Questions from comrade Link and some replies

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This critique was one of two originally posted on our online forum by comrade Link. Because of the importance of the issues raised, both the for the ICC and the wider communist movement, we decided to reply on a more formal basis.

The original forum posts can be found here and here.


First of all I must say that I am very surprised that the very important text in IR 156 from January 2016 still has not prompted responses from comrades.  These documents are significant signposts for the future of the ICC yet have neither been applauded nor criticised - just ignored.

I would like to applaud the approach of self-criticism in preparing the balance sheets contained in the latest IR In particular, the identification of an underestimation the capacity of capitalism to maintain itself,  globalisation and the restructuring of the working class, some limited recognition of the weakness of Luxemburg markets theory and responses to elongated period of decline in working class struggles since wave of period  60s to 80s.

I would criticise the text in IR however as a balance sheet that lacks incisiveness and is too keen to self congratulate itself. In saying that I do recognise the major contributions that the ICC has made on issues such as decadence,  the historic course, the working class movement  and more generally on the body of work and the range of issues raised for discussion in the workers movement.    There has been a growing tendency nevertheless to prepare overlong texts on organisational and behavioural issues, and self-analysis that just tend to disguise weaknesses, obscure issues and self justify.  Frankly I’m left with the impression that the concern demonstrated is for ICC militants not today’s working class movement as a whole.

I would like to put forward some obvious questions that the texts avoid:

1            Why the ICC has all these periodic internal confrontations?

2            Why no critical analysis if the ICCs approach to internal discussion?  Yes I’m happy to reject the extreme criticisms of Stalinism but it is still the case that internal discussion has been criticised from many quarters.   Has the ICCs approach, this determination to reach a conclusion and the determination to make swingeing criticisms of others contributed to these breakups?

3            Has orientation of international organisation in distinction to federal approach been successful?  The approach was identified uncritically in the texts but given that the oranisation has given up on being a pole of international regroupment and appears to be withdrawing from intervention in favour of a fraction’s role of  analysing past events.  Why shouldn’t this approach be questioned through a serious discussion?   If the new period changes the focus of militant activity should it not also change the organisational structure?

4            Why have obvious points of political disagreements over the past 40 years not been addressed in the balance sheets? i.e.  left as natural party of opposition, 80s as years of truth, parasitism, Decomposition and the idea that we are in the final phase of caitalism, an increasingly problematic understanding of the historic course, economic analysis and problems with Luxemburg’s analysis of role of extra- capitalist markets.

5            Why is there such an  inability to provide clarity in the explanations of certain issues?  The ICC does not appear to be able to produce definitive statements on what it thinks on proletarian morality, proletarian culture and centrism and the new role as a fraction appears now to join that list (it’s certainly not clear to me from the text).

6            Why has there not been a real attempt to draw a balance sheet of the period of the past 8 years of crisis in the ICC?  This has been the explanation for withdrawing from public interventions and reducing publications so, was it crisis and has it been resolved or was it actually just the start of this new practice?  Is it continuing or is it over.

7            How have these issues/weaknesses affected ICC political analysis in the recent period?   I am particularly interested to hear how early, major criticisms of CWO and IFICC relating to their alleged adoption of academicism and rejection of intervention and lack of understanding of historic course, can be squared with the ICC’s new approach. The ICC has adopted what it was criticising these organisations for yet has not either revised criticisms nor apologised.

Link (14/7/2016)


WR Reply

Thank you very much for your comments and questions posted on the ICC online forum about the critical balance sheet of 40 years of the ICC from International Review (IR) 156[1]. As we indicated to you then we needed more time and reflection to give your questions the answers they deserve. In order to do so in a little depth we won’t take up all the questions in one go - there are a lot - but in installments, with this first reply answering mainly the first two questions of your first post above, leaving the other questions on the fraction from the first and second post to a later date. We hope that the answers we give to your questions will not be seen as our last word on the subject but as only the beginning of a discussion with you.

