Ian Birchall responds to Alex Callinicos in the June 2013 issue of Socialist Review. He surveys the history of Leninism and critically assesses the SWP’s current approach to questions of democracy and struggle, and warns that winning a vote does not mean you’ve won the argument:
Trade unionists know the familiar scenario. You move support for a demonstration in your branch and the resolution is carried more or less unanimously. But when you get to the demo you are the only one there and you have to hunt frantically for someone to hold the other pole of your banner. You won the vote but not the argument.
Likewise in the party there is disagreement as to whether to back candidate X or candidate Y in a trade union election. Comrades disagree. There is discussion followed by a vote. It is agreed to back X. Those who supported Y are disciplined comrades. They express no dissent, vote the right way in meetings and hand out leaflets. But if they still believe Y is the best choice they will not campaign vigorously and convincingly among their workmates and fellow trade unionists. They can only do that when convinced politically, not because they have been outvoted.