A few words on the Workers Power split

July 6, 2006

So, it’s finally happened. The two-year factional dispute which had overwhelmed Workers Power, and the League for the Fifth International, came to a somewhat dramatic finale last weekend. The expelled – 30% of the L5I membership – have formed a new grouping with a provisional name of Permanent Revolution.

I won’t go into the inside workings of split, because many other bloggers – including Dave Osler and TWP – have gone into into it fairly well. The main axis of the split was around the “fifth internationalist” turn of the then League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) in the wake of Seattle, Prague and the World Social Forum.

Instead, I will make a few observations. I was a member of Workers Power (the British section of the L5I) for just under a year (Feb 2005-Jan 2006) and was heavily involved in youth work, being a member of the London Youth Branch (and, for a while, it’s organiser/secretary). I left due to personal circumstances, but I was neither a member of the majority or the minority as they currently stand.

The first thing that strikes me is the highly acrimonious nature. Of course, faction fights inside Trotskyist organisations are not exactly garden parties, but this one appears to be outright vicious. The majority accuse the minority of waging a dishonest struggle, and the majority are presenting internal emails from the minority as proof.

But the minority’s vitriol, as exemplified through the emails of Mark H, a former leading light in WP/B, the League, and in united front work, have a more material basis than the “political degeneration” the majority accuse him of. The majority cannot hold the moral high ground, especially when they denied the minority – which, in reality, made up half of the British section – fair representation on the National Committee (they had roughly five members on the NC) and the Political Committee (zero representation), or on the leadership bodies of the League.

The majority are accusing the minority of political degeneration. Of course they would, this is a split in a Trotskyist group, after all. You’ve got to have some amateur dramatics, otherwise… well, it wouldn’t be fun, now would it?

But I’m told to believe, by the majority, that those expelled – people who I knew quite well – were engaged in bullying and oppressing youth members. They bring up the case of the Manchester branch, which was (unconstitutionally) split, with an “adult” branch and a “youth” branch, with no co-ordination between the two. This is despite a PC enquiry finding no evidence of any bullying or oppression, and suggesting that the matter be dropped, pronto, because it was holding back any chance of building the group in Manchester (which it was). However, those who had made the accusations found themselves suspended by the Manchester branch, and that’s when the branch split took place.

See, none of this makes sense. When I left, the faction fight was in full swing, but it was still done on a democratic and comradely basis. This was only seven months ago, and what you have to realise is that the organisation I left was a highly democratic one. A political degeneration is a process that takes a long time. Not in the space of seven months.

Not that the minority are smelling of roses. Some of the accusations made against them are true – or at least, not being denied. Certainly, the Mark H email isn’t inviting the majority around for tea and crumpets – it calls for a wholescale wrecking of the organisation some of them had been in from the start (in the case of Stuart K) and had built for many, many years.

What’s worth noting about the split is it’s social base. The minority – which called for a return to Labour Pary and trade union work – were mostly workers who had been involved in WP for decades. The majority – which called for participation in the Socialist Party-lead Campaign for a New Workers Party,  the E/WSF and, most importantly, really pushing for the fifth international slogan inside these movements, including calling for the E/WSF to simply become a Fifth International.

Certainly, the majority’s implementation of it’s current ‘perspectives’ and ‘tasks’ is, quite frankly, delusional. This is from a discussion between me and Simon H, a leading member of the post-split WP (my replies are in red):

Do you think that globalisation is creating new social movements and bringing new forces into the fight against capitalism?

In so far as challening the extreme aspects of globalisation, yes. But the arguments against reformism and critical liberalism are far from won, and we are not on the verge of the WSF/ESF becoming the basis of a fifth international.

Is the period causing instability for the bosses which has led to an increasing level of attacks on the social gains of workers?

Yes – but in small, isolated cases. Recovery is not rude heath, we are still not on a par with the 1970’s.

Does the ESF and WSF represent important new formations in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism, even though they have reformist leaderships?

Not to the extent that the majority claim – potential is not reality.

Is it possible to call for a new workers party in Britain, to propose a united front with the workers and youth outside of Labour to build a new workers party?

Yes, but not through a far-left lead abstract campaign like the CNWP. Workers parties are formed through struggles – not through defeats, like the CNWP.

Is it possible to build a mass revolutionary, independent youth group?

Yes – but it’s a shame the L5I do not do this in practice.

I suspect, though I hope I’m not proved correct, is that both sides will simply become rumps. PR runs the real risk of becoming “Classic Workers Power” and hanker over the old days of Labour Party fraction work,  and agitation in the trade unions, and simply pretend that Seattle et al. never took place, while the majority will simply dive into youth work, and their TU work – which used to be very effective for a group of WP’s size – will disappear.

As I said on the majority-controlled REVO boards:

Both sides are currently showing lots and lots of venom, an hysterics, and somewhere notions of comradely debate have been lost. That’s not the WP I was a member of, and the majority and the minority are equally as bad as each other.

Like I have said, I will have to put my plans on re-applying for membership on ice. I think that this split has wrecked “fifth internationalism” and the basic body of politics that the pre-split L5I stood for. On one hand, there is the pessimism of the PR tendency, but on the other hand, the over-optimism and inflatory propaganda of the ‘new’ WP. Both are as dangerous as each other.

Certainly, the ‘new’ WP has no trade union and very little labour movement experience. The focus on youth work has left the majority of the majority unarmed with any kind of real trade union experience, which makes an orientation to the working class next to impossible. The loss of theoreticians is repairable, but will take time. The loss of trade unionists is, I think, much more damaging to the ‘new’ WP – more damaging than they want to admit, and especially in the short to mid term.

The expelled, while having plenty of trade unionists, suffer from having only one or two comrades involved in youth work, which, in a period of stunted growth in class struggle, means that they are unarmed in the one area where WP has grown. They will, I fear, end up retreating into the trade unions, and will pick a battle they, with their current forces, have no chance in winning.

“You don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows.” Bob Dylan
Yes, I know the Weathermen used this quote too, but I find it apt in this situation


One Response to “A few words on the Workers Power split”

  1. […] adopted by the L5I at its 2003 Congress [1]. It had first organised as a tendency then as a faction.[2]The split followed a discussion of how to assess the impact, on class politics in general and the […]

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