2014 Extraordinary Conference of the ICC
At the beginning of May the ICC convoked an Extraordinary International Conference. For some time a crisis had been developing within the ICC. It was judged necessary to call this Conference in addition to the regular International Congresses of the ICC, in view of the urgency of fully understanding the crisis, and developing the means to overcome it. Extraordinary Conferences have been convened before by the organisation in 1982 and 2002 according to the statutes of the organisation which allow for them when the fundamental principles of the ICC are called into question in a dangerous manner1.
All the international sections of the ICC sent delegations to this third extraordinary Conference and participated very actively in the debates. The sections which were not able to come physically (because of the Schengen fortress around Europe) sent statements to the conference on the different reports and resolutions submitted for discussion.
Crises are not necessarily fatal
Contacts and sympathisers of our organisation maybe alarmed by this news, just as the enemies of revolutionary organisation will receive a frisson of encouragement. Some of the latter have already assumed that this crisis is a harbinger of our demise. But this was also predicted in previous crises of our organisation. In the wake of the 1982 crisis - 32 years ago - we replied, as we do now, with the words of Mark Twain: news of our death is greatly exaggerated!
Crises are not necessarily a guarantee of impending collapse and failure. On the contrary, the existence of crises can be an expression of a healthy resistance to an underlying tendency towards failure that had hitherto been developing peacefully. And therefore crises can be the sign of reacting to danger and struggling against signs of collapse. A crisis is also an opportunity: to understand the root causes of serious difficulties that will enable the organisation to ultimately strengthen itself and temper its militants for future battles.
In the Second International (1889-1914) the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was well known for undergoing a series of crises and splits, and for this reason was held in contempt by the leaders of the larger parties of the International like the German Social Democracy (SPD) who presented an appearance of going from success to success, steadily increasing their membership and electoral votes. However the crises of the Russian Party, and the struggle to overcome and learn from them by the Bolshevik wing, steeled the revolutionary minority in preparation for standing against the imperialist war in 1914 and for leading the October Revolution of 1917. By contrast the facade of unity of the SPD (challenged only by ‘trouble-makers’ like Rosa Luxemburg) completely and irrevocably collapsed in 1914 with the complete betrayal of its internationalist principles in face of the First World War.
In 1982 the ICC recognised its own crisis - brought about by a growth of leftist and activist confusions that enabled Chenier2 to create havoc in its British section - and drew the lessons of its setback to re-establish at a deeper level the principles of its function and functioning3. The Bordigist Internationalist Communist Party (Communist Programme) which was at that time the largest group of the communist left, was invaded even more seriously by similar tendencies, but this party seemed to carry on as normal - only to collapse like a house of cards with the loss of the majority of its members4.
In addition to the recognition of its own crises ICC thus follows another principle learned from the Bolshevik experience: to make known the circumstances and details of its internal crisis in order to contribute to a more widespread clarification. We are convinced that the internal crises of the revolutionary organisation can bring into sharper relief general truths about the struggle for communism.
In the preface to One step forward, two steps back, in 1904, Lenin wrote:
"They [our adversaries] exult and grimace at the sight of our discussions; obviously, they will try, to serve their own purposes, to brandish my pamphlet devoted to the defects and weaknesses in our Party. The Russian social-democrats are sufficiently tempered in battle not to be troubled by such pinpricks, and to continue in spite of everything with their task of self-criticism, mercilessly unveiling their own weaknesses, which will be overcome necessarily and without fail by the growth of the workers' movement. Let our adversaries try to give us an image of the situation in their own 'parties' which comes close to that presented by the minutes of our 2nd Congress!".
We believe, like Lenin, that whatever superficial pleasure our enemies gain from learning about our problems, genuine revolutionaries will learn from our mistakes and emerge the stronger for it.
That is why we are publishing here, albeit briefly, an account of the evolution of this crisis in the ICC and the role that the Extraordinary Conference has played in responding to it.
