March 2001 

ICL Still Caught Between 
Shachtman and Trotsky

Workers and students fraternize with People's Liberation Army 
troops sent to Beijing to impose martial law, 21 May 1989.

China: For Workers Political Revolution
to Defeat Capitalist Counterrevolution!

As the Spartacist League (SL) and International Communist League (ICL) slide deeper into pseudo-Trotskyist centrism, their polemics have taken on a distinctly schizophrenic cast, particularly those directed against the Internationalist Group (IG) and the League for the Fourth International (LFI). The latest example is an article titled, “IG: Still Looking for a Few Good Stalinist Bureaucrats,” in Workers Vanguard No. 746 (17 November 2000), which vituperates against the IG/LFI in a ham-handed attempt to cover up the ICL’s latest line change. This time it concerns a fundamental question for those who claim to uphold the political program of Leon Trotsky, co-leader together with Lenin of the Russian October Revolution of 1917. For the last five years, the SL/ICL has argued that the heirs of Stalin led the counterrevolution that put the bourgeoisie in power and destroyed the bureaucratically deformed/degenerated workers states, from East Germany to the Soviet Union, and are leading the counterrevolution in China today. Now the ICL says it ain’t necessarily so. 

In our article, “Where Is China Going? Workers Political Revolution vs. Capitalist Counterrevolution” (The Internationalist No. 6, November-December 1998), we went after the ICL for their line negating Trotsky’s analysis of the “dual character” of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Usurping political power in the Soviet Union upon Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin and his cohorts replaced the Bolshevik watchword of world socialist revolution with their nationalist doctrine of “socialism in one country.” Trotsky pointed out that this conservative petty-bourgeois layer sits atop and derives its privileged position from the workers state as it simultaneously transmits the pressures of imperialism. Crushing workers democracy and undermining the economic foundations of proletarian rule while seeking an impossible “peaceful coexistence” with world capitalism, the Stalinists prepare the way for and open the door to capitalist restoration. But actual counterrevolution requires the leadership of stronger and more cohesive forces than the brittle bureaucratic caste. Thus we wrote: 

“The leading force for bourgeois counterrevolution in China today is the bourgeoisie and powerful capitalist-restorationist forces inside and around the bureaucracy who are allied with it. Likewise, it was the German bourgeoisie of the Fourth Reich and its social-democratic running dogs who led the drive for capitalist reunification that obliterated the DDR in 1990; it was Lech Walesa and his Polish nationalist Solidarnosc, embraced by the Pope of counterrevolution and financed by the CIA (and the Vatican bank), which carried out the restoration of capitalism in Poland; it was Washington’s man Yeltsin, in constant contact with U.S. president Bush, at the head of elements that had split from the Stalinist bureaucracy, who seized power in August 1991 and proceeded to destroy the Soviet Union….

“While the bureaucracy with its counterrevolutionary policies is a contradictory, parasitic layer living off the workers state, the force that has the cohesion of clear class interests necessary to actually lead a counterrevolution is the bourgeoisie.”

In its previous installment (“IG on China: Looking for a Few Good Stalinist Bureaucrats,” WV No. 715, 11 June 1999) the ICL responded by reiterating its line: “we warn the main force leading the drive for capitalist restoration today is the Stalinist regime itself.” A major article on China in the same issue stated: “In the end, it was the Stalinists who led the counterrevolution” in the USSR and throughout East Europe. So according to the ICL, the Stalinists overthrew the regimes they presided over; this means, in effect, that the bureaucracy was acting as an exploiting class. This throws overboard  the Trotskyist understanding of the nature of the bureaucracy. Trotsky made the analogy between a bureaucratically led trade union and the bureaucratized Soviet Union; both are organizational embodiments of working-class power that Marxists defend against the bourgeoisie in spite of (and often against) the sellout tops. A class-conscious worker will understand the difference between the union misleaders, the labor traitors who sabotage the workers’ struggle in the interests of the bosses, and the bosses themselves, who are the class enemy

This is not idle logic-chopping but a matter of crucial importance to the world proletariat. Restoration of capitalism in the Soviet bloc has meant devastation for the working people – mass unemployment, pervasive poverty, drastically shortened lifespans. Workers in the remaining deformed workers states fear for their livelihoods and their lives, but don’t know how to defend them. Yet the ICL’s dizzying zig-zags demonstrate that their talk about defending the deformed workers states and organizing for political revolution there is nothing but literary posturing.

