Taking steps towards revolutionary unity

Socialists don't split shock!

Socialists don’t split shock!

This joint statement was agreed by the International Socialist Network, Anticapitalist Initiative, and Socialist Resistance delegations to recent unity talks. They met to discuss the formation of a united revolutionary tendency last weekend.

Delegates from Socialist Resistance, the Anticapitalist Initiative and the International Socialist Network came together on Sunday 7th July to discuss the next steps on the road to forming a united, plural and heterodox revolutionary tendency on the left in Britain.

These discussions were born out of the recent crisis and split in the Socialist Workers Party, which led to the formation of the International Socialist Network, and also inspired debate all across the left in Britain and internationally on how we should move away from the top down and monolithic conception of revolutionary organisation that has proven so damaging in recent years. All of the delegations agreed that they were committed to building an open, democratic and radical left, which encourages free thinking, is built from below and can reach out to a new generation. Wherever necessary delegates tried to make clear the terrain of the debate within their own organisation to the other delegations. This was important for encouraging an open and honest culture in the discussions. It also made clear that the groups participating were not, and did not want to be, monolithic in their approach to revolutionary politics, but even in our own groups we were already attempting to practice pluralism.

Initially discussion focused on a document from Simon Hardy and Luke Cooper (ACI), ‘what kind of radical organisation?’. Discussion was wide-ranging but focused on the questions of building new left parties, trade union and social movement activism, and democratic organisation. Alan Thornett (SR) had produced a response to the document that focused on the difference between a broad party project and a revolutionary Marxist tendency, as well as raising some differences over how the question of democratic organisation was put across in the document.

After two delegate-based discussions of revolutionary unity it was agreed that the debate must be opened out to our wider networks and memberships, and a date for a joint national meeting was agreed for October. There was also a useful discussion of practical collaboration: plans floated for a joint 12 page publication, a common perspective for student and youth work in the autumn, working together to make Left Unity a success, and developing a joint BME caucus. For more information on these discussions then contact any one of the three different organisations involved, SR, ACI, and the IS Network.

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9 Comments on Taking steps towards revolutionary unity

  1. Jara Handala // 11th July 2013 at 3:15 pm // Reply

    As an ISN member, I heartily welcome this joint statement.

    I made this plain in a comment I made an hour or so ago on our ISN Website, it being the first attached to the statement. As you know, it says, “the groups participating were not, and did not want to be, monolithic in their approach to revolutionary politics, but even in our own groups we were already attempting to practice pluralism.” In that spirit I have asked our Website editor(s) to publish, as an article, a two-part analysis I have made of the ongoing SWP crisis & what it means for our ISN & its values. It is of wider interest, not least to the ACI & yourselves, as it shows we still have a lot to learn, that we shouldn’t be afraid to face that fact, & together come up with ways to remedy matters.

    What I argued takes inspiration, in part, from a resolution passed by the Fourth International in 1985, ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat & Socialist Democracy’, developing some ideas found in sections 7, 8 & 13, & applying them to being in a Marxist organisation in today’s Britain:

    Below is what I said today on our ISN Website. Comments from members of SR & ACI would be most welcome:

    “In the context of this timely & very welcomed statement I reproduce below the email I have just sent to our ISN Website editor(s).

    In doing so I apply both what’s in the joint statement, & what our ISN stands for. The spirit of the statement is refreshing, the need to be “plural and heterodox . . . encourag[ing] free thinking, . . . built from below . . . encouraging an open and honest culture”. It says that “in our own groups we were already attempting to practice pluralism”, & that “it was agreed that the debate must be opened out to our wider networks and memberships”. Our ISN value of making our proceedings transparent also justifies posting this email.

    ‘Dear ISN Website editor(s),

    Given the values of our ISN, & in the spirit of today’s joint statement on revolutionary unity by ourselves, the Anticapitalist Initiative, & Socialist Resistance, I ask you to publish as an article, & as soon as you can, my two-part analysis of what & how our ISN can learn from the ongoing SWP crisis, & how we might improve the way we do things.

    This analysis, as you presumably know, was posted on Sunday & yesterday (Wednesday) in our ISN Public Forum:

    As Ian Birchall put it last Thursday, “The internet allows us to develop a debate that is much more rapid, responsive and extensive than printed publications. It would be strange if revolutionaries did not welcome such possibilities.” The focus for discussing has shifted from ‘the paper’.

