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.
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.