The plethora of groups makes for a rather quaint cottage industry on the Australian far left which this year was expanded with the addition of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.
There's an interesting discussion thread appended to this post by Jim Jepps (since republished in LINKS) which seems to be trying to attack the LCR's NPA package in the same terms as the Australian Socialist Alliance is criticised and was related to
The same sort of barrage was thrown at the Scottish Socialist Party for a long time.
It doesn't take much to recognise a sort of far left mindset in play.
There's this chronic schematism that simply by repeating often enough that you are revolutionary and by inserting the correct POV into any exchange then you really and truly must be what you say you are.
That's the far left's curse because in one way it's a sort of substitutionism. Sort of "INSERT PROPAGANDA HERE" approach.
There's nothing wrong with propaganda of course but real world politics has to deal with the benchmark that, outside the religions, it's not just what you say but what you do that counts.
While it's true that for a long period the doing if active at all, can seem at least very restrained. That was "the long march" of the Trotskyists that bears down upon the many branches in that current today. It was primarily about what the US SWP called "revolutionary continuity".
The question is, of course, whether that time is over. That's the judgement being asked. This is why a lot of the discussion on the far left stretches across a pessimism to optimism axis. The debate is whether there is political motion you can relate to or not.
I think that's the core debate in the UK SWP dispute at the present time despite the organisational distractions. If there is motion how do you relate to it.
And to some degree that prospect is obscured by the organisational question. There are those that want to push an anti-Leninist wheel barrow as though all there is to Lenin was a formatted party structure passed on by formula -- while ignoring the fact that at Lenin's core advocacy is the methodology of dialectical materialism.
The complication is that if you only see issues of party structure you cease to analyse contemporary politics in the same potential light as Lenin did. Trotsky's handicap -- and the burden of the Trotskyists -- was a certain timelessness that relied on a Felix like "bag of Tricks" toolbox of options: often formulated either "allowed" or "not allowed" . That was this legacy in a way, a DIY package that supposedly fitted all occasions.
I find the SWP discussion about the united front very much contained by this sort of formalistic thinking and I can remember similar exchanges in like manner in the DSP going back to 20 + years ago where the nomenclature of Trotskyism was standard discourse.
So thinking outside the square can be a hard ask for this left. That's certainly my impression after the three years of debate -- 2003-2006 -- in the Socialist Alliance with the small affiliates.
You may be able to lead a horse to water, but....
But to see the same arguments replicated in the exchange around the French NPA suggests a sort of universal political culture,almost a lingua franca that all these groups share. It's almost a moralism when you look long and hard at it, and ironic given that they are still so keen to remain separate from one another.
The problem is letting go. I think that's the correct term as there is a sort of catharsis at stake. There's a knee jerk response that presumes that if you let go an inch you are surely going to go all the way and before you know it, there's your revolutionary perspective flying out the window and everything you spent years preserving in way of political modus operandi is spent in a twice.
I don't make light of such dangers as we all know our history lessons. But it seems to me that a generic wastage of revolutionism is oftentimes buoyed up by major shift rightward in key sectors of the working class or petti bourgeoisie. A move rightward should have a social base to consolidate a broad subjective shift. It happens. That's what history tells us anyhow.
But is it happening now? And is there a danger of the far left trialling along behind whatever currently is moving in that direction?
We know for instance that those Trotskyists who joined the ALP -- and Bob Gould is a good example of the ilk -- preferred to stay there and moderate their politics to fit the milieu. But that tendency -- this pressure to adapt -- is standard for any one revolutionist or any number of revolutionary groups. The problem with the groups is that they adopt a bunker mode to protect themselves from the ideological barrages of the bourgeoisie and tend to so often freeze their all in a programatic timelessness as they try to preserve their Real McCoy politics until their day in the sun comes around.
Of course that's not absolute as I'm being general rather than group specific. However versions of this proclivity are shared by all the Trotskysist groupuscules. So while it is correct to argue that sectarianism is a product of isolation from the working class, you can rationalise that isolation in a way that is sure to chronically deepen it and even make it a badge of honour: your raison d'etre. Soon enough you begin to believe that that isolation is the way the world was meant to be and there is no way around this seeming reality in front of you. So what you do in your cul de sac is work at perfecting your program because sustaining that becomes your major focus.
This is why you can have groups in Australia who number less than 20 members and all of these few think they rather than someone else are the true Marxists. And like Socialist Alternative you chart a propagandist course convinced that from little things big things grow.How they supposedly grow isn't necessarily something that you should be too concerned with. After all with the right program your day will surely come.
I think the right word for this is passivity -- a passivity born upon a certain pessimism that all we lefties can hope for is survival and the now and then primitive accumulation of cadre.
If you have spent years playing around with ideas and perspectives as you try ever so hard to get your viewpoint (and less often your dopoint) just so, it is disconcerting to relate to a prospect where political academe like that may not be so important. I admit that I am torn myself between the thrill of political discovery and inquiry, of debating out conflicting points of view in order to arrive at a 'correct' position -- and the often mundane business of , I guess, networking, rooting for and negotiating alliances with people who in the main don't give a fig for the theory.
The former seems so safe and cosy in comparison to the free form of the latter. Where's the friggin rules!? Where's Marx supposed to sit?
The complication is that it can become so very difficult to notice the difference between the circle spirit milieu of the far left and the everyday reality of the rest of the population. This failure to note the divide has been obscured I think by the buoyancy of movement politics these last 40 years. So there's been an outer defence perimeter that has protected the far left in a the way that a moat protects a castle. But as that wave of movement growth recedes -- as it has done over the last decade -- the difference between the groupuscules and the pressing political reality seems sharper as there's less veneer in place to dampen the contrast.
The irony is that there's this massive deference to the potential role for party, as distinct from movement, politics and this determined disinclination of most the far left groups to seize the day and do anything about it. Surely their day in the sun has arrived, hasn't it?
The complication is that the party that people will relate to is not like the many varieties/one clone on offer from the groupuscules. And therein exists not only a problem of practice but a problem of theory because the historical debate is whether the groups have misread their Bolshevik histories. I think that is indeed the case.
There's a interesting commentary by the late Peter Camejo where he takes up the dedicated inadequacy of the far left mindset:
The idea that a group of a few hundred people who are not in the leadership of any mass movement, much less integrally involved in leading the working class as a social force, can be referred to as a Leninist party and having a “correct program” would never have crossed Lenin’s mind. In 1918 Lenin would refer to such an idea as clowning.Of course there's a problem inherent in just surviving politically under capitalism -- but what has happened I think is that the sentence that all groups face is inevitably the Alice in Wonderland ruling that you have to run very fast in order to stay in the one place. And that survival mode has warped the ability of the groups to think outside where they're at.
By the 1940s, however, within the Trotskyist movement a conception had taken root that no matter how small or disconnected from the workers movement a group might be, if it had the “correct” program and a cadre, it was a Leninist Party and would eventually “win”.
This is a very serious mistake that only becomes evident in the present context that the far left is trying to deal with. In places where there has been a strong history of woking class fightback against neo-liberalism the what is to be done? question is a little easier for some groups to relate to and begin to answer. But the general trend has been to fight tooth and nail against the tide toward broader, more user friendly party formations for the 21st Century's version of socialism.
The problem may be that if this stand off is persevered with, given time, the far left could be more marginal than it is now.