By Simon Ball
On 1 July, the “League for the Fifth International” (L5I) issued a statement announcing the expulsion of about a third of its members. It has now been revealed that there has been a faction fight going on inside the L5I for two years.
The core of the L5I is the British Workers Power group; almost half of WP (25 people) has been expelled, including most of its longstanding members and trade union activists. The Australian section of four people has also been expelled, as well as a couple of members in Ireland.
The expelled, minority group has formed an organisation called Permanent Revolution, and already published the first issue of a journal with the same name.
The majority statement on the split says:
"A split has occurred in the League for the Fifth International. A minority of members - most of them members of the British Section - have been expelled for secretly drawing up detailed plans to split the League on the eve of its seventh congress, due before the end of July."
However, it says relatively little about the politics involved in the split, beyond accusing the minority of tailing the trade union bureaucracy, ‘routinism’ etc.
According to the minority, the political differences are about whether to relate to the reality of the class struggle and the existing labour movement, or to organise around millenarian fantasies about crises and “pre-revolutionary” situations.
The basis of the split seems to be the fact that, in recent years, Workers Power recruited a fair number of young people through their Revolution youth group, on the basis of “one solution - revolution against global capitalism” - a more gung-ho version of the sloganising of the SWP. Buoyed up by this influx of youth and needing to sustain the impetus that had recruited them, some in the group began to spin fantasies about the revolution being round the corner. The minority are essentially those who opposed this shift.
From the statement of the expelled members:
“The perspective of a pre-revolutionary period and the assembling of forces for a new international in the ESF movement in the short term, led to the Majority declaring that the London ESF in 2004 would present ‘unparalleled opportunities to transform, radicalise and re-organise class politics in Britain’. We said it wouldn’t, especially given the weakness of the anti-capitalist movement in Britain and the low level of trade union and class struggle. We were proved right but the Majority pressed on.
“Building ‘local social forums in every town and city’ (social forums were seen as part of the fight for proto-soviet organisations in the pre-revolutionary period worldwide) became a ‘key slogan’. The social forum ‘movement’ – which didn’t actually exist – nevertheless became a key area of work.”
Differences also existed over the crisis of working-class political representation flowing from the New Labour clique’s rise to power in the Labour Party.
Workers Power have been enthusiastic supporters of the Socialist Party’s current recruitment campaign, the “Campaign for a New Workers’ Party”.
The minority challenge this stance in their statement. The CNWP “now calls on trade unionists to disaffiliate from Labour even though there is no ‘workers’ party’ to affiliate to. This is a recipe for encouraging the growth of apolitical trade unionism – a danger that now faces the FBU since its disaffiliation from Labour. The WPB leadership calls for a general abstentionist position in elections – calling on workers not to vote is somehow ‘relating to the vanguard’. Worse, in one document they went so far as to say WPB was not ‘putting demands on Labour in this conjuncture.’ So, no demands on them to repeal anti-union laws, anti-asylum seeker laws and so on? This was getting ludicrous.”
This is encouraging, and suggests that the minority is a lot more concerned to understand things as they actually are, rather than how they want them to be.
Nevertheless, they retain many old Workers Power traits. Thus, when I asked leading minority member Mark Hoskisson about his tendency’s attitude to the Labour Representation Committee, and a possible left challenge to Gordon Brown in the forthcoming Labour Party leadership election, I was told: “Let's wait and see what John McDonnell does. At an FBU conference on the political fund four/five years ago John, using familiar quotes from both Lenin and Trotsky promised a challenge back then - I am still waiting. The left reformists are the ultimate Godots. Besides we haven't had a founding meeting, so such policy questions are yet to be debated let alone decided.”
This suggests that the role of socialists is not to critically support, put pressure on and expose both the strengths and shortcomings of people like McDonnell, but rather to sit back and pontificate. Clearly Mark doesn’t see socialists as being able to have an impact in deciding the question of whether there will be a left challenge in the Labour Party - rather, “let’s wait and see”.
The claim that they are unable to take a position on the LRC because they have yet to have a founding meeting is a bit bizarre when they have already published the first issue of their new journal.
There is also little sign of reassessment on issues like ‘anti-imperialism’, Iraq, Palestine etc - on which Workers Power, cutting and pasting Comintern and early Trotskyist positions and slogans onto entirely different modern situations, has been amongst the most deranged cheerleaders of reactionary ‘anti-imperialist’ forces like the Taliban, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Hamas.
The split was unexpected and unforeseen on the rest of the left. This is because WP operates a form of “democratic centralism” that prohibits minorities from ever stating they disagree with the majority view in their meetings, or in their press, or anywhere else. The majority in particular seem very proud of this, yet it is surely this denial minority rights that fuelled the split and made it more acrimonious. The result now that the split has happened is quite the opposite. Both sides are now merrily denouncing each other, accusing each other of bullying, and going over all the details publicly on the Internet. (For example see http://tinyurl.com/fl3f3)
The rump Workers Power group, consisting of a handful of experienced members, less than a handful of labour movement activists, and the big bulk of the youth recruited from Revo, looks set to continue down an ever more ultra-left, ever more millenarian path.
The new Permanent Revolution group, made up largely of experienced members and labour movement activists, is more interesting. If they draw sensible conclusions about what was wrong with Workers Power, particularly in terms of internal democracy and whether to be passive or active in the key struggles in the labour movement, then they could develop in a (more) healthy direction. Time will tell.
• The AWL invites both Workers Power and Permanent Revolution to join with us in openly debating perspectives for the left.