Forwarded from Alex Nichols (reply to Lou Paulsen)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Nov 24 10:34:37 MST 2002

Response to a contribution on the Marxism Mailing list by Lou Paulsen,
Chicago Workers World Party.
Posted on Sunday, 24th November.

Lou Paulsen writes: -

"... the phenomenon of 'degeneration' did not come into existence only in
1923!   The parties of the Second International, which I hope nobody will
charge with Zinovievism, experienced degeneration long before 'Zinovievism'
supposedly came into existence! I would think that it makes more sense to
argue that there are pressures toward 'degeneration' of revolutionary
socialist parties at all times under the conditions of global capitalist
domination, but particularly at times when the class struggle is at an ebb.
In other words, I would argue that a materialist explanation of
'degeneration' - that is, that the real situation of the international
working class is reflected in the organization and politics of socialist
parties - works much better than idealist or organizational-sociological
explanations which explain 'degeneration' only on the basis of phenomena
internal to parties. "
This is half way to the truth, although it confuses two phenomena:

The parties of the 2nd International in Western Europe were mass workers
organisations which abandoned their Marxist programmes in favour of
supporting the war effort of their own ruling classes.
The degeneration they experienced was a result of the intense pressure of
national chauvinism on their full-time leaders, refracted through the upper
echelons of  the unions. (Mandel's little pamphlet "On Bureaucracy" has
some useful arguments on this point)

Although every tendency within a worker's organisation in some ways
reflects the pressure of the class struggle, this is a different phenomenon
to Sectarianism.  The current leadership of the SWP (US) exemplifies this
well, but it's demonstrated in various measures, by many other formations
across the world.

Sectarianism is damaging to the overall interests of the working class, but
arises from different causes to bureaucratic degeneration within a
capitalist environment.  In particular, from the determination of the
full-time political apparatus of the sect to retain control in a period
where its political line has proven to be false.  When challenged by
determined opposition, sectarian leaderships have often waved quotations
from Canon about the unity of the party and resorted to expulsions.

Without descending to the depths of the Stalinists, they have aped the
methodology of Stalinism in stifling political debate.

 From their own point of view, such sectarians imagine that the parties
they lead are purified of dross, that they are the "historically determined
leadership", and the way is open to unlimited growth.

 From the point of view of everyone else there is usually greater confusion.

The working class is confronted with an increasing multiplicity of
competing sects, whose differences are often obscure.

A wonderful example I saw a few days ago was a Spart leaflet left on the
tube in support of the fire-fighters strike.  This must surely be a
textbook example of how NOT to write a mass agitational leaflet!   Sensing
that they could address a mass audience, some anonymous Spart had decided
to leave his/her leaflets on the seats.  An extract reads:

The inability of these sects to work together, on even the most minimal
working class demands, invites ridicule.   The growth of Socialist
Alliance-type formations is a natural response to this historical impasse
and allows for unity in action around what we actually AGREE on, without
forcing total organisational monolithism on groups that have major differences.
Lou Paulsen:
" All right, now, let's get back to the history of the decline of the
SWP-US in particular.....
. I would argue that the question of whether the SWP-US was "an
historically healthy current" really IS the fundamental one, but it has to
be addressed in terms that go beyond 'Zinovievist' features that were
shared with all existing parties at the time....when did it cease to
function as the representative and defender of the most revolutionary trend
in the global struggle of the workers and the oppressed ..... Now, in all
this discussion of the various factions of the SWP-US with whom the
leadership did battle over the years ....I notice that there is a tendency
which does not get mentioned, namely, the Marcy/Copeland tendency, who left
the SWP-US in 1960 to form the Workers World Party, and presented to the
world, upon this occasion, their own critique of the SWP's "degeneration",
which they believed to have begun before 1948 and which they saw as being
so well advanced by 1960 that there was no point even staying in the SWP
and trying to fight for a revolutionary line any more. Their critique was
not based on the organizational behavior of the national leadership.
Rather, they saw the SWP as having succumbed to the pressures and
temptations of the Cold War anti-Communist attack - to the pressure to
disassociate itself from defense of the Soviet Union, the workers' states
in Eastern Europe, and the Chinese and Korean revolutions.."


