[Marxism] Quest for Fire

Philip Ferguson philip.ferguson at canterbury.ac.nz
Thu Jan 19 18:53:03 MST 2006

>>>You're missing a transition between here:
in fact is a set of ideas about society and history that have been
down from generation to generation like an antique pocket watch. In
every case, these ideas are totally disjoined from strategy and tactics
facing the mass movement on the ground...

>>>So then it is not unusual for Maoists and those coming from a
Trotskyist tradition to find that they agree on the conjuncture, as Phil
Ferguson discovered in New Zealand.

Mike Freidman:
>> Please explain.

>This is simply a reference to the fact that people coming out of
and Maoist backgrounds in New Zealand found that they had much in common

politically about New Zealand tasks in the here and now, despite 
disagreeing about Russia in the 1930s. As a rule of thumb, this is an 
approach that is absolutely necessary if you want to break out of a 
sectarian framework.

Yes, the NZ case is an interesting one.

The NZ far left in recent years consisted of a substantial, but largely
unorganised, section of anarchists; three or four Trotskyist currents
ranging form the minuscule to the merely very small; and a couple of
publicly inactive Maoist groups; plus two other tiny groups, one of
which had its roots in Maoism and the other of which had some roots in

The latter two groups, which could be broadly defined as pro-Mao (rather
than Maoist) and pro-Trotsky (rather than Trotskyist) found they had
much more in common with each other than they did with the groups
belonging to the same historical currents from which they'd sprung or
had some past with. 

These two tiny groups formed an alliance, which also attracted a small
number of independent revolutionary-minded people.  After a couple of
years working very closely together within this alliance, the two groups
fused and most of the independents in the alliance took part in the
fusion process.

We now have probably the largest left current in the country, although
to be realistic about numbers we went from two tiny groups to one very
small group.  Nevertheless a whole new layer of people have become
involved in the process and several ex-members of other far left
currents have joined, which gives us a broader and deeper cadre base
than any of the other far left currents.

We also tried to involve a third group, the ISO (which is linked to the
American ISO and SocAlt in Australia), but unfortunately they chose not
to join.  (A former leading figure in ISO has joined, however.)

If we had've started from what happened in the Soviet Union 75 years
ago, the modest progress made would never have happened.  Indeed, if we
had've started from trying to cobble together a 50-pt programme, which
was what some of the Trotskyists who were involved in the original
discussions wanted, we would never have got anywhere.  We built our
alliance around 6, later reworked into 5, key points around which we
could work together and which were vital for establishing
class-struggle, anti-imperialist politics in the 21st century.

After a couple of years working together we were able, with the fusion,
to agree a substantial programme for the united organisation, a
programme which is pretty thorough, although far from being regarded as
the final word on anything.

Few other people on the far left here ever imagined anything would come
from our original two tiny groups working together.  It was ignored by
some, expected to blow apart in six months by others.  

If either of our two original tiny groups had've had an 'agenda', it
likely would've blown apart.  Yet, in the Socialist Alliance in Oz and
the one in Britain, a lot of the left currents thought it was clever to
"have an agenda", to get one up on the people they were supposedly
working with, to out-manoeuvre them.  Like Louis says, in one of my
favourite analogies, petty proprietors looking to get a bit more market

The result of such 'clever' manoeuvring is always that it comes undone
and people are left just that bit more cynical and burnt out and the
groups that are the most into it usually end up declining numerically
from their 'clever' manoeuvres anyway.  It's dishonest and it's just
plain dumb.

When our two wee groups fused, one of the things we agreed was that
differences within the organisation could be openly expressed in public.
In fact, even before the fusion this had happened as material in our
basic paper and material in our magazine took somewhat different stances
on the decriminalisation of prostitution.  Some comrades focused more on
what they saw as the negative consequences of decriminalisation and
other comrades focussed more on what they saw as the positive
consequences of decriminalisation.  The (smallish) differences on this,
btw, did not occur along old group lines.  

In fact, today, it's difficult to imagine any differences that might
arise about contemporary issues or perspectives occurring along old
group lines.  Although it's only 18 months since the fusion, and only
three-and-a-half years since the original alliance, it seems like we
have always been together.

At the same time, our openness and the whole policy of an alliance on a
minimum programme has never meant some kind of wishy-washy politics or
low level of commitment and activity.  IN fact, I would say our politics
are very hardcore Marxist, but not in the way Trotskyist sects
understand that.  For instance, at our educational retreats and so on,
we don't tend to discuss who did what to who 75 years ago, the specifics
of the transitional programme etc etc, we tend to discuss stuff like
Marx's analysis of the falling rate of profit and of productive and
unproductive labour and how these relate to the current-day attacks on
workers and the arguments we need to develop as part of organising the
fightback and developing workers' political consciousness.  And when we
read and study Lenin, we don't do it to work out what is wrong with some
other group and to see who can be most orthodox but for insights that
can help us in the wider class struggle today. 


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