[Marxism] Re A sectarian approach

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Nov 10 12:56:10 MST 2005


Josh wrote:
>etc?  Or attack A,B, or C other group?  So the constant jabs against
>Trotskyists are petty, mean-spirited, unproductive, arbitrary and
>undialectical - they detach these groups from history and social
>context and hammer them for their sins, it just smells of red-baiting
>and anti-communism to me.

No, Josh, there is no red-baiting or anti-communism going on here. Instead 
we are involved with an attempt to come to grips with sectarianism. 
Although everybody comes here with slightly different agendas, I created 
Marxmail in the spirit of Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman's "The American 
Socialist" magazine and the Socialist Union they led, which existed from 
1954 to 1959. In the SWP, they were slandered as people cowed by 
McCarthyism who were running away from radical politics.

After coming in contact with the late Sol Dollinger of the Socialist Union, 
who wrote a book titled "Not Automatic" which was based on his experiences 
in the UAW and who was subbed here until his death, I spent a lot of time 
studying their material. Basically, I am trying to pick up where they left 
off, although--as I say--others participate here with their own 
motivations. This is from Bert's May 1954 "Our Orientation", an article 
that is my North Star:

 From the rise of Hitler to the World War, there did not exist a strong 
enough current upon which a new revolutionary formation, competing and 
supplanting the old workers organizations, could be based. The Trotskyist 
groups found neither the open field that favored the rise of the Second 
International nor a development equivalent to the October Revolution which 
started the mass trend toward communism. After World War II, contrary to 
our prewar prognoses, Stalinism was not eliminated, but rose to new heights 
of influence. Because the situation was, and remains, revolutionary in the 
world—and because therefore, the workers no longer clung to the old parties 
merely for protection against reaction—there has been a clear test of the 
ability of Trotskyism to create an independent movement on a program 
broadly confirmed by the new revolutionary developments. The fact that no 
one can realistically envisage a breakup in the old workers movements prior 
to the next revolutionary developments is the clear sign that the old 
Trotskyist perspective has become outmoded. As before the war, the vanguard 
seeks to realize its revolutionary aspirations within the old parties, 
leaving no room for a new revolutionary mass organization. Thus the 
Trotskyist movement, despite the brilliance of its leader, the considerable 
abilities and energies of its national cadres, and the many experiments 
with entries and fusions, was doomed to remain isolated. The test was made 
for a whole historic era, both in periods of reaction and revolution, and 
is therefore a decisive one.

But while Trotskyism, due to historic circumstances, remained outside the 
main currents of the labor movement, it built up in a quarter-century of 
its existence a truly formidable literature, doctrine and tradition. This 
tradition, we have said, gives Trotskyism the status of Twentieth Century 
Marxism. However true this claim maybe from an abstract theoretical point 
of view, it has not entered the consciousness of broad masses as did 
similar claims made by the Social Democracy prior to World War I, or by 
Lenin and the Comintern afterward. The tradition of Stalinism led to the 
mass revival of the Communist Party in France after the war, and the 
tradition of Social Democracy to its revival in Germany, but the tradition 
of Trotskyism could do no more than maintain it as an ideological tendency.

Every important movement has its own specific tradition, and every 
important leader places his indelible stamp upon an organization, not only 
through the formal resolutions and theses, but by his methods of work, his 
approach to big questions, his hundred and one evaluations, and in ways 
even more elusive and difficult to describe. Marx projected himself upon 
the First International. Lenin put his stamp on Bolshevism. And without any 
per adventure of a doubt, Trotsky did the same in fulsome measure in the 
case of the Fourth International. Now it is a fact that our whole 
tradition—so magnificent in many ways—is of no interest to the existing 
labor movements. Because the tradition has been created largely outside of 
the labor movements, it is foreign to them. They do not see or believe that 
any of it is pertinent to the solution of their problems. We therefore have 
to face up to this aspect of the reality just as we did to other parts of 
it, and have to draw the necessary lessons.

The very formulations of the International Resolution must lead us to the 
conclusion that the revolutionary parties of tomorrow will not be 
Trotskyist, in the sense of necessarily accepting the tradition of our 
movement, our estimation of Trotsky's place in the revolutionary hierarchy, 
or all of Trotsky's specific evaluations and slogans. We in the United 
States had precisely this experience where Trotskyists fused with the small 
Muste organization to form the Workers Party in 1935. The fusion occurred 
only after we had overcome considerable resistance in the Musteite ranks to 
accepting the special characteristics of Trotskyism by assuring them that 
we had no special sectarian axes to grind. How much more operative will 
this be when the left wing develops through its own specific experiences 
and the merging of different currents and groups inside the big centrist or 
reformist mass movements.

Our analysis and our tactical orientation would remain like a knife without 
a blade if we do not follow through with the necessary conclusion. And this 
conclusion is that in the present historical conditions, our cadres have to 
take the whole body of Marxist theory and struggle, including Trotsky's 
contributions to it and translate them into the language of our lifetime, 
and into the language of the existing movements of the various countries in 
which we are situated.

The worst error is to think this mainly a job of clearer language, or for 
our cadres to start masquerading as simple homespun mechanics who have none 
too secure a mastery of grammar or syntax. What is involved if we are to 
integrate ourselves in the mass movement and to begin functioning 
effectively as its Marxist wing, is that we have to rid ourselves of all 
faction spirit and too narrow understanding of the Marxist's role in the 
centrist and reformist milieus of our time.

Our purpose is to bring our ideas into the mass movement, and to gradually 
raise the consciousness of the ranks to the historic tasks. But the last 
thing in the world we should attempt is to inculcate the ranks with the 
necessity of adopting our specific tradition, and impressing upon them the 
truth of all the evaluations and proposals broached by Trotsky from 1923 
on. The thought that in the coming period of our activity we have to go out 
of our way to mention the name and work of Leon Trotsky, and the name and 
the existence of the Fourth International, shows how far all of us have 
become infused with narrow group thinking, and organizational fetishism, 
how far we have traveled from the outlook of Frederick Engels, who warned 
the Socialists in America not to publish the Communist Manifesto, as it was 
based on old-world experiences, and that the American labor movement, 
developing under different conditions, would not understand it, and would 
not know what Marx and Engels were talking about. Why isn't it possible for 
us to take this simple thought of Engels and apply it to ourselves and our 
work? If Engels didn't think this was putting a question mark over his 
revolutionary integrity, why should we?

We said before that only by integrating ourselves within the existing 
movements could our cadres survive and fulfill their mission. We will now 
add to that proposition this corollary: Only by dropping all sectarian 
notions of imposing our specific tradition upon the mass movements which 
developed in different circumstances and under different influences, can 
our approach register successes and guarantee the future of our precious 
cadres. What is involved, it is dear, is not any modification of 
programmatic essence, but a sharp reversal of organizational concepts and 
perspectives on the nature of the development of the mass revolutionary 
parties of tomorrow.

full: http://www.marx.org/history/etol/document/ibt/ibt08.htm

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