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Beyond The Fragments: Feminism and the Making of Socialism (A Local Experience) by Lynne Segal

April 5, 2013 Leave a comment

This article was originally based on a talk given together with Sheila at the Islington Socialist Centre in August 1978. Since the first edition of Beyond the Fragments I have rewritten sections of it. The sympathetic comment and criticism of the first edition by my friends and comrades in Big Flame and by other independent socialist feminists have been of invaluable assistance to me in clarifying some of the ideas which appeared rather sketchily in the first edition. I am very grateful to all those who participated in this learning process with me.


Certain political ideas and experiences are always more fiercely and critically debated than other on the left. The debate is usually confined within certain orthodox frameworks of discussion. The need for a revolutionary party and programme, the relation between party and class, and the nature of the working-class road to power, are among these classic debates. As the theses pile up on these important debates, the actual experiences of people as they consciously, and less consciously, participate in the struggle for a better life can disappear from history. And that is most unfortunate.

I believe we can learn useful, if limited, lessons from the activities of a group of people struggling for socialism, fighting for feminism, within their own small groups in one local area. I am writing as a woman with a libertarian feminist history, living in Islington since 1972. Islington is an inner suburb of London. It does not have any large industrial base, workers are mostly employed in the public sector, or in small factories. Like me, many people who live in Islington don’t work there. My political experience has been as a community activist; it is not based on the workplace.

I will be trying to draw on my experiences in the last seven years, not just in the women’s movement, but also as part of the libertarian left in London. It is a subjective account,. but I hope it will raise general issues concerning women and revolutionary politics and the problems we face. I was lucky in that I wasn’t around in England in 1969 and 1970 when the reaction of the whole of the left to women’s liberation was derisory and dismissive. Though I do clearly remember Sheila’s books being dismissed by left colleagues of mine at work, and declared both diversionary and reformist.

In 1970 a group of women organized a demonstration against the Miss World contest; some were arrested, and they later produced a pamphlet which explained what they had done. And this was just one of the things I remember that influenced and inspired me in 1972-because that pamphlet Why Miss World? not only talked of the humiliation of women as sex objects, but also of the lack of confidence and fear these women felt mounting the first protest against their own oppression. It wasn’t just that women felt frightened to protest politically, but that most of us found it difficult to speak publicly at all; we were used to relating passively and dependently to the world as presented to us by men. We were used to being dominated by men: it was hard not to want to be. And it really hasn’t been easy to change this, either then or since.

For me, in many ways the ideas of the libertarian left and feminism did seem to be in harmony. I will try and explain this. First of all, they both seemed new. The libertarian politics of the seventies did not really owe much to the anarchism of the past. Though anarchism has a very long history, as old as Marxism, the student radicals of the 1968 generation were in the main not radicalized through the efforts of the ‘organized’ libertarian and anarchist groupings. I know this also from personal experience as I was a student anarchist in Australia in the early sixties but I took me a few years to begin to understand the political Ideas that came to prominence after May 1968.

Libertarian politics were more of a genuinely spontaneous upsurge of ideas which drew their inspiration from many different thinkers, from Marcuse, Che Guevara and the early Marx, to Laing and Vaneigem.(l) This upsurge was a product of capital’s period of boom, when everything did seem possible, when in the Western world capitalism’s main problem seemed to be how to keep buying all the goods it could produce. T~is led to the reaction against pointless consumption; ‘consume more, live less’. The emphasis was on the quality of life in capitalist society and this is why psychological writings seemed important, as did those of the young Marx when he spoke of the effect of alienated labour on the individual spirit and saw the division of labour itself as a stunting of human potential.

To those who had become active in 1968 it seemed a time when anything could happen. Looking back on it, we could say that from Vietnam we drew the lesson that American imperialism, despite its technology, was not invincible. Though I’m not sure that we were aware of this at the time, we only knew whose side we were on. We certainly felt politically inspired seeing a small nation fighting (th Beast’ to the death. From the mass workers’ struggles which occurred throughout France in 1968 and in Italy in 1969, people ,drew the lesson that the working class was prepared to fight for a better life, and that it had not been bought off by consumer durables. Students, for example, were inspired by the thought that they had a political part to play, and could act together with industrial workers, as happened in the worker-student alliances of May 1968, and the worker-student assemblies in Turin in 1969. So class struggle was once again on the agenda, and the class militancy which continued in Italy and in Britain in the early seventies showed how difficult it was for the ruling class to keep a grip on the situation in a period of economic boom. That the optimism of the early seventies and the militancy of workers’ struggles which inspired us then, have not been able to survive the capitalist economic recession of the mid seventies is something 1 will return to later on.

After 1968 the emphasis among the new largely ex-student libertarian left centred on the following issues. First, autonomy-which is not the same as individualism, but meant to us taking control over your own life. Libertarians believed that people could act to change the quality of their own lives; they were more than just the passive tools of historical forces. There was a deep suspicion of any organization that claimed to do things for or in the name of the people. ‘Power to the People’ was one of the slogans we were chanting, as we watched our friends arrested on demonstrations, or were hauled off ourselves. As we saw it, we were the people, up against the repressive forces of the state, in our attempt to change our lives now. This meant that we were slow to form any alliances with others in our struggle, whether it was to seek support from the organized labour movement or the organized left, or progressive forces in local authorities or the left of the Labour Party. We saw them all as intrinsically reformist and hostile to our attempts to control our own lives. This wasn’t inconsistent with their response to our activities.

Secondly, personal relations-you’ve got ‘to live your politics’. We argued that our social relations now must reflect or ‘prefigure’ the social relations we want to create after the revolution. We said that the desire to change your own life and the world about you now is an important part of building for socialism in the future. So we opposed the Leninist position that you couldn’t change anything under capitalism, you could only build an organization to overthrow it. We thought that there would be little reason for people to join a revolutionary movement unless it brought an immediate improvement in the quality of their lives, as against those who believed that you could make a split between public politics and private life. We were critical of those who might participate in some form of socialist politics and yet remain authoritarian and uncritical of their relation to their wives or their children at home; or to others in their work situation. We had in mind, for instance, the male militant who left his wife at home to mind the children while he did his ‘political’ work. We wanted our political activity to make room for those with children, and also to include the children.

Thirdly, you organize around your own oppression. You begin from your position as a woman, a squatter, a claimant, etc. This was linked to attacks on the nuclear family. We read both Laing and Reich, and were quite certain that we could never return to the restricted and restricting lifestyle of our parents. We saw that oppression, the power of one person to dominate and control the life of another, could be as much a part of personal social relations as of economic social relations. This led to an emphasis on collective living, collective childcare, and the setting up of nurseries.(2) The family was seen as the producer of neurosis and ‘the policeman in the head’ which leads people to collaborate in their own oppression.

Fourthly, the rejection of vanguards and any hierarchy of struggle. We rejected the idea that the industrial working class must be the vanguard of revolutionary struggle. Libertarians argued that all areas of life were of importance to revolutionaries. The traditional left was seen as only concerned with people at the workplace, not in the community. But libertarians always argued that people who worked at home, minded the kids, etc., were doing as important work as that done in the factories. This was expressed theoretically In a rejection of the Trotskyist left’s permanent illusion that capitalism was on the point of collapse, saved only by props like the ‘permanent arms economy’, as IS used to suggest.(3) We felt this underestimated the role of the state in stabilizing the economy, not just through economic measures such as investment policies but through the hegemony of state ideology, and ideas expressed at every level. We saw the capitalist state as far more resilient and flexible than much of the left had previously argued. So libertarians developed richer theories of the role of the state, and its hard and soft forces of repression, not just through the police and the army but via education, health, sex role conditioning, etc.(4)

Before most of the left we: emphasized work with youth. Though left groups did have their youth sections,libertarians were interested in practical work, setting up youth houses, youth newspapers, adventure playgrounds and free schools. This youth work was not only practical but also prefigurative in its stress on young people being able to experience a different situation and develop a sense of self-determination.(5)

We worked mainly in community politics, starting community papers, squatters’ and claimants’ groups, and trying to organize around housing. ‘Decent homes for all’ was the slogan we used, aiming in particular at the failure of local authorities to provide housing for single people.
The squatting movement, was reduced in strength as people could no longer bear to keep on moving, keep on facing the bailiffs, as they were bought off by councils with licensed short-life houses, and the number of empty houses declined. But it did nevertheless win certain limited victories. In Islington it eventually forced the council to change its policies and begin providing housing for single people: It introduced the notion of ‘shared singles’ to the housing bureaucracy, to add to their ‘family units’. (This can’t simply be dismissed as ‘reformism’ since struggles were not fought in a reformist way.)

This was the time of the ‘gentrification’ or middle-class take-over of working-class .housing in inner city boroughs like Islington. Landlords conspired with estate agents like Prebbles to ‘winkle’ tenants out of their homes_ There was a campaign against Prebbles by the Islington Tenants Campaign which picketed Prebbles’ office for many months until a historic high court judgement against them ~led that all non-industrial pickets were illegal. We did extensive research on the activities of the big property sharks like Raine, Freshwater and Joe Levy; and how the housing system worked in general until we felt we could understand what was going on.

We resisted all notions of revolutionary leadership. Living our politics meant sharing skills and breaking down all authoritarian relations now. We emphasized the creative aspects of politics, that it should be fun, and not dreary. All bourgeois social relations around work, the family, ‘pleasure’, possessions and relationships were challenged. This was perhaps why we supported those most oppressed by bourgeois society, prisoners, the homeless, claimants, etc., and believed that you could only fight back if you shared the material situation of the most oppressed. ‘When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose’ the tough ones sang along with Dylan. But misery does not always equal militancy, and those most oppressed are sometimes so smashed that it’s hard for them to fight back at all.


Many of these issues which I’ve described as central to libertarian thought were also central to feminist thought.

First, the autonomy of the women’s movement was the crucial issue for women. Though left groups saw this as divisive, we were aware that their programmes of formal equality for women could conceal the actual subordination of women in their own organizations. Women had to organize their own fight against male domination; it could not be done for them.

Secondly, feminists always emphasized the importance of the personal and the subjective, the need for a total politics. By this we meant a politics that saw the links between personal life and the oppression of women at home, and the exploitation of men and women in paid work. Women demanded changes in the social relations between men and women now. We wanted to help to break down the isolation of women in the home, and to begin to change ourselves. We had to change ourselves, because the whole ideology of sexism ensured that we had always seen ourselves, and were seen by men, in ways which made us feel inferior and allowed men to dominate us. We spoke of our sexuality being defined and controlled by men, as well as the suppression of women’s sexuality in most hetero-sexual relationships. We supported the demands of lesbians, and the importance of women exploring their own sexuality. We knew that women’s sexual passivity and sexual objectification by men was linked to our feelings of powerlessness.

Thirdly, as feminists we organized around our own oppression. We also criticized the nuclear family, seeing it as the seat of women’s oppression. But we were not simply concerned with the repressive ideological role of the family but saw ,it as the place where woman do unpaid work, thus creating the basis for our social subordination in general. We argued that the way in which domestic labour, childcare and work are organized today will all have to be changed before there can be any real liberation for women. We saw that the Marxist analysis of capitalism and class struggle had not proved itself an adequate theoretical tool to conceptualize these changes. While the traditional left was slow to realize the anti-capitalist nature of women’s liberation, feminists were able to show how it was the unpaid work done by women in reproducing labour power and servicing the workforce that was essential to capitalist social relations. ‘Women in labour, keep capital in power’ was one of the slogans painted on the wall at the first women’s liberation conference held in Oxford in 1970.

More thoroughly than the libertarians, women developed new theories of the welfare state.(6) Women as mothers came into contact with the state more directly than men, in the form of welfare, nursery provision, education and health services. So it was more urgent for us to analyse the control of the state over our lives. We were aware that it was the inadequacies of these social services that created the burden borne mainly by women today. And we were aware that the provision which was available to us was not what we wanted. For example, women took up many issues in the field of health care. We demanded control over our reproduction. We exposed the way that doctors, who are mainly men, treat women’s specific illnesses with contempt. We publicized the way millions of women are regularly prescribed tranquillizers and other drugs by doctors instead of them examining the social causes of many women’s problems. Indeed, feminists were able to establish that the medical profession saw femininity itself as in some way pathological.7 The feelings of passivity, dependence and powerlessness, felt by most women today, are rightly seen by psychiatrists as opposed to mental health. But instead of these aspects of feminity being attributed to the oppressive socialization of women, reinforced in everyday life, they are wrongly seen by most doctors as natural to women. These are only a few of many such issues.

Fourthly, the women’s movement also rejected ‘stageism‘-the idea that women’s liberation could be put off until after the revolution.(8) We argued that our struggle against male domination, or patriarchy, was as central as the struggle against class oppression.9 We said that women’s oppression could not be reduced to class exploitation, that though interconnected with it, it pre-dated it and could continue after the smashing of capitalist class relations.

It was women who not only introduced many new issues into socialist politics, but also developed new forms of organization-ones which would enable us all to participate more fully in revolutionary politics. We introduced consciousness-raising groups, where all women could learn that their misery, isolation and feelings of inferiority were not simply personal problems but common to nearly all women and the product of material and ideological conditions. We introduced the small group as a more supportive and equal way of discussing things and working together. We wanted the experiences of all women to be respected and the movement to grow on this basis rather than through following general principles. We criticized the formal public meetings of the labour movement and the left where inexperienced and less confident women (and men) felt unable to contribute.

We were opposed to all forms of leaderism, and struggled for equality in all our social relations, because we were aware that the forms of dominance and subordination we were fighting could easily remain invisible, as they had been before. We knew that our struggle began with the need for women to believe that what we could contribute was important and valuable. Through writing, poetry, music and film we began to create a new feminist culture, as a part of changing our consciousness and because we knew that men have dominated every aspect of our life, including all areas of culture. We worked locally in the community, at a time when most of the left, apart from the libertarian left, was not interested in this.

Many of these ideas on the form and nature of political activity and organization can be illustrated by looking at some of the things which the women’s movement initiated in Islington in the early seventies. In August 1972, a group of women opened the first local women’s centre in York Way. This was one of the first women’s centres anywhere in England. The idea of having a centre was in itself different from the way in which most of the left organized. A leaflet from Essex Road Women’s Centre explained:

The Women’s Centre grew out of a need to meet and talk to other women about the particular problems that we all face. Many of us feel anxious that we alone are responsible for the problems we have-like loneliness if we’re stuck with our kids all day and can’t get out, finding a decent place to live, worrying about our health and our kids’ health, or worrying about work and keeping a home going as well.

By meeting and talking to other women we found that we are NOT alone in our problems. And when we find that we do share experiences, it’s not only a big relief, but it makes it easier to try and change things that need changing-whether it’s the planning of the street you live in, or whether it’s about contraception or childcare, schools, problems at work, etc. We think that women are in a really strong position to change things-because they are close to the root causes of the problems of day-to-day living, both in the house and at work.

So the idea of the centre was, firstly, as a place to meet and give real support to any women who were in some way trying to break out of their isolation, and, secondly, to allow us to build our confidence and strength that we as women could change things.

At York Way we began one of the first women’s health groups, taking up many of the ideas of the women’s health movement in the States, We were also active in the family allowance campaign, demanding that it be increased and paid directly to women. At about this time the Wages For Housework campaign Was started and began to demand wages for women working in the home. We agreed that it Was valuable to emphasize that qomestic work is work, important work which is undervalued and invisible because it is unpaid. All this was a revelation to some people on the left.

We too saw woman’s unpaid domestic labour in the home as central to her oppression, and also central to the reproduction and maintenance of the workforce (labour power) and thus to the maintenance of the capitalist social formation. There was a theoretical debate here, though we were not all aware of it. Wages For Housework, following the analysis of Mariarosa Dalla Costa.(10) argued that women’s work at home was not only essential to capital as we said, but it also produced surplus value-that is, it directly added to the profits which capitalists could make out of their labour force. Because if there were no housewives male workers would have to pay someone to look after them, and thus would demand higher wages. We thought that this whole debate was perhaps not important, because whether or not housewives and other domestic workers produced surplus value, we were equally concerned to challenge the division of labour which consigned women to the home.

It was the pressures of housework, the double shift for ‘working’ women, and our general servicing role which were the major causes of women’s isolation and exploitation at home and at work, as well as of our low self-evaluation and status. So the Wages For Housework campaign seemed wrong at a practical level, because their solution would institutionalize the division of work in the family. (Then are now ideas to implement such a suggestion in Italy and Canada.) It also seemed wrong at a theoretical level being simply the other side of the economism of tradition a Trotskyism, which sees the only way to get power in that class struggle as that of fighting for more and more money through a wages offensive.

We began to argue generally for the Socialization 0 housework, for more nurseries, playgrounds, and so on Here it wasn’t just that we widened the areas of political activity in which the left had been active, in order t< include women's needs. There was also the recognition of the need to have control over any gains we might make.

For instance, in the demand for nurseries, we didn't just demand money from the state for more nurseries, but helped to create more community-based, non-authoritarian, non-sexist relations in the nurseries we helped to establish. Val Charlton describes this in her account of the Children's Community Centre in North London which was opened in 1972 after feminists had successfully battled for council funding:

We are trying to break away from the traditional authoritarian mode of relating to children and are attempting to offer them as many choices as possible and as much independence as they can cope with. All activities are made available for children of both sexes but it’s not simply enough to treat all the children equally. The boys have frequently already learned their advantage and are quick to make capital of it. There has to be positive support in favour of the girls, who are generally already less adventurous.(11)

Also in 1972 a women’s Holloway Prison Support Group was set up, to campaign around women prisoners. We picketed Holloway Prison saying ‘Free our sisters, free ourselves. ‘ In 1973 we protested over the death through fire of Pat Cummings in Holloway Prison. We knew that most women are not in prison for crimes of violence. Petty crime, SS fraud, prostitution, etc., are the main reasons for women being sent to prison-often simply attempting to fulfil their social role of caring for their families on inadequate means. Yet, women prisoners are notoriously violent, mostly self-destructively violent-cutting themselves Ip and smashing their cells. Used to providing the caring and affection for just a few people, women in prison face he possible break-up of their families and loss of their children. Women face this more than men because women end to support men more than men support women.

In this vulnerable position, official ideology can easily work to persuade the woman in prison that she is not so much ‘criminal’ as maladjusted or sick-another role which women in our society, through powerlessness and training into passivity, are more likely to accept. in line with this, we tried to expose the fraud behind the rebuilding of Holloway Prison as more of a hospital, creating even greater isolation for the women inside. Over 50 per cent of women in Holloway are on drugs, indeed drugs are the only provision which women can freely obtain in Holloway. The new Holloway Prison, which places even greater stress on the therapeutic rehabilitation of women, simply encourages them to blame themselves for the predominantly material problems which landed them in there in the first place.

But York Way was not a good site for a women’s centre. It closed in 1973, and in February 1974 we opened a new women’s centre in Essex Road. Many women’s groups, campaigns and activities started at that women’s centre. The most successful was probably the health group, which produced literature on women’s health, did pregnancy testing, provided a woman,doctor for advice sessions, learnt self-examination, took health classes with school children, collected information on doctors and their treatment of women, provided information on abortion facilities, and, more generally, argued for the importance of preventive health care rather than simply curative medicine. Less successfully, we wrote and distributed leaflets on housing conditions and the isolation of women at home with children. We supported women’s struggles for better housing, and some of us were active in squatting struggles.

By 1975 many campaigns were being co-ordinated by groups originating from the women’s centre. 1974 was the beginning of the various cuts campaigns against the ever-increasing public expenditure cuts. We began campaigning to prevent’ the closure of our local Liverpool Road Hospital, and fought hard for it to be kept open as a community health resource. Some of us were active in the Islington Nursery Action Group, visiting nurseries to help unionize workers and also successfully pressurizing the Council, into abandoning its attempts to make cuts in nurseries, showing how the cuts hit women hardest.

The campaigns for ‘more and better services’ emerged at the same time as the government pressure for cuts. It was in November 1974 that the first government circular came demanding cuts. And that’s when a general cuts campaign started in Islington, with its first meeting held in December of that year, initiated by a group of militants, some inside and some outside the Labour Party. As a broad front campaign it was supported by community groups like the women’s centre, tenants’ groups, public sector workers and, in particular, by the many council-funded community service groups like law centres, Task Force and the Neighbourhood Forums. This was perhaps the first time that we got some relationship developing b~tween the libertarian and feminist milieu and the labour movement. But at this time it was an uneasy alliance. It was never given my real support by the Trades Council, which even came out and attacked the campaign after it had held a day of action. This campaign did not last. Today with the left in a stronger position in Islington there is more hope for the new anti-cuts campaign which is being formed.

The National Working Women’s Charter Campaign was aIso started at this time, holding its first delegate conference rl October 1974. It was never very popular with us at Essex Road. This was because of the dominance of the organized left in the Charter and their wrangles over leadership, and also because it was very schematic, being simply a list of demands, and because it was concerned primarily with women in the workplace. Marxists had always argued that woman’s liberation would be achieved through her full participation in waged labour. In this way they were able to subordinate women’s struggles to class struggle. And it was also in this way that they were able to dismiss the importance of organizing with housewives or the struggles of those many women marginal to the wage system, for example, prostitutes.

The Working Women’s Charter, a list of ten demands which would improve women’s situation in paid work, was originally put together by a subcommittee of the London Trades Council. It was seen by some women in left groups as an adequate basis for socialist feminists to organize from. Though the demands did include ones around contraception, abortion and nurseries it was not an adequate platform for the socialist feminist current of the women’s movement to base itself on. (And there have always been socialist feminists in the women’s movement despite the different setbacks we have faced in our attempts to organize ourselves. )

The Charter’s inadequacy stemmed from its orthodox reflection of the position that women’s oppression is due to her unequal share in class struggle. The demands did not even criticize the sexual division of labour, which is central to male domination. It is this sexual division of labour which ensures that even if women can go out to work they will in general have the lower-paid jobs and the lower-status jobs. The point is not just that women happen to be low paid, it is that they are overwhelmingly concentrated in ‘women’s jobs’. And these jobs which are available to women are low in pay and status precisely because they are ‘women’s’ jobS’.(12) The threat to male workers of more women entering a particular career, is that by their very presence in any large numbers, they lower the status of that work. The best-known example of this was the change over from male to female secretaries at the end of the nineteenth century.13 So even at work women are oppressed as much by their sex as by their class position.

The Working Women’s Charter was basically a trade union response to feminism, and it was good to get some response, but it shared the inadequacies of trade unionism towards women. Some of us did however support the Working Women’s Charter activities, although in fact local Charter groups interpreted and used the Charter in quite different ways-in Islington, women were involved in the local Nursery Action Group, in the Liverpool Road Hospital Campaign, in attempts to unionize workers at Marks and Spencers and elsewhere, and organizing a general meeting on women in Islington sponsored by the Trades Council. There were, however, many aspects of feminist struggle that the Charter could not incorporate. In 1975, the Working Women’s Charter was rejected by the Trades Union Congress conference. It had fallen between the two ~tools of feminist and labour movement politics, and in the ~nd could not survive.

In 1975 a local NAC (National Abortion Campaign) group was formed to fight James Whites’s anti-abortion bill. NAC was also organized as a national campaign. But once again many women were suspicious of the national structure, saying that it was not feminist. They saw it as dominated politically by the International Marxist Group ‘IMG), and objected to its main focus for activities being that of lobbying MPs, seeing this as reformist. Feminists often felt that any national campaigning structure gave women in left groups an advantage over them, in terms of determining policy, as they were more experienced in that form of centrally orgahized politics. This has always been a problem in the women’s movement, and one of the causes of the deep tensions between women in left groups and nonaligned women, even in the socialist feminist current of the movement. Outside of left groups we moved more slowly, each of us puzzling over the pros and cons of particular tactics, particular slogans, etc., most of us frightened to push ourselves forward, and therefore hostile to those women who already seemed to have all the answers on the questions of tactics and organization. Today I feel that, difficult as it is, we must all learn to overcome our fear of political differences and be prepared to argue through our politics.

But many women did become involved in local activity against the threatened restrictions on women’s access to abortion facilities, with stalls in the local market and elsewhere. We also organized colourful public protests against the Miss Islington beauty contest, describing the degradation, violence and restriction on women’s lives created by our status as sex objects for men. It· was especially when we challenged this area of men’s control over women, speaking of the daily rape and violence against women that we were most ridiculed in the local press and elsewhere. For it was here that we were most directly challenging the central ideology of male domination, a sexist ideology which not only attributes certain particular characteristics to women that enable men to dominate us, but also belittles and degrades those characteristics it sees as feminine.(14)

Together with the Arsenal Women’s Group and others we held a local conference to try to organize the women’s movement on. a local area basis. We were also actively involved in all the early socialist feminist initiatives at organizing in the women’s liberation movement. Many consciol’lsness-raising and study groups started at the centre, and a women’s self-help therapy group was formed, partly as a support for some women who had suffered severe emotional crises, but also because all the women involved saw mental health as an important issue. We saw that many of our deep anxieties and fears were a reaction to our powerlessness, and often because we could not receive any adequate nurturing from men. We were used to providing emotional support, but not to demanding and receiving it. This is behind the current emphasis on feminist therapy, and the creation of a Women’s Therapy Centre in Islington. We talked on women’s liberation at schools like Starcross, a local school for girls, and some women ran classes on women’s liberation for schoolgirls at the centre. A literacy class was set up for women. There was a group for women working in traditional men’s jobs, and, in fact, so many groups that I can’t remember them all.

