Reply to the CWO: A rudderless policy of regroupment

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The following letter was sent to the ICC and to other groups and individuals in reply to a polemic in the paper in Britain of the ICC, World Revolution, entitled "The CWO falls victim to political parasitism". This polemic argued that the demise of the Communist Workers' Organisation's paper Workers' Voice, their apparent regroupment with the Communist Bulletin Group (CBG), and their refusal to help defend a public meeting of the ICC in Manchester from attack, were concessions to parasitism. Such concessions can be traced back to the inadequate bases of the CWO's formation and the organisational weaknesses of its regroupment with the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista).

CWO to World Revolution

"We have read your attack on us in World Revolution 190 with some astonishment. The ferocity of the polemic came as no surprise nor are we disputing the importance of the issue (revolutionary organisation) raised but from the fact that the entire basis for this polemic rests on a series of factual errors which could easily have been avoided by simply asking us what the situation was. When we read your very confusing account of your Eleventh Congress we did not launch into a polemic on the latest splits in the ICC on the basis of its supposed Stalinism. On the contrary the IBRP discussed this report with comrades of RI in Paris last June and were reassured by them that the ICC was merely ensuring that its future internal operation would be within the norms of principled proletarian politics. We entirely agree that the existence of "clans" (based on personal loyalties), unlike the existence of factions (based on political differences over new issues), are something that a healthy organisation has to avoid. However, we think your subsequent treatment of this question has led you into caricaturing the issue of political organisation for the present day. We will be dealing with this in a future article in our press. In the meantime we would like you to print this letter, by way of correction, for your readers to judge for themselves.

1. We will be writing a history of the CWO for our own members and sympathisers but we can assure your readers that long before the CWO or the ICC came into being the issue of federal rights had been settled in favour of a centralised international organisation. The request for federal rights FS refers to, is a single letter written before either the CWO or ICC existed, when Revolutionary Perspectives (RP) consisted of one person!

2. It was a condition of entering the CWO in September 1975 that the Russian Revolution of October 1917 was recognised as proletarian and remained so for the next three and half years.

3. The CWO's re-evaluation of the German and Italian Lefts contribution to the present day clarity of the international communist left did not take place overnight. It took five years of often difficult, and sometimes painful, argument with constantly changing factions as the issues themselves developed. The CWO's texts on this debate are to be found in Revolutionary Perspectives nos 18, l9 and 20. Our discussions with Il Partito Comunista Internazionalista (Battaglia Comunista) began when they fraternally criticised our Platform in September 1975 and we did not form the Bureau until 1984. Hardly a quick opportunist fix!

4. The Iranian "Maoists" you speak of were the Student Supporters of the Unity of Communist Militants. They could not have been Maoists since the ICC would not have conducted (unbeknown to us at the time) secret discussions with them for months before we met them. They could not have been Maoists because they accepted all the criteria fixed as the basic proletarian criteria by the International Conferences of the Communist Left. Their subsequent evolution led them into the Communist Party of Iran which was formed on counter-revolutionary principles. Our critique of that organisation is to be found in Communist Review No. 1 .

5. The Communist Bulletin Group was not solely made up of ex-CWO members as all your articles try to maintain. They included those who had never been in the CWO including one founder-member of World Revolution (who had been, like all the other founders, in the Cardanite group Solidarity). It may also have escaped your readers notice but the CBG no longer exists except in the pages of WR.

6. The CWO has no regroupment, formal or informal with the ex-CBG or any of its individual members. In fact, apart from receipt of the announcement of their demise we have had no direct contact with the CBG since we sent them a text on organisation in June 1993. This seems to have precipitated their final crisis.

7. Members of the CWO did take part in the Sheffield Study Group which initially included anarchists, left communists of no affiliation, Subversion and one ex-CBG member. However as ICC members from London also attended (after requesting invitations from the anarchists rather than us!) we were not too worried about being swamped by parasites. This ended in the spring of 1995 when it was clear that only the CWO was interested in further study work. The Sheffield Study Group has since been superseded by a CWO Education Meeting which is open to all those who are sympathetic to the politics of the communist left and are prepared to study on the themes for each meeting. So far noone from any other organisation has attended.

