[Peter Sedgwick]



Anonymous internal document, 1969.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The following document was handed around during the course of a National Conference of the International Socialists in 1969. Although naturally it bore no name, there was no doubt that the author was Peter Sedgwick. Following the IS unity proposals of 1968 a small group known as Workers Fight joined the International Socialists and claimed rights of representation on the National Committee as a “tendency”. There were a number of complex and tortuous discussions as to how the tendency’s representatives should be elected, and this was a comment on the debates.


1. In the remote Bogland township of Ballycaucus the results of the Dail election were awaited with frenzied eagerness. Well past midnight, the Returning Officer appeared on the balcony with a piece of paper in his hand, the two candidates following him to face the throng. When the expectant commotion had died down, the Returning Officer read out, in a firm authoritative voice: “Here are the results of the Ballycaucus election. F. Nourke (General-List Democrat): two thousand and three votes. S. O’trotsky (Faction-List Centralist Democrat): one thousand and five votes. I therefore declare Seamus O’trotsky duly elected.” The citizens of Ballycaucus, whose loyalties to factionalist principles far exceeded any mere political considerations, went delirious with joy. Francis Nourke wept at the result, but extended his hand to his opponent, and said: “Obviously I am disappointed at my vote – I blame the fine weather for that. However the electorate’s verdict is clear and I am content to abide by it. I must, however, point out that the swing is against O’trotsky: last time he got only three votes fewer than me. If enough of my supporters abstain next time, he may get more voters than I do and I shall join with all the other runner-up candidates to claim our due quota of minority representation. Next time, in that case, Ballycaucus will be ours!”

2. Jean-Baptiste Marat Smith, an earnest student of the world and its revolutionary past, had made an exhaustive study of the French Revolution: its causes, its progress, its factions, its ultimate betrayal. He devoted many years to the study of the original documents, the suppressed history of liquidated rebels, the disputes among rival historians of the period: he could dismiss whole schools of thought on the subject with a measured aside – “Girondin rubbish!”, “Infantile Babeufism!”, and so on. He argued with his friends late into many nights, each time coming up with an ignored piece of evidence, a crucial item in the biography of the leaders’ treachery: “Read this,” he would exclaim, “on the massacre of the sans-culottes at Marseilles in 1793! There’s your Jacobinism for you!” Crisp, merciless ripostes came from the opposing circles of students who denied Smith’s theses on the Revolution: Once more on the Marseilles Massacre, Hue and Cry over Sans-culottes! followed in rapid succession from their pens. “Smith is basically a voluntaristic sans-culotte populist”, the rumour went round.

Smith went deeper and deeper into the history of the period, and decided that a firm stand must be made. The traitor Robespierre must be definitely exposed before the new generation of cadres, who were still under the influence of the Jacobin traditions that had been so assiduously fostered by the dominant camp. At the next conference of the International Revolutionary Alliance (to which all contending schools of thought belonged, as a matter of course), he stood at the microphone and denounced Robespierre and all his works, to the jeers and boos of the assembled Jacobins. He continued: “We, the Libertarian Proletarian Faction, claim proportional rights. The organisational and political heritage of the Jacobins must be challenged! Remember Marseilles!” The speaker that followed him poured scorn on Smith’s contribution: “The degeneracy of the French Revolution has nothing to do with Robespierre, as the most elementary Marxist analysis will show! It was entirely due to the weakness – to the point of actual non-existence – of the French proletariat after the wars against the Holy Alliance, and the failure of the revolutionary upsurge to spread beyond France. Smith lacks the most elementary conceptions of the dialectic. The Jacobin conception of organisation must enter the consciousness of all our members: without it, victory is impossible. The Robespierrist Faction stands before you for election!” The applause was tumultuous.

The situation became more complicated when the entire Libertarian Proletarian Faction read another book of French revolutionary history and decided that something was to be said for Robespierre after all. Three of them could not stand the strain any longer, and went straight out of politics. The others joined the Robespierrist faction, as even more ardent Jacobins than the rest. At the nest elections of the International Revolutionary Alliance they stood as Jacobins, having desired election as anti-Jacobins only six months earlier. They were elected to the leadership, displacing several candidates who over many years had been engaged in consistent revolutionary activity in the twentieth century, rather than in the eighteenth, and whose absence from leading committees henceforth seriously handicapped the group.

Meanwhile, Robespierre looked up into the world from his place in an outer circle of purgatory, and smiled at the goings-on among his heirs and descendants. “These British have no revolutionary tradition whatsoever,” he observed. “They are completely clueless about the business. After all, whatever else I did, right or wrong, I did refrain from one cardinal error: I never quoted Robespierre.”

3. O B I T U A R Y

It is with a heaving heart, and a profound sense of grief, that we announce the death of Nikolai Davidovich Krapotkin, the leading theoretician of International Factionalism.

