Split in Workers Power
22 July 2006
Below we print the majority and minority positions of the two sides of a split in the Workers Power movement. We are carrying the statements for a number of reasons:
Many activists greet such news with a shrug as bickering among sects, yet it is among left groups – at least in some cases – where the battle for ideas is fought and issues of more general concern can be explored. We think this is the case in the Workers Power dispute.
Specifically, the dispute inside the organisation, seen from outside as ultra-orthodox and strictly in line with standard Marxist theory, turns out to be identical to that in the left as a whole. Is there an opportunity for a rapid shift in class struggle if only the left proves ‘flexible’ enough and adjusts to new ideas or alternatively, is there a long road to go and is that road through the deployment of classical Marxist understanding of class struggle?
In advancing this debate in a (relatively) open and honest form the Workers Power factions are doing left militants some service. The case is that much of the left have an analysis that has similarities to the WP majority, but they prefer to advance it silently, avoiding debate both within and without their organisations. As a result they flit from issue to issue, dishonestly avoiding the questions that would at least tell them if they are advancing or retreating.
In our own view the sharp differences in perspective between the two currents do not justify the split in the organisation. It should be possible to explore different perspectives and draw balance sheets through the much misunderstood and maligned mechanism of democratic centralism. Most left currents see this as some form of internal dictatorship. In reality it is a mechanism for trying out ideas and drawing lessons from the real world outcome of struggles.
Of course, one of the issues in Workers Power is the claim that each group broke with democratic centralism. However asserting this is, by itself, not enough to justify a split. There has to be an underlying issue of fundamental political disagreement.
The minority advance such an issue. They claim that the majority are dogmatists – that they are incapable of responding to real world events, advancing sterile dogmatic formulae and denying reality. That was precisely the Socialist Democracy assessment when we held discussions with the group a number of years ago. We hope that the outcome of the dispute will be that at least some militants will be able to co-operate with other leftists and advance the struggle of the working class.
A split has occurred in the League for the Fifth International. A minority of members – most of them members of the British Section - have been expelled for secretly drawing up detailed plans to split the League on the eve of its seventh congress, due before the end of July.
This split plan had not the slightest excuse. Until the discovery of these plans no disciplinary measures have been taken by the majority against the minority. No violation of restriction of their rights to argue their positions within our organisation has occurred. Nor have the splitters, up to the last minute, argued that their views and those of the majority were programmatically incompatible. Therefore to secretly plan to split the League and indeed, as we will show, to damage it in every way they could, was a totally unprincipled and disloyal act. No serious organisation could tolerate such a violation of its fundamental right to exist. To expel them is an elementary act of self-protection.
A grouping of members had been waging an internal struggle for two years, first as an informal grouping, then as a tendency, then finally as a minority national faction in the British Section and then as an international faction. No disciplinary measures whatsoever were taken against them. They were accorded all their rights, they presented alternative documents, were able to speak to them in all the sections of the League they chose to attend. Since the launching of our pre-congress period in January, 10 internal bulletins have carried this discussion over international perspectives and the tactics and tasks for building the organisation. Over the last month the sections have held national aggregates of members to decide on which basic documents, those of the Majority or the Minority should be the basis of debate at congress.
The only problem for the minority faction was that outside the British Section and the four members of the Australian section their support was negligible. They recognised they had no chance of winning a majority at the congress and were unwilling to continue within the League after it. They described the prospect of having to remain in the League as being “trapped”.
This is nonsense. The League is a voluntary organisation and no one is obliged to remain in a organisation whose programme and policies they reject. Had the comrades simply announced that they were leaving for fundamental political reasons we would have condemned these political positions and said farewell, with some regret since some of the comrades have been members for twenty years or more. But instead of an honourable exit, they broke obligations that should be elementary for working class militants as long as they remain members of an organisation.
Indeed the actions they were planning to carry out - in order to damage in every way the organisation they were members of - were truly shameful, a real stain on their political record. This method will disfigure the internal life of any new organisation they attempt to create and should make them objects of scorn and suspicion within the broader labour movement. If this is how they behave to an organisation that has treated them with respect as long time comrades, which has fully accorded them all their rights, what further degeneration can be expected?
The evidence for this appalling behaviour is undeniable: thanks to the fact that we have been sent all the faction’s electronic correspondence with one another. What does it reveal?
At a meeting of the Minority Faction at the Workers Power (Britain) pre-congress aggregate on the 10th June, they decided to split from the organisation, make preparations for a new organisation and campaign to inflict maximum damage on the League.
The main issue of debate had been whether to split at the League’s Seventh Congress in July or to boycott the Congress, break discipline and intervene against the League into the International Conference of the REVOLUTION youth group, and hold a ‘founding meeting’ in London while the League meets in the Czech Republic. All of them make it clear that the only question was which could cause most damage to the League.
