Return to materialism
Return to materialism
RETURN TO MATERIALISM
we reach halfway through the 1990s certain errors that characterized much of the
left in the radicalization of the 1960s and 1970s are now somewhat clearer. In this
article I want to focus on the sectarianism and dogmatism that dominated much of
the left for a period. Specifically I want to try to make an evaluation of the
strength and weakness of the movement that based itself on Leon Trotsky's interpretation
of the rise of Stalinism (and therefore decline of Marxism.)
reason I am returning to this topic is because I believe it is still an issue today
in various organizations. Some, which are hopelessly sectarian, I do not wish to
deal with concretely because there is no immediate hope to see them become part
of the living struggles for social progress in the world.
most cases those sectarian organizations are a negative factor in the development
of an effective and viable movement. But, specifically, I see the Democratic Socialist
Party of Australia as an organization with important potential but which is still
holding on to many sectarian and leftist misconceptions from the past. It has one
foot in Marxism and one foot in its own dogmatic past. The following discussion
is presented with the hope that it will be considered over time by those who disagree
I believe the sectarian errors referred to above stem from the adoption of idealist
rather than materialist views. Therefore I have titled this article "Return
Roots of our movement
the beginning there arose a mass social movement calling for working people to
fight for their rights as capitalism developed in the 19th century. This movement
had an ongoing debate over what its ultimate goals should be. Its immediate objectives
were somewhat obvious. It fought for better pay, less hours of work, better working
conditions and in many cases against various forms of ethnic, racial or social discrimination.
But also, fundamental to the immediate struggles was the struggle for political
rights for working people, the right to vote being one obvious and important issue.
conception of a future society in which there would be no rich or poor, where society
would be run democratically both politically and economically, where the economy
would be rationally planned and production would be based on human needs not profits
for individuals, gradually became accepted by millions throughout the world. That
future society was generally referred to as socialism.
tried to put the ideological footing of this movement on a scientific basis. He
sought a materialist explanation for the existing class conflicts and tried to
make an analysis of the nature of the existing society which he labeled capitalism.
He also raised the concept that to change the nature of capitalism to a society
responsive to the needs of the majority — the working people — a change of who rules
would be needed, something that the present ruling circles would resist by any and
Marx made a differentiation between struggles for reforms within a capitalist society
and a struggle to fundamentally change society, that is to revolutionize society.
until 1917 there had only been one clear case where working people favoring such
a social order had actually been in power, the Paris Commune. The social explosion
that brought socialists to power in 1917 completely changed the course of the history
of the world's workers movement and its political corollary, known as the socialist
to 1917 there no question in anyone's mind that the socialist movement fought for
an extension of democracy. The idea that a government calling itself socialist
could shoot workers for trying to organize a union or imprison workers for attempting
to organize politically wasn't debatable. It was simply considered impossible.
the socialists lost control in the USSR and the Stalinist mafia came to power in
the mid-1920s it did so in the name of socialism and with the support of most people
in the world who considered themselves socialists.
Rise of Stalinism
is my opinion that the distortion that the rise of Stalinism brought about for the
world's socialist movement is not yet, and will not be, fully appreciated for years.
For the world ruling capitalist class it brought about a temporary respite, a golden
opportunity to fight what had been a movement that seemed to grow and spread at
an ever-increasing rate.
the rise of Stalinism the bourgeoisie could posture before the world as more democratic
and more supportive of civil liberties than what was being passed off as
"socialist". The bourgeois press gave its full support to the equation
of socialism and Stalinism.
within the labor movement in capitalist countries who wanted nothing better then
to sell out the interests of working people for personal benefits found this situation
extremely favorable, since they could confuse the revolutionary movements with
Stalinism. These right opportunists, who also called themselves "socialist",
now found it easier to openly support capitalism, including imperialist wars against
Third World people, by arguing against "communism".
politics of the world became rapidly completely dominated by the East-West conflict,
as it was called. People calling themselves socialist could openly support the
mass genocide against the Vietnamese people by the United States carpet bombing
because they opposed "communism", while in the USSR unspeakable crimes
were being committed in the name of "socialism", reinforcing the state
of utter confusion in the world.
truth regarding socialism and Marxism on a world scale went into freefall. Any
kind of serious historical honesty was eliminated. Bourgeois education on the issues
of the 19th century, the rise of the workers movement and socialism was reduced
to crude propaganda made plausible by Stalinism. For the followers of Stalin, the
majority of the movement claiming to advocate socialism, the scientific philosophy
of Marx was turned into a religion in which anything, regardless of how obviously
it contradicted everything Marx had written, was passed off as Marxism.
the 1930s up to today, in the mid-1990s, the confusion in the minds of working
people on a world scale is immense regarding the word "socialism". For
most it is an economic project that inevitably will end up in a totalitarian government
and/or economic paralysis. For some it may mean "Sweden" or simply lots
of safety nets, but there is doubt this really "works".
to 1917 the terms used by the socialist movement were generally understood by people.
They knew that terms like social progress meant progress for the poor, for the
majority of working people including small farmers. They knew that socialism meant
reorganizing the government and economy so workers would have the decisive say and
society would be run for the benefit of the majority. It meant more rational planning
and equality. It meant more democracy not only politically but socially. That translated
into the concepts of free education for all, free medical care, full employment,
unemployment insurance, retirement insurance, etc.
right-wing demagogues could argue that socialism would lead to less democratic rights,
inequality and fascist-like repressive regimes. Pre-1917 most workers would have
dismissed such accusation as ridiculous and exaggerated propaganda. Not so today.
The examples of Russia, China, North Korea and many others is clearly in the consciousness
Trotsky's efforts to argue that the Russian revolution of 1917 was betrayed and
that one should not associate Stalinism with socialism was supported by only a
small number of those considering themselves socialist.
those calling themselves socialist, some who agreed with Trotsky that something
terrible was happening in Russia came to the conclusion that what happened in
1917, the very revolution Trotsky and Lenin had led, was in the end responsible
for the rise of Stalinism. While such a position had some principled advocates,
social democratic currents, which were busy selling out the working people they
influenced, also could not stand Trotsky precisely because he remained loyal to
the original ideas of the socialist movement.
influenced by Stalinism lived in denial, believing the USSR was a democratic workers
paradise. They hated Trotsky and cheered when he was assassinated, just as they
cheered when the whole leadership of the revolution of 1917 was murdered. Looking
back it seems so bizarre that people in every country of the world could on one
hand claim to be for socialism and at the same time be so easily fooled.
fact that millions believing in a more just society and in democracy could be fooled
into supporting the opposite of their beliefs is something that we should give a
lot of consideration to. We should give this some thought for a couple of reasons.
An important one is that these people were generally materialist in their philosophical
views, that is, they were not superstitious but favored science. Yet they could
believe in things for which there was little, if any, factual evidence.
