Marxism or Idealism - Our Differences with the ICC

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Marxism or Idealism - Our Differences with the ICC
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I realise some ICC comrades have already responded to the above article briefly on the leftcom site but there have been a few further comments since. My own comments were under the name 'proletarian' which I would appreciate someone responding to. I will reiterate here no matter what theoretical differences there are between Left Communists including the former IBRP and ex-ICC comrades etc matters should be approached and discussed in documents and on-line ( for example) by all in a comradely manner. Despite what some ex-ICC comrades, Left Communists and others say I get the impression and it is my opinion through reading discussions on Libcom regarding the IBRP and in texts etc that the criticisms (non-theoretical ones mostly)) in the main against the ICC come across more from the people themselves and not the ICC! I am talking about manner of discussions, misrepresenting what people say/do, slander, childishness etc. It really does put people off furthering an interest in Left Communism and ALL the organisations.

Thanks for making that link

 The publication of the ICT's article has clearly provoked a lot of discussion, and a lot of people who are in neither organisation have expressed their concerns  - on the ICT's forum and now here -  about the poor state of relations between the two organisations. It's important that we reflect on this and respond in a considered way to the ICT's text, but we will certainly respond to your request for feedback about your own comments.  

Red Hughs

"We find ourselves in the imperialist epoch of capitalism, the epoch of wars and revolutions. In this, the end of the accumulation cycle brings two distinct but interconnected alternatives with itself: war or revolution. Whether it comes to war or revolution depends on the relation of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The precise understanding of this relation of forces is essential for the activity of revolutionaries. This requires thorough-going analysis to avoid falling into black-and-white thinking and schematicism. In no case can it be a question of a revolutionary organisation playing Nostradamus and building its politics on abstract predictions. But it is precisely this error that the ICC makes with its concept of the “historical course”. Here, it is a matter of a borrowed (from the old GCF) either-or schema, according to which the historic period must be stamped either revolutionary or counter-revolutionary on the basis of abstract observations of the conditions of the working class."

OK, I've been an "observer" of the "organized" communist left for 20-30 years though not a serious member of anything in that time.

The ICC been absurd, pathetic and/or "wooden" at various times during my passive "observation".

At the same time, having actually seen ALF and others, in the last 10 years make a serious effort openning dialog with both other tendencies and the proletariat at large, I feel relatively impressed.

In the modern era of the decomposition of capital, we beginning at a depressingly low level of personal relations at every level. We can all plead guilty to being a part of the impoverished relations engendered by modern capitalism and the sooner, the better.

All that said, I would like to get back to the passage above and point out that it, itself, outlines a "schematic duality" in its first sentence, before going on to criticize such things. Now, I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the "war or revolution", though I tend to think capital is demonstrating that "war or decomposition" is a more appropriate contrast. Still, what does one call the situation of Northern Mexico? War or decomposition? This may be a matter of interpretation.

But in a larger point I'd to make is that the Left Communist position inherently, necessarily and correctly involves a certain kind of "duality" - in the sense of drawing a line, of saying "either X or Y", "leftism or communism", etc. AND it is entirely correct to say one must be very cautius in locating that line. It is a fine balancing act. With all the folks who are on your side of the line, you want honest, open dialog. With the folks on the other side, "not so much"(to abuse the current phrase). Our "fundamental task" is "drawing a line" but doing that drawing in such a way that we extricate ourselves from the social decomposition and general insanity which permeates the current world. A tricky challenge and one that I think it's become clear that we must face collectively.

So... The ICC seeks International regroupment, Internationalist Perspectives seeks international regroupment, the discussion of international groupment seems good to me. 

I see the basese of international regroupment as:

1) Open, public dialog

2) Understanding the current historical trajectory

I go over this reasoning in a little more detail at:

And if I had more time and energy, I'd flesh this all out slightly more...

