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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king any positive development in social movements. Analyses have to be made continuously showing the failings of all movements and their inevitable collapse and failure.

This is done by looking at mass social movements primarily in a formalistic, programmatic framework. Since all mass movement by definition have only a partly formulated program it is easy enough to show their "failure to understand".

The history of the SWP is full of such examples. I will list a few here to help show concretely how, in effect, the policies of the SWP have always been politically leftist or dogmatic and sectarian. This is true not just for the period that the fully developed Barnes cult appeared, but almost from its origins in the struggle against Stalinism in the early 1930s.

One could argue that this was inevitable because of objective conditions. Whenever a group like the SWP attempted to engage in mass work it ran into the complete dominance of the left by the Stalinist Communist party. That fact is helpful in understanding what happened, but it does not change the fact of the SWP's dogmatic positions.

In the mid-1930s the SWP opposed the formation of a Labor Party in the United States. Nothing could have be more incorrect, since the rise of the CIO unions in the 1930s created the potential and a great deal of interest in launching a political party of labor. The failure, objectively, in United States history of such a party forming is one of the limiting factors on the labor movement today.

The blame for this failure falls primarily on the Communist Party and its Popular Front line, which was projected by Stalin to back the Democrats and on the Social Democrats, who also backed the Democrats. The SWP justified its anti-labor-party policy by counterposing a mass revolutionary socialist party to a labor party.

This confuses program with mass struggle in an idealist manner. The error is sectarian and similar to Lenin's error of opposing the Soviets. (Or of the DSP saying it does not advocate an Alliance like that of New Zealand but instead a more "politically correct" formation.)

Once the potential for the rise of a Labor Party passed, the SWP shifted to a position of advocating a Labor Party. In the early 1930s the SWP called Nicaraguan revolutionary leader Cesar Sandino a "traitor" to his people. This was explained with ultraleft arguments regarding Sandino's lack of a correct program, and so on. By the 1940s the SWP was opposing the proposal to vote an equal rights amendment (ERA) for women's rights to the US constitution. This was opposed as a petty-bourgeois proposal that working women were not interested in.

In the late 1940s, when the African-American nationalist movement began to grow, seeking to develop pride in its own community and culture, the SWP opposed it as a reactionary movement. In the late 1940s, when Farrell Dobbs had the first opportunity to speak on national radio to a large audience of the North American populace he brought them "greetings" from the Fourth International. In case anyone has any doubts, let me assure them nothing could be a more utterly sectarian approach to politics then to give a talk in such a manner, which had nothing to do with the realities of the North American people.

What this shows is how deeply imbedded sectarianism was in the culture of the SWP. In more recent times I could give a whole long list of positions, which most DSPers would quickly recognize as leftist or sectarian errors, since I lived the experience.

For instance when the civil rights movement exploded in the south of the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the SWP opposed its young members joining that living struggle. The explanation was made that we had the "correct program" and we needed to concentrate recruitment to our program rather than involvement in a struggle where we had no branches.

When the Vietnam War was coming to an end, the Vietnamese asked for world support in its effort to force the United States to the negotiating table. The SWP opposed the demonstrations that then ensued demanding the United States accept a negotiated peace settlement. When radicals in California launched an effort to establish a radical electoral formation called the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP), the SWP opposed it, denouncing the PFP as a liberal-bourgeois party.

The utter absurdity of that position was, of course, explained by looking at its platform rather than seeing the meaning and direction of the effort to launch candidates that would oppose the war in Vietnam and fight for social justice at home.

All of the above points occurred while James P. Cannon was alive. Cannon will go down in history as a giant for standing up to Stalinism and trying to keep alive the ideals of the early socialist movement, but Cannonism is not what the SWP literature claims: the Americanization of Leninism.

The SWP is not, nor has ever been, a Leninist party. It is absurd to think so, because it was always isolated from the working people as a social layer and as a movement. At best, it was a propaganda group that advocated the formation of a Leninist party, but existence was sect-like existence, and its political positions were ultraleftist or sectarian.




The culture that develops inside organizations with the we-have-the-correct-program view, as mentioned, never really allows differences although in the formal statutes it always claims to accept the right to minority views.

The SWP never had a culture permitting differences. Every group that ever raised any questions regarding any of its policies was eventually driven out.

In this sense it had no resemblance to the party Lenin led, which was continuously alive with debate and differences. Lenin's party had various newspapers that would debate each other publicly. In fact, in the 1908 period when Lenin was arguing against one grouping in his organization he accused them of hiding their minority views and not publishing them in their public organ.

I do not think most DSP members would think it Leninist for a minority to start up its own public organ and publish its differences with the majority. Well, that was the reality of Lenin's party. In that specific case Lenin even argued that the minority should not use the excuse that the party was not in a pre-convention discussion period to not publicly publish their minority views.

Lenin wrote letters to friends all the time expressing his personal views. He thought it quite normal for there to be private discussions and correspondence between members of his organization. He saw that as a right. In fact, in one letter he began by saying that if anyone read this letter when it wasn't addressed to them, that person was violating his right to private correspondence.

Cannon tried to set up norms of functioning. Some are undoubtedly of great value, while others are completely opposed to the reality of Lenin's Party, but they were always presented as "Leninism".

Cannon introduced the idea that members of a Leninist party are violating norms if they express their differences within the organization to anyone outside the organization or engage in private correspondence, even within the organization.

At the time I joined the SWP in the late 1950s there was a lose grouping in the SWP that the Dobbs leadership referred to as "petty bourgeois" and that was eventually driven out, called the Weissites (named after Murry Wiess a leader of the SWP). One of their horrendous crimes was that they had circulated letters to each other about the internal situation in the SWP.

In saying all of this my point is not to say that responsible people should not think out how they act and the consequences of their actions in terms of how best to carry on a discussion within an organization. Nor do I mean that we should not have rules and norms and try to function in an organized manner.

I am trying to get people to think through these issues and to realize that the norms the US SWP taught the Australian DSP were a misrepresentation of what Lenin's movement had been like, and not necessarily at all a "proven" organizational method. My point is the norms Cannon developed had little to do with the reality of Lenin's party.

The underlying difference has its roots in the fact that Lenin's party was directly leading the masses in a powerful radicalization and the SWP was an isolated ideological propaganda grouping. Even if the SWP had really reflected Lenin's organizational forms they might very well not be at all applicable to its specific circumstances. The idea of a generalized organizational method is about as correct as the idea of an abstract "correct political program".


Talking tough


It is for the above reasons that in my opinion the DSP is not, and should not refer to itself as, a Leninist party. The new preamble of the DSP's program, in my opinion, is an attempt to codify some of these incorrect concepts of organization.

Its language is that of an organization that is not dealing with the reality of mass struggles. When an organization is isolated it can talk in tough terms about "overthrow" and "revolutionary action" and so on. Organizations that actually lead the masses, like the FPL in El Salvador or the Alliance in New Zealand, would pay an immense negative price for that kind of needless and easily misunderstood language.

What that language does is give those wanting to block our movement a weapon to attack us and help isolate us. It is posturing that serves no purpose and mis

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