Paul Le Blanc: Revolutionary elements in London — Marxism 2013 and its context

20 July, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal 

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is an important “far left” organisation in Britain which, among other things, organises an annual educational conference — Marxism — in London. The SWP is undergoing a crisis which is only one aspect of a much larger phenomenon, taking place on a global scale within the revolutionary left. This involves a recomposition of the revolutionary socialist movement as a political force, in tandem with the struggles of the multi-faceted working class struggling against the effects of the present world crisis of capitalism.

In what follows, I want to offer a report on what I was able to observe while attending Marxism 2013 (July 11-15, 2013). I will also take up various issues having to do with discussions and debates having to do with the Leninist tradition and how it relates to realities and struggles of our time.

In part, I will be basing this on what I was in a position to observe (including Marxism 2013, plus a couple of “fringe meetings” organised by the International Socialist Network), as well as intensive discussions with members of that Network, as well as members of the Anti-Capitalist Initiative, members of Counterfire (a group which crystallised a few years ago when leading SWPers John Rees and Lindsey German left the organisation), and members of the SWP, both majority supporters and oppositionists, and other non-SWPers who were in attendance at the conference. As I said in a quite useful one-on-one conversation with Alex Callinicos early in the event, I consider all these elements to be revolutionary and am inclined to engage with them all. Alex agreed that this makes sense for someone in my position — though I imagine he will disagree with some of which I have come up with as a result.

Background

The SWP had been, at the beginning of this century, one of the strongest elements in the revolutionary left internationally, with a membership of several thousand, graced with an impressive array of left-wing intellectuals in its ranks and periphery, and with an activist membership that proved time and again that it could make a real difference in the social movements and struggles challenging the myriad problems and oppressions generated by the capitalist status quo. This fusion of a high level of Marxist theory and a powerful activist base, drawn together and mobilised by a particular variant of Leninist organisational practice, made it a force to be reckoned with not only by the capitalist enemy, but by others on the left sharing its goals but disagreeing with one or another aspect (or many aspects) of its practice. There have been accusations of heavy-handed, manipulative, and sectarian functioning in the larger struggles, though I am not in a position to make independent judgments on such accusations.

The current crisis was sparked by a scandal, involving a central figure in the SWP leadership accused of sexually abusing, in fact raping, a female comrade, accompanied by what seems to have been an attempted cover-up. This was followed by a botched investigation exonerating the accused leader, and then a heavy-handed “centralism” forbidding further discussion of the matter. This naturally generated a profound questioning (in fact deepened questions and differences some already had) regarding what some felt was an undemocratic mode of functioning in the name of “Leninism” and “democratic centralism”. Issues of the SWP’s hostile attitude toward feminism (criticised as a form of “identity politics” presumably incompatible with the class politics of Marxism) have also come up.

Several hundred members, particularly students and youth, left the organisation, and some of these have set up a rather diffuse International Socialist Network (ISN) — which makes reference to the “International Socialist” tradition (encompassing a conception of socialism from below and revolutionary internationalism incompatible with reformism and Stalinism) out of which the SWP arose (see http://internationalsocialistnetwork.org/). It is also clear, however, that not all of the ISN members are on the same page – there are divergent views on a number of questions, with what would seem to be varying trajectories. There are many more questions than answers, aside from the shared anger over how the sexual scandal in the SWP was handled. Part of this seems to me reflected in the fact that the ISN fringe meeting, “Embracing the F-Word: Feminism and the Left” (dealing especially with the scandal) was well attended and vibrant, while the fringe meeting on realignment and organisation on the left was small and rather rag-tag.

Several hundred more oppositionists have remained in the organisation, organised as a faction or tendency to fight against what they see as a divergence of the SWP from that tradition, and from a genuinely democratic centralism. (Denounced as factionalists, they respond that the SWP leadership is itself functioning as a faction.) Some of these oppositionists seem to be committed to staying in the organisation and changing it, while others seem skeptical about possibilities of change and may be unwilling to slog through what remains of their political lives in what they see as a badly flawed organisation.

