Lair Of A Squirrel Red

The New Vanguard pt 2 by korakious
March 22, 2007, 1:27 pm
Filed under: Party, Theory

The last post was about how radical democracy is conductive to both increased party unity and political/tactical effectiveness. Here, I will use the organizational structures of the SSP as a model on which a new vanguard party can be built, while also discussing the challenges posed by the attempt to establish a united, radical party of the left that brings together a variety of often contradictory traditions of thought. The constitution of the SSP is available here, should you wish to go through it.

So, how does the SSP work? Well, quite unsurprisingly, the SSP’s sovereign body is the National Conference, which meets annually. Conference is the only body that can amend the constitution of the party, while it is also responsible for developing party policy and laying down basic strategic guidelines. It is composed of delegates elected directly at branch level, as well as delegates from platforms, affiliated unions party networks and Scottish Socialist Youth (which have to be party members). The Conference agenda is composed of motions tabled by branches, the Executive Committee and the National Council, as well as from platforms, networks, affiliates and the SSY. The agenda is prepared and structured by the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) which is elected annually at Conference in order to make all necessary arrangements for the following one. Executive Committee members cannot be part of CAC. This dynamic ensures that Conference does not become a well rehearsed carnival of acclamatory function. In traditional socialist groups/parties, conference agenda is prepared by the Central Committee (which is organized by the executive body, whatever its name may be) and most usually is little more than a series of Committee resolutions which are presented to the delegates for ratification. The key difference is that in the SSP, motions have been developed at branch level, with the participation of grassroots activists and are therefore the product of the political experience of the whole party, while in ortho-Bolshevik organizations, policies are presented for ratification to the delegates from above, much in the way that bourgeois governments conduct “yes or no” referenda.

On to the National Council (NC) and the Executive Committee (EC) now. The NC is the body that governs the party in between Conferences. In that manner, it can be said that it is analogous to the Central Committee of other groups. But similarities end here. Unlike its more traditional counterpart, the NC is not central. Instead of being elected by delegates at Conference, it is composed of branch delegates that are elected by branches annually (and are of course recallable at any time). Apart from ensuring that all regions of Scotland are adequately represented, this structure also eliminates an unnecessary mediation, the election of the electors. It is also important to note that all members of the SSP can freely attend National Council meetings and participate at debates (without of course having voting rights). The executive is also part of the NC and can submit motions to it. The EC does not however dominate the NC as branches, networks and the SSY can all submit motions (and amendments) which are included in the agenda.

As you have probably guessed by now, the EC is the SSPs “politburo”. It is defined by the constitution as the body that “provides political and strategic leadership and is responsible for the day to day running of the party”. Again, the key point in which the EC differs from the executives of other organizations is the way it is elected. All members of the EC are elected either as such, or as National Office-bearers that are automatically on it, at Conference. At other groups of past and present, the executive was elected by the Central Committee meaning that there were a total of three mediations from a branch member to the executive: branch member => conference delegate=> central commitee=> executive. The SSP has managed to eliminate one part of this sequence bring the leadership closer to the base. Further, the EC is accountable to the NC for all its actions and is obliged to refer all major decisions to it. Given that the NC is composed by branch delegates, the leadership is almost directly accountable to the base membership.

Finally, the SSP recognizes the right of its members to establish internal platforms/tendencies and welcomes diversity of opinion as “a healthy source of debate and new ideas”. I would also add that it strengthens the party’s unity as it reduces the possibility of members feeling alienated and marginalized because of their views.

Of course, we, as all new, pluralist vanguards must take care not to become a mere coalition of groups. Platforms should not become parties within the party. Platform members should adopt the mentality that the vehicle for socialism is their party, not their platform, and therefore, their ultimate allegiance should lie with the party. The sectarianism that plagues the left is not automatically dispelled if a sect joins a unity-project. It is quite possible that the sect will join with opportunist intentions, aiming to either rise to a position of control within the party or to simply use it as a front of recruitment. We faced this problem in the SSP and it almost cost the party its life. The SWP and CWI platforms, both of course more loyal to their central committees based in London rather than the SSP, would often act divisively within the party (one of the most prominent examples being them breaking off from the SSP bloc to join their non-SSP comrades during the G8 protests in 2005) and, after understanding that they had no hope of turning it into a mirror image of themselves, decided to help Tommy “ban-airguns” Sheridan – whom they both hate as much as they hate each other – split it. Gregor Gall had already pointed out the tendency of the SWP to act in an ultra-sectarian manner more than a year before the split.

The key lesson of the split is that while the New Vanguard must respect and welcome differences in thought while also providing its members with as much opportunity to act on their own terms and enrich their own experience as possible, it is also necessary to establish a culture of unity and develop measures to protect the party from the sectarians who would seek to undermine it. After all, democracy has no meaning without a degree of centralism; democracy – binding decisions = discussion. The minority should accept the sovereignty of the majority, without this meaning that the minority should be disrespected and/or marginalized.

Concretely, this means that a party should be prepared to take disciplinary measures, up to and including dissolving and/or expelling internal groups that undermine its unity. For the SSP particularly, it means that the SWP and CWI can never be allowed to rejoin the SSP as such, even though individual members that have left them should always be welcome.


The New Vanguard pt 1 by korakious
March 20, 2007, 8:03 pm
Filed under: Party, Theory

Rosa Luxemburg is a rather understudied theoretician. Unlike Lenin’s, Trotsky’s and Mao’s her name has not really served as the basis of the label of a distinct ideological current within revolutionary socialist thought. There’s no Marxism-Luxemburgism or Revolutionary Socialist Internationalist Party (Luxemburgist). Those that define themselves as Luxemburgists usually do so informally. In fact, her tradition has been claimed by everyone apart from the most dogmatic ortho-Stalinists (and Maoists). Anarchists have made a hero out of her because they view her as some sort of arch anti-Bolshevik communist (never mind that she supported the Bolsheviks all the way). Trotskyists have token respect for her, most likely because Trotsky wrote an article entitled Hands off Rosa Luxemburg! directed against Stalin.

