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In defence of Marxism

Theoretical journal of the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency

Written: 1993.
First Published: May 1993.
Source: Published by the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency.
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In defense of Marxism
Number 2 (May 1993)

This open letter, first issued at the Lutte Ouvrière Fête in June 1992, is a balance sheet of the experiences made first by the LTT and then by the WIL in the Liaison Committee (LC) between 1989 and 1991. The LC was formed by a number of groups which participated in the Rimini conference (itself an outgrowth of the WRP / Workers Press’ Preparatory Committee (PC) in 1989 and consisted of organisations which had been excluded from, or had split with, the PC.

The main participants in the LC were Voce Operaia (Italy) and the RKL (Austria). Maulwurf, a small German youth group (now renamed Spartakusbund), and the RWP of Sri Lanka were also members. Rather than tackle the accumulating political differences, not least among themselves, these groups executed a manoeuvre in June 1991 by renaming the LC the Liaison Committee of Communists and in effect excluding the fused LTT.

With the addition of the French group Promethée and the Revolutionary Trotskyist League of the United States, the International Liaison Committee of Communists, as it is now called, has compounded its previous mistakes on reformism and the national questions and has undergone a further Stalinophilic evolution, supporting Serbia in the civil war in former Yugoslavia.

It should be noted that this open letter corrects a range of factual inaccuracies contained in the LRCI’s article on Voce Operaia and the LC in Trotskyist International No.7, Sept-Jan 1991-92.

The LTT’s Experience with the Liaison Committee: An Open Letter to Voce Operaia (formerly GOR) of Italy

Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency
June 1992

Your letter of December 23, 1991 purports to be a reply to our letter of October 7, 1991. In fact it is not a serious response to any of the substantive points contained in our letter. What is more, it is written in Italian – a language which you do not use to write to any other tendency, whether to other members of the Liaison Committee of Communists (LCC) or indeed to your sister organisation in Sri Lanka. Since you are aware that no member of our tendency understands Italian fluently (and still less the idiomatic manner in which your letter is couched), this strongly suggests that your letter was intended more for your own members than for us. The summary which you have drawn up of our relations underlines this impression. We do not intend to go through all the factual inaccuracies and distortions contained in your letter. We nevertheless think that it is time to make a balance sheet of our relations.

The LTT looked for, and is still looking for, collaboration with other tendencies in order to move forward towards rebuilding the Fourth International. We have never placed preconditions on discussions and we have always been open to explore and extend areas of agreement with other currents, particularly in relation to focal points of the class struggle internationally, in order to build a principled basis for fusions. This method was put into practice when the old LTT (Belgium and Germany) fused with the WIL and our South African comrades in 1991.

This fusion process did not prevent us from conducting ongoing discussions with other currents, including the present members of the LCC and the Internationalist Faction of the LIT. These processes of collaboration and discussion develop at different speeds. Some have come to a standstill; others to our regret have gone backwards. The LTT has adopted this general approach for a number of years. For instance, at the first meeting of the groups which later formed the Liaison Committee in Vienna in late 1989, you were informed of the contacts between the old LTT and the WIL – contacts made outside the Liaison Committee.

In 1988 you shared this point of view. In relation to the forthcoming European Conference which took place in Rimini in 1989, you wrote:

‘We confirm to agree on the nature of the meeting: a programmatic political discussion which makes an ideological clarification possible in the framework of the struggle for the rebuilding of the Fourth International. We also confirm to have no objection in extending the invitation to all tendencies referring to Trotskyism.’ (GOR letter, May 30, 1988).

Some months later, in your letter of January 10, 1989, you offered the opinion that most of the participating groups did not intend to do very much to make the European Conference a success. At that time you saw a political basis for closer collaboration with us:

‘The success of the European meeting depends on the force and the determinateness with which you and we demand political clarity and theoretical depth, since the function of the meeting is this: to create a framework inside which a political clarification and a programmatic delimitation is possible. Our wish is that the foundations for the formation of a Trotskyist axis of principle may be laid.’

