Paul Foot

No sects please

(February 1986)

From Socialist Worker, 15 February 1986.
Reprinted in Chris Harman (ed.), In the Heat of the Struggle, Bookmarks, London 1993, p.227.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

FOR MOST of my life I’ve been putting up with being called a ‘sectarian’. This means, I think, that I’m more interested in the fortunes of a small group of socialists than in the future of society or the working class.

The accusation normally comes from those who protest that they are part of the ‘broad movement’, or the ‘wider Labour movement’ or some such phrase, and that therefore the interests of the entire working class are far more important to them than the squabbles between groupuscules of the left.

It’s a charge which, I confess, often puts me on the defensive, because we all know quite well that there is a fanatical and sectarian streak in the Marxism of small groups. Their very smallness, their apparent isolation from society at large tends to turn them inwards and to attract them to mumbo-jumbo and theology.

There’s a temptation always to attack other socialists (who can occasionally even be defeated) rather than the real powers that be (who can’t).

The Socialist Workers Party has been lectured over the years on such sectarianism by broad movement papers on the left such the New Statesman and the Tribune.

I’m a faithful reader of both. Last week, the Diary in the New Statesman was written by Ian Williams, a Labour Party member in Liverpool who has written some perfectly good stuff in the past.

His Diary this week has seven paragraphs. The second paragraph is an attack on Derek Hatton. It is a pretty nasty attack, by the way, but Ian Williams is a known opponent of Militant in Merseyside, so I suppose it was predictable.

Then, in paragraph six, Ian Williams attacks (wait for it) Militant in a paragraph reeking of sectarianism. In paragraph seven he starts off by attacking Militant for saying he writes for the ‘right wing’ New Statesman. In three out of seven paragraphs he attacks Militant and not a word about the Labour leadership or even about the Tory government.

For relief from this, I turned to Tribune and the star column of David Blunkett. David devotes pretty well all his column this week to the ‘Lunatics on the Left who test out socialist purity by whether it matches the high-pitched squeal of their own tuning fork rather than a commitment to policy.’

David is very cross with a lot of lunatics on the left who keep raising ‘points on the agenda’ at meetings and not allowing party leaders like himself to get on with explaining the policy which will bring Labour to office. He doesn’t deal with the difficulties encountered by socialists in the Labour Party who take the old fashioned view that people should not be kicked out of the party because they are committed to socialist policies.

Everywhere I meet Labour Party members the talk is the same. Very left wing people tell me they are ‘shocked’ by the ‘corruption’ in the Liverpool Labour Party. Almost everyone has a new joke about Derek Hatton. Everyone is against witch hunts. Witches are all very well, and they don’t stop Labour winning elections. But really, you know, when all is said and done, these Militant people are beyond the pale.

Well, it was a relief, I can tell you, to turn to Socialist Worker where there is not a single attack on Militant in the entire paper. Indeed, I can’t find any attack on any socialist grouping.

There are some heavy bashes at Rupert Murdoch, and at Tony Dubbins and Brenda Dean for letting him smash their unions, and then there are some attacks on people called Botha and Duvalier, who as far as I know, are not members of any Trotskyist tendency. But there isn’t even a spare inch anywhere for a single nasty joke about Derek Hatton. Who are the sectarians?


Last updated on 17.1.2005