Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 28, 2008

The fight in the SWP, conclusion (What kind of party we need)

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 7:28 pm

On Christmas day, Joonas Laine, a Marxmail subscriber from Finland, raised some interesting issues through a comment on my response to Alex Callinicos:

I’ve been reading Louis’ writings with interest for several years (since 2004 or so), also the ones on the Marxmail list about DSP etc. As I don’t really know so much about the parties that he’s discussing, I can’t know how spot-on his analyses are in this respect, but I find the general organisational questions very interesting, also re what I’m involved with at the moment.

However, having much less experience with being involved in organisations (apart from volunteer based and rather loose NGOs or various kinds, plus some ineffective communist organisations), I think Louis is discussing only one side of the issue. I guess that’s called bending the stick, but to a person with less experience, it would be interesting to read also about the other side, i.e. what is it that is valid in “organisation building” or whatever you want to call it..? To me Louis seems to emphasise first and foremost what SHOULDN’T be done (and a lot of that I find persuading), but I can’t be sure just what he takes for granted in “organisation building” so that it doesn’t need to be mentioned.

In particular I’m thinking, when the organisation has developed so that it has physical assets like buildings and business activities to raise money for political activities, surely there has to be some principles to defend these resources from takeover etc. Who can be trusted with control over these resources etc., surely political questions have to play a part there too. Also I’m not sure how Louis sees the issue of “professional revolutionaries”, i.e. people getting paid by the organisation to do political work for the cause.

While I will try to answer the specific concerns raised in the last paragraph, I also want to try to deal with the broader question of what kind of organizational approach I advocate. So instead of the usual Zinoviev-bashing, I am going to focus more on what needs to be done.

I am not exactly sure if this is what Joonas was driving at, but it reminded me very much over the fight for assets in the aftermath of a  CPUSA split:

The Communist Party, U.S.A. is celebrating its 75th anniversary at a time when its public profile seems to have hit a new low, with the Soviet variety of Communism that the party has long venerated now repudiated at home and abroad.

But now the party has been decimated by a new spate of defections. It is at war with former comrades over money and property it says they stole, and over the direction of what remains of the American far left.

Many of the party’s best-known members have quit to form a new organization, the Committees of Correspondence, which says it is looking for a new path to socialism.

The party is suing some of those defectors, charging they have absconded with its property — holdings in San Francisco that the party values at more than $1 million and money it says had been willed to it.

Quite honestly, I don’t have any answers to this except what might sound like a platitude, namely the need to have accountability to the ranks and democratic control over the organization. When you build a party, there will always be assets like a printing press, buildings, etc. that will be up for grabs in a split. Unlike a divorce, there is no provision for joint custody. Just as is the case in the business world, winner takes all.

Beyond the question of democracy, there is also the matter of what type of infrastructure is appropriate for the 21st century. Keep in mind that Lenin sought to build a party that was in sync with the latest developments in capitalist industry. By 1905 Russian factories were among the most modern on the planet despite the overall backwardness of the economy. Lenin believed that the Bolshevik party needed to reflect the division of labor, etc. that typified the latest industrial techniques. Hence the concept of professional revolutionaries, a kind of changeable part that could be replaced when a comrade was hauled off to prison. He saw the Economist trend as reflecting earlier phases of the Russian economy that were based in the handicrafts. Their refusal to adopt a nationwide and fully accountable structure based on democratic centralism reflected outmoded thinking that was connected to a more backward mode of production.

Within in this context, isn’t it about time that we thought in the same terms about how our movement broadly speaking fits in with the latest changes in the capitalist mode of production? Aren’t the printing press and the party headquarters a kind of throwback to smokestack industries? Inevitably, when a new aspiring “vanguard” party is established, the very first thing on the minds of the leadership is how long it will take them to launch a weekly newspaper, a full-time staff, and a headquarters-elements of which constituted a kind of sine qua non for Marxist-Leninist parties of the 20th century.

In keeping with the discussion now taking place on Marxmail over the appropriateness of Marxist print journals with their expensive subscription rates, I want to suggest that the Internet is the appropriate medium for newspapers as well. In the late 1990s, I met with Barry Cohen of the Committees of Correspondence (and formerly the editor of the CPUSA newspaper before the split) to raise the idea of a weekly to replace the Guardian newspaper that had been the de facto voice of the radical movement in the U.S. until it had gone under just a year or two earlier. Barry was cool to the idea and stated that economic factors militated against print publishing, either bourgeois or radical. Looking at the recent bankruptcy of the Tribune company and the nosediving of Rupert Murdoch’s stock, it is clear that Barry was quite prescient. Essentially, the Internet is undermining print, especially when it comes to classified advertising-the lifeblood of newspapers.

