On the Logan Show Trial
Appendix B i
The Case of Comrade John E (excerpt)
by Bill Logan, 4 August 1974
Comrade John E. has been in the organised ostensible Trotskyist movement for nearly four years. Splitting from the Socialist Workers League with the Communist League he was won to us from the CL via the Revolutionary Internationalist Tendency. Although on the National Committee of both the SWL and the CL, he did not play a key role in either organization. John has posed a number of apparently unconnected and sometimes seemingly inexplicable organisational problems to us from the earliest period of our association with him. Since his return from overseas the comrade has for the first time been expected to integrate himself thoroughly into our day-to-day work, and this has confirmed for us that he has a number of severe inadequacies as a Bolshevik. In a subjective response to criticisms of his functioning in Europe, his delayed return from Europe, and his functioning since his return, the comrade has put up a mass of defensive and disloyal evasions, and now, having generalised that performance into some sort of a program, has both given us some powerful new insights into it and has set out on a dangerous political path. This document is an appeal to the comrade to draw back from the consequences of inability to face his political record squarely, and from the unprincipled use of factional methods of struggle to which that inability has led him.
It is no mere coincidence that it is only now we are trying to complete his integration that the programmatic consequences of the comrade’s weaknesses are becoming clear (though they are as yet far from rounded or finished). Previously his agreement with us, though apparently sincere and principled, of necessity had somewhat of an abstract and untested character.
Too Much Trouble?
If our rank-and-file thinks that we are taking too much trouble over an isolated and feeble element who has on a number of occasions laid himself open for summary expulsion, then let it be remembered that in comrade John we see only an extreme and concentrated form of the problems which, in less crippling manifestations, beset many members when they first enter the organisation. The fight against John’s resistance to the authority of the party is of course, extremely important, but the fight can have a far greater importance if it can also help the whole party understand better (because scrutinised in concentrated form) those lesser forms of resistance to the authority of the collective which constitute a real impediment to the advancement of the organisation.
Leaving aside for a time the background to the invasion of comrade John’s privacy in this particular case, let us look at the comrade’s general political argument as it unfolded: first in a discussion with me on the evening of Thursday 18 July, then, after pressing for the discussion to be delayed for a fortnight, in a discussion held on my initiative in the Sydney local meeting of Sunday 21 July, and finally in a partial form in his letter to Susi of 21 July.
On 18 July, one night after asking me if and when I could arrange for him to be able to live in Britain with comrade Susi (of the Berlin Committee), John discovered his letters had been read by me, precipitating first a discussion on the question of the right of comrades’ privacy of correspondence, and the comrade then went on to argue that the Spartacist League generally interfered too much in the personal lives of its members, and that he had believed that for a long time. Although it did not come as a very great surprise to us, he had never expressed this view before, so I carefully explained to him how, where a comrade’s personal needs intersected those of the party they became legitimate subjects for the interests of the party, but that in situations in which it is desirable that personal needs be subordinated it is far better to rely on the consciousness of members than on discipline. Thus we quite frequently try to argue a comrade into moving from one city to another, but unless he were a member of the Central Committee we would not order him to move. I explained to him that in view of our conjunctural difficulties we unfortunately have to put more pressure on comrades than is usually desirable, and I then asked John what had caused him to develop this criticism of the Spartacist League leadership, and to give examples of how we had illegitimately interfered in the personal lives of other comrades. He answered only after fully five minutes of evasions such as “It is what I have observed” but finally came out with the same example as he did later, at the Local meeting on Sunday July 21, when it was so effectively rebutted by Vicky. He said she should not have been forced to give up her baby to foster parents.
The Ogre of Bolshevik Consciousness
Poor John is starting to see himself in a nightmare, terrorised by the same Red Ogre who steals little children and gives them away to strangers. Presumably the care and attention given the mother by the Ogre, the supply of baby clothes we made, and our care for the child—in some periods as much as sixteen hours a day, five days a week—are merely particularly devious touches. Presumably the fact that we did not force the comrade to have an abortion suggests not that we rely on the consciousness of comrades but only that we wanted, out of pure vindictiveness to cause the maximum possible personal suffering. Likewise the fact that we then waited until the child was five months old to force the mother to have it fostered must be seen as positively diabolic.
