What We Are And What We Must Become [SECTION 3]
VULGAR MATERIALISM AND PLATONIC PERSPECTIVES
By Rachel Lever, Phil Semp and Sean Matgamna
"The only true prophets are those who carve out the future they announce."
"While the real teaching of Marx is the theoretical formula of action, of attack, of the development of revolutionary energy, and of the carrying of the class blow to its logical conclusion, ... (the Austro-Marxist school) ... was transformed into an academy of passivity and evasiveness ... and reduced its work to explaining and justifying, not guiding and overthrowing ..."
Leon Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism
The Catholic Church has a formula which is used to paper over the accumulated absurdities of its doctrine: a dogma like that of the Trinity has only to be declared a "Mystery of Religion" to make sense in the realm of a logical higher than rationality. Likewise the Communist Party in its unprincipled and contradictory zig-zags over the decades has felt the need for something similar. 'Dialectics' in the Stalinist parties has been reduced to his role of giving some pretence at 'logical' (or principled) continuity to the gyrations of the Soviet bureaucracy's hacks. Similarly with the RSL. There is no comparison in what needs to be covered up, but it must be said that we too have our term of mystification. Everything today is explained and all things will be granted to us 'tomorrow' - so long as we know the magic word: "perspectives".
Now there are dialectics and 'dialectics'. Revolutionary materialist dialectics is one thing, but the variety of artificial construction manufactured for special pleading is quite another. Likewise with perspectives. Marxism has certainly been described as the science of perspectives, but it depends on just what we understand by the term to determine whether we are Marxists or not.
Vulgar materialists, addicts of the contemplative philosophy and certain pseudo-Marxists see it as a question of speculation, estimation of what they call 'objective reality'. This is the academic, scholastic 'Marxism' which dominated the European movement before the First World War. Strictly speaking it has more in common with this Feuerbachian, pre-Marxist materialism than with the ideas of Marx and Engels.
The Third International clearly rejected such Kautskyism - and indeed the struggle against this approach was a major factor in preparing the Bolshevik party, in the decade and a half before October, to lead the working class to power. It was Lenin's insistence on seeing the concrete reality clearly, on denouncing the cowardly Menshevik policy of abstentionism (in what both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks expected to be a bourgeois revolutions) that allowed the Bolshevik Party, trained in that spirit, to survive momentary confusion and in the heat of the struggle in 1917 adopt the perspective of workers' power.
The hall-mark of Bolshevism was the insistence on an active role for the proletariat; just as against the 'Economists' the Iskraites had fought for the conception of conscious activity to assemble a proletarian party, so later the "consistent Iskraites" fought the vacillating Mensheviks to lead the working class as an active, independent force even when in alliance in a bourgeois revolution. Whereas the Mensheviks confined themselves to the abstract estimation that the revolution was bourgeois and it would follow a certain pattern, the Bolsheviks went further. They concretised their conceptions, insisting that the task of Marxist science was to map out a concrete programme of action for the revolutionary working class. Lenin attacked the placid expectation of 'liberal' bourgeois hegemony in the coming revolution, a perspective which the Mensheviks adhered to blindly without examination of the real situation and relationship in Russian society, and which tied them hand and foot to the totally reactionary bourgeoisie when the revolution did become possible in 1917.
Lenin: Collected Works, Vol. 9, p 43. (1905):
"... Instead of indicating just how the proletariat should 'advance revolutionary development' at the present time (advance it further than the constitutionalist bourgeoisie would care to go) instead of advice to make definite preparations for the struggle against the bourgeoisie when the latter turns against the conquests of the revolution we are offered a general description of a process, a description which says nothing about the concrete aims of our activity. The new-Iskra manner of expressing its views reminds one of Marx's opinion (stated in his famous Theses on Feuerbach) of the old materialism, which was alien to the ideas of dialectics. The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, said Marx: the point, however, is to change it. Similarly the new-Iskra group can give a tolerable description and explanation of the process of struggle taking place before their eyes, but they are altogether incapable of giving a correct slogan for this struggle. Good marchers but poor leaders they disparage the materialist conception of history by ignoring the active, leading and guiding part which can and must be played in history by parties that have placed themselves at the head of the progressive classes."
In our opinion the approach of the leading comrades is a variant of the approach attacked by Lenin in this passage.
Lenin's picture of the Mensheviks' ability to give a tolerable description of the process of struggle taking place before their eyes - is it not a true description of the essential approach of our leading comrades? The line on such issues as the anti-union legislation or the seamen's strike makes it seem even a flattering comparison with the RSL - but let that pass.
Read the perennial British Perspectives document: preferably get hold of the succeeding editions to 'see how it evolves'. Here we have football-pool politics with a vengeance! The most intricate and detailed speculations as to the possible future political permutations (allowing the leading comrades to boast later of their 'foresight') goes hand in hand with the scantiest attention to ourselves and our role. Great things in the future and meanwhile we wait on events and vegetate in the Labour Party routine. And neither in their documents nor in their practical leadership - least of all here - do the leading comrades establish a bridge between the one and the other.
The line is that we are the true-born British Trotskyist current. The state we are in today is absolutely, one hundred and five percent the product of the past; only minor details in our present condition could have emerged differently whatever 'mistakes' might have been avoided. The old Revolutionary Communist Party is referred to as the golden age; and the final ignominious collapse, with Healy being appointed Pablo's receiver and the cadres dispersing - this was entirely the result, a mechanical reflection of changes in the world situation. The leading comrades, the younger ones with even more rigidity than the survivors of the shipwreck, bitterly insist on this inevitability. And having reduced to its barest minimum the conscious, subjective element in this process, they can freely do the same for the future as for the past. Regeneration will be just as inevitable and automatic as was the collapse, only pending "world historic events".
Just what is our perspective? We must look for this in the Group documents - and also by considering the real RSL in its day to day practice and in relation to other forces and groups. All our documents from "Perspectives of Entryism" to the "Labour Party in Perspective" are really devoted to this topic.
The expectation is that "Big Events" will change the political climate radically and push the proletariat in the direction of our programme; the mechanism of the is a 'stages theory', with the next big step as the formation of a mass centrist or left reformist current, resulting from a mass turn to the Labour Party - this leading to further left wing developments.
The documents, since, say, "Perspectives of Entryism" (1959) can be summarised briefly: the centrepiece is that the next, inevitable, stage in "the mass left wing". They vary quite considerably in their estimations of the immediate (for the next two or three years) prospects for this.
However, in so far as the documents we have worked over venture a concrete assessment and estimation of the likely immediate events - then they are wrong. For example, "Perspectives of Entryism" clearly expects that the beginning of the mass radicalisation is just round the corner: the beginning of big possibilities in the Labour Party. (The beginning of the Healyite's semi-independent, but still definitely entryist, period is denounced for endangering the possibilities here.) If Labour wins the coming election ('59) - then the prospects are good, and the mechanism of development will be of one sort. If Labour is defeated then (depending on the economic situation!) we can expect a shift to 'economic' emphasis, reflected inside the Labour Party, and - "a socialist struggle against the Government..." Just round the corner: 'Hold on tight, sit still just a little longer!' With Labour in power the remorseless pressure of the class struggle would give the same result. "Exceptionally favourable circumstances such as post 1945 are unlikely to recur."
Fair enough. That was the beginning of '59. 1) As a perspective for the next five or seven years it was as incorrect as Healy's - despite the difficult periods in '61 and '63; 2) It is really (as usual) a reiteration of the general epochal perspective. 3) Since then, at the beginning of 1964, the immediate prospect put forward was of a left Labour government. Wrong again!
Our perspective has differed from Healy's only in that we see the beginnings of radicalisation as just round the corner (1964 it was to come after a few years of 'progressive' Labour government), has opposed to Healy's 'straight ahead'.
The 'superiority' of our 'perspectives' is that the word is really a group synonym for tomorrow, the future. (And did not Ted Grant at a recent National Committee define Marxism as the "science of prediction"; considering his more usual definition, this almost amounts to a declaration that for him 'perspectives' equals prediction). We draw the same conclusion whether the expectation is of a radicalisation just round the corner, or after a few years of left Labour Government - wait, continue in the old routine.
