Class Struggle Education League
Fuses with Internationalist Group
Joint forum by the Class Struggle Education League and the Internationalist Group on “Revolutionary Regroupment vs. ‘Sanders Socialism’” at the Left Forum in New York City, June 3.
On June 3, the Class Struggle Education League, based in southern New Hampshire, and the Internationalist Group joined together in a single organization, the Internationalist Group, U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International. The fusion took place following a well-attended CSEL-IG panel on “Revolutionary Regroupment vs. ‘Sanders Socialism’” at the annual Left Forum in New York City. The panel was sharply counterposed to the Bernie Sanders brand of Democratic Party liberalism that dominated this year’s edition of the social-democratic confab. The previous day a panel by the Class Struggle Education Workers on “Teacher Revolts Shake Labor” and “On the Front Lines Defending Immigrants” drew a standing-room-only crowd. The CSEW is a union tendency fraternally allied with the IG. Also at the Forum, “An Open Letter to Socialist Alternative Oppositionists, Past and Present” (31 May) by the CSEL was distributed.
The CSEL-IG panel focused on the issues that led the Class Struggle Education League toward fusing with the Internationalist Group, and what revolutionary regroupment means, from Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks to today. Speaking for the CSEL, Danny Keating, a steel worker, recounted that his first reading group studying the Communist Manifesto was in the U.S. Army, which he had naively enlisted in as a young man. After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, he decided he had to resist, leaving the military and looking for a communist group. After encountering the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (“off-putting and strange”) he met Socialist Alternative (SAlt), which he believed was teaching working-class independence from the bourgeoisie. Instead, he said, SAlt capitulated to existing consciousness, launching a new campaign every six months, never getting past Socialism 101 in its internal education of members, leading to high turnover, confusion and disillusionment.
Disagreements began when the SAlt leadership truncated its call for “$15 and a Union” to “$15 Now,” because some liberals were uncomfortable with the union part. SAlt’s 2015 “turn” to campaigning for Bernie Sanders was particularly cynical. The leadership called for Sanders to “campaign all the way to November” (as if that would make it okay to support a bourgeois politician) knowing full well that Sanders was never going to win, that he would support Hillary Clinton, that he would never break from the Democrats. They told the members to tailor their approach to those who following the election of Trump have illusions in the Democrats, opposing only “corporate” and “establishment Democrats.” When the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) grew exponentially after the elections, Keating said, SAlt leaders “were beaming. To them, this was confirmation that they should have watered down their program even more: ‘Imagine how big the left would be if only we had lied to people a little more’,” they figured.
The New Hampshire branch of Socialist Alternative said it would engage with Sanders supporters, but wouldn’t lie to them. The speaker contrasted the program and action of the League for the Fourth International with that of SAlt’s parent body, the Committee for a Workers International, which grew out of the Militant tendency of the British Labour Party. “The CWI’s Labour reformism and sewer socialism is nothing but sowing illusions and diverting energy from what is really needed,” namely building a tight-knit revolutionary party, not opportunistically adapting to the outlook of what they would call “newly radicalized layers,” meaning young people that they “could lie to from the start,” said Keating. So after breaking with SAlt, “we hit the books again,” seeing that “in this period of splits and fusions,” many opportunist outfits are busting apart while people “are striving to find an organization that actually seeks to overthrow this rotten system.”
Mike Gath, also speaking on behalf of the CSEL, emphasized the importance of the writings of James P. Cannon. “In Socialist Alternative the beginning of the end” came after reading (or in his case, re-reading) Cannon’s Struggle for a Proletarian Party, about the 1939-40 struggle against the anti-Soviet petty-bourgeois opposition inside the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. Clearly there was a discrepancy between the revolutionary party Cannon talked about and Socialist Alternative’s claims. It took a couple more years of fighting for the comrades who would go on to found the CSEL to come to the conclusion that when they talked about the need for a party, they weren’t speaking the same language as the SAlt leadership, or others in the opposition. “What it meant for us was a class-struggle, revolutionary vanguard party – not a ‘mass socialist party,’ not a ‘party of the 99%,’ not a ‘people’s party.’ No, we need a Leninist revolutionary vanguard party, as a sign here says, to reforge the Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution, hammered out on programmatic agreement.”
At April 30 protest in Philadelphia in defense of class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, supporters of the Class Struggle Education League join with the Internationalist Group and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth in calling to “Mobilize Workers Power to Free Mumia” and for “Black Liberation through Socialist Revolution!”