It is clear from the emails that, in an online ‘referendum’, a clear majority favoured an early split before the congress, because they feared their own demoralisation as a result of having to argue with the majority at the congress. They feared that they would either “get trapped “ by having no excusable pretext for leaving or would have to walk out after a heavy defeat. Instead they have decided to hold a founding conference in London with the British minority and the two Australian delegates. The latter were brazenly encouraged to get the money for their fares paid from the League for attending its congress and then attend the split meeting instead.
The International Faction talk spitefully about the need to ‘maximise the chaos and disarray into the ranks of the organisation we leave behind’, to ‘disorientate and demoralise’ majority members and to be ‘particularly aggressive’ to young supporters of the majority to ‘make them ask themselves if politics is really for them’ (Mark H, ‘Re: Congress and Tactics’, June 23rd 2006) They then propose expropriating contact and membership lists, materials and equipment from the London office in the week before the split as part of a plan to materially cripple the League (Mark H, ‘Re: Congress and Tactics’, June 23rd 2006).
In addition Workers Power (Australia) voted unanimously at its aggregate to support one of its members ‘ignoring Majority faction dictates at the Revo Conference 2006’ i.e. to break from the League policy of continuing the work of strengthening international democratic centralism within REVOLUTION and instead fight for it to completely break its links with the League. (Lisa F, ‘WPA Aggregate/Faction meeting)’,
The Faction planned to cease paying League subs from July and began transferring money to a new bank account, having discussed a subscription scale for their new organisation. Some of them it seems have already cancelled their subscriptions.
The Faction has entered into communications with organisations and individuals hostile to the League in Austria and has a project of “regroupment discussion” listing an assortment of centrist and sectarian organisations, including some who split from the League over issues on which the then faction leaders totally supported the majority.
Clearly as a result of this extended (but inadvertent) confession, the International Secretariat of the League had to take action to protect the League. It has expelled the faction, with of course the right to appeal to our Congress - though it is hard to see what such an appeal could consist of faced with such damning evidence. As one of the faction leaders remarked in one of his emails: “if there are any more leaks we are dead ducks.”
We will not suggest that the reason for this was that the comrades are all bad people, however reprehensible their actions. People do not split an organistion they have built for thirty years in a fit of moral collapse. The reason is a rapid process of political degeneration.
In essence, the Faction evolved from a rejection of national perspectives in Britain. In 2004 the relative downturn in the class struggle, in the antiwar movement in the anticapitalist or anti-globalization movement after the high point of 2001-2003 convinced the faction leaders, then only an informal grouping, that the key issues of WPB’s perspectives - the fight around the slogan of a new workers party , the need for a rank and file movement, the fight for the Fifth International in the European Social Forum - all had to be dropped in favour of a tailist and routinist perspective in the trade unions.
Connected with this they wanted to stick with the tactic of critical electoral support for Labour, exaggerating the scale of Labour’s pro-working class reforms, the continued loyalty to Labour, the illusions in Gordon Brown etc. Thus they maintained that there was no resonance for a call for new workers’ parties or electoral alternatives to New Labour. They minimised the significance of the RMT and FBU breaks from Labour, they minimised the significance of the real decline of the Labour vote that year.
There was, they said, no resonance for the call for a new working class party. The majority correctly characterized this as tailism, basing their demands not on the needs of the working class but on the existing consciousness of the main body of the class. In this way they failed to give a clear political lead to the vanguard who showed a desire to break from Labour, though it has as yet arrived at no clear decision on what the political alternative should be. The Minority would have had us abandon the role of Marxists which is to show the right way, to trailblaze, to offer political leadership, not to follow where the working class as a whole was going, only raising slogans where they already have ‘resonance’. In two national conferences of Workers Power (Britain) the minority suffered first a narrow and then a more clear defeat.
In fact the Minority had no unified alternative to the Majority’s approach. Part of the Minority opposed the demand for a new workers’ party in principle, claiming that the tactic did not apply because there is already a workers party in Britain – the Labour Party. The other wing of the Minority, less dogmatic but also less consistent - argued that the demand could apply, but used tailist logic, saying it should only be used where there is resonance for it, ie within the RMT or the FBU, but not across the working class movement as a whole.
Should they form a new organisation, one of their first challenges will be overcoming the fact that they are split down the middle on a central question for the class struggle in Britain today.
The minority, perhaps because they included so many “old leaders” of WPB - Mark H, Keith H, Stuart K - became embittered by these defeats. Some minority members had had longer or shorter periods outside the group in the late nineties or early 2000s, missed its reviving and reorienting struggles and indeed felt somewhat hostile to them because they were different to the type of struggles they had experienced when they entered politics in the mid-eighties. Others had voluntarily left the leading bodies of the section and international tendency for apparently personal reasons. This whole stratum, many of them long time white collar trade union militants of some standing and a good record of struggle, nevertheless proved year in year out totally incapable of recruiting to the organisation. They became embittered and jealous of those who were recruiting and building.
