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Where we stand on revolutionary unity

We understand that some comrades, specifically from Socialist Resistance, involved in the current three-way discussions on revolutionary unity objected to the addition of Workers Power, and that other comrades suggested that these objections might be clarified or overcome if we explained our views first.

We did in fact publish quite an extensive article on the subject in Workers Power 369 in February 2013, with the title “Revolutionary unity – a proposal

Some of the following is a recapitulation of what we said then, but we will also address some of the issues and views that have arisen since in the discussions, so far as these have been reported on the internet and in various documents by Luke Cooper, Stuart King and Alan Thornett, Richard Seymour and others.

We do not pretend that we have no differences, or only unimportant differences, with views these comrades have expressed so far. But discussions about revolutionary unity would hardly be necessary if we already knew that there were no differences of substance. A rapid fusion would suffice, since differences will always exist in any organisation. But if the history of the British left over the last three or four decades is scarred by precipitate splits – and we agree with this assessment – then it is also marked by equally precipitate fusions. And these all too soon turned into new splits.

We certainly cannot deal with everything of importance here, nor with all the points raised in the discussions so far, but we will try to cover the following questions:

• What is sectarianism and what are its negative effects in today’s class struggle?

• What are the distinctions between parties and propaganda groups and do the latter have positive reasons to exist?

• Democratic Centralism – what it is and what it is not

• Broad Parties – do they represent a distinct type of party and a necessary stage?

• What steps are needed to achieve revolutionary unity?

The crisis of the left and its causes

1. The obvious starting point for any discussions on revolutionary unity in Britain today is the crisis of the British far left, and primarily of course the on-going crisis of its largest component, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The formation of the International Socialist Network (ISN), plus the continuing existence and struggle of the SWP Opposition within the party, are the most contingent reasons favouring a real perspective of regrouping and uniting substantial revolutionary forces at this moment in time. A major positive context is also provided by the formation of Left Unity, starting from the nine to ten thousand people who responded to Ken Loach’s Appeal and the hundreds of people who have joined its local groups.

2. The latter initiative shows that the crisis of the far left is related to a far broader crisis of the official labour movement, in particular the Labour Party leadership’s stubborn determination to stick to the right wing policies pursued under Blair and Brown, during a prolonged and severe capitalist crisis. Their determination moreover to “triangulate” with the Tories’ austerity policies has strained their relationship with the leaders of the affiliated unions embarrassed in front of their members.

3. Not only has this seen renewed calls for a new labour movement party from Bob Crow of the RMT union, as might be expected, as well as leaders of other smaller unions, but GMB has slashed its funding from £1.2 million to £150,000 a year and there have also been threats from the Unison and Unite to call into question their financial backing of Labour. The “organic link” between Labour and the unions has never been under such strain – though it is unlikely to break before the 2015 General Election.

4. The widespread discontent with Labour amongst union activists makes it an urgent task for revolutionaries to unite the maximum forces on a clear strategic basis for the decisive struggle over the future of the welfare state. Greater unity and clarity on the part of revolutionary socialists is needed if we hope to win support amongst discontented union and Labour activists for the creation of new leaderships for today’s struggles.

5. We believe that this can be done, in part through Left Unity, but also through the People’s Assemblies and the trade unions, as well as through the many campaigns in defence of services and jobs that take place at a local level. Here through common activity we can build trust and mutual loyalty – the necessary basis for patient discussion and argument over strategic political questions. With this approach we believe it will be possible to win support amongst broader layers for the creation of a revolutionary party.

6. These problems and opportunities are not just a British phenomenon. There are innumerable signs of new left forces emerging, or old ones undergoing some sort of renewal or transformation. Most striking is the 2012 electoral breakthrough of Syriza. From being a marginal force it became in six to nine months a serious governmental contender and grew to over 40,000 members. In France it is expressed in the rise of the left reformist post-Stalinist Front de Gauche (FdG), with its charismatic “star” Jean-Luc Mélenchon. A warning as to the “new” character of these parties is that at the core of them are often old Stalinist parties like the French Communist Party (PCF), the German Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) or Greece’s Synaspismos, who on the decisive issues (wars of intervention like Mali, or austerity when in local or national coalitions) will side with the bourgeois and imperialist order.

