Reflections on the decline of American Trotskyism
This is a very long post for which I apologize, but it encompasses a lot of things I've been mulling over for many years and have had precious little chance to discuss with anyone in the decade I've been in Atlanta. So I beg for your indulgence (and that of the other comrades).
What you say about the pressure to conform is mostly right, but I don't think for most people it is as self-conscious a process as what you write tends to imply. The process is more psychological, if you will, the pressure to conform within one of these groups is mostly internalized, I think. [This BTW is true not just of political groups -- I don't know if you've followed Microsoft or Apple, but reading about Bill Gates proposing slogans like "embrace and extend" Java (i.e., "pollute" it with windows-only features and API's) and Steve Jobs's "reality distortion field" gave me a real feel of deja vu all over again.]
But back to the political groups. In addition to one "internalizing" this predisposition to agree with everything, in the SWP, the reports and resolutions had become these meandering, kilometric documents that even after the vote get heavily edited, so God known what you've voted for -- the analysis, the concrete steps the party is to take (this is -- in theory -- is all one voted for in the SWP but it was precisely this that often was left very murky in many documents), the reiteration of programmatic positions implicit or explicit in the document, whether it is true or not that Lenin believed such and such and that X, Y or Z was one of Trotsky's most important contributions to the revolutionary movement, or a blank check to Steve Clark who often did most of the rewriting on major reports after plenums and conventions. Concretely, this means that although you might have doubts about this point or that slogan, you felt okay voting for the "general line" of the report "as a whole" -- whatever that might be.
I don't think I ever felt "externally pressured" so that I voted for something I consciously disagreed with; however, I'm sure on many occasions, when I voted yes it really was more an expression of confidence in the leadership, and not because I had grappled with those particular issues and become fully informed about the subject.
Because of my peculiar trajectory in the SWP I was actually only involved in branch or YSA local life as my major political activity for a few months.
So I can't speak as to how things worked at a local level, but certainly in the mid 70s, at least in the national leadership bodies, there was a great deal of very open discussion where people presented their own take on things. I remember, for example, in discussing the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that people wer