On the issue of "internal" discussions -- ISO/SWP opposition

Jose G. Perez jgperez at SPAMnetzero.net
Wed May 17 20:38:57 MDT 2000

    [I tried posting this to the discussion list on the ISO/IST/SWP(UK); but
the service hosting the list bounced the post. I then tried sending it to
the list moderator(s) at the sverdlov at yahoo.com address to find out it had
stopped functioning. So I'm posting this to Marxism, hoping it will make its
way back to the ISO/SWP folks. The issue I'm talking about, however,
"internal" members-only discussions as a reflection of a fundamentally
mistaken political approach, is of much broader (I hope) interest. Jose.]

Einde O'Callaghan writes:

>>The very first thing I would like to say is that I'm not at all sure
that the Internet is an appropriate place to have an internal
discussion. Firstly, this is because it really isn't an internal
discussion. This list, fo example, is not confined to members of the
International Socialist Tendency. Others have been explicitly invited to
participate, and indeed the majority of the messages posted so far seem
to be from non-members of the IST.<<

Okay, I'll start by confessing, I am not now, nor have I ever been a member
of the ISO or its international tendency. I was, however, for quite a few
years a member and for part of that time a leader of the U.S. SWP and I
think the issue you raise, whether the discussion should be "internal," is a
much more far reaching question than it appears.

On the surface, the argument for it seems unassailable: the ISO is a
voluntary organization, and you have the right to discuss among yourselves
of interference from outsiders.

Yet, does a group (not particularly the ISO; I think this applies to ALL our
"Leninists") that believes itself to be the vanguard of the working class,
or at least the essential programmatic nucleus, precursor  or embryo of that
vanguard, have a right to consider itself a private club? Does the party
belong to its members, or does it belong to its class?

I think keeping what are often the richest and most significant political
discussions left groups have hidden from the rest of the movement and the
class is wrong. What it shows is that at bottom, we do not view ourselves as
merely the conscious expression of a class movement, a byproduct of that
objective reality, but first and foremost as keepers and continuators of a
and very narrow, detailed and specific programmatic legacy. We belong, not
to the class, but to a set of ideas, a program. The restriction of
discussions only to the initiated, only to those committed to that specific
program makes sense. Our organizations are the embodiment of an idea; in the
beginning was the word, and in us the word is made flesh.

Whatever else may be said for this approach, it must be admitted that it is
at loggerheads with the fundamental political approach of Marx and Engels
(and Lenin, too, I would add). In the fall of 1847, as he and Marx were
writing the Communist Manifesto, Engels wrote an extraordinary polemic
called "The Communists and Karl Heinzen." Here is part of what he said:

"Herr Heinzen imagines communism is a certain doctrine which proceeds from a
definite theoretical principle as its core and draws further conclusions
from that. Herr Heinzen is very much mistaken.

"Communism is not a doctrine but a movement; it proceeds not from
principles but from facts... Communism has followed from large-scale
industry and its consequences, from the establishment of the world market,
of the concomitant uninhibited competition, from the ever more violent and
universal trade crisis, which have already become full-fledged crisis of the
world market, from the creation of the proletariat and the concentration of
capital, from the ensuing class struggle between the proletariat and the

"Communism, insofar as it is a theory, is the theoretical expression of the
position of the proletariat in this struggle, and the theoretical summation
of the conditions for the liberation of the proletariat."

Marx and Engels return to this theme in the section on Proletarian and
Communists in the Manifesto:

"In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?
The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other
working-class parties.

"They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as
a whole.

"They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape
and mold the proletarian movement.

"The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by
this only:

"(1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different
countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the
entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.

"(2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working
class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and
everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

"The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand practically, the most
advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country,
that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand,
theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the
advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and
the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

"The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other
proletarian parties: Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of
the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat."

Nor is there any real question but that Marx and Engels quite literally said
what they meant and meant what they said.

