World Party of Socialist Revolution
Jose G. Perez
jgperez at netzero.net
Fri Jul 5 21:07:53 MDT 2002
To Peter and other DSP comrades:
I think the DSP's approach to international collaboration, at least as seen
from afar, is clearly a step in the right direction, and away from what had
shown itself to be a dead end historically.
The question I would urge the comrades to ponder is whether some of the
kinds of lessons that led to the abandonment of the mini-comintern approach
on an international scale don't also apply on the national scale of what we
think of as the "Leninist party."
You say that (roughly) the same kind of organizational form you now have has
been had by a variety of revolutionaries in various countries at various
times; hence, in and of itself, a form roughly like this can't be ipso facto
sectarian. (I say "roughly" because I don't know the DSP's organizational
practices and norms in great detail).
I would agree, but I think that is the wrong way to approach the matter.
Does the Australian situation *require* this kind of form, a politically
homogeneous democratic centralist vanguard party nucleus form? Because this
kind of organizational form has well known and well documented drawbacks as
well as benefits.
I think it almost inevitably, especially under conditions of relative
political stability and quiescence, tends to create a sort of cliquish,
inbred mentality. There is a tendency for the "party" (meaning propaganda
league) fraction to substitute itself for the real movement, having all the
real discussion in the fraction, sucking the political life out of the
There are, of course, times when fractional intervention is absolutely
necessary, but in my experience, the way we in the SWP did it in
the 70s was overkill, and I do mean kill. Would the world really end if two
YSA comrades at a campus antiwar meeting disagreed on the best time to hold
a rally? We'll never know, as the hypotheses was never put to the test of
practice. We were all firmly convinced: advocacy of an early evening as
opposed to a late afternoon rally by a YSA'er at an Student Mobilization
Committee meeting leads directly to betraying the most precious secrets of
tactical military operations under insurrectionary or civil war conditions.
I suspect what we were doing is somewhat akin to what was going on in London
in the early 1850s, which led Marx and Engels to decide that liquidating the
Communst League was far preferable to playing at revolution. And that's not
JUST to avoid silliness like the example I give, which may be a caricature
but one that is drawn from real life, but for a much deeper reason.
The political maturation of popular movements is not something that is so
easily influenced on a purely ideological plane. As working people start
moving towards class political consciousness, it takes place through a
process of actual living events, developments and struggles, and the job of
the communists is to go through these experiences with the rest of the
working people. It may, of course, seem ideal if a pre-existing formation
like the DSP can be there at the outset to give conscious expression, and an
organized form, to the maturing political consciousness among working
people. But the development of the movement may be such that this specific
form turns out to block the form that could, should and would have emerged.
In other words, a key part in the subjective factor playing the absolutely
decisive role it must play is a recognition by the subjective factor, i.e.,
people like us, that the role we can play is overwhelmingly determined by
non-subjective, obective conditions beyond our control. That's easy enough
to say, but the trick is to apply that understanding to *ourselves.* View
ourselves, the groups we've created and the activities we'ved carried out
merely as a modest part of a contradictory, dialectical historical
Insistence on a Zinovievist/Cominternist "Leninist" model as the ideal or
best or default form of organization for Marxists I believe contradicts
this. And it leads to bad outcomes. I believe by the mid-1970's, and perhaps
well before, it could and should have been possible in the United States to
draw together the bulk of marxist and socialist activists that arose from
the struggles of the 60's as members or supporters of a single party. There
was broad programmatic agreement among much of the left on the big political
issues of the day, like affirmative action, busing and so on.
There were many reasons why it didn't happen, but one of them, and an
important one, was the existence of these groups left over from the time of
the Comintern. In fact, what it would have required is one of the larger
groups, at least, BREAKING from "Leninism" and leading a fight/movement to
establish such a broad party of revolutionary socialists.
Such a party would not have had, it is true, a precise characterization of
the Soviet Union or a complete program for what to do about it. That is less
of a drawback than it seems, as I believe it would definitely have been a
mistake to charter branches of an American party in Moscow or Siberia. I
firmly believed then, as well as today, that if you solve the American
problem, the Russian problem will pretty much take care of itself.
