Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 17, 2010

Lindsey German resigns from the SWP

Filed under: sectarianism — louisproyect @ 6:23 pm

Lindsey German

As many of you know the British SWP is being roiled by a series of resignations, including some very high-profile members like Lindsey German, a 37 year (!) veteran and leader of their antiwar work. German, John Rees and a number of other resignees were supporters of the Left Platform faction that fought for their perspective during the 2008 SWP convention. I have written about the fight in a series of posts here:

The fight in the SWP, part one (Neil Davidson)

The fight in the SWP, part two (John Rees)

The fight in the SWP, part three (Chris Harman)

The fight in the SWP, part four (Alex Callinicos)

The fight in the SWP, part five (Lindsey German)

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

My commentary on the faction fight was not so much about the specific differences since I avoid the “advice from Coyoacan” stance so familiar to organized Trotskyism, not that anybody would listen to my advice to begin with.

I am far more interested in how the split (that is what it amounts to) reflects on the ongoing problem of building “Leninist parties” and more specifically that of “democratic centralism”. Lindsey German’s resignation was a classic example of imposing “party discipline” on a member. While there are conflicting versions of what took place, I tend to agree with Richard Seymour that—strictly speaking—the SWP was in its rights to ask her not to attend a meeting of the Stop the War Committee, a coalition that she has led for about a decade: “Lindsey, as a former central committee member, would be well used to the expectation that members accept the decisions of its elected bodies.” So rather than accepting the instructions of the “elected bodies”, she resigned and went ahead to attend the meeting.

During the great purge of the American SWP in the early 1980s, one leading member named Diane Feeley was expelled for participating in planning meetings for an International Women’s Day action to which she had been assigned by the party. Unlike the British SWP, the split was characterized by expulsions rather than resignations. The Jack Barnes leadership had put so many constraints on the minority faction, including their duties in the mass movement, that it was almost inevitable that some would “break discipline” and get the boot. When you create an obstacle course, there will inevitably be accidents.

The Lindsey German/John Rees faction has tried to characterize the split in terms of united front advocates versus a stodgy, inward-looking retreat from the mass movement. In an open letter signed by 50 other resignees, we get this take on things:

For many years, the SWP has played a dynamic role in the development of mass movements in Britain. The party made an important contribution to the great anti-capitalist mobilisations at the start of the decade, it threw itself into the Stop the War Coalition and was central to the Respect electoral project. These achievements were dependent on an open, non-sectarian approach to joint work with others on the left and a systematic commitment to building the movements.

The SWP leadership has abandoned this approach. The task of building broad, political opposition in every area to the disasters created by neoliberalism and war is now subordinated to short term party building. We believe this undermines both the movements and the prospects of building an open and effective revolutionary current in the British working class.

The most glaring mistake has been the SWP’s refusal to engage with others in shaping a broad left response to the recession, clearly the most pressing task facing the left. Even valuable recent initiatives, like the Right to Work campaign, have minimised the involvement of Labour MPs, union leaders and others who have the capability to mobilise beyond the traditional left.

With all due respect to these comrades, I don’t think it is accurate to describe the SWP’s approach as non-sectarian for in the final analysis the SWP is and was a sect. It might have been a very successful sect, but nonetheless that is what it was. Lindsey German was a believer in the “united front” approach in politics, which led to the disaster in Respect and an ensuing crisis at the heart of the current dispute.

For those trained in Leninist and, more specifically, Trotskyist politics the united front is an arrangement in which the “vanguard” unites with reformists around a single issue like withdrawal from Iraq or opposing a fascist demonstration. While it is capable of producing beneficial results, as was the case in the American antiwar movement, it is also a very good way to antagonize other radicals who are not exactly “reformists” according to the formula. It means that in mass movement meetings, groups like the SWP come with their own agenda worked out in advance and can never be persuaded by argument to adopt proposals that differ from their party leadership. This notion of “democratic centralism” has little to do with the operation of the Bolshevik Party which carried out its debates in public. If the British SWP functioned like the Bolsheviks, you would see open debates between Lindsey German and the party leaders over antiwar perspectives in the party press.

Of course, the SWP would never permit this kind of transparency since it would be a confession that it was some kind of petite-bourgeois “talk shop” or some such thing. In reality, deep differences in a group like the SWP will always lead to splits because the internal regime is so brittle. If Britain ever gave rise to a genuine vanguard, the differences would be much more profound than they are in this little dust-up over whether Lindsey should have gone to that meeting or not.