Suddenly Last Summer…

In “Looking…,” WV complained that “The IG is fond of screaming how we have changed our line on every question under the sun.” Indeed, we pointed out that never during the ICL’s intervention in East Germany and the Soviet Union during 1989-92 did it claim the Stalinists were leading the counterrevolution. The ICL has been unable to refute this easily verifiable fact. Yet suddenly last summer ICLers refused to defend their own anti-Trotskyist line. In an article we posted on the Internet last August (“Stalinists Led the Counterrevolution? ICL Between Shachtman and Trotsky,” reprinted in The Internationalist No. 9, January-February 2001), we alerted our readers, “Stay Tuned – New ICL Line Change Coming.” And now we have it. In “Still Looking…,” buried under heaps of lies, inventions and distortions, of dead dogs and red herrings, we read that in the end the Stalinists do and don’t, will and won’t lead the counterrevolution. 

WV starts off, “In China today, insofar as it is pushing market-oriented ‘reforms,’ conciliation of imperialism and repression of workers’ struggles, the bureaucracy is leading the drive for capitalist restoration….” Yet a sentence later it is singing a different tune: 

“At the same time, there is a crucial difference between the act of counterrevolution itself and the lead-up to it. In that sense, the Beijing regime is not committed to capitalist restoration and sectors of it might balk at the consequences, particularly in fear of the kind of devastation wreaked on the industrial and military power of the former Soviet Union and, in some cases, because of genuine concern for the current and future plight of the workers and peasants.”
From “Looking…” to “Still Looking…,” the ICL has executed a sharp about-face on this central theme of its frenzied attacks on the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International. 

Strange, is it not, that for the last four years this “crucial difference” escaped the ICL, which now discovers that at the moment of truth “the Beijing regime is not committed to capitalist restoration and sectors of it might balk at the consequences”! Stranger yet that the ICL should pretend that the IG is “looking for a few good Stalinist bureaucrats” when WV itself declares that elements of the Chinese Stalinists might draw back from counterrevolution “because of genuine concern for the current and future plight of the workers and peasants”! Some paladins of counterrevolution, who at the last minute get cold feet and butterflies in the stomach!! One is tempted to remark that insofar as the ICL is talking out of both sides of its mouth, in that sense its weasel words add up to a crock of centrist confusionism. 

Get Out Your Hip Boots and a Shovel

From the outset, as WV declared that the founding cadres of the Internationalist Group had “fled” the ICL when in fact they were bureaucratically expelled, its attacks on the IG and LFI have been smear jobs rather than polemics. By now, like everything else in the “new WV,” they have been reduced to a shop-worn formula: start off by repeating a string of lies, no matter how obvious; throw in some sophomoric insults (“IGlets,” “Potemkin village idiots”); invent positions supposedly held by the IG/LFI in order to knock down some straw men; and end with sinister insinuations (the IG allegedly seeks to “spike” the ICL’s work and “would also be ready to serve as braintrusters for some pretty unsavory types”). 

