First published July 1966
" ... The most important observation to be made about every concrete analysis of forces is this: that such analyses cannot and must not be ends in themselves (unless one is writing a chapter of past history), and they only acquire significance if they serve to justify practical activity, an initiative of will. They show what are the points of least resistance, where the force of will can be applied most fruitfully; they suggest immediate tactical operations; they indicate how a campaign of political action can best be presented, what language will be best understood by the multitudes, etc. The decisive element in every situation is the force, permanently organised and pre-ordered over a long period, which can be advanced when one judges that the situation is favourable (and it is favourable only to the extent which such a force exists and is full of fighting ardour); therefore the essential task is that of paying systematic and patient attention to forming and developing this force, rendering it ever more homogeneous, compact, conscious of itself ..."
(A. Gramsci, The Modern Prince, p173)
" ... the presence of a revolutionary party, which renders to itself a clear account of the motive forces of the present epoch, and understands the exceptional role amongst them of a revolutionary class; which believes in that class and believes in itself; which knows the power of revolutionary method in an epoch of instability of all social relations; which is ready to employ that method and carry it through to the end - the presence of such a party represents a factor of incalculable historical importance."
(Leon Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism, p18)
" ... The great historical significance of Lenin's policy ... his policy of irreconcilable ideological demarcation, and, when necessary, split for the purpose of welding and tempering the core of the truly revolutionary party ... "
(L. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, p 49.)
The fight is therefore to build the revolutionary party
The task is to organise a serious cadre organisation, embryonic Bolshevik Party, as the immediate concrete step in the fight to reorganise the British labour movement. On the building of the revolutionary party in Britain we have a rich, if not always fruitful experience which must be summed up, and which unfortunately hasn't been discussed seriously enough. This involves a discussion of the old Revolutionary Communist Party experience, of the tendency which has emerged as the SLL and of that tendency, originating as the dominant group within the Revolutionary Communist Party, which is now the RSL.
In the abstract three positions on the question can be formulated.
THE DEMOCRATIC CENTRALIST PARTY
But what is this Party? Is it just an accidental sum of individuals who agree to propagate a common view of what should happen in the future? Or is it qualitatively different from what usually passes for a group or a party? We think it is. Let us examine it.
THE WEAKNESS OF THE CENTRE IS A POLITICAL QUESTION
As individuals our comrades are involved in the different sectors of the labour movement. What is lacking is clearly the central leadership: the national organisation that raises a sum of individuals and raises them qualitatively into an organisation of Bolsheviks. The character of the centre is decisive for the nature and quality of the whole organisation. The centre must be the pinnacle of consciousness and the embodiment of the tradition of the movement. If we are to be conscious of ourselves as an independent political force, of entryism as a tactic rather than a routinist adaptation, if we are to conduct the Bolshevik fight against all accommodation to bourgeois ideology - the centre is the key. The drive, elan, combativity of the organisation, its will to fight, its political responsiveness is necessarily conditioned by the centre, the theoretical and organisational power-house. A stream cannot rise higher than its source. The question of the centre is not just a matter of one and a half full-timers or merely a technical problem - it is a political question. The signatories have at various times raised the demand for more technical improvements at the centre, and there is certainly room for this. But it is obviously no longer enough. On its present level politically any amount of technical improvements would not produce the necessary change. To explain, as is usual with the leadership, the political inadequacies as a result of lack of resources, is to reverse cause and effect; it shows a completely wrong conception of the relationship between politics and organisation. We must begin by being politically adequate and from this beginning consciously generate, call forth an organisation and resources to enable us to fulfil the political demands that the objective situation makes on us. To take the approach of the leadership is to wallow in the worst subjectivism. If we wait until we have a dozen full-timers etc., before we accept the political responsibility to attempt to lead, to become involved (as a group, not just as individuals) in the day to day struggles of the class and the various socialist groups, then we are doomed to wait indefinitely. What is needed then, the only possible new beginning, is a political beginning.
In the last Internal Bulletin Peter Taaffe (?) aims a 'blow' at those of us who have recently attacked the political and organisational inadequacies of the centre:
"A bulletin must reflect the movement. Leadership comes from the rank and file as well as from the 'leading' comrades on the Secretariat and National Committee. We have never subscribed to that concept of leadership beloved of the ultra-lefts" (July Internal Bulletin).
The writer must be congratulated for having the grace to put "leading" in quotation marks; we think such a qualification should be employed when ever we speak of "leading" comrades! (but why ultra-lefts? Do we not call the State Caps [forerunners of the SWP: at the time they were vocally 'anti-Leninist'] ultra-left? And what conception of leadership do they subscribe to?) It has been alleged in this document that a great deal of our current practice derives from rationalisations of the leadership, who have allowed this corrosion of Trotskyism in deference to their own inadequacies. Here we can actually see the process at work: a new 'branch' begins to bud on the cancerous growth that has sapped the strength of the group for so long. We can actually see the crystallisation of a 'new' (?) attitude, born as with so many of the approaches of our leading comrades, out of sheer self defence. (Another recent example of presenting weakness as virtues - the glorification of a 'soft' centre at the June National Committee).
