There is an interesting development abroad in the Socialist Alliance. A number of comrades - members of rival organisations as well as independents - are expressing a profound concern for the sensibilities of the Socialist Workers Party.
I have been told both by comrades from the International Socialist Group and by leading non-aligned figures in London that criticisms of the SWP appearing in the Weekly Worker have a dangerous aspect. We apparently risk driving the SWP back into its sectarian bunker. We could actually stop its cadre thinking when we report their half-thought-through words and arguments. Indeed, we have been advised that when we detect disagreement within the SWP it is somehow morally incumbent on us to maintain a stoic silence for fear of exacerbating and solidifying the lines of demarcation. This, we have been warned, might prompt the SWP leadership to evacuate its bothered, beleaguered and bewildered members out of the SA project altogether in order to preserve the sect integrity of their organisation.
Such tender solicitude is misplaced. After all, the SWP is now by far the largest organisation on the British revolutionary left. It commands considerable technical and financial resources and a national network of activists and cadre. It is well supplied with intellectual resources also, with a stable and talented leadership collective. Surely the Weekly Worker cannot be upsetting it that much?
Yet SWPers are indeed very sensitive about having their words openly reported in our pages. Their various attorneys on the left plead with us to go easy on their clients because of their general record of ?good behaviour? in the SA project. I am always amused when I hear tales from CPGB comrades about the angry (always verbal) denials of the veracity of the reports in our paper.
This underlines two things. First, that the revolutionary left as constituted today is not a serious candidate to lead the working class. Being a serious politician - of the bourgeois or proletarian stripe - requires a skin akin to a rhino?s. Much of politics consists of expressing strong views in the public domain - often without the benefit of careful preparation. You really should not be surprised if people take hold of your words, report them and offer critical judgements.
Second, sects are for the most part organically incapable of building serious working class politicians. The prohibition on members publicly expressing anything other than the organisation?s ?line? on every question means that cadre develop the capacity to think for themselves only in extremely truncated ways. For example, during the campaign for the Greater London Authority elections last year, the Weekly Worker interviewed Socialist Alliance candidates from various political groups. Workers Power insisted that we submit the questions for its comrade, Kate Ford, to answer beforehand. It was these written replies we published (Weekly Worker March 16 2000).
Even this was too dangerous for the SWP. Rob Hoveman, on behalf of SWP candidate Candy Udwin, also asked for written questions to be submitted in advance, but informed us that comrade Udwin was ?not interested? in responding to some of the inoffensive queries put to her. Written answers were again supplied (Weekly Worker February 17 2000).
We wonder what on earth such organisations will do when we start winning some elections? Will Jeremy Paxman be as accommodating in giving our candidates an easy ride? Or will they perhaps have to behave like political grown-ups?
We should remind ourselves of the detail in which Lenin openly reported the positions of his comrades in his writings. We advise some of our critics to take a peek at publications such as One step forward, two steps back, where Lenin goes into extraordinary detail on the positions adopted by individuals and groupings at the Second Congress of the RSDLP in 1903.
In addition he advocates that members make a careful study of the verbatim minutes of the meeting. These ?present a picture of the actual state of affairs in our Party ... a picture of the political shades existing in the Party, showing their relative strength, their mutual relations and their struggles? (VI Lenin One step forward, two steps back Peking 1976, p4).
Lenin is well aware that this open exposure will provide ammunition to the opponents of communism - they will ?gloat and grimace over our controversies ? and use them for their own ends?. This is nothing, he contends: just ?pin pricks?, which must not for one moment divert the party from its ?work of self-criticism and ruthless exposure of its own shortcomings? (p5).
Controversy continued to rage in the open press of the young Russian Party over this pivotal congress. Its fraught proceedings were commented on by other trends in the revolutionary movement, as well as bourgeois liberal and anti-socialist groups and publications. Far from hindering the development of the party, this method was instrumental in building it.
We are accustomed to petty complaints of ?distortions?, ?misrepresentations?, ?false reporting? and even ?lying? . Why don?t our accusers take up the offer to ?correct? us and state their real views in the pages of our open press?.