The Regroupment of the Sectarian Left-Wing Groups : A Case of ‘More of the Same but Larger’
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Any regroupment of the sects will merely serve to give sectarianism re-birth in new form. It is a negation, of course, but a negated negation which returns the assorted devotees to a new but higher form of the life of sect politics.
A thorough critique of regroupment strategy – based on the unfolding and development of the historical conditions for the existence of left-wing sectarianism in the last century – is required. In my opinion, these sundry attempts at regroupment are merely a reflex response of the sects to their own abysmal state and demise. They are the last dying gasps and death rattles of these grouplets. “Please don’t let us die. We don’t want to die”.
In Britain, we have had 3 or 4 attempts at regroupment. All have totally failed, ending in the usual bunfight, recriminations and tears. The very latest incarnation is the ‘Left Unity’ group, inspired by celebrity. It is already in trouble, in deep water. The founding conference – intending to discuss the formation of some bogus “Party” without any organic roots whatsoever in the actual class movement itself – ended up as a complete shambles. It has attracted the usual crowd of paper sellers trying to convert all comers to the dogmas, mantras and incantations of their assorted doctrines.
At an aggregate meeting of LU (Left Unity) in my native Yorkshire sometime ago, all those in attendance who were not delegates to the aggregate were prohibited speaking rights. Not allowed to address the gathering. They were not permitted to actually address the meeting. See first page at this link:
It is worth noting that in Britain it is generally accepted that anybody – especially fellow trade unionists – can attend a Trades Union Council meeting as an observer and, as such, is afforded the courtesy of being able to speak to the meeting. Correctly so, they cannot vote because they have not been delegated by a Trade Union branch. Only delegates can vote, representing and articulating the democracy and decisions of the branch which delegated them.
So the ‘democracy’ within this Left Unity group does not even match that of the traditional, mass organisations of the class itself. This, of course, is consonant with the fact that LU is essentially a creature of the sectarian groups. As is the recent initiative of the so-called “People’s Assemblies” which are really assemblies of the sects and grouplets with the odd celebrity thrown in here and there.
Left Unity – with the “People’s Assemblies” – is on a downward trajectory down the stairs into the lumber room or dusty old cellar of left-wing sectarian history. When it is unceremoniously thrown into that room by the actual unfolding of the historical process, it will find itself amongst other such fabulous successes as Scargill’s SLP (Socialist Labour Party) which has now diminished into a fanclub with 10 times more people expelled from it than are currently members. About 200 I think. The remnants of LU will also clatter into the decaying, dilapidated remains of the Socialist Alliance which was on the proverbial rocks soon after launch as a result of the internecine struggle between the Socialist Workers Party and Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party.
The practice of the sectarian groups is one of “supplying” a “revolutionary party” to the class. Any re-groupment will simply be a re-groupment of the sectarian groups with others and their members will follow the same practice in such a regroupment. Sectarianism writ larger. It is the concept of consciousness from the outside which was suited to the conditions of Tsarist Russia and Ochrana persecution but not to the conditions we are under today at the start of the 21st century with globalised capital.
In appearance, it all seems as if the groups are making a sincere effort to overcome previous habits whilst in reality they are simply perpetuating all the usual nonsense of sect politics in an attempted re-conglomerate. Hope soon turns to despair. They merely seek to take over each other and rise to dominance. This is what is happening in the Left Unity group in Britain. It is doomed like all the other attempts at regroupment because it is an attempt at “supplying” a party to the class rather than being an organisation which actually arises organically out of the historic struggle of the proletarian class. Only in this way will a legitimate organisation grow out of the life of the class and be actually rooted in it.
This regroupment “strategy” is bogus and cannot be sustained. It is the activity of the grouplets within their own self-created orbit. The turn must be to the class itself and where the class is at this moment in history in terms of its organisation and consciousness. I know that is difficult and painful for some. But that is the only path which can fruitfully be taken. A party cannot be “supplied” to the class like supplying an agency teacher to cover for a staff absence in a school. The proletarian class itself will discuss and decide these questions in the course of the development of its organisation. Such questions will not be decided by ten conspiring men with a dog and a round of drinks in an unheated, draughty room somewhere.
The Bolsheviks were operating under different historical conditions to the ones we are under today. It is a characteristic of the sects to constantly point to what Lenin or Trotsky or Martov did and said, etc, and then rationalistically extrapolate this and seek to graft it onto conditions today. A profound mistake. Profoundly ignorant. The substitution of the letter for the method.
In my opinion, for the class itself, the age of the sects is over, as is the age of the “Party” although we may see many more spewing forth to no avail. They are the children of past, dead conditions. What is truly required now – in order to address this question of revolutionary agency – is a fundamental alteration in the trajectory of class organisation and not another farcical regroupment on the basis of this or that individual calling for a “new party”, etc. In other words, working as an integral part of the class – in a non-sectarian way – in terms of its current organisation (Trade unions, etc) and level of consciousness.
We need to investigate the actual historical conditions which gave rise to and nourished left-wing sectarianism in the last century. It rested on these conditions which developed after the second imperialist world war. On the inflationary expansion of the capital order into the 1970s and the move towards its structural crisis. The age of the cyclical, conjunctural crisis is over. It also hastens the demise of sect politics.
To approach left-wing sectarianism rationalistically is a mistake. In doing this, we simply get sucked into the ideological arena and prison of these groups. Sectarianism isn’t a form of praxis to be argued out of existence (like Dawkins et al try to do rationalistically with religion) but rather it must be explained according to the historical conditions within which it arose. And thence to proceed accordingly in practice to create the conditions for its historical transcendence.
‘Anti-capitalist sectarianism’ serves to perpetuate an outlook and corresponding form of organisation which actually defeats the supposed purposes of its ‘anti-capitalist’ objectives. The left-wing sectarian group perpetuates and continuously returns to forms of activity which never really ‘touch’ the rule of capital. Not one iota. But we need to study the historical conditions which created these groups and how changes in conditions are shifting the ground from underneath their very existence.
Avowedly I am “anti-capitalist” but my practice is as part of a “sectarian” group. Each determination is mutually antagonistic with the other. These sectarian groups are a real, counter-productive hindrance in the development of a revolutionary class movement. To paraphrase Marx : they are living in the ‘pores’ of the class movement and are not an intrinsic part of its life.
Accordingly, the real roots and secret of left-wing sect politics will not be found in their various ideological positionings but in the actual historical conditions which fed and mediated their emergence and evolution in the last 70 years or so. How do we relate left sectarianism – its differentiation in organisation and ideology – to these changing conditions, inclusive of the legacies of the Russian Revolution?