Meanwhile our work in the anticapitalist movement and amongst youth prospered and whilst there was steady loss from the older comrades, to private life, careers, health and family problems, the younger comrades kept the British Section growing. The attempt to get the older comrades to collectively discuss changes to their routine or to learn anything at all from the youth work was greeted with cries of indignation, accusations of disrespect and even persecution. The comrades effectively boycotted the areas of work that they did not approve of, like campaigning for a new workers’ party. Again and again the comrades sought an alibi in the supposedly adverse objective conditions.
They developed perspectives that denied any overall upward swing in the international class struggle, observing only “that it is uneven.” In fact they turned a blind eye to clear evidence that the intensity of class conflict is rising sharply in most countries in the world: in Latin America, the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe, the USA and the Far East. They have yielded to the fashionable glut of ‘Chinamania’ - emphasising a long term, largely contradiction-free rise of China to the status of imperialist power and main rival of the USA.
They have openly toyed with revising Lenin’s theory of imperialism to remove the issue of decay and stagnation. They have suggested that the world is in a Kondratiev-style long wave that will ensure expansion till at least 2015 and which will act to dampen down class struggle. Again this represents a yielding to current neoliberal bourgeois ideology. Because the League rejected this and defended our analysis of globalization as a period where the tendencies to stagnation in the world economy were still present, despite powerful countervailing tendencies represented by the massive export of capital to China and India, the Minority faction cried that we were ‘catastrophists’, misrepresenting our views as if we believed that capitalism is on the verge of collapse.
The faction also systematically ignored or grossly underestimated the strength and scale of the movements resisting neo-liberalism and imperialist war, regarding them as dead or as good as dead. Unfortunately the wish is father to the thought. Seeking a return to “more propaganda” and regarding the League’s turn to combining propaganda with agitation focused on the youth and the vanguard fighters against neoliberalism as “voluntarism”, they adopted a more and more passive propagandist approach. With this was combined a tailist and routinist approach to trade union work. If there was resonance, i.e. if workers were already raising certain demands then good, so could we. If not we couldn’t and shouldn’t.
They advocated too the abandonment the League’s struggle to fight for a Fifth International in the global movements of resistance in the European and World Social Forums. Instead they talked of a regroupment perspective with (unspecified) Trotskyist left centrists.
In short, in the name of resisting “voluntarism” they attempt to move the League firmly in the direction of passive propagandism and a discussion circle existence.
They then went on to attack the youth work that had been so successful in Britain and Austria, and the abandon the democratic centralism which has been established in REVOLUTION.
They also proposed to retreat from the League’s own international democratic centralism to a semi-federal system - an International Executive Committee elected by the sections not the congress, and therefore not accountable to the League as a whole. This strategy would liquidate not only our programme but, in undermining democratic centralism, would weaken the unity and effectiveness of our whole organization. of the masses in struggle, through agitation as well as propaganda.
To undermine democratic centralism, to minimise a militant orientation towards the new struggles and movements of workers and youth, to try to break up a small but real international organisation, in effect means to give up the struggle for a revolutionary fighting organisation.
The international leadership and the great majority of the membership of the League rejected this whole approach. For us it represents a shying away from the tasks of a new period of growing struggles where big questions are posed, not least a major crisis of leadership of the working class. This period requires revolutionaries to address our criticisms and fight for our alternatives not just among small circles of left centrists predominantly drawn from the intelligentsia. We have to bring these ideas to the vanguard It represents a petty bourgeois capitulation in face of the enormous tasks of the class struggle and the corresponding responsibilities for revolutionaries.
The League at its Fifth and Sixth congresses (in 2000 and 2003) analysed the new period which opened with the turn of the century, developed tactics for it and indeed adopted a new programme in 2003 – From Protest to Power. In rejecting all the major elements of the League’s perspective and tasks, the Minority covertly rejected key elements of From Protest to Power. While they were in the League they denied this, but we can safely predict that they will dump it unceremoniously now that are “free”. What they replace it with will indeed be interesting.
The Minority wanted to undo all this work and naturally found themselves in conflict with the majority of the League who have led this work and been recruited through it. Faced with new tasks, with a mounting level of struggle, with the need to turn the good old truths into good new truths, to sharpen our weapons and use them, the Minority drew back.
The Faction assembled many of those comrades who were skeptical and unenthusiastic about our strategic and tactical developments even in the earlier part of this new period. They eventually (2004-06) came to oppose them more totally and to seek to reverse them. That was their right. No one ever denied them it, despite the frankly hysterical accusations of intolerance, bureaucratism and even Stalinism emanating from the ranks of the Faction in the last few months.
