Thursday, May 3, 2018

On Sectarianism One of the Deadly Sins of the Left

Sectarianism: There are many fringe groups on the left that will never be anything more than tiny sects. They are “sectarian” because they counterpose their pre-packaged program against the real movement of people engaged in class struggle. These groups espouse revolutionary rhetoric but have little or no connection to the working class or any other meaningful social base. A rigid adherence to programmatic points prevents them from adapting to changing conditions in society. ..... One of The Left’s Five Dead Ends - Bread & Roses, Democratic Socialists of America, Jeremy Gong   -- DSA (Democratic Socialists) Is At A Crossroads – Jeremy Gong – Medium
There was a link in the article under the heading of: the dead-end wheel-spinning of the activist left - here's the direct link:

Sectarianism doesn't only apply on the left. Wiki defines the term:
Sectarianism is a form of bigotry, discrimination, or hatred arising from attaching relations of inferiority and superiority to differences between subdivisions within a group. 

Seems to fit the bill. A major reason the left is so ineffective. The role played by leftists in pre-Nazi Germany, which at one point had more power and influence than the Nazi Party, has often been blamed for contributing to the rise of Hitler though I don't know enough to say that is true. But I did read George Orwell on the left sectarianism in the Spanish Civil War where the Stalinists went after the Trotskyists- which Orwell fought with- I think he was probably a Trot sympathizer - and which led him to being so anti-Soviet and to write "Animal Farm", a castigation of left wing orthodoxy - though I would guess he died a leftist of some sort.

There is even a brand known as Ultra-leftism - Wikipedia
What many people don't get is that the "left" is far from homogeneous -- even those who characterize themselves as "left" function in practice like the right. The old joke is that if you put 2 sectarian leftists in a room you end up with 3 groups. Splitting is in the DNA of many left groups. And there are oh so many left wing sectarian organizations you need a score card to keep them straight. And oh how so many of them go after each other for ideological transgressions.

Now there are sectarian groups on the right too but I don't follow them. And how about the Unity Caucus in its earliest days when you had to be a card carrying member of the sectarian Social Democrats USA - SDUSA - considered the right wing of the SD movement -- whose members were key organizers of the UFT. If you wanted to get anywhere in the UFT you had to adhere to the program.

It was Randi who changed things and junked the SDUSA connection after Shanker died in 1996 and opened up Unity Caucus to anyone who showed loyalty to her.

Sectarian organizations on the left - and Unity Caucus too - operate under democratic centralism, where once a decision is made, everyone adheres to it religiously or they can be tossed out and shunned. Now when I am critical of democratic centralism, people accuse me of attacking a basic tenet of Leninism and also point out that Unity is centralist but certainly not democratic. I maintain that there is a lot of hierarchy in many left sectarian groups with a small inner circle making a lot of the decisions and then fancying them up to look democratic. This works for small and large groups (see Communist Party meetings in China where people "vote".)

If people don't agree with them ideologically or programmatically, they function like charter schools and try to push them out or make things so uncomfortable for the people who push back that they leave on their own. A common tactic is to cover the political disagreements with personal attacks and character assassination. Fake news is not off the table.

After describing the roots of the tremendous growth of DSA - the Occupy movement etc -- really remarkable for this country - Jeremy Gong goes into -

The Left’s Five Dead Ends (shit, I think I'm a horizontalist).

The Left’s Five Dead Ends

However, organized socialists have so far been unable to take full advantage of this historic opening. After decades of separation from a militant labor movement, five dead-end modes of politics are dominant on the left: business unionism, NGO-ism, electoralism, sectarianism, and horizontalism. Despite their best intentions, activists organizing within these frameworks will not be able to deliver the fundamental social changes we need. Our slate rejects these approaches and strives instead to forge a path of class struggle and mass action.

Business unionism: Labor union membership is at an all-time low after decades of attacks by employers and business-friendly politicians. As a result, many unions have taken the self-defeating approach of “business unionism.” Risk-averse unions often try to work with employers to keep union jobs and minimize losses to wages and benefits. In return, union leadership focuses their bargaining on narrow workplace issues in an effort to assure employers that workers won’t strike, while presenting the union as a fee-for-service organization to a demobilized membership (i.e. the “service model”). But without democratic and high-participation unions carrying out militant class struggle, the labor movement can only watch helplessly as the gains of twentieth-century labor militancy deteriorate. The recent wildcat teachers’ strike in West Virginia is a timely reminder of the power workers have when they take bold strike action grounded in class struggle and solidarity.