Democracy and materialism
this fact does is reinforce the materialist conception that truth can only be ascertained
through the conflict of ideas. Without differences, debate and a really open, democratic
culture a movement can easily adopt positions disconnected from reality. In the
end our movement is based on the truth, a correct understanding of the world and
the spread of factual information. Capitalism rests on falsehoods. Its mass media
is forever distorting facts and history, teaching racism, sexism, ageism and every
possible prejudice to keep people divided.
Stalinism could act like capitalism and yet be accepted as socialism by millions
is now an historical fact. There are many factors which help explain this phenomena.
For one the Stalinist betrayal was carried out without a clear, strong split within
the movement and the Stalinists presented all their anti-working-class policies
as being for socialism and for working people. When the Stalinists framed and murdered
socialists this was done by calling people who defended socialist ideas traitors
to socialism. The resulting confusion, and thus political support for the Stalinist
rulers, was essential to their consolidation of power and ability to remain in
was an unstable social order that could exist only because it appeared to be something
it wasn't. Like a trade union bureaucracy that can only survive as a balancing act
between getting removed by its rank and file or by the destruction of the union
by the bosses, Stalinism can only have a limited lifespan in any country. It can
only appear after major struggles and victories of working people. It is a parasite
that feeds off such victories until it kills the host.
regimes in China and North Korea are of this nature. They will inevitable go back
to capitalism (most likely variant at this point) or be removed by a new rise in
the socialist movement. As the capitalist world has come to understand Stalinism
more clearly, it has become far more friendly to these remaining stalinist regimes.
Today China is not seen as a challenge to capitalism but an opportunity.
the USSR the enormous support the "communist" regime had from its
"Lenin" days gradually eroded under the Stalinist regimes. Eventually
the parasitic social order collapsed, unable to maintain support among its own
people and unable to compete with capitalism.
developments are not understood by people in general. The political culture of our
day still has a totally distorted view of the events around the history of the USSR.
Over time this will begin to change. It has begun to change a little inside the
USSR as the mass of people begin to experience capitalism and a discussion of what
was wrong before and what may have been right in the revolution of 1917 slowly
begins to be considered.
A profound confusion on the left
the confusion within the left is still there. After events like the Moscow trials
in the mid-1930s one would think that anyone with half a brain could see through
those frame-ups. But millions didn't. And it is not just years ago. Even today,
after the utter collapse and exposure of the true nature of Stalinist regimes,
some people who consider themselves pro-socialist still admire Stalin, or claiming
to now be against Stalinism, base their politics on Stalinist platforms.
example is the concept of popular frontism, which was aimed to subordinate the
workers movement to any wing of the ruling class that would make deals with the
USSR's regime. This strategy of betrayal was projected by Stalin precisely at the
moment, 1935, he was organizing to have every member of Lenin's original central
Popular Front line eventually made the Stalinist organizations able to support anyone
by its logic. The final extreme culmination was the Norwegian "Communist"
Party welcoming Hitler's invading troops, the Communist Party of Cuba joining Batista's
cabinet, and so on.
the ideological struggle around the rise of Stalinism two opposite currents began
to reinforce a sectarian conception of what Lenin had advocated and done.
the Stalinists turned Lenin into a cult/idol. Lenin was always right on everything.
They took his body and put him on display. They called their philosophy Marxism-Leninism,
a term that never had any scientific meaning. Marxism is the term given to dialectical
materialism or historical materialism. Leninism is, at best, contributions made
on organizational questions, the nature of imperialism, and so on. That is: analysis
of social issues or strategic questions within the class struggle but philosophically
within the confines of Marxism. Of course, terms gradually develop their own meanings
over time and we have no choice but to recognize that. In most cases Marxism-Leninism
came to be another name for Stalinism.
so-called "Communist Parties" became ideological promoters of idealist
philosophies, of course, in the name of Marxism and materialism. They ritualized
their new anti-materialist, anti-scientific philosophy precisely to obscure truth
and reality in order to justify and maintain popular support for their organizations
in spite of their vicious abuse of power, and oppression of the people they ruled
over. Stalin became their cult leader worldwide. But in each Communist Party there
was a local cult leader that received standing ovations until removed, sometimes
by a telephone call from Stalin, at which time another "leader" was picked
and received the standing ovations.
litany of utterly false ideas attributed to Lenin grew through the years. These
included such concepts as only one party can represent the interests of working
people, (meaning, of course, your local Stalinist organization) or, for instance,
socialism can be achieved in one country, a concept obviously in contradiction
with everything Marx and Engels wrote. These Stalinist conceptions became quite
popularized. Bourgeois educational systems and the mass media turned these Stalinist
concepts into the very meaning of the words in popular usage. To this day much of
the left uses these terms not with their original content or meaning but with the
instance, the term democratic-centralism now means to most people a bureaucratic,
undemocratic, if not utterly dictatorial, organizational structure because that
is what most organizations calling themselves democratic centralist were like.
a local city council in any United States town passes a law to put up a stop sign
everyone has to stop there. The decision is made democratically, or at least by
elected officials. But it is carried out by centralism. Even people who disagreed
with the decision have to follow it. Loosely speaking, that is democratic centralism.
The fact is that all societies, certainly capitalist societies, advocate democratic
centralist conceptions as a basic framework for the existence of society.
idea that a voluntary organization could apply democratic centralism as a premise
of how it functions is totally benign. Most organizations, to one extent or other,
do that. Some do not apply it. For instance, the Democratic and Republican Parties
in the United States vote platforms and then the candidate is free to violate that
platform all they want.
these two parties are not democratic centralist. People advocating fascism are
members and run as Democrats in the United States, as do others who call themselves
socialist. But most organizations, in general, have policies and rules which if
you do not accept you are expelled.
concept of democratic centralism was developed because Lenin was concerned over
the effectiveness of an organization fighting for power. His idea starts with the
right of majority rule. To be effective Lenin argued that a serious socialist organization
should function under the premise that once decisions are made everyone should help
implement the policy. One can argue about Lenin's organizational concept, when it
is appropriate or how it should be applied.
try to use the words democratic centralism today in broad circles. Many people
who actually favor democratic centralism in one form or other respond in negative
shock when the term is mentioned.
noticed at the founding conference in Berkeley, California of the Committees of
Correspondence how one keynote speaker made fun of the term "democratic centralism",
to immense applause. I wondered just what people thought it meant that they should
feel it was such a terrible thing. It is clear that the words now mean a Stalinist-like
bureaucratic, top-down structure. The term's popular meaning has nothing in common
with Lenin's views.
this distortion of socialist, and Lenin's, ideas was developing in Stalinist organizations
an interesting parallel development took place in the Trotskyist movement, which
opposed and denounced the Stalinists for what they were.
factual information on the crimes of Stalinism and truth about the internal regime
in the USSR put out by the Trotskyist movement in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s is
now accepted by almost everyone. In fact, all research has confirmed that the factual
description of the internal reality of Stalinist society by Leon Trotsky was completely
accurate. In judging Leon Trotsky historically this is quite important. Trotsky
defended telling the truth to the world. He fought his whole life for what he saw
as in the interest of working people worldwide, regardless of the consequences to
the struggle against Stalinism the Trotskyist movement (by Trotskyist I mean supporters
of Trotsky's views) focused its arguments on the difference between what Lenin had
said and done and what the Stalinist were doing. Not to be confused with social
democrats who denounced Stalinism but also Lenin, the Trotskyists emphasized heavily
their support of Lenin. The Trotskyist of the late 1920s and 1930s could be characterized
first of all by their heroic resistance with few resources to tell the full truth
about Soviet "socialism" while still defending the original socialist
ideal. Their other characteristic was their essential isolation from mass movements,
and often little relevance in their countries' political life outside of issues
involving the factional struggle stemming from the USSR's history.
