[Marxism] Sectarianism: A Debate

Ratbag Media ratbagradio at gmail.com
Wed Feb 27 00:04:57 MST 2013


If I were asked to venture a concise definition of a sect (at least, of a sect
in the political arena, not the Plymouth Brethren), I'd say it's an organisation
that fails to mount a committed search for the broadest possible unity
consistent with its basic positions.

That's a fairly harsh definition, since most organisations of the
anti-capitalist left, in most historical periods, would at best be marginal in
relation to it. Arguably, the Bolsheviks showed a degree of sectarianism in
maintaining themselves independent of the rest of the Russian social democracy
early last century, however compelling the practical strategic reasons that
induced them to do it.

Sectarianism is particularly a danger to organisations that are small and
relatively isolated. That corresponds to the far left under capitalism in times
of relative class peace. But mere smallness isn't enough to make you a sect, and
nor does mass size necessarily save you from sectarian behaviour. Undoubtedly
the most catastrophic case of sectarian behaviour in the history of the left was
the action of the German Communist Party in the early 1930s when, on Comintern
instructions, it failed to seek an alliance in action with the Social Democrats
to fight the Nazis. Together, the German left had the numbers, and if it had
been united, would probably have won the battle for the streets. But the
Communists were denouncing the Social Democrats as "social fascists". The united
front between them was made later, in the concentration camps.


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