Recent Correspondence Between the International Communist League and the League for the Fourth International
We print below a recent exchange of letters between the International Communist League (ICL) and the League for the Fourth International (LFI).
Letter from the ICL to the IG/League for the Fourth International
2 September 2023
The recent international conference of the ICL has reoriented our party on fundamental questions (see link to Spartacist [https://icl-fi.org/english/esp/68/spartacist-en-68.pdf]). This includes a review of our differences with the IG/LFI. As a result, the conference tasked the ICL to conduct “serious political clarification and debate with the IG” and to engage “as much as possible in common action to defend the basic interests of the workers movement.” In line with this, we propose opening formal discussion between our organizations.
On several important counts, the International Conference recognized that the criticisms made by the IG of the ICL were correct. The fights that led to the expulsions of the IG’s founding members from the ICL were characterized as unprincipled, as was the break in relations with Luta Metalúrgica/Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil. We are currently investigating the disciplinary measures taken at the time. The conference also described the central critique of the ICL made by the IG at its founding as “essentially correct”—that is, that the ICL had reduced the task of Marxists in the post-Soviet period to “keeping the flame alive against attempts to squelch it.”
However, when it comes to the courses taken by our two organizations in the post-Soviet period, we believe that overall they were qualitatively similar. When it came to orienting the working class, neither organization had a correct perspective because neither had as its central objective to break the hold of liberalism on the workers movement—the dominant ideology of the period and the main ideological brake on the struggles of workers and the oppressed.
Our proposal to open discussion is not to paper over our differences. Rather, it is intended to raise the level of political discussion between our organizations, starting from the central questions of revolutionary strategy for the current period. We are hopeful that engaging in such discussions can bring our organizations closer. The split provoked by the expulsion of your founding members from our party has been detrimental to the workers movement. The relations between our two organizations have been extremely hostile, while on most questions the political differences have been shallow at best. We believe there has always been—and remains—a significant overlap in the views of our memberships. If we are to stay divided in two rival organizations, it is our respective duty to ensure that this division is based on crystal-clear differences over the most important questions facing the workers movement today.
The world is rapidly changing and the fight to reforge the Fourth International is posed with burning urgency. Events are shaking the left. Theoretical and political debates among the most advanced layers of the workers movement are crucial to reforging the Fourth International. But fundamentally it is fighting to provide revolutionary leadership in great world events that will be decisive. Doctrinal differences within the left can and will be overcome through common struggle.
In this sense, it is essential to engage as much as possible in common work when appropriate. The capitalists are keenly aware of the precariousness of their current situation; their response is to crack down on dissent and target minorities. There can be no excuse for disunity in the face of such attacks. Common fronts in defense work would be a modest but important contribution to advancing the interests of the workers movement and would put pressure on the rest of the left to do the same.
We expect that this letter will be met with a certain amount of skepticism on your part. As a first step, we simply propose to hold a private meeting between leadership delegations of both our organizations. The purpose would be to have an initial exchange of views and to consider options for further discussion. We place no preconditions on this meeting. On our part, we commit to seeking the utmost political clarity as opposed to the demagogy and slander that have characterized our relations thus far.
We look forward to your answer.
For the International Secretariat of the ICL
Letter from the League for the Fourth International to the International Communist League
27 September 2023
Dear comrade Perrault,
We have received your 2 September letter to the IG/League for the Fourth International and analyzed it in conjunction with the issue of Spartacist (No. 68, September 2023) that you refer to, containing documents from the ICL’s eighth international conference. Most fundamental for us as Trotskyists are the programmatic issues. It is these that guide our response to your proposal for “opening formal discussion between our organizations,” which we will address below.
In your letter, you write: “On several important counts, the International Conference recognized that the criticisms made by the IG of the ICL were correct.” Several passages in the recent Spartacist make similar statements. In the interest of basic political housekeeping, we must pose some necessary questions.
1) You state that “the fights that led to the expulsions of the IG’s founding members from the ICL” were “unprincipled.” Yes they were. The question is, what specifically about them does the ICL now characterize as unprincipled?