For socialists, there is a more relevant question than revenue and that is the ability of the Internet to act as a kind of universal medium that the printing press represented when Gutenberg introduced it. With the printing press, the masses could spread the word without having to rely on Catholic monks who had in the past been responsible for printing books one at a time in the ultimate labor-intensive profession. The printing press made it possible for people like Tom Paine to V.I. Lenin to put out incendiary tracts as the struggle dictated.

With the Internet, the process of disseminating information and proposals for action is further enhanced. As A.J. Liebling once observed in the course of a critique of the bourgeois press: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” With the Internet, freedom is guaranteed for everybody-at least until the bourgeoisie figures out a way to subvert the medium. Since so much of 21st century commerce rests on the free access to goods and services, they will be frustrated from this end. That is the ultimate contradiction of electronic communications. It is the ultimate technology for the marketplace as well as its ultimate undoing.

With the Internet playing the same role today as Iskra played in Czarist Russia, there is also an ancillary matter of what kind of “professional staff” is appropriate for today’s world. I would argue that we would be better served by keeping full-timers to a minimum. One of the things that the SWP debate keeps coming back to is the problem of full-timers being unresponsive to the ranks. It reminded me of a serious problem that I took note of as soon as I joined the American SWP in 1967. Adopting Lenin’s concept of a professional revolutionary in a mechanical fashion, the full-timers in the SWP always implicitly thought of themselves as the real party. Somebody who had a day job was never up to their standards. This, of course, was never acknowledged within the party but it was just the way things operated.

I now want to turn to the question of what kind of party we need. To some extent I tried to answer this question with “The Speech that Jack Barnes Should Have Given in 1974“. Here’s an excerpt that should give you a sense of what I have in mind:

One of the things I hope never to hear again in our ranks is the reference to other socialists as our “opponents”. Let’s reflect on what that kind of terminology means. It says two things, both of which are equally harmful. On one hand, it means that they are our enemies on a permanent basis. When you categorize another left group in this fashion, it eliminates the possibility that they can change. This obviously is not Marxist, since no political group–including ourselves–is immune from objective conditions. Groups can shift to the left or to the right, depending on the relationship of class forces. The SWP emerged out of a merger with other left-moving forces during the 1930s and we should be open to that possibility today.

The other thing that this reflects is that somehow the SWP is like a small business that competes for market share with other small businesses, except that we are selling revolution rather than air conditioners or aluminum siding. We have to get that idea out of our heads. We are all struggling for the same goal, which is to change American society. We only disagree on the best way to achieve that.

Unfortunately we have tended to exaggerate our differences with other small groups in such a way as to suggest we had a different product. This goes back for many years as indicated in this quote from a James P. Cannon speech to the SWP convention nearly 25 years ago. “We are monopolists in the field of politics. We can’t stand any competition. We can tolerate no rivals. The working class, to make the revolution can do it only through one party and one program. This is the lesson of the Russian Revolution. That is the lesson of all history since the October Revolution. Isn’t that a fact? This is why we are out to destroy every single party in the field that makes any pretense of being a working-class revolutionary party. Ours is the only correct program that can lead to revolution. Everything else is deception, treachery We are monopolists in politics and we operate like monopolists.”

Comrades, we have to conduct an open and sharp struggle against this kind of attitude. The differences between the SWP and many other left groups is not that great and we have to figure out ways to work with them on a much more cooperative basis. For example, La Raza Unida Party in Texas shares many of our assumptions about the 2-party system and they are open to socialist ideas, largely through the influence of the left-wing of the party which has been increasingly friendly to the Cuban Revolution. We should think about the possibilities of co-sponsoring meetings with them around the question of Chicano Liberation and socialism. The same thing would be true of the Puerto Rican Independence movement in the United States, which shares with us a positive attitude toward the Cuban revolution. In terms of the Marxist movement per se, we have to find ways to work more closely with the activists around the Guardian newspaper. While many of them continue to have Maoist prejudices, there are others who have been friendly to our work in the antiwar movement. The idea is to open discussion and a sure way to cut discussion off is to regard them as “opponents”. Our only true opponents are in Washington, DC.