Among those who remain in the SWP and are not in the opposition, and can therefore be counted among the majority, there seem to be different elements. Some do seem to be functioning with the unity of purpose and internal discipline that is consistent with what I understand to be a faction, and seem to believe that those oppositionists still in the SWP soon will and should be outside of the organisation. Some seem to have a different point of view — absolutely wanting to maintain organisational unity, but a unity which they hope will include the oppositionists and a considerable amount of democracy.

Also, a new and quite serious charge of sexual misconduct has been brought against the leadership comrade exonerated in the previous incident, and this time there are indications that there may be more appropriate procedures and outcomes. Some of the majority comrades see this as extremely important for resolving the problems that have arisen. Some of the oppositional comrades agree, but seem insistent that this would not cause an evaporation of some of the deeper problems related to the internal crisis.

Context

The developments inside the SWP cannot be adequately understood without reference to developments outside the organisation. Neither a general survey of British socio-economic realities nor of the British left will be possible here, but three developments are particularly relevant to matters discussed in this report — the People’s Assembly against Austerity, Left Unity, and Revolutionary Unity.

The People’s Assembly took place in London on June 22, supported by a significant section of the union movement, community organisations, left groups and others. More than 50 prominent individuals with such associations — including elected leaders of major unions, Labour Party MPs, prominent writers, key figures in several socialist groups (including the Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Resistance and Counterfire, but not the SWP) — had issued a call published in theGuardian, “to all those millions of people in Britain who face an impoverished and uncertain year as their wages, jobs, conditions and welfare provision come under renewed attack by the government”.

Citing projections that “some 80% of austerity measures [are] still to come, and with the government lengthening the time they expect cuts to last,” the call projected not only a one-day splash of protest, but the creation of a network of People’s Assemblies throughout Britain in order “to bring together campaigns against cuts and privatisation with trade unionists in a movement for social justice,” in order to “develop a strategy for resistance to mobilise millions of people” to push back against cuts and bring down the Conservative government.

More than 4000 people participated in the event — and videos of a number of the speeches delivered there can be found on the People’s Assembly website. In general, reports on the proceedings are quite positive. In addition to a commitment to building local People’s Assemblies in every city and town in the country, there was agreement that a mass protest would be organised on September 29 at the Conservative Party convention in Manchester, and a day of mass civil disobedience “everywhere” on November 5.

It should be added that of the socialist groups involved in the People’s Assembly, Counterfire appears to be most prominent, although this effort seems a genuine united front, not dominated by any particular left current.

Some of the personalities involved in the People’s Assembly — particularly Ken Loach, the outstanding film-maker, and Kate Hudson, head of the prestigious Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament — have initiated something else called Left Unity. This is related Loach’s recent documentary, The Spirit of ‘45, which depicts in truly inspiring terms the creation of the broad social programs, tagged the welfare state, initiated by the Labour Party and its supporters after its sweeping electoral victory of 1945.

Noting that “the welfare state is being dismantled by the coalition government, bringing great suffering to the most vulnerable in society and eroding the living conditions of millions of ordinary people,” Left Unity notes that “the Labour Party is not presenting a strong opposition to austerity and instead appears to have wholeheartedly adopted neo-liberal policy, advocating its own brand of austerity and privatisation”. It has called for discussion of the “formation of a new political party of the Left to bring together those who wish to defend the welfare state and present an economic alternative to austerity”. Within an incredibly short period of time, nine thousand people have signed up to participate in this effort. On the other hand, there are significant forces involved in the People’s Assembly — including Labour Party members, Green Party members, and trade union leaders — who are not inclined to be involved in Left Unity.

Some who are involved in Left Unity, yet not satisfied with an entity projecting itself as a continuation of the old left-wing of the Labour Party, have begun an intensive discussion tagged Revolutionary Unity. This involves the IS Network, Socialist Resistance (a small but seasoned section of the Fourth International) and the Anti-Capitalist Initiative (a group of young activists who have been very involved in Occupy and anti-cuts insurgencies particularly among students).

