Polemic with IBRP: The consequences of an opportunist policy of regroupment

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The regroupment of revolutionaries, the unification of the proletariat’s political forces around the positions of the communist left must, in order to be successful, proceed at every stage according to the needs of the long term interests of the proletariat as a whole, rather than the particular or competitive interests of one group against another to the detriment of the whole movement and its future.  The history of the Communist Workers Organisation and the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (of which the CWO is the ‘British Affiliate’) is the negative proof of this fact. The opportunist regroupment policy of the IBRP has reached a new low with the recent support given by the IBRP to the parasitic group the ‘Internal Fraction of the ICC’ and its anti-communist behaviour against the ICC (slanders, theft, etc)1. This was illustrated in the support of both these organisations for the slanders of the completely bogus Argentine group ‘Circulo des Comunistas Internacionalistas’ against the ICC in October 2004.2 This opportunist adventure with the Circulo ended in another fiasco for the IBRP. The lessons must be drawn by all revolutionaries today. As a contribution to this effort the following article will try to show how this opportunist regroupment policy has followed a pattern over the past thirty years. It has particular interest for revolutionaries in Britain.

The difficult birth of the CWO

Following an appeal launched in November 1972 by the American group Internationalism a series of meetings was organised between several groups which reclaimed the tradition of the communist left. The most regular participants of these meetings were Revolution Internationale from France and three groups based in Britain, World Revolution, Revolutionary Perspectives and Workers’ Voice. WR and RP came from splits in Solidarity which was based on anarcho-councilist positions. WV was a small group of workers from Liverpool who had broken with Trotskyism a short while before. Following these discussions the three British groups came to positions close to those of Revolution Internationale and Internationalism (around which the ICC was constituted the following year). However, the process of unification of these three groups ended in failure. On the one hand the elements of Workers’ Voice decided to break with World Revolution. The latter had retained semi-councilist positions on the 1917 revolution in Russia: it considered that it was a proletarian revolution but that the Bolshevik Party was bourgeois, a position of which it had convinced the comrades of WV. And when WR, at the time of the meeting in January 1974, rejected these last remnants of councilism and rallied to the position of Revolution Internationale these comrades felt ‘betrayed’ and developed a great hostility to those in WR (whom it accused of ‘capitulating to RI’). This led them to publish a ‘Statement’ in November 1974 defining the groups who were going to form the ICC shortly after as “counter-revolutionaries”3. For its part, RP demanded to be integrated into the ICC as a ‘tendency’ with its own platform (to the extent that there were still differences between it and the ICC). We responded that our approach was not to integrate ‘tendencies’ as such, each with its own platform, even if we consider that there can be differences on secondary aspects of the programmatic documents within the organisation. We did not shut the door on discussion with RP but this group began to distance itself from the ICC. An attempted ‘alternative’ international regroupment to the ICC, with WV, the French group ‘Pour une Intervention Communiste’ (PIC) and the ‘Revolutionary Workers’ Group’ (RWG) of Chicago was short-lived. The only question which brought these four groups together was their growing hostility to the ICC. Finally, however, there was the regroupment between RP and WV in Britain (September 1975) to constitute the ‘Communist Workers’ Organisation” (CWO). RP had to pay a price for this unification: its militants had to accept the position of WV that the ICC was ‘counter-revolutionary’. It was a position they maintained for some time, even after the departure from the CWO, one year later, of the old members of WV who particularly reproached those of RP for their … intolerance of other groups!4 

It was only much later, when the CWO had started to discuss with the Partito Comunista Internazionalista of Italy (Battaglia Comunista) that it renounced the view that the ICC is ‘counter-revolutionary’ (if it had maintained its previous criteria it would also have had to consider BC an organisation of the bourgeoisie!).

So, the birth of the CWO was marked by the fact that the ICC did not accept the demand for RP to be integrated into our organisation with its own platform. These ‘birth marks’ finally led to the formation of the IBRP in 1984: the CWO could at last participate in an international regroupment after its previous failures.

The disappointment with the SUCM

The process which led to the formation of the IBRP was marked by the sort of approach where those ‘disenchanted with the ICC’ turned towards the IBRP. We will not go into the three conferences of the groups of the communist left which were held between 1977 and 1980 following an appeal from BC in April 1976: readers can refer to a new article on the conferences in International Review 122. In particular our press has often stressed that BC and the CWO deliberately scuttled this effort in a totally irresponsible way, solely for petty sectarian reasons, by hastily calling for a vote at the end of the 3rd conference on the question of the role and function of the party as a supplementary criterion. This was specifically aimed at the exclusion of the ICC from future conferences.  The 1982 ‘conference’ brought together, apart from BC and the CWO, the “Supporters of the Unity of Communist Militants” (SUCM) a group of Iranian students mainly based in Britain. The ICC had concluded that this was a leftist group coming from Maoism, despite their declarations of agreement with the communist left. The SUCM then turned to the CWO which did not take account of the warnings against this group from our comrades in the section in Britain. In fact, all the other ‘forces’ that the CWO-BC tandem had ‘selected’ for invitation (according to the term used by BC) deserted: whether because they could not come, as was the case for ‘Kommunistische Politik’ from Austria or L’Eveil Internationalist, or because they had disappeared by the time of the ‘Conference’ as was the case for two American groups, ‘Marxist Worker’ and ‘Wildcat’. Bizarrely, the latter, despite its councilism, was considered as an entrant according to the ‘criteria’ decreed by BC and the CWO.

