Communism Lives … Just Not in the SL/ICL
SL/ICL: Haunted by
Statement of the Expelled Better-Late-Than-Never Faction
and the Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth
13 May 2016
Zigzagging on fundamental programmatic questions, tripping over the class line and abandoning key principles of Leninism – in short, the centrist degeneration of what was once a revolutionary party – doesn’t sit well with those who actually want to fight for socialist revolution. But engaging in an open and sharp debate with their own comrades who uphold the principles and program of authentic Trotskyism which that party once stood for is not in the repertoire of a leadership that has lost its moorings and confidence in the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat.
Over the last two decades, in the wake of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and the East European bureaucratically deformed workers states, the Spartacist League and its International Communist League have sought refuge from the class struggle in an increasingly inward-directed, self-referential world of their own. At the same time the SL/ICL has revised, and re-revised, one plank after another of the Trotskyist revolutionary program it once championed. And incapable of defending its revisionism in the service of “pulling their hands out of the boiling water” of the class struggle, the latter-day SL/ICL has had to resort to ever cruder means to defend the indefensible.
In contrast, the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International, founded by cadres expelled by the SL/ICL in 1996-98, have sought to carry the Trotskyist program into the struggles of the working class and oppressed. Despite its limited forces, the IG/LFI has made modest but significant advances in struggles ranging from workers strikes against imperialist war and workers defense guards in the strike at the National University of Mexico (UNAM), to winning youth and immigrant worker cadres to Trotskyism in struggles for unionization and against deportations and racist police terror.
On April 16, the Better-Late-Than-Never (BLTN) Faction of the International Communist League (ICL) put forward its Declaration of Faction calling to “Return to the Road of Genuine Spartacism” and to “Regroup with the IG/LFI on the Basis of Their Revolutionary Continuity!” The very next day they received a response from the Spartacist League’s Los Angeles local claiming that the document was “self-evidently composed in close collaboration with the Internationalist Group,” which was utterly false, and cynically saying “we consider your document a statement of resignation and hereby accept it.”
Comrades Ines and Wright fired off a “Letter to All Members of the ICL” refuting the lie of collaboration with the IG, noting that in order to wage a principled faction fight against the political degeneration of the ICL they had continued to abide by party discipline and did not make contact with the IG/LFI. “We are proud autodidacts who took on the task of researching and writing this factional document entirely by ourselves,” they wrote. “For the SL leadership to assert that this is impossible … is to denigrate the intellectual and political capacity of the ICL membership.”
The ICL leaders’ response has a certain perverse logic to it: since they have been spinning around endlessly, swinging from one position to its opposite on key programmatic questions and capitulating before virtually every major test in the last two decades, why should they believe that any among their members are capable of incisive Marxist thought? But perhaps concluding that the pretext for “resignating” the BLTN Faction was all too transparent, the SL then sent a second letter to the Faction explicitly expelling it for “organizational and political loyalty” to the IG. The parallel to the 1963 expulsion of the leaders of the Revolutionary Tendency (who went on to found the Spartacist League) by the degenerating Socialist Workers Party for having a “hostile and disloyal attitude” was hard to miss.
Only on April 22 did the Internationalist Group learn of the existence of the Faction when it first established contact with the IG five days after its expulsion from the ICL.
The platform of the BLTN Faction took the ICL leadership to task for their anti-Trotskyist revisionism in four key areas: “The Russian Question,” “The Class Line,” “The State” and the struggle to “Reforge a Fourth International That Trotsky Would Call His Own.” It exposed how the party that had uniquely waged a principled and heroic struggle to defend the DDR (East Germany) and Soviet Union responded to defeat by dumping Trotsky’s analysis of the dual nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy and whitewashing the role of the bourgeoisie and its social-democratic agents in the capitalist counterrevolution. The new line, that “the Stalinists led the counterrevolution,” was concocted in the course of the 1995-96 fight leading to the expulsion of the cadres who subsequently founded the Internationalist Group, and codified in the ICL’s 1998 “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program.”