Red Hughes said: In the

Red Hughes said: In the modern era of the decomposition of capital, we beginning at a depressingly low level of personal relations at every level. We can all plead guilty to being a part of the impoverished relations engendered by modern capitalism and the sooner, the better. I want to plead guilty to a lack of faith in the workers' movement, and a demoralization that lasted for thirty years! It's over now - capitalism's deep shit has made me realize that what both the ICC and the CWO were saying back in 1976, about the return of the crisis and the need for the proletariat to overthrow it, was as true then as it is now. The curious thing however, is that even in 1976, both organizations felt suspicious and uneasy of each other, and engaged in whispering campaigns in and around Red Lion Square and the Kings Cross areas. This used to make me very unhappy, but I guessed they would grow out of it and come to see all that they had that was marvelous and life-enhancing, and of such vital importance to the working class, and which they had in common. But oh boy! was I wrong! If that was the mere winter of their discontent (somehow I always felt it was a kind of jealousy or envy, but I must be wrong, because how could such fantastic and amazing militants be so silly) it has certainly provided a glorious summer of vitriolic dispute now. But doesn't the working class deserve better? Up to it's ears in the shit the bourgeoisie produces, and with apparently nowhere to go - as Red Hughes says, the choice often seems now to be between war or decomposition, rather than war or revolution - the class has still managed to conjure up a number of militants and revolutionaries, some of whom have created proletarian organizations. What an achievement at this most awful point in history this is. So are we just going to nag away at each other, until we get even more splits, denunciations and breakups? Do we finally resent each other more than we detest the bourgeoisie? Come on Comrades, enough of these infantile disorders. We, the working class need you more than ever. We must resolve our tiny differences, or learn to accept them.

Red Hughs
Actually, reading further on

Actually, reading further on the link, I think the comments section is quite good, comrade Devrim's points are excellent especially.

One thing to consider that it is important to create a space where the various tendencies within the communist Left can disagree but still consider each part of the proletarian milieu.



That article reads like a

That article reads like a usual list of recriminations against the ICC: Its idealist, its not really Marxist, it stands outside the tradition of the Communist Left, its a paranoid cult given to conspiracy theories, etc., etc. But did anyone catch the accusation in the last footnote of "social racism" involving the idea of parasitism? There may be problems with the ICC's approach to parasitism, but to thrown around the charge of "racism" seems to me to be over the top and really makes me question the ICT's seriousness. The comrades should know better than that.


jk1921 wrote:
But did anyone catch the accusation in the last footnote of "social racism" involving the idea of parasitism? There may be problems with the ICC's approach to parasitism, but to thrown around the charge of "racism" seems to me to be over the top and really makes me question the ICT's seriousness. 

We could get quite excited about this, or we could stop and think for a moment, and realise that it is probably just a poor phrase in the translation, or maybe even in the original. I am sure that the ICT don't think we are racists.



Are you sure?

Devrim wrote:

jk1921 wrote:
But did anyone catch the accusation in the last footnote of "social racism" involving the idea of parasitism? There may be problems with the ICC's approach to parasitism, but to thrown around the charge of "racism" seems to me to be over the top and really makes me question the ICT's seriousness. 

We could get quite excited about this, or we could stop and think for a moment, and realise that it is probably just a poor phrase in the translation, or maybe even in the original. I am sure that the ICT don't think we are racists.




Then why use the phrase? Has anyone asked them for clarification about just what that means?

You could ask them

jk1921 wrote:
Then why use the phrase? 

I don't know. I would suspect it is a mistake or bad translation though.

jk1921 wrote:
Has anyone asked them for clarification about just what that means?


They have a thread on it here. You could give it a try.



history of a term

Like devrim said, they didn't call the ICC social-racist, they think the term is. Incidentally, the term is used by Damen (following Lenin) to describe the capitalist phase of decline.

I have spend more time than warranted on tracking the history of the use of the term. I didn't find it in Hitler or Stalin.

I did find Bilan using it once when describing Stalin(ism).

The ICC's use of the term comes closest to the way Trotsky used it. There are numerous places where he did, but this is one example.

Excuse my indignation, but

Excuse my indignation, but I find it hard to dismiss this as an error of translation. Everyone knows the implications of labeling something "racist." What does "social racism" mean? I have no idea, but in the best interpretation it is incredibly clumsy to allow that to go into print. I guess if they used the phrase "social Stalinism" there would be more of a reaction here, but the more I think about it "social racism" sounds like a surrogate for just that.

Devrim, if you think I am overreacting, that's fine. In the end, its up to the ICC to defend itself.

Aim of ICT text?

I think the aim of the text is to "explain to the world" for the nth time that ICT (ex-IBRP) is fundamentally different from the ICC not only in minor principles but on the major ones to the extent that it claims that the latter is not a marxist organization or still a "marxist" but idealist which for me a contradiction in itself.

Setting aside the harsh words used, it accuses the ICC of "sectarianism", "lies" and "slanders" against ICT that happened decades ago in their heated polemics which were more on theoretical questions than practical ones (like what is the reasons of decadence, etc) eventhough they had heated debates also on practical questions. And the new members and sympathysers of both organizations certainly open their mouth while listening to the old ones repeating again and again what happen, why and who to blame.