Nikolai Davidovich was converted to Marxism at the age of seven, when he led the first infant sit-in against the pedagogic gerontocracy of the Junior Kids at Aberystwyth County Primary School. Even at this tender age his teachers noted the stamp of leadership in the lad, as he drew around him noisy bands of infants in active combat against other small factions, who at this stage were distinguished only by the differently-coloured ribbons that had been thoughtfully provided for them by their elders. “The Blues, the Blues, they never lose!” Nikolai would yell as he led his small troop, and “The Reds, the Reds, they wet their beds!” These qualities of aggressive combination, personal dominance and sharp differentiation from rivals were to remain with Nikolai for life, ensuring him a leading place in the deliberations of any assembly that he chose to enter.

His rise to political fame was meteoric. Educated with distinction at Ruskin College and Yale, Nikolai Davidovich threw in a promising career as Professor of Structural-Functionalist Algebra at Harvard, to become a full-time worker in the great revolutionary-factionalist movement that in the late nineteen-sixties swept the world, from Britain as far as China (and vice versa). It was Krapotkin who brought to fruition the stupendous Struggle Against Localism that culminated in the campaign of 1973, when he personally led urban guerrilla teams in nightly assaults against what he correctly saw to be the objective social basis of Localism: the localities. He had even got through dismantling some half of the Liverpool docks, and most of Spitalfields Market (carefully replacing each brick with a volume of the Works of V.I. Lenin), when it was fraternally pointed out to him that his attitude implied a one-sided exaggeration of the correct dialectical position, confusing the respective roles of the Party and the Class (i.e., it was tantamount to – Substitutionism!) The working class, owing to the Uneven Development of Life Itself, could not be expected to give up its localities: thus it could and should retain its boozers on the corner, its dominoes-teams, its regional accents and vulgarities, and even its Fragmentary Struggles (though there was some doubt as to how useful these last really were). It was only The Party, as a superior form of organisation to the working class, which had to be transformed thoroughly from Localism into Factionalism. Nikolai corrected his error energetically: within six months, all the local, particularistic features that had so blighted The Party (as he and his friends liked to call themselves) were eradicated. Instead of the old names of branches, Grays and Tilbury, Glasgow, Tower Hamlets, and Merseyside, there sprang up new forms of organisation, based not on the unprincipled accident of place, but on ideas: the Neo-Leninist Fraction, the Guevarist-Libertarians, the True Trotskyites, etc. The process of transformation was still not quite complete: years later the Workers International Tendency (formerly the Bootle Branch) had still not got rid of their scouser twang while making factional speeches, and the Bakuninist-Communist Trend (lately the East London Branch) had to be restrained by threats of expulsion from making for the nearest eel-stall when they went out leafleting.

However, by 1977 the new structure was sufficiently advanced to enable the next stage of Party-building to take place: the election of a factionally-based leadership. This at first presented unexpected difficulties. Scholars of late 20th-Century Socialism have fully recorded the Great Factional Binge (alias Cultural Revolution) of 1966–9: less well-known is Krapotkin’s personal contribution in the later years of mature growth in the factional world. The crisis in Nikolai Davidovich’s own organisation came during a long, hot summer of debate when the phase of Laissez-Faire Factionalism was at its peak of expansion. Proportional representation of minorities had reached such a pitch that there were no longer any majorities in the group left to be proportionally represented against. The final crunch came when the group’s Homosexual Tendency, then engaged in an unprincipled (and, as it turned out, short-lived) fusion with the Bloc of Bolshevik-Lesbianism, demanded their due of representation on the Central Committee in the proportion of 1 in 4 of delegates, on the grounds that all social surveys from the Kinsey Report onwards had revealed that this was their incidence in any sample of the population.

This demand would have split the organisation irrevocably, had not Nikolai proposed the essential theoretical distinction which was to govern all factional methodology in the next three decades. Krapotkin’s First Law of Groupuscular Dynamics states, in terms that were at once accepted by all owing to their sheer, blinding simplicity: in deciding whether a faction is really a faction, one must distinguish between a faction and a bloc. A faction is a genuine object, distinguished by a clear line as manifested in its internal documents, use of jargon, etc. A bloc, on the other hand, is nothing of the kind: it is a pseudo-object, an unprincipled conglomeration or swamp of confused elements, with nothing in common except spleen, careerism, Menshevism, substitutionism or capitulationism. The distinction having been agreed, it still took some time for it to be got working in practical terms: for all subsequent Conferences of the organisation were rent by battles in which each minority claimed to be an authentic Faction, and was denounced as a mere Bloc by its competitors.