8. We have never excluded the ICC from any one of our initiatives. When we invited them to take part in joint meetings of all groups of the communist left they refused on the grounds that they "would not share a platform with parasites" (but attended the meeting nonetheless). Far from fearing political confrontation with the ICC we were the ones to initiate the series of debates held in London in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the past we have attended dozens of ICC meetings in London and Manchester despite the geographical problems. The ICC has only once ever attended one of our Sheffield public meetings (and then only to sell WR) in fifteen years.

9. As a matter of fact there were no CWO members at the Manchester meeting around which your whole tawdry attack is based. A CWO sympathiser was the entire public until the other two individuals arrived. Nearly every word about the meeting is a gross exaggeration. Our sympathiser acted absolutely correctly in the meeting. He specifically dissociated himself from any criticism of the ICC as "Stalinist" but waited until the rest of the "public" had gone before criticising the behaviour of the Praesidium - the same FS who has woven the tissue of untruths we are now responding to.

1O. We have not liquidated our paper but adopted a new publications strategy which we think will allow us to reach more potential communists. The CWO has not abandoned any organisational existence "seemingly" or otherwise. On the contrary 1996 has opened with our organisational strengthening. With the present condition of World Revolution, as evidenced by this unprecedented sectarian polemic, it is clearly more necessary than ever that we continue our work for the emancipation of our class. This naturally includes serious debate amongst revolutionaries.

Reply to the CWO

To respond to the CWO's letter and to make our mutual disagreements intelligible to the proletarian political milieu, we have to go beyond a blow by blow answer to the above rectifications. We don't believe that our polemic was based on factual errors, as we shall show. We think that the CWO's factual rebuttals only obscure the very contentious issues. Their reply tends to give the impression that the debates between revolutionary organisations are simply pointless squabbles, and thus plays into the hands of the parasites who say that an organised confrontation of divergences is pointless.

We argued in our polemic that the weakness of the CWO towards parasitism was based on a fundamental difficulty in defining the proletarian political milieu, the process of regroupment that must take place within it and even the basis of their own existence as a separate group within this milieu. These organisational confusions are confirmed in the events of the CWO's birth and in its political behaviour with Battaglia Comunista at the Conferences of Groups of the Communist Left (1977-1980). Unfortunately the CWO doesn't take up these arguments - which are not new and have been developed in the International Review over the last twenty years - in its letter, preferring to hide behind the smokescreen of accusing us of factual errors.

The foundations of the CWO: incomplete regroupment

The CWO was formed on the basis of programmatic positions, and the theoretical framework developed by the Communist Left, and therefore it is a real expression of the development of class consciousness and organisation in the period since the end of the counter-revolution. But the CWO was formed in 1975, at the same time that another organisation - with whom it had been in close discussion hitherto - was created on the basis of the same class positions and framework: the International Communist Current. Why was a separate organisation created with the same politics? How could such a duplication of revolutionary forces be justified when their unity and regroupment are of paramount importance for their vanguard role in the working class? For the ICC the process of regroupment had to be continued whatever the difficulties. For the CWO a policy of separate development was necessary because of certain important but secondary differences with the ICC. The CWO had a different interpretation to the ICC of when the degeneration of the Russian Revolution was completed. The comrades considered, as a result, that the ICC was not a communist group at all, but a counter-revolutionary one.

Such a confusion about the basis on which a separate revolutionary organisation should be created, and how to relate to other organisations, inevitably reinforced the pressure of the chapel spirit that has been so pervasive during the re-emergence of communist forces since 1968.

One of the illustrations of this sectarian spirit was the request for federal rights within the ICC by the CWO-to-be.

In their letter the CWO comrades assert their belief in international centralisation and rejection of federalism. This is of course very commendable but doesn't answer the issue: was such a request (which the comrades don't deny having made) an expression of the sectarian mentality? Wasn't it an attempt to artificially preserve the identity of the group in spite of its fundamental agreement on the main principles of revolutionary marxism with the ICC? The real mistake of the letter was not in its concessions to federalism as such but in the attempt to keep the shop-keeper mentality alive.

We can see that such a sectarian spirit can lead to the weakening of certain principles that the organisation may otherwise be striving to uphold. Despite its firm belief in internationally centralised organisation the CWO's regroupment with Battaglia Communista in 1984 leading to the formation of the IBRP (i.e. at least 9 years after the issue of federal rights had been settled) allowed the CWO to keep a separate platform both from Battaglia and the IBRP, to keep its own name and determine its own national activity.