Marxism 2013

When I was invited to speak at Marxism 2013, and decided – after consultation with the leadership of my organisation (the International Socialist Organization (ISO) — to attend, I was aware that some people who had previously participated in such SWP events were publicly boycotting it. I had no disagreement with their decision, but I had not been asked to participate in any such boycott and felt it would be more fruitful for me to engage with comrades in the SWP. I was then attacked by a US blogger for giving comfort to “the Socialist Rapist Party” — but I was not persuaded by this.

A few days before the start of Marxism 2013, the SWP leadership suspended four oppositionists from the organisation, and fired an SWP staffer, for being involved in setting up a website for the opposition (http://revolutionarysocialism.tumblr.com/about), and I was urged by certain non-SWPers to withdraw my agreement to participate — but this was not something I was inclined to do at that point. I wanted to learn more of what was going on, and also to connect and share ideas with as many of these revolutionaries (SWP members, oppositionists, and others) as possible. As it turned out, an open letter from a couple hundred SWP members plus additional internal pressure resulted in the suspensions being quickly reversed.

What I saw at Marxism 2013 was a very large and very well organised five-day event with many dozens of truly interesting concurrent sessions, pitched at various levels, involving politics, economics, social issues, culture, science and more. There was much energy, openness, intellectual stimulation.

There were many SWPers and some non-SWPers giving talks. I was able to hear Colin Barker speak about the nature of socialist revolution, Mike Gonzales speak about the impact of Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan revolutionary process, Gilbert Achcar speak about the dynamics of the Arab revolutionary process, Megan Trudell speak about the uses and abuses of Antonio Gramsci, Ian Birchall speak about Jean-Paul Sartre (in a room much too small, I’m afraid, but I was willing to sit on the floor), Adrian Budd speak on the development of China as a new super-power, Jess Edwards speak about the SWP take on differences between Lenin and Luxemburg, and Amy Leather explain the capital accumulation process as part of what was an introductory “rough guide to Marxist economics”.

There was also Alex Callincos’s session on “Leninism in the 21st Century”. I naturally also attended my own presentations — a slideshow focused on US murals of the great Mexican revolutionary artist Diego Rivera, a panel discussion on how socialists should organise themselves, also including Esme Choonara and Gilbert Achcar, and a talk on “The History and Future of Leninism” (these last two will also be taken up later in this report). And of course, there were exciting opening and closing rallies featuring international and British speakers, including central leaders of the British SWP.

Particularly interesting at the closing rally were the rousing remarks of Eamonn McCann, veteran of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland and a leading member of the Irish SWP. He emphasised that he and his comrades could only be effective in Irish struggles because they stood against oppression in all its forms and had proven themselves trustworthy. Without naming names, that all socialists had to take a stand against sexism — including in their own organisations – and that this was a matter of principle. It seemed that a majority of those in attendance cheered this with enthusiasm, although there were a few who withheld applause for that aspect of his speech.

An overall attendance of what I would estimate as more than 2000 people seemed good to me, but people on both sides of the disputed issues in the SWP noted that last year’s had many more — between 4000 and 5000. There were a number of young people present, although there was a higher proportion of people 40 years and older. There were some people of colour, a very strong role was played by women, and most of us in attendance were, not surprisingly, part of one or another sector of the working class.

There was an underlying tension running through the entire conference — I heard more than one remark by one majority supporter to another reflecting hostility to the opposition, and the same sort of thing (but more muted, and going in the opposite direction) among oppositionists. At various points, in one session or another, there were open polemics and angry explosions. This was particularly the case in sessions touching on Leninism and “the organisation question”.