2) You state that you are “investigating the disciplinary measures taken at the time.” Does this investigation include the travesty of a “trial” of a comrade centered on outright fabrications, and the preparation of a second frame-up trial shortly thereafter?1 Does it include the flagrantly chauvinist campaign against North African comrades who opposed the ICL leaders’ abandoning the commitment to publish an exile publication?2 Or coming clean about the unspeakable witch hunt by the ICL in 1999 against the leaders of its Italian section?3
3) Your letter now also characterizes as unprincipled the ICL’s June 1996 “break in relations with Luta Metalúrgica/Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil,” and Spartacist calls for the ICL to carry out “a reckoning” on this unilateral break. But, again, what exactly about its actions does the ICL now characterize as unprincipled? The fact that, at the height of the heated struggle the Brazilian comrades were waging to oust guardas (police) from the municipal workers union in the steel city of Volta Redonda, the ICL stabbed the struggle in the back? It called to “pull our hands out of that boiling water” and demanded that the comrades resign their union positions, quit the union and leave town, and then, when they refused this shameful demand, the ICL broke relations. To cover its tracks, it launched a smear campaign which went so far as to brand the black Trotskyist steel workers as “dangerous hustlers,” and sought to sabotage their international defense campaign, calling it a “cynical sham” after the courts ordered the “search and seizure” of all copies of a leaflet their Comitê de Luta Classista issued, based on a suit demanding a list of all CLC members.4
The recent Spartacist claims that the ICL and IG engaged in “almost three decades” of “mutual slander.” For the record, the IG/LFI never slandered the ICL. Our critiques have been scrupulously political and always based on fact. In contrast, the ICL unleashed a decades-long torrent of slanders against us, seeking to brand the IG as “anti-American” at the height of post-9/11 hysteria for our call to defeat U.S. imperialism in Afghanistan,5 “provocateur”-baiting,6 and much more. You mention in passing (in a parenthesis) the “2010 Haiti betrayal,” without saying what that was – the ICL’s scandalous support for U.S. occupation troops – and its refusal to fight for independence for Puerto Rico, but not that it denounced the LFI for our principled opposition to imperialist domination. And as for the latter-day ICL’s chauvinist line on refugees,7 the word does not even appear in the latest issue of Spartacist.
Proceeding to the proposal put forward in your 2 September letter, you call for “opening formal discussion between our organizations,” to “engage as much as possible in common work,” and, “as a first step,” to “hold a private meeting between leadership delegations of both our organizations,” in order to “have an initial exchange of views and consider options for further discussions.” There is no principled programmatic basis for such formal discussions, private leadership meetings or common work. This is, of course, distinct from united-front actions (as opposed to the political bloc you are effectively proposing) when the class struggle calls for it, which we have participated in (and often initiated) with a range of political tendencies, including the ICL.
Such discussions, common work, etc. are the kind of steps that left organizations undertake when there is some process of political convergence. Some might think that since the LFI upholds the programmatic heritage of the Spartacist tendency when it stood for revolutionary Trotskyism, and you still call your international organ Spartacist (for how long?), that might indicate a degree of commonality. But under its new leadership, and for years before then, the ICL has turned its back on and increasingly formally renounced one fundamental Spartacist position after another. You claim that “the courses taken by our two organizations in the post-Soviet period … were qualitatively similar.” In reality, the political differences have continued to grow since the 1996-98 expulsions, and are rapidly accelerating.
You state in the current issue of Spartacist that the Spartacist tendency was supposedly “Deformed at Birth” on the question of permanent revolution – a central issue for Trotskyists. To advance this claim, the ICL (new epoch) performs a sleight-of-hand, seeking to turn Trotsky’s perspective of permanent revolution into a stagist program, in which the first stage is national liberation, even under capitalism, and even in the imperialist countries. On the contrary, Trotsky emphasized that in the present epoch, the tasks of the bourgeois revolution in colonial and semi-colonial countries can only be achieved through the dictatorship of the proletariat, leaning on the peasantry.8
In the same vein, you now embrace the “Anti-Imperialist United Front” which in practice means political blocs with the bourgeoisie in colonial and semi-colonial countries, the formula used to subordinate the Chinese Communist Party to Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang, leading to the 1927 Shanghai Massacre. In line with that you vilify the Spartacist tendency’s record on Iran, when we warned against the catastrophic consequences of tailing the mullah-led “Islamic Revolution” as some kind of anti-imperialist movement, which led to the jailing and execution of thousands of leftists. In Mexico, you essentially prettify the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as anti-imperialist. A question: do you advocate that the “anti-imperialist united front” in Mexico include AMLO’s party, MORENA? Of course, everyone in Mexico knows that AMLO is acting as a border guard for yanqui imperialism.
