At the end of June 2021, 3 sections and a number of groups and individuals disaffiliated from the ISA (read the “Open letter” here and the reply of the ISA leadership here). This came as a result of internal debates, differences and tensions that had arisen in leading bodies shortly after the split with the CWI (in the summer of 2019). After that major split in our forces, it was inevitable that different opinions would come to the fore. What was needed to handle that process was a patient and inclusive attitude from the new leadership. But this didn’t happen. Instead, the new leadership of the ISA, while in words accepting the right of minority opinions to exist, in reality it considered them as a problem and strode to diminish them.
This situation came to a climax at the long February 2021 International Commission, in which an all-out attack was unleashed towards comrades and sections that disagreed with the majority positions. Minority comrades from different sections then had no other way to respond but to declare an internal tendency, named Tendency for Internal Democracy and Unity (TIDU). We publish below the Response to the declaration of TIDU by the IE Majority.
-You can read the Declaration of TIDU here
-And also the “Reply” to the “Response” by TIDU here
[You can also read about the different internal debates here]
Response to the Declaration of the “Tendency for Internal Democracy and Unity”
adopted by ISA International Executive on March 25th 2021
ISA IMB #16 | March 29th 2021
The declaration of an internal tendency in ISA by 18 comrades in 7 countries is without doubt an important development. Comrades around the world will be watching with interest and eager to participate in discussions around the issues raised. In little over a year since our renaming and renewal following the departure of our former minority, debates and exchanges of ideas have been an important part of our internal life, and have contributed to strengthening our political clarity and cohesion.
At the same time, many comrades will be concerned by a development which appears to indicate deepening disagreements and polarisation within ISA. While those who formed the tendency have the responsibility to explain why they have done so and what they aim to achieve, comrades can be assured that the International Executive (IE) will continue to engage in a comradely and constructive way with all comrades. The right of comrades to form tendencies or factions is important and should not be questioned.
Above all, it is our hope that some positive proposals and ideas can emerge from this tendency which, even if we do not agree with them, can assist our discussions. The scope of the disagreements we have had in the last year with comrades who have formed tendency is already wide, including perspectives for the world economy, the class struggle and consciousness, socialist feminism and the fight against gendered violence in our movement, and democratic centralism, applied to our organization on a nation- al and world level. These are all crucial discussions with great potential for the collective education of our membership and leadership.
What is a Tendency/Faction?
The difference between a tendency and a faction is not clearly defined in our tradition, though in general “tendency” could be understood to indicate a looser grouping than a faction. However, both tendencies and factions are special forms of organisation within a revolutionary party. Disagreements and different points of view are constantly put forward in discussions in a revolutionary party between all comrades, in all directions, as individuals, with a position then worked out collectively. Tendencies/factions arise when comrades feel like raising their point of view as individuals in normal democratic discussions is no longer sufficient, and it is necessary to come together as a distinct organized grouping within the party.
Such a decision should not be taken lightly, and should be politically justified. Comrades coming to- gether in this way should be united by clear political ideas and objectives and should put these forward to the whole organization. In our view, the tendency’s declaration does not provide clarity on these questions.
Need for Clarification
It states, “what brought these comrades together were serious worries about developments in the Inter- national related to political analysis and the internal regime” and that the tendency’s purpose is to “de- fend the ideas of a balanced and careful political analysis as well as of a deep and all sided democratic regime in the ISA”.
While comrades would expect such affirmations to be followed by an outline of what a “balanced and careful political analysis” and an “all sided democratic regime” looks like, none is forthcoming. The declaration’s comments on the question of political analysis are confined to criticism of ISA’s perspectives, which moreover are of a very general and vague nature.
In addition, the declaration places significant emphasis on an account of events at a recent IC meeting based on reports from some IC members given to a meeting of the tendency. Of 18 signatories, 12 did not attend the IC meeting in question. Neither, as far as we are aware, did they seek clarification from other IC members to try to verify the impression of the meeting they were given by said comrades. Had they done so, it would have been clear that the vast majority of IC members do not share the impression given about the nature of said meeting. In a more general sense, asking ISA members to sign up to a tendency based on a one sided report of a meeting which most members cannot verify is not a particularly healthy or clarifying method.
The coming weeks and months will offer the comrades in the tendency opportunities to clarify these questions: what does the tendency stand for/propose? What are the objectives it seeks and in what timeframe? What are the basic political ideas which unite the tendency’s members? We urge the comrades to produce further clarifying written material in this regard.
