How to split

Peter Chiltern ozleft at
Thu Feb 27 05:12:17 MST 2003

New on Ozleft

By Bob Gould

Back in 1970, along with several documents putting the point of view of the
group opposed to Jim and John Percy during the split in Resistance and the
International Marxist League in Sydney, I printed and distributed two small
pamphlets. One was an article Lenin in 1905 by Marcel Liebman from
Monthly Review, about the Committee Men, and the other one a chapter from
Earl Birney's book, Down the Long Table, to which I gave the title, How to

Even some of my supporters were uneasy about throwing Earl Birney's chapter
into an already tense atmosphere, but I took the view that satire was a good
way of looking at some situations, and a sense of humour was a useful thing,
even in serious matters like Marxist politics.

I had in the back of my mind a precedent during the Bolshevik-Menshevik
split in 1903, during which a talented Bolshevik supporter produced a kind
of comic strip about the split, which stands the test of time and which
immensely amused Lenin, despite the fact that he took such political
conflicts deadly seriously.

The virtue of Earl Birney's chapter is that he telescopes as caricature a
number of the contradictory tactical considerations at work on the
Trotskyists in the 1930s. He provides thumbnail sketches of political types
in the movement that will be familiar to anyone who has been active in small
revolutionary organisations, and Birney telescopes the point that splits and
explosions often leave more wreckage than forces intact, and sometimes
destroy organisations and groups completely.

Birney's little chapter is of some interest in Australia at the moment,
given the impending further split in the International Socialist
Organisation and the enforced departure of the main leaders of the loyal
opposition from the Democratic Socialist Party after the rather tense
political discussion in that organisation late last year and the national
conference at Christmas-New Year.

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