    I hope you can publish as soon as you can, not least so that we, the ISN, can show to the ACI, SR, & the rest of the left, that we treasure, in the words of today’s joint statement, being “plural and heterodox”, “encourag[ing] free thinking”, “committed to building an open, democratic and radical left . . . built from below . . . encouraging an open and honest culture”. It would show that we, the ISN, can proudly practise this in the range of articles we publish prominently on our Website. It would also help show “that the groups participating were not, and did not want to be, monolithic in their approach to revolutionary politics”.

    It would add substance to both the claim that “even in our own groups we were already attempting to practice pluralism”, & demonstrate our commitment that “the debate must be opened out to our wider networks and memberships”. ‘Pravda’ & all the other publications showed the diversity within the ranks. Our ISN Website should be no different.

    It is through free & frank discussion involving the most participants that differences can be expressed, new evidence & arguments can be presented, all improving our chances of reaching a better understanding, & deciding what we do. By bringing the more heterodox into view, differences amongst us can be given recognition, honoured, greatly improving our ability to remain united in our socialist work.

    Being “plural and heterodox” requires giving ISN members access to the means we have to disseminate our views to the world, to ‘the class’, to fellow members. Our Steering Cttee has consistently said ‘the Forum is dead’. Some of us have consistently tried to cajole our Steering Cttee into being strategic, proactive, & start promoting it. Well, if our Website is alive then I ask it to publish this two-part analysis. Why not have it in a prominent place, upfront on the Website, ending up in the list of articles, rather than having it hived away through the tiny aperture in the top-left corner of our homepage, the portal labelled ‘Forum’? That makes sense, doesn’t it? That would accord with our values, purpose, & tradition, yes? That would accord with our joint statement with the ACI & SR, yes?

    As Tony Cliff put it more than 50 years ago, “The managers of factories can discuss their business in secret and then put before the workers a fait accompli . . . Since the revolutionary party cannot have interests apart from the class, all the party’s issues of policy are those of the class, and they should therefore be thrashed out in the open, in its presence. The freedom of discussion which exists in the factory meeting, which aims at unity of action after decisions are taken, should apply to the revolutionary party. This means that all discussions on basic issues of policy should be discussed in the light of day: in the open press. Let the mass of the workers take part in the discussion, put pressure on the party, its apparatus and leadership.” http://marxists.org/archive/cl… ‘Trotsky on Substitutionism’

    Today’s joint statement is an achievement given the appalling history of destructive & wasteful sectarian animosity amongst the far left, at least since the late 60s, if not the early 50s. Our common hope, expressed in today’s statement, is “forming a united, plural and heterodox revolutionary tendency on the left in Britain”.

    Publishing this two-part analysis on our Website today can help show to all that we, the ISN, mean this by having a publishing policy that encourages all of us to be “plural and heterodox”, not afraid to ‘go against the grain’, to ‘swim against the current’. For far too long in the British far left unorthodox views & evidenced arguments have been suppressed. Now is another chance to change.

    It would also show, as far as our ISN goes, that “the groups participating were not, and did not want to be, monolithic in their approach to revolutionary politics, but even in our own groups we were already attempting to practice pluralism.” (Incidently, this justifies its inclusion in this week’s ‘Network News’, our emailed newsletter.)

    For far too long in the British far left unorthodox views & evidenced arguments have been suppressed. For the first time since whenever, more of us can unite on a principled basis. Celebrating, encouraging expression is a necessary part of that, not a luxury or a danger. We need to do all we can to contribute to a new dawn, to less of a splintered sunrise.’

  2. Dave Edwards // 11th July 2013 at 9:58 pm // Reply

    This looks positive and my best wishes for success. Critical, i believe will be ‘operational conduct’ whilst working as Left Unity. For example, work with students in the Autumn. Will the energies be put into developing Left Unity student organisation or the ‘new’ revolutionary organisation? What publications will be sold/given out outside meetings? Left Unity material or the new 12 page publication? I would suggest very careful consideration needs to be given to the practical dynamic and how this should be ‘different’ from the past. Internal democracy and culture (changing from the past) is important, but there is much more to consider also.