The declaration unfortunately contains a number of untrue and misleading assertions. Here we give only briefly clarify them.
TAIWAN: A detailed report of the split from our organization in Taiwan (2 February) was given at the IE meeting which followed (11 February). A group of members secretly planned to split from the China-HK-Taiwan section to form a Taiwanese-only group outside ISA. This was to take place without debate or discussion, and those who split did not even attempt to contact members in the rest of the section (China, Hong Kong) or the international to seek their support or explain their decision.
The split was extremely sudden, at a time when the section is facing unprecedented attacks: arrests and serious legal prohibitions. The leaders of the group who split did not want to assist a comrade forced to leave Hong Kong for safety reasons. Eight Taiwan members, including two of the section’s Central Committee members, fought against this split and stayed in ISA. This is a courageous stand at a time when the section faces being driven underground by police terror. The description in the tendency declaration, of a “loss of our organisation in Taiwan”, and “no reports”, is alarmist and untrue, and the remark “only eight members” is disrespectful to the young comrades who fought against the split and are rebuilding.
None of the tendency signatories have even asked the section or ISA representatives – including at the February IC meeting – for any information, before stating that it was “unclear what exactly happened in Taiwan or what the real issues were”. With no attempt to check the facts, Taiwan is then used to imply that our comrades’ description of the split as a capitulation to national and opportunist pressures is an invention, to fit in with the wider discussion on federalism.
The declaration also says “It is concerning that such a significant development has taken place over a longer period without the International even knowing about it”. The discussion with some comrades in Taiwan is not new, however, and has been reported to the international before. For example at the IE meeting 20 February 2020, following discussions in the section and at the World Congress. The conclusion of these discussions were published in the International Members Bulletin #7 in April 2020. Tendency signatory AP, when still an international full-timer, heard several reports of these discussions. After the split, another tendency signatory, KL, heard a report on Taiwan in the Swedish Executive Committee.
After these points were raised by IC members following receipt of the tendency declaration, NA, on behalf of the tendency, wrote a “clarification” to the IC on Taiwan which essentially doubled down on the inaccurate points included in the declaration, instead of immediately accepting comrades’ corrections and removing the untrue description of events.
Overall, we share a desire for more in-depth discussion in the international leadership on the situation facing different sections, as well as on various other topics and aspects of work, particularly our work in the labour movement. Striving to achieve this is also linked to the need to expand our international resources and apparatus. But the tendency’s attempt to paint internal discussions about Taiwan as some- how democratically deficient are false.
VISITORS: Not one single visitor was invited to the February IC meeting “by the international centre”, as the comrades falsely allege. On 4 February, a reminder was sent to all IC members, requesting that IC members propose invites to the IC meeting 23-26 February. Many proposals came in based on discussions in section leaderships and they were all unanimously accepted at the beginning of the IC meeting. Many of the visitors attended only parts of the meeting. There were also sections leaderships that did not propose any invites, among them Belgium, Sweden and Greece. The claim that “the center” made the invitations and ignored minority views is completely wrong.
DEBATES: The declaration talks about “the refusal of the IC majority” to agree to a proposal for a debate on neoliberalism at the January VMU. The fact is that all debates organised before this and since, in the IE, IC and at the VMU have been proposed by IC majority comrades. A majority voted against the last minute proposal (14 January) for a debate at the January VMU for reasons explained in the issue 14 of the International Members’ Bulletin. Among their reasons was that debates were planned for the February IC around a new draft perspectives document, with no alternative yet having been presented. It was clear that these debates would then continue following the IC. Whatever one’s view of what the VMU agenda should have looked like, in our view, disagreement over one aspect of the agenda of a meeting, is a minor, and primarily a formal question. A major issue with this episode was the way comrades raised their agenda proposal, only days before the beginning of the event and in the middle of a tense meeting. As was stated in IMB13, had a proposal for an extra commission debating the end of the neoliberal era been raised earlier, not at the last minute before the IC meeting, then it’s likely it would have been agreed. The IE recognizes that away from the context of a difficult meeting, despite it creat- ing some practical difficulties, adding an extra commission on this debate could have been opportune.