Is there going to be a more or less beginning to the mass radicalisation soon? - keep on in the Labour Party propagandist routine! is it not coming just yet? - then keep on in the same Labour Party propagandist routine! Whatever the estimation the immediate practical conclusion remains the same. If the beginning is a little distant - then we must be patient, have a sense of proportion - and ... wait. If quite near, then we must still wait ... for it to begin.
Take the 1966 document. It clearly expects a big beginning to the mass radicalisation. It does not attempt to establish this in any serious way; it is nevertheless the assumption, ringed of course with all sorts of qualifications. The 'perspective' of the comrades is hardly better established than that of Healy. It consists of a general acceptance that this is the epoch of the end of capitalism - and as all the documents since 1959 show we have been just as capable of expecting as big an upsurge as Healy, only we see it as taking slightly different forms. If we have never fallen to the 'immediacy' nonsense of Healy, it is only because for us nothing is ever immediate. The real has been that we have a more passive, waiting conception of our role, living inside the Labour Party as citizens rather than as 'infiltrated' warriors from the revolutionary class party of the future.
The current document completely ignores the necessary back-ground, the still dominant upswing of world capitalism, and the fact that the undoubted crisis of British capitalism is relative, 'secondary'. The expectations of a mass left wing ('beside which the Bevanite movement would be small') are only grounded on blatant distortion of the level of consciousness of the existing movement. It will all begin through sheer 'socialist' disappointment with Wilson's government! We even have a false picture of Wilson's election campaign in the document which was published during the actual campaign!! - all to bolster our illusions in the situation in the and the Labour Party. (Incidentally, nothing shows the closed-in, unreal world of the leadership better than their inability to describe accurately something going on in front of them!)
The purpose of this section is to discuss the conception which we think the leadership holds of what a perspective is. It may seem odd therefore that we begin by taking them to task for being bad prophets - when our differences hinge on the fact that for Marxists 'perspectives' is not a matter of prophesy. But that's just the point. How ludicrous their conceptions are, is best seen against the record of their past expectations. They try to reduce Marxism to political stargazing, sitting in the Labour Party looking out on the world, seeing their only responsibilities towards the future as being the maintenance of the general Marxist conception of the inevitable convulsions of capitalism. Looking out over the horizon, keeping their general expectation in their minds they sink to the worst form of impressionism. This is seen in the documents where whole sections (see the very start of the 1966 document) are just reproductions of old newspaper headlines. Wishful thinking, on the state of British capitalism, the level of socialist consciousness of the labour movement, etc., etc., takes the place of serious analysis. And whatever the expectations the practical conclusion for us remains unchanged.
By colouring up the socialist consciousness of the masses and the Labour Party members, by actually distorting the election campaign of Wilson. This is then assumed to be on the verge of disappointment and thus a potential beginning to the radicalisation. (Movement there has been and we can expect it to increase. But to expect the 'mass radicalisation' or its beginning against the current background is nonsense. Our task is to see reality and clearly and attempt to build on its possibilities. Instead of doing this the leadership, as usual, generates illusions in manna from Heaven ... ) This is quite false. The anti-socialist, indeed anti-working class nature of the face presented for election by Wilson is ignored because it would call for some actual thinking (as opposed to the ritual playing of some worn old records) by the comrades.
Neither is there a crisis sharp enough to catch the system and its would-be reformist parties in a vice making them clearly visible to the class, which would be compelled by circumstances to seek for solutions - to demand answers. They operate with a conception of the Labour Party as an absolute regime of crisis: but nowhere do they establish this clearly.
'Don't do anything now - big struggles are coming', is the message (as it has been for God knows how long). But the British situation now is similar to Belgium at the end of the 1950s. The same possibilities seem to exist and also the limitations. We forgo the participation, the gains possible in the limited struggles now - for artificially created illusions in the Labour Party and the situation in general. We opt for dreams of easy gains in the near future, in preference to active struggles now.
We are hardly more rational than Healy, and we differ only in our characteristic slogan - 'wait', counterposed to Healy's - 'act'. As a perfect inversion of the SLL we lack even what justification they have: their militancy. Looking back (to go no further than 1959, the beginning of the current SLL phase and our document "Perspectives of Entryism") this has been the essential difference between ourselves and the Healyites. We have differed essentially on our conception of what our basic expectation obliges us to do. And that is why, despite the antics they have engaged in and which have destroyed so many people - they have emerged as the British Trotskyist group (Ted Grant may not recognise them - but everyone else, particularly the many militants who have moved towards 'Trotskyism' in the last ten years, does.)
Reading the documents those available published since say '57, one gets a definite picture of deterioration, (and not just literary standards). Increasingly do we remain confined to estimation. General outlines of what would happen in the most favourable circumstances alternate in paragraphs with cautions: soon - but not quite yet. Incongruously we find talk of flexible tactics; talk of the future bloody struggles into which the movement will be plunged - alongside the immediate practical conclusion - wait! We are forced to take it that such phrases are abstract, ritualistic, the property of certain people in the group, which they bring out on Jubilee occasions, or which constitute the subject of a reverie.
Seen as things in themselves (this is surely what they are for the leading comrades) the documents sometimes contain abstractly "correct" gleanings and memories from the books, but nowhere are these matched with their immediate practical conclusions; one would expect to find here plans, preparations for participation, leadership, insistence on organisational and ideological clarity. Instead we have the ill-matching, perennial advice - wait.
And this 'wait' is the reality of the group, and not the phrases about flexible tactics or what the leading comrades say when pressed. This 'wait' is the conception and practice of the members and the group as a whole. This permanent 'wait' - not the practical immediate conclusions one would expect alongside talk of flexible tactics. The Bolshevik approach of searching for the necessary practical activity that will aid, assist and condition the looked-for events is completely absent. Just to mention the prospects for a reflection of pressure by the bureaucracy, as the 1966 document does - without a characterisation of these people, what they are capable of, what we must do when they move - is the most glaring political lack of the RSL. We are not opposing the need for estimation of trends and possibilities; neither do we deny that in certain conditions some of the lower echelons of the bureaucracy would go over to the proletariat. But the union bureaucracy is like the petty bourgeoisie in relation to the workers. They will be attracted, if at all, by conscious strength.
But in a spontaneous upsurge they could go along and form a centrist drag on the class - unless there were a Bolshevik force to deprive them of the dominance of the movement. Only in such conditions could detached sections of the bureaucracy play a positive role: i.e. only on condition that they were auxiliaries, under the discipline of the class organised around the Bolshevik columns. Again it must be pointed out that the leading comrades' idle speculation on a future progressive role for these people prevents us from creating the force necessary for a positive outcome in the event of their moving.
In practice there is no serious attempt to relate 'our perspective' to concrete events, to evolve tactics that are appropriate to it. The leading comrades have an approach which sees ourselves as not so much active participants in the process that they in the footsteps of the great Marxists, expect, as passive 'fellow travellers with events', albeit the designated 'beneficiaries'. The Labour Party is a train and we are travelling on it. It will take us part of the way, when 'objective events' will enable us to change to the more conventional 'centrist train' and so on ... All the time we expect to get bigger until the final train will be our own. Meanwhile we must hug the Labour Party tight and engage in no struggles that can be avoided, and confine ourselves to propaganda which is necessarily abstract. Struggle? Adventurism! Unless it is against other groups who try to struggle.
A STAGES THEORY
The central core of the leading comrades' expectations is the theory of the future mass left wing. Their documents always follow a recipe. Begin with a general consideration, perhaps a bit of history, then go on to an immediate impressionistic picture of the current situation: political 'small change'. Then we reach the catalyst, which is the stages theory and the prospects for the mass left wing. They deny us any practical role on the basis of this; always the conclusion is 'wait' and each time we become less capable of doing anything else.
As a Bolshevik group, the tiny remnant of a once mighty revolutionary force, they are ultra conscious of our own weakness, and for them this next stage has the same importance as the expectation in Russian Social Democracy that the next 'inevitable' 'stage' after Tsarism, was a bourgeois republic. In their estimations the comrades, as did all the Russian Marxists, base themselves on the past experience.
