Spartacist English edition No. 62
ICL Holds Sixth International Conference
Fighting for Programmatic Integrity in a Reactionary Period
The International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) held its Sixth International Conference in North America in late 2010. The conference, the highest body of our revolutionary Marxist organization, was preceded by an intense three-month discussion period following a conference call issued by our International Executive Committee (IEC). Conference delegates with speaking rights and decisive votes were elected by each ICL section based on political positions expressed in written documents. The delegates discussed, amended and adopted a document, “Fighting for Programmatic Integrity in a Reactionary Period,” drafted by comrades in the International Secretariat (I.S.), the resident subcommittee of the IEC in our international center.
Much of the pre-conference discussion and debate took as a starting point our repudiation of the ICL’s betrayal of Marxist principle over U.S. and United Nations troops in Haiti. As we wrote in a statement issued by the IEC on 27 April 2010:
“In its articles on the Haitian earthquake, Workers Vanguard, the newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S., committed a betrayal of the fundamental principle of opposition to one’s ‘own’ imperialist rulers. In addition to justifying the U.S. imperialist troops as essential to the aid effort, these articles polemicized against the principled and correct position of demanding the immediate withdrawal of the troops.”
—“A Capitulation to U.S. Imperialism,” Workers Vanguard No. 958, 7 May 2010
The statement noted that our ability to correct our line was hardly a cause for celebration, but merely laid the basis for political rectification. A central purpose of the international conference was to rearm the party by examining the roots of our disorientation over the Haiti earthquake.
Discussions before and at the conference pointed to the ongoing pressures toward programmatic revisionism bearing down on revolutionary Marxists, particularly since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and the East European deformed workers states in the early 1990s. There is today a huge gap between our communist program and existing levels of political consciousness. Even the most politically conscious workers and radical youth generally accept that the struggle for socialism, as embodied in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, was at best a failed experiment. The reformist left has increasingly abandoned any pretensions of fighting for the liberating ideals of communism, openly embracing the politics of social democracy and/or bourgeois-nationalist populism.
As comrade James Robertson remarked at a Spartacist League/Britain day school several years ago:
“Now we’re in an unusually deep trough, and the experiences that are immediately available to us are not very good. So we had better make very heavy reference back to the experiences of the workers movement when it could see much further: 1918 through 1921. And furthermore, there’s a quote by Lenin in January 1917. He gave a talk in Switzerland and said: ‘We of the older generation may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution.’ Now, I run into various panacea-mongers who say, what is your immediate perspective? Don’t pay so much attention to the immediate perspective, because you don’t know what’s going to happen in February! What is your programme? That is the decisive question.”
—Workers Hammer No. 195, Summer 2006
In line with this understanding, the conference document noted that there is no easy solution to the problems we face and laid out as our central tasks: persistent study of the history and principles of the Marxist movement, critical examination of new developments and critical reappraisal of earlier projections and positions, and a patient and pedagogical effort to cultivate a new generation of party cadre and leadership—combined with active propagandistic intervention in class and other social struggles.
Such an approach was evident at the conference itself. An entire session was devoted to the state of the international labor movement, which included a critical assessment of some earlier discussions in our sections. A commission on South Asia discussed proposals for informed propaganda aimed at extending the reach of the ICL into the Indian subcontinent, with its huge proletariat and substantial left milieus. A meeting organized by the ICL’s Women’s Commission focused on our extensive research into the early Communist International’s work among women (see article, page 64). Another commission discussed proposals for propaganda on Cuba, drawing both on a study of current developments and on our unique programmatic heritage. Smaller working groups met to discuss other areas of work, including propaganda on China and broader perspectives in Latin America, and the Spartacist Editorial Board held a working meeting. Numerous comrades remarked that such discussions, which aimed at cultivating our capacity to understand and analyze current developments in a dialectical-materialist manner, stood in stark contrast to a tendency in recent years toward abstract schemas and creating our own “reality” as a form of solace for the difficult period we confront in the post-Soviet world.