DISTRIBUTION: The declaration mentions two letters, one from 3 Spanish EB comrades on 11 January and the other from 9 IC members 19 January (the declaration wrongly says Greek EC) that were allegedly delayed “by months”. In fact, both letters were immediately sent to the IC and to leading comrades from all sections, and in the latter case with the explicit indication it could be forwarded to national executive bodies. After discussion, the IC decided both letters should be published in the next International Members Bulletin, which is the structured, equal and democratic way to distribute material to all members. The reference to “communication between national sections’ leading bodies should be free and unhindered” is misplaced since there are no examples of such communication being blocked.
We are confident that even these brief clarifications reveal that the tendency declaration paints a distorted and exaggerated picture of supposed shortcomings of internal democracy in ISA.
Debates on World Perspectives
World perspectives, the character of the period and its repercussions for our work is an ongoing debate and discussion in ISA, with disagreements put forward by a minority of IC comrades since May 2020. This debate has had a positive effect in sharpening our analysis and improving our positions and on our collective political education.
The majority position emphasises the major turning point in the world economy, politics and world relations which began to develop before 2020. The neoliberal era had reached a dead end, and the process of de-globalisation and decoupling were reinforced by the new Cold War. After a brief interruption, the new wave of mass revolts that began in 2019 has come back. All these processes began to develop after the crisis of 2007/8 and have been qualitatively boosted by the pandemic and the economic crisis. While they have recently accepted that we are entering a new epoch, minority comrades have thus far focused on criticizing ISA’s perspectives without putting forward their own alternative. This continues in their tendency declaration.
In the weeks since the IC meeting alone, the US has launched the second biggest stimulus package ever, the British government has announced a sharp increase in corporation taxes and the European Commis- sion has made clear it wants to keep its fiscal rules on borrowing limits for governments suspended until at least 2023. The “vaccine war” is underlining the process towards nationalist policies and protection- ism. The Cold War has if anything become sharper under Biden. These are processes which in essence confirm these aspects of ISA’s perspectives that the tendency will have to comment on.
In addition, the tendency declaration complains about the majority’s “over optimism”. And the example given is Hong Kong: “the developments in Hong Kong were completely underestimated in the WP discussions (on 23/2 and 24/2).” Meanwhile ISA is launching a major solidarity campaign against repression in Hong Kong and China. Since the existence of the ISA we have had regular discussions about the developments, including the dangers and complications in China, HK & Taiwan – which, alongside the USA has been the most discussed region in our leading bodies – something the IE and IC comrades are aware of. Comrades from the section have reported about the dangerous situation for our members, all activists and the working class in general.
In the midst of the movement in 2019, our comrades raised the imminent danger of Beijing intervening with force in Hong Kong. They warned that the character of the Hong Kong struggle, as long as it was limited to one city, would not be able to defeat such a powerful regime. In a document titled “a balance sheet of the neoliberalism debate” written by some minority comrades last year, our comrades were actually praised for these warnings, but the example was given mainly to point to Hong Kong as an ex- ample of a wider trend of defeats, when in fact Hong Kong and the Chinese dictatorship are not typical. To our knowledge, the minority comrades have not presented any serious criticism of the analyses of our comrades in relation to Hong Kong or put forward a position of their own.
Democratic Life in ISA
One of the central assertions from the newly declared Tendency is that the international leadership of the ISA is heading in an increasingly undemocratic direction and is attempting to over centralise the work of the international, in a heavy handed manner, at the expense of internal democracy. The reality is however very different. Comrades throughout the international have often commented that the positive changes to the functioning of the international leadership bodies and of internal discussion and debate within the international when compared to the latter years of the CWI is like night and day.
Since our last World Congress in 2020 the International Committee (IC) has met more than the (equivalent) IEC of the CWI did in the previous ten years. The International Executive (IE) has met more in this same period that the old IS met in the previous five years. The IC meeting 23 – 26 February 2021 was dominated by debates between the IC majority and IC minority comrades, with the minority comrades given equal time for lead offs, sum-ups and contributions.
Fifteen International Member’s Bulletins have been produced, and nine of these bulletins have contained material related to the current debates within the ISA. We now have an International Women’s Bureau (IWB) to politically assist with the socialist feminist work of the international and the sections. International full timers allocated to youth work, along with youth cadre from the sections have begun the key task of turning the ISA towards youth work, and an international meeting was attended by over 50 comrades from 16 sections.
International meetings of comrades working in healthcare, teachers and transport have been held to develop greater interaction between our trade union and workplace activist comrades in key sectors, and there is a proposal to hold full day meetings for trade union and youth comrades before the July VMU.