Myth of the "correct program"
a myth developed within the Trotskyist movement that to this day still has some
support. That myth is that what Lenin did was gather a cadre around a "correct"
program, build a hard, centralized organization and when the masses radicalized
they were won over. Having won the masses Lenin's party was then able to take
"power". A whole series of corollaries followed from this erroneous concept
and, over time, became part of the Trotskyist dogma. One example of these corollaries
was the belief that without a party like Lenin's working people could not take
power. Of course, a party "like Lenin's" meant a party with a "correct
program" well centralized, with internally disciplined cadre. The Trotskyists
argued that only the Fourth International (Trotskyist movement) had a correct program.
Therefore in their eyes success for the workers' movement, long-term, was directly
dependent on the growth of the Fourth International. Any other possible development
was essentially ruled out. During the 1940s, for example, almost every article
written in the International Socialist Review, a monthly magazine of the North American
followers of Trotsky, ended with the words "Only the Fourth International etc,
associated with the Fourth International, (in time there were a few Fourth Internationals)
all referred to themselves as Leninist and each affiliated organization a Leninist
Party. The conception which gradually became accepted within the Trotskyist movement
of Lenin's party had very little to do with what Lenin had actually advocated in
Russia and nothing whatsoever to do with what actually happened in pre-1917 Russia.
It is crucial to review the ideological error that appeared within the Trotskyist
movement around this issue and which consolidated the isolated (sectarian) existence
and politics of these organizations into a culture and dogmatic set of political
Lenin and the mass working-class movement
fully discuss these concepts it is best to go back and outline what Lenin advocated
and did. Lenin was a member of the broad workers' movement in Europe, called at
the time the Second, or Socialist, international. That mass movement found some
expression in Russia and eventually was quite influential among working people and
the intelligentsia since it advocated an end to the Czarist dictatorship and the
establishment of democracy, the end of feudal relations on the land, a land reform
and an eight-hour day.
Lenin's day all organizations associated with socialism were rife with debate. All
kinds of views permeated the movement and various newspapers advocated one or other
point of view. One wing of the movement was concerned that the power of the movement
had made it possible for leaders to benefit personally. For instance trade union
leaders or elected members of parliament, by working out deals or compromises with
representatives of capital, could betray the interests of workers in return for
privileges for themselves.
people were referred to as "reformist", meaning they sought only to gain
some reforms within the framework of capitalism, rather than fight for a new, socialist
society. Lenin began arguing that in order to fight against such a disorientation
of the socialist movement and in order to challenge capital it was necessary to
have a more solid movement, both organizationally and ideologically. He noted that
natural leaders arise in the day-to-day struggles of working people and that the
role of the socialist party was to organize these leaders into an organization to
act as a pole of attraction, a class-struggle alternative.
goal was to help mobilize the whole working class, to unite the class in action.
The starting point of Lenin's conception was the existing mass movement. That was
just taken for granted in his days. Everyone was talking about what a movement or
organization clearly competing for the support of the masses of workers should do.
concept of a "party" has no meaning without a mass base. Certainly small
groups could appear in a country to begin work to establish the ideas of socialism
among their working people but such groups to Lenin were simply propaganda groups
such as had existed in Russia in the 19th century.
attitude towards such groups, how they should be structured, how they should organize,
always depended on their specific circumstances. In the world Lenin functioned in,
that was prehistory. He was arguing about what to do once the working class as a
whole had its own independent movement both economically (unions) and politically
concept of a "correct program" abstracted from the actual process of a
living mass struggles is the opposite of Lenin's method, which saw the program as
something that evolves, itself a process, defined by not only a mass movement but,
in Lenin's situation, a mass movement involved in revolutionary struggles. Lenin
and all those around him generally had a materialist view of ideas and recognized
that they reflected material events.
the period of revolutionary upsurge in Russia from 1903 to 1918, in which Lenin's
ideas of organization and party building were formed, there was no such thing as
an abstract "correct program". The party's program clearly evolved. It
was a process. It was repeatedly changed and modified. Looking back to that period
you can see how fast positions taken by Lenin's party changed, how the organization
was in continuous debate. Differences were the norm, not the exception. Major mistakes
could be overcome because the power of the developing mass movement helped Lenin's
Lenin opposes soviets
example was Lenin's opposition to the soviets, (workers' councils). With hindsight
we can see that Lenin was sectarian in counterposing building a party to the councils.
This position had serious negative effects in the struggles of the 1905 revolutionary
explosion and its aftermath. Leaders in Lenin's party opposed him, positions were
taken and carried out against his positions, ideas were publicly debated about these
differences when legally possible.
error was compounded when the revolutionary upswing of 1905 went into decline and
he insisted the movement was not yet in decline. Quickly, as reality indicated otherwise,
Lenin reversed his positions, including on the Soviets, which after 1906 he claimed
should be supported.
party, having tens of thousands of followers deeply rooted in the mass movement,
rose and declined in active membership rather sharply depending on events. For instance,
in 1912, after the defeat of the 1905 revolution, not a single unit of Lenin's
party was still in existence or at least holding meetings in Moscow, the largest
city of Russia.
course, that did not mean that thousands did not continue to agree with Lenin's
party, but the repression made it difficult for its supporters to meet. The party
that Lenin, the individual, participated in, which became known in history as the
Bolshevik Party (meaning the Majority Party in Russian) had little, if any, similarity
to what is often today called a Leninist party.
idea that a group of a few hundred people who are not in the leadership of any
mass movement, much less integrally involved in leading the working class as a
social force, can be referred to as a Leninist party and having a "correct
program" would never have crossed Lenin's mind. In 1918 Lenin would refer to
such an idea as clowning.
the 1940s, however, within the Trotskyist movement a conception had taken root that
no matter how small or disconnected from the workers movement a group might be,
if it had the "correct" program and a cadre, it was a Leninist Party and
would eventually "win".
was the "proven" Leninist way. What the Trotskyist movement did as a
whole was drop the direct involvement with the living mass movement as a prerequisite
for the development of a party. Thus "program" was separated from its
social roots. In effect, program was separated from practice. Ideas were separated
from their material basis.
doing this, an idealist error, philosophically, was introduced. The first point
of any program that has any meaning, and certainly one in which the word
"correct" could in anyway be used, is one that has shown that a leadership
link has been made with the working masses. Otherwise correct program begins to
simply mean comments about the world, past history, predictions of events for the
future, and so on.
actual mass link is itself part of the premise of a program. For instance, recognizing
in one's head what really happened in the history of the USSR is a good and useful
thing. But it is not a program. Stating general outlines of the realities of capitalist
society is useful, but it is not a program. A program is a living, complex process
relating to the ongoing struggle that permeates our class-divided society — a struggle
that is occurring now at this moment in a million different forms and at a whole
spectrum of levels.
