Why "Trotskyism"?

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jonthom
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May 21 2013 08:34
Why "Trotskyism"?

So I was in a pub yesterday with a friend and we got to talking about the makeup of the British left (because that's the sort of crazy, rock and roll lifestyle I live nowadays) and a question occured to me.

Basically the topic says it all I guess. Why Trotskyism?

More specifically: why is it that "Trotskyism" (in quotes because I'm not convinced their politics have much to do with the old Colonel Sanders lookalike, except to the extent they identify as socialists but are anti-Soviet) seems to have become the default position for a fair chunk of the British left, while other tendencies - Stalinism, Maoism, etc. - while they might exist are, comparatively speaking, fairly marginal even by the already marginal standards of the UK left?

My impression - which may of course be entirely wrong - is that in the rest of Europe, and other Western countries, there is a bit more presence of other tendencies, Maoism, Stalinism, "Eurocommunism" and the like while in the UK they didn't really take hold to the same extent, at least from the second world war onward.

On a related note, how is it that the SWP managed to get into such a dominant position as oppose to one of the dozens of other Trot groups?

Just kinda curious is all....there's some obvious explanations (i.e. that "Trotskyism" allows people to identify with the good bits of the Russian Revolution while distancing themselves from Stalin et al) but that only answers part of the question I think.

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May 21 2013 11:09

British Trotskyism in its indigenous forms of "Healyism", "Grantism" and "Cliffism" became strong because it was (together with a more amorphous "New Left" which never cristallized unlike in France, Italy or Denmark, into a party or org) able to pick up many of those more radical and honest CPGB members who left or were expelled after the Hungarian uprising 1956/57 due to particular circumstances (linked to the articles of Peter Fryer in the Daily Worker) which also meant, that there were fewer radical-minded people in the CPGB who potentially could have become "anti-revisionists" a few years later ... on the continent, it is a different story with many Trotskyist, especially "Mandelist" organisations e.g. in France whose mixture of older militants who despite all odds had survived 1936-45 and of 1960ies radicals were (and sometimes still are) pretty attractive ... another reason is, that Trotskyism (or better the plural form Trotskyisms) was after 1945 the only sizeable survivor of the marxist non-stalinist left who neither had disappeared or become a minuscule force (like e.g. Brandlerism or the members of the London Bureau) or merged into social democracy

Euro-Communism was pretty strong in Britain with the old CPGB but they preferred to network in Labour and TUC unions instead of a more independent performance ... many have become Blairites or TUC bureaucrats

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May 21 2013 10:15

Yeah, as I understand it Hungary 56 pretty much put paid to the Stalinists in the UK who then pretty much collapsed into the insignificant fringe groups which still stagger on today.

It seems like this didn't happen to the same extent elsewhere (although still in other places CP headquarters came under siege).

I never really thought before but Entdinglichung makes a really good point about the Peter Fryer articles so I wonder how much of an impact that had. Possibly a big one!

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May 21 2013 14:19

in Italy, the PCI lost in 1956/57 at least around 10% of their members of whom many went to the PSI which ended because of Hungary its institutionalized alliance with the PCI, the PSI in that period had still a strong radical wing (Raniero Panzieri being a CC member and later editor of its theoretical journal, Luxemburgists like Lelio Basso and others who founded later the (2nd) PSIUP), in Denmark, the majority of the CP broke with Moscow and formed in 1959 the "Socialist People's Party", a kind of "New Left" party ... what is unique with the CPGB is, that Fryer was able to report more or less uncensored during the Autumn of 1956 from Hungary in the party's central daily for a few days and that the abrupt change of the coverage on the Hungarian issues contributed strongly to the conflict in the party ... the PCI's L'Unita for example never printed similar articles despite all people being involved (according e.g. to the autobiographies of Giorgio Napolitano and Rossana Rossanda) knowing that they were printing shameless lies

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May 21 2013 11:32
jonthom wrote:

On a related note, how is it that the SWP managed to get into such a dominant position as oppose to one of the dozens of other Trot groups?

I think, there's are several reasons

- easiest to join and not too demanding in terms of theory, activity and finances
- state cap theory was an asset after 1989/91
- wasn't buried inside the Labour Party during the 70ies and 80ies
- no really big scandals until recently
- they know how to party [sic!]

Harrison
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May 21 2013 17:56

Also that they out manoeuvred rival tendencies in the initially multi-tendency International Socialists, and retained most of its organisational infrastructure where other tendencies had to leave and build new infrastructure.

