"Party, non-ideology and factions" Part II
MSTROM at nswtf.org.au
Wed Feb 28 12:50:53 MST 1996
If it was an irony of ironies that pro-Soviet elements - from the proto-New
Communist Party to the Straight Leftists - were persecuted by the very regime
they were most closely identified with, then what happened to theTrotskyites
and Trotskyoids and the regime they created is the supreme irony.
The decline and fragmentation of 'official communism' left behind Maoism,
Enverism and a batch of equally dead-end pro-Soviet splinters. It also left a
political space which Trotskyism particularly could exploit and expand in.
Like the Triassic birds, after the mass extinction of dinosaurs and
pterosaurs, it grew both in size and diversity in the new environment.
Notwithstanding the differences, the Workers Revolutionary Party, Militant
Labour and the Socialist Workers Party - the three major lineages of Trotskyite
evolution - have all been characterised by internal regimes worse than our
CPGB suffered, even at its nadir under the Eurocommunists.
Till its implosion, just after the miners' Great Strike in 1985, perhaps the
largest Trotskyite group was the WRP. As is well known Gerry Healy ran
the WRP as his private fief. Rank and file members worked like slaves.
Healy lived like a minor lord. Opposition was not tolerated, and, when it did
surface, was often dealt with using physical and always verbal abuse.
Only one view was allowed - Healy's. That applied externally to other
revolutionaries as well.
While Livingstone and Labourites of a similar hue were courted and feted the
leaders of other working class trends and groups were endlessly and
disgustingly branded as being minions of the CIA, the KGB or both.
But it was the WRP which was a paid agent - of Libya, Iraq, Iran and other
reactionary Middle Eastern regimes. Gaddafi was praised for "politically"
developing in the direction of revolutionary socialism". The name of this
"undisputed leader of the Libyan people" was said to be "synonymous with
the strivings of the
oppressed in many countries" (News Line December 12 1981). The
crossing of class lines was no aberration. Even as countless revolutionaries
and communists were hanging on the gibbet, Khomeini was hailed a
revolutionary hero, not condemned as a medievalist tyrant and butcher. The
WRP also defended the execution of communists who had established party
cells in the Iraqi army. And to prove his trustworthiness to Saddam Hussein's
Ba'athist dictatorship Healy ordered mug shot photos taken of Iraqi
communist protesters in London. When such unprincipled financial
links and political doings were exposed by leftist critics, the WRP's reply
came - thick and fast in the form of libel actions in the bourgeois courts.
What defined the WRP was its strange mixture of millenialism, political
prostitution, paranoia and biblical Trotskyism. Crowning it, as if with thorns,
was Healy's Studies in dialectical materialism. Published in 1982, this was a
diabolically and deliberately incomprehensible work of philosophy which
attempted to bamboozle readers with plagiarised quasi-Hegelianism in order to
establish Healy's status as a great thinker.
Interestingly in 1982 the WRP political committee "emphatically and
unanimously" demanded that their fraternal comrade, David North, secretary
of the US Workers League, "withdraw" his criticisms of Healy's Studies.
Though they "had never been discussed" he did (D North Critique of
G Healy's "Studies", 1985, p3). Only in 1985 when the WRP was
breaking up amidst financial scandal and tales of sexual wrongdoing, did
Healy's former lieutenants, notably Mike Banda and Cliff Slaughter, decide it was
politic to announce that all along their king was philosophically naked. As the
WRP spiralled into oblivion North's Critique, ie, the notes he wrote and
withdrew in 1982, were circulated ... True to bureaucratic centralist form they
were "for members only".
Things have never got quite so bad either in Militant Labour or the
SWP. Nevertheless things are bad.