‘Left reformism’

The Callinicos talk seemed significant to me from several standpoints. One was his emphasis on what he described as a resurgent “left-reformism” — examples of which could be found Syriza in Greece, in Ken Loach’s film The Spirit of ’45, in the Left Unity project and in the People’s Assembly effort. He went on to add that the SWP “welcomed” both Left Unity and the People’s Assembly and would participate in them, but he made a sharp distinction between the Leninist approach and what he described as the political degeneration of John Rees, who provided left cover for the reformism of the trade union bureaucracy by asserting that it is “ridiculous” to believe that strikes are superior to demonstrations and direct action.[1]

This opportunist formulation, Callincos argued, replaced proletarian class struggle with “movementism”. This seems problematical to me, particularly since a majority of today’s working class finds itself outside of trade unions and participates in struggles, necessarily, through mass actions organised by social movements outside of the workplace. This relates to another aspect of controversy in and around the SWP. It seems to me that the human beings who make up the working class majority find themselves in different sectors (involving various blue-collar and white-collar occupations and skill levels, as well as those not currently employed) and are characterised by a variety of identities (involving gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality and more), beset by various forms of oppression which must be understood and engaged with by revolutionaries and others through distinctive movements and struggles — which is inseparable from the overall struggle of the working class for a better life for all. What is dismissed as “movementism” can be essential to the actual, real-life class struggle.

Emphasising Georg Lukács’s emphasis on Lenin’s distinctive contributions regarding the question of the party, Callinicos insisted on the necessity of building the SWP as a unified revolutionary party along Leninist, democratic-centralist lines. Acknowledging that the SWP had developed its own version of Leninism, he insisted that this had helped it to “punch above its weight” — with an elected leadership having considerable executive power, allowing for discussion in the party ranks leading up to decisions, after which the time for talk must give way to unity in carrying out the decision. Oppositionists who want to improve upon Leninism seem to forget that revolutionary unity is essential for political effectiveness. Maintaining permanent factions is a violation of genuine democracy, a genuine revolutionary party cannot be a talk-shop or debating society, etc.

After an explosive and polarising discussion, Callinicos -– after some conciliatory comments — reasserted the importance of the SWP as a disciplined revolutionary party and addressed a provocative question to the oppositionists. He assured them that they would fail to win a majority of the SWP, that they would lose. “And then what will you do?” he asked. Would they choose to stay in the party, or would they find themselves unable to accept the majority decision? He expressed the hope that they would choose to stay in the party.

Given the way he had defined the SWP’s Leninism, however, the pointed implication of his question seemed clear. Given the extreme polarisation of the discussion and the way Callinicos framed the discussion, it seemed to me that a new split in the organisation was likely. That seemed to be the conclusion of many others on both sides, as well as outsiders like me.

Leninism in our time

Issues from this session (as well as some of the angry and polarised discussion) spilled over into some of the other sessions I attended, and were also in evidence in the sessions in which I made presentations on socialist organisation and Leninism.

In the panel discussion on socialist organisation, there were a number of similar themes in Esme Choonara’s comments — warnings against left-reformism, emphasis on the need for a Leninist party, the need to “punch above our weight” and the consequent necessity of unity in action, the unacceptability of permanent factions, the importance of democratic centralism – once the vote is taken, discussion ends and unity in action begins. She added that Marxism 2013 proved that the SWP is by no means undemocratic, that it is in fact “a lively bunch of people”.

My own comments as a panelist stressed the fact that the SWP was not, in fact, a revolutionary party in the way that Lenin defined the term in the early pages of Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder – a revolutionary vanguard layer of a class-conscious working class did not yet exist, and the SWP did not have intimate contact with the working-class majority. The function of Leninists is not to pretend that they are a revolutionary party but to create the preconditions for such a party. A failure to understand that would lead to sectarian functioning and internal pressures that could be destructive.

Gilbert Achcar made similar points and was able to enrich the discussion by referring to the French section of the Fourth International in which he had participated for a number of years. While not favouring permanent factions, he was able to report that for over four decades the French section proved able to grow and be effective while practicing a quite different variant of Leninism that that of the SWP, allowing full freedom of discussion even after decisions on action were made and implemented, and with the existence of a permanent faction.

