The following document was adopted by the ICL’s Eighth International Conference.
Great periods of class struggle fuse the working-class movement in common action against the capitalist class. Periods of reaction have the opposite effect, exacerbating divisions within the working class along lines of nationality, race, gender and craft. These cycles of unification and division find their reflection within the most politically advanced sectors of the working-class movement, the parties and organizations claiming to fight for socialist revolution. In the long period of post-Soviet reaction, the Marxist left has splintered ever more into smaller and smaller groups divided along dogmatic and cliquist lines. With so many groups claiming the mantle of revolutionary leadership, it begs the question: what is revolutionary leadership? As class struggle intensifies in the changing world situation, a correct approach to this question is essential to critically review the record of organizations claiming to fight for revolution and to establish the basis for unifying the revolutionary vanguard internationally.
The question of revolutionary leadership is almost always overcomplicated. And on this basic question of Marxism—as on most others—there is no better response than the simple and clear explanation in the Communist Manifesto:
Communist leadership of the class struggle must be based on a scientific understanding of class relations, from the overall international situation down to the specific conditions on the individual shop floor. It is not defined by purity of heart, by abstract doctrine or by proclaiming the need for “the dictatorship of the proletariat” but by the ability to put forward the course of action which best corresponds to the objective interests of the workers movement as a whole. It is necessary to be guided by the final goal—the overturn of capitalism and the foundation of an international socialist order. But this goal is only advanced to the extent that its pursuit is grounded in the living reality of a given time and place, not by avoiding but confronting the principal obstacles blocking its march forward.
Flowing from this understanding, the only way to truly evaluate the revolutionary character of a party or grouping is by judging if in the course of events it fights for the interests of the movement as a whole or if those are sacrificed in favor of the interests of other class forces or the narrow interests of isolated segments of the workers movement. At each twist and turn of the class struggle, the party is tested in its ability to guide the working class. In The Lessons of October (1924), Trotsky describes the internal workings of this process:
Great world events—such as wars, revolutions…or a pandemic—exacerbate the pressures from other classes on the vanguard and reveal in the clearest light the true character of a party.
While periods of crisis provide the best test of a revolutionary party, the outcome is prepared by its course in the preceding period. Revolutionary parties do not spring out of thin air on the eve of war or revolution, they are steeled through the ups and downs of the class struggle in a continuous process. Only a correct course of action in periods of reaction can lay the basis for success in outbreaks of revolutionary struggle.
Simply put, a revolutionary party is one that can guide the working class through events in a manner that will advance its emancipation. It is by this criteria that we must evaluate the course of the ICL and that of any other grouping or party which claims to be providing revolutionary leadership.