Declaration of the Permanent Revolution Faction, 3 February 1998 

Expulsions from the Ligue Trotskyste de France – 
ICL Accelerates Slide Toward Abstentionism and Centrism 

Communism Lives
In the Struggles of the Workers and oppressed
And in the Trotskyist program
Reforge the Fourth International!

The International Communist League (ICL) has just expelled the Permanent Revolution Faction (PRF), which fought against the abstentionist and centrist course of the organization. The new course of the ICL was expressed most dramatically in its shameful flight from an important class battle led by the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (LQB) to expel police from the union movement. The methodology that led to this betrayal is now being generalized by the leadership of the ICL, which seeks to justify this by revising central theses of the Spartacist tendency and Trotskyism. This new expulsion, from the Ligue Trotskyste de France (LTF), included a member of the LTF Central Committee and a member of the former editorial board of Le Bolchévik. This comes after the expulsions of long-time leaders of the ICL from the Spartacist League/U.S. and the Grupo Espartaquista de México in 1996, who subsequently founded the Internationalist Group/Grupo Internacionalista (IG). In fighting against the drift of the ICL, whose constant zigzags produced a generalized crisis in the organization, the PRF was formed in political solidarity with the program of the IG.

Developments in the international situation after the counterrevolution in the USSR and East Europe have had an unprecedented impact on the International Communist League. By the admission of the International Secretariat (I.S.) itself, a majority of the [national] sections have been characterized either as centrist or afflicted by centrism. In the space of a year and a half, these sections have had several conferences aimed at clarifying the situation and putting the sections back on the rails. However, one can see that these cures were unable to exorcise anything. The evidence shows that the national sections reflected (sometimes to the point of caricature) a line coming from the international leadership. As the PRF stated in its counter-report at the last conference of the LTF, the political disorientation of the ICL is the fruit of the huge contradiction and gap between the vision of the world purveyed by the international leadership, which only sees defeats everywhere, and the living reality of the class struggle. In the absence of a coherent line, we have experienced precipitous veering, oscillating between frenetic activism without a strategy and (more frequently) abstentionism that flees from any external intervention. Moreover, this has led a whole series of experienced cadres to resign from the organization.

This situation of generalized crisis reflects the pressures of this new post-Soviet period on the ICL. As Trotsky pointed out in Lessons of October, defeats of the proletariat are always accompanied by sharp turns, even within the vanguard party. The defeat for the world proletariat and all the oppressed represented by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state and the bureaucratically deformed workers states of East Europe has served for the ICL leadership as an alibi to justify a tendency toward abstentionism, fleeing from and avoiding struggles when they don’t deny their existence altogether. To back up this policy, the ICL came to the conclusion that the historical crisis of humanity is no longer reduced to the crisis of proletarian leadership, but that the proletariat itself is no longer up to its tasks, due to a “historical retrogression in the political consciousness of the workers movement” (Call for the Third Conference of the ICL). Thus the zigzags characterizing the current policy of the ICL reflect the contradiction between its formal identification with the Trotskyist program and its defeatist vision of the present period.

This contradiction leads to programmatic revisions on several fundamental questions. The central thesis of Trotsky’s Transitional Program, the founding program of the Fourth International, is that “the historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.” The negation of this thesis was at the heart of the destruction of the Fourth International in 1950-53 by Pabloist revisionism. This key phrase introduced the main document of the Second International Conference of the ICL in 1992. But now it is simply swept under the rug. A top leader of the ICL declared in a letter, directed against the IG which reaffirmed this thesis, that: “Today, the crisis is not limited to the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the working class. The working classes throughout the world are qualitatively more politically disoriented and organizationally dispersed.” From that, he concluded that “we have been thrown back to before 1914.” The Permanent Revolution Faction fought this impressionist, anti-materialist and deeply anti-Trotskyist thesis head on, insisting that we are still in the imperialist era, which is the epoch of wars and revolutions–another conception that is lacking in the new declaration of principles of the ICL.