The two very successful VMU events brought comrades together in the biggest gatherings of our members ever in collective political discussion and the summer 2021 VMU will prominently feature the current internal debates. What has been briefly outlined in these few paragraphs cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as the actions, approach and methods of an undemocratic leadership, or as an approach of continuity compared to what existed in the CWI.
The attempt by the tendency to present the IC/IE and the international full timers as being defensive, and engaging in hostile interventions into the sections is simply false and contradicted by the material facts. The political assistance and support to the sections by IE members and international full timers, while far from perfect, reflects a qualitative change from the previous approach of the CWI-IS. The only example of where the IC had had to intervene into a section to deal with a serious political problem is in Australia and this is dealt with in more detail further on in this document. The vast majority of the work of the international full timers is dedicated towards assisting the sections and organizing the work of the international. Whereas previously under the ex-IS some sections were only contacted once or twice a year, the reality now is that many sections have weekly contact with International full timers and in some cases this interaction can be on a daily basis.
Democratic Centralism and the Bolsheviks
The tendency declaration, (and contributions by leading members of the tendency at the recent four day IC meeting), raises serious criticism of how democratic centralism is applied in the ISA and counterposes a mistaken and historically inaccurate analysis of how democratic centralism functioned within the Bolshevik Party and during the early years of the Third International.
There is no template, no set of rules or set of statutes that can define democratic centralism and how it works. The essence of Lenin’s and the Bolsheviks view of the revolutionary “vanguard” party was that it should be based on the centrality of politics and programme over abstract organisational procedures. Lenin’s method was one of patient explanation with the aim of convincing as many as possible of his political analysis and that the use of organisational measures in the context of a dispute should only be considered as a last resort, when debate has been exhausted and where the issues in dispute are related to matters of principle or in the circumstances whereby the party can be seriously damaged.
Writing in a US internal bulletin in December 1937, in an article entitled “On Democratic Centralism and the Regime”, Trotsky said: “A party is an active organism. It develops in the struggle with outside obstacles and inner contradictions. The malignant decomposition of the Second and Third Internation- als, under severe conditions of the imperialist epoch, creates for the Fourth International difficulties unprecedented in history. One cannot overcome them with some sort of magic formula. The regime of a party does not fall ready made from the sky but is formed gradually in struggle. A political line predominates over the regime. First of all, it is necessary to define strategic problems and tactical methods correctly in order to solve them. The organisational forms should correspond to the strategy and the tactic.”
The dialectical relationship between democracy and centralism within a revolutionary party is dependent on the concrete political circumstances at the time. In the same article Trotsky also wrote: “Only a correct policy can guarantee a healthy party regime. This, it is understood, does not mean that the development of the party does not realise organisational problems as such. But it means that the formula for democratic centralism must inevitably find a different expression in the parties of different countries and in different stages of development of one and the same party. Democracy and centralism do not at all find themselves in an invariable ratio to one another. Everything depends on the concrete circum- stances, on the political situation in the country, on the strength of the party and its experience, on the general level of its members, on the authority the leadership has succeeded in winning.”
Lenin and Inappropriate Comparisons
In the document presented to the four day meeting of the IC in February 2021 by the Greek IC comrades entitled “Building the international, an alternative proposal”, the comrades incorrectly use the example of the RSDLP to back up their arguments on democratic centralism. The Greek IC comrades claim, “Lenin’s position is crystal clear. No restrictions to criticism can be accepted under any circum- stances, criticism can and should be free not only in the internal life of the party but even in public meetings!”
The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was not a Bolshevik organisation. It was a broader formation within which there were two distinct political organisations, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, working under a united banner. However the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks represented two distinct political trends in the Russian Marxist movement. The character of the revolutionary party and democratic centralism were at the heart of the differences between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. Ultimately these differences were played out in 1917 when the Bolsheviks applying Lenin’s approach on the question of the revolutionary party, and Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution led the successful October Revolution, whereas the Mensheviks following Martov’s mistaken ideas on the party and the two stages theory of historical development were on the side of counter revolution.
The Greek comrades quote Lenin arguing that the party units, the branches of the RSDLP should have the right to openly criticise the political positions, tactics and methods of the Central Committee of the RSDLP. Of course Lenin correctly argued this position because the RSDLP was not a Bolshevik type revolutionary party with full internal democratic discussion, but a broader political formation and one in which the central committee was dominated by the Mensheviks. Lenin was not prepared to allow the Menshevik controlled CC to politically control the Bolsheviks. However even in the RSDLP when it came to matters of political principle Lenin argued for organisational measures to be taken against members who were publicly arguing an incorrect position on the national question.