In my session on “The History and Future of Leninism”, I shared a portion of the lengthy presentation I gave in Australia (where revolutionary comrades were in the process of coming together rather than coming apart — see http://links.org.au/node/3394). I will offer the fragment of my Marxism 2013 talk which made points generating controversy, then indicate criticisms of some comrades, and conclude with my responses to criticisms. Here is the fragment:

[After a lengthy Lenin quote from 1915 emphasising the centrality of democracy in the struggle for socialism.] The centrality of democracy in the struggle for socialism applies not only in the social and political struggles within society, but also in the internal structure and practice of the socialist organisation itself. In my book Lenin and the Revolutionary Party and in other places, I have written a great deal on the actual meaning and practice of the concept of “democratic centralism” — what Lenin defined as full freedom of discussion and unity in action, and others have written about that as well. It has been documented that the Bolshevik organisation had a considerable degree of internal democracy. We have already noted here how this changed dramatically under the rule of Joseph Stalin. That was a disastrous development largely rooted in the devastation and isolation of Soviet Russia in the midst of the civil war years, combined with the extreme economic backwardness and poverty of the Russian economy. This resulted in what were supposed to be emergency measures that, in fact, became permanent — which eliminated any genuine democracy in the Soviet Union, and also eliminated genuine internal democracy in all Communist Parties controlled by the Stalin leadership.

 

What we have found even among all-too-many anti-Stalinist organisations committed to revolutionary socialism are — in the name of Leninism and “democratic centralism” — practices that cut across the possibility of the kind of internal democracy that seems to have existed, historically, in Lenin’s organisation. Such internal democracy is one feature that made it possible for the Bolsheviks to be the kind of revolutionary force that triumphed in 1917. One of the reasons for the disappointing absence of that kind of democracy in many relatively small socialist groups in later years may have to do with a flaw in their self-conception. Some function more or less as sects, creating their own political universe that involves a self-conception that they constitute the “revolutionary vanguard” (or the politically correct nucleus around which a vanguard must form). The hope for the future is often seen as preserving the authority and ideological purity of one’s precious organisation. This can engender ideological and organisational rigidities which distort the way that democratic centralism (particularly “full freedom of discussion”) might be understood and practiced.

 

If our self-conception is that we do not yet have a revolutionary party (not even in embryo), and that our purpose is to help create the preconditions that might make the emergence of such a party possible, this could encourage a different kind of internal practice, in some ways matching the way we would be dealing with those outside of our group. A primary goal would be to generate more and more thought, experience, and creativity among one’s comrades and others, as activists working together in order to bring into being a force that can successfully challenge capitalism. There are indications, in fact, that such an extended pre-party process — even in underground conditions — existed through the 1890s and early 1900s among Marxist-oriented revolutionaries, creating a subculture which nurtured a genuine internal democracy as the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (and its Bolshevik faction) finally took shape.

 

One of the revolutionaries in-the-making from that time, Eugenia Levitskaya, later reminisced:

Turning over in my mind the mass of comrades with whom I had occasion to meet, I cannot recall a single reprehensible, contemptible act, a single deception or lie. There was friction. There were factional differences of opinion. But no more than that. Somehow everyone looked after himself morally, became better and more gentle in that friendly family”. (This sense of things can be found in a different context many years later, when the veteran revolutionary James P. Cannon commented: “The true art of being a socialist consists in anticipating the socialist future; in not waiting for its actual realisation, but in striving here and now, insofar as the circumstances of class society permit, to live like a socialist; to live under capitalism according to the higher standards of a socialist future”.) A vibrant elaboration of this comradely subculture among Russian revolutionaries comes through in Maxim Gorky’s novel of 1906, entitledMother. A central figure in this subculture, Lenin wrote in What Is To Be Done? about the organisational ideal of 1902 as “a close and compact body of comrades in which complete, mutual confidence prevails”. Even amid the fierce polemical controversies among the Russian Communists in 1920, Lenin quoted Trotsky — with whom he was then in sharp disagreement — that “ideological struggle within the Party does not mean mutual ostracism but mutual influence”.

