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Spartacist English edition No. 62

Spring 2011

Preface to ICL Declaration of Principles

The Sixth Conference of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), held in late 2010, voted to make a number of amendments to the ICL “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program” adopted at the Third ICL Conference in 1998. In presenting these in the form of a preface rather than a revised edition of the Declaration, we follow the practice of our Marxist antecedents in addressing necessary extensions or additions to historic documents of the revolutionary workers movement.

Chief among the amendments is the position adopted at the Fifth ICL Conference in 2007 to oppose on principle running candidates for executive positions in the capitalist state. This is a logical extension of the position expressed in Point 11 of the Declaration of Principles: “Parliamentary governments formed by reformist workers parties (‘bourgeois workers parties’ as defined by Lenin) are capitalist governments administering capitalist rule.” The fundamental line between reform and revolution is the attitude toward the bourgeois state, i.e., the reformist view that one can take hold of the existing state apparatus and administer it in the interests of the workers, versus the Leninist understanding that the capitalist state apparatus must be smashed through proletarian revolution. While Marxists can run for and serve, as oppositionists, in bourgeois parliamentary bodies, seeking to use their positions as tribunes for revolutionary propaganda, the problem with running for executive offices—even when, as we did prior to 2007, asserting in advance that we would not accept such positions if elected—is that it lends legitimacy to prevailing and reformist conceptions of the state. Our article “Down With Executive Offices of the Capitalist State! Marxist Principles and Electoral Tactics” (Spartacist [English edition] No. 61, Spring 2009) elaborated the historical development of this understanding, indicating how it differed from the practice of our Leninist and Trotskyist forebears, a practice which issued in part from a partial and confused discussion on the question of parliamentarism at the 1920 Second Congress of the Communist International (CI). As the document of the Fifth ICL Conference stated: “In adopting the position against running for executive office, we are recognizing and codifying what should be seen as a corollary to Lenin’s The State and Revolution and The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, which are really the founding documents of the Third International.... Thus we are continuing to complete the theoretical and programmatic work of the first four Congresses of the CI.”

A second addition to the Declaration is the inclusion of Laos as one of the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states along with China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. During the Vietnam War, as against all variants of petty-bourgeois pacifism, class collaboration and Stalinist nationalism, we raised the call: “All Indochina Must Go Communist!” The seizure of Saigon on 30 April 1975 by the forces of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam and the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front signified the victory of the Vietnamese Revolution against U.S. imperialism and its South Vietnamese bourgeois/landlord puppet regime. When the Stalinist-led, peasant-based Pathet Lao guerrilla insurgents gained state power in Laos several weeks later, we wrote in the youth press of the Spartacist League/U.S.: “With its predominantly feudal and even pre-feudal tribal relations of production, a Laotian state established by the Stalinists would tend to lean on and take on the social character of the neighboring and more advanced Vietnamese and Chinese deformed workers states” (Young Spartacus No. 33, June 1975). However, in the subsequent years, we failed to codify the understanding that Laos is, and has been since the victory of the Indochinese Revolution, a deformed workers state. The Laotian Communists had always been closely linked with those in Vietnam. Once in power, the Laotian Stalinists went on to establish a regime based on proletarian property forms, in conjunction with and under the influence of the relatively more powerful and economically advanced Vietnamese deformed workers state.

Correctly stressing the central importance of the fight against capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, the homeland of the October Revolution, Point 3 of the Declaration notes “our active intervention for the revolutionary reunification of Germany” in 1989-90. Our fight for proletarian political revolution against the ultimately ascendant forces of capitalist reunification with West Germany represented the largest and most sustained intervention in the history of our tendency. As we noted in our assessment of the DDR [East Germany] intervention in the document of the 1992 Second Conference of the ICL (Spartacist [English edition] No. 47-48, Winter 1992-93): “Although shaped by the disproportion of forces, there was in fact a contest between the ICL program of political revolution and the Stalinist program of capitulation and counterrevolution.”

We also take this opportunity to summarize previously codified corrections to several impressionistic statements in the Declaration of Principles. The reference to “‘market reforms’ counterrevolution in China” in Point 3 conflates the introduction of such measures with the imminence of capitalist counterrevolution. In the same vein, we argued that the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy “looks toward wholesale destruction of state industry, thereby posing the dismantling of what remains of the planned economy of the deformed workers state.” In fact, despite massive incursions of capitalist property, China remains a deformed workers state in which the industrial and financial core of the economy is based on collectivized, state-owned property. As a brittle, parasitic caste resting atop the socialized property, the Stalinist bureaucracy is incapable of implementing a cold, gradual restoration of capitalism from above. However, sooner or later the bureaucracy will fracture, posing pointblank the alternatives of capitalist restoration or proletarian political revolution.

The Declaration (in Point 7) also exaggerates the significance of centrist, anarchist and syndicalist currents in the post-Soviet period. When Trotsky wrote “Centrism and the Fourth International” in 1934, the radicalization within the workers movement resulting from the Great Depression and the bankruptcy of the Stalinized Comintern in the face of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 generated significant left-centrist currents in the social-democratic parties. In contrast, there is little in the current political spectrum that is classically centrist, i.e., organizations in political motion, breaking to the left from reformism or to the right from revolutionism to reformism. Overwhelmingly, our opponents on the left are today confirmed reformists, opponents of the internationalist revolutionary workers movement. Likewise the political signature of today’s anarchists, who are in fact petty-bourgeois liberals, is not revulsion against the parliamentarist and class-collaborationist betrayals of Stalinism and social democracy but passionate anti-Communism. Nor is there anything approximating a genuinely anti-parliamentarist, revolutionary syndicalist current, as at the time of the Russian Revolution, in the workers movement today.

Lastly, we note that it is somewhat misleading and ahistorical to say that “the failure of the Bolshevik Party to explicitly recognize the vindication of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution by the October Revolution and the failure to explicitly repudiate the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ then became a conduit for the forces later posturing as the Bolshevik ‘old guard’ (e.g. Stalin) to attack Trotsky” (Point 10). In the first place, it was generally acknowledged in the Bolshevik Party during the period of Lenin’s leadership that the revolution had conformed to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution and the congruent perspective advanced by Lenin in his “April Theses” of 1917. Moreover, it is idealistic to presume that revolutionaries can, simply through codifying a correct theory, thereby close off a “conduit” for revisionism in a later reactionary period. As Trotsky subsequently explained in The Stalin School of Falsification, in launching an attack on “Trotskyism” (i.e., the internationalist principles of October) in 1924, the conservative, bureaucratic “Old Guard” was not restrained by anything he or Lenin had written or done in 1917. Trotsky later noted that the Thermidorean reaction won out over “the Opposition, the party and Lenin, not with ideas and arguments, but with its own social weight. The leaden rump of the bureaucracy outweighed the head of the revolution” (The Revolution Betrayed [1936]).

Unlike the erstwhile Stalinists and other revisionists, joined today by numerous dilettantes and political bandits ensconced in the virtual reality of cyberspace, who rotate through contradictory programmatic positions and even alleged principles in order to conform to changing opportunist appetites, authentic Marxists prize revolutionary continuity and programmatic consistency. That is why the ICL, uniquely among organizations on the left, makes available bound volumes of our earlier publications. We strive to forthrightly and explicitly indicate when we have refined or rejected, in light of subsequent experience or new research, previous positions as inadequate or wrong. This approach is central to our responsibility to act as guardians of the collective memory of the international proletariat.

—December 2010


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