The issue here is not that the CWO don't believe in the spirit of international centralisation but that confusion on the organisational problems of regroupment makes the flesh weak.

It's true that this proposal of federal rights was probably not the most important sign of confusion on problems of regroupment. But we think the CWO are wrong to dismiss its significance altogether.

If the ICC had not firmly rejected this proposal, then it seems quite possible, judging by the federalist nature of the regroupment with Battaglia Comunista, that this request for federal rights would not have remained ink on paper.

It is silly of the comrades to complain that the letter was written before either the CWO or the ICC existed and is therefore hardly relevant. Such a letter could not have been written after the formation of the CWO since one of the bases of the latter was that the ICC had crossed into the camp of capital!

In another tangential rectification of our original polemic the CWO comrades insist that the recognition of the proletarian nature of the October Revolution of 1917 was a condition of membership of the CWO since September 1975.

We were aware of this comrades, and we did not argue the opposite in our polemic. The ICC well remembers the lengthy discussions it had to have from 1972-4 to convince the elements who were to found the CWO of the proletarian nature of October.[1] We mentioned, in our polemic, that the Workers' Voice group of Liverpool with whom Revolutionary Perspectives joined in 1975 to form the CWO was not homogenous on this vital question, to further illustrate that this new regroupment was at best contradictory. This seemed to be confirmed when the CWO split into its two constituent parts a year later, and then split again in two not long after. Not only did the CWO elevate secondary questions to class frontiers, but also minimised fundamental questions.

The CWO, the International Conferences, and the IBRP

The problems of understanding what the proletarian political milieu is, and how it can be unified was also found at the International Conferences. The calling for such a forum by Battaglia Comunista and the positive responses given to it by the ICC, the CWO and others undoubtedly expressed the desire for the elimination of false divisions in the revolutionary movement. Unfortunately the attempt eventually ran aground after three of the conferences.

The principal reason for this was serious political errors concerning the conditions and process of the regroupment of revolutionaries.

The criteria of invitation by BC to the first conference was not clear since leftist grouplets of the time like Combat Communiste and Union Ouvrière were included in the list. Organisations that are part of the revolutionary camp like Programma Comunista were not included. Neither was it clear what the function of the gathering of communist groups was to be. In its original document of invitation BC proposed the turn of the European CPs toward social democracy as the theme.

From the beginning the ICC campaigned for a clear delimitation of who was eligible to attend such conferences. At this time the ICC (International Review no11) published a Resolution on Proletarian Political Groups from the second congress of the ICC. In International Review no17 the ICC published a Resolution on the Process of Regroupment that it submitted to the 2nd Conference. A clear idea of who was in the revolutionary milieu was necessary to pursue the process of regroupment. The ICC also insisted that the conference discussions should be devoted to examining the fundamental political differences which existed between the groups, and the progressive elimination of false divisions, particularly those created by sectarianism.

A measure of the different conceptions of what the conferences should be can be seen from an opening discussion at the 2nd Conference (November 1978). The ICC proposed a resolution that would include a criticism of the groups like Programma and the FOR that refused in a sectarian manner to participate. This resolution was rejected by both BC and the CWO, who said:

"We may regret that certain of these groups judged it not worthwhile to attend. However, it would be counter-productive to spend our time in condemning them. Possibly certain of these groups will change their mind in the future. In addition, the CWO is discussing with certain of these groups, and it would hardly be diplomatic to make such a resolution" (2nd Conference of groups of the Communist Left, Vol. 2, p3).

Here was the problem of the Conferences. For the ICC they had to continue according to clear organisational principles at the heart of the regroupment process. For the CWO and BC the latter was a question of... diplomacy, even if only the CWO was clumsy enough to spell this out.[2]

Initially the CWO and BC were unclear who should be at the Conferences. Later they veered towards a sharp increase in the criteria, which they insisted on suddenly at the end of the 3rd Conference. The debate on the role of the party, which remained a major area of debate between the different groups, was closed. The ICC, which did not agree with the position adopted by BC and the CWO, was excluded.

The error of this manoeuvre was compounded when, at the 4th Conference, the CWO and BC again relaxed the criteria and the place of the ICC was taken by the Supporters of the Unity of Communist Militants, whose break with Iranian leftism was merely a matter of appearance.

