26 January 2024
At the debate held between the International Communist League (ICL) and the League for the Fourth International (LFI) in New York City on 13 January 2024, we distributed our open letter, The Baby & the Bathwater: Reforge the international Spartacist tendency!
Organizations present in the audience were permitted three minutes to speak during the discussion period in each of the two sessions. Below is the text of our comrades’ interventions.
We propose a deepening of the programmatic struggle amongst us, to reforge and develop the international Spartacist tendency. Debates like this one contribute, but we need something more sustained. I hope you’ve seen our open letter and the ICL’s response.
To understand the programmatic problems of today, you must understand their origins in the past. In the 1970s, fueled by a kind of apocalyptic optimism characteristic of that period, we did some very fine work. For example, through hard programmatic struggle, not least on the question of Ireland, we recruited significant layers from Alan Thornett’s Workers Socialist League. There was a veteran of Free Derry, and another from the Republican stronghold of Crossmaglen. They saw how in Northern Ireland British imperialism is the bourgeois order, and neither imperialism nor capitalism can be smashed without smashing the other, and that requires opposition to privileging either side of the sectarian divide. They saw that the imperialist system can be defeated only by a centering of a class struggle approach: ‘Not Green against Orange but Class against Class.’
But you know, by the mid-70s there was a collapse of the optimism, and the contradictions of Jim Robertson loomed larger. He was actually acutely aware of his own increasingly disproportionate role, and also of his alcoholism. He sometimes became irresponsible when disinhibited by alcohol, and sometimes peremptory and abusive. Look at the Goatfuckers speech and the Polanski dispute.
So there was an apolitical degrading of people—the most authoritative woman in the organization. There was a similar apolitical degrading of the Marxist-intellectual cloned youth. There was the removing by fiat of the leadership of the Spartacist League of Britain.
This all left the organization seriously less capable of maintaining the revolutionary program. And we, we, must find some way to get beyond the problems which have their origin back then. We must look at the whole thing, however, as a whole.
Full video of debate (IBT at 2:31:40)
The ICL now projects ‘national liberation as the fundamental lever for proletarian revolution’ instead of Trotsky’s view, and the view of the iSt in its revolutionary period, that class struggle under Bolshevik leadership is the ‘motor force’ or the ‘fundamental lever’ of socialist revolution even in countries of ‘belated capitalist development.’ They even resurrect the ‘anti-imperialist united front’ as we’ve discussed and even moot the idea of the slogan of the ‘democratic dictatorship,’ which Lenin himself said was outdated 107 years ago.
Now, we’re in basic agreement with what comrade Norden has outlined here in his presentation. But there is a big problem in the LFI’s claim to be the true heir of the revolutionary iSt. We published an open letter to the ICL, to the IG and other groups that claim the heritage of the iSt. We called that open letter ‘The Baby & the Bathwater.’ We’re saying the ICL is throwing out both, but the IG is trying to keep both.
What the programmatic ‘baby’ is is something that we very much do need to discuss, in a comradely and serious way. That’s urgent now in the present period of global capitalist destabilization and heightened class battles. So we’re proposing a conference to talk about what the programmatic ‘baby’ looks like and how to apply it today. But we also have to talk about the ‘bathwater.’ The ICL actually seems to be open, although they are laughing at this. Very good.
But will the LFI? So far they have refused to offer a serious account of their own purge from the iSt (the ICL at the time). But that actually matters. They claim that it was the demoralization caused by the destruction of the Soviet Union. But that can’t explain why the trial of Socorro had so many parallels to the 1979 show trial of Bill Logan or the 1981 purge of the Australian section. And it doesn’t explain why the SL liquidated its trade-union work in the 80s. And it doesn’t explain why, under comrade Norden’s editorship, Workers Vanguard called to save the lives of US Marines when a couple hundred were blown up in 1983.
We have to talk about these things. Is the LFI self-confident enough to engage in that process?
Full video of debate (IBT at 1:08:35)