“Nation-building” bourgeois nationalism is the political motor force of the ICL’s escalation of its abandonment of the Spartacist programmatic heritage, publicly announced with the 2017 “Hydra” document. A key aspect of “Hydra” was its embrace of anti-democratic language laws in Quebec and Catalonia, which means repudiating Lenin’s crucial position against compulsory official languages.9 The ICL’s new, blatantly anti-Leninist line on the national question paved the way for a blizzard of further revisions, predictably now leading to repudiating the Spartacist tendency’s crucial position that in the case of interpenetrated peoples (such as in Palestine), a just and equitable solution to competing national rights is only possible through establishing workers rule.10 This is essential to the struggle to defend the Palestinian people and overthrow the Zionist regime, for example. Today the ICL’s embrace of nationalism is extended, both retrospectively (on the USSR, Poland and the other East European deformed workers states) and currently on China.
The basic disagreements between us not only concern what you call “abstract doctrine” but also burning issues of the present day. Thus on the war of the U.S./NATO imperialists and their proxy regime in Ukraine against Russia, a way station toward imperialist war against China, the policy of the LFI is directly counterposed to that of the ICL. While the ICL admits that capitalist Russia is not an imperialist power, you denounce the LFI for upholding military defense of Russia against the imperialists. And while claiming in the latest Spartacist that “the ICL and IG are relatively close” on issues like China, in your previous issue (August 2022) you denounce us for characterizing the “Wuhan lab leak theory” as what it is: imperialist war propaganda against the Chinese deformed workers state.
As for the imaginary scenario of “common work,” again there is no principled basis. From your blanket “Down with lockdowns” line (including in China, where they were very effective) to your recent articles and leaflets, each is more opportunist than the last. This includes calling to join the Australian Labor Party, the governing party that enforces racist immigration laws; the SL/U.S. statement on the ILWU and UPS (19 August) declaring that the “real battle” is “workers vs. the Establishment”; and the openly class-collaborationist “Proposal to Rebuild the Movement” (28 August), calling to “unite the broadest possible forces” to “bring pressure down on all the liberal and progressive politicians who claim to stand for workers and for black rights” to fulfill the “doable” call to “open the police archives,” which, it states, “can be done by any politician in office that is really on the side of black people.” And then there is your abhorrent leaflet on the subway murder of Jordan Neely.
Having declared that the Spartacist tendency was deformed at birth, you deride Jim Robertson as a revisionist and have undertaken the wholesale junking of the programmatic arsenal crucial to revolutionary struggle today. We of the LFI, having fought over the course of decades to defend this legacy and carry it into the living class struggle, will not join you in your endeavor. With the ICL’s consolidation of its break with the “old” Spartacism, you are now junking just about every distinctly Spartacist position from the days when it stood for revolutionary Trotskyism. This underscores an undeniable political reality: it is the League for the Fourth International that upholds the revolutionary continuity of the communist program of Lenin and Trotsky.
Having explained why there is no principled programmatic basis for the LFI to hold private “discussions” with you, we instead challenge the ICL to a public debate. We propose that the two organizations work out the date and other details for such a debate, and that it be held in New York City, where both have their largest concentration of members.
for the Executive Committee of the League for the Fourth International
Letter from the International Communist League to the LFI
11 October 2023
Dear Comrade Norden,
We regret that you have turned down our proposal for a formal meeting. In our opinion holding a frank discussion with another organization claiming the mantle of Trotskyism does not require any prior political agreement. In fact, we believe that such discussions can play an important role in clarifying differences and eventually forging political agreement.
