From IS Bulletin, Special Supplement, Discussion Material for 4 December Conference. 
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Any internal struggle involves real costs to an organisation, not least in diversion of effort and attention away from the outside world. So when such struggles become necessary, as they will from time to time, it is important both to minimise the cost and to use the discussion for political educational purposes and not merely for polemical ones. The discussion thus far has shown some real political weaknesses in IS. For example, there are evidently quite a few comrades, leaving aside the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’, who think that there is nothing wrong in a permanent ‘faction’ with its own discipline or that the term ‘centrist’ is just a sort of swear word without any serious political implications. These are important questions which need to be clarified. If this is done the discussion will have a. value quite apart from its immediate aim.
What follows is an expanded version of the Background Notes I prepared for the October NC. The Platform of the Trotskyist Faction I refer to is the original unexpurgated version which was the only version available to me (or anyone else outside the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’). A new version, which may be fairly described as the same politics with much of the abuse left out and sections on youth and unions inserted, was presented, in a single copy, at the NC meeting on October 9th. The original is reproduced in this bulletin and copies of the revised version may be obtained from J. Wright, 21 Lindum Street, Rusholme, Manchester 14.
In 1966, at the height if the campaign against the Vietnam war and after working class demonstrations in favour of Enoch Powell, IS issued a call for the unity of the left on a four point basic programme. All the revolutionary groups at that time, with the possible exception of the SLL, were very small. There was a big movement of youth, especially student youth, towards socialist politics and it seemed that, if a united revolutionary socialist organisation could be established, it would be possible to draw in several thousands of anti-Vietnam war demonstrators.
In particular it was hoped that the IMG (then only two years old) would agree to unite with IS. These two organisations had between them the dominant position in the leadership of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and, if united, could reasonably hope to convert it into revolutionary socialist organisation of some substance.
It was recognised that such an organisation, overwhelmingly student in composition, would have strong ultra-left tendencies and that there would have to be a long and hard fight inside it for Marxist politics and an orientation towards the working class. The possible gains seemed to outweigh the risks and of course it was also hoped to draw in various ‘New Left’ and CP ‘periphery’ people as well as unattached left wingers. The four point programme was written with this perspective in mind.
The unity campaign brought some results in individual recruitment to IS but it failed in its main purpose because no organisation of any weight would agree to unity. However one small organisation ‘Workers Fight’ did take up our offer.
Since, according to the Platform IS has ‘no honest accounting, no self-criticism’ let me say at once that IS made a serious mistake in agreeing to a unification with ‘Workers Fight’. It was a mistake that could and should have been avoided because some, at least, of the leading members of IS were well aware that the leading figures in ‘Workers Fight’, S. Matgamna and P. Semp, had a long history of factionalism and intrigue. Some, at least, of them had seen the extensive internal bulletins of the defunct ‘Irish Workers Group’ which showed just what kind of barren, futile, inward looking politics these two theorists had stood for.
I was one of those who, by default, allowed the unification to take place and in the interests of ‘honest accounting’ I accept my share of the responsibility for the damage that bas been done to IS, particularly in Manchester and Teesside, as a result of the unification.
At the time of the unification it was hoped that a genuine fusion would occur and that those associated with ‘Workers Fight’ would become fully integrated in our organisation at all levels on the basis of a common perspective and common work. It was never envisaged that those who came from ‘Workers Fight’ would abandon the distinctive positions that they held, for example, on the nature of the USSR. It was envisaged that the differences would become less important in practice, given a wholehearted commitment to breaking out of the isolation in which the revolutionary groups found themselves and building a revolutionary socialist organisation rooted is the working class.
In fact a genuine fusion has never occurred. The nucleus from ‘Workers Fight’ together with those they recruited, have constituted a separate organisation, the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’, with its own members and even probationary members, its own dues, its own internal life, its own discipline, its own internal documents and its own leadership. Some of these practices, e.g. probationary membership of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ and the regular payment of dues to it, were forbidden by the 1971 Conference. The Platform describes these modest moves towards the norms of a unified organisation as ‘a complete departure from democratic centralism and the Leninist conception of the Party’ and as ‘typically centrist in their evasiveness and in their sniping interference with normal functioning and elementary democracy’, The Platform refers to the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ as ‘the only permanently organised opposition in the Group’. (my emphasis) In short, not only has there been no fusion but no fusion is intended by the authors of the Platform. They wish to retain indefinitely their own separate organisation and at the same time to enjoy the same rights as all IS members and the privileges accorded to a platform faction, including a representation on the NC which they could not otherwise obtain.