Again, you attempt to fit the example of the SWP into your initially
erroneous framework.

The SWP in the 60's and 70's was able to build a mass anti-war movement and
capitalise on the youth-radicalisation of the time, because it was prepared
to engage in mass united-front activity.
The lack of a similar mass radicalisation amongst organised workers in the
US posed it with serious long-term problems in gaining a proletarian
base.  This was noticeably different to the situation in Britain, where
there WAS a massive wave of trade union militancy, which led to an influx
of ACTUAL workers into organisations like the I.S.

Barnes responded to a real problem in a totally mechanistic way and like
most sect leaders, projected the political concerns of his own national
section (not yet sect) into a worldwide political programme.  In Britain,
for example, no sooner had "turning" members of the IMG's Barnesite Faction
established themselves in one industry, than they were told to shift to
another: from Telecomms, to rail, to engineering, to meatpacking.  This was
based not on the real political gains possible in these industries, but on
building an obedient cadre and insulating it from rival tendencies.  Along
with the missionary-like position of "Talking Socialism on the Job", it
hamstrung the "Turn" from the word go.

The Barnesites were the most pro-Sandinista, pro-Castroite, pro- ANC
tendency within the USEC and the first "Trotskyist" current that I'm aware
of to actively challenge "Permanent Revolution", an issue on which they
crossed swords with Mandel and Frank.  (Cliff's "Deflected Permanent
Revolution" merely says it had been postponed due to the grip of
International Stalinism)

Obviously, the Barnesite's position was directly related to their adoption
of the perspectives of the Cuban Communist Party on "National Democratic"
revolution.  (See the article by Carlos Rafael Rodriguez in 'New
International' on this)

The problem is, that while the Cuban CP undoubtedly had a far more radical
agenda than the Kremlin leadership, their boundaries for political action
were materially conditioned by the support they got from it.  Both the
Cubans and the Barnesites failed to understand the long-term implications
of this, and
projected a contradiction less development of the revolutions in Central
America, without considering the processes at work in the Soviet
Bureaucracy.  In the case of the Cuban CP, this is something, which they
had never considered, while in the case of the Barnesites, it was
politically convenient amnesia.

When the USSR was dismantled, every one of the tendencies they were
promoting moved sharply to the right.  Rather cutely, Jack Barnes
proclaimed that "Imperialism had lost the Cold War" and began cuddling up
to the Korean "Workers Party", under its hereditary leader 'Baby'
Kim.  Probably because Korea is the only nuclear quartermasters still in
business, which could provide Cuban with a "deterrent" to US weapons of
mass destruction.

In this respect, the SWP tend to follow the deviations of the Workers World
Party, which in its mass propaganda fails to distinguish petit bourgeois
"anti-imperialism" from working class internationalism.  The roots of the
WWP's revisionism on this question go back precisely to Sam Marcy's
positions on the Hungarian uprising in 1956, when he failed to see anything
progressive whatsoever in the formation of Workers Councils and fully
supported the Soviet Bureaucracy's efforts to smash them and destroy their

That Barnes is now desperate to prevent his cadre's "contamination" by
allowing them to be involved in mass united front work on the impending war
has allowed the Marcyites to gain the sort of position in the anti-war
movement that the SWP had in the 70's.  This is more a case of Jack Barnes
shooting himself in the foot than a positive reflection on Marcyite's
adaptations to Stalinism and petit bourgeois nationalism since the late 50's.

All that being said, I'd be happy to work with a "Marcyite" in a united
front against the war, if I could find one in Britain!  The co-thinkers
they have chosen over here are the near moribund and stalinoid "New
Communist Party", who nowadays are almost nowhere to be seen.  The
Marcyites ought to be talking to the leadership of the Stop the War
coalition, who have actually done the business when it matters!

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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