The rise of splits
in this framework what then happens when two leaders disagree? Once you are functioning
in this sectarian framework there is no way to resolve differences, and given that
the very existence of the organization and its future success is believed to be
tied to this ever-important "correct program", differences become very
the Trotskyist organizations a culture developed which formally claimed to allow
differences to exist but in reality crushed any dissent. While the roots were very
different, the forms in which dissent was crushed in Trotskyist groups had many
similarities to how Stalinist groups crushed dissent. Of course, in Trotskyist
groups dissidents were expelled, not shot.
in sectarian groups inevitably led to splits. After a split, two organizations,
each with its own "correct program", often confronted each other. The
logic of this process was the proliferation of sects and cults. That process exploded
within the Trotskyist movement.
evolution of some of the groups became quite bizarre. Splits occurred in ever-growing
numbers as groups became less and less involved in the living movements of their
own countries. In fact, all social movements and mass struggles were more and more
seen simply as recruiting arenas for the cult/sect with the correct program.
became the defenders of the Holy Grail, and usually there was in each group just
one "Lenin of today" who could interpret and adjust the "program".
If the "correct program" was maintained the masses would some day come.
A sort of religious "our day will come" corollary developed to the correct
Posadas, Moreno, Healy, Barnes
such cult was that of Juan Posadas. I had the opportunity to meet Posadas in
1960 in Havana, Cuba. This, man was clearly certifiable. He believed he could communicate
with his dog. When the dog died the Posadista Central Committee sang the internationals
at his grave. Posadas also believed he could communicate the situation in Vietnam
to his six-month-old grandchild. In later years, when the child was five, he was
added to Posadas political bureau for his enlightening views.
advocated nuclear war and other utterly insane views. His origin was in the Trotskyist
movement and he had hundreds of followers, primarily in Latin America. I understand
there are still a few Posadistas in the world although Posadas passed away some
in Argentina was another quite colorful, but slightly more rational cultist with
thousands of supporters. In England you had Healy, a man clearly deranged, who
believed anyone who disagreed with him had to be an FBI agent. Yet he also had thousands
of devoted followers, including the movie actress Vanessa Redgrave.
the three mentioned above may have been somewhat extreme expressions of this phenomenon,
in general all groups calling themselves Trotskyist had elements of sectarian and
cult-like existence by the 1960s.
amazing as it might seem, while these organizations produced endless written materials
on all kinds of political phenomena, almost nothing can be found seeking to explain
this astounding phenomena of the cultification of Trotskyist organizations. If you
look closely you will see some of the same processes at work, although in a less
extreme form in other sect/cults like that of the Lambertist in France or the ISO
out of England.
one group that I had an opportunity to experience personally was the development
of the Barnes cult in the United States SWP. The SWP today is completely disconnected
from reality. Its cult leader holds a series of bizarre political positions evolving
in a manner quite similar to Moreno or Posadas.
question is, why did groups, whose origins are in the struggle against Stalinism,
evolve in this direction? This includes every group in the world influenced by
James Cannon, with the exception of the DSP in Australia. What are the material
roots of this phenomenon?
the DSP was originally formed in association with the North American SWP, it is
of value for the DSP to look clearly At the origins of the sectification of the
North American SWP.
SWP did not become a sect because of Barnes the individual. Barnes himself is a
product of what was wrong in the SWP. In my opinion the problem goes back to the
isolation of the SWP from roots in the mass movement and involvement in living
struggles. The idealist error I have mentioned above become codified in the outlook
of the SWP beginning in the 1930s. Its sect-like nature was already evident in the
late 1930s and early 1940s, but became more pronounced as time went on.
Crises of the US SWP
the recruitment of a new generation in the 1960s the SWP faced a crisis. Its participation
in the antiwar movement around Vietnam brought it somewhat closer to involvement
in a living struggle, an important encounter with reality and the political tempo
of the nation, something it had not really experienced since the labor struggles
of the 1930s, in which the SWP did have some important participation.
impact and conflict of its sectarian idealism and its materialist involvement in
a struggle created an interesting reaction in the culture of the SWP. Its older
leadership, especially that of Farrell Dobbs, but also others such as Tom Kerry,
felt threatened. Others, such as Joe Hansen and George Breitman, had mixed feelings.
I believe some were starting to understand the sectarian nature of the SWP, especially
was the youth "leader" hand-picked to fight against the introduction of
reality and potential de-dogmatization of the SWP's sect-like existence. In the
1970s Barnes began a conscious campaign to rid the SWP of its infection by people
not molded into sect-like thinking. In private discussion Barnes spoke openly of
the need to drive out over 50 per cent of the membership of the SWP.
political cover for this campaign was an ultraleft, workerist campaign consciously
designed to drive out those not willing to accept a cult-like existence. This campaign
was, of course, believed in the minds of people like Barnes and Dobbs to be defending
the "correct program" protecting the "proletarian" SWP from
the petty-bourgeois infection resulting from the rapid recruitment of members from
campaign had an ultraleft side, politically, since it had to promise the remaining
members that all this was necessary to get ready for huge new opportunities, of
which the petty-bourgeois members of student origin would only be in the way. The
fact was, of course, that the remaining members had the same background as those
by 1978 the SWP was passing resolutions talking about the coming "battles
for power" and other projections totally disconnected from reality. The growth
of ultraleft positions spread to international issues like the rather famous article
that the SWP printed accusing the FSLN of being the main block to success in the
struggle against Somoza in Nicaragua.
SWP even held public forums titled "Why the FSLN failed" just months
before Somoza was overthrown by the FSLN. After the FSLN victory the SWP shifted
its position towards the FSLN.
the end all of this had nothing to do with real events in the United States politically,
or within the working class. It was a clash of reality with a sectarian methodology
deeply entrenched in the SWP.
this process was going on, one exceptional leader within the sphere of influence
of the US SWP, who had his origins in the mass struggle against the war in Vietnam,
stood up to Barnes. That was Jim Percy, of Australia. He sensed something was deeply
wrong. The SWP veered for a short period of time away from its sectarian existence
in the late 1960s and early 1970s, only to come back in spades to consolidate its
sect idealist political framework.
appearance of the "correct program", "we are a Leninist Party"
ideology has tended to always require a "leftist" view of reality and
prognostications that cataclysmic events will soon catapult the sect into importance.
