Return to materialism

Slowly a myth developed within the Trotskyist movement that to this day still has some support. That myth is that

Return to materialism

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ing, and certainly one in which the word "correct" could in anyway be used, is one that has shown that a leadership link has been made with the working masses. Otherwise correct program begins to simply mean comments about the world, past history, predictions of events for the future, and so on.

The actual mass link is itself part of the premise of a program. For instance, recognizing in one's head what really happened in the history of the USSR is a good and useful thing. But it is not a program. Stating general outlines of the realities of capitalist society is useful, but it is not a program. A program is a living, complex process relating to the ongoing struggle that permeates our class-divided society a struggle that is occurring now at this moment in a million different forms and at a whole spectrum of levels.

The rise of splits

 

But in this framework what then happens when two leaders disagree? Once you are functioning in this sectarian framework there is no way to resolve differences, and given that the very existence of the organization and its future success is believed to be tied to this ever-important "correct program", differences become very threatening.

Within the Trotskyist organizations a culture developed which formally claimed to allow differences to exist but in reality crushed any dissent. While the roots were very different, the forms in which dissent was crushed in Trotskyist groups had many similarities to how Stalinist groups crushed dissent. Of course, in Trotskyist groups dissidents were expelled, not shot.

Differences in sectarian groups inevitably led to splits. After a split, two organizations, each with its own "correct program", often confronted each other. The logic of this process was the proliferation of sects and cults. That process exploded within the Trotskyist movement.

The evolution of some of the groups became quite bizarre. Splits occurred in ever-growing numbers as groups became less and less involved in the living movements of their own countries. In fact, all social movements and mass struggles were more and more seen simply as recruiting arenas for the cult/sect with the correct program.

Cadres became the defenders of the Holy Grail, and usually there was in each group just one "Lenin of today" who could interpret and adjust the "program". If the "correct program" was maintained the masses would some day come. A sort of religious "our day will come" corollary developed to the correct program.

 

Posadas, Moreno, Healy, Barnes

 

One such cult was that of Juan Posadas. I had the opportunity to meet Posadas in 1960 in Havana, Cuba. This, man was clearly certifiable. He believed he could communicate with his dog. When the dog died the Posadista Central Committee sang the internationals at his grave. Posadas also believed he could communicate the situation in Vietnam to his six-month-old grandchild. In later years, when the child was five, he was added to Posadas political bureau for his enlightening views.

Posadas advocated nuclear war and other utterly insane views. His origin was in the Trotskyist movement and he had hundreds of followers, primarily in Latin America. I understand there are still a few Posadistas in the world although Posadas passed away some time ago.

Moreno in Argentina was another quite colorful, but slightly more rational cultist with thousands of supporters. In England you had Healy, a man clearly deranged, who believed anyone who disagreed with him had to be an FBI agent. Yet he also had thousands of devoted followers, including the movie actress Vanessa Redgrave.

While the three mentioned above may have been somewhat extreme expressions of this phenomenon, in general all groups calling themselves Trotskyist had elements of sectarian and cult-like existence by the 1960s.

Also, amazing as it might seem, while these organizations produced endless written materials on all kinds of political phenomena, almost nothing can be found seeking to explain this astounding phenomena of the cultification of Trotskyist organizations. If you look closely you will see some of the same processes at work, although in a less extreme form in other sect/cults like that of the Lambertist in France or the ISO out of England.

The one group that I had an opportunity to experience personally was the development of the Barnes cult in the United States SWP. The SWP today is completely disconnected from reality. Its cult leader holds a series of bizarre political positions evolving in a manner quite similar to Moreno or Posadas.

The question is, why did groups, whose origins are in the struggle against Stalinism, evolve in this direction? This includes every group in the world influenced by James Cannon, with the exception of the DSP in Australia. What are the material roots of this phenomenon?

Since the DSP was originally formed in association with the North American SWP, it is of value for the DSP to look clearly At the origins of the sectification of the North American SWP.

The SWP did not become a sect because of Barnes the individual. Barnes himself is a product of what was wrong in the SWP. In my opinion the problem goes back to the isolation of the SWP from roots in the mass movement and involvement in living struggles. The idealist error I have mentioned above become codified in the outlook of the SWP beginning in the 1930s. Its sect-like nature was already evident in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but became more pronounced as time went on.

 

Crises of the US SWP

 

With the recruitment of a new generation in the 1960s the SWP faced a crisis. Its participation in the antiwar movement around Vietnam brought it somewhat closer to involvement in a living struggle, an important encounter with reality and the political tempo of the nation, something it had not really experienced since the labor struggles of the 1930s, in which the SWP did have some important participation.

The impact and conflict of its sectarian idealism and its materialist involvement in a struggle created an interesting reaction in the culture of the SWP. Its older leadership, especially that of Farrell Dobbs, but also others such as Tom Kerry, felt threatened. Others, such as Joe Hansen and George Breitman, had mixed feelings. I believe some were starting to understand the sectarian nature of the SWP, especially Joseph Hansen.

Barnes was the youth "leader" hand-picked to fight against the introduction of reality and potential de-dogmatization of the SWP's sect-like existence. In the 1970s Barnes began a conscious campaign to rid the SWP of its infection by people not molded into sect-like thinking. In private discussion Barnes spoke openly of the need to drive out over 50 per cent of the membership of the SWP.

The political cover for this campaign was an ultraleft, workerist campaign consciously designed to drive out those not willing to accept a cult-like existence. This campaign was, of course, believed in the minds of people like Barnes and Dobbs to be defending the "correct program" protecting the "proletarian" SWP from the petty-bourgeois infection resulting from the rapid recruitment of members from university campuses.

This campaign had an ultraleft side, politically, since it had to promise the remaining members that all this was necessary to get ready for huge new opportunities, of which the petty-bourgeois members of student origin would only be in the way. The fact was, of course, that the remaining members had the same background as those driven out.

But by 1978 the SWP was passing resolutions talking about the coming "battles for power" and other projections totally disconnected from reality. The growth of ultraleft positions spread to international issues like the rather famous article that the SWP printed accusing the FSLN of being the main block to success in the struggle against Somoza in Nicaragua.

The SWP even held public forums titled "Why the FSLN failed" just months before Somoza was overthrown by the FSLN. After the FSLN victory the SWP shifted its position towards the FSLN.

In the end all of this had nothing to do with real events in the United States politically, or within the working class. It was a clash of reality with a sectarian methodology deeply entrenched in the SWP.

While this process was going on, one exceptional leader within the sphere of influence of the US SWP, who had his origins in the mass struggle against the war in Vietnam, stood up to Barnes. That was Jim Percy, of Australia. He sensed something was deeply wrong. The SWP veered for a short period of time away from its sectarian existence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, only to come back in spades to consolidate its sect idealist political framework.

Leftist politics

 

The appearance of the "correct program", "we are a Leninist Party" ideology has tended to always require a "leftist" view of reality and prognostications that cataclysmic events will soon catapult the sect into importance. This phenomenon is also to be found in all cults.

Posadas was more clear and extreme, since he projected two events that would make his cult the center of all world events. He projected nuclear world war or the landing of extraterrestrials as the catalyst for his group's ascendency.

The "leftist" side is necessary because the sect members have to be more radical than any living movement. The attraction of association with a living process has to be broken to maintain the sect. This requires forever knoc

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