On April 24, 1989, you wrote to us:

‘We don’t see any other road besides continuing, always more seriously, the discussions, orienting the political confrontation to the aim of a new international Trotskyist tendency. As for us, we have already told you, and we confirm, the common intention of RWP and GOR to get close relationships with your tendency which, also thanks to the interventions and the role played by Comrade Dieter, we have even more appreciated in Rimini. According to us, we should study the possibility to have closer relationships, with more frequent correspondence and meetings.’

Although the LTT at that time made serious attempts to begin a process of discussion – we translated some of your documents into German, we were the only tendency to present discussion documents, and not just statements or reprints, to the Rimini Conference, and we proposed the draft of a joint statement on China after the Beijing massacre – our efforts to deepen relations were frustrated. You did not answer our written contributions, nor did you take a clear position on, or sign, our China resolution.

Instead, we were informed, by way of a letter from you to the RWP of Sri Lanka (dated September 6, 1989), that after a week of leadership discussions you had decided to join forces with the RKL of Austria. You announced ‘a declaration of the RKL on the decision to join our international nucleus’ and ‘common resolutions on China and USSR’. In fact, you failed to produce even a single draft of these promised documents until the summer of 1990. You also failed to respond to our written criticisms of the RKL’s position on China, which they themselves were unable to defend.

As for the RKL, it indicated, in its letter of September 28, 1989, deep differences with your conception of ‘revolutionary Jacobinism’ and with your position on Afghanistan, and it rejected any future discussions with the ex- WRP Internationalist Faction and the International Trotskyist Committee. This sectarian attitude prompted a statement from the Executive Committee of the GOR. By October 10, 1989, you had discovered that the ITC supported

‘Only by words the process of political clarification inside the Trotskyist movement.’

And you further stated:

‘Because of these reasons, our Executive Committee is reconsidering its participation at a Co-ordinating Committee which, as things are up to now, has no possibility to play a positive role inside the Trotskyist movement.’

The first meeting of GOR, LTT, RKL and Maulwurf in Vienna in October 1989 revealed that there existed no principled political agreement between the participants. The representative of the GOR withdrew from the positions on Poland previously defended at the Rimini Conference. As a result, a gap opened up between him and the LTT, and the RKL supported the LTT’s position. In relation to China, it was the RKL which blocked a joint resolution, pointing to differences with the LTT over reformism. On the question of rebuilding the Fourth International serious differences arose. Comrade Moreno of the GOR argued that a joint intervention into the crisis in the GDR would be a decisive test of the seriousness of the German-speaking groups. The following months saw the RKL and their German co-thinkers sabotage the possibilities for joint work, and refuse to make an intervention into the GDR on the basis of an action programme.

At this meeting the LTT representative also voiced our opposition to the GOR-RKL policy of excluding other political currents, whilst having no principled agreement within the Liaison Committee. The RKL categorically rejected debate with the ITC and the LRCI. (We subsequently raised the exclusion of the ITC and the LRCI at the meeting in February 1991, again at the LO Fête three months later, at which time the RKL, VO and Maulwurf continued to oppose their participation, even if it was for different reasons, and we raised it once more in our letter of June 3, 1991.)

The question of how to regroup the forces within the Liaison Committee continued to be at the centre of all debates. The second Vienna meeting led nowhere. None of the groups could agree on the political preconditions for fusion. In our letter of March 28, 1990, we summarised our position: ‘A common attitude concerning the basic character of the epoch and a common analysis of the world political situation will be an important basis for a fusion. The “practical test” has to be added. There should be a common attitude towards focal points of the world revolution. Finally we should have a common attitude and analysis of the crisis of the world Trotskyist movement and of the tasks to overcome it.’ We also spelt out what we meant by a practical test: ‘Without a common attitude towards the political questions which are posed in the GDR an international tendency can come into being neither at short notice nor in the medium term.’

Although we demanded that VO, RKL and Maulwurf should rapidly take a position on our draft action programme for the GDR nothing happened.

In the meantime, we were informed by VO (letter of April 28, 1990) that the meeting held in Perugia had ‘confirmed the decision to found a Liaison Committee’ and that VO had presented a document which it wished to make ‘the constitution charter of the Liaison Committee’. (This document was not made available in a legible typed version to other participants in the Liaison Committee until October 1990).

