I am very grateful to Paul Le Blanc for responding to my article “In Defence of Party Building” and for his detailed discussion of its contents.1 As Paul and I well know, such expressions of “thanks” are commonly a formal prelude to a fairly vitriolic diatribe in reply. This will not be the case in this short response.
First of all, I am happy to accept that in some instances my formulations may have been ambiguous or even flawed. Insofar as Paul has drawn attention to such failings this will help future debate.
In particular, it gives me an opportunity to correct any misunderstanding that may have arisen due to my opening reference to Tony Cliff’s 50 year old remark about party building being “horrible”.2 This was intended as a light-hearted, even jocular, way into the topic that might acknowledge the fact that some people have had bruising personal experiences. It was certainly not intended as an overall summation of that experience or as a “reduction” of party building to “the tedious routines” of “paper sales, recruitment and branch building”. As it happens I was very lucky, in comparison to many comrades I have known, in that by and large I rather enjoyed these activities, including selling Socialist Worker in Portsmouth City Centre for the best part of 40 years. I also generally enjoyed local branch meetings, even if I had heard the topic under discussion many times before, because I was always interested in the dynamics of the meeting—were comrades developing, was there someone new, what were the debates arising and so on? This remains the case today as I look forward to attending my local Socialist Workers Network branch meeting in Dublin South Central this evening—an educational on the theory of state capitalism.
Paul also says that he has “a difficult time believing” that, as I claimed, David McNally actually >counterposes “relating to and bringing about the regroupment” of radical elements within social movements to “beginning or continuing the task of party building”.3 I hope he is right on this. Time, ie practice, will tell if it has not already done so. Moreover, my article was written at a specific conjuncture, the dissolution of the International Socialist Organization in the United States. Regardless of McNally’s true intentions, I think it could be guaranteed that his article would be read that way by some comrades.
Finally, I just want to say that, whatever its merits or flaws, my article was written with an overriding purpose which was simply to reaffirm the historic necessity of continuing to engage in the difficult task of party building in the here and now. There may, in different national circumstances, be different ways of doing that—but it has to be done. If Paul and I disagree on that so be it, but I hope and trust that we agree.
1 Le Blanc, 2019.
2 Molyneux, 2019, p93.
3 Le Blanc, 2019, pp178-179.