For example, if you read John Reed’s “Ten Days that Shook the World”, you will learn that Bolshevik leaders spoke out against closing the counter-revolutionary press in 1917, after the seizure of power. They didn’t do this in closed central committee meetings but in front of the masses. Reed referred to divided votes among party members over key questions such as whether to expropriate the bourgeois press. At a November 17th 1917 mass meeting, Lenin called for the confiscation of the capitalist newspapers. Reed quotes him: “If the first revolution had the right to suppress the Monarchist papers, then we have the right to suppress the bourgeois press.” He continued: “Then the vote. The resolution of Larin and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries was defeated by 31 to 22; the Lenin motion was carried by 34 to 24. Among the minority were the Bolsheviki Riazanov and Lozovsky, who declared that it was impossible for them to vote against any restriction on the freedom of the press.”

Given the enormous appetite that our latter-day avatars of V.I. Lenin have for strict control over the membership, both ideologically and in terms of activity, this scenario seems as plausible as Richard Seymour taking a leave of absence from the SWP in order to spend a year in Cuba learning about the revolution. It is just not in their culture.

The SWP, like every other sect that originated out of Leon Trotsky’s expulsion from the Soviet Union, has a small proprietor’s attitude toward politics. Its analysis is a kind of intellectual property that differentiates it from the rest of the left, in this case being how the USSR became “state capitalist”. It combines this intellectual property with hard work in the mass movement, even if it antagonizes most of the movement through its propensity to carry out fait accompli. The net result is to foster the growth of what they call a cadre that has many of the characteristics of a priesthood. Things go swimmingly well as long as there is wind in the sails of the group, but the first time the winds die down the group goes into a crisis and faces schisms of one sort or another. I saw this happen in the American SWP and am sad to see it happening to their British namesake. I doubt that the British SWP will ever assume the Hindenberg Dirigible disaster proportions of the American sect, but I also doubt that they will ever become much larger than they are now. Britain, and every other country in the world, needs a true vanguard party and the first step in making that happen is to dump the “Leninist” baggage that keeps such groups so tiny and prone to splits.

39 Comments »

  1. http://luna17activist.blogspot.com/2010/02/why-we-are-resigning-from-swp-open.html signed yesterday afternoon (GMT), that’s a fairly significant chunk of activists including people who have devoted 30+ years to the organization. More thoughts on your post later.

    Comment by Bhaskar — February 17, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

  2. Louis I like you and respect you, but your naivity is breathtaking. To actually believe that this was about the Party attempting to impose discipline on movement work. I strongly suspect that your experiances of US Trotskyism have blinded you to the realities of the dynamic here.

    Comment by johng — February 17, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

  3. Here’s what I think you are getting wrong, Louis. You are mistaking cause and effect. It isn’t the modern practice of Leninism (which I agree needs improving) that keeps the SWP or other serious groups small – it’s their small size produced by isolation from the working class (and we can all discuss why that isolation exists) that causes many of the problems with leninist organization. There simply aren’t “masses” to appeal to publicly at this time. To be a bit annoying, the non-Leninist group you belong to isn’t exactly huge either.

    Comment by christian h. — February 17, 2010 @ 7:01 pm

  4. Christian and John, if you think that the British SWP does not need to abandon its organizational methods, that’s fine by me. Someone else will come along and figure it out. I don’t think that the SWP is doing anything evil by functioning like a sect. Many thousands of young people get their first introduction to socialism from groups like the SWP. The problem is that they have zero chance of getting much bigger than they are now.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 17, 2010 @ 7:06 pm

  5. Louis why do you refuse to acknowledge that there are important debates about the subjects you want debates about ACTUALLY GOING ON. This is what I find so strange. You’ve already had the experiance of being surprised by the political dynamic in Britain (viz Andy Newmans politics). I just think you need to step back from the grand scheme and look at the empirical detail. Not every organisation is the American SWP.

    Lyndsey German was not instructed not to attend a meeting of StW because it was StW. She was asked about not attending a meeting which was clearly a factional operation INSIDE the SWP. To compare this with debates inside the American SWP is simpy inaccurate.

