Marcus Strom calls for open debate and disciplined unity in the labour movement, not sect intrigue and split fever.
Well who woulda thunk it? Six Melbourne-based members of Democratic Socialist Perspective have hived off to become MSN - the Marxist Solidarity Network. (I wonder what Bill Gates thinks of that?) Further, they have also resigned from the Socialist Alliance, declaring it merely the public face of the DSP and a dead-end for left regroupment.
In sharp contrast to the positive spin put on the Socialist Alliance and its awful electoral results of late by the DSP, the MSN statement shows that the Socialist Alliance is failing on all fronts. It says: "Membership has stagnated over the past two years - in fact, over the last year, it has declined, as has the number of branches."
Further the MSN claims that "the numbers of people actively involved in the SA have been reduced steadily and the majority of active SA members are members of the DSP, the largest affiliate to the SA".
Given the MSN has broken from the strategy of building the Socialist Alliance, it is strange that they continue to sell Green Left Weekly, a newspaper that claims to be the paper of the Socialist Alliance and the DSP. Clearly, the political dust is yet to settle.
While "Trots split" is hardly earth-shattering news, to merely dismiss it as an irrelevance is a philistine error. The split reveals a lot that is awful about the 'revolutionary' left. It shows that all is not well in the DSP, its sectoid method of organisation and the state of the left in general.
Unfortunately it shows that the only modes of organisation that the far left knows is high-pressure sectoid madness or "liquidationist" merger with the 'mass movement'. The crisis of the far left points to the urgent need for the Marxist left to develop a coherent and authoritative political centre in the labour movement, devoid of a sectist culture, yet committed to developing theory and practice at the highest possible level.
The MSN group includes Jorge and Roberto Jorquera, longstanding DSP members. Jorge has been a leading cadre of the organisation for at least 20 years. The six were members of the "Leninist Party Faction" led by ousted national secretary John Percy and ideology hatchet-man Doug Lorimer.
The LPF - I trust you're keeping up up with the acronyms - formed after the DSP's last congress, which reaffirmed its commitment to build the Socialist Alliance as a "multi-tendency socialist party". Percy and Lorimer had argued that the SA had served its purpose (to do over the International Socialist Organisation, bascially) and that it was best to close it down and rebuild the DSP as a public socialist organisation.
The split vindicates what I have been writing about the Socialist Alliance in Australia. It is a dead duck. In the statement, "Why we left the DSP" the founders of MSN (the socialist group, not the Microsoft website) say:
"SA is no longer a genuine alliance, much less a new party in formation. The SA today is little more than the public face of the DSP (smaller than we were ourselves four years ago) and a loose network of (some of the) DSP's sympathisers. The DSP must now publicly acknowledge that our unilateral attempt to build SA as a new party in formation was a mistake, a sectarian error and a setback for socialist collaboration and regroupment in this country."
However, that is all by-the-by. What it reveals more is the culture of such groups. Their method of organisation is stultifying and about as far removed from a scientific engagement with social and political life as you could imagine.
For groups such as the DSP, political difference is treated as a private concern, as a shameful family secret. What does this secret discussion culture produce? Well, it produces splits. British group Workers Power has just split after internal ructions of the most bizarre order. The debate-only-for-the-enlightened approach to politics has seen its day and must be dumped by those professing Marxism.
The real litmus test of Marxist organisation is theory and its engagement with reality. If theoretical and practical debate is buried away from the public eye, it produces an unnaturally heightend situation. Tactical differences get blown up into do-or-die debates.
All this is confirmed by the MSN statement. It says: "We firmly believe that ... there is no constructive way of continuing the discussion inside the DSP. By engaging in constructive political activity in the mass movement and continuing to engage in the broad discussion of the 'organisational question' among the far left, we believe we can contribute far more to the discussion that the Leninist Party Faction has tried to raise inside the DSP."
