Spartacist English edition No. 65
Introduction to the Conference Document
This year, the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) held its Seventh International Conference, the highest expression of the political and organizational will of the ICL. The main document, motions, discussions and new leadership elected at the conference were the culmination of months of intense internal struggle against a longstanding perversion of Leninism on the national question, particularly in relation to oppressed nations within multinational states. This deformation represented a capitulation to the pressures of Anglophone imperialism that are dominant in the United States, where our tendency originated. Through the course of struggle, it became clear that this adaptation to Great Power chauvinism had contaminated our struggle to reforge the Fourth International, as seen particularly in the arrogant belittling of comrades from oppressed countries.
The struggle began when a collective of Québécois cadres we recruited following the massive 2012 student strikes in Quebec reacted against the grotesque Anglo-chauvinist contempt for the national and language rights of the oppressed Québécois people expressed in articles in Spartacist Canada (SC), newspaper of the Trotskyist League of Canada (TLC). The most egregious examples appeared between the TLC’s founding, in 1975, and 1995, when the section adopted the call for Quebec independence. But that necessary line change had a centrist character, as the section’s work and propaganda remained within an Anglo-chauvinist framework.
From the beginning, the Québécois comrades were joined in waging the battle against Anglo-chauvinism by the leader of our International Secretariat (I.S.), comrade Coelho, as well as the founding leader of our international tendency, Jim Robertson, who had successfully fought in 1995 to reverse our opposition to independence for Quebec. As the fight unfolded internationally, it exposed a number of examples of chauvinism in opposition to just national struggles, not least the fight for the liberation of the Basque and Catalan peoples from Spain’s prison house of peoples and from the jackboot of the viciously chauvinist French imperialist rulers. A political differentiation among the ICL’s historic Anglophone cadres took place: on one side were those wedded to the old program on the national question and to the party’s old ways of functioning; on the other were those who fought for a genuine and long-overdue fusion with the Québécois comrades.
In this issue of Spartacist we are printing the bulk of the conference document, “The Struggle Against the Chauvinist Hydra,” edited for publication. The document addresses the theoretical framework for, and political consequences of, our prior anti-Leninist positions on the national question. In casting a very harsh spotlight on our adaptation to imperialist dominance, particularly that of the U.S., the comrades who led this fight acted to preserve our revolutionary continuity. As revolutionary Marxist leader V.I. Lenin wrote:
“A political party’s attitude towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it fulfills in practice its obligations towards its class and the working people. Frankly acknowledging a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the conditions that have led up to it, and thrashing out the means of its rectification—that is the hallmark of a serious party; that is how it should perform its duties, and how it should educate and train its class, and then the masses.”
—“Left-Wing” Communism—An Infantile Disorder (1920)
In an effort to break from the Anglophone preponderance in our International, the document was written in Quebec-style French. It was the product of multilingual collaboration with cadres throughout the ICL, particularly from our Mexican, Greek and South African sections, whose commitment to our party and whose leadership capacities were brought to the fore. The demonstrated internationalism of these comrades had long been abused by a series of I.S. regimes. Particularly since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, those regimes bent to the pressures of the imperialist U.S., where our international center is located.
For the first time, this conference featured complete simultaneous interpretation of the proceedings in three languages. Comrades from the different sections gave greetings to the conference in their native language(s). This marked a break from our practice in recent decades of proceedings at international gatherings taking place in English, with informal translations provided for non-Anglophones. In itself, that practice was an adaptation to the Anglo-imperialist diktat of English über alles. Our new policy speaks to our commitment to learn and speak the languages of the workers and oppressed peoples of the world. As a leader of our Australian section argued: “Communists do not want to live in a world where the historic language of the British imperialist oppressors, their Australian offshoots…and the blood-drenched American behemoth continues to dominate.”
The Struggle to Build an Internationalist Leadership Collective
In the course of the internal struggle, there was opposition to the fusion with the Quebec comrades from among senior Anglophone cadres, several of whom were the architects of our anti-Leninist line. No one wanted to openly defend Anglo-chauvinism. Instead, opposition took the form of guerrilla warfare against the comrades leading this fight, despite the latter’s patient efforts to win over these cadres. While the conference document was unanimously approved, rearguard opposition continued throughout and following the conference. In addressing the underhanded, cliquist nature of this opposition, comrade Coelho recalled Trotsky’s statement in “Centrism and the Fourth International” (February 1934):
“A centrist, always uncertain of his position and his methods, views with hatred the revolutionary principle: state what is. He is inclined to substitute for a principled policy personal maneuvering and petty organizational diplomacy.”
