For a Trotskyist regroupment (1967)

Submitted by AWL on 4 May, 2014 - 7:57

This appeal for revolutionary socialist regroupment, based on unity in action and debate on differences, was one of the first public political statements of our tendency, in 1967.The RSL referred to would come to be better known as Militant, now the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal. The SLL would become the Workers Revolutionary Party. IS would become the Socialist Workers Party.


The need for a healthy revolutionary socialist Trotskyist movement in Britain has rarely been more obvious. Not for a decade and a half has there been such an opportunity as now to advance revolutionary politics.

A Labour Government in a period of conjunctural crisis is putting the tight squeeze on the working class. Thus the necessity for a working class socialist alternative to the inept and treacherous social democratic politics of the Wilson government is felt by more and more people hitherto beyond the reach of Marxist politics.

And in the unions the striving for an effective rank and file alternative to the castrated trade unionism epitomised by George Woodcock and the General Council of the TUC is erupting in a growing number of unofficial rank and file actions against wage restraint and the introduction of the new methods of labour intensification. We are in a situation of serious prospects for struggle and of great objective opportunity for fusing the revolutionary socialist movement and Programme with the burgeoning struggles of the class.

The task of socialists in this situation is to participate in every way possible in these struggles and strive to consolidate the growng opposition to the effects of the system into consciousness of the whole process, and into acceptance of the revolutionary socialist programme in opposition to class society and those working class political trends (Social Democracy, including Left Reformism, and Stalinism) which support its continuation.

THE "COMMUNIST" PARTY

In one other respect also the situation is highly favourable. The so-called Communist Party [then some 30,000 strong], up to now the main barrier to Marxist politics, is openly visible as the old-fashioned social democratic party that it is.

It stands shamelessly clad in all the smelly old left-overs of opportunism - parliamentarian, pacifism, prostration before any and every trade union leader who utters a "left" phrase even by accident. It has almost totally abandoned the rank and file struggle in the unions for deals at the top.

These days it is even bedding down with purveyors of obscurantist dope and liberal double-talk. If it continues much longer to attract militants and would-be revolutionaries, then it will be only by default.
The road is therefore open for serious advances for the politics of Marxism.

A1ready under pressure of the situation some "left" bureaucrats have begun to move into limited opposition. This will open up further possibilities of struggle. But it sharpens the need for an effective Trotskyist organisation capable of relating its revolutionary perspective to the concrete situation as it is emerging and of working realistically, on the one hand to deepen the struggle, and on the other to organise a Marxist force capable of circumventing and overcoming the half-heartedness, vacillations and sell-outs which are bound to be the other side of the coin of any oppositiona1 movement led by such unstable left bureaucrats as Cousins.

Any serious long-term gains from the growing "centrist" opposition can categorically be said to depend on the existence of a seriously organised revolutionary party working within it.

THE "TROTSKYIST" MOVEMENT

But here we come up against the great vacuum in this situation: the political weakness of the two avowedly Trotskyist organisations. These weaknesses, in our opinion, render both ineffective at present, and are sure to show up both as politically non-existent to the same degree as the situation sharpens.

Trotskyism is the basic Marxist programme of the conquest of power by the international working class. It is the unfalsified Programme, method and experience of the Bolshevism of Lenin and Trotsky. It embodies the world experience of the workers' struggles' including the defence and development of Bolshevism by Trotsky and the Left Opposition in battle against the Stalinist counter-revolution in the Soviet Union.

Trotskyism is the only developed working class alternative to venal Stalinism and supine Social Democracy. It means reliance on the self-controlling activity of the masses of the working class, which it strives to mobilise on the Programme of transitional demands as a bridge to the overthrow of capitalism and the attainment of workers' power. It is the Programme of the workers' revolution, organically linked with the practical struggle to aid its development.

It is not only a programme, but the struggle to build a revolutionary party to fight for that programme.

Its traditions are those of the Bolsheviks and the Left Opposition: workers' democracy, unremitting struggle for theoretical clarity, revolutionary activism, unbending hostility to and struggle against capitalism and those within the labour movement who stand for its continuation.

The two main Trotskyist groups are the Revolutionary Socialist League [forerunner of Militant, the Socialist Party, and Socialist Appeal] and the larger and better known Socialist Labour League [forerunner of the Workers' Revolutionary Party, which broke up in 1985]. (There are other groups. But we will not deal with these because they are obviously sectarian and dead, or loose and amorphous, or sunk almost without trace in the social democracy.)

Both the RSL and the SLL claim the Trotskyist tradition; both display bits and pieces and whole chunks of the phrases and formulae of Trotskyism. But actually they are both political mutations. Neither has very much to do with the politics, the traditions, the methods of Bolshevism - and least of all with its spirit.

They are two groups divided by equally mechanical orientations - the one towards the left and activism, the other towards the right and quietism, each with a hard core of people assembled by these characteristics. Both are sects, in different ways. Neither has any prospect of ever playing a serious role in the struggles of the proletariat.