But, despite all of the creativity and energy which originated from the women’s centre, it was always hard to keep it open to all women for more than a few hours a week, on Saturdays and Wednesday nights. And many women were only active in the centre for about a year, and would then drift off. It was often hard to get the new women who came along involved in the centre, and it was difficult to keep up any good communication between the different groups which did meet there.

Some of us wanted to obtain money for a paid worker at the centre in order to keep it open to co-ordinate and plan activities. But others rejected such an idea out of hand, believing it would be ‘selling out’ to obtain money from the local councilor the state, paving the way to our co-option by them. Women also feared that a paid worker would create a hierarchical structure. The first point came from our analysis of the state, which led us to see social workers, for instance, as the repressive ‘soft cops’ of the system. There seemed to be a contradiction between our emphasis on self-help and collective activity and the idea of state funding. Wasn’t the role of the social worker or the state-funded service centre to prevent people taking collective direct action to solve their problems by holding out the false promise of there being some individual solutions for people’s problems? But weren’t we just unpaid radical social workers anyway?

At that time we were less aware of the radical potential for militancy in the state sector workers, living out the contradictions of trying to provide a service for human needs while employed by a state tied to the profitability of capitalism. Many of these workers are very frustrated by the futility of their attempts to meet their clients’ needs. Some social workers, for .instance, were already referring people to squatting advisory centres and other groups committed to building struggles around particular issues. It is in the area of social services and the state that the threat to jobs through cuts and closures and rationalization can be most easily linked to wider possibilities for anticapitalist struggles, because they raise the question of people’s needs. Many health workers, teachers, etc., are aware that it is not just lack of resources that makes their jobs unsatisfactory. It is also the formal hierarchy and the rigid rules through which the state is organized that makes their jobs so difficult.

The current attack on the funding of so-called voluntary groups, for example, law centres, housing aid centres, and other radical advice centres is precisely because they have been able to provide the space for and have been effective in helping to organize struggles around people’s needs. The money that is being saved by such cuts is often quite negligible, the motivation for them is political. It may be true that these voluntary groups provided new jobs mainly, although not only, for the ‘radical professionals’, but I think that at Essex Road we were not as aware as we might have been of the contradictions over funding, and the possibilities of using it to ‘bite the hand that feeds you’.

With others I have thought more recently about some of these problems and think they need more analysis. The modern state is such a huge and complex organization, the situation being quite different from that in 1917 Tsarist Russia, from which so much revolutionary strategy derives. Then the state’s role was purely repressive, defending the interests of the ruling class. But the modern state has been formed by the ongoing compromise between the workingclass movement channelled into reformist political strategy and the capitalist class. The state spreads its tentacles throughout society. Nationalization, health care, education, care of the young and old, research, funding of the arts are some of the ways in which the modern state interpenetrates society in a way it never did before 1945.

For libertarians and many feminists, instances of the creeping hand of state control were everywhere, from community festivals to nurseries and old people’s homes. We tended to argue that the whole system was rotten, and it was useless to tinker with it. We were not wrong to emphasize the extent of this state control over our daily lives, but we were wrong to see the state in all its ramifications as a monolith, and not see that there could be contradictions in its development. This is particularly clear now that the Tory government is trying to sell off state services to the private sector as fast as it can – continuing the attacks on state welfare already initiated by’ the previous Labour government. Today it should be clearer that we must defend many existing state services, from the National Health Service (NHS) to school crossing patrols. It’s no longer simply a question of the overthrowing of the state, but of a strategy which fights for an expansion and transformation of the services it provides-not necessarily in a centralized form. This raises the whole issue of the nature of a socialist state, which we all need to think about, and which is crucial for us as women fighting the sexual division of labour which is basic to women’s oppression.

Today we need a more sophisticated analysis of reformism and the state, which, on the one hand, is not based on the traditional social democratic idea, and in a different way on the Leninist model, which sees socialism as nationalization plus state planning, nor, on the other, one which turns its back on the need for struggle to expand state provision. This means a strategy which both defends the welfare institutions of the state when they are under attack while arguing the need to go beyond them. On a small scale this strategy can be illustrated by the 160 women’s aid ‘refuges that have been set up over the last few years to enable battered women to escape from violent husbands. The National Federation Of Women’s Aid was able to obtain local state funding for refuges while insisting that the refuges should be run by and for women and should encourage self-help and independence. Similar examples, as Sheila shows, can be given of nursery victories where funding was provided and the people who fought for it retained control over the nurseries.(16)

But to return to my story, when our women’s centre was forced to close in late 1976, we had sufficient anxieties over whether we were going about things in the right way that few tears were shed. One woman, involved from the start, said, ‘That’s good, now we can start again, and build up another women’s centre.’ But we never did. For the next three years there was no broad-based open women’s liberation group in Islington, though we did have a national Rape Crisis Centre, women’s refuges, a NAC group, and other groups organized around particular issues as well as women’s consciousness-raising and study groups. Today there is a new women’s centre in Islington, but there is little continuity between our old women’s centre and the new one which is being opened. It is as though things are all starting again from scratch and I’m not sure that any lessons have been learned, or could have been learned, from which this new group of women can begin. Those feminists who were active around Essex Road have not become involved in the new centre, most of them saying, ‘Oh no, not the same problems allover again.’

Feminism and the Left

Meanwhile, the traditional left was belatedly trying to catch up with the energy of the women’s liberation movement. In particular they were impressed by the 40,000 strong pro-abortion march of 1975. They weren’t laughing at the ‘women’s libbers’ any more, though of course they did say we were all middle class, or at least that’s what their middle-class leaders were saying. I don’t feel in a position to give a complete analysis of the left’s position on feminism, but I want to give my impressions of the main left groups, ignoring the smaller groups and those that choose to dismiss feminism altogether.

The reason I want to look at the revolutionary left is not to engage in any form of sectarianism, but because as socialist feminists we accept that women’s oppression is an integral part of the capitalist system. As I’ve said, the subordination of women through the division of labour centred on the family is central to the maintenance and reproduction of the capitalist system of existing class relations of exploitation. But women’s oppression (like black oppression) is not simply just another aspect of class exploitation. All men do benefit from it, by having power over at least some women, however exploited they themselves may be. But we do realize that only a revolutionary transformation of capitalist society can overcome women’s oppression, class exploitation, and all forms of social domination. We know we must unite all those fighting their oppression with the struggle against class exploitation.

By the mid seventies, most of the Communist Party (CP) “Clid come officially to accept the need for an autonomous women’s movement. The CP argues that it wishes to make broad alliances with an autonomous women’s movement. Certain CP women have placed great emphasis on the importance of studying the ideology of women’s oppression, the ways in which women as well as men come to accept ideas of women’s inferiority and invisibility. They have also begun to theorize the role of the capitalist state as it organizes reproduction and maintains women’s subordination in the interests of the ruling class. Much of the official contribution of CP feminists has tended to be more of a theoretical and intellectual one, though many CP women do actively support NAC, and other feminist initiatives.

The intellectual contribution of CP feminists is consistent with the direction of the CP as outlined in their publication the British Road to Socialism. This direction encourages an ideological offensive against capitalist domination while doing little to build any form of mass working-class resistance. Indeed the CP often finds itself in the position of having to curb actual militancy, which potentially threatens its broad alliances with reformist leaders of the labour movement. For example, in Islington through their control of the Trades Council they have consistently failed to offer any practical support to the most militant industrial struggles which have occurred in the borough. And again, on the whole issue of unemployment they have failed to respond in any practical way to the five occupations which have occurred against redundancies, the largest being the occupation of Crosfields electronic factory in 1975 when 300 people were made redundant. They were also opposed to the industrial action of the Tyndale teachers in 1976 who were eventually sacked after a campaign was launched against their progressive education methods, supported by the Labour right of the council. These alliances are part of the CP’s general acceptance of a peaceful parliamentary road to socialism in accordance with what is now called ‘Eurocommunism’.

Thus women CP members could be given the space to develop an ideological critique whilst having little impact on their parties overall political direction. The Brit£sh Road to Social£sm does often mention the importance of the women’s liberation movement. But the political contribution of the women’s movement or of other autonomous movements as they ·affect the actual potential for a real revolutionary unification of the working class is not discussed.

Indeed, in the final analysis the British Road to Socualism does not depart from orthodox Marxist analysis. And this is an analysis which overlooks the significance of existing divisions within the working class, and the demands of the women’s movement and of the black movement that the fight against their ‘oppression must be an essential part of the struggle for socialism.

So the CP support for the autonomous women’s movement does not seem to have served to educate its leadership when they write:

Only socialism can overcome the basic contradiction from which every aspect of the crisis flows. Socialism replaces private ownership by public ownership. The basic contradictions of society are removed. [My italics. British Road to Socialism, line 465.]

It seems that CP women have been allowed to do what I hey wanted, while the CP leadership did what it wanted. Though even this situation of tolerance for feminism has begun to change within the CP today. As the CP and other left groups begin to scent the long-awaited revival of industrial militancy, feminists in the party will be told not Lo obstruct the ‘turn to the class’.

The International Marxist Group (the British section of the Trotskyist Fourth International), does appear to have a more consistent theory and practice in support of the need for an autonomous women’s movement.

Their weekly paper, Socialist Challenge, now takes the question of women’s oppression seriously. But while (‘(aiming to support the women’s liberation movement in its totality, there is still a strong tendency to reduce women’s oppression entirely to class oppression. For example, in 1978 a centre spread in Socialist Challenge which argued for women’s liberation made no analysis of women’s oppression as distinct from class exploitation. It gave no analysis of patriarchy.

The point about this is that while the IMG are prepared to accept women’s right to organize separately, they don’t seem to accept what we have to say on the limitations of orthodox Marxism.16 The way in which they want to integrate feminism and socialism is by adding on ‘women’s demands’ to their existing programme, adding on demands for nurseries, abortion facilities, etc. But again they do not seem to see the need for feminism to transform the whole nature of working-class politics and the left.

As feminists we argue that we are not simply fighting together with men against capitalism as a more exploited section of the class. We are also fighting against male domination now, which manifests itself in all aspects of life, both within and outside of the working class. (Black people of course have a similar theory about their oppression.) So women are central to the struggle against capitalist social relations not only in the workplace but also in the home. We are demanding that men change themselves, that they change their relations to women, and to children, and take on some of the nurturing and caring work which women have always done.

And this is the way in which we want to transform the nature of working-class politics, and overcome the divisions within the working class. It is presumably because of our talk about everyday life, about finding new, non-patriarchal and non-authoritarian ways of relating to and caring for each other that the women’s movement has been dismissed by certain leading members of the IMG as a ‘cultural movement’. The analysis is that because we are not simply making demands on the state, we are not making ‘political demands’. In 1977, John Ross, who sees the women’s movement as a social movement which can make political demands, stated that the issue of women’s rights to abortion nly became political when it began to make demands on the state.I7 Such an analysis obviously would be rejected by most feminists.

So while the lMG has accepted the organizational autonomy of the women’s movement, and indeed have now set up women’s caususes within their own organization, 1 don’t think that they accept the political autonomy of feminism as adding a new dimention to the nature of class politics. The fact that we believe that women’s oppression cannot be understood simply within the Trotskyist analysis of ‘the historic interests of the working class’ does not necessarily mean that we as socialist feminists ignore the working class and fail to prove ourselves true revolutionary socialists. The fact that some of us may not have joined a revolutionary organization which we feel has not adequately taken up and integrated the insights of feminism does not mean that we are not a part of the struggle to build one.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the largest group in the Trotskyist tradition in- Britain and one which has broken from many orthodox positions of Trotskyism, does not accept the need for an autonomous women’s movement at all. Their basic attitude to the women’s movement is determined by the way they see themselves as the only ‘real revolutionaries’. This means that for the SWP, fighting for women’s liberation, like building the class struggle, is one and the same thing as building the SWP. If you accept the need for a revolutionary socialist perspective, then you join the SWP, they say. So they reject the need for either the organizational or the political autonomy of the women’s movement.

‘Class struggle is a form of warfare, and in warfare there has to be a single leadership,’ says Chris Harman from the central committee of the SWP, echoing Lenin, in What is to be Done? in 1902. So the need for any organizational independence of women is rejected. Women’s oppression is derived from capitalist exploitation, he argues, so they reject the need for a political independence for women organizing.18

When the SWP comes to write about the women’s movement, all that I have ever found are jibes about it being middle class. Thus Anna Paczuska, one of the SWP’s leading writers on women’s politics, dismisses the 1979 socialist feminist conference like this:

All we’ve got is a movement of middle class women, many in their thirties, polishing their memories for the glossy magazines, complacently surrounded by mortgages and monthly subscriptions to Which magazine … The movement is dying on its feet or rather in its Habitat armchairs. It is being choked to death by respectability, nostalgia and direct aid from the state and the Establishment. [Socialist Worker, 7 April 1979.]

The term ‘middle class’ is one of the favourite terms of abuse used by the SWP. Of course, they never bother to define the contemporary working class, or the position, for instance, of teachers. For the SWP, teachers are wor king class when they are in the SWP or are attending union meetings, but middle class when they attend a women’s liberation conference. I think that many workers would be surprised and insulted to learn that they have never had mortgages, magazines or comfortable furniture. It is true that we do need to distinguish a person’s class origin from their class perspective, but the SWP certainly makes’ no attempt to do so. As they are aware when it suits them, there is a real need to develop a new understanding of the working class which includes proletarianized white collar sectors such as teachers, technicians, etc. So why resort to mere hypocrisy?

In this piece and many others which have appeared in Socialist Worker the weekly paper of the SWP, and elsewhere, Anna shows herself to be not just ambivalent about but quite blatantly hostile towards the women’s movement. he is concerned to dismiss us and our activities altogether.

In a more recent article in which she is referring to the three of us writing this book, she comments:

They do not believe that the working class has the capacity or the creativity to win the struggle for women’s liberation. They have no trust so they separate off their struggles for themselves. [Socialist Worker, 18 August 1979.]

Here Anna is illustrating the SWP position, which 1 have referred to as the orthodox Marxist position, which takes no account of divisions within the class as barriers to class unity. Against this position, we argue that a strong and independent women’s movement, which seeks to understand and organize itself around the struggles of women, is a political necessity for changing the nature of the left and, more importantly, overcoming the divisions within the class and society.

Moreover statements made by Anna should not be seen as the voice of an individual-they represent the views on women of an overwhelming majority on the male-dominated Central Committee of the SWP. However, within Women’s Voice, the women’s magazine and organization started by SWP members,. the situation is more complex. The Central Committee of the SWP want Women’s Voice to be a ‘periphery organization’ of the SWP, organizing with working-class women, primarily in the workplace, in order to draw ‘the best of them’ into th SWP. However, many SWP women in Women’s Voice ar opposed to this position. They want a greater degree of independence for Women’s Voice as a sister organization of the SWP, and they do want to give mor;e importance to women’s struggles against all aspects of their oppression. Unfortunately, however, many of them still continue to dismiss the women’s movement as middle class and reformist, unorganized and unable to relate to working class women. It was this sort of attitude which led them a few years ago to organize a separate abortion demonstration after the official NAC one.

Contrary to this view, I believe that there are many women in the socialist feminist current of the women’s movement who do also want to locate their politics in the current situation and build a working-class base to the women’s movement. The SWP is not alone in holding this perspective, though they have perhaps done more about it. Although we may not get many working-class women along to our conferences and local meetings, many of the initiatives of the women’s movement in Women’s Aid, rape crisis centres, nursery campaigns, cuts campaigns like the one to defend the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London, and others, clearly do involve working-class women. The women’s movement did mobilize in defence of the Trico women on strike for equal pay, and the Grunwick strikers who were demanding union recognition. Many feminists have been active in trades councils and tenants’ associations. We don’t deny that we have problems in developing a working-class orientation, but we think that it is politically wrong for Women’s Voice to dismiss the importance of the women’s movement and to deny what they have learned from it. Even the success of their new Women’s Voice magazine came after it began to model itself more closely on the women’s liberation magazine, Spare Rib, borrowing many ideas from that publication.

I also cannot accept the degree of workplace orientation of Women’s Voice which leads them still to accept a priority of struggle which places many of women’s central struggles against male domination at the periphery. Thus Lindsey German writes of women’s movement initiatives:

Working class women are related to in most areas where they are weakest (in battered wives’ homes or rape crisis centres) rather than where women are strongest (in unions and tenants’ associations) … [Socialist Review, November 1978.]

And ‘Reclaim the Night’ demonstrations, against the harassment and violence which women daily face in the streets, are referred to as ‘a “soft” issue’. There is an argument for considering where women are strongest. But in fact women are not strong in unions today, and are not getting any stronger, even, if their membership is rising numerically. We believe that the only way women in unions will get stronger is if they are supported from the outside by a strong women’s movement. It’s a dialectical process, which the SWP in spite of its Marxism, seem unable to see. Of course, ‘Reclaim the Night’ and NAC are helped by support from women in trade unions, and women in trade unions are helped by the support they can get from the women’s movement.

While Women’s Voice has shown itself at times to be effective in mobilizing support for women’s struggles, I think the priority which they place on recruiting to the SWP, and the fact that they accept the identification of joining their party with holding a revolutionary perspective, means that Women’s Voice could not itself become the focus for building a mass women’s movement.

What we have got to get right in the women’s movement, to confront the left and the labour movement, is the interplay between sex and class oppression. Not only are they both central, but they feed off each other. And they are not reducible either one to the other. Whereas the orthodox Marxist analysis puts class before sex, and Lindsey German writes: ‘The fundamental division is not between the sexes, but between those who produced the wealth in society and those who rob them of it’ (Socialist Review, September 1979) there are also ‘revolutionary feminists’ who put sex before class. They say: ‘Women’s revolution is the revolution. Sex struggle is the struggle .. .'(19) This is not the place to develop a critique of revolutionary feminism. Though I see a political theory which seems to write off half of humanity as a biological enemy as absurd. However, some of the issues revolutionary feminists have emphasized, those of rape, pornography and male violence against women are central to feminism and need to be taken up by socialist feminists and the socialist movement as a whole.

But I would argue now that it is not sufficient simply to talk of organizing around your own oppression, as libertarians and revolutionary feminists have done. For instance, although we are all oppressed as women, it is not true that we are all oppressed in the same way, even as women. Black and working-class women are oppressed in distinct ways, and we need to understand this in order to build solidarity amongst women. Without a more general perspective we won’t be a part of many of the most important anti-capitalist struggles today, struggles which involve women obviously, black struggles, anti-imperialist struggles, and the growth of the new working-class offensive that is needed in this period of ferocious Tory attacks on the working class. Feminists do need a socialist perspective, bu t a Marxism which does not base itself on feminism, which does not recognize that the division within the working class and society as a whole necessitates a strong and autonomous women’s movement, is not· what we call ‘socialist’. It will not liberate women.

Socialism in One Borough

The main left groups did not seem to have found adequate ways of integrating Marxism and feminism in their theory or practice. But by the mid seventies it was also becoming increasingly clear to me that there were problems and limitations in the political perspectives of many of us active simply within the women’s movement. Most of us did believe that full women’s liberation depended on the destruction of all hierarchical relations, of class, race, and sex. ‘There will be no women’s liberation without revolution. There will be no revolution without women’s liberation.’ The women’s. movement alone, however, didn’t seem to equip most of us with a full interpretation of modern capitalism, and the way things were moving in the struggle against it, both nationally and internationally.

A split remained between women’s politics which produced a clear understanding of personal relations and personal oppression in everyday life, and the politics of the left groups which seemed more able to produce an understanding of the world as a totality. This in turn reflects, of course, the traditional division between women’s concern about people and their feelings and men’s concern about practical matters and the big wide world. We could always take up the subjective side of struggles, but in some areas could not always go further than this. This was one of the reasons why towards the end of 1974 1 started shifting my energies more towards a local political paper, the Islz”ngton Gutter Press. This was a libertarian socialist and feminist paper which some of the women who set up the women’s centre had also worked on.

It was Our inability at Essex Road to get working-class women involved, as well as the fact that women who had established the centre were no longer enthusiastic about it, that led me to seek new political initiatives. But it had been the writings of, and the discussion in, the women’s movement that enabled me to get a clearer theoretical perspective on the world, or at least a real understanding of women’s subordinate place in it. Our activities at Essex Road did increase our confidence that we could contribute politically, and so we became more confident both emotionally and theoretically. I think this point is made more generally by the American socialist feminist Linda Gordon when she writes …

…once people do connect deeply felt personal problems to larger political structures, they often go on to make political sense out of the whole society rather quickly. This is- not merely hypothetical; many women in the last decade moved rapidly from complaintsaints about sexual relationships to feminism to socialism.(20)

Working on the Gutter Press gave us an understanding of the area we lived in. It took us several years to get to grips with the complexities of the local political scene. We began to understand some of the workings of the local state, and how local authority finance worked. We made more contact with local men and women. We learned more about housing problems in the borough, the various struggles for better services, the inactivity of the Islington Trades Council, and the activity of the small Labour left in trying to get more progressive policies adopted inside a Labour council.

We tried to make the links between the different struggles and activities we were reporting on; for better housing, and against the abuses of private landlords and property boom speculators, against the decline of local industry, for better education and for more space for youth, against racism, against sexism, against all welfare cuts and for control over services. We were not parochial in our approach to these issues, but always tried to place them ‘in a global perspective’ declaring ourselves interested ‘in what went on, in Hackney, in Haringey or even Haiphong’.

We had remained independent of any of the left groups because we didn’t want them to tell us what to do. We thought they were all authoritarian, hierarchical and male dominated. Though, of course, similar problems of professionalism and male’ domination cropped upcontinuously-on the paper. More importantly, we also knew that apart from Bjg Flame they. did not take seriously our politics which emphasized local work and attempts to organize on an area basis, which differed from their focus on industrial activity or particular national campaigns.21 We believed, and rightly I think, that their emphasis on recruitment and party building, and their reliance on launching national campaigns, could interfere with our attempts at sustained local organizing in a way which was open and sensitive to the particular activities and needs of all those engaged in any form of resistance or struggle. But we did also worry about becoming isolated as a small group producing a local socialist paper but not being accountable to any wider socialist grouping.

In May 1978, the Gutter Press organized a local socialist conference, partly to overcome our own feelings of isolation, and our own failure to grow as a collective and get more people directly involved in the paper. We also wanted to see if there were ways in which the paper could become more efficient in its attempt to provide support for and link different areas of struggle, by becoming more accountable to a larger grouping of socialists with a similar political perspective to ours. We wrote that we wanted, ‘to help stimulate enduring organizational links bridging the community and industrial struggles … We feel that it is possible to. create greater co-ordination and support between people involved in local struggles. In the absence of a militant Trades Council, which could do just such a job, we are looking for new possibilities of co-ordination.’ (Gutter Press leaflet, March 1978.) At the conference, which was attended by 150 people, we found that there were a large number of people, inside and outside of left groups, and inside and outside of the Labour Party, who were keen to set up a socialist centre in Islington. This socialist centre now meets weekly in a local pub, and is supported by most of the left, in particular by individuals in the Labour Party, the CP, the IMG, and Big Flame as well as by most socialist feminists and many non-aligned socialists.

The centre has organized many very well-attended and successful meetings, on Ireland, on feminism, on racism and on fascism, on struggles internationally and nationally, as well as attempts to understand the local situation in more detail and provide entertainment and pleasure. Evenings are planned to fit in with wider struggles; for example, a meeting on Ireland before or after a big Irish demonstration. It has therefore provided a useful base for meeting other local militants. It has increased the possibilities for more regular joint work when struggles arise, as well as providing political education, and entertainment which strengthens the growth of an alternative socialist and feminist culture. I think it was the consistent work done by the Gutter Press in establishing contacts and trust between militants that made the centre a real possibility in Islington. The paper collective has also now expanded, and become politically more diverse.

The socialist centre has therefore, in part, served to validate attempts made originally by those outside of the traditional left to find new ways of organizing. It is true, though, that at present the centre serves better as a focus for co-operation and discussion between the left than as a place for extending our base further within the working class. Some of us are hopeful that the support that we can give to people in struggle will begin to overcome this problem. Others are less worried about it. In fact, one of the most interesting, or perhaps most distressing, aspects of the centre is how clearly it often defines and separates the two groups of peuple, those most concerned with creating left alternatives a.o.d those most concerned with class struggle. Nevertheless, most of us still feel that the centre does create real possibilities for strengthening co-operation amongst socialists and feminists, as well as a way to reach out to working-class women and men in the area. This does not mean that. we reject more traditional forms of political work centred on the workplace and the unions.

Some Conclusions

In this last section I want to return to some of the problems created by the way we organized in the women’s movement and the libertarian left. As I have illustrated, we always emphasized the importance of local activity and tended to under-emphasize, and were suspicious of, national organization·. In national structures we felt women, in particular, couldn’t overcome the problems of male domination and leaderism and feel able to contribute their own experiences. This of course contrasts with the traditional revolutionary left who tend to have an overemphasis on national and international politics and to dismiss attempts at local organizing as mere localism. The national organization which the women’s movement has achieved is only around particular struggles, for example, NAC, Women’s Aid or WARF (Women against Racism and Fascism). But this leaves us with problems, even in linking up these particular struggles. How do we arrive at any overall perspectives, decide which activities to get involved in and evaluate the results of our work?