Militant (aka the Revolutionary Socialist League) existed for 40 years as the
most Labourite of deep entryists. It dismissed everything and anybody
outside the Labour Party world; women, gays and blacks were told that they
and their campaigns were mere diversions. Only the carrot and stick combination
of Kinnock's witchhunt and the anti-poll tax movement broke Militant
organisationally from Labourism. Politically however it remains a
right centrist formation still dependent on, and working for, a Labour
government. Despite claiming revolutionary credentials its programme, Militant:
What we stand for, is thoroughly reformist. "Socialism", it says, will come
not via insurrection, but "through an enabling bill in parliament", which
will nationalise "the top 200 monopolies" (Militant: What we stand for,
June 1990, p8).
Rosa Luxemburg pointed out that the real difference between the parliamentary
road and the revolutionary road was not two ways to get to the same end - ie,
socialism. No, different strategic approaches (means) lead to very different
conclusions (ends). The reason is obvious. Communists want to mobilise the
masses to smash the state, parliament included (to do that we fully accept the
need to stand candidates and get MPs elected). Reformists, on the other hand,
regard parliament as something to treasure and protect. It is after all the
instrument with which they say Labour will usher in the socialist order. No
wonder Militant insists, "The idea ... that we want to 'smash parliamentary
democracy' is completely untrue" (Militant International Review No33,
autumn 1986, p9). We should believe them.
Members of Militant are forbidden to voice criticism of its reformist
perspectives in public. In point of fact neither Militant leaders nor
rank and filers have ever been given a platform in the tendency's
publications to develop their differences on any subject of substance or
importance. Its publications are bland and lifeless.
In 1991 a deep schism opened up on its central committee over the
turn from Labour entryism. Opinion seemed overwhelming in the 46:3 split. But
this was not any old minority. The three were among the brightest stars in the
rather dull Militant firmament. In spite of that, differences were not
fought out in its own publications. Instead Ted Grant, the organisation's founder
and most prominent theorist, Rob Sewell, national organiser, and Alan Woods,
editor of Militant International Review, thought it would be a good idea to
leak their opposition documents to The Guardian.
In it we find the minority complaining that a "clique" was operating which
shielded "individuals from criticism", and how it bureaucratically tried to "gag"
dissent (The Guardian September 3 1991). Why they chose to use an organ
of the enemy class and not their own, or one of the many leftwing papers and
journals, has never been explained. However as shown only a few days later
the majority used exactly the same unprincipled method. The whole polemic
was in fact conducted in The Guardian.
When it came to his turn Peter Taaffe implied that his one time leader and
mentor was getting crusty, if not senile. He went on to argue that with
Kinnock's shift to the right: "It would be criminal to pass over an immediate
opportunity for expansion in order that we may cling to our few remaining
points of support within the Labour Party" (The Guardian September 6
Since then Militant has not got very far in terms of expansion. Membership
which was 6,000 is now 2,000. The sons and daughters who were easily gained
in the Labour Party Young Socialists had not been politically trained
or prepared for life outside the committee rooms of Labourism. Not that
Grant's Socialist Appeal gained anything either. It too lost much of its,
considerably smaller, following. Has the lesson been learnt? Hardly. Neither in
Militant nor in Socialist Appeal will one find polemics, not even between each
The recent case of Phil Hearse and Militant Labour is instructive. For some
20 years he was a top member in Britain of the United Secretariat of the 4th
International. Besides being editor of its fortnightly Socialist Outlook, he
was the main spokesperson of its recently victorious majority faction.
Despite that lofty and influential position he decided, in October 1994, along
with Kathy Kirkham and no one else, to up and leave Socialist Outlook
(internally known as the International Socialist Group) and join Militant
Though he claimed to have argued for a "fundamental change of direction" in
the Socialist Outlook group it cannot be said this found expression in the pages
of his paper. Former comrades and readers were presented with his decision as
a fait accompli - in Militant. None had the opportunity to publicly argue with
him, for or against, whether or not Militant Labour, is, as he maintains, best
placed to make a "substantial contribution to the building of a revolutionary
party" (Militant November 4 1994).