In my September 2 letter I proposed “common action to defend the basic interests of the workers movement” and “common work when it is appropriate.” You reject this arguing that this is a proposal for a political bloc as opposed to united-front actions. We think this is a false distinction. Whether it is to “stop the fascists,” “free political prisoners” or the 1921 UKPD “open letter,” every united front requires some form of political agreement or bloc at least on a limited set of objectives. We think that we can possibly find a principled basis to work with you on defense work against political repression. Of course, we cannot have a united front on something we don’t agree with. For example, it seems you do not agree on the desirability of throwing the AUKUS hawks out of the ALP or the fight to open police archives. If you did—and we certainly hope you change your mind—it would be entirely possible to work together on these limited objectives while still defending our respective strategies toward the ALP and black liberation in the U.S.
Now in response to your questions.
1) We believe that everything about the fight which led to your expulsion was unprincipled. Back in 1996 you agreed with the ICL’s overall orientation. However, the fights with you and your comrades, whether over Germany, Brazil or Mexico, were all based on trying to show that you were in opposition to the rest of the ICL leadership. Since this was not the case, existing differences had to be exaggerated or simply manufactured through demagogy and distortions.
2) Yes, our investigation does include the trials. There is a very long list of fights that were had in the last 30 years which we know to be wrong and damaging. We have prioritized the 1996 expulsion because of its political significance as well as the precedents it set. We are not currently reviewing the 1997 fight in the LTF. That being said, it was unquestionably a despicable fight, including its blanket rejection of an “iskrist perspective” for Algeria. As you know, the 1999 witchhunt of comrades Giulia and Carlo was reviewed in a 2004 ICC investigation. We have not re-examined the question but can certainly state that it was inexcusable to not communicate the result of the investigation to them.
3) On Brazil it is clear to us based on our own published account of events that we had no legitimate political grounds to break off relations when we did. That said, as you note there is much more to the question. We are currently investigating the claims you have made about the actions of our tendency in Brazil and are determined to account for the full truth, no matter how bitter.
In addition to the questions addressed above, your response raises several substantial political differences over the content of Spartacist No. 68 and our recent work. I will not respond to all of these in the present letter. On most points we believe that you either distort or caricature the actual arguments we make and/or present our position as somehow being self-evidently opportunist without providing any serious motivation or explanation.
To give only one example, you claim that we seek to “turn Trotsky’s perspective of permanent revolution into a stagist program” and supposedly repudiate that “the tasks of the bourgeois revolution in colonial and semi-colonial countries can only be achieved through the dictatorship of the proletariat, leaning on the peasantry.” However, even a superficial glance at our article “In Defense of Permanent Revolution” will show that this isn’t true. Far from endorsing a “stagist program,” we reaffirm that “only the proletariat, rallying behind it the peasant masses and the urban petty bourgeoisie, is capable of breaking the yoke of foreign capital, finishing the agrarian revolution and establishing full democracy for the toilers in the form of a workers and peasants government.”
Finally, we will gladly accept the challenge to a debate. We agree to hold it in New York City. In terms of the time, we are relatively flexible. Our tentative proposal is to hold it in December. Would Saturday, December 9 work for you?
In our opinion, the best way to have a productive and clarifying debate would be to hold a full-day event where we can divide some of the various questions in dispute. We think this can be justified by the fact that this debate is almost 30 years in the making and numerous comrades from outside New York will surely want to attend.
Our proposal is as follows:
Main theme: The Fight for the Fourth International Today
Point 1: Revolutionary Leadership from 1990 to 2023
Point 2: Permanent Revolution
Point 3: The Task of Communists in the U.S.
We propose that the first point be longer than the two others given the breadth of the question and the fact that revolutionary leadership is at the heart of our differences. It is in this point that we propose to take up the question of China and the war in Ukraine. Permanent Revolution seems to us an obvious theme. As for the point on the United States, we think it makes sense given that the event will take place in New York and we both have most members in the U.S. We are of course open to a counterproposal on your part if you have a problem with any of the above proposals. Once we have agreed on a date and questions to debate, we should proceed rapidly in arranging the other details such as a venue, a chair, the format, etc.