To yield in an impressionistic way to bourgeois economic propaganda about the strength and expansive power of capitalism, to retreat from the League’s programme, to retreat from its democratic centralism, to retreat from the tasks of today and run hell for leather in the direction of fruitless discussions with Trotskyist fragments, gives the opposition the same character as the these fragments themselves: a petit bourgeois one, i.e. a collapse into centrism.
As Trotsky said “centrism hates to hear itself named.” Mark H in particular took it as a personal insult. “The Majority have declared class war on us” he blustered. As though what was at stake was a struggle against the bourgeoisie. No, the struggle against the pressure of petty bourgeois influences, whether these emanate from the disillusioned and tired intelligentsia or the privileged upper strata of the trade union movement is a constant one within revolutionary organisations. It does not mean driving them out or purging them and nothing like this has ever occurred in Workers Power in Britain. Yet on the second day of the conference Mark H declared, “Workers Power is on the verge of a split”. And indeed, we now know he was right, because the night before he had agitated for just such a split.
The majority, at this time unaware of this, indeed unaware of the minority’s determination to be free of the discipline and the seriousness of a democratic centralist organisation, did all it could to prevent a split. It replied with a statement “To Split would be a Crime” in which we said:
“The Majority declares without hesitation: to split would be a crime. The existing leadership has taken not a single step to persecute, let alone expel, any member for holding oppositional, critical or minority views. Nor will we ever; we defy anyone to prove otherwise.
“In fact these provocative and alarmist statements are not designed to be an honest description of the Majority’s actions or objectives. Rather they can only be understood as a declaration of the Minority leaders’ intent. They are agitating for a split, preparing their supporters to commit an unprincipled act of desertion.
We believe that the Minority’s trajectory away from our fighting perspective and programme, and their attempt to revise our Bolshevik organisational methods (opposition to international democratic centralism), is no accident but has a clear – indeed obvious – social character.
The Minority expresses a conservative reaction to new tasks under the pressure of the intermediate strata, the left trade union leaders’ fear of political independence, the scepticism of the centrists and the torpor of the labour aristocratic layers in Britain. In accordance with its inner logic this process has now culminated in a classic petit-bourgeois rebellion against democratic centralism – the highest form of proletarian organisation.
When the Minority leaders respond ‘this means a split’, they unwittingly confirm this class prognosis. Proletarian revolutionaries have never held the view that to designate a trend as petit-bourgeois means that it must be driven from our ranks, but that it must be challenged politically, must be fought, because its victory would seriously damage the organisation and set back its struggle for revolutionary leadership.
We are aware that many members of the Minority have an honourable record of commitment to the class struggle and to our revolutionary programme and methods. Precisely for these reasons we want not to drive them out but to win them back from their current course. We are confident that this can be done and that the march of events will prove us right.”
Alas, our optimism was proved wrong. Secretly and dishonestly the faction had already decided to split the organisation. It planned to harm it in every way it could. We have prevented it choosing their moment to cause maximum surprise and disruption.
The Minority believe their departure will demoralise us. They think their past prominence and services to the organisation – real indeed - reflect their current importance. They delude themselves. They believe that new younger comrades cannot match, cannot repeat their achievements. They are wrong.
They should remember the achievements of their own youth in the 1980s. True, to lose senior members who for that very reason make an important financial contribution, to lose trained journalists and theoreticians, to lose significant trade unionists will be a setback. We will not try to deny it. But for two to three years these comrades have shown more and more their negative sides. They also obliged us to engage in a scarcely interrupted internal struggle, one that has occupied many hours. Not a waste of time since internal struggle is a school – not the exhaustion of nerves that petit bourgeois dilettantes imagine. If the issues are important so is the struggle to adopt or preserve a correct line.
Still Workers Power has continued to grow, to intervene in the class struggle, to train and develop new cadres. Now we will certainly have to prioritise even more ruthlessly the use of our resources and make bigger sacrifices. But the ending of this struggle will increase the human resources, the time and energy, that we will be able to devote to intervening in and recruiting in the class struggle. We will go forward to new successes; we have no doubt about that.
On Saturday 1 July 33 members of the LFI in Britain, Australia, Ireland and Sweden (30% of the LFI membership) were expelled by the International Secretariat (IS) of the League. They were all members of an International Faction (IF) that had been formed in the run up to the League’s 7th Congress in July.
The formation of the IF was a culmination of a two year long struggle beginning in Workers Power Britain (WPB) and extending into the League. That struggle was around perspectives and tactics. The majority perspectives adopted at the 2003 congress, and many of the tactics deployed by the organisation on the basis of these perspectives, were wrong, especially around the use of the slogan of a Fifth International within the anti-capitalist movement.
The errors in those perspectives became glaringly apparent in the years following the Congress. Yet the majority clung to them as though they were articles of faith. Perspectives were being transformed into doctrine and real developments in the class struggle and the economy were ignored wherever and whenever they contradicted the majority’s “perspective”. The political struggle to correct these errors became increasingly bitter, especially in WPB. That struggle has resulted in the current split.