Finally, I want to say a few words about a very important development on the left that seems to be in sync with my party-building concepts. It appears that the LCR, the French Trotskyist group that had been the official Mandelista section since the 1960s, has finally decided to break with “Leninist” orthodoxy and move in a fresh, new direction. They are dissolving themselves and joining a new anti-capitalist party that they are helping to found. Unlike the British SWP and the Australian DSP, who both had major disappointments functioning as a “Leninist” vanguard in broader electoral formations, the LCR is ready to try something new.

In an interview conducted by Jim Jepps that can be read in Links, an online publication published by the DSP, John Mullen, the editor of the British SWP affiliated Socialisme International, explains what the LCR is doing differently. It should be obvious from Mullen’s reply that he doesn’t quite understand what the goal of the new party should be and approaches it in the same petty-minded fashion as the SWP approached Respect.

Jepps asks: “What’s the position of the LCR, as the most significant organised current in the NPA, on this tricky balancing act between retaining distinct organisation within the NPA and submerging their efforts into it?”

Mullen replies: “To emphasise that the aim of the LCR is not to control the NPA, the LCR is officially dissolving itself just before the foundation of the NPA, and there is no plan to maintain an LCR current inside the NPA. I think it likely that the different currents that were in the LCR will end up setting up three or four currents in the NPA, which seems fine to me. As Socialisme International, our tiny group of comrades, along with a couple of dozen others will certainly set up openly a current based on IS ideas (close to British Socialist Workers Party’s theories).”

I would say that the LCR understands that the way to build a true vanguard today is to begin with dissolving a false one. As a key component of the Fourth International, let’s hope that their example will inspire other sections around the world, as well as some groups that maintain friendly ties-most especially the DSP’ers who have learned from bitter experience how futile the approach of “tiny groups” can be.


  1. The original emphasis in my response (that you refer to in the beginning) was focused more on the “organisation” side of the issue, as opposed to “program” side (if that kind of separation makes sense) because of my experience in the groups that I’ve been in, mostly the Communist Party of Finland. Maybe I’ll say a few words on my experience there for others to get a view on where I’m coming from.

    (And to be fair, Louis’, Joaquin’s and others’ writings on Marxmail have also convinced me of the futility of the program/history driven approach, so no need to dwell on that here, really.)

    In my opinion the CPF is rotten as an organisation (i.e. no talk of program or politics here), because it’s based on a passive mass of old members left over from the 70s, and the inertia that it produces is overwhelming.. I sat on the local branch for two years, and every time there was about 20 people present, but during the whole time I never could figure out what around 15 of them were thinking, because they never said anything nor made any initiative that I saw. Nor were they interested in being persuaded by some new radical break with the past.

    I took part in the Party Congress in summer 2007 as a delegate, and I was surprised by the lack of discussion there. I hadn’t seen any anywhere else, so I kind of thought this must the place then. I gave a fierce speech denouncing some programmatic issues like socialism and markets which I thought were formulated in a crypto-Brezhnevist (or whatever) way in the Party Program. I voiced criticism about throwing the party doors open to all kinds of pacifist and petty-bourgeois “fair trade” elements, I thought (and think) that was the wrong kind of approach “to build the party”..

    Some people did have prepared speeches, but almost all of them dealt with issues that were totally uncontroversial (like capitalism is bad). There wasn’t a single vote, there wasn’t a single issue that even needed some consensus-making, or general discussion, or setting up special committees to deal with disagreements etc. The consensus was there, because nobody had any opinions. Oh, there was one thing that took some negotiations. That was who gets to be on the CC, and which areas get which number of representatives. But on politics nobody had anything to say.

    The whole congress was just an expensive rubber stamp on whatever had been decided in the CC during the previous months, and everybody was happy with that. I dropped out of the party after the congress.

    At the moment me and some dozen+ other 25-35yo people have set up a website (sosialismi.net, one that also hosts Finnish language MIA kind of stuff) that we plan to focus on for the coming years, with the intention of having public discussion and publishing news and articles on general left-radical topics. The other side of the equation is the business activities that a part of our group is dedicated to (which benefits the internet publication too as it deals with providing www and other programming services). At the moment the intention is to use the earned money to pay people who write for the publication (naturally also people outside our group), either on a more committed basis, or on a one-off basis. At least my idea is that we offer (and try to build) facilities for radically-minded people to write about something that they feel worth writing about, instead of “us” being their mouthpiece.. I’m not sure what the bad smell around “recruiting people” is, but at least we hope that some of the people who find our site and want to write there are also willing to “come in” and do stuff more in the background too.