    • Dave makes a very pertinent point. From my earliest days in the IMG, we were always encouraged to be the “best builders” of campaigns, something which may actually have encouraged hyperactivity, but had its positive side too. We saw that as a means to attract people to our politics and our organisation. Although we no doubt had many failings in practice, and were also often accused of making insufficient effort to explicitly “build the party”, I think it is the approach the far left groups should adopt towards Left Unity.

      What this means in actual practice needs to be worked out in detail, but my view is that this means LU is not an “intervention”, but a party that requires the commitment of every member of participating far-left groups. In public campaigning, promotion of LU’s publications, leaflets etc. should be the priority and the group’s own publications should be mainly promoted within LU. In other words, most public political activity by LU members should be organised by LU and done it in its name. After all, the groups have the web to promote their views and would be free to sell publications at LU’s internal meetings. I’m not saying that members of LU have to stick to “the line” of LU in public, provided they are in broad agreement with its positions, especially on immediate questions. This is something the far-left groups are themselves coming to recognise for their own organisations anyway, as Jara (above) points out.

      However, I don’t think there should be rules in LU on the question of LU versus group “party building”. That would lead to too much conflict. Instead, it should be the behaviour that is expected of members, part of LU’s culture.

      Some far-left groups may not agree to do this. Hopefully, through debate and the example of others, they would come to change their minds.

  3. Southpawpunch // 13th July 2013 at 5:03 pm // Reply

    I’m very pleased to hear of this development. Can I ask if if approaches have been also made to other revolutionaries to join e.g. Workers Power, Counterfire, CPGB(WW), AWL etc and even the SP and SWP?

    I appreciate some involved in the above initiative were in the same organisations as some of the above fairly recently and thinks may be raw – but such unity is more important than such considerations.

    I also appreciate that the above range is broad (I’d go further and invite the CPB as well and any remaining Maoists and Left Communists, too – and anyone else in the general area). Much as I may disagree with the AWL about Israel/Palestine, I’d have no problem being in the same outfit as them in Britain (although that would be impractical if we were in that state/states. But we aren’t.)

    I understand that just about all revolutionary socialists (i.e. Trotskyists) were in one organisation – the Revolutionary Communists Party – in the 1940s. Our influence today is maybe as low as it has ever been and may go the way of Maoism. It is imperative we unify.

    And although I agree more with some of the people I have listed should be invited, rather the three organisers, I’d join an outfit that asked all Lefts (and made sure that door was kept open) rather than an organisation that, whilst with a bit better politics on paper, was sectarian about such a fundamental matter.

    • I’m a member of SR, but this is my personal view on why I think that currently a blanket approach revolutionary unity is a non-starter. The three organisations discussing at present have drawn similar conclusions about the struggles, successes and failures of the last years and started to put them into practice. This last point is important, because it shows that our re-assessments are not just a paper exercise. The issues are covered in the article above: broad left parties, “Leninist Organisation” and autonomous organisation of the oppressed. What links these three issues, along with others, is that they affect how revolutionaries operate in day-to-day practice, so it is relatively easy to test out how well we are working together.

      I can’t see how it is possible to unite groups that have profound differences about these matters: whether Left Unity is a good thing (us) or not (SP, Counterfire, SWP?), whether LU itself should be the vehicle for revolutionary unity (CPGB, WP?, Independent Socialist Network?) or not (us), whether Leninism needs rethinking (us) or not (SP, SWP, Counterfire?). It might be objected that these are tactical issues, which they are, but we have to be practical and understand that it is not possible to build a new organisation if its component parts’ daily activities are not even starting out on broadly similar pathways.

      It is also useful to look at what different groups say about one another. Does the CPGB want to fuse with the “politically decrepit” – or the AWL with the “almost invisible” – Socialist Resistance?

  4. Jara Handala // 14th July 2013 at 7:32 am // Reply

    Just noticed that the last 4 of the 5 links in my comment don’t work. (I was alerted to this as the first appeared in full, the others having 3 dots then stopping.)

    Can you please correct this (obviously, if need be, by using spaces) then discard this notifying comment? I repeat them here, with spaces as I presume your software alters the URL’s if there are more than one:

    http ://forum.internationalsocialistnetwork .com/thread/253/swp-takes-new-turn-learn

    http ://forum.internationalsocialistnetwork .com/thread/254/swp-crisis-isn-learn-2

    http ://revolutionarysocialism .tumblr .com/post/54588200394/ian-birchall-replies-to-his-critics

    http ://marxists .org/archive/cliff/works/1960/xx/trotsub.htm

    Thank you.