This phenomenon is also to be found in all cults.
was more clear and extreme, since he projected two events that would make his cult
the center of all world events. He projected nuclear world war or the landing of
extraterrestrials as the catalyst for his group's ascendency.
"leftist" side is necessary because the sect members have to be more radical
than any living movement. The attraction of association with a living process has
to be broken to maintain the sect. This requires forever knocking any positive development
in social movements. Analyses have to be made continuously showing the failings
of all movements and their inevitable collapse and failure.
is done by looking at mass social movements primarily in a formalistic, programmatic
framework. Since all mass movement by definition have only a partly formulated
program it is easy enough to show their "failure to understand".
history of the SWP is full of such examples. I will list a few here to help show
concretely how, in effect, the policies of the SWP have always been politically
leftist or dogmatic and sectarian. This is true not just for the period that the
fully developed Barnes cult appeared, but almost from its origins in the struggle
against Stalinism in the early 1930s.
could argue that this was inevitable because of objective conditions. Whenever a
group like the SWP attempted to engage in mass work it ran into the complete dominance
of the left by the Stalinist Communist party. That fact is helpful in understanding
what happened, but it does not change the fact of the SWP's dogmatic positions.
the mid-1930s the SWP opposed the formation of a Labor Party in the United States.
Nothing could have be more incorrect, since the rise of the CIO unions in the
1930s created the potential and a great deal of interest in launching a political
party of labor. The failure, objectively, in United States history of such a party
forming is one of the limiting factors on the labor movement today.
blame for this failure falls primarily on the Communist Party and its Popular Front
line, which was projected by Stalin to back the Democrats and on the Social Democrats,
who also backed the Democrats. The SWP justified its anti-labor-party policy by
counterposing a mass revolutionary socialist party to a labor party.
confuses program with mass struggle in an idealist manner. The error is sectarian
and similar to Lenin's error of opposing the Soviets. (Or of the DSP saying it does
not advocate an Alliance like that of New Zealand but instead a more "politically
the potential for the rise of a Labor Party passed, the SWP shifted to a position
of advocating a Labor Party. In the early 1930s the SWP called Nicaraguan revolutionary
leader Cesar Sandino a "traitor" to his people. This was explained with
ultraleft arguments regarding Sandino's lack of a correct program, and so on. By
the 1940s the SWP was opposing the proposal to vote an equal rights amendment (ERA)
for women's rights to the US constitution. This was opposed as a petty-bourgeois
proposal that working women were not interested in.
the late 1940s, when the African-American nationalist movement began to grow, seeking
to develop pride in its own community and culture, the SWP opposed it as a reactionary
movement. In the late 1940s, when Farrell Dobbs had the first opportunity to speak
on national radio to a large audience of the North American populace he brought
them "greetings" from the Fourth International. In case anyone has any
doubts, let me assure them nothing could be a more utterly sectarian approach to
politics then to give a talk in such a manner, which had nothing to do with the
realities of the North American people.
this shows is how deeply imbedded sectarianism was in the culture of the SWP. In
more recent times I could give a whole long list of positions, which most DSPers
would quickly recognize as leftist or sectarian errors, since I lived the experience.
instance when the civil rights movement exploded in the south of the United States
in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the SWP opposed its young members joining that
living struggle. The explanation was made that we had the "correct program"
and we needed to concentrate recruitment to our program rather than involvement
in a struggle where we had no branches.
the Vietnam War was coming to an end, the Vietnamese asked for world support in
its effort to force the United States to the negotiating table. The SWP opposed
the demonstrations that then ensued demanding the United States accept a negotiated
peace settlement. When radicals in California launched an effort to establish a
radical electoral formation called the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP), the SWP opposed
it, denouncing the PFP as a liberal-bourgeois party.
utter absurdity of that position was, of course, explained by looking at its platform
rather than seeing the meaning and direction of the effort to launch candidates
that would oppose the war in Vietnam and fight for social justice at home.
of the above points occurred while James P. Cannon was alive. Cannon will go down
in history as a giant for standing up to Stalinism and trying to keep alive the
ideals of the early socialist movement, but Cannonism is not what the SWP literature
claims: the Americanization of Leninism.
SWP is not, nor has ever been, a Leninist party. It is absurd to think so, because
it was always isolated from the working people as a social layer and as a movement.
At best, it was a propaganda group that advocated the formation of a Leninist party,
but existence was sect-like existence, and its political positions were ultraleftist
culture that develops inside organizations with the we-have-the-correct-program
view, as mentioned, never really allows differences although in the formal statutes
it always claims to accept the right to minority views.
SWP never had a culture permitting differences. Every group that ever raised any
questions regarding any of its policies was eventually driven out.
this sense it had no resemblance to the party Lenin led, which was continuously
alive with debate and differences. Lenin's party had various newspapers that would
debate each other publicly. In fact, in the 1908 period when Lenin was arguing against
one grouping in his organization he accused them of hiding their minority views
and not publishing them in their public organ.
not think most DSP members would think it Leninist for a minority to start up its
own public organ and publish its differences with the majority. Well, that was the
reality of Lenin's party. In that specific case Lenin even argued that the minority
should not use the excuse that the party was not in a pre-convention discussion
period to not publicly publish their minority views.
wrote letters to friends all the time expressing his personal views. He thought
it quite normal for there to be private discussions and correspondence between
members of his organization. He saw that as a right. In fact, in one letter he
began by saying that if anyone read this letter when it wasn't addressed to them,
that person was violating his right to private correspondence.
tried to set up norms of functioning. Some are undoubtedly of great value, while
others are completely opposed to the reality of Lenin's Party, but they were always
presented as "Leninism".
introduced the idea that members of a Leninist party are violating norms if they
express their differences within the organization to anyone outside the organization
or engage in private correspondence, even within the organization.
the time I joined the SWP in the late 1950s there was a lose grouping in the
SWP that the Dobbs leadership referred to as "petty bourgeois" and that
was eventually driven out, called the Weissites (named after Murry Wiess a leader
of the SWP). One of their horrendous crimes was that they had circulated letters
to each other about the internal situation in the SWP.
saying all of this my point is not to say that responsible people should not think
out how they act and the consequences of their actions in terms of how best to
carry on a discussion within an organization. Nor do I mean that we should not have
rules and norms and try to function in an organized manner.
trying to get people to think through these issues and to realize that the norms
the US SWP taught the Australian DSP were a misrepresentation of what Lenin's movement
had been like, and not necessarily at all a "proven" organizational method.
My point is the norms Cannon developed had little to do with the reality of Lenin's
underlying difference has its roots in the fact that Lenin's party was directly
leading the masses in a powerful radicalization and the SWP was an isolated ideological
propaganda grouping. Even if the SWP had really reflected Lenin's organizational
forms they might very well not be at all applicable to its specific circumstances.