The events of the present crisis of the ICC and the struggle against it
The epicentre of the present crisis of the ICC was the existence in the section in France of a campaign of denigration, hidden from the organisation as a whole, of a comrade, who was demonised to such an extent that her very presence in the organisation was supposed to constitute a barrier to its development. Naturally the existence of such scapegoating - blaming a particular comrade for the problems of the whole organisation - is anathema in a communist minority which rejects the bullying which is endemic to capitalist society and flows from its morality of ‘everyman for himself’ and ‘devil take the hindmost’. The problems of the organisation are the responsibility of the whole organisation according to its ethic of ‘all for one, and one for all’. The covert campaign of ostracism of one comrade put in question the very concept of communist solidarity that the ICC is founded on.
We could not be content to simply put a stop to this campaign once it had come into the open. We had to go to the roots and explain why and how such a blatant betrayal of a basic communist principle could develop once again in our ranks. The task of the Extraordinary Conference was to reach a common agreement on this explanation and the perspective for eradicating it in the future.
The organisation had already agreed to the maligned comrade’s request for a Jury of Honour. One of the tasks of the Extraordinary Conference was to hear and pronounce on the final report of the Jury. It was not enough for everyone to agree that the comrade had been subjected to slanders and denigrations - it had to be proven wrong in facts. The allegations and denigrations had to be brought into the open in order to remove any ambiguity and prevent any recurrence of slanders in the future. After a year of work, the Jury of Honour (made up of comrades from four ICC sections) systematically refuted, as devoid of any foundation, all the accusations (and particularly certain shameful slanders developed by one militant).5 The Jury was able to show that this campaign of ostracism had, in reality, been based on the infiltration into the organization of obscurantist prejudices spread by the circle spirit, and a certain ‘gossip culture’, inherited from the past and from which certain militants had not really broken free.
In devoting its resources to this Jury the organisation was following another lesson of the history of the revolutionary movement: that any militant who is the object of suspicions, of unfounded accusations or slanders has the duty to call for a Jury of Honour. To reject such an approach means implicitly recognizing the validity of the accusations.
The Jury of Honour is also a means of “preserving the moral health of a revolutionary organization”, as Victor Serge insisted in his book What every revolutionary should know about state repression, since distrust among its members is a poison which can rapidly destroy a proletarian organization.
This is a fact well known by the police who historically have tried to use this most favoured method to destroy revolutionary organisations from within. We saw this in the 1930s with the plots of the Stalinist GPU against the Left Opposition in France and elsewhere. Indeed singling out particular individuals for denigration and slander has been a principle weapon of the bourgeoisie as a whole in fomenting distrust of the revolutionary movement.
That’s why revolutionary Marxists have traditionally devoted every effort to unmasking such attacks on communist organisations.
At the time of the Moscow Trials in the 1930s, the exiled Leon Trotsky demanded a Jury of Honour (known as the Dewey Commission) to clear his name of the repulsive slanders made against him by the prosecutor Vishinsky at the Moscow Trials6. Marx broke off his writing of Capital for a year in 1860 in order to prepare an entire book systematically refuting the calumnies against him by ‘Herr Vogt’.
Concurrently with the work of the Jury of Honour the organisation looked to the underlying roots of the crisis. After the crisis in the ICC in 2000-2 the ICC had already embarked on a long term theoretical effort to understand how a secret ‘fraction’ could emerge within the organisation that behaved like thugs and informers: secretly circulating rumours that one of our militants was a state agent, stealing money and material from the organization (notably the list of addresses of militants and subscribers), blackmail, death threats towards one of our militants, publication on the outside of internal information that deliberately did the work of the police etc. This ignoble ‘fraction’ with its gangster behavior (recalling that of the Chenier tendency during the 1981 crisis) became known as the ‘Internal Fraction of the ICC’ (IFICC)7
In the wake of this experience the ICC began to examine from a historical and theoretical angle the problem of morality. In International Review 111 and 112 we published the Orientation Text on ‘Confidence and solidarity in the proletarian struggle’8 and in IR 127 and 128 another text ‘Marxism and Ethics’9 was published. Linked to these theoretical explorations there was also historical research into the phenomenon of ‘pogromism’ - that complete antithesis of communist values that was displayed by the FICCI. It was on the basis of these earlier texts and theoretical work on aspects of communist morality that the organisation elaborated an understanding of its current crisis. Superficiality, slidings towards workerism and opportunism, a neglect of reflection and of theoretical discussions in favour of activist, left-type intervention in immediate struggles, impatience and the tendency to lose sight of our activity in the long term, facilitated this crisis within the ICC. This crisis was thus identified as an “intellectual and moral crisis” and was accompanied by a loss of sight, and transgressions of, the ICC’s statutes10
The fight to defend the moral principles of marxism
At the Extraordinary Conference we returned in further depth to a Marxist understanding of morality in the interests of preparing the theoretical core of our activity in the coming period. We will continue to discuss and explore this question as the main weapon of our regeneration from the current crisis. Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary organisation.