To borrow an expression from James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, in dealing with the ICL’s dirty smears it’s necessary to get out hip boots and a shovel to remove the filth they pile up. As we have pointed out before, the signature quality of a “new WV” polemic is the use of lies that anyone who has read the press of the LFI can easily see for themselves are 100 percent false. WV clearly figures it can circulate its fabrications far more widely than we can get out the truth. So in the interests of Marxist hygiene, we list below a few of the more blatant inventions in the latest ICL diatribe against the IG/LFI: 
What the ICL Claims
What the IG Wrote
  •  Lie No. 1: In “Still Looking…,” WV claims, “Pounding the ‘delete’ key, the IG obliterates the understanding expressed in the Transitional Program that ‘the chief political task in the USSR still remains the overthrow of this same Thermidorian bureaucracy’” (emphasis in original). 
  •  A page later, the same WV article repeats: “the IG denies the very purpose of political revolution: to overthrow the Stalinist ‘treacherous misleaders’ who undermine defense of the collectivized economy against the class enemy and would devour the workers state” (emphasis in original). 
  •  In our August 2000 article (“Stay Tuned – New ICL Line Coming”), we wrote: “From the Soviet Union under Stalin to China under Mao’s heirs today, the indispensable instrument to lead workers political revolution to oust the traitorous Stalinist bureaucracies is a Trotskyist party.”
  •  In “Where Is China Going?” (The Internationalist No. 6, November-December 1998) we wrote: “What’s needed above all is to forge a Trotskyist party that can lead the working class, supported by the poor peasants together with all those who seek a socialist future, to oust the bureaucracy and take the reins of power into its own hands, through proletarian political revolution to stop the looming capitalist counterrevolution” (emphasis in original).
  •  From the same article: “In fighting against the threat of counterrevolution, the Chinese working class must carry out a political revolution to oust the Stalinist caste which is sabotaging the gains of the Revolution.”
  •  Again in the conclusion of “Where Is China Going”? we reiterated: “The League for the Fourth International calls to build an authentic Trotskyist party in China which alone can provide the program and organization to lead the working class in a proletarian political revolution, defeating the counterrevolution by sweeping out the corrupt, parasitic bureaucracy and opening the road to socialist revolution in the capitalist countries.”
  • Lie No. 2: In “Still Looking…” the SL/ICL claims that “the IG implies that the danger of counterrevolution comes solely from outside the bureaucracy and that the Chinese workers should not direct their blows at the ‘treacherous misleaders’.”
  • In “Stay Tuned…” we quoted from our article “Where Is China Going?” which noted: “the Beijing Stalinist bureaucracy has gone further than the government of any other deformed workers state in fostering market reforms that fuel capitalist forces. As a result of this, those growing capitalist forces in China are now consolidating their power and influence to an extent never before seen inside a deformed workers state.” 
  • That article has an entire section titled, “Stalinist Class-Collaborators Pave the Way for Counterrevolution,” which analyzes how “In China the bureaucracy’s policies are producing an incessant and massive growth of bourgeois forces.”
  • The concluding section of that article states: “As the fate of the Chinese deformed workers state hangs in the balance, the fundamental enemy is the bourgeoisie – but the principal obstacle to defeating it is the bureaucracy.”
  • Another article in Internationalist No. 6, “China: Women Workers Key Revolutionary Force,” states: “Yet precisely because they bear the brunt of the counterrevolutionary assault, women can become steeled revolutionary fighters in the struggle to oust the sellout Stalinists who are wrecking the collectivized economy.” 
  • Lie No. 3:  In “Still Looking…” the SL/ICL alleges, “the IG maintains that the Stalinist regimes are committed to the defense of proletarian property forms – a notion clearly refuted by events themselves in 1989-92.” 
  • Our very first bulletin analyzing the course of the ICL after the June 1996 SL expulsions, From a Drift Toward Abstentionism to Desertion from the Class Struggle (July 1996), stated emphatically: “The fact that the bureaucracy was not irrevocably committed to defense of the workers state and its economy, from which it obtained its privileges, that large sectors of it would go over to the capitalists, was foreseen by Trotsky and corresponds to his analysis of this parasitic caste.” 
  • Our article “Where Is China Going” notes: “Today even the remaining Stalinists don’t believe in their program of ‘socialism in one country,’ except for handfuls of political zombies – walking dead men – in the West. Those with state power are desperately trying to ensure their own survival through maneuvering and ever-greater concessions to capitalism.”
  • The same article says of the USSR: “The bureaucracy, as Trotsky had written, prepared the way for counterrevolution with its policies of international class collaboration; it opened the door to the restoration of capitalism by its domestic economic policies fostering the growth of bourgeois forces; and it sold out the degenerated/deformed workers states, handing over power to the new bourgeois masters.” 