His change of camp was an isolated and lone act which produced no theoretical
gains. Citing Ireland, ex-Yugoslavia and Scotland, he admits not being in "100%
agreement on every question" with Militant Labour. Sadly he does not
elaborate... Sadder still, I think we can safely predict he never will, at least in
the pages of Militant.
At this present moment in time the SWP has managed to steal a march on
other left groups. It is now by far the biggest left organisation, boasting some
10,000 members. Indeed it has for a number of years called itself the
"smallest mass party in the world". However the SWP is not a party in the
Marxist sense. It is a biggish sect which defines itself in an exclusive way
around the Tony Cliff trinity of state capitalism, the permanent arms economy
and deflected permanent revolution.
In its Socialist Review-International Socialism origins the SWP was rooted in
the Labour Party and marketed itself as Luxemburgist: that is, explicitly
non-Leninist (Leninism led to Stalinism was the suggestion). During the 1950s
not much happened organisationally. It circulated the US Shachtmanites' journal
and in general suffered a slow decline; in 1958 membership was no more than
two dozen. The group worked along federal lines, with distinct libertarian,
social democratic and pacifistic leanings: Cliff himself described it
as "centrist" (S Matgamna A tragedy of the left, 1991, p1). The idea of building a
Leninist party in Britain was contemptuously dismissed as "toy-town
Bolshevism". Cliff's clever idea was staying in the Labour Party, all the way to
It was only 1960s youth radicalisation, above all over Vietnam, that provided
conditions of growth. The 'third campist' position that marked out the group
over the 1950-53 Korean War was quickly dumped in the pro-NLF floodtide.
'Ho-ho-ho Chi Minh' became the chant, not 'neither Washington nor Moscow'.
The IS, as it became, broke from the Labour Party in 1967, and a year
later Cliff began his campaign for what he intuitively called Leninism and
democratic centralism. In the early 1970s that meant a series of ruptures and
expulsions: here was the primeval source of today's Socialist Organiser, RCG,
RCP, Workers Power, etc.
A travesty of Luxemburgism gave way to a travesty of Leninism. The SWP
membership is never involved in, let alone begins, genuine internal debates.
There is a layer of 'red professors' who produce theory (and earn a regular
living in bourgeois academia). But this is either the stuff of the lecture hall, or
sophisticated apologetics, designed to justify the latest turn or shore up Cliff's
crumbling old dogmas against the mounting evidence of real life.
Together with an inner-core of full timers these intellectuals constitute the SWP
leadership. All initiative, and any serious argument, takes place within the
confines of this small circle.
Below the leadership there is a tier of cadre which is selected, not for its drive
and self-reliance, but its loyalty to the leadership and willingness to carry out,
without question, its wishes and latest line. Before 1905 it is true
Lenin argued for the appointment of Party agents. But that was due to the
Okhrana, the Tsarist secret police, not principle. Only an underground Party
could carry out communist work and open propaganda and polemic. The SWP
has adopted an internal regime which owes much to the Okhrana and nothing to
Bolshevism. A recent splinter paints a bleak, almost police type, picture of the
SWP cadre. "The test of a cadre", it says, with the benefit of recent
experience, is "the lengths they are prepared to go to intimidate anyone who
criticises the perspectives handed down to them" (International Socialists Group
Democracy and the SWP, 1994, p3).
Those who persistently question or come to different conclusions face
marginalisation or expulsion. Take Chris Jones, an SWPer for two
decades. He wrote a letter to Socialist Review in June 1994 replying to an
article by Duncan Hallas. In the course of his letter he naturally presented
some of his own ideas, including the need to put republicanism to the fore.
Almost immediately he found himself subject to all sorts of allegations by
John Rees, a central committee member, including breach of so-called democratic
The majority of his branch in Liverpool supported him against suggestions that
he was guilty of obstructing their work. Nothing was presented in writing.