As the BLTN Faction pointed out, the ICL cannot even claim originality. It picked up this line after hearing it again and again in polemics against the ICL’s work in the DDR by wretched Stalinophobes like the misnamed International Bolshevik Tendency and David North & Co. (d/b/a the World Socialist Web Site). The Shachtmanite and Cliffite renegades from Trotskyism used this line to mislabel the Stalinist bureaucracy a new exploiting class, in order not to have to defend the USSR against imperialism. The ICL waged the hard fight to defend the gains of the October revolution to the end, only to start whipping itself for doing so just 6 years later. While the ICL leadership acts as if this is an unending game of words, it is spreading a conception that politically disarms those who would actually fight for proletarian political revolution in the remaining deformed workers states, which is crucial to their defense against imperialism and counterrevolution.
ICL members should ask why this issue keeps coming back to haunt their tendency. First and foremost because, as the founder of American Trotskyism, James P. Cannon said in his 1939 Speech on the Russian Question, “Who touches the Russian question, touches a revolution.” Therefore, he counseled, “Be serious about it. Don’t play with it.” The ICL also continues to stumble over this cornerstone of Trotskyism because what came to be known as the “Norden fight” was really a fight over its own history. To embrace the new line meant to renounce the ICL’s fight against counterrevolution in the DDR and USSR, one of its proudest moments.
After all, on 3 January 1990, the ICL initiated a united-front demonstration together with the Stalinist ruling party, bringing out a quarter million people protesting against Nazi defacing of a Soviet war memorial and against capitalist reunification of Germany. As the Faction Declaration asked:
“So if you accept the idea that the Stalinist bureaucracy ‘led’ or was ‘centrally responsible’ for counterrevolution, what does that say about the nature of the Treptow demonstration?”
The question has been asked before, but never answered by the ICL.
We encourage readers to study the Declaration of the Better-Late-Than-Never Faction which is available on the IG/LFI web site (www.internationalist.org). It wades through (with hip boots and a shovel, as Cannon said of polemics with Shachtman) the muck of lies, distortions and obfuscations the ICL leadership has thrown out to cover its own betrayals, starting with abandoning and stabbing in the back the comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil in their unprecedented struggle to remove police from the unions (which the ICL always called for but never tried to carry out). The ICL then falsely accused the LQB of suing the union when its comrades were the union leaders who were sued and removed by the courts. To this day, the ICL repeats the lies of pro-police elements who used the power of the bourgeois state against the Brazilian Trotskyists.
What was particularly impressive to the IG about the Declaration was how the comrades independently investigated key political differences between the ICL and the LFI. This included the question of corporatist “unions” in Mexico which are actually an agency of state control to prevent the rise of genuine workers unions. This heritage of the one-party regime that governed Mexico for seven decades can be difficult to grasp for those who have never experienced a system where virtually all social institutions were state-controlled. But for Mexican workers, and anyone claiming to provide revolutionary leadership, understanding this issue is literally a life-or-death question as the corporatist pseudo-unions have murdered hundreds of their own members in line with their social function of integrating “labor” organizations directly into the capitalist state apparatus. The Faction established that the current ICL line, treating these labor cops as genuine unions, flatly contradicts its own published line for a decade prior to the 1996 expulsions, when Workers Vanguard rightly described Mexican corporatist unions as “company unions on a grand scale.”
Similarly, while fighting the popular front had been the cornerstone of its Mexican section’s work from its inception in 1988 until the section’s leaders and youth militants were expelled in the 1996 purges, the latter-day SL/ICL imagines that claiming that there is not, never has been and cannot be a popular front in Mexico will help them discredit the LFI. Quite the opposite – by denying reality and their own past, in the end they can only discredit themselves.
Those in the ICL and others reading the Faction’s Declaration will be struck also by the fact that the BLTN comrades began fighting on other issues, notably over crude distortions regarding the so-called “theory” of “white skin privilege,” with a leader of the L.A. Spartacist League incredibly claiming that, because white workers are the majority in the U.S., “in the aggregate” white workers are even “more exploited and miserable” than black workers.