Clearly, WV is banking on their readership being a captive audience who have not read The Internationalist. But even the few truncated quotes they give of what we actually write should give an attentive reader pause. Thus after first claiming of the IG, “Positing that the Stalinist bureaucracy – or a section of it – is inherently wedded to socialized property” (which, as the above quotes demonstrate, the IG does not posit), they quote from “Where Is China Going?”: “Our strategy for political revolution is based on mobilizing the working class for communism. At the same time, we seek where possible to split sections of the bureaucracy.” So? Stalinophobes like the Shachtmanites or adherents of Tony Cliff’s “theory” of a “state-capitalist” USSR who oppose this on principle would cringe at that statement. But the SL? To attack the IG over this statement, the ICL is forced to falsify its own history.

At every hot point of the anti-Soviet Cold War, from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Poland, the international Spartacist tendency (iSt, forerunner of the ICL) defended the degenerated/deformed workers states against imperialism. Against the Maoists who called the Soviet Union “capitalist” and renegades like the “Bolshevik Tendency” who echoed the Shachtmanite concept of a “Stalinist state,” the iSt underlined the contradictory character of the Stalinist caste as a parasitic growth on the workers state. Fighting in 1989-90 for political revolution in the DDR and against capitalist reunification with imperialist West Germany, the ICL initiated a united-front demonstration with the Stalinist SED (Socialist Unity Party) against fascist desecration of the Soviet war memorial at Treptow. So we have repeatedly asked, what was the ICL doing on the speakers tribune at Treptow next to the SED tops on 3 January 1990 if the latter were leading the counterrevolution, as the ICL now claims? 

WV’s lame response in “Still Looking…” underscores its predicament: “We were engaged in a united-front action with the SED in defense of the DDR workers state, in the course of that waging political combat against the SED misleaders, aiming to split the SED’s proletarian base and win it to the Trotskyist party.” Precisely. And the ICL could not have carried out such an action if the SED was in fact leading the counterrevolution, because there would be no basis for a united-front action in defense of the workers state. Would the German Communists (KPD) have made a united front with the Social Democrats (SPD) in January 1919, when SPD butchers Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Noske were indeed leading the counterrevolution and ordered the murder of KPD leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht? Obviously not, they were fighting on the barricades the military forces unleashed by the SPD. Would the Spartacist tendency have carried out a united-front action with Polish Solidarnosc in 1981 when Walesa & Co. were leading a counterrevolutionary anti-Soviet mobilization? No, the iSt called to “Stop Solidarnosc Counterrevolution!” and declared that it would support a military crackdown by the Kremlin Stalinists against the front men for Reagan and Wojtyla. WV’s responses demonstrate the absurdity of their new line.

In “Stay Tuned…,” we wrote that if the Soviet Army was leading the counterrevolution in the DDR, why didn’t the ICL call for withdrawal of Soviet troops? Again, WV’s response gives the lie to the ICL’s own claim: “It was Gorbachev who called the shots in East Germany. Soviet troops were not mobilized to suppress a workers rising, but were essentially restricted to barracks.” So Gorbachev supposedly led a counterrevolution by restricting Soviet troops to barracks?! To our challenge that if the SED led the counterrevolution, how come the entire East German Politburo ended up in the jails of the Fourth Reich, WV presents an even lamer response: “How could Chilean Socialist president Salvador Allende end up dead in 1973 during General Augusto Pinochet’s military coup after having appointed Pinochet and preaching reliance on the ‘constitutional’ military?” Yet by their own account, Allende prepared the way for the bloody counterrevolutionary coup which was led by Pinochet and his CIA handlers. 

For the latter-day ICL, befogged by centrism, the Russian question has become, in Churchill’s famous phrase on the outbreak of World War II, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” 

Shades of Shachtman: The ICL’s Telltale Line

From 1996 on, the ICL has argued against the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International that the Stalinists led and are leading the counterrevolution here, there and everywhere in the bureaucratically degenerated/deformed workers states. The USSR, DDR, China, Cuba, you name it. Now it seems, according to their latest revision, that during foreplay the Stalinists can “lead” the counterrevolution, but it’s another matter when it comes to consummating capitalist restoration. Yet still they insist, “The Kremlin abetted by the East German Stalinists led the counterrevolution in the DDR,” a phrase inserted into the ICL’s revised “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program” (1997) specifically to attack the IG. In the DDR but not in China? WV’s contortions are a cynical subterfuge to cover up their umpteenth line change as the ICL zigzags away from Trotskyism.