However, according to the CWO letter, the SUCM were not Maoists because the ICC had already discussed with them secretly and because they accepted the criteria for participation in the conferences.

The CWO seem to be adopting an unfortunate argument here - our mistakes were your mistakes - that is hardly an appropriate method for getting to the facts. We will return to this argument later.

"11. The domination of revisionism over the Communist Party of Russia has resulted in the defeat and retreat of the world working class from one of its important bulwarks".[3]

By revisionism these Iranian Maoists, as they explain elsewhere in their program, meant the Krushchevite revision of Marxism-Leninism, i.e. of Stalinism. According to them the proletariat was finally defeated not when Stalin announced the building of socialism in one country, but on the contrary after Stalin had died: after the crushing of the Russian working class in the gulags and on the imperialist battlefields, the destruction of the Bolshevik Party, the smashing of the German, Spanish, and Chinese working class, after throwing twenty million human beings into the abattoir of the 2nd World War...

At its inception the CWO deemed the ICC to be counter-revolutionary, because it considered that the degeneration of the Russian Revolution was not completed by 1921. Seven years later, the CWO held comradely discussions to form the future party with an organisation that considered the revolution had ended in... 1956!

According to the SUCM it was not socialist revolution that was on the historical agenda in Iran, as everywhere else, but the democratic revolution as a supposed stage toward it.

Denying the imperialist nature of the Iran/Iraq war, the SUCM offered the most sophisticated arguments for the proletariat to be sacrificed on the altar of national defence. The SUCM seemed to agree with BC/CWO on the role of the party. But the organising role it had in mind for the party was to mobilise the masses behind its bid for bourgeois power.

At the 4th Conference the CWO nevertheless had some insights into their real nature:

"Our real objection is however to the theory of the aristocracy of labour. We think this is the last germ of populism in UCM and its origin is in Maoism".[4]

"The theory of revolutionary peasantry [of the SUCM] is reminiscent of Maoism, something we totally reject".[5]

So much for an organisation that the CWO now says could not have been Maoists.

The great interest and pseudo-fraternity the SUCM showed toward the proletarian political milieu in Britain, and its disguise of its Stalinism behind a screen of verbal radicalism, certainly begins to explain how the CWO and BC could be taken in by such an organisation. Indeed the ICC section in Britain, World Revolution, initially believed the SUCM, considering it to be a possible expression of the workers' upsurge in Iran at the time (1980) before realising the SUCM's counter-revolutionary nature. But this alone does not provide a satisfactory explanation of the CWO's self-deception, particularly since WR warned the CWO what the SUCM was and criticised its own initially open-minded assessment. It also tried to denounce this organisation at a CWO Conference, but was shouted down by the CWO before it could finish.[6]

Debate between revolutionaries cannot be based on the philistine morality of shared blame. There are mistakes and mistakes. World Revolution managed not to fall into any major errors, and drew the lessons. The CWO/BC made a tragic blunder, whose negative effects on the proletarian political milieu are still felt today. The grotesque farce of the 4th Conference finished the Conferences off as a point of reference for emerging revolutionary forces. And still the CWO refuses to recognise the disaster and the origins of it. We believe the origins of this disaster lie in a blindness to the nature of the proletarian political milieu that has led to a policy of regroupment based on diplomacy.

The formation of the IBRP.

In the WR polemic we argue that the regroupment between the CWO and the IBRP suffered from similar weaknesses as the International Conferences.

In particular this regroupment did not occur as a result of a clear resolution of the differences that separated the groups of the communist left, nor those between BC and the CWO.

On the one hand the IBRP affirmed that it was not a unified organisation since each group had its own platform. The IBRP has quite a few platforms: that of BC, of the CWO, and that of the IBRP that is the aggregate of the first two minus their disagreements. In addition the CWO has a Platform of Unemployed Workers Groups and a Platform of Factory Groups. It was also in the process of writing a "popular platform" with the Communist Bulletin Group as we shall see below.

The IBRP is for the party but already contains an organisation, BC, which claims to be the Party: Partito Comunista Internazionalista.

On the other hand, we have never seen in the press of these organisations or in the common press the least debate on their disagreements. And important differences remain on the possibility of revolutionary parliamentarism, and on the trade union and national questions.