The BLTN Faction also took up the issue of walking bosses (foremen who directly represent the shipping bosses) in the West Coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The Faction took up the issue as the SL backtracked on its earlier position that walking bosses are management and therefore should not be in the union. After reading the materials from the Faction, investigating labor and SL archives on the ILWU and speaking with former activists in the caucus the SL had politically supported in the union, the IG, which had not studied the question before, concluded that the BLTN comrades’ position was correct. They upheld the class line against attempts by the SL to obscure it and promote class collaboration on the docks. This is no small matter in one of the most powerful and key unions in the United States.
It was only after hitting a brick wall in these earlier fights that the comrades who subsequently formed the Better-Late-Than-Never Faction began to dig deeper and investigate the possibility that the IG/LFI might be right in its analysis of the degeneration of the ICL. It is well-known among members of the ICL that the IG/LFI has repeatedly been right against their party, with the SL/ICL’s shameful support for the 2010 U.S. invasion of Haiti in the guise of earthquake relief being only the most egregious example.
After so many changes of line, often going back and forth on the same question, and admitted betrayals, it is impossible for a thinking SL/ICLer not to harbor nagging doubts. But many hesitate to study the LFI’s program and record – as the BLTN Faction boldly and frankly did – because they fear (rightly, as was just demonstrated) that their membership would be quickly terminated. In an organization which has gone to great lengths to be an alternative world for its members in their isolation from intervention in the class struggle, this is a daunting prospect.
The Better-Late-Than-Never Faction Declaration is a challenge to those in the SL/ICL who truly want to make a revolution. What the BLTN comrades discovered as they dug into one question after another, is that the program of the IG/LFI was already familiar to them in its fundamentals – it was the program of revolutionary Trotskyism they had embraced and thought they were fighting for. As the report on the latest conference of the Spartacist League/U.S. (published in the 22 April issue of Workers Vanguard) makes clear, the SL is a dying party. Youth Commission “disbanded,” Labor Black Leagues “moribund,” WV to be cut back to 8 pages “in cases of emergency” due to a “paucity of resources,” etc. The references to up-and-coming youth leaders ring hollow when internally the leadership talks of having a Council of Elders to ensure against political wobbles (not much luck so far).
And how can young militants get a solid grounding in Marxism in an organization wracked by cliquism in the leadership, unable to orient itself, which will run against the rocks in any stormy class struggles? Lamenting that “even those who want to fight see little hope for change and lack any understanding of the central role of the working class in putting an end to capitalism” and “even less understand the need for a proletarian vanguard party,” the SL conference concluded that the organization’s central task “is to maintain the continuity of revolutionary Marxism today, i.e., Trotskyism.” That’s a tall order for a tendency that flips back and forth on the role of Stalinism, that can’t tell the difference between death squads and workers unions, can’t see an imperialist “humanitarian” invasion for what it is, and that has self-consciously exited the class struggle.
It is crucial to understand that the decline of the SL/ICL is a direct result of its political/programmatic degeneration. The proclamation of the supposed qualitative degeneration of workers’ consciousness is the SL/ICL’s embrace of the bourgeois false consciousness of the supposed “death of communism,” as a speech by SL spokesman Joseph Seymour makes clear (“Critical Notes on the “Death of Communism” and the Ideological Conditions of the Post-Soviet World,” in Workers Vanguard, 1 January 2010). The IG/LFI has opposed this “theoretical” justification for desertion from the class struggle from the start, understanding that the period following the victory of counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and East European workers states has been a contradictory one, in which workers around the globe, and in the heartland of U.S. imperialism, continue to face class battles where revolutionaries must actively intervene. Only in the course of struggle can revolutionary cadre be forged, and only by fighting alongside the workers in struggle can the revolutionary vanguard demonstrate its capacity to lead its class to victory.