I think the final collapse of the Essex Road Women’s Cen tre and our failure to replace it are linked to the general problems which can occur for any loose network of small local groups. It’s not easy to work out where you are going on your own as a small group, or to work out where you have succeeded and where you have failed. It’s difficult for other people in other places to learn from your experiences, and for you to learn from them. We could have benefited from more regular exchange of experiences from other groups, comparing and contrasting our activities.

The problem of not really operating within an experience sharing and learning process is a difficult one. At a recent conference on women’s centres in July 1979 all the old debates and conflicts came up, as though for the first time. Were women acting as unpaid social workers? Should men ever be allowed in? Should centres be funded? Why was it hard to reach working-class women, and was this important?

Resolving the conflicts seemed to be as hard as ever. There was no agreement on how the centres fitted in to an overall strategy for achieving liberation. These recurring conflicts do seem to be a strong argument for some form of national organization. Though it is also true that national organizations can be slow to learn if they rely on old formulas and dogma seen as universally valid, instead of learning from new movements. For instance, issues like sexism, racism, national autonomy, and energy policies are all ones which the revolutionary left has been slow to take up. But the women’s movement does need some way of assessing its past effectiveness, and using this to develop future directions in less random ways.

At Essex Road we did learn that it was hard to extend our politics outside of ourselves, and to relate to local working-class women, but we never really knew what to do about this. It is not an easy problem to solve. But if you are trying to involve working-class women, you sometimes need to take up issues which don’t relate only to women, for example nurseries, housing, etc. Though you can carry a feminist perspective into these issues, you will need to go outside of your women’s group to do this, extending the base of your activity. Our lack of structure perhaps made it difficult for working-class women who were outside of our friendship networks, to know how to get involved. I know of one woman who used to walk past our women’s centre every day before she had fled from her violent husband, and never dared to come in. She now works at a women’s refuge, but in those days, not knowing who we were, it would have been difficult for her to have looked to us for support.

This is linked to another problem. Women correctly realized the importance of including a struggle around personal relations within the struggle for socialism, and argued that without this many women would not become involved at all. ‘The personal is political’ was a central slogan of the women’s movement. But this slogan did come to be interpreted in a very vague way, as though it meant that whatever you do, your actions have political significance. 1 don’t think that this was the idea behind the slogan. What it did assert was that there is a connection between how you choose to live and relate to people and the struggle for social change.(22) This was all the more obvious to women in that our training into inferiority and passivity made it even more difficult for us to struggle or to feel a part of a male-dominated left. We had to create new supportive structures if we were to feel confident enough that what we said and did in our struggle against patriarchy and capitalism was important. Women said that how we relate to each other in everyday life is a part of the struggle for socialism, and in this way socialism can begin to grow within capitalism itself, but the struggle against oppression remains to be fought and won.

Over the ten years since 1968, however, there has been a complex development in the often overlapping areas of libertarianism and feminism. It does seem that many libertarians have overstressed the prefigurative lifestyle element. This has led many of them to retreat from public political activity and class politics into rustic bliss, or mysticism, or whole foods or ghetto-ized co-ops. But these forms of retreat are not options which are open to many people; in particular, working-class people do not have the freedom to choose them. They are more trapped within the capital-labour relationship, both at home and at work, as they do what they must to support themselves and their families. But this withdrawal from consumer and urban life does have deep roots in English socialism (Carpenter, Owen, etc.) and it does maintain a visionary strand in the socialist movement that we can ill do without. It exists most clearly today in what is known as the ‘communes movement’. Some parts of the women’s movement have shown the same tendency, which others have characterized as ‘cultural feminism’, on the analogy of cultural nationalism.(23) Perhaps it is also possible to talk of a ‘cultural libertarianism’. These politics do show us the possibilities of new and better ways to live, but exactly how they relate to the building of a combative feminist and socialist movement is something that remains ambiguous both historically and in the present.

The preoccupation more with lifestyles than with building the women’s movement increased -in Islington once the women’s centre had closed. Because then it became less clear how women could help build a movement which was open to all women in their struggle for liberation. Women in their different groups, whether women’s groups or mixed groups or campaigns, found it more difficult to get support from each other. We became more isolated and have difficulty in responding to specific feminist issues as they arise. In Islington there are now moves from one local study group to change this, by organizing open discussions on women’s liberation locally. Obviously in many areas socialist feminist groups are working towards a similar goal. Nevertheless, I think it’s true to say that at least some women have lost some of the confidence they had in the early seventies in the struggle to build the women’s movement and have become even more suspicious of any overt political work.

Part of the problem is related to the general crisis of the profitability of capitalism, and the defeats of the working class. As I said at the beginning, the early seventies was still a period of economic boom. In these conditions it was clear that militancy did payoff. In many places people were able to fight for, and win, particular struggles, whether it was setting up a nursery, the funding of a youth project, improved housing conditions, or the establishment of a workers’ co-operative, such as the women’s co-operative at the shoe factory in Fakenham, Norfolk. People could feel more Optimistic about the possibility of changing their lives collectively, and feel that it was worth the effort of trying to do so.

In the women’s movement we did seem to be winning some of the things we fought for in the early seventies, even if in a deformed way. For instance the demands for women’s liberation did seem to get rid of some of the more superficial forms of women’s oppression. It is now becoming more and more acceptable that sexual discrimination in jobs, pubs and clubs is wrong, and its days may well be numbered. Though it is still clear that, despite equal pay, the relative position of women to men in the workforce, as the most exploited wage earners, was not changing very fast-in fact it has got worse since April 1978.(24)

But the economic recession of 1975 began to undermine the earlier forms of militancy, both in the workplace and the community. The ruling class-at first through a Labour government, and now with a Tory government-has been able to launch a general offensive against working-class organization. So we began to see unemployment rise, the thorough-going dismantling of welfare services, increasingly restrictive and racist immigration policies, and the continuousS expansion of state repression, seen daily in Northern Ireland but also used against any large-scale industrial or oppositional militancy whether at Grunwick, or in the housing struggles of Huntley Street in London, or in the anti-fascist demonstrations at Southall.

In this situation industrial militancy was on the retreat, forced back into more sectoral and negotiating tactics, as each group of workers tried to have themselves declared a ‘special case’. In this way they hoped to fight off the attacks on their living standards caused first of all through the ‘social contract’ (government-imposed limits on wage increases) and state expenditure cuts. Today, under the Tories, the workforce is being further disciplined primarily by the threat of unemployment as the state cuts its public spending even more drastically and reduces its subsidies to industry. This means that both in the workplace and the community, victories, whether local or national, have become much more difficult and there is an increasing demoralization amongst militants in all sections of struggle. So it is also becoming clearer that there cannot be local victories against the forms oppression is taking; for example, cuts in the NHS are nationwide. This is the reasoning behind the creation of national organizations such as ‘Fightback’ in the area of health care, campaigning both against all hospital closures and cutbacks and against low pay as well as for better services in general.

This means that it is forms of organization which have national and international perspectives and links which seem to be even more necessary for successful struggles today. It’s also true that, more urgently than ever, the current period demands that we ally with the traditional institutions of the labour movement. We need to understand the possibilities and the limitations of these institutions. The tendency in the past of libertarians and some feminists to by-pass these institutions (trades councils, union branches, etc.), which perhaps was never really justified, is quite definitely not possible today .. There is always the danger that these forms of national organization and these alliances can lead to a dismissal of the dimensions of struggle which libertarians and feminists brought into the political arena. A sense of urgency Can create a stronger pressure on the left to push aside the significance of the more personal areas of struggle. This danger will now be with us for a long time. And so the split between feminists and the traditional left remains, despite the attempts on both sides to build new bridges.

What I am wanting to focus on in this last section are three main problems which need a lot more thought. First, the relation between feminism and personal politics, and left groups and the general political situation. Secondly, the relation between local organizing and national organizing, and how this relates to the conflict between libertarians and feminists and the traditional left in the Current situation. Thirdly, how we move on to a perspective for building socialism which can incorporate both feminists politics and the new ideas and ways of organizing which have emerged over the last ten years.

The problem for both libertarians and feminists, focusing on the importance of local work and the need to build local organizations, is how to create a larger socialist and feminist movement. A movement, built from the base up, which could mobilize enough people to fight and win, not just anyone struggle-difficult as this is-but strengthen us so that the experience of each struggle is not lost but contributes to the next. Libertarians tried building a network of local groups to link up experiences and activity. There were three national conferences in 1973 and 1974. But there wasn’t the political will to maintain any national organization at that time. The libertarian rejection of vanguards meant that we could not really accept the necessity for any politically coherent central organization. But, we cannot assume that links will just happen spontaneously as they are needed.

Today the women’s movement also finds it difficult to take political initiatives, except in very specific areas such as fighting off attacks on women’s access to abortion. Yet right now we face an enormous ideological attack on all our recent gains. Women are under attack not just in our struggle for equal pay, for more nurseries and better health care (now all threatened by Tory cuts), but attacks on even more basic things, such as the threat to women’s right to maternity leave. This amounts to an attack on women’s rights to waged work at all, if we have young children. Thus we increasingly hear, as was argued recently in the House of Lords, that ‘unemployment could be solved at a stroke, if women went back to the home’. As a way out of the economic crisis, the ,ruling class! is seeking to strengthen the ideology of sexism to justify its attacks on the working class in general, and women in particular, thus revealing more clearly than ever the links between sex oppression and class exploitation.

In this deteriorating situation, it’s going to be harder for the women’s movement not to feel politically marginal, unless we can find ways of making alliances with all those in struggle, both women and men, to co-ordinate actions to defend women’s interests. We are not well organized in the women’s movement. Although the socialist feminist current is trying to organize regional networks, and has been quite successful in some areas, it has been less successful in others. The useful national socialist feminist newsletter Scarlet Women has not yet managed to serve as a co-ordinating focus. We know that socialist feminists are not a minority in the women’s movement-over a thousand women attended our last two conferences. But in the coming period we do need the support not just of a strong and autonomous women’s movement but of the general perspectives and priorities of the socialist feminist current within it. The structures we agreed to build at our last conference mean that we must put a lot more energy into developing our regional socialist feminist organizations, and use them to co-ordinate the different campaigns we are involved in.(25) This would enable Scarlet Women to be more effective as a national co-ordinator.

I think we are also going to have to go beyond a criticism of the left and labour movement forms of politics, however correct we are to say that they have failed to take up the issues of feminism except in a tokenistic way. We do have to relate to both the left and the labour movement, but only by insisting that they learn from what we have to say as feminists. The left will have to understand and criticize the way in which working-class organizations through the labour movement have consistently failed to fight women’s oppression. A wages offensive, for instance, is of little use to women unless it also recognizes the need for more nurseries, for a shorter working week, and actively seeks to change women’s position both at home and in the workforce. We need to argue, for example, that the struggle for a shorter working week is a crucial struggle for women because it allows men to share in the childcare and housework. A recent article in Red Rag makes this point as follows:

Implicit in our strivings of the last years has been an adaptation to the world of work, rather than an adaptation of that world to one that allows time for children, leisure, politics … (26)

This means that we insist that the labour movement takes into account the needs of women not just as waged workers, but also as housewives and consumers. At the same time we must strengthen our ideological offensive against the acceptance of separate spheres fo’r women and men on which our subordination rests.

For women who want to be active in left politics outside of the women’s movement, I think it is also true that male domination, elitism and passivity can exist in unstructured local groups and sectoral campaigns as well as in national organizations. People who are less confident, and less experienced at organizing, or who have less time,will find it harder to participate effectively in such groups. I have found that sometimes it can be even harder to combat ‘leaderism’ within the small group, as interactions are more likely to be seen in purely individual and personal terms, rather than as political manifestations. Nevertheless, we do need to find alternatives to the old structures of organizing used by the left and the labour movement, of large meetings and platform speakers which clearly silence people and do not encourage any sort of mass involvement.

There is no easy solution to the problem of creating new political structures which overcome rather than reproduce existing hierarchies of sex, class and race. For this reason most feminists could not take seriously any national organization which did not actively support the autonomy of groups to organize against theIr particular oppression, which did not realize that it had as much to learn from as to teach those in struggle, or one which ignored what women have said about how to organize, using truly egalitarian and supportive structures which build the confidence and participation of all involved. Alongside the need to organize in workplaces, I do think it’s important to build up open and active local, organizations which can increase left unity, and can be easier for people to participate in. I have in mind the sort of structures which have been developed in socialist feminist groups, community papers, socialist centres, and other community resource centres, which are different from those characteristically used by the left.

But for me today as someone wanting to be active both within and outside of the women’s movement, local organizations are no longer sufficient. I also want to be a part of an organization which is trying to build upon and generalize from different situations, and thus develop overall strategies. I don’t think that it is possible to build a single unified revolutionary organization in Britain in 1979, or that anyone left organization has all the answers. But revolutionary groups do have a vital role in helping to build the widest possible support for all areas of struggle, and the widest possible unity on the left.

What possibilities are there for combining socialist and feminist politics in a national organization which is not subject to the degeneration, splits and paranoias which plague all the left groups? Could such an organization work out a supportive practice in relation to the autonomous groups and activities which occur all around the country? We will not all agree on the answers. My own way to find out has been to join Big Flame, a group which in its theory and practice seems to put the class struggle before its OWn organizational development, which recognizes the need to fully support and help to build the autonomous Drganizations of women and other oppressed groups, and in 5eneral strives for a vision of socialism which includes a theory of personal politics. Time will tell whether I was right.


1. It would be hard to draw up a list, but some of the most important books for us were Marx: Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and The German Ideology. Marcuse: Eros and Civilisation and One Dimensional Man, Laing: The Divided Self, Reich: The Mass Psychology of Fascism and Vaneigem: The Revolution of Everyday Life. Henri Lefebvre, in The Explosion-Marxism and the French Upheaval attempts to give an account of what led up to the ideas and actions of May 1968.

2. See the discussion on libertarianism and personal life ‘Coming Down to Earth’, Paul Holt, in Revolutionary Socialism, no. 4, Autumn 1979.

3. This theory was outlined by Michael Kidron in Capitalism and Theory, Pluto Press, 1974.

4. This relates, as many people will know, to Althusser’s now famous essay on ideology, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ in Lenin and Philosophy, New Left Books, 1971, in which he argues that class relations are produced through two kinds of interrelated state institutions, the ‘repressive state apparatuses’ (the police, etc.) and the ‘ideological state apparatuses’ (in particular the education system which slots a person into their class position through a process whose operation is disguised from that person). Some Marxists today point out that Althusser is only a modern and vulgar variant of earlier Marxists like Gramsci and the Frankfurt School. Back in the thirties Gramsci was writing in his Prison Notebooks of the importance of ‘civil society’, referring to those institutions like the family and the media, which are not directly controlled by the state, but nevertheless playa crucial role in maintainir.g existing class relations and the capitalist state.

5. An attempt to do youth work in the local community in Islington from the base of a libertarian squatters’ group, is colourfully described in Knuckle Sandwich by Davi<! Robins and Philip Cohen, Penguin, 1978.

6. For example, Elisabeth Wilson, 'Women and the Welfare State', Red Rag, pamphlet no. 2,1974.

7. This is well illustrated by Barbara Ehrenreich and Diedre English in For Her Own Good, Pluto Press, 1979.

8. This concept is used by Barbara Ehrenreich in her excellent speech on socialist feminism in Socialist Revolution, no. 26, October-December 1975.

9. Patriarchy has been defined by Heidi Hartman as 'the systemic dominance of men over women', referring to the social structure and all the social relations through which men dominate women. ('The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union' in Capital and Class, no. 8, Summer 1979.) There is a debate over the usefulness of this concept, because some people feel it does not explain the way in which women's subordination, though universal, is different in different societies. I do find the concept useful, but for a fuller discussion see R. Mcdonough and R. Harrison, 'Patriarchy and Relations of Production' in Kuhn and Wolpe, Feminism and Materialism, (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), and Z. Eisenstein, 'Developing a Theory of Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism' in Eisenstein, Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, Monthly Review Press, 1978, and P. Atkinson: 'The Problem with Patriarchy' in Achilles Heel, no. 2.

10. Mariarosa Dalla Costa, 'Women and the Subversion of the Community' in The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community. M. Dalla Costa and S. James (Falling Wall Press, 1973). For a fuller discussion of this debate see Jean Gardiner, 'Women's Domestic Labour', New Left Review, no. 89, 1975.

11. Valerie Charlton, 'The Patter of Tiny Contradictions', Red Rag, no. 5, 1973.

12. See Mandy Snell 'The Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts: Their Impact on the Workplace', Feminist Review, no. I, 1979.

13. See Mary Kathleen Benet Secretary: An Enquiry into the Female Ghetto, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1972.

14. Despite some claims to the contrary, radical and revolutionary feminists were not the only ones to talk about rape and violence against women. Though it is true that recently they have perhaps been the main impetus behind some of the large demonstrations on these issues.

15. Similar victories of this sort over a nursery, play space and other community facilities are described in Jan O'Malley: The Politics of Community Action, Spokesman, 1977.

16. The limitations of orthodox Marxism in its analysis of women's oppression has been discussed elsewhere, for example, in Rosalind Delmar's, 'Looking Again at Engel's "Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State" " in A. Oakley and J. Mitchell (eds.) The Rights and Wrongs of Women, Penguin, 1976 and Heidi Hartman, ibid.

17. John Ross, 'Capitalism, politics and personal life' in Socialist Woman, Summer 1977.

18. This account of the SWP's present position on women's politics and what is described as 'the crisis' in Women's Voice is obtained in part from detailed discussions with SWP comrades.

19. From the 'Revolutionary Feminist statement' to the Birmingham Women's Liberation Conference, 1977.

20. From 'Sex, Family and the New Right' in Radical America, Winter 1977/78.

21. Judging from the impact of the first edition of Beyond the Fragments in the Trotskyist press, where this section on local organizing was completely ignored in almost all the reviews, the ·situation has not changed very much. I had hoped that it might have.

22. Barbara Ehrenreich makes this point when discussing the importance of developing political morality, 'Toward a Political Morality', Liberation, July-August 1977.

23. See Brooke, 'The Retreat to Cultural Feminism', Feminist Revolution, 1975.

24. See 'Equal Pay: Why the Acts Don't Work', Jenny Earle and Julia Phillips, Spare Rib, no. 86, September 1979.

25. A discussion of the points of agreement which were reached at the Socialist Feminist Conference in March 1979 can be found in Scarlet Women,July 1979.

26. B. Campbell and V. Charlton, 'Work to Rule' in Red Rag, January 1979.

Beyond The Fragments: Feminism and the Making of Socialism (The Women’s Movement and Organizing for Socialism, Part One) by Sheila Rowbotham

January 28, 2013 1 comment

I think it helps to say how you’ve entered a particular train of thought. Behind what I’m saying are four main political influences, the New Left of the late 1950s to early 1960s, International Socialism (now the Socialist Workers Party) from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s, libertarian Marxism in the early 1970s, and the Women’s Liberation Movement since its beginnings in the late 1960s. Like all influences, the impact of these has not been linear or even. They have jostled together inside my head, pushing and lugging at one another for space. The nature of my involvement with them has not been at all the same.

When I began thinking of myself as a ‘socialist’ in 1962 the great upheaval in the Communist Party which had occurred in 1956 was still a persistent reference point. An event of six years before was for me at nineteen a distant happening. But the assumptions of what politics were about were still being set by CND and the New Left. 1956 appeared to me as the beginning of modern times. It was a break, just as 1968 was to be, a break to a later political generation.

The recoil from the Communist Party was part of my political inheritance but it was not part of my own political experience. This meant I rejected the possibility of a socialist renewal from within the CP intellectually, but I had no understanding of the inner life of communism before the impact of 1956. This was further complicated: by meeting throughout the sixties Young Communist League members, older Communist trade unionists and intellectuals who were shaken by the consequences of Hungary and later by Czechoslovakia, and increasingly open to discussion with socialists outside the CP. They were less dogmatic than the Trotskyists because they had no longer illusions about being omniscient. I always winced at the self-satisfied tone with which members of Trotskyist groups called all Communist Party members ‘Stalinists’, for I knew it didn’t fit. I felt Cold War anti-communism became mixed up in the stridency of anti-Stalinism. Somehow by over-shooting the mark Trotskyism blocked many aspects of the New Left resistance to Stalinism proper, which was not only a political system but a particular stance towards being a socialist.

There were other ambiguities which can be partly explained by being politically formed by the New Left of the late fifties without being actually part of it. The possibility of making an alternative left movement to the Labour Party and to Stalinism did not have any reality for me. The New Left as a practical movement of left clubs and centres like the Partisan coffee bar in Soho was waning by 1962. By the time I arrived on the left the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was the ‘movement’ and its atmosphere was radical rather than socialist. Committee of 100 and a new left students’ journal were the first kinds of activity I encountered. Committee of 100 was far more exciting – this was the period in which Regional Seats of Government were being discovered and exposed. There was a feeling around that ‘direct action’ was the thing, not discussion of ideas. But CND itself was in the process of disintegration and when I left University in 1964 it seemed as if pressure on the left of the Labour Party was more realistic than the creation of an independent left movement.

Nonetheless the timing and shaping was rather important. For if I had become a socialist too late to be part of the first wave of the New Left, I was still deeply affected by an approach to politics which had not only broken with Stalinism but was quite alien to the assumptions of the then tiny Trotskyist sects. Indeed until I met Trotskyists in the Hackney Labour Party in 1964 they seemed simply odd with an inward, self-confirming intensity like evangelical religious groups. Even as I encountered Trotskyism and neo-Trotskyism (International Socialism) I was never quite of them. I could never be quite so sure somehow. They had all those certainties as if everything was known, the whole world and its history was sewn up and neatly categorized. How could anyone know so much? But what it was that I was or why I couldn’t be sure was quite unclear. In face of the clear-cut polarities which various Trotskyist groups shuffled between one another like counters I had only puzzlement. ‘Middle class’, they said. Forced to peel through class prejudice by their challenge I could acknowledge that it was partly this.

But class was only part of it because some of them were middle class too. It was also the legacy of New Left politics. The emotion of my socialism was too rooted in an interconnecting quest between circumstance and consciousness – consciousness and circumstance. Trotskyism’s emphasis on the ‘analysis’ of an unfolding objective crisis suggested the professional revolutionary going in, extracting the salient bits of reality and fashioning a programme accordingly. The New Left (the movement rather than the journal which kept the name) never seemed to have such detachment. We were all immersed in the real world. Our understandings flowed out of the actual movement of existence and dissolved back within it. Against the preparation for an externally developing ‘moment’ into which the professional revolutionary organization was to insert/inject itself was the conviction in the New Left that human beings could and would resist an unjust and inhuman society because it denied the possibility of creativity and love. We were all responsible agents of our destinies and must act in our lives. I could consequently never accept the notion of ‘training’ which was present in the Leninist tradition and important in Trotskyism.

In varying degrees the Trotskyist groups believed that personal feelings should be curbed and in some cases sacrificed – whereas the New Left in resisting Stalinism wanted to allow space for personal feeling as a source of humanity. It was assumed that personal relationships and values were to be respected and that Stalinism had denied and destroyed them. They were to be recognized as important in their own right even if they denied the immediate possibility of commitment to any organized resistance. In 1960 in ‘Outside the Whale’, Edward Thompson explored the sources of apathy and the personal anti-political rebellion among the young. He argued the radical potential of the response expressed in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey. If love had become falsified perhaps it appeared better to shed illusions and seek honesty instead. But in the search for honesty we could rediscover the source of love in opposition to its caricature.

The anti-political find themselves once again in the arena of political choice. Because ‘love’ must be thrust into the context III’ power, the moralist finds that he must become revolutionary.1

The New Left stressed the possibilities of personal choice within particular contexts. It was not an abstract freedom, but it was an historical freedom. They did not assume that everyone had to make socialism by the same route. They did not insist on there being the one way to truth seems to me to be essential in the make-up of the Trotskyist groups in the 1970s. I think this arminianism was shared by most IS members in the 1960s and was one bond with the New Left. No single left group could claim with conviction any way to having absolute truth. They were after all so tiny. The pretensions of the Socialist Labour League (now the Workers Revolutionary Party) seemed simply grotesque to most socialists in the early 1960s. Unselfconsciously we read Kropotkin and Bakunin as well as Marx, Gandhi and G.D.H. Cole, Camus, Sartre and Emma Goldman. We bought Anarchy as well as Peace News, Sanity, Tribune and Labour Worker.

By 1964 when I left University it seemed as if people in the New Left were becoming less preoccupied with finding new forms for class struggle which the ex-CP members had sought, and were more involved in cultural analyses of popular working-class attitudes and customs. I did not understand then why it was important to study the relationships between the stereotypes of the media and consciousness. It just seemed rather owlish. I was too closely involved emotionally in the music of popular culture to want to study it. I knew nothing of the differences on the journal. While I was friendly with some of the group round the New Left Review after 1963, I could not understand how they could be socialists and not bother about being personally remote from working-class people. This made them very different from the initiators of the New Left.

So I joined the Young Socialists in Hackney Labour Party where I met Trotskyists who were in Militant and International Socialism. I could not see Trotskyism from outside anymore. I learned about Trotskyism from young, working-class people, many of whom came from left Labour families and remembered the anti-fascist struggle of the East End or quite violent confrontations with the law and state going back over several generations of trade unionism in class-conscious families. The precarious tradition of Trotskyism was strengthened because it combined with personal experience of class. I learned from them about theory (J.P. Cannon) and proletarian art (The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists). I was told you could never trust the middle class (me among others). I learned how to dissect Labour Party policy statements and argue (just about) with right-wing MPs about incomes policy. We had no illusions that the Labour Party leadership was going to bring us socialism. But we tended to underestimate the capacity of Labourism to exhaust left opposition.