Proclamation of Marxism did not save the old pre-1914 Social-Democrats from going rotten. Nor did use of the word "Bolshevism" make the CPs Leninist. And for these organisations, the proclamation of Trotskyism has not been enough to prevent their degeneration into twin sectarian caricatures of the Right and Left face under the pressures of capitalist society.

They are the product of prolonged isolation in a period of capitalist boom, and their theoretical backwardness is further aggravated by a tainted common origin in the already poisoned CP of the middle 1950s.

THE REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST LEAGUE

The RSL is a rightist group, sectarian in approach, quietist and platonic in practice Essentially it is an organisation of old-fashioned passive sectarians, incongruously domiciled in the social democracy: their conception of ertrism has nothing in common with genuine revolutionary entrism.

Buried in the Labour Party, they reject all action not agreeable to the bureaucracy: they bow to every bureaucratic faction in the working class movement, trade union and Labour Party alike. Platonic objections to social democratic policies, recited like a litany - to which they have reduced Trotskyism - make no difference at all, since they divorce it from the practical activity necessary to back it up.

In their eyes the struggles of the workers are rigidly confined, on principle, within the walls of... the Labour Party! They have helped to expel revolutionaries from the Labour Party, fearful of any commotion that might upset their quiet routine. They are even known to treat trades councils as soviets!

In all its aspects, the RSL is an organisation of contemplative "Marxists". In practice its leading members function as right-wingers, whatever their intentions. They adapt pedagogically (or it began that way, anyway) to the lowest Labour Party level, and over the years this has teen allowed to become their own level.

Pedagogical adaptation to the backward and partly backward layers of the Labour Party and trade union rank and file has led them to adapt in practice to the Labour and Trade Union bureaucracy. They await big events, patiently and quietly, and abrogate any role for themselves, or for any revolutionaries, until the revolutionary kettle boils itself spontaneously.

In practice they reject the Marxist conception of the working class struggle as a conscious battle. Also for all practicaa1 purposes, they reject the Leninist theory of the combat party.

The future proletarian revolution is dependent on a serious revolutionary combat party of Marxist activists. This party can only be assembled and educated in the preceding periods, engaging in struggles that re continuously a part of the ferment under capitalism. The scholastic "Marxism", abstract propaganda, and manana Trotskyism of this organisation is the kiss of death for revolutionary politics.

THE SOCIALIST LABOUR LEAGUE

The SLL plays Hyde to the respectable and quiet Jekyll of the RSL. It lives only to proclaim loudly the need for all the things that the RSL is not. In particular the "Revolutionary Party".

But a healthy revolutionary party is not built up of the paper waste from proclamations. The SLL sheds the objective basis of Marxism completely in favour of an idealist propagandist conception of reality. They believe that capitalism hangs by a thin thread and is constantly on the verge of collapse. Just a little verbal bombardment with their revolutionary imprecations will bring it down!

This wishful conception of capitalism in a permanently pre-revolutionary situation completely distorts their vision. It leads to a reduction of their much-proclaimed Bolshevism into a holy credo rather than a guide to action. Bolshevik action must begin with the real material world, the real situation and the real possibilities. The subjective revolutionary ardour of the SLL has the unfortunate and self-defeating effect of obscuring the real world entirely.

On the eve of the election in 1964 of the Labour Government they justified their walkout from the Labour Party because of the supposed defeat of the right wing in the Young Socialists. In a fever situation after this they saw - or imagined - the working class as having lost confidence in the Labour Government. Thus we had Newsletter headlines: "DOWN WITH WILSON", and "DOWN WITH THE LABOUR GOVERNMENT". After some months on this binge they had to resort, in the next election, to headlines telling the workers to "VOTE LABOUR" - treating their working class readers as unthinking morons.

The SLL today de facto counterposes the Revolutionary Party to emerging rank and file movements before serious concrete experiences of struggle. They did this In the situation leading to the recent dock strikes they concentrated their fire on the rank and file CP elements who were actively trying to organise the fight against Devlin [the employers' plans for reorganisation of the ports], however inadequately: thus counterposing essentially passive and sectarian propaganda to the development of the real struggle.

Finally, in response to the outcry at the pit closures, the Newsletter [the SLL paper] came forward with a solution for the hundreds of thousands of miners: "The SLL is the only answer"! (Lenin after the First World War, in a very sharp situation, considered it impossible for an organisation of 1OO,OOO, in face of an established mass reformist party, to attempt to rally the masses of the workers immediately and directly to its own banner: 100,000 was still "a sect". The SLL has a few hundred members; and the dreaming unrealism of its leaders will only help perpetuate this situation.)

Actually the SLL is a throwback to the ultra-leftism of the very early Zinoviev Comintern - with large elements of Third-period Stalinism mixed in as well.