I believe that ICT and ICC have many fundamental differences in questions of theory and practice, in deeply understanding marxism and the historial and current dynamics of capitalism and class struggle. But both of them are in the proletarian camp. And I think we should hold firmly on this: the commonalities, unities while continuing "merciless" debates in a very fraternal/comradely way as part of the proletarian camp.

Sectarianism is very harmful to any communist organization. It will isolate yourself to the rest of the class and to other groups especially the new emerging searching elements and groups around the world. ICT criticizes ICC as sectarian. But re-reading their text I got the impression that they are facing in a mirror pointing finger infront of them and shouting "you are sectarian!".

For decades now ICT and ICC are still in a "war footing". Always preparing for "war" against its perceive "enemy". But who is in the offensive? Always preparing for war? Who is in the defensive, trying to reach out to other camp offering talks so that matters could be settled in a comradely way? Who believes in gossip, intrigues from the outside that instead of clarifying it becomes a "weapon" for an offensive? Who deny the offer for talks because they don't trust anymore the other side and for them the only solution is one of them should be "dead"?

I think both the concern comrades of ICT and ICC know the answers....

N.B. Pardon if I use "bad" grammar and formulation in my english which is not my native language. As one ICC comrade said, I could be misunderstood because of my english.

breakdown in communication

It seems like the mutual suspicion that still exists between the two organizations prevents each from understanding the ideas of the other quite a bit, as is evinced by this text.  It seems like much of what is argued against in "Marxism or Idealism" are things that you wouldn't be able to argue against with any ICC member in person, but rather come from difficult-to-understand formulations from published polemics that have, in my opinion, not been understood by their intended audience.  The volley of published polemics between the two organizations does not seem to have cleared anything up in the past and seems only to foster a spirit of competition and suspicion, in my opinion.  Because of this, I think all communists everywhere would do quite well to take criticism with a grain of salt, and avoid seeing things as an "attack." 

As Maldoror said in the ICT thread, it really is embarrasing when talking to anyone who isn't already interested in the history of the communist left since 1968 to try to explain how groups with almost identical practical platforms have spent so much ink denouncing each other.  I tell other people interested in Marxism that what stands out for me about ICC is that they exist for the working class struggle and not the other way around, which more than leftist positions is what puts many people off of political organizations today.  Most people have been sold a trot paper with a lot of clumsy formulations by a group with a very inflated sense of importance, and so I try to distinguish the communist left from that in conversation, because no one I know is interested in that or being a part of anything like that.  Then the first things you're asked about, every time, are "parasitism," the NCI, Workers' Voice, etc., and what do you say?  All I can say is that I agree that every word written about all these things makes the entire communist left look like they're not serious--or that they're all more serious about their own organizations than they are about world revolution--but that despite this, they are the most serious-about-revolution people I've ever met.  But I don't think the communist left in general sees just how damaging their mutual hostility is to the outside world's perception of all of them.

I've been in contact with the ICC for two-and-a-half years and have learned a tremendous amount from their militants and publications, but I'd been reading for four years before ever saying hello.  One of the biggest factors that made me want to get in touch was the effort to reach out to anarchists on libcom, and the drastic reduction in the number of denunciations of "parasitic attacks" published, which in 2004 when I first encountered the group made me think, "ok, nevermind.  the groups of the communist left can't even talk to each other, yet they hope to be able to talk to the working class who largely [to my perception in 2004] think marxism is a 'failed ideology'"

I think I have a different organizational conception than the ICC (a topic for another thread), and I hope it's clear that I don't mean any of this as an attack either on the ICC or the ICT or any comrades who've been on one side or another of any of the aforementioned issues that (still) prevent the communist left from speaking together.  I only say it to say that the angrier and more defensive the groups get, the more their recriminations of each other are given creedence.

Whatever the need to defend one's own organization, which is a part of the class struggle, there is also a need to recognize that other organizations with very different bases have also been working for years to push the class struggle forward.  That fact alone should, I think cause us to wonder not only what the possibilities would be for a series of discussions between say the ICC, ICT, IWA, and other proletarian groups, but also wonder what the rest of the working class thinks of the fact that the guys passing out the same leaflet on the picket line both think the organizations they belong to are out to get them.