    Comment by johng — February 17, 2010 @ 7:32 pm

  6. John, I am interested in discussing how to build a Leninist party. Clearly this is not a question for you since the SWP is the answer to that question. My interest in the divisions between Rees/German and the SWP majority is secondary. I think both are wrong, but don’t feel it necessary or useful to expound on that.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 17, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

  7. A problem with your line of argument, Louis, is that there has been no shortage of attempts to build socialist groups with less “centralist” structures, including those that reject democratic centralism and those that keep the language but do regularly publish their internal debates.

    I am unaware of any of these groups being notably more successful in growing than, say, the British SWP. It’s the ISO rather than Solidarity which has grown over the last decade.

    The argument that a different organisational model would remove a limit to growth may well be true, but it certainly isn’t an argument founded in the experience of that last 30 years around the world. I’d be interested in hearing why your think the likes of the Committees of Correspondence, Solidarity, the North Star Network and all the countless similar attempts have been so unsuccessful.

    Comment by Mark P — February 17, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

  8. It’s the ISO rather than Solidarity which has grown over the last decade.

    Of course. The “democratic centralist” model is very good in terms of “primitive accumulation” of cadre. The problem is gaining mass influence. Looking back at the history of the Trotskyist movement, including its offshoots like Tony Cliff’s, these groups tend to hit a glass ceiling.

    In terms of models, I simply advocate studying the Bolshevik Party. We are in a preparatory period now in which *all* groups will remain small, unless it is something like the NPA in France which is breaking new ground. My ideas about how to build a true vanguard party are only offered to young people who will be on the scene when the masses begin to move–as was the case in the 60s. The worst thing would be misguided attempts once again to build “Marxist-Leninist” parties. We need a true vanguard, not these caricatures.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 17, 2010 @ 8:20 pm

  9. SWP have just produced an excellent Marxism and Ecology booklet, still control freak democratic centralism is bad news.

    Comment by Derek Wall — February 17, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  10. The issue here is not whether the SWP had the right to tell Lindsey German not to attend a particular meeting but whether they were right too.

    The party loyalist Johng, asserts, but does not prove, that in agreeing to speak at a local meeting of the mass organization of which she is an elected leader she was engaging in a a factional operation within the SWP.

    For this to be true the local branches of the Stop the War Coalition could only be subordinate to the SWP. This aint so and never will be.

    Democratic centralism should be a mechanism for ensuring that party discipline acts to protect the interests of the working class as a whole rather than any section or strata. Thus it should be an offence against party discipline if a member failed to carry out their duties in a mass organization or trade union and instead put narrow party or sectional interest above those of the working class a whole.

    In acting as a instrument of a sect the SWP leadership has negated much of the credit its members have built up in their generally admirable work in the antiwar movement.

    There are, of course, conditions in which political necessity demands a more absolute obedience to instructions from a higher body. But we are neither in clandestinity, engaged in military action, in the midst of a seizure of power or dealing with a physical assault. And even in these conditions it is an obligation on the leadership to engage in the widest possible discussions before deciding on a line.

    I agree, a little to my surprise, with Louis Proyect when he poses primitive methods of party building against real leadership. However, the example of the NPA prove his point in a perverse way.

    I was at a 3,500 strong mass election rally of the left coalition in Montpellier two weeks ago. The NPA, exceptionally in Languedoc Roussillon as compared to the other regions, is in alliance with the Parti Communiste and allies. They were given a warm welcome by the largely communist audience. In that region they really are breaking new ground.
    Nick Wright

    Comment by 21stcenturymanifesto — February 17, 2010 @ 9:02 pm

  11. Louis:

    By that logic, if building from scratch or near scratch in a difficult period surely you should advocate the very type of party building model you deplore? With the proviso that such a model can only take you so far, at which point a drastic reorientations is needed?

    Comment by Mark P — February 17, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

  12. Mark, I am in touch with a number of young activists who belong to the ISO or Workers Alternative, the American offshoot of Peter Taaffe’s group. I have never advised them to drop out. I think such groups are useful. I just don’t think that they can become true vanguards.

    Also I don’t think that just because Solidarity was created that it is automatically guaranteed to “take off”. The group that I have the strongest identification with, the American Socialist Union led by Harry Braverman and Bert Cochran, came into existence in 1954 and folded its tent in 1959. Marx and Engels got involved with building the IWA and then they withdrew from attempts to build an organization for a decade or so.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 17, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

  13. ‘The development of the system of socialist sects and that of the real workers’ movement always stand in inverse ratio to each other. So long as the sects are (historically) justified, the working class is not yet ripe for an independent historic movement’.