The trick is simple. If the writer is advocating rank and file initiative he is of course correct - but he obscures the issue by a blanket use of the word 'leadership'. Thus he attempts to shed the responsibilities of the centre, in support of an attitude of self-indulgence. Where everyone is leader, how can anyone dare take Ted Grant or Peter Taaffe et al. to task for such lapses as on the seamen's strike?
The sheer irresponsibility of spreading this sort of confusion is also typical. This is the sort of thing that has reduced the group to the point of invisibility as a political force and which has allowed the worst features of Healyism to become identified as Trotskyism by the labour movement.
In Section 2 it was argued that our task is the establishment of a democratic centralist party. In such statements as that quoted from the Internal Bulletin the leadership of the group deny this task - but first and foremost do they deny it in practice. We must therefore ask what a democratic centralist party is, and measure the group as it is against this model.
Leadership arises within parties and classes because of unevenness of development; all people haven't got the same training, the same experience, the same inclination, the same drive. We, when we develop a revolutionary party, aspire to have that party as a whole, as an organism, function as the leadership of the class. Likewise within the party, albeit on a higher level, there is a repetition of the unevenness. Here too unevenness of development means sharp differences in consciousness, political understanding and above all in serious commitment to the preparation for the proletarian revolution: certain people emerge who embody the best - consciousness, the drive, the organisational propensities necessary to the party. And of course there is a 'hierarchy' down to branch level. Even in groups (e.g. anarchist) where leadership is regarded as original sin it can be seen how de facto certain people always dominate, either generally, or in particular fields. Unlike the anarchists, Bolsheviks recognise this. For us consciousness is the vital spark, the beginning, and this means not only recognition that leadership will evolve but that leadership, the most conscious political centre, is the most important element. We recognise that specialisation and concentration develop people, that only by such serious revolutionary leadership can the revolutionary party keep abreast.
For us leadership is not an evil - we frankly recognise that in this period of unevenness of development generally, there must be a division of function, a delegation of authority, and this must be on the basis of ability.
REVOLUTIONARY PARTY THE KEY
Let the anarchists bemoan this; let the State Caps deny it; let Ted Grant take refuge behind the SLL caricature - history shows the need for a special type of revolutionary proletarian party, organised in a special way. Let those who want guarantees from history shudder in fear lest a highly centralised party aid 'degeneration' in an unfavourable future: the organisation of single cells into multi-cellular bodies gave rise to the phenomenon of death - it also made life as we know it possible. Melancholics may bemoan that the organisation of the human body implies death: we content ourselves with observing that no body equals no life.
For us in politics the Bolshevik party is like the body. It also has the advantage that degeneration is only possible in certain unfavourable conditions. But modern history shows that no Bolshevik type party in times of crisis means no revolutionary life for the proletariat.
'But', the comrades will ask: 'is all this really necessary, in an RSL Internal Bulletin?' We think that, unfortunately, it is. Such things as the paragraph in the July Internal Bulletin are neither accidental nor meaningless. Neither is it accidental that a member of the Secretariat can respond to talk of leadership by accusing us of wanting to teach the workers to suck eggs. The conception of the Bolshevik party which is a basic idea of the Fourth International has receded so far into the distance for our leadership, it has become so meaningless in practice, that all talk of the revolutionary party has now become a mere platonic ritual. The attitude expressed in the Internal Bulletin represents the real practice of the leadership - it therefore represents their real position. The organisation must no longer be content with platonic declarations from them - we must demand practical demonstrations.
Side by side with vulgar mechanical ideas of the centre - ideas which amount to crude determinism, we have its necessary concomitant: the implied idea of a full spontaneous ripening of the working class. This leads to our practice of passive waiting on this ripeness; which in turn leads to a disparagement of the role of conscious activity, of the Bolshevik combat party. (For these people it exists, if at all, in the future; here and now it is non-existent even in embryo - how then can it exist in the future?).
There are people, such as the Cliffites [proto-SWP], who explore this attitude theoretically and appear to believe in some absolute ripeness (see Tony Cliff: International Socialism magazine, autumn 1960). Despite their garbled repetitions of the position of Bolshevik Trotskyism, our leadership have in practice exactly the same position. In fact, practically, they go much further in this direction than the Cliff group, (which also seems to be reconsidering its former position) [In 1968 the proto-SWP would switch back to calling itself 'Leninist', 'Trotskyist' and 'democratic centralist'].
There are those who look back over the past 50 years and say: 'The workers were defeated - "immaturity"; capitalism has developed tremendously since then, despite sharp and very costly downswings including World War Two; it has given birth to a virtual second Industrial Revolution, despite all the continuing contradictions - which proves that, in keeping with Marx's axiom that no social system ever disappears until all the productive forces contained within it are exhausted, it could not possibly have been overthrown.'
Those who take this line belong neither by temperament nor outlook to the work of preparing the proletarian revolution; at best they can be well-wishers and describers of the process: in no case can they join or build an organisation that proposes to march boldly onto the highway of history and play an active part.
