On the Logan Show Trial – Appendix C (ii)
Excerpt of letter from Bill Logan to John Sharpe, iSt International Secretary
28 March 1975
. . .
While the Melbourne comrades were fighting together on a completely principled (if wrong) basis in this debate on perspectives, the following day the same comrades took on an aspect that if developed would result in cliquism—that is, subordinating the needs of political struggle to factors which are essentially personal. Whilst distancing themselves from the content of his remarks, they gave comfort and protection to comrade Keith when he came under attack for his characterisation of me as a “wheeler and dealer”.
The content of Keith’s argument was that I was a wheeler and dealer, that this derived from my background in the New Zealand National Party, and that it was manifest particularly in a proclivity for using my authority to break Keith’s political allies from him by making false assertions that his partners were mistaken in being allied to him.
One example he gave was the case of a minor dispute in the Sydney Local last year. Three comrades arrived several hours late for a CO assignment arranged with the local by comrade Adaire. There were several factors: (i.) bad planning by Keith the organizer at the time; (ii.) Tony’s delay in conveying the instructions until shortly before action was necessary; and (iii.) the countermanding by David [Strachan] (alternate member of the CC at the time) of Adaire’s instructions as conveyed by Tony. There was an attempt in the local to have executive member Tony N share responsibility with equally with David S. I managed to convince the local that while Tony might not have performed brilliantly he did his job and any mistake he made was not on a par with that of countermanding without cause instructions issuing from the national secretary. Keith, however was evidently not convinced and indeed continued to believe that there was no objective basis for distinguishing between the two comrades in blame, and so came to the conclusion that the majority had been stripped from him simply by sleight of hand. (What is quite clear is that he obviously came also to the conclusion that as he was up against someone so very crafty it would be foolish to immediately fight it, so he shut up, without moving any motion or launching any continuing struggle.)
The other example of wheeling and dealing given by Keith was taken from the previous day’s debate. After a good speech by [Doug] which came to conclusions I think are wrong I interjected flippantly “He’s quite right—he just hasn’t learnt who to bloc with yet.” Comrades laughed, and the debate went on, changed so far as I could see only by a mild horror on the part of the Melbourne comrades at the thought of being characterised as anything quite so evil-sounding as a bloc. (I think the comrades have learnt that blocs are necessary and desirable to political struggle, being no more than the comrades on a particular side of an argument.) Keith, however, was very disturbed because it seemed that the Melbourne comrades were thence less solid in their support for his position. It might seem strange to be so concerned about the loss of allies in a discussion one holds to be merely on a question of a minor refinement of the leadership’s position, but concerned he was, and he could explain that loss to himself only in terms of the interjection he couldn’t understand. Anyway Logan must have been consciously distorting the truth in implying that [Doug’s] arguments should lead him to the other side of the debate, because Keith certainly didn’t see how that could be so.
The clear and absolutely necessary logical conclusion to be drawn from Keith’s examples was that by saying I was a wheeler and dealer Keith meant that I habitually and deliberately lied about my opinions on other comrades’ positions in order to stifle political discussion. However, in the first round many more senior comrades leant over backwards to let Keith out of the corner he was getting himself into, and in my interim summary I actually said I enjoyed wheeling and dealing with the bourgeoisie, was pretty good at it, and, indeed, had just saved the organisation over a thousand dollars on typesetting equipment. But I also said that the phrase “wheeling and dealing” in the context in which it had been used carried with it the implication of being politically dishonest, which would be totally incompatible with leadership of the Spartacist League. The comrade did not volunteer any clarification in later rounds, but when under pressure and challenged directly he claimed the phrase in no way implied dishonesty—but merely that he believed that when I said [Doug’s] argument should have led him to the other side of the dispute I knew that was not the case(!) Quite clearly his denials of any imputation of political dishonesty were consciously hypocritical—which makes it abundantly clear that he did not really see dishonesty as a political crime, but rather he saw “excessive” dishonesty as inexpedient—and “excessive” dishonestly is perhaps only that which is directed at Keith. It seemed clear to the comrades that Keith’s main purpose was to paint as sinister and malevolent the struggle of the leadership against him and its winning away from him those who are arguing with him.
Comrades Bret, Andrew and [Doug] knew and said that Keith was wrong, but tried to make light of it. What their position amounted to was: It is only a small mistake, and we don’t want people to be too hard on poor old Keith. But whether Keith understood it or not, political honesty within an organisation is an important matter, and any accusation that a member, particularly a leader, of the organisation is wanting in political honesty must be taken extremely seriously. This organisation depends on programmatic clarity built only through rigorously honest political struggle and on its leadership having an authority born legitimately of political trust.