    Karl Marx

    Comment by John Wight — February 17, 2010 @ 9:30 pm

  14. johng is right Louis, you extrapolate far too much for your own experience in the (fundamentally sectarian, I think we’d all agree) American SWP.

    the factor preventing immediate regroupment of the type you advocate is not that we all think of ourselves as the bearers of revealed truth and consider rejection of analyses such as state capitalism to be heresy. That may have been how the American SWP operated, but it’s not true for the rest of us.

    The problem is that we simply don’t agree on what to do immediately. For common organization to mean something – for such an organization to be capable of acting collectively – it has to be underpinned by a reasonably basic set of shared assumptions about how to organize concretely in the here and now. What that means practically is entirely a contextual question. But nonetheless.

    Comment by Jonah — February 17, 2010 @ 9:57 pm

  15. Louis how do you believe revolutionaries in the US today should organize? Of course studying the the Bolsheviks is important, as is writing on listserves and thinking ‘outside the box’. But how do you think revolutionaries should be organized? Nobody who is serious in the US thinks a vanguard party exists or that they’re the nucleus– neither Solidarity nor the ISO believe this, so you’re not saying anything new there.

    Comment by Andy — February 17, 2010 @ 10:28 pm

  16. Jonah, I don’t think the ISO is as bad as the SWP–nobody can be that bad. If you think, on the other hand, that the ISO is doing something differently in organizational terms that has been tried over and over–as recommended by James P. Cannon or Tony Cliff–I am not aware of it. I am glad that the ISO has invited somebody from the NPA to speak at one of your conferences. That is a good sign. I only hope that you figure out a way to move in that direction.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 17, 2010 @ 10:46 pm

  17. Louis, do you think that the vastly different political situation faced by the far left in France might make the NPA viable while an analogous effort in the US maybe wouldn’t be right now?

    Think about the immediate context in which the NPA was launched:

    1) A much higher level of class struggle than in the US, and a radical left of far greater size and influence.
    2) A right-wing president, Sarkozy, that was deeply unpopular.
    3) A vacuum on the left produced by the collapse of the PCF and a deep crisis for the PS.
    4) A socialist org., the LCR, led by an immensely popular spokesperson (Olivier Besancenot), who was at the time garnering attention far out of proportion to the size of the LCR itself.

    That’s simply not the situation we face. Do you see hope that might necessitate us operating with a different calculus?

    When it comes to the organizational question, you simply invert the “Zinovievism” that you so deride, by recommending one organizational form at all times and in all contexts – a panacea for all of our problems. I don’t think that’s how politics works.

    Comment by Jonah — February 17, 2010 @ 11:00 pm

  18. Jonah, you have to understand something of the background of the LCR–a group that I first encountered in 1968 as a young Trotskyist. They never really subscribed to the rigid understanding of democratic centralism that the Anglo-American Trotskyists upheld. We used to sneer at them, but it was their very flexibility from the *very beginning* that facilitated their latter evolution. In any case, I am really not trying to persuade the ISO to take another approach. My pitch is directed to the tens of thousands of independent socialists in the US and elsewhere who are trying to evolve past the “democratic centralist” cookbooks.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 17, 2010 @ 11:11 pm

  19. Ahem. LO, which is ultra-centralist and secretive still has more supporters in France than the entire revolutionary left in the US combined – many times over, in fact. I absolutely agree there’s problems with democratic centralist practice, even in groups like the ISO; and one of the problems is how such groups relate to movements they take part in. On the other hand there’s a reason why so many movements appear as fronts of democratic centralist groups: it’s because those groups do have the organizing power to get things done. There’s a trade-off here. To give an example, the UK Socialist Alliance collapsed after first the SP and later the SWP withdrew from it. Now you can blame the SP or the SWP or both for this – but you also have to recognize that the fundamental reason is the SA never grew sufficiently beyond the collection of groups that started it. Since the Respect debacle – which imo grew from the same problem, the dominance of two organizing centers within it – this has been debated in the SWP and on the British left, as far as I can tell. It’s an important debate, but it’s not one that will be solved by waving the magic “back to the bolsheviks” wand or the magic “pluralism” wand.