The differences that divided the movement were on just what this 'inevitable' 'unavoidable' road of development meant in practice for the Marxists. The anti-Bolshevik factions contented themselves with a general estimation of events, a mechanical expectance of a repetition of West European experience, more or less exactly.
The Bolsheviks always insisted on a concretisation, a concrete analysis, an active role for the proletariat even in the bourgeois revolution. And this a role that would transform and deepen the nature of the revolution, as a result of the alliance of the proletariat and peasantry in a radical, Jacobin type revolution that would sweep away all the old feudal garbage, and clear the way for the next stage in the independent march of the proletariat - this as opposed to acceptance in advance of 'big' bourgeois hegemony, which would have meant a bourgeois revolution that retained a large proportion of the old forms, and would thus hinder the proletariat in the future, and consequently be the most favourable for the bourgeoisie.
There isn't space to deal with the facts of the disputes - these are easily available. What we must understand about the tragedy of the Mensheviks is that its essence was their method: their conception of Marxism as scholasticism and passive contemplation, and their accommodating approach to reality to flowing from this. They didn't fight to prepare the future, to attempt to march ahead of the class - but accepted, 'worshipped' and then began to rationalise: they tailed after classes and events. Many of the Mensheviks were excellent theorists, if by theory we mean just scholasticism: pedantic, computerised commentating on living events rigidly squeezed, however uncomfortably, into abstractions and patterns of the past, took the place of creative Marxist struggle to build a force that would be able to act as a conscious proletarian vanguard in times of fluidity.
Despite the subjective intentions of men like Martov and the theoretical giant Plekhanov, their perspective bound them to the bourgeoisie. Basing themselves on a rigid, formal scholastic perspective of Russian developments, 'correct' according to the written word of the Marxist fathers, the Mensheviks failed to keep reality under review and gradually lost touch with it. They preached a mixture of abstention and subordination (abstention as far as revolutionary proletarian class politics went) to the bourgeoisie for the workers, and bound themselves in practice by their false analysis to such an extent that they became tied to the 'liberal' bourgeoisie who are seen as the pre-ordained leaders of the inevitably bourgeois revolution. They had no hope of a really independent role, or even existence, in the sharpened conditions of the revolution. They could not change their perspectives as the Bolsheviks did in April 1917. They were tied to the bourgeoisie by too many threads and connections built up over a long period. These threads were all ravelled from the same skein: their abstentionist, platonic, waiting-on-events conception of the perspective they drew from past history.
The Bolsheviks, despite proceeding from the same estimation of the basic character of the revolution as the Mensheviks, counterposed revolutionary action to abstentionism, creative concretisation of their orientation to the placid Menshevik reliance on the bare abstraction (bourgeois not socialist revolution), proletarian independence to subordination; sharp ideological and organisational demarcation to hazy blurring of differences; distinct revolutionary working class politics to reformist adaptation: - and finally, on the basis of the clear situation, the Bolsheviks organised power for the proletariat and the Mensheviks began their attempt to substitute for the bourgeoisie.
Ted Grant's conception of waiting on events, of a rigid two stages (and more) process of development, has the same effect on us as had the analogous 'theory' of the Russian Mensheviks. And for the same reason: because they interpret it as passive waiting for us, all initiative in the hands of others - careerists, bureaucrats, fakers. It blurs and distorts their view of events, and everything else. Everything takes on strange shapes for them; they are like a sick man condemned to lie permanently flat on his back.
ANALOGIES ... AND METHOD
Comparisons can be illuminating, but of course any analogy taken too far collapses. This analogy is startling because of the almost complete set of parallels between the anti-Bolshevik groupings in the period leading up to the Russian Revolution, and the RSL. And they are not mere parallels, stretching on without ever meeting. In both cases the policies, estimations and practical orientation result from the same method of thinking. The same scholastic, platonic and undialectical materialism is what unites the leadership of the RSL and their Menshevik forebears. The writings of Lenin, particularly the earlier material, are studded with analyses of this centrepiece, this central thread which linked the Economists with the Mensheviks, the Mensheviks with the Liquidators and so on.
If the comrades want to argue: 'That's not so at all, the differences were certain prognoses, proposals, reactions to certain events', then they must remember that these things were constantly changing. But, as Lenin wrote (?1912) the basic dividing line established with the Economists emerged time and again in various forms, under the pressure of different events, until the two streams found themselves on opposite sides of the barricades in 1917 and after. We must look for a deeper explanation, one of method, for the practical evolution over the years of the trends which had at first been separated only by nuances of approach. Throughout the various struggles Lenin clearly delineated the basic question, the question of method, initially against the Economists and then against the various categories of the post-Economist opportunist groups. (The leading personnel of these groups were often the same people!) Bearing this in mind, similarities in method between Ted Grant and the non-Bolshevik factions are far more startling because more basic, than those empirically sighted analogies on stages theories, and serve to reinforce these analogies.
And this answers a question that arises naturally here: is there any point in going over all this in such a sketchy fashion? In the space it is not possible to take up the concrete cases - but anyone who doubts that the comparison is justified (and adequate) or who wants to take refuge in this 'defence', should go through the earlier volumes of Lenin's Collected Works.
If the basic thing in Marxism is its method, the 'constant' applied to nature and society fermenting and changing continuously, in accordance with laws uncovered and given the name Marxism, then we are really saying that the most vital thing about the Marxist classics of the past is that they exist for us first and foremost as concrete examples of the application of the Marxist method by its greatest masters.
And this is a second reason for bringing in the Russian experience. The relatively short few years of the Russian labour movement prior to 1917 is best documented, despite Stalinist distortions of aspects of it, in the history of the class. We have the writings, dozens of volumes, of the greatest thinkers since Marx and Engels, devoted to analysis and discussion of this experience. And finally came a day when the revolution passed judgement on the preceding period; showing just what it had all been about, clearly separating the accidental from the essential.
Contrary to what the leading comrades seem to think, the forms, the verbal formulae forged by Marxists at one stage to portray reality, are not Marxism: Marxism needs a clear precise terminology as do all sciences; but since language for Marxists exists to portray changing reality then there is always a great danger of sclerosis, of a parting of the ways, of the reduction of Marxism to a computerised selection of past expressions of the Marxist method as applied to a concrete situation - in lieu of, as a substitute for a new concrete analysis. That is the lesson of the Menshevik-Bolshevik controversy, and we think it can be shown that it is likewise with our Group.
Our long term perspective and our estimations are necessary arbitrary, necessarily based on expectations of a more or less exact repetition of past events, of which there is no guarantee, least of all as to the exact nature of their re-occurrence. Here it is worth recalling Lenin's comment on certain Left Mensheviks:
"What strikes one is their slavish imitation of the past. They all call themselves Marxists, but their conception of Marxism is impossibly pedantic. They have completely failed to understand what is decisive in Marxism, namely its revolutionary dialectics". ("Marx-Engels-Marxism", p 547) The extent of the comparison with the Menshevik is truly amazing. Our 'bourgeoisie' is the 'left' bureaucrats. We extend recognition to them as a legitimate formation, and the leadership says that it is only 'formalists' who balk at such things as our collaboration in expulsions by the bureaucracy. Our 'Marxism' is just as scholastic, just as platonic, just as Feuerbachian: we make our epochal prognosis and then wait - on the left reformist movement, or rather on the change in the political temperature that will produce this. Not that the RSL is inactive; but our activity is routinist, dominated by Labour Party reformists and the machine. As far as our own revolutionary politics go, we wait, keep them separately packed and compartmented and only let out as dried out formulae.
In practice, whether necessarily so or not, we wait passively. The corrosion of Trotskyism is such that we fall to the level of repeating the Menshevik experience. On a small scale, in changed circumstances - but then history's 'second (?) edition' is usually farcical, as Marx observed. Farcical, but it also promises to be more tragic. In Russia the work of consigning the Mensheviks of all the various drafts to the rubbish heap of history was performed by Bolshevism and didn't cost the class its head. There is no Bolshevik party in Britain: the building of such a party is OUR responsibility.