Once again, the organisational brilliance of Nikolai Davidovich came to the rescue. Since it was clearly improper for the majority to adjudicate on the status of the minority, and no minority could accept the claims of any other, the task of faction-classification could no longer be left to the pitfalls of human error. Only a specially programmed computer could be entrusted with the delicate task of determining the eligibility of a given minority; indeed, only such an automaton would now have the time and the I.Q. to read and assimilate the huge piles of bumph (“documents”) that dropped on the doormats of branch secretaries with the frequency and volume of tranquilliser advertisements beamed at family G.P.s. On Nikolai’s motion, it was resolved to set up a £70,000 Fighting Fund for the purchase of a suitable computer. The target was reached inside five weeks, and the FACTION ANALYSIS, RETRIEVAL AND STORAGE SYSTEM (FARSS for short) which was personally programmed by Krapotkin’s genius, came into operation, manned by six full-time workers at Centre.

The basic principle upon which FARSS operated was simple and uncontroversial. A vast store of information drawn from the archives of Marxism and related trends was processed and fed into the computer’s memory-bank: thus, FARSS was initially equipped with documentation on the innumerable factional splits of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Internationals from the Bakuninite Alliance down to the Cliff breakaway of 1951. This monumental tank of factional history, reeking with such an accumulation of corrosive bitterness that the metal elements of the computer had to be changed every week before they disappeared, formed the criterion against which all incoming claimants for factional identity had to be tested. Each new internal document was tested for length, unreadability, aridity and monomania against the rich legacy of the factional past: and the decision of FARSS, reached in a matter of milliseconds, was final and binding. In a few months, the amount of fresh and original factional deposit that had passed the test and penetrated the core of the computer (there to form part of the criteria for all later claimants) greatly exceeded the entire factional ingoings of the preceding 150 years. The work of the Party was thus greatly facilitated.

Nikolai Davidovich’s next stroke of organisation was also superb. The period from 1978 to 1981 is generally chronicled by Party historians as the Age of the Factional Suffragettes. These years were exclusively taken up, in the councils of the Party, by disputes over the merits of different systems of factional representation. Even though factions as such had now been rigorously defined by FARSS, the precise meaning of Democratic Centralism still left many a comrade with sleepless nights: the Twenty-Vote system, the Factional Aldermanic System, The Property-Qualification Faction System (where property was defined in terms of reams of duplicated bumph), all were canvassed without any consensus (that old, almost forgotten word) being reached. Krapotkin again proposed, in a paper appearing in the Journal of Factional Mathematics for 1982, the definitive solution: a new computer program, written by himself, and termed “Program for Immediate Solution of Optimum Faction Formation” (abbreviated immediately to PISOFF). The greatest merit of PISOFF was that nobody could understand how it worked except Krapotkin: electoral arrangements under it were so complicated that none of the voting strategies open to delegates under other factional systems could ever be used. Since each delegate could be quite certain that none of the other factions were trying to fiddle the ballot, everybody could vote freely for the candidates he actually wanted to see elected on to the Central Committee : something which had not happened for many, many years.

Yet, in the end, it was through this very brilliance that Nikolai Davidovich came to his downfall. One night, as the voting returns were being printed out in the usual utterly incomprehensible form provided by the Program (another great advantage, since nobody could now allege that any faction was over-, under-, or even correctly represented) Nikolai Davidovich became aware of a crucial mathematical error in one of the Program’s equations, which hitherto he had not noticed. This realisation caused an event to take place which was quite uncharacteristic of the man: Nikolai did the one thing that no factional leader should ever, under any circumstances, do:


The consequences were immediate and fateful. For Nikolai Davidovich occupied all his positions in the Party in virtue of his delegation to them from his own faction (i.e., the original faction or Factional Faction that went back as far as 1968–9). Since the Faction was committed to PISOFF as one of its basic list of transitional demands, Krapotkin would now have no alternative but to resign from it. This meant that he would also have to resign from the Party’s Central Committee, its Central Political Bureau, its Administrative Policy Sub-Committee, its Organisational Credentials Committee, its Probationary Members Scrutineering Department, the Editorial Board of Theoretical Organ, and the fraternal delegations to the Spanish and Polish underground: for he held all these offices, not as an individual but as a faction member. He knew that the work of the organisation would be paralysed if he left his duties. He could not resign; yet, in all revolutionary honour, he could not avoid resigning. Thus did Nikolai Davidovich confront the classic dilemma of the revolutionary factionalist of our age.

There was only one way out for him. Nikolai Davidovich turned to the large iron safe in which he kept his great Archive of Factionalism: the duplicated memoranda with the arguments of his opponents, cross-indexed for future reference; the pile of his own masterly contributions to the internal press; his most prized possession, the collected works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Gramsci and Trotsky, in a specially prepared edition with each page of each volume perforated every three lines and gummed on the reverse side, for ease of quotation. From this collection Krapotkin extracted the entire record of his factional thinking, and laid it on a table, along with a knife, a fork and a plate.

His duty was plain, and he undertook it unflinchingly.

He ate his words.

The effect was instantaneous.

Nikolai Davidovich, our beloved theoretician, is no more.

Last updated on 26 October 2017