Prior to the constitution of the PRF, its members waged political struggles for a Trotskyist intervention by the LTF in the last truckers strike and against the abandonment of the perspective of regrouping North African cadres in exile to forge the nucleus of a Trotskyist party around an exile journal. During the truckers strike, the I.S. refused to publish a leaflet to intervene in this first important strike confronting the racist, anti-worker popular-front government of [Socialist Party prime minister] Lionel Jospin and [Communist Party transport minister] Jean-Claude Gayssot. The faction’s members fought for the LTF to intervene with demands putting forward a program of proletarian opposition to this bourgeois government of class collaboration. It called for extending the strike and electing strike committees, to provide an arena for the confrontation of the revolutionary program with that of the strikebreaking bureaucrats; for the formation of workers defense groups against the fascists, who attacked the strike; for the defense of immigrants, to break with the popular front, build a revolutionary workers party and fight for a Socialist United States of Europe.

It is through this struggle for the revolutionary program that communists bring to the most advanced elements of the working class and oppressed the consciousness of their historic tasks, to forge a Trotskyist party tested in battle, and not through passive “commentaryism” and abstract propaganda, which is more and more the refrain of the leadership of the ICL. To justify its refusal to put forward demands for the truckers strike against the union bureaucracy and the popular-front government, the leadership of the ICL had to redefine economism, identifying it with any intervention in economic struggles. It thereby encouraged and fueled a line which already predominated the French section, leading to the collapse of its leadership and the paralysis of the section during the strikes of November-December 1995. At that time, the abstentionist policy was concentrated in the central committee of the LTF, even though it thought it was following the international line. Today this policy comes directly from the I.S.

With the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR, the bourgeoisie believes its hands have been freed to unleash a whole series of attacks against the working class and the oppressed, expressed in Europe by the dismantling of the “welfare state” and the reinforcing of the racist Fortress Europe. Yet we are also experiencing a series of defensive struggles by the working class whose scope hasn’t been seen since the years 1968-69 (in Italy between 1992 and 1994, or in France with the mass mobilizations and strikes of November-December 1995, demonstrations in defense of the sans papiers [undocumented immigrants], against racist laws, and against the fascists of the National Front). In several European countries, the social democrats have been put into office, either alone or in popular-front coalitions, in order to hold back the mobilizations of the workers and the oppressed and to neutralize and defeat them on the altar of class collaboration.

Currently in France, the reformist mass parties are in the popular-front government with the support of the union federations. All the components of the “far left” of yesteryear want to “help” this bourgeois government of the “plural left,” or wish it “success,” in the hopes of eventually joining it. For their part, the centrist groups which are sprouting up in various places want to “push” this capitalist government to carry out their reformist “emergency plans” (i.e., they want to beg for some crumbs from it). All of them called to vote for this popular front, or for one or another of its components. Today, as the government launches its uniformed guard dogs against the truckers, against the multi-ethnic youth of the working-class suburbs, and against the unemployed; as it continues to deport immigrants after making police lists of their addresses, vowing to expel more than 100,000; as it maintains the Pasqua-Debré [immigration] laws [introduced by the previous conservative administration], while reinforcing some of their most repressive aspects through the Chevènement-Gigou laws [on immigration and nationality, introduced by the current cabinet], and as it passes its anti-working-class measures of social regression, the situation cries out for the intervention of a party armed with the Trotskyist program in revolutionary opposition to the popular front. But in this situation, the ICL digs itself deeper into its abstentionism.

However, the bankruptcy of the current policy of the ICL didn’t appear yesterday. Already in 1996 we saw the expulsion of long-time leading cadres who had fought against an entirely fabricated struggle by the I.S. leading to its revision of the Trotskyist analysis of the nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The I.S. now says the bureaucracy “led” the counterrevolution in the DDR [East Germany], when in fact the Stalinist regimes capitulated before the imperialist bourgeoisie and its anti-Soviet social-democratic spearhead, paving the way for counterrevolution. These cadres also fought to defend the perspective of a principled fusion with the LQB after a common commitment to fight to drive the police out of the Municipal Workers Union of Volta Redonda in Brazil. These expulsions of Spartacist cadres were aimed at getting rid of an obstacle to placing the ICL on its new centrist course. The fight waged by the comrades of the LQB to oust the cops is an expression of the Marxists’ fight for the class independence of the proletariat, while practically all other left organizations support, directly or indirectly, the cops and their “strikes.” But in the face of the danger of repression and as the struggle heated up, the International Secretariat of the ICL declared that it wished to “pull our hands out of the boiling water,” due to “unacceptable dangers to the vanguard,” and ignominiously abandoned this principled class battle while breaking its fraternal relations with the LQB.