The truth is that our advice to Vicky—that her contribution to the revolutionary movement would be very limited if she kept the child—started to carry much more weight with her as it became clear in practice that she was going to have continuing difficulty coping. It was the realisation of this which led her to find a means of having the child far better cared for than were she to keep it and remain a professional revolutionary. Comrade John seriously denigrates the consciousness represented by a very difficult decision for which Vicky must take full credit.
If the same choice were before him, John would have found it more important to bring up his own child than to make a revolution. As he said to Vicky on the night of Saturday 20 July “I’d never allow any child of mine to be adopted.” The comrade had attempted to make an idealistic distinction between politics and some particular intimate personal sphere in which the party has no business whatever. This really reduces to his plaintive plea—there are some areas in which John E is sure he could never allow politics to prevail. “Please”, he is asking, “could the party refrain from the struggle over my weaknesses as it would expose them to the light of day and be most uncomfortable.” That these areas are in fact somewhat larger than any intimate personal sphere is shown by his actual functioning. John has got to learn that the party can cope with all kinds of weaknesses in comrades, that it can make all kinds of concessions to comrades’ personal needs. We can certainly even accept comrades having children, despite the difficulties which our small size puts us under. But we can never brook a principle which says that there are some areas in the life of a comrade which the individual has the right to hide from the organisation, and in which the organisation must refrain from arguing for its needs.
Every comrade must be dealt with as having specific needs, and is able to give his most to the party under different conditions and with different allowances being made for those needs. We must accommodate to the personal needs of every comrade but to say that many personal needs of members must be accommodated to by the party is not to justify those needs or render them immune to the influence of the party. Once last year after a long argument over his functioning the comrade came to me and in a remark of rare self-perception confessed: “There is something you should know about me. I always find it difficult to admit I was wrong.” I told him, rather gently, that most people did find it a bit difficult, but that he, like everybody else, would be wrong very often and if he were going to contribute fully to useful debate we would have to push him a bit to help him learn to admit when he was wrong. The comrade’s reply at the time was astounding. We would have to accept the comrade as he was—we could not expect any change. Now although John has a high opinion of his political development, he doubtless believes that he will continue to develop politically. But the horror of also being pushed to develop by growing out of such intimate and personal attitudes as self-pride is just too much. For John E that has just got to be put beyond the sphere of the party. Of course he would find this more difficult to argue openly than an absolute principle of keeping his personal relationships out of the sphere of the party—but nevertheless he has in fact argued for it.
Anything the comrade says about agreeing that “everything personal which affects the functioning of a comrade is political” is contradicted by the above example in practice, by the example of the child which he used both in discussion with me and later at the local meeting, and also by a whole range of examples, including his maintenance of an absolute right of privacy in his relationship with Susi while at the same time using that relationship as an argument that he should be transferred to Britain.
While of course the Spartacist League normally has no interests in, for example, the sexual attitudes or habits of its members, even these cannot be given absolute immunity from scrutiny of the party. In extraordinary cases the party must intervene. It is not for nothing that we have our lifestyle rule: “Members will not in their personal appearance, habits, conduct or lifestyle be either a serious or chronic detriment to the SLANZ.”
Some extremes require rules and discipline, but it is not only in extremes that the party is interested in overcoming those traits which come into conflict with the needs of the party. The whole task of building a revolutionary party is a task of putting together and training cadre. At every stage the building of the party requires massive “personal sacrifices” on the part of every member; there is no political task whatever devoid of a personal content. A Bolshevik struggles for an integration of his personal and political life, and his party struggles to help him in that development.
It is to be noted that the party was kept in ignorance of comrade John’s belief that there are some personal things beyond its province for a long time—probably a year (if it developed about the time the child was born) but at least seven months (when it was fostered). While there is a consistency in keeping his position from the party, it is the consistency of one who takes politics and the party unseriously, who doesn’t think it really matters that the party has a deeply flawed conception of itself. The corollary of comrade John’s view that the party should not touch his own most personal concerns is that his concern for the party is not very deeply personal.