Time will tell if these cadres are committed in deeds to this fusion. We do not devalue their lifelong, and often hard-fought, contributions to the building of our International. This layer continues to be represented on our International Executive Committee (IEC), although without decisive votes. The full members of the new IEC are in their majority of non-Anglophone origin, and include senior Anglophone cadres who helped lead this struggle.
The fight in Canada provided the framework for comrades elsewhere to understand problems in the relationship between the International and their own work. The comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece (TOE) saw a parallel between the paternalistic and arrogant treatment the Québécois comrades were subjected to and the piggish, chauvinist disdain they themselves encountered, particularly from some comrades closely involved in the section’s work in recent years. The conference finally recognized the TOE as a full section of the ICL. The comrades had become a sympathizing section in 2004 through fighting for defense of the rights of oppressed national minorities in Greece and for women’s liberation in opposition to the blatant Greek chauvinism of the leader of their group at the time. The fact that the TOE was maintained as a sympathizing section for 13 years starkly exposes the patronizing policies of the I.S.
Like the Québécois comrades, the TOE was effectively treated as a youth group, with their unique political experience and high-caliber leadership capacities ignored. It took more than ten years to launch a newspaper in Greece. Propaganda is crucial for our intervention into this explosive society, which has one of the only mass Stalinist parties in the capitalist world. Our Greek comrades are a vital bridge to other countries of the Balkans and to the Near East, and an important counterweight to the pressures on our sections in the imperialist countries that dominate the European Union (EU).
The Grupo Espartaquista de México (GEM) was also treated in a condescending manner from its inception. More than 20 years ago, there was a sharp fight against the opportunist politics of the section’s dictatorial jefe, Negrete. Soon after, Negrete and his mentor, longtime Workers Vanguard editor Jan Norden, drew the organizational conclusion of their centrism and defected from the ICL to form the Internationalist Group. Perhaps the ugliest of the “ugly Americans,” Negrete had lorded it over the Mexican section during its first six years of existence. Despite him, in 1990 the section had fused with two former leaders of an opponent organization who each had more than a decade of experience in the workers movement. However, their wealth of experience was ignored, and these cadres were never truly integrated into our international leadership nor allowed to play much of a leadership role in Mexico. Even the GEM’s propaganda was largely written by Norden or Negrete.
After the GEM removed Negrete, the I.S. continued to treat the section as an appendage of the Spartacist League/U.S. (SL/U.S.). This was strikingly seen during the 1999 UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) strike, when the I.S. first argued against any sustained intervention and then denounced the GEM for “abstention.” The quintessential example of contempt, arrogance and outright chauvinism was the dissolution of the GEM Central Committee in 2007 ordered by the Wolkenstein regime, whose core members quit in 2010.
Until recently, similar problems marked the relationship of the I.S. to Spartacist/South Africa, which was also made a full ICL section at the conference. The conference document saluted the recent successful factional struggle our South African comrades waged against their historic leaders, who tried to ditch our central programmatic call for a black-centered workers government (see “The Fight for a South African Section of the ICL,” Spartacist South Africa supplement, April 2016). Against the misnamed “Leninist Faction,” our comrades formed the Faction for Trotskyist Continuity. Pointing to problems endemic to South African capitalism, their declaration of faction asserted:
“Only through the dictatorship of the proletariat is it possible to put an end to the national oppression of the black majority and overcome the racial, ethnic and tribal divisions among the non-white peoples.”
In a striking parallel with the TLC’s Maple Leaf chauvinism over Quebec, the Leninist Faction drew an equal sign between the nationalism of the oppressed black majority and the racist chauvinism of the white oppressors in South Africa, arguing that to differentiate between the two meant to conciliate black nationalism!
Help from the I.S. and the IEC during the factional struggle was crucial. But this intervention was in marked contrast to the previous treatment of the South African comrades, whose opinions were regularly belittled or ignored, particularly by American comrades. As comrade Bride, an I.S. leader, wrote nearly 20 years ago:
“Comrades who have transferred here from the West might reflect on the fact that our South African members have all too much experience in being lorded over by the European-derived ruling class of this country. If we allow even a hint of the inegalitarianism of capitalist society to manifest itself in the relations among comrades in our party, we are in deep trouble.”
