When we first contacted the LRP, six years ago, we were struck by three rare qualities that your organization seemed to possess: a firm grasp of Marxist theory, integrity, and an ability to combine these two qualities with work in mass movements and organizations. It seems to us that even though your organization was probably always centrist, or at least since long before our first contact with you, its present shames its past.
The LRP has some very thought-out and sophisticated articles on political theory: “No Draft is No Answer”, “Was Trotsky A Pabloite?”, “Death Agony of a Deformed Theory”, “Propaganda and Agitation”, and “Myth and Reality of the Transitional Program” are probably the most significant ones. The problem? The most recent of these articles (Prop. and Agit.) is from 1998, and most date back to the early 80s and late 70s. The only book you have ever published is from 1989. Is this not unbelievable? Can an organization which claims to be Marxist afford to not develop its political theory for 15 years (and that’s if we’re being gracious – otherwise, it would be closer to 30)? We urged you, pleaded you, over the last few weeks, to join us in studying once more dialectical materialism and the Marxist method. Have you listened? Have you even addressed this concern? No. Apparently, today’s LRP neither needs nor desires political theory. Centrism never does. Political theory interferes with one’s attempts not to offend people who hold reactionary positions like refusing to defend the Islamist rebels in Mali and supporting the NPA position on this question.
The LRP used to do a lot of union work, anti-war work, etc. We have heard and read about some incredibly bold and commendable actions that you took in the past, most recently during the strike of 2005, when you called for a strike despite intense pressure from the union bureaucracy and threats from the state. But today you seem to be involved in nothing. You join protests, but you never take part in organizing them. You limit yourself to criticism. Trotsky had something to say about groups with your MO:
“In the ranks of the Left Opposition, especially its French section, a spiritual disease is rather widespread, which I would, without going into an analysis of its social roots, call by the name of its most finished representative: Souvarinism. It is – approaching the question on the plane of political psychology – a disease combining the paralysis of political will with hypertrophy of rationalizing. Cabinet wit without roots, without an axis, without clear aims, criticism for criticism’s sake, clutching at trifles, straining at gnats while swallowing camels – such are the traits of this type, concerned above all with the preservation of its narrow circle or personal “independence.” A circle of this kind, too irresolute to join the social democrats, but likewise incapable of the politics of Bolshevism, incapable of active politics in general, is primarily inclined to jot notations on the margins of actions and books of others. This spirit, I repeat, is most graphically expressed by Souvarine who has finally found an adequate medium for his tendency in the shape of a bibliographical journal, in which Souvarine subjects to criticism everything and everybody in the universe as if in the name of his own “doctrine.” But the whole secret lies in the fact that Souvarine has no doctrine and, by virtue of his mental makeup, cannot have. In consequence, Souvarine’s spiritual creative work, which lacks neither wit nor resourcefulness, is by its very nature parasitic. In him are combined the calcined residues of communism with the as yet unfolded buds of Menshevism. This precisely constitutes the essence of Souvarinism, insofar as it is at all possible to speak of any essence here”
~Leon Trotsky, A Letter to Albert Treint, September 1931
We begged and pleaded you to join us in studying the tactic of the united front, which we too have failed in applying in the past. Have you listened? Have you responded? No. The united front is anathema to centrism. It exposes its vacillations and its political impotence. This is exactly why revolutionaries insist on applying it. Your members remain not only detached from mass movements, but also denied theoretical education that you should’ve supplied, and training in writing, another important aspect of membership in a revolutionary organization. You may have been centrists in the past, but over the last few years, you have transformed yourselves into a cult.
It is not hard to figure out how you got this way. Your lack of activity expresses cynicism about the working class, pessimism about your ability to recruit it. This in turn is an expression of the LRP’s inability to break from middle class politics and sink roots in the working class. Stalinism’s cynicism about the working class following 1933 was expressed in its policy of the popular front and its search for bourgeois “fellow-travelers”. The LRP, while not Stalinist, today has the same attitude. Your fellow travelers are the main reason for your inability to write about struggles as they happen. For who might you offend if you say openly, for example, that you defend the Islamist rebels in Mali? Perhaps fellow-travelers in Egypt, for whom Islamism representing “black reaction” means that they are free to join a multi-class bloc which includes not only Nasserists but also representatives of the old Mubarak regime? And who might you offend if you take a position on Syria without proving to the same anti-Muslim crowd that the Islamists aren’t in control there?
You promised to write back to us regarding our criticisms. You promised to keep the political discussion going, including on Mali. You promised a joint bulletin, meaning one where the ISL would get a say on which documents are included and also participate in writing an introduction to the debate. You claim to have created this bulletin, on your own; you claim to have distributed it to your members and sending it to us via air-mail. Why air-mail when you could send documents via e-mail? No doubt, to buy more time.
In light of all these political problems and broken promises, we say to you: goodbye. There is no point in trying to build a joint tendency with a so-called Marxist organization that never keeps its promises. In this period of swift changes, continuing these attempts can only paralyze us politically like you have paralyzed yourselves. Your contempt for your members, who are entitled to know what happened, is part of your essence. Such paralysis is the last thing we need. Like with any other centrist organization, we would readily collaborate with you in united front actions, but we no longer consider our two organizations as moving towards forming a common tendency.
In the document reporting our discussions, you have written about how you are looking for co-thinkers and not followers. Perhaps this is true. The problem is that you are looking for co-thinkers and not, for lack of a better word, co-actors. Such people might force you to act, and you do not want that. That is why you refused to base our common tendency – which never came to be – on the principles of democratic centralism. You have other principles, that you claim we have broken. But Marxists only recognize one principle: the dictatorship of the proletariat. We end this e-mail and this relationship with a joke Jabra Nicola used to tell about other ostensibly Marxist groups which tried to hold on to such abstract principles:
A man sits in the theater behind a man with a large hat. He asks the man to remove his hat, but the man with the hat says: “No. I am wearing this hat out of principle.” Annoyed, the man goes back to his seat, until he cannot take any more and goes back to the man with the hat. “No”, he says, “I told you – it’s a principle”. The man goes back to his seat again, furious, until at the end he gets up, goes up to the man with the hat and tosses his hat out, saying: “sir, this isn’t a principle – it’s baldness!”
Internationalist Socialist League