    Comment by christian h. — February 17, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

  20. I don’t think she should’ve been barred to going to a demonstration that her very own party was holding.

    Comment by Jenny — February 18, 2010 @ 4:20 am

  21. What the hell is Jenny talking about? Is this her usual “throw gas on anything thst looks like a fire” trick?

    Comment by christian h. — February 18, 2010 @ 4:22 am

  22. An interesting post, but the suggestion that the SWP and groups like it are bound to hit a glass ceiling does remind me of being told that a socialist revolution would never take place because there weren’t any states where it had succesfully endured. Just as the wider Trotskyist movement started from a much lower base than the Communist Parties, with the support of thousands rather than millions and without the authority and resources of the Soviet Union behind it, so the state cap tradition did not have the authority of a great marxist leader and began with dozens rather than thousands.
    Why is it and other similar groups like it inevitably a sect (perhaps you should call yourself the unrepentant entomologist)? Much of what they do is discussed in public.Perhaps there is a tendency not to be willing to allow comrades to engage in initiatives with those outside without party control, and the behavior of the Left Platform in using such initiatives to organise a party within the party doesn’t help.
    You don’t agree with the theory of state capitalism. Many who do might say that the reason for the crisis in the American SWP was not because it was similar to the British one but because of the difference, because it could find no way to sensibly reconcile a commitment to working class politics with a belief that so-called workers states were an advance towards socialism without the involvement of the working class.
    To identify a political cadre as a priesthood is to fall for the canard that the SWP is made up of leaders and followers. In reality the attempt is to raise the political education of all comrades so that they can carry a united argument in the wider movement. And I was in a student union meeting once where the SWP group voted three different ways on the same question, so I don’t think an unwillingness to see differences appear in public is inevitable, just that perhaps the SWP are more fans of Clausewitz( concentrated action is the most effective) than you are.
    THe NPA may hit it’s own glass ceiling:
    http://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2010/02/07/nouveau-parti-anti-capitaliste-has-failed/

    Comment by skidmarx — February 18, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  23. Skidmarx: Why is it and other similar groups like it inevitably a sect (perhaps you should call yourself the unrepentant entomologist)? Much of what they do is discussed in public.

    These two sentences have absolutely no logical connection. Discussing the SWP in public hardly disqualifies it as a sect. For a useful introduction to how a sect operates, read Hal Draper:

    The sect establishes itself on a HIGH level (far above that of the working class) and on a thin base which is ideologically selective (usually necessarily outside working class). Its working-class character is claimed on the basis of its aspiration and orientation, not its composition or its life. It then sets out to haul the working class up to its level, or calls on the working class to climb up the grade. From behind its organizational walls, it sends out scouting parties to contact the working class, and missionaries to convert two here and three there. It sees itself becoming, one day, a mass revolutionary party by a process of accretion; or by eventual unity with two or three other sects; or perhaps by some process of entry.

    Marx, on the other, saw the vanguard elements as avoiding above all the creation of organizational walls between themselves and the class-in-motion. The task was not to lift up two workers here and three there to the level of the Full Program (let alone two students here and three intellectuals there!) but to go after the levers that could get the class, or sections or the class, moving as a mass onto higher levels of action and politics.

    The sect mentality sees its sanctification only in its Full Program, that is, in what separates it from the working class. If, god forbid, some slogan it puts forth bids fair to become to popular, it gets scared. “Something must be the matter! We must have capitulated to somebody.” (This is not a caricature: it is drawn from life.) Marx’s approach was exactly the opposite. The job of the vanguard was to work out slogans that would be popular in the given state of the class struggle, in the sense of being able to get broadest possible masses of workers moving. That means: moving on an issue, in a direction, in a way that would bring them into conflict with the capitalist class and its state, and the agents of capitalists and state, including the “labor lieutenants of capitalism” (its own leaders).

    The sect is a miniaturized version of the revolutionary party-to-be, a “small mass party,” a microscopic edition or model of the mass party that does not yet exist. Rather, it thinks of itself this way, or tries to be such a miniature.

    full: http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1971/alt/

    Comment by louisproyect — February 18, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

  24. I wish people would stop referring to the SWP organisation as democratic centralist. This is, of course, a useful tool to criticise ‘Leninist’ organisations but in their case it is certainly not true – it is bureaucratic centralist.On the topic of the failure of the Socialist Alliance, it failed because the SWP tried their usual ‘rule or ruin’ approach to organisations. The memory of that, Respect and countless localised examples means they can’t do what they used to -most of the British Left and large numbers of trade union militants keep them at arms length now. On the subject of the united front, some SWP members don’t seem to know what united front work actually entails – Richard Seymour, for one, thinks it can include working with Tories and Liberal Democrats to counter the far right BNP. Jesus wept – he’s supposed to be a Marxist!

