What really happened in the 'Thornett' split following the fusion of the I-CL and the WSL in 1981?
The International-Communist League (I-CL) fused with the Workers' Socialist League (WSL) in July 1981. The fusion brought together two similarly sized groups, both with about 100 members, to form the new WSL.
The old WSL was a politically heterogeneous organisation, led by former-SLL/WRP members, Alan Thornett and Tony R. Thornett and R. worked at the car plant in Cowley, Oxford. Alan Thornett had been a WRP 'star' worker, prominent and promoted by Healy and, after his break with Healy in 1974 (200 were expelled), feted by other Trotskyist currents and regulalry featured in the mainstream press.
The old WSL was held together by a 'workerist' cult around Thornett who expected to be able to lay down the political law, especially on industrial questions, and who acted as arbiter and voice of final authority between the various currents in the old WSL.
The fusion began to break down during the Falklands war of 1982 when Thornett came under 'orthodox Trotskyist' pressure to back Argentina. The old I-CL leadership demanded withdrawl of the British fleet and withdrawal of Argentinean troops from the islands.
The original Thornett group fractured and broke up within the new organisation. After the April 1983 conference a group of old WSLers, representing a more extreme sectarian position than Thornett, split.
The rump of Thornett's grouping was expelled in1984 (by the April National Committee, confirmed at a special conference on 30 June-1 July) for protracted disruptive behavior, which was scattering cadre and paralysing the organisation. By 1984 this included: withdrawal of collaboration on day to day matters; non-payment of dues; the withdrawal of John Lister from joint editorship of the paper, Socailist Organiser; full-scale focus on internal recrimination and agitation over minor organisational details, culminating in the demand for a special conference (there had been three full conferences in 1983 alone) on 'the internal situation', instead of turning the group to work around the miners' strike.
Documents of the day
DOCUMENT NO. 1: THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE'S ULTIMATUM, 10 MARCH 1984
Since last year's three part conference [February, April and August 1983], which ended with the August session, the organisation's internal life has been dominated by the refusal of the faction [openly declared in April 1983; they had previously formed an opposition tendency in May 1982, over the question of the Falklands war, which led to a special conference in September 1982] to accept the practical consequences of the decisions of that conference namely: a) That they are a minority in the organisation; b) That they have been convincingly defeated on every one of the political questions, in so far as they had been posed; c) That, therefore, short of a sharp turn-around by a big chunk of the organisation, or, alternatively, a sizeable influx into the organisation of co-thinkers of theirs who would give them the majority, they were likely to remain the minority for the immediate period ahead.
Their choice lay between two options either to split, or to act as a disciplined minority, collaborating as the constitution demands minorities should, to implement the decisions of the conference and to build the organisation under the guidance of the leadership elected at the conference.
In the second option they would, of course, retain the right to argue their political differences internally.
They refused to make a clear choice, and launched instead an escalating course of disruption without any obviously coherent perspective. They did not attempt to develop any of the political debates further, but went instead for a series of "scandals", seeking to "expose the leadership" in much the same style as the SLL/WRP used to do in the trade unions.
In fact the 'them and us' polarisation of or the organisation was posed initially (and essentially) entirely from their side and not at all from the majority. The majority's view was that the range of differences (with Thornett, as opposed to some of his followers) did not justify the heat or polarisation. It attempted to integrate the minority into the work of building the League by:
- Proposing a new way of electing the National Committee (single transferable vote) so as to give them the maximum guarantees of representation;
- Including all the leaders of the Thornett group in its slate for the NC presented to the April conference. (By contrast the Thornett group presented a narrowly factional slate, from which, for example, they punititively excluded one associate of their group who disagreed with them on one issue, the Labour Party and organised tight whipping of votes for their slate;
- Over-representing the faction on the EC by retaining all the former EC members, from the Thornett group in the newly elected EC;
- Operating 'positive discrimination' for them in the League. For example, John Lister continued as joint editor of the paper, Thornett was urged to do the work of Industrial organiser, etc., etc.;
- Continuing the privileged position of the Thornett group leaders, and allowing them to write what they pleased in the paper. Nothing that they have ever written has been rejected for political reasons. The only example of limitations on Thornett is when he was asked to reduce an article down to two from four full pages of the paper. He was not asked to change the political content.
