What We Are And What We Must Become  

A critique of the politics and perspectives of the Militant Tendency
by Rachel Lever, Phil Semp and Sean Matgamna

First published July 1966


Early this year, Rachel Lever and Sean Matgamna developed apparently minor criticisms of the leadership's treatment of the issue of trade union legislation [the then Labour government's plans for laws to restrict union rights and restrain strikes]. We made a number of points and practical proposals to Peter Taaffe and later the Secretariat. It would probably have got no further, but for the strange behaviour of the leadership (see Section 1).

The responses, actions and reactions of the centre, the answers, comments and arguments they used in discussion, increasingly made us doubt if the differences were indeed so minor, or that they were isolated and accidental. This had the effect of allowing us an insight on the real nature of the Group's theory and practice. We have found the corrosion of Bolshevism/Trotskyism to be such that a change in quality has taken place. This is why we have dealt with basic questions like the Theory of the Party. Ted Grant may claim to have known this for decades. Maybe... but our case is that in the practice of the RSL [Revolutionary Socialist League, then the name of the group behind Militant] such 'knowledge' of the old hands has no meaning. In order to establish this we have brought in a restatement of some basic Marxist positions as we see them, to act as a fixed measure for the RSL, thus escaping the usual shifting quicksands we get into with talk of 'ultra-left', Healyite, etc. [The "Healyites" were the SLL, the Socialist Labour League, later WRP, then by far the most active Trotskyist group in Britain - already very sectarian in 1966, the SLL-WRP went mad in the mid-70s and disintegrated in 1985]. Peter Taaffe accused us of trying to pick out incidental points to build a system: on the contrary what we have done is to attempt to restate aspects of some basic questions we feel have been forgotten, pigeon-holed, and slowly eroded.

We have spent much time rereading some of the basic writings of the movement, and in the course of this a clearer picture of the RSL emerged. Questions we had raised, and which Peter Taaffe, Ted Grant, et al. had tried to keep segregated in airtight boxes, merged with each other. Concrete, practical details merged with basic theory, and could be clearly seen as originating in false political and ideological conceptions.

Contents and layout

Section 1 grew up unplanned and somewhat haphazard. It tells of organisational experiences, concrete events, conversations, political positions concerning these. Section 2 is on the relation of the Marxist vanguard to the working class and its spontaneously arisen movement; both in the 'abstract' and in connection with the British labour movement. Section 3 deals with 'Perspectives' - the leadership's conception of the thing itself, i.e. what is a perspective. We attempt with quotations to show what were the views of Lenin, Trotsky and Gramsci on this question. Finally, we attempt to present a positive alternative. A picture is drawn of the necessary democratic centralist party, and concrete proposals made on this.

We never set out to write anything as long as this. We constantly cut it down and keep only what we felt was essential. Similarly, we tried to avoid repetition, but in some places some may have crept in, as we dealt with the case from as many different angles as possible.

We have in places used the sharpest language, as we feel a need to impress on the comrades that the issues are not marginal, not unimportant, not, as the leadership has tried to contend, secondary issues artificially blown up. The theories and practice of the leadership are, we think, alien to revolutionary communism: to fight these revisions is a thus a life or death question for the group - ultimately for the class. There can be no neutrality on these questions - they must be tackled sharply and clearly. Trotskyism must be today's Bolshevism: it arose as the defence of Leninism. Trotsky held that his most important work was his fight to preserve and develop Leninism against the epigones. Those who deny in words and ignore in deeds the role and significance of the vanguard party in history are Trotskyism's opportunists, attempting to cut away the Lenin side from Trotskyism, and reduce it to a matter of abstract phrases and detached prophecies. The politics of Trotskyism must still be defended. Therefore we declare for Bolshevik-Trotskyism.

RM, PS, SM. July 1966