Also they distort history, they confuse and reverse cause and effect. The West European workers have not failed to take power because capitalism mystically contained within itself hidden seeds of future development, these seed being protected by some Guardian God even in times when capitalism was prostrate: no, rather, capitalism continues, because the working class, impelled by the monstrous convulsions of capitalism (particularly and initially after World War One) revolted and were betrayed and delivered up to the reactionary butchers by their own renegade apparatus. Neither was the degeneration in the USSR inevitable because the revolution itself was a world-historic accident hopelessly premature and inescapably doomed; this degeneration being aided, speeded, by the structure of the Bolshevik Party. Rather was it the absence of such democratic centralist parties in the West, to fight the apparatus that was the product within the European labour movement of the past era of conservative accommodation to the status quo. This absence it was that ruined the European Revolution and left the successful revolution in isolation to degenerate and sink into the backward Russian mud.
That capitalism could pick itself up again, in time, out of the troughs that have included the betrayed and defeated proletarian revolts, is easily explainable by the nature of capitalism itself - in the nature of its development mechanism it experiences periodic booms and slumps, expressions of its inner contradictions: beginning in 1914 the same forces led to such catastrophic events that the continued existence of the system was in question. We have briefly considered the results; the point is that the very depth of the crisis, its social wastage, played the same role for the system as the earlier, smaller blood-lettings, the slumps which cleared the way for a new boom each time.
That this has also meant a continual, indeed very rapid, development of technology is also in the nature of capitalism. At the cost of proletarian blood and degradation in ever increasing quantities, capitalism has survived and sometimes 'prospered' in the last 40 years. It is difficult to think of a likely situation of inexorable crisis, out of which West European capitalism, the most dynamic system couldn't survive.
But side by side with this the recurrence of crises where the overthrow of the system becomes again possible is inevitable. Only an atomic war could remove the inevitability of such recurrences. The revolutionary party is thus the key. Those who deny the primacy of the combat party - in theory or in practice - work against the force which will be decisive for victory even in the most favourable circumstances.
THE PARTY IS A LIVING, FIGHTING ORGANISM
The democratic centralist party is conceived as an active, functioning organism. It is not an accidental conglomeration of individuals or of so much democracy, so much centralism etc added up, but an organic fusion of these things into a higher unity. Each member is a cell, and there can be no dead, inactive cells. This aspect is absolutely vital both for centralised activity and for full democracy. A combat party, strongly centralised, can have no dead-wood; its function is to prepare, organise and fight the class struggle; it is an army on the march (Lenin: "the column of steel"); its measure must be its will and ability to respond to events decisively and sharply. This means that the central leadership, democratically elected and controlled, must be in full position, having been appointed as the highest active consciousness, to give directives which are binding. To do this effectively it must know exactly what resources are available - and where. Unless it knows as near as possible what forces it can muster, then even an approximate calculation (to be submitted to the test of practice) is not possible i.e. Bolshevik-type activity is not possible. Centralism demands an active membership.
Likewise, democracy also demands an active membership. Inactive members, dead cells, poison a living organism - and they certainly poison a living Bolshevik organisation's democratic life. Only an organisation with a fully active membership can be fully and consistently democratic. Look at all the organisations of the labour movement. Some members are active, the majority are not. The leadership is only there by default and, through cliquism, self-perpetuating. Differences in experience etc in organisations where only some members are active allow some groups to dominate, allow the passive members to be manipulated. How can passive members be directly involved enough, be sufficiently in tune to appreciate all the issues?
The function of a democratic centralist party is to usher in the future. In the matter of an active membership it must antedate that future. The bane of working class organisations is that the pressures of daily life under capitalism for the workers prevent full interest, full activity on their own behalf by the masses - even where formal democracy exists. Lenin proposed an immediate shortening of the working day, irrespective of the economics involved, because he saw this block on the self-activity of the masses as a terrible barrier. We can observe its effects in the unions and Labour Party now. The revolutionary Bolshevik party, existing here and now with all the pressures of capitalism, must, if it is to perform its function, overcome the pressures sufficiently to enable it to have an active membership and a conscious democratic life. We must be able, by our consciousness of our responsibilities to create such conditions for ourselves, ahead of the masses of the class, or we will never lead that class out of slavery. Only those who seriously devote their lives to socialism, who organise their lives around the single purpose of fighting for and with the class can be revolutionary socialists of the vanguard. It is a hard logic - but one imposed by an equally hard reality. And it is this reality, with its tremendous pressures, dragging us down to accommodation, that we must rise above and overcome.
Only a fully active membership can be an approach to a guarantee of full democracy. Members who are fighting actively know that every turn, every twist of the leadership, every lapse of the centre has a direct immediate bearing on themselves, that their local work may be ruined by the national leadership. Consequently they will be vitally concerned with what goes on. They will be compelled, as they value their party and its work to keep everything under review, to decide, take a position on every issue to the best of their ability.
As we have seen democratic centralism is not a measured quantity of both - but a dialectical fusion. A flexibility of both aspects is part of its structure: the flexibility of steel. Depending on the environment and the tasks which it consciously works out and sets itself, it is capable of the most rigid discipline (imposed by the political authority, established by the practical leadership of the centre) needed to fight the bourgeois state, and of the flexibility needed for the fullest possible democracy in the given situation.