Despite all this, the minority was irreconcilable. Thornett and R. talked, acted, and responded as monarchs by right treacherously ousted from their position of unchallengable designate leadership - "the worker leadership" as they refer to themselves on the committees.
They responded in a spirit of vendetta, trying to get their own back. In fact, their faction was declared only after the second part of the conference, which they saw as decisive and [which] elected the NC.
Instead of accepting the verdict of the conference and working loyally as members of the organisation, the faction leaders have:
- Continued to poison the organisation with an envenomed campaign of slander and demonology against the majority of the organisation and against its leading representatives. Accusations and abuse are usually, if unfortunately, features of any sharp political conflict: but from the Thornett faction the explicitly political element has been minimal, completely overshadowed by the accusations and "scandals".
- Increasingly adopted the methods and technique of an internal agitating faction, unconcerned with the work of the organisation or with the effects of their behaviour on that work.
- Progressively withdrawn from the work of the organisation. In what amounts to a partial secession, while continuing to exercise and enjoy full rights, indeed privileges, within it.
Dues and paper money. Some faction members are conscientious, some nonfaction members are irresponsible. But the basic path of development is illustrated by the Oxford factory branch in which comrades Thornett and R. are active. In August 1982 they had relatively modest debts. From then to mid-December, the debts escalated continuously, despite schemes designed to help clear arrears.
Pressure from the centre then produced some reduction of the debt - and a huge hue and cry against alleged bureaucratic oppression, which is still continuing.
Commitment to central work. Thornett has been free for full-time work for around 15 months, but has done practically nothing as Industrial organiser. His explanation is that he is writing a book about Cowley. This use of his time has never been discussed, let alone agreed.
Lister walked off his job on the paper in January. Thornett has subsequently endorsed this action.
Federalism. The writ of the organisation's leading committees scarcely runs in Oxford.
Increasingly, the faction leaders relate to the organisation as 'interventionists' to agitate and ambush seemingly without any regard to the detrimental consequences for the League. They enjoy a full share of 'power' in the organisation, and indeed a privileged position, but take no share of the responsibility (especially financial/organisational) for the running of the organisation. Indeed, increasingly, they do their best to oppose, thwart and spite the efforts of the League leadership to administer the basic functions of the organisation.
The Thornett group has turned the leading committees, into arenas rendered partly non-functional by endless petty and irresolvable disputes of a narrowly organisational and non-political character.
The only rational perspective for a political minority in their position would be propaganda focused on the basic political issues. The feverish agitation makes sense only if they were about to win the majority (which they aren't) - or as a build up to a split.
This activity has sapped the vitality of the organisation in two ways: a) Directly in terms of revenue; paper sales; discipline in work; ability of the elected leadership to organise our work according to the decisions of the conference, NC and EC; and our ability to organise rational political discussion on political questions; b) Indirectly by the resultant effect on the morale of the group.
A hiving off by the Thornett group would probably now lead to an increase in the organisation's activity rather than a loss of real resources. But the most destructive result of the behaviour of the Thornett group has been on their own forces.
They have shattered the grouping that they brought into the new organisation in July 1981 and scattered most of its forces to the four winds. At first, soon after the fusion, there was a shake-out of odd sectarians here and there: these were the first consequences of Thornett's and R.'s failure to win the old WSL to the politics they had agreed for the new organisation. Then there was the split linked to the US Revolutionary Workers League, to form the Workers International League.
For fear of a shattering split straight down the middle of the organisation we were compelled to stand by as a transparently vicious and completely alien cult openly built up a faction in the WSL out of potentially valuable youth who had been poisoned against the WSL by Thornett and R. and who then broke with Thornett and R. because Thornett and R. refused to draw the logic of their own disastrous denunciations of the WSL majority.
