorry I had no time to reply.

    Then John suggested that a recalibration of left politics was required as the older patterns of working class collectivism / solidarity had been significantly eroded and it would be wrongheaded to downplay the objective difficulties of, say, unionising un-unionised sections of a highly variegated working class today. John made this response in answer to my analogy with the defeat of the radical artisans of Chartism and the long quietus before the mass struggles of the unskilled between 1889-92 that revived the movement.

    I agree we should not downplay the sorts of objective difficulties that John points to. And as I have argued elsewhere we certainly need a global cartography of the working class.

    But I just want to briefly address the political aspect of the question. Interestingly in Britain today, union density is roughly 28% of the workforce (I don’t have the figures to hand but it is lower among manual workers in the private sector than the public sector workers). The highpoint of union density was 1979 when there 13.4m TUC affiliated trade unionists.

    But the impact of the Labour governments ‘Social Contract’ on the organised working class and the savage deflationary offensive of Thatcher’s first term, went deep. Add to the job losses in manufacturing – a 22.8% contraction of the manufacturing working-class between 1978-85 – the defeat of the NGA and the miners, the retreat was significant.

    Blair-Brown’s New Labour governments enjoy the dubious distinction of being the first post-war Labour governments to see union density fall rather than rise while Labour was in power. Of course until the global financial meltdown and the return of crisis, living standards for most of those in work will have improved (albeit nothing like the wealth of the wealthiest grew), the value of their homes improved etc. But the crisis has blown a gale through the ”windless closure” of late capitalism (Fredric Jameson). Sir Nicholas Gent – big Tory party donor, former board member of Lehman Bros until its demise and now economic advisor to David Cameron – recently spoke of the need to shed 1m public sector jobs to address the great hole in public finances created by the collapse of the banking system. We know what is on the way, the postal workers know what is on the way, many public sector workers know what is on the way. We need to prepare now. The struggles that a wider neo-liberal offensive will provoke ie. the struggle against efforts to push down low wages even lower, shred further already poor conditions, weaken already inadequate pensions etc could provide socialists with the opportunity to unionise / organise sections of the working class long regarded as immune to unionisation in the cousre of building broader political resistance.

  224. Mark Victorystooge said,

    December 14, 2009 at 11:35 am

    #220. It might explain in part why in some parts of the world, notably much of Latin America and some parts of Asia, there is a contrary trend for the left to get stronger, or at least hold its position, while in Europe and North America it has tended to weaken.
    I was recently in Turkey and was struck by the relative vigour of the left there, though it is marginal in electoral terms. There were definitely districts of Istanbul where it is firmly anchored, despite state repression more severe than anything the left faces in Europe.

  225. John Palmer said,

    December 14, 2009 at 11:42 am

    johng: I agree that there are “plenty of movements” and ideas about. The question is what is the unifying and mobilising common theme. That is to say what common theme addresses not merely opposition to what IS but some prefiguration of WHAT MIGHT BE. In this context the new book by Marianne Maeckelbergh: “The Will of the Many” – reviewed in the current Red Pepper – raises some profound for (for an old lefty) disturbing questions about the nature of the new movements. But then the old Chartists did regard the new industrial unions as hopelessly “economic” and anti-political. Maybe we have some similar lessons to learn.
    julesa – what you say about a unionisation drive makes sense. The bigger question is whether unions can any longer be hegemonic in terms of the lives of working people. I suspect that long term economic, employment social change makes that questionable. Mind you I still insist that there are also profoundly disintegrating tendencies at work in the heart of capital itself (in terms of ownership, relationship with the state, globalisation, etc). Which is why the centre right and conservative parties are starting to face the same existential dilemmas as social democracy (especially in the older industrialised economies). So there are opportunities as well as challenges.

  226. johng said,

    December 17, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Not a lot of evidence of this in asia from where I’m sitting I’m afraid Mark.

  227. Mark Victorystooge said,

    December 24, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    But where are you sitting?
    I would have thought Nepal, parts of India and perhaps the Phillipines were places to watch.

  228. johng said,

    December 25, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Well its from India I was thinking. Yes to watch, to watch, as the saying goes. But on the left its absolutely hell black night.


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