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Party, Programme, Reformism and the International


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A revolutionary party

It is ironic that the International Socialist Movement PC claim "there is utter confusion" (paragraph 43) amongst the faction on the question of a revolutionary party. The way the International Socialist Movement PC document is written engenders confusion. The failure to give sources for any quotations is misleading because it makes it difficult to read the original quotations in their full context and is an unacceptable method.

The comrades assert what "most people would understand a party to be..." (paragraph 45). Who are "most people"? Given today's currently confused and often low consciousness, we would get many different opinions among workers and youth as to what a party is. However, our debate is within the Marxist movement which has its own criteria.

From the beginning of this debate in 1998 the current Scottish leadership have raised question marks over whether it is necessary or desirable today to build a revolutionary party. In their March 1998 Conference document, Initial Proposals for a New Scottish Socialist Party" ([referred to here as "IP"], IP British MB [Members Bulletin] no 27), they wrote "it is not possible to gauge at this stage whether or not it will be necessary to retain a separate Scottish Militant Labour structure" (IP paragraph 22), "It may be desirable to retain an organised structure", (IP paragraph 24), "That is one possible variant; another is to throw everything into the new party (IP paragraph 25).

In their next document, "For a Bold Step Forward" ([referred to here as "FBSF"], FBSF British MB 28), they tried to justify their agnostic attitude towards building a revolutionary organisation by asserting that "...there are many historical examples of Trotskyist and Marxist groupings armed only with ideas that have been extremely effective." (FBSF paragraph 160). However the only example given, that of the US Trotskyists entering the US Socialist Party in 1936, does not support their case and was in stark contrast to the situation in Scotland today.

As the US Trotskyist leader, JP Cannon, explained, by early 1937, after one year's work in the Socialist Party "...our faction everywhere was better informed, better disciplined, and better organised, and we were making rapid headway in recruiting new members into the faction" (History of American Trotskyism, 7997 edition, page 296). Unfortunately, this is not the situation that exists in the International Socialist Movement today. 

Of course, the leadership of the then US Socialist Party was reformist. However, just because a majority of Scottish Socialist Party leaders are International Socialist Movement / Committee for a Workers’ International members does not negate the necessity of building a revolutionary organisation.

This debate is not in any way an organisational one about which type of structure it is necessary to build. Nor, as the comrades say, is it "...a battle over definitions" (paragraph 80). It is primarily political and ideological. At the start of the debate in 1998 the Scottish majority argued that in today's conditions it is sufficient to concentrate on building a party with what was loosely described as a "...full-blooded socialist programme" (FBSF, paragraph 78). They claimed that there would be the serious possibility of it embracing "a clear revolutionary programme" (FBSF, paragraph 7 08).

The Socialist Party EC replied to these arguments in numerous articles and documents including the "Thesis on the Revolutionary Party" (British MB 28) and "In Defence of the Revolutionary Party" (British MB 29). In a subsequent document, 'Reply to "New Tactics for a New Period" (paragraphs 8-77 British MB 29), the British EC answered very clearly the Scottish majority's arguments about "What is a Revolutionary party?" ( "New Tactics for a New Period" paragraphs 5 to 10).

The British EC wrote: 

"This section ('What is a Revolutionary party?’) does not answer the question it poses. There is no logical line of argument. The document sets up an association between the idea of a 'revolutionary party' and 'Sectarian grouplets', 'deluded sectarians', etc. It claims that the terms 'revolutionary party' and 'broad party' have been bandied about in an abstract way. In the view of the Scottish Militant Labour EC, both can co-exist in the same 'hybrid' party.

"By 'revolutionary party' we mean an independent revolutionary organisation, a proletarian organisation (whether in the form of an organised tendency within another formation or a separate, detached party) based on the programme of Marxism (in the sense of a body of ideas), organised on the basis of democratic centralism which works to build a force of Marxist cadres and to develop support amongst wide layers of the working class. 

The revolutionary party is "independent" because its aims and organisational methods are based on the principle of a commitment to a distinct ideology and programme (it is not a question of whether or not the organisation is a separate party detached from other parties).

"Cadres are party members who understand our ideas; who can independently involve themselves in struggle on the basis of our programme, strategy and tactics; and who are capable of recruiting and of building our organisation. 