The alternative to rigorous political honesty is for the organisation to become a mire of suspicion and intrigue in which leadership does not flow from programmatic clarity but from proficiency as a wheeler and dealer. To say the organisation is in fact like that is to call it a Byzantine Cellar—and that is just a clever way of saying, while pretending not to, that it is hopelessly bureaucratically deformed. The nice point is that Keith is himself the perfect example of what is produced by even the belief that the organisation is like that—a comrade progressively more demoralized through political paralysis—for who can struggle when those around him are or seem to be more proficient liars? If the organisation were really led by wheelers and dealers its rank-and-file would become merely a pack of political eunuchs.
Whilst it is absolutely obligatory for any revolutionary to launch a struggle against any manifestation he perceives of an inadequacy of revolutionary integrity in the party (and especially in its leadership) to make unfounded or false charges serves not to cleanse the party but simply to weaken authority and mutual respect for integrity within the party. A validly acquired reputation for political honesty in any comrade is a valuable tool of the organization, which, until a serious case is made against it, must be protected carefully by the organization.
In making light of Keith’s charges the Melbourne comrades make light of this organisation’s freedom from bureaucracy, of its membership’s political strength, and of the authority of its leadership. There was a tendency for the comrades to suggest that Keith should be rewarded, even though he was wrong, for daring to criticise the leadership, and for expressing a view different from the majority’s. As comrade Bret said:
“It looks to me that he is the only one that’s really put up any sort of—opposition or—not necessarily opposition but—anything—just different, you know, just anything really different, and he’s being squashed because he was wrong. He knew he’d been squashed because he was wrong, but there was nothing else different put up. I think that’ll probably have a very demoralising effect on Keith and not help him. There’s nothing different brought up. I don’t know what could be brought up, but I don’t think there’s anything else really different that’s been brought up. I always imagined a communist group would have a lot of differences in them to be fought out.”
But this organisation is not used to seeing expression of differences or criticism of the leadership as above and beyond the normal call of duty, but rather as part of the general political responsibility of every revolutionary to say what he thinks and subject it to the scrutiny and if necessary the attack of his comrades. As we told the comrades repeatedly, differences are not good in themselves. They must be raised but are good only in the clarity achieved through their resolution, normally through a process of political struggle which is often necessarily tough, even bitter. Thus we strive not for a variety of views, but homogeneity.
Internal political struggle is a struggle to achieve homogeneity—for the individual member with a difference from the majority to convince the organization of his views and for the majority to convince him of its views. The process clarifies, possibly changes, both. The structure, norms and practices of the organisation and its members must be developed to further that political struggle, for without it there can be no development of revolutionary theory.
There was a definite tendency in the discussion on the incoming leadership at the plenum for the Melbourne comrades to allow personal considerations to prevent them from pursuing the political struggle. As comrade Andrew said:
“I think that [Doug], Bret and myself share this sort of concern over Keith, because we sort of, we have to live with him, you know [laughter]. Whether he’s offering much leadership or not—everybody’s been accusing him of not offering leadership—but you know, for us, we’re not very experienced, OK? He has offered some leadership and he has been a sort of main sort of influence on us, and so to see him demoralised sort of demoralises me. I don’t know about Bret and [Doug], but it does demoralise me as well, you know.”
The afternoon after the plenum I spoke to Keith privately in my office, stressing the importance of honesty in the party as necessary to healthy political struggle and an authoritative leadership, and making it quite clear that his protestation that he in no way implied dishonestly on my part just would not hold water. He admitted he had been saying I was dishonest, but said he had believed it principled to vote for me nevertheless because he did not think I was cynically dishonest, that is, presumably, that he believed that when I lie, I think I am serving the revolution. Political lying then, at this point in time was not for him a principled question—lying, though it should not become excessive, was within the framework of the politically acceptable.
I think the comrade left Sydney in a state of confusion on the questions of principle (which is surely progress) and I believe that I convinced him I had not been dishonest in the cases about which he had worried. He has considerable potential as a leader if he learns the lessons of the discussion opened by his remarks at the plenum, and it will be an indication that he is starting to learn those lessons if he is able to fight for clarity among the newer comrades in Melbourne about the nature, functions and importance of principled political struggle.
The discussion opened by the comrade gives the organisation levers which may make it possible to resolve the contradictions in his consciousness and may lead to Keith’s development as a senior member of the organisation. There are, however, alternative outcomes, and it may be that intense political struggle, together with the accompanying lifting of the special protection he has often needed will further demoralise the comrade and turn him against bolshevism. The comrades working with him in Melbourne must not allow the possibility of the negative alternative to make them draw back from the fight. In no fight are you guaranteed a victory—but nothing worthwhile is won without a fight.
So that, then, is the situation in the SL/ANZ.