The idea of a generalized organizational method is about as correct as the idea
of an abstract "correct political program".
is for the above reasons that in my opinion the DSP is not, and should not refer
to itself as, a Leninist party. The new preamble of the DSP's program, in my opinion,
is an attempt to codify some of these incorrect concepts of organization.
language is that of an organization that is not dealing with the reality of mass
struggles. When an organization is isolated it can talk in tough terms about
"overthrow" and "revolutionary action" and so on. Organizations
that actually lead the masses, like the FPL in El Salvador or the Alliance in New
Zealand, would pay an immense negative price for that kind of needless and easily
that language does is give those wanting to block our movement a weapon to attack
us and help isolate us. It is posturing that serves no purpose and miseducates the
membership on how to handle themselves. Deep down it reflects a method that lacks
seriousness. It is ultraleft in that sense.
language is completely unnecessary to maintain our principles. It is revealing
when people believe that they have to use language easily misunderstood in order
to maintain their principles. It shows a great fear of selling out.
is true the DSP lives today in a world that has seen so much betrayal of our ideals
for a democratic and just world that it fears the same shift away from socialist
ideals could affect it. While this is definitely part of our reality, the use of
such terms and acting tough and passing tough-sounding phrases is no real protection.
the contrary it reveals a developing leftist error. The preamble also makes a prediction
of total demise unless the kind of structure referred to as Leninist (incorrectly)
is adopted and followed. The preamble says the DSP would degenerate and no longer
be a coherent organization.
should give this some careful thought. Causa R in Venezuela does not follow any
of this. They act precisely in the manner criticized by the DSP. Yet Causa R has
not degenerated or collapsed. Instead they have gone from 20 members to tens of
thousands directly in the leadership of major industrial unions, have the support
of millions, precisely among the poorest Venezuelans and its industrial working
that mean Causa R, and what it advocates is right for Australia, or even Venezuela?
That is not necessarily the case. Will they be able to go beyond their present
gains with the organizational methods they have used up to now? That's a difficult
questions to answer, but my point is we should drop this arrogance about the
"proven Leninist principles of organization", meaning the structure that
Cannon developed in the United States.
need to maintain an open mind, to learn from not only the Russian experience but
from that of others who have succeeded in winning the masses to break with bourgeois
politics and for the independence of the class.
Causa R example is an extreme one, but nevertheless useful. The original group of
20 members led by Alfredo Maniero decided on this course some 23 years ago. Maniero
was driven by the need to root the organisaiton once again among the masses. To
now look at Causa R and not recognize its success and potential would be blindness.
Never say never
is wrong to make statements like: "Any attempt to start with a politically
heterogeneous, loosely organized group, to try and win a mass base, and then try
to turn it into a tight Bolshevik-type party, would end in disaster. It wouldn't
have revolutionary politics." Or, "But there's never been a case of a
loose organization without trained cadres ever being able to lead a socialist revolution."
of all, Lenin's party did begin with a politically heterogeneous, loosely organized
group, which did win the masses, the Second International. And then Lenin did succeed
in building within such an organization a more cohesive formation.
John Percy's report, quoted above, refers to exactly what Lenin did as something
that would end "in disaster", something that's impossible. The point
John Percy is defending is the concept that one starts with a small but hardened
cadre formation with a fully developed "revolutionary socialist" program
and then you win the masses and become a big cadre formation.
other vision is dead wrong. History says John is wrong. What we have never seen
yet, but we probably will see some day is what John advocates. Everything is possible
over time and in rapidly changing circumstances.
the FSLN is a perfect example of an organization that was completely heterogeneous
politically, and deliberately so. Yet it did succeed in winning the masses and
carrying out armed struggle to bring down the Somoza dictatorship.
was the July 26 Movement in Cuba. Statements about the "only" way that
things will happen or could "never" happen are generally wrong. Causa
R continuing to evolve in its class struggle orientation cannot be ruled out in
the manner that John Percy does in his report to the DSP. In the recent military
uprisings against the government in Venezuela the masses poured into the streets
to support the soldiers trying to end the Mafia-like, corrupt rule of the bourgeois
media immediately started a campaign against Causa R, accusing it of intrigue with
the rebel military officers and of hiding arms, etc. In the recent elections the
military threatened a coup if Causa R won. What will happen in the next period is
unclear. This is a living struggle.
is no question Causa R is standing up for the working class and promoting its interests.
It does not fit the schema of the DSP, so undoubtedly the DSP will expect it to
"end in disaster", focusing its attention on the limitations of Causa
R's stated platform.
the DSP leadership believes views like those put forward by Steve Robson at the
19?? DSP national conference will mean disaster, one can only imagine what they
think of Causa R. After all, what Causa R advocates and practices would make Steve
Robson look like a raving centralist.
R, like the Greens, tries not to vote at meetings. Anyone can join or leave, they
are publicly against democratic centralism and so on. They didn't fall apart, they
did not lose their effectiveness, if by that we mean leading the class struggle,
fighting for the rights of workers, winning masses to a class break with the parties
of the bourgeoisie, etc.
criticizing Robson the DSP leadership used a method that has been characteristic
of all sectarian Trotskyist groups. Once anyone challenges the leadership you make
a class characterization of that person. Barnes did that to Jim Percy. Jim was
great as long as he agreed. Once he differed it was discovered he had been a
"petty bourgeois" type all along. He was a student hippy type with a
beard who owned a house. Ipso facto petty bourgeois, wrong politically.
would inevitably lead to the liquidation of the party, since he was adapting to
the petty bourgeoisie milieu. The method goes like this: someone raises a criticism
but insists they agree with socialism, and the overall program, Leninism, Marxism,
etc, the leadership then claims there is a "logic of the line". The logic
of the line is always to capitulate to pressures. Pressures from whom? Why, naturally,
the petty bourgeoisie, usually the radical petty bourgeoisie. In DSP language the
"left-liberal" milieu. What this method does is end the discussion.
is a way of refusing to consider criticisms. It is a culture that crushes democracy
and debate. The message that such a method sends out to the rank and file is
"differ, and you will be driven out".
is an exact quote used by a DSP leader against Robson: "While Comrade Robson
has not consistently thought through where the line and orientation he has begun
to develop will lead (hence his denials that he is not for building a Leninist
cadre party), nevertheless, it represents an adaptation to the pressures of this
left-liberal milieu. The logic of the line he has begun to develop is to dissolve
the party into this milieu ... It is a liquidationist line ..."
one form or another I have read that quote 100 times. Its role is to end debate
and to silence others.