Gath underlined the importance of Lenin’s statement in What Is To Be Done? that the role of the revolutionary is not to be a trade-union secretary but to be a tribune, or champion of the oppressed. So they threw themselves into struggles for trans rights and gay rights, as well as highlighting the fight for black liberation, not always a simple task in an area where the black population is statistically quite small. The black question is key to revolution in the United States, and the CSEL endorsed the program of revolutionary integrationism put forward by Richard Fraser in the SWP during the 1950s against the perspective of black nationalism, which in practice often meant tailing after black Democrats. At a conference in Connecticut held by Socialist Action (a split-off from the SWP which has a black nationalist line), a spokesperson for the Malcolm X Grassroots Network responded to criticism that it was getting “too close to the Democratic Party” by saying no, they were and always had been Democrats. (Socialist Action had nothing to say in response.) In February, the CSEL held a second annual black history forum together with speakers from the IG and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth, highlighting Ona Judge, the former slave of George Washington who escaped to New Hampshire.
The CSEL speaker stressed that revolutionary integrationism “means that the oppression of the black population cannot be solved before a socialist revolution. There is no reforming racism away.” He noted the CWI’s adaptation to social-chauvinism coming out of the Labour Party, adding, “you can see the same thing in the Bernie Sanders campaign: the idea that to work on issues like $15 Now that appeal to everyone regardless of race is how you’re going to forge unity across racial lines. But that kind of reformist approach doesn’t get to the root of eradicating the material basis for black oppression.” Finally, “one of the key things that led us to this room was re-reading Trotsky’s Transitional Program, encapsulated in the sentence that ‘the historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership.’ So what kind of party? A party that is the memory of the working class, a tribune of the people, tempered in class struggle.”
The CSEL checked out several left groups. They spoke with Left Voice, an Internet outlet linked with the Fracción Trotskista internationally. Gath noted: “When we met with them, it was sort of, ‘Hi, how are you. I don’t want to join a media project, I want to join a Leninist vanguard party.’” The CSEL rejected LV also for its refusal to defend North Korea and its tailing after the DSA. About the Spartacist League/International Communist League (SL/ICL), of which Gath had been a member as a teenager, he noted the SL’s thesis about a post-Soviet historic retrogression in working-class consciousness, which it uses to claim that the working class today is too backward to be mobilized on the basis of Trotsky’s Transitional Program. So then what is the task today? he asked. “SAlt said you have to go further into reformism. The SL in practice retreated into a kind of abstract propagandism. In both cases, these are reasons not to intervene in the class struggle fighting for a revolutionary program, which is what we want to do.” He concluded: “So what brought us to the Internationalist Group? It comes down to a motto of the Brazilian comrades, that there should be a coherence of words and deeds. We thought that was really important. We wanted to bring our actions into line with our instincts.”
Charlie Morán, a member of the Internationalist Group and a founder of Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas (Class Struggle International Workers), spoke of the experience of organizing immigrant workers, including at the Hot and Crusty bakery where workers won a union hiring hall after 55 days on the picket line (and where he was subsequently fired for his union activity). He cited the work leading to the unionization of several hundred workers at B&H Photo & Video. Seeking to bust the union, management shut down its New York City warehouses, but the store workers (whose ranks include members of TIC) still have a union. In particular, he emphasized that while many ostensible Trotskyists have abandoned the Transitional Program, for the IG and TIC, “it is our program, our guide for daily work.”
Morán pointed to the action of the Brazilian comrades in winning and defending the six-hour workday at the giant CSN steel plant. In 1999 they sparked a strike by the Rio de Janeiro teachers union demanding freedom for class war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. This was followed the next day by the action of longshore workers in the U.S. shutting down ports up and down the West Coast for the same demand. Looking to Mexico he pointed out that in 1999, the Grupo Internacionalista started out with only two comrades, but in the strike at the National University against attempts to impose tuition they insistently fought for workers defense guards. Then that July they succeeded in sparking the formation of a defense guard of the electrical workers union, which defended the strike in the face of threats of army repression. The occupation by tens of thousands of students lasted for ten months, ending with the mass arrest of strikers in February 2000. But it succeeded in keeping the university free, with no tuition, as it continues to be today.