I sometimes do a thought experiment, and wonder what it would have been like
if the Cuban Trotskyists of the 1930s (an entirely different breed from
those of the 60's IMHO) had managed to avoid some key losses and win some
key revolutionary leaders during the upsurge that unfolded in Cuba
in the mid-30s.
What if they had remained an active grouping of a few hundred, militantly
defending the interests of the workers, opposing Batista's regime. If that
pole of attraction had existed 20 years later, in the 50's, might it have
short-cutted the development of a revolutionary minded layer of young people
in a bourgeois nationalist party? Could it have prevented the consolidation
of the July 26 Movement?
I think a more "advanced" oppositional pole could well have disrupted the
development of the July 26 Movement and the revolution may well not have
happened. Of course, in hindsight, we know that what those comrades would
have had to have done is either liquidate into or become the July 26
movement, a broad movement for national dignitity and social justice but NOT
a socialist movement, not YET. Is there anything in the history of the
Trotkyist movement that leads us to think THAT is the approach that would
have been taken?
The truth is that, mostly, the DSP exists today in the form it does for
historical reasons, not because these 200 or 400 or however many comrades
got together at the beginning of 2002 and, with a clean slate, decided that
this was the most suitable form or organization in every nuance and detail
at this time. History plays an important role in these things, there's no
sense pretending that the initial grouping of comrades that came together in
the late 1960s and their whole development over 30-odd years, including the
influence of the FI and SWP, for good and/or ill, never happened. The DSP is
*also* a product of the historic process.
I'm certainly not qualified to try to make tactical medicine for the DSP,
but it seems to me that the emergence of phenomena like green parties and
socialist alliances and so on raise the question of whether the established
left/radical groups (and especially the DSP, if I understand the general
outline of the situation in Australia correctly, where the DSP appears to be
much larger than all rivals), are too narrow to play the role of the nucleus
of the workers party, the class party.
Or look at it another way: what objective, immediate, political, class
justification is there for all active, revolutionary-minded socialists NOT
to form part of a single united party in Australia today? Shouldn't it
rather be a situation where pretty much the entire socialist left
("socialist," of course, in the sense of "socialism," not just 10% higher
unemployment benefits) identified with a *single* party/movement?
Yes, there are all sorts of historical reasons why we don't have that, but
are there actual immediate political differences that couldn't be contained
within a single organization? Especially if you stop viewing the
organization as the expression of an ideal, i.e., the perfect program, the
most correct positions, and so on, and view it instead as an expression of a
real living *movement* that's involved a layer of the working people?
Yes, it is true, such a broad organization would probably have taken, as a
whole, a position somewhat like the DSP's in relation to East Timor (which,
apart from one or another formulation which I remember at the time making me
nervous, I agreed with), and I'm, sure there would have been others in such
a united party that took a position more along the lines of that advocated
by Nestor and Louis on this list. Could such "differences" have been
"contained" within a single party? I think so -- especially if you don't gag
everyone in the minority and force people to say things they don't believe.
Such differences, even on extremely important questions, are part of the
process of political maturation of the broader layers of advanced workers.
Discussing these in public, adopting a position, and even discussing on
whether to impose descipline on, for example, the handful of socialists who
might be in a parliament, to vote in the legislature in a way that reflects
the majority position, should not disrupt the fundamental unity of a
If you view the "party" as an integral part of and an expression of a
historical process, a *movement*, rather than as the embodiment of "the"
program then is it really true that one would choose the relative narrowness
of the DSP, with its very specific traditions, homogeneous methods, implicit
or explicit common positions on a huge panoply of questions, including
historical questions, theoretical questions and programmatic questions that
have yet to come to the fore as well as the immediate political issues?
Or, if the comrades had their druthers, wouldn't you choose something more
going in the direction of, say, the german social democracy of Marx and
Engels's time? Or perhaps something like the Debsian U.S. socialist party of
early 1900s, "sewer socialist" right wing and all? A party that wasn't
*nearly* as "together" as the DSP is today, but on the other hand, to the
degree that people viewed politics in class terms, was seen clearly and
unambiguously as THE Australian workers party?
Or was Marx wrong when he said, "Every step of real movement is more
important than a dozen programmes." Remember the *context* in which he said
that. A private letter to a handful of the topmost trusted leaders of the
Marx party in Germany, in which he raked them over the coals for ideological
muddle-headedness and capitulation to the LaSalleans in the fusion with that
other workers party. And what did Marx advocate? "If, therefore, it was not
possible - and the conditions of the item did not permit it - to go beyond
the Eisenach programme, one should simply have concluded an agreement for
action against the common enemy.