7. However the split and decline in numbers of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), as well as the reported escalating crisis of Greece’s far left Antarsya, indicates that dangers as well as opportunities exist for revolutionary forces involved in these projects. The far left can end up being weakened rather than strengthened and reformism revived – albeit on a smaller scale than in the past rather than being undermined or destroyed as revolutionaries must aim for.

8. For us these developments all confirm the centrality of what Trotsky called a crisis of leadership one in which the would-be revolutionaries are embroiled as well. Workers Power can hardly claim to have been immune from this “crisis of the left”, as the presence of two groups of our own former comrades in the Anti-Capitalist Initiative (ACI) testifies.

9. The elements of this crisis relate to the following:

(a) The continued and seemingly irreversible assimilation of Labourism and Social Democracy into neoliberal economics and politics.

(b) The failure of the strategy pursued by the leaders of the mass trade unions in the resistance to austerity.

(c) The failure the far left to present even a rough and ready alternative to this and consequently to grow during the most serious crisis of capitalism since the Second World War. For the far left this is in painful contrast to the growth of revolutionary groups in the 1970s and 1980s.

(d) To this must be added the growth of post-Stalinist and left social democratic parties like Syriza in Greece, the FdG in France and others.

10. However, important as these conjunctural causes have been in stimulating a crisis on the far left, they cannot have been the only ones. Well before the onset of the economic crisis we witnessed the break up of the initially very promising Socialist Alliance (1999-2003), followed by the spectacular car crashes of the Scottish Socialist Party (2006) and then Respect (2007). While it is to be hoped that Left Unity will prove a turning point it is still early days yet. If the November conference does not achieve a basic political self-characterisation it is hard to see how it will be able to attract substantial new forces.

Real sectarianism has hampered the fight back since 2010

11. Workers Power has always rejected the idea that as soon as a group reaches a few hundred or for that matter a few thousand members, like the SWP or Militant in their respective primes, it can legitimately proclaim itself to be the revolutionary party and simply invite the working class to join its ranks en masse. Such mini-mass parties have an inglorious history in the Trotskyist movement, but find no justification in the tactics employed by its founder between 1933 and his assassination.

12. An organisation with such an exaggerated view of itself will inevitably develop a false relationship to mass struggles and the mass organisations of the working class. If such a “party” cannot (because of its small size or weak implantation in the most militant sectors of the workers’ movement) actually play a leading role in significant struggles, then all too often it is driven to establish imitation “united front” formations which foster an illusion of this influence. This usually requires a non-aggression pact with the left and not-so-left union officials, community leaders, individual MPs, etc. who they wish to grace their platforms.

13. For this reason, over the past three years or so the rivalry between the parties, and principally between the SWP, the Socialist Party (SP) and their offshoots, has been projected into the developing movement of resistance against austerity, splitting and polarising it. The four or so false “united fronts” (Unite the Resistance, the National Shop Stewards’ Network, the Coalition of Resistance and Right to Work) are primarily recruiting grounds for their controllers. All claim that it is their task to unite the resistance but even the largest, the Coalition of Resistance (CoR) has failed to do so, although its child the Peoples’ Assembly has probably the best chance yet, thanks to the crisis in and weakening of the SWP and its fronts. The illusion of a genuine workers’ united front is usually maintained by annual conferences (in fact rallies) at which one or two left union general secretaries and MPs speak, but at which nothing in the slightest bit controversial (with the celebrities who grace the platform) is discussed and nothing of significance decided.

14. In the past there have of course been important exceptions, where something approaching a real united front developed, leaving aside for a moment the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and perhaps the original Anti-Nazi League. And the revolutionary groups or parties did indeed play an important role in them. It was the Militant (today’s SP) who initially built the mass anti-Poll Tax movement of 1989-1991, and the SWP that built the Stop the War movement of the early 2000s. If the People’s Assembly (rooted in local assemblies) becomes such a united front then this will be a real step forward, and indeed we should all be doing our utmost to see that this happens.

15. Today not only the economic crisis but also the right wing pro-austerity consensus amongst all the major parties, including Labour, visibly poses the need for transcending capitalism in a way not seen for decades. In the unions and on the left generally there have been waves of discussion about whether it is necessary or possible to build a new party of the working class, one openly with socialist and anti-capitalist policies (however these are defined). In our view this also poses the need for a powerful and consciously revolutionary organisation. That is why, as well as seeking to draw as many militants as possible from the unions and the various anti-austerity campaigns into Left Unity, we need to work towards regroupment of the revolutionary forces. For we believe that if we can unite these forces with the broader movement for effective political resistance then we will be able to lay the foundations of new, mass, revolutionary parties.