Only the flat, unelaborated, charge, that he had broken SWP rules. Jones was
duly expelled. And even when he appealed he was given the opportunity
neither to listen to or cross-examine his accusers, nor an explicit
explanation of what he had been charged with. In the end he found himself
expelled for "permanent opposition" (SWP Pre-conference bulletin No2, 1994, p38).
Such undemocratic practices are no aberration. The membership itself is neither
educated theoretically nor trusted politically by the leadership. The
SWP works almost entirely top-down. There is no control from below. The
central committee appoints district organisers, who then appoint the district
committees, and so on. To spike potential focuses of opposition,
branch committees and the national committee were abolished. SWP conferences
and councils are run like rallies or pep talks, not the highest decision making
Recruitment is the answer to all strategic and political questions.
The continued existence of the Tory government, the fascist menace, are
all put down to the SWP's membership and its failure to recruit. After the
October 1992 mass demonstration against the pit closure programme, Tony Cliff
famously insisted that if he had 20,000 members, part of the march
could have been diverted to parliament and "the government would have
True, SWP members are permitted factional rights. However they can exercise
them only in the weeks before conference. With no continuous and open
argument, with no culture of theoretical debate, with no democracy,
it is predictable that when they do form, they are insubstantial,
unthought-out and tend towards the purely technical. A typical example is the
three-strong 'Filling the vacuum' faction. It agitates for a "rank and file
network" in the trade unions and not much else (see SWP Pre-conference bulletin Nos 1,2,3,
1994). Factions such as these are as much a mockery of factions as the SWP
is a mockery of a party.
All this creates, for the moment, a quiet life for SWP leaders. In the kingdom
of the SWP they are princes of all they survey. Their instructions and whims
are obeyed by cadres if not the increasingly passive members. Their ideology
is wonderfully preserved, as if in aspic. But lack of democracy and freedom to
criticise does not train revolutionaries nor build a party. The SWP regime
Cliff has created is sectarian not party.
The failure of the WRP, Militant Labour and the SWP is primarily a
failure of theory. Not personality, nor the corruption of power, nor a strange
pathological compulsion to endlessly repeat the history of opportunism. None
will understand that a revolutionary party cannot be built on the soft
ground of an exclusive ideology or the undemocratic domination of one faction
and its leadership. The programme of the working class - on which the Party
is based - should not be trammelled by dubious theories such as Tory
Bonapartism, parliamentary enabling bills, the permanent arms economy
or state capitalism. The programme outlines the broad line of march
from capitalism to communism and the practical demands of the working
class. It - the programme, that is - ought to provide the foundation and
guide through which all genuine partisans of the working class can be united for
Hence the Communist Party is a far wider and more useful weapon in the
class war than the sectarian group, which isolates and then pits the working
class revolutionary, one against the other, in a war of ideological nuance and
dogma. Within the Communist Party there must be room for all sorts of
Marxist shades and trends. What is important, when it comes to
membership, is not agreement, let alone with every dot and coma, with this or
that theoretician's conclusions on the nature of the Soviet Union.
Revolutionary practice is what counts.
Our immediate task is to reforge the CPGB. Fulfilling that great task
will be complex. It will, I believe, involve first and foremost the practical
work of winning new layers to communism. However as and to the degree that
proceeds, the renewed strength and vigour of the CPGB, can power a
rapprochement, in stages, with all revolutionary proletarian forces.
What I mean here is workers' unity. Such unity cannot be created by sects or
lowest common denominator ideological 'agreements' between them. "Unity," as
Lenin said, "must be won, and only the workers, the class conscious
workers themselves, can win it - by stubborn and persistent efforts"
(VI Lenin CW Vol 20, 1977, p319).
There are, of course, the literati around New Left Review, Radical Chains
and similar journals who like to believe that by regularly debating with and
giving a platform to the amorphous band of freelance 'Marxists', armchair
'militants' and crackpot scheme-mongers they strike a blow for unity.