In this respect the IBRP is in marked contrast to the ICC, which is a unified, centralised international organisation, and, following the tradition of the workers' movement, opens its internal debates toward the outside.

On the problem of their link-up with BC, the CWO letter asserts that the regroupment of the IBRP did not take place overnight and therefore cannot be seen as a quick opportunist fix.

Our polemic however doesn't mention the speed with which this regroupment took place, but criticises the solidity of its political and organisational basis.

The IBRP was based on a self-appointed selection of "leading forces" for the party of the future. Yet in the 12 years between its formation and today the IBRP has not even managed to unify its two founding organisations.

The attempted regroupment by the CWO with the CBG

The CWO's policy on regroupment - characterised by the lack of serious criteria for defining the proletarian political milieu and its enemies - again led to potentially catastrophic difficulties at the beginning of the 1990s. The lessons of its unhappy adventure with the Iranian leftists had not been drawn.

The CWO let itself be drawn into a rapprochement with the parasitic groups, the CBG and the EFICC (the so-called "External Fraction" of the ICC), announcing a possible New Beginning within the revolutionary milieu in Britain.

The CWO letter tells us however that it has no regroupment with the CBG, and has had no direct contact with this group since 1993. We are glad to hear it. But when the polemic in World Revolution no190 was written this information had not been made public and we therefore based ourselves on the most recent information from Workers' Voice on the subject:

"Given the recent practical cooperation between members of the CWO and CBG in the pit closure campaign the two groups met in Edinburgh in December to discuss the implications of this cooperation. Politically the CBG accepted that the Platform of the IBRP did not stand as a barrier to political work whilst the CWO clarified what it meant to be a centralised organisation in the present period. A number of misunderstandings were cleared up on both sides. It was therefore decided to make the practical cooperation more formal. An agreement was drawn up which the CWO as a whole will have to ratify in January (after which a more complete report will be issued) and included the following points:

1 The CBG were to make regular agreed contributions to Workers' Voice and receive all editor's reports (the same went for leaflets etc).

2 CWO quarterly meetings to be opened to CBG members after January.

3 The two groups to discuss a popular platform being drafted by a CWO comrade as an instrument of intervention. CBG to give a written response before a meeting in June 1993 to monitor progress in joint work.

4 The Leeds comrades of both organisations to prepare this meeting.

5 Joint public meetings to continue with all other groups of the Communist Left based in the UK welcome to join in.

6 This agreement to be at least briefly reported in the next WV".[7]

Since no agreement (or disagreement) was reported in the next Workers' Voice, brief or otherwise, or any subsequent issue, and since a common activity was already taking place, it was surely valid to assume that some sort of regroupment had taken place between the CWO/CBG. The CWO rectification wrongly gives the impression that this regroupment was a pure invention on our part.

Just as the CWO believed it was possible to turn a Maoist organisation into the proletarian vanguard, so it thought it could turn parasites into militant communists. Just as it took the SUCM's acceptance of basic proletarian criteria at face value, so it believed the CBG when it accepted the IBRP platform, even though most of the members of this group, led by an element known as Ingram, split the CWO in 1978, and then attempted to destroy the British section of the ICC in 1981.

The CWO believed that it had clarified centralised organisation with a group that helped form a secret tendency within the ICC, with the aim of turning its central organs into a letter box (just as Bakunin's Alliance had tried to do with the General Council of the 1st International). It thought it could trust a group that had stolen material from the ICC and then threatened the latter with the police if it was recovered!

The CWO's initiative with the parasites, clearly enemies of revolutionary organisation, had the effect of dignifying the parasitic groups as authentic members of the Communist Left and of legitimising their slanders against the organisations of this milieu. The damage done by the CWO's attempted regroupment with the CBG thus includes that done to its own organisation. We are particularly convinced of this for the following reasons.

Firstly parasitism is not a political current in the proletarian sense. It doesn't define itself as a coherent organisation around a political program. On the contrary its very objective is to undermine such coherence in the name of anti-sectarianism and freedom of thought. Their work of denigrating revolutionary organisations and promoting disorganisation and confusion can be continued informally by ex-members even after they have dropped the pretence - as in the case of the CBG - of a formal existence.

Secondly parasitism, insofar as it is accepted as part of the revolutionary milieu, softens the vertebrae of the existing organisations, reducing their capacity to define themselves and others in a rigorous way. The results of this can be catastrophic, even if it might lead temporarily to numerical growth.