NATURAL SELECTION IN POLITICS
A programme is not a thing in itself. Neither are formally adhered to ideas. They do not exist in their own right. Ideas, and phrases originally associated with them, can be filled, sponge-like, with a wide variety of contents. What a stated political idea, conception, really means, really represents depends on its relationship with its environment, on its context, its role in the ferment currently going on. Ideas, even the most revolutionary and formally correct at one time can play a reactionary role at another; and dehydrated platonic ideas, whose 'flesh and blood' 'is' in the future, lend themselves particularly to this role of cover for alien content.
Behind the ideas of Martov, Axelrod and company there took place a natural selection, which proceeded outside the control of the easy-going Mensheviks (only the Bolsheviks attempted sharp, conscious control), and this natural selection necessarily reflected the real pressures and impulses within Russian society, instinctively felt.
Political orientation is not just formally stated ideas, but a complex of class pressures, temperament, experience and then ideas. The others will condition the practical importance, interpretation of the ideas, even the most 'revolutionary' ideas.
(For example, Marxist ideas won't have at all the same meaning or urgency for the average skilled and comfortable worker as for individuals and groups in the class who have "the taste of slavery in their mouth" (Connolly's phrase). Whole layers of the highly skilled and comfortable workers in Russia stood with the Mensheviks in their emptying of Marxism of its revolutionary content - even after October.)
Quite contrary to the intentions of the 'theoreticians' their movement became a vehicle for all sorts of bourgeois influences: behind the generalised and more and more demonstrably false perspective which gave the leading role to an ever more unwilling bourgeoisie there accumulated people for whom the theories were a mere cover. The people like Dan were the 'hard' Mensheviks, who sheltered under the pontifications of the Martovs. Responding to social pressures of an alien sort they held with rigid doctrinairism to their exploded conceptions - even when these led them to try and substitute for the lagging bourgeoisie and turn squarely against the workers.
In 1918 when he was approached to become titular head of an anti-Bolshevik government, Plekhanov declined with the comment that after serving the workers for 40 years he couldn't now shoot them down even when "they are following the wrong path". Very commendable. But here we have a chance to see how a false perspective rigidly adhered to links up with reality and the subjective intentions of its holder. Plekhanov's followers, i.e. those who had assembled after a form of natural selection behind and under cover of the rigidly scholastic 'perspective' adhered to by the Mensheviks were not so scrupulous. The Dans were less passive then Plekhanov: they did shoot the workers down.
Our perspective, our expectations of the trend of events, will only be Bolshevik if we see it as conditional on certain achievements on our part. If it becomes an excuse for the line of least resistance, for taking the 'soft option' then we are doomed. Already there are quite serious signs that we are so falsely bound to the Labour Party perspective that we consciously impose rigid limitations on our own activity, crippling limitations on our own development as a force sensitive and mobile enough to be relatively independent of the Labour Party.
Disturbing events have already shown that the abstract (platonic) and rigid application of our expectations ('perspective') of the stages theory have allowed a natural selection with the Labour Party environment where we appear as a respectable non-right-wing alternative to the SLL (and even the Labour Worker group! [forerunner of the SWP - and then the ostentatiously "moderate" wing of the Marxist left]), which augurs badly for the future. Some of our comrades are quite willing to 'shoot down the workers' i.e. others militants. There are a number of examples of members, people on the periphery, and (still close) former members seeing themselves as being at liberty to do a housecleaning job for the bourgeois Labour Party machine, on other militants who had a different 'perspective' (or a different idea of what 'a perspective' is) - without repudiation from the leadership - in fact with their open support.
The affair could be relegated to the field of psychiatry if it involved only Mani [the RSL member on the spot]. Unfortunately the whole movement came out to defend him. Violently insisting that no act of principle was involved, they went a fair way to making defence of this unstable person a principle in itself. Their principle. Without going into details the most shocking thing in this defence is the credit the leading comrades take because Mani (is said to have) persuaded the Labour Party to do the expulsion for "hooliganism", and not as they were intending, for political affiliations! So our role is to be Public Relations men for the bureaucracy!
We are aware that we risk provoking many comrades to a sense of outrage by raising Wandsworth again: but that's just the point. Not only by natural selection, but by the education of practice and events as they occur, does the leadership's conception of 'perspective' as placid waiting deep in the Labour Party (saving our souls by mumbling abstractions), with the necessary practical actions that flow from it - have a harmful effect. The strings - of habit, conception, accommodation - that tie us to the present level of the movement are very numerous and will prevent us reorganising it ...
Comrades educated by such incidents as Mani (there are many more incidents that can be cited) will never build a revolutionary Bolshevik Party of militant fighters against the bourgeoisie and all its agents.
(This is not the place to examine it in detail but one of the most prominent features of the revolutionary socialist movement today is its fragmentation: there is a profusion of groups each with its prophet, each one with 'ownership' rights on some aspect of revolutionary communism; a sort of political equivalent to the territorial divisions that rent the empires of the ancient world at the time of their decline. Thus the State Caps [the forerunners of the SWP] make a fetish of 'workers control' as the RSL does of 'nationalisation'; (there is an absolute parallelism here as both ignore the central question - the state) the Healyites overstress the activist voluntarist combative elements of Bolshevism, and we overstress the so-called objectivist approach of quietistic commentating spectators. There are many more examples. This one-sided overemphasis is yet another barrier to the future reintegration of the fragmented forces of communism in a comprehensive mutually complementary party. And the terrible thing is that it is self-fostering, self-perpetuating, this one-sidedness. Comrades will no doubt have come across SLL people, for example, who tell you about their experiences of the terrific militancy of certain workers etc., etc.; and their own incomprehension of this, because their experiences are in a quite different, less enclosed environment where the air is less rarefied. And that is the key to the one-sidedness, the growing away from each other of groups which began with a shared programme and merely differed on the aspect to emphasise. Your initial orientation will largely determine your experiences - and in turn your experiences will reinforce the initial direction of activity. This seems to be the root of the extreme degree of polarisation of the Trotskyist movement. The decision that the Labour Party is everything (or will be everything) means we start walking along a certain road ... The initial decision will lead to the Labour Party dominating our consciousness which will then reinforce the first step. We will recruit people in the Labour Party environment, and over a period these will become the dominant element. The Labour Party environment will be their only experience - and gradually, in certain conditions of the absence of a serious conscious striving by the supposedly highest pinnacle in the group, the centre - gradually the necessary detachment is lost ... what began or was originally said to be (see appendix) a tactic ... becomes something of principle. That is why a continuous conscious clarification from the centre is paramount - why we must keep everything continuously under review, fight routinism) (See Section 2)
OPTIMISM - REVOLUTIONARY AND OPPORTUNIST
The expectations of the leading comrades are adopted in toto from the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky; only in the demoralising experience of the past period they have become somewhat eroded and vulgarised. The Bolsheviks too regarded themselves bound inseparably to their environment and all their perspectives were based on an estimation of certain changes in the objective situation they found themselves in. There is very little that we can do to change the objective situation that we find ourselves in, but there is a great deal that we can do to affect its future development. For us it becomes a conscious effort to prepare a revolutionary force that enters as an active element into the given environment. For a Marxist a 'perspective' is a conditional estimation which is a guide to action and conditional on the successful outcome of that action.
How sharply we have veered from a correct Marxist understanding of what is a revolutionary perspective is seen clearly when we compare our own documents with Trotsky's essay in producing a 'British Perspectives' document - the final chapter of "Where is Britain Going". Written in the 1920s when there was still good reason for Bolsheviks to retain some of the revolutionary optimism of October, Trotsky never descended to the light-minded 'optimism' of our leading comrades. He would have regarded such 'optimism' - minus the practical activity to make it a reality - as a cover for opportunism.
