ICL in New York and Paris:
A Tale of Two Cities

In the most recent issue of 1917 we documented the International Communist League’s abandonment of revolutionary defeatism during the recent imperialist assault on Afghanistan. The once-revolutionary Spartacist League/U.S. (SL--leading section of the ICL) still claims to be Afghan defensist, but found it expedient to drop the call to defeat the U.S.-led imperialist coalition. Rather than forthrightly renounce Leninism, the SL attempts to slip its revisionism in sideways:

“From a Marxist perspective, however, there is no way to ‘defeat’ the inevitable drive toward war by the capitalists short of their being expelled from power through victorious workers revolution....”
Workers Vanguard (WV), 26 October 2001

Capitalism does have an inevitable drive toward war, but this hardly excuses the SL’s decision not to call for the defeat of the imperialist attack on Afghanistan. The Marxist position of revolutionary defeatism toward imperialist neo-colonial adventures is not a tactic but a principle.

This latest flinch derives fairly obviously from the SL leadership’s fear of the consequences of appearing unpatriotic. In France, where the domestic political climate is rather different, the Ligue trotskyste de France (LTF—the ICL’s French section) has taken a different position. In its 14 November 2001 statement, reprinted in Le Bolchévik, N· 158 (Winter 2001-2002), the LTF did not shrink from open defeatism:

“Today again we take a side against imperialism: we defend Afghanistan against imperialist attack, without giving the least political support to the Taliban reactionaries. Every defeat for imperialism favors the class struggle here. And the opposite is equally true; to put an end to wars of imperialist depredation it is necessary to break the sacred union [between bourgeoisie and proletariat] here, and overturn the capitalist class in the imperialist countries which dominate the world, like the USA and also France.”
--our translation

While the ICL’s New York leadership advanced the essentially social-democratic view that a military defeat for imperialism in Afghanistan requires the prior victory of socialism in the advanced capitalist countries, the LTF correctly observes that a military setback in Afghanistan can accelerate the class struggle in the imperialist heartland.

This political disparity is also reflected in differing assessments of the relevance of Leon Trotsky’s attitude toward Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s. The SL claims that the situation in Ethiopia in 1935 was fundamentally different than Afghanistan in 2001:

“the U.S. war against Afghanistan is in important ways different from the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, which was aimed at realizing Italy’s longstanding intention to colonize that country. The U.S. does not aim at an occupation of Afghanistan—at least not at this point—although now that they’re in Central Asia the imperialists will grab what they can. In attacking Afghanistan, the U.S. seeks vengeance for the insult to its imperial might.”
--WV, 26 October 2001

The LTF, in a polemic against those who refuse to take sides in such conflicts, asserts that there is a close analogy between Ethiopia and Afghanistan:

“In the 1930s Trotsky responded to this kind of argument when he explained that it was necessary to defend the Ethiopia of the Negus, a reactionary monarch, against Italy.…

We have a side, we defend Afghanistan against imperialism without any [political] support to any of the factions created and supported by the imperialists.”
--Le Bolchévik, N· 158 (Winter 2001-2002), emphasis added

We have a side, and the LTF has a side, but does the SL have a side? (Footnote 1) It seems that the ICL’s American cadres are not sure. Sometimes they emphasize their desire to defend Afghanistan against the imperialists, which sounds quite a bit like taking sides. But in that case they would welcome the sort of military setbacks that drove the U.S. Marines out of Lebanon in 1983 and the U.S. Rangers out of Somalia a decade later. If the SL leaders do not wish to see more such defeats for the imperialists’ praetorians, why talk about “defense”?

The SL tops claim that leftists who call for imperialist defeat (as the SL itself did as recently as 1999 when NATO attacked Yugoslavia) are simply engaging in pseudo-revolutionary phrase-mongering. But in Paris the LTF sings a different tune, and complains that a group of former SLers (the Internationalist Group) “accuse us [ICL] of ‘Kautskyism’ because in their eyes we don’t proclaim noisily enough that we are for the military defeat of imperialism.” Kautskyists do not advocate defeat of their own imperialist rulers. We welcome the fact that the LTF is “for the military defeat of imperialism” (the more noisily the better of course), but suggest that they contact their American headquarters and find out why they don’t take the same position. (Footnote 2)

1. A comrade has written to draw attention to a recent issue of Workers Vanguard (31 May) in which Jack Barnes’ Socialist Workers Party is chastised for backing Boris Yeltsin in August 1991 on the streets of Moscow:

"When defense of the Soviet Union, Cuba's main economic lifeline, was posed pointblank in 1991, the SWP backed Yeltsin's forces of counterrevolution, exclaiming ‘Soviet Workers Win Giant Victory by Defeating Coup’ (Militant, 6 September 1991)."

What WV does not mention is that their position was one of neutrality in this decisive showdown between the remnants of the Stalinist kleptocracy and “Yeltsin’s forces of counterrevolution.” This position mirrors the ICL’s current incoherence on Afghanistan—they advocated the defeat of one side (Yeltsin), while refusing to defend the other (the Stalinist coupists). None of this matters much as long as it is just sideline commentary, but the contradiction in the ICL posture would become immediately apparent to anyone who tried to actually implement such absurdities.

2. Another IBT comrade commented:

"France poses a special problem for the SL/ICL. They attempt to construct a tendency with quite decent human material rendered politically stupid (and therefore unthreatening to the leadership) in part through various barriers to all external political-educational influences. In countries where the level of discourse on matters pertinent to a Marxist-Trotskyist view of the world is rather low, or carried on only by rather small and isolated groups, it is not so difficult to isolate their members from those influences. It is a bit more difficult to set up the impermeable boundaries of a sect based on claims of Trotskyism in Paris, a city where claims of Trotskyism are widespread and where intelligent, if often mistaken, discussion highly relevant to Trotskyism is such an important stream of cultural life. This poses a fundamental difficulty for the SL in maintaining a French operation."

Posted: 30 June 2002