The way forward for revolutionary unity

This paper has been written by Socialist Resistance (SR) as a contribution to the current Unity discussions. Other contributions appear here

Divisions on the far left have long been damaging for the wider struggle. The current situation in anti-cuts campaigning (for example) directly reflects the divisions in the far left. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has Unite the Resistance (which actually does precisely the opposite) and the Socialist Party (SP) has its Shop Stewards Network. The People’s Assembly is an attempt to unite across these divides, which is hugely important, but the old disunity still weakens the movement.unity

The same situation has long hampered the emergence of the kind of broad party of the left that has been both necessary and possible since the emergence of New Labour. Left Unity (LU) is also enormously important, and is starting to address this, but the far left divisions are still damaging. The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is constrained by the SP to remaining a non-aggression pact between the SP and SWP, rather than the sort of new left party that is needed. The decision of the SP to back the dire nationalism of the Communist Party and No2EU can only lead down a blind alley.

Tackling such disunity, moreover, is even more urgent given the depth of the crisis, the way it is being exploited by the government and the employers, and the chronic weakness of the trade union response. If the far left is to play a significant role in turning this around it has to start to tackle its own divisions. It is for all these reasons that we have been strongly in favour of revolutionary regroupment since the current possibilities for this opened up last year, with the crisis of the SWP and the emergence of the Anti Capitalist Initiative (ACI). We remain fully committed to this and we are ready to dissolve our organisation into a viable regroupment project if it can be got together.

The far left today is weaker than for many years. This has been compounded by the crisis of the SWP following its failure to support women members struggling against sexual harassment and rape. The important thing, however, is to learn the lessons from this and ensure that a new and dynamic organisation comes out of it. The emergence of both the International Socialist Network (ISN) and the ACI, and much more recently, RS21, creates an opportunity to rescue something very significant from the otherwise completely negative implosion of the largest far left organisation.

Any regrouped organisation must be unambiguously revolutionary in character. But it must also embrace a much higher level of heterogeneity and pluralism – reaching across the various traditions of the far left for example – than most of the existing far left organisations. A new organisation would need to develop an internal culture where differences could be discussed without rancour in a democratic framework. It must be an organisation where sharp debates become a point of development and not of division.

In our view the prevalent British far left model of rigidly top down organisations operating a form of ‘democratic centralism’ drawn from Stalinist traditions, excluding real democracy or engagement by the members, is neither effective nor desirable in today’s conditions – if indeed it was ever effective or desirable.

SR has long ceased to use the term ‘democratic centralism’. Instead we say revolutionary democracy. This is not because we reject the collective formulation of policy and collective implementation – maximum participation in the decision-making processes and maximum unity in action. Far from it. It is because we reject the undemocratic practices which have long been associated with ‘democratic centralism’ and practiced in its name.

For example, we think that the requirement that members must advocate in public something that they disagree with internally is not only wrong in current circumstances but perverse. Whilst members are expected to carry out the decisions of the organisation, they are not expected to advocate policies with which they disagree. However, when minority views are expressed in public they should be presented as such.

Another example of revolutionary democracy in our view is minority representation on leadership bodies. In our view, a revolutionary organisation cannot be democratic unless all properly established minority views are proportionately represented on all the leadership bodies.

The way we see internal democracy also has an effect on the way we work in organisations like LU. Block voting in line with a party mandate deprives members of independence when working in such organisations and undermines the democracy of the organisation itself. We don’t agree with this way of functioning in a broad left party that we are trying to build as a political alternative, and we don’t practice it.

One of the things which triggered the discussion around revolutionary regroupment was Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy’s book ‘Beyond Capitalism?’ which advocated a new kind of more democratic and heterogeneous model for the far left. We supported this idea at that time and we support it now.

We have to be clear, however. We cannot resolve all the divisions of the far left in a single regroupment – that is impossible. What we can do, if we go about it the right way, is create a significant new grouping, based on a new conception of revolutionary organisation, which could chart a new course and hopefully lead to further regroupments in the future. This means regrouping, at this stage, those who agree with this approach – SR, ISN, ACI and we would hope, the newly launched RS21.

It is for these reasons that we continue to be concerned about the inclusion of Workers Power (WP) in this process. They are the embodiment of most of the conceptions, including on internal democracy, which we are trying to get away from – and they show no signs of changing. They routinely demand the implementation of the full revolutionary programme. Our fear is that if WP is included in this process we will find it very difficult to find the balance between internal discussion and external work which will be so important. Political discussions would have to continue after a new revolutionary organisation emerges, of course, and we don’t want to institutionalise an endless debate on the minutiae of programme.

We think that there is an opportunity in the relatively short term of creating an organisation that can be grounded in a common conception of revolutionary politics and democracy and have a common approach to the need to build Left Unity as a successful broad party of the left. We believe that RS21 could be a crucial part of this process and would seek to involve them in the discussions and processes to bring about the first stage of such a revolutionary regroupment.

This brings us to the matter of what discussions we need to have in advance of a regroupment taking place? We do need a process of discussion and debate, and we have always made our priorities clear on this: we want to deepen the discussion we have been having on feminism, and we are keen to discuss ecosocialism and internationalism. In fact, it is important to move on from the more general discussion to some more specific issues.