The Platform speaks of fighting ‘the erosion of democracy involved in the proposals to curb the fundamental rights of factions’, i.e. the Conference decisions on factions. There is no such erosion and no such curbing. A faction is a more or less temporary grouping of members formed to fight for (or against) some specific policy proposal or proposals, The ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ has never been a faction in the real sense. This is very clearly indicated by the extraordinary fact that it maintained a system of probationary membership. The only test for membership of a real faction is agreement with its stated platform. Probationary membership is the mark of a separate and exclusive organisation. That is what the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ has been and that is what the Platform indicates it is intended to continue.
Discussion with some of our members has shown that the point needs elaboration. Evidently one of the negative effects of the presence of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ has been to confuse some members about the nature and purpose of platform factions. In 1968–69 we and a number of real factions, for example the ‘Democratic Centralists’, the ‘Micro-Faction’ and ‘Platform Four’. They were groupings of comrades who wished, at that time, to push the organisation in particular directions and to change its organisational structure accordingly. They held open meetings to discuss and expound their views and to solicit votes.
The factional struggle was quite sharp and in the heat of the conflict a good many uncomradely things were said. Finally Conference decisions were made on the disputed questions. The factions more or less rapidly dissolved. No-one ordered them to dissolve. They dissolved because new issues were arising and new alignments of comrades on those issues. They dissolved precisely because they were genuine factions. Today there are former members of each of these factions on the National Committee. They do not vote according to the former factional line up. They vote according to their individual estimates a the merits of current proposals. Tomorrow there may be new factions and no one can predict with any accuracy what the line up will be. It is very unlikely to be similar to the earlier factional alignment.
A permanent faction means, sooner or later, a split. The letter circulated to branches before the October NC by the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ speaks of ‘generalised opposition’. Now a generalised opposition means opposition to all the main policies of the organisation. A faction that develops such opposition, even if it were a genuine faction to start with, is heading towards a split for the obvious reason that it will force its opponents to act as a counter-faction in self-defence, The organisation then becomes a battleground and every issue becomes a factional issue. This was the situation in the British Trotskyist organisation (RCP) from 1944–1947. There were really two hostile organisations under one roof and the eventual split in 1947 was the inevitable outcome.
It is not the case that the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ has the power, at present, to force this situation onto us. It is certainly the case that it is their perspective to do so. Anyone who has the slightest doubt about this should read the original ‘Platform’. Of course it does not follow that organisational methods should be resorted to against a permanent ‘faction’. On the contrary it is a very dangerous thing to resort to bans or expulsions without the most patient and persistent attempts to integrate the dissidents into the organisation. WE HAVE BEEN MAKING SUCH AN EFFORT FOR THREE YEARS. The existence of a separate organisation, in IS but not of it, has been tolerated in the hope that common work over a long period would ultimately lead to a real fusion. The events of the last year have proved beyond all question that there are no grounds for such a hope. On the contrary the Platform makes it clear that its authors have moved much further away from IS politics than they were three years ago.
The 1971 Conference endorsed the report of a ‘Commission on Factions’. This commission had been set up by the NC solely as a result of the activities of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ and in particular the difficulties that had led to the splitting of three branches on a political basis. The recommendations of the Commission were discussed inside the organisation over a period of months. They were adopted, with amendments, by Conference after a serious debate and by a large majority.
The key recommendations required the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ to dissolve its separate organisation, with its regular dues and probationary membership, and reconstitute itself as a genuine platform faction open to all who agreed with the platform. This platform was to be specific. It was to argue for or against definite policy proposals. In short the members of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ were required to become members of IS.
Nothing of the sort has happened, In May a document, the Platform, was circulated to branches, perhaps only to selected branches – I have no means of knowing. The Platform is not the statement of a genuine faction, it is the manifesto of a separate, and hostile, organisation. No copies were sent to the centre for issue to NC members as required by rule. This disregard of the rules is standard practice for the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’. It is not very important in itself. It is interesting for the light it sheds on the method of this group.
The Platform was anonymous and therefore did not constitute a faction – ten signatories being required for that. On enquiry I was informed by J. Wright that it was proposed to amend the document and that the signed version would soon be forthcoming. It actually appeared on the very day that the NC, after five months delay, was to consider a motion to apply the rules and unseat the representatives who had been elected on the understanding that they would form a platform faction!
It is tedious to have to go into these trivial points but it must be done is defence of IS, since the lie has been circulated by the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ that the motion proposed to remove from the NC ‘members elected by Conference’. Semp and Matgamna were not elected by Conference. They were elected by the twenty or so people who indicated that they wished to form a faction. Some unsuccessful candidates on the general list got well over a hundred votes! The rules are deliberately weighted to ensure that a bona-fide faction, even a very small one, is practically guaranteed representation.