The third wave of exThornett group forces has dropped away one by one since the last conference, because, like the TILC-orientated [TILC was the small pseudo 'international' that Thornett brought with him into the fusion] youth before them, they took seriously what Thornett and R. say about the organisation and its majority.
That, incidentally, is their explanation for the surprising fact that the organisation can suffer the serious haemorrhaging. It has had for a full year now and still be able to do pretty much what it was doing a year ago or 18 or 24 months ago. Most of the haemorrhaging has been of people who were never really integrated into the organisation and its work anyway. The clearest example is youth work.
The whole history of the Thornett group shows the unviability of trying to build a political organisation around a self-designated 'worker leadership' rather than clear politics and clear political accounting. If we look at the nine years since, Thornett and R. broke with the WRP, a graph presents itself which shows at first a rapid ascent and then a catastrophic decline.
In 1975 Thornett was one of the best-known militants in Britain receiving publicity from the bourgeois press on the scale of Tariq Ali or Jack Dash. He was also boosted to widespread fame and prestige in Trotskyist circles by the USFI press, which was interested both in courting him and in using him against Healy. Lots of people flocked to the WSL, among, them petty bourgeois intellectuals from other organisations. At its peak it came close to 200 members. Then it declined, haemorrhaged, was twice invaded by Sparticists, lost its neoHealyite verve and coherence.
The decline was intersected and seemingly arrested by the fusion in July 1981. Potentially it might have been in fact arrested. But with Thornett's attempt to regroup the old WSL on the Falklands war issue the decline quickly resumed; until today there are about three dozen in the faction.
Much of the Thornett group's generalised discontent and irreconcilability seems to derive from a desire to have back again their golden days of the mid-1970s. But the desire cannot be satisfied.
In the meantime, the organisation now faces the alternative spelled out in the declaration of Sean Matgamna, Martin Thomas, Jane Ashworth and John Bloxam to the EC of 5 February 1984.
I"The present situation in the organisation is untenable. As far as we are concerned the choice facing the minority is either to resume full organisational autonomy or to accept that they are a minority, bringing to an end their partial 'secession' and behave as a disciplined part of the WSL under the control of the leading bodies. If they choose the latter course, we will, of course, continue to uphold the rights of the minority to present their views in internal debate and to participate in the normal activity of the organisation".
The situation is untenable. The way the Thornett group is now going, a split is inevitable.
Thornett and R. no longer adhere to the WSL in any positive sense. The faction is a more or less wholly negative force within the organisation. It is not clear why Thornett and R. have so far failed to draw the same conclusions as those many who have graduated from their group out of the WSL: the only possible reason is are the fact that they have no better alternative to the WSL, and/or a desire. to do maximum damage to the organisation before they go.
This National Committee declares that the situation must be resolved by the next NC one way or the other: the faction must decide to go out of the WSL or come into it. It can not continue the way it is.
The NC declares that a split is neither desirable nor necessary ,and that it can be avoided if the faction shows itself willing to build the organisation and to accept - for now - minority status. The following are the basic minimum preconditions for integrating the faction into the organisation:
- That all members of the faction fulfil their basic obligations as regards paper sales, dues, etc. like all other members the organisation not formally exempted.
- The faction accepts majority rule;
- An end to federalism;
- That the faction either accepts a full share in decision-making and responsibility within the organisation, or accepts exclusively majority decision making. The faction leaders either work constructively in the leading committees, or get off them and accept a subordinate role. The committees must be allowed to function properly;
- That the faction leaders cease irresponsible and disruptive agitation.
The imposition of these conditions is nothing more than the enforcement of democratic centralist norms.
DOCUMENT 2. THE THORNETT GROUP'S RESPONSE
Having been instructed by the EC majority to respond to the NC resolution of 10 March 1984 on 'resolving the situation one way or the other' by the next NC, we, as former members of the now dissolved faction declare:
- We opposed on 10 March and still oppose the bureaucratic attempt of the resolution to prevent the special conference which has been duly called by the required numbers under the appropriate provisions of the constitution, but will now plainly be held if at all only after the 'next NC'.