But there is an urgency in this and a need for boldness. When opportunities such as this arise they do not last forever. Given the difficult terrain we will be fighting on over the next period – the decline of the far left in the wake of the SWP crisis, the pressure among some sections of the left and trade unions not to rock the boat in the forlorn hope of a Labour government coming to the rescue in 2015, the deepening economic and ecological crisis and its effect on the working class in Britain, Europe and globally – there is a danger of the small forces that need to be assembled in such a new revolutionary nucleus dissipating and dropping out into inactivity if the process does not accelerate.

The need for urgency is not about settling everything in advance, but of creating a culture under which discussions could continue on a positive basis in the early years of the new organisation. Such a new organisation would also act as a pole of attraction for many currently non-aligned militants and through strength in numbers and political conviction could start to put pressure on the sectarian practices of the SP/SWP. We would argue, though we don’t make it a precondition, that the most fruitful way for the regroupment process to proceed would be on the basis of the original participants: SR, the ACI, the ISN together with RS21 and also others who have left the SWP but are not currently in the ISN or RS21.

RS21 has come into this process but only as an observer organisation. We think that these comrades have a tremendous amount to contribute to rebuilding the far left and that we should strongly urge them to come fully into the regroupment initiative.

In terms of practical proposals:

That we develop joint work in as many areas as possible including especially: Left Unity where we are all already working, so this is of greatest importance.

Work in the Peoples Assembly.

We should continue to organise joint events. Excellent examples of this are the forum on feminism with Cinzia Arruzza in Manchester, the up-coming forum on Syria in London, and the work on the woman’s magazine.

Organise discussions around political issues as appropriate. We would like to see discussions on feminism and ecosocialism in particular, but we are happy to discuss any of the issues proposed by Workers Power, though we don’t want to be too prescriptive because such discussions are often thrown up be events.

We should encourage maximum collaboration and joint work amongst our comrades at local level.

We are in favour of continuing the current arrangements for these discussions and for publishing Exchange up until the conference.


  1. The statement is positive but also realistic about what can be achieved now. We all know that the differences already existing within the currents discussing rev regroupment are as significant as the differences between the different currents. Although some programmatic coherence between the currents is important getting 100% agreement on the nature of the ex Soviet Union or on the exact balance between dual power bodies and participation in existing bourgeois democratic institutions is not necessary at all. Indeed I would suggest it is probably more important that there is a broad agreement about building LU, the PA and how you intervene in mass campaigns and the trade unions in a non-sectarian, not ultra leftist way.
    One quibble I dislike the use of the term ‘far left’ (a tad better than extreme left which is even worse) even if we use it as shorthand internally. I think it suggests that the difference between us and other political forces is that we always have more extreme positions that them. I would say that we are not more extreme but usually rather more resilient and tenancious for fighting for true defence of previously won workers or democratic rights. We then link such work, that the social democrats and reformists don’t do anymore, to the next step that leads to more questioning of the system, and so on. Above all the difference between a real or authentic left and the reformists is that we prioritise self organisation and autonomy at all times.

  2. Your article makes for an intriguing read. I don’t know a lot about LU. Might I ask what “sectarian practices of the SP” you refer to? This is an honest question from a genuine socialist. Feel free to email me a reply.
    I do remain mystified as to how TUSC and LU can fail to form an agreement between them. Is it just about a particular stance on the EU?

  3. Perhaps unaligned people aren’t your target audience, and I’ve wandered into an internal debate, but if not it would be helpful to have the meaning of some of the initials spelled out when first used.

    ‘This means regrouping, at this stage, those who agree with this approach – SR, ISN, ACI and we would hope, the newly launched RS21’ is not exactly user friendly!

  4. Alan, fair point. Here’s an attempt at a glossary:

    SR = Socialist Resistance
    ACI = Anti-Capitalist Initiative
    ISN = International Socialist Network
    RS21 = Revolutionary Socialists in the 21st Century
    In addition, Workers Power is sometimes abbreviated WP though it hasn’t been in this document.

    These are five of the smaller British revolutionary groups.
    SR is the Fourth International in Britain. ACI is a group formed around 2 years ago to try to create a broad anti-capitalist pole. It included WP until they decided to leave and many of the people setting it up used to be in WP. ISN and RS21 are groups of revolutionaries led by those who split from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) – the ISN in March 2013, RS21 in December 2013.

    TUSC is the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – an electoral umbrella formed in 2010 by the Socialist Party in England and Wales (SP), the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport trade union) and supported by the SWP. SR has observer status in TUSC.

    No2EU is an electoral coalition of the SP, CPB (Communist Party of Britain – closely associated with the ‘Morning Star’ daily newspaper) and the RMT set up solely to fight the EU parliament elections which has been ‘relaunched’ for 2014.

  5. Right at the start, this article seems to conflate two issues which it as well to keep separate – division on the far left and division in the anti-cuts movement. They are closely related, but are far from being the same thing. Or does the author believe they are the same thing?
    Yes, we need one national anti-austerity movement, but it needs to be clearly NOT linked to any one political organisation, otherwise it immediately limits itself in terms of bringing together all those forces fighting austerity, regardless of their political allegiance. Too often we see such and such an organisations campaign over such and such a cut/privatisation/whatever, rather than an attempt to link up forces.
    Even if you achieved the unity you desire of all the far left organisations you mention, there would STILL be the need for the anti-austerity movement to be based on local campaigns and not linked to any one political organisation.
    In addition, you seem to praise the Peoples’ Assembly as an attempt to unite the anti-austerity movement “across these divides”. But if it is really going to do this it will need to be an awful lot more democratic than it currently is.

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