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Crisis which crisis?

by Terry Wrigley, Edinburgh, October 2013 There are dangers in viewing the current crisis primarily in terms of the disputes, though they have certainly acted as a catalyst. For five or six years major internal disagreements within succeeding CCs have taken conference by surprise. Even though almost all the individuals have changed, old habits persist of not in front of the children!. "n between conferences, the flood of calls to action has sustained the appearance of unity, though this also promoted a habit, among some, of un#uestioning obedience. The crisis which was developing over these years was not originally a crisis of the party but essentially one of governance. "n fact, it was only the #uality of the general membership which held us together. $s others have stated, the party%s structures are not fit for purpose!& a Central Committee which 'despite change of personnel( has been dysfunctional for at least seven years! despite the tinkering measures! proposed by the )emocracy Commission. )ysfunctional! is not #uite true * commands and calls are transmitted efficiently down the line * but we have to ask whether operational efficiency is all we need. $t the heart of these troubles is a self+selecting CC consisting largely of full+timers with minimal trade union experience and little contact with anybody other than party militants. The claim that this system ensures a united leadership is manifest nonsense. The argument that CC membership must be restricted to ,ondon because it meets weekly is e#ually shaky- perhaps less fre#uent meetings would encourage more strategic thinking rather than just operational decision+making. The urgency of the present situation may re#uire presenting an alternative slate from below at this moment in time, but in subse#uent years nominations should be made, on an individual basis, by districts and.or fractions. This is the only way to ensure the CC is renewed out of those who are proving themselves through thoughtful practice and leadership in real situations. $t most, the outgoing CC might need to nominate three or four key full+timers, or the incoming CC could co+opt them. $t /arxism 0123 a recognition of the wider crisis began to spread, articulated by both loyalists and dissenters. "ndeed $lex Callinicos openly challenged the opposition to propose alternatives to the current version of democratic centralism. "t is time for an open discussion about this, rather than simply e#uating the current model with democratic centralism or ,eninism per se. 4ur current structure leaves too little space to correct errors, which is ironic for a developed Trotskyist party,enin 'and Cliff5( spoke out boldly against majority positions when necessary. There is at the same time an ideological aspect to the crisis, exacerbated as some of the loyalists sought to draw lines in the sand by claiming that opposition to the cover+up derived from theoretical

deviations. 6ome of these lines were drawn in the wrong place and the arguments became dogmatic not dialectical. The growing number who condemned the way the disputes had been handled were collectively labeled armchair socialists, feminists, autonomists, reformists. Feminism was used as a term of abuse, and those who refused to cover up the )elta affair were proclaimed anti+,eninist. This disingenuous construction of a narrative of deviation has only served to deepen the rift. There was also, however, the one+sided argument about precariousness, an exaggerated polemic against union bureaucrats!, and the overwhelming negativity of response to phenomena such as ,eft 7nity and 8eople%s $ssembly, discussed in the following section. The general drift of this line+ drawing risks turning what is left of the party into a disconnected sect. "n a situation where dissidents began to realise the urgency of thinking for themselves once more, it was inevitable that some mistaken ideas were expressed by individuals, but actually very little in terms of a general ideological position united the dissenters and distinguished them from the rest of the party. 9e might have been in a better place now if there had been genuine attempts to promote the political debate which the CC called for early in 0123. :owever, in the spirit of trying to move forward, establish a viable coherence in our party and counter the dangers of the party degenerating into yet another left+wing sect, my feeling is that some debate is needed around a number of current issues. 9hat these have in common is a recent tendency to develop positions dogmatically and one+ sidedly. 2. The notion of a precariat! as some kind of separate class is a serious defeatist error, but it is wishful thinking * and one+sided research * to pretend that many people%s lives have not become exceptionally precarious and that this makes struggle harder. 9hile precariousness is, in a general sense, endemic to being proletarian 'nothing to sell but our labour power(, Thatcher and neoliberalism have restored 2;th century levels of insecurity, both objectively and subjectively, for a large section of the class. <eoliberalism has magnified economic divisions, increased dependency on state benefits, and created extensive child and family poverty as well as insecurity of employment. "t is no use being in denial about this. 0. 9e often encounter the inclination to avoid struggle among top union officials, but 'according to critical realist theory( tendencies may or may not be actualised, and how they manifest depends on other forces at work in specific situations. 9e need to distinguish treachery from cowardice from legitimate caution. '9ho, after all, would want their union to be smashed in a strike called by a =2> majority on a 01> turnout?( "t is understandable that the most militant workers become frustrated, but in practice, the clumsy way in which a polemic against the bureaucrats! has been conducted has led to turbulent relations with the very officials we want on our platforms and on our side. "f

history is made 'or not made( solely by officials, where is the working class? 9e might regret that union conferences did not vote for a wave of strikes but the decisions were generally taken by lay members 'democratically elected local representatives(, not full+time officials. There is a danger of denying the agency of our class, but also underestimating the level of confusion sown by the strivers not skivers! polemic, the attack on public sector workers, xenophobia and the economic logic! of austerity politicians and media. 3. "t is correct to recognise the dangers of electoral alliances 'how could we not after the @espect fiasco?( but greeting the emergence of the 8eople%s $ssembly and ,eft 7nity with broadsides about reformism is too negative. @eformism does not, ultimately, derive from union officials and their association with left parliamentary parties. 9orkers demand reforms because we want a better life. The working class will continue demanding reforms until the revolution * remember the slogan ,and, 8eace and Aread * and indeed after. The real problem is not reforms but the pretence that they can be gained by proxy and without mass struggle. This was the great mistake of many 6econd "nternational parties, and ,abour /8s and councillors continue to tell constitutuents& ,eave it to me, "%ll sort it.! The real challenge is how we can link ,eft 7nity, let us say, with action in the workplace and the street. B. Finally, we should also scrutinise the CC statement Facing the challenge of fascism! which draws a simple e#uation between fascism and organised racism. The E), and A<8 represent serious threats and we are right to combat them with great energy, but this may not be the form which repression and counter+revolution takes in the future, any more than organised racism was at the heart of /ussolini%s or Franco%s fascism, or 8inochet%s coup in Chile. The ruling class strategy, as manifested by Cameron%s gang, is more complex in its creation of divisions in the working class. "t has worked not only to create ethnic division, but to denigrate benefit claimants, stigmatise the disabled, create the delusion that public sector workers are privileged and self+seeking, and that unemployment is caused by idleness or stupidity. They seek to replace solidarity and mutuality with a war of all against all * the un+making of the working class. To deal with all this, we need a democratic centralist party, an organisation where honest and informed debate facilitates the development of cadres who can think ahead, an organisation where shared commitment is energised by collective understanding and our political strategy is nourished and renewed by our rootedness and our interaction with other workers. 8arty organisation and leadership must reflect our political beliefs and aspirations.