Here is the rub. Membership of the DSP precludes "broad discussion of the organisational question among the far left". So, the comrades go outside the group. Of course, they should not have split - they should have rebelled, published openly, called for debate in the movement. If they were expelled, then so be it.
MSN clearly believes there were grounds for rebellion. They point to a "national leadership clique", "slander" of opponents, violations of "basic membership rights". Its statement says: "By generating an atmosphere of complete distrust amongst the membership of the DSP, the majority leadership buried the political discussion."
Peter Boyle, national secretary of the DSP, confirms that the Leninist Party Faction is to remain gagged in public. On the Green Left discussion list he said: "The DSP has not decided that the Leninist Party Faction is free to put forward its perspective on this discussion list."
Such a culture is par for the course for the far left. It is embedded deep in the culture of most Trotskyist sects.
The idea - shared by most Trotskyites and Stalinites - that the Bolsheviks constituted themselves as a separate party organisation from the Mensheviks in January 1912 and then banned their members from public discussion of party matters is a myth. What this myth serves is a method for building a mono-idea sect. It can only serve to cower internal opposition and hide debates from the advanced layers of the class. Even in the most democratic of such organisations, differences are only to be debated by the enlightened and ordained who then must deliver the discovered truth, unadulterated on fear of expulsion, to the unenlightened masses.
Other than short-term tactics and issues of security, political matters should, as a rule, be debated in public. This is actually the Leninist tradition.
Fear of open debate is fundamentally anti-Leninist. While the DSP says it has broken from Trotskyism, it is clear it has not adopted a Leninist or Marxist understanding of party-building. Indeed, it firmly adheres to the method advocated by US Trotskyist James Cannon, which treats internal differences as something to be hidden and purged. Public debate is considered likely to confuse the masses and the open expression of differences viewed as a declaration of war.
Lenin did not consider internal differences to be the secret preserve of revolutionaries. He considered openness an essential aspect of Party culture. He wrote: "There can be no mass Party, no Party of a class, without full clarity of essential shadings, without an open struggle between various tendencies, without informing the masses as to which leaders and which organisations ... are pursuing this or that line." In other words, for Leninists it is only through open struggle - not diplomatic silences and truces - that we can build real and lasting unity.
The DSP clearly believes that polemics should not be conducted in public. Again, Lenin thought differently. Take the example of the famed Iskra: "We do not reject polemics between comrades, but, on the contrary, are prepared to give them considerable space in our columns. Open polemics, conducted in full view of all Russian social-democrats and class conscious workers, are necessary and desirable in order to clarify the depth of existing differences, in order to afford discussion of disputed questions."
Marxism is not a religious body of work, it is a social science. As such, it requires constant refining, revisiting and re-establishment in an open and rigorous manner. Keeping the debate on, say, the class nature of the Chinese state a secret discussion for 200 or so acolytes is just mad. But this is precisely the method of the DSP.
In 1999 the DSP announced that it had discovered that China was a capitalist state and had been since September 1992. This discovery was decided by a majority of delegates attending the DSP's 18th conference on January 5-10, 1999. Up until January 4, 1999, according to the second edition of the DSP program, the DSP maintained that China was, alternatively a 'workers' state' (p126) or a 'socialist state' (p146).
Logically, any public statements by DSP members claiming China was not some form of workers' or socialist state up to January 4, 1999, were breaches of discipline. From January 11, 1999, it presumably became a breach of discipline to argue outside the DSP that China remained some form of workers' state.
Therefore, for nearly seven years, all DSP members (no matter what they actually thought) were bound to publicly parrot a line that it now thinks was fundamentally mistaken. The DSP had a 14-month internal discussion on the class character of the Chinese state leading up to the congress. Non-members were out of the loop. Workers outside the tiny ranks of the DSP could garner no insights. They were merely been dished up with the end product, the new 'truth'.
At the heart of the matter is a deep distrust for the great unwashed. Sects like the DSP really think that workers, the poor dears, can't really handle two different ideas on a page. (How anyone ever gets past the opening sentence of Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities must really puzzle them.)