The flirtation with the SUCM was not pursued for long, not due to the lucidity of the comrades of BC and the CWO but simply because this leftist group, which could not hide its real nature for ever, ended up integrating itself into the Communist Party of Iran, a radical Stalinist organisation formed from a fusion between the Iranian UCM and the Kurdish ‘peshmergas’ of Komala.

As for the conferences of the communist left, BC and the CWO did not call any others, preferring to avoid the ridicule of a new fiasco.

The doomed love between the CBG and the CWO

Our press has carried several articles about the Communist Bulletin Group5. This tiny parasitic group was made up of former members of the ICC who left in 1981 with the theft of material and money from our organisation; its sole reason for existence was to throw mud at our organisation. At the end of 1983 this group had responded favourably to an ‘Address to proletarian political groups’ adopted by the 5th ICC Congress. However, it made not the slightest critique of its thuggish behaviour. We thus wrote in reply “Until the fundamental question of the defence of the political organisations of the proletariat is understood, we are obliged to consider the CBG’s letter as null and void. They got the wrong Address.

Probably disappointed that the ICC had repulsed their advances, and visibly suffering from isolation, the CBG turned towards the CWO. A meeting was held in Edinburgh in December 1992 following a “practical collaboration between members of the CWO and the CBG”. “A large number of misunderstandings have been clarified on both sides. It has therefore been decided to make the practical co-operation more formal. An agreement has been written that the CWO as a whole should ratify in January (after which a complete report will be published) and which includes the following points…” There follows a list of different agreements for collaboration and especially: “The two groups will discuss a proposed ‘popular platform’ prepared by a comrade of the CWO as a tool for intervention” (Workers’ Voice 64, January-February 1996).

Apparently this flirtation was not continued for we have never heard any more on the collaboration of the CBG and the CWO. Nor have we ever read anything explaining why this collaboration came to nothing.

Setbacks for the IBRP in India

In the 1980s, the IBRP began to argue that conditions in the countries of the periphery “make mass communist organisations possible” (Communist Review 3), which obviously supposes that it is more easy to create them there than in the central countries of capitalism. The abortive flirtation of the IBRP with the SUCM was therefore particularly disappointing. The IBRP’s discussions with the Lal Pataka group in India provided no relief. This was a group of Indian nationalist extraction which, like the SUCM, had not really broken from its origins despite the sympathies that it expressed for the positions of the communist left. The IBRP rejected the warnings of the ICC against this group (which ultimately was reduced to just one element). For some time Lal Pataka was presented as the constituent part of the IBRP in India, but, in 1991, this name disappeared from the pages of the press of the IBRP, to be replaced by that of the group Kamunist Kranti formed by an element who had previously been in discussion with the ICC. The IBRP announced: “We hope that in the future productive relations will be established between the International Bureau and Kamunist Kranti . But these hopes were soon dashed because, two years later, you could read in Communist Review 11: “It is a tragedy that, despite the existence of promising elements, there doesn’t yet exist a solid nucleus of Indian communists”. Effectively Kamunist Kranti disappeared from circulation. There still exists a small communist nucleus in India, that publishes Communist Internationalist, but it is part of the ICC and the IBRP “forgets” to make any reference to it.

The “Los Angeles Workers’ Voice” adventure

This group was made up of elements who had taken classes in Maoism (of the pro-Albanian variety). We had discussions with these elements for a long period but we noted their inability to overcome their leftist confusions. Also, when in the mid-1990s this small group got close to the IBRP we warned them against the confusions of the LAWV. The IBRP took this warning very badly, thinking that we didn’t want it to develop a political presence in North America. For several years the LAWV was a sympathising group of the IBRP in the United States, and in April 2000 it participated in Montreal, Canada, in a conference intended to strengthen the political presence of the IBRP in North America. However, a short time after, the Los Angeles elements began to express their disagreements on a whole series of questions, adopting a more and more anarchist vision (rejection of centralisation, depiction of the Bolsheviks as a bourgeois party, etc). But above all it began pouring out sordid slanders against the IBRP and particularly against another American sympathiser of this organisation, AS, who lived in another state. Our press in the US denounced the behaviour of the LAWV elements and expressed its solidarity with the slandered militants.6 It’s for this reason that we thought it useful at that time to recall the warnings that we had made to the IBRP at the beginning of its idyll with the LAWV.

