Whenever tragedy strikes, one thing can be counted on – the media will descend on the location like a plague of locusts. Then, when all is done, the swarm unplugs microphones and laptops and moves on to the next disaster. Bewildered survivors are left to their fate as the media spotlight shines on the latest ‘Horror of the Month’.
In the West, whenever an industrial dispute or popular protest erupts, one thing can be counted on – Trotskyist groups will descend to ‘organize’ the struggle. Then, when all is done, the comrades pack up their papers, posters and pamphlets and move on to the next picket line or rally. Disillusioned workers are left behind as groups like Britain’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Resistance in Australia and others breeze in on the latest ‘Protest of the Month’.
The impact these groups have far outweighs their actual numbers. But what they lack in political imagination, creativity and mass base, they make up for in sheer organizing prowess. Consummate opportunists, they tirelessly weave their way into leadership positions of important social movements such as the anti-racist and anti-capitalist movements and, more recently, the anti-war efforts. Often shunned by progressive groups, the Trots bounce back with new front groups such as the anti-capitalist tour operator Globalize Resistance–active in many countries in Europe – and psuedo-Trot front group Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) in the US. Where front groups fail, they also form new alliances such as the Stop the War Coalition in Britain. They seek to assume leadership and assimilate diverse movements for their own partisan aims irrespective of the cause concerned. An Irish environmental festival, Dutch trade campaigners’ strategy meetings, Belgian protests around a business summit, a student network conference in Britain, anti-capitalist protests in Scandinavia, North America and Australia: all these have been targets of authoritarian Socialist groups bent on securing leadership roles, gaining recruits and, of course, selling papers.
Extremely hierarchical, they prefer top-down leadership bordering on authoritarianism rather than grassroots participatory democratic organizing. Their largely anti-democratic tendencies are well documented and often characterized by manipulating important organizing meetings, forcing out dissenters and subverting key platform goals if these are deemed ‘counter-revolutionary’. They ‘represent’ movements in the media, flooding demonstrations with placards and banners promoting their own groups and socialist branding, and packing meeting rooms with their own members such that dissenting views drown in a sea of revolutionary rhetoric.
Their classic vanguardist political philosophy is perhaps best described by themselves in the British Socialist Workers Party’s magazine, Socialist Review:
‘Mass movements don’t get the political representation they deserve unless a minority of activists within the movement seek to create a political leadership, which means a political party that shares their vision of political power from below. Such a party will be much less than the movement numerically, but much more than the movement ideologically and organizationally.’1
The most disturbing current developments are Trotskyist efforts to control bodies such as the World Social Forum and the European Social Forum (ESF). The ESF in Florence in 2002 was heavily dominated by the Fourth International, one of the oldest international Trotskyist groups. Already the preparations for the European Social Forum in London have been disrupted by the classic assimilation tactics of the Socialist
Workers Party and their front group, Globalize Resistance. The situation has become so bad that activists determined to have a truly open and democratic forum have launched a campaign to ‘democratize the ESF’, calling themselves the ‘horizontals’. While the horizontals struggle to ensure that another social forum is possible, the ‘verticals’ – the authoritarian Socialists – are not going away without a fight. As musician David Rovics humorously captures it: ‘Cause I am the vanguard of the masses, and all of you should just follow me. If you doubt my analysis, you must be in the petty bourgeoisie.’