16. We also have to critically evaluate the new organisational forms being thrown up by the struggle – such as Occupy, the Sparks’ rank and file organisations, the campaigns against the bedroom tax and the movements against hospital closures – and develop new tactics or new combinations of old tactics. In our view this means combining the revolutionary principles and practices inherited from the classical Marxists with innovation and flexibility. We do not glorify dogmatism but neither do we celebrate “heterodoxy”. With this approach we can reach out to wider layers than ever before. Establishing an honest and loyal relationship between older socialist cadres and larger numbers of activists new to politics is central to developing new organisations founded on an anti-capitalist basis, and oriented towards extra-parliamentary struggle, which are transitional towards the creation of a real revolutionary party. This is the central task if we are to fuse our slogans and ideas in the minds and actions of thousands of new layers of militants.

Propaganda groups and their purposes

17. Comrades Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy in their book Beyond Capitalism? The Future of Radical Politics, and in other articles since, argue that it is the existence of propaganda groups (what they call sects) with their over-detailed programmes and internal discipline that makes them “not fit for purpose”. Instead they assert that what we need are pluralist parties – ones made up of different tendencies all publicly and simultaneously arguing different strategies in the working class movement; parties which moreover do not pretend to exercise any real discipline over their individual members. We do not agree with this.

18. First of all the not-fit-for-purpose charge begs the question of what the purpose of a small revolutionary group is. We think that its unique and indispensable task is to preserve and develop the principles, strategy and tactics of the revolutionary party that we are trying to build. This strategy is embodied in a programme, not at all a fixed and fetishized document but one which is developed and whenever necessary re-developed in response to important changes in the objective situation, drawing the lessons of major victories and defeats of the working class and the oppressed.

19. Developing this programme is one of the most central tasks of any revolutionary organisation, right from its foundation as a propaganda circle up to the achievement of a fully-fledged party. Comrades who think that the programmes that the left groups advance are too wide ranging need to explain what they regard as ballast in these programmes. The revolutionary programme, especially the transitional and action programmes such as those developed by Trotsky in the 1930s are not in our view mere shibboleths, things that exist to set us apart from “non-believers.”

20. Neither do we believe that it is the “sect from” – that is, a form of organisation with democratic centralism that generally requires its members to argue for its politics in public – that is to blame for the stagnation or “failure” of the parties and groups since the economic crisis erupted. If so the larger groups on the British left would never have had the periods of rapid expansion that they witnessed (different ones at different times) in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

21. There have been many times when active propaganda groups have played a positive role in the history of the British working class movement. They have occasionally created broad mass united fronts, not under their own exclusive control. Indeed until we can lay the foundations of a genuine revolutionary party it will continue to fall to these organisations to realise or frustrate the formation of such genuine united fronts.

22. Of course when a major crisis develops, the inadequacy of propaganda groups to provide sufficient cadres to challenge for leadership in the mass organisations of the working class will be felt keenly by all whether they admit it or not. But to blame the propaganda group stage and to abandon it when no working alternative has proved any more successful, either “networks” or “broad parties” (that seek to combine revolutionary and reformist politics on a permanent basis), is to fail to provide any viable route to the construction of the revolutionary party that we should all want to see exist.

23. For all the positive aspects of the mass occupations and demonstrations from Occupy Wall Street to Brazil via the Arab Spring, it is clear that “old” organisations with cadres and programmes cannot be conjured up even out of the most spontaneously powerful mass movements. The conscious and in part quite deliberate “lack of programme” and lack of leadership, even if it contributed to these movements’ rapid ballooning, also led to their equally dramatic subsidence.

24. In countries like Portugal, Greece and Spain, the Occupy or Indignados actions were only part of a far broader resistance that included the traditional parties of the reformist and far left, and most importantly the trade unions. In the Arab world, the tactic of sticking to negative slogans, “the people demand the downfall of the regime”, has just revealed its shortcomings. In short, in very serious revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situations (as in Greece as well as in the Arab world), the crying need for a party and a programme for power have been revealed.

25. The left organisations, like the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt, can be criticised for their policies: for example, their electoral support for Morsi and an initial failure to openly oppose the military coup that overthrew him. The same can be said about the policies of Antarsya’s constituent groups in Greece. But in the end it is not the form of their organizations that is primarily to blame, but the political content of their objectives and their tactics for achieving them within the broader working class movement that matters.

