We have seen from the combined analysis of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, in Anti-Capitalist Sectarianism, parts 1 and 2, that sectarianism is an egocentric pattern of behaviour. It is a pattern which displays arrogance and an unshakeable belief in the correctness of a particular set of views – often in the form of ‘abstractions’ and political ‘trade marks’. In its political form it is a deep-seated and long lasting tendency within and around left wing revolutionary, anti-capitalist and even nationalist politics. As with religious sectarianism, it is parasitic on the humanist aspirations of those suffering exploitation and oppression and wishing to end it. It is parasitic because sectarians feed off this humanistic aspiration, in order to justify their existence, whilst they simultaneously destroy it by their inhuman practices. This much can be verified from direct experience. However, it is also possible to extract from the opinions gathered so far, at least the following ten characteristics;

Ten characteristics of Sectarianism.

Sectarians maintain they have the solution, the ‘key’ to problems in their doctrines or principles. (From Marx and Engels)

The reason for their existence is some ‘special’ criteria which sets them apart from the rest.(From Marx and Engels)

Sectarians have a religious-type unshakeable belief in their correctness and humanities ‘need’ for their guidance. (From Marx, Engels, Trotsky)

Sectarians carry out serious struggle against each other even in the face of common danger.(From Engels)

Sectarians often elevate trivialities to the level of principles in order to keep themselves separate or to engineer a split. (From Lenin)

Sectarians often shout loudest for unity, whilst continuing to undermine it by their actions.(From Engels)

Sectarians are often extremely bitter polemicists and frequently poison the atmosphere of debate. (From Trotsky)

Sectarians are often boastful and arrogant, in their actions and their certainty of being ‘correct’.(From Marx and Engels)

Sectarians are generally satisfied by logical deductions and the use of abstractions.(From Trotsky)

10. Sectarians, explicitly or implicitly demand that the whole anti-capitalist movement should follow them. (From Marx.)

We need only ask ourselves a few simple but searching questions at this point. What would be the result of giving such sectarian individuals or groups of individuals considerable power? If religious or anti-capitalist sectarians were ever to succeed in their quest to have the working class put them in power, what would happen? If, as a result of an anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist revolution they found at their disposal armed forces of coercion with the power and authority to implement their ideas, how would they go about it?

The ten characteristics above provide us with an indication of how these questions might be answered. The reader need only go back over these ten points one by one and ask themselves how sectarians with full control of state power would conduct themselves; with power to implement their policies with an unshakeable belief in their correctness. Men of arrogance and extreme bitterness in control of weapons of oppression and destruction. Even before that nightmare possibility sectarianism has destructive effects.

Six effects of Sectarianism.

1. It repels serious working people. (Trotsky)

2. Sectarianism is essentially reactionary. (Marx)

3. Sectarians do not create leaders among working people. (Lenin)

4. Where they exist they infect or adulterate the workers movement. (Engels.)

5. Sectarians transform theory into dogma. (Marx/Engels/Lenin.)

6. Sectarianism is a pernicious menace. (Lenin)

It becomes clear from this analysis of political sectarianism that with one or two changed words, the characteristics and effects also perfectly fit the phenomena of religious sectarianism as personified in the actions of the Taliban, Christian and Jewish Zionists and other Islamist sectarians. This realisation is not too surprising once it is recognised that religion in its fundamental and historical basis was conceived as a form of politics and retains this ambition within its sacred texts. Further direct evidence for this assertion is presented in the article ‘Religion – is – Politics’ which uses material drawn from the scriptural texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to indicate their origins in, and intentions for, the establishment of a hierarchical, male, governing-elite –  using physical force.

