3 October 2023
“Submission to the pressure of bourgeois society has repeatedly thrust nominally Marxist currents towards revisionism, the process of ruling out Marxism's essential conclusions.”
—“Declaration of Principles of the Spartacist League,” adopted by the founding conference of the Spartacist League, September 1966
The latest issue of Spartacist marks a watershed moment in the sad history of the International Communist League (ICL). Formally junking the core of its program and political heritage going back to its founding—a tradition it denounces as “centrist” at best—the ICL now frames its raison d'Ítre as the fight against “liberalism.”
An IBT comrade intervened at a public forum of the Trotskyist League, Canadian section of the ICL, held in Toronto on 30 September to introduce the new approach. He pointed out that this orientation is precisely towards a kind of liberalism: bourgeois nationalism. The ICL claims that it previously opposed “bourgeois nationalism in oppressed nations based on sectarian class purity” (“The ICL's Post-Soviet Revisionism,” Spartacist No.68).
What is the “sectarian class purity” that supposedly undermined the ICL's fight for revolution? While the recent issue of Spartacist leaves many questions unanswered, it provides a good sense of where the ICL is heading. Rejecting as “social-democratic” their founder James Robertson's orthodox Trotskyist defense of permanent revolution, the ICL now projects “national liberation as the fundamental lever for proletarian revolution” (“In Defense of the Second and Fourth Comintern Congresses,” Spartacist No.68). Instead of viewing class struggle as the “fundamental lever for proletarian revolution” in the neocolonial world—the central idea of Trotsky's permanent revolution—the ICL resurrects the concept of the “anti-imperialist united front” with the national bourgeoisie of oppressed countries. It goes so far as to suggest that rejecting the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry,” which Lenin himself abandoned as outdated over a century ago, means renouncing “the alliance between workers and peasants” and even the early Soviet government (Ibid.).
To be sure, the ICL still pays lip service to proletarian independence and the struggle against the influence of nationalist ideology—revisionists have always been careful to have “orthodox”-sounding formulations to confuse people. But in promoting the fight against national oppression as the “fundamental” mechanism for revolution; advocating “anti-imperialist” alliances with the national bourgeoisie; and drawing an equals sign between the struggle for a two-class “democratic dictatorship” and permanent revolution, the ICL has finally embraced the Pabloite revisionism that the founders of the Spartacist League fought against. Indeed, according to the ICL, only “sectarians” (or is it “social democrats”?) “denounce bourgeois nationalism in oppressed countries as simply reactionary” (Ibid.). Ernest Mandel would be pleased.
“What was the point of your group for the past half century?” our comrade asked the Trotskyist League. “Was it all a waste of time? Did it ever mean anything?”
The painful truth is that it once meant everything. The Spartacist League was founded to restore the revolutionary Marxist program, to ensure continuity with Trotsky's Fourth International, destroyed by a Pabloite revisionism that sought other “fundamental levers” for socialist transformation, whether in Stalinist, social-democratic or bourgeois-nationalist parties. From its founding until its political degeneration in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the international Spartacist tendency embodied the Trotskyist program. Even after its degeneration, it was able to hold onto its core programmatic ideas at least in a formal sense, despite notable deviations in practice. The SL was distinguished from the Pabloites on a range of important political questions, from Northern Ireland to Israel/Palestine, from the Iranian Revolution to the Malvinas/Falklands War, from Mexico to Quebec and beyond. All of that has now been erased.
The chair clearly did not much like this critique and cut our representative off before the allotted time was up. But ICL comrades who are not exhausted, not demoralized, not resigned, not cynical, who are committed to advancing Trotskyism instead of neo-Pabloism must stop and ask themselves: “How did we get here?” Answering that question means taking seriously the IBT's critique of a process of degeneration over the last four decades.
Whatever Happened to the Spartacist League?
In Defense of (Seymour's) Marxism: Exposing the 'Theoretical Framework' of ICL's Neo-Pabloist Turn (1917 No.40)
From Trotskyism to Neo-Pabloism: ICL Breaks with Leninism on the National Question (14 February 2018)
Marxism & the Quebec National Question, Trotskyist Bulletin No.7
Ukraine & the Left (1917 No.45)