endless questions

Soyonstout says of both ICT and ICC:they are the most serious-about-revolution people I've ever met. And Soyonstout has hit the bullseye with this. So many of us who don't belong to either organization are crying in our sleep about the apparently pointless, endless and vicious disputes that never seem to attain any resolution. Why is it that no resolution is ever reached? Could it be because there are no significant differences? Could it be because both sides actually enjoy the melodrama - a sort of re-run of the fights between Bolsheviks and everyone else prior to 1917. If this were true then history has changed from tragedy to farce in no uncertain manner. As an ardent admirer of both organizations I wish someone would actually formulate in simple non-accusatory language what exactly the root difference is between what the ICT thinks about the state of the class struggle, and it's possibilities for the future, and what the ICC thinks. Is any difference here one of optimism v. pessimism? Is this why the ICC can be labelled 'idealist'? But this doesn't effect an organizations political positions does it? What is it about the ICT and ICC that always leads one to an endless stream of questions?

tragedies and farce

When I suggested above that the struggle between the Bolsheviks and others over the formation of the Party was a tragedy I was wrong. It was in fact a great triumph for the proletariat. This doesn't mean however that the current 'struggles' between the ICT and ICC are not foolish and misleading for the class, at a time when strength is needed.

I think that if there can't

I think that if there can't even be a basic agreement on something so simple and obvious as the decomposition of capitalism and the machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie then there's not much hope for any agreement about anything.

The way the ICT would have

The way the ICT would have it, it seems,  if you think captialism is in decompostion then you lose your materialist moorings, because anything becomes possible, and if you think the bourgeoisie is capable of Machiavellian maneovers then you are indulging in "conspiracy theory" (a shameful epithet these days) and once again have lost your materialist moorings. Of course, for the ICT "materialism" often appears to equal economism.

I agree that the level of vitriol between the two oragnizations is in part responsible for some of the feelings of resignation about organization of the younger searching generation and that is to the detriment of both organizations and ultimately the working class. However, I don't think it is a reason for shame that there are different organizations in the left communist tradition that do not agree on all points. It seems to me part of the difficulties of the younger generation that they have trouble understanding why two distinct organizations, "just can't get along."

two organizations

I don't think it's a problem that there are two organizations (and there are probably more, depending on how it's defined) drawing on the positions of the communist left with serious disagreements.  I also agree that there needs to be debate between people in both organizations and probably debate between the organizations themselves.  Where I think people get put off is when this competitive spirit arises between organizations that are still part of the revolutionary workers' movement such that people feel they are under attack (the word attack is sometimes used where "critique"/"polemic" would do just fine) or use the words "lies" and "slander" about things that are more accurately called "misunderstandings."  It also seems to me that there's difficulty in showing weakness in front of the other organization, which is unfortunate and seems to be an indicator of the level of mistrust.  Obviously there are huge differences.  Probably members of both organizations have at times been anywhere between respectfully disagreeing to unfair to downright vindictive about these differences.  Some of this has been addressed in discussions about the "culture of debate" which has been an explicit priority for the ICC in recent years. 

The other thing that I think the ICT article shows is how much the ICC's ideas are understood by the ICT, which not knowing the ICT, makes me wonder how well I understand their ideas, and suggests that the debate with them about many of the points in the article that to me seem misunderstood about the ICC, have not gone well, for whatever reason. 


Soyonstout, I agree with your

Soyonstout, I agree with your point about the use of terms like "lie" and "slander." But the question of "attack" is a throny one. We went through this issue with the anarchist who posted here before. When is something an "attack" and when is something a "critique"? Who gets to decide what is an attack? What is the role of "hurt feelings," etc.? It doesn't seem out of bounds for left communists to point out what they see as  anarchism's failings, but when left communists start accusing one another of "idealism" and standing outside the Marxist tradition, what are we supposed to do with that?

We've just posted a reply to the ICT discussion...

We've posted a comment on the thread on the differences between the ICT and the ICC... no response as yet from anyone but I thought I'ld draw it to the attention of this forum.

jk, on your post of the 26th:

jk, on your post of the 26th: why is discussing the effects of capitalism's decline non-materialist? There may be some errors in defining those effects but surely this is a very material question?

The bourgeoisie plots and schemes - where's the anti-materialism there?

I don't know baboon. I don't

I don't know baboon. I don't want to put words in their mouth, but I suppose they might argue that believing in machiavellian maneovers fails to comprehend the direct economic motives of the bourgeoisie's actions. In my experience for the IBRP and its offspring, reality tends to be reduced to a bland economism. For example, understanding British imperialism's quest to hold onto Northern Ireland in terms of controlling its shipyards. Of course, we would argue that this misses the growing irrationality of imperialism in decadence and decomposition. I suppose they reject decomposition as idealist, because they think that if one accepts this idea the tendency is to reduce everything to it and therefore it explains nothing. This is what I hear the IBRP saying, although I could be missing certain points of their argument and mischaracterizing others.