Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A note on revolutionary discipline

A Bolshevik is not merely a disciplined person; he is a person who in each case and on each question forges a firm opinion of his own and defends it courageously and independently, not only against his enemies, but inside his own party. Today, perhaps, he will be in the minority in his organization. He will submit, because it is his party. But this does not always signify that he is in the wrong. Perhaps he saw or understood before the others did a new task or the necessity of a turn. He will persistently raise the question a second, a third, a tenth time, if need be. Thereby he will render his party a service, helping it to meet the new task fully armed or to carry out the necessary turn without organic upheavals, without fractional convulsions.
Leon Trotsky, 1923

In other words, were one say a revolutionary socialist inside a revolutionary socialist organisation who disagreed with the strategy and tactics of that organisation, one would have a revolutionary duty to persistently raise one's opinion inside of that organisation, even if one was still in a minority. One would critically defend one's independent position within the framework of democratic centralism - within the democratic frameworks of the party - e.g. a national conference - and then 'submit, because it is your party' outside of such times to what was agreed by the majority of the party at that conference - even if one did not agree with the majority.

What one does not do, if one is serious about revolutionary politics, is to resign with a whimper from one's revolutionary socialist organisation just because one has lost an argument over strategy and tactics and is in a minority. The only circumstances in which this would be acceptable - indeed absolutely justified - is if one's party had made a betrayal of the principles of socialism and the class struggle itself (eg supported an imperialist war/not supported a strike by workers, etc etc). If the party had made such a betrayal - and showed no signs of correction after one had put the opposing arguments in the democratic forums of the party - then one would have a duty to form a faction within the party to fight for the correct position - and if that did not work - then to resign from the party, form a new revolutionary Marxist grouping and call on the members of your old party to join your new organisation because the old was irredeemably bankrupt and had become 'social-imperialist/class collaborationist/ etc etc'. It is then a question of class - but all this stuff one would have thought would have been the ABC of Socialism anyway, and not even necessary to state.

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At 2:19 pm, Anonymous johng said...

presumably one does not respond to any attempt to debate with you with outrage, responding to disagreements with cries of 'how patronising' either. Thats the thing that really amazes me. The awful oppression involved in people daring not to agree with you. Kautskyism and degeneration I call it.

At 4:09 pm, Blogger Half-a-man said...

But, but - we need to count the votes for!

At 4:36 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

'Kautskyism and degeneration' - I like it...

Whatever it is - movement-ism, Kautskyism, the pull of electoralism, plus as you say an underlying issue concerning authoritarianism and egotism, it is certainly a shift away from Leninism - can you imagine say Lenin flouncing out of the Bolsheviks just because he had lost an argument?

As Cliff noted, there were whole periods when Lenin was in a tiny minority in the Bolshevik Party and yet he stayed and fought for his position.

Eg 'Again, when Lenin came to Russia on 3 April 1917 and issued his famous April Theses – a light guiding the party to the October Revolution – he was for a time in a small minority in his own party. Pravda’s comment on the April Theses was that it was “Lenin’s personal opinion”, and quite “unacceptable”...' etc etc.

Yet it does stand as a warning of what can happen to even the best revolutionaries under the pressure of events if one does not work hard to remain a serious revolutionary Marxist at every turn. As Cliff noted, 'you are only as good a revolutionary as the last thing you did...' - a lesson we all forget at our peril.

At 6:31 pm, Blogger luna17 said...

Short version: stay on the Titanic, even when someone offers you a lifeboat.

If you'd been around in 1950, would you have offered the same Trotsky quote to Tony Cliff?

At 7:08 pm, Blogger Daphne Watermelon said...

And we hit the nub of it, Alex: you're not a democratic centralist. Which is fine, but then don't join a democratic centralist organisation and whinge about it - fuck off and join something else. As for John and Lindsey, they were happy with democratic centralism so long as they agreed with the perspective, and were happy to enforce party discipline on others. So it's bloody rich for them to moan about it now.