But on the contrary such activity sustains and fuels sectarianism. It
flatters sectarianism, when it should be treated with cold contempt. Unity,
divorced from the fight for a Communist Party, is a parlour game for
dilettantes who, though they sometimes like to boast about their 'defence'
of the Marxist method, are completely useless when it comes to the
fight for socialism. Communists take workers and serious left organisations as
their basis. "Unity without organisation is impossible", runs one of
Lenin's dictums. So we want to unite active workers. The idea of uniting the
'socialist intelligentsia', most of them lazy, semi-reformist and completely
detached from the working class, is a reactionary utopia. The idea of
uniting all workers willing to rebuild their CPGB - that is our cause.
I know there are those, some sincere, some insincere, who maintain that the
Communist Party can only be rebuilt from the bottom up, from independent
local or trade union branch work. This argument must be turned onto its feet
for it to become a communist argument. Real communist work, locally, in
workplaces, or in trade unions, is only possible if it is organised by an
authoritative centre. Communism takes as its starting point the world, and
the world-wide transition from capitalism to socialism. There is nothing
parochial about genuine communism. As a matter of principle it favours the
organisation of the working class in the largest possible units. Our main
enemy is our own United Kingdom capitalist state not this or that employer,
let alone the town council. Communist parties become local by first
being international and state-national.
Localism is a slippery slope. It is organisational anarchism. Capitalism tried
to destroy the Party by promoting Eurocommunism and the Democratic Left,
by lauding Martin Jacques and Nina Temple. Localism carries out the destructive work of capitalism without being asked or even rewarded.
Localism is not only independent of the CPGB, it is against the CPGB.
The longer the period of reaction lasts the more weak elements will seek
justification for desertion. One of the features of the present day is the flip
from 'Marxism' to liberalism. The Democratic Left, New Left Review, the
Morning Star, Tariq Ali and localism are all rungs of one ladder, stages in a
single process, expressions of the same tendency. To be a real communist it is
not enough to call oneself a communist: one must carry out the practical work
of reforging the CPGB. The disintegration of the Party should not be added to
by localism. Disintegration can only be overcome by rallying to the defence of
Reforging the CPGB rests at the moment exclusively on the shoulders of
Leninists. All Party work in progress, not least in the field of elections, is
being carried out by Leninists. Thus it devolves to us, the only consistent
defender of the Party principle, to select and by gradation call up those
elements fit to serve the cause. A new general crisis of capitalism looms; our
enemies are upping the stakes in the class war; fascism stirs in the far wings.
Under such conditions it would truly be criminal not to offer the hand of
friendship to potentially pro-Party people in other groups.
So what stages of rapprochement mentioned above do I envisage? Stage one is
calling again upon the surviving pro-Party elements scattered by the collapse
of 'official communism' and those groupings who, formally at least, take a
pro-Party position. Stage two will require us to reach out to those who
define themselves as being in the Leninist tradition. Stage three should open
the door to all genuine Marxists. Stage four might still be a long way off, but
any sizeable Communist Party ought to set itself the aim of organising those
serious libertarian and syndicalistic workers who are revolutionary but at the
moment mistrust the party idea because of negative experience of Labourism,
'official communism' and the Trotskyoid groups.
At every stage rapprochement necessarily means ideological struggle, crucially
against liquidationism; in Britain that primarily and most dangerously takes the
form of pro-Labourism. The fundamental line of demarcation in the communist
movement in Britain today is between those who are pro-Labourite (in the last
analysis that must mean pro-reformist and pro-capitalist) and those who are
revolutionary and pro-Party. Some 'official communist' fragments make
great play of the 'communist unity' slogan when all they really want is the
unity of opportunism for the benefit of Labourism. Such liquidators should
stop pretending to be communists. Go and join Blair's stinking party. That
is where you belong. We want the unity of workers and genuine proletarian
Arguments about how to skin the Labourite cat, how to strip the Labour Party
of militant working class support, are one thing. Automatically voting Labour,
the reformist notion that a Labour government would be a step in the direction
of socialism, or would empower the working class, are another. The first is
legitimate; the second is illegitimate.