Against Subjective Idealism
Discussion on the main conference document, which covered two full sessions of the conference, was introduced by comrades J. Bride and L. Markow of the outgoing IEC. The document framed the conference deliberations by laying out the main contours of the world today. Two years into the worst worldwide economic crisis since the Great Depression, the capitalist rulers seek to make the working masses shoulder the burden through layoffs and savage cuts in social spending. Karl Marx’s theory of increasing misery has been made palpable in the massive increase in unemployment, housing foreclosures and deportations of immigrants in the advanced capitalist countries and in the spread of famine and disease in the neocolonial world. Meanwhile, the bloody U.S. imperialist rulers, now under Obama’s Democratic Party administration, have maintained the occupation of Iraq, escalated the war in Afghanistan, stepped up sanctions and military threats against Iran and continued their drive to reverse the anti-capitalist gains of the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states (China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos).
The document addressed how the capitalists seek to deflect the anger of working people by deliberately fostering retrograde social and political attitudes, pitting different sections of the working class against each other along racial, religious, ethnic and sexual lines, as well as native-born against immigrant and younger versus higher-seniority workers. In this context, the “war on terror” has become more virulent, serving both to regiment the domestic population and to justify yet more imperialist military incursions, including into Pakistan. More recently, NATO has waged war on Libya. Economic nationalism in the imperialist West and Japan has been directed particularly against China, the most powerful of the existing deformed workers states, whose relatively strong economic performance testifies to the fact that it is not capitalist—as is argued by most bourgeois ideologues and the bulk of the reformist left. Despite its relative success, however, China remains extremely backward economically with respect to the imperialist powers, which will not rest content until they reclaim the world’s most populous country for untrammeled exploitation through capitalist counterrevolution.
The Sixth ICL Conference affirmed the understanding, laid out at the 2009 SL/U.S. National Conference, that the objective difficulties we face in this “death of communism” period cannot be overcome through opportunist shortcuts and get-rich-quick schemes, to which prior party regimes have too often resorted (see “Dog Days of the Post-Soviet Period,” Workers Vanguard No. 948, 4 December 2009). The SL/U.S. and ICL conferences rejected the subjective idealist approach behind these schemes and its invention of opportunities for major organizational breakthroughs where none existed.
Such an approach was exemplified in the attempt, following the 2004 SL/U.S. National Conference, to be the best builders of a campaign to “revitalize” a nonexistent mass movement to fight for the freedom of black death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. The international conference rejected the false assertion that we had withdrawn “from political and polemical combat with our reformist opponents around Mumia’s case,” which appeared in our report of the 2007 ICL Conference (“Maintaining a Revolutionary Program in the Post-Soviet Period,” Spartacist [English edition] No. 60, Autumn 2007), and reaffirmed that “we must continue to pursue our efforts to fight for Mumia’s freedom…in line with our actual resources and the ups and downs of the case.” The recent conference sharply criticized the political conciliation under the previous party regime of forces hostile to our proletarian and revolutionary purpose, including black nationalists and elements of the capitalist Democratic Party in the U.S. By 2008, such efforts had brought us to the brink of organizational and political liquidation. Our opponents’ embrace of Obama found an echo in the alarming response among the central party leadership in New York to Obama’s “More Perfect Union” speech, given as he campaigned to be U.S. imperialist Commander-in-Chief, which some comrades characterized as “powerful” and a “turning point” for supposedly “acknowledging race and racial oppression in the U.S.” Had we gone to press with this line, it would have been a betrayal of our principle of proletarian class independence.
A tiny clique led by Rachel Wolkenstein, which resisted the efforts to correct our opportunist trajectory, proclaimed itself a “Minority Faction” before the international conference. This was exactly the same group—composed of Wolkenstein, her brother, his spouse and their best male friend—that came together around the 2009 SL/U.S. conference, where their views were decisively rejected. Their lengthy counterposed document for the international conference, circulated in one of our internal bulletins, received no support from any other comrade in the ICL before or at the conference, and the four quit days after the conference ended.
The idealist view that we could overcome difficult objective conditions simply through our own efforts was accompanied by a frenzy of activism and disdain for Marxist theory and history. The Sixth ICL Conference document noted that this “made us more stupid and undercut our capacity to examine developments around the world as Marxists, thus making us more permeable to alien class pressures.” Delegates observed that this was not a small factor in the sequence of events that led to the betrayal over Haiti.
The conference reaffirmed the importance for the ICL of Spartacist, our quadrilingual theoretical journal, and noted that its production is a central responsibility of the incoming IEC and especially of those comrades assigned to the I.S. Closely related is the work of the Prometheus Research Library, the Marxist repository and archive of the SL/U.S. Central Committee. As was laid out in a report to the conference by the comrade centrally responsible for this work, the holdings and research of the PRL are indispensable for our propaganda, not least Spartacist, and are critical to assimilating and transmitting the history of the Marxist movement, including that of our own party. The conference document reiterated a point that had been strongly asserted at our Fourth International Conference in 2003, only to be effectively jettisoned afterward: “If we are to be an effective fighting propaganda group, we must above all be a thinking propaganda group.”