- We have always made clear our willingness to carry out our constitutional obligations within the WSL and that remains our position. As far as the implicit insinuation of clauses b, c, d, and e are concerned, they are deliberately misleading suggestions which have nothing to do with the real attitudes that the comrades have.
- 3. We in turn ask the NC of 31 March to state unambiguously whether or not it intends to carry out its constitutional obligation to convene a special conference within two months and to uphold the right of political minorities within the WSL during that period.
DOCUMENT 3. THE FACTION "DISSOLVES" ITSELF
We declared a faction on 27 April 1983 (Internal Bulletin 59) because we became a minority under conditions where it was clear that the majority was moving against us and we had to protect our democratic rights. "Comrades Matgamna, Bloxam and Thomas, who now control the majority leadership of the organisation, have a hardened factional approach to those now in the minority. This is exemplified in Internal Bulletin 35, Internal Bulletin 58, their voting in relation to the Glasgow resolution which called for the leaders of the Internationalist Tendency [TILC-RWL oriented tendency]at the conference to be expelled, and the far reaching 'party building document' which they attempted to get on the agenda without prior discussion. Amongst other things, this document appears designed to outline the way the new majority leadership will take control of the organisation over the coming months. This situation cannot be countered other than in an organised way".
We formed the faction to protect ourselves under these conditions and to advocate the politics of the conference documents which were the political basis of the faction.
Events since then have more than confirmed all our fears.
Now we are faced with probable expulsion (or steps towards it) at the NC on 31 March. Under these conditions we have decided to disband the faction in favour of the call for the conference and the draft document to be put to it by the eight NC members and the 51 comrades who have endorsed it. We will join together with any comrades who are prepared to defend democracy in the WSL and hope to create new conditions and a different regime under which we can again argue for our politics.
DOCUMENT4. THE BELATED CRY FOR UNITY
Nothing was more predictable than that the NC's vote to sort out the problem of the faction one way or another would lead to an upsurge of unity mongering.
The faction are politically very isolated in the organisation. They escape from their isolation only when organisational questions are centrestage - so they have been ignoring politics and focusing on manufactured and concocted organisational questions, for months.
The NC resolution was a godsend to the faction. Now they could appeal for support and protection against expulsion They could appeal to every goodwilled, soft-hearted comrade who hasn't been paying attention to what has been going on in the organisation for the last six months (or the last two years).
Thornett and R. have made the organisation unliveable by their disruptive factionalism and refusal to live by the basic norms of the organisation's constitution. But now they could bound forward as champions of unity. Everything is changed. "All changed, changed utterly". A terrible nonsense is born.
But everything is not changed. Unity is desirable but after over two years of mounting chaos the onus is on those the honest ones who say that unity with the ThornettR. group is possible to show us how it is possible. The fusion of 1981 has broken down. It is the unanimous view of these of us who run the organisation from day to day and who have tried conciliation again and again over two years, to try to salvage any hopes of unity that all the hopes of 1981 are gone, irrevocably. Unity does not exist at present. Instead we have a faction bitterly hostile to the new WSL encased within the same organisational shell as it - two organisations within one structure.
Thornett and R. also believe that the fusion has broken down. Thornett and R. reached that conclusion a year before we did. Their attitude is that they have "fundamental differences" with the WSL on "every major question", that no Trotskyist in the world "would touch us with a bargepole" because of our politics and moreover that those responsible for the day-to-day central functions of the organisation are "worse than the trade union bureaucrats".
