Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 31, 2011

On the historical experiences of IS and SWP with factions

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism,socialism — louisproyect @ 2:22 pm

Another negative feature of party life is the total lack of a space in which criticisms of the political line of the organisation can be raised internally. Rather than being able to articulate their views in a regularly published Internal Bulletin comrades are often reduced to grumbling in corners after branch meetings with the result that they become seen as conservative elements or worse. Indeed the raising of questions at branch meetings is often frowned on by a section of the comrades who would appear to see any kind of questioning as disloyalty to the organisation and its politics. This attitude is as much a result of the training comrades have received and can be painlessly changed for the better.

What then needs to be done to make our party more democratic in order that it can more sensitively respond to an ever changing class struggle and make it more attractive to a rising generation repelled by mainstream politics parties, especially those of the left, which are not democratically controlled by their members? Most importantly we need to discuss the nature of the problems that many comrades are raising and in this way change the internal culture of the party into one that is tolerant and inclusive of those who question. There has never been a better time for such an enterprise given that the spirit of democracy has swept the globe in 2011 and not far beneath the surface has been the spectre of workers democracy waiting only to be made explicit and here in Britain that is exactly the process that N30 began. It is our task to seek to become of the developing forces that seek to progress beyond bourgeois society and we are best able to do so if we too possess an organisation that is democratically centralized and eschews commandism.

full: http://splinteredsunrise.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/guest-post-on-the-historical-experiences-of-is-and-swp-with-factions/


  1. Revolution is the only solution.

    Take the message to the masses.

    You cannot politely ask for what you want, when you’re one of the oppressed peoples.

    You must take it.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — December 31, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

  2. The fact is that the whole far left tends to operate as a gaggle of factions — on a winner takes all basis — with sharp differential lines.That defensive siege mentality is reflected within each org who defer to it. If internal factional disputes were made public there’d be (a) little outside interest in the exchange anyway and (b) people would actually laugh at the intensity of the exchanges. But while you have closed parties you’ll have a factional culture — whether sanctioned or not. Cannon recognized this and the US SWP dedicated itself to honing its internal party principles to the business of handling factional outbreaks.So the party’s history was a history of factional disputes….because party life was so often ruled by factional disputes as all difference had no other option but to become factional.

    All Trotskist parties suffer from the same tendency…

    That doesn’t mean that the issues in dispute were unimportant — but the course of the exchange was quickly formatted along factional lines with the inevitable consequence of war within the party followed by a split.

    The unfortunate fact is that endowing factions with formalised status and regulation — by engineering them into the party’s modus operandi — feeds the habit despite the tendency for most factional disputes to ‘break the rules’ . So attempts to regulate factionalism and factions never works the way it is intended. It also encourages entrenchment of opposing positions which is one reason why splits will so often occur.

    However, that doesn’t mean that understanding factionalism and protecting your organisation from its poisonous consequences is a false quest. Obviously debate needs to be regulated so that form and a certain etiquette rules. In cases there are privacy and security issues…and one would hope some personal respect and comradeship can prevail. But under the rule of the digital universe nothing can be kept secret and disgruntled opponents nowadays will publish whatever they like online to prove how right they are. If necessary its done anonymously.

    Ironically, I think having a public debate — and today that means an online one (in some form but not all web forms are suitable) — is one way of protecting party democracy and undermining the worst excesses of factional behavior. It breaks the exchange out of the strictures of ‘the circle spirit’ and reminds the antagonists that their audience may be broader than those you may share the bunker with.

    If orgs can break out of the rule of factionalism within their own formations maybe there could be a better dialogue on the left as a whole as like internal party disputes, tension and debate between competing Marxian outfits is also practiced along factional lines. So if factionalism and faction-making tends to warp internal party democracy, it also undermines the capacity of the left to have a ongoing discussion more broadly about the collective best way to proceed. And a good part of the reason for that is that external public exchanges — when they are allowed to happen that is, which is rare– will be reflected inside each competing party albeit as a separate debate but with a parallel agenda. And all this stuff said about factions and stuff is not about so much protecting the party from the scrutiny of the bourgeoisie — the standard rationale for persevering with a siege mentality — but from the ready knowledge of its competitors and opponents on the left.

    Comment by HR — December 31, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

  3. The author needs to have a better sense of proportion. You can’t compare Bukharin’s Left pro-revolutionary war faction of the Bolsheviks in 1918 as a way of looking at SWP factions fights in the 1970’s. That is nothing but a dogmatic approach to studying the Russian Revolution and its lessons. I tend to think the SWP is probably a lost cause. There are other groups even in the UK that are already have a more open form of party organization like the CPGB-PCC and The Commune and the IMT breakaway group Towards a New International Tendency (TANIT). Sure still more sects, but I would assume more open groups will seek alliances instead of remaining sects.