Subsequently, the leaders of the ICL have invented a whole panoply of lies and subterfuges to cover their betrayal of this struggle. Today, in the face of escalating repression and attacks against the class-struggle activists in Volta Redonda, amid new judicial proceedings against them by the popular-front and pro-cop elements, the ICL has vilely attacked the defense campaign of the Brazilian Trotskyist worker militants, seeking to drag them into the mud.

After this desertion from the class struggle in Brazil, a twisting and tortuous centrist course has dominated the ICL, deepening and generalizing as it extends to other aspects of the Spartacist program, intervention and heritage. Thus we saw a revision of the Trotskyist position on permanent revolution. In order to attack the IG on the question of permanent revolution, and to stigmatize it with denying this theory, the international leadership had to reheat some old Stalinist-Menshevik dishes, declaring that in Mexico and all of Latin America the proletariat and peasantry must fight against remnants of feudalism in the countryside. The leadership of the ICL waged a campaign for a whole year claiming that the IG had renounced permanent revolution, when in reality it was the ICL which had reinterpreted the permanent revolution in saying that it depended on there being remnants of feudalism. In the heat of the factional battle, this position had to be “corrected,” [with the ICL leadership] now saying that there are no pre-capitalist remnants in Mexico and Latin America, but without giving any explanation. As the Permanent Revolution Faction noted in a 11 January 1998 letter:

    “The point is that this is not a secondary or academic question. The permanent revolution is a central question of Trotskyism. An erroneous conception of permanent revolution can only lead to political disorientation and capitulation before non-proletarian class forces, in Mexico and internationally.”
The PRF stressed the fact that “the agrarian revolution, like the other democratic tasks, can only be realized by the seizure of power by the proletariat, drawing in its wake the peasant masses, not in a confrontation with imaginary feudal lords but against the capitalist class power of the bourgeoisie.”

Meanwhile, on the eve of the electoral victory of [Cuauhtémoc] Cárdenas in Mexico City, the ICL decided that henceforth there was no popular front around the PRD [Party of the Democratic Revolution] in Mexico, even though the struggle against this popular front had been a position it had upheld for almost a decade. As one could expect, this only added to the general political confusion in the organization internationally. The Mexican section was thus incapable of generating any propaganda regarding those elections. Behind that lay the abstentionist policy which refused to undertake the struggle to break the workers, union and left militants, Indian peasants, women and all the oppressed from this popular front. Denying the existence of this Cárdenas popular front was in fact a refusal to fight the bourgeois nationalists and their shills on the left, and a refusal to struggle to tear the leadership of the working class and the oppressed masses away from them.

Coming one after another, these revisions and “correctives”–on permanent revolution, on the nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy, on the popular front–could not hold together without giving them an elaborated revisionist foundation. Thus all the recent incantations in the ICL on the effects of this period supposedly marked by an “historical retrogression in the political consciousness of the working class” went hand-in-hand with liquidating and putting into doubt the role of the party and revolutionary leadership. As Trotsky wrote in 1934, amid a battle in the Trotskyist organization in France, only months after the historic defeat of the proletariat in Germany with Hitler’s conquest of power: “It is particularly now that we must put up a pitiless fight against abstract, passive propagandism, against a policy of waiting. Along this line, the differences are certainly differences of principle” (“Summary of the Discussion,” August 1934).

Having placed all these questions at the center of the debate in the ICL, the Permanent Revolution Faction fought up to the moment that it was expelled from the LTF. Fleeing from political debate, the international leadership and the majority in the LTF declared explicitly that their tactic would be to seek to “humiliate” and “demoralize” the PRF, resorting to decorating the office of the LTF with multiple photo montages of Stalin and Castro in order to make a lying amalgam between Stalinism and the IG and PRF, even going so far as to add Maoist-style dunce caps in the place of political arguments. It all culminated in meetings with chants for “confessions, confessions,” demanding that the PRF declare whether or not it was in contact with the IG. Needless to say, it was a truly pitiful spectacle to see people claiming to be Trotskyists chanting for “confessions.” With all that, the majority only succeeded in humiliating itself by teaching cynicism to the membership, and its demoralization is already well under way.

