1960s >> 1969 >> no-777-may-1969

Party News: Elitism still haunts disenchanted Bolsheviks

Socialists are active wherever workers are developing their ideas through discussion. So a few of us turned up at the weekend conference of ‘Libertarian Marxists’ in Manchester. This was organised mainly by people who had become disenchanted with Bolshevism in the shape of the so-called ‘International Socialism’ group.

It was encouraging to find a number of workers, formerly committed to the extreme centralism of the Vanguard Party, who have seen through that fraud and come out against leadership. Unfortunately it soon became clear that élitist ideas were not dead.

The conference was dominated by three speakers (R. Sumner, S. James, M. Orr), who together took up 90 per cent of the time. The air was thick with talk of ‘the intellectuals’ and their relationship to ‘the workers’, and the notion that workers learnt only from personal experience whilst abstract ideas were beyond them—the usual leftist claptrap.

Among the gems were S. James’s announcement that she was a black nationalist, after she had denounced racism(!), and her revelation that “workers can’t read big books.” R. Sumner wanted ‘all Socialists’ to unite in bringing out a newspaper, without any ‘contentious arguments’ about what Socialism was. And M. Orr, an advocate of ‘self-management,’ when pushed, said that he was in favour of abolishing wages, but not in favour of abolishing money!

They looked to incidents like the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and the May events in France, to bring ‘Socialism.’ We should not, therefore, take them too seriously, particularly as Mrs. James’s model of a revolution without leaders was Castro’s takeover in Cuba, and Mr. Orr insisted that the socialist revolution would be carried out by a minority, while the majority of the population was passive.

When socialists joined the discussion, it took 20 minutes before this trio realised they had no answer to our arguments, and referred to the socialists present as disrupters. This was rich considering we had sat through two three-hour sessions (of what was supposed to be an open conference) without a peep.

Earlier we had been informed that a ‘new personality’ had come into the world, shown by the fact that the meeting needed no chairman. However, in order to exclude us from the discussion, a chairman materialised in the wink of an eye—self-appointed, not elected. This indicates what socialists have always said: formless, loose organisation does not remove the danger of leadership but increases it.

Whether the other workers involved will continue to let the ‘intellectuals’ do their thinking for them remains to be seen. At least one walked out in disgust at the reception given to the socialist case.