26. We believe that revolutionary groups today – in a period of severe capitalist crisis and strategic attacks on workers’ rights and on revolutionary democratic movements in the semi-colonial world – should be searching for ways to intervene in or create mass working class parties or proto-parties. Why? We would say because these (as against propaganda groups) will have the social weight to pose the possibility of an independent working class intervention into official political life. And this is not just the case in elections, as critical as elections can sometimes be, as 2012 in Greece showed. But all the time, revolutionaries should also be trying to win them to revolutionary policies, because these are necessary for victory, and ultimately to an entire and consistent revolutionary strategy, a revolutionary programme.

27. If revolutionaries simply liquidate themselves into discussion networks, or into “broad pluralist parties” whose programmes they do not attempt to shape, or if they they support these parties’ advancing several conflicting strategies to the workers’ movement as a whole, then this will in no way help to clarify the strategy and tactics that the workers of Greece or Egypt need to solve an acute crisis, one where the choice of revolution or counterrevolution is posed point blank, and where the punishment for failure could be falling under the hammer blows of Golden Dawn, the Islamists, or the Army.

28. To sum up we believe that propaganda groups have always existed, and will continue to do so, until such time as a party of the working class vanguard unites all those who are not wilful sectarians or inveterate opportunists. These “sects” as Marx put it, find their “historical justification” in the absence of a real working class party.

29. Of course this “justification” remains valid only in cases where, alongside defending revolutionary ideas, the “sect” makes every effort and takes every opportunity to transcend its sect-like existence by maximum activity in the battles of the class struggle. Otherwise, however vigorous they are in their polemics and self-promotion, they will be what Trotsky called passive propagandists.

30. Genuine revolutionaries, even in the propaganda group stage, must analyse the mass struggles and the relation of class forces from a Marxist standpoint, and advance tactics that they believe can win. Of course they should not imagine they are the Third International rallying mass forces. But “humility” or “modesty” if it means failing to give ones’ honest views and advice breaks Trotsky’s repeated advice to say what is “no matter how painful.”  Of course in the process of such exchanges, and even more as a result of active involvement alongside working class militants, revolutionaries will learn quite as much as they teach. Indeed they will also remember that what they “teach” is 99 per cent the accumulated wisdom of the militants of past struggles.

Are Broad Parties the answer?

31. This brings us to the question of the tactic of building so-called “broad parties”, that is, parties that include both revolutionaries and reformists, but in which the former do not attempt to win the latter to a revolutionary programme. This is a strategy that the sections of the Fourth International (FI) have advocated since at least 1995. It is radically different to the tactics developed by Trotsky in the 1930s: for example, the entry of a revolutionary faction into a mass reformist or centrist party; revolutionaries helping to found a labour party where one does not already exist while fighting to win it to a revolutionary programme; and revolutionary regroupment where revolutionary and left centrist groups come together to develop a common revolutionary platform. Last but not least is the (very rare) situation where a propaganda grouping is able to grow into a party through the use of the united front in the unions and other mass organisations.

32. We believe that these roughly cover the likely range of tactics that we will need to use. They can of course be modified, and some organisational forms might well combine features of more than one of these tactics. What we think is wrong with the idea of a deliberate and permanent hybrid like the “broad party” – even for a supposedly limited “stage” – is that it evades the duty of revolutionaries to fight for a revolutionary programme, and involves them in a process of developing and defending a “second class programme”, either reformist or a mishmash of reform and revolution (that is, centrism). Related to but distinct from this “broad party” concept is the FI’s 2010 congress call for (broad) anti-capitalist parties, which are based as the name suggests on a break with capitalism, but which somehow are still not “revolutionary parties” as the FI defines them.

30. The record of the first type, the “broad parties” cited as models by the FI, whilst it certainly includes considerable electoral successes and breakthroughs (beyond what parties and candidates with explicitly revolutionary programmes have generally achieved), also includes shameful breaches of class principles and in some cases consequent organisational disintegration.