Within the Labour Party Young Socialists I was drawn towards the International Socialism Group (now Socialist Workers Party) around 1966 and I joined briefly in the late 1960s. Its attraction to me and to other socialists influenced by the New Left was that it appeared to combine theoretical openness and flexibility with an orientation towards a grass-roots working-class politics. In the sixties IS seemed to be able to assimilate and learn from new movements while retaining an understanding of exploitation. This was important both in the student movements and locally for me in the Vietnam Solidarity Committee in Hackney. But before these, IS had supported various kinds of community action, a campaign about racialism in Islington and the organization of private tenants in Hackney which contributed to their involvement in the council tenants’ movement in the late sixties.

I Joined for about eighteen months, following a drive to recruit people who agreed very generally with their aims after Powell’s racist speech in 1968. A debate about organization was just coming to an end. I puzzled over various position papers in bewilderment. In a sense I’m still reeling, for ideas take years to sink in and grow out of me. Anyway in retrospect this argument seems to me to have been crucial. It involved discussion about the degree of autonomy local branches should have. The case for a centralized structure was eventually accepted. This debate came to be referred to as a closed issue – as if it had been settled. But its implications were critical for the course which IS was to take as an organization. Closing up on these issues was a mistake. It was implied there was no time for further discussion.

Martin Shaw, in his account of the history of IS, ‘The Making of a Party?’, comments that the political basis of the new ‘democratic centralism’ which was then accepted, “. . . was not fully understood either by many of the pre-1968 members . . . or by the new recruits’.2

This was certainly true in my case. In retrospect again this episode which remained mysterious to me for years was in fact an elaborate conjuring trick. Tony Cliff held the rabbit of Rosa Luxemburg’s criticism of the undemocratic features of Leninism and the dangers of the Party substituting itself for the working class in one hand. Then, in the twinkling of an eye, it had gone into the hat and out came a knotted scarf ‘democratic centralism’ and long Leninist tradition – more and more and more of it.

Martin Shaw points out that Cliff’s turnaround was reaction to the failure of May 1968. He says it was response which eclipsed any other ‘lessons’. This incident could be dismissed as simply an example of a ‘opportunism’ peculiar to IS or to Cliff as an individual. But I think it has more general implications. For the assumption that the end justifies the means we use in organizing need not only apply to recruiting on a fuzzy basis. It could be combined with a formally democratic internal regime but involve the tactic of entrism, a fundamentally deceitful operation which has contributed to great distrust of both the

Communist Party and Trotskyist groups. Or it might mean the covert control of front organizations or the use of smear tactics to defeat any opposition from non-aligned socialists.

Somehow there has passed into Trotskyism (and into the neo-Trotskyism of IS) the assumption that the manipulation of people is justified by the supposedly superior knowledge which leaders of revolutionary groups presume to possess of the end they believe they are pursuing. It is certainly possible to find justification for such a view in Lenin’s dictums on morality. But there was enough historical evidence for questioning these. The disastrous extension and intensification of such an approach to politics had been a crucial feature of the Stalinism which Trotskyism professed to oppose. Trotskyists have levelled precisely these kinds of criticism at the CP’s period of popular frontism for example. Yet Trotskyists can also still lack scruples about stacking the cards against a real process of discussion and learning for everyone before decisions were taken. Why should it be justifiable for Trotskyists and not for Stalinists?

It was not only a question of accepting a formal democratic process. It was a corrosion of the inner responses about how a socialist should behave. Awareness this was present actually within Trotskyism. The dissidents grouped around ‘Facing Reality’ argued in 1958 that contemporary Marxism was inhibited and cramped ‘by a habit of mind and a way of life’ which included ‘a psychology of leadership’. They maintained that,

The vanguard organisation substituted political theory and an internal political life for the human responses and sensitivities of its members to ordinary people. It has now become very difficult for them to go back into the stream of the community.3

I think this comment was to be curiously prophetic of the relationship which the Trotskyist leaderships were to have with the younger generation of socialists after 1968.

The energy which erupted in May 1968 was overwhelming. You could catch a glimpse of that extraordinary concentrated force of people’s power to dissolve constraining structures which must be the subjective experience of a revolutionary process. I resisted identifying too hopefully at first. I couldn’t bear the disappointment of defeat. But events pushed this reluctance away. The upsurge and its creativity were undeniable.

In a way there was too much to absorb. You couldn’t believe your own ears sometimes. Nothing seemed impossible. The experiences of 1968 opened your political eyes and ears. It revealed vulnerabilities within capitalist society which were making it possible to imagine socialism in different ways.

Capitalism was seen as claiming your whole being. We were all colonized and had to become total resisters. The focus was not only on production or even on a wider concept of class struggle but on oppression in everyday life particularly from the family and consumption. ‘The revolution’ must liberate the imagination. The opposition to capitalism was not only a power contest against an external system but against its inner hold. Not only the rational but the irrational was the sphere of this rebellion. There was a stress on subjective feeling and a suspicion of structures of any kind, including demands. ‘Don’t Demand – Occupy!’ declared Black Dwarf. The stress was on learning through doing and on the need for experience to be the source of theory. It was assumed that your politics were communicated not only through what you said but in what you did and how you did it. This led to the assertion that the attack against capitalist society should carry the future within the present. Thus there should be no hierarchy, no elites, no chairs, no committees, no speakers and even no meetings in some cases. Or the meeting merged into and became life. Life thus became meetings!

It is easy to cast a cynical eye backwards onto such utopianism. 1968 ‘failed’ so it can be dismissed I don’t believe it can. For unless we understand how such a politics came about, how it influenced the emergence of the women’s movement and crystallized within libertarian Marxism in the early seventies, we have no context in which to place the alternative assumptions about organizing which have been central to these movements. Aspects of these have persisted in innumerable community and cultural projects, communes, ecology, alternative technology, therapy and the growth movement.

In retrospect I think the late sixties were an enormously creative period which have been too easily dismissed in the quite different situation of the late seventies. The ideas which sprang up around the May Events deserve much more serious conscious consideration.

Nonetheless with the passing of time the weaknesses of many of the assumptions about organizing which have been bequeathed half consciously are apparent. The idea of oppression is both vague and rather static. It fixes people in their role as victim rather than pointing to the contradictory aspects of relationships which force the emergence of new forms of consciousness. The stress on the way capitalism devours our whole beings could lead to a fatalism once the initial voluntarist enthusiasm was exhausted. Similarly there is a problem inherent in the slogan ‘the personal is political’ for it tends to imply that all individual problems can find a short-term political solution. Thus a politics which asserted subjectivity could ironically become a means of reducing human beings to the functions they perform for capital. Notions of individual potential could thus be obscured and denied. The stress on total solutions and the fears of co-option could give way to despair and disillusion when the world went on in its hard old course. The conviction that organization should carry the future, breaking down all hierarchy and denying all skills, could become an inturned and moralistic network which excluded people. The alternatives could seem like the lifestyle of a sub-culture, almost a fashion coming out of an anti-fashionable stance. Perhaps it was some such combination of factors which contributed to that paralysis of libertarian Marxism as a challenge to the hegemony of the Trotskyist groups in the British left which is apparent from the mid seventies.

This paralysis, combined with the defensiveness against theory has left the situation open for both ‘workerism’ which disregards new movements at one extreme and the abstruse high theory which has become a form of practice among academic Marxists.

I think it would be illuminating to disentangle the continuities and differences between the New Left of the fifties and this second wave, the New Left of the late sixties/early seventies.(4) I suspect that in fact the New Left response to 1956 did not simply ‘end’ when the New Left Review changed hands, or ‘fail’ as Trotskyists imply. Instead the people involved went into quite diverse forms of activity in the course of which their cohesive similarities were fragmented and transformed but never completely dissolved. This process has never been examined in detail. Jan O’Malley, though, traces one strand of New Left development in Notting Hill. In her book The Politics of Community Action she describes the contribution made by people from the London left clubs in tenants’ and anti-racist groups before 1966. She also mentions their involvement with the London Free School, the Notting Hill Community Workshop in 1966, and their support for the May Day Manifesto’s statement in May 1967. This said that socialists needed to make a political movement which would make ‘democratic practice effective throughout the society by activity and locality rather than in some closed, centralized, ritualized place’.(5)

The use of the term ‘workshop’ echoed the community organizing of the American New Left. The Free School also prefigured the politics of the libertarians of the early 1970s. Libertarian Marxism in this period also stressed grass-roots community organizing which had been developing in Notting Hill since the late sixties. Perhaps some of the differences between this community politics of the mid sixties and libertarianism in the early seventies is the much greater influence of the ideas of the French Situationists and the Italian far left upon the latter.

Strands of the New Left in other areas could be traced within the Labour Party, Anarchist groups, in Solidarity, International Socialist groups, and trade unions in the mid sixties. From the late sixties they could be seen helping to create ‘History Workshops’, becoming involved in the Women’s movement, in left cultural movements and in radical intellectual work.

I could not attempt to unravel these strands myself for I feel personally that I am too stuck in a particular crevice somewhere between the two new lefts. I am close to both but belong to neither. I was too late for the fifties but too formed by the late sixties to be completely swept up in the student movement of the late sixties or the voluntarism of libertarian Marxism in the early seventies. So I was drawn emotionally towards libertarianism but remained intellectually full of doubt. Though I identified with the struggle to solve the actual problems presented by capitalism, without forcing everything back into the terms which Lenin, or whoever, had said things should be happening, I felt they were continually cutting corners and over-simplifying Leninism.

It’s frightening to set off on new journeys without any maps. Perhaps the hardest bit is deciding what to hang on to and what to shed. There seemed to be an atmosphere which would annihilate history as if the past was too compromised to be acknowledged. This has had a destructive effect in the American New Left and appeared in the left libertarian politics of the early 1970s. I suspect it has contributed to contemporary left attitudes towards history in opposition to ‘theory’. I felt distrustful of this, for while acknowledging many of their criticisms of the Old Left, was wary of what seemed like an extreme subjectivity. I was true that immediate feelings of the moment were ignored in the rituals of both the Communist Party and the Trotskyist groups. But, on the other hand, what of the strategic consequences of actions? Libertarianism seemed to dismiss these. The past is always part of the moment of the present whether we consider it or not.

So I had become an ‘old leftist’ by the early seventies. This meant I remained psychologically close to IS as a kind of reference point even after I left early in 1970. I think this was a situation shared by many socialists who were to varying degrees affected by the ‘old New Left’. The subsequent hardening of IS from around 1972 which intensified in the mid seventies propelled me (and some of them) into personal dissent. It has finally forced me to start confronting the differences between the impulse of the New Left and that tradition of revolutionary organizing of which IS was an idiosyncratic part – Leninism and Trotskyism.

My real involvement was with the emerging Women’ Liberation Movement but this closeness to IS meant I was forced to try and understand the leadership’s resistance in the early 1970s to discussing aspects of oppression which were not directly related to class exploitation. I went to the first IS women’s conference as an observer and identified strongly with the women arguing for women’s liberation. It was a particularly confusing situation because many of the first women’s groups outside London were started by women in or close to IS.

At first it seemed enough to put resistance to women’s liberation down to the bias of a male-dominated leadership – though the picture was never that simple as some women in IS opposed women’s liberation and some men supported it from the beginning. The effort to change the direction of IS and orientate towards working-class economic struggles also certainly contributed towards a dismissal of women’s liberation as middle class – the pot being disposed to call the kettle black. But by the mid seventies neither of these seemed adequate explanations for the greater overt sectarianism shown by IS than by the Communist Party or the International Marxist-Group to the women’s movement. Why should a group which had historically broken with both Stalinism and orthodox Trotskyism on the issue of socialist democracy and worker’s control be more incapable of digesting not only feminism but issues like gay liberation, radical psychology, struggles around cultural and community life and personal discussion of what it meant to be a socialist? Why should a group which had rejected dogma hold its ideas as moralistic defences? Ostensibly committed to learning from workers’ struggles, the initiator of rank and file groups, opposed to bureaucracy in the labour movement, IS baulked at extending these ideas into the wider issues of everyday life or at applying them within their own organization. Even the commitment to workers’ rank and file struggles and experience came to be narrowly defined in terms of recruitment. Looking at the tussles from outside it looked as if the various groupings in the leadership adopted a rhetoric about who could put in the best claim to be the interpreter of workers’ experience.

It is a mistake of course to expect a political process to be a smooth unfolding. People in the very act of breaking out of some forms of politics, protect their behinds tightly with the corners of the old covers. Perhaps the consequence of breaking from the tradition of the Communist Party and Trotskyism made it more imperative to hold onto a limited economic concept of class struggle. For strait is the way between the perils and blandishments of centrism, reformism, etc. Especially if you are petit bourgeois to boot!

But with this dismissal of new movements and democracy many aspects of the politics from which they had partially detached themselves grew up within yet another walled garden.

Critics within IS explained the strange twists of fortune and recessions of democracy as a series of coincidences which could be put right. But how many coincidences could you explain away? The same dilemmas seemed to be coming up about the relationship of a political organization to rank and file groups which had been held up by IS as awful warnings of the CP’s Stalinist sectarianism in the late twenties and early thirties. The experience of the women’s movement also indicated that the question of the connection of a political group to movements and campaigns could not be solved by the kind of political break IS had made with Stalinism and orthodox Trotskyism. This wasn’t deeper than the actions of IS. It involved the whole approach to being socialists.

In its early days IS really did try and break with sectarian traditions and with the windbag rhetorical rituals on the left. But this hardened into a refusal to talk about the politics of what they were doing within the left. Martin Shaw has described how IS members came to feel they were above sectarianism. But the refusal to deal with dogma meant that in trying to go outwards they dismissed other socialists. In rejecting some of the obvious pretentions of orthodox Trotskyism, righteousness grew within. It was as if they had a special calling which was never stated and was somehow invisible. Their politics became those of a chosen elect. They could never do everything themselves hut felt no one else could be relied upon to do anything worthwhile. Under this strain their ideas were held in abeyance. There was no time to learn from new developments. Increasingly their theories did not fit new realities outside IS so they stiffened into dogma and became defensive. Ideas and open debate became almost suspect as inherently middle class. They seemed to be regarded as a waste of time with ‘the Crisis’ upon us. The instinct towards criticism was to attack the opponents for their class or lack of activity. Paranoia mounted as secret internal documents inevitably leaked. If the circumstances of the mid seventies could produce this change, the mind boggles at what a civil war and famine would have done – Uncle Joe apart.

By the mid seventies I was being nudged into trying to understand why it should be that the politics of IS should end up this way. I know this need to understand is shared by those socialists who have been close to IS and who became critical of its development in the early 1970s. This experience cannot simply be shaken off. Our past is not an indulgence. A lot of people’s lives have been affected by their membership of IS/SWP – political faiths have been scarred much more deeply than the socialism of someone like me who was not a member for very long. Such negligence is never without its nemesis of cynicism and paralysis. The expelled members or people who left were erased from the memory of what is significant. Their opposing politics were constantly confused with moral failing. This has sinister echoes and has resulted in bitterness and waste. But the implications go even beyond this. I think that unless we try and understand what were the sticking points which limited IS’s move away from Stalinism and from orthodox Trotskyism we will not see what allowed this process to occur. This means we are back to square one with no guarantee we won’t repeat the same circle.

So I think the process of opening up what happened in IS and exploring its consequences for how we organize in the future is as important as a reassessment of the impact of the 1956 New Left and libertarian Marxism.6 I am aware that my preoccupation with IS/SWP may have a hermetic quality to people who have not lived any aspect of such an encounter. It may seem a strange, intense passion splashing around in the proverbial parochial duck pond. But I believe it has a significance beyond the political involvement of ex-members or members. For roughly a decade from the mid 1960s IS represented in Britain the main organizational hope that the Leninist and Trotskyist traditions could be renewed by a generation which had not been scarred by the horrors of Stalinism and the extreme isolation of the minority Trotskyist opposition. The renewal promised was to carry the revolutionary tradition of 1917 and yet face outwards to the problems of modern capitalism. I think this promise has proved to be illusory. However the existence of such a hope meant that many implications of the New Left challenge to Stalinism were evaded. Also, as Martin Shaw argues, the IS leaders did not really understand ‘the structural changes. . . which the student movement highlighted’.7 More than this though, they did not acknowledge the significance of the changes in consciousness which these developments involved. The insights of both movements could thus be absorbed, channelled and finally abandoned by the sectarian husk which had consumed them.

This has had a most confusing effect on the contemporary left in which the SWP can raise great dust storms while digging itself further into the sand. It means that the substantial problems raised by the New Left after 1956 and by the May Events in 1968, about how we should make socialism, have been almost completely obscured.

I suppose this effort to understand IS/SWP could be described as a continuing niggling external puzzle for me. An internal pull towards thinking about organization has been experiencing a completely different politics within the women’s movement since 1969. The differences between this kind of practice and socialist politics have seemed so great that it has been hard to compare them. I’ve increasingly felt this as a paralysing split. There is a danger that we might acquiesce to such a division, accepting one way of organizing for socialism and another for feminism. Given the existing balance of power between the sexes in society as a whole this would undoubtedly mean that our organizing as feminists became increasingly ghetto-ized.

In the women’s movement for nearly ten years there have been organizing assumptions growing, mainly communicated by word of mouth. The difficulty of translating these assumptions into a language which can touch current definitions of organization on the left have been enormous. This is partly because these have emerged from the practice of a movement in a piecemeal way. They challenge the left groups implicitly rather than explicitly. But also they cannot be contained within the accepted circumference of debate established by the male-dominated left. Coming partly from the experience of feminist women’s lives they reach continually outwards towards new forms of expressing defiance and resistance. This is a creativity which has not been shared by the left groups within the Leninist and Trotskyist traditions.

We have stressed for instance the closeness and protection of a small group and the feeling of sisterhood. Within the small group it has been important that every woman has space and air for her feelings and ideas to grow. The assumption is that there is not a single correctness which can be learned off by heart and passed on by poking people with it. It is rather that we know our feelings and ideas move and transform themselves in relation to other women. We all need to express and contribute. Our views are valid because they come from within us and not because we hold a received correctness. The words we use seek an openness and an honesty about our own interest in what we say. This is the opposite to most left language which is constantly distinguishing itself as correct and then covering itself with a determined objectivity. (This is not only true of Leninism but sometimes also of the opponents of Leninism. Here the name becomes inadequate to explain the problem. It becomes a problem within the use of the concept of science in Marxism itself.) It is very important to be able to say ‘I don’t know’ and ‘Nobody knows, we need to find out’ without being dismissed as stupid.

Our politics have tried to allow expression of vulnerability and openness to every woman’s feelings which consciousness raising at its best implies. We have rejected central organization, hierarchical structures and a leadership. This has not meant that we have no organization, for example, regional networks, women’s centres, conferences, publishing groups, theatre groups, folk and rock bands, film collectives, trade union caucuses, food co-ops are aspects of the women’s movement. The structures which have arisen have been seen as serving particular needs. The making and communication of ideas have been an extraordinary collective process in which thousands of women have contributed. The organizational initiatives which have been spread through the movement have been extremely diverse, involving women in quite different ways. The women’s movement has touched many areas of politics socialists have neglected and its hold goes deeper. It absorbs more of your being.

We’ve been close to our own weaknesses and pain in all this. It is hard to disentangle ourselves enough to make more distanced theoretical criticism while holding on to the realization of how creative our organizing has been. Though setting ourselves more exacting practical and personal standards in politics than the contemporary left, we nonetheless have found that criticism and differences bear too closely upon us for comfort. The distancing which is present in male-dominated groups is alienating. Yet it allows for the release of differences. The agony of division can be turned outwards rather than imploding the soul. Sisterhood can become a coercive consensus which makes it emotionally difficult for individual women to say what they feel rather than a source of strength. Consciousness raising can put too great a pressure on women to change by an effort of will alone. Feminist politics can become preoccupied with living a liberated life rather than becoming a movement for the liberation of women. Our lack of structure can make it difficult for women outside particular social networks to join. It can lead to cliquishness and thus be undemocratic. The stress on personal experience makes it hard to communicate ideas which have been gained either from the women’s movement in the past or from other forms of radical politics.

Awareness of these weaknesses has made some women join left organizations. Their problem is then that many of the understandings of the women’s movement are still unrecognized. Some women have opted instead for a pure theory which dismisses the vital importance of a politics in which subjective experience is always present. I can see how this response arises but I think it’s a denial of a crucial source of our creativity as a movement. The recent growth of socialist feminist groups carries the hope of an integration of ideas, personal feeling and activity. It has come from several sources. Within the women’s movement there have always been socialists and women who have become socialists so there is continuity with these earlier groupings of socialist feminists. But many women have also joined socialist feminist groups as exiles from Trotskyist and other left groups. For others the socialist feminist group is both their first women’s and socialist group. This means there is no longer an automatically shared background of movement politics.

The women’s movement has had a great reticence about blowing trumpets. For a woman like me familiar with the left this was one of the strangest things I had to learn. There was no bluffing but a careful, scrupulous examination of the minutiae of behaviour, with much exacting inner standards. On the left everything is a hurry and there is a pressure for results. Exemplary myths can substitute in the short term. I think the realism has been a long-term strength of the women’s movement. On the other hand, it sometimes becomes a self-denigration, a dismissal of what we have achieved. This is true of our attitude to activity and ideas but most particularly to organization. I think it’s important now to begin to assert explicitly understandings which have been passed on by word of mouth or even been implicit in how we’ve done things. For understandings which are not formulated explicitly have a way of vanishing like dust under a carpet of ‘correct’ ideas.

Our discussions of organization have dwelt on immediate problems, for example, the lack of structure, embarrassed silences in meetings, the relationship of co-ordinating centres like the London workshop to local groups. There is a shared understanding of the need for an independent movement, though some women interpret this as remaining completely separate from men and other movements while others see it as keeping our organizational autonomy but working with other groupings against a common opponent. Beyond these assumptions and understandings we have tried to solve organizational problems as they come up with the general aim of making situations in which all women can participate fully. Despite feminist interest in women’s history, we have not referred what we are doing much to past traditions of revolutionary organization. Leninist or otherwise. In this way the women’s movement has shared with libertarian Marxism a sense of beginning anew. This has meant we have avoided the dogmatism with which these traditions have become encrusted. But it has put us on the defensive in relation to people on the left who appear to have very clear versions of revolutionary tradition and ‘an analysis’ off pat. It has also deprived us of the valuable confidence which a sense of belonging to a complex culture of resistance brings to the labour movement. The growing numbers of women exiled from left groups could bring the positive aspects of these traditions into the women’s movement.

Our debates have been grounded in real conflicts but it has been difficult to generalize beyond the particular. We have no means of placing them in any context. Experience which is not theorized has a way of dissolving and slipping out of view, even when it belongs to the relatively recent collective memory of a living movement. We can retain attitudes and responses towards forms of organizing which we prefer but it is hard to pass them on or give them a more general validity.

I think the need to theorize our organizational experience using past traditions creatively is becoming more urgent, for as time passes it becomes impossible to communicate what happened or why decisions were taken by word of mouth. You can’t keep telling it like a story. ‘Well you see at the Skegness Women’s Liberation Conference we got everyone down off the platform. And then we had to do the same a few years later at the Mile End Women And Socialism Conference.’ It’s too long-winded and it means everyone is just going backwards and forwards, up and down the same hill. It evokes a vision of a small body of intransigent feminist old age pensioners still hauling Trotskyist women off platforms armed with a memory which is incomprehensible to most people. Without a theory you get stuck defending entrenched feelings. Making a theory gives you enough bounce to leap up in the air, meet critics head on and land on your feet with an alternative without getting too puffed. It gives you the advantage.

There has become more of a need for such leaps since we have been trying to work out how we approach issues like anti-fascism, Ireland, mass working-class confrontations like Grunwick, legal repression, or imperialism. Violent demonstrations, mass pickets, torture and the consolidation of the power of the state to suppress radical resistance internationally have stretched the response of feminist organizational structures which were devised for quite different kinds of politics.(8) There is strong pressure to simply dismiss the significance of the more intimate and personal areas of struggle. Instead I think we need to clarify the different kinds of resistance we are engaged in as feminists and develop a more strategic sense of opposition and alliance and new combinations of personal and public forms depending on the nature of the political issue.

One aspect of such a strategy would be a more worked-out understanding of what the feminist experience has taught us about how to organize and what aspects we feel are relevant for making socialism.

I think it would be to go down a blind alley if we simply presented this in terms of a defensive idealization of the women’s movement as ‘the alternative’ and a caricature of the ‘authoritarian male’ left. This puts an impossible weight on women’s liberation and lets men off the hook as they can leave it to women while presenting a more-feminist-than-thou facade. The women’s movement can’t carry some finished alternative, though the experience of an alternative practice and the search for different relationships within the political process can contribute a great deal. But despite its creativity, feminism, by definition, expresses the experience of one sex. It is necessarily partial. Moreover there are actual class and race biases as well. Women’s liberation has mobilized mainly women from a particular strata, teachers, social workers, librarians, journalists or clerical workers, as well as women working in the family. They are largely people involved in the communication of values and the administration and servicing of capitalist society. These are crucial places to contest. They give important insights into raw sensitivities apparent in relations of control between the sexes in these areas of capitalism. But many women are not included in this particular social relationship. While some manual working-class women have been involved and many others influenced by the women’s movement their experience has not been central to the emergence of the new feminism. There is a similar racial limitation. Feminists are predominantly white. Asian and West Indian women are in a minority. This has restricted the full understanding of lived similarities and differences in the predicament of women of various classes and races.