Later, imperial arrogance was also a mark of the regime of Wolkenstein, who openly derided the capacities of the leaders of our South African section. Arguing that they did not understand the character of the ruling Tripartite Alliance, she put a stop to their producing propaganda on the question, entrusting this task instead to her favored I.S. agents.
Regarding our U.S. section, the conference document reaffirmed the perspective of building a party whose membership, and leadership, is 70 percent black, Latino and other minorities. The call for a 70 percent black party was originally an internal polemic against comrades who flinched from the struggle to recruit black workers and youth in the 1970s and early ’80s. Fundamentally, this is not a matter of a slogan but a statement of our commitment to the recruitment and consolidation of a black Trotskyist leadership. The conference reaffirmed our revolutionary-integrationist program elaborated in a founding document of the SL/U.S., “Black and Red—Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom” (Spartacist No. 10, May-June 1967), which stated:
“Our immediate goal is to develop a black Trotskyist cadre. We aim not only to recruit Negro members—a short-cut to the working class in this period—but to develop these black workers into Trotskyist cadres who will carry a leadership role in organizing the black masses, within the League itself, and elsewhere.”
To develop leading black cadres in a country defined by intense racial hatred, rooted in the forcible segregation of the majority of the black population at the bottom of society, requires an ongoing, high level of consciousness. This means paying particular attention to the relentless pressure and abuse our black comrades face, including from sanctimonious white liberals. Instead, our precious core of black comrades was often used as figureheads in opportunist campaigns by previous leaderships. Two examples were the “Great Leap Forward”—an illusory campaign to recruit young black workers after a united-front action against the fascist Ku Klux Klan in New York City in 1999—and the ceaseless push to “revitalize” a nonexistent mass movement to free class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Reforge the Fourth International!
In this issue we are also printing a motion passed by the conference delegates correcting our articles on the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war, which falsely asserted that the struggle for Bangladeshi independence had been subordinated to the intervention of the Indian military (see page 27). The conference also endorsed a motion passed by the Spartacist League of Australia re-establishing the call for independence for West Papua from Indonesian rule and reiterating the demands: “Indonesian troops out now! Australia hands off!” Pointing to a 2011 miners strike that galvanized support from West Papuan independence fighters, the motion concluded:
“This illustrates our perspective of linking the emancipation of the deeply exploited working class of the archipelago with the struggles of its minority peoples, and the necessity of linking the fight for workers revolution in Indonesia with the fight for workers revolution in the advanced imperialist countries.”
The key cadre who worked on the conference document made effective use of the wealth of resources at the Prometheus Research Library (the central reference archives of the Central Committee of the SL/U.S.). Their intense research and discussions at the PRL reaffirmed the importance of the library as a Marxist working facility. Its holdings both preserve the dearly bought lessons of the past and serve as weapons in the struggle of new generations of communist leaders. The library’s precious material in various languages, like Hindi and Bengali, should be utilized for extending our International.
The conference also undertook to make the editorial boards of our quadrilingual international theoretical journal, Spartacist, into real political bodies with their own deliberations and decisions on content, and not merely translation bureaus of the English-language edition. Thus, the French edition of this issue has been published before the English edition. The French edition has particular importance for the ICL in Quebec, where publicly correcting our previous Anglo-chauvinist line is essential to pursuing our work, not least the launching of our Québécois publication, République ouvrière.
Since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, the ICL has faced repeated struggles to maintain our revolutionary continuity against a series of opportunist leaderships. Responding to comrades who place the primary blame for our problems on the pressures of the unfavorable reality that we have confronted, one leading Québécois comrade argued:
“The objective pressures on us are daunting, but this is not an excuse to abandon our purpose. It would be objectivist and determinist to think that the subjective factor cannot change reality and cannot overcome the pressures of bourgeois society. The role of leadership and of the party as a whole is to cut across these pressures and apply a Marxist program to reality....
“The political environment is not getting any better for us. The task of the upcoming conference is to elect a leadership that will be the most capable of confronting the challenges ahead with a Trotskyist program. We have no guarantee of success, but we have a chance. However, we cannot correct our course if we do not confront our past face on. This is the only way we can defend our continuity.”
That continuity has been not only preserved but also replenished through this struggle, which was a reassertion of the necessity of a proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist party. The singing of the “Internationale” at the conclusion of the conference provided a small but vital expression of our purpose. Led in French by a Quebec comrade, it was sung in Punjabi, Catalan, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, German, Polish, Italian, English and other languages. In microcosm, it made palpable the resounding chorus: “The international soviet shall be the human race!”