At 7:26 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Alex - your Titanic metaphor is problematic for several reasons.
1. The IS tradition does not have a theory of 'infallibility' about revolutionary leadership - no one has ever claimed the SWP was 'unsinkable' or automatically going to be perfect in every way.
2. If the SWP did hit an 'iceberg', then that iceberg was called Respect/electoralist short cuts and the 'united front of a special kind', and the captains of the ship at that time were, in part, the current leadership of the former Left Platform.
3. With the Titanic, if I remember rightly, the captain himself stays and goes down with the ship - or is certainly the 'last to leave' the 'sinking ship'. In this case, the captains at the time and their supporters - after crashing the SWP into Respect - are barging their way to the lifeboats before it is evident that the SWP is irreparably going to sunk by the Respect debacle - they are certainly not taking any responsibility at all for the Respect debacle and trying to help the SWP make sure it never makes such a mistake again.
4) The only thing that is about right about the metaphor is the size of the thing - one lifeboat full of ex-Left Platform while the vast majority of the membership stay on the Titanic to try and fix the hole.
5. If the ex-Left Platform grouping have retreated to a lifeboat - one has to ask, why are they not calling on the rest of the SWP membership to leave the 'sinking ship' and join them on the liferafts in a more fervent fashion? Is it because they know no one else in the SWP is actually convinced the SWP is irreparably damaged?
6. What it looks like - to follow your Titanic metaphor - is that the SWP has been crashed into an iceberg (Galloway, electoralism), the captain on watch at that time and some of the officer class also on watch at that time have been held to account by the membership for their part in this (and they were not solely to blame for hitting the iceberg - so don't argue I am scapegoating them), but rather than hold their hands up and admit to any wrongdoing have instead taken to one of the liferafts and slipped away (but to where?)

On Cliff and leaving the RCP - it is also a problematic analogy to make.
1. Cliff was essentially forced out of the RCP by an authoritarian political regime (for having a different theoretical position on the Soviet Union - state capitalism) - he did not flounce out. He did try and fight for his position while being kicked out of the RCP - and most importantly formed a new Marxist organisation once out - which became the Socialist Review Group.
2. This may be painful news for the ex-Left Platform people to take, but at some point it might be worth waking up to the fact that John Rees is not the new Tony Cliff. Indeed, going by the latest version of John Rees's wikipedia page it hardly looks as though he is planning to do any kind of Cliff and try and undertake the difficult unrewarding work of trying to build a new revolutionary Marxist organisation from scratch - it does look as though he is going to work hard to boost his media/literary career though - see here:

'He is currently the writer and presenter of the political history series Timeline and occasional presenter of the Politics and Media programme, both of which are broadcast on the Islam Channel...He is currently working on a history of radical London, to be published by Verso in 2012'...

The attempt to try and claim Cliff's mantle only reveals how desperate the ex-Left Platform group have become politically of late. The whole thing is just a little sad, frankly.

At 7:30 pm, Blogger Daphne Watermelon said...

John wrote that wikipedia entry himself, didn't he?

At 12:16 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

I suppose so - though one can only wonder how he has found time to do this given how busy of late he has been working as a, er, 'social commentator', commenting on, among other things, that burning issue for the international working class movement at the moment that is the John Terry affair...

At 8:14 pm, Blogger Daphne Watermelon said...

sorry zoidy, i appear to have killed your blog.

At 5:30 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

I don't want to comment a great deal more on this, but if the press page of the Counterfire website is anything to go by, then the concerns about abandoning revolutionary Marxism highlighted above about the future direction of the ex-Left Platform seem to be vindicated. For example, John Rees is here described as 'a writer and broadcaster' and the collective as a whole are 'available for interviews, commissions and quotes and are sensitive to the needs of 24-hour news'. Whether they aspire to being 'sensitive to the needs of the working class movement' or not is not stated.


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