Differences over period
The 2003 Congress of the LFI decided that globalisation had exhausted all of its economic potential, that world capitalism had entered a phase of stagnation and that the political situation could be characterised as a worldwide “pre revolutionary period”. The IF challenged this view, arguing that world capitalism was benefiting from the collapse of the Stalinist states and the consequent opening up whole new markets and cheap labour for imperialist exploitation in China, Central Europe and Russia.
This had allowed imperialism, in the age of globalisation, to offset the structural crises of capitalism. We pointed out that global GDP had doubled in the last ten years and that the upward swings of the business cycles since 1993 had been strong, while the down phases had been relatively shallow and unsynchronised – hardly symptoms of crisis and stagnation.
For our part, we do not believe that capitalism has overcome its tendency to structural crisis. We continue to assert that imperialism is the epoch of wars and revolutions. We do not, and none of our members has ever advocated Kondratiev's long waves, as the LFI statement of 1st July asserts. But following Trotsky we do recognise there are longer periods in the world economy, which decisively shape the duration, length and depth of the business cycle.
We recognised the need to open and develop a discussion about world capitalism today since it so clearly bore little resemblance to the picture painted in the majority’s political perspectives. Unfortunately this attempt at a scientific debate was greeted with insults – we were “pessimists” who “welcomed good news for capitalism”.
We also argued that the working class, internationally, had moved from a period of international defeats (1980-95) to a period of recovery. But we did not mistake a period of recovery for a period of rude health. We recognised that in major sections of the international workers’ movement militant organisations had not yet been rebuilt. Traditions of struggle and solidarity had not yet been become widespread. The legacy of the former defeats was still a weapon used by the reformist bureaucracies to hinder or hamper the struggles of today.
In short we believe that we are in a period of transition in world politics. We think the recovery has been uneven. In parts of the world, Japan, Britain, USA, Scandinavia, Russia, the trade unions and workers have remained on the defensive. In other areas – Latin America, France, Greece, the Middle East the struggle against neoliberalism, war and oppression has taken on major proportions. Unevenness and recovery have marked the world class struggle and these differing class struggle situations could not be swept away by simply declaring “a world pre-revolutionary situation”.
Because we were prepared to say this, the Majority yell in their 1st July statement: “they systematically ignored or grossly underestimated the strengths and scale of the movements resisting neo-liberalism and imperialist war, regarding them as dead or as good as dead”. This gives a flavour of the caricatures and histrionics that marked the leadership’s polemics against us in the latter period of the political struggle in the LFI.
The anti-capitalist movement and the fight for the new international
Central to the 2003 Congress perspective was the idea that the “flowering of the anti-capitalist movement”, marking the new pre-revolutionary period, made the founding of a new Fifth International an immediate prospect. It meant “forming the new International as soon as possible – not in the distant future but in months or years”. The vehicle for this became the World Social Forum and its regional bodies, like the ESF, and a local social forum movement modelled on Italy. This was where “important elements of the new International were taking shape”.
In the years that followed 2003 this proved to be a completely wrong perspective. The anti-summit protests went into crisis after the repression of Gothenburg and Genoa (2002), the Italian social forum movement collapsed. In the two years following the Florence ESF in 2002, the WSF and the ESF turned further right under the leadership of the Brazilian PT, Italian RC, the PDS of Germany, (parties that joined or ran neo-liberal national or local governments).
These parties blocked all attempts to turn the ESF/Assembly of Social Movements into a co-ordinating body of struggle, let alone into a new revolutionary international. The Majority refused to recognise that the ESF/WSF has become an obstacle, not a vehicle, for the construction of a revolutionary International. Indeed it declared that, “We will not demand that the mass organisations within the ESF and allied international forums must first ditch their reformist and post Stalinist leaders before they can form a new international.” A new revolutionary international led by the likes of the Rifondazione’s Bertinotti!
In truth the task of the day was to rally the best revolutionary elements, especially from amongst the radicalised youth and militant union organisations in this important movement, against the leadership and against very purpose that the reformists had now established for the WSF/ESF – an international talking shop which they could use to refurbish their left credentials. The Majority could not say this because they thought it was an embryonic international, they could not fulfil the Marxist duty to say “what is” – that this movement had to be split into competing trends if a revolutionary international was to come about.
Instead the LFI leadership declared that “we were nearer the tasks Marx faced at the beginning of the First (international) than Trotsky in 1938.” That is, nearer to refounding the International as a united front with reformist leaders, but in this case where the revolutionary Marxists were an insignificant minority with little influence. The analogy with the First International was laughable. What was being proposed was an echo of the call made in the 1980s for a new international in which Trotskyists would be in the minority, a call popularised by the Argentinean centrist leader at that time, Nahuel Moreno.