    The article also has a link to an article by John Molyneux in which he says:

    “If the case for the Leninist party remains compelling, it would, however, be wrong to identify Leninism with one narrowly defined organisational model or set of practices. Lenin himself, in his last speech to the Comintern in 1922, while insisting on the international importance of the Bolshevik experience, warned against the mechanical imitation of Russian organisational methods.”

    Nice try John, but at the end of the day in your article you are still skeptical of factions and only talk about vague flexibility that may have to arise under certain conditions. Translation: I want to keep my SWP CC position but not at the same time have a bunch of members leave in disgust over the internal regime.

    I’ve talked to other Trots in other groups that say “there is no textbook of democratic centralism” “we’re flexible if we have to be” “sometimes it’s okay to bend the stick.” All BS, just a cover. While there is no textbook of democratic centralism it’s really is as good as the British Constitution. Not written down, but never challenged, especially by those in power. Since they’re Trots they have to sound democratic but are still stuck in Zinovievism.

    I think this stuff is going to lead to people walking out as opposed to a reformed SWP, but that’s what probably needs to happen anyway.

    Comment by Roscoe Turi — December 31, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

  4. The CPGB-PCC? Oh my god. Talk about lost causes… Personally i think only by adding a couple more letters to the acronym can a truly communist party be created. How about CPGB-PCC/RT-WF?

    Comment by christian h. — January 1, 2012 @ 1:43 am

  5. Well the Weekly Worker is a better read than Socialist Worker, IMT’s site, Workers’ Liberty etc. if nothing for the entertainment value. They do have articles from Machover, Ticktin and Lih however.

    Comment by Roscoe Turi — January 1, 2012 @ 2:50 am

  6. I’m a member of the SWP, and the things you describe just don’t ring true for me, at all. Neither are Roscoe’s – I’m sad people think like this, and are happy to think like this, based on the tattling of disgruntled former comrades. Funny how they suddenly become much more worth listening to when they’re no longer inside a party, isn’t it?

    We’ve also changed the way we operate and the “bending of the stick”, so I really don’t know where you lot get this stuff from. I’ve read so many articles from people saying “the left should unite” then with their next breath hurling insults at the SWP. Even if you’re not a member of ours, can you not see how ridiculous this attitude is?

    Comment by Mark L — January 1, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

  7. Mark L, perhaps the more ridiculous thing is that groups like the SWP still cling to Zinovievism 90 years later and all it has given the radical left is many different Communist groups that are often antagonistic to each other and make little difference in the overall advance of the left. Good for the SWP for trying new things but I’m afraid that the limitations of the sacred “party of a new type” nonsense will not allow to grow the SWP beyond its former membership peak. And Mark, with all due respect, I’ve heard basically what you’ve written here come out of the mouth of a comrade in another Trot group that was not the SWP. Now and again Trot full timers will give their members new things to talk about to indicate how their groups are “evolving” but really just staying the same and making a few tiny concessions to retain membership levels.

    Comment by Roscoe Turi — January 1, 2012 @ 8:57 pm

  8. Has anybody had a non-historical experience, with a lurking spectre waiting to be made explicit? We can all fumble. We can all slip into Marxese sometimes. But is it really our task to seek to become a developing force that seeks?

    Comment by Roobin — January 2, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

  9. “But is it really our task to seek to become a developing force that seeks?”
    Very true in a lot of ways. Better to get 10 workers pick of the Communist Manifesto and think for themselves than to get 100 University students to join a Trotskyist sect.

    Comment by Roscoe Turi — January 3, 2012 @ 6:24 am

  10. Worker or student, anyone can write garbled Marxese, especially when they’re digesting Big Theory for the first time. I don’t know any socialist who hasn’t done that to some degree (I know I have). Within reason I also wouldn’t be fussy who joins socialist groups; students often become workers.

    Comment by Roobin — January 3, 2012 @ 9:02 am

  11. I subscribe to The Militant. I subscribe to Workers World, PSL, Socialist Action. I like topical news reportage. The Militant still has all this boring internal crap like subscription sales which doesn’t interest anyone and could be transferred to an internal party bulletin board or internal party blog. I bring this up to make a point: The SWP hasn’t changed one iota if you judge the group by it’s press.

    Comment by Hugh B. — January 3, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

  12. @Hugh B – You are talking about the American SWP while the post and discussion are about the British SWP.

    Comment by skidmarx — January 3, 2012 @ 11:11 pm

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