Now at that time no platform faction had been constituted. The Conference Arrangements Committee would have been well within the rules if it had refused to allow factional rights. Instead it behaved with that extreme tolerance which has been shown to the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ throughout. It allowed the election of faction representatives on the understanding that a signed platform would be forthcoming after Conference. For five months the NC awaited the constitution of a platform faction and allowed Semp and Matgamna to sit as NC members. It would, of course, have been in order, at any time, to move to unseat them and equally such a motion would have been made redundant by the production of a signed platform. In the event, of course, our tolerance was exploited in a cynical attempt to mislead comrades into believing that elected NC members were being arbitrarily unseated!
Much more important is the fact that throughout this whole period the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ continued to behave as a separate organisation. Differences arose in IS on the question of the Common Market. The NC was split. Out of the blue appeared a document IS and the Common Market in the name of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’. Now there is not a sentence, not a line, not a word on this question in the original Platform. Leaving aside altogether the fact that they had not bothered to constitute a faction as required by Conference, now on earth can a faction, genuine faction, that is, founded on one basis suddenly appear on a quite different platform?
Anyone who really wanted a faction on the Common Market issue would have appealed to all those who were opposed to the NC majority to come together to form a faction to fight to reverse the decision. Such a faction would probably have included a sizeable section of the membership and might well have been successful. And that is precisely why the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ was not interested. They did not want a genuine faction on the Common Market issue. For in such a faction they would have been a minority and unable to exploit the issue to sow distrust and recruit to their own organisation.
The Platform rightly states that its authors are ‘people with a different method and tradition’ to those of IS. Even more to the point they are people with different perspective and priorities. There is nothing at all in the Platform on any of the problems actually facing the working class today or facing the revolutionary organisation in relation to the working class. This more than anything else brings out the fundamental difference between the authors of the Platform and IS. Indeed the only proposal they make that can be regarded as in any way concrete is that national conference of the revolutionary left should be organised.’ Its object would not be to set up a unified fighting organisation but ‘a transitional organisation’ (their emphasis) based on ‘proportional representation’, ‘a flexible attitude’ towards discipline and ‘disagreement on fields of work’. Inside such an organisation ‘existing international connections of tendencies’ would continue and there would be ‘a schedule of discussion and debate on nuances and differences of approach’. That is to say, it is proposed to set up a talking shop which would turn its back on the class struggle and serve as a battleground for assorted would-be theoreticians. The pious hope is expressed that this night lead to ‘ultimately, in one, two or three years, the establishment of a democratic centralist organisation.’ Meanwhile presumably the workers’ struggle can wait. It is not the completely unrealistic nature of the proposal that is significant so much as the light it throws on the political priorities of the authors, for it must be repeated, this is the only concrete proposal they make.
The Platform describes IS as a centrist organisation, At the time of the unification in 1968 they described us as ‘left centrist’ – and that alone ought to have made us reject unification. Now we are a centrist organisation that has gone ‘far along the road to a serious, indeed qualitative, degeneration’.
What does the term mean? It was first used by Lenin about those ‘lefts’ who used socialist phrases to conceal support for capitalist governments. Here is an extract that shows exactly what Lenin meant by the word and what marxists have understood by it since.
‘The “Centre” is a realm of honeyed petty bourgeois phrases, of internationalism in wordy and cowardly opportunism and fawning on the social-chauvinists in deeds ... The “Centre” consists of routine worshippers, slaves to rotten legality, corrupted by the atmosphere of parliamentarianism, bureaucrats accustomed to snug positions and soft jobs.’ (The Draft Platform in Selected Works, Vol. 10)
Comrades may recognise some of the union bureaucrats and academics around the Institute of Workers Control – they are real centrists.
What is the attitude of marxists to centrists? According to Lenin ‘uncompromising hostility to the social-chauvinist traitors and to the vacillators of the “Centre”.’ (Draft Platform)
The ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ claim to stand by the decisions of the first four Congresses of the Communist International. The second World Congress declared:
‘Parties desiring to affiliate to the Communist International must recognise the necessity for a complete absolute rupture with reformism and the policy of the “Centre”.’ (my emphasis)
There it is then. ‘Uncompromising hostility’ and ‘a complete and absolute rupture’. That is the attitude of marxists to centrism. That is the attitude of IS to centrism. People who call us centrist, unless they are politically illiterate, have presumably the same attitude to our organisation.