The claim that the Stalinists “lead” or “led” the counterrevolution is a telltale line typical of those who abandon Trotskyism in favor of bourgeois Stalinophobia. After fleeing the Fourth International on the eve of World War II, Max Shachtman proclaimed in December 1940 a “Stalinist counterrevolution” in the form of “the seizure of power by a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy” (The Bureaucratic Revolution: The Rise of the Stalinist State). Shachtman’s purpose was to justify his refusal to defend the USSR against German imperialist attack. More recently, various pseudo-Trotskyists claimed that the Stalinist “gang of eight” that staged a half-hearted coup in Moscow August 1991 were leading the counterrevolution, in order to justify their own support to the man who in fact led the counterrevolutionary seizure of power, Boris Yeltsin.

Such revisionist arguments directly contradict Trotskyism. Trotsky repeatedly stressed the “dual position,” “dual function,” “dual role” and “dual character” of the Stalinist bureaucracy:

“Stalin serves the bureaucracy and thus the world bourgeoisie; but he cannot serve the bureaucracy without defending that social foundation which the bureaucracy exploits in its own interests. To that extent does Stalin defend nationalized property from imperialist attacks and from the too impatient and avaricious layers of the bureaucracy itself. However, he carries through this defense with methods that prepare the general destruction of Soviet society. It is exactly because of this that the Stalinist clique must be overthrown. But it is the revolutionary proletariat who must overthrow it….
“The struggle for domination, considered on a historical scale, is not between the proletariat and the bureaucracy, but between the proletariat and the world bourgeoisie. The bureaucracy is only the transmitting mechanism in this struggle.”
–L.D. Trotsky, “Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois State?” (November 1937)
In claiming that the Stalinists led the counterrevolution, the ICL in effect declared that the bureaucracy had lost its dual nature, that it ceased to be a contradictory layer. If today the SL/ICL leadership takes a quarter-step backwards when their revision becomes too blatant, opining that some bureaucratic sectors may “balk at the consequences” of counterrevolution (in China but not in the DDR or USSR?!), they nonetheless oppose seeking to split the bureaucracy in the course of a workers political revolution.

   Leon Trotsky in Mexico. (Photo © Alexander Buchman)

When we get past their endless, shameless slanders about the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International, the core of the ICL’s latest “polemic” against the IG consists of two points. The first is to quote from a 1953 document by the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) arguing that revolutionaries should not look for a break in the bureaucracy. Second, while Trotsky argued in 1938 that a minority fraction of the Stalinist bureaucracy could come over to the insurrectionary workers in a political revolution, the ICL now claims that Trotsky’s view is no longer valid, and indeed has not been since at least World War II. Again this is a negation of what the ICL wrote during its intervention in East Germany and the Soviet Union in 1989-92, and it directly contradicts Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism.

The 1953 SWP document quoted by WV, “Against Pabloist Revisionism,” states:

“The proposition that no significant segment of the bureaucracy will align itself with the masses against its own material interests does not mean that the bureaucracy would not manifest deep cleavages under the impact of an uprising…. But the function of a revolutionary policy is to organize, mobilize and help lead the masses in their struggles, not to look for and even less to bank upon any real break in the bureaucracy.”
We’ve pointed out before the new ICL leadership’s curious practice of falsely accusing the IG of doing exactly what the ICL itself does. Since WV falsely claims that the IG is “pounding the ‘delete’ key” in reproducing quotations, let’s take a look at that ellipsis in the middle of this quote. They omitted from the SWP statement the sentence, “Such disorganization, disintegration and demoralization was observable in East Germany.” Later on in the same document, the SWP wrote of the East German Stalinist apparatus in the 1953 workers revolt: 
“It is clear that the SED bureaucracy became panic-stricken and differences set in on how best to handle the situation and that the movement found sympathy and support among certain elements in its lower ranks. This happens in every revolutionary uprising and it would be wrong to deny or ignore such developments.”
Yet the policy the ICL has been pushing is precisely that potential splits in the bureaucracy should be ignored. In fact, ICL spokesman Al Nelson first came up with this anti-Trotskyist line in order to argue that any attempt to win potentially revolutionary cadres from the Kommunistische Plattform of the German PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism, the social-democratic successor to the SED) was deviant as they supposedly “led” the counterrevolution. 