The speaker noted the IG’s struggle in the United States for workers strikes against the war from 2002 on. This call was finally realized on May Day 2008 when all 29 West Coast U.S. ports were shut down by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union demanding an end to the war on Afghanistan and Iraq and for defense of immigrant rights. Morán cited the work of the Grupo Internacionalista in Mexico in militant teachers strikes in 2006, 2013 and 2016, and of the action of health workers in the state of Oaxaca fighting to break the stranglehold of state-controlled corporatist pseudo-unions. These workers, led by GI spokesman Dr. Arturo Villalobos, brought emergency medical aid to the victims of the 19 June 2016 police massacre in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca during that year’s teachers strike. It was in reprisal for such courageous actions that Villalobos’ son was beaten and tortured last month. In response, the IG and CSEL protested outside Mexican consulates while the sections of the LFI won support from unions in the U.S., Germany and Brazil, along with hundreds of supporters of labor and democratic rights, to denounce this state terror.
Abram Negrete, speaking for the Internationalist Group, began by noting that the day before, June 2, there was a demonstration in Mexico City in defense of our comrade Arturo and his family that was attended by 150 people and 16 organizations including several left groups – with the notable absence of the Grupo Espartaquista de México (the Mexican section of the ICL). He stressed that “the struggle to reforge the Fourth International is a struggle for the most vital, the most basic needs and interests of working people all around the world. And in places like Oaxaca, this is a question of life and death, in the literal sense.” In particular, he stressed, the question “Is the Transitional Program applicable?” has “a lot to do with our differences with many of the different tendencies that claim to be revolutionary or Marxist or Trotskyist.” As in, we seek to apply it, they don’t.
The fusion with the CSEL reminded him of the fusion, some 40 years ago, of the Spartacist League (of which the founders of the IG were then member) with a group that had been called the Lavender and Red Union and then changed its name to Red Flag Union. To the opportunists who spend their lives chasing after one petty-bourgeois movement after another, embracing lifestyleism and what is today known as identity politics, it must have seemed inexplicable for a group coming out of the gay movement to be fusing with hard Trotskyists. But it was possible precisely because of the fight for the revolutionary principles of Marxism.
“I think that the fusion with the Class Struggle Education League is a lot like that,” Negrete commented. Here are comrades who come out of Socialist Alternative, which is the very embodiment of social-democratic, “color-blind” economism, which considers cops to be workers and which threw itself headlong into the Sanders campaign as he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. But “if you look at the trajectory of the comrades, they come out of all kinds of real struggles, they come out the working-class struggle in a place that is pretty far from the center of U.S. politics.” Their experience in struggle underscored the need for Marxist clarity, leading them to make a sharp break with opportunism and insist on genuine Bolshevik politics.
What Is Revolutionary Regroupment
Class Struggle Education League and Internationalist Group marched in joint contingent on May Day 2018 in NYC.
The IG speaker focused on “What is revolutionary regroupment, and what is it not?” He noted that “Revolutionary regroupment doesn’t mean that all leftists get together into one big group. It doesn’t mean a ‘big tent’ like the Democratic Socialists of America call themselves. Inside this big tent what is purveyed is subordination to the ruling class in the form of the Democratic Party. It doesn’t mean all leftists being nice to each other and pretending that they don’t have disagreements. It doesn’t mean sanding off the sharp edges. It doesn’t mean tailing after the DSA, like Left Voice does, for example, and advising the DSA. No, it means a hard struggle against class-collaborationist politics.”
He cited examples of revolutionary regroupment, including the fusion of the Mezhraiontsy, the Inter-District Group of Trotsky, Joffe, Lunacharsky and others, with Lenin’s Bolsheviks in July-August 1917 leading in short order to the Bolshevik Revolution. Another example of revolutionary regroupment on a large scale was when Grigorii Zinoviev went to the congress of the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany, and after a lengthy speech two-thirds of the delegates came over to the Communist Party. But there were also many examples of smaller revolutionary regroupments, including the East Oakland Women, the Buffalo Marxist Collective and other groups coming out of the breakup of the New Left that were won to the Spartacist League at the start of the 1970s. A number of those comrades were in the room at this forum.
Revolutionary regroupment – bringing together cadres coming from ostensibly revolutionary or other organizations of the working class and oppressed and winning them to the program of authentic Marxism, i.e., Trotskyism – is a key tactic in times when potential revolutionaries are dispersed, often as the result of earlier defeats. But such a regrouping cannot be achieved on the basis of a lowest-common-denominator platform papering over differences. The sine qua non or essential condition for success is that it be on the basis of the revolutionary program. After World War II, the decimation of the Trotskyist cadres by the Nazis and Stalinist repression (following the 1940 assassination of Trotsky himself) and disorientation over the rise of Stalinist-governed deformed workers states led to the growth of tendencies, headed up by the international secretary of the Fourth International, Michel Pablo, that abandoned the struggle for a Trotskyist vanguard in favor of chasing after or joining with non-proletarian and non-revolutionary forces.
