Political influences no.3: The Spartacist League – Defeat clerical fascism! Down with little England demagoguery! Complete the American revolution!
Maybe they had no cadre anywhere near me to keep an eye on me; maybe my letter revealed I was poor recruiting material even for them. I’ve read somewhere that they only accepted recruits already tempered by having gone through another Trotskyist party. Instead they contented themselves with mailing me an enormous parcel of newspaper back issues and mimeographed pamphlets.
The Sparts’ complete parasitism on other groups makes them very unpopular on the rest of the Left, so, regrettably, little attempt is made to understand the theory which explains their behaviour. The Sparts’ core belief is that, in the forseeable future, it is impossible for revolutionaries to address themselves to significant sectors of the working class, as anyone open to revolutionary politics is already a supporter of one of the groups which, falsely, claim to be revolutionary. The key task of revolutionaries is, therefore, to win over supporters of these Ostensibly Revolutionary Groups (ORGs), by heckling their meetings and hoping to be thrown out. The Sparts will, in this way, achieve the primitive accumulation of cadres which is a necessary stage to be gone through before proceeding to a direct involvement in class struggle. The belief in the long slow haul is combined with the view that there is not much time left to build the vanguard party before the final struggle between socialism and barbarism. Such a theory may be contradictory but it is necessary if the group is to maintain revolutionary fervour while confining its activity to a propaganda onslaught on the ORGs...
Because many of the Sparts’ formal positions are more acceptable to labour movement activists than the lunacies peddled by their competitors, there is the danger that people outside the radical middle class milieu will want to join them. To prevent the inevitable tensions which would result from recruiting working class militants, reasonable positions are expressed in an intolerably harsh manner that works quite well. American ex-Sparts describe a very Healyite organisation where Robertson sits behind a steadily growing pile of empty beer cans carrying on a rambling drunken harangue interspersed with senile laughter, yet we have found Robertson charming on his visits to London. It is true that many of the leading Sparts go in for a macho-man image of guns and swords. The perfectly reasonable call for the abolition of the licensing hours is elevated to a central demand, and there are signs of a flirtation with Scots nationalism. As befits its American origin, the Sparts are individually competitive. New ideas are floated, and if successful their originators get promoted, while if the idea is found to be revisionist they are demoted. If you believe that she who lives by the sword will die by the sword, you have probably guessed the Sparts’ destiny. In the early eighties a group of veteran Sparts in the Bay Area of California, where they had their only toe-hold in the labour movement, defected. The renegades, who originally called themselves the External Tendency, had absorbed their Spart training well. They reclassified their parent group as an ORG and turned up to intervene at its meetings, carefully restraining themselves against attempts to goad them into violence. Innocents in Bootle or Lyon can hardly be expected to understand that the main purpose of all Spart literature is to discredit that tiny group in California.