In recognising the importance and seriousness of this self-critique by the ICC you firstly express your surprise that there has been no public response to it from comrades.  By this we assume you refer to the wider milieu of groups and individuals sharing the general internationalist communist left tradition with the ICC. In answer to this point it was said on the ICC forum in reply that there had been an initial reaction to the critical balance sheet from one of our contacts on the ICC forum. We have also had responses from other contacts verbally or by email. But as far as the proletarian milieu as a whole is concerned we have hardly seen any public reaction. Your surprise is understandable, since the fate of the ICC, a significant organisation of the communist left for the past 40 years, is surely of concern for those who espouse the politics of the communist left, even if they disagree with many of our political positions and analyses. More: one would think surely that many of those who disagree with the ICC on whatever question would want to express themselves publicly on the subject as you have done.

While from this political point of view the silence about our self-critique is surprising and regrettable, from the vantage point of the past four decades, such indifference has not been that unusual. Ever since the re-emergence of the left communist milieu internationally since the end of the sixties, it has lacked a significant sense of common purpose which, if it had been pursued, despite the disagreements within it, would have strengthened this whole milieu and accelerated its internationalist impact on the working class much more than it actually has. In hindsight the three Conferences of Groups of the Communist Left in the late seventies which had the goal of confronting these often profound disagreements at the necessary theoretical and political level, and making common public statements on vital current questions facing the working class, were a high water mark. The collapse of these Conferences at the end of the decade has led to a long period of dispersal of the left communist milieu – even if polemics and other limited instances of mutual collaboration have sometimes occurred.  The emergence of the phenomenon of political parasitism in 1981 has tended to further exacerbate the atomisation of the left communist milieu and reduce the solidarity between its individuals and groups . The low morale of the left communist  milieu in general may help to explain the background to the dearth of response to the 40 year self-critique of the ICC.

In respect of this lack of an effective forum of debate for the whole of the internationalist milieu over the past 40 years, some of your questions seem however to imply that in-depth critiques of our politics and analyses have already been developed within this milieu. But for us it is precisely such profound critiques that are mostly lacking and which still need to be elaborated and deepened. We will point to these below in answer to your questions.

While applauding the self-critique in general you feel that it doesn’t go far enough and that it avoids key questions which need answers.

“I would like to put forward some obvious questions that the texts avoid:

1 Why the ICC has all these periodic internal confrontations?

2  Why no critical analysis if the ICC’s approach to internal discussion?  Yes I’m happy to reject the extreme criticisms of Stalinism but it is still the case that internal discussion has been criticised from many quarters.   Has the ICC’s approach, this determination to reach a conclusion and the determination to make swingeing criticisms of others contributed to these breakups?”

As you note the 40 year balance sheet is not complete but rather at the beginning and doesn’t provide a detailed history of our method of debate nor of the different splits in the ICC over this period and whether they could have been avoided by a better method. We haven’t avoided the question though, but so far only concentrated on some key questions like that of the fraction, because the latter is closely related to the fundamental issue of whether we have carried out our initial conception of our own role, and the question of the accuracy of our analyses of the world situation and our consequent intervention.

At the moment we are not yet in a position to present a detailed history of our mistakes made in our internal debates nor the extent to which these errors may have contributed unnecessarily to the break ups. And your questions on this matter of internal discussion aren’t very specific. So we can only here try to put this question of marxist debate in the ICC, which of course is not Stalinist, in a wider context.

You commend us for the major contributions of the ICC.

“….I do recognise the major contributions that the ICC has made on issues such as decadence, the historic course, the working class movement and more generally on the body of work and the range of issues raised for discussion in the workers movement.”

The politics of the ICC, its class principles or lines of demarcation of the working class from the bourgeoisie, its analysis of the trajectory of the capitalist mode of production, its marxist method and its organisational principles, are all the product of a tradition of stormy debates in the revolutionary movement that stretches back over a century and a half.

The general conceptions of marxism for example would not exist without the blistering polemics of Marx and Engels against the Left Hegelians in their books the Holy Family and the German Ideology, or the scathing critiques directed against Proudhon’s anarchism and Dühring’s positivism.

The specific tradition of the Communist Left would not be conceivable without the fierce and repeated polemics of Lenin and Luxemburg against the renegade Kautsky concerning the opportunism and betrayal of internationalism by the German Social Democracy, nor a few years later on without the unrelenting criticism of the likes of Herman Gorter and Amadeo Bordiga against the growing opportunism of the Third International.