It is capable of working underground without democracy, or in conditions of full democracy: full democracy prepares the way educates and disciplined the organisation to enable it to transform its structure underground when forced to. The original Bolshevik party is of course the classic example of this. It was able, from 1903 onwards to respond organically to conditions where no democracy was possible and, when conditions permitted as in 1905, to expand like a great plant, broadening its base, generating the fullest democratic life: then once again in 1907/8 it faced rigid retrenchment.
Without centralism there can be no practical revolutionary activity. The function of a democratic centralist party is political action (or preparation for action). This must be as effective as possible, bringing the fullest weight of the whole party to bear on one given point which may be decisive. This is only possible with strong central leadership, closely connected with all the local branches by strong organisational sinews; it is only possible where dissenters accept a duty to carry out in practice majority decisions. And this in turn is only possible where such internal relations exist that decisions are arrived at democratically: that the minority's 'submission' is seen, by both sides, as really a submission to the test of events.
This is the second co-efficient of democratic centralism. No democracy equals no unanimity of action, no confidence in the directives of the leadership. Trotsky compared democracy here to oxygen, i.e. not a liberal fetish but a functional need for an organic party such as we have in mind (and which could be done without for a period, in exceptional conditions, but at a cost). Democracy, in decision, in equality of rights for majorities and minorities; in the complete 'neutrality' of the party machine in face of internal differences, played the vital function of allowing the party to live and grow and adapt and change aspects of its line where necessary.
Minority rights played the vital function of preventing monolithicism of line; the 'leadership' wasn't God-appointed, functioning with papal pretensions to infallibility, but its positions were submitted to experience; its abilities to practical demonstration. Minorities were loyally active dissenting (obviously within certain limits) groups which were potential alternatives: they were reserves, accepted and preserved as such by the party as a whole. The mutilation of this by the Communist Parties was possible only by the installation of hacks who had no position except of dog-like regard for the slightest flicker of an eyelid by the Soviet bureaucracy - the Dutts, the Thorez, the Togliattis.
Lenin said: "No revolutionary ideology means no revolutionary practice." Without revolutionary Marxism there can be no consistent fight to build the democratic centralist party. Without a conscious fight for Marxism, necessarily the job of the highest pinnacle of the movement, the revolutionary centre, the would-be revolutionary party will find itself inevitably accommodating to the broad labour movement (and in the final analysis capitalism) in practice, and it will find its supposedly 'revolutionary' ideas ever more compartmentalised, ever more 'prayer' like: ever more "a credo and not a guide to action."
The ideological front is the crucial battle-front in the laying of the foundations and the building up of the democratic centralist political organism which the class absolutely needs. A vital part in maintaining the status quo of capitalism is played by traditional ideology: only a crude 'materialist' would minimise the importance of ideology in cementing the ties between masters and slaves in capitalist society. Engels pointed out that it was only in the field of ideology that men became aware of the conflicts that take place in the material world. It has been said many times that ideas assume the power of material forces when they grip the masses. And this does not only apply to correct ideas - it applies even more to the illusions.
The prerequisite of a revolutionary party is to break decisively, clearly with all bourgeois ideology. We must fight against all fully developed bourgeois ideology and in the working class movement in particular we must fight that ideology which springs up spontaneously and which must be classified, after Lenin, as bourgeois, even when it includes elements of a naive 'socialism'. There are no half measures here, no 'neutrality', no abstentionism - we either fight bourgeois ideology or we succumb to it. This fight is first conducted within the party. The party is the instrument for waging the struggle to break the ideological chains that help bind the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. The importance of this fight cannot be overstressed. It is the to-be-or-not-to-be for revolutionary politics.
This is why the question of whether we start with the level of consciousness of the masses is vital for us. We cannot start there - we must start with a Marxist analysis of objective reality. On this clearly established basis, on which our comrades must be educated, we evolve approaches to the different political and non-political layers of the class, necessarily taking into account their various levels of consciousness, remembering that there's not just one - the lowest common denominator - which is the conception of the leading comrades.
A beginning with the average consciousness, which is allowed to seep into our own organisation, is the equivalent of deliberately catching the disease we exist to combat, bowing to bourgeois ideology, which dominates the masses of the working class in one form or another. The use of the word 'seep' is not casual: we exist in an environment, including the labour movement, pervaded by bourgeois ideology. Marxist consciousness is something that must be fought for consciously. To keep our politics to the level of propaganda, bowing to popular illusions, is to capitulate in the vital fight against bourgeois ideological influences on the class. It is to accept a wasting disease of diffusion and adulteration which threaten our own organisation with extinction. It precludes the possibility of a revolutionary party.
The daily grind, pettifogging concern for petty details in the spontaneously arisen labour movement, forever bear down on individuals, forever pressurise individuals and small groups; it is only through collective life, intellectual and practical, of a democratic centralist party, that individuals can rise to the heights of being serious consistent revolutionary fighters. Only thus can individuals avoid being trapped by the routine of the existing labour movement; only thus can individual revolutionaries avoid having their ideas in one compartment and their 'practice' (Labour Party and trade union routine) in another.