I don’t think the women’s movement or small groups of men and women can provide some neat alternative model out of a hat. The great historic force of Leninism is precisely that it has been created and used in revolutionary situations. It has worked up to a point and adapted to more complex situations than either anarchism or syndicalism. Nor is there any denying that Trotskyism’s origins in resistance to Stalinism when such opposition was tortuous and lonely make it a crucial source of revolutionary experience.

But there is no need to stop there. It must also be admitted that the Bolsheviks, even before Stalin, have a lot to account for, and that Leninism destroyed vital aspects of socialism even in creating a new kind of left politics. It was not only that revolutions have faced the most dire external circumstances. Leninist assumptions are actually weighted against the integration of many of the understandings present within pre-Leninist forms of socialism.9 The persistent traditions of anti-Leninism have not been mere intransigence. But they have

been limited to tiny sectarian groupings or abstract theory by the historical impact of Stalinism and this has affected how opposition has been expressed.

It feels now as if new light is being cast on these old disputes.

I have taken heart from the debates which have been going on internationally in the Communist Parties, from the discussions in Britain around Socialist Unity, Big Flame and the International Socialism Conference and articles in The Leveller and Socialist Register. I feel personally closest to the growth of the network of socialist feminist groups and the things written about the left in Red Rag, Gay Left, Lesbian Left and Achilles Heel as these are not the papers of any political organization and are concerned with the connection between socialism and sexual politics.

In a recent interview in The Leveller, ‘Recovering the Libertarian Tradition’, E.P. Thompson criticized ‘the unreconstructed Leninist and vanguardist strategies, which once again situate a sectarian leadership proclaiming themselves to be the embodiment of the proper revolutionary consciousness of the working people: and not inquiring very closely into what the actual demands and needs of the people are’.

He added that this was not ‘a blanket criticism of Leninism as such – Leninism was a specific product of very special historical circumstances’ which seemed to him ‘to be irrelevant to this country and this time, and which could often entail anti-democratic and anti-libertarian premises’.

He asserted the need for an ‘affirmative politics’ which could avoid the passions, hatreds and paranoia which flourished within the contemporary left and could include ‘an immense number of active supporters of the existing labour movements and Labour Party’.(10)

I see the growth of new forms of organizing within the women’s movement as part of such a larger recovery of a libertarian socialist tradition. I think that this requires a sustained re-evaluation of the tradition of Leninism, and in Britain, because of its particular influence, of Trotskyism.(11) I will confess to being a reluctant contributor to this process, for such a realization is still in its early days with confusion and doubt on one side and a more tenacious clutch of doctrinal purity on the other. While there is a growing muttering and mumbling among the dissatisfied it is still being met by a pother of rhetoric from the Trotskyist and neo-Trotskyist leaderships.

Not only fear at stirring the pother has restrained me but respect. Organizing ideas, male dominated and handed down from above or not, are laborious creations and root themselves through usage. There certainly are skills which need to be passed on. There are things you need to learn from people who know more. Everything does not pop up in our heads. I know I have learned from both Lenin and Trotsky. It would be prodigal to dismiss the depth of understanding which the Russian revolutionary tradition and the enormous upheaval of 1917 made possible. Leninist ideas have obviously been well tried and practiced sanctions. Whatever criticisms I’d make of Leninism there was always some friend in the Communist. Party or one of the left groups to explain Lenin hadn’t. meant it like that or he’d said something different. Sometimes I feel even naming the problem as Leninism is wrong. For I know that in all left organizations there are always people with complex understandings which are lived in many dimensions. So I’ve thought for years perhaps it was best to leave well alone whatever uneasiness I felt. Why tussle and worry when you have no worked-out alternative?

Now though, it seems to me to have become inescapably important to bring the real disagreements about how to make socialism which exist in the left and the labour movement out into the open in order to develop new understandings. We can best begin by examining our own political experience and see what might be generalized from that. We need to uncover what we have been actually doing without claiming an ascendant correctness or disguising weaknesses.

All this is just the story behind the main plot which in summary is: how I think some of the approaches to organizing which go under the headings of Leninism and Trotskyism are flawed; how I think the assumptions of what it means to be a socialist carried within Leninism and Trotskyism and which prevail on the left now block our energy and self-activity and make it harder for socialism to communicate to most people; why I think the women’s movement suggests certain ways of reopening the possibility of a strong and popular socialist movement.

I am not dealing systematically with the ‘works’ of Lenin or the works of Trbtsky, or the history of the Communist Parties, or Maoism’s specific application of Leninism. Nor am I tracing the origin and growth of the Fourth International or the disputes within Trotskyism which led dissidents like C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Michel Pablo and Tony Cliff himself to revise aspects of Trotsky’s thought. Absent are great chunks of debates which Leninists and Trotskyists have been chewing away at for years, for instance the question of state power, imperialism, the law of uneven development, the-theory of permanent revolution, and many more.

I am approaching Leninism mainly as it has appeared through the resurgent flourish of Trotskyist groups on the British left since the late sixties. I am focusing on the points of conflict which have developed between these Trotskyist forms of Leninism and the women’s movement. This is not because I don’t think there is much more to be said – but because I know I am not the one to say it. Hopefully other people will explore the ways in which these confrontations have occurred in other contexts and extend the implications of feminism into those areas of left debate in which we are still absent.

The general terms of these criticisms could not have been formulated without the experience of being in the women’s movement. But the specifics of what follows is me writing as an individual. I hope this might contribute to a more thorough discussion.

Problems of Communist Organisation

August 29, 2010 2 comments

J. Conrad, Problems of communist organisation (London: November Publications, 1993)

Dedicated to Ted Rowlands: An old Bolshevik who, even when his Party deserted him, never deserted the Party.



1. Democratic centralism
2. Bureaucratic centralism
3. Reforging the Communist Party
4. Our progress
5. Chronology and character of debate
6. A ‘Marxist’ critique
7. Building and strengthening what?
8. Fetishising formal democracy
9. Content of debate
10. Conclusion

I. Democratic centralism and our strategy
II. Building and strengthening the Communist Party
III. A Marxist critique of Democratic centralism and our stratergy
IV. Resignation letter
V. 6th Conference statement



Party struggles lend a party strength and vitality: the greatest proof of a party’s weakness is its diffuseness and the blurring of clear demarcations: the party becomes stronger by purging itself. (Lassalle to Marx, June 24 1852)

Members of the Communist Party were from July to September 1993 consumed in a fierce discussion on the issue of democratic centralism. During the course of debate a minority emerged which -claimed that our organisation was dominated by a bureaucratic regime. The majority rejected this attack and insisted on the contrary that we practice and are developing the most healthy democratic centralism.

It is futile now to regret intemperate utterances, bad formulations and hurt feelings. As is natural, both sides targeted what they thought were their opponents crasser statements and most vulnerable points. Nevertheless for us a serious fight was carried through which enabled the majority to clarify many problems that exist around the question of democratic centralism and flush out weak, unstable elements. That has enabled us to bring into sharper focus the fight to reforge the Communist Party of Great Britain and thus become stronger.

As the reader will find, I not only expose the mistakes and hypocrisy of our lightweight (both in terms of commitment and numbers) minority, but also explore the theory of proletarian organisation, the positions of Leninism as against opportunism, the proletarian philosophy as against formalism and scholasticism. Because of this, class conscious workers can, through careful study of what was in contention, learn a great deal from the struggle we have conducted over democratic centralism – a struggle that will undoubtedly have a significance for many years ahead.

For reasons, I willingly confess, more to do with supplying necessary information than philanthropic fairness, we publish not only the views of the majority, but the minority as well. Opponents of communism will of course sneer, lay hold of minority polemical passages about immanent bureaucracy, show trials or restrictions on democracy to ‘prove’ that not even Leninists can achieve the unity necessary to reforge the CPGB. There is no need to worry ourselves overmuch with such people and their illadvised malevolence. We Leninists have been steeled in over a decade of ideological battle and political combat. Let our opponents publish the debates and disagreements within their own ‘parties’. They dare not. Without hesitation, we do.

September 1 1993

1. Democratic centralism

In his ground breaking and now renowned pamphlet What is to be done?, written in 1902, Lenin argued for the highly centralised proletarian Party. He systematically and ruthlessly attacked the you-do-what-you-please association of intellectuals or the Labourite type party then being peddled by ‘democratic’ opportunists. Though a number of his proposals were specific to Russia under the Tzars, the Communist Party, the Bolshevik party of the new type, proved universally applicable. Proletarian revolution is national in form but in content it is international. Russia was the world’s revolutionary centre, which, as such, held up a mirror of what was to come and what was necessary everywhere. And as Marx said, what is necessary inevitably becomes real.

Following the October 1917 revolution communist parties were formed throughout the world, including, in July 1920, in the “most bourgeois of nations”, Great Britain. On the basis of the Bolshevik model, the rules of the Communist Party of Great Britain stated that not only are members required to accept its programme, but regularly pay dues and work actively in one of its organisations under a single leadership. A vital socio-political fact. For in its struggle for power, the working class has “no other weapon but organisation”.(1) The Communist Party is indisputably the most powerful weapon the working class can have, the highest form of organisation it can achieve. Strict centralisation makes the Communist Party more than a sum of its parts. As is well known to even the most stupid populist journalist, because it operates as one, the strength of the Communist Party is fifty, a hundred times greater than its membership figures would suggest. That is why through the political leadership of such a vanguard organisation the working class can take on and overcome the might of the capitalist state and establish a socialist society, the first stage of communism.

The Communist Party is a voluntary union of communists, ie the union of the most advanced members of the working class who have grasped the need for the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism. This theory is inseparable from the organisation of communists. The Party can only fulfil its role as the vanguard of the working class when it combines revolutionary theory with the unity of action represented by its centralism. Organisation is, in other words, built upon unity around Marxist-Leninist theory. “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” runs Lenin’s celebrated maxim.

Because the Communist Party exists to provide the working class with the highest form of organisation and consciousness, it unites revolutionary theory with revolutionary practice. Communists cannot tolerate those who do not fully carry out agreed tasks, who make excuse after excuse, who confine their revolutionary enthusiasm to meeting room or pub room rhetoric. Members must act as one under a leadership which can change direction at a moment’s notice according to new circumstances. Achieving that means developing both independent minded, self-activating cadres and the theory of the whole Party. None of that can be arrived at by mechanical means such as arithmetic congress majorities or issuing leadership dictats. It requires the realisation of democratic centralism, a term first used by Lenin in December 1905 at the Bolshevik conference at Tammerfors.

Democratic centralism is a fundamental organisational principle which comprises the dialectical (ie, the moving, developing, changing and interconnected) unity of democracy and centralism. To use a well known phrase, democratic centralism is required to ensure that members and organisations of the Communist Party not only act as one fist, but strike in the right direction. Acting as one means the subordination of the minority to the majority when it comes to the actions of the Party. To strike in the right direction means the fullest debate of theory, strategy, tactics and organisation.

Few debates result in instant clarity. Lengthy ideological struggle around different views are therefore an inevitable and healthy feature of Party life. That is why, in the Communist Party – unlike the practice of the Socialist Workers Party, Militant Labour and other opportunist organisations – minorities should not be gagged (eg, when the SWP came out with the old WRP slogan demanding the TUC gets off its knees and calls the general strike in 1992, there was no debate about this sudden mutation in its press; as to Militant, its founder-leader ended up using The Guardian to present his criticisms of the tum from deep entryism). Minorities must have the possibility of becoming the majority. As long as they accept in practice the decisions of the majority, groups of comrades have the right to support alternative platforms and form themselves into temporary or permanent factions. Hence democratic centralism represents a dialectical unity entailing the fullest, most open and frank debate along with the most determined selfless revolutionary action. Democratic centralism allows members of the Party to unitedly carry out actions, elect and be elected, criticise the mistakes of the Party and self-criticise their own failings without fear or favour. In essence then, democratic centralism is a process whereby communists are united around correct aims and principles.

Because of their dialectical understanding of democratic centralism, communists do not fetishise formal democracy. Obviously, in countries where capitalism rules using dictatorial methods, the Party has to operate illegally. That means many aspects of democracy have to be curbed. For example, appointment from above takes precedence over election from below. However, as Lenin and orthodox communism, as opposed to opportunism and centrism, made clear, if there is trust among comrades not even the most terroristic capitalist dictatorship can prevent the Communist Party operating freely among the masses and openly struggling for the correct aims and principles. Formal aspects of democracy cannot function. Yet as long as there is open criticism and discussion there is democratic centralism. In the communist press different ideas contend, criticisms are made and answered. Though, in other words, there might not be formal democracy, there is genuine democracy.

In a parliamentary democracy like Great Britain we Leninists argue that there is no need for the Communist Party to emphasise centralism as against formal aspects of democracy. The Party can, without tob much difficulty, operate freely and publicly. That does not mean our Communist Party should have legalistic illusions. No matter where a Communist Party operates, it must combine legal with illegal work. Nevertheless, under such conditions, within the Party there is no need to curb democracy. There should be public meetings and debates, ease of joining the membership, election of leaders from below and regular congresses and conferences.

2. Bureaucratic centralism

Things originate from themselves and take on their different forms from the contours of their own logic. The morphology of our organisation has therefore not only to be seen in light of our aims, but movement from our origins towards our ultimate goal.

Lenin impersonator at the 2003 Asian Social Forum.

Though some innocents might think it irrelevant to our tasks today, it should never be forgotten that the opportunist cliques which used to dominate the CPGB claimed to operate democratic centralism. That was a big lie which discredited democratic centralism and communism itself. Their British Road to Socialism was a reformist, not a revolutionary, programme. Their concern was not arriving at revolutionary clarity but silencing all oppositionist forces. Minorities, above all the Leninist minority, had no access to ‘official’ Party publications, which were treated as factional or private property. Far from having the possibility of becoming the majority, the minority was denied places on leading committees proportional to its support and was subjected to a crude bureaucratic centralism which meant persecution and expulsion. Congresses might have been held every two years where a leadership was elected, but that did not mean we viewed them with equinimity.

Congress delegates cast their votes for a representative leadership; however, the leadership was representative of opportunism. To ensure that always remained the case, congresses were gerrymandered, stage managed affairs that atomised delegates into workshops, allowed leaders to speak for an hour but put a one minute limit on rank and file speeches. Such a state of affairs had nothing to do with unity in action. Most members were completely inactive and theoretically illiterate. What actions these ‘official communists’ wanted were not motivated by Marxism-Leninism, rather a craving for respectability in the eye& of bourgeois society.

3. Reforging the CPGB

From the very first our founding comrades stressed that the main political question in Britain was reforging the CPGB – without the Communist Party there is no hope of socialism.(2) To achieve the aim of reforging the CPGB they came together and in November 1981 began a principled and unremitting open ideological struggle. Principled, because there was nothing sectarian or narrow about the rebellion we led against the opportunists. They were wrecking the CPGB and betraying the working class. We Leninists were determined to re-equip the working class with a revolutionary programme and a disciplined, revolutionary Party. Unremitting, because that fight remains the sole reason why the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB exists. Once the CPGB is reforged, the PCC will hand over all its properties, records, presses, funds and other resources and dissolve itself.

For us, reforging the CPGB is a political question. The Communist Party is by definition the organised vanguard part of the working class. Although it will almost certainly be necessary to build a Party of many millions to make revolution in a country like Britain, exactly when a refounding congress of the CPGB is called depends on political not numerical criteria. Has the theoretical basis been laid for the communist programme? Have communist leaders been trained? Have roots been dug in the working class? Have advanced workers been won to communism? These questions tell us what we need to do in order to reforge the CPGB.

It was under the onerous conditions of bureaucratic centralism and cancerous liquidationism that the Leninist wing of the CPGB underwent the incredibly difficult process of organising itself in order to provide the political basis and the authoritative centre from which the Party could be reforged. Bureaucratic centralism meant that to all intents and purposes we communists had to operate under illegal conditions. That did not mean there was no democratic centralism among us. There was always openness in our publications. That created the ideological and organisational unity that enabled us to establish centralism and genuine democracy even though many formal aspects of democracy were lacking. Moreover, despite inauspicious circumstances, the Leninists of the CPGB have to date organised five conferences of communists (and, as these lines are written, are just about to have a sixth). Though participants were appointed from above because of the trust among comrades, they were respected as fully representative, authoritative and democratic. Besides electing a leading body of comrades, these conferences debated a wide range of motions. They were submitted by the leadership and individual comrades. Minorities have, if anything, found themselves over-represented, certainly not under-represented. There has never been any restriction on discussion or criticism. As long as discussion and criticism takes place on the basis of the principles of Marxism-Leninism, as long as it aims to develop the work of the Party, it helps strengthen centralism.

As well as a vigorous press, conferences organised round particular issues and controversies, an annual week-long school and monthly membership aggregates, the Leninists of the CPGB present weekly seminars in London where members, supporters and friends of the Party are able to debate theoretical questions, current events, Party activities and finances. There has always been a free and open atmosphere. We intend, and are beginning, to reproduce that pattern in other parts of the country as the Party re-establishes itself.

4. Our progress

Since we began our open ideological struggle in November 1981 there has been a profound turn in world and domestic politics. The working class has suffered huge defeats, crucially the 1984-85 Great Strike, the final liquidation of the CPGB and the collapse of bureaucratic socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union through the democratic counterrevolutions of 1989-91. The period of reaction this unleashed saw many opportunists drop all pretence of having anything to do with communism, weak elements scurrying off to seek individualistic solutions in career and private life, and the suffocating isolation of genuine communists. The whole political spectrum has moved to the right; even petty bourgeois leftists joined Thatcher and Major, Reagan and Bush in enthusiastically welcoming the “death of communism”. So, despite capitalism showing all the signs of pre-general crisis, bourgeois ideas are stronger than ever before. Nonetheless, though communists have had to swim against a tidal wave of reaction, we have made some advances. Recapturing the name of our Party, forming the Provisional Central Committee, standing CPGB candidates in the 1992 general election and the Newbury by-election, two trial relaunches of the Daily Worker, the establishment of the Weekly Worker and our role in support of the miners, Timex and other workers all testify to real progress.

That said, there remains a long way to go before we can reforge the CPGB. Party membership is tiny and mainly London based. Furthermore, though there is now a layer of carded-up supporters of the Party, most of them are not organised in branches and those that are operate on a very low level. However, taking into account our progress, crucially the fact that we are beginning to seriously organise outside London, the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB considered that the time was ripe for a further, albeit modest, broadening and deepening of the democratic centralism of the organisation.

Following the membership aggregate in July 1993, the Provisional Central Committee agreed the resolution Democratic centralism and our stratergy in order to present comrades with a detailed thesis on the question (ie, in abstract form which discards supporting evidence or descriptive argument). Based on a wide ranging report delivered by comrade John Bridge, it outlined what we understand by democratic centralism, under what conditions we fought and developed it, and how we can now take it one step nearer our aim of full democratic centralism – which can only be truly realised when we have reforged the CPGB. The document concluded with four specific proposals:
1. Monthly membership aggregates should (for the moment) be given the formal right to call conferences of the organisation, leadership elections and decide on specific matters of strategy and tactics by a simple majority – none of this affecting the rights of the PCC nor its secretary.
2. Where appropriate the PCC should introduce written motions and submit them to vote and amendment at membership aggregates.
3. Measures to ensure that the Weekly Worker becomes a real organiser, educator and agitator, ie a full sized paper that combines the achievements of The Leninist and the Daily Worker.
4. Measures designed to facilitate the development of our layer of supporters; crucially, organising them in branches and fully involving them in the struggle to reforge the CPGB.

5. Chronology and character of debate

I expected the proposals put forward by comrade John Bridge in July to be welcomed. And it has to be said that the majority of comrades did. Much to my disappointment though, instead of concentrating on the concrete proposals and constructively criticising them, two comrades in particular used the occasion (as was their right) to express their general frustration and a haughty impatience with comrades at all levels. They put forward a number of their own proposals which centred on the call for an annual leadership election and conference. Some of their general points were worthy of consideration but I must say that, overall, what they presented smacked of formalism. That did not mean I adopted a position of the unthinking partisan (indeed with hindsight it could be said that I found myself in a minority, with only comrade Stan Kelsey clearly taking a similar position). I felt that a number of leading comrades reacted badly (or inexperiencedly) to criticism. There was clearly a hidden agenda for many of the personalities involved. Yet I would still say that as far as I am concerned some of what the proto-minority argued was valid (what they said in specific areas was fully in accord with the proposals of the PCC, eg on the Weekly Worker). That is why I initially treated their proposals and criticisms in a.sympathetic way and on face value. Nevertheless while in tone and content some comrades counter-attacked in a wrong way, it also had to be admitted that they had easy targets. They were impatient and offended with what they saw as attacks from comrades who had, on the moral plane, the most problems and the least right to criticise others. Or at least that is how it seemed to me.

As already said, I argued that the minority’s proposals be treated with respect. I criticised a number of comrades on both sides. Differences were, as far as I was concerned, ones of nuance or detail. That did not imply some golden mean. I defended the extension of democracy in the organisation that served the extension of centralism. That said, in the course of debate just as much heat as light was generated (the most advanced supporter 0 tho CPGB in Crawley, who had been invited to the aggregate, was shocked by our sharp exchange of accusation and counter-accusation that his report back nearly resulted in his branch declaring UDI). Because the matter was unresolved I moved that we continue the discussion at the next membership aggregate and to facilitate debate comrades submit written contributions (that at least was agreed).

In my opinion the bickering we witnessed at the July aggregate did not presuppose bad motives. Anyone who grasps the first thing about what the worldwide period of reaction means, let alone appreciates how difficult it is to be a communist in an organisation that is only the nucleus of a Communist Party, will not be surprised that all sorts of silly allegations were levelled and harped on about. They were surely more the product of isolation and adverse conditions than reality. No clearheaded comrade will begin by hunting out bad motives in these bickerings, however unpleasant they may be. Adverse conditions accounted for sordid rumours, backbiting, hurt egos, imagined insults and slurs. Adverse conditions breed such hurts among us by the score, and a Leninist organisation would be unworthy of the name if it did not say so and search for the cure in growth.

I will not go into the ins and outs of the four contributions that were submitted, nor the cut and thrust of debate – yet (we had documents from the PCC, Jack Conrad, Mike Marshall and one jointly signed by David Rhys, John Praven and Mike Marshall). Suffice to say while the next membership aggregate in August cast what I thought was an illuminating light on the political direction and method of our minority, it was obvious that more time was needed. A vote could have been taken and easily won for what had become the PCC’s position and its set of proposals, but the debate was taking a new direction, taking on a new significance, perhaps revealing more about the problems of what had become our minority than the organisation as a whole. That is why I proposed a two day membership conference in September and further written contributions (this being one of them).

Unfortunately, instead of putting their ideas to the test of debate and a vote, comrades David Rhys and Mike Marshall sent in a miserable resignation letter in late August. Excusing their cowardice and lack of principle, they dishonestly claimed that our conference would have been a “show trial”. Having stood on the platform of abstract democracy, they showed their true worth by running away from its living reality.

Frankly, I cannot say I was surprised. When a heated debate is in progress there usually begins to come into focus the central, fundamental points at issue, compared with which all minor and petty points fade more and more into the background. I think this is how matters stood in our organisation by mid-August 1993. Though on paper the differences between the specific proposals of the majority and minority do not appear great, I would even say that they were small, we were dealing with a process of divergence, whereby small differences were used as the starting point for a split.

In the working class movement splits can only be justified if they serve the struggle for communism. An organisational schism can only be principled ifit concerns a matter of principle. Surely there was no principle at stake in whether we have for the moment leadership elections when the majority wants it instead of an annual election. Likewise, what does it really matter if there is an education commission or job descriptions? These things matter little. But backsliding elements need to turn such questions into principles to hide their political direction. The truth of that can be seen from studying what has been written and said; which I believe revealed the existence of two different shades within our organisation, one honest and revolutionary, one opportunist and cowardly.

6. A ‘Marxist’ critique

I shall now turn to the minority documents Building and strengthening the Communist Party (signed by comrades Mike Marshall, John Praven and David Rhys) and A Marxist critique (signed by comrade Mike Marshall), what claims they made and what lay behind them.

For Marxism-Leninism, categories like democratic centralism are permeated with movement. After all, we only establish such categories in order to break them up. That is why the PCC’s document Democratic centralism and our strategy made clear that Marxism-Leninism has “no ready made blueprints for communist organisation”. And yet our minority suffered from just such a static view. With formal democracy all shortcomings would, they assured us, be overcome; crucially -despite the fact that no political criticisms were advanced – a leadership which is meant to be bureaucratised and undemocratic (and presumably always has been). To prove all this the comrades treated us to a dubious’ dialectical’ education, quoted in a scholastic fashion a variety of authorities and sources, and all in all showed that they had neither the theory nor the firm grip on reality that is vital if we are going to reforge the CPGB.