At the time that it was founded the Italian Communist Party, animated by the leadership of the Left and of Bordiga, was always an ‘enfant terrible’ in the Communist International. Refusing to submit a priori to the absolute authority of leaders — even those it held in the greatest regard - the Italian CP insisted on freely discussing and, if necessary, fighting against any political position it didn’t agree with. As soon as the CI was formed, Bordiga’s fraction was in opposition on many points and openly expressed its disagreements with Lenin and other leaders of the Bolshevik party, the Russian revolution, and the CI. The debates between Lenin and Bordiga at the Second Congress are well known. At this time nobody thought about questioning this right to free discussion; no one saw it as an insult to the authority of the ‘leaders’. Perhaps men as feeble and servile as Cachin believed in their heart of hearts that this was scandalous, but they wouldn’t have dared to admit it. Moreover, discussion wasn’t seen simply as a right but as a duty; the confrontation and study of ideas were the only way of elaborating the programmatic and political positions required for revolutionary action”. IR 33 ‘Against the concept of the “brilliant leader”’[2].

The ICC in particular would not exist without the confrontation of ideas with both councilism and Bordigism by the Gauche Communiste de France in the 40s and 50s.

Of course all these polemics were accompanied by very profound study and reflection.  Painstaking marxist research has usually been stimulated by the intensive confrontation of ideas in the revolutionary movement.

In the history of the ICC itself the principles and analyses that it has developed from the heritage of the past have required the debating of differences. Most of which have not led to splits. The debates on the state in the period of transition, which were not merely internal but also conducted with other groups, or the debates on the reasons for the decadence of capitalism, were both confrontations of important differences that didn’t lead to a separation and in fact are still ongoing. Likewise the development of positions on the proletarian political milieu, on terror, terrorism and class violence, on the critique of the theory of the weak link, on centrism towards councilism, on the theses on parasitism and on the period of the social decomposition of capitalism were all elaborated in our press after extensive debate. In the last decade the International Review has seen the publication of orientation texts on Confidence and Solidarity, Marxism and Ethics and on the Culture of Debate, which were also the object of intense argument within the organisation. While these latter texts, due to the nature of their subject matter, are not final statements they nevertheless constitute in the organisation’s view a valid framework for our approach on these questions and entirely consistent with our marxist method and organisational principles.

All these debates in the history of the ICC which involved, as you might say, ‘swingeing’ criticism, and the desire to reach a conclusion – to see the discussion through to the end – didn’t of themselves lead to organisational break ups.

The decisive reasons that explain the various splits in the organisation, rather than being a result of the debates on general political questions that we mention above, were more  to do with political and theoretical questions of organisational principle, in particular that of the primacy of the unity and solidarity of the organisation as a whole against the attempt to assert  (often in grotesque ways) the sovereignty of the separate interests of individuals or groups within it. The difficulty for the new generations of revolutionaries since 1968 to understand or accept this principle and its implications, which is at the heart of the question of proletarian morality among revolutionaries, has been a common feature of the splits in the ICC. Yet without the acquisition, defence and explanation of this principle there would be no tradition of organised marxist debate within the revolutionary movement. If for example there had been no defence of organisational principles by the ICC in 1981 against the thefts of the Chenier Tendency or the gangsterism and informing of the ‘Internal Fraction of  the ICC’  twenty years later, then there would be no organisational basis for the subsequent theoretical contributions that you recognise. The need to remain united in spite of differences and disagreements is obviously an existential question.

We can also suggest that the same principle of ‘freedom of discussion, unity in action’ remains a difficult one for the internationalist milieu as a whole to understand and not just the ICC.

We won’t speculate here to what extent the mistakes the ICC made in dealing with this question contributed to the schisms. The important thing to recognise here is that matters of organisational life or death were involved.

It should also be noted that after these break-ups, the ICC was not satisfied with the fact that the dissenters had left – far from it – but attempted to draw out the details and lessons of the splits, their origins and their connection to more general weaknesses in the organisation. And it made these findings public.

After the Chenier crisis for example there were significant elaborations in the International Review of our conception of the functioning and function of revolutionary organisation which had been forgotten or not fully understood in the ICC in the lead up to this crisis.