Consider this passage from Engels's introduction to the 1890 German edition
of the Manifesto. Engels had just recounted how the Manifesto had fallen
into obscurity following the defeat of the revolutions of 1848, now he tells
of its re-emergence:

"When the European workers had again gathered sufficient strength for a new
onslaught upon the power of the ruling classes, the International Working
Men's Association came into being. Its aim was to weld together into _one_
huge army the whole militant working class of Europe and America. Therefore
it could not _set out_ from the principles laid down in the Manifesto. It
was bound to have a programme which would not shut the door on the English
trade unions, the French, Belgian, Italian, and Spanish Proudhonists, and
the German Lassalleans. This programme -- the considerations underlying the
Statutes of the International -- was drawn up by Marx with a master hand
acknowledged even by the Bakunin and the anarchists. For the ultimate final
triumph of the ideas set forth in the Manifesto, Marx relied solely upon the
intellectual development of the working class, as it necessarily has to
ensue from united action and discussion. The events and vicissitudes in the
struggle against capital, the defeats even more than the successes, could
not but demonstrate to the fighters the inadequacy of their former universal
panaceas, and make their minds more receptive to a thorough understanding of
the true conditions for working-class emancipation. And Marx was right. The
working class of 1874, at the dissolution of the International, was
altogether different from that of 1864, at its foundation. Proudhonism in
the Latin countries, and the specific Lassalleanism in Germany, were dying
out; and even the ten arch-conservative English trade unions were gradually
approaching the point where, in 1887, the chairman of their Swansea Congress
could say in their name: 'Continental socialism has lost its terror for us.'
Yet by 1887 continental socialism was almost exclusively the theory heralded
in the Manifesto. ...

"Nevertheless, when it appeared, we could not have called it a _socialist_
manifesto. In 1847, two kinds of people were considered socialists. On the
one hand were the adherents of the various utopian systems, notably the
Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France, both of whom, at that
date, had already dwindled to mere sects gradually dying out. On the other,
the manifold types of social quacks who wanted to eliminate social abuses
through their various universal panaceas and all kinds of patch-work,
without hurting capital and profit in the least. In both cases, people who
stood outside the labor movement and who looked for support rather to the
"educated" classes. The section of the working class, however, which
demanded a radical reconstruction of society, convinced that mere political
revolutions were not enough, then called itself _Communist_. It was still a
rough-hewn, only instinctive and frequently somewhat crude communism. Yet,
it was powerful enough to bring into being two systems of utopian
communism -- in France, the "Icarian" communists of Cabet, and in Germany
that of Weitling. Socialism in 1847 signified a bourgeois movement,
communism a working-class movement. Socialism was, on the Continent at
least, quite respectable, whereas communism was the very opposite. And since
we were very decidedly of the opinion as early as then that 'the
emancipation of the workers must be the task of the working class itself,'
we could have no hesitation as to which of the two names we should choose.
Nor has it ever occurred to us to repudiate it."

When Engels said in 1847 that communism wasn't a doctrine but a *movement,*
he meant exactly that. He wasn't talking about some Hegelian ideal
"movement" either, but a very concrete and identifiable political current
that had arisen in the working class as a result of the class struggle. And
when Marx and Engels say that Communists do not form a separate party
opposed to other working class parties, that they have no separate or
sectarian principles with which to shape the movement, what was meant is
shown by what they did in their practical political activity, which Engels
recounts in his 1890 introduction.

In light of this, the question we should be asking ourselves is why it would
even occur to someone in a revolutionary Marxist party to try to keep
discussions about political line and orientation private? What is it that
has driven virtually all of our groups to want to seal themselves off from
the broader communist and workers movement? Why do we so zealously insist
that our own particular group is the sole legitimate representative of the
interests of the working class, the only real and true communists, when it
is quite obvious that from a Marxist, i.e., a materialist point of view,
that could not possibly be the case?

The comrades of a given group may be very good communists, indeed excellent
communists in every respect; but if Engels is right that Communism is a
*movement* then, by its very nature, these comrades cannot be the only ones;
why do we want to wall ourselves off from the rest?


----- Original Message -----
From: <einde.ocallaghan at planet-interkom.de>
To: <opposition at topica.com>
Sent: Monday, May 15, 2000 6:16 AM
Subject: ISO/SWP Opposition List Some comments on the conduct of discussion

I will be unable to participate in the discussion in this list for
several days due to pressing family reasons and I have been unable to
study the documents already published on the Net in any detail but I
would like to make the following points about the conduct of teh

The very first thing I would like to say is that I'm not at all sure
that the Internet is an appropriate place to have an internal
discussion. Firstly, this is because it really isn't an internal
discussion. This list, fo example, is not confined to members of the
International Socialist Tendency. Others have been explicitly invited to
participate, and indeed the majority of the messages posted so far seem
to be from non-members of the IST.