As stated in the 1998 “Declaration of the League for the Fourth International”:
“The reforging of the Fourth International requires defeating Pabloism and all other currents which betray the revolutionary Trotskyist program. An important component of this fight, and of the struggle to overcome the disparity between the tasks we face and our limited forces, will be the tactic of revolutionary regroupment on the program of Leninist internationalism. We foresee a series of splits from revisionist organizations and fusions with those genuinely seeking to be communists, in building the vanguard party.”
Spelling this out at the panel on revolutionary regroupment, the IG speaker Negrete emphasized:
“When we talk about reforging the Fourth International, we’re talking not about piecing together the fragments of various opportunist organizations, but rather overcoming the historical crisis that destroyed the Fourth International organizationally, in 1951 to 1953, through Pabloite revisionism. Many of the fragments that claim to be Trotskyist in the world today are either derived from Mandelism, or from Morenoism – such as in the case of the Fracción Trotskista – or from the Lambertistes or from other tendencies which basically reflected the destruction of the Fourth International by Pabloite revisionism.
“The Spartacist tendency, in our view, fought for and defended, and in some cases even extended, Trotskyism for three decades. That’s not nothing – we’re based on that. It was the only organization that told the truth about Allende’s popular front in Chile; the only organization that said ‘All Indochina Must Go Communist,’ calling for workers strikes against the war; the only organization that didn’t swim with the stream of New Leftism, that didn’t pretend that black liberation could be accomplished without proletarian revolution; the only organization that tried to understand – and put forward a program – for ‘interpenetrated peoples’ in places where different peoples were mingled together.”
But the aftermath of counterrevolution in the Soviet bloc – which the ICL in some of its finest moments and uniquely on the left fought tenaciously against, undertaking bold actions in the bureaucratically deformed/degenerated workers states while the pseudo-Trotskyists almost without exception sided with the capitalist-restorationists – led to a fundamental crisis in the Spartacist tendency.
This crisis was based on an accumulation of a number of factors, including aging and the weight of the labor aristocracy in the organization but centrally on loss of confidence in the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat – a hallmark of all revisionism. Following the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR, a world-historic defeat for the proletariat, the ICL began to draw defeatist conclusions and write them into its program. It began with the assertion that the Stalinist bureaucracy – a brittle parasitic layer – not only paved the way to disaster but “led the counterrevolution.” This phony claim, which was invented in order to drive out the founders of the IG/LFI, not only whitewashed the imperialists and their stooges who actually led the counterrevolution, it contradicted Trotsky’s analysis of the contradictory character of the bureaucracy and the ICL’s own actions in East Germany and the Soviet Union.
Soon the ICL was concluding that the Transitional Program was outdated, and blaming this on the workers with its thesis of a “historic retrogression” in working-class consciousness.1 From there, the SL/ICL went from one programmatic departure from Trotskyism to another, usually while railing against the Internationalist Group/LFI. This included: dropping the call for independence for Puerto Rico in 1998 (while accusing the IG/LFI of Latin American nationalism for upholding it); dropping the call to defeat U.S. imperialism in the wake of 9/11 (accusing the IG of pandering to anti-Americanism for upholding it); dropping the call for hot-cargoing military goods in the 2002 lead-up to the invasion of Iraq (accusing the IG of adventurism for upholding it), and most infamously supporting the U.S. invasion of Haiti following the 2010 earthquake (while denouncing the IG’s call to kick the imperialists out as a “deranged and grotesque fantasy”).
So every few years there is another crisis in the SL/ICL, complete with “regime change” – chucking out the previous ostensible leaders and replacing them with another set – and bringing new revisions of Leninism and Trotskyism. IG spokesman Negrete noted at the June 3 panel:
“The latest one is fairly spectacular. It is embodied in a creature, the fearsome hydra. So they put out a document called ‘The Struggle Against the Chauvinist Hydra.’ It turns out the chauvinist hydra was them, according to them. According to them, for 40 years they had a chauvinist line on the national question. Now, it is true, as many of the comrades in this room can attest, that they engaged in chauvinist behavior and actions, notably against our comrades. But that’s not what they’re talking about. They’re saying that what’s necessary is to revise the understanding of the national question.”
In contrast to the SL/ICL’s centrist gyrations, the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International have been constant in upholding the program of revolutionary Trotskyism, and on the basis of seeking to put the Transitional Program into practice have been able to intervene in the class struggle, achieving some modest successes, as noted earlier. This caught the attention of the comrades splitting from Socialist Alternative, as CSEL spokesman Keating commented, with some exaggeration: “We were impressed by the IG. People said, ‘why would you want to join that.’ And we would say, here’s a list of 90 things they’ve done, what have you done?’ So we started engaging with the IG, and that’s why we’re here today.”