31. The one with the greatest successes and the most spectacular failure is undoubtedly Rifondazione Comunista in Italy. Many who witnessed its flourishing situation in 2002-2003, as a party embedded in a broad social movement that could mobilise millions against the Iraq war, and that could bring 60,000 to the first European Social Forum in Florence, later watched in shock at its splintering and disorientation after the “experiment” of entering a government led by the Christian Democrats and neoliberal Romano Prodi. This was a “tactic” that inexorably involved its deputies and senators voting war credits for Italian troops in Afghanistan and to send Italian troops to Lebanon. The consequence was a parliament with no “communists” in it for the first time since 1945.

32. But Rifondazione is not alone. The Portuguese Left Bloc voted for the draconian Greek bailout terms in 2010, the Unity List (Red-Green Alliance) in Denmark voted for a cuts budget in 2012, and Die Linke in the German Länder governments of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Berlin and Brandenburg also voted for cuts. As soon as the issue of government is posed, a party or a front made up of revolutionaries and reformists is faced with a major question of principle, at least for the “revolutionaries”. These principles should be ABC for Leninists.

33. Any government that acts within the framework of the capitalist state machine, that is, as the executive committee of the capitalist class, must of necessity attack the workers and the oppressed at home and abroad. We believe that the principle, established back in the days of the Second International, of not supporting or participating in any such government, is one that revolutionaries cannot breach without ceasing to be revolutionaries.

34. However, there is of course the question of the “transitional” tactic of the “workers’ government”, as developed by the Communist International and included in the FI’s 1938 Transitional Programme. In Greece there was in 2012 a real potential for such a government, if Syriza had been the largest party and if the labour movement had mobilised en masse and created organs of workers’ control. The basis of this was Alexis Tsipras’s rejection of the Troika dictates and the pledge to stop paying the debt.

35. However, reformist parties, when they veer to the left like this, do not hold to their course for very long. At Syriza’s recent congress Tsipras was already moving towards the goal of a “government of the left”, that is, a coalition with parties to Syriza’s right like PASOK. This is a move away from a government that totally rejects the Troika Memorandum. In addition, the attempts by Tsipras at Syriza’s July 2013 congress to force the far left groups within the party to dissolve, testifies that the real, actually existing Syriza may not quite be the model for Left Unity in Britain that Kate Hudson and Andrew Burgin want us to imagine. In fact, Syriza is as we have seen far from being the first love affair for far left groups in Britain looking for a new model.

36. Here we come to Alan Thornett and Socialist Resistance’s scenario – which we do not agree with and seek a serious discussion of. To shorten somewhat a quote from Alan’s contribution to the discussion, without in our view distorting it:

“…the rightward course of Social democracy had opened up a space to its left which was there to be filled – either by leftward moving ex-CP fragments, or by new broad parties initiated by other sections of the left or by a combination of the two. […]This new space reflected a growing crisis of working class representation which could not be filled by the revolutionary organisations alone. […] because the space which had opened up was not a revolutionary space. It was, and is, a left of labour/left social democratic/ radical left/ anti-capitalist space, which could only be effectively filled by a broad organisation which could embrace such a range of forces in a democratic framework.”

37. Why should one assume that those people who have broken from Labour after nearly twenty years of New Labour are so fixed in this level of consciousness that all revolutionaries can do is to pretend to embrace it themselves? Can one not assume rather that if they have (a) abandoned Labour and (b) are willing to join in founding a new party, that they might also be willing to consider that Labourism, and indeed reformism, was what led to Blairism?

38. The necessary conclusion from this scenario is that such parties, if they are to include a “broad” spectrum of non-revolutionaries from both Stalinist and Social Democratic backgrounds without them abandoning their previous ideas (and without us attempting to persuade them to do so), must of necessity be limited to what they will accept. That is, the party must have a reformist programme, and a reformist structure and practice, because that is the “gap” that we have to fill. And if the revolutionaries hide their light under a bushel (in theoretical journals and in abstract propaganda), then of course it is unlikely that these elements will succeed in breaking through to revolutionary politics on their own.

39. Our objections to this are briefly that this is stage-ist scenario. First a (left) reformist party, then an anti-capitalist party that is not fully revolutionary (what Leninists would call a centrist party), and then at long last when the prospect of revolution arrives, a fully revolutionary party. This assumes that history does not play any unkind trick on us, and present us with a “space” necessitating type three while we are still building type one. It also means defending reformist programmes against those elements deemed “ultra-left”, which naively continue to argue for a revolutionary programme, presumably failing to realise that there is just no “space” for it.

