Crises rock the world as U.S. hegemony breaks down. As the fate of the world proletariat cries out for revolutionary leadership, the workers movement stands disarmed and disoriented.
It is in this context that the International Communist League held its Eighth International Conference this summer, to which this issue of Spartacist is dedicated. The document we adopted as our new program, “The Breakdown of U.S. Hegemony & the Struggle for Workers Power—A Program for the Fourth International,” responds to the main political problems that have plagued the left and workers movement for the last 30 years, providing a Marxist analysis of the post-Soviet period and charting a revolutionary road for working-class struggles today.
The triumph of U.S. imperialism after the fall of the USSR opened a new era in which liberalism became the dominant political ideology. The workers movement and socialist left spent the post-Soviet period tailing liberal movements and politicians whose leadership only produced defeats and demoralization, fueling right-wing reaction.
The central argument in this document is that the task of revolutionaries throughout the last 30 years and today is to break the workers movement from all variants of liberal forces and their centrist conciliators. This is not a new invention but the central lesson of Leninism adapted to today’s reality.
A crucial thread running throughout the document (and the conference) is the necessity of the Marxist method—basing the intervention of communists on a materialist understanding of the world situation and the obstacles standing in the way of the fight for socialism. Without this, it is impossible to correctly answer the question: “What is to be done?”
In the epoch of imperialism, it is vital to have a revolutionary strategy for countries of the Global South. As U.S. imperialism declines, it further tightens the screws, reinforcing national oppression on an international scale. This process is fueling the growth of nationalist “anti-imperialist” forces in Latin America, Africa and Asia. But nationalists sabotage the struggle for national liberation at every turn, sacrificing it in the name of private property. For this reason, victory against imperialism demands a communist program and leadership. However, this is obstructed by two non-revolutionary trends in the left. The first supports nationalism as progressive, chaining the toilers to the national bourgeoisie. The second, reacting to the first, “opposes” the national bourgeoisie by dismissing the struggle for national emancipation.
Since its inception, the ICL was firmly in the second trend, treating the struggle for national liberation not as a lever for revolution but as a thorn in the side. The document “In Defense of Permanent Revolution—For Communist Leadership of the Anti-Imperialist Struggle!” adopted at the conference repudiates this course and provides a program to break with both trends. To win the masses away from the bourgeois nationalists, communists must push forward the struggle against imperialism, showing at every stage that breaking with nationalism is a necessary condition for victory.
The document “In Defense of the Second and Fourth Comintern Congresses” defends Lenin, Trotsky and the early Comintern against the revisionist criticism by the ICL. In particular, it upholds the tactic of the anti-imperialist united front against our sectarian rejection of its use and its abuse by Stalinists and other opportunists.
Concerning women’s liberation in the neocolonies, our previous program was based on denouncing backward ideas and practices instead of fighting the material conditions that maintain them: centrally, imperialist plunder. This was not Marxism but liberal preaching that put us in a political bloc with “progressive” pro-imperialist NGOs. The document “Permanent Revolution & Women’s Liberation” endorsed at the conference corrects this approach.
Our conference also adopted the positions summarized in “Puerto Rico: For Independence and Socialism!” and “Malvinas/Falklands War: The Main Enemy Was Imperialism,” which correct key capitulations of our tendency to imperialism.
It is no secret that the ICL has been politically disoriented for decades. The pandemic triggered the collapse of our party, but this was only the straw that broke the camel’s back. The opening presentation at the conference by the secretary of the International Secretariat, comrade Perrault, “Why the ICL Collapsed & How We Reforged It,” lays out how fighting to provide an independent and revolutionary path for workers and the oppressed forced us to get to the root of our disorientation and led us to this historic conference.
This presentation motivates the third main conference document, “The ICL’s Post-Soviet Revisionism,” which demonstrates how for the last 30 years the ICL rejected the need for Marxism to guide the struggles of the day. The ICL did claim to stand for communism and revolution, but this is not the fundamental criterion for revolutionary leadership. As the document “What Is Revolutionary Leadership?” lays out, it consists in the ability to provide a path of struggle advancing the historic interests of the working class at a given time and place.
It is in this light that we reviewed the 1995-96 fight against Jan Norden and other comrades, whose expulsions led to the creation of the Internationalist Group (IG). The fight against Norden was unprincipled, and the expulsions led to two organizations, the IG and ICL, sharing the same fundamental centrist program and disorientation.
The decades-long crisis inside our organization is a reflection of the broader crisis of the left in the post-Soviet era. Those seeking to advance the struggle for socialism today are bound to confront the very same problems we ourselves confronted. In this spirit we invited to our conference the Australian Bolshevik-Leninist group, with whom we have engaged in common work and discussion based on our struggle to rearm. See “Greetings from Bolshevik-Leninist of Australia.”
The conference voted to drop the Spartacist Group of Japan as a section of the ICL as it had not functioned as such for a long time. Our comrades there remain sympathizers and we will continue to work with them in the struggle to plant the banner of Trotskyism in Japan. Our conference elected a new International Executive Committee that is half the size of the previous one (and decades younger), composed of the cadre who led the rearming of our party.
The curtain is now lifting on a changed ICL. Without a doubt, further struggle is needed throughout our party to consolidate its various sections around the politics adopted. However, we emerge from years of internal struggle more determined than ever to play a decisive role in the coming battles. We look to the future with defiance and readiness, armed with the weapon that can change history: a program for the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.
Note on sources: All quotes from Comintern Congresses in this issue are taken from the series translated and edited by John Riddell for Pathfinder Press and Haymarket Books unless otherwise indicated.