However, the job of Marxists is not to hand down tablets of stone, it is about an engagement with the labour movement and the working class that allows others to learn a political method. So, while conclusions are vital, equally, if not more vital is the method by which conclusions are drawn.
Imagine Albert Einstein issuing a press release in 1905 saying it's E=mc2 and that's all I'm saying on the matter. When you learn maths, it is no good just being told that the answer is 42, you can only operate in a scientific world if you know the method by which you come up with this. The same goes in social sciences. Science requires rigorous, open debate.
It is even more important for Marxism. If it is so that the "liberation of the working class can only be achieved by the working class itself", wouldn't it be a good idea to involve the whole labour movement in discussions of theory and strategy?
Of course any serious organisation requires unity in action. But this is not counterposed to open debate. On the contrary. It is only through rigorous debate of important theory and strategy involving layers of the working class that you can cement a true and lasting unity in an organisation. Of course, you cannot insure against splits, but the method of the DSP and Workers Power guarantees them.
I'd heard a few weeks ago that a split may be about to happen in the DSP, but didn't know anything more. It's pretty crazy that a left trainspotter like myself has to rely on rumours. If people take their organisations seriously, politics is a matter for the labour movement, it is not a conspiracy behind the back of the working class. Yet Trot-propaganda sects approach politics in precisely this manner: as a conspiracy to be hatched in secret. Such an approach might well produce an interesting "clandestine" culture for the neophyte recruit, but it is alien to Marxism and the robust political culture of the working class.
The method is not isolated to the DSP, of course. For a truly woeful example of a split taking place now, look at the ridiculously named League for a Fifth International (no, I'm not making it up). If it wasn't so pathetic it would be funny. I won't bore you with the details here, if you're interested go to www.fifthinternational.org or www.permanentrevolution.net. The four members of Workers Power in Melbourne are "key players" in this split. So watch this space...
The far left must purge itself of this awful method or forever remain an irrelevance.
It is a pity, therefore, that the MSN seems to want to ignore this aspect of DSP culture. Its statement says: "We would like to make it clear that while we have been compelled ... to make some of our (incomplete) assessment of the situation in the DSP public, we are not interested in further pursuing this."
Why not? The MSN claims it had to leave the DSP in order to pursue a "broad discussion of the 'organisational question' among the far left". Surely this must start with what was fundamentally wrong with the DSP's method of organisation.
Debating such questions should not be counterposed to involvement in practical tasks. Yet it seems the MSN thinks this is the case. If so, then the split will be yet another liquidationist collapse out of a high-pressured sect into "mass-movementism", similar to the formation of Solidarity by a number of very able comrades from the International Socialist Organisation. The best case outcome of this split is that MSN and Solidarity merge, for there are no reasons to keep them apart.
The MSN says of itself: "We aim to develop links, extend networks and foster collaboration between all those revolutionary and left activists who for now at least have prioritised activity in the mass movement." And further: "The MSN has no program as such, but invites all those revolutionary and left activists interested, to participate in developing co-operation on a practical level."
No doubt the DSP will label them liquidationists, and it will have a bit of a point. This is a shame, but not surprising. The nature of sects such as the DSP is to chew up good-quality cadre and either isolate them in the grouplet or spit them out a tad burnt by the experience. It is to be expected that being kept isolated from the labour movement, the comrades are eager to 'get their hands dirty' in practical struggles. But unless we correctly theorise the problems of organisation, we are bound to repeat them.
However, we must remain optimistic. Where there is life, there is hope. During this period we are still seeing the decline of the old organisations of the left. While there are chinks of light, the overall political period is still overly reactionary. We should not be surprised to see continuing decay of the far left.
Labor Tribune, for its part, will seek co-operation with those seeking a refoundation of Marxist theory and practice, not as a soft 'solidarity' grouping, but on a serious organised movement for socialist renewal in the working class and its organisations.