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Submitted by edwardm on Fri, 05/06/2009 - 13:46

Tom - there is a difference between a right to 'free speech' outside the organisation and propagandising for minority views outside the organisation. Our constitution states that "Activists should not pretend to hold beliefs contrary to their real ones" - so, AWL members who hold a minority view are expected to be open about this outside the AWL; and we don't restrict discussing differences to secret pub-chats after meetings with trusted outsiders: we regularly give a lot of space in our public press to dissenting views. AWL members also have a right to form factions and tendencies so long as it is done openly.

But 'making propaganda outside the group' for minority views is different from being open about your differences - it implies building what is in effect a separate organisation, or at the very least, putting a lot of activist time and energy into a political project which is at odds with the group's collective decisions. For organisational reasons, a group can't function properly like that; it will just fall apart.

These "restrictions on free speech" are in fact just the basic minimal requirements for a political propaganda group to hang together and work together as a coherent entity. And all that is different about Trotskyist groups is that these rules are written down, whereas in other activist groups they only exist 'de facto'. De facto, if a member (or several)of an anarchist affinity group goes off leafleting for something that the other members disagree with, then that affinity group becomes unstable and in danger of breaking down.

So, do I think that these basic restrictions should change? No - or at least, not currently. I think that, were several British Trotskyist groups amalgamated into one multi-tendency League or whatever, then the restrictions on inter-tendency intercourse (poor choice of words?) would *have* to soften - although even members of this 'League' would still have to be banned from building separate outside organisations. But don't put the cart before the horse - if the AWL, SP, SWP and whoever all dropped their restrictions on making external propaganda tomorrow, that wouldn't make such a 'League' come about! Rather, what builds unity between organisations is a combination of joint action between activists on the ground and less sectarian policies from party leaderships (and in a democratic organisation, the former should lead to the latter). But I don't want to give the impression that I'm only interested in the relationship between left groups here - this debate needs to be seen as one single issue in the wider project of building a new workers' party - and not even the major issue, either, I don't think.

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