They declared a faction not based on politics, for they declared it just after the conclusion of the conference debate on those politics, but based on the assertion that they were going to be mistreated. They refused to discuss with us what guarantees could be instituted against such mistreatment. They adopted an open attitude of unbridled hostility and hate-mongering towards us. (They seem to have been running a covert campaign against Matgamna from day one of the fusion - Pat Lally a leader of the old WSL - commented on this campaign at the EC after the April 1983 conference). They allied with the RWL and the RWL faction against us in the spirit of 'the main enemy is at home'. Even after collaborating in drawing up the charges against the RWL faction, they refused to vote to expel them saying that Matgamna was just as bad. They refused even to discuss a joint NC slate with us before the April 1983 conference. They gradually withdrew from any practical collaboration.
WHAT THORNETT AND R. INTEND
The unity-mongering of Thornett and R. does not come from a belief that the fusion has not broken down. They know - and have said - differently. Their unity-mongering comes from the belief that the best place for their distinct and separate organisation is, for now, within the WSL.
The faction is not fighting against a split. They are fighting under the banner of 'unity' to make the split as favourable for themselves as possible - that is, as damaging as possible for the WSL.
Is there any reason to think that the fusion can be repaired? That's a matter of opinion. In our opinion it can't be. And our opinion is based on nearly three years of trying to make the fusion work, of attempted conciliation after attempted conciliation, and of running the organisation despite the horrendous problems created by the progressive breakdown of the fusion over two years.
Anyone who thinks differently has at least the obligation to put forward definite proposals for how the fusion could be repaired - not just to express the wish that it should be.
In our opinion, the 10 March NC resolution was the last possibility of sorting things out without a complete organisational break with the Oxford faction. It stated the minimum basis. Not the minimum basis on which we were prepared to work with them - we don't play parliamentary games like that - but the minimum basis of agreed norms that would allow the organisation to continue functioning despite the factionalism.
Not honestly and openly, but nevertheless unmistakably, they rejected those conditions.
If they wanted unity, they would have accepted them, or at least discussed them seriously. That they agitate for unity instead of doing what would have secured it is proof of the kind of unity they have in mind. They want, not unity to build the WSL according to the fusion agreements, but unity such as they have now - unbridled licence to function as a distinct (though now underground) organisation, hostile to the WSL, irresponsible towards it, but with special rights within it and on its leading committees.
On the basis of formal politics unity is possible. It is an irony that despite the faction's attempts to maximise differences, there is arguably more formal political agreement between the two 'sides' now than at fusion! That is not decisive. Last December we had bitter rows which had as consequences Lister's final decision to withdraw from work on the paper over our attitude to the TUC despite having fundamental agreement on the outline of what was, on the left, a distinct WSL position on the NGA [print dispute at Warrington].
The factional dynamic and the dynamic of Thornett and R. was independent of formal politics.
Trotsky evaluated the 1940 split in the SWP-US thus:
"Question: In your opinion were there enough political differences between the majority and the minority to warrant a split?
"Trotsky: Here is it also necessary to consider the question dialectically, not mechanically. What does this terrible word 'dialectics' mean? It means to consider things in their development, not in their static situation. If we take the political differences as they are, we can say they were not sufficient for a split, but if they developed a tendency to turn away from the proletariat in the direction of pettybourgeois circles, then the same differences can have an absolutely different value . . ."
The direction of movement is critical.
ONE LAST TRY?
The idea that we should make one last try for unity will be especially tempting to comrades who have only just begun to consider the question as an urgent and burning one. It has been an immediate and burning question to the EC majority for many, many months. In fact the history of the postJuly 1981 organisation is the history of our attempts to make unity (fusion) 'work'.
Look at the list of episodes (which incidentally will dispose of the hostile myth that we have functioned in the organisation as a faction like Thornett's - no we have not):
- We proposed to give the old WSL a majority on the EC, by adding Bob Cullen in late 1981, so that all its authoritative and influential voices could be heard on the EC. (We had already given the old WSL a majority on the OC). This was vetoed, after the NC voted for it, by the Oxford area committee).
- We proposed changing the system of electing the NC to give them guarantees that they would not get carved up. We also proposed working out a joint slate - they refused to discuss it.