"The Lassallean leaders came because circumstances forced them to. If they
had been told in advance that there would be haggling about principles, they
would have had to be content with a programme of action or a plan of
organisation for common action.
A bare minimum agreement on concrete immediate measures -- that's what Marx
proposed as the preferable foundation for the more broadly based party of
socialist workers that had become possible at that juncture.
It did not occur to him to suggest that his followers forego the opportunity
to create a broader class party, or even that they should try to *convince*
theLaSalleans through precongress discussions and so on, because he did not
believe political maturation took place that way. He said the mistake of his
comrades was accepting a broad-ranging muddle-headed
programmatic/theoretical proclamation: "But by drawing up a programme of
principles (instead of postponing this until it has been prepared for by a
considerable period of common activity) one sets up before the whole world
landmarks by which it measures the level of the Party movement."
And note what he sets out as the PREcondition for consolidating the FUSED
party's theoretical outlook on a more fully scientific basis: "a
considerable period of common activity."
For the sake of creating a clear, continuing CLASS pole, not just some
lashed-together electoral alliance (though, just to ward off any
misunderstandings, I want to make clear that I think putting together one of
these alliances is a great political hack, I'm all for it, and I hope it
opens the door towards a more permanent socialist workers party,) isn't it
appropriate to take Marx's advice, come together around the things there is
agreement on, make compromises and accomodations, and see if this can help
lead to real *movement* ? Because if Marx is right, real movement, real step
forwards for the class movement, is what will lead to greater
In my "Leninist" days I would have called this sort of party
formation a "centrist swamp." We "Leninists" believed that "without
revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement" which was
interpreted to mean, a party without a clear ideology, a complete
theoretical/programmatic outlook, could never become a real movement, it
would fracture at the first challenge.
Whether Lenin actually said that, I do not know. I assume so. But I do know
I have no idea what he may have been talking about.
Because at least the way it is usually presented --as a general principle--
the bit about there being no revolutionary movement without revolutionary
theory is WRONG. It is *not* a Marxist, a materialist position. The
*Marxist* position is that revolutionary theory *arises from* the
revolutionary movement, not the other way around. The *Marxist* position
about where Marxism comes from is, of course, Marxist, and that means,
materialist. In its general, sweeping form, which IS how Lenin's dictum is
presented by Leninists, this theses attributed to Lenin (and never in its
historical context, which makes me think Lenin is getting a bum rap) is an
Of *course* Marxism isn't simply vulgar materialism, it is dialectical
materialism and there are times when ideas themselves become a material
force. I *suspect* if someone *actually* chases down the Lenin quote in
context we will see that he was talking about some specific time, place and
circumstance, and NOT formulating a supra-historical "law" of revolutionary
If you could say, what would be the ideal organization for the socialist
workers movement in Australia today, I think one would say something like a
broad marxist socialist workers party. By "broad" I don't mean to imply "at
least X% of the voters," but broad in terms of the Marxists, the socialists,
of the people who really are for communism, i.e., the abolition of private
ownership over the means of production.
I think this is likely true in all the developed English-speaking countries,
i.e., the "colonies" (US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and Great
Britain, if not the advanced capitalist countries as a whole. This doesn't
mean Lenin was wrong in urging a split in the German social democracy, in
the French social democracy, in the Italian party. It means organizational
forms are a function of historical circumstances.
Now, saying that it would be dandy to have this doesn't mean it is
actually possible to put it together today. But I do believe from such an
understanding a series of changes in how I imagine the DSP probably
functions might be considered.