That there was no overall agreement on the general line of the document was partially confirmed by Voce Operaia’s letter of November 26, 1990:

‘We have decided to change and shorten our draft theses, meeting the criticism of the RKL, WSL and other comrades. It is now a document about the impact of the crisis of Stalinism on the world situation. The general evaluation of events has not changed with respect to the former document; we better precise some points. We are working to the best English translation we can make. We think to send it to you within the first week of January.’

The revised version of the document was only sent out with your letter of January 31, 1991. Our reply was handed to you in February 1991 – a delay of less than one month! In spite of these undeniable facts you now write:

‘We can’t forget that you took one year to produce a criticism on our project on Eastern Europe.’

Perhaps your leadership should do something about its failing memory. We would also remind you that Comrade Moreno promised a response by the time of the LO Fête in May 1991 at the latest. We are still waiting.

In relation to the Gulf War, it is true that you agreed to the LTT proposal that the Liaison Committee produce a joint statement – even if you did so without much enthusiasm: ‘With regard to the Gulf crisis, we generally agree with the resolution of the WIL, that we accept to take without amendments, even if later, it will be necessary a wider document, also in the light of the imperialist agreements of Paris (November 19 Treaty).’ However, it does not seem that you used the resolution in your work, preferring to issue your own statement.

In January 1991 we were surprised to learn, given the Austrian veto on their attending the Liaison Committee, that VO, RKL and Maulwurf were discussing a draft resolution of the LRCI. You initially rejected the LRCI resolution on the grounds that it was too long! Instead, you proposed an alternative draft to the LRCI and suggested that yet another resolution be prepared for the meeting of the LC in Cologne in February. In the event, by the time of the LC meeting, you had changed your position on the Gulf War and were now in favour of calling for a ceasefire. The only resolution circulated on the Gulf War at that meeting was one drawn up by the WIL, LTT and IF of the LIT. The purpose of these Gulf War manoeuvres was to gain time. Expecting a political confrontation with the LRCI, your main objective was to consolidate your own contacts. This you hoped to do by officially founding the Liaison Committee on the basis of your document on Eastern Europe. This merely served to underline the general method with which you proceed. You don’t look for political and programmatic clarification, expressed in joint resolutions and joint actions. Instead you frame resolutions to serve your own immediate interests.

The record of the non-liaising Liaison Committee between October 1989 and February 1991 is clear. It agreed only one joint document – the resolution on the Gulf crisis drafted by the WIL. You manoeuvred to prevent agreement on the draft resolution on China; you covered up for the sectarian and unprincipled attitude of the RKL towards joint intervention in the GDR; and the efforts of the LTT to generate a discussion on the history of the Fourth International were almost entirely ignored. Your only response on this latter question consisted in the following statement:

‘As for the third point on the agenda, the question of the Fourth International and the method to build the International, its national sections and a revolutionary tendency, we will try to produce a motion. We don’t hide that about the history of the Fourth International we have differences with the position of the LTT, at least as it was expressed in the LTT’s Platform, since we don’t agree with the evaluation of the old Hansen LTF inside the USec.’

Nothing else. Despite your agreement to discuss the issue – a number of LTT documents were proposed as the basis for a debate – you have failed to produce anything. Your denunciation of the LIT-WIL fusion document as Healyite and Lambertist lacks any seriousness. Alone among the participating groups on the Liaison Committee we have produced an extensive and systematic critique of the International Committee tradition – a tradition, what is more, which you have claimed to defend, at least critically, since your association with the Spartacists. Have you changed your position on the IC tradition? If so, when and why? Or do you continue to defend it, minus Healyism and minus Lambertism? (This would be an interesting feat!)