- We have given them more or less free access to the public press - and they have repaid us with lying allegations that they have been suppressed.
- In the working out of documents for the April 1983 conference, we made several attempts to minimise polarisation and get common ground.
- After the April 1983 conference we gave the faction far more than their proportional share of the EC. We resisted a proposal to exclude R.
- After the April 1983 conference we continued joint editorship of the paper. Eventually the old WSL editor [Lister] walked out of it.
- We tried to involve Thornett in central work. We invited him to be industrial organiser. He did practically nothing. As late as the NGA dispute [late 1983], we carefully avoided recriminations and yet again tried to involve him We were repaid with no co-operation and bitter polemics.
BASIS FOR UNITY
Unity is not something floating in the sky, like the star of peace at Bethlehem. It has to be something real and tangible, and it is for a purpose the purpose of building the WSL. The real test of whether unity is possible or not lies in such practical details. At the time of the fusion, the mutually agreed test of the fusion was whether we could cooperate in practical work and discussion.
Those who talk of unity now do so when it is perfectly clear that such real unity is not possible. If we could not create and maintain real unity given the goodwill of the immediate postfusion period and the high hopes we had of the fusion (and we, at least, did bring a lot of good will to the fusion) then what earthly reason is there to believe that we can do it now? If the ultraliberal conditions granted to the faction after the April 1983 conference did not satisfy them then, what reason is there to suppose that they can be satisfied now?
The areas of real collaboration that we created after the fusion have collapsed one by one. Today there is no collaboration. There is no goodwill. There is no hope of things getting better.
If we were formally separate organisations now, we would have relations of deep hostility. Anybody would be laughed at who suggested that these formally separate organisations, with the relations existing between the two formally united organisations in the WSL, should now fuse.
There was one way to preserve unity. Though we cannot create either the goodwill or the hopes and illusions of 1981, we could establish and operate a framework of functioning ground rules for coexistence in a common organisation. Goodwill and positive attitudes could return as a result of work over a period for the common purpose of building the WSL according to the ground rules unanimously agreed at fusion. That was the purpose of the 10 March NC resolution, which reiterated agreed requirements of the constitution.
We have had their answer: business as usual, and proposal which in a rather incoherent way amount to turning the organisation into a loose federation. The proposals bear no relation at all to any attempt to recreate unity. If implemented, they would simply make the situation worse and the eventual split more messy, they would put the organisation into a state of constant uproar and undercut any attempt at centralisation. This is no basis for unity to bui1d a revolutionary party. It is no basis for unity.
UNITY AND SPLITS
All sorts of people who should know better are scared of words like 'split'. In reality splits are the small change of organisations like ours. Some splits are good, positive, liberating. Genuine unity is better, but we do not have that, nor any chance of getting it: we have two organisations, one largely parasitic on the work of the other, inside one formal structure.
Splits are the common coin of the Trotskyist and semi-Trotskyist groups. What has distinguished [our] tendency over the. last fifteen years on this question is not that we have had splits and we have had many splits, big and small but that we have negotiated and carried through a series of fusions unique in the history of the movement: in 1968 with IS; in 1975 with Workers Power; in 1981 with the old WSL. We have also initiated and built broad left unity campaigns.
We will negotiate other fusions and initiate other broad left campaigns. But we do not make a fetish of unity. Splits and fusions are both tools in the work of building the revolutionary party, which concretely is the work of assembling, educating and tempering the cadre of that party. Not all splits are bad and not all fusions lead to good results. WSL gained a great deal from the 1968 and 1975 fusions (by no means all of Workers Power split). The 1981 fusion has been a costly failure, which will have to be analysed and discussed at more leisure.
The task we attempted in 1981, of fusing two equal-sized organisations, was a task that has never been done successfully since the period of Trotskyist fusions in the 1940s, and before that in the period of fusions to create the Communist Parties after the Russian Revolution. We were trying to do it with two organisations which had directly or implicitly been in political conflict for fifteen years, in a not particularly favourable period for the Left in general, in conditions where there was no dramatic shift in the world around us making the differences of those previous fifteen years irrelevant; and where, far from a relatively strong international movement playing a constructive role, the major international intervention was by groups deliberately out to split us.