    I’m more of a writer myself, so I haven’t been thinking about the long term plans that some others have. Like the plan that at some time 2015 we will start activities in the biggest suburbs with rented blocks of flats in Southern Finland, among the less paid working people who are going to worse off in 10 years – a process I’m afraid there’s no power to stop any time soon (not at least by anything we can do, so better focus rather on the long term). A kind of permanent presence in the suburbs, if I got it right, instead of election caravan kind of act every now and then, which can’t be really called much of a presence. I think some of the others have been influenced by Black Panther kind of approach. I don’t know much about the panthers (I’ve only seen a few documentaries) but sounds ok enough for me to go along with it.

    In general I find the approach appealing though, because as long as I’ve been involved (a few years), the discussion has always focused on what to do, where to do it, what skills do we need in order to do it, instead of condemning revisionism, is it still the epoch of transition from capitalism to socialism, or what were the mistakes of the Finnish Communists in the 60s and 70s. I don’t think too many people have an informed opinion on that – and why should they. I think mostly you pretend to “learn from history” what you knew already.

    But I’m also apprehensive of the organisational questions because there is so much I don’t really have an idea about. Even though I think I (still) suffer from a certain disease of “being afraid to succeed” (“our organisation will be swamped with petty-bourgeois elements!!!” etc.), I think it’s good that I try to think of how to get rid of the disease.. let’s hope it’s just an infantile disorder, and that you can have a well-functioning shallow organisation more of the guerrilla type instead of high and massive Organisation. That would at least be one way of trying to avoid too much to lose being piled on top the pyramid.. or something.

    Comment by laijo — December 28, 2008 @ 9:05 pm

  2. Hmm, sounds a bit similar to the idea of nodo50.org. Basically it’s an organization of people who do web administration, hosting, etc, for left orgs in Spain (and I think some in LatAm as well).

    Comment by David — December 29, 2008 @ 12:53 am

  3. Your organisational schematism never ceases to amaze me,Louis. So that’s it? That’s your formula? Dissolve and everything will be hunky dorey?

    Comment by Dave Riley — December 29, 2008 @ 2:40 am

  4. some good ideas. What is your opinion of Drapers solution in “Toward a New Beginning –
    On Another Road
    The Alternative to the Micro-Sect”, mainly of journal (today it could be only on internet) like Monthly Review for example?

    Comment by Dimitris — December 29, 2008 @ 2:41 am

  5. Riley, please try to study what the LCR is doing. I know that my advice is lost on you, but surely the LCR is not interested in liquidating Marxism in France but building it on stronger foundations.

    Dimitris, I think that Draper was one of the most brilliant Marxist thinkers of the modern period. I also think that his organizational ideas were way ahead of his time.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 29, 2008 @ 3:07 am

  6. Louis,

    I doesnt amaze me that your ideas are so whacky, as they are just your ideas.
    There is no possibility that can be tested since everybody’s ideas are as good as anybody’s. No “opponents” you see. Was Trotsky wrong to label the “opposition” of Schactman et al “petty bourgeois”? What of the class struggle going on inside the PSUV between unionists, bureaucrats and Chavista bosses? Will the new French Party allow any tendency of whatever class to exist inside it? Is the Australian DSP a good example of a healthy revolutionary party when it sanctioned in the name of Lenin the intervention of Australian troops in East Timor in 1999, and hasnt ‘tested’ its flawed theory since?

    All of the broad classless parties such as the ill fated Alliance, SSP, and no doubt PSUV are doomed to split because class interests must express themselves as class tendencies resulting from class struggle within them.

    The root of your problem is your failure to ask the elementary question: What was the Bolshevik Party? You say the critical fact is organisational, but that is a matter of form. For Lenin organisation reflected the program, members had to agree on the fundamentals of a Marxism-Bolshevik program and it had to be developed by a constant testing of theory in practice, hence organised democratic centalism.

    Democratic centralism is not something that can be weighted up in isolation of its purpose which is to democratically decide on a course of collective action to test validity of a theory. It has to be democratic otherwise how will the practice of the rank and file ever bear on the theory of the central leaders?

    As soon as such a party is born in the USA you can bet that it will not survive on the internet. It may attract a following and popularise its views on the internet (while such activities are legal) but it won’t build a mass party without organising in the workplace, face to face and on the picket line.