Contained within the communist project, and inseparable from it, is an ethical dimension. And it is this dimension which is particularly menaced within a decomposing capitalist society that thrives on exploitation and violence, “oozing blood and filth from every pore” as Marx wrote in Capital. This threat is already particularly developed in capitalism’s decadent phase when the bourgeoisie progressively abandons even the moral tenets that it held in its expanding liberal period. The final episode of capitalist decadence - the period of social decomposition that begins approximately with the landmark of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989 - accentuates this process still further. Today society is more and more openly, even proudly, barbaric. In every aspect of life we see it: the proliferation of wars whose main objective seems to be to humiliate and degrade its victims before slaughtering them; the widespread growth of gangsterism - and its celebration in film and music; the launching of pogroms to find a scapegoat for capitalism’s crimes and for social suffering; the rise of xenophobia towards immigrants and bullying at the workplace (“mobbing”); the development of violence towards women, sexual harassment and misogyny, including in schools and among the youth of city housing estates. Cynicism, lying and hypocrisy are no longer seen as reprehensible but are taught in “management” courses. The most elemental values of social existence - let alone those of communist society - have been desecrated as capitalism putrefies.
The members of revolutionary organisations cannot escape this environment of barbaric thought and behaviour. They are not immune to this deleterious atmosphere of social decomposition, particularly as the working class today remains relatively passive and disorientated and thus unable to offer an alternative en masse to the accelerating demise of capitalist society. Other classes in society close to the proletariat however provide an active vector of rotten values. The traditional impotence and frustration of the petit bourgeoisie - the intermediate strata between bourgeoisie and proletariat - becomes particularly exaggerated and finds an outlet in pogromism, in onscurantism and witch-hunts which provide a sense of cowardly empowerment to those hounding ‘trouble-makers’.
It was particularly necessary to return to the problem of morality at the 2014 Extraordinary Conference because the explosive nature of the crisis of 2000-2002, the odious and clearly repulsive actions of the IFICC, the behavior of certain of its members as nihilist adventurers, had tended to obscure the deeper underlying incomprehensions that had provided the soil for the pogromist mentality at the origin of the formation of this so-called “fraction”11.
Because of the dramatic nature of the IFICC scandal a decade ago, there had been a strong trend in the organisation in the intervening period to want to ‘return to normal’ - to try find an illusory breathing space. There was a mood to avert attention away from a deep theoretical and historical treatment of organisational questions to more ‘practical’ issues of intervention and to a smooth, but superficial, ‘building’ of the organisation. Despite devoting a considerable effort to the work of theoretically overcoming its previous crisis, this was more and more seen as a side issue rather than a life or death question for the future of the revolutionary organisation.
The slow and difficult revival of class struggle in 2003 and the greater receptivity within the political milieu to discussion with the communist left tended to reinforce this weakness. Parts of the organisation began to ‘forget’ the principles and acquisitions of the ICC, and develop a disdain for theory. The statutes of the organisation which encapsulate internationalist centralised principles tended to become ignored in favour of the habits of local and circle philistinism, of good old common sense and the “religion of daily life”, as Marx put it in volume one of Capital. Opportunism began to grow in an insidious manner.