But contrary to the expectations of the ICL leadership and its partisans within the LTF (whom the I.S. had described only a few months ago as “sycophants” who were carrying out a flatly centrist policy), all these measures did not succeed in pushing the members of the PRF into resigning. On the contrary, the PRF energetically defended its principled positions within the organization. Finally, after a pretense of internal debate, the international leadership could no longer tolerate our presence and decided to get rid of the minority with lightning expulsions, seeking to cut its losses and homogenize the ICL around its new liquidationist course. The charge selected was alleged contacts of the PRF with the IG, not bothering about the fact that the I.S. had been brandishing this threat for weeks while saying that it didn’t want to take organizational measures “for the moment.” This moment came a few days after the LTF conference, when a “control commission” was put together and sought to come into the home of militants of the PRF to make an inspection and interrogate them late at night (11:23 p.m., to be precise). When the PRF members responded that they would present themselves at the office the next day to meet with the control commission, the representative of the leadership announced to them by telephone that five minutes were up and they were expelled.

Even after the fact, in its formal expulsion letter, the leadership pretends that we “precipitated” our expulsion. Nothing could be more ridiculous, since in reality we fought to stay in the organization in order to wage a political struggle that the majority refused to engage. After several weeks, the majority produced a document that didn’t respond to any of our arguments, but which tried instead to pretend that Trotskyist militants of the former colonial countries had capitulated to French chauvinism! The proof? That the PRF declared itself proud of the Trotskyists from France and other countries who carried out a courageous struggle under Nazi occupation to win German soldiers and sailors to the cause of the Fourth International, just as they hailed the heroic struggle of the U.S. Trotskyists imprisoned during the Second World War for their opposition to the imperialist slaughter. 

For Trotskyists, discipline is intimately linked to the program. We would like to recall here the declaration made by a spokesman of the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP) which gave rise to the Spartacist tendency. When the leaders of the RT had been suspended from the SWP and were threatened with expulsion, the RT spokesman declared: “We put forward...the proposition that discipline stems not from the organizational form of a party but from programmatic principles of the Fourth International. Again in Trotsky’s words, ‘The International is not at all a form as flows from the utterly false formulation of the Independent Labor Party. The International was first of all a program and a system of strategic, tactical, and organizational methods that flow from it’” (Marxist Bulletin No. 4, Part 2).

We are loyal to the program of the Fourth International of Trotsky, and to the revolutionary continuity represented by more than three decades of struggle of the Spartacist tendency, the program and tradition which the leadership of the ICL is in the process of abandoning. We have been and remain disciplined in relation to this program, and it is this discipline which led us to consider the positions of the IG, to proclaim our faction and to undertake a struggle in the ICL. The flagrant indiscipline with respect to this program is the liquidationist and self-destructive political course on which the I.S. has engaged the ICL. The I.S. has shown itself incapable of carrying out a principled class battle, not to mention leading the socialist revolution. This is not the road we have chosen. To put an end to capitalism, the need to regroup authentically Trotskyist cadres in a party that is necessarily internationalist, functioning according to the principles of international democratic centralism, is posed today with the same acuteness as it was at the time of the foundation of the Fourth International 60 years ago.

Despite the triumphalist cries of the world bourgeoisie about the so-called “death of communism,” what is dead is Stalinism, that negation and nationalist perversion of communism–which is international in its essence. Communism lives–it lives in the uninterrupted class struggle of the working class and the oppressed; it lives in the program of Lenin, Trotsky and Cannon which the Spartacist tendency defended and which it has begun to abandon and renounce; it lives in the struggles and the program upheld by the IG, the LQB, and the PRF and in the fusion of our organizations which will prepare the ground for the Trotskyist world party of socialist revolution. Forward to reforge the Fourth International!

Permanent Revolution Faction 
Paris, 3 February 1998 

We will be publishing soon documents from the Permanent Revolution Faction. To obtain a copy or to contact the PRF, send an e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com