CSEL/IG Fusion: On the Program of Authentic Trotskyism
On the basis of programmatic continuity and fidelity to Trotskyism and Leninism, the IG/LFI has continued to pursue revolutionary regroupment. More than once, the unexpected has occurred. In joining with the Portland Trotskyist Study Group, the Internationalist Group won cadres out of the International Socialist Organization. It began with a late-night phone call in mid-2011 when these comrades called to say that they had “had it with the ISO” and wanted “the real Trotskyism.” But that was only the beginning of a process. After visits, joint study focusing on the “Russian Question,” from Kronstadt to China, and several months of common work around the Occupy movement and in support of longshore workers fighting union-busting in Longview, Washington, the fusion of the IG and PTSG took place in July 2012.2
The LFI reaffirmed the perspective of “revolutionary regroupment(s) of cadres breaking from opportunist organizations to embrace authentic Trotskyism” in its April 2015 document “International Perspectives of the League for the Fourth International,” while adding that “the immediate prospects may be limited” for such regroupments.3 Little did we know that in the following year, two separate groups of cadres from in and around the ICL would come knocking on our door seeking the regroup with the LFI.
This included the former leaders of the Italian section of the ICL, who declared their solidarity with the LFI in a document titled “Back to Trotskyism”.4And the Better-Late-Than-Never Faction of the ICL in Los Angeles made contact with the IG/LFI after they were summarily expelled from the Spartacist League the day after handing in their declaration of faction calling to “Return to the Road of Genuine Spartacism! Regroup with the IG/LFI on the Basis of Their Revolutionary Continuity!” After several days of intense discussion and several months of joint work – notably at May Day 2016 in New York City, the Lutte Ouvrière Fête in France and the Left Forum in NYC a few days later, and attending the Second Conference of the Grupo Internacionalista in Mexico in early July – the BLTN faction and IG fused.5
With the CSEL as well there has been a process of joint study and common work. This included the Black History Month forum in New Hampshire, where IG members and a member of the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth spoke on the Haitian Revolution and its legacy. It included two trips to Philadelphia to show solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal, in January and April when we had a joint IG-CSEL contingent of a dozen people. CSEL statements were published in The Internationalist (No. 51, April-May 2018). On May Day, there was a joint IG-CSEL contingent of over 50 people in New York City. There were the protests over the torture attack in Mexico, and finally the open letter and joint panel at the Left Forum in New York. In the end, Mike Gath said, “when I started working with the Internationalist Group more, the big sense that I got was of coming home again, after a long time. This was revolutionary Trotskyism as I remembered it, as I understood it.”
Summing up the discussion, Negrete remarked:
“We’re talking about a regroupment between a small organization and an even smaller one. But this is part of something much bigger. This is a little taste of what we can and must accomplish if we fight for our principles, if we do that intransigently, if we don’t sand the edges off of it, if we look for the real opportunities, if we’re smart about it, if we’re determined about it, but above all, always remembering that every single tactic is subordinated to the principles of communism. Nobody will carry out revolutionary regroupment if when they have the tiniest opportunity they sell out, or they adapt, or they tail after the existing leadership. Only the people who fight for those principles now are able to carry out all sorts of regroupments and splits and fusions in a much bigger way.
“The lesson of this is that these principles are valid, that they guide the work in Oaxaca, they guide the work for workers strikes against the war, the fight for workers defense guards, and a workers militia where it’s possible, to smash the fascists. This is what we’re talking about when we talk about the potentials and lessons of revolutionary regroupment.”
Following the successful conclusion of the forum, the comrades decided there was no point in delaying further, and they should just do it. So by a vote of the CSEL comrades and polling the IG Executive Committee the fusion was formalized then and there. Meeting subsequently, on July 5, the IG executive committee (now expanded to include a comrade of the ex-CSEL) chartered a New England local of the Internationalist Group. ■
- 1. The same claim is made by almost every other tendency falsely claiming to be Trotskyist. See “In Defense of the Transitional Program,” in The Internationalist No. 5, April-May 1998.
- 2. See “Portland Trotskyist Study Group Fuses with Internationalist Group,” The Internationalist, Summer 2012.
- 3. Reprinted in The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015.
- 4. Reprinted in The Internationalist No. 43, May-June 2016.
- 5. See “Better-Late-Than-Never Faction Fuses with Internationalist Group,” The Internationalist No. 44, Summer 2016.