Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Lindsey German and the Trotskyist Tradition.

with 7 comments

Some Red Knight for the SWP.

On the resignation of prominent SWPer Lindsey German  there is an abudance of commentary. Personally I think she did it on a day that would make it too late to appear in the Weekly Worker. Phil has posted a good summary- more here.

What does this say about the ability of Trotskyist groups to tolerate differences?

In the New Course (1923 – here on-Line), protesting against the  Bolshevik Party ‘monolithicism’ Trotsky tried to get to grips with the problem of democracy.

He wrote,

“If factions are not wanted, there must not be any permanent groupings; if permanent groupings are not wanted, temporary grouping must be avoided; finally, in order that there be no temporary groupings, there must be no differences of opinion, for wherever there are two opinions, people inevitably group together.”

The fate of German’s Left Platform in the SWP – allowed (just) for a brief period before their national conference – is clearly a case of how this logic works. We await John Rees to express his own “different opinion'”.  A short way to becoming “not wanted”.

No doubt then we will learn more about what is really at stake. At present we have just snipes, and curt rudeness.

Trotsky was really only arguing for an element of discussion. John Molyneau of the SWP claims   (here)  that the “Leninist democratic centralist party is both necessary for the success of the revolution and the most democratic form of political organisation”.

Yet Trotsky never accepted the need for full inner-party freedom. In 1923 he buckled. Caught in a  contradiction between the need to agree on One ‘line’, and ‘implement’ it, and the day-to-day clashes of different views, he opted for the primacy of the former.

The Founder of the Fourth International remained hostile to ‘factionalism’ and the need for ‘unity’. Even if, in the 1930s, he came to accept an element of internal party democracy – and even socialist democracy (limited to socialists that is) in a future Workers’ State. This ambiguous  legacy has profoundly influenced the tradition that the SWP stems from.

Molyneau notes (rightly) the pressure of how mainstream party and business organisation influences left groups. He asserts however that, ” democratic pressure from below is all the stronger in a small far-left socialist party, even if it remains overtly passive, because (a) the leaders are plainly not motivated by desire for material privilege, there being none on offer (though sometimes the desire to maintain material security may be a factor); (b) the rank and file are motivated overwhelmingly by conviction; and(c) it is not difficult for them to vote with their feet and leave.”

Perhaps they are doing just that now. But what about posing the question of the freedom of tendencies? Molyneau – unlike German and her partner John Rees, sees some merit in the LCR/Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste’s practice of internal liberty for ‘actions’. It might be that this norm has something to teach the British left – the split of the Piquet tendency (Gauche Unitaire) had none of the Left Platform’s  drawn out drama. In some regions the NPA even co-operates with the GU in the Front de Gauche. Surely this is Rees’ famous ‘united front’ in practice.

More fundamentally we have to recognise that all politics involves potential stasis – upsetting, challenging, subverting, existing rulers, central committees, leaderships. Turbulence, in short. Or more simply, efforts at policy change. The SWP is tearing itself apart by not having a way of letting this happen in a democratic arena.

The leader of German’s Left Platform, JohnRees deserves no sympathy since his own conception of the Party – derived from the early György Lukács mixed with Trotksy’s most centralist writings  – is hostile to such a  democratic forum. For those who follow this line the Party is the bearer of proletarian consciousness, that pierce to the ‘actuality’ of the revolution through its ‘epistemological’ mechanisms. Disagreements simply get in the way.

As German clearly was and is.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 11, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Posted in Left, SWP, Trotskyism

Tagged with , ,

7 Responses

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  1. ” Personally I think she did it on a day that would make it too late to appear in the Weekly Worker.”

    I was thinking that . . . . and I bet the editor of the WW is thinking it also.


    February 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm

  2. the “permanent” existance of e.g. Tendance R and the Mathieu-/Rochal-Tendency during the 1990ies was in my opinion not damaging but beneficial for the unity of the LCR, it helped preventing splits and produced important discussions on theoretical and practical issues; only a party (or better, its leadership) who claims to have all the answers must fear factions/tendencies


    February 11, 2010 at 4:04 pm

  3. Don’t really understand how this signals an intolerence of difference. She seems to have resigned because she didn’t want to have a meeting with the CC. She’s was a senior member of the party involved in a serious area of our political work, and when told that a contentious area of that work had to be discussed, resigned rather then discussing it. Very odd behaviour.


    February 11, 2010 at 9:06 pm

  4. She picked her moment


    February 12, 2010 at 12:19 am

  5. The Weekly Worker got a line in – but no analysis. ‘Late night Editing’ apparently.

    Johng, that is how people always go when life is made intolerable for them. It hardly shows a willingness to accept real difference.

    Andrew Coates

    February 12, 2010 at 11:08 am

  6. […] an interesting discussion on what actually “Stalinism” is. At Coatesy’s place, Lindsey German and the Trotskyist Tradition, on democratic centralism, the SWP and Trotky’s ambiguous legacy. From Michael Ezra, some […]

    Poumic « Poumista

    February 17, 2010 at 1:52 pm

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