Of course the creation of such parties is not a matter of wishes and dreams. The central problem of Trotskyism is that it represents the highest, sharpest formulations of Marxism on theory and practice - and is cut off from decisively influencing the broad masses in the spirit of its full programme. Yes. But the party will be built consciously or not at all - and we must build it: who else is there? Only a fool would think that a mighty battleship of steel could emerge from the foundations laid for a modest house-boat - and therefore we must examine the relationship between what we must do and what we are doing: the dichotomy between the fighting machine which the tasks of the class call for and the modest 'propagandist' activities of the RSL. The centre is the key, as it has been for one and a half decades. The state of the centre prevents the coalescence of our collection of ward and trade union members into a Bolshevik force. Its role is not just not positive: since it is the only centre, it works either for or against a Bolshevik organisation. Frankly it must be said that it works against. The ties that link our comrades together are minimal. The activities of the organisation as such are equally small, our members exist in the broad movement like so many logs from a shipwreck bobbing about in the sea. The major part of our activity is routine activity in the broad movement, with a sort of private sideline in propaganda ... All along the line we must accommodate, go along with the current. Bolshevik activity demands a conscious design, a plan of activity - Bolshevik, not routinist work in the broad movement. Rather than logs bobbing helplessly we must bind together as a raft and attempt to steer our activities consciously: that binding must be, can only be Marxist ideology and a serious democratic centralist organisation ... as it exists the RSL needs to be changed decisively if it is to emerge as a Bolshevik party.
We have accused the leadership of vulgar objectivism - of holding a conception of Marxism little different from determinism, and accompanying this a slavish tailending after spontaneity; a removal of all conscious effort, all voluntarism from politics.
We must add the charge of organisational and political subjectivism. The contradiction is only apparent. If it is all going to happen anyway then there's room for self-indulgence on our part. If it's only a matter of 'prophesy', of holding to pre-ordained conceptions, and not a question of organising, tempering and leading a force to enter into the living processes consciously (which don't necessarily have a preordained inevitable outcome at the end) - then the meandering self-preservation at which the leadership is so expert is quite permissible.
Add to this basis the rationalisations of decades and we get a situation where clique self-defence by the leadership takes the place of serious concern for political responsibilities. Democratic centralism becomes a mere 'prohibitive' shield for the leadership: everything else is forgotten. This is the first thing that prevents a proper, active democratic centralist organisation developing out of the RSL.
For a long time the comrades who have dominated the organisation have not begun their considerations politically. And there is no other basis of Bolshevik considerations. Earlier we used a term of Lenin's: "infatuated with their own inadequacies" - this was not mere abuse. At every turn we see this approach from the older comrades, and the newer and younger ones are both miseducated by this and taken onto a National Committee or Secretariat which functions on this principle.
We see this in the various issues of criticism: the leadership responds not as a political organism conscious of responsibility, but as a clique conscious of the need for self-defence. Mutual forgiveness amongst the leadership is proclaimed as the correct approach. They think a mutual protection society is the ideal formula for a Bolshevik centre.
Instead of a seriously organised Bolshevik force fighting and attempting to function seriously, demanding a minimum level of seriousness from everyone, and a great deal more from the leadership, we get a slack, run-down, sluggish organisation, reduced in practice to abstractions; whose members go every which way with the tides of the broad labour movement, the bourgeois domination of which we exist to fight. The organisation begins always with the mood of the centre, not objective considerations of duties or a revolutionary struggle to overcome inadequacies and live up to our politics.
The national political and organisational ties will become weaker, and the members more firmly attached to the routine of the broad movement - their 'Trotskyism' will become more and more a thing for Sundays and the distant future. Self defence will (as we have seen over the seamen's strike) be capable of calling forth more energy than struggles of the class. The whole tempo of the movement will be geared to the 'leaders' who are lagging behind: there will be no shortage of rationalisations. This subjectivism and cliquism is the opposite of a serious approach - it is the dog-end of Trotskyism.
The limited gains made by the organisation in the last year or so, though partly by default, show decisively the fact that the centre has been sitting in the road for years: and their ideas and methods still dominate.
Bolshevik politics can only be grounded on sharply delineated tasks, on a serious revolutionary will to intervene and fight step by step for leadership of the class. Where this will has collapsed and been replaced by meandering and self-justification, where mutual protection takes the place of revolutionary drive - then no serious Bolshevik organisation will be built.
THE RSL IS NOT DEMOCRATIC CENTRALIST
The task is to reorganise the group. We are not a democratic centralist organisation at all: if it has any meaning for the group, other than something to pay lip-service to, then only its 'prohibitive' clauses - on such things as the right of comrades to disagree with the line of the paper publicly... It is two years at least since the last conference: the so-called Extended National Committees are no substitute - the discussion at these cannot take the place of a detailed written, considered discussion that should necessarily precede a Bolshevik congress.
For healthy internal political life and the forging of the revolutionary party, congresses must be held on a regular basis. We deplore the lack of a congress for two or three years - merely on the excuse of the difficulties of finding a meeting place!
In general there is, despite all sorts of discussion meetings, a lack of serious discussion in the organisation.