The probability was that we would fail. The evidence shows that the main responsibility for that failure falls on Thornett and R.
We should not sink into depression and mourning for the fusion. It broke down long ago, and now we must recognise that there is no hope of repairing it and face up to the consequences. Let the dead bury the dead, and let Thornett and R. and those who want to go with them stew in their own politics. We have the organisation we projected for ourselves at fusion to build. We will build it.
DOCUMENT 5. THE EXPULSION RESOLUTION
- The basic fact of life in the WSL - now as for many months past - is that the fusion has broken down completely. Within the WSL there are now two organisations at war with each other.
The Oxford faction possesses all the features of a distinct and separate organisation - distinct politics (or what it thinks are distinct politics), hostile to those of the organisation; a leadership of its own; its own finances; literature production; and distribution network; a geographical segment of the organisation (Oxford) which is only notionally under the control of the League and is in fact entirely under the faction's control.
The Oxford faction has in practice refused to accept the political and organisational verdict of last year's three conferences, and refused to settle into the organisation as a disciplined minority.
It defines the organisation as run by bureaucrats "worse than the trade union bureaucrats" and itself as having "fundamental differences" with the majority "on every major question". It believes that no-one in the world Trotskyist movement "will touch us with a bargepole" because of our politics.
It functions in the organisation to expose, trip up and ambush the 'bureaucratic' leadership, ceaselessly agitating over largely contrived and anyway petty grievances. Its primary concerns, apart from its local work in Oxford, are this internal scandal-mongering and agitation.
At the same time its leaders take no part in the responsibility for running the League. They have consistently refused to back the elected leadership in imposing elementary discipline on their supporters.
Since the August 1983 conference a stream of potentially valuable comrades have gone out of the organisation because they believed what the faction leaders said about the organisation, and acted on it seriously and logically. For whatever reason general faintheartedness, the lack of a better alternative, or that they don't themselves entirely believe what they say about us the faction leaders have chosen to remain formally within the organisation. But the only description that fits the way they relate to the work of the League and to the leading committees of the League is internal secession.
Their effect on the League is to sap its morale; to make it difficult and often impossible for its leading committees to function; to clog up its internal channels with the debris of petty recriminations, and make real political discussion impossible; to make its internal life repulsive to new recruits; and systematically to undermine the League's discipline.
- Prolonged, repeated attempts at conciliating the faction have failed completely.
Lister, as joint editor of the weekly paper; more or less free access for their views to the public press of the League; disproportionate representation on the EC; Thornett as industrial organiser; etc - they took these major concessions as less than their rightful share, and also either didn't do the work (Thornett) or walked out on it (Lister).
After a year during which relations with the faction got progressively worse, and a period of especially rapid deterioration since the New Year, the March 10 NC passed a resolution on the minimum basic rules of functioning for continued co-existence with the faction.
The faction's national conference of 25 March responded to this resolution in two ways - with an evasive formal reply; and by pretending to dissolve itself (though the NC didn't ask it to, and has no constitutional right to tell it to). The formally convened national conference of the faction decided on its campaign for the next period, on demands it would try to rally people round before the special conference and proposals for the special conference, and then 'dissolved' so that it could more effectively pursue the faction's goals.
This utterly transparent manoeuvre is, in its own way, a very clear response to the NC's resolution. It will be business as usual.
Instead of complying with the NC resolution, and on that basis remaining in the League, they use its implied threat of discipline against themselves as the basis for an utterly spurious and unprincipled campaign for "democracy in the WSL." They use the constitutional provision which allows a minority their size to call a special conference more or less at will to try to compel the organisation to spend the next two months turned inwards, to consume its energies in petty bickering over their alleged grievances - during the miners' strike! Nothing shows their sectarian absorption in internal League agitation above all else as clearly as this does; nothing shows their sectarian degeneration so conclusively.
