Saturday 9 February 2013

A brief note on the CC's call for a special conference

Having claimed that the opposition to the Central Committee's current strategy and perspective is limited to a tiny minority, the leadership of the party has been compelled to acknowledge the seriousness and depth of the crisis that they are in.  Their acknowledgment of the faction, setting aside the astoundingly misjudged tone of said acknowledgment (about which more later), is a small sign that they at last recognise reality.

Even so, the response is characteristic of the ham-fisted, bureaucratic short-cuts that they have deployed throughout this debacle.  The CC's response calls a special conference on 10th March, just over four weeks from now.  We want a special conference.  But this is, in fact, a manoeuvre of exactly the same type as the arbitrary deadline imposed on motions for a special conference prior to the National Committee.  Its purpose is approximately the same: to drastically curtail the period of debate.  Article 4 of the party constitution states: "Three months before each Conference the Central Committee opens a special pre-conference discussion in the organisation."  Accordingly, we have called for, and continue to call for, "a full pre-conference period".  It is the right of members to a full period of discussion, and the need for it is obvious.  If the most profound crisis in the history of the party does not require an unhurried, serious, in-depth debate, then what does?

We urge members to reject yet another arbitrary deadline, and demand their full constitutional rights.  We also urge members to send a clear signal of opposition by joining the faction if they have not done so and, if they agree with us, joining the platform.


  1. Its a conference in name only. Rather then a discussion about how to resolve the divisions in the party, its an attempt to re-affirm the interpretations of conference decisions which have led to division. A needlessly destructive and utterly irresponsible course. Hard to fathom.

  2. In view of the above, comrades might do well to re-read the following sections of Cliff's Biography of Trotsky (indeed the full chapter and the next chapter):

    However, things went from bad to worse:

    "[T]he regime which had essentially taken shape even before the Twelfth Congress and which, after it, was fully consolidated and given finished form, is much further removed from workers' democracy than was the regime during the fiercest period of war communism. The bureaucratisation of the party apparatus has reached unheard-of proportions through the application of the methods of secretarial selection. Even in the cruellest hours of the civil war we argued in the party organisations and in the press as well...while now there is not a trace of such an open exchange of opinions on questions that are really troubling the party...."

    As a result,

    "Within the basic stratum of the party there is an extraordinary degree of discontent.... This discontent is not being alleviated through an open exchange of opinions in party meetings or by mass influence on the party organisations (in the election of party committees, secretaries, etc.), but rather it continues to build up in secret, and, in time, leads to internal abscesses."

    Trotsky also renewed his attack on the Troika's [of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev] economic policy. The ferment within the party was intensified, he argued, by the industrial unrest. And this was brought about by a lack of economic planning. He found out that the concession the Troika had made to him at the Twelfth Congress was spurious. The congress had adopted his resolution on industrial policy, but this had remained a dead letter.

    Trotsky ends his letter with a statement that although hitherto he had declined to make his views public, now he would have to spread his ideas -- not to the public as a whole, not even to all party members, but to those 'mature' enough.

    "I have deliberately avoided submitting the struggle within the Central Committee to the judgment of even a very narrow circle of comrades: specifically to those who, given any party course that was at all reasonable, would surely occupy a prominent place in the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission. I am compelled to state that my efforts over the past year and a half have yielded no result.

    "I think it is not only my right but my duty to make the true state of affairs known to every party member whom I consider to be sufficiently prepared, mature, self-restrained, and consequently capable of helping the party find a way out of this impasse without factional convulsions and upheavals."


    More to follow...

  3. Trotsky's letter was kept secret from the party rank and file.

    On 15 October another letter was written, this time by a group of forty-six prominent party members. They issued a statement directed against the official leadership, criticising it in terms practically identical to those Trotsky had used. They declared that the country was threatened with economic ruin, because the "majority of the Politburo" did not see the need for planning in industry. The Forty Six also protested against the rule of the hierarchy of secretaries and the stifling of discussion:

    "Members of the party who are dissatisfied with this or that decision of the central committee or even of a provincial committee, who have this or that doubt on their minds, who privately note this or that error, irregularity or disorder, are afraid to speak about it at party meetings, and are even afraid to talk about it in conversation.... Nowadays it is not the party, not its broad masses, who promote and choose members of the provincial committees and of the central committee of the RKP. On the contrary the secretarial hierarchy of the party to an ever greater extent recruits the membership of conferences and congresses which are becoming to an ever greater extent the executive assemblies of this hierarchy.... The position which has been created is explained by the fact that the regime is the dictatorship of a fraction within the party....

    "The fractional regime must be abolished, and this must be done in the first instance by those who have created it; it must be replaced by a regime of comradely unity and internal party democracy."


    More to follow...

  4. The Forty Six went beyond Trotsky's letter of 8 October. They demanded that the ban on inner party groupings should be abolished. They finally asked the Central Committee to call an emergency conference to review the situation.

    Among the Forty Six were Trotsky's closest political friends: Evgenii Preobrazhensky, the brilliant economist; Iuri Piatakov, the most able of the industrial administrators; Lev Sosnovsky, Pravda's gifted contributor; Ivan Smirnov, the victor over Kolchak; Antonov-Ovseenko, hero of the October insurrection, now chief political commissar of the Red Army; N. Muralov, commander of the Moscow garrison. Radek expressed solidarity with the Forty Six in a separate declaration. They formed the core of the so-called 1923 Opposition, and represented the Trotskyist element in it.

    Besides them there were former adherents of the Workers' Opposition and Decemists (Democratic Centralists), like V. Smirnov, T. Sapronov, V. Kossior, A. Bubnov and V. Ossinsky, whose views differed from that of the Trotskyists. Many of the signatories appended strong reservations on special points to the common statement or expressed plain dissent. The Forty Six did not represent a solid faction, but a loose coalition of groups and individuals united only in a general protest against the lack of democracy in the party.