Two examples: the ex-Selbyite - RSL unification; the Secretariat presented a fait accompli - making it a matter of loyalty for the National Committee members to rubber-stamp the issue. The leadership deliberately stood in the way of a serious discussion of the issues. People who had previously held positions of 100% liquidation of Trotskyism joined en masse and there was no discussion of the issues. A 'fusion' was announced: when it was objected that discussion of the old issues hadn't taken place the 'fusion' was changed to a 'joining', the Secretariat declared itself satisfied that all was well ... and that was that.
A serious centre, eager to clarify and raise the consciousness of the whole organisation, would have insisted on a general comradely discussion. We can see the effects of this sort of comradely behaviour in the fact that they can get away with it: a seriously conscious membership would demand clarification. Democracy is not just a formality - it also presupposes a certain level of consciousness. It is the duty of the centre to provoke discussion (not artificially, of course) to develop this consciousness.
Splits and fusions must be undertaken in a fully democratic way - i.e. full discussion of the contending sections or factions must be organised for the clarity of all comrades. Without such clarity the factors leading to division will continue and play a negative role in the building of the revolutionary party. To avoid comradely discussion with the ex-Selbyites and then to insist on unanimity, on which only the National Committee could vote (though it was an aggregate) is blatantly undemocratic. That is how not to build a party in spite of the numerical addition to the ranks at the time.
There is an appearance of democracy in the general looseness of the organisation. But this is not the democracy of democratic centralism: i.e. deliberative discussion as a prelude to decisive action. This anything but looseness.
The International: There is also the question of our split with the International [i.e. the current led by Ernest Mandel, called 'United Secretariat of the Fourth International']. We find ourselves excluded from the International without a serious political discussion of the issues. There was a couple of Extended National Committees devoted to very one-sided discussion of some of the issues. No written discussion took place at all. It appeared that attitudes on such things as entryism in Germany were taken up at the Congress - but where did discussion on entryism as a world historic principle take place??? The membership was hustled along by the Secretariat. Comrades may have had the right to disagree but that is not enough. A Bolshevik organisation needs detailed discussion, sharpness and clarity - deliberative discussion, deliberative democracy. It is a scandalous thing that there is no written explanation of the present situation in relation to the International. The document entitled "The Expulsion of the RSL" is at best semi-political. The RSL side is hollow rhetoric, completely unsatisfying. To list the iniquities of Alan Harris and to pose affirmatives in place of negative charges by the Fourth International ('yes, we do have a healthy section', 'no we don't have the same perspective as Healy') is totally inadequate. As revolutionary communists we have a duty to the proletariat, not just nationally but internationally. For a Bolshevik organisation this sort of thing cannot take the place of serious democracy. For us democracy is not just an absence of constraint, leading to general looseness. It is a functional thing, conducted consciously and seriously - leading to practical conclusions. The looseness that passes for democracy in the RSL is not Bolshevik democracy.
THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE
De facto we have no National Committee. There exists a Secretariat which hovers without visible support above an National Committee which is always a general aggregate meeting, meets every three months and at best votes as a rubber stamp: where has there been serious preparation for discussion at the National Committee? The quarterly national aggregates are nothing else, despite such titles as 'Political Extended National Committee' 'Organisational Extended National Committee' etc.
If the function of the party is to be the consciousness and skeletal structure of the class, the function of the National Committee is to play the same role for the party as a whole - on a much higher level. The National Committee members must have the highest consciousness, and must be the driving-force, the practical leaders responsible as individuals to the whole National Committee for particular tasks collectively determined and distributed on the basis of a division of labour - and above all responsible to regularly convened and properly prepared Congresses. At present the National Committee has no function at all and is best defined as a form of differential franchise.
A root cause why so much talent and resources lie fallow in and around our organisation is the absence of a serious programme to harness to the objectively determined and derived tasks - a serious organisational drive. There has certainly been an improvement lately - but let us leave the habit of being grateful for small mercies. Why this lack of a serious drive? This, in our opinion, is because of a capitulation before the objective pressures by the leadership, a feeling of impotence which has been accepted over the years, Menshevik capitulation to the environment, compounded and made poisonous by being rationalised and 'theorised' upon - rather than a Bolshevik determination to fight for what is necessary.
The leadership attribute all defects to 'lack of resources'. But why do we who have had for two decades "a correct orientation" find ourselves so short of resources? Isn't it perhaps the habit that has grown up over the years of rationalising from our own weakness, lowering the objective tasks to our own abilities, to our most easily available resources. In general, as far as resources go we have sufficient to accomplish far more than we do. What is lacking is a centre, conscious of its political and organisational responsibilities, determined to reorganise our resources - human and financial - around a serious attempt to build a Bolshevik cadre organisation, to fight within the existing movement.
We must, if we are Bolsheviks, begin with an objective appraisal of the tasks of a given period, then strive to live up to them: not a lowering of sights - but a raising of ourselves! Criticism and self-criticism, rather than a complacent self-satisfaction that takes refuge in false objectivism, that blames all deficiencies on 'objective' forces, outside the possibility of control, reducing our own conscious effort to the minimum. Finance etc shows this very clearly. Working class organisations have always had a hard time and bitter struggles to survive - and yet have not allowed this to be crippling; from the Herald in 1911, through the Worker to, dare we say it, the technical, organisational, practical successes of the Newsletter!
