The recent Workers’ Liberty supplement Libya, anti-imperialism, and the Socialist Party (Solidarity 3-206) was a really interesting catch-up for me about the history of a group I was part of in the early 80s.
I will never deny the valuable and inspiring part that comrades like Peter Taaffe played in teaching me about revolutionary thinking and organisation. I was particularly impressed by the genuine working-class make-up of the tendency and its orientation of young ex-student comrades like myself to get out and “learn from workers”. But I can now recognise the truth of a lot of what you are saying.
Back then, I tried to train my mind to conform to what seemed like correct thinking coming from “the centre”, as there wasn’t really any room for holding different views.
The older experienced comrades obviously knew more about Marxism than me. Dissent on any issue was a cause for “discussion”, but only ever, as I eventually realised, to bring the comrade to the correct line.
We often existed in a state of double-think, particularly in relation to internal democracy and to the way we worked with our contacts. It seems to me now that this is a common hazard for all “sects” — it is a problem arising from secrecy combined with democratic centralism. Probably, as you say, it is a symptom of “bureaucratism”. Ultimately it is not the best way to develop revolutionary cadres or ensure that we get our policies right. It leads to the domination of a handful of brains, with all their particular rigid habits and prejudices, over thousands of others, who have not learned how to make independent Marxist analysis.
There needs to be genuine openness to free discussion, based on the understanding that we may learn something new and important from it, rather than a pretence at discussion which is aimed at “bringing the comrades round to our position”.
We join the first group we meet that is in step with our revolutionary urges. The scales fall from our eyes. We see the world described as it truly is, and learn that sometimes the reality is different to what we have been taught to think, or even counter-intuitive. We are open to identifying loyally with the “true Marxism” of our leadership and pretty much absorbing every argument we are fed. Every other group has got it wrong and we can explain why, as long as we’ve got this week’s paper to hand. It’s not attractive, and it’s often comical.
Eventually we get either burned-out, disillusioned or bored. If we are very lucky our comrades have given us enough tools to keep developing our thinking in a way that is useful to the working-class. Again, the only way is to keep finding a flexible balance between the historic experience represented by older leading comrades and the questioning creative attitude of young people. With hindsight I don’t think Militant comrades were able to do that. It’s interesting that while in Militant I knew nothing about the history presented in WL.
I suspect that similar lapses of memory, rigidities of thought, and cults of leadership occur in most revolutionary groups, and I am interested how we can try and take that into account in the ways we organise.
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