One of the most important elements in this subculture, I think, should be an inclusiveness that persistently and insistently works to overcome, in the revolutionary organisation, the divisive oppressions of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other destructive dynamics blighting human relationships in the larger society. At times this may generate painful tensions and conflicts. Scrupulously democratic process, combined with considerable thoughtfulness and sensitivity, will be needed to help maintain balance and cohesion as the organisation works frankly and seriously toward fruitful results.

 

Such a general subculture contributes to the realisation of a primary task for any revolutionary organisation worth its salt — the development of durable cadres. By this term cadre I am referring to experienced activists, educated in political theory, analytically oriented, with practical organisational skills, who are able to attract and train new members of the revolutionary organisation, and also to contribute to expanding efforts in broader movements for social change. This means knowing something of the history of the class struggle and of broad liberation struggles, knowing the economic and political realities of society, knowing how to size up a situation, knowing how to interact with others to help communicate that knowledge to them, knowing how to organise meetings and political actions. Such qualities need to be developed among increasing numbers of people. The proliferation of such durable cadres is essential for all the life-giving struggles leading up to the possibility of socialist revolution.

One comrade insisted that our model should not be the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party of the early 1900s but instead the Bolshevik party of 1917. We need a combat party, not a talk-shop. My response: Yes, we need the equivalent of the revolutionary party that made the 1917 revolution, but the question is how do we achieve that? We can’t simply make a choice — “oh we want to be this instead of that”. We must go through the process that gets us to where we want to be – we must work hard to create the preconditions for the crystallisation of such a party, we can’t jump over the process without generating sectarian and internally problematical dynamics. To recognise this is not to say we should just be a “talk shop” — the Russian party of the early 1900s was not just a talk shop.

One comrade stressed the necessity of democratic centralism — freedom of discussion of course, but then unity in action. Once a vote is taken, it must be binding. My response: Yes, we need unity in action. When a vote is taken regarding a specific action in the class struggle it must be carried out. But that is qualitatively different from a vote to close down and forbid a discussion against the wishes of several hundred comrades. That is not unity in action in the class struggle. There are better ways to understand and make use of democratic centralism. There should be full freedom of discussion as well as unity in action.

One comrade argued that there were important differences between Marx and Lenin, and that Leninists understand that sometimes there is a need to suspend democracy — as Lenin and his comrades did when they closed down the Constituent Assembly after taking power in 1917. My response: I don’t understand the meaning of the assertion of differences between Marx and Lenin — but for both of them democracy was central. Lenin defended the closing down of the Constituent Assembly not because he thought democracy had to be suspended but because he saw the soviets, the democratic councils, as more democratic. From the beginning up through the Russian Revolution of 1917, Lenin was deeply and consistently in favour of democracy. This only changed with the horrific developments of 1918 and 1919, when a tsunami of shit hit a cosmic fan: military invasions, an international economic blockade, a brutalising civil war funded by foreign powers, economic collapse — at which point the possibility of democracy collapsed and the revolutionaries were desperately focused on simply trying to survive. But for most of Lenin’s life, democracy was central to the functioning of his organisation. For me the question is not whether we should be Leninists. We are Leninists. The question is: how do we best advance the process of creating the preconditions for a revolutionary party, and how do we build that party?

One comrade challenged the idealised description of internal party life, arguing that a revolutionary party cannot be the future socialist society in embryo. My response: Yes, that’s true. But my point is not that we should try to create the equivalent of socialism in our organisation — that’s not possible. My point is that there are certain democratic and humanistic values related to our socialist goals, certain ways of functioning and treating comrades and other people as well, that should be part of the internal life of our revolutionary organisations.

One of the points made in my concluding remarks was that the loss of members, the loss of cadres, which seems likely unless things shift, would be devastating because for a revolutionary organisation they are gold. If it turns out, however, that a division in the organisation takes place, then it will be important for comrades on different sides of the split to do all they can to learn from their experience, evaluate their experience, and continue in the actual struggle against oppression and exploitation, and for socialism. The history of the Russian revolutionaries shows us that, based in part on the experience gained from following different pathways, separated revolutionaries can come together in the struggle, and at some point in a common organisation, as we move forward to socialist revolution.