    Comment by Doug — February 18, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

  25. Christian-I’m refering to this:

    “I tend to agree with Richard Seymour that—strictly speaking—the SWP was in its rights to ask her not to attend a meeting of the Stop the War Committee, a coalition that she has led for about a decade: “Lindsey, as a former central committee member, would be well used to the expectation that members accept the decisions of its elected bodies.” So rather than accepting the instructions of the “elected bodies”, she resigned and went ahead to attend the meeting.”

    Comment by Jenny — February 18, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

  26. Louis,
    I first learned about Hal Draper in ’62,when you and I were at Bard. One of the comrades in the New York YPSL told me about Draper. I didn’t like the politics of the Socialist Party Right. I was a socialist not a Democrat. But I also didn’t buy the pitch for “revolutionary” socialism I heard from Joel Geier. The US in the ‘Sixties was not nineteenth century Russia, and as for “democratic centralism”, I was still too much of a student of Blucher to accept that. So when I left Bard to study sociology in Madison I was a left socialist but firmly anti Leninist.

    Too bad I hadn’t met Draper. Because I might have learned that LENIN WASN’T A LENINIST. This is the view you have been pushing in your blog. You can count me as a supporter.

    Last year I joined the Berkeley branch of Solidarity. I hadn’t been a member of any socialist group since the mid ‘Seventies when the IS expelled me for resisting the turn towards Leninism. I wasn’t reading the internal IS papers. I only learned about Draper’s piece on sects from your blog. To me the turn came out of nowhere. One day a comrade from the British SWP visited the Bay Area, and the next day I was expelled for resisting the turn.

    I look forward to reading your blog every day. Keep hammering away on the Party Question. Tell me more dirt about the Bard liberal establishment. And I’m still waiting for your promised piece on Melville.

    Comment by paul mueller — February 18, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

  27. I’m wondering how those who have commented, whatever their position, including Louis, view the relevance of these words Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto in relation to this discussion:
    “In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?

    The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

    They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

    “They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement.

    “The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only:

    (1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.

    (2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

    “The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

    “The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.

    “The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.

    “They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.”

    Comment by tim — February 19, 2010 @ 6:39 am

  28. Small point of information- the US section of the Taafe led CWI is not “Workers Alternative” but Socialist Alternative.

    Comment by Jordan — February 19, 2010 @ 7:26 am

  29. Louis – I don’t see that what Draper says is an adequate description of the British SWP. Of course there has been a separation of workers from Leninist politics ever since Stalinism took hold and in many cases physically intimidated the Left away. Some way has to be found to break down this barrier, and it is easy but false to characterise it as a missionary operation, or as a priesthood.
    Some Trotskyist groups do fetishize their program. The SWP isn’t one of them. It tends to try to follow what Draper calls Marx’s approach. This would seem to be the key point in considering whether it is a sect, as the other things like whether it tries to be a revolutionary party in miniature (how else is a small revolutionary party to act, how else is it supposed to grow other than by getting larger)sem to be a question of perspective or fatuous. It didn’t seem to be scared when its slogans against the Iraq War became enormously popular.

    Doug – you don’t like them,that seems clear.

    Jenny – it wasn’t a demonstration, it was a meeting of a local Stop The War group that seemed to many SWP members locally to have been set up separate from the main StW group locally, so that Left Platform members would have a space to plot their split from the party.

    Tim – mostly everyone’s going to say “Yes, that’s I believe in, everyone else is distorting the issue.” The bit about The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties, might need some revision with the rise of social democracy and Stalinism, unless you won’t to define such forces as non-working class, but by and large it still seems relevant today. Perhaps not as relevant as early 20th century Russia, but still good.

