From The Federalist No. 10:
There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.
It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.
The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.
And once more:
It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.
The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.
The Bolshevik-Leninist tradition, it’s true, doesn’t mean the same thing by faction as Madison meant, but his points remain important ones. And, while I’ve said this innumerable times, it’s worth repeating if only because it’s counter-intuitive – when Cliff launched his big campaign for democratic centralism in 1968 – the same campaign that produced Harman’s “Party and Class” essay – Cliff took it for granted that the democratic centralist party would have factions and tendencies within it, and that these would be represented on the leading bodies.
In fact, Cliff then went on to prove his point by introducing the Matgamna group into IS. Sean immediately availed himself of the factional rights guaranteed by Cliff’s 1968 constitution, much to the frustration of Cliff, who had brought Sean into the group to assist Colin Barker in Manchester, only for Cliff and Colin to be left ruing the day, and straining every sinew to get rid of Sean. In fact, this necessary task took a whole three years, which tells you something about the liberal regime in IS at the time. Things had tightened up a few years later when Cliff moved against the native oppositions, and culminated in the gerrymandered 1975 conference, but even then it took some while for the draconian prejudice against factionalism to take its full form. I suppose the squaddist purge of the early 1980s marks a watershed in that the squaddists weren’t a faction at all – the founders of Red Action didn’t link up until after their expulsion – but Cliff took the attitude that if he said you were a faction, then you were one. It was after that that you started to see comrades being purged for “secret factionalism” – i.e. informal contacts to which the CC took exception.
Here’s my point. I’m not trying to lionise factionalism for its own sake. Factions, even loyal and disciplined factions, are a pain in the arse at the best of times. But factions and tendencies are both inevitable and necessary. Conversely, it’s natural for the leadership to prefer unanimity, and a lack of revolt in the ranks, but a mature leadership should try to check any tendencies on its part towards monolithism. Because, human nature being what it is, you don’t eliminate disagreements by eliminating their expression through factionalism. What you do is drive disagreements underground – Gerry Healy ran an extremely oppressive and in fact violent regime, but that only ensured that the convulsions, when they came, were more explosive than they would otherwise have been.
What you also achieve, particularly by the proscription of so-called permanent factions, is not a factionless party but a party with one single permanent faction, namely the entrenched leadership. And indeed this permanent faction comes to have more and more the features of a clique.
Finally, all this railing against factionalism has very little to do with the Leninist tradition. Lenin (the real one, not Seymour) was an inveterate factionalist, and the membership of the RSDLP, under conditions of Tsarist autocracy, had rather more in the way of democratic rights than members of some offshoots of the Church of Latter Day Trotskyism, despite the latter operating under conditions of bourgeois democracy.
Two little historical factoids might be of interest. First was the question of who should sit on the CC. Lenin used to describe Kamenev as a congenital vacillator, and he was proven right in the course of 1917. And yet, it was precisely because of this that Lenin opposed the removal of Kamenev from the Bolshevik CC – because his vacillations represented a real tendency in the party. Secondly, even when the Bolsheviks finally banned factions (one of the many examples the Bolsheviks give of things we shouldn’t try to emulate) the leaders of the Workers Opposition still had representation on the CC, even though their faction was formally disbanded.
The neo-Stalinist or Maoist concept of the monolithic leadership, no less than the monolithic party, is a theoretical abomination that should be abandoned thoroughly and not merely pragmatically. Might we say that glasnost isn’t just for Christmas?