NGO-ism: Issue-based and service-oriented nonprofits (often called NGOs) rely on grants from capitalists and their foundations. They tend to engage in staff-driven, media-friendly campaigns to win the attention of donors and create the illusion of taking meaningful action on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. This often involves well-meaning political advocacy and education work, or the provision of essential services that should be the purview of a well-resourced welfare state. The NGO mode of organizing is defined by practices we should strive to avoid: an over-reliance on professional staff at the expense of member-driven democracy, an emphasis on superficial and abstract trainings over political education and practical development, the elevation of process over politics, and a buzzword-heavy insider culture. These practices all tend to divert the energies of activists into narrow projects that fall far short of making the radical changes needed to confront capitalist power. 

Electoralism: Many activists engage in nominally progressive yet shallow electoral efforts. While campaigns may be successful in getting progressives into office, these officials rarely become tribunes for building mass working-class movements. Unless candidates are rooted in and accountable to a strong working-class base, they will not be able to remain materially and politically independent of corporations and Democratic Party insiders. Promises to serve working-class constituents can easily fade into the background as the funding and prominent endorsements which flow from political and economic elites become increasingly important to election campaigns and policy-making. This explains why even once-genuine progressive politicians tend to deemphasize their previously held principles as their careers advance. By neglecting to simultaneously organize a working-class base, progressives often squander precious resources on politicians who don’t stay true to their word.
This is not to say, of course, that we should neglect or abandon the electoral arena. Democratic socialists agree that participation in electoral politics is essential to our project—the question is how we go about it (we propose a strategy below).

Sectarianism: There are many fringe groups on the left that will never be anything more than tiny sects. They are “sectarian” because they counterpose their pre-packaged program against the real movement of people engaged in class struggle. These groups espouse revolutionary rhetoric but have little or no connection to the working class or any other meaningful social base. A rigid adherence to programmatic points prevents them from adapting to changing conditions in society. They forget Marx’s key insight that it is essential to “educate the educator”—to learn and to test our ideas through practical political activity in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. These sects therefore have little or no impact on working-class movements and the US political scene broadly. We must do everything in our power to avoid their mistakes.

Horizontalism: Finally, many activists are committed to a “horizontalist” approach to organizational practices and structures. Occupy was the best example of this, but it is a very common orientation on today’s left worldwide. This approach advocates “networked” or “autonomous” activity that too often ends up fragmenting the movement in many different directions. Horizontalism offers a valuable critique of top-down bureaucratic structures, and it’s an understandable reaction to twentieth-century authoritarianism. However, by rejecting all forms of centralization and representation—as well as the need to contend with the authoritarian power of capital and the state—movements organized along these lines will not even be able to define, let alone achieve, their goals. Therefore, horizontalists content themselves with making the movement itself a “prefiguration” of a different society, one that they cannot actually bring into being. Our organization should not just be a refuge from the world, but a weapon with which to change it.

Paradoxically, this “horizontal” model lends itself in practice both to increased bureaucracy and a reduction in the substance of democracy. The end result is an excessive preoccupation with internal administrative details—meetings about meetings, debates about rules of debate—at the expense of strategic and outward-looking political action.


  1. This tells me if Unity wasn’t unified nothing would get done. Debates about debates, suspensions for those that irritate(MORE) and the hijacking of every Solidarity meeting by the extremly flamboyant vociferous
    members on trivial pursuits. Unity is in fact a thinly veiled monarchy that gets Mulgrew’s good or bad imperatives done.

  2. You may be right. The ideologues in MORE want to be more like Unity - a single ideology, and a members only group rather than an open caucus open to all views. For those who believe in a more open democracy, why bother to join MORE? Might as well join Unity and try to have some influence there though I can't tell you how many fine people I've known tried that route and ended up being toothless bureaucrats.

  3. I'm looking at the arc of 48 years of involvement in UFT opposition politics and trying to look at things as an historian and reporter. In order to tell the story, some back fill is necessary.
    ICEUFT has always pushed back against sectarianism - when we were the Coalition of School Workers and Another View in District 14 we also pushed back. There have always been people associated with sectarian groups involved. We have worked well with many of them as long as they haven't tried to take over. We knew TJC was run by sectarians which was why many people on the left stayed away. And one reason we formed ICE in the first place.
    Sectarianism leads to narrow thinking and rigid ideology not subject to modification since it comes from a galaxy far, far away.

  4. Why even bother joining MORE, when you can join the International Socialist Organization, and cut out the middleman?

  5. The original social justice warriors fought against international finance

  6. Communism is the cancer. In America it is fronted by cultural Marxism which makes every group victims except white men. Thank
    God Americans caught on! The revolution is gaining momentum.


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