Both approaches are, of course, mistaken. On the one hand, Luxemburg never rejected vanguard hegemony as anarchists seem to believe. She argued that the task of the revolutionary party was to instill revolutionary consciousness into the masses of workers, involving them in radical participatory political processes, thus increasing their practical experience (hours of which are worth years of theoretical education) and their understanding. On the other hand, most Trotskyists have never really understood the living core of her organizational theories – revolutionary democracy. They either find their wee sects organizations to be adequately democratic anyway, or reject her arguments as bourgeois deviations, often using the Marxist differentiation between form and content, appearance and essence, with spectacular ineptitude, to support their arguments.

You see, most “Trotskyists” are themselves unable to distinguish content from form, essence from appearance and necessity from contingency. This is why, in more than 60 years, they have failed miserably to come up with a more successful mode of political organization and action. I can already hear them protesting: “but things haven’t really changed” “capitalism is still capitalism” “the basic relations are the same”. Aye, capitalism has not changed much since the onset of the era of imperialism. It is still capitalism. Accumulation and proletarianization are still active processes. All true. But we do not fight capitalism at its base. Any revolutionary movement seeks to affect change at base level necessarily through political mediations. In plainer Marxist jargon, all of our political activity is necessarily superstructural. Now, it is undeniable that the superstructure of capitalism has undergone massive changes since the 1900s, when the organizational structures of most parties that identify with the Bolshevik tradition were elaborated. The status quo fights us on different terms and it is on different terms that we must organize our struggle. Sticking to a historically definite model that was developed with the aim of fighting against the combined forces of the Russian autocracy and the Russian bourgeoisie, can only be described as tactical anachronism that is condemned to failure (no, my ortho trot readers, your inability to make a breakthrough despite the prospects opened up by the collapse of stalinism is not solely due to false, trade union consciousness. Lenin was a passionate advocate of self criticism, remember?). You see, the essence of Leninism as an organizational principle does not consist in the particular structures that Lenin put forward, but rather, in the idea that the most politically conscious elements of the working class must group together into a single (not hundreds) political force with the aim of educating the working class to socialist ideas

Sectarianism, the disease that has plagued the revolutionary left -particularly Trotskyists- for years, is also, to some extent, a product of this inability to distinguish between necessity and contingency etc. The ideological justification of sect formation usually is most commonly grounded firstly in the split in the Russian Social Democracy and secondly in the decision of Trotskyists to set up the 4th International in opposition to the Stalinist Comintern. The underlying rationale of sectarians is that, if the revolutionaries of old were right to abandon obsolete, revisionist, opportunist, add-negative-adjective-here political formations in order to more efficiently pursue their political objectives, then it is right for them to do so as well. The result is well known to all of us: a huge number of wee sects are squabbling over theoretical matters while the combined forces of the bourgeoisie freely indulge into more imperialist plunder and domestic exploitation. Hal Draper, in The Myth of Lenin’s concept of the party criticised such petty in fighting arguing that Lenin had stressed the need for unity on principled grounds, that is, unity of all currents within a single socialist party provided that the democratic processes of the organization were properly functioning and respected by all. In practice, this means that when losing an argument, a group should not break away to form its own little inconsequential organization, but rather, stay in the party and argue its case. In a similar manner, Lenin also rejected the idea that the winning group should make concessions to the other, should it threaten to leave because it has lost a political argument. This isn’t any particularly complex Leninist concept. It is elementary respect for workers’ democracy.

So where does Luxemburg come into this? As I said earlier, the essence of Luxemburg’s organizational thought is the principle of revolutionary democracy. An organization operating along radically democratic lines, with the leadership being fully accountable to and controlled by the rank and file, with the right to organize internally and with the greatest possible extent of participation in policy formation on the part of the activist base, is, unlike what most of self-proclaimed Bolsheviks believe, in fact going to be more stable and unified in the long run, than a monolithic, top down formation who’s only semblance of democracy consists in electing the leadership and ratifying its decisions, every so often – a veritable clone of bourgeois democracy!

Whether we like it or not, different opinions do exist within parties. “Factions” form organically. It is far more productive and comradely to recognize such differences (in fact, we should welcome them; a basic postulate of dialectics is that progress is only created through contradictions) than to pass a ban on “factionalism” in order to impose a fictitious unity of thought within the party, something neither possible, nor desirable (unity in action and thought are two very different things). A group is far more likely to split and form its own wee sect if it is not allowed to voice its opinions, concerns and criticism.

Similarly, regarding efficiency, a radical democratic party structure, accompanied by a participatory political culture is the only way to fight for socialism that is productive in the long run. Not only does participation and interaction of rank and file members increase the depth and width of the pool of collective experience, but it also helps develop the political, theoretical and organizational skills of individual members, eradicating thus the need to rely on a small number of full time cadre that invariably perpetuates itself and stifles any initiative. In more abstract dialectical terms, the end is always determined by the means. Socialism is about working towards a positive transcendence of alienation, an end to both economical and political dispossession. You can’t pursue socialism through a vehicle that itself perpetuates the alienating characteristics of capitalism, as they pertain to power relations, just as you can’t make coffee by dropping a tea bag into hot water!

So, “What is to be done”? I believe that, to an extent, we in the SSP have made some progress towards creating a new vanguard on “Luxemburgist” lines, so to speak. Tomorrow, I will try to offer a short description of the internal workings of the SSP and how these relate to the issues discussed here. Now however, I’m off to bed.