Memories of Entrism Past

August 20, 2016 at 7:37 pm (Uncategorized)

Leon Trotsky was assassinated 76 years ago today, but the Prophet’s children are apparently still making trouble.

A couple of days ago, I read in the Guardian story about the UK based Trotskyist group the Alliance for Workers Liberty   (the organization  led  by veteran Trotskyist Sean Matgamna most famously known as Socialist Organizer) and its dastardly plan to infiltrate the Labour Party (a policy known as “entrism”), it brought back a few memories.

The first political group I joined was the Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) when I was 18 or 19. At that time, there was no youth section in the party because the leadership of the party feared it would become dominated by Trotskyists. (This was actually the position of one of the youth chairs!) Oddly enough though, during election time the party establishment loved the Trotskyists hidden in the party as they worked the hardest, and their poll counts were always accurate, so if they occasionally sold a subscription to Socialist Voice, so be it.

It wasn’t long after I joined the NDP before I came across Trotskyist in the ONDP’s Left Caucus. The Left Caucus  was founded after the expulsion of the Waffle, and initially it was a broadly left organization. By the time I began to attend it’s meeting, it was, if not dominated by, then strongly influenced by an entrist group called Forward.  The leaders of Forward including veteran Trotskyist Ross Dowson had been  a part of the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International’s official Canadian section the League for Socialist Action (LSA), but had left arguing that the LSA’s position on the NDP was ultra-left and that Canadian nationalist was progressive. Initially, the group was called the Socialist League, but over time they adopted the name of their newspaper Forward, becoming the Forward Readers Group and becoming more and more secretive about their Trotskyism in the process. . In fact when the Left Caucus helped to launch the Campaign for An Activist Party and ran Judy Rebick (herself a former member of the Revolutionary Workers League, the successor to the LSA) for party president, CAP organizer Michael Shapcock was apparently shocked to discover that many of the grassroots activists there were members of a secret Trotskyist faction. He need not have worried, but more on that later. I attended Left Caucus meeting , and did begin to consider myself a Trotskyist within the NDP, but the overlap between being a member of a Trotskyist group and being part of social democracy was brief. I was bound for more, sectarian waters 🙂

The strategy of entering larger ostensibly working class organizations was conceived as a short-term tactic by the Trotsky and his tiny scattered supporters in the thirties. in 1919, Trotsky had denounced social-democracy as an appendage of the bourgeois state, but a dozen or so years later, his fortunes had changed somewhat. As social-democracy moved left in the thirties, Trotsky argued that while the party must always be independent, his supporters were not yet parties, so it was OK to enter Rosa Luxemburg had once described as a rotting corpse. Uh huh.

The tactic became known as the “French Turn” as it was practiced on a large scale in the French Section of the Second International (SFIO), but I’ve heard members of he Militant group (now the socialist Party) grumble that it ought to be called the “British Turn” because it was practiced first in Britain in both the Labour Party and the Independent Labour Party.(I think I still have a copy of the pamphlet “Problems of Entrism” somewhere) In a number of countries including the U.S., Trotskyists entered , sought recruits and split with the aim of replacing that organization. This was probably most effective in the US and allowed Trotskyists there to launch the Socialist workers Party in 1938.  In France the tactic was less successful, as the Trotskyist group in France had split and both factions entered the SFIO, squabbling during their time (This is documented in Trotsky’s book The Crisis of the French Section )

In Britain though, the relationship between being a Trotskyist who was working in the Labour Party and a Trotskyist who was working for the Labour Party became a little blurred. Like the French, the British had split into two groups, the Revolutionary Socialist League and the Workers International League. Both groups working the Labour Party, but the WIL was able to grow, by largely abandoning the party to work in industry. The RSL became moribund and eventually fused with the WIL to become the Revolutionary Communist Party, an open organization. Within a few years of the end of the war, the RCP had shrunken to virtually nothing and its members had returned to the bosom of the Labour Party under the dictatorial leadership of Gerry Healy.

Healy ‘s group published a barely social-democratic newspaper called Socialist Outlook, and after its suppression, sold Tribune. In 1959, the Club became the Socialist Labour League,. and while members still remained within the Labour Party, the SLL operated as an independent organization which ludicrously postured as a revolutionary party (of course, the SLL’s successor, the Workers Revolutionary Party made the SLL look modest and sane, but that’s another story) . After the departure of the SLL, Ted Grant’s Militant tendency became the dominant Trotskyist group in the party, but Grant’s supporters ran the line that social-democracy could be won to socialism by adopting their policies. Privately, they were still orthodox Trots, but the mask quickly became the face.

And it’s that latter current that has prevailed. No longer split and wreck, but build the party, build the left wing, capitulate to the left wing oops! In 1973, members of the Young Socialists, the LSA’s youth group in New Brunswick operated in the Waffle group, and were able to win the New Brunswick NDP to a series of radical positions,. The national leadership of the LSA were apoplectic, arguing that this would lead to a split in the party, and weaken the opportunity to advance Trotskyism. The YS were suspended and withdrew from the party. The LSA had won the NDP to socialism, but Ross Dowson made them give it back! As social-democracy moves rightward, the Trots in the party are the only ones demanding that the party return to its honest roots. So, the Labour Party really not need fear the AWL’s advances because, underneath, they will be honest and true Labour Party members.

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