Your political inconsistencies are highlighted in your positions on Poland. Before the Rimini conference, you assured us that you supported the positions of the LTT. During the conference you fought with us, the RWP and the WSL against the MRCI. We welcomed this development and recognised that for several years you had taken a healthier direction and broken with your Spartacist past. At that time we sincerely hoped for a political convergence on a principled basis. But the events in Eastern Europe since 1989 seem to have reversed your development. We continue to respect some of the contributions you made on the nature of the transitional economies. But you were unable to continue along this path or make a clear analysis of the final stages of the collapse of Stalinism. Instead of grappling with the contradictions of the mass movements which erupted, you preferred to issue a blanket denunciation of both leaders and led as ‘historical-reactionary movements’. Instead of attempting to counterpose the rank and file to the reactionary leaderships, you preferred to shelter behind a hypothetical wing of the Stalinist bureaucracy which would defend nationalised property and build new workers parties. You advocated an anti-Leninist position on the national question, making yourselves indistinguishable in the eyes of the masses from Great Russian chauvinists and thus playing into the hands of reactionary nationalists of all kinds.

By 1991 it was clear that deep-going principled differences separated us. Today, if we had more complete information on your policy in Italy, it is likely that these differences would be even greater. They are already of sufficient magnitude to exclude the prospect of fusion in the short to medium term. They do not exclude collaboration where agreement exists, nor should they exclude discussions aimed at overcoming, or at least clarifying, these differences. But let us put an end to diplomatic formulae. For nearly four years, our experience shows that you follow a zig-zag course politically, that you prefer unprincipled manoeuvres to a consistent struggle for principled regroupment, that you subordinate political clarification to organisational combinations and that you avoid all systematic theoretical discussions.

These traits were underlined by your childish attitude towards the fusion of the LTT and the WIL in which South African comrades based in Britain also participated. You pretend that you were surprised by this fusion, although you were informed in detail of the extent of our political convergence as long ago as March 1990. Our impression is that you are disappointed that we have made independent progress. We look for clarification and principled collaboration – not endless discussions for discussions’ sake. Our fusion proves the superiority of this method over that of endless manoeuvring. We would at least have expected that you would criticise our fusion document in a serious manner, and that you would finally present well thought out written arguments. Instead you denounce us as dogmatic, Stalinophobic, Healyite and Lambertist. Do you extend this denunciation to the document South Africa at the Crossroads? This use of epithets and labels in place of political arguments can only serve to miseducate the rank and file of VO. In your letter of December 23, 1991, you also throw in gratuitous sneers about money. Yet, when it came to financing the visit of a member of the RWP to Europe, you issued an appeal to which our British comrades responded. But you refused to include the South African representative to the Rimini conference in the pooled fare arrangement. We, for our part, have placed a priority on developing our work in Africa and, of necessity, this involves considerable expense. You expect others to send delegations to Moscow, but you pretend to be unable to meet the cost of travelling from Italy to . . . Cologne!

Aware that our political differences were coming to a head, VO’s leadership chose yet another manoeuvre to blow up the Liaison Committee. At short notice it decided, unilaterally, to move an agreed meeting in June 1991 from Cologne to Perugia, knowing full well that LTT representatives would have difficulty in attending. At the Perugia meeting it proceeded to found its ‘Liaison Committee of Communists’ – a committee whose common ground is that the present period is uniformly counter-revolutionary. The purpose of the LCC is to help the participants overcome their feelings of isolation and to cover up their lack of political perspectives and programmatic agreement.

Your proposal to organise a demonstration in Moscow last year was already sufficient proof that you had lost your sense of balance. Having effectively excluded the LTT you now claim that we have excluded ourselves. You have every right to believe your own rhetoric but that does not oblige you to inflict it on others. In reality, you confronted us with an ultimatum: either we accept your proposal for a joint platform or you will expel us from the Liaison Committee. To be frank, we are not sad that you excluded the LTT from your unprincipled bloc with the RKL. We take this in itself as an indication that you are continuing your course up a political blind alley. The fact that you issue ultimata and then attempt to cover them up raises serious questions as to your honesty. We are tired of your machinations, which have already cost us time, money and energy. Start discussing politics and stop trying to involve us in stupid manoeuvres. We are ready to look forwards – but you will have to convince us that your attitude towards regroupment and rebuilding the Fourth International has changed.

In defence of Marxism Index (1992-1996)

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