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Response to resignation letters

By John Ebel

These resignation letters and the DSP leadership's response remind me of my involvement in the Australian SWP during the 1970s. Twice, once in 1973 and then in 1977-78, I and other party members became disenchanted with the Cannonist-Zinovievist interpretations of Leninism and formed tendencies that drew on the theoretical and historical work of Marcel Liebman (particularly his book, Leninism under Lenin), Rosa Luxemburg and Isaac Deutscher.

While I am not familiar with the intimacies of the present debate, I can only go along with the authors of these letters, the echoes have a very familiar tone.

My summing up of my experience when I was a member of the SWP is as follows: I cannot sufficiently emphasise that it is important to have a party structure that attracts to it people who have the commitment and the determination to bring about a major overthrow-reconstruction of capitalist society that results in a political structure whose ruling principle is decentralisation and socialist democracy at every major and minor societal level.

The debates among the Bolsheviks and within the RSDLP have to be taken in their historical context and lessons must be drawn from them. The Bolsheviks operated under repressive, autocratic conditions, and partly, the tragic failure of the Soviet experiment can be attributed to the authoritarian party traditions established prior to the Russian revolution. Stalin skilfully utilised these in the 1920s and 1930s to destroy the Left Opposition.

During his battle with Stalin, Trotsky and the Left Opposition were severely hampered by the fact that they did not sufficiently challenge the myth of the unchanging, god-like Lenin. Lenin certainly changed his views about the revolutionary party in 1917, making it broader and looser. I recommend Liebman's book for details.

Perhaps what is important for the present to consider is the reasons as to why all left groups in Australia that consider themselves as coming out of the tradition of Leninism have remained numerically stagnant, losing thousands of members since my last association with the SWP in the late 1970s.

Another major issue to review profoundly, is the reasons for the hostility to libertarian and anarchist currents on the part of groups that regard themselves as Leninist-Trotskyist. Again a historical perspective is urgent here. Suffice it to say, that the division between a number of major libertarian socialist/anarchist currents and revolutionary Marxists during the 20th century has resulted in the triumph of real capitalism.

All the old divisions have now to be reassessed if a viable challenge and an alternative to capitalism can be created. Internationally this is already happening and I think many in the European Trotskyist movement are attempting to do this.

Michael Lowy's writings, among a plethora of others writing in New Left Review, New Politics, Monthly Review are particularly enlightening in this direction as is Michael Albert, Chomsky and many of the anarchist-libertarian writers contributing to Z Magazine and ZNET.


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Since October 17, 2003

Created on April 30, 2003