40. It contains the necessary corollary of defending the actual reformist leaders and bureaucrats, thereby endorsing their right to lead. In sum it means ceasing to act as a revolutionary in the practical class struggle, even if as Socialist Resistance suggests you maintain a revolutionary tendency within such broad parties. Why? Because such tendencies are not actually fighting for leadership or to win the party to a revolutionary programme – at least, not yet! This requires as Trotsky wrote keeping two or three classes of programmes, like the pre-war railway carriages, with a third-class programme for the reformist masses, a second-class programme for the (centrist) vanguard and a first-class programme for the revolutionary élite.

41. This does not at all mean that we believe that the only road to a revolutionary party is the molecular growth of a given fighting propaganda group, or for that matter revolutionary unity between several of them. We believe that the theory and practice of Lenin, Trotsky and the founders of Marxism provide us with several models for fusing a revolutionary programme with the working class vanguard. These include initiating or participating with trade union leaders in founding labour or workers’ parties, entry into existing reformist parties with the object of winning them or a substantial part of them to a revolutionary programme, and uniting revolutionary and centrist forces into a revolutionary party.

42. All of these methods avoided two dangers: presenting a pre-prepared revolutionary programme to the workers as an ultimatum, take it or leave it, or deliberately advancing a programme embodying a non-revolutionary stage and defending it for an entire period, in the belief that the historic process or the spontaneous development of revolutionary consciousness will transform a party into a revolutionary party at some later date.

44. We believe that the method adopted by the classical Marxists, as opposed to the method adopted after the Second World War as the effective “orthodoxy” of the various fragments or descendants of the FI, avoids this contradiction, and both allows the revolutionaries to “disdain to conceal their aims” and allows them not to stand aside from serious movements to the left by significant sections of the working class and its militants. Might this mean ending up a minority in a reformist or centrist party? Very likely it will, given the tiny forces of the revolutionaries. But we do not have to take any responsibility for the limitations these forces put on their own new organisations; indeed we have to warn against the consequences of this in advance, and not mimic them.

45. As revolutionaries we can welcome and encourage as great a number of Labour supporters or voters as possible breaking from Labour, without demanding or expecting them to break from Labourism as a precondition for forming a new party. We can welcome, indeed actively campaign in the unions for these bedrock organisations of the working class to disaffiliate from a Labour Party that will not defend our historic gains, while at the same time arguing for them to maintain the political levy in order to build a party that will. We can urge the unions to recruit to the new party, as active individual members, so that it becomes a mass party, while breaking from the model of a “block vote” in the hands of the union bureaucracy.

46. If such moves occur in the unions in the coming years, as revolutionaries we should suggest an immediate programme of action consisting of the key demands and methods of struggle and organisation for the priorities that we face. At the same time we should suggest launching a deep going mass discussion on what should be the party’s strategic goals, that is, its full programme. This discussion will inevitably have at its heart the question of reform or revolution.

47. Referring back to Alan’s claim that the shape of the space left by the rightward shift of the labour and social democratic parties is reformist, we believe that there is enough in the “shape” of a capitalist world in crisis, and of the failure of the major reformist parties, which makes it both possible and indeed obligatory for revolutionaries to argue patiently for a revolutionary programme, and not for a reformist or a centrist programme. We believe it is possible patiently to win that argument. In any case – even if reformist or centrist bureaucrats and leaders try to abort that process with expulsions or repression, we believe that such an approach on our part will greatly increase the number of revolutionaries. It may also pressure any transitional political formations to shift to the left, as Syriza has been so pressured.

Democratic Centralism – “revolutionary democracy” or horizontalism?

48. But as well as the question of programme, we need to debate what sort of organisation is necessary to fight for it. Events today show how vital it is to ensure that a party does not succumb to bureaucracy, and that means establishing genuinely democratic centralism. Apologists for capitalism, reformists and anarchists alike say that this is a contradiction in terms, and that it was always a bureaucratic and undemocratic way of organising. This is not true.

49. Democratic centralism – as the Bolsheviks practised it – meant the maximum of debate and discussion within the party over the correct strategy and tactics to adopt. It meant the right of members to form temporary groupings, as well as longer-term tendencies and factions with no constitutional time limit. It meant considerable degrees of local autonomy and self-reliance in carrying out decisions democratically agreed by congresses, central committees etc. It also allowed for members to explain their differences publicly either in the party press or in special bulletins and pamphlets.