Even if the regroupment with the CBG was aborted serious questions nevertheless remain for the CWO. Why it did develop relations with such a group, when this group had no other reason to exist than to denigrate organisations of the proletarian political milieu? Why, instead of keeping quiet, did it not put forward seriously and openly the weaknesses and incomprehensions that had led it to such a political error?

Consequences of the adventure with the CBG

The polemic in World Revolution with the CWO was written in direct and immediate response to try and explain two recent worrying events: the failure to defend a WR public meeting from sabotage by the parasitic group Subversion and the liquidation of its newspaper Workers' Voice.

This indicated in our view a dangerous blindness to the enemies of the proletarian political milieu and even a tendency to take on some of the activity of political parasitism in place of communist militancy.

Unfortunately, the CWO letter doesn't consider the arguments of the polemic on this question as on the others.

As far as the public meeting was concerned there is nothing to answer according to the CWO because the ICC account of it is a gross exaggeration.

The fundamental question that the CWO avoids answering is: was the meeting sabotaged by parasites or not? The ICC has provided evidence in two issues of its monthly paper in Britain, World Revolution, of this sabotage. It consisted of: interrupting the meeting, repeated verbal and physical provocations against ICC militants, including all the typical parasitic slanders of Stalinism, authoritarianism etc, creating a climate where discussion was impossible and finally bringing the meeting itself to a premature halt. The CWO sympathiser failed to fight this sabotage at the meeting, and instead reserved his criticism for the ICC defence of it. The CWO would have done the same. They refuse to admit or deny that such sabotage took place let alone denounce it - and admonish the ICC for its unspecified gross exaggerations.

Likewise on Workers' Voice. The letter tells us that the CWO has not liquidated its paper but adopted a new publications strategy with Revolutionary Perspectives.

But the CWO has stopped publishing its newspaper Workers' Voice and replaced it with a theoretical magazine, Revolutionary Perspectives.

The letter doesn't respond to our argument that behind this new strategy is a serious concession to political parasitism. The CWO declared that Revolutionary Perspectives was for the reconstitution of the proletariat. Equally it suggested, without going into details, that the collapse of the USSR has created a whole new set of theoretical tasks.

This last point is certainly correct. But does it justify abandoning the paper?

Just when it is important to insist that revolutionary theory can only develop in the context of militant intervention in the class struggle, the CWO makes concessions to the ideas being peddled by certain academically inclined parasitic groups, which dress up their impotence and absence of militant conviction with the pretence of devoting themselves to new theoretical questions. Certainly, the CWO has not gone that far, but precisely because it is a group of the proletarian political movement, its weaknesses can serve as a figleaf for those groups that live parasitically off the movement. Moreover, we should note that the CWO's great preoccupation with the reconstitution of the proletariat bears a certain resemblance to the EFICC's hobby horse - a hobby horse that the latter got from doctors in sociology like Alain Bihr, the subtle spokesman (and well paid by the bourgeois media) for the idea that the proletariat no longer exists, or is no longer the revolutionary class.[8] The purpose of such questioning by the parasites is of course not to arrive at a definite orientation for the working class, but to denigrate the militant organisational approach of Marxist theory and undermine its foundations. This is not what the CWO wants, but abandoning its paper and restricting its intervention to the publication of a theoretical review is hardly coherent with the crying need for the revolutionary newspaper as a collective propagandist, collective agitator, and collective organiser.

In its new publication the CWO, until the third issue failed to print its basic principles or give any idea of itself as an organisation. This is not accidental - it represents a serious weakening of its militant presence in the working class.

The CWO and the ICC

The CWO's difficulty with the question of the proletarian political milieu has led to a dangerous openness to the enemies of this milieu, both leftists and parasites. On the other hand it has ended up in an equally harmful policy of sectarian hostility toward the ICC.

In Britain it has tried to avoid any systematic confrontation of political differences with World Revolution, and tried to pursue a tactic of separate development particularly through discussion groups whose criterion for participation is extremely unclear except on the question of the exclusion of the ICC.

The CWO, according to their letter, participated in the Sheffield Study Group with anarchists, left communists, parasites like Subversion and an ex-member of the CBG. Recently this study group has been superseded by a CWO Education Meeting.