Some sectarians even without state power can be dangerous enough in unleashing indiscriminate acts of vengeance and terror, it makes one shudder to contemplate their control of even greater forces. Can we really expect such people to lead humanity into a non-oppressive future? To see the effects of these political sectarian characteristics when displayed by men with unlimited power to back them up, we need only examine the history as it unfolded in Cambodia under Pol Pot, in the Soviet Union under Stalin, under Mao in China and the patriarchal mirror image under the various Fascist and proto-fascist dictatorships. In the case of religious sectrianism, there are a number of contemporary examples which demonstrate these characteristics.

Although it is quite correct to apply the term ‘sectarian’ to small groupings which display divisive and bigoted behaviour by sectarian ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’, these characteristics are not necessarily exclusive to small groups. They are merely more frequently found there. The characteristics of sectarianism, since they arise from the actions of individuals, singly and in groups, can arise within large political movements as well as small ones.

It should be noted, therefore, that sectarian behaviour takes place wherever the mixture of the above characteristics is strong enough to organise as a distinct political or religious tendency or manifest itself within one. It is essential to recognise the full range of sectarian characteristics, identified and not just the most extreme or bizarre. Otherwise, groups or individuals, who are thoroughly sectarian, yet do not manifest the more extreme symptoms, can mask their sectarianism, for long periods of time. Long enough to do important damage to the anti-capitalist, the anti-imperialist and the revolutionary-humanist struggles.

All the characteristics noted above are important, but in one sense it is more important that the subtle and hidden characteristics of sectarianism are given serious consideration. It is obvious that the more bizarre aspects are easily identifiable, whilst other aspects can go on almost unnoticed – until it is too late! Once in existence sectarianism is divisive, corrosive and leads to disgust and disillusionment amongst working people and others in the anti-capitalist struggle and in other struggles against oppression. It could not be otherwise in movements with a humanist purpose, because sectarianism so clearly contradicts that purpose.

This much could perhaps have been established by a study of existing sectarian organisations and without recourse to the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky. However, the response of sectarians, claiming orthodoxy with Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky, may have led to attempts to rebuff such challenges. They would undoubtedly claim that their ready-made answers and ‘unshakeable beliefs’ derive from a superior knowledge of their leader’s (or in religious cases God’s) thoughts. Sectarian defensive rationalisation often attempts to represent its bitterness and poison as revolutionary or religious zeal and political steel; their use of logical deductions and abstractions as flowing from their advanced theoretical or scriptural grasp. Now at least, in order to rationalise any continued sectarianism, anti-capitalist sectarians will have to take into account their own ideological forerunners.

To sum up.

It can no longer escape the notice of anyone but the most dogmatic and blind sectarian, that sectarianism is not just a minor aberration, but cuts to the very heart of the opposition to the capitalist system. In all its forms, religious and political it focuses on differences and exacerbates divisions. It is capable of turning materialist dialectics into fixed categories or dogma. As a political tendency it invariably repels serious working people and other potential anti-capitalists. Marx considered sectarianism as quite simply reactionary! There can be no greater verbal indictments than those encountered so far. The implications of these combined observations are clear. Sectarianism, within the ranks of those opposed to the capitalist or imperialist system, can undermine that opposition to such a degree that it becomes a significant factor – if not the most significant factor – in preventing unity of the anti-capitalist forces. In the 21st century it is no longer enough simply to be part of the anti-capitalist struggle: in order to further that struggle, we need also to seriously combat sectarianism.

As we have already seen, sectarianism, is not just a mild, irritating and occasional syndrome, it represents a thoroughgoing revision of revolutionary anti-capitalist understanding and it flies directly in the face of the combined experience of working class and anti-capitalist struggle. If we are able to find sectarianism or even traces of it within the ranks of the anti-capitalist movement today, (and this task is not hard) we are close to understanding an important factor in any fragmented and dissipated condition of the present opposition to capitalist exploitation and oppression. We will also be able to use the analysis presented here to identify the carriers of the sectarian disease within the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and workers’ movements and hopefully cure them or isolate them before they do further damage.

Roy Ratcliffe (June 2013.)

This entry was posted in Critique, Marx, Politics, Sectarianism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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