To see why I say this let us begin with A Marxist critique. Here is a strange document. It is reminiscent of the Gerry Healy or Proletarian school of ‘dialectics’. Instead of dealing in a straightforward manner with a straightforward question, pseudo-dialectics is used to provide a thick smokescreen for political weakness and political retreat. It is certainly far removed from the Leninist approach to method and organisation. This is said in a spirit of self criticism as well as criticism. Comrade Mike Marshall clearly had discovered a new idea but we did not teach him to master it. Intoxicated by heady words and concepts, he could not see the obvious fact that it was he and his fellow “fighters for democratic centralism” who were actually guilty of “merely sprinkling some dialectical jargon over their threadbare formal logic” … even in the midst of the most tortured formulations that possibility did not occur to him. Guided by his ‘method’, diabolical and hysterical, he was determined to attribute all sorts of bad motives and howling gaffs to a perfectly rational treatment of our origins, development and immediate prospects outlined in Democratic centralism and our strategy. So instead of businesslike proposals and a realistic assessment of our changing tasks, we got a sustained petty bourgeois attack on our organisation – all dressed up in “dialectical jargon”.

Marxist dialectics must never be confused with opportunist obscurantism. Genuine dialectics is not about instant answers or using “imaginary wisdom” to safeguard the dignity of certain easily bruised individuals. Marxism demands that concrete questions be examined in all their concreteness. So it is a basic principle of dialectics that there is no abstract truth. Comrade Mike Marshall violated Marxist dialectics with every step he took. He countered every concrete idea with an abstract diversion. To support his topsy-turvy world view he would have it that we were cleaved between the superior minority who were thinking dialectically and the lesser comrades who possess nothing but “threadbare formal logic”. Thus instead of having a real argument with our mighty dialecticians, the PCC of the CPGB had to set up Aunt Sallies with claims that our minority was “following” a “timeless recipe” for organisation.(3) Countering this caricature is easy.

First, the PCC statement that there is “no timeless recipe” in organisation was a general observation showing why it has been correct for our forms to evolve over time according to objective circumstances. It was not written with the intention of misrepresenting our minority’s “dialectical” arguments – a charge that veers towards paranoia. But if the cap fits …

Second, it should be said that it was the PCC which initiated the discussion on democratic centralism throughout the organisation. This was done in a extensive verbal report (summed up in Democratic centralism and our strategy) dealing with the development and growth of democracy in our organisation as part of the process of being and becoming.

Passing over comrade Mike Marshall’s missive on formal logic with which he began his document, let us proceed directly to his supposedly Marxist critique of the PCC’ s Democratic centralism and our strategy. We can be brief. Comrade Mike Marshall possesses not the dialectical method but a vulgar version of linguistic sophistry. He said he had a problem with our proposal to develop democracy (and thus the centralism of the organisation) because of a “logical non sequitur”, because of “abstraction”, because they are “logically flawed”.

With a modesty that becomes him, comrade Mike Marshall claims he folIows “Marx’s example” in his analysis. of Democratic centralism and our strategy.(4) Sadly it must be said that the ‘credit’ should go to Ludwig Wittgenstein not Karl Marx. For instead of our proposals being subjected to an all rounded materialist analysis- which would have been rewarding – we get a cynicism and superficial language games. Because comrade Mike Marshall thinks questions about words are the truth, he launches his polemic by quoting and answering the PCC in the following semantic fashion: ”’Party membership is tiny and mainly London based. Though there is now a layer of carded-up supporters of the Party most of them are not organised in branches and those that are, operate on a very low level. Under these conditions suggestions that there should be full democracy from below, including the election of cell secretaries, annual conferences of members and elections to the Provisional Central Committee are misplaced. ‘”

This PCC position, says comrade Mike Marshall, is “a logical non sequitur.” Despite “under these conditions” the “assertion in the second sentence,” he maintains, “is not supported by the first.” Surely, if anything, he says, “the organisation of supporters is conditioned by the organisation of the membership, rather than the other way round.” Finally, as for the size of the ‘Party membership’, it is given in paragraph 3 [of the PCC’s Democratic centralism and our strategy – JC] that even the refoundation congress of the CPGB will be called on ‘political not numerical criteria “‘.(5)

What was actually being put forward here by our PCC is the simple and unfortunate fact that politically we still have a long way to go before we can reforge the CPGB and hence a long way before we can realise the operation of the full rules of democratic centralism, which most surely require living and deep ties with the masses. Based on the actual conditions under which we operate the PCC proposed to develop democratic centralism in accordance and in step with the modest political level our organisation has reached. After all, among the criteria we put forward necessary to reforge the CPGB are “roots” in the working class and the winning of “advanced workers to communism”.(6) Criteria we readily admit we have yet to achieve.

Regular (in most legal communist parties biennial) congresses and central committee elections are essential for an organisation that has won the advanced section of workers, has become part of the working class and thus operates throughout the country in every town and city. It is necessary in such a Party to regularly bring together elected delegates because of the different views that result from different experiences, conditions and levels of the ongoing class struggle and the different impact of communist propaganda, agitation and leadership. In our organisation it is possible to bring together all comrades within one meeting room (and we are not talking about Wembley Conference Centre) once a month and allow a general airing and sorting out of views. Also in our organisation most members meet together in weekly seminars and work on a day-to-day basis in the closest proximity. That is why when it comes to democratic centralism the emphasis of the PCC is on monthly membership aggregates, not annual conferences. Conferences will, for the moment, as has so far been the case, be arranged if there is a major difference in the organisation or we want to make an authoritative public statement, eg the reclaiming qf our Party’s name. Of course all these arguments were placed before comrade Mike Marshall at the membership aggregate in July 1993. In his document he takes no notice of any of that. He is intent on setting his high linguistic analysis out of context.

We read: ”’Cells are, we have to admit”’, he is quoting our resolution again, ”’essentially sub-committees of the PCC enabling it to carry out its national work. Members are, and have to be regularly moved from one cell, and one area of responsibility to another. None of our cells are geographically based, except the one we have implanted in Scotland. Appointment of officials from above should therefore be maintained for the present.'” “Here,” announces comrade Mike Marshall with the triumph of the truffle hunter, “is another logical non sequitur.” “Why,” he says, “should cells not be essentially sub-committees of the PCC?” Along the lines of A should equal A, question follows question. “Must the essential nature of cells be changed before democratic centralism can be permitted? Will there be a time when members are not regularly moved from one cell to another? Despite ‘therefore’ the assertion is unsupported by the preceding observations”.(7)

Yes, our present cells have to be “essentially sub-committees of the PCC” because we want to edit and produce the PCC’s publications, organise and coordinate its finances, members, supporters and campaigns. In the reforged Communist Party local, ie geographical cells will be autonomous organisations. But to suggest autonomy for cells concerned with central responsibilities in a reforged Communist Party, let alone in our nucleus, is anarchism.

Then, as cited above, comrade Mike Marshall asks whether the “essential nature of cells [must] be changed before democratic centralism can be permitted?” Here is an example of when did you stop beating your wife trickery if ever there was. In our organisation democratic centralism is a reality. Being one of the three authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party, which more in sorrow than joy is forced to admit that “we already have some democracy in the Party” and “open ideological struggle” (that is the “essence of real democracy”), he should be clear on this matter. Patently, because he was not, we will have to explain our position yet again. Party organisation must. become national, ie local, before this autonomous aspect of democratic centralism can become real. This has nothing to do with “permitting” democratic centralism, rather laying the material base for this aspect of it. What about moving comrades? Yes, in the future, when the CPGB is rooted in the masses, then there will not be the moving of locally based comrades from one local cell to another. The professional revolutionaries we have and are trying to cultivate today are one thing, the militant communist workers of tomorrow another. But then those that do not want to, will never grasp what goes to make a real Communist Party. A Communist Party represents the merger of the subjective movement of revolutionaries and their theory with the objective movement of the working class. Not for our minority, who want us to believe that all we lack is their leadership.

Comrade Mike Marshall continues. After quoting the PCC to the effect that conferences of the Leninists of the CPGB “have been and should for the moment continue to be held around specific issues, controversies or moments” he makes the following statement. “Can we assume then that, in the last four years since the last election [of the PCC-JC], there have been no issues, controversies, or moments worth holding a conference for, aside from the reclaiming of the party name two years ago? Such an assumption,” he says, “would not ‘smack’ of formalism, it would reek”. What is our reply? It is unambiguous and unashamed. Yes, over the last four years there has been “significant change” but till now no significant controversies that have divided our organisation. Debate, discussion and sharp exchanges there have been in our press and at weekly seminars, monthly membership aggregates and our week long annual schools. But, for members, all positively and quickly resolved. Nothing demanded a conference because all comrades were united round the substantial theory and practice of the elected leadership. To prove our ‘reeking’ formalism, comrade Mike Marshall should have put down in black and white what issues or controversies he thinks we should have organised a conference on. His silence speaks volumes for the profundity of his critique.

He goes on to claim that the “proposal of regular conferences (annual or whatever) seeks to break from this so that, if within 12 months there has been no [sic] conference, we can find out if the PCC is correct.” “Break” from what? The truth is that in our organisation there is the constant weekly, monthly and annual collective questioning of every theoretical controversy, current development, campaign and shift of emphasis. Comrade Mike Marshall’s accusation that we inhabit a “static universe” which can “only exist in the abstract, as a result of formal logic” is entirely misplaced. He judges us according to the formal criteria of conferences, not real life.

What of membership aggregates? They obviously offended the democratic sensibilities of comrade Mike Marshall. He quotes the PCC: “‘Regular aggregates of the whole membership have been organised where proposals and experiences of agreed actions are subject to lengthy discussion and debate. ‘” “But,” alas, “even for members, attendance at an aggregate is by invitation only”.(8) That is true. Nonetheless from the first invitation aggregate the PCC initiated, all members of the Party have been invited. For communists who base themselves on the trust they have in elected or for that matter unelected leaders and leaderships, reality should count for more than formal procedures. Not for comrade Mike Marshall. The fact of the matter is that the PCC has used its Power of invitation in an attempt to broaden aggregates, So as to include various supporters of the Party in our debates and discussions. Invitation has in other words never been about excluding comrades but about including them.

According to comrade Mike Marshall the PCC’s “commitment” to “allow selected members to vote .on written motions at such times as the PCC sees appropriate” is not “true” democratic centralism but “an abstraction .of it”. (9) The evolving reality of our organisation has not, as has just been explained, been about allowing select members to vote on “written motions at such times ,as the PCC sees appropriate,” but the maximum democratic centralism (and we mean by that not the maximum numbers talking but facilitating the maximum unity in action) Possible at our stage of development. As has been said, all members have attended aggregates and the PCC has always responded to the confusions, doubts and criticisms .of members. Though the pec rightfully sets the agenda, this is done in a responsive and enabling fashion. The PCC is there to facilitate debate, not stifle it. Transparently comrade Mike Marshall’s approach to democratic centralism is legalistic, the PCC’s approach is dialectical.

For comrade Mike Marshall – a recent recruit from the world of petty bourgeois protest Politics – the reason Party membership is “tiny” and “mainly London based” has nothing to do with material circumstances, everything to do with the organisation not being led by comrade Mike Marshall and his friends. He therefore makes the phantasmagorical claim that “quantitive restrictions on democratic centralism are already having a qualitative effect”. (10) “No wonder,” he says, “seminars reveal a passive membership … No wonder the national organiser believes that there is whispering in the ranks”.(11) The only ones who know about “whispering in the ranks” are, of course, comrade Mike Marshall and Co. As to a “passive membership”, well the majority o(the organisation has worked exceedingly hard to ensure that, despite the most difficult conditions of worldwide reaction, we have made real progress. Far from “restrictions” on democratic centralism having a deleterious effect, the active synthesis of democracy and centralism we have achieved has allowed our organisation to enjoy a (comparatively) wide influence among militant workers, produce a regular press and recruit a layer of supporters throughout Great Britain.

At last we approach the poisonous conclusion of comrade Mike Marshall ‘s diatribe with its shameful pretext for desertion and political abstentionism. Without the slightest foundation he claims that the PCC’s supposed “formal logic” means it views democracy as a “distinct package which can be chopped off or grafted on at Will”(12). Obvious nonsense. As shown by reality and everything above, we most definitely view democratic centralism as a living process. Democratic centralism develops and gains strength through the ongoing struggle to unite communists around correct politics and the forging of links with the masses.

Unperturbed, comrade Mike Marshall claims the PCC displays the “formal logic” of the “mad microbiologist” who “surgically removes a major part of a tadpole’s central nervous system with the intention of eventually grafting it back into the adult frog. “(13) I will refrain from commenting on reactionary anti-science prejudices about “mad” microbiologists. Suffice to say the PCC has from the first consistently developed the democratic centralism of the Leninist organisation of the CPGB. What “surgical” removal there has been exists entirely in the mind (mad or otherwise) of comrade Mike Marshall. But comrade Mike Marshall knows the experiment will not work. Or should we say, in order to desert the selfless and principled communist fight for the reforged CPGB he must say it will not work. Hence we are told with absolute certainty “materialist dialectics” reveals that “the post-operative tadpole will never become a frog” .(14) Nothing, comrade Mike Marshall, certainly not materialist dialectics, “reveals” any such thing. All that is revealed is that no matter how many times we kiss you, you will never make the transition from petty bourgeois individualism to the modern prince that the class struggle requires.

Using his A does not equal A critique of “formal logic,” comrade Mike Marshall delivers what he thinks is the knockout blow. The fist is entirely misdirected. He admits that there is at least the “appearance” of the unity of communists “around correct aims and principles” under the PCC.(15) Moreover, though correct thinking is always dialectical, because he feels personally aggrieved appearances must be deceptive. He has learnt that we communists fight to make trade unions “schools for communism”. Sadly, as with dialectics, he has remembered something but not even reached the level of mere understanding. Comrade Mike Marshall actually calls trade unions “essentially schools for communism” .(16) Rubbish! Essentially trade unions are an expression of the working class operating as a class within the sphere of capitalist politics and economics. Under conditions of heightened class struggle or socialism they can become schools for communism. But to thus become requires the conscious intervention of the communist vanguard, not the spontaneous flowering of comrade Mike Marshall’s essence.

Comrade Mike Marshall has a point to make though. If trade unions are “essentially schools for communism” (which they are not), if “we built a school for communism” it would not mean it “would ipso facto be a trade union”.I? A does not always equal A. Using this device comrade Mike Marshall thinks he has us. He tells us once more what we already know, have said on countless occasions and consistently put into practice. Democratic centralism is “essential” to unite communists around the correct aims and principles. IS But then without what, when and where, let alone logic he claims that “quantitative” limits on democratic centralism are damaging our “aims and principles”19 By equating our appropriate democratic centralism with bureaucratic centralism he can then equate our “revolutionary intentions” with the “degeneration of official communisms [sic] into opportunism and bureaucracy”.20 A equals B and B led to C therefore A equals C.

How does comrade Mike Marshall know that the PCC will dissolve itself when the CPGB is reforged? He does not. Comrade Mike Marshall considers that such a proposition “relies on the law of identity, the first law of formal logic, which assumes that the bag of sugar remains a bag of sugar’?1 We can do without such idiocy. Our organisation has always tested itself according to our aim of changing, changing from communist nucleus to Communist Party, from, if you like, A to B. It is according to the goal of reforging the CPGB that we assess all of our actions and campaigns – a process of constant self criticism which enables us to monitor, direct and accelerate our forward movement. Of course change can take a negative form. Comrade Mike Marshall is a case in point. He has undergone a personal change from petty bourgeois individualism to communism and now with further change he inhabits the swamp of Individualistic ex-communists. Or does comrade Mike Marshall claim “Immunity” from this “dialectical process” which has inexorably affected very other opportunist deserter? Yes individuals, like all phenomena, tum Into their opposites. Comrade Mike Marshall and his ally David Rbys prove it.

When it comes down to it, democratic centralism is for comrade Mike Marshall a chicken and egg situation, but the paradox entirely passes him by. Instead of understanding things in their real movement he wants to define them as being one category or another. Only chickens lay eggs, he says to himself. So for the egg to become a chicken it must behave like a full grown chicken now. No, the CPGB will not be reforged by our nucleus behaving as if it was the CPGB and having the “fullest” democratic centralism, if by “fullest” we mean the operation of the rules of a mass Communist Party which can operate among the masses freely, as implied by comrade Mike Marshall.22 We have to recognise what we are, and what our material constraints are. And in terms of our analogy there is no doubt that we represent the potential chicken of the egg. With the right conditions we will, when the time is right, leave behind this provisional stage and tum into our opposite – the Party. But to call for this before we are ready is to call for the death of our organisation. For the moment the shell is not a hindrance, it is a necessity without which we cannot exist. Reforging the CPGB is the only way to realise the “fullest” democratic centralism. That has nothing to do with “blind faith” as insidiously suggested by the jaded comrade Mike Marshall. It is the tested conviction of revolutionaries who devote their lives to the proletarian revolution and the struggle for

7. Building and strengthening what?

The essence of the PCC’ s position is that democratic centralism can only be understood as a process which broadens and deepens in step with the development of our organisation – an organisation which at the moment consists of members of the Communist Party, stands in the name of the Communist Party but is not the Communist Party. The title (and content) of the document produced by our three dissenters says it all: Building and strengthening the Communist Party. The fact of the matter is that there is no Communist Party in Great Britain, only a nucleus organised under the banner of the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB – one would have thought that for all of us this is axiomatic. Yet nowhere do they deal with the evolution of our struggle, nowhere is there a concrete analysis of where we are at the moment.

The main problem with Building and strengthening the Communist Party is that, for all its claims, it does not treat democratic centralism dialectically but undialectically. Its authors take no account of the fact that though our struggle to reforge the CPGB has gone through many different stages it is still in its infancy. That, therefore, it is not right to begin now in terms of form where we mean to end up in the future. The fact of the matter is that the minority’s document judges our organisation scholastically, primarily “working from the definition provided by the Communist International”, ie against a small quote from a resolution of the 2nd Congress of the Third International in 1920, which was in fact designed to equip newly formed, often mass communist parties, with the lessons of Bolshevism. What does it say?

The Communist Party must be built up on the basis of democratic centralism. The chief principle of democratic centralism is the election of higher party cells by the lower, the unconditional and indispensable binding authority of all the instructions of the higher bodies for the lower and the existence of a strong party centre whose authority is generally recognised for all the leading party comrades in the period from one party conference to another.23

We have no problem with this general description of democratic centralism in a Communist Party. However it ought to be pointed out that Comintem provided other even more centralist recipes. At the very same congress cited above delegates agreed the famed 21 terms and conditions. The twelfth on democratic centralism reads in full as follows:

The parties belonging to the Communist International must be built on the basis of the principles of democratic centralism. In the present epoch of acute civil war the Communist Party will only be able to fulfil its duty if it is organised in as centralist a manner as possible. if iron discipline reigns within it and if the Party centre. sustained by the confidence of the Party membership. is endowed with the fullest rights and the most far-reaching powers.24

I wonder why our ‘democratic’ dissenters did not take this definition as the starting point to work from? Could it be they have no fancy for discipline. let alone “iron discipline”. No, as the PCC has correctly said. there are no “ready made blueprints for communist organisation”, no “timeless recipes” for structures and election procedures.25 This, to restate our position once again, is “even more the case” when it comes to the struggle to reforge the CPGB, which is still in its “infancy”.26 In other words there can be no question of projecting the mass Party of the future or the past as some model to be copied now in our conditions.

Undaunted, the comrades call for annual congresses on the basis of the authority of their 1920 Comintern quote (we follow the Bolshevik and general communist practice of distinguishing between a congress, which debates all issues and elects leading bodies, and a conference, which comes together to consider one or a limited range of issues). There is no misunderstanding about what our minority wanted: Building and strengthening the Communist Party says the annual ‘conference’ will elect a leadership, vote on reports from the PCC, members and cells and will thus be “the cardinal decision making body of the Party”.27

Again taking the rules of an established Communist Party as its starting point, Building and strengthening the Communist Party says that a congress can be called by a majority on the PCC or “one third of either Party cells or members” .28 In a Communist Party this tilting of democracy and initiative towards the minority is justified. One third of the basic organisations or membership even of a small Communist Party represents a real movement, a real body of opinion. But in our context we arrive at absurdity.

It is worth asking the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party what new developments have come about which demand an annual congress of our organisation? Or should we have staged annual congresses from 1981? This certainly seems to be the contention of comrade Mike Marshall.

What of the PCC? The PCC starts from where we are now in relationship to where- we have come from and where we intend to go. There has never been anything timeless or abstract in our approach. Since our inception we have steadily extended both the democracy and centralism of the organisation as we have built it top down. Starting with a mere handful of comrades, recruits were won to our politics which from the beginning were always as open as they were principled. On that basis, despite limited formal democracy we always had maximum genuine democracy. How can the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party deny it?

Suitable comrades were added to the leading body by cooption, others were organised as best we could till we reached the point where we could establish cells. Besides that, conferences have been staged at which not only have the entire membership of the organisation been present, but sympathisers and fraternal delegates (they had full speaking but no voting rights). Conferences debated a range of issues and though the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party do not deal with it, -elected and changed the personnel of the leading committee.

Within the last period the PCC has been promoting aggregates of the whole membership – part of the ongoing process of institutionalising discussion and debate (as said above, selected sympathisers have also been invited). It is now proposed to formally give aggregates voting and amending rights on motions presented by the PCC and, through a simple majority vote, the right to call for a conference. That in effect amounts to a monthly sub-conference of the whole organisation, something that is necessary and possible due to two main factors. We have made the first tentative steps towards organising outside London and yet we are still small enough for the whole membership to meet and have the fullest exchange of individual views. That will not last forever. Sooner rather than later we will have to bring together aggregates of cell secretaries or elected delegates or some such other form of representation.

What is the aim of all our proposals? They are designed to develop th political understanding and political practice of the whole organisation, ie, to take another step towards realising our overriding aim of reforging the CPGB.

The authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party say that it is “a fundamental truth of dialectics that the essence of a thing is only realised through its expression, ie form. Therefore, ideological struggle can only realise its potential as a dynamising force if its result is expressed in a vote of those who have participated in that struggle where possible (ie, in the context of this discussion, the Party membership)” . We can go along with the first sentence about essence and form. But because we must make the elementary point to them that the essence of the thing, and especially the form, is undergoing a process of constant change, we must question the logic of what then follows. As comrade Mike Marshall should have told his fellow authors, the “therefore” is a “logical non sequitur”. Nothing in logic or life demands that ideological struggle must end in a vote if it is to “realise its potential as a dynamising force”. We have ideological struggle against the SWP in the pages of our press, for example. Should we do a readership poll? We have had public debates with all sorts of left groups. Was it wrong not to end them in votes? Here we surely have a sorry example of our minority’s bureaucratic thinking. Ideological struggle can act as a dynamising force without a vote – fact. That does not mean we are against votes. It all depends on circumstances. Yes, we will put your proposals to a vote of the Party membership … as we will put our proposals to a vote by the Party membership. We now know, however, that you so-called “fighters for democratic centralism” will not accept the result nor abide by it. I unhesitatingly will.

The minority carry on with the claim that discussion in our organisation has a low level of participation. I must say that at the two membership aggregates we arranged on the question of democratic centralism I did not notice that. And the last seminar comrade David Rhys attended (and after saying not a thing slinked away from shamefaced) lasted well over four hours with debate ranging over many issues but centring on socialist democracy and the class nature of the former Soviet state. It cannot be denied that our debates are less impressive than the Bolsheviks who “engaged in many fierce battles”.29 But would our minority deny that our organisation has a record of honest and open ideological struggle second to none on the British left today?

Seminars on many occasions last well into the night. Is this because the “line” has been decided by the leadership? Take the vital questions of democratic counterrevolution, feminism and women’s liberation, European unity, parliamentary elections, the daily paper and the general strike. Have these not been fully debated over a whole series of meeting, sometimes spanning years?

Discussion has never been stopped, always encouraged. Those in and around our organisation with differences have from the commencement of our press and invitation meetings been offered a platform to defend and
argue for their views. Leaving aside the brilliant open ideological snuggle of The Leninist, we have had numerous face-to-face confrontations with all sorts of ideological tendencies ranging from ‘left’ communism to left Labourism. What applies nationally has been applied internationally. Friends from Iran, Turkey, Ireland, the USA and India have attended our schools and been given the fullest opportunity to criticise our theory and practice.

Though we have rarely if ever bothered with votes after such debates, are they not the essence of democratic centralism, which is open ideological struggle not “formal democracy”. I would answer in the affirmative. Would the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party answer in the negative? It would appear to be the case. They actually state that the “unity of form and essence – of formal democracy and ideological struggle – is the only way to ensure the convinced and united action of all comrades”.30 The 3rd Congress of Comintem in 1921 agreed an interesting resolution in flat contradiction to such fetishistic worshiping of formal democracy. “Formal democracy,” it reads, “by itself cannot rid the workers’ movement of either bureaucratic or anarchisttendencies because these in actual fact result from this type of democracy. All attempts to achieve the centralisation of the organisation and a strong leadership will be unsuccessful so long as we practice formal democracy”.31 A slight bending of the stick perhaps, but a powerful antidote to the completely one sided approach of our minority and a valuable pointer to why it displays both anarchistic and bureaucratic tendencies.