This new strategy for the LFI was accompanied by a turn away from argument and discussion with leftward moving groups, often from the Fourth International tradition, and from the fight for revolutionary regroupment. The LFI was no longer interested in the “tiddlers” and “sectarians” who did not recognise the potential of the WSF/ESF. It was now able to address the masses gathering in an embryonic international.
But the LFI was a tiny organisation with little implantation in the global workers’ movement. The masses at the WSF/ESF had not responded to its shrill calls to form the Fifth International in the months or years following the 2003 call. Indeed no allies amongst other organisations had been found to unite with to fight for the Fifth International – or even take the next step in that direction. The leadership ignored these stubborn facts. It was now substituting delusion and schema for accurate perspectives and revolutionary tactics.
The perspective of a pre-revolutionary period and the assembling of forces for a new international in the ESF movement in the short term, led the Majority declaring that the London ESF in 2004 would present “unparalleled opportunities to transform, radicalise and re-organise class politics in Britain”. We said it wouldn’t, especially given the weakness of the anti-capitalist movement in Britain and the low level of trade union and class struggle. We were proved right but the Majority pressed on.
Building “local social forums in every town and city” (social forums were seen as part of the fight for proto soviet organisations in the pre revolutionary period worldwide) became a “key slogan”. The social forum “movement” – which didn’t actually exist – nevertheless became a key area of work.
Even after the dramatic decline of the mass anti-war movement in Britain the majority retained the slogan of building social forums. It had no resonance and was a complete failure wherever we tried to implement it. This slogan, along with the call for a National Social Forum, was only dropped after the small turnout at the Gleneagles G8 summit siege showed how weak the movement was in Britain. But even at the point the LFI majority leaders insisted we had been wrong to oppose the slogan. The majority could not accept that the minority were right on anything. They were becoming impervious to all criticism.
The Workers’ Party and tactics towards reformism
Another area of difference, one that primarily affected the British section, concerned tactics towards reformism.
WPB had historically taken a critical electoral support position towards the Labour Party. We regarded Lenin’s description of the Labour Party as a “bourgeois workers party” – a party with a bourgeois reformist programme and leadership but with a working class base mainly through the affiliated trade unions – as correct and still accurate.
The united front – placing demands on Labour, trying to win its working class supporters to struggle and revolutionary politics, and mobilising reformist workers in a fight with their leaders, inside and outside the Labour Party – is still a crucial tactic in our view. Critical electoral support was part of this tactic – gaining a hearing with reformist workers, putting their party to the test of office, winning these workers to a revolutionary alternative.
This was a tactic not a strategy – if we had been larger we would have stood revolutionary candidates against Labour. We supported “class struggle candidates” where workers in struggle represented a real break from Labour and stood against the party. We actively supported and helped build the Socialist Alliance (SA). One of our faction’s members was a parliamentary candidate for it in Greenwich while another was on the SA’s executive.
Part of this struggle against Labour reformism was a fight to democratise the political fund. This was designed to break Labour’s monopoly hold on TU political funds and allow unions nationally and locally to fund and support other working class political parties as well as Labour – like the SSP in Scotland. This was the position WP argued for in the SA and was a tactic the Alliance used with some success with many faction members playing a leading role in mobilising a thousand strong trade union conference on the issue.
In the last two years, against our opposition, WP has abandoned all of these positions. It now calls on trade unionists to disaffiliate from Labour even though there is no “workers’ party” to affiliate to. This is a recipe for encouraging the growth of apolitical trade unionism – a danger that now faces the FBU since its disaffiliation from Labour. The WPB leadership calls for a general abstentionist position in elections – calling on workers not to vote is somehow “relating to the vanguard”. Worse, in one document they went so far as to say WPB was not “putting demands on Labour in this conjuncture.” So, no demands on them to repeal anti-unions laws, anti-asylum seeker laws and so on? This was getting ludicrous.
Rejecting critical electoral support was even the case where there was a real threat of fascist gains. While the UAF called on people to vote anyone but the BNP, WPB tells workers threatened with a fascist council election victory not to bother to vote at all!
Of course, we don’t think voting Labour will defeat fascism. We need to defeat them on the streets and through a fight for a real revolutionary alternative to capitalism. But we do think it is necessary – indeed it is an elementary united front tactic – to block them building an electoral base for fascism wherever we can. If a revolutionary candidate or a serious candidate of struggle is not standing we should critically support Labour under such circumstances.
The Majority’s statement on the split tries to make out that because we take this position we are “soft on Labour”. Far from it. The argument over the workers’ party was about how to relate to both the vanguard who are deeply disillusioned with Labour and, at the same time, to the mass of organised workers and trade unionists who still vote Labour against the Tories. Many of these workers have illusions in Gordon Brown or other left figures and campaigns in the Labour Party. The RMT, for example, which has been kicked out of the Labour Party nevertheless continues to support politically and financially left wing Labour MPs.