In the main publication of the RSL one finds a mish-mash of formally correct slogans and ideas, and these mixed-up with entryist approaches: "Marxism" on the level of "Labour Party legality" - without any clear distinction between entryist approaches and clear-cut Marxist analysis, without clearly establishing the difference between what is objectively true (on such issues as the state, class character of Labour Party etc ... which can hardly be tackled clearly in an entryist paper) and concessions on our part to popular illusions. The mixture of Labour Party illusion and 'Marxist' jargon which fills Militant at the moment is neither entryism nor revolutionary politics. It is incapable of attracting the militants and it will scare away the so-called 'lefts' and Labour Party types because of its dried-out jargon.
Here we have a new synthesis: a centrist segment formed of dried husks of Marxist phraseology filled with left Labour content. The centrists were originally Marxist after all, Tribune is merely left Labour, liberal tinged with Sunday socialism. Dehydrated Marxism threatens always to sink to the level of centrism.
An entryist paper is possible which begins at the level of the average Labour Party consciousness and strives to raise it on certain issues, avoiding open clashes with general conceptions, on certain questions, leaving them unilluminated and unanswered, going along pedagogically with certain mass illusions, utilising the transitional demand conception ...
A certain amount of 'capitulation' seems unavoidable, working in the Labour Party environment appealing to such aspirations of the workers as Clause IV without explaining these things dialectically. This is 'capitulation' in a limited way to certain bourgeois ideological influences in the labour movement with the purpose of taking the workers beyond such ideas. This must be done consciously and deliberately by people ultra-conscious of their own identity and vigorously determined to defend it. And this in turn pre-supposes a serious party, a serious leadership, a serious means of self-education - a publication which clearly and sharply analyses everything from the full Marxist position.
The publications of a communist organisation must be capable of forging a vital link between the vanguard of the class - i.e. the party (or that embryo of it which exists) and the class. The Bolshevik-Trotskyists consider that the publications of the RSL do not measure up to this imperative need.
At the Extended National Committee on March 6th Ted Grant said without qualification that Militant would be the same even if we were an open party. It has already been argued that whether we are 'in' or 'out' changes decisively the character of such slogans as demands on leaders. Ted Grant's statement, which is also contained in 'The Marxist Paper' indicates that the entryist approach is not a clearly understood, deliberately applied tactic but a concept which permeates our thinking and is defended as a principle for all times and all conditions - which is precisely what it has become for Ted Grant.
Ideas, as we have seen, are not 'things in themselves' - neither are publications. On the two issues discussed in Section 2, the legislation question and the sea strike, most of the points we raised evoked the same reply from the leadership and from almost everyone else: 'alright - so that point should have been included in the article'. Take into account the nature of the omissions and this sort of reply will assume its proper significance - a reflection of how far literary and propagandist conceptions of our role pervade the organisation.
There is no denying that we are a propagandist society, and we all know the remarks of Lenin and Trotsky on how many people constitute a 'sect'. But what is clearly lacking is a proper understanding of the nature of revolutionary propaganda and of the organisational work that must accompany propaganda. It seems necessary to discuss what we as a group mean by this. Are we a diluted version of the SPGB playing schoolmasters with the class and the Labour Party, or do we recognise that serious revolutionary propaganda directly leads to limited struggles and is enriched by them, and yet again in turn enriches these struggles? We are not advocating an immediate mass agitational approach. But the diluted Labour Party loyalist/entryist propaganda, terribly abstract and quite Fabian in its divorcement from the basic class struggle, and accompanied by a rigorous refusal to fight within the Labour Party itself, threatens us with absorption in the Labour Party swamp - as a part of its left face.
Our 'propaganda' begins to have less weight than agitation, and is devoid of its immediacy. (Militant also deals with questions of nationalisation in the most Fabian manner, without mention of the state, without demanding workers' control. This is not justifiable on any grounds. It amounts to a break with the communist conception of nationalisation.)
The paper and its articles clearly seen as ends, more or less perfect in themselves - but they are not ends, they are means, weapons in the struggle. The approach that each article must be according to a recipe, and the excuses on the sea strike etc. ignore the fact that literary inadequacies reflect (and generate) practical inadequacies. Our literary productions should be modelled and designed as weapons in our concrete fight. 'Omissions' are not just oversights of detail - the articles reflect the organisation as such. A fighting combat party would demand appropriate literary weapons. Omissions would not be seen so indulgently.
Paradoxically the propagandist concept of the group, that literary productions are all-important in themselves, leads to indulgence towards literary inadequacies. After all - if it's just a matter of form and keeping to set recipes we can always add another sentence next time. At best we reflect the existing movement. But since the papers are not seen as weapons aiding a living organisation to enter into the evolving struggles, the inadequacies cause no alarm - and there's always plenty of time ... next month (or after the summer or Christmas break).
It is an open question how much of the Militant omissions on the Labour Party, the state etc., are the result of fear of breaking Labour Party legality. We think, on the evidence of the group documents, that there are genuine illusions. However, it remains a fact that these questions could not be fully, consciously, sharply discussed in relation to current events in a paper, for the sort of Labour Party entryism which Militant attempts (though we could 'get away with' a great deal more than Militant does attempt).