One thing I think it means -- and I think this is an approach you already
apply in international relations-- is that historical and theoretical
questions are just that, subjects to be discussed calmly, including --why
not?-- in public. With the internet today, there certainly can be no pretext
like, gee, we have to give the majority (or the bulk, or all) of the pages
of our very limited press to the majority, that's the democratic thing to
I would also look at loosening up on a bunch of tactical questions, and in
terms of disciplined functioning. I would take a look at whether the
explicit or unstated levels of financial and activity commitments are
unrealistically high for many working people, like single mothers on
welfare. Could such a comrade make it to the Central Committee
"organically," without being imposed from above more or less by some
nominating commission which in turn is guided by the PC or national
Would there be room in the party for Engels? There was room for him in the
first international, even though he was a manufacturer -- a bourgeois
manufacturer -- and lucky thing it was, too, otherwise Marx would have
probably starved to death long before completing Capital. As for the second
international, until his death, insofar as it was anything more than the
national parties, Engels WAS the second international. To all intents and
purposes the Second International when it arose was a bunch of national
parties + Engels, and I don't believe Engels wrote any of the resolutions,
went to the Congresses or gave any speeches.
I would suggest that comrades consider just re-reading a bunch of Lenin from
100 years ago, and think about moving in the direction of what he proposed
the RSDLP be and how the Bolsheviks actually functioned. People can be
members if they a) agree in general with the program b) agree to give (some)
money and c) agree to actively take part in the party's work as part of one
of its organizations. There was no (high) minimum level of activity set or
implied. Nor was there any overarching party line and discipline about
anything and everything.
This means, yes, a certain amount of laissez-fiare and free-lancing, and
what of it? In a *real* upsurge or revolution, there will be tons of that,
comrades might as well get used to it and train for it. The February 1917
revolution was totally a free-lance operation. No central committee orders
came down that the time was ripe to get rid of the tsar. Workers trained in
the Bolshevik *politics* of class opposition to tsarism, and not in some
imagined Bolshevik "discipline" of subordination to higher bodies, led the
upsurge that toppled the tsar, and went on from there.
Now some might say, that was all well and good in Marx's time, but today we
face the most ruthless and powerful and so on ruling classes, etc., etc.,
etc. and nothing less than a "Leninist" party will do. It's been the
standard answer of the SWP USA, for example, to kids who look at Cuba and
say, gee, if just getting together all the revolutionaries in a July 26
movement was good enough to do in capitalism in Cuba, why don't we do the
same sort of thing here. And the SWP answer is the workers need a much more
powerful instrument than the July 26 movement because the imperialist ruling
classes are better organized, etc.
You have to wonder if it is really true. Were the imperialists who were the
real masters in Cuba any less ruthless or competent than the ones who ran
the United States? Weren't they really the very same ones? Isn't the
difference in effectiveness as a political force really to be found on the
OTHER side of the class line, i.e., among the working people? Wasn't the
difference between Cuba in 1960 and the US in 1960 just a matter of the
degree of organization, consciousness, combativity and mobilization among
the working people in those two countries?
When you stop to think about it, it doesn't really follow. The way you do
the capitalists in isn't by getting a million or ten million super-dedicated
ultradisciplined Bolshevik cadre to act in a perfect conspiracy. The way
revolutionary change happens is that everyone just gets disgusted with the
rulers all at once, it's like a paradigm shift that suddenly seizes the
whole of society. It's the regular people, not the "troublemakers" who WILL
get you. Then suddenly, you can't call in the army because the soldiers are
on strike; the national guard is totally unreliable, every other bourgeois
politician is suddenly calling for your resignation, hoping that throwing
you to the dogs will mollify the mob and buy time to restabilize things.
Under those circumstances there is a need for action, concerted action, for
leadership. But that it *must* take the form of a democratically centralized
vanguard party of professional Bolshevik revolutionaries steeled and
battle-hardened through countless plantgate sales and endless
follow-the-leader hand raising fractional "interventions" in the mass
movement is, at least in my mind, no longer as clear as it used to be. I
believe the comrades in that revolutionary situation either will or will not
understand the opportunity and, based on their degree of understanding,
rapidly create organizational structures adequate to the political tasks
they see before them. No amount of previous "Leninist" organization will
save them if they do not uderstand the political situation and tasks; and no
lack of previous Leninist orthodoxy will bar the way if they DO understand
the challenge and organize themselves to meet it.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Boyle" <peterb at dsp.org.au>
To: "Marxism List" <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Wednesday, July 03, 2002 1:25 AM
Subject: Re: World Party of Socialist Revolution
Louis Proyect's excerpt from the Links article about the DSP's view on
the various attempts by Trotskyists to try and replicate the
organisational form of the Comintern begins to answer Steve Painter's
attempt to fit the DSP up as a political sect blindly sticking to some
inappropriate organisational form.
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