"Most unstable and unworthy is revolutionary radicalism which finds it necessary to keep up its morale by ignoring the dialectic of living forces in economics and politics alike ..." (First Five Years, volume 2, p 303)
Trotsky too has an optimistic expectation from the future - but he clearly sees this as dependent on the emergence of the then tiny Communist Party as the leader of the British labour movement. And even this is not seen as 'inexorable', 'inevitable', or anything of the sort but it clearly depends on the subjective qualities of that party. There is no talk of inevitability, of a positive outcome for the working class from the fact that the existing tops will respond to pressure from the masses - as they did in 1926.
Yet our leaders who call themselves Trotskyists have retreated from disappointed "hopes" and misunderstood perspectives behind the unMarxist expectations of great things falling into their laps from the sky, with little or no effort on our part. They get drunk on the long-term historical optimism of Marxism in this state fail to take the necessary steps to ensure that favourable outcome.
"Perspectives" for the leadership amounts to the sort of great expectations which "exist" for imaginative gamblers. Creative activity doesn't enter into it and there is no bridge between the present and the future. We repeat: this conception of perspectives has nothing in common with Marxism. For Ted Grant perspectives is passive estimation; we see it as a guide to conscious activity. A number of quotations will establish this more clearly and demonstrate what was Lenin's conception.
The leader of the Italian Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci, directly discussing the question of perspectives in his fascist prison cell wrote:
"It is certain that to foresee means only to see well the present and the past as movement, i.e. to identify with exactness the fundamental and permanent elements of the process. But it is absurd to think of a purely objective foresight. The person who has foresight in reality has a "programme" that he wants to see triumph, and foresight is precisely an element of the triumph. This only means foresight must always be arbitrary and gratuitous or purely tendentious. Moreover one can say that only to the extent that the objective aspect of foresight is connected with a programme does this aspect acquire objectivity. 1) Because only passion sharpens the intellect and co-operates in making the intuition clearer. 2) Because reality is the result of the application of wills to the society of things ... to put aside every voluntary effort and calculate only the intervention of other wills as an objective element in the general game is to mutilate reality itself. Only those who strongly want to realise it identify the necessary elements for the realisation of their will." (The Modern Prince, our emphasis)
At the turn of the century an "economist" critic of Lenin's approach wrote a letter which was published in Iskra, then still dominated by Lenin.
"The drawback ... (of Iskra) is the extreme importance it attaches to the influence that the ideologists of the movement exercise upon its various tendencies. At the same time it gives too little attention to the material elements and the material environment of the movement whose interaction create a certain type of labour movement and defines its path, from which the ideologists in spite of all their efforts, are incapable of diverting it, even if they are inspired by the best theories and programmes ..."
Lenin: " ... an ideologist is worthy of that name only when he marches ahead of the spontaneous movement, points out the road, and when he is able ahead of all others to solve all the theoretical, political, tactical and organisational questions which the 'material element' of the movement spontaneously encounter ... To say however that ideologists (conscious leaders) cannot divert from its path the movement created by the interaction of the environment and the (material) elements is to ignore the elementary truth that consciousness participates in this interaction and creation. Catholic labour unions are also the inevitable result of the interaction of the environment and the material elements. The difference, however, is that it was the consciousness of priests ... and not that of socialists that participated in this interaction."
I.e. by our tailism, by keeping rigidly in line behind the spontaneously-risen labour movement, by not continuously finding an active role for the 'conscious element' - ourselves - organisationally and in practice as well as in propaganda for the final programme, we "mutilate reality" by depriving the evolving process of conscious Marxist activity; we abandon the class to the bourgeoisie and their agents. We declare ourselves impotent in advance and the act of doing that makes it so.
A perspective is either an arbitrary estimation, limited to the subjective ability and more important the historical viewpoint of the foreseer, an idea of an inevitable mechanical interaction of defined other elements, or it includes an active attempt to participate in the developing reality, on the basis of estimations (which thus acquire real objectivity for the participant) of the objective world. Conscious perspectives are always for a minority, an advanced section of a class, and for us, as a tiny splinter from a mass party (temporarily) eclipsed by historic events to see it only as a question of a gigantic outside world moving according to laws which we try to define and in directions which we try to guess at in accordance with past experience is suicidal, a mutilation of reality. It is true that we are small and on no account should we exaggerate what can be done immediately; but the leadership reduces our activities to abstract propaganda inside the Labour Party, rigidly refusing to struggle organisationally. To trust completely to a spontaneous ripening to do our work for us, as do the leadership in practice, is not a Marxist conception of perspectives.
Ted Grant has said that "Marxism is the science of prediction." It might have been an accidental formulation, or even have been 'taken out of context' - but it is clearly Grant's real conception as we have seen. The most brilliant piece of Marxist "prediction" was, of course, Trotsky's prognosis made before the 1905 Revolution that the future course of the revolution in backward Russia would place the workers in power. In the event it was brilliantly confirmed.
But if we analyse it we have to reach the awkward conclusion that had it been left to just Trotsky's prediction, estimation of possible developments, then his prediction (which post facto we can see to have been very accurate) would not have been correct at all.
Trotsky's estimation stopped at the broad general concept - the working class will be forced to take power. He did not concretise it sufficiently to be able to see the significance of the internal contradictions in the working class and it political groups - to see that the clarifying, tempering work of the Bolsheviks in building up a combat party was the to-be-or-not-to-be question for his estimation. Trotsky made an estimation and a forecast - but it was Lenin who prepared the forces to make it more than mere possibility. And of course he did this step by concrete step without having Trotsky's long term bird's-eye view. The Bolsheviks, because of their serious, active determination to do the revolutionary tasks that could be seen as necessary on the basis of the real situation as it evolved, did not find the lack of a long-term prophetic blueprint fatal; the revolutionaries won the internal party struggle in 1917. The Leninist "algebraic formula" of the "democratic dictatorship of proletariat and peasantry" sufficed to enable a party to be built that could survive a change in basic perspective - because the concrete 'tasks of today' had been properly attended to all along. Trotsky, minus the Bolshevik party and despite having predicted the possibilities accurately, would (on his own estimation) have been helpless in 1917. Had it remained just an estimate - it would in retrospect now appear a false estimation. Had it remained just a general outline, and had Lenin not built the Bolshevik party, we would know of Trotsky as a man who advocated workers' power in an upsurge of the class in Russia during World War One. The class would have been defeated and the Trotskys would have gone down as 'utopians'.
To the end of his days Trotsky maintained that the major credit for 1917 was Lenin's: he recognised that it was Lenin's preparatory work before 1917 that made his own foresight a reality: " ... the significance of the subjective factor - the aims, the conscious method, the party - Lenin well understood and taught to all of us ..." (Permanent Revolution)
In his last period this conviction made Trotsky defend the Bolshevik conception of the combat party, against which he himself had struggled for so long, from attack and adulteration by 'friends' and enemies alike. A "perspective" without a serious fight for this kind of Party he saw as being as viable as a production of "Hamlet" without the Prince of Denmark!
... AND GRANT'S ...
We see the big turn in the future as inevitably taking the form of a mass left wing in the mass workers' parties, as post World War One, and to some extent post World War Two. The European radicalisation, post World War One came under the influence of the Russian Revolution and it was this that permitted the mass centrist currents to be transformed to mass revolutionary parties (some of them anyway). But we must assume that any future left current will be faced with a similar situation as were the Italians, post World War Two, with Stalinism as a block, poisoning the developments, playing their accustomed role of abortionists of History. (It is impermissible to take for granted the disappearance of Stalinism from the scene in the near future - particularly if this is used to excuse us from preparing for the worst.)
Thus the only hope of transforming a future centrist movement even the most promising, would rest on the pre-existence of a serious cadre party - which can only be built up over the years in limited struggles, being tempered and educated and growing with developments. If this is true then our current accommodation to the existing movement will prevent us playing a positive role in the future centrist mass movement; our current peaceful coexistence with the bureaucracy will get obstacles to realising our perspective, preventing us from making the necessary preparations. Our interpretation of the 'perspective' as passive waiting on events will frustrate our expectations ...even if objectively things develop exactly as predicted.
"Perspectives of Entryism" argues that had there been a Marxist tendency in the Independent Labour Party in the 1930s then the basis for a revolutionary party could have been laid. What if that 'Marxist tendency' (in the past or in the future) were like the RSL?