Against Pablo and his supporters, authentic Trotskyists do not bank on splits in the bureaucracy: as we stated in the passage WV quoted, our strategy is to mobilize the working class for political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy before the bourgeoisie destroys the workers state that the Stalinists have sabotaged. In this framework, we seek where possible to win sections of the bureaucracy to the side of the workers insurrection, and to recruit revolutionary-minded elements from this contradictory petty-bourgeois layer to the Trotskyist party. The League for the Fourth International stands with the SWP against Pablo in 1951-53 and continues today the struggle against Pabloism that the Spartacist tendency itself waged over three decades. In the past, the ICL noted certain weaknesses of the SWP’s fight against Pabloism, including some wrong formulations that were later seized upon by Stalinophobic outfits. But no longer.

The article “Genesis of Pabloism” in Spartacist No. 21 (Fall 1972) referred to the SWP’s “one-sided orthodoxy” during the late 1940s and early ’50s, which led it to initially deny that deformed workers states had been formed by the Stalinists in East Europe. Spartacist criticized SWPer Joseph Hansen’s 1953 defense of the formula that Stalinism is “counterrevolutionary through and through,” writing that this was “a characterization which fits only the CIA!” Yet as we have noted about the ICL’s recent portrayal of Stalinism as “leading” the destruction of the proletarian property forms on which it was an excrescence, “In reality, this is the line that Stalinism is ‘counterrevolutionary through and through’” (From a Drift Toward Abstentionism…). In fact, the ICL’s propaganda in recent years has reflected this Stalinophobic conception not only in its attacks against the IG/LFI. You don’t have to take our word for it – look at what they have written about themselves. 

Last summer, the SL ran a lengthy two-part article on “Permanent Revolution vs. Bourgeois Nationalism” in the Near East in the 1950s, whose purpose, as the reader discovers deep into the second installment (WV No. 741, 8 September 2000), was to take the editors to task for agreeing with a letter from a supporter who wrote objecting to an earlier article about the Iraqi Communist Party. The reader wrote, “There’s no way this party could have mobilized ‘its working-class base to take power in its own name’.” A motion by the SL Central Committee says this “denies any contradiction between the proletarian base and Stalinist leadership. Thus any possibility for the intervention of a Trotskyist party to exploit this contradiction is eliminated and by extension any possibility of proletarian socialist revolution.” This “political departure,” continues WV, logically “leads to the view that Stalinism is ‘counterrevolutionary through and through,’ i.e., that the Stalinist bureaucracy and Stalinist parties are purely and simply reactionary.” 

Just where did this “departure” come from? It’s not hard to figure out: this line is parallel to what the ICL has been propagating concerning the role of the Stalinists in East Europe and the Soviet Union. WV No. 741 tried to portray its self-criticism over Iraq as a healthy correction, but as its schizophrenic line on China in WV No. 746 shows, it’s actually a cover-up. The discovery that the Beijing Stalinist regime is “not committed to capitalist restoration” is a second “correction” of the same “departure” as over Iraq, yet the ICL dares not admit it. And still they insist the Stalinists led the counterrevolution in the DDR and USSR. What you have here is the coexistence of two lines: a basic Stalinophobic thrust, with some later modifications covered up with vituperation against the LFI that leave the door open to any manner of opportunist high-jinks. All in all, WV’s “corrections” make a mockery of its previous polemics against the LFI. 

Go to Part 2: ICL Decrees: No More "Reiss Factions" (March 2001)
Read also: ICL Between Shachtman and Trotsky (21 August 2000)

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com