    All of the postwar left has failed to live up to the Bolshevik model, not because they are too centralised, but because they are not democratic enough. Centralism without democracy equals bureaucratic centralism. Their lack of democracy flows from the attempts by the leaderships to defend their program under conditions where they cannot be tested because there is no mass working class membership and the level of actual class struggle is minimal.

    Finally, preaching against bureaucratic centralism as a single individual not involved in any political tendency is to practice one man bureaucratic centralism since democracy is nil by definition. The answer is not to chuck out the Leninist baby with the dirty sectarian bathwater. Run some fresh water, stick your toe in, and invite your fellow thinkers to the bathhouse.

    Comment by davebrown — December 29, 2008 @ 8:18 am

  7. David Bedggood of New Zealand asks: Was Trotsky wrong to label the “opposition” of Schactman et al “petty bourgeois”?

    Absolutely. This term has to be retired from the Marxist lexicon since it is used so demagogically. Except for somebody like James Burnham, the social composition of the Shachtman grouping was exactly the same as Cannon’s.

    Also, Professor Bedggood, I would be a bit less interested in “exposing” the fake left until you have established your own credentials. After 25 years or so in the New Zealand left, you have nothing to show for your efforts. At least Trotsky had been a leader of the 1917 revolution. Your main accomplishment seems to have been writing an article on Derrida. This qualifies you to be a leader of the sociology department, but certainly not the proletariat.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 29, 2008 @ 2:59 pm

  8. “I would say that the LCR understands that the way to build a true vanguard today is to begin with dissolving a false one.”

    This is a rather odd reading of what the LCR is doing.

    Surely they are trying to build on what the LCR has already achieved, in terms of winning political authority, assembling cadres and so on. They’re not just taking all this, throwing out the window and starting again from scratch.

    This is (if successful) a step forward from the LCR, not a rejection of it. It’s a result of concrete circumstances, not of an abstract schema.

    It’s possible precisely because the LCR is not, in fact, a “false vanguard”, but is actually a respected part of the real thing.

    I hope it works.

    Comment by Alan B — December 29, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

  9. Alan B: Surely they are trying to build on what the LCR has already achieved, in terms of winning political authority, assembling cadres and so on. They’re not just taking all this, throwing out the window and starting again from scratch.

    You are projecting your own sectarian schema on the LCR. As the Links interview makes clear, there is no more LCR. It is disappearing. Their cadre are becoming part of the new anti-capitalist party that looks nothing like James P. Cannon ever imagined. Thank god.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 29, 2008 @ 9:11 pm

  10. The new anti-capitalist party wouldn’t exist without the LCR’s previous work.

    It wouldn’t exist without the kind of support and leading role won by LCR cadres like Olivier Besancenot.

    That’s the basis of the thing.

    The LCR can dissolve because they’ve created/helped to create something (hopefully) better. (It might bite them on the arse too, but we’ll see about that.)

    You should also note: “I think it likely that the different currents that were in the LCR will end up setting up three or four currents in the NPA, which seems fine to me.”

    While that is clearly only an opinion, it looks possible that the main change might be an unbundling of the LCR’s factions into separate “currents”. So even their dissolution might be more apparent than real.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think what they are doing is most likely the right thing. (I’m not going to be more categorical than that, because I know so painfully little about French politics.)

    It’s precisely a step that I would have advocated for the DSP in the Australian Socialist Alliance, if the latter had been more robust. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. But the main reason it wasn’t was precisely that the Australian left is weaker than its French counterpart, and no Australian group has been as successful as the LCR.

    That’s the key point. The basis for the new anti-capitalist party is the LCR’s *success*.

    It’s not a product of the LCR’s *failures*.

    Comment by Alan B — December 29, 2008 @ 10:24 pm

  11. But also I think we need to raise a more fundamental discussion even. The reason that the left has declined over the last two decades is not ultimately its fault. It is not because it lacked a perfect organisational regime. It was because the world fundamentally altered with the collapse of Stalinism, in other words the objective circumstances confronting the left profoundly changed.
    This elementary point is seriously underestimated in all of these discussions, which miss the wood for the trees. The left is not noticeably worse now than it was in the 1970s/80s. All of the current mistakes are the same as the old mistakes. Yet now it is shrunken and marginal. Previously it was powerful and growing, ergo it is not the fault of the left that it is marginal, but some other reason.
    This is what needs more examination and what is that in a nutshell? That world capitalism, with globalisation, broke out of the period of stagnation that had characterised it from the early 1970s to early 1990s. It did not abolish crisis, as is all too obvious now, but it did create the conditions for a new period of general advance. Profit rates were restored, growth increased etc. and that is fundamentally the reason why the left is marginal.