    The Central Committee and the Central Control Commission, together with delegates of ten leading party organisations, met for a plenary session from 25 to 27 October. The Troika used this session for counter measures against Trotsky and the Forty Six.


    Only one more to follow...

  5. At the party conference, which followed this plenum on 16-18 January 1924, Preobrazhensky was the main Opposition spokesman, and he continued to carry this major task throughout the ensuing few months of what has become known as the New Course controversy. He offered to the Central Committee and the Plenum of the Central Control Commission a resolution embodying the principle of workers' democracy, including free expression and discussion, real control and election by the membership and an end to the dominance of the secretariat.

    Preobrazhensky's proposal was rejected out of hand by the Troika. Instead they counter-attacked, accusing Trotsky and the Forty Six of factionalism.

    The Troika justified the Central Committee's decision not to distribute the Declaration of the Forty Six on the grounds that it would violate the banning of factional activities pronounced by the Tenth Party Congress. At the same time, the Central Committee declared its acceptance of the principle of workers' democracy.

    The resolution embodying both these elements was carried overwhelmingly at the party conference: by 102 votes to 2, with 10 abstentions. This was the springboard for the campaign against the Opposition which was shortly to begin. [Volume 3, pp.27-31]


    Sound familiar?


  6. The link to Cliff's biography should in fact be:

  7. What I find most astounding is the CC's statement: "A debilitating process of relentless internally-focused debate has gone on for weeks."
    In York branch, a small branch, we debated the issue at length at the second branch meeting following conference, and voted in favour of calling an emergency conference. However, we debated it *after* ordinary business, and ran over time. We've had two more subsequent debates, out of these it was only the report back by a NC member that took quite a lot of branch time, but that was understandable, because comrades had important questions.

    We always priorities 'business' (as in, anti-cuts, defend NHS, paper sales etc) higher than internal party matters, because our party exists to encourage and build a wider movement.

    Is York branch somehow an exception, and most other branches have suffered "debilitating, relentless debate for weeks"? I somehow expect and hope we are the norm, and the CC is indulging in hyperbole. An emergency conference called by the CC at such short notice is a distracting waste of time. Surely comrades can continue with just as much energy to work in the external struggle, while, as and when it is convenient, continuing to discuss our internal issues.
    "Even in the cruellest hours of the civil war we argued in the party organisations and in the press as well ..." Trotsky (see Rosa's posts above)
    If comrades managed it in times past, surely we can much more now!

    A largish group of comrades form a 'permanent' faction. What can the party do, expel these comrades? That would certainly be debilitating, because most of these comrades are highly active members. Will these comrades be dissuaded by a rushed conference? Their above post suggests not.

    The CC should leave the faction be, let comrades get on with working in the external movement, and having the internal debates as and when it suits. If enough comrades agree to have a special conference, then it should be conducted in a timely manner, so as not to distract from everyday organising.

    The NC vote clearly shows the CC's position is supported by the majority of the party, a rushed conference won't change that, which the CC know for sure. The purpose of the rushed conference as clearly stated by the CC is to "establish absolute clarity and to draw a line that nobody serious can claim to ignore". In other words, to establish absolutely that the CC is supported by the majority. But this has already been established twice since conference; in the failure to reach 20% support for a special conference; and the large majority NC vote against the faction.

    Today (9th) was national library day, in York we had a good show by comrades turning out to the protest outside York library, where everyone who gathered managed to collect 900 signatures against library cuts. From the point of view of both sides of this debate, this internal issue should not distract us from organising, it certainly hasn't in York.

    -- a York member

    1. You are right in part. Certainly here, in Liverpool branch, the crisis has been energising more than debilitating - more activity (bedroom tax), bigger meetings. And we are proceeding in much the same way as you. I suspect things may be different at the Centre; it is the CC who appear to be immobilised

      However this won't continue indefinitely, or even for very long. Muddling along, as you propose, is not an option. (A rushed one-day conference which the CC want to turn into a plebiscite on themselves isn't much better of course; we need a proper conference).

      I note that you refer to 'the party' expelling comrades forming the faction: the party does no such thing; the centre expels people. The NC vote does not necessarily show the majority opinion amongst members; the NC was elected what was, in a period like this, a long time ago; things change.

      All of us, at the level of the ordinary membership, want to get on with the job of fighting the cuts and building the struggle - that's why we joined. The problem is that we have a leadership and a party centre which is no longer capable, for whatever reasons, of leading and facilitating that process. The faction (IDOOP) represents precisely the will of members to drive the struggle forward.

      This is not ultimately a distraction. It is part of the same fight; but we are reforging our weapons. We may not succeed as a faction, in which case we will see a real crisis in the SWP, with real effects on the movement outside.

      Comrades who want to "get on with working in the external movement" rather than fighting internally are precisely those who should join the faction. Because the faction represents precisely the will, and the generosity of spirit, required to do that; as against the will to control, manage, mislead and misrepresent in the self serving interests of a party bureaucracy.

      a Liverpool member

  8. You're deluding yourselves. I am a usually sympathetic former party member. I left in the early 90s because I couldn't reconcile the idea of democratic centralism with the SWP's centralist idea of centralism.

    I have no idea whether Martin Smith is a rapist or not. But, fucking you have any idea how the way your party has handled this affects you?

    If an SWP activist approached me now about workplace activity, do you now what my first question would be?

    Actually, there'd be a few.

    Your internal debate is crucial. You need to repudiate the CC and DC, and demand some proper - hell, any - party democracy.

    I know substitutionism is a wonderful avoidance tool. But, right now, you don't have that luxury.

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