Secondly, because of teh nature of the Internet there is the serious
question of security. The organisers of the list have expressed their
reluctance to give their names because of supposed potential reprisals
from within their organisations. But I think serious consideration also
has to be given to the points about security raised in the SWP
resolution on the IS-List, which was posted a couple of days ago. The
publication of the names of members of the ISO or other organisations on
the Internet, particularly without their express permission (I exclude
those leading members of an organisation whose names are already in the
public domain due to their open public activities), is a serious breach
of security. Unfortunately the person who published the ISO Internal
Bulletin has done so. The very least he or she could have done is blank
out the surnames of the comrades who wrote documents or are named in

Finally, I feel that it is very difficult for comrades on the ground in
one country to make judgements about the appropriate tactics to adopt in
other countries. It is difficult enough within a country for the
comrades in one branch to suggest appropriate action for comrades in
another town or city. I am doubly aware of this living in east Germany
because I find that I often have to correct misconceptions that comrades
from west Germany have about the situation here and often their advice
and comments are totally inappropriate. I feel that that will apply even
more to comments about the situation in other countries.

I therefore feel that the most comrades from outside the USA, for
example, can do about the situation facing the ISO is on the one hand
make some general remarks on the general situation and the resulting
perspectives and on the other hand comment on the appropriate
organisational measures for dealing with these. Anything more would
simply be ignorance compounding ignorance. This, of course, doesn't
necessarily apply to those with specific knowledge of the situation in
another country, but it is a fact that should be borne in mind when
making or reading the comments made by various participants in the

I would like to close by quoting from Cliff about one of the problems
that faced the Fourth International with regard to internal disputes:


IN FACE OF the vast chasm between the grand tasks posed before the
Trotskyist movement and the puny resources at its disposal, Trotsky
looked for specific organisational measures to shore up the movement. To
compensate for its weakness, Trotsky argued that every section should
participate in a dis-cussion of issues facing other sections. Thus he
wrote to the Executive Committee of the Communist League of France on 22
December 1930: 'For a Marxist, internationalism consists first of all of
the active participation of every section in the life of the other

On 7 March 1936 Trotsky repeated the sane argument in a letter to
British supporters: 'The adherents of the Fourth International belong..,
to an international organisation whose mem-bers are spread all over the
world, who work closely together, _mutually criticising and controlling
each other_. [My emphasis]'

When there was a faction fight in the French section with Raymond
Molinier, or in the German section with Kurt Landau, every section was
expected to be informed of the conflict and was expected to take a
stand. Similarly, when Trotsky argued that the French comrades should
enter the Socialist Party, it was expected that all other sections
should take a position on this tactical issue. In practice the result
was mayhem. The Spanish, Dutch and Greek sections, and the majority of
the German leadership not only opposed the tactic but split away from
the movement. So did Eugene Bauer (the international secretary), Georges
Vereecken (secretary of the Belgian section), AG Muste (one of the
leaders of the American Workers' Party) and others.

The problem with Trotsky's approach was that it is very difficult to
draw immediate tactical lessons from one branch of a national
organisation for another. How much more difficult is it to do the same
on the international scale.

Compare this idea of one section intervening in the tactical disputes of
another with the practice of the Comintern under Lenin and Trotsky where
it was quite uncommon. For example, when, at the Second Congress of the
Comintern (July-August 1920) the question arose as to whether the
British Communist Party should seek to affiliate to the Labour Party,
the only person to speak on the subject outside the British delegation
was Lenin. The German, French, Italian and other delegates did not have
the confidence to speak on such a tactical question, and it was not
expected of them to do so. And the cadres of the Trotskyist movement
were far less experienced than those of the Comintern under Lenin and
Trotsky. How could the intervention of the weak German Trotskyist group
in a faction fight of the French section strengthen it? As the main
weakness of the German group was its tiny size, poor social composition
and lack of implantation among the workers, would the fight against
Rosmer, or later Molinier, or even later Naville, have made it less
introvert, more able to relate to workers in real life struggles? The
tying of one weak Trotskyist group to another weak group, could
increase, rather than overcome weakness. It was not a case of addition,
but multiplication: a fraction of 1 times another fraction of 1, is not
larger than the original fraction.

Tony Cliff, "Trotsky 1927-1940: The darker the night the brighter the
star", Bookmarks, London,Chicago & Melbourne 1993, pp.300-1

end of quote

The situation is not exactly the same but the general lessons still

Cliff goes on to comment about the difficulties faced by a small overly
centralised international organisation - a theme that I believe has also
come up in the discussion - but I will save my comments on that for
another occasion when I've had a chance to study the documents.

Einde O'Callaghan (Linksruck Germany)


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