  5. The reason the three groups in the process are having these discussions is because they have arrived at very similar conclusions on a number of issues. The most important of these are the need to seriously build a pluarlist class struggle party to the left of Labour (rather than “intervene”) in it; the centrality of feminism in socialist organisations and the form of democratic internal life they have.

    I’ll leave it for others to judge how well the groups listed by Southpawpunch would fit into this dialogue.

  6. Southpawpunch // 14th July 2013 at 9:52 pm // Reply


    I happen to agree that such “blanket approach revolutionary unity (may or) is a non-starter”. But I don’t think we have any alternative but to try.

    The support for the far Left in the UK is dying out. Let’s compare now with the 80s (in a very rough way): What a left of Labour candidate may get (save Galloway and Greens): 1.5% to 0.5%; Membership of far left groups c12,000? to now less than 2,000?; The declining vote for Dave Nellist as a council candidate; the number of strikes.

    In 1920 various disparate heads were banged together and the CPGB was founded. Very few stayed out. And these comrades had very different views so I disagree that it is necessary to have “arrived at very similar conclusions on a number of issues” as Liam argues is a necessary precursor to unity.

    What enabled that unity to happen was the success of the Russian revolution which gave Moscow the credibility to ensure Communist unity in different nations. I fear very much that it would now also take the backing of successful revolutionists in say Athens or Rio for national communist parties to again be formed (although I could also see a new credible international established in which revolutionaries would be a minority e.g. Chavez spoke about establishing an international.)

    But we can’t wait around forever hoping for events elsewhere. We need to try and establish a unified party in which various voices can be heard. Not so long ago members of your three groups would be e.g. fiercely criticising what are now partners (e.g. from WP), or deigning not to get involved in points raised by the’ irrelevant sects’ (from the SWP). It’s great that this has changed.

    So while it may be today that the remaining SWP still sees itself as above the fray that also could well be different soon. I’d also see it as possible for revolutionaries to be in a party in which they really consider other members to be on the other side of the barricades whilst those structures are but theoretical; once we need to start actually collecting railway sleepers and railings we can then go our own ways.

    I think we have to collectively appreciate that we are going nowhere at present and . radical rethought is needed. I will make just one suggestion like that. Many Left leaders have been there since the 60s or 70s and whilst I appreciate their long and dedicated work they have all failed (quite possibly through factors beyond their control) and all should resign their positions. What boss of a capitalist company could possibly have such a record? For a limited period, all national committees should have an age limit of 30.

    Even if they don’t even deem to reply, I hope the invitation goes to all. If say the SP (or SWP) and the smaller groups listed joined together it could start a pole of attraction to maybe first us unaligned Trots (there are more of us than all the groups combined, I think) as well as wider.

    I don’t think communism can be defeated in that the basis for it will always be there but I think its parties can be destroyed for possibly centuries. Prohibitionism is just a single issue so not so good a comparison but is a once powerful cause that radically changed countries (e.g. USA), had mass organisations and large scale weekly newspapers, beat the incumbent MP in Dundee in 1922 (one Winston Churchill).

    Who now has heard of prohibitionism? Who may know of Trotskyism or Communism in Britain 10 year hence? Unify or die.

  7. Harry Blackwell // 15th July 2013 at 9:22 pm // Reply

    Revolutionary realignment, democracy and the new left

    7pm Tuesday 23rd July at the University of London Union, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY
    (Nearest Tube: Goodge Street/Russell Square)

    A joint public meeting of the Anticapitalist Initiative, International Socialist Network and Socialist Resistance

    Recent changes on the British left have opened up the prospect for revolutionary regroupment for the first time in many years. They equally pose the question of a different type of unity that brings those from diverse radical traditions together. Can we form a plural, heterodox, and effective anticapitalist tendency in Britain? A panel of speakers from the International Socialist Network, Anticapitalist Initiative, and Socialist Resistance, will reflect on this question and report on the discussions that have already taken place amongst the three groups on revolutionary unity.
    INTERESTED IN THIS NEW PROJECT? The process isn’t just about bringing together already organised socialists, but is equally about reaching out to the new layers of activists, and those have grown disenchanted with top down politics and are looking for something new. Contact revolutionaryunityprocess@gmail.com if you would like to find out more.

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