Roots of the Haiti Betrayal
By the time the conference convened, there was a wide consensus in the ICL on the factors that led to our betrayal over Haiti. The conference rejected the notion that there was a single pat explanation and instead pointed to a range of preexisting weaknesses. Pre-conference documents noted that at least since the December 2004 Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, the SL/U.S. press had developed a tacit policy of not calling for the withdrawal of troops in the early days of a catastrophe, a line never formally discussed or codified in any party body.
While denouncing U.S. imperialism, the article “Tsunami Catastrophe in South Asia” (Workers Vanguard No. 839, 7 January 2005) did not take note of the insertion of a huge U.S. and Australian imperialist military presence around Indonesia in the days after the tsunami. This deployment freed up the Indonesian army to go into the mountains of the island of Aceh to defeat rebel insurgents of the Free Aceh movement. By omission, Workers Vanguard tacitly accepted the U.S. supply and rescue operations along the coast as “humanitarian” relief and ignored the underlying purpose of this show of U.S. military force, which extended to Sri Lanka, where there was a Tamil insurgency at the time. In contrast, as noted in our IEC repudiation statement on Haiti, the Spartacist League/Australia article, “Australian Imperialists Seize On Tsunami Catastrophe” (Australasian Spartacist No. 190, Autumn 2005), forthrightly demanded the immediate withdrawal of Australian and Indonesian troops from Aceh and sharply warned against illusions in imperialist foreign aid programs, which serve to reinforce neocolonial subjugation.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Workers Vanguard correctly described the National Guard force that went into New Orleans as being “mobilized above all to assert control over the city, to disarm the remaining population and to enforce the government’s suppression of the truth about the number of dead” (“New Orleans: Racist Atrocity,” Workers Vanguard No. 854, 16 September 2005). However, the article failed to demand that the cops and troops get out, as we have done many times before when there have been racist police/National Guard occupations of the ghettos.
The conference document also noted a “tendency to paint U.S. imperialism’s interests in Haiti as conjuncturally benign, rather than dictated by their direct interests in controlling, subjugating and profiting from the region.” As the IEC repudiation statement asserted, “One doubts that we could so easily have taken such a position if the Republican Bush administration were still in the White House.” Noting the strategic importance of the large numbers of Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic, the U.S. and Canada, the document affirmed our internationalist perspective: for a workers and peasants government in Haiti as part of a socialist federation of the Caribbean, which is inextricably linked to the fight for the revolutionary overthrow of U.S. imperialism.
Permanent Revolution and Proletarian Centrality
In the course of defending the social-imperialist line over Haiti, Workers Vanguard No. 952 (12 February 2010) had argued emphatically that there was a “virtual absence of an industrial proletariat in Haiti.” The conference document noted:
“Whether there is a working class in Haiti sufficient to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat is an empirical question that can be debated. More fundamental is the question: what political conclusions did we draw from this assertion? We utilized evidence relating to the economic poverty of Haiti, the lack of infrastructure and the relative weakness of the proletariat to buttress our alibis for imperialist intervention.”
Writing when Ireland was still largely a peasant country, Lenin sharply attacked those would-be Marxists who wrote off as futile the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin, arguing: “The dialectics of history are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat, to make its appearance on the scene” (“The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up,” 1916). Four years later, the Second Congress of the Communist International stressed that the proletariat in the advanced capitalist countries must actively support liberation struggles in the colonies and oppressed nations if it was to find a road to socialist revolution at home. In his theory of permanent revolution, Trotsky linked the fight for social and national liberation in the colonial and semicolonial countries to the struggle for proletarian state power, while emphasizing that the road to socialism can be opened only through the extension of revolution to the advanced capitalist countries.