After the crisis of 1995 a series of six articles were published in the International Review (82-88) on the contemporary significance and relevance of the Hague Conference of the Ist International involving the split between the marxists and Bakuninists.

In light of the theoretical dispersal or indifference of the internationalist milieu that we noted earlier in relation to the ICC’s 40 year self-critique, it is nevertheless remarkable that all these crises in the ICC and the extensive publication of the details and general theoretical lessons from them have not led to a serious and intensive theoretical and political debate within this milieu about them.

To tentatively conclude this reply to your first two questions: in explaining the splits in the ICC and the dispersion of the Communist Left milieu it is necessary to take into account the profound difficulty today’s revolutionaries find in pursuing the confrontation of differences within a unitary framework. 

Some short answers to some of your other points:

“I would criticise the text in IR however as a balance sheet that lacks incisiveness and is too keen to self congratulate itself….

There has been a growing tendency nevertheless to prepare overlong texts on organisational and behavioural issues, and self- analysis that just tend to disguise weaknesses, obscure issues and self justify.  Frankly I’m left with the impression that the concern demonstrated is for ICC militants not today’s working class movement as a whole”

While recognising this is your opinion we do not share it and would like to hear more of your argumentation and evidence for these views in order to answer them usefully.

“3            Has orientation of international organisation in distinction to federal approach been successful?  The approach was identified uncritically in the texts but given that the org has given up on being a pole of international regroupment and appears to be withdrawing from intervention in favour of a fraction’s role of  analysing past events.  Why shouldn’t this approach be questioned through a serious discussion?   If the new period changes the focus of militant activity should it not also change the organisational structure?”

In a second article, we shall take up this question in relation to that of the fraction. For the moment: we haven’t given up on being a pole of international regroupment or on carrying out a communist intervention.

“4            Why have obvious points of political disagreements over the past 40 years not been addressed in the balance sheets? i.e.,  left as natural party of opposition, 80s as years of truth, parasitism, Decomposition and the idea that we are in the final phase of capitalism, an increasingly problematic understanding of the historic course, economic analysis and problems with Luxemburg’s analysis of role of extra- capitalist markets.”

Please point more specifically to where the political/theoretical disagreements with all these analyses, that you think we should address, have been made. Or elaborate your own position on them a bit more.

“5            Why is there such an inability to provide clarity in the explanations of certain issues?  The ICC does not appear to be able to produce definitive statements on what it thinks on proletarian morality, proletarian culture and centrism and the new role as a fraction appears now to join that list (it’s certainly not clear to me from the text).”

See IR 127 and 128 on Marxism and Ethics. IR 111 and 112 on Confidence and Solidarity, IR131 on the Culture of Debate. And IR 43 on centrism. In order to answer your question we need a bit more explanation of why you think these statements are unclear.

“6            Why has there not been a real attempt to draw a balance sheet of the period of the past 8 years of crisis in the ICC?  This has been the explanation for withdrawing from public interventions and reducing publications so, was it crisis and has it been resolved or was it actually just the start of this new practice?  Is it continuing or is it over.”

IR’s 154 and 156 already give some serious answers to the explanation of the most recent crisis in the ICC. The 40 year balance sheet is part of this explanation which is ongoing. On intervention and the press, we will take that up more in our reply on the fraction.

“7            How have these issues/weaknesses affected ICC political analysis in the recent period?   I am particularly interested to hear how early, major criticisms of CWO and IFICC relating to their alleged adoption of academicism and rejection of intervention and lack of understanding of historic course, can be squared with the ICC’s new approach. The ICC has adopted what it was criticising these organisations for yet has not either revised criticisms nor apologized”.

You will have to explain more why you think the ICC has ‘adopted’ academicism and rejected intervention, and where you think we made those criticisms of the CWO, so we can answer more precisely. We don’t consider the IFICC as part of the revolutionary milieu.

Looking forward to your reply to all or part of the above while we work on an answer to your questions about the fraction, in the belief that such a discussion between us is a contribution to fulfilling the tasks of revolutionaries in the working class. 

WR, 8.10.16



[1]. http://en.internationalism.org/forum/1056/link/14012/40-years-after-foundation-icc

 

[2]. http://en.internationalism.org/ir/033/concept-of-brilliant-leader