Cadres are required at every level of a revolutionary organisation, in the branches, in trade union and other party caucuses, in public campaigning work, etc., as well as in the leadership. The role of cadres is to provide the 'framework' (the term comes from the French word meaning frame'), the revolutionary core, around which much broader, mass forces can be won in the future. Cadres not only carry the party's ideas to wider layers of workers, but they also play a vital role in testing ideas in practice, and in formulating new policies, strategy and tactics.

"The character of the party is not determined by its size, but by its ideology and methods. Where parties (sections of the Committee or a Workers’ International) are small we recognise, of course, that they are at the stage of embryonic parties which are developing forces of politically-conscious Marxist activists in preparation for the future development of mass revolutionary parties.

"We have never proclaimed ourselves 'the revolutionary party' or adopted the sectarian approach of the Socialist Workers Party, WRP and other groups.

"We have never put the interests of our organisation above the interests of the working class. We participate alongside workers in struggle, while working to win support for a clear programme, perspectives, etc. Nevertheless, we consider (following the theoretical tradition of Lenin, Trotsky and our own organisation, that a Marxist revolutionary party with mass support among the working class is essential for the successful carrying through of the socialist transformation of society. 

Clearly, to carry out this role a revolutionary party requires overwhelming mass support, which has to be built on the basis of objective events and the intervention of the 'subjective factor', the revolutionary party itself. Mass support, however, does not make a revolutionary party a 'broad' party in the political sense ...

"It is, in our view, nonsense to claim that "there can exist transitional or hybrid formations which are part 'revolutionary' and part 'broad'." Of course, there can be broad formations which include within them revolutionary elements, centrists (who waver between revolution and reform), left reformists, militant trade union activists, radical campaigning activists, etc.

But such formations are broad parties, not revolutionary parties. It is also true that such broad formations can, under certain conditions, be 'transitional' in the sense that, under the impact of events and mass radicalisation of the working class, they are being pushed towards revolution. 

The POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification) in the Spanish revolution in 1936 was a classic example of a 'transitional' centrist party. A more recent example is the MIR (Revolutionary Left Movement) in Chile under the 1970-73 Popular Front government of Allende. 

A transition, however, can only be decisively carried through with the intervention of a Marxist revolutionary organisation fighting to transform the broad party on the basis of the adoption of a Marxist programme and methods of work. 

A broad formation, particularly a mass party, cannot hover indefinitely between reform and revolution. Without a decisive transformation into a revolutionary party, any such formation will be unstable and inevitably enter a crisis, with sections sliding back towards centrism or reformism."

The Scottish leadership never even commented on these arguments. As the Socialist Party EC's "Reply to Scottish Socialist Party A Political Justification" (British MB 31) pointed out later, the Scottish majority had not answered, and has in fact avoided, the questions: "What constitutes a revolutionary party" and "How is a revolutionary party distinguished from a broad party?" In this latest document, the International Socialist Movement PC returns to the general issue of the revolutionary party. However, this is not to achieve clarity. It is another attempt to divert the discussion and allow the comrades to evade replying to specific questions.

This incorrect method is seen in paragraph 49. This mixes up the question of when the word 'party' should be included in a revolutionary organisation's name with the issue of how revolutionaries in Scotland should organise today. While carefully considering when it is politically correct to use the word 'party' in the name of a section, which is a purely tactical question, we have always worked to build and maintain revolutionary organisations, i.e. parties, as a strategic objective, irrespective of the tactics employed at different times.

As the British EC wrote above, Committee for a Workers’ International sections have not presented themselves in the sectarian, ultimatist way implied by the International Socialist Movement PC when it writes "Until relatively recently, no section of the Committee for a Workers’ International described itself as 'the revolutionary party’"(paragraph 53). 

The comrades write that, in the past, the old Scottish Militant Labour was "acting as a party" despite not having the name party or publicly describing itself as a party. This is not at all unusual: on the contrary, we want to engender a "party consciousness" and "party loyalty", without stifling criticism, among all our members internationally. The basis for this loyalty and consciousness is political agreement and understanding of the tasks we are faced with.

In reality the Scottish majority have substituted building the Scottish Socialist Party for building the Committee for a Workers’ International section. At the same time the International Socialist Movement PC refuses to give either a Marxist characterisation of the Scottish Socialist Party or outline what possible perspective they have for the Scottish Socialist Party. 

They no longer describe the Scottish Socialist Party's programme as 'revolutionary'. However, they do not outline how or when they intend to transform the Scottish Socialist Party into a politically coherent revolutionary party. Is this meant to occur some time in the dim and distance future? Or does the International Socialist Movement PC think that this is now an outmoded, sectarian approach?