Leninists must undoubtedly seek rapprochement with the former, those who
are really Marxists and potential pro-Partyists. As to the latter, including the
pro-Labourites who broke away from our Party, they cannot be regarded
as a part of communism. There can be no rapprochement with reformist or
counterrevolutionary elements. So we have no need for the services of
conciliators, supposed honest brokers who would neutralise the differences
between pro-Partyism and pro-Labourism. There should be no unity for
unity's sake, but unity for the sake of Party work and the class struggle.
We would only have NCPers, Straight Leftists, Communist Liaison and
CPBers back in the Party on the definite condition that they break from
liquidationism and pro-Labourism. They must come over to the real Party
standpoint, the real Party way of life. Of course, the liquidationist
fragments of 'official communism' are far from alone. Liquidationism is a deep
rooted social phenomenon. The WRP, Militant Labour and the SWP likewise
automatically make the call to vote Labour, and to a greater or lesser degree
peddle the lie that a Labour government would represent social progress.
Let us concentrate to begin with then on what we have designated stage one.
Frankly, the NCP, Straight Leftist, Communist Liaison, Morning Star and
Democratic Left splits were a good thing. Leninists now lead the Party, much
reduced though it is. By using the commanding heights gained in the inner-Party
struggle we can reforge it out of our wing. We are well rid of those factions
who wanted to liquidate our Party into Labourism. However the confusion
and dispersal of pro-Party elements those liquidationist splits caused - that
was a bad thing. We want to give the possibility of returning to the Party and
working for the Party to all communists. We earnestly call the pro-Party
diaspora back to the Party. Surely it is time for them, if they are serious, to
return to their Party. Unite with the continuation of the Party represented by
the Provisional Central Committee and the Party organisations which accept
its leadership. It is either that or isolation, localism and effective death as any
sort of communist.
Objective conditions dictate rapprochement with the PCC. A rapprochement
of pro-Party groups with the PCC, because it is the only established and
effective pro-Party centre. Let those who say they are for the unity of
revolutionary Marxist-Leninists pass from word to deed. A mutually
acceptable contractual agreement on the basis of the struggle for the
Party and the Party principle against liquidationism, without any
ideological compromises, without any glossing over of tactical or other
differences of opinion within the 'what we fight for' credo presented
in each edition of the Weekly Worker - that would be a splendid thing. And
that is what we have proposed to Open Polemic, the Communist Action Group
and the so-called Independent Communists. Who amongst them is really
pro-Party, in deed, not merely in word - this is something that can be
ascertained in the course of daily work. Nevertheless the coming over
of even one small communist group during a period of reaction such as this -
that would be vastly more significant than the tiny numbers concerned would
on the face of it suggest. It would be the unity of different opinions under the
banner of pro-Partyism. Do not doubt it: such a development would reverberate
throughout the left in the United Kingdom and beyond.
Will any of them dare? Will even one of them make the leap? Each must
choose: seek rapprochement with the CPGB's PCC or become liquidators.
Time, it has to be said, is pressing. Soon the seventh trumpet will
sound. If the pro-Party elements within them prove too weak or unorganised, or
no agreement is wanted, so be it. Then Leninists will remain the sole
builders of the Party. We shall advance towards the goal of reforging the CPGB,
only we will have to wait that bit longer before we can attempt to draw in
all who stem from, or claim the Marxist-Leninist tradition. It will be a
longer route but we shall get there. Our practical work will continue, and if the
need arise we shall expose those who have by lack of courage put themselves in
the anti-Party camp. Leninists will make the CPGB into a mass vanguard
Party together with those who want to help and against those who are
incapable, or do not want to help.
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