However there was a resistance to this tendency to theoretical disinterest, political amnesia and sclerosis. One comrade in particular was outspoken in criticising this opportunist trend and as a consequence became increasingly seen as an obstacle to a ‘normal’ machine-like functioning of the organization. Instead of providing a coherent political answer to the comrade’s criticism, opportunism expressed itself by an underhand personal vilification. Other militants, notably in the ICC sections in France and Germany, who shared the comrade’s point of view against the opportunist deviations also became the “collateral damage” of this campaign of defamation.
Thus the Extraordinary Conference showed that today, as in the history of the workers movement, campaigns of denigration and opportunism go together. Indeed the former appears in the workers’ movement as the extreme expression of the latter. Rosa Luxemburg, who, as spokeswoman of the Marxist left was unsparing in her denunciations of opportunism, was systematically persecuted and denigrated by the leaders of German Social Democracy. The degeneration of the Bolshevik Party and Third International was accompanied by the unending persecution of the Bolshevik old guard, and in particular of Leon Trotsky.
The organisation had thus to also reprise the classical concepts of organisational opportunism from the history of the Marxist left that includes the lessons of the ICC’s own experience.
The need to reject both opportunism, and its conciliatory expression as centrism, was to be the motto of the Extraordinary Conference: the crisis of the ICC demanded a protracted struggle against the identified roots of the problems, which took the form of certain tendency to treat the ICC as a cocoon, a to turn the organization into a “club” of opinions and to try to find slot inside decomposing bourgeois society. In fact the very nature of revolutionary militancy means a permanent fight against the weight of the dominant ideology and of all the ideologies alien to the proletariat which can insidiously infiltrate revolutionary organisations. It is this combat which has to be understood as the ‘norm’ of the life of communist organisation and each of its members.
The struggle against superficial agreement, the courage to express and develop differences and the individual effort to speak one’s mind in front of the whole organisation, the strength to take political criticism - these were the qualities that the Extraordinary Conference insisted on. According to the Activities Resolution which was agreed at the Conference:
“5d) The revolutionary militant must be a fighter, for the class positions of the proletariat and for his own ideas.
This is not an optional condition of militancy, it is militancy. Without it there can be no struggle for the truth which can only arise out of the clash of ideas and of each militant standing up for what he believes in. The organisation needs to know the positions of all comrades, passive agreement is useless and counter-productive,… Taking individual responsibility, being honest is a fundamental aspect of proletarian morality.”
The present crisis is not the ‘final’ crisis of the ICC
On the eve of the Extraordinary Conference the publication on the internet of an ‘Appeal to the proletarian camp and the militants of the ICC’, announcing the “final crisis” of the ICC, strongly underlined the importance of this necessity to fight for the defence of the communist organization and its principles, in particular against all those who try to destroy it. This particularly nauseating ‘Appeal’ emanates from the so-called ‘International Group of the Communist Left’, in reality a disguise for the infamous former IFICC thanks to its marriage with elements from Klasbatalo in Montreal. It’s a text dripping with hatred and calls for a pogrom against certain of our comrades. This text announces grandly that the ‘IGCL’ is in possession of internal documents of the ICC. Its intention is clear: to try to sabotage our Extraordinary Conference, to sow trouble and discord within the ICC by spreading suspicion in its ranks on the very eve of the Extraordinary Conference – sending out the message that ‘there is a traitor inside the ICC, an accomplice of the IGCL who is sending us the ICC’s internal bulletins’12.
The Extraordinary Conference immediately took position on the IGCL’s ‘Appeal’. To all our militants it was clear that the IFICC was once again, and in an even more pernicious manner, doing the work of the police in the manner so eloquently described in Victor Serge’s book What every revolutionary should know about state repression (written on the basis of the archives of the Czarist police discovered after the October revolution13).