I'd also say that whilst the SWP is more dominant on the political scene, the Socialist Party / ex-Militant Tendency are easily the most powerful trotskyist group in the trade unions.

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May 21 2013 18:26

true ... from my own time in a left USFI group in Germany around 12 years ago, I remember that the German SWP clone had ten times more members than "us" (because they let everyone apart from people with too much experience in politics join) but "we" had probably ten times more union reps, shop stewards and factory council members

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May 22 2013 11:15

Also, I think a big part is just that the other Trot movements have died away. The WRP collapsed with the Healy-rape thing and the SP never really recovered from being expelled. This would be quite different if the SP had kept a seat or two in parliament, say for example, Dave Nellist had managed to keep his seat. In Ireland, the SP is probably marginally bigger than the SWP and the difference is basically Joe Higgins.

Also, to state the obvious but when you look at Trotskyism before the '60s' in the UK you are looking at tiny numbers of people. I think people leaving the CPGB mattered but only insofar as it created microgroups that were capable of growing. The real growth came with the '60s'.

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May 22 2013 12:11

especially "The Club", which became Healy's SLL/WRP benefited, being able to recruit Fryer (who left after a few years) and other prominent intellectuals (B. Pearce, C. Slaughter) but especially some large factory branches of the CPGB like the one at Morris Motors in Cowley/Oxford (around Alan Thornett, expelled around 1975, today the core of Socialist Resistance), they but also other Trotskyist groups gained a wider access to industrial militants after 1956/57 by recruiting CPGBers ... the Socialist Review Group around Cliff and Kidron who became IS and later SWP wasn't btw that successful because they rejected those former CPGB members who wanted to retain their trade union positions (like union rep/shop steward, etc.) and accepted only "pure" rank and file trade unionists, the group at Cowley around Thornett originally wanted to join them but than chose Healy's Club because several of them were shop stewards

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May 22 2013 15:06

p.s.: original Trotskyism was an extremely marginal current on the British left up to the 1950ies which evolved out of a very marginal CP around 1929-30, relatively late in comparison with e.g. the Left Opposition (which was broader than "Trotskyism") in countries like France, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Czechoslovakia or Spain and without personalities well-known in the movement like e.g. Rosmer, Sneevliet, Nin, Vereeken or Urbahns; the original Trotskyist groups emerging 1929-30 were relatively small, based more or less solely in London and most of its member weren't very experienced, they had limited influence in the Railway Clerks Association in Poplar (just to compare it, the Belgian Left Opposition group was in 1932 one of the leading forces in a miners wildcat strike in the Chaleroi region involving tens of thousands of miners) ... and some of the leading members of the movement from the 1930ies on came from outside Britain (CLR James, Charlie van Gelderen, Grant, Cliff, Kidron, Healy)

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May 30 2013 08:31

p.p.s.: quite a number of the first Trotskyists in Britain came from a background of the more radical wing of "Sacramental/Anglo-Catholic Socialism" who first joined the CPGB and than evolved towards Trotskyism around 1930, some of them like Reg Groves (who wrote a good history of the farm workers movement in England) retained this religious affiliation ... weren't there also some Anarchists in Britain who came from a High Church socialist background?

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Sep 19 2013 08:37

"The Club's" weekly The Newsletter 1957-58, edited by Peter Fryer before Healy took it completely over is now online ... weren't some of the founders of Solidarity also involved in The Club/SLL: http://marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/newsletter/index.htm

Battlescarred
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Sep 19 2013 12:17

Maoism did have a certain following in late 60s onward though many of the myriad groups seem to have imploded in the early 1980s:
see here:
www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.firstwave/shortguide.htm
(N.B. written 1978)
And more up to date here:
http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.ebbingtide/powell.htm

Now all that's really left are the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
and the arch-Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain (M-L) descended from the Maoist Association of Communist Workers
The Revolutionary Communist Party (M-L) descended from the Communist Party of england (M-L) very pro-North Korea
plus the various exile/refugee Maoist groups among Peruvians, Turks, Kurds etc

Battlescarred
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Sep 19 2013 12:18

The only Person I know from a High church background who is an anarchist is Laurens Otter

Battlescarred
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Sep 19 2013 12:31

Just NOT true that the Socialist Review Group rejected shop stewards etc
See Ian Birchall's history of the SRG/SWP here:
http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/otherdox/smp/smp1.html
Passage on the SRG:
"rade union intervention was necessarily very limited for a small group with few industrial workers. But priority was always given to the few opportunities that did exist. Minutes of the first few months of the group’s existence record discussion of the coming USDAW Conference, at which a comrade was to be a delegate, and the recommendation that a comrade should stand for the NEC of NALGO. There was regular work on the Birmingham Trades Council.

