The Test Jim [Robertson] Didn’t Pass
[First printed in Bulletin of the External Tendency of the iSt No. 4, May 1985. Copied from http://www.bolshevik.org/ETB/ETB4/ETB4.htm ]
Sycophancy is encouraged in the SL not through flattering speeches about the “genius” or the “infallibility” of Robertson and the rest of the leadership. It is encouraged by promoting a psychology of deference, occasionally reinforced by overt intimidation. Why must one defer to New York’s judgement on even the most trifling of matters? Because the central leadership is a repository of great political experience and capacity. Because they have “passed far more tests” than anyone else in the organization. Because to defy their “authority” is tantamount either to rejecting the political tradition which they “embody” or failing to understand the organizational question.
The central leadership (and Robertson in particular) is the guardian of the Trotskyist program. No one else has earned the right to be the Guardian of The Program. No one else has passed The Test. It’s my party, says Robertson; and he’s right. I am not unsympathetic to J.R. I don’t think there’s a psychiatrist in the world that can help him, but I think his psychology is pretty transparent. He’s a big fish in a small pond, a victim of small-group megalomania.
The disproportion between the tasks of the SL and its actual resources got to him a long time ago. The Trotskyist program must be preserved, he reasoned; it is the “last, best hope” for humanity. And who, in our time, has done more to preserve it than anyone else? Unquestionably, it has been Jim. He fought the SWP leadership; he fought Wohlforth; he fought Healy; he fought impressionism, revisionism, bureaucratism, liquidationism like no one else. And against great odds he managed to construct a real, if fragile, international tendency which has managed to preserve the Trotskyist programmatic heritage. The point is: that accomplishment is the justification for the peculiar form of bureaucratization which the SL has undergone. It is a bureaucracy based not on the preservation of privileges (although there are privileges involved); it is a bureaucracy based on a megalomaniacal psychology geared to the preservation of the Trotskyist program. Paradoxical, maybe; but I think it’s the case.
But Jim did fail to pass one test. He didn’t, and probably couldn’t, construct a revolutionary internal regime. The internal regime is unhealthy. The authority invested in Jim and his closest associates is absurd and dangerous. It is not enough to have a formally correct program; one needs a revolutionary party capable of producing real cadres. Jim never rose to this challenge, because of his excessive preoccupation with formal programmatic integrity and political homogeneity. The right balance was not struck. He certainly didn’t even try to strike the balance that Lenin achieved in the Bolshevik party, that Trotsky achieved in the Fourth International, and that Cannon achieved in the SWP. And I think that the reason is plain, and has even been alluded to by J.R. himself. Lenin, Trotsky and Cannon’s organizations all ultimately degenerated. So it was up to J.R. to come up with a new formula (a new balance between democracy and centralism, between program and organization) which would ensure, above all, the integrity of the program. If the SL is evincing programmatic wobbles now, it is the consequence of our failure — the failure of those of us who ate shit out of deference and an acute awareness of our own fallibility — to say what had to be said while we were still members. I hope the ET has the courage to do it now.
— a former leading member of the iSt, January 1984
Appendix: A Bureaucrats Confession
“WHEN YOU SIT IN YOUR ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES IT’S TOO EASY TO BELIEVE THAT YOUR WHOLE MEMBERSHIP IS JUST A BIG BAG OF SHIT THAT THE CENTRAL LEADERSHIP IS DRAGGING BEHIND IT, AND THAT IF THE CENTRAL LEADERSHIP MAKES A SERIOUS POLITICAL MISTAKE, THERE ARE WITHIN YOUR ORGANIZATION NO RESTORATIVE FORCES.”
-Public Speech by Jim Robertson, January 29, 1977