Recently it has become Maoist, adopting shamelessly the Stalinist position that to call for the workers to overthrow the Mao regime in China is "counter revolutionary". Having for years denounced the rest of the world Trotskyist movement as "Pabloite" for tailing after and having illusions in the various factions of the world stalinist bureaucracy and certain petit bourgeois nationalist leaderships, the SLL suddenly found itself denouncing the father of Pabloism, the late Isaac Deutscher, because he criticised the Mao Tse-tung leadership.

Trotsky once remarked that theoretical sloppiness wreaks its own revenge on those who are guilty of it. The sight of the hysterically anti-"Pabloite" Newsletter denouncing Deutscher for daring to criticise the Stalinist bureaucracy, is the living proof of this.

Where the RSL is right-opportunist, the SLL is left-opportunist. But the positive sides of the SLL - its organisational discipline, its active and open hostility to the Labour Party and trade union bureaucracies, its invocation of the élan of Bolshevism - have made it a serious sect in the real sense of the word.

However its weird combination of Third Period Stalinism and the recent Maoist tinge make it an even bigger blind alley than the RSL. It maims many of the people who pass through it, because of the truly Maoist internal regime, which differs from the Chinese version only in the absence of actual dunce's hats for the victims. It completely fails to educate or keep for very long the vast majority of the people it involves in activity.

Over the past few years all the weaknesses of the SLL approach have emerged into the open. Its behaviour is as unbelievable as the list of 'incidents' arising out of this behaviour is long.

The criminally sectarian abandonment of work with the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. The Tate affair - the beating of a Marxist opponent - followed by threats of the capitalist courts to suppress publication of the facts. [On 17 November 1966, Ernie Tate, a supporter of the Mandel Fourth International, was beaten up by SLLers when selling pamphlets outside an SLL public meeting.]

Their world-view is apparently determined by their factional needs of the moment. In sharp contrast to the glorification of Maoist Stalinism and the Cultural Revolution, they have conducted a most hostile and mendacious campaign of propaganda against Cuba, on any and every pretext, even the flimsiest. The reason for this? They developed factional differences on the class character of Cuba with former international comrades (according to the SLL, Cuba is a plain capitalist state, unlike China where it is counter-revolutionary to call for the overthrow of Mao).

A REVOLUTIONARY PARTY WILL BE BUILT

Neither of these two organisations offers other than sterility. In the coming struggles of the working class, the RSL will keep its head down and perhaps play its accustomed role of being militantly anti-militant. The SLL will indulge in terrible and fearful exhibitions of shadow-boxing - on the sidelines.

Yet in the last few years the relevance of the Trotskyist Programme and traditions on which these organisations nominally stand, and disjointed elements of which they display, has allowed them to recruit many young people. Given certain changes there are great possibilities. A movement free from the maladies of the RSL and SLL can and will be built.

What concerns us is what is to be done towards the reconstruction of the Trotskyist movement on a healthy basis. We believe this wilL be achieved through regroupment of the healthy elements attracted to the above groups - particularly the SLL - and then repelled. There is a tragically large number of groups and individuals throughout the country and in Northern Ireland in this position today.

We cannot foretell the course or features of the necessary regroupment. We believe the logic of the class struggle and the ever more patent bankruptcy of the RSL/SLL will demonstrate the need for this.

We believe that the ground for regroupment must be prepared consciously. WORKERS' FIGHT has been started to participate in this work. WOR KERS' FIGHT will assist in the struggle where its supporters are active and will attempt to analyse some of the problems of the movement. We advocate revolutionary socialist unity in action, dialogue where there are differences.

WORKERS' FIGHT will attempt an initial regroupment as a step towards the larger regroupment which must follow if there is ever to be a healthy Trotskyist party in this country. The heat of the class struggle will burn away the sectarian extravagances and the Labour Party dross from the nominally revolutionary groups and fuse the healthy elements into a new nucleus on a higher level.

The first principle of existence for us must be the closest possible involvement in that struggle, and through it the recruitment of fresh individuals to the Trotskyist programme. The possibilities for this are growing daily, and WORKERS' FIGHT has already attracted the support of numbers of such people. We are confident that we will continue to do so.

THE I.S. GROUP [foreunner of today's SWP]

Besides the avowedly Trotskyist groups there is also the International Socialism Group, which has roots in the Trotskyist movement, originating in an abstentionist break-away from the Fourth International nearly two decades ago. Recently it has grown into a sizeable left centrist force.

It does not claim to be Trotskyist in any defined sense: it does claim to be revolutionary socialist - most of its members think that it is possible to separate these.

I.S. is a very loose organisation which has absorbed many good comrades in the vacuum left by the suicide and self-effacement of the "hard Trotskyists". Its deficiencies are amorphousness in ideology and organisation: it began by junking the Bolshevik heritage, method and tradition, and insofar as it has developed in a healthy direction this has consisted in re-adopting piecemeal elements of the politics of Trotskyism.

We cannot say how far this process will go - and it is most unlikely that it will in fact go much further without a conscious internal struggle and polarisation. Possibly out of this will come some of the future forces for the Trotskyist Regroupment.

We invite comments on these points.

(October 1967. This revised pamphlet edition, January 1968.)