The Local Meeting— On the Blurring of Factions
At the Sydney Local meeting of 21 July comrade John’s views on the right to privacy were developed considerably beyond what was presented to me the previous Thursday night. After presenting his views on the inviolability of intimate personal affairs including personal correspondence, he went on to merge these views with a conception of the rights to secrecy of non-factional political correspondence. His argument was that while this right was unnecessary in a healthy organisation “such as ours”, it had to be maintained in case our organisation degenerated when the absence of such a right could lead to the smashing of a revolutionary minority. Although in fact such a minority would be, surely, a faction, the idea that a decisively degenerated party will maintain for Bolsheviks any rights of political struggle— factional or non-faction-al is of course sheer utopian-liberal nonsense. The more interesting implication of the view that we need special rights in case we degenerate is, however, as comrades Dave [Strachan] and others pointed out at the meeting, that there is no qualitative difference between a healthy organisation “such as ours” and a degenerated organisation such as (to use the comrade’s examples) the CPs in the late 1920s and the SWP in the early 1960s. Comrades noted that John was equating me with Stalin.
In a bureaucratically deformed centrist or reformist party revolutionaries must often deceive the apparatus by carrying on secret correspondence, but it would be ridiculous and anti-Leninist to base the norms of a revolutionary organisation on such conditions. As I said at the Local meeting, degeneration will not be prevented by any organisational rules, but only by the consciousness of the membership developed through open political struggle. While it is necessary to preserve the right of factional secrecy, the transmission of secret documents must be viewed as an attack on open political struggle and justifiable only within the membership of a faction based on declared principles.
John further argued that “pre-factional” material should be privileged, and implied that the party should be able to do nothing to intersect the development of factions—that they were good things. In fact factions are useful only in that they reveal something wrong in the party something wrong in either the leadership or the minority. The leadership of the party has the respon-sibility—and must have the means—to prevent the disruption to the party that factional warfare precipitates by wherever possible correcting the wrong before it develops to a factional stage.
A blurring of the distinction between factional and non-factional situations can only lead to the worst kind of manoeuvering, unprincipled hiding of differences, and playing of one group of comrades off against another. Secret non-factional political correspondence, like other practices blurring this distinction (all associated in our movement with the development of Pabloism) cannot preserve the party from degeneration, as John would have it, but can only weaken the party and lay the very conditions which prepare it for degeneration. Comrade John’s attempt to break down that distinction can of course by no means be accorded the status of a conscious attempt to prepare the party for degeneration, but it does reflect his primary concern for the establishment of rules in which he as an individual can operate, when he feels it is necessary, against the party, rather than for rules in which the party can as a collective best operate against the bourgeoisie. This, like his campaign for an absolute rule of privacy, reflects his distorted scale of values: John E. before the party!
It is an extremely important principle that if a comrade wants to correspond secretly he must first win his correspondent to a faction on the basis of open struggle for a principled position. You can’t have the “advantages” of factional rights without the “disadvantages”. As was noted at the local meeting, the comrade simply does not understand the party and furthermore is not particularly interested in it. He said he had not even read the Cunningham-Moore-Stuart documents, and since then he has also confessed to not having read the Ellens-Turner documents.
The Letter to Susi
During the Local discussion comrade Joel [Salant] handed me a note remarking with extraordinary prescience that John was really asking how he could gain the advantages a faction has in being allowed secret correspondence. We were later to learn that in fact the Local meeting had interrupted the writing of his 21 July letter to Susi, which was to be—for as long as possible—a secret, ostensibly non-factional document designed to line up the Berlin Committee against the leadership of the SL/ANZ.
This letter defines a narrower area of privacy rights, confining itself to the question of correspondence, and is more careful than his verbal formulations. He tries somewhat inadequately to identify Lenin in 1903 with his own view “that personal correspondence of an intimate nature has a right to privacy”. Now any organisation would be stark crazy to want to make a habit of looking at its members’ more intimate correspondence. It is something which must be reserved for extraordinary situations. But there are such situations—situations for example in which either the intimate takes on a political importance or it is believed possible that what is held to be intimate is not in fact so intimate.
It is simply not possible to draw an absolute line between the personal and the political. This is the real lesson John should draw from 1903, when Lenin split the editorial board of Iskra primarily because the personal habits and lifestyles of Zasulitsch and Axelrod had become a political obstacle (see Trotsky’s comment in My Life, pp 161-163)….
Posted: February 2008