In practice the International Socialist Movement PC's emphasis on winning support for the "ideas of Marxism" leaves open the question of whether it is necessary today to lay the basis of building a revolutionary party through day-today activity, political education and a struggle against opposing ideas.

Far from clarifying the issues, the International Socialist Movement leadership further confuses things by mixing up the question of how revolutionaries organise ("a party") and how debates/differences of opinion are handled within revolutionary organisations, "a tendency or platform" (paragraph 45).

Then the International Socialist Movement leadership throws in another item to divert the issue, namely the issue of whether a Trotskyist organisation should use the word "party" in its name. Murray Smith already attempted to raise the same issues in his "Contribution to the Scottish Debate" (Special International Bulletin October 1998). We clarified this point in "The programme, the party and the International" (paragraphs 141-142). A document neither Murray Smith nor the International Socialist Movement majority have ever replied to.

The confusion of the International Socialist Movement PC when they mix up the internal and external issues relating to how revolutionaries organise is illustrated by the quotation they use from Trotsky. In his letter ("Differences with the British Minority", 23 January 1934, Writings of Leon Trotsky Supplement 1934-40, page 442) Trotsky clearly argues for the then British section to end its open ("independent") work and enter the ILP. But Trotsky was not proposing that the British section dissolve itself as the International Socialist Movement PC implies.

This particular letter of Trotsky does not explicitly deal with the question of how the British Trotskyists should organise within the ILP. However, this had already been explained by Trotsky. In an earlier letter, 'The Lever of a Small Group' written on October 2nd 193 3, he wrote: 

"Whether you will enter the ILP as a faction or as individuals is a purely formal question. In essence, you will, of course, be a faction that submits to common discipline. Before entering the ILP you make a public declaration: 

'Our views are known. We base ourselves on the principles of Bolshevism-Leninism and have formed ourselves as a part of the International Left Opposition. Its ideas we consider as the only basis on which the new International can be built. We are entering the ILP to convince the members of that party in daily practical work of the correctness of our ideas and of the necessity of the ILP joining the initiators of the new International...' (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933-34, page 126).

Neither the Committee for a Workers’ International nor the International Socialist Movement minority faction accepts that the Scottish Socialist Party is a revolutionary party. In the course of the debate the leadership of the majority have changed their argumentation about the character of the Scottish Socialist Party. Murray Smith at one stage argued that "...Our party in Scotland is the Scottish Socialist Party" ("Contribution to the debate for the Scottish congress". Murray Smith, 21 September 1999). Now, however, the comrades write that "...we agree the Scottish Socialist Party is not a revolutionary party" (paragraph 85).

This is not an abstract question. How we characterise the Scottish Socialist Party determines the way in which Marxists should work and organise. When quoting later, in paragraph 89, from Trotsky's article "On Democratic Centralism" (8 December 1937, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-38, pages 89 to 91) the International Socialist Movement PC ends the quote just where Trotsky writes, "A party is an active organism. It develops in the struggle with outside obstacles and inner contradictions."

The comrades' opposition to Option 2 since the 1998 debate is precisely a rejection of this idea of a revolutionary organisation as "an active organism" that "develops in the struggle". 

The International Socialist Movement PC again and again say that the International Socialist Movement should struggle for the "ideas of Marxism" (paragraph 83) within the Scottish Socialist Party. However, nowhere do they deal with the question of how revolutionaries are, to use Lenin's phrase in "Left Wing Communism", "steeled". 

It is not a question of the Committee for a Workers’ International telling the comrades to "..pronounce the International Socialist Movement a rival party" to the Scottish Socialist Party (paragraph 74). That would be absurd. However, International Socialist Movement members need to be clear that unless they are able to win a majority of Scottish Socialist Party members to a revolutionary party, then the Scottish Socialist Party's future will be put in question. 

Either it will disappear or else it will develop in a reformist direction. The fact that the majority of the Scottish Socialist Party's current leadership are International Socialist Movement members is no guarantee of the future. Only building a solid Committee for a Workers’ International section can provide a lasting basis of support for our programme and tactics.

The International Socialist Movement PC's rejection of the idea of trying to build 'small mass parties' is not just a question of debating what it is possible to achieve in this period. It is also a rejection of the conception of the 'dual tasks' facing Marxists today. They favour concentrating on rebuilding a broader workers' movement. The building of a fighting revolutionary organisation is postponed until sometime in the future.

 

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