In response to arguments raised by some comrades, the conference document upheld the understanding that permanent revolution is not directly applicable to all countries regardless of their level of development, noting: “There are also countries, such as Afghanistan or Nepal or East Timor, where there is not a proletariat with sufficient social weight to lead the oppressed masses in carrying out a socialist revolution.” But to dismiss struggles in such countries would be fatal to our revolutionary purpose. The document cited our attitude to Afghanistan under the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party (PDPA) regime in the late 1970s and ’80s: “Our recognition that there were more mullahs than proletarians in Afghanistan did not lead us to devalue or dismiss the struggles and aspirations of the advanced layers of that society.” After the Soviet bureaucracy’s treacherous withdrawal of the Red Army in 1988-89, we sought to engage some of the PDPA cadre politically, urging that they read the works of founding Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov because he had dealt with the tsarist empire at a time when industrialization was just coming into play.
The conference document also looked back at earlier problems that had since been corrected in addressing countries where permanent revolution applies. In 2001, the I.S. and our South African section voted to retire our longstanding call for a black-centered workers government with the argument that there was already a black-centered government, led by the bourgeois-nationalist African National Congress (ANC). In 2007, we reinstated the slogan, which underscores that the socialist revolution in South Africa will be an act of both national and class liberation. While our propaganda had never ceased to stress that national liberation could be achieved only through proletarian revolution, a Spartacist South Africa conference last year noted that dropping the call for a black-centered workers government had been a concession to the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance, which pushes the lie that the national oppression of the black majority can be resolved under capitalism.
In 2006, the Grupo Espartaqista de México reinstated its call for a workers and peasants government, which had not appeared in its propaganda for some time and had been explicitly called into question in 2005 by I.S. comrades who pointed to the diminished relative weight of the Mexican peasantry in recent decades. While noting this development, the GEM affirmed at its 2010 conference that there continues to be a numerous poor peasantry that the proletariat must struggle to mobilize, and that this remains a strategic question for workers revolution.
Working-Class Struggle Against Capitalist Immiseration
The session on the state of the labor movement internationally was kicked off with presentations by three comrades: T. Themba from Spartacist South Africa, A. Hakki of the Ligue Trotskyste de France and S. Hendricks of the SL/U.S. The speakers addressed the contradictions facing us in different countries in the context of the economic crisis. On the one hand, there has been a sharp growth of economic nationalism and attendant class collaboration pushed by the labor bureaucracy, along with a major decline in union membership. On the other, there have been important defensive struggles against the capitalist onslaught, notably in Europe.
A central topic of discussion was the massive growth of temporary and contract labor, which has served to weaken the labor movement but has also provoked union struggles of varying kinds. From labor brokers in South Africa and elsewhere, to the proliferation of temporary contracts for young workers in Europe, to “outsourcing” of union jobs to non-union contractors in the U.S., there is an urgent need to organize the unorganized and combat the bosses’ divide-and-rule schemes through joint class struggle. As numerous speakers emphasized, such situations must be examined concretely. Much of the discussion focused on a tendency to wrongly generalize from our correct opposition to reactionary protectionist labor actions to situations in which defense of the unions is centrally posed.
Comrade Themba vividly detailed the explosive contradictions of South Africa’s neo-apartheid order. He described the desperate conditions of life for the black masses since the end of apartheid—massive unemployment with over half of black youth jobless and millions of people without enough to eat. The Tripartite Alliance government of the ANC, South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) cannot deliver on the promise of “a better life for all.” Township protests over the failure to deliver basic services continue to boil over around the country.
Our comrade explained that while the working class remains subordinated to bourgeois nationalism, centrally through the agency of the ANC/SACP/COSATU popular front, it has not been defeated. Workers retain their organizations, with a militant history in the struggle against apartheid, and continue to struggle in spite of the treachery of the union tops, who help to prop up the neo-apartheid capitalist order. He also reported on struggles against the use of labor brokers to undercut union jobs, such as the 2010 strike by auto workers in the National Union of Metalworkers that won the demand that the company not make any new contracts with labor brokers. In line with comrade Themba’s report, the conference document affirmed: “Labor brokers are parasites who on behalf of big capitalists operate to obstruct union organization and ultimately to break the unions. We seek to smash the institution of labor brokering through class-struggle means.”
The LTF speaker noted that some 80 percent of newly hired workers in France are on temporary contracts, and in both France and Spain the unionization rate among workers under the age of 30 is very low. While there have been some attempts to organize temporary workers, the union bureaucracy often refrains from doing so, feeding the perception of unions as job trusts of older, more privileged workers. The European Union (EU) economic bailout plan, which is essentially a mechanism to force the workers in Greece, Ireland, Spain and other debt-ridden countries to pay off the German (and French) banks, has provoked a number of struggles. The German bourgeoisie’s relative economic strength has been achieved in large part thanks to the treacherous role of the social democrats in spearheading pay cuts and austerity measures.