In March 1910, Lenin wrote and presented a resolution to the Central Committee of the RSDLP calling for the shutting down of the publication Kommunist. The resolution contained the rider “Not for the press” and it stated:
1. “that Kommunist was founded—temporarily and as an experiment—by a federated editorial board, when there had been no sign of any difference on any substantial question between the C.O. Editorial Board and the rest of the Editorial Board as a whole;
(2) that after No. 1–2 of “Kommunist” three members of the Editorial Board put forward such differences in their signed theses on the question of self-determination;
(3) that an exchange of opinion on this question revealed deep divergence over the assessment of the role of democratic demands and the minimum programme in general;—
—the C.C. resolves: to recognise the continuation of the journal Kommunist as impossible and to declare that this publication is hereby terminated.
“Furthermore. With a view to extending the discussion on the controversial questions and to having them clarified before a broader circle of leading comrades, the C.C. resolves:
to request the three comrades who have signed the theses to draw up a motivated statement of their differences with the C.O. Editorial Board.
“This statement together with a reply by the C.O. Editorial Board shall be communicated to a broader circle of leading Party workers for a final decision on whether it is desirable and necessary to open a debate in the press.”
This one example shows that Lenin put politics first and foremost when it came to the right to put for- ward alternative political views in the public domain – even in the RSDLP! Having a correct position on the national question was fundamental to the success of the October Revolution and on this matter he was opposed to the publication of a newspaper which had an incorrect analysis and thus could damage the Bolshevik Party in the consciousness of the proletariat and the oppressed peoples of the Russian empire.
This example clearly shows that the Greek comrades’ claims on Lenin’s approach to democratic centralism are inaccurate and divorced from the real approach that he took, which at all times was the application of democratic centralism based on concrete political circumstances and not on abstract generalisations about the democratic right to opposition.
A correct understanding and application of democratic centralism using the dialectical approach as outlined by Lenin and Trotsky is essential to the building of a mass revolutionary International. A well educated, experienced and confident cadre is the best “insurance” of democracy and defence of the fundamental ideas of Marxism, the revolutionary programme and methods in our International. It is for this reason that all sections of the international must prioritise recruitment, political education, consolidation and the development of a well rounded out cadre.
As the debate on democratic centralism unfolds in the ISA we will give a more detailed explanation and elaboration of Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks’ approach and application of democratic centralism in future documents.
Stalinism, Mandelism and “national degeneration”
The tendency declaration labels the building document agreed at the IC as “weak but also dangerous”. In their opinion, it focuses on “national degeneration” and “federalism” instead of party building. Their declaration, and the Reply to the document written by Greek IC members does not mention party build- ing at all and, rather focuses entirely on arguing that federalism is not really a problem. In our view, this is a serious political error.
In one sentence of the declaration, they state: “From a theoretical point of view, the link between federalism, national degeneration, Stalinism and Mandelism is something that we consider to be a serious mistake.” This affirmation, which is not explained in the declaration, is something that must be ex- plained and discussed further. To understate the importance of revolutionary internationalism as a clear dividing line between Marxism, Stalinism and reformism is a significant mistake.
In a discussion on internationalism, it is fundamental to state the national degeneration of the stalinist communist parties and its serious, deadly effects for the workers movement. As one of our founding documents, “Programme of the International” (1970) explains: “In the autumn of 1924, Stalin in vio- lation of the traditions of Marxism and Bolshevism, for the first time brought out the utopian theory of ‘Socialism in one country’. The internationalists under Trotsky fought against this theory and predicted that it would result in the collapse of the Communist International and the national degeneration of its sections.” Stalin and the Stalinist bureaucracy’s lack of international experience and narrow nationalist outlook is a theme in the writings of Trotsky. This is not a full explanation of Stalinism, but an import- ant part. This perspective was borne out in the Communist parties and today in the degenerated remains of “Communist” parties around the world, of whom nationalism is a defining political feature.
On Mandelism (one of the major tendencies to emerge from post-war Trotskyism), it’s enough to point to the de facto dissolution of their international into a federation of national organisations, without a cohesive political position or method, sometimes with several “sections” in the same country. We fail to see how this is not relevant to the idea of federalism and national degeneration.
Arguments Made in Bad Faith?