    Comment by bill j — December 30, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

  12. Bill, I just took a look at your website. Did you actually try to launch a Fifth International? I always thought that was some satire somebody cooked up.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 30, 2008 @ 2:32 pm

  13. No we were the splitters from the ….fifth international! Although it never got beyond the League for the Fifth International, which is rather akin to going to a cafe, asking for bacon and eggs and being told it supports breakfast rather than cooks it.(Although maybe it cooks satire?)
    Personally I was always against the “Fifthists” as we called them, as were a majority of the membership funnily enough, but in a quirk of “democratic centralism”, the “Fifthists” managed to manipulate the vote so that they won overwhelmingly. Not for the first time eh?
    But back to the main point, I agree with reassessing “democratic centralism”, and not just in the way that this is typically meant by people claiming to do just that. My starting point would be the need to re-discover/appropriate the anarchist core of Leninism – the anti-hierarchical, rebellious, chaotic spirit which guided the Bolsheviks.
    My personal view is we should start by getting rid of full timers (there are none in PR), then allow open discussion of all matters of policy inside and outside the party, then allow local branches, groups, factions (whatever) to make policy and decide priorities themselves, and strive to build a socialist movement, as well as a revolutionary socialist current/organisation/party.
    For that of course we need a revolutionary programme, but that too is surprisingly easy to develop, most people on the left know what it is actually, but what proves its efficacy is what people do to bring it about.
    But all of this organisational stuff won’t mean anything without a reassessment of period and that means breaking with the Robert Brenner/David Harvey/Chris Harman, stagnation theory, nothing has changed since the break up of the USSR drivel and looking the truth in the eye. You’d be amazed how reluctant people are to do that.

    Comment by bill j — January 1, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

  14. “7. David Bedggood of New Zealand asks: Was Trotsky wrong to label the “opposition” of Schactman et al “petty bourgeois”?”

    Trotsky’s characterisation of Shachtman et al as petty bourgeois was a political rather than a sociological characterisation. After all Trotsky’s social origins (along with Marx, Engels and Lenin) was petty bourgeois but they were all proletarian internationalists.

    The point is that the rightwards political evolution of Shachtman who ended up supporting US imperialism in the Vietnam war confirms Trotsky’s characterisation.

    Of course I know from personal experience that the term “petty bourgeois” is often used on the Marxist left as a pejorative insult. On occasions in the past I have been guilty of using that insult myself against those I have opposed politically. Likewise others have been equally guilty of using the term against me. But that does not mean that the characterisation never has any political validity.

    Comment by Patrick Scott — January 2, 2009 @ 1:34 am

  15. That political evolution took how long to achieve? Over a decade at least. The point is that his party functioned exactly like Cannon’s during WWII despite the fact that it was supposedly adapting to the bourgeoisie. When you consider the fact that two of the major Marxist thinkers of the post-war period were supposedly part of this “petty bourgeois” grouping–CLR James and Hal Draper–one can only conclude that it is not that useful a category. Shachtman might have ended up as a State Department propagandist but you cannot tie all that back to the “scratch to gangrene” business that Trotsky harped on, especially as it related to how one stood on dialectical materialist orthodoxy. I am afraid that this faction fight became a standard mode of operation for Trotskyists worldwide. Every time there was a big expulsion, it was explained in terms of preventing gangrene. There was a sickness to be sure, but it was not related to bacteria but to sectarian madness.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 2, 2009 @ 2:08 am

  16. I think that’s generally a fair point. My only caveat would be that it was on the eve of the war and Trotsky was probably concerned about the need to consolidate the FI around a principled position.
    When we were expelled from the LFI we were also denounced as “petit bourgeois” etc. even though we had all the trade unionists and they were just a bunch of full timers and assorted students.
    Hey… whatever!!!

    Comment by bill j — January 2, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  17. I don’t suppose it matters to your argument, but the French Socialisme Internationale isn’t part of the IS Tendency. They left in 1997, which can be seen on their website, even by me who doesn’t speak the language.

    Comment by Geoff Collier — January 5, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

  18. Replying to #17, I assumed that this meant they were connected:

    “As Socialisme International, our tiny group of comrades, along with a couple of dozen others will certainly set up openly a current based on IS ideas (close to British Socialist Workers Party’s theories).”

    If they are not, I stand corrected. However, there is still no question that they are hampered by sectarianism.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 5, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

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