[Marxism] Re A sectarian approach

Josh Saxe joshsaxe at gmail.com
Fri Nov 11 14:22:14 MST 2005

I believe Louis, Joaquin and a few others on this list are advancing a
common perspective which can be summarized as follows (I'm trying to
be fair here): Trotskyism is not only irrelevent to the problems of
revolutionary socialists, as a term it has virtually no political
content (it can mean almost any set of political positions) other than
prescribing the organizational forms revolutionary groups should take
- they should be structured around "programme," and "democratic
centralism", emphasize "political education" (indoctrination) of new
members, and should have a newspaper (which repeats tired old
irrelevant phrases superglued onto whatever happens to be going on in
the world at a given moment).  They should "intervene" (set up front
groups or enter coalition efforts) mainly for the purpose of
recruiting new members and "building the party" because the crisis of
humanity can be boiled down to how small their organizations are, and
humanity's only hope (if only everyone else knew it!) is for them to
grow.  These organizational criteria lead Trotskyists, who have for
the most part been outside of the main struggles of the last seventy
years and have been for the most part intellectuals outside of the
mass movement, to on the one hand legitimize and on the other
reproduce their isolation and sect activity.  Is this fair?

I don't know how to unpack all of this and I'm not comfortable being
in the position of defending anyone and everyone that identifies as
"Trotskyist."  But let me say first that I don't think most of the
attitudes, principles and strategies of Trotsky and his followers in
the 1920's and 1930's are irrelevant today.  I'm not a member of a
Trotskyist group, but I am a member of a Marxist group, and before I
went to Venezuela I was sympathetic and ready to be convinced of the
idea that because Chavez was making such headway in Venezuela with
what might be new strategies and sets of class alliances, etc, classic
Trotskyist/Marxist constructs like "dual power" "the bourgeois state,"
"Bonapartism," "popular frontism" etc. might prove irrelevant or at
least useless in the Venezuelan context.  But my experience there, the
time I spent with occupied factory workers who had a more left-wing
set of politics than Chavez, the time I spent with Venezuelan
militants of the CMR who are making headway in trying to develop
_real_ workers control of industry (not cogestion), left workers
caucuses in the unions, etc, convinced me that Trotskyism is more
relevant than ever in Venezuela - even Chavez seems to think so, read
the transcripts of his speeches.

In terms of the organizational ideas of the Trotskyist movement, yes,
it's laughable the way groups like the SWP, Spartacist League, or
whoever else organizes themselves.  Totally agreed.  I do think we
need formations that include not only "Trotskyists" but others who
agree with a basic set of principles, formations such as what
Solidarity sought to be in the mid-1980's, etc.  I think it's totally
counterproductive the way ANSWER, NION, WCW, are the franchises of
little vanguardist groups.

So maybe we agree?  But there is a difference in emphasis.  I think
there is a fuzzy, vague, feel good idea that reigns among many on this
list that every country is so particular, has so many qualities that
are peculiar to it, so many qualities peculiar to this particular
historical period, that no one from another country or no body of
canonized theory can have anything useful to say about the
revolutionary process there.  From afar, we can only through our fuzzy
gaze observe that a certain set of feel-good slogans are applicable -
"the masses are on the move in Venezuela!" "Chavez is talking about
socialism, and he is making progress, he hasn't even been toppled by
the U.S. yet!" "Cuba has survived 45 years of U.S. embargo!" - beyond
that, what can we, in x, y or z country say?  For most on this list,
because we can't have much of an analysis of the strategies of
leaderships of struggles in other countries, this makes us feel
better, because we can cheerlead, and if anyone points out the
unfortunate parallels between Chavez and Allende, we can denounce them
as "colonial", "dogmatic", applying a set of irrelevant prescriptions,
etc.  Maybe this is where we totally disagree - I think it's possible
and worthwhile to critique movements, point out their limitations,
while also observing and learning from their successes, wherever we
are in the world...  How dangerous it is to bully those with
criticisms - first we are moralized at for critiquing the Chavista
movement, next will it be critiquing the SEIU leadership for the way
they lead a strike (they are the ones doing something, how dare you
critique from a position of weakness?!) or something else more central
to our activity in the countries where list members are actually

Anyways, enough with all this...

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