The Platform states that ‘IS is centrist in the classic Trotskyist tradition’. Members of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ have compared us to the Spanish Party, the POUM. Perhaps Trotsky meant something different by centrism? Here is what Trotsky had to say about the POUM and centrism.
‘Contrary to its own intentions, the POUM proved to be, in the last analysis, the chief obstacle on the road to the creation of a revolutionary party. Revolution abhors centrists. Revolution exposes and annihilates centrism ... This is one of the most important lessons of the Spanish Revolution.’ (Trotsky ‘The Lesson of Spain) (my emphasis)
The POUM had entered a bourgeois coalition government during a revolution. They had behaved as the Mensheviks behaved in 1917. And that is what these people are comparing its with. They are saying that in a revolution we will go over to the side of big business. That is what centrism means.
But perhaps they do not know what they are saying? Perhaps they haven’t actually read Lenin and Trotsky on centrism? I fully accept that not all their members understand. They are, in general, very ignorant of the traditions they imagine they are defending. But the leaders understand. Semp and Matgamna understand.
And when they say that we are centrist and degenerating centrists at that, when they say this, not in the heat of argument but coldly and deliberately in a programmatic document, they are proclaiming their ‘uncompromising hostility’ to IS and all it stands for.
To make it absolutely clear that the inner core of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’, know exactly what they are saying and what it means, I reproduce some quotations from an article by Trotsky which they selected and used in a pamphlet they produced called Centrist Current, about which they state ‘the real subject of (this) pamphlet is IS.’
‘A centrist readily proclaims his hostility to reformism but he does not mention centrism; moreover he considers the very definition of centrism as ‘unclear’, ‘arbitrary’ etc; in other words centrism does not like to be called by its own name ... A centrist always remains in spiritual dependence on Rightist groupings, is inclined to cringe before those who are moderate, to remain silent on their opportunist sins and to colour their action before the workers ... A centrist occupies a position between an opportunist and a marxist somewhat analogous to that which a petty-bourgeois occupies between a capitalist and a worker: he kowtows before the first and has contempt for the second.’ (Trotsky, Centrism and the Fourth International – my emphasis)
To summarise: no Marxist can have any loyalty to a centrist organisation. A centrist organisation is an obstacle to the building of a revolutionary socialist party. Centrist organisations have to be destroyed. If possible the best of the rank and file should be won over and the leadership eliminated. If the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ sincerely regards us as centrists then it would be entirely unprincipled of them not to try to wreck our organisation since they clearly cannot capture it and expel the majority.
The statement that IS is centrist is a vicious slander, but it is more than merely a slander. It is a statement of intent by those who deliberately and knowingly make it. It is a declaration of war on IS. If anyone doubts it, let him read the unexpurgated Platform. The most moderate and objective statement that can be made about that Platform is that it is the work of embittered enemies of IS.
A word of self-criticism is necessary here, The whole leadership of IS – the whole National Committee – has been at fault in not forcing a debate on the question of centrism at a much earlier date. That minority of NC members, of which I was one, who voted to expel the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ over two years ago, is especially at fault. It would have been better for everyone, including, those vain have been misled by the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’, to have refused to accept the majority decision as final and to have persistently fought the latter in the organisation.
Three years of experience of the unification prove it to have failed in its purpose. No progress has been made towards a genuine fusion. There is no agreement about the immediate tasks, far less so indeed than three years ago. The theoretical differences have not receded into the background. They have grown. The authors of the Platform now acknowledge one of the ‘Fourth International’ groupings (the Mandel tendency) as the authentic revolutionary international which immediately raises the question of why they do not transfer their allegiance to it. A number of serious difficulties due to political disputes associated with the activities of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ have arisen in Manchester, Teesside and London. Finally the publication of the Platform, a document containing scurrilous attacks on IS, marks a qualitative degeneration in the relationship between IS and the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’.
The Platform describes the IS majority as ‘centrist’ and ‘alien to revolutionary politics’. Our attitude to ‘the principles of communism’ is that of ‘casual indifference’. We are guilty of ‘political cynicism’, ‘essentially stalinist methods’ and ‘sheer politica1 dishonesty’.
I make no corresponding accusation against adherents of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’. I accept that they are ‘people with a different method and tradition’. I believe that the method and tradition of the Platform are sterile, backward-looking and incapable of serving to build a revolutionary socialist organisation in the working class. The test is practice. It is in the interests of serious people on both sides that an organisational separation makes that test possible.
1. This Bulletin contains no date but was apparently brought out in late October 1971. Duncan Hallas was National Secretary of the International Socialists at the time.
Last updated on 15.9.2012