8. Fetishising formal democracy

What of day-to-day practice within the organisation. This is what seems to really bug the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party, who bureaucratically write of “confusion and disorganisation” and anarchistically of a ”’leaders and led’ situation in our Party”. 32 Reference has also been made by both sides in the argument about the curmudgeonly language that characterises some of the exchanges between comrades. Perhaps the minority has been guilty of this more than others. That said, there can be no excusing rudeness by comrades, especially leading comrades. But that should not be made in its tum into a reason for not carrying out agreed assignments or launching an attack on the concept of leadership itself. These are very difficult times for communists. We have to work together with the utmost discipline in order to tum outwards and lay the basis for reforging the CPGB and winning the broadest following for it. That is the best way to develop comradely relations and a comradely atmosphere. Something not obtainable through bureaucratic formal democracy which wants to model us on the “example” of the Chinese Red Army and give out written job descriptions nor an anarchistic plea that there should be no personal “pecking order”. 33

We are well aware of the advantages of being able to neatly slot comrades into specific positions within the Communist Party with specific, well understood tasks. Along the same lines we want to move towards the situation where organisational relations among us are expressed through a well ordered chain of command between committees from central committee, to district committee, to local committee, to cell and from cell back to local committee, to district committee, to central committee. But at the moment, as well as the organisational relationship between cells, supporters groups and the Provisional Central Committee there is also a web of leadership expressed through the personal chain of command not only via cell secretaries but PCC members in charge of specific campaigns or tasks. The reason for this is the primitive level of our development.

Within our Communist Party nucleus – working with the maximum flexibility for the maximum effect – there is bound to be more tension between individual comrades than in the reforged Communist Party. We are trying to carry out national tasks without a fully fledged national organisation. The lines of communication are therefore more complex and confused because individual comrades have to carry out a whole range of different, and sometimes conflicting tasks. The answer is growth, not a list of formal “operating procedures and structures”.34

Because the minority rejects our practice of democratic centralism by using the incorrect method of counterposing to it the rules of an established Communist Party, they are compelled to fetishise formal democracy to an extraordinary degree. How this leads to completely unintended conclusions can be seen all too clearly in the following statement taken from Building and strengthening the Communist Party. If, it says, a leadership is “democratically elected” there “can be no real grounds for distrust in it, complaint that it is unrepresentative, and so every basis for its support by the membership”.35

Well apart from the fact that our leadership has been democratically elected, I can only tell the comrades that their contention is untrue. As we have pointed out on numerous occasions, the opportunist cliques that used to dominate the CPGB claimed to operate democratic centralism. Their Executive Committee was elected every two years. But we certainly did not trust it and there was plenty of ground for that mistrust. It was made up of opportunists who produced the British Road to Socialism and dreamed of the Labour Party introducing socialism. They manipulated congresses, curtailed debate and relied on a membership which was in the main politically ignorant, passive and therefore of little support for the actions they deigned to organise.

What of countries where capitalism rules using the naked fist? Countries where it is not possible to elect the leadership in an unfettered way. Do these hardly untypical conditions mean the membership should mistrust the leadership? We say, in the last analysis, comradely trust comes through ideological correctness and understanding. Though formal aspects of democracy have of necessity been curbed there can nonetheless be genuine democracy.

Now we come to education? Instead of an “education commission” what we should have been concentrating on in the summer months of 1993 i! ensuring the success of our school in Greece. It will inform our subsequent plans. That is not to deny the importance of systematic and constant education of communists. Indeed we have devoted considerable time and resources to developing correct consciousness among our comrades. Ever since 1985 we have been running weekly seminars which have had at their heart openings on theoretical questions. True, since October 1992, because of the changed political situation through which we were able to recruit a layer of supporters and develop roots among various sections of militant workers, our seminars have been based on the detailed political report, plus shorter reports of particular campaigns and developments. The idea of this was to make them accessible to new worker recruits and involve the whole organisation in the change of emphasis from polemic with the left to dialogue with advanced workers. Certainly seminars need to be kept under constant review, as does the timing of publication of our draft programme which our minority refer to. What should be underlined on the latter point though is the role practice and growth has in adding to and enriching the work we have already done. The main short term question before us, however, is transforming our layer of supporters into a layer of Party members. The PCC has argued that the development of our Weekly Worker into a full sized paper is crucial here. Perhaps we could begin to . weld the whole organisation together and put in place the framework for the reforged CPGB through debate in the paper and an eventual vote by all supporters on a draft programme. It is more than a pity the authors of Building and strengthening the Communist Party do not address such questions, because without that happening there can be no possibility of rebuilding, let alone strengthening the Communist Party’.

9. Content of debate

In Building and strengthening the Communist Party our minority claimed that any hint or suggestion that the debate within our organisation revealed the opposition of “hard Bolshevik centralists versus soft Menshevik democrats” would be “formalistic and wrong”. 36 From our present vantage point though, it can only but be concluded that in broad terms this is exactly what was revealed. Behind all the minority’s pious claims to “agree that the present period demands strong leadership and greater centralism” lay the opposite.37 The fight of democracy versus bureaucracy was in fact a fight between the organisational principles of communism and the organisational principles of opportunism.

Opportunism tends to proceed from the bottom upward. Wherever possible and as far as possible, it seeks to bureaucratically uphold the rights of the (backward) individual and champion ‘democracy’ often carried through to the point of anarchism. Communism, in contrast, strives to “proceed from the top downward, and upholds an extension of the rights and the powers of the centre in relation to its parts”.38

In this period of reaction, where the CPGB has been liquidated and most communists have been thrown into utter confusion, the top from which we strove to proceed organisationally in order to reforge our Party inevitably had the character of a group, but the one enjoying most influence in relationship to isolated communists and other communist groups by virtue of its activity and its revolutionary consistency (expressed through the pages of The Leninist and now the Weekly Worker). When the Party is reforged and communists are reunited, the top down principle will continue, but in another form, ie the congress. As the supreme decision making body of the Party the congress elects the central committee (and if we have done our work well it will have a membership pleasing to the advanced elements of the Party more than the backward) which will then proceed to lead the whole, yes, top down. This will not only give the Party coherence, it will institutionalise the “organised distrust” of the vanguard towards the backward, the Party towards its sections, the whole towards the part, in other words the centre’s leadership over all local, district, national and other organisations.

Our minority’s platonic objection to being given “orders”, its fetishising of “fonnal democracy”, its hostility to the “pecking order”, its factional “distrust” of the part for the whole revealed a method of proceeding from bottom upwards. There is and must be a logic here. Communists who have advanced no political criticism of a leadership but all of a sudden express their loss of trust in it, who elevate their petty grumps and frustrations to matters of principle, who admit that there is “some democracy” and call for more but refuse to abide by it, are already sliding down the slippery slope towards the ideology of anti-communism. That is why our organisation has had to suffer constant outbursts of peek, abstention from work and proposals designed not to further the work of reforging the CPGB but to give freedom for those whose communism is withering into a narcissistic love affair with the sound of their own ‘brilliant’ voices.

After I, among others at the August membership aggregate, dared point to the backsliding that has characterised members of the minority, we were treated, as I expected, to a torrent of anarchistic accusations ranging from “rank pulling” to being “tin gods” who, fearing genuine debate, “hound” and “browbeat” the minority and can only “sling mud” at them. Oh how the tender feelings of these would be “leaders of the working class” were hurt. No thick proletarian skins here – but the boil was lanced. There is incidentally in my view a close political connection between the minority’s bucking against discipline and the incessant nagging on about the personal injury they suffer which can easily be detected in their documents.

Being vain men with a lot to be modest about, any reference to facts
about themselves naturally offends. They now tell us that it is impossible to work in our organisation because instead of honestly dealing with arguments themselves we engage in “personal attack”. 39 Put another way, we go for the player not the ball. The charge that we ignore the arguments of opponents is of course ridiculous. Anyone who takes the trouble for even a cursory examination of our publications from November 1981 to the present day would testify to that, as will comrades who attended the July and August membership aggregates where the ideas of the majority and minority on democratic centralism were debated in both great scope and detail. We might also add here that comrade David Rhys announced at the August membership aggregate that besides democratic centralism his differences with the leadership centred on historical materialism and crisis theory (I think he meant his differences with Jack Conrad). Does he not recall how we took two seminars to explore his musings on historical materialism and how we sorted out his trifling and incorrect criticisms of the book Which Road? in the pages of The Leninist (Nos 119, 121, 122). Did we or did we not deal honestly and in a comradely fashion with these questions? I know we did.

What our minority is really saying though is that it is wrong to take into account the interests, record and affiliations of the individuals who develop or misuse certain ideas. But ideas cannot be separated from individuals or social strata. The object and subject exist as a unity and must be studied as such. It would be a poor goalkeeper who kept his eye only on the ball and ignored the related movement and positioning of the other 21 players on the field. And we would be poor Marxists if we did not try might and main to take into account all factors contained in a phenomenon.

For example, looking back to the ancient world and the ideas of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, it would be completely erroneus if we only saw the philosophy and failed to notice the class position of these philosophers. In the name of not indulging in “personal attacks”, should we not mention the fact that these leisured gentlemen lived off the forced labour of slaves and philosophised about the world from the position of ruthless exploiters?40 To use another example, how can we know the ideas of religion – from the worship of nature by the primitives to the Branch Davidians – without studying the peoples who make and remake gods in their own image? (Incidentally, I shall here point out to comrade Mike Marshall that both the philosophy of the ancients and medieval religion often displayed a rigorous internal logic.) How about when the capitalist bosses say everyone should pull together for the benefit of the country, is it wrong to point out that they are damned hypocrites? And in the workers’ movement only a halfwit would take on face value the revolutionary pronouncements that on occasion come from the lips of clever left Labourites and calculating trade union bureaucrats. Likewise we can only cast doubt on a minority led by a (unskilled) leader who proposed to draw into its ranks an individual whose name in our ranks is synonymous with pompous phrase mongering and desertion – I am referring to a certain Paul Clark who recently resigned as a supporter of the CPGB apparently because his honour was sullied by the spot on description of him as a “pub room revolutionary”. Maybe we should have just tackled his ideas and ignored his catalogue of broken promises and unprincipled practice? No, unless we want to fall into error we must analyse every aspect of the whole (whether that be an idea, an individual, a faction or anything else for that matter).

Sometimes truth hurts. I for one touched a raw petty bourgeois nerve with my rather innocent observation that the “real complaint” of the minority seemed to “amount to the fact that they are in a ‘subordinate’ position in the ‘pecking order’ to women .comrades and are not the leadership of the organisation.” With hand on outraged heart it was vehemently denied. Misogyny is not trendy nowadays. Needless to say that was not really the point I was making. For the life of me I simply could not see what made our minority a political entity other than objection to the promotion of two comrades who (not unimportantly for us) happen to be women to leading positions: namely editor of our paper and national organiser.

Our minority could well have felt slighted – particularly I think comrade David Rhys, who for reasons of indiscipline and laziness, not theoretical differences, had been removed first from the PCC and then, after a brief tenure, as editor of our paper. Obviously he did not really accept these decisions. When during the course of debate he was cross examined by comrade Tam Bum at the August membership aggregate he had the residual honesty to admit that he did not support the election of the new editor nor the new national organiser. As such surely I was right not only about him but his one consistent ally of convenience, Mike Marshall. The minority’s cries about bureaucracy amount to no more than an unconscious displacement strategy for dissatisfaction with the personal composition of the leadership, a flg leaf to cover the anger these personalities feel at not being “rewarded” with leading positions. In other words, you are a “tin god” because you were appointed not in accordance with our wishes, but against them; you indulge in “rank pulling” because you are fighting for the decisions of the elected leadership to which we do not belong; you “possess nothing but threadbare formal logic” because you cite the genuine democracy of our organisation and pay no heed to our wish to do as we please; you are a “bureaucrat” because you refuse to hand over power to us.

So, comrades, what is bureaucracy really? For Leninists bureaucracy in
the Party is characterised by a concentration on place and position. Bureaucracy means subordinating the interests of the Party to the interests of the sullen ego; it means fulminating against bad organisation in general and not fulfllling one’s own tasks; it means expressing mistrust in elected leaders while not advancing any serious political criticisms; it means agitating for formal democracy and then refusing to accept conference
votes. That bureaucracy of this kind is undesirable and detrimental to our aim of reforging the Party is unquestionable, and we can safely leave it to the reader to judge which of the two sides that were contending in our organisation was guilty of such bureaucracy.

It is no accident that comrade David Rhys only began to complain about the lack of democracy in our organisation after his removal as editor of the Daily Worker (after weighing up the qualities of comrade Mike Marshall and comrade Lee-Anne Bates, we chose the latter). In the heady closing months of 1992 when preparation for a general strike was on the agenda of the working class, comrade – I mean the ‘great’ leader – David Rhys, announced his decision to give only a part time commitment to the paper and capped it by unilaterally taking a lengthy winter holiday without permission of his cell or the central leadership. He could have accepted his replacement as editor with good grace and worked with the devotion and discipline expected of the genuine communist. Instead he chose to adopt the politics of the Marxist trained intellectual who arrogantly uses pseudo-Marxism to justify flight from the proletarian organisation and cause. That in the course of struggle he ended up losing comrade John Praven and boasts just one follower, the mercurial Mike Marshall, from among our ranks does not surprise me. And it is easy to predict that they will soon tire of each other and go their own ways.

Pathetic and insubstantial though our opposition may have been, communists use such internal struggles to draw general lessons. For instance, here, the difference between workers on the one hand and declassed petty bourgeois elements on the other. Worker communists do not have hours to wile away in self indulgent disputes. Their time is valuable. At meetings they want to hear and discuss what will be useful to them: an accurate evaluation of the unfolding political situation and how we should respond. They value leaders who do this using the clearest language and have demonstrated their trustworthiness because of their correctness over the years. In the Party worker communists give their all as part of the collective without any prospect of personal advantage or personal glory. They do their best in any position they are assigned to with a voluntary discipline which comes from their instinctive feelings and thoughts. We all know who they are in our organisation.

De-classed individuals are quite different. They have little or no experience of fighting collectively. They lose faith easily and degenerate even faster. For them reputation is everything. Meetings are seen as an opportunity to show off, positions are viewed as rewards and woe betide the leadership that puts work before their feelings. Disagreement is their natural element. They feed on rumour and gossip and fault finding. No amount of democracy is enough for them. It is only with difficulty that they submit to being a part subordinate to the whole, and then only from necessity, not inclination. Some recognise the need of discipline only for others, not elect minds. And of course our would be leader and would be college lecturer David Rhys came to consider himself just that. What a pity he decided to follow the well trod road to academic ‘Marxism’ rather than the infinitely harder path taken by Marx and Lenin from the academy to full time revolutionary activity. Both Marx and Lenin were brilliant examples of intellectuals who cast aside the specific mentality of the intellectual and thoroughly imbued themselves with the discipline of the proletariat. They despised those who expect to be leaders by right, who whinge and whine when given orders by intellectual ‘inferiors’, who flounce off if they happen to find themselves in a minority. With Marx and Lenin, like us, the cause always comes first.

10. Conclusion

I think I have proved that the struggle in our organisation was not a revolt by advocates of democratic centralism against a bureaucratic centralist regime, but a revolt by petty bourgeois individualists who, using the perennial cover of democracy, clashed with the supporters of proletarian organisation and discipline. Though they began their revolt with the persuasive call to extend existing democracy, though they approvingly quoted Comintem, Lenin and even Jack Conrad, it did not take long before they revealed their contempt for not just the new leaders of our organisation but the organisation itself. Putting their ego before everything, certainly above the rights of the majority, they decided not to risk what for them would be unbearable humiliation – seeing their proposals and politics democratically rejected by a conference of Communist Party members.

They now tell us that those “who are serious about revolution” “will” “know where to find” them. Well we certainly do. Having rejected the one and only organised nucleus committed to reforging the CPGB, it will not take these deserters long before they drop their pretended commitment to the Communist Party. Perhaps they really believe they are doing the right thing for the working class. That we can leave to the psychologist. For our part we will carry on with the exacting but rewarding fight to reforge the CPGB.

Appendix I: Democratic centralism and our strategy

1. There are no ready made blue prints for communist organisation. Timeless recipes for the structures, election procedures and the relationship between the various component bodies that make up a Communist party are the result of formal, not dialectical, thinking. This is even more the case when it comes to that struggle to reforge the CPGB, which though it has gone through many different stages is still in its infancy. In other words there can be no question of beginning now on the basis of how we mean to go on organisationally. There can be no projecting the mass party of the future on to our embryonic nucleus, no testing our still modest achievements against some perfectly functioning Communist party of the imagination. The Communist party is a living organism. It evolves and constantly changes according to objective circumstances and the struggle to put the revolutionary programme into practice. In that light communists approach the question of organisation.

2. From the very beginning our founding comrades stressed that the main political question in Britain was reforging the CPGB. To achieve that aim they came together and in November 1981 began a principled and unremitting open ideological struggle. Principled, because there was nothing sectarian or narrow about the rebellion we led against the opportunists. They were wrecking the CPGB and betraying the working class. Leninists were determined to re-equip the working class with a revolutionary programme and a disciplined revolutionary Party. Unremitting, because that fight remains tho sole reason why the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB exists. When the CPGB is reforged the Provisional Central Committee will instantly hand over all its properties, records, presses, funds and other resources. Then it will dissolve itself.

3. Reforging the CPGB is a political question. The Communist Party is the organised vanguard of the working class. That means, though it will almost certainly be necessary to build a Party of many millions to make revolution in a country like Britain, exactly when a refoundation congress of the CPGB is called depends on political not numerical criteria. Has the theoretical basis been laid for the communist programme? Have communist leaders been trained? Have roots been dug in the working class? Have advanced workers been won to communism? These questions tell us what we need to do in order to reforge the CPGB.

4. Because the Communist Party exists to provide the working class with the highest form of organization and consciousness, it unites revolutionary theory with revolutionary practice. Communists cannot tolerate those who do not fully carry out agreed tasks or confine their revolutionary enthusiasm to pub room rhetoric. Members must act as one under a leadership which can change direction at a moment’s notice according to new circumstances. Achieving that means developing both independently minded, self-activating cadres and the ideology of the whole Party. None of that can be arrived at by resolution mongering or issuing dictats. It requires the realisation of democratic centralism.

5. Democratic centralism entails the subordination of the minority to the majority when it comes to the actions of the Party. That does not mean the minority should be gagged. Minorities must have the possibility of becoming the majority. As long as they accept in practice the decisions of the majority, groups of comrades have the right to support alternative platforms and form themselves into temporary or permanent factions. Democratic centralism therefore represents a dialectical unity entailing the fullest, most open and frank debate along with the most determined, selfless, revolutionary action. Democratic centralism allows members· of the Party to unitedly carry out actions, elect and be elected, criticise the mistakes of the Party and self-criticise their own failings without fear or favour. In essence then, democratic centralism is a process whereby communists are united around correct aims and principles.

6. In countries where capitalism rules using the naked fist the Party has to operate illegally. That means many aspects of democracy have to be curbed. For example, appointment from above takes precedence over election from below. However, if there is comradely trust among communists not even the most terroristic capitalist dictatorship can prevent the Communist Party operating freely among the masses and openly strug~ gling for the correct aims and principles. In the communist press different ideas contend, criticisms are made and answered. In other words, though there might not be formal democracy, there is genuine democracy.

7. In a parliamentary democracy like Great Britain there is no need for the Communist Party to emphasise centralism as against aspects of democracy. The Party can without too much difficulty operate freely and publicly. That does not mean the Communist Party should have legalistic illusions. No matter where a Communist Party operates it must combine legal with illegal work. Nevertheless under such conditions within the Party there is no need to curb democracy. There should be public meetings and debates, ease of joining the membership, election of leaders from below and regular congresses and conferences.

8. The opportunist cliques that used to dominate the CPGB claimed to operate democratic centralism. That was a big lie that discredited democratic centralism and communism itself. Their British Road to Socialism was a reformist, not a revolutionary, programme. Minorities, above all the revolutionary Leninist minority, had no access to ‘official’ Party publications, which were treated as factional or private property. Far from having the possibility of becoming the majority, the minority was denied places on leading committees proportionate to its support and was subjected to a crude bureaucratic centralism which meant persecution and expulsion. Congresses might have been held regularly but they were gerrymandered, stage managed affairs that ended in the farce of workshops and one minute limits on speeches. Such a state of affairs had nothing to do with unity in action. Most members were completely inactive. The actions the petty careerists wanted were not motivated by Marxism-Leninism, but rather a craving for respectability in the eyes of bourgeois society.

9. It was in such difficult conditions that the Leninist wing of the CPGB organised itself. Bureaucratic centralism meant that to all intents and purposes communists had to operate under illegal conditions. That did not mean there was no democratic centralism. There was always ideological openess in our publications. That created ideological and organisational unity at all levels and enabled us to establish genuine democracy even though many formal aspects of democracy were lacking.

10. Despite adverse conditions the Leninists of the CPGB have so far organised five conferences of communists. Though participants were appointed from above, because of the trust among comrades they were respected as fully representative, authorative and democratic. Besides electing a leading body of comrades these conferences debated a wide range of motions. They were submitted by the leadership and individual comrades. Minorities have if anything found themselves over-represented, certainly not under-represented. There has never been any limitation on discussion or criticism. As long as discussion and criticism takes place on the basis of the principles of Marxism-Leninism, as long as it aims to develop the work of the Party, it helps develop centralism.

11. Apart from an open press and conferences organised round particular issues and controversies, the Leninist leadership of the CPOB presents weekly London seminars where members, supporters and friends of the Party are able to hear reports on current events, Party activities and finances. There has always been an atmosphere of free and open debate at these. That pattern is beginning to be reproduced in other parts of the country as the Party reestablishes itself.

12. Since we begun our open ideological struggle in November 1981 there has been a profound tum in world and domestic politics. The working class has suffered huge defeats -crucially the 1984-5 miners’ Oreat Strike and the collapse of bureaucratic socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union through the democratic counterrevolutions of 1989-91. The period of reaction this unleashed saw many opportunists drop all pretence of having anything to do with communism. The whole political spectrum has moved to the right; even petty bourgeois leftists enthusiastically welcomed the “death of communism”. So despite capitalism showing all the signs of pre-general crisis, bourgeois ideas are stronger than ever before. Yet despite the fact that communists have had to swim against a tidal wave of reactionary ideas we have made some real advances. Recapturing the name of our Party, standing CPO B candidates in the 1992 general election and our role in support of the miners, Timex and other workers all testify to real progress.

13. Nevertheless there remains a long way to go before we can reforge the CPGB. Party membership is tiny and mainly London based. Though there is now a layer of carded-up supporters of the Party, most of them are not organised in branches and those that are operate on a very low level. Under these conditions suggestions that there should be full democracy from below, including the election of cell secretaries, annual conferences of members and elections to the Provisional Central Committee are misplaced. Cells are, we have to admit, essentially sub-committees of the PCC enabling it to carry out its national work. Members are, and have to be, regularly moved from one cell, and one area of responsibility to another. None of our cells are geographically based, except the one we have implanted in Scotland. Appointment of officials from above should therefore be maintained for the present. As to annual conferences and elections, that smacks of formalism. Conferences have been and should for the moment continue to be held around specific issues, controversies or moments. At present most members of the Party work in the closest proximity. Perhaps the majority meet together every week, and are able and are encouraged to express their views on every conceivable subject. More than that, regular aggregates of the whole membership have been organised where proposals and experiences of agreed actions are subject to lengthy discussion and debate. Obviously this cannot be a permanent state of affairs. As membership grows so will the need to institutionalise representation in policy making forums of debate.

14. At our present primitive stage, to further develop democratic centralism the Provisional Central Committee will introduce written motions when appropriate and submit them to votes and amendments at Party aggregates. That can only take the revolutionary unity of our organisation to a higher level because it will help to sharpen and clarify political positions. In the same spirit if a simple majority of members brought together at an aggregate agrees, then the Provisional Central Committee should organise a conference and/or elections to the leadership. Obviously that does not affect the right of the Provisional Central Committee nor the general secretary have in calling a conference.

15. The main task at the moment is to transform our layer of supporters by organising them in branches and into members of the Party. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that without some sort of a national framework there can be no possibility of reforging the CPGB. Here the 1993 school being built by the Provisional Central Committee is of particular importance in winning the battle of ideas and organisation. However, to fully involve our layer of supporters, to add to them, to facilitate their transition into Party members, it is essential that the Weekly Worker becomes a real organiser, educator and agitator. That cannot be done while it remains a single sheet. The new press we are ready to purchase will allow the Weekly Worker to combine the achievements of The Leninist and the Daily Worker. After publication of an expanded, proper sized Weekly Worker has begun, every effort will be made to draw supporters together at a national level. Debate on a major strategic political question should be initiated and carried in the pages of our paper and then crowned through a national conference of supporters. In this way we can begin to weld our supporters into a united body and prepare comrades for membership of the Party.

Appendix II: Building and strengthening the Communist Party

Under certain circumstances, it is true, communists will organise with “the maximum of centralisation and restricted democracy. The balance between the two is determined by objective conditions. Naturally though, in a bourgeois democracy like Britain the democratic side of democratic centralism in a Communist Party does not need to be curtailed (Jack Conrad Which Road?).41

What is democratic centralism?
In 1922 George Lukacs stated that there was an inadequate theoretical understanding of the problem of organisation, that it had “often been seen in purely technical terms rather than as one of the most important intellectual problems of the revolution”.42

Seen in a technical way the question of party organisation, and therefore of democratic centralism, falls prey to pragmatism; to technical solutions to what are in reality and of necessity crucial political problems.

The aim of this document is to put democratic centralism in its necessary political context, and so to determine how we must operate now in order to get where we all want to go – towards the mass party of the working class capable of leading the overthrow of capitalism and building socialism.