And in 1959 Geoff Carlsson, a founder member of the group and convenor at the ENV factory in North West London, ran for the Presidency of the AEU. The number of AEU members in the group could have been counted on the fingers of one hand, and there was no intervention other than the work of individuals. But candidates had the right to circulate an election address, and Carlsson used this to put forward an alternative policy for the union. After criticising the right-wing leadership of the union for failing to give a lead over wages or redundancies, he went on:

‘In the elections over the past years, members have bad to choose between candidates backed by the right-wing Labour or the Communist Party. The choice bas not been easy. Although most members owe allegiance to the Labour Party, they cannot accept the policies pursued by the right-wing of the Trade Unions and Labour Party when these have included wage-freezing, class-collaboration and "sell-outs". Alternatively, although they respect the militant activities of the individual Communist Party member in the daily struggles on the shop floor, they cannot ignore the external loyalties of the Communist Party to Russia; nor forget the anti-working-class measures adopted by that country in East Berlin, Poznan, Hungary, etc.’

That there was some response to this position was shown by the voting; Carlsson, without any machine at his disposal, got 5,615 votes out of a total of 91,400, against 57,127 for right-winger Carron and 19,799 for Communist Party member Birch."
And yes Solidarity was founded by ex-SLLers who had been expelled or resigned: Chris Pallis, Ken Weller etc

Battlescarred
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Sep 19 2013 12:40

And Steven, 1956 didn't really put paid to THE Communist Party immediately. It still had influence within the union apparatuses and at workplace level for some time to come, and within CND. The China/Russia controversy led to only smallish Maoist splits and things didn't really change I would say until 1968 and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, but even then the CP retained some influence. It was not until the split between the Euro-Communists and the traditionalists that the CP became really unstuck.

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Sep 20 2013 22:28

In my country Trots are a little like activist clowns xD Espessially Polish SWP section. We have also CWI and Spartakists. We had also IMT but later they went maoism and now insurrecitionary "anarchism"...

baboon
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Sep 21 2013 11:55

The Communist Party in Britain retained enormous strength in the trade unions despite 1956 in Hungary. From memory the CP ran many unions: electrical supply, docks, car plants, print and the CP still had a very strong influence in the NUM up to and during the miners' strike in 1984. As the struggle of the working class came up against the rigidity of the trade union structures at the time of 70s and 80s - a rigidity exemplified in stalinist organisation, trotskyist rank-and-filism represented the need to make the unions more malleable and less obviously against the working class.

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Sep 23 2013 11:42
Black Adder wrote:
In my country Trots are a little like activist clowns xD Espessially Polish SWP section. We have also CWI and Spartakists. We had also IMT but later they went maoism and now insurrecitionary "anarchism"...

Poland had a fairly strong Left Opposition (whose delegates were opposed to setting up the IVth International, they considered it premature) but most of them did not survive the German and Soviet occupation, many been murdered at Auschwitz, Treblinka, etc. ... a underground section of the USFI emerged after 1968, two good friends of me (one sadly passed away 15 years ago) got arrested in 1983 while passing through East Germany when they smuggled Polish-language USFI material to their contacts in Wroclaw, they were released after a few weeks when an international solidarity campaign kicked of ... don't know if the Polish USFI section is still around, met a few of them in 98 or 99, they had a reputation for harsh factional infighting, their majority was pretty orthodox, I think, they called themselves NLR/Dalej

p.s.: as far as I know, the main base of the Polish left opposition before 1939 apart from the Jewish workers movement was the workers movement in the Lvov/Lemberg area, they had a sizeable presence in the "Communist Party of Western Ukraine" (among them the young Roman Rosdolsky), there were if I remember correctly from an interview or article with Isaac Deutscher very few "ethnic Polish people" in the LO

an interesting piece on on Ludwik Hass (1918–2008), one of the few survivors: http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/backiss/vol10/no1/crawford.... ... he must have been quite an interesting personality, when he finally returned in 1957 from Vorkuta:

Quote:
The arrival in Warsaw was quite a performance. At the railway station there was a welcoming delegation of students, but he stepped up on the soap-box provided, announced that he was coming back as a revolutionary to overthrow the bureaucracy and then sang the Internationale giving the clenched fist salute. This everyone thought rather astonishing if not totally mad.