Comrades noted that two countries with some of the most deepgoing labor struggles, Greece and South Africa, continue to have mass Stalinist-derived parties that never renounced their earlier allegiance to the Soviet Union. The Greek Communist KKE has won some authority with workers as the more militant wing of opposition to the PASOK government, which is politically supported by the bureaucracy of the main union federations. However, the KKE promotes a chauvinist framework, opposing the EU and International Monetary Fund on the basis that they interfere with Greece’s national sovereignty. The conference pointed to the Trotskyist Group of Greece’s 28 April 2010 leaflet as a model for intervention into working-class struggles, particularly in its effective use of transitional demands leading to the need for a workers government (see “Greece: Down With PASOK Government’s ‘Stability Program’!” Workers Vanguard No. 959, 21 May 2010).
Comrade Hendricks spoke to pressures and problems we have faced in approaching labor struggles in the U.S., with its very low level of class struggle. One problem has been a tendency to presume that the union bureaucrats are incapable of leading any struggles. Another problem was evident in motions passed at the 2009 SL/U.S. National Conference, which cited the slogan “Full union pay for all work at the prevailing rate, no matter who does the job!” and stated, incorrectly, that this applies “equally to intersections between unionized and non-unionized workers domestically as well as between workers of different nations.” That slogan had been raised by the Spartacist League/Britain in regard to the reactionary 2009 strikes by construction workers at oil refineries, who demanded “British jobs for British workers.” The British strikes pitted British workers against foreign workers who had been brought in temporarily to work in Britain.
The international conference rejected the line of the 2009 SL/U.S. conference as amounting to indifference as to whether a workforce is unionized or not. As one comrade explained:
“We fight against nationalist, protectionist and job-trusting answers to ‘outsourcing,’ but that doesn’t mean we are indifferent to the loss of union jobs that outsourcing produces! We fight for union jobs, but with the methods of the class struggle that unite the working class across national boundaries.”
We are not left critics standing outside the present-day unions, but aspire to be the militant class-struggle pole within the labor movement, fighting to build the unions as inclusive organizations of class struggle—for industrial unions and a closed shop. The conference mandated further discussion in the sections on various specific issues, and affirmed the importance of maintaining and strengthening such slender links as we have to the proletariat.
Understanding the Retrogression of Consciousness
An important underlying factor in our recurrent political problems in the post-Soviet period has been a failure to recognize that the rest of the left does not share our ultimate goal of a communist society. In his “Critical Notes on the ‘Death of Communism’ and the Ideological Conditions of the Post-Soviet World,” comrade Joseph Seymour noted: “The crux of the ‘death of communism’ is just that: a disbelief in the historical possibility of a global communist civilization in the Marxist sense. This is a basic common ground shared by diverse political tendencies with often strongly antagonistic attitudes toward Western imperialism, parliamentary democracy, a capitalist market economy and other divisive issues” (Workers Vanguard No. 949, 1 January 2010).
At the same time, the retrogression of consciousness since the fall of the Soviet Union is uneven, as demonstrated by South Africa, where many advanced workers are still subjectively sympathetic to the idea of communism as they understand it. Moreover, it is false to see this retrogression as absolute and immutable, thus blinding ourselves to the eruption of contradictions, inherent in capitalist class society, which can open opportunities for programmatic intervention in a sober and measured way. The conference endorsed Seymour’s conclusion:
“A very important question confronting us can be formulated in this way: is it possible that a spontaneous upheaval, involving a substantial section of the working class, against a right-wing government can lead to a prerevolutionary and even a revolutionary situation (i.e., organs of dual power) even though the mass of workers and other toilers involved do not aspire to socialism? I think the answer is yes. While we have not experienced such a development, we should not rule it out. For now, our primary task is to propagate a Marxist worldview with the expectation of recruiting relatively small numbers of leftist intellectuals and advanced workers. To paraphrase John Maynard Keynes: when the facts change, so will our perspectives.”
At the same time, as demonstrated in the positive by the October Revolution and in the negative by countless defeats for the proletariat, the essential condition for working-class victory in a situation of dual power is the leadership of a revolutionary vanguard party.