As for the Russian Question, which is at the heart of the Declaration of the Better-Late-Than-Never Faction, its defense of the Trotskyist position against the ICL’s wobbling neo-Shachtmanite revisionism is vital to fight the threat of counterrevolution in China, Cuba and the other remaining deformed workers states. Consider the response by SLers to the expelled Faction as it distributed its Declaration at May Day in New York City, where it marched with the IG/LFI. When confronted by the Faction with the question “Who led the counterrevolution in the DDR?” young SL members gave contradictory answers. One said it’s “obvious” from empirical facts that “the Stalinists led the counterrevolution” while another argued that the wrong line that the Stalinists led the counterrevolution was “corrected” a long time ago. A more cynical ICL leader from Germany flatly refused to give an answer to the question “Who led the counterrevolution?” changing the subject after each of the three times the question was asked of her.
The Faction pointed out that this coexistence of counterposed positions within the ICL on the nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy was the result of a pseudo-correction in 2003 and the accompanying diversionary campaign labeling all discussion on this question as part of a “false fight,” which the BLTN factional declaration exposed as a conscious fraud to prevent a reevaluation of the 1995-96 fight and expulsions, that represented a turning point for the post-Soviet ICL. With this level of confusion, the Spartacist tendency could never carry out today the crucial intervention, with all its shortcomings, that the ICL mounted in 1989-92. That alone is a guarantee that this badly degenerated party cannot lead victorious struggles in the future.
The SL/ICL is dead for revolution, and the sooner those who want to fight for revolution come to grips with that, the sooner they will be able to make their own contribution to the struggle for humanity’s future. Many have put up with years of pulling their punches in hopes of strategically waging single-issue fights to gradually add up to reforming the ICL back to Trotskyism. Some have become demoralized after realizing that even the greatest mental gymnastics exerted toward that goal amounted to running full speed in a hamster wheel. The recent expulsion of the BLTN Faction demonstrates yet again the resolve of the leadership to keep internal oppositionists in their place – i.e. keep quiet or get out. Those who are fed up with the idea that they can only “succeed” through internal self-censorship and endless cliquist cannibalism, and want to exert their energy on actually building a revolutionary party to intervene in the real world, don’t belong in the ICL, they belong in the LFI.
Carrying out our common perspective of revolutionary regroupment on the basis of authentic Trotskyism, on May 4 the BTLN Faction and the Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International adopted an Agreement for Common Work, which states in part:
“Following several days of discussion, and jointly participating in the May Day march in NYC, the IG/LFI and the Better-Late-Than-Never Faction hereby agree to carry out common work aiming at an early fusion of our forces on the basis of:
“–the Document of the First National Conference of the Internationalist Group, ‘The Trotskyist Struggle for International Socialist Revolution’ (April 2015);
“–the ‘International Perspectives of the League for the Fourth International’ (April 2015), notably including the sections outlining the policy of proletarian internationalism on Syria, and polemicizing against the ICL on this issue;
“–the ‘Declaration of the Better-Late-Than-Never Faction’ (April 2016) which powerfully reaffirms the struggle of the IG/LFI to uphold and put into practice Bolshevik politics from Germany to Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere in the period since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, homeland of the October Revolution, which we defended to the end, despite and against the Stalinist bureaucratic betrayers.
“The Faction’s defense of the Trotskyist understanding of Stalinism against the ICL’s zigzagging revisionism upholds the program that is key to proletarian political revolution which is integral to the defense of China, Cuba and the other remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states against imperialism and counterrevolution.”
Among other tasks we agreed to “Work together exploring further opportunities to win people from the ICL milieu to authentic Trotskyism.”
James P. Cannon explained factional struggle as “a part of the process of building the revolutionary party,” as a necessary “test of leadership.” The revisionist ICL leadership rightly feared that they might fail that test, and thus bureaucratically maneuvered to avoid it altogether by expelling the Better-Late-Than-Never Faction forthwith. The leadership’s momentary reprieve was secured, however, at the cost of blatantly exposing themselves as just as much of a strangled party as the degenerated American SWP. The Revolutionary Tendency (forerunner of the Spartacist League) was right to fight that degeneration, even though it led to their expulsion and meant they needed to start all over and build a new party from scratch. All those still in and around the ICL who are not too cynical to open their eyes and see should heed the battle cry of the BLTN Faction and join the fight for genuine Trotskyism. Better late than never! ■