Duncan Hallas, A Slanderous Attack on IS, IS Internal Bulletin, September 1971.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Many comrades will have seen a document called Platform of the Trotskyist Faction of IS. I must make it quite clear that not all those comrades who were associated with the so-called ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ agree with this document. Some of them, I am told, reject it. What I have to say is concerned only with its authors. It is this. Either these people are not serious in what they say or if they are serious, they have no business being in IS.
‘IS we see as centrist’ say the anonymous authors (?Semp and Matgamna?) of the document. ‘IS is centrist in the classic Trotskyist definition’ they continue ‘empirical method, lack of stability on principles with inevitable mis-education of its members on such principles and a vitiation of activities and dissipation of energies.’
In fact a centrist group is one moving from a reformist position to a revolutionary one or from a revolutionary position to a reformist one. If IS is centrist which way is it moving? A question of first importance for any serious revolutionary. No answer is given of course. And no answer is given for the good and sufficient reason that either answer would show the question to be absurd. Trotsky used the term centrist about parties like the British ILP, Lenin used it about parties like the German Independent Social Democrats. James Maxton and Karl Kautsky were the sort of people Trotsky and Lenin meant when they talked about centrists. The use of this term to describe members of any revolutionary group is a scurrilous slander. It is how the document describes the members of IS.
It also describes the membership as the ‘dangerously raw IS group’ which is ‘without more than a few serious cadres (themselves? – DH) and an almost non-existent education’ and is manipulated by an ‘exceptionally cynical’ leadership.
IS, according to these people, was ‘conceived, born and weaned in stalinophobia’, it takes easily to ‘such essentially stalinist methods of falsification of history and rewriting of documents’, its attitude towards the ‘basic principles of communism’ is one of ‘casual indifference’. The ideas and traditions of the group, defended and developed over twenty years are ‘an eclectic mishmash embodying mere shreds of Marxism and largo chunks of bourgeois so-called social science.’
Finally, bad as it was to start with, IS has now gone ‘far along the road to a serious, indeed qualitative, degeneration’.
NOW IT IS QUITE CLEAR THAT NO SERIOUS REVOLUTIONARY WHO BELIEVES THESE THINGS OF AN ORGANISATION CAN POSSIBLY HAVE ANY LOYALTY TO THAT ORGANISATION.
Let’s be absolutely clear about this. A revolutionary puts principles first. He can never be a loyal supporter of a centrist organisation, let alone one as bad as these people believe IS to be. And yet they say that for them ‘the discipline of IS is paramount and over-rides factional discipline’. Why? A revolutionary may work in a centrist (or reformist) organisation. He can never put its discipline before that of the revolutionary group. Perhaps they mean that they are not a revolutionary group? Or is it that they are simply not serious people?
Perhaps these people stay in IS out of sheer defeatism because they see no alternative? Not at all. They believe that the alternative exists. ‘The Fourth International exists, and can trace a clear political line back to 1938. It has not betrayed or collapsed.’ Further they stress ‘the fundamental documents of the Fourth International, particularly the Transitional Programme: all these being fundamentally relevant to current struggles.’ Then why on earth don’t they join the Fourth International? By ‘Fourth International’ they mean the Mandel-Maitan group which has a section in this country called the IMG. Any serious person holding the views they claim to hold would naturally want to join the IMG. Again we have to ask, are these people serious?
To do them justice it must be said that there may be another explanation here. The IMG, having watched them operate successively in the SLL, the RSL and IS, may entertain the suspicion that here are professional factionalists and may be less than enthusiastic about admitting them. I have my differences with the IMG but I admit to a certain sympathy with them in this matter. One prediction can be made with certainty. If the authors of this document did join the IMG it would not be as loyal members but as a permanent factional opposition.
What are the problems facing the British working class in 1971? Redundancies, growing unemployment, inflation, the Industrial Relations Law, Social Service cuts, racialism and the Aliens Bill, the continuing ‘productivity’ offensive, growing repression in Northern Ireland, the right wing backlash against youth, ‘crime’ and ‘sin’ and, at another level, the fight inside the unions, the Common market issue and so on. There are plenty of other problems too but the above are some of the most important ones.
What is the job of revolutionaries who are more than parlour bolsheviks? To try to intervene in the actual class struggle, to take up the issues actually confronting workers, to try to develop and popularise their ideas in the actual workers’ movement and, above all, to develop the links between actual workers and the revolutionary organisation and to build the membership and influence of that organisation.
What has the document to propose about any of these questions? Absolutely nothing. What suggestions for improving the work of the organisation? Absolutely none. Do I misrepresent it? Not at all; ‘the Platform confines itself to basics and does not deal with their practical implications except in passing. We will issue further documents on concrete issues such as immediate economic and industrial perspectives and concrete issues as they arise.’ What lordly contempt! The ‘practical implications are what revolutionary politics are about.
There are of course times when issues which have no immediate operational outcome should be discussed in the organisation. But these people want to call themselves a faction. A serious member of the organisation only participates in a faction in order to fight for (or against) some specific policy or policies. You don’t need a faction to discuss, for example, the class nature of the Stalinist States. Unless of course you think that it is of such immediate importance that the organisation must devote time and resources to such a discussion and that there are no other channels open – or inadequate ones.
Some two years ego I suggested to Matgamna that it would be useful to discuss this very question in the pages of IS Journal, not necessarily in a polemical way but so that the readership could be acquainted with the various positions. Matgamna disagreed. He did not think it would be useful because other issues were more important. That is a legitimate point of view. Matgamna has been a member of the organisation’s leading committee, the National Committee, for some three years. He has never raised this question on the committee. Fair enough. But wait. The question now appears in what purports to be the platform of a faction. (Section E) What kind of principled politics is this?
Is it the case that the reason Matgamna did not want the question debated is that the then ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ included people who thought that these regimes were state capitalist? And is the absence of proposals on ‘concrete issues’ due to the fact that the associates of the authors are as divided on these as they were when, on the question of voting Labour, the two representatives of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ on the NC had diametrically opposed views?
The ‘platform’ is a concoction of smears and slanders against IS laced into a collection of generalities such as acceptance of the line of the first four Congresses of the Comintern, (how many members have read the reports of these?) and the 1938 Programme of the FI.
A faction is a grouping of members formed to fight on a specific issue. This is not the platform of a faction. It is the expression of a disloyal clique whose real programme is to take every opportunity to denigrate the group, its work and its traditions and to sow suspicion and confusion amongst the membership – a membership that they contemptuously describe as ‘totally raw and uneducated people’.
I conclude as I began. No serious revolutionary who honestly believed that IS was a degenerating centrist group would wish to remain in it, let alone serve on its National Committee, especially if he believed that a healthy alternative exists. Why then are these people in IS?
Last updated on 7.12.2004