There is a concerning aspect to the arguments presented by the comrades in their declaration and in the reply to the “Building” document. Fundamentally, both texts engage with the IC’s arguments about the danger of federalism not as honest political arguments to be agreed or disagreed with, but as points made in bad faith to justify some kind of “centralist” bureaucratic takeover.
The Greek IC members write: “The “building” document, if agreed to, means that the leadership can demand of the national sections (or sections of the international leadership) to follow specific directions and apply specific decisions and in case they seriously question the center’s views, like with the debate over SYRIZA, or the debate over China with the Swedish section, or in theory over an issue like the “Scottish Turn”, then they could find themselves accused of federalism. Thus, instead of a patient discussion about who is correct and who is not, instead of allowing time to clarify things, the federal- ism accusation can easily be launched. Having established “federalism” as a “mortal sin” in the ISA, through this document, discussion will be completely diverted away from the real issues and in the di- rection of attacking the “federalists” for being federalists. A politically strong leadership does not need this kind of arguments to convince of its correctness”.
What is the justification or basis for taking such a negative view of comrades who make up the majority of our international and national leaderships? If leading members of our party are inventing political arguments to further a quest for more power for themselves, then the organization is in the grips of a serious degeneration. We do not believe this to be the case and again ask comrades to consider what their own experience and view is.
A prerequisite for a healthy and constructive discussion in a Marxist organization is an honest and comradely approach, which takes up points raised by all comrades in good faith without assigning ulterior motives. We appeal to the comrades for clarification, and for a change in approach, in this regard.
Why the Focus on Federalism?
Our focus on federalism as a danger facing ISA is not motivated by any sinister plans, but by political conviction. In fact, much of the most important work we have conducted in the past year as an organization – from the VMUs, to the transformation of the role of the International Committee, to the beginning of organized international youth, workplace and trade union work, to the rebuilding of our international finances etc etc – has been underpinned by this political conviction. As an organization, we should seek to explain, in a theoretical and historical context why we do what we do.
Comrades at every level of the organization face “federalist” pressures constantly, especially in our leaderships. What does this mean in practice? A pressure to follow only political events in your own country or region to the detriment of international developments. A pressure to focus our work on press- ing needs of our local branches and national organizations, to the detriment of our roles in the international leadership.
These pressures are even more pronounced given where we have come from: an international organization in which the primary focus of leading members, including those in international leading bodies, was national. There was a lack of meaningful collaboration between sections and the leading bodies of the International.
As a result the international is in danger of operating not as a cohesive structure that comes to a collective understanding of general trends that are then broken down into regional and national analysis and tasks, but merely as a coming together of national sections trying to find common ground. To build a really internationalist organization, it is not enough to be present in many countries. A prerequisite for rebuilding on an internationalist basis is consciously struggling to internationalise our political work. The comrades from the tendency are not assisting in this vital task by dismissing the importance of this danger. To state it again (since the comrades invariably place the word “strong” in inverted commas for some reason): when we speak about a strong international leadership we mean politically strong, convincing and taking bold initiatives.
It should go without saying that a single document which emphasises federalism does not mean that ISA sees federalism as the only danger it faces, or the only problem which existed in the CWI in the past.
The ISA’s developing leadership has clearly and repeatedly acknowledged and stressed weaknesses in the internal democracy of the CWI. Moreover we have acted on this and revolutionised our democrat- ic internal life, organizing and facilitating more democratic debate in one year than took place in the preceding decade. The comrades who formed the tendency seem to brush this off entirely by arguing in their declaration that “This over-centralization is not accompanied by any measures that deepen internal democracy”. In our view this does not correspond to the practical experiences of all members of the transformations the International has gone through since the split.
Problems with democracy, particularly in the later period of the CWI overwhelmingly centered on an absence of real collective leadership – with sections encouraged to build national leaderships around “General Secretaries” and a concept of wider leadership bodies (such as the former IEC) which did not assign them a meaningful role in the leadership of the organization. As outlined above, we have applied significant changes in this regard in the past year. In addition, we have just begun a thorough process under the title “The ISA – reviewing our roots, preparing for the future” which is explicitly aimed at examining our past, from both a positive and negative point of view, and will include discussions on democratic centralism.
Australia – A Central Part of the Debate
We are surprised to see that there is no mention in the tendency declaration of by far the biggest dis- agreement which has developed in the ISA leadership over how to apply democratic centralism in the international: the crisis in the Australian section. The most clarifying way to discuss the question of “federalism” and “centralism” in the international is through discussions on its practical application.