But instead of turning the comrades of the ICC against each other, the unanimous disgust for the methods the ‘IGCL’, worthy of the political police of Stalin and of the Stasi, served to make plain the wider stakes of our internal crisis that the ICC was engaged in, and tended to reinforce the unity of the militants behind the slogan of the workers’ movement: “All for one and one for all!” (recalled in the book The Nature of Human Brain Work by Joseph Dietzgen, who Marx called “the philosopher of the proletariat”). This police-type attack by the IGCL made it clearer to all the militants that the internal weaknesses of the organisation, a lack of vigilance towards the permanent pressure of the dominant ideology within revolutionary organisations, had made it vulnerable to the machinations of the class enemy whose destructive intent is unquestionable.
The Extraordinary Conference saluted the enormous and extremely serious work of the Jury of Honour. It also saluted the courage of the comrade who and called for it and who had been ostracized for her political disagreements14. Only cowards and those who know they are completely guilty would refuse to clarify things in front of such a commission, which is an inheritance of the workers’ movement. The cloud hanging over the organisation had been lifted. And it was timely: the need of every comrade to fight together was more imperative than ever.
The Extraordinary Conference could not complete the struggle of the ICC against this “intellectual and moral crisis” - this struggle is necessarily ongoing - but it did provide an unambiguous orientation: the opening of a theoretical debate on the ‘Theses on Morality’ proposed by the central organ of the ICC. Obviously we will eventually publish the debates and divergences around this text when the discussion has reached a sufficient level of maturity.
Some of our readers may feel that the polarisation of the ICC around its internal crisis and on fighting against the police-type attacks aimed at us is the expression of a kind of narcissistic lunacy or of a collective paranoid delirium. The concern for the intransigent defence of our organisational, programmatic and ethical principles is, from this point of view, a diversion from the practical, common-sense task of developing our influence in the immediate struggles of the working class. This point of view in fact a repetition, in essence although in a different context, of the arguments about the opportunists comparing the smooth functioning of German social democracy with that the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which was shaken by crises throughout the period leading up to the First World war. The approach which seeks to avoid differences, to reject the confrontation of political arguments in order to preserve ‘unity’ at any price will sooner or later lead to the disappearance of organised revolutionary minorities.
The defence of fundamental communist principles, however distant this may seem from the current needs and consciousness of the working class, is nonetheless the primordial task of revolutionary minorities. Our determination to wage a permanent combat for the defence of communist morality – which is at the heart of the principle of solidarity – is key to preserving our organisation faced with the miasma of capitalism’s social decomposition which inevitably seeps through into all revolutionary organisations. Only by politically arming ourselves, by strengthening our work of theoretical elaboration, will we be able to face up to this deadly danger. Furthermore, without the implacable defence of the ethics of the class which is the bearer of communism, the possibility that the developing class struggle will lead to the revolution and the construction of a real world community will be continually smothered.
One thing became clear at the 2014 Extraordinary Conference: there would be no ‘return to normal’ whether in the internal or external activities of the ICC.
Contrary to what happened in the crisis of 2001, we can already rejoice in the fact that comrades who had got drawn into a logical of irrational stigmatisation and scapegoating were able to see the gravity of what they had been involved in. These militants have freely decided to remain loyal to the ICC and its principles and are now engaged in our combat for the for consolidating the organisation. As with the rest of the of the ICC, they are now taking part in the work of theoretical reflection and deepening which had been largely underestimated in the past. By appropriating Spinoza’s formula “neither laugh nor cry but understand”, the ICC is trying to return to a key idea of marxism: that the proletariat’s struggle for communism not only has an “economic” dimension (as the vulgar materialists imagine) but also and fundamentally an “intellectual and moral” dimension (as Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg in particular argued).
We must therefore regretfully inform our detractors that within the ICC there is no immediate perspective of a new parasitic split as was the case with previous crises. There is no perspective for the formation of a new “fraction” susceptible to joining up with the IGCL’s ‘Appeal’ for a pogrom against our own comrades - an appeal frenetically relayed by various ‘social networks’ and the so-called ‘Pierre Hempel’ who takes himself for a representative of the “universal proletariat”. On the contrary: the police methods of the IGCL (sponsored by a ‘critical’ tendency inside a bourgeois reformist party, the NPA15) have only succeeded in strengthening the indignation of the militants of the ICC and their determination to fight for the strengthening of the organisation. The news of our death is thus both exaggerated and premature….