It is clear that we must have open discussion and education on these questions. We must have a paper which presents the full Marxist case without concessions in substance to popular illusions, i.e. no concession to bourgeois ideas which amount to a substantial departure from the spirit of our own full case.
The absence of a serious open paper, from a sharp Bolshevik-Trotskyist point of view, is crippling. We must discuss in sharp language both the situation and the tasks of our own movement. This is not, as the leading comrades say, just the task of the 'theoretical organ'. It is not a matter of a discussion on the necessarily abstract generalised plane of theory, but a concrete full commentary on events as they develop. The full lessons must be drawn. Our crystallised theories and ideas must be continually lit up by events.
It leads to distortion, it is political self-castration, to confine ourselves to ideas which are acceptable to the vast labour movement at which we direct Militant. There exists an independent revolutionary tradition, which is a vital capital of any Trotskyist organisation - yet there is a total lack of this in our publications, necessarily so in an entryist paper; and that's just the point - an entryist paper alone is not enough. In a purely entryist paper we can only expose contemporary betrayals by the bureaucracy, as they happen, and then in muted tones. We must expose the whole historical process, summed up in our movement's ideas. At best we allow hindsight on current events. That is not our role.
We need an open paper to appeal to the Communist Party and other tendencies, are to unattached militants in struggle. We want to make it clear that we disagree with the affected contempt of the leading comrades for other revolutionary or pseudo-revolutionary groups. It's all very well quoting Trotsky's advice to move closer to the broad movement in the thirties - but a little incongruous with the accompanying perspective of ones and twos and tens for the next main period. We cannot afford to ignore the Communist Party and the smaller groups with whom we are in more direct competition.
The inevitable illusions expressed in Militant for entryist purposes can and do rub off on our own comrades. We need an open paper to counter this influence. This paper would have an invaluable role for our members, such militants as we reach in the Labour Party, close contacts - and would fight on our common revolutionary ground for the RSL conception against the other revolutionary groups. The 'contempt' of the leadership here is generally interpreted as lack of confidence ...
The production of an unequivocally Trotskyist paper is an absolute necessity, not some luxury which comes second to a semi-entryist university paper ... yet we have no such paper - despite the large number of very young people recruited in the Labour Party, for whom this is so vital. Yet side by side with this situation we have an overlapping (Perspectives and Militant) and generally anarchic state of our publications ['Perspectives' was published by Sussex University Labour Club, then Militant's student stronghold]. Nothing reflects the history of the group more than the publications: the semi-independent local groups and circles of the branches, the practical absence of a serious national centre. If it is its history that explains the present situation - then it is the political conceptions of the leading comrades that allow it to continue.
As a general principle: failure to live up to your politics in apparently small things inevitably denotes a drifting away in times of sharp crisis equally inevitably means a break with revolutionary politics. This is relatively true for individuals - for organisations it is absolute. It is inevitable whether the break with Marxism occurs by a passing over the barricades to the other side or by becoming a cover for the enemy by centrist inertia. We must abjure the subjective approach of the centre: we have gigantic tasks and the only politics that answer the needs of the working class. We must live up to them.
Comrades who come to Bolshevism (Trotskyism) in Britain today are faced with the polarisation between the irrational super activists and the contemplative scholastics perched with their telescopes atop a mountain of press cuttings from the Financial Times - and with the mutilating rationalisations that go with both. This is an artificial, a self-defeating division.
Trotskyism is neither Healyism nor Grantism! Both feed off each other and are one-sided inversions, in their development and now; arbitrary overemphasis of different aspects which should be complementary reduces both to the level of political deformities. Natural selection completes this.
It must be said that Healy and God have something in common: they clearly fulfil a vital need for so many people ... Those who have never had contact with the SLL must have a sneaking suspicion that Healy doesn't exist at all but is the product of the need of a large number of people and groups for a bogey-man. If Healy didn't exist Grant would have had to invent him a long time ago! In all seriousness, we think they had a large part in creating each other.
In the whole world the only consistently revolutionary ideology is Marxism - the Marxism of Bolshevism and the Third International is today to be found in Trotskyism: there exists no other proletarian communism. We must not fail in our duty to defend this from the adulterations of Grant, as well as Healy.
We repeat that the division is artificial:
We would be guilty of that for which we attack the leadership were we to leave it at that, without
concrete proposals. The rectification will come as a result of a long process the beginning of
which must be a serious discussion of the issues we have raised. Discussion takes time which
might be expended on direct practical energy. But it is not, as the Stalinists maintain "a luxury".
The practical work is conditioned by our ideas and these can only be clarified by sharp and serious
discussion. That is the function of a Congress. This is not, as the leading comrades would have
it, just another national aggregate - it is qualitatively different. It's true that we must "get on with
it" - but the congress is the body which is responsible for deciding the direction in which we must
travel, and also for checking the navigation regularly. Organisational changes alone will not rectify
the position we have outlined. But a start must be made. We want to put the following before the
November Conference as immediate concrete proposals.
Rachel Lever - Phil Semp - Sean Matgamna