50 Years Ago: 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 elitist 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.

(Socialist Standard, May 1969)