With the collapse of the Socialist Alliance, the diversion of many of its militants into a populist, non-socialist alternative, Respect, and a continuing low level of trade union struggle in Britain, we did not think the workers’ party tactic was a central one to use in the current situation. In the absence of substantial organised trade union forces driving for a new party we thought it would have little resonance as an operative tactic – no more resonance in fact than the clear and straightforward idea that the party that workers needed was a revolutionary party. There was no short cut to this goal, no quick fix via a “new mass workers’ party”, and it remained vital to engage with vanguard militants on the need to join with us in the fight to build a revolutionary party.
We think the severely muted response, around the country, to the launch of the Socialist Party’s Campaign for a New Workers Party (barely a regional or town meeting over 60 people and often a lot less) confirms that this tactic is not useful for revolutionaries at the moment. Yet this has now become the central, “over-arching” campaigning work of WPB, the key, unifying element of the group’s agitation.
The IS asserts that because we opposed the new workers’ party tactic politically, the IF in WPB “boycotted the areas of work that they did not approve of, like campaigning for a new workers’ party.” In fact at union national conferences (Unison, NUT, Natfhe, for example) it was IF members who loyally pressed the case, and faction members initiated or were involved in campaign launches in Sheffield, South Wales and south London.
Finally and ironically, abandoning critical
support was never applied to LFI sections in Sweden or the Czech Republic
where the League continued to advocate a vote for neo-liberal social democratic
parties that have been in power for many years.
The Majority paints a picture of the IF resisting a new turn to agitation, that we “attempt to move the League firmly in the direction of passive propagandism and a discussion circle existence.” Moreover, we are an “embittered” group of trade unionists who are unable to recruit to WPB.
Of course any revolutionary trade unionist will tell you that after the defeats of Thatcherism, the shrinking of the unions and the strengthening of the reformist union bureaucracy via the anti union laws, it is not easy to win recruits to revolutionary politics. This is even more the case in a period like today of very low levels of trade union struggle. If it was as easy to recruit in the unions as the leaders of the LFI think the far left would not be so much smaller, and, frankly more marginal, now than it was even 10 years ago.
We recognised many years ago that there was a radicalisation amongst youth and it is through Revolution youth work that WPB has recruited. And all the faction supported this work. Indeed we helped build it. However, as the political struggle deepened the majority began to exclude faction supporters from youth work. They created or maintained separate youth branches and cells, even where those branches were patently failing to build independent Revo groups, as in London, for example. The youth branches and cells were used as exclusion zones by the majority - a purely factional decision by them to reduce our influence amongst a layer of their supporters who by this time were being systematically miseducated.
Yet we never learned from the majority what their new turn to agitation consisted of. For WPB it seemed to come down to “a few more stalls, more leafleting, more nights of activity” and some talk about using the methods of Revo to attract workers – campaigns, street theatre etc. The only political campaign mentioned was the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party – hardly a roaring success in getting workers along to meetings, let alone recruiting them to revolutionary politics.
The IS says the IF “favour of a tailist and routinist perspective in the trade unions.” The irony is that it is the trade union members of the faction, the bulk of the trade union base of WPB just expelled, were the ones who undertook some of the most political actions in the last period and demonstrated what real revolutionary agitation was. Our teachers, for example, were instrumental in bringing out their schools on strike in London, bringing pupils and parents onto the streets, the day Blair invaded Iraq. These were some of the only trade union actions against the war in the country.
What the Majority leadership objected to,
in their impatience and voluntarism, was that to rebuild confidence and
organisation amongst workers and to begin to build a militant leadership
in a workplace takes a lot of ordinary, everyday, union work, alongside
communist work. Unfortunately the Majority duped a lot of young members
with little experience of workplace and union work into going along with
them on this, dubbing such work “routinism” reflecting a “conservative
We are accused of attacking “the youth work that was so successful in Britain and Austria” in the LFI statement.
WPB had moderate success for a small group in this area of work. Revolution has been very good at drawing young people into WPB, less successful in establishing a genuine independent youth movement. Its annual national conferences have hovered around 40-50 people. But only in one town, Leeds had we managed to established a self–sustaining active Revo group.
In Austria results are disputed, as half the organisation, mostly young members, left shortly after the Athens ESF leaving only five members in the section. The comrades who left claim the success of the Revo work in Austria is much exaggerated by the full-timer and International Secretariat member there.
The IF certainly thought that the rush to push the international Revo groups, which were often struggling to establish themselves nationally, into a fully blown international democratic centralist structure – while not wrong in principle – was premature. It flowed from the IS’s desire to prove that not only a new Fifth international was on the cards but that we were on the way to building a youth international as well. In fact despite the occasional successful youth meeting at ESFs we had discovered few co-thinkers willing to join us in this task.
