First Published: Autumn 1984.
Source: Published by the Workers Socialist League.
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1. 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.
2. Prolonged, repeated attempts at conciliating the faction have failed completely.
Cunliffe, 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; Smith as industrial organiser; etc – they took these major concessions as less than their rightful share, and also either didn’t do the work (Smith) or walked out on it (Cunliffe).
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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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, March 31 1984