The “principled” coalition bogey
by Raghu K.
The following is an appraisal of prospects for T.A.I.C. in its current form. In analyzing the Bolshevik Tendency and certain ASA comrades’ position concerning the nature of Nicaragua and the Sandinista leadership, I noticed a common thread between it and the positions taken by the T.A.I.C fraction concerning the structure of the coalition (i.e. the accepted BT proposal). Since I reject the former—and since I consider the two inseparable—I now reject the latter. (NB this is not meant to be a comprehensive representation of my position on Nicaragua)
What is this common thread? In very general terms, I believe it is an incorrect conception of the role of the revolutionary vanguard (or, in our case, of the aspiring vanguard). In demanding of the Sandinistas actions based on an inadequate appraisal of the reality of the Nicaraguan situation, there lurks a tendency towards a fetishism of so-called principles.
Just as it is nowhere written that expropriation of the bourgeoisie (to any degree) is a necessary element of a “workers state”, we can nowhere find etched in stone the right to speak for all participating groups as an untouchable principle in the functioning of a coalition such as T.A.I.C.
Lenin in Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder correctly scolds those who by refusing to participate in reactionary trade unions are no more than vainly “wishing them away”. The Bolshevik Tendency—and now the ASA—should similarly be scolded for “wishing” a fragmented, tiny anti-intervention coalition into a genuine united front, that is into a grouping of mass working class organizations united around a specific task. Citing Trotsky’s On the United Front vis-a-vis T.A.I.C is thus akin to grafting the actions of the July 26 Movement in Cuba (or the Bolsheviks in Russia for that matter) onto what “must be”—or “should have been”—done by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
To denounce the Sandinistas’ actions—or “inaction”—without analyzing the Nicaraguan reality does a great disservice to the vanguard of a revolution that has greatly nourished our movement’s Revolutionary Tree. It also flies in the face of the theory of permanent revolution: that is the theory of combined and uneven development. Furthermore, it makes a mockery of the “critical support” we must steadfastly maintain against both opportunistic tailism and finger-wagging sectarianism.
Similarly, to invoke the classic works of our movement out of context does a great disservice to their authors, and is the trademark of sterile sects such as the Bolshevik Tendency, Trotskyist League, and International Socialists…
Sterile sects precisely because in the name of communist “purity” they severely restrict their sphere of operation. In regards to the current structure of T.A.I.C It is hardly “opportunistic”, leave alone “impure”, to see severe problems with the speakers policy. If people are frightened away from a coalition that stages actions in which two or more keynote speakers are from far-left groups, it is not incorrect to advocate the suppression of this policy. At this conjuncture what is not exclusive on paper is unfortunately de facto exclusive in practice.
In T.A.I.C what is crucial is a democratic decision-making process, as well as a principled approach of “no position” towards things like the Arias Plan. Even in the latter case if a certain RWL member hadn’t goofed at the conference and the endorsement of the Plan had gone through, I now believe that it would have been incorrect to discontinue our instrumental participation in the coalition.
I have always maintained that the only reason why we participate in T.A.I.C is to build our organization. That is still my position. Since when, however, is having a speaker at a demonstration a guarantee of attracting people to our ideas? Especially when said demonstration is attended by that very narrow section of the public not alienated by the previous speeches of far-left organizations? Selling the paper to, and speaking with, people from a broader section of the public is equally—if not more—effective for the building of the ASA. And attracting the broad public to T.A.I.C. actions is crucial in the defense of the Nicaraguan revolution.
Defense of the Nicaraguan revolution as an end in itself? Yes, insofar as anything has an end in itself (something which I think dialectical materialists reject). But prospects for the building of our organization are directly linked to the survival and extension of the Central American revolution. This is my interpretation of Comrade Barry W.’s Draft Resolution sub-head “Nicaragua remains the key”.
A parallel can be found with regards to our position on the NDP. Again, “as an end in itself” we advocate support for the NDP because of its union, working class base, and not because of its pro-capitalist, reformist programme. Nor do we withdraw our support in response to the NDP’s rather undemocratic structure. An increase in support for the NDP, and the election of an NDP government, would be a great boost for the working class movement, and thus a boost for the ASA. Within the NDP we fight for democratic structures, put forward socialist solutions, and thereby endeavour to win people to the ASA; all the while seeking to build the NDP’s base of support.
In T.A.I.C. the danger of pursuing this “fetishism of so-called principles” is greater, since we are “at the helm” and are the demonstrated defenders of a mass-action orientation. “At the helm of what?” should be the question at the basis of any analysis of T.A.I.C. Let us not allow political “self-righteousness” to increase in inverse proportion to the breadth of the coalition’s attraction.
What do I therefore propose for T.A.I.C.? Based on the success of the February 2 action and the turnout at the general meeting of February 10, we should evaluate the “popularity” of the speakers policy. If it is the case, as I believe it will be, that many of the usual participant groups are alienated by it (a fact we can not “wish away”) then we should act accordingly. What is “accordingly”? It doesn’t seem unreasonable that we could approach key figures within these groups with a “compromise” concerning the speakers policy, and work from there.
It should be remembered that we have indeed scored a few points in regards to “who are the most committed to building a mass-action anti-intervention coalition in the city”. This has, I believe, put the leaders of these groups a bit off balance before their membership: CAN deciding to endorse the action is a good example. Others such as Tools for Peace must be in a similar position, and could with appropriate changes be won back into the coalition.
The Bolshevik Tendency has shown itself to be extremely capable of building a united mass action. Whether it is stuck to the speaker policy remains to be seen, and should not be taken as a given. In any case, a broad anti-intervention movement is much more important to the ASA than maintaining cordial relations with the Bolshevik Tendency. We should never again be taken in by the bogey of “principled” coalition building.
In conclusion, I would like to point rather hesitantly to possible “side-effects” of the whole T.A.I.C affair on the ASA. Esther D.’s resignation can partially be traced back to her feelings on the conference. Our reaction to the story she told regarding the anti-racist movement in which her father participated was very much a product of this “fetishism of so-called principles” I have discussed. She was very concerned that the movement “for and of itself” no longer meant anything to the ASA. I now believe her concerns were well-founded.
The same can in a much more limited fashion be said about comrade Hamid N’s request for sympathizer status. He sensed the fraction was drifting in the direction which I have detailed, and this to him was perhaps the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. He acted in a way which he considered appropriate. In both cases, true, it is inexcusable for members of a revolutionary organization to leave instead of fighting to correct perceived flaws. But to denounce their departure in this way with little corresponding self-examination is a dangerous way to function.
We must constantly adapt the tactics of our organization to the realities of a constantly changing world. Likewise for the development of a “correct” political line. This may be time-consuming and difficult, but has thus far proven itself to be infinitely more rewarding for our revolutionary project. Our task is to bridge the gap between the overripe objective conditions of capitalism’s death agony and the underdeveloped subjective conditions. And that means facing the latter head-on from “within” and “without”. Fruitless demagogy is better left to those who “read their Lenin”.
January 29, 1988