Response to the “Socialist Party Resignation Statement”

Earlier this week 6 recently resigned members of the Socialist Party published a statement providing their common assessment of the problems with the SP that led to their resignations.

It is available at http://spiritofcontradiction.eu/guest-author/2013/12/19/socialist-party-resignation-statement and http://www.irishleftreview.org/2013/12/19/socialist-party-resignation-statement/

These kinds of statement are useful as they are an opportunity to assess what lessons have been learned by resignees and what political direction they are heading in. A document by a group of revolutionaries leaving the SP/CWI would start with an analysis of the genuine method of the Transitional Programme and how far it departs from the alternative minimum-maximum programme put forward by the SP/CWI and would move onto a detailed critique of the reformism in practice that results from this.

Unfortunately the bulk of the document is instead spent outlining details of the bureaucratic practices of the SP. As a result it is of some limited interest; however as a rounded political critique of the SP/CWI it is very weak.

The purpose of this particular document is described as:

“After our recent resignations it became clear to us that whilst differing on some issues there were some core reasons behind all our resignations. We hope that this document can be a contribution to the debates currently taking place around what kind of mass Party is needed to rebuild the workers’ movement and play a crucial role in overthrowing Capitalism. While not claiming to have the answer to this question we feel it is important for us to offer our criticisms not just of the Socialist Party or the Committee for a Workers International but Trotskyism as an ideology.”

Though the writers go on to explain that:

“…for the purposes of this statement we will discuss mainly Trotskyism as practised by the dominant Trotskyist parties in contemporary polity and especially the version of Trotskyism dominant in the Irish and British left; that is the Committee for a Workers’ International, the Internatonal Socialists and the Workers’ Revolutionary Party. These parties and international groupings share tendencies discussed below that we believe point to serious issues with the ideology of contemporary British and Irish Trotskyism itself.”

Indeed their discussion of “Trotskyism” is completely limited to “contemporary British and Irish Trotskyism” and almost exclusively the SP/CWI. A real critical analysis of “Trotskyism as an ideology” would have to encompass far more than that and would presumably include at least some reference to the political perspectives actually outlined by Trotsky himself.

The reader is rightly left disgusted by the details of the SP’s bureaucratic internal practice the writers outline but we are left wondering what exactly is being suggested as an alternative.

On the SP’s main project In Ireland for the next 6 months or so (the 2014 council and European elections) the writers appear to be in basic agreement with the SP’s approach:

“Whilst being in favour of standing anti-austerity candidates, we feel that in some areas where CAPTA/AAA is standing, the number of candidates being run and the balance between SP and independent candidates raises serious question marks over the genuine nature of these campaigns.”

The implication being that the writers favour presenting a similar sub-reformist platform to CAPTA/AAA as the supposed “real alternative” to the policies of austerity – just with more democracy and a different balance of SP and independent candidates.

They would also like to see a more organised intervention into the trade union movement and the ending of setting up front groups, like ROSA, to intervene in wider campaign movements.

A more democratic internal culture for the SP would perhaps open up the possibility of the development of a revolutionary current against the prevailing reformist practice of the current leadership. But by limiting their critique of the SP to organisational issues alone the writers give no indication they are interested in developing such a revolutionary alternative.

Indeed what seems to be the direction of political development of the writers (towards liberal Menshevism) comes to the fore in a couple of places where they give hints of their ideas on what might replace the SP’s bureaucratically bastardised version of “democratic centralism”.

“The structure of the Bolshevik Party in the lead-up to the October Revolution revolved around a dynamic internal atmosphere that prided itself on debate through the publications of the Party and at its meetings, at all times public.”

“Furthermore, the belief that the Party’s small organisation is potentially the nucleus of a revolutionary Party and that every strategy or tactic implemented is in the best interests of the workers movement as a whole is flawed, in particular if those decisions are taken without the participation of working class people outside the SP.”

The implication would seem to be that the debates and decisions of the alternative “revolutionary” party the writers would like to see created (or the SP transformed into) will all be open to the wider working class in general.

They claim earlier in the document that they do not want to “diminish the importance of leadership within Socialist organisations” but any organisation, socialist or otherwise, that makes no distinction between members and non-members in its discussions and decision making processes is no leadership of any kind.

Such an approach also ends up denying the strategic differences in political perspectives across the reform to revolution spectrum that leads to the necessity of revolutionaries organising separately from the reformists and their centrist apologists.

The primary problem with the SP/CWI is not that it presents a distinct programme (generated via bureaucratic internal processes) to the working class.

The problem with the SP/CWI, for revolutionary Marxists at least, is the programmatic content of the reformist socialism they present to the working class.

A more democratic culture that improved the “quality” of the SP’s reformist message is of little use to anyone committed to the actual overthrow of capitalism.

A genuine revolutionary Marxist organisation will of course have an *internal* political culture that truly reflects the *democratic* basis of the organisational method known as “democratic centralism”. But that democratic internal culture must be seen as part of a wider internal political culture that places development, and constant refinement, of a revolutionary programme for the overthrow of capitalism at its heart.

