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Leave of Absence

August 12, 2016

xhamThanks to Brian Davey for submitting this piece.

Brian writes “Short story written in 1989 about 10 years after I left the IMG. It  is fictional in the sense that none of the characters are exactly people as I remember them. But it was an attempt to convey the feel of an IMG Branch meeting.”

Leave of Absence

“The third item on the agenda is membership”, Lewis paused to take a long drag on his cigarette and tapped off the ash with a flick from his third finger, “Comrade Steen, will you give a report?”

“Yes…err…thank you comrade Lewis, I suppose that I should start with the situation of comrade Roth. Comrades will know that he has been on leave of absence for three months next week. It will be 3 months won’t it?…Err…I think we should perhaps leave the situation for another month and then…”

Joe Gordon shut the book he had been reading, put it on the floor and looked into the space above the centre of the room. There was a look of impatience on his face. Eventually the remark emerged that everyone had been expecting and as he spoke into the air his look of impatience turned into a sort of smile.

“Three months is quite long enough. This is a revolutionary organisation we’re trying to build and whatever sympathy we might feel for comrade Roth it does not belong in this meeting as extended tolerance for his personal weaknesses.”

“Sympathy, you talk of sympathy, you don’t know what it means.” Phil Steen had taken off his wire rimmed spectacles and began polishing them, staring myopically in the general direction of Joe Gordon’s sardonic expression. He searched hesitantly for the words he wanted. “Isn’t socialism about a better world, a more human world…doesn’t it have a place for…for helping people transcend their alienation?”

The bright sunshine pricked through the fabric of the heavy brown curtains which had been drawn for shade. Outside the church hall – turned community centre the voices and cries of children playing in the nearby park were noticed only by Cathy, Phil Steen’s wife. She caught herself thinking of being in Sunday School, of how much Lewis, wearing a sports jacket despite the heat, reminded her of one of her school teachers and of how loathsome she found Joe Gordon’s expression. In her private conversations with Phil she would refer to Joe as ‘potato head’. It was her turn to take the minutes of the meeting.

“Comrade Steen is confusing the society we are fighting for, which will be born out of the turmoil of revolutionary war, with the combat organisation we have to construct to get there.” It was Lewis who had spoken. He, at least, thought Cathy, did not smirk when he talked of revolutionary war. She watched him exhale a shot of blue smoke through a line of sunlight.

“Damn right, we’re trying to build a revolutionary party not a birthday party. As regrettable as it might seem to comrade Steen we cannot afford to be soft.” Joe picked up the book again – it was “Armed Insurrection” by A. Neuberg. He tidied the dustjacket in such a way as to allow everyone to see what he was reading.

Cathy felt a sense of sickness, of boredom, she looked at the clock. It was only half past two and the meeting would probably go on to five o’ clock. She wondered if it was really worth making the points that they would all anticipate.
At a normal branch meeting, and attendance was down this week, she and Phil were in a minority of two to seven – not counting Jerry Roth who she knew in her heart they would never see in a branch meeting again. It was such a shame since Jerry might have taken their side – or maybe he was sensible to be out of it, maybe despite his despair he was the lucky one. And yet she also knew that if she talked to Phil about it he would remind her about how capitalism generated unemployment, poverty, pollution, about the pillage of Third World societies, about the awfulness and viciousness of the bureaucratic workers states. So what else could one do but keep on fighting, keep on upholding the ideas of Trotsky – and she had no answer to that. She knew for their child they could not and must not sell out and yet they must be another way. She struggled out of her thoughts to say her piece.

“I see this question as being related to the tendency’s disagreement with the majority in this branch and in the organisation. What we’ve got once again is an example of machoism dressed up as militancy. You comrades have a skin deep appreciation of feminism. Somehow we’ve got to create an organisation that is habitable for people, somehow we got to create a politics that…that…”

“Yes, comrade, a politics that…that what? You’re pretty vague aren’t you? A revolutionary organisation can only aspire to a leadership role if it can claim clarity in its ideas….”

“A politics that isn’t found on intellectual bullying comrade Gordon” she spat back at him.

“Don’t be so pathetic,” he replied.

“What do other comrades think? There are two comrades present who haven’t spoken yet. I have to say that a Leninist organisation has, by definition, a higher level of consciousness than the working masses and that we shouldn’t misconstrue fighting for our ideas as ‘intellectual bullying’, “Lewis lit up another cigarette. “Comrade Campbell?”

“Yes, I agree with comrade Gordon….and yourself comrade Lewis.”

“Comrade Mantus?”

“I think we’re getting off the original point. The point is should we lapse comrade Roth, send someone to discuss his membership or leave it another month as Phil suggests. I think we should just let his membership lapse for all the reasons that have been made, plus it won’t reflect well on the organisation when his problems are so well known. I’m sure he wants to drop out of politics anyway – he’s on his way out. Let him go. He’s no use to the party anymore.”

“That makes two proposals. Leave things another a month or let his membership lapse now. Does anyone want to speak for sending someone to discuss his membership with him?” Lewis paused, “Comrade Campbell you haven’t said much”.

Richard Campbell looked uneasy in the canvas and metal stacking chair in which he was sitting, the sudden focus of everyone’s attention that he did not want.

“I agree with the lapsing idea.”

“Thank you Richard,” said Lewis, without looking at him. “Shall we move to a vote then?”

All those in favour of a one month delay?” Phil and Cathy raised their hands.

“All those in favour of lapsing comrade Roth with immediate effect?” Lewis paused and then announced the expected result “Four votes to two for lapsing comrade Roth with immediate effect. Comrade Cathy I wonder if we could ask you to write a letter to Jerry?”

“I’m damned if I will,” she thought and Jerry Roth, who spent several months dreading a visit from the branch to discuss a decision that he was unable to make, eventually came to the conclusion that the decision had been made for him.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 13, 2016 10:18 am

    Believe it or not LOFA was not a sin.When it was noted in the minutes it took the heavies
    perturbations and bossism and twisted them. We smiked and noted we only had the Engieering agreement holidays which I think in the Motor Works was 32 days.

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