No, the CWO organised this Sheffield Study Group as a club without any clear political criteria as to participation or purpose, and seems to have killed it in a similarly confused way.

The CWO Education Meeting doesn't seem to have changed much: does it now exclude anarchists, parasites, or only those who don't want to study? By contrast the ICC's non-attendance continues to be a condition of its existence. At its last meeting, apparently on the Russian Left, the ICC as an organisation was specifically uninvited, even though a member of the ICC was invited - but only on the basis that she was the companion of one of the privileged participants! Naturally, since ICC militants are responsible to the organisation and not freelancers, this gracious invitation was turned down.

The ICC still hasn't been informed of any subsequent Education Meetings, despite what it says in the CWO letter, and until we are we can assume that they are intended, not as a reference point of political/theoretical confrontation within the proletarian political milieu, but as a sectarian get-together, where discussion is fuelled by the needs of diplomacy rather than clear principles.

It is quite true that the CWO has never admitted its policy of separate development as far as political meetings are concerned and claims, against all the evidence, that it has maintained an openness to the ICC restricted only by geographic or other contingent difficulties.

In over two decades since the formation of a communist left trend in Britain, the CWO may have attended dozens of ICC public meetings. But over this period, the number of the latter has run into the hundreds.

Since the CWO wrote their letter to us, the ICC has held a public meeting on Ireland in London and one in Manchester on the strikes in France at the end of last year, both subjects on which the CWO has written short polemics in its press. But they failed to attend the meetings to defend their point of view! Nor did the CWO attend an ICC meeting in London in January on the defence of revolutionary organisations. In the same period the CWO has held one open meeting in Sheffield on Racism, Sexism and Communism advertised in Revolutionary Perspectives no3, which hit the bookshops and the WR post box a week or so after the meeting had taken place.

The sectarian attitude of the CWO toward the ICC is hardly explained by geographic difficulties, unless we are to believe that internationalists like the CWO are incapable of overcoming the geographic problems of travelling the 37 miles from Sheffield to Manchester, or the 169 miles to London on a regular basis.

Here is the real reason. According to the CWO: "Debate is impossible with the ICC, as the CWO found out at a recent Manchester public meeting because the comrades cannot understand any fact, argument or theoretical idea which cannot be twisted into their framework. But this framework is an idealist one and, as one of our comrades stated at that same meeting, consists of the four walls of a madhouse".

So, debate is impossible with the ICC - but possible with leftists, anarchists, the SPGB, and parasites? It is time the CWO reconsidered its rudderless policy toward the regroupment of revolutionaries.

What is sectarianism?

According to the CWO letter, the ICC polemic is unprecedentedly sectarian. But profound and serious criticism by one revolutionary organisation of another, which even puts into question its very foundations, is not sectarian. Revolutionary organisations have a duty to confront their differences, to eventually eliminate the confusion and dispersal in the revolutionary camp and hasten the unification of revolutionary forces in the future single world party of the proletariat.

Sectarianism is rather characterised by an avoidance of such confrontation, whether by isolation or through opportunist manoeuvring to preserve the existence of one's separate group at any price.


[1] It is true that during the same period, the comrades who were to publish World Revolution, and who formed the ICCs section in Britain (and who, like the Revolutionary Perspectives group, came in large part from the councilist group Solidarity) were not yet clear on the nature of the Russian Revolution. But the other founding groups of the ICC, notably Révolution Internationale, defended its proletarian nature very clearly throughout the conferences which took place at the time.

[2] The CWO letter gives the impression that the ICC has made things up to attack them. But it would be completely unnecessary to fuel our criticisms of the CWO with lies, even if we wanted to, because over the years it has expressed its organisational and political confusions so transparently.

[3] Programme of the Communist Party, adopted by the Unity of Communist Militants. The Programme of the Communist Party, which the UCM adopted with Komala (a guerrilla organisation linked to the Kurdish Democratic Party) came out in May 1982, 5 months before the 4th Conference. This programme was in turn based on that of the UCM published in March 1981, and was presented as a contribution for discussion at the 4th Conference.

[4] 4th International Conference of groups of the communist left, September 1982, p18

[5] (Ibid, p22)

[6] World Revolution no60, May 1983

[7] Workers' Voice no64 , January/February 1993, p6.

[8] Workers' Voice no59 Winter 1991/2


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