The New Zealand Alliance
general, in recent DSP documents there is a tendency to rigidity. And in the analysis
of other currents the main focus is on program. When looking at the marvelous mass
break in New Zealand from the two parties of the rich, the DSP documents refers
to the Alliance as left-liberal.
is utterly wrong. It misses the entire point of the process that is occurring and
the potential made possible by the appearance of the Alliance. The Alliance is a
definitive break by working people from the two parties of the bourgeoisie. It is
the starting point in the framework of New Zealand to develop a mass movement for
social change and democracy.
can lead to a struggle in the unions for democracy and a class-struggle orientation,
and may lead to the development of massively increased class consciousness and a
culture of struggle. To look at the Alliance from a programmatic framework, and
not see that the mass break is its most important underlying programmatic statement,
is an idealist approach to politics.
DSP reports see the Alliance as "a break with Laborism" or as a break
to the "left". But stating it this way can miss the whole point. It is
a break with class-collaborationist politics, it is a class break, and like all
mass developments it has only a partial platform with a lot of areas left unstated.
say that in Australia this is not a "model that we'd want to copy politically"
because, "They will have activists but not revolutionary cadres, with revolutionary
socialist politics" is utter leftist confusion.
has happened in New Zealand, politically speaking, is the number-one goal that
we need in every industrialized nation. It is the beginning of a mass, conscious
break with class-collaborationist politics. The key to politics in New Zealand today
is to have this break survive, grow and expand. The key to the evolution of the
Alliance in New Zealand is rooted in international events.
main victory of the New Zealand development for the working class is its example
internationally, and likewise the present international relationship of forces
limits the immediate possibilities in New Zealand. The leadership of the Alliance
is proving itself remarkably.
to have succeeded in forming the Alliance, an extremely difficult achievement, and
thus begin to break the monopoly grip of capital over politics in New Zealand and
secondly, to begin building up a membership organization that begins to consolidate
without losing its mass influence.
the next elections it might become more possible for the Alliance to begin consolidating
support in the union movement and building support among students and other youth.
That is to go a bit more beyond the electoral framework under which it began. But
we must keep in mind that New Zealand at this moment is not under the impact of
a deep radicalization with mass actions and political fervor among its youth.
New Zealand Alliance has received next to no support from all the "correct
program" sectarians. On the contrary all they can think about is raiding the
Alliance in order to add another member to their sect. All they focus on is the
formal stated platform of the Alliance.
key to the Alliance's program is its break. Its leadership is completely independent
of the ruling class in New Zealand and internationally and it is totally committed
to defending the working people, the poor, to fight for defence of the environment
and promote solidarity with other working people internationally.
is an historic first in the post-Cold-War period. The Alliance, in part because
it is close to Australia, becomes an excellent opportunity to promote class-struggle
politics by calling for a break in Australia, like in New Zealand. The DSP focuses
not on the living class struggle and the leadership being formed in that process,
but on whether "cadres" with an ideologically "correct program"
are being formed.
after four years, it doesn't see something happening that fits its preconceived
forms, the DSP now feels uncomfortable with the Alliance. The DSP's international
report states: "And in this framework we also note the problems with there
not having developed an organized revolutionary socialist current. Such a current,
which can provide a principled position of how to advance forward, is even more
urgently required in the period ahead."
fixation on program blinds the DSP to understanding a form of development different
from their own experience. To make the above statement is factually wrong. A process
is now under way in New Zealand which is developing a leadership, but it is happening
in a manner much more like what happened in Nicaragua.
is very different from how groups like the DSP have been formed. In the same manner
the DSP document on the environment looks at Green groups not as part of a process
in motion with which we not only must ally ourselves but of which we are a part.
the resolution focuses on programmatic issues. Statements like: "Greens, like
everyone else, must choose where they stand on all social issues," is a ridiculous
formal logic oxymoron. By Greens we mean exactly those people who are in motion
around one aspect of problems being created by the world capitalist system.
definition, "Greens" is an expression of motion, of rebellion, on a
specific issue not "all social issues". By this logic of they "must
chose", all struggles and all real movements that appear can be criticized
since they always appear with incomplete platforms, otherwise they would not have
their mass character. That is in the real world.
opposite of what the DSP resolution argues for is the direction we should pursue.
We want there to be a Green movement that does not take up "all social issues"
in order to bring about the largest possible unity in exposing and opposing the
destruction of the environment. How that movement then inter-links, inter-relates
and develops with other social movements is a complex process.
what Greenpeace is doing with its dramatic actions to expose the corporate polluters
should be cheered by us, not denounced. To refer to these actions as "stunts"
is insulting and arrogant to the committed activist who often, risking their lives,
have sought to force the world media to reveal what is happening to the environment.
an attitude blocks the ability of the DSP to work with others. It is sectarian
posturing. The idea that lobbying is some how reformist or incorrect is also promoted
in this resolution. It is referred to as the politics of "liberal reformism."
is just one kind of activity. Its nature is determined by its interrelationship
with other events and movements. It has no specific characteristic in itself, it
is like a tactic such as demonstrations, strikes, elections, etc.
again the resolution is not written with an eye on our objectives, our relation
to living movements and struggles, but a sect-like declaration of our ideological
superiority. Finally, I should mention a comment that was quoted in one contribution
from the National Committee report on "DSP Interventions in Australian Politics".
This is referred to as being "based on the Leninist strategy of building a
revolutionary Marxist vanguard party".
doing so we should note the use of terms like "a revolutionary Marxist vanguard
party" sounds really radical. It's not just a Marxist party, but a "revolutionary"
one, meaning obviously that there are Marxist parties that aren't revolutionary,
and its not just a revolutionary Marxist party but a "vanguard" at that.
kind of language reveals an underlying ultraleft posturing. That is something we
need to consciously rid ourselves of, because it comes out of the culture and tradition
that has led to the self-isolation and destruction of organizations like the
SWP in the United States.
the quote that follows there is a reference to a category of people referred to
as the "revolutionary vanguard" as against the "social vanguard".
An explanation of how class consciousness is developed follows with these words:
"Through the intervention of the revolutionary vanguard in the broader social
vanguard (the "natural leaders" of the class) and winning them to a revolutionary
Marxist perspective and commitment to socialism. The tactical essence of the method
is to turn the more conscious elements of the vanguard against the less conscious
and to try to draw the vanguard as a whole towards a socialist perspective through
ever higher forms of organization and unity in struggle. The highest form of unity
is, of course, that of the revolutionary party itself."
paragraph is confusing on several levels, but I want to focus on just one aspect.
The idea that unity is achieved by setting the more conscious workers against the
less conscious workers seems rather odd.
there might be some explanation for this formulation, the way it is presented seems
rather ultraleft. Our goal is try to unify the class in action. The more conscious
workers try to draw in the less-conscious workers in concrete actions of a class
John Percy's report, while accepting that the DSP may have made mistakes he states:
"But at each major struggle, at each step, we did the right thing." Of
course, that is exactly what all vanguardist organizations believe and it is exactly
the kind of statement that organizations leading the masses, like the FPL, the
FSLN, etc, never make.
the last analysis if we are correct and capitalism will be surpassed by a more rational
social order in which class divisions as we have known them will end, this has to
have very deep objective roots. If our concept of the origins of ideas is the material
world, the ideas of class struggle and of a socialist vision are being generated
experiences of people in this society, the exploitation, oppression and abuses always
generate struggles, organizing and the development of social movements. Ideas about
these movements and how to change society are always in flux.
believe that a few decades ago a small list of individuals discovered the magic
wand is not materialist. Our movement is still developing ideas on how to organize
and how to change society. A lot of people around the world are thinking about these
issues. Their experiences are helping them to find a way forward to end the way
capitalism is destroying the planet and its human population.
movement has existed only a moment in history. The future will hold all kinds of
surprises especially regarding forms. The DSP itself is a very unusual formation.