In "Centrism and the Fourth International" Trotsky recorded that centrists [half-revolutionaries, half-reformist] are willing to accept the most extreme conclusions in words provided they have room for manoeuvre and backsliding - and can avoid commitment in practice. The big job of a Marxist tendency in a centrist current would be to insist on practical conclusions, on revolutionary consistency. 'Revolutionary' phrases would be as cheap as water in such groups in the sort of conditions we envisage. But the RSL itself today is satisfied with the most platonic declarations, the most vulgar abstractions, the most routine, accommodations forms of activity. Anyone who assumes an automatic adjustment by ourselves doesn't deserve to be taken seriously - and only wits (or Peter Taaffe) will bring in the analogy of ... 1917. Such adjustment, when it comes will be the result of a conscious struggle.
If we glorify the movement today - what would the leadership not say about the 'mass centrist current'! As it is today the RSL would not raise the level of the centrist current; it would be swallowed up and contribute to the morass. Those who wanted to argue for concretisation in relation to practice would be likely to face a united front of the ex-reformist centrists ... and comrade Grant! (This is not a slander in view of the current showing of the group.)
Our perspective is an estimation or events: we must consistently work out our role in these events. We have the agreed task of building a league of revolutionary Marxists. We are separated, more or less necessarily, from other groups with the same aim and similar precepts by our expectation of the trend of developments, towards which we then turn our faces and ... wait. "Renounce stereotyped formulas when discussing specific problems!" We live in one stereotyped formula and there is a consequent effect on our practical work.
Unless we devise appropriate tactics all talk of our grandiose perspective is just self-mockery. If we take it for granted that there is some necessary connection between our success or otherwise in assembling cadres and the objective conditions, we must also admit that the line of demarcation will only be established in practice. That the struggling and attempts to test the real environment by activity is a beneficial thing in that it tempers the movement. It must be understood that it is not possible to rely on abstract, platonic estimations for specific local situations, and also that all experience is not a thing of the pest to which we must slavishly submit - and least of all that all past experience has been adequately assimilated beyond the need of further consideration or discussion.
FINDING THE LINK
Two more quotations are necessary to establish what a Bolshevik conception of perspectives really is.
"It is not enough to be a revolutionary and an advocate of socialism in general. It is necessary to know at every moment how to find the particular link in the chain which must be grasped with all one's strength in order to keep the whole chain in place and prepare to move on resolutely to the next link"
(Lenin, Works, vol. XXII, p 466)
I.e. practice is the decisive thing. Not the ability to speculate (and all talk of perspective without the most rigorously serious approach to practice is speculation) but the ability to find the necessary practical steps, successive links in the chain of the necessary development of our concrete revolutionary practice. It is not enough to know that we must wait for the broad masses to move towards us, but to know what to do in the necessarily limited conditions of today to prepare step by step, link by link to be able to serve and lead that mass movement when it begins. Too close a connection, too practical a commitment to the mass movement today will make us just as helpless as before the great mass upsurges of the class that are inevitably coming, as were the Mensheviks. It is inevitably coming - but its victory is not inevitable. Speaking sharply, the victory of the class tomorrow depends on the preparatory activity of the vanguard today. And we are only the vanguard in so far as we do prepare.
If we hold with Lenin in 1905 that in times of sharp crisis under the pressure of the environment the vast masses of the proletariat approach revolutionary socialist consciousness, then we are admitting that the condition of the working class today is anything but that, that for example the level reached in the Labour Party (!) will have to be superseded, shed like so much dead skin if the class is to go forward. We are therefore saying that the "Marxist groups" of today have more in common with the future of the class than with its present. Our task is to prepare the future. Our future is to be the highest embodiment of the interests of the proletariat, its most advanced consciousness and the skeletal structure of the class as an active revolutionary force.
It is necessary to be with the class at all stages of its development from now to the revolutionary future: but a too organic a connection with the political and ideological conditions of the class as it is today and even as it progresses to a higher stage can divorce us from the class at the future highest pitch of development. However that may be it will certainly prevent us preparing that development. The vast masses of the proletariat only periodically reach the highest, sharpest awareness of class society, instinctively, and can be defeated and thrown back for decades - therefore our debilitating accommodation to the broadest movement today can be disastrous for the proletariat in the future. Our tactics, our connections with the broad labour movement, must be very subtle, very flexible. It is just not sufficient to make a broad generalisation; we must search for the successive links in the chain.
MARXISM ON CREDIT
Writing a preface to Bukharin's "Imperialism and World Economy" in 1916 Lenin made some points which allow us to get some idea of the essence of the Bolshevik approach, of the connection between our expectations and our practical day to day activity. Lenin polemicised against Kautsky's theory of 'Ultra-Imperialism'. Kautsky argued that a period of supra-national peaceful ultra-imperialism was being ushered in by World War One, and that this coming period was the one where the working class would come into its own. Meanwhile the task was to survive as well as possible, avoiding sharp breaks and sharp struggles ...
Lenin: "We have any number of promises to be a Marxist sometime in another epoch, not under present conditions, not at this moment. For tomorrow we have Marxism on credit, Marxism as a promise, Marxism deferred. For today we have a petty bourgeois opportunist theory - and not only a theory - of softening contradictions ... In practice he who denies the sharp tasks of today in the name of dreams about soft tasks in the future becomes an opportunist. Theoretically it means to fail to base oneself on the developments now going on in real life, to detach oneself from them in the name of dreams ..."
We too look to the future when we will have soft tasks, while today we denounce groups that attempt to struggle as "crazy", "petty bourgeois", "ultra-left", etc., etc. The sharp task of today is to assemble in the limited struggles possible, a cadre organisation, tempered and educated in action, and capable of developing as the struggles grow. If we continue to defer this to a remote and largely mythical future when it will be supposedly easy, we are adopting a Kautskyite, centrist position. Such a position has its own logic, leads to a process which changes the character of the organisation, emptying our phrases of meaning - this irrespective of anyone's intentions.
When the big events do occur, in which the 'Kautskyites' had promised to be revolutionaries, they are always to be found looking off into the horizon to the manana-time when it will be made that much easier by a further ripening of conditions. We must abjure dreams and base ourselves on the struggles now going on in real life.
These are limited and are not all to be found inside the Labour Party, and are not all confinable to the mass movement. The essence of the present situation is that the struggles are limited and involve minorities. It is crazy not to recognise this fact as the SLL experience shows, but again we have the familiar antipodes since in practice the result is the same if we interpret this to mean that there must be absolute subordination of the militants to the at present backwards mass. It is impossible to limit within the bounds of the organisational forms now existing, the tasks and activities of that Party, however small it may be, which epitomises the highest consciousness of the proletariat. To do this with the justification that a broad sweeping estimation has already been made about future developments is sheer irresponsibility. A broad general expectation on which everything is staked, all trust is placed and no preparations made (in Trotsky's phrase 'no tracks laid') for alternative developments or unforeseen variations, is not the Marxist approach. We only justify ourselves in making broad prognoses if we "do the tasks of today." That task is the building of the RSL as an embryonic Bolshevik party fighting on all fronts.
We have a general idea of how things will develop: how will we, as an organised cadre-force, fit into it? In "Where is Britain Going?", written in the mid-twenties, Trotsky put forward an idea of a possible rearrangement of the labour movement in Britain in which a compact, highly organised Communist Party would slot into the framework then occupied by the Independent Labour Party [At that time the ILP current - MacDonald, Snowden and others - despite being small, was hegemonic in the Labour Party]. Maybe the future development will emerge as something like that? Maybe the future radicalisation would produce a situation where that would be the most favourable rearrangement? Perhaps this will be our relationship to the developing centrist current? The point is that a variety of developments is possible and we will only avoid idle speculation if we attend to our own tasks, i.e. our own self-development.