It is the SP/CWI leadership’s opposition to that revolutionary programme that is the cause of their bureaucratism not the other way around.

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4 Responses to “Response to the “Socialist Party Resignation Statement””

  1. 1 littlemicky2012
    December 20, 2013 at 20:08

    I think it is unrealistic to expect a critique of the SP/CWI of the nature you outlined from the comrades concerned. Essentially the points of unity of those who resigned centre mainly on issues of internal democracy and questions around some of the SPs oppurtunist and sectarian behaviour (my characterisations not theirs). To reach the point you are coming from is it not almost a prerequisite that there is a general move in the left to a more democratic discourse? If the organisations that dominate the left here are anti democratic and authoritarian how can you even begin to explore the central political questions. The recent disintegration of the SWP in britain is a clear example of where the overly bureaucratic and undemocratic path can lead. The advent of the internet has to some extent facilitated the flow of ideas and the abject failure of the left in the current period of one sided class warfare has led to a lot of soul searching.

    Unfortunately as you point out the criticisms offered and the continued adherence of the comrades to a substantial portion of SP political practice means they are unlikely to make a break for a more revolutionary focus. A similar thing has happened with a group of those who have left the WSM in the last few years who reviewing their organisations activity and flaws have rejected revolutionary politics and retreated to social democracy as a solution. I fear a similar fate awaits the comrades as the SP is essentially reformist and the without a clear understanding and break with that a simple repetition of what went before albeit without the authoritarianism seems likely.

    • December 20, 2013 at 20:15

      I think your prognosis on the likely trajectory of these comrades will unfortunately prove to be accurate.

      However it is not necessarily the case that it is impossible to draw wider political conclusions from their experience – as Craig Murphy is showing to some extent.

  2. 3 HS
    December 20, 2013 at 21:51

    I think there are a number of assumptions in this response. Primarily the statement that revolutionaries ‘must’ look at an idealised transitional programme and compare it to the programme of the SP. It is an assumption on two counts, firstly that all revolutionaries adhere to the method of the transitional programme however defined and secondly that a definitive transitional programme or transitional methodology exists, which in itself is dubious. In fact there is no reason that self identified revolutionaries should either adopt the methodology nor compare every structural or programmic problem to the ‘ideal’ transitional programme (however defined). That is not to say that you should not support and argue for it, but that it should not be assumed from the outset that all self identified revolutionaries do.

    I think you ask too much to expect these comrades to write a definitive critique of world Trotskyism, that is the work of serious study and books rather than a resignation statement. And for this generation ‘actual existing’ Trotskyism is the SP and SWP. While they might not represent all Troskyist thought the authors in their defense stated clearly that their intent was to critique the practice of what they termed contemporary Trotskyism in Ireland and the UK.

    I also think you are making a very quick jump in defining a political trajectory from a single paragraph. And again the assumption seems to be Trotskyism is the ‘only’ form of revolutionism, which of course is not the case (even if you make the case it is the most effective or appropriate).

    For me there is a key dialectic of programme and structure, after all where does the programme come from? If a party does not have a structure and culture to allow dialectical discussion how can you expect any movement forward? Imagine if science for example adopted such a dogmatic approach, and indeed how could any programmic method work if ossified by a bureaucratic leadership? In that dialectic you posit that it is the programme that is the primary cause of the bureaucracy, of that I am not convinced. I suspect that the nature of the structure has stymied political development of the party, I am sure that the party bureaucracy themselves are utterly convinced the strict non-democratic structure is there to protect the party from ‘reformism’ and protect what they believe to be a revolutionary programme and method.

    Overall I think the statement points out the main problems the comrades had in the party, and they were structural in the sense that if anyone tried to address a political issue, the structure/bureaucracy got in the way. The sort of discussion/debate and polemic you discuss in your response don’t happen in the Socialist Party so it is difficult to expect comrades to have worked out political programme developed from discussions in the party.


    • December 20, 2013 at 22:26

      I accept that not all self-describing revolutionaries would claim adherence to the method of the Transitional Programme. However I think it is fair to raise this in a critique the SP/CWI as they explicitly claim to be implementing that political method.

      In critically assessing this statement I am of course going to bring my political perspective to bear. It is hard to see how I could engage with the statement without doing so.

      Maybe I am wrong about the political trajectory of the comrades and am making too much of the couple of references I pointed to. But those references were made and without any countervailing evidence I stand by my assessment of what they indicate. I would be delighted to be proved wrong in my assessment of their likely political development.

      I don’t know what goes on inside the heads of the SP leading cadre but if they really think that the concrete programme they present to the working class is an example of protecting the party from reformism and defending a revolutionary programme and method then they are, at best, seriously deluded. I assume a much greater level of conscious cynicism is involved.

      I agree that anyone in a bureaucratic organisation will initially respond against that bureaucratism as their primary focus. But it is not necessarily the case that their analysis will stay in that space – see Craig Murphy as an example of someone going further than the initial reaction to bureaucratism. And the rest of the resignees have had plenty of exposure and contact with him. By going public with this statement they are therefore fairly consciously rejecting any further development of their critique of the SP/CWI.

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