- The 20 March resolution was the last chance to avoid an organisational break between the faction and the League. Their refusal to accept it leaves us only one option the expulsion of the (now secret) faction from the WSL. It is time to put an end to this impossible situation to recognise that there are in fact two organisations which cannot co-exist in one shell, and therefore that we must separate.
We therefore indict the members of the faction for failure to comply with the NC decision and for disruption of the League and thereby: a) Suspend them from all their functions, offices and membership in the League; b) Give them the constitutional notice that a motion for their expulsion will be brought to the NC on 14 April, at a special meeting.
Any individual member of the faction who dissociates from the faction's reply to the NC resolution, and indicates a willingness to comply with that resolution, shall not be included in this decision.
The NC mandates the EC to contact the faction leaders to negotiate over possible areas of practical collaboration following the separation of the two organisations.
- The NC rejects the argument that it is obliged to call a national conference before taking such action. The purpose of a conference is to decide the perspectives and policy of a single organisation - not to provide an arena for battle between two organisations within one formal structure, especially when that battle is to be over petty recriminations utterly secondary to the real issues between two organisations. A conference is not a suitable method for organising a split.
The situation with the faction is perfectly clear cut. The NC is within its constitutional powers to demand what it demanded of the faction on 10 March and to take disciplinary action where the faction refuses to comply. The agitation in the call for a special conference is a parallel and separate matter. That agitation does not establish that the majority of the organisation believes that a special conference is necessary before the faction can be disciplined. Only a plebiscite or a special conference itself can decide that. The constitution rejects plebiscites. Therefore only the verdict of a special conference that the NC should not act could override the power to act which the constitution gives to the NC. The decision how to proceed must be the NC's, and it has to be taken with due regard to all the political circumstances inside and outside the League. The NC must either act on its own authority and according to its basic mandate to lead the organisation and protect it from disruption, or abdicate its responsibilities to lead the organisation and ask a conference for guidance.
For the NC to choose to do that to turn the organisation inwards in a futile manner for the next two months during the miners' strike would be to admit its own bankruptcy and irresponsibility towards the work of the organisation in the class struggle on a par with that of the leaders of the faction and their fellow travellers.
The NC therefore chooses to exercise its constitutional authority and discharge its duty to act immediately against the faction; to protect the organisation from disruption now and to turn the League decisively towards work round the miners' strike in the period ahead.
- The constitution stipulates that when 25% of the members want a special conference then it shall be held. The NC believes that the spirit of the constitution - the spirit of the class struggle and of revolutionary Bolshevism - allows the NC a certain leeway in interpreting the constitution to take into account major events in the class struggle like the miners' strike.
On the question of a conference, the NC therefore resolves to bring forward the date of the regular conference (at which any resolution, documents, etc., can be put, and a new NC will be elected). The 1984 conference of the WSL will be held not more than six weeks after the end of the miners' strike; or not later than three months after 31 March, whichever falls the soonest.
- If expelled, the faction members have the constitutional right to have material relating to their appeals (if they choose to appeal to conference) circulated within the League. The EC is also mandated, after the next NC, to organise meetings in each area at which a representative of the expelled faction shall be given the opportunity to put their case.
- The NC reaffirms its commitment to the democratic rights of political minorities in the WSL. Our objection to the faction is not its political views on various questions, but its disruption of the work of the League.
Comrades within the WSL who disagree with the conference or NC majority have the right of access to the Internal Bulletin; to put their views in branch, area and committee meetings and in the forthcoming pre-conference discussion period; to form factions and tendencies; to propose alternative slates and nominations for the NC, to get representation on the NC in proportion to the strength of support for points of view; etc. All these rights have been exercised, and will continue to be available. The only limitation is that such internal debate should be conducted in such a way as not to disrupt the practical work of the organisation.
We urge comrades who agree with the faction's politics yet are responsible about building the League to remain with the organisation on these terms.
National Committee, 31 March 1984