A Revolution International Committee (RIC) was set up, and a Bureau to meet in between. Neither functioned very well and at the first sign of differences a tendency, described by the IS as “libertarian”, in the German and Swiss Revo groups, were suddenly being denounced as people who “flouted” democratic centralism. We said that this problem demonstrated that the drive towards democratic centralism should be reconsidered. We were duly denounced as “effectively surrendering to the libertarian and anarchising trends that are trying to split Revo in Germany, Czech Republic and Switzerland away from its association with the League.”
We replied: “Whatever happened to the idea that we were trying to build broad, fairly loose Revo organisations that might contain members of other tendencies, including libertarians? Genuinely independent organisations, in their majority under our political leadership, a leadership not imposed but won through argument and activity?”
No, for the super centralists of the LFI majority all Revo groups must immediately follow to the letter the directions and campaigns decided by the RIC and a new two person bureau (of LFI members) in Leeds. This is a recipe for driving young people into the arms of libertarians, and for splits. It is completely inappropriate for the current stage and state of Revolution internationally. It is destroying it as an organisation.
The internal struggle and the expulsions
The LFI, WPB and most other sections, have a strong tradition of democratic debate, of political tendencies forming and dissolving and of a collective leadership representing various strands of opinion. This has been increasingly undermined over the last two years.
In WPB we were forced to turn from a tendency to a faction in order to guarantee our proportional representation on the National Committee at our national conference last March. As a result of us taking this justified action the NC majority immediately barred us from representation on the Political Committee (PC), the weekly meeting executive. This was despite the fact that two minority Tendency members had worked loyally on the PC for the entire preceding year without incident. From that moment the PC became a weapon in the hands of the majority faction to be used, systematically, against the minority Faction.
Soon disciplinary commissions were hunting down those suspected of talking to outsiders about the political divisions in the group (invariably faction members). Despite the Majority’s efforts no evidence was ever found – because there wasn’t any. The Manchester branch was unconstitutionally split with a “youth cell” being formed reporting directly to the PC – a measure about to be challenged at our National Committee before our expulsion.
When a crisis broke out in the Austrian section – leading to the resignations of half of the organisation - the IF was immediately accused by the IS of meddling in it and using it for factional advantage. There was no evidence for this, but just as truth was no longer getting in the way of the majority’s political perspectives it was now also no barrier to their organisational offensive against the faction. Indeed such was the scale of the witch-hunt against us that all personal e-mails between comrades in the League which even mentioned the Austrian crisis were demanded to be handed over to the International Secretariat on pain of discipline. The aim was a trawling expedition to “pin something” on the IF. These outrageous demands imposed on the Austrian opposition undoubtedly helped to drive the young comrades away from the League.
All factional struggles can lead to a breakdown in comradely relations. These measures contributed to a breakdown of trust of comrades in the LFI leadership.
By the time WPB assembled for its pre-congress aggregate in June the IF had been denounced as “passive propagandists”, “a petit bourgeois formation”, “a clique” and “liquidationists”. The leadership clearly thought it was re fighting the 1940 Cannon-Shachtman struggle in the US SWP with quotes flying around from “From a scratch to the danger gangrene” – second time round this really was farce.
The Majority had made clear that whatever the support the IF had at Congress they would keep control of all of the executive committees – the International Secretariat and the WPB PC were by now virtually one and the same thing with overlapping membership. Given the IF’s experience of what this factional control meant it was no surprise that discussions started on whether we would be better taking our differences and our politics into the class struggle outside of the framework of the League.
Recently we started polling members of the IF on the question of whether we should resign as a block before or after the congress. The vote was never completed before the IS gained access to (or hacked into) the Faction e-list and proceeded to expel everyone in the faction whatever their opinion on this matter. On the very day of the expulsions members of the IF were working loyally on the July issue of WPB’s newspaper, carrying out the discipline of the group as they had done for the whole two years they were in opposition.
The Majority are publishing their side of the story – which the outside observer will note involves an awful lot of insults against this or that faction member but not very much about the politics of the dispute. We on the other hand have chosen to highlight the political character of our struggle inside the LFI. The reason for this is that, above all, we are political activists, now, in the past, and for many years to come. We don’t feel personally injured, embittered or demoralised by the political fight we waged in the LFI.
It is time to move on and we will leave the screaming and shouting to those who have expelled us. We will move on to the formation of a new organisation to continue our struggle and to the production of a new magazine in Britain – Permanent Revolution. We will be bringing into it the core of the established leadership of WPB and almost half the membership of WPB, including most of its trade unionists. We bring into it the Australian section of the League, WPA, plus comrades from Ireland and Sweden.
We are confident that our new organisation will press forward and win more adherents. We are ready to face our new challenge.