    Comment by skidmarx — February 19, 2010 @ 11:16 am

  30. My comments are not directly related to the issues discussed above. I do think that it is an idea that many people of the anti-fascist persuasion could unite around. Some one suggested to me a few days ago an idea that I think has a lot of merit. The primary goal of this idea would be to shut down the US military telephone system. The secondary goal would be to at least cause some disruption in the work of at least some parts of the military. The way it would work is to recruit large numbers of people to call a US military telephone number at least once a day and talk or chat with whoever picks up the telephone. Many US military telephone numbers are available from public sources. This idea of course would not work very well if only a few people were doing. The key lies with getting some large organizations like Green Peace to unoffically sponsor it. This is an idea that can be applied not only to the US but against US military bases around the world.
    By creating a phony Greek financial crisis the US has carried out an act of war against Greek society.
    Japan has an official Debt to GDP ratio of more than 170% more than twice the official Greek debt to GDP ratio. No one is screaming about the Japanese debt problem. The US is not only at war in Afghanistan and Iraq it is waging war on the rest of the world. This is why the whole world should be interested in the proposal.
    If there are not many people in this world who would be willing to spend just a few minutes each day to call a US military installation and talk with someone perhaps we deserve the misrule of the US Empire.
    Telephone rates are so cheap in many places that people could call not only US bases in their country they could even call US bases in the US. Rates are as low as 2 cents per minute for a call to US from here in Germany for example.
    Now this is not a risk free strategy. First off the pirate US government may take legal action against any organization that they think is behind the recruitment of callers. They will probably also mess with the telephone systems and internet connections of those who are leading callers. But if collectively speaking we are not willing to pay this price we are really a bunch of sheep.
    The people in the military have to answer the telephone. To let it ring and ring would be very disrupting.
    They could of course change their numbers but what the new numbers are will have to be published again and again and again.
    We could probably even get fascists to call in and keep the telephone lines busy praising the troops.
    Perhaps the Tea Party movenment or what ever the heck it is called could be encouraged to call the IRS and ATF offices. I think that this is an idea that just needs a leader who is a good organizer and well connected with left wing groups to make a very positive impact on the moral and discipline of the US military. I am not that person, are you?
    I would appreciate any feed back that anyone has about how else the US military might respond to this type of hectoring.

    Comment by BuddhalovesPaine — February 19, 2010 @ 11:59 am

  31. Louis – “Doug – you don’t like them,that seems clear.”

    In that, Doug’s views are very much in line with the rest of the non-SWP left and labour movement in Britain.

    Comment by Jim — February 19, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

  32. “In that, Doug’s views are very much in line with the rest of the non-SWP left and labour movement in Britain.”

    A demographic so small as to be irrelevant of course.

    Comment by Steve — February 19, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

  33. So the labour movement is an irrelevant demographic is it? And the rest of the left in Britain, which outnumbers the SWP?

    Comment by Jim — February 19, 2010 @ 7:43 pm

  34. “So the labour movement is an irrelevant demographic is it? And the rest of the left in Britain, which outnumbers the SWP?”

    Well I realised obviously that you put “the labour movement in Britain” on the end to give whatever insignificant little sect you belong to more weight. I was really refering to the “non-SWP left” bit. I still regard the Trade union movement as central to the class struggle, even though some on the left would claim unionism does not equal class struggle.

    Comment by Steve — February 20, 2010 @ 9:51 am

  35. Surely the point is that an activist of 37 years who disagrees tactically with the SWP leadership has decided she has no option but to resign from the movement she spent her life building because of a political row about tactics/strategy! The question socialists in the SWP should be asking is, did Lindsey German turn her back on socialism and if not why is our organisation too rigid to accomodate her and her supporters?

    Comment by John O'Neill — February 20, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

  36. The swp has always had difficulty accommodating dissent.

    I was a working class member for almost a couple of decades. A disagreement with a ‘Party Note’ instruction quickly became the moment for the local branch machine to be turned into a witch hunting capability the equal of anything ever thrown up by Kinnock’s purge within the Labour Party..

    That German has fallen fowl of similar Stalinised politics maybe sad at one level, but you really do have to smile wryly at the irony – she will have had many occasions to utilise the same bullying tactics for her own political advantage.

    The conclusion that I drew from my own experience is similar to Proyect’s – too much centralism and insufficient democracy makes for a self limiting organisation. It will be impossible for the swp to develop sufficiently unless it can ditch its attachment to the self selecting charismatic bully syndrome and replace it with proper accountability to the membership (and potentially the masses).

    That said, the swp was good at providing political education, and at organising a degree of working class resistance. But is still very poor at providing a long term habitation fit for decent working class warriors.

    Comment by harney — February 25, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

  37. […] My analysis of Lindsey German’s resignation from the SWP has prompted a longish piece in the Weekly Worker, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain (a far left group with no connection to Moscow-type politics) whose website is festooned by a hammer-and-sickle: […]

    Pingback by A commentary on my commentary « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — February 25, 2010 @ 5:57 pm


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