50. However it did not allow them to agitate for an alternative strategy to that being pursued by the party – though often it could not stop them. Such an open and flourishing democracy, combined with well thought out policies and tactics, should mean that factional groupings and tendencies dissolve quite spontaneously when the issues that they were formed around are settled or cease to be relevant. They should not be permanent features, or even the “normal” way that internal debate is conducted.

51. However, when a decision on a policy or a specific action has been reached, it requires disciplined unity in its implementation by all members in a loyal manner, to the best of their abilities. After all they are not freelancers, each expressing their own thoughts, but representatives of the party to the working class outside of its ranks. Of course once the campaign or battle is over and the results can be seen, democratic centralism allows for a full and critical appraisal of it once again.

52. We see no sense in abandoning the term democratic centralism, as Alan Thornett suggests, just because the Stalinists and certain “Trotskyist” sects have horribly misused or abused it. Is it the only term so horribly abused? How about Marxism, Bolshevism, Leninism, revolution, indeed, socialism too? Do we have to replace them with opaque and imprecise terms like “revolutionary democracy”? Unlike democratic centralism this term ducks the question of the need for a centralised revolutionary organisation.

53. However, the principles outlined by comrades Cooper and Hardy in section five on “Democratic Structure” of their document What Kind of Radical Organisation? go much further than this, in a libertarian, and in our view, individualist direction:

“A culture of collective political discussion and clarification should try to work towards a political convergence of ideas that can be translated into practical outcomes. But we recognise that unity in action is not always possible. The organisation that we build will have to allow different strategies to co-exist and be tested inside the working class movement. We expect there to be differences on the practical questions posed by the working class struggle: for example, how to relate to the Labour Party, how to work within the unions, what position to take towards the labour movement bureaucracy, whether to prioritise grassroots campaigning, and how to analyse and respond to international questions. Wherever differences arise they should be openly and critically discussed inside the organisation and in its publications and website. The traditional conception on the left is that members should be compelled to abide by collective positions on pain of expulsion. In contrast to this, we believe that this should be entirely voluntary.”

54. This in our view lays an axe to the root of any sort of party-like body (as it also would to a trade union for that matter). An organisation that in this way makes consensus its guiding rule would rarely achieve united action, except on the lowest possible common denominator. And even then it would probably be too late for the tasks in hand. More likely such an organisation would just be a constellation of opposing groupings all arguing their different strategies and all frustrated that they did not have enough forces to put them into practice.

Steps towards unity

51. We believe that revolutionary unity can be taken forward, if we take certain definite steps together. One is working together in Left Unity and in the People’s Assemblies on the key planks of a strategy to defeat the Coalition’s attack on the post-war gains of the working class, on the following basis:

• Uniting all the national anticuts campaigns, community and grassroots union movements into a single massive resistance movement – local and national – similar to the best practice of antiwar movement between 2002 and 2004.

• Building local People’s Assemblies and from them promoting the creation of councils of action composed of delegates from the unions and workplace bodies, as well as from the whole spectrum of specific anticuts campaigns, from school and university students, etc.

• Working in the unions to coordinate the planned sectional strikes into all-out action to stop all the cuts. Campaigning to oblige the TUC and union leaderships to call a general strike to drive this government from power.

• Building a rank and file movement in every union, and between them, to democratise them and win them to militant class struggle action, working with the official leadership wherever possible, and without it wherever necessary.

• Building international solidarity with workers and youth in Greece and other countries under attack by the Troika, promoting pan-European action and coordination of resistance – for example, continent-wide days of action when austerity measures are imposed or enforced.

• Building solidarity with mass movements and uprisings in the Arab and Islamic world. Showing solidarity with the Syrian uprising and with Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan and other workers and students. Support the Palestinian struggle against the Zionist occupation of their homeland and for the right of the Palestinian refugees to return.

• Supporting existing or initiating independent and democratic movements of the socially and politically oppressed: women, youth, targets of state and far right racism, the disabled, LGBT people etc. Opposing all immigration controls and deportations. Seeking to actively win these movements to identify themselves with working class struggles and the goal of socialist revolution.

• Building the small but growing network of antifascist organisations and promoting nationwide democratic coordination to confront the marches of the English Defence League (EDL) or the British National Party (BNP), and to protect communities under attack. Transform Unite Against Fascism (UAF) from an organizer of multicultural festivals and pacifist parades into a genuine workers’ united front to deny fascists any platform for their racist filth by mass action and organized militant self-defence.

