Party-building (was re US far left)

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Sat Nov 16 22:54:43 MST 2002

Jose writes:
> I think Lou Paulsen has hit the nail right on the head. The kind of
> full-program, a position on every conceivable historical and theoretical
> question and struggle around the world, organization he has in mind cannot
> be built through a fusion.

> The only organization that CAN be built is one "limited" to a revolutionary
> perspective and approach to the U.S., and which takes positions on concrete
> political questions, not on general characterizations, historical and
> theoretical questions, and so on.

I think this is an absolutely vital point in discussing *serious party-building*.

I disagree with the ISO-US position that Cuba is some kind of capitalist
state.  I also think it is a very important issue.  But I do not think
it is a *decisive* issue around which to have a split, or refuse a
fusion, *as long as* everyone agrees that US attacks on Cuba should be
opposed and that, for revolutionaries in the US, opposition to such
attacks is a priority.

I cannot see that WWP and ISO-US have differences that are fundamental
to building a revolutionary party.

In NZ, there is no socialist alliance like the Aussie and british ones,
where the bulk of the far left has come together and where virtually all
of the groups are either Trotskyist or pro-Trotsky/anti-Stalin (eg the
CPGB, which is not Trotskyist but is pro-T and anti-S).  However, in NZ
we do have the Anti-Capitalist Alliance in which a group which, while
certainly not Trotskyist, could broadly be described as pro-Trotsky (the
circle around 'revolution) and a group which is pro-Mao (the Workers
Party) have come together.  There are clearly some major issues which
separate our two small groups - such as the evaluation of what happened
in the Soviet Union after 1917 and especially from the 1920s on.

Yet the reality of our day-to-day work in organising against imperialist
war, producing workplace bulletins, propagandising for socialism and
running in elections is that 'the Russian question' doesn't really come
up.  Every now and then, after a stall or an ACA conference, when we're
sitting round having a beer there might be some casual discussion of it,
but that's really about it.  No-one gets overexcited about it because it
is essentially an historical question at this point in time.

Of course, it's not without contemporary relevance coz of questions like
the popular front and so on, but our experience is that WP has the same
view as us anyway in relation to blocs with sectors of the national
bourgeoisie in the Third World (ie tactical alliances against
imperialism are permissible, as long as the independence of the
revolutionaries is not surrendered) and the same position as us in
relation to the imperialist countries (no blocs with capitalist forces).

On paper, if you added up the historical questions you would expect that
we would have more in common with the various little Trotskyist groups
in NZ and they would have more in common with the various little Maoist
groups.  But the reality is that the two groups with *the most agreement
on contemporary issues* - like the nature of NZ society itself (ie
junior imperialist or neo-colony), the nature of the LP
(bourgeois-liberal or bourgeois-workers party) and other fundamental
questions of today - are us and WP, not us and any Trotskyist group and
not them and any Maoist group.

Needless to say, the Trotskyist groups predicted a very limited lifespan
for the ACA because it was impossible for them to see how two such
'different' groups could possibly work together in any close way over
any length of time.  In fact, the opposite has happened.  What was
originally put forward by WP as a loose electoral coalition developed,
even as it was being formed, into something rather more.  We now
collaborate closely in most areas of work and conduct most of our work
through the ACA and/or through bulletins and mags and so on brought out
under the aegis of the ACA.  We maintain our own publications - ours
being 'revolution' (a quarterly mag) and theirs being 'The Spark' (a
two-three weekly journal), our members sell both publications and we
write some stuff for each other's publications.  We still have all the
same differences over *historical questions and we also have some
differences over some contemporary issues - eg WP calls for a ban on GM
food, and we don't.  Both these viewpoints are expressed publicly.

Apart from historical questions, Jose also mentions 'general
characterizations' as not requiring agreement and I think this is
important too.

One of the things that Revo and WP have in common is that while we have
quite high standards and horizons, and are fairly ambitious in that
sense, we also understand that we are really a tiny layer of people in a
small country at the end of the world.  We know a fair bit about NZ and
will argue the toss with anyone about questions here, but we are not
experts in how to make revolutions in the other 200 countries on the
planet.  Thus there are no big articles in our publications on how to
make a revolution in the Congo, or Argentina or even Australia, the
country in the world most like NZ.  Actually, in Revo we haven't ever
even said that the Aussie LP is a bourgeois-liberal party (although I
guess most of us would tend to suspect the DSP is right on that one)
because we aren't in a position to be experts on that - although I note
that Bob Gould has no such reluctance in arguing with us about the
nature of the NZ LP.

The fact that WP and Revo have no 'lines' on other countries - we adopt
the more modest aim of being experts on our own revolution and find that
to be quite taxing enough without pretending to lay down the law to
workers in Bombay, Buenos Aires or Jenin - is actually one of the first
things that brought us together.  Several members of both groups first
really started taking note of each other because we were both taking the
piss, fairly mercilessly, out of people in a NZ Trotskyist group who
were imagining that every time they went on a demo they were in a
'military bloc' with a movement in the Third World and who seriously
talked about having been in military blocs with Laurent Kabila, the PLO
and General Galtieri - all without leaving the safety of Auckland
University, let alone Kabila, the PLO and Galtieri ever having even
heard of them (much less known they were in military blocs with them!).
They also had all kinds of advice to dispense to the Argentinian working
class and others in struggle and were most offended by our irreverence.
So it was actually piss-taking of these Trotskyist eejits that got Revo
and WP people becoming politically chummy and increasingly, as debates
opened up on that particular e-group, we found that we were saying the
same things much more often than not, and certainly on the big issues
which are crucial in NZ today.

Since Trotskyist groups, and groups heavily influenced by that
tradition, tend to imagine they are experts on everyone else's
revolution - and usually their expertise on other people's revolutions
is in inverse proportion to their ability to build anything significant
in the country where they actually reside - there is really a huge area
for disputation among such sects.  So not only are they divided by often
fundamentally tactical issues in their own country, they divide along
differences over the minutiae of how people in other countries should
conduct their struggles!

Philip Ferguson

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