In many ways it is the only one of its kind. It arose out of the student movement
of the 1960s, survived exposure to the sectarianism of the US SWP and survived the
1980s when most left organizations, for whatever reason, were collapsing.
leadership has been very astute in having the courage to think for itself, try experiments,
pull back from things that did not appear to work and continue to look for openings.
It appears to me that in the recent period there has been a shift to the left and
first hit me at the Green Left conference, when in a panel on what we should do
next the DSP representative did not focus on what the Australian people or its
working class needed, the challenges before Australia for justice, democracy and
saving the environment but instead on the need for a Leninist Party.
the issue of what the nation needs was reduced to a focus on the discussion on how
best to organize the DSP. Overcoming this shift will be a new challenge to the DSP
and its leadership, in my opinion. In general, I have come to the conclusion over
the years, as many people do as they get older, that it's necessary to be more
cautious in one's views, recognizing how often in the past one has believed in things
that turned out to be wrong.
I make these criticism of the DSP's present approach as a way of helping the DSP.
I am not optimistic as to how it will be received by the DSP given its internal
culture. Only time will tell its effect.
supportive of the DSP as one of the healthiest expressions of the radicalization
of the 1960s and an organization that certainly can continue to play, as it has
up to now, an important role not only in Australia but in helping the international
What should we do?
past errors can help us to understand how best to proceed today. The fact that organizations
like Solidarity in the United States and the DSP in Australia exist with committed
members but without mass roots is simply a fact of life. It is also an accomplishment.
is far better that such organizations exist than that they don't. The question is
how to overcome isolation? The problem is not organizational, although it has an
less often or lower levels of participation or commitment will not necessarily increase
the size and influence of an organization like the DSP. Experiments in this direction
in the mid-1980s resulted in the opposite. The level of activity inevitably is driven
more by political developments outside of our control than any internal decisions.
to this issue within the framework of maintaining an activist organization is important,
but we must avoid developing an internal culture that is alien and in conflict
with the existing mass culture of our respective countries, and especially among
problem of reaching out is political. One step that came out of the thinking around
this question in the DSP was the change of the newspaper from Direct Action, as
a strictly party paper, to Green Left Weekly, with its more open political content.
This step was a success.
is needed to begin to over come the isolation is a political shift away from sectarian
traditions, language, internal culture and methods of intervention in the direction
of the kind of thinking behind establishing Green Left.
question of language is not a tactical question. It reflects the real political
content of our movement. If we are serious about becoming effective and actually
changing society, we must stop playing "revolution". For us to succeed,
especially in the "Third Wave" world we now live in, our movement must
be more internationalist then ever and must be deeply rooted to succeed.
than start from what happened in history it is better to start from what is needed
in the world to create a peaceful, just, ecologically sound, prosperous society
for all, and how that translates for one's own country, including the immediate
steps that need to be taken, objectively.
development of independent mass politics, independent of those in power, and posing
the question of who should rule, are essential to make all the work around specific
demands and reforms really meaningful. The failure of the rise of the trade unions
in the 1930s developing into a mass political party in the United States was tragic
for the entire development of social struggles since then.
defeat in the USSR set the framework for the defeat in the United States, since
the left dominated by the Communist Party was able to betray the workers' movement
and keep it tied to the two-party system.
because of the change in objective circumstances, these subjective factors are
now changed. The possibility of a revival of our movement is now on the agenda over
the next historic period.
Alliance and the Workers Party of Brazil are signs of the change. Neither is a
finished product, something that is impossible, just as a new-born baby cannot
be instantly an adult. The existence of an organisation like the DSP, on a much
lesser level, is also a start even if it is isolated because it carries certain
elements of what a successful mass movement will need.
the key is for the DSP or its equivalents in other countries to help develop the
mass movement, to root itself in the masses, or it can end up as an impediment to
progress, as almost all organisations calling themselves Leninist today are.
future changes in society will only come about after our movement has literally
become the culture of working people, precisely in the manner in which the Sandinistas
became in Nicaragua or Causa R is now achieving in Venezuela, or the July 26 Movement
did in the late 1950s in Cuba.
old enough to have lived during the height of the Vietnam antiwar movement will
remember what it was like when large layers of the population, especially the youth,
had a culture of struggle. For us to "win", this must occur on a more
massive scale than ever, and it must be international more than ever.
the few groups that have survived the last 30 years, and still maintain a commitment
to socialism, but are isolated, it is imperative to make these changes.
"turn to industry" of the United States SWP in the late 1970s was a farcical
ultraleft expression of this underlying problem. After the massive explosion of
the antiwar movement and the SWP's participation in it, its sectarian isolation
stood out more clearly.
organisation had to choose which way to go, and in the name of going to root itself
in the working-class and end its isolation, the SWP codified its sectarian existence
even more profoundly.
need to do exactly the opposite. In this sense the fear of selling out, the fear
of not sufficiently ideologically separating ourselves from other currents, of
not continuously "exposing" the limitations of protest movements, has
to be confronted.
down, the fear of selling out is a lack of self-confidence, something any organisation
that is isolated inevitably develops.
Objective versus subjective
preparing this criticism it was, of course, necessary to focus, and thus to be one-sided,
to bend the stick.
process of internal education of the membership of any organisation committed to
socialism is critical.
is, the subjective factor is itself an important part of the equation. While this
article is clearly focused against one-sided vanguardism or subjective errors, I
want to make it clear that the question is not choosing between the two but the
correct interrelationship between objective and subjective factors.
recognising there was a sectarian side to Cannonism, we should also recognise that
many of Cannon's organisational ideas are simply good organising techniques.
of his ideas on how executive committees should function, the relationship between
elected leaders, how to express ideas and how to organize discussions, are certainly
was terribly wrong when he suggested that the international should not only set
the line but determine tactics for each country. The need for leaderships to arise
in each country, even within each area of struggle, is imperative for the kind of
movement we need to build.
make mistakes, by definition. That is normal. The movement internationally will
include various currents; that is normal. In fact, we may discover over time that
it is really essential, given the diversity of issues with the working people of
others is a dead end, but one can learn from almost any experiences, especially
successful ones. For a period, large numbers set out to imitate the Cubans in Latin
America. This was a mistake. So were the attempts to imitate the Russians after
1917. People who can think for themselves have the best chance of success.