Monday, January 14, 2013

The not-so-subtle nature of sectarianism


(originally published at Critical Mass, Nov-9-2012)

In a previous article (‘Sectarianism and the question of a general strike) I identified ten characteristics of sectarianism obtained from the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Despite my severe reservations concerning the Leninist and Trotskyist positions and traditions, on the question of sectarianism, they made important observations. However, my own experience during the past 50 years of anti-capitalist involvement, revealed two additional ones.  The first was the absolute denial by sectarians of being sectarian, whist not even being aware of, or considering, the full range of the characteristics of sectarianism. The second was the characteristic of being dishonest with each other and with the working class.

These are two characteristics shared by all political groupings who are in competition with each other for leadership of populations including those seeking to lead the working and oppressed.  This is because elite forms of leadership require influence over those who can be influenced and manoeuvres against any rival leadership bids. Within the anti-capitalist struggle this sectarian characteristic of dishonesty takes the following forms. Sectarians;
  1. Often exaggerate or inflate the numbers (or active members) they have in their group. (In order to appear stronger and more influential than they actually are.)
  2. Often exaggerate or embellish their actual influence among their chosen target audiences. (Usually for the same reasons as point one.)
  3. Often claim that decisions made essentially by individuals represent the decisions of the group. (As point one, but also to give the appearance of genuine, active, democratic practices.)
  4. Often hide their true intentions to other participants while offering a substitute intention and working toward their witheld intention and in the process undermine unity. (Because the true intentions may be rejected by potential participants.)
  5. Often hide or deny problematic situations or dubious practices within their own ranks. (Since potential recruits would be more likely to refrain from joining or associating with them.)
  6. Often violently attack those who expose, sectarianism, hypocrisy or deviousness in their group whether this exposure comes from within or without. This often takes the form of a clandestine character assasination of individual or group critics. (In order to defend their self-promoted, superior image.)
  7. Often vigorously defend their own allies, irrespective of any transgressions they may have carried out. (Because they are more committed to group results than principles.)

All the above practices are  the stuff of politics in general and is the stuff of sectarian traditions within the anti-capitalist struggle. It would be difficult if not impossible to find a group on the left that hasn’t practiced one or more of the above and many of the additional characteristics in the previously noted article. However, it is obvious, that when such thinly disguised characteristics and practices come to light – as eventually they must – it causes disgust and repulsion among those who are genuinely committed to unity and trust.

Such revelations often result in a loss of individuals to the anti-capitalist struggle. For so many left groups are sectarian that many view these characteristics as fundamental to anti-capitalism in general, instead of the sectarian mentality in particular. This loss to the anti-capitalist struggle represents not just the numbers involved but the talents, skills and energy these individuals take with them.

This drain on the anti-capitalist movement has taken place over several decades and it cannot be surprising.  Solidarity and trust are essential features to develop the anti-capitalist struggle. If they are lacking, then all positive development is lost, and only suspicion and a fractured, splintered disunity remains. Which is fundamentally what I hope we – and others – are trying to overcome.

If we are to genuinely succeed in creating a different tradition within the anti-capitalist left, than that of past generations, then certain things follow. I suggest adherence to at least the following six principles would begin to create a different non-sectarian culture among anti-capitalists which could only have positive results.
  1. Opposition to Capitalism in all its economic, social and economic forms.
  2. Opposition to dogmatism and sectarianism.
  3. Opposition to polemical distortion in disagreements.
  4. Opposition to disrespect, sarcasm, and intimidation.
  5. A commitment to sharing information and understanding.
  6. A refusal to allow theoretical differences to impede or prevent joint action.

For the 10 characterisitics of sectarianism see Sectarianism and the question of a General Strike.

Roy Ratcliffe (November 2012)

= Reblogged from Critical Mass =

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