The IBRP’s speciality: political abortion

One can only be fascinated by the repetition of the phenomenon where elements who are “disenchanted with the ICC” later turn towards the IBRP. Perhaps after having understood that the positions of the ICC are erroneous, these elements turn to the correctness and clarity of the IBRP?  The problem is that all the groups mentioned here have disappeared or, like the SUCM, returned to the ranks of bourgeois organisations. The IBRP must ask itself why, and it would be interesting if it could produce a balance sheet of its experiences for the working class.

Quite obviously, what animates the approach of these groups is not the search for clarity that they’ve not found in the ICC, seeing that they ended up abandoning communist militancy. The facts have amply demonstrated that their distancing from the ICC corresponds fundamentally to a distancing from the programmatic clarity and the method of the communist left, most often ending in a rejection of the demands of militancy within this current. In reality their ephemeral flirtation with the IBRP is only one step before their abandonment of combat in the ranks of the proletariat. The question is posed then: why has the IBRP been drawn into such a trajectory? To this question there is a fundamental answer: the IBRP defends an opportunist method on the regroupment of revolutionaries.

It is this opportunism of the IBRP that allows elements that refuse to make a complete break with their leftist past to find a temporary “refuge”, allowing them to think, or to say, that they are still engaged in the communist left. The IBRP, particularly since the 3rd Conference of the Groups of the Communist Left, has not stopped insisting on the necessity for a “rigorous selection” in the proletarian milieu. But, in reality, this selection is one way: it says that the ICC is no longer “ a valid force in the perspective for the future world party of the proletariat” and that it “can’t be considered by us [the IBRP] as a valid partner in defining any kind of unity of action” (response to our appeal of the 11 February 2003 addressed to groups of the communist left for a common intervention on the war in Iraq and published in International Review 113). Consequently it is out of the question for the IBRP to establish the least cooperation with the ICC, even for a common declaration of the internationalist camp in the face of imperialist war. However, this great rigour is not exercised in other directions, and notably towards groups that have nothing to do with the communist left, when they are not leftist groups pure and simple.

The counterpart of this opportunism of the IBRP is the indulgence that it shows towards elements hostile to our organisation. As we have seen at the beginning of this article, one of the bases for the constitution of the CWO in Britain was not only the desire to maintain its own “individuality” (RP’s demand to be integrated into the ICC as a “tendency” with its own platform) but as a means of opposing the ICC (considered at one time as “counter-revolutionary”). More precisely, the attitude of the Workers Voice elements in the CWO - consisting, as we have seen above, in “using RP as a shield against the ICC” -  is found with a lot of other elements and groups where the principle motivation is hostility towards the ICC. This was the case with the parasitic CBG, with whom the CWO engaged in a short-lived flirtation: the level of their sordid denigrations of the ICC has not been rivalled until recently with the IFICC and the ‘Circulo’.

Adapted from International Review 121


1 See the article on our website in response to the IBRP: ‘Theft and slander are not methods of the working class’.

2 See our website for the different ICC texts on the ‘Circulo’: ‘A strange apparition’; ‘A new strange apparition’; ‘Imposture or reality’ and also in our territorial press: ‘Circulo de Comunistas Internacionalistas’ (Argentina): An impostor unmasked’. The Circulo claimed that it was the successor to the group Nucleo Comunista Internacionalista, which had been developing fraternal relations with the ICC. In fact, the NCI’s alleged ‘break’ with the ICC was a fabrication concocted by a single member of the NCI, behind the backs of the rest of the group. This was clearly demonstrated when the NCI published a declaration on 27 October 2004 denouncing the actions of the ‘Circulo’ (see our website). The ICC strongly criticised the IBRP for publishing the slanders of the Circulo without verifying them or even establishing whether the Circulo really existed. We asked the IBRP to publish a disclaimer by the ICC on its website, which it did, and also the declaration of the NCI, which it did not. At a recent ICC forum in London, a comrade of the CWO acknowledged that it had been a mistake to publish unverified attacks by the Circulo on the ICC. We can only encourage the IBRP to take further steps in this direction – for example, by accepting that it was also a mistake not to have published the NCI’s statement and for Battaglia’s website to maintain, to this day, a link with the website of the non-existent Circulo.

3 See Workers’ Voice 13, to which we responded in International Review 2 as well as our article ‘Sectarianism unlimited’ in World Revolution 3.

4 When the CWO was constituted we called it an “incomplete regroupment” (see World Revolution 5). The facts very rapidly confirmed this analysis: in the minutes of a meeting of the CWO to examine the departure of the elements from Liverpool, it is written “It was felt that the old WV had never accepted the politics of the fusion, rather they had used RP as a shield against the ICC” (quoted in ‘The CWO; past, present and future’, text of the elements who left the CWO in November 1977 to join the ICC, published in International Review 12).

5 See particularly ‘In answer to the replies’, International Review 36.

6 See our article ‘Defence of the revolutionary milieu’ in Internationalism 122 (summer 2002).