The conference document noted, “The workings of capitalist-imperialism will necessarily continue to impel masses of workers and other sections of the exploited and oppressed into struggle against the capitalist order.” To deny the possibility of revolutionary situations in this period would lead to a rejection of Trotsky’s Transitional Program, the founding program of the Fourth International, which seeks to introduce elements of dual power—e.g., factory committees, workers control of production, workers defense guards—into major labor and other progressive social struggles with the aim of forging a Leninist party to lead the fight for proletarian state power.
Other Conference Discussions
Another reporter in the main conference session, comrade M. Coates of our Canadian section, motivated a proposed new preface (see page 10) to the ICL’s “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program,” which was adopted in 1998 (see Spartacist [English edition] No. 54, Spring 1998). In 2007, we adopted the principle of opposition to running candidates for election to executive offices of the capitalist state. The new preface addresses this important extension of Marxist principle. It also includes a few other correctives and additions, notably adding Laos to the list of present-day deformed workers states, an understanding arrived at through internal study and discussion and affirmed by the conference.
The preface also corrects an idealist formulation implying that the Stalinist political counterrevolution in the USSR could have been forestalled if the Bolsheviks had formally acknowledged that the course of the October Revolution had vindicated Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. This idealist argument also appeared in “The Origins of Chinese Trotskyism” (Spartacist [English edition] No. 53, Summer 1997) and “A Critical Balance Sheet: Trotsky and the Russian Left Opposition” (Spartacist [English edition] No. 56, Spring 2001). This correction drew on a valuable document by comrade V. Alexander of the SL/U.S., applying research into Soviet archival sources.
The conference generously voted to give a representative of the Wolkenstein faction presentation time during the main session, even though they had not even one delegate. This allowed comrades from throughout the ICL to experience firsthand the empty bombast, philistine moralism and egomania of these demoralized elements. The conference characterized their politics as neo-Bernsteinite—a reference to the revisionist German Social Democrat Eduard Bernstein, who argued that “the ultimate aim of socialism is nothing, but the movement is everything.” Their contributions to party discussion, which were in large part driven by personal pique, even included a vigorous defense of pseudo-medical quackery such as chiropractic and acupuncture.
Wolkenstein and her co-thinkers fully supported the social-imperialist line on Haiti. After other comrades had led the fight to correct the betrayal, the Wolkenstein clique began cynically posturing as holier-than-thou “anti-imperialists” in the neocolonial world, clamoring for a simple-minded “anti-imperialism” that would let the local bourgeoisie and its left tails off the hook and open the door to a class-collaborationist “anti-imperialist united front.” When comrades pointed to the 1973 Chile coup, where unlike the rest of the left we did not amnesty the Chilean bourgeoisie and reformists by simply denouncing the U.S. role in the coup, Wolkenstein disparaged our opposition to the Chilean popular front in 1970-73 as basically irrelevant to today’s world.
As comrade Bride noted in his presentation, the real politics of this clique were to “junk the old Spartacism.” This was expressed most clearly in their consistent and ongoing push to denounce the ICL Declaration of Principles as so flawed and partial as to not clearly convey who the ICL is and what we fight for. After receiving not a single vote from any comrade outside of their clique, they concluded their fight to “Return to the Road of Spartacism”…by quitting the ICL.
A contrast to such behavior was provided by a second, very small faction that formed in the pre-conference period, in part in opposition to the line of the 2009 SL/U.S. conference on outsourcing. When the conference voted to correct this line, the faction’s founder announced its dissolution, while retaining his views on other disputed questions.
Upholding Our Fight in the DDR
The conference rejected the claim, pushed by Wolkenstein and wrongly accepted at the 2004 SL/U.S. National Conference and again at the 2007 ICL Conference, that a purported failure to evaluate our intervention into the incipient political revolution in the East German deformed workers state (DDR) in 1989-90 was at the root of the ICL’s problems. In fact, we had had extensive discussion and evaluation of this intervention, reflected in numerous internal bulletins and most cogently in the main document of our 1992 Second International Conference (published in Spartacist [English edition] No. 47-48, Winter 1992-93). The purpose of the minority’s assertion was to pursue a demagogic campaign to determine who in the ICL leadership “lost Germany.” A political kernel of this crusade to discredit longtime party leaders was the “strategic united front,” i.e., the liquidation of the party into a broad, amorphous “movement.” While this liquidationist policy was played out in full in the opportunist Mumia campaign, Wolkenstein retrospectively promoted a similar approach to the ICL’s intervention in the DDR. Thus, she argued a few years ago that we should have given up one of our two speakers at the huge 3 January 1990 Treptow united-front rally in East Berlin, where our comrades powerfully exposed the bankruptcy of the ruling Stalinists, in order to give speaking time to a politically unknown dissident East German soldier.