52. Another is to work out together what sort of party should we be working towards – both in terms of “uniting the revolutionaries” and “uniting the left” in a new working class party?  As we have said in the Class Struggle Platform what we need to build is a party of grassroots activists that can address, and help the working class solve the strategic confusion that the British Labour Movement is in at the moment. This means a party that dares to say what is necessary, whatever the present leaders of the resistance try to limit us to. It means a party that sets out to build new fighting organisations – or transform existing ones – that are not under the domination either of a far left sect or of a handful of union general secretaries.

53. Over the year ahead, huge challenges face the working class – most centrally the destruction of the welfare state. We believe that from the 30 November LU founding conference we should issue an action programme of policies and demands which address these challenges and which present an immediate alternative to the failed strategy of the trade union and labour leaders.

54. In our view neither the Left Party Platform nor the Socialist Party Platform, even mention building a party that challenges the current misleaders of the movement. The latter stops at the level of abstract principle and says nothing about the immediate struggle, nor does it provide a guide for action today. We do however believe that it might be possible to draft together such an action programme for the year ahead which will arm LU, or the Left Party if that is what it is named, with policies to intervene in the class struggle, to rally many new members to; to challenge Labour and the bosses parties at the polls and also to conduct a loyal and frank debate on the strategic programme and character of the party.

55. If we can adopt these and other policies we can, we sincerely believe, make steps beyond today’s archipelago of “factions without a party” to becoming factions within a single party, for as long as strategic and tactical differences are not overcome or transcended. Call this pluralism if you wish, but we believe the goal such a formation should set itself should be the highest possible degree of homogeneity (not monolithism) on the key questions of our programme. Of course differences will not only remain but new ones will arise, from the many new issues we will face along the road to revolution. These must be dealt with democratically and without demagogy, that is, on the basis of mutual comradely loyalty.

56. What we do not think is desirable – or a norm – is positively encouraging a system of permanent tendencies and factions. We believe that the experience of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) and the NPA speak for this, and are in a sense the equal and opposite danger to the banning of factions or to limiting them to three months of pre-conference existence. Factions are a necessary evil as the means of correcting serious errors of a leadership or a majority.

57. Is there a guarantee that we will succeed in unifying the whole left? Not at all: political life does not offer us such guarantees. But at least some – maybe many – of the more unnecessary divisions on the left could be overcome. The history of the Russian revolutionary movement and the early years of the Communist International prove that the unification of revolutionaries hailing from diverse traditions is a real possibility. We ought to try to do that today. The severity of the capitalist crisis and the repeated failure to create a party that can seriously raise the prospect of working class power presents the prospects of far more serious defeats ahead if we don’t.

58. Vital to underpinning of any revolutionary unity is internationalism. Here we believe there is a strong basis for common work in solidarity with the Arab Revolution and rendering as much practical assistance as possible to revolutionaries belonging to various current in the Arab countries who share an intransigent opposition to imperialist intervention with full support for the Arab revolutions, not just when they are demonstrating or occupying the squares but when they are obliged to wage a bitter and bloody civil war. This solidarity of views in is clear from our own statement and the way it dovetails with the statement drafted, we understand, by the comrades of Socialist Resistance; one which we were glad to co-sign.

In summary:

59. The united revolutionary organisation in Britain, should in our view be one which, whilst it is not “iconoclastic” or “heterodox” when it comes to the practical and theoretical conquests of revolutionary Marxism, is not afraid to subject the “orthodoxies” of the main post-war left currents to thorough criticism. We see classical Marxism, just as its creators did, as something to be enriched with new discoveries and achievements. We should start from uniting the most active, innovative and principled revolutionaries in an organisation that puts forward a working class solution to the crisis. We think the crisis of the left both provides the opportunity and imposes the duty to clarify both our agreements and our differences – not to create self-contained airtight micro-groups, but to build a party based on the political independence of the working class; winning the most militant, conscious and active working class militants to revolutionary Marxism and the goal of working class power.

60. Of course there is no straight line to such an organization and certainly no short cut either. However we think that working together on a common strategy -defending what we know to be effective in the ‘old’ tactics but also ‘catching-up’ with and assimilating the best of the ‘new’ tactics developed in new movements and campaigns – through this approach we can develop a stronger Marxist foundation for a future revolutionary party.

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