For the International Secretariat of the ICL
Letter from the League for the Fourth International to the ICL
15 October 2023
Dear comrade Perrault:
We have received your 11 October letter. First, regarding the response to our queries about the ICL’s investigation of its actions in the period that gave rise to our organization:
Your initial letter (2 September) noted that the ICL now characterizes as “unprincipled” the “fights” that led to the expulsions of the founding members of the Internationalist Group. As our 27 September reply highlighted, that statement, while true, is strikingly general. A much more specific accounting from the ICL is required if the intent is not merely to make do with a quick “confession” but to seriously evaluate the meaning and lessons of events that both you and we describe as highly relevant for would-be Trotskyists.
Your 11 October answer, that “everything” about the 1996 “fight” against us was unprincipled, is based on the claim that both sides shared the same mistaken political outlook. In reality, the ICL purged us for fighting to implement the Trotskyist program, which it was abandoning – as shown dramatically when, after (and closely connected with) our expulsions, it stabbed in the back the struggle to expel police from the municipal workers union in Brazil’s “Steel City.” It was far from just a matter of “distortions,” exaggerations or specious arguments.
In the course of the cynical 1996 purge, the ICL ripped up one basic Leninist norm and party statute after another, launched a chain of willful fabrications, threatened to disaffiliate the Mexican section if it did not vote for statements the members knew to be false, publicly defamed our comrades, and much more, as we laid out at the time (beginning with From a Drift Toward Abstentionism to Desertion from the Class Struggle). For going on 30 years, the ICL sought to ignore and silence the facts. Those serious about revolutionary politics have a right to expect concrete and specific answers, after decades of snow jobs and smears from the ICL.
Your 11 October response to us states that the ICL’s investigation does include the 1996 “trials” (sic) as well as “the claims you have made about the actions of our tendency in Brazil.” This was not just “claims,” but facts laid out in detail at the time in materials collected in the dossier Responses to ICL Smear Campaign Against Brazilian Trotskyists as well as From a Drift…
We also asked about the 1997 campaign against oppositionists in the ICL’s French section, who after their expulsion joined in founding the League for the Fourth International.11 You write that this “was unquestionably a despicable fight” – but that the ICL is “not currently reviewing” it. Why is that? Nor, to our knowledge, has the ICL made any public accounting regarding this blatantly chauvinist and colonialist campaign whose proclaimed goal was to “humiliate” these North African comrades and “demoralize” them, for opposing the disgraceful line the ICL put forward regarding both Algeria and France.
Your response to our 27 September letter notes that it “raises several substantial political differences” with the ICL’s current line and work, but does not seek to respond to them all. So we will make brief comments on some of what you do address.
No, the difference between united-front actions and a political bloc is not “a false distinction.” As explained in the fundamental Spartacist pamphlet On the United Front (1976): “In contrast to a united front, a bloc is an open-ended agreement to collaborate for broadly defined aims” – which describes rather well the perspective you laid out, for which, as we noted, there is no principled programmatic basis. A united front, however, is a joint action for concrete, limited objectives, and as noted in our letter we have initiated many such actions, inviting a range of tendencies, including the ICL.
You reject our statement that the ICL is seeking to turn Trotsky’s perspective of permanent revolution into a stagist program, and cite a phrase from the current issue of Spartacist as supposed evidence to the contrary. With bourgeois nationalism as the driving force for a group (as is the case with the present-day ICL) that still – for now – claims to be Trotskyist, an accurate presentation of permanent revolution can only be an impediment. For left groups undertaking wholesale revisionism, it is standard operating procedure to include a few “orthodox”-sounding phrases.