So what is democratic centralism? The 2nd Congress of the Communist International in 1920 defined it as follows:

The Communist Party must be built up on the basis of democratic centralism. The chief principle of democratic centralism is the election of higher party cells by the lower, the unconditional and indispensable binding authority of air the instructions of the higher bodies for the lower and the existence of a strong party centre whose authority is generally recognised for all the leading party comrades in the period from one party conference to another.43

Working from the definition provided by the Communist International, we will move on to look at the relationship between its two components.

The dialectic of democracy and centralism
‘then is no trade off between democracy and centralism. The Party is not a box with only room for so much of one and c:n much of the other. The relationship is a dialectical one, and so each one determines and develops the other in the course of its own development:

Democratic centralism is a fundamental organisational principle which comprises the dialectical unity of democracy and centralism. Centralism is required to form an organisation which strikes simultaneously as one fist; democracy is required to ensure that the blows are struck on correct principles. Democratic centralism is a vital mechanism which enables the majority to adopt correct positions, ensures unity of will on the correct principles and subsequently imposes unity in action through the submission of the minority
to the majority.44

It is evident from this that the caricature some comrades have tried to draw in the course of this debate – that of the hard Bolshevik centralists versus the soft Menshevik democrats- is formalistic and wrong. Democracy and centralism are united: democracy gives you the strength to centralise. Comrade Silahtar continues in warning of the dangers of such formalism:

There is an important point which must be made on the subject of democratic centralism: that it is the formalistic, and solely formalistic, interpretation which rejects the essence of this principle and robs it of its content. This danger is especially pertinent for parties with young and inexperienced cadres and which are passing through a process of re-establishment. The formalistic understanding imposes ‘bureaucratic centralism’ in the name of centralism.45

To counteract this, the fullest realisation of democratic centralism possible is necessary.

Some comrades have argued that we already have some democracy in the Party (true) and that this is sufficient (untrue). Often, this claim is based on the potential for open debate within the organisation and confidence in existing channels. It is correct to state that open ideological struggle is the essence of real democracy. But it is wrong to counterpose this against the formal democracy of votes on issues, conferences, elections, etc.

It is true to say that where such formal democracy exists in isolation from free debate within an organisation it is gutted of the essential feature of democracy and acts as a rubber stamp for the status quo. Comrade John Bridge recently described this as a characteristic feature of ‘official communist’ organisations. But if our understanding of democracy is confined to the level of “sticking up your hand for a vote” we reduce it to the level of the ‘official communists’: ie, a bourgeois concept of democracy.

It is a fundamental truth of dialectics that the essence of a thing is only realised through its expression, ie form. Therefore, ideological struggle can only realise its potential as a dynamising force if its result is expressed in a vote of those who have participated in that struggle where possible (ie, in the context of this discussion, the Party membership).

As things stand, the degree of initiation of debates and the level of participation in them by our comrades is low. This is not because we have gone through so much together and therefore established a broad base of agreement. The Bolsheviks had gone through much more together, had themselves established a greater programmatic basis for agreement than has been seen within the revolutionary movement before or since, and yet still engaged in many fierce battles. Indeed, it is only through such battles that a real and lasting basis of agreement can be built. It is a healthy and normal aspect of Party life, and one that is brought fully into play by the democratic decision-making process.

The unity of form and essence – of formal democracy and ideological struggle – is the only way to ensure the convinced and united action of all comrades.

Lenin fully understood this, and when conditions allowed in 1905 he seized on the opportunity to democratise the party structures, knowing that it could only strengthen party organisation and the confidence of the working class in that organisation:

The St Petersburg worker Social Democrats [communists] know that the whole Party organisation is now built on a democratic basis. This means that all the Party members take part in the election of officials, committee members and so forth, that all the Party members discuss and decide questions concerning the political campaigns of the proletariat, and that all the Party members determine the line of tactics of the Party organisations.46

One problem we experience today is that our comrades are not developed to engage in such necessary, constant assessment. In part this is a question of cadre development through education, an integral aspect of democratic centralism which is discussed below, But it is also because comrades often see little point in participating in debates whose result they regard as already determined by the leadership line. Often, when an instantaneous reaction by the Party as a whole is needed, such leadership action is necessary. But when it becomes habitual it distorts the development of a healthy Party life. If this becomes so, then leadership does not develop; centralism and communist leadership degenerate merely into issuing orders, a situation which cannot produce the confidence that communist leadership needs to function.

Election to leadership is a necessary facet of democratic centralism – indeed, one of its defining features, as we see from the Communist International resolution. Lenin emphasises the need “to see to it that all the higher standing bodies are elected, accountable and subject to recall”.47

We have already outlined why votes and decisions are not just ‘nice’ things to do, but why they facilitate the smooth running and effective centralisation of the Communist party.

In the course of discussion and activity within the Party it becomes clear who the best leaders are. In debate, comrades will see who represents what, who is right and who is wrong. On this basis it is possible to select the most effective leadership. The collective decision of active communists is the best way to select their collective leadership. Either that, or the leadership must acknowledge that it has been unable to develop a membership of such active communists, which itself must call into question the quality of that

By such a process the identification of the membership with the leadership increases, as does its trust. This, therefore, is essential to the development of centralism within the Party. Where a leadership is democratically elected, there can be no real grounds for distrust in it, complaint that it is unrepresentative, and so every basis for its support by the membership.

In speaking of the election of the leadership, we must also be clear on the role and tasks of the leadership, both individually and collectively. The fundamental task of a Party leader is to guarantee the training and development of leaders, producing all communists as leaders, and so removing the perennial complaint of a ‘leaders and led’ situation in our Party. To facilitate this, a clear delineation of duties and responsibilities of comrades, especially those in leading positions, is urgently needed to reduce to the minimum confusion and disorganisation.

We need to establish standard operating procedures that both simplify legal work and are indispensable for illegal work. Byway of example, the Chinese Red Army had few problems with its chain of command: orders went through the immediate superior. The chain of command was simple and understood by all. It was therefore easy to fit into.

Such methods include delineation of responsibilities: what and who a particular comrade has responsibility over, and what they do not. Methods like these simplify Party work by removing the mystique of leadership. Comrades have collective responsibility as a member of the committee on which they serve, and individual responsibility for the particular tasks or posts assigned them.

The existence of an attitude in the Party which states ‘you shouldn’t speak that way to the holder of a particular position’ can only mean that such an attitude is permissible if reversed. This is wrong. One comrade’s dealings with another should not have the character of a pecking order. Comrades should deal with each other as comrades. Collective subordination of one body to another does not mean the subordination of anyone individual in the latter to anyone individual in the former, unless such a relationship is outlined in the clearly defined operating procedures and structures of the Party.

The Paper
We agree entirely with comrade Bridge’s proposals on the role of the Party press: the need for its expansion, enabling it to draw together the polemical and propagandist strengths of The Leninist with the immediate response reportage and agitation of the Daily/Weekly Worker.

One important facet of the former that we currently lack is the ability to engage in debates both within our ranks and within the wider workers’ movement; a process that Lenin argued was necessary for any “real sorting out” to occur:

[W]e desire our publications to become organs for the discussion of all questions by all Russian Social Democrats [communists] of the most diverse shades of opinion. We do not reject polemics between comrades, but, on the contrary, are prepared to give them considerable space in our columns. Open polemics, conducted in full view of all Russian Social Democrats and class conscious workers, are necessary and desirable in order to clarify the depth of existing differences, in order to afford discussion of disputed questions from all angles.48

[T]he Party leadership must open these discussions to the rank and file, taking great care that they are presented correctly.49

Debate must take place in front of the class conscious workers in order that they can learn and judge from the debate who is right, and so the correct line of march for their own struggles.

In this context, it is important that we encourage comrades to express their views and disagreements in the Party press – including this current discussion.

Education is in no way a separate subject from democratic centralism. It
is essential to the development of communists, and so of the Party in all respects: “what determines discipline is correct consciousness” .$0 Correct consciousness is not formed through the passive absorption of any line that the leadership hands down, but through the active search for truth: the full involvement of each comrade in ideological struggle. Education providing the raw material and method for each comrade – enables this.

The Communist International understood the importance of education,
and emphasised its role.

Educational work must be systematically organised and constantly carried out by the entire system of party organisations, in all the party’s working collectives; thereby an increasingly high degree of specialisation can also be

To equip our comrades as leaders of the working class, its collective consciousness, it is necessary to approach this question with far more seriousness and rigour than has been the case until now. Proposals for this will be advanced in the concluding section of this document.

Concrete proposals
Resulting from this discussion, we wish to make three main proposals:
1. The convening of an annual conference
In addition to the provisions made available for conferences on particular questions agreed by the 4th Conference of the Leninists of the CPGB, there should be an annual conference representing all members, with the basic structure of:
a) Political and organisational reports by the PCC, supplied beforehand to
members for discussion.
Discussion on these reports.
Amendments to, and voting on, these reports.
d) Additional resolutions from members, Party committees, etc, supplied
to members beforehand
e)E1ection of the Provisional Central Committee
The first of such conferences should be convened within six to nine

We also propose that extraordinary conferences may be called by a PCC majority, or one third of either Party cells or members.

Conferences should be the cardinal decision making body of the Party.

2. Elections
We propose:
a)The election of the Provisional Central Committee at the annual conference.
b) That the PCC is accountable and recallable.
c )The development of a clearly understood and applied division of labour by the Party with regard to leading positions, and that comrades in leading positions should be accountable to the Party membership.
3.Education programme
Alongside the continuing development of the induction programme, we propose:
a)The restructuring of London seminars to allow scope for the inclusion of an education programme of a more structured theoretical nature. The establishment of similar seminars outside of London where possible, and if possible on a weekly basis.
b) The organisation of regular day schools on both theoretical issues and practical issues.
c) The establishment of an education commission to develop communist education, to be convened within not less than a one month period, to report material progress to an aggregate meeting of the membership in not more than a two month period from now.

Any education process must continue to involve comrades in discussion around the development of the Party programme (which has disappeared from view over the last year or so).

Towards this end of education and open ideological struggle, the contributions to this debate should be published in full. We all agree that the present period demands strong leadership and greater centralism. This document outlines the way forward for this necessary development, through the vital extension of democratic centralism. What is the objective barrier to the deepening of democratic centralism to the extent proposed in these pages? There is none. The only question for Party members is, comrades, do you trust yourselves with the future of your Party and class? We believe you do.

Mike Marshall
John Praven
David Rhys

Appendix III: A Marxist critique of Democratic centralism and our stratergy

“There are no ready made blue prints for communist organisation” but is that any reason for throwing away the spirit level and the plumb line? There can be no question of not “beginning now as we mean to go on” as far as democratic centralism is concerned.

It must be emphasised that those of us proposing “structures, election procedures, or relationships between the various component bodies that make up a Communist Party” are not following some “timeless recipe”. To misrepresent our dialectical arguments in this way is to set up an Aunt Sally, easily knocked down, rather than to have the real argument which is now shaping up over who is actually thinking dialectically and who is merely sprinkling some dialectical jargon over their threadbare formal

Please bear with me then while I attempt to clarify what is meant by
“formal thinking” and “formalism”. Formal logic is based on three laws: 1) The law of Identity (A equals A). I am me. A two pound bag of sugar is a two pound bag of sugar.
2) The law of non-contradiction (A is not equal to non-A); I am not somebody else. A two pound bag of sugar is not a jar of pickles.
3) The law of the excluded middle (If A equals A, it cannot equal non-A as well). We are not me. If all we have is a two pound bag of sugar and a jar of pickles, and if one of those things is not a jar of pickles, it must be a two pound bag of sugar with no pickles in it.

These three fundamental laws have a material content and an objective basis; that they are explicit formulations of the instinctive logic of common sense. They constitute the prevailing rules of thought in the bourgeois world. Comrade Z [name changed] expressed them beautifully in this
debate when she said:

1) “I am on the PCC because I am politically advanced.” The law of identity.
2) ”The other members are not on the PCC because they are politically backward.” The law of non-contradiction.
3) “If the other members were advanced enough to have a vote, they would be on the PCC.” The law of the excluded middle.

So what is so wrong with “formal thinking”?
Formal logic demands a static universe.
Even a two pound bag of sugar is no longer itself if we have equipment sensitive enough to show its constant changes in weight and volume. Ifwe move the bag of sugar through space, we notice that it also changes according to where it is. As soon as we admit motion and time into the scenario we find that nothing remains itself. For A to be A requires a snapshot view of reality, and therefore a view that is only true in the abstract.
2. Formal logic erects impassable barriers between things.
A world is presupposed in which everything exists in isolation, whereas we know that all matter is interconnected, however indirectly. Every phenomenon exists in relation to its surroundings.
3. Formal logic excludes difference from identity.
Even in inorganic nature, identity as such is non-existent in reality. Every body is continually exposed to mechanical, physical and chemical influences, which are always changing it and modifying its identity. Without the continual generation of variety, natural selection alone would not bring evolution.
4. The laws of formal logic are presented as absolute.
At various stages in the development of the physical sciences, chemical elements, molecules, atoms electrons, were considered by metaphysicalminded thinkers to be unchanging substances. Beyond and behind these mankind could not go. With the further advance of the natural sciences, each one of these e”temal absolutes has been in tum overthrown. Each of these constituent parts of material formations has been demonstrated to be conditioned, limited, and relative. All their pretensions to be absolute, unlimited, and unchanging, have been proven false.
5. Formal logic can account for everything but itself. One of the superior features of materialist dialectics over formal logic is the fact that, unlike formal logic, dialectics can not only account for the existence of formal logic but can also tell us why it supersedes formal logic. Dialectics can explain itself to itself and to others. That is why it is incomparably more logical than formal thinking.

Dialectics is the logic of movement, of evolution, of change. It deals with an ever changing complex and contradictory reality. Everything that happens is not the result of arbitrary forces but the result of definite and regularly operating laws. This is true of the mental processes with which logic directly concems itself. The laws of mental processes exist.

All that is real is rational (Hegel).

Hegel, in his Logic established a series of laws: change of quantity into quality, development through contradictions, conflict of content and form, interruption of continuity [discontinuity], change of possibility into inevitability, etc, which are just as important for theoretical thought as is the simple syllogism for more elementary tasks.’52

Marx, as we all know, turned Hegel’s idealist dialectics up side down, to put them on their feet, and invented materialist dialectics, the plumb line and the spirit level alluded to in my opening metaphor. Glance at any page of say Marx’s Critique of Hegel’ s Doctrine of the State and you will mostly fmd Marx picking through Hegel’s arguments and taking the piss whenever he discovered an unsupported assertion camouflaged by a “therefore” or some other rhetorical means of juxtaposing ideas to make them look as if they logically flowed from each other. Everything that exists must have a necessary and sufficient reason for existence – and that reason can be discovered and communicated to others. So, before I discuss the concept of form and essence, let me now attempt to follow Marx’s example and analyse Democratic centralism and our strategy with all the rigour my inferior intellect will allow.

Paragraph 13 states: “Party membership is tiny and mainly London
based. Though there is now a layer of carded-up supporters of the Party most of them are not organised in branches and those that are, operate on a very low level. Under these conditions suggestions that there should be full democracy from below, including the election of cell secretaries, annual conferences of members and elections to the Provisional Central Committee are misplaced.” This is a logical non sequitur. Despite “under these conditions” the assertion in the second sentence is not supported by the fll’St. Surely, if anything, the organisation of supporters is conditioned by the organisation of the membership, rather than the other way round. As for the size of the “Party membership”, it is given in paragraph 3 that even the refoundation congress of the CPGB will be called on “political not numerical criteria”.

And further: “Cells are, we have to admit, essentially sub-committees of the PCC enabling it to carry out its national work. Members are, and have to be regularly moved from one cell, and one area of responsibility
to another. None of our cells are geographically based, except the one we have implanted in Scotland. Appointment of officials from above should therefore be maintained for the present.” Here we have another logical non sequitur. Why should cells not be essentially subcommittees of the PCC? Must the essential nature of cells be changed before democratic centralism can be permitted? Will there be a time when members are not regularly moved from one cell to another? Despite “therefore” the assertion is unsupported by the preceding observations.

“Conferences have been and should for the moment continue to be held around specific issues, controversies or moments.” Can we assume then that, in the last four years since the last election there have been no issues, controversies, or moments worth holding a conference for, aside from the reclaiming of the party name two years ago? Such an assumption would not “smack” of formalism, it would reek. The proposal of regular conferences (annual or whatever) seeks to break from this so that, if within twelve months there has been no conference, we can find out if the PCC is correct. Has there been no significant change since the last conference? Such a static universe can only exist in the abstract, as a result of formal logic.

“Regular aggregates of the whole membership have been organised where proposals and experiences of agreed actions are subject to lengthy discussion and debate. ” But, even for members, attendance at an aggregate is by invitation only. In paragraph 14 “At our present primitive stage, to further develop democratic centralism the Provisional Central Committee will introduce written motions when appropriate and submit them to votes and amendments at Party aggregates.”

Although in paragraph 7 “There should be public meetings and debates, ease of joining the membership, election ofleaders from below and regular congresses and conferences”, Democratic centralism and our strategy takes us from a transitional stage to a primitive stage and the PCC’s commitment to democratic centralism and open ideological struggle is now further limited to allowing selected members to vote on written motions at such times as the PCC sees appropriate. This is not true democratic centralism but an abstraction of it. It may readily be seen from paragraphs 13 and 14 that the PCC’s concept of democratic centralism is a formal identity rather than a dialectical living process.

No wonder the seminars reveal a passive membership. No wonder Party membership is tiny and mainly London based. No wonder the National Organiser believes that there is whispering in the ranks. It would appear that the quantitative restrictions on democratic centralism are already having a qualitative effect. There had to be a reason why we don’t organise as well as we know how to.

To return to paragraph 1 : ”There can be no projecting the mass Party of the future on to our embryonic nucleus” is a product of formal logic whereby democracy is viewed as a distinct package which can be chopped off or grafted on at will. This is the formal logic of a mad microbiologist who surgically removes a major part of a tadpole’s central nervous system with the intention of eventually grafting it back into the adult frog. ”The Communist Party is a living organism.” Materialist dialectics reveal that, the postoperative tadpole will never become a frog.

The essence of any thing does not and cannot come into existence all at once and remain there in immutable form. It is an integral and inseparable aspect of the object, sharing all the vicissitudes of its history.
In the algebra of formal logic, if A equals B, then B equals A. The two are synonymous and interchangeable. But the dialectical relation between essence and appearance is not reversible in the same way that the law of
identity is reversible.

So when we read paragraph 5 we must not draw the common sense,
formal, conclusion that: if democratic centralism is a process whereby communists are united around correct aims and principles, then, so long as we appear to unite around correct aims and principles, we objectively have democratic centralism, so that’s all right then! Trade unions are essentially schools for communism. This does not mean that if we built a school for communism it would ipso facto be a trade union. Essentially man is an animal that makes tools for labour. This docs not mean that every time a naturalist reports that another chimp has made a tool, the chimp has just qualified as a member of the human race.

So we have to say that the process of democratic centralism is literally
essential to the uniting of communists around correct aims and principles. Quantitative limits on democratic centralism inflict qualitative damage to the uniting of communists around correct aims and principles. What are we going to do about it then?

“Communists cannot tolerate those who do not fully carry out agreed tasks or confme their revolutionary enthusiasm to pub room rhetoric” (para 4). This is true and, without the fullest commitment to the living reality of democratic centralism, the best of our revolutionary intentions remain a promise on a piece of paper. Surely the degeneration of officialcommunisms into opportunism and bureaucracy, despite volumes of such papers, (and presumably the best intentions of their founders) reveals that this is not

In para 2 we are assured that “When the CPGB is reforged the Provisional Central Committee will instantly hand over all its properties, records, presses, funds and other resources. Then it will dissolve itself’ (para 2). How do we know? Well, because the fight to re-equip the working class with a revolutionary programme and a disciplined Party is the sole reason why the PCC exists! But that again relies on the law of identity, the first law of fonnallogic, which assumes that the bag of sugar remains a bag of sugar. In reality even the bag of sugar is gradually turning into its opposite. In Democratic centralism and our strategy the PCC implicitly claims immunity from this dialectical process.

The fundamental proposition of Marxian dialectics is that all boundaries in nature and society are conventional and mobile, that there is not a single phenomenon which cannot under certain conditions be transformed into its opposite.53

Blind faith is not scientific socialism. We have to be rational to become real. The fight for democratic centralism in its fullest sense is essential to the reforging of the CPGB and the execution of the proletariat’s historic mission.

Mike Marshall
July 31 1993

Appendix IV: Resignation letter

We have found it necessary to resign, not to curtail debate but to develop it. On raising our criticisms and proposals within your organisation we met with a response of personal attacks, answering none of the substantive points raised in Building and strengthening the Communist Party or A Marxist Critique. As time has gone by, far from ideas being clarified, more and more mud has been thrown; misogyny and sexism being merely a unifying theme between three signatories of Building and strengthening the Communist Party. A Reply to ‘Marxist’ Critiques states that “the real complaint of the comrades seems to amount to the fact that they are in a ‘subordinate’ position in the ‘pecking order’ to women comrades and are not in the leadership of the organisation.” Even were this true – and it is an unsubstantiated lie – it does not invalidate the criticisms we have raised.

Given that it has proved impossible to debate seriously within your organisation, we are compelled to develop and express our ideas outside.

The forthcoming conference was due to be a show trial with the PCC in the role of Vishinsky. The majority has been secured to the PCC’s satisfaction, with the conference as no more than the coup de grace, formalised with elections – ironically, with a recommended list, a device only introduced into the communist parties under Stalin to ensure the continuity of an opportunist leadership by a membership not trusted to make up its own mind without the great leader’s guidance.

The PCC shamelessly violated the key principle of open ideological struggle, relying instead on personal abuse. The original PCC statement claimed that minorities have always been overrepresented. This is a lie. This has been the first time a real minority has appeared in the organisation, and the response is clear. It has set a dangerous precedent. Any comrade raising substantive criticisms can expect the same treatment: a catalogue of their iniquities paraded before the organisation and then whispering behind their backs. This is not the conduct of a communist leadership, but of petty individuals intent on defending their position above all else _ certainly above principle.
It is. therefore necessary for communists to build independently of the PCC clique. Those comrades who are serious about revolution know where to find us.

For communism,

Mike Marshall
David Rhys

August 1993

Appendix V: Statement of the 6th Conference of the Leninist of the Communist Party of Great Britain

The Provisional Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain initiated debate on democratic centralism on July 111993 at a Party membership aggregate. There followed a sharp and extensive debate during which all comrades were given maximum opportunity to express and develop their ideas. Members of the Party have gained a great deal from the debate. As shown by the 6th Conference of the Leninists of the CPGB, the fight to reforge the Party has been greatly strengthened.

The Conference met in a spirit of unity, optimism and comradeship.
After a businesslike meeting comrades unanimously agreed the resolution Democratic centralism and our strategy and unanimously elected a new Provisional Central Committee.

However, it is to be regretted that two of the three members of the minority who claimed to stand for democratic centralism did not see the discussion through, let alone observe democratic centralism. This is not the act of serious communists.

They have run away from submitting their views to the conference of the Communist Party. Their commitment to democracy in practice and the essentially petty personal nature of their disagreements are therefore

September 4 1993


  1. VI Lenin CW Vol 7, 1977, p412
  2. See ‘Founding statement’, The Leninist No1, November 1981.
  3. A Marxist critique p1.
  4. Ibid p3.
  5. Ibid p3.
  6. Democratic centralism and our stratergy p1.
  7. A Marxist critique p3.
  8. Ibid p4.
  9. Ibid
  10. Ibid
  11. Ibid
  12. Ibid
  13. Ibid
  14. ibid
  15. Ibid
  16. Ibid
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid
  19. Ibid pp4-5.
  20. Ibid p5.
  21. Ibid
  22. Ibid
  23. From point 14, ‘Theses on the role of the Communist Party in the proleterian revolution’, The Second Congress of the Communist International, Vol1, 1977, p97.
  24. Alan Adler (editor) Thesis, resolutions and manifestos of the first four congresses of the Third International, 1980, p95.
  25. Democratic centralism and our stratergy p1.
  26. Ibid
  27. Building and strengthening the Communist Party p7.
  28. Ibid
  29. Ibid p3.
  30. My emphasis, Ibid p3.
  31. Alan Adler (editor) Theses, resolutions and manifestos of the first four congreses of the Third International, 1980, p236.
  32. Building and strengthening the Communist Party p5.
  33. Ibid
  34. Ibid
  35. Ibid
  36. Ibid p2.
  37. Ibid p9.
  38. VI Lenin CW Vol 7, 1977, p394.
  39. Resignation letter.
  40. Ibid
  41. J Conrad Which Road?, 1991, p60.
  42. G Lukas, ‘Towards a methodology of the problem of organisation’ in History and class consciousness, 1983, p295.
  43. From point 14, ‘Theses on the role of the Communist Party in the proleterian revolution’, The Second Congress of the Communist International, Vol 1, 1977, p97.
  44. C Silahtar Party discipline, 1979, p15.
  45. Ibid p16.
  46. VI Lenin CW Vol 10, 1977, pp502-3
  47. Ibid p376.
  48. VI Lenin CW Vol 4, 1977, pp320-330.
  49. C Silahtar Party discipline, 1979, p54.
  50. Ibid p42.
  51. Guideline on the organisational structure of Communist Parties, on the methods and content of their work, adopted at the 24th Session of the THird Congress of the Communist International, 12 July 1921, Prometheus Research Library, 1988, p31
  52. L. Trotsky In defense of Marxism, 1982, p66.
  53. VI Lenin CW Vol 19, 1977, p203.