"Without a perspective it is generally impossible to arrive at a far-reaching revolutionary policy. But our prognosis cannot be mechanistic. It must be dialectic. It must take into account the interaction of objective and subjective historical focus. And this opens up the possibility of several variants - depending on how the relation of forces shapes up in the course of living historical action ..." (Trotsky, First Five Years, vol. 2, p 301)
We will only be able to respond to the situations as they emerge if we are a compact, ideologically clear, uncompromised force. We will never succeed in building a strong cadre organisation if we interpret 'our perspective' in a way that amounts to tying our own hands.
Trotsky: (in the event of Fascist victory in France) ...
"Under the least favourable hypothesis, the building of a revolutionary party would mean to speed the hour of revenge. The wiseacres who duck away from this urgent task by claiming that 'conditions are not ripe' only show that they themselves are not ripe for these conditions." (Terrorism and Communism, introduction)
We have had to make this section a point by point discussion rather than a straight forward exposition. A summing up is called for, then.
TO SUM UP
The mere idea of a long term perspective (a conception of the main direction and tempo of developments, absolutely necessary for any intervention by the conscious force) does not, as the leading comrades in practice assume, absolve us of the responsibility to understand the concrete detailed developments the mechanics of the day to day work out of which we have to evolve our short-term, necessarily much more flexible, empirical, subtle perspective - i.e. our practical activity. It is vitally necessary to consider the relation between our long-term perspective and our practical work - the long-term estimation must be seen as conditional on certain preparations being made, on our ability to concretely 'ferret-out' in practice the necessary links in the chain in day-to-day practical struggle. We are not abstract philosophers in watch-towers a la Deutcher, nor vulgar philosophical materialists who see it as merely a matter of contemplation - but Marxists for whom the task is the changing of history, the philosophers having interpreted it quite sufficiently to enable this to be done.
The conscious activity of the proletariat must be seen as the point, the great 'unknown' that transforms all the so-called objective factors that we can map out. We are the advance guard of that class consciously trying to prepare the point of intervention. A conception of perspectives as just 'objectivity' defeats, acts against our task. It is a vulgarisation of Marxism on perspectives. The fundamental weakness is that the presently conscious element is reduced to commentating. The source of the mistake is that the leading comrades content themselves with mouthing the long, epochal perspective as a substitute for the hard job of working out concretely our practical detailed tasks to assemble a force to fight step by step for our perspective.
In so far as it is a matter of method, the source of the mistake is a failure to understand the elementary law pointed out by Trotsky and the other founders and leaders of revolutionary socialism many times: that the different spheres, though finally reducible to the basic laws of the motion of matter, have their own laws, peculiar to themselves, making them what they are.
The need to make the 'descent' from the sweeping generalities to the concrete particulars such as how to assemble and temper the cadres on whom our perspective depends has completely defeated the old leadership. They have rationalised this situation to the point where 'perspectives' is now seen as a matter of an automatic process and the appropriate tactic amounts to waiting for the ripening process to be completed. On the concrete questions such as these we find Ted Grant messing around with the largest possible paintbrush where the sharp point of the etching-needle is the only tool!
For our leaders as for the original 'Marxist' centrists, taking refuge in generalities means accommodation to the practical reality (Lenin on failure to do the tasks of today, etc.) This failure to express our basic ideas in practice, this failure to fight to find the appropriate unity of theory and practice in the concrete situation is rationalised and in turn reacts back and changes the unconcretised generalisations into sheer vulgarities: there is of course at all times a possible unity of theory and practice - appropriate practice.
This idea has been caricatured into idealist nonsense by the SLL. They take it as being an immediate thing that there is a 'one-to-one' relationship, that 'practice' in this formula means the ideal, most appropriate, most advanced for the theory - as if it were purely a matter of will. For us this must mean that the unity of theory and practice proceeds step by step, in line with the objective ripening. But this means that as we 'do the tasks of today' at each stage, then we enter positively the 'objective' process, evolving organic connections with it until we can finally 'dominate' it. It means that 'objectivity' is not a thing apart which we view contemplatively, searching for the trends.
Objectivity for us is a process into which we enter with the purpose of changing it; (recognising that we are in it anyway and have the choice of a conscious positive role - or a negative accommodationist one of abandoning the field to bourgeois reformist influence) increasing our scope as we interact and evolve with it. It means recognising no inevitable progress towards a given preordained point - but that what happens in the future depends to a large extent on our conscious efforts. It means recognition that 'objective' ripeness is a contradiction in terms, quite impossible unless it also includes 'subjective' ripeness - of a class-conscious proletarian force. If the SLL tend towards idealism here, we, as usual, provide the opposite pole of vulgar 'objectivism', seeing it as a matter of spontaneous ripening. It is necessary to reject the idealism of the SLL, but let the comrades not hide their own absurdities behind that. Far too much of our politics is based on anti-SLLism; the leadership think it enough to trot out the stock stuff against the Healyites when faces with any criticism 'from the left' (a very relative term). There will undoubtedly be an attempt to saddle us with the sins of the SLL on this question - the comrades will have to think again, however.)
Faced with the task of concretising in appropriate practice the broad generalisations of the Marxist teachers, the leaders of the RSL take the line of least resistance and content themselves with parroting mechanically the prophetic optimism of a Marx or a Trotsky. Dressed up in the ill-fitting robes of the prophet they still tell us what 'history' is preparing, what the 'irresistible forces' will compel into existence. The tragedy is that the prophets have, in general, played their role on the stage of current history: the vacant part now is for action; the onus is on us to bring to life the expectations of the teachers, to help into life the potentialities of our time. History will compel ... but history can only work through people ... and she is badly served if those available get the roles mixed up and insist on playing at 'prophets' on what 'history' will do in the ripeness of time - as an excuse for shirking their part now that the time for a serious beginning is more than ripe.
VULGAR MECHANICAL MATERIALISM IN THE PAST
APPENDIX A. HOW THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST PARTY COLLAPSED
"Perspectives of Entryism" contains an admission of certain mistakes by the leadership at the time of the collapse of the Revolutionary Communist Party ; but these remain unexplained for our instruction. The explanation as it stands in one word: 'inevitability'.
This line is both a typical example of the vulgar approach of our leaders - and the starting point for our 'confidence' in some future mechanical inevitable growth for our tendency: we have a big future just as inevitably as we have come to a pretty small present; we who understand the trends of development, who have a correct grasp of reality. Decline was inevitable, so too will be the new resurgence: rationalisation from the past commits the old-timers to this line and the younger generation are miseducated on this reductio ad absurdum, this vulgar caricature of Marxism. The mechanicalism applied to the future is dangerous and debilitating: it weighs heavily on the movement.
That there is some automatic, reflex relationship between the basic events of the period, the beginning of the capitalist boom, the growth and expansion of Stalinism, and the fate of a British proletarian party of 300 members is a ludicrous idea: a conception of Marxism held and propagated only by the ignorant and the hostile. The Trotskyists in the world didn't collapse to the same extent as its main section in Britain did; Healy didn't collapse (we may point to his wrong immediate expectations, but that begs the question couldn't we, free from such limitations, have been expected to stand up even better?)
The big parties embrace a large section of a class which is rooted throughout society and thus have a quite direct contact with the ebbs and flows of the basic social tides, such as the economic ... even here it is not an automatic reflex. But for a group of 300 (500?) people, and these the self-proclaimed most conscious group of the class, surveying the situation from the high pinnacle of Marxist theory erected out of all the experience of the past - nothing of the sort holds good. If Ted Grant thinks so he is on the same ground as those who say Marxism teaches that everything, from a work of art to all the activities of a given capitalist, has a direct connection with economic self interest! Likewise the idea that the unexpected vigour of Stalinism should so dishearten 300 Bolsheviks that they died or changed their coats out of sheer funk - this also is a caricature. Admitting that the pressures existed and realistically could have been expected to claim certain people - the remainder should have been tempered and strengthened.
The choice for British Trotskyism at the end of the 1940's was either retrenchment or collapse; either digging in of heels or liquidation; either determination to hold on to what had been gained or prostration. The Revolutionary Communist Party collapsed into the Labour Party and its members scattered in all directions. WHY? The question of political consciousness is obviously the key, and the handle of that key the consciousness, the conceptions of the centre of the organisation, its political brain and heart, on the responses of which depended the fate of the mass of the party in the unexpected situation.