Turning permanent revolution into a stagist program is what it means to embrace, as you do, the “anti-imperialist united front,” which is the long-standing pretext for such a program and “theoretical” justification for political blocs with bourgeois-nationalist forces. That is also what it means to identify, as Spartacist now does, Trotsky’s permanent revolution with Lenin’s pre-1917 formula of “democratic dictatorship” of the proletariat and peasantry, and with the formulation that Marx put forward in 1850. When Lenin stood on that formula, he explicitly stated that it meant a “democratic, not a socialist” regime (Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution ); in April 1917, against those who sought to cling to that slogan, he wrote that “things have worked out differently,” and called instead for “all power to the soviet of workers deputies” (Letters on Tactics ). With regard to the formulation by Marx decades before the imperialist era, Trotsky noted: “Marx at that time expected the independent stage of the democratic revolution in Germany…. That, however, is just what did not happen” (The Permanent Revolution ).
These kinds of revelations now proclaimed by Spartacist have been made many times in the past by erstwhile Trotskyist tendencies seeking theoretical cover for their rightward motion. They are part of a package including the idea that democratic demands rather than class struggle are the “fundamental lever for socialist revolution.” From China 1927 to Indonesia 1965, Chile 1973 to the Philippines now – and so many other countries – the real-world consequences of a stagist program, tying the proletariat to the “democratic”/“anti-imperialist” bourgeoisie, have been fatal.
Your letter states that we have presented various of the ICL’s positions as being self-evidently opportunist. Yes, that would indeed seem self-evident when faced with statements like that of the SL/U.S. (quoted in our 27 September letter) that the “real battle” is “workers vs. the Establishment” (a standard term that liberals use instead of class). This openly contradicts the ABCs of Marxism – based on the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie – and blatantly echoes bourgeois populism of both “left” and right. Then there’s the SL’s appeal to “unite the broadest possible forces” in a pressure campaign aimed at “any politician in office that is really on the side of black people” which is straight out of the handbook of popular frontism. Etcetera.
Lastly, we are glad that you have accepted our challenge to a debate. Given current events, December 9 would not be practical for us; we propose January 13 instead. We want to have the standard debate format (with presentations, discussion and summaries, extending to two rounds if needed) rather than diluting it into a day-long quasi-conference. We have no objection to the title you propose, “The Fight for the Fourth International Today,” and, as you state, details such as venue, chair, etc., can and should be arranged soon.
for the Executive Committee of the League for the Fourth International
- 1. See our July 1996 pamphlet From a Drift Toward Abstentionism to Desertion from the Class Struggle.
- 2. See “‘Chauvinist Hydra’ Devours SL/ICL: Some History Ex-Trotskyists Would Like to Keep Hidden,” The Internationalist No. 59, March-April 2020.
- 3. See Back to Trotskyism! (May 2016).
- 4. See “ICL Seeks to Sabotage Defense of Brazilian Trotskyist Workers.” reproduced in Responses to ICL Smear Campaign Against Brazilian Trotskyists (2010) and Class Struggle and Repression in Volta Redonda, Brazil (1997). Also, “Army Death List Targeted Brazilian Worker Militants,” The Internationalist No. 8, June 2000.
- 5. See “ICL Refuses to Call for Defeat of U.S. Imperialism, ‘Anti-American’ Baits the Internationalist Group,” The Internationalist No. 12, Fall 2001.
- 6. See the denunciation of this smear by Esteban Volkov, Trotsky’s grandson, in “Poisonous ‘Provocateur’ Baiting from the SL,” The Internationalist No. 16, May-June 2003.
- 7. See “Strange Encounters with the ICL,” The Internationalist No. 44 (Summer 2016); “Spartacist League vs. Refugees,” The Internationalist No. 47, March-April 2017; “The ICL vs. Asylum for Refugees in Quebec,” The Internationalist No. 56, May-June 2019.
- 8. Your claim that Trotsky’s program of permanent revolution put forward in 1905 was essentially identical with Lenin’s formula at that time of a “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” directly contradicts Trotsky’s own presentation in “Three Concepts of the Russian Revolution” (August 1939) which contrasts them..
- 9. See Lenin’s “Liberals and Democrats on the Language Question” (September 1913), his seminal “Critical Remarks on the National Question” (October-December 1913) and related works..
- 10. This was not some Spartacist invention, as you portray it, but was directly based on the Bolshevik experience in areas of mixed populations in Ukraine and the Caucasus.
- 11. See The Internationalist No. 5, April-May 1998.