Conclusions

I became keenly aware that it is far easier for me to look calmly at the disputes in and around the SWP because I am not and never have been either a member of the SWP or an adherent of the“International Socialist” tradition. I find something of value in each, but my life and hopes have never been invested in them in a way that is true for comrades that I spent time with. The passion, anger and rage (whether subdued or explosive), so evident in much of what I saw, are not part of my own feelings. But while this relative absence of intimacy may give me a greater sense of perspective in some ways, it may also make it difficult for me to understand personalities and relationships, perceive ego dynamics and political behavior patterns that can explain some of what is happening.

Serious revolutionaries have a responsibility, however, to develop a sense of perspective about difficult or devastating or disappointing developments among those one has considered comrades. It is important to puzzle out the larger political meanings, placing such experiences within what veteran Marxists have called “the long view of history”. Three concluding points occur to me.

First, what is happening in the British SWP cannot be attributed to essential qualities of Leninism. If we look closely at other ideological and political traditions (religions of all varieties, scientific movements and institutions, purportedly democratic entities, social-democratic and labour parties, anarchist circles, not to mention monarchies, capitalist enterprises, etc.) we can find negative dynamics aplenty. On the other hand, there are variants of “Leninism” and forms of democratic centralism that have helped revolutionary activists to transcend much that is negative and limiting, facilitating comrades to work together effectively, and drawing in more and more people into the struggle, unleashing creative energies of the workers and the oppressed in struggles that win victories in the here-and-now while advancing the struggle for socialism. This can be found in the functioning of Lenin and his comrades up to the early 1920s, and other examples can be found as well.

Second, the actual historical developments out of which the so-called “Leninist party” emerged have been documented and described in various sources that are available to us. As Lenin demonstrates in Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder, this was a process which unfolded over a period of years, involving the crystallisation of a class-conscious vanguard layer of the working class (some of which became Bolshevism’s social base), the development of an intimate connection of the Bolshevik organisation with masses of the workers and oppressed, and the development of a revolutionary program that made sense in the specific Russian context. The effort to impose “discipline” outside of such a reality, pretending that one has already created the revolutionary party, ends up, as Lenin emphasised, in posturing and clowning, and falls flat. The party we need does not yet exist, and our primary task as revolutionaries is to help create the preconditions to help bring it into being. One aspect of this involves the development of more and more educated, experienced, skilled, critical-minded, creative, energetic cadres — in one’s own revolutionary group, and in the larger movements and organisations and struggles that help to advance the cause of the workers and the oppressed. Democratic-collective modes of functioning need to be developed that will help nurture such qualities among more and more people both within and beyond one’s own group.

Third, and related to this task of broad and outward-reaching cadre development, is the necessity of immersion in the real-world class struggle. While carrying on serious socialist educational efforts, we must be involved in mass social struggles in the here-and-now, most definitely for reforms. This should not be dismissed as “movementism” or as “left-reformism”. Rosa Luxemburg explained the point well: “The daily struggle for reforms, for the amelioration of the condition of the workers within the framework of the existing social order, and for democratic institutions, offers to the socialist movement an indissoluble tie. The struggle for reforms is its means; the social revolution, its aim”. Such initiatives as, for example, the People’s Assembly should be embraced and whole-heartedly advanced. Efforts such as these are what can help to create the preconditions for a revolutionary party. Whatever British comrades decide to do in regard to the SWP, it will be vitally important for all to engage in the actual struggle.

Note

[1] Checking what Rees had actually said on the People’s Assembly website, we find the following: “Some people want to say that there is one form of protest superior to all others, that direct action is superior to marching, that strikes are better than marching, that direct action is superior to strikes. Don’t be ridiculous! We need them all, we need every single one of them. We are going to need to break this government. And if we are going to break this government, we are going to need to demonstrate, to strike, to take direct action …”

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Posted 21st July 2013 by InI in category Capitalism, Socialism

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