A similar situation was faced by Bolshevism in the period after the defeat of the 1905 Revolution. There too a response of a large section of Social Democracy [i.e. in the terminology of the time, the Marxist movement] was liquidationism; essentially an emptying out of the revolutionary content of Marxism, an accommodation, the line of least resistance in relation to the given situation. The Revolutionary Communist Party went the way of the Liquidators, and anyone who doubts this has only to consider how hollow in practice have now become the remaining shells of Trotskyist ideas, preserved as dead shrines by our own Mensheviks. Again - why?
The Revolutionary Communist Party died of heart failure alright, but it was first and foremost the heart failure of the centre. In the crisis period this was the most demoralised element in the party. The centre collapsed, failed to lead, to organise the cadres to do what could be done in the given situation - as a preparation for tomorrow.
Those people who still peddle their Menshevik platonic optimism refused to fight seriously to maintain themselves as a serious force active in the process leading to the upsurge in the future; they let the Revolutionary Communist Party dissolve, and they surrendered to Healy and Pablo because they felt that it just didn't matter. If there is any argument about this it will be possible to re-publish a document which was circulated by the present RSL leadership in 1949, which expresses complete indifference to the future of the movement.
Echoes of this can still be found in "Perspectives of Entryism". The leadership exaggerated the existing pressures like a magnifying glass the sun, and ensured the demoralisation of the movement. Read the many letters etc. circulated by individuals and small groups in the last period demanding that the leaders lead, that some serious orientation of the party be attempted! But the leadership was the most demoralised element in the organisation; the Revolutionary Communist Party was dying of the fright and heart-failure of the central leadership.
It's important to raise this now, as it would be very fruitful to go into detail and establish just how much of our passivity and expectation of mechanical developments start from rationalisations of this period. At the same time we would need to examine just how much of the leadership's conceptions of our role as passive abstract propagandists are spun from their sheer "infatuation with their own inadequacy". The comrades today operate with an idea of History as Santa Claus, gathering gifts for their future. If there was a similar conception in the 1940s, those days when documents were entitled "Preparing for Power!", is it any wonder that the effect of the unexpected reality at the end of the '40s was so shattering - above all for the leadership?
However that may be, now standing as a barrier to the future are the rationalisations, the emptying of revolutionary content from the dried-out phrases of 'the books', the accommodations of the last 15 years, the effect on the Marxist 'eyesight' of the old leadership after the long period in the Labour Party darkness - and the fact that this blurred vision appears congenital to many of the new generation: all this stands in the way of a serious preparation for the future.
An automatic response to events is assumed for the future, as it is used to explain the past. The future is conditional on our activity - but the self-satisfied rationalisations of the leadership compel an approach which explains everything in terms of 'objective' inevitability. If we admit that we owe something to the people have kept the organisation going we must also see that the dominance of mechanistic conceptions, a result of the past experiences and failures, definitely now stands in the way of future progress. Here too there will be no automatic readjustment. It becomes a matter of conscious struggle.
(NB. Actually, the limited progress made by the group over the past period, partly by default, shows how much more could have been achieved, and exposes the sham nature of the explanation trotted out for the 1950's, at least.)
APPENDIX B. THE ORIGINS OF OUR ENTRYISM
The disagreement we have with the leadership partly concerns how to apply the entry tactic. We have made certain criticisms and implied what we think are the correct alternatives. Closely connected with the question of the Revolutionary Communist Party, is the following: how did the RSL adopt the entry tactic in the first place? After all, there was a five year fight with Healy on this very question [In the late 1940s Healy advocated that the RCP should enter the Labour Party, while the majority leaders - Jock Haston, Ted Grant and Tony Cliff - looked to the direct growth of the RCP]. Ted Grant may be correct in saying that 'in theory' they accepted 'the possibility of entry at some point', but since this was anyway the epochal perspective it is insufficient explanation for its application as a tactic then, and this to has been admitted by Ted Grant in "Perspectives of Entryism".
Actually they didn't accept entry as a tactic at the time, but as a refuge, lacking in any immediate perspective. Having fought against it for five years, a section of the Revolutionary Communist Party leadership (Haston) finally accepted it as a means of surrendering all responsibility to Healy. At that time the Fourth International correctly denounced any confused scuttling into the Labour Party as Liquidationism. Faced with this situation the people who later founded the RSL refused to decide either way: they avoided fighting the open Liquidationists like Haston with the formula which "Perspectives of Entryism" partly reproduces - outside = no hope; inside = not much hope (see the document).
"Perspectives of Entryism" says: the majority of the Revolutionary Communist Party were right. The conditions for fruitful entry just weren't there in the Labour Party, and the Healyites had a completely wrong perspective.
Then there is an amazing jump (p 4): "However, once the Revolutionary Communist Party had dissolved and all the forces of Trotskyism were inside the Labour Party..." They were right against Healy - then suddenly they have adopted the same stance and are inside the Labour Party! An amazing jump which "Perspectives of Entryism" records ... without comment. Once inside ... "The problem of how to work in the Party and with what perspectives was very vital one. It is necessary to understand that our own forces are too weak to create a Left Wing of mass proportions." i.e. having collapsed into the Labour Party we declare ourselves impotent - and this in practice meant willingness to work against those like the Healyites who didn't quite agree with our quietism, and had for entryism (on a false expectation of developments, certainly) as a positive policy of entry to do a certain job; entry as a tactic, seeing the Labour Party as a battlefield for the forces of Trotskyism rather than an old folk's shelter. We 'adopted' entryism not as an active policy but as a place of retirement, where we could await the "big historic events". It is not irrelevant or mere mudraking to raise this: our present conception of entry, our actual practice of entryism still bears all the mark of its origin.
"It is true that the conditions, as Trotsky outlined them, are still not present. But it would be the height of stupidity to abandon the work in the Labour Party now and launch into 'independent' adventures after a decade or more of work there. The conditions for independent work are not favourable either. Whatever may have been gained by remaining independent in the past, tremendous (why necessarily tremendous? SM) gains cannot be expected in the immediate future. For any such gains would be disproportionate to the future possibilities in the Labour Party" ("Perspectives of Entryism", 1959)
In other words; we shouldn't be here really, and it's too painful to talk about how we got here, and we don't know where to go: we can't go back and we can't go forward - so we'd better stay here where we have fallen for who knows anyway, for all we know, it is quite likely, sometime in the future, to be the most favourable position. Nothing could demonstrate more clearly the fact that we collapsed into the Labour Party and the sheer helplessness before events, almost consciously stated here, of the founders of the RSL. Bolshevik retrenchment? Preserve what can be preserved? Fight outside (1949) - or go inside and fight? NO! The only fight has been against people who drew sharp conclusions, the Old Folks peevishly pushing out the 'rowdies' so that they may safely wait in peace and quiet ... for their future life. This is one of the origins of the leadership negative anti-SLLism.
At first sight when we compare the two positions of the SLL and the RSL they appear to have somersaulted 100 percent during the last twenty years. Actually in so far as basic approach goes they are self-consistent. Healy entered the Labour Party in an attempt to find a positive role. Our comrades entered without perspective, looking for a home, and their rationalisation has been the epochal perspective - i.e. a mass radicalisation in the Labour Party on the day before 'doomsday', or perhaps at a stretch the day before that. Having used the long-term perspective as a rationalisation for sitting quiet in the Labour Party, they then thought it sufficient to bring it out each year, dust it, and pass it off as a short term tactic. (See the succession of documents). We don't disagree with the long-term estimation; but, as we have already stated, this must be seen as a guide to action, using the short term tactic as a bridge to the future - and not as an excuse for passivity.
'Entry' to the Labour Party to await the coming of the epochal millennium and the mass radicalisation, thus amounted to 'retirement' from active revolutionary politics: an abandonment of the task of building a party to prepare for this future. They certainly did not join the Labour Party to achieve anything, and even today they still don't think the conditions for entry apply - we are merely there to await the future.