The conference also corrected a misleading statement in the otherwise excellent assessment of our DDR intervention in the 1992 ICL Conference document: “Leftist-inclined oppositional groups were taking shape in the summer of 1989. Given the extremely tight control exercised by the East German security police (the Stasi), an effort to begin work in the DDR may well have been totally frustrated but should have been made nonetheless.”
Going into the conference a small number of comrades argued against correcting this statement. Until the situation opened up in October 1989, when it became clear that large demonstrations weren’t being attacked by the police, the only “independent” political groups tolerated by the Stasi operated under the umbrella of the Lutheran church and in consonance with the “peaceful coexistence” politics of the bureaucracy. It would have been foolish and dangerous to think that we would be treated in the same way as those opportunist leftists who mucked about in this milieu, such as the Pabloite United Secretariat, whose program posed no threat to either the Stalinist bureaucracy or the West German imperialists. A leader of our German section noted that an adventurous and premature intervention inside the DDR could well have precluded our ability to intervene with appropriate cadre when the situation changed. And when we were able to intervene we did so powerfully, fighting for our program of a “red Germany of workers councils” and gaining a hearing among an advanced layer of East German workers before the situation was cut short by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the East German Stalinists’ move for a rapid sellout to West German imperialism.
Continuing the Fight for Revolutionary Continuity
We trace our continuity back to the revolutionary teachings and experiences of Marx and Engels and the First and Second Internationals, through Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks and the Third (Communist) International, as well as Trotsky and the Left Opposition’s fight against Stalinist betrayal culminating in the formation of the Fourth International. The political tendency embodied in the ICL today originated as the Revolutionary Tendency within the U.S. Socialist Workers Party in 1961-63. The RT sought to continue and complete the struggle against Pabloite revisionism in the Fourth International, which was taken up, albeit too little and too late, under the leadership of founding American Trotskyist James P. Cannon in 1953. Pabloism represented the liquidation of the Trotskyist vanguard party into bourgeois-nationalist, Stalinist and social-democratic formations (see “Genesis of Pabloism,” Spartacist No. 21, Fall 1972).
Many of the existing cadres of the ICL were won to Trotskyism during the period of convulsive radicalization between the Cuban Revolution of 1959-60 and the final victory of the Stalinist-led Vietnamese Revolution in 1975. Notwithstanding some exceptions, the period since has been heavily colored by stagnation and defeats for the international proletariat. The Spartacist tendency has succeeded in maintaining a revolutionary program for close to five decades, longer than any other Marxist formation in history. A crucial task is to pass on our history to younger generations in the party. To this end, the ICL has been pursuing an extensive educational series on our early history.
A major factor affecting us has been the concentration of much of our international leadership in the U.S.—the largest imperialist power, but with the most politically backward working class among the advanced capitalist countries. Since the inception of our tendency, we have understood that a revolutionary party cannot successfully resist the deforming pressures of national isolation without disciplined international collaboration. As an organizational measure toward addressing such pressures, the new IEC elected at the conference includes a greater proportion of members from sections outside the U.S. It also reflects a certain generational shift in the party leadership. The conference further resolved to take steps toward building up a stronger IEC collective in Europe. The main conference document emphasized that “we can and must act on the understanding that the IEC is a body of peers, whose different national experiences should complement each other in honing our line and our understanding of world and national developments.”
The Sixth International Conference was an important step in the ICL’s continuing efforts to put programmatic and theoretical rearming at the center of our tasks. Our roots remain very slender and there are no easy answers to the current difficulties faced by revolutionary Marxists. Nonetheless, as our conference document concluded: “If there is to be a communist future for humanity, there is no other option than to persevere in the struggle to maintain our revolutionary continuity, which is crucial to reforging an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International.”
In Spartacist (English edition) No. 62 (Spring 2011), on page 5 of the article, “Fighting for Programmatic Integrity in a Reactionary Period,” we incorrectly referred to “the island of Aceh” in Indonesia. In fact, Aceh is the northern region of the island of Sumatra. (From Spartacist [English edition] No. 63, Winter 2012-2013.)