International Communist Current
1 As at the time of the Extraordinary Conference of 2002 (see the article in International Review no.110, ‘Extraordinary Conference of the ICC: the struggle for the defence of organisational principles’, the one in 2014 partially replaced the regular congress of our section in France. So certain sessions were devoted to the extraordinary international conference and others to the congress of the section in France which our paper Révolution Internationale will write about at a later date
2 Chenier was a member of the section in France excluded in the summer of 1981 for having waged a secret campaign of denigration against the central organs of the organisation and certain of its most experienced militants with the aim of setting one against the other, activities which curiously enough recalled the work of GPU agents within the Trotskyist movement during the 1930s. a few months after his expulsion, Chenier took up a responsible post within the apparatus of the Socialist Party, then in government
3 See International Review No29 ’Report on the functioning of the revolutionary organisation’ en.internationalism.org/specialtexts/IR029_function.htm, and IR33 ‘Report on the structure and functioning of the revolutionary organisation, en.internationalism.org/specialtexts/IR033_functioning.htm.
5 Parallel to this campaign, in informal discussions in the section in France, certain militants of the ‘old’ generation, spread some scandalous gossip about our comrade Marc Chirik, a founding member of the ICC and without whom our organisation would not have existed. This gossip was identified as an expression of the weight of the circle sprit and the influence of the decomposing petty bourgeoisie which profoundly marked the generation that came out of the student movement of May 68, with all its anarcho-modernist and leftist ideologies.
6 The ICC’ s Jury of honour based itself on the scientific method of investigation and verification of the facts by the Dewy Commission. All of its work (documents, verbal proceedings, recordings of interviews and testimonies etc) is carefully conserved in the ICC’s archives.
7 See in particular our articles ‘15th Congress of the ICC: Today the Stakes Are High—Strengthen the Organization to Confront Them’ ; https://en.internationalism.org/ir/114_congress.html; ‘The police-like methods of the ‘IFICC’, https://en.internationalism.org/262_infraction.htm; "Calomnie et mouchardage, les deux mamelles de la politique de la FICCI envers le CCI" (https://fr.internationalism.org/icconline/2006_ficci)
10 The central organ of the ICC, as well as the Jury of Honour, clearly showed that it was not the ostracised comrade who had not respected the statutes of the ICC but on the contrary the militants who had engaged in this campaign of denigration
11 The resistance in our ranks to developing a debate on the question of morality had its origin in a congenital weakness of the ICC (and which actually affects all the groups of the communist left): the majority of the first generation of militants rejected this question which could not be integrated into our statutes, as our comrade Marc Chirik had hoped. Morality was seen by these young militants at the time as a prison, a “product of bourgeois ideology”, to the point where some of them, coming out of the libertarian milieu, demanded to live “without taboos”! Which reveals a gross ignorance of the history of the human species and the development of its civilisation.
13 As if to confirm the class nature of the attack, a certain Pierre Hempel published on his blog further internal documents of the ICC that the ex-IFICC had given to him. He volunteered the comment that “if the police had passed such a document to me, I would have thanked them in the name of the proletariat”!This Holy Alliance of the enemies of the ICC, to a large extent made up of a “Friendly Society of Old ICC Combatants”, know which camp they belong to!
14 This had also been the case at the beginning of the crisis of 2001: when this same comrade had expressed a political disagreement with a text written by the International Secretariat of the ICC (on the question of centralisation), the majority of the IS put up the shutters and instead of opening a debate to reply to the comrade’s political arguments, stifled this debate and embarked on a campaign of slander against this comrade (holding secret meetings and spreading rumours in the sections in France and Mexico that this comrade, because of her political disagreements with members of the central organ of the ICC, was a “shit-stirrer” and even a “cop”, to cite the two members of the ex-IFICC, Juan and Jonas, who were at the origin of the formation of the IGCL.
15 We should point out that to this day the IGCL has given no explanation for its relations and convergence with this tendency which wrks inside the New Anti-Capitalist party, NPA, of Olivier Besancenot. Silence means assent!