The crisis in the Australian section, which has led to the departure from ISA of 13 members (meanwhile making clear that they would have joined the tendency), must therefore be a central part of the debates which are developing in ISA on this question. This is even more so the case given how central this crisis has been to the disagreements between comrades who are very prominent in the tendency and the majority of the IC.
As the brief report in IMB15 outlined, the crisis in the Australian section centred on the question of how to combat gendered violence in a revolutionary party, which is crucial to a socialist feminist perspective. Put simply, what took place in the Australian section cannot take place in a revolutionary party.
Our organization cannot talk socialist feminism from one side of its mouth, and engage in victim-blam- ing and the mistreatment of women making complaints of serious sexual assault with the other. This is the case regardless of how many members of a given section support such anti-revolutionary actions and policies. The issues posed relating to the finances of a revolutionary party and union movement are also of crucial and principled importance.
In an international revolutionary party, the whole organization and its leadership has responsibility to confront such a situation wherever it arises. It was in this context that disagreements within the international leadership, which did not make a single unanimous decision on this crisis since the January
2020 World Congress. These disagreements often took the form of a debate around the question of the “rights” and “autonomy” of the Australian section versus the responsibility and the duty of the inter- national leadership to intervene in its work, in this case to stand up to victim blaming and the denial of democratic rights to comrades and to defend the principles of ISA. Those IE and IC members who are very prominent in the tendency emphasised the former, and dissented from all decisions taken by these bodies to confront and correct the majority of the Australian section’s leadership, and described the intervention of the international leadership in the crisis as an “attack” on the section and its members – despite the rights of all comrades having been fully respected by the international leadership at every stage.
In our view, this is a concrete example of the danger of a “federalist” political and organizational approach in ISA. If the international leadership cannot intervene in opposition to the leadership of a national section over such a principled issue as the safeguarding of the rights of members and principles of our organisation, what does democratic centralism mean in an international organization?
How Can We Ensure a Healthy Debate?
The best way forward is a structured debate throughout ISA on these issues. If a healthy approach is adopted then this will be an important learning experience for all comrades. Debates should take place, in writing and verbally, in international leadership bodies, national leadership bodies and in national sections’ democratic structures in the coming months. While initial debates should focus on the tendency’s formation and the overall political controversies which have emerged, more focused discussions on particular aspects of these debates (for example, perspectives for struggle and consciousness, and the crisis in the Australian section) will also allow for greater clarity and in depth discussion.
Representatives of the tendency should engage with ISA’s leading bodies to discuss and decide upon a structured plan for these debates. Such a plan will need to balance between several factors. While the tendency and ISA leading bodies must have the necessary space to outline their views to members, this must be placed in the context of the overall needs of our work. A balance must be struck between encouraging engagement with the debate and ensuring that the main political and organizational work of ISA and its sections continues unhindered. Ensuring that the debate is accessible to all is also crucial: this means both the translation of material and a rhythm of discussion which allows all of our active members to stay abreast of the debate, not just full time organizers or native english speakers with more free time.
This will require a structured and planned approach regarding the frequency and volume of written material and verbal debates. Such a plan should never be viewed as something designed to limit discussion or democratic rights but to the contrary: as an approach designed to ensure the rights of all members, and of the organization as a whole.
While, as stated above, the defense of comrades’ right to form this tendency is crucial, there is also a danger inherent in this decision: that necessary discussions and debates in ISA become unnecessarily polarised as a result, and that differences which exist are magnified by the creation of a new dynamic of “us and them”. Comrades should make a special effort to avoid such a development.
Broadly speaking, the tendency asks members of ISA to consider this broad, overarching assertion: that ISA’s current leadership represents a continuation of unhealthy methods, inherited from our past. This is something all members should consider, in the light of their experience, and make a judgement on. It will surprise no one that we do not agree.
We have the full intention of responding positively, politically, and constructively to all the points which are included in the tendency declaration. ISA’s new and developing leadership (very much a “work in progress”) has many deficiencies and will inevitably make many mistakes. However, our view is that fundamentally, our deficiencies are not of the nature the comrades allege. We need to continue to grow politically, to gain greater experience and to reestablish our traditions in action, striving for qualitative and quantitative breakthroughs in growth and interventions in the class struggle. This is all comrades’ primary responsibility