Debates in the ISA – the declaration of TIDU

In June 2021, 3 sections and a number of groups and individuals from other sections 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 and tensions that had arisen in the leading bodies, shortly after the split with the CWI (in the summer of 2019). After that major split(into three main parts) it was inevitable that different opinions would come to the fore inside the ISA. 
What was needed in order to handle that process correctly, was a patient and inclusive attitude from the new leadership. But this didn’t happen. Instead, the majority in the leadership of the ISA, while in words accepting the right of minority opinions to exist, in reality it treated them with utmost hostility – with highly polarized attacks, distortions, and smear campaigns. 
This situation came to a climax at a long February 2021 International Commission, in which an all-out attack was unleashed against 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 Declaration of TIDU. 
You can also read:
– The “Response” from the IE Majority here
– The “Reply” to the “Response” by TIDU here
[Note: You can read about the different internal debates in the ISA here]

Declaration of tendency: For Internal Democracy and Unity

Following the last 4-day IC meeting, from 23 to 26 February, comrades from a number of sections of the ISA met to discuss recent developments in their sections and in the International. What brought these comrades together were serious worries about developments in the International related to political analysis and the internal regime. The reports from the IC members present intensified these worries. The IC meeting of 23-26 February represented an unexpected and rapid escalation against comrades who have been representing minority views in the IC over the past period.

The comrades present in our meeting decided to establish a tendency to defend the ideas of a balanced and careful political analysis as well as of a deep and all sided democratic regime in the ISA. At the same time, we stand unequivocally for the unity of the ISA and against any threat of a split, as has been the very bad tradition in the CWI, whenever a serious debate took place and tendency or faction rights were claimed by any minority. We believe an open exchange of ideas will strengthen the understanding of ISA collectively and that of individual members.

We are proud of the achievements of the ISA, an organization that organizes workers on every continent and in dozens of countries. From the fight for a $15 per hour minimum wage in the US, to the huge struggle to get Kshama S. reelected in Seattle,  the abortion rights struggle in Ireland, the struggle against Bolsonaro in Brazil, the fight against repression in Hong Kong, the fight against the Golden Dawn and police repression in Greece, the rebuilding of several new sections since the disastrous split in 2019, the international initiative to launch Rosa in a number of countries and many, many more – we are proud to stand with comrades who point the way forward for the working class and the youth.

On the political level, what brings together comrades who sign this resolution is the conviction that political analysis and perspectives in relation to the world situation have serious weaknesses/deficiencies. Some important examples are: the proposition on the “end of neoliberalism” at the same time as neoliberal policies are being applied and will continue to be applied; references to a “new Keynesian variant” when conditions do not allow for a repetition of the Keynesian experiences of previous epochs; drawing parallels with the 1930s and referring to a new Great Depression (in the last document on world perspectives) which are inaccurate and exaggerated; an unbalanced approach to the processes of decoupling and deglobalization taking place in the world economy, etc. These positions, initially expressed on the website and in the World Perspectives (WP) update of May 2020, continue to be present in the new document of WP agreed by the majority at the last IC meeting, but with the use of different wording.

These are coupled with a tendency to be overoptimistic in relation to perspectives. So, difficulties in the objective situation tend to be underestimated as well as their impact on consciousness, on the broader movement and on our sections. For example, at the last IC (as reported by the IC comrades) the developments in Hong Kong were completely underestimated in the WP discussions (on 23/2 and 24/2) while the loss of our organisation in Taiwan (we have now only 8 members left, about ¼ of the initial numbers) was mentioned only in one intervention and for about 3 minutes. The explanation provided was that they had capitulated to “national degeneration” and “federalism”, in full accordance with the line presented in the recent document on building, which wrongly establishes “national degeneration” and “federalism” as the main dangers facing the ISA.

It’s unclear what exactly happened in Taiwan or what the real issues were. There have been no reports or documents either from the c/des responsible for the section or from the majority of the section provided to the International – neither to leading bodies, nor in the IMBs. It is concerning that such a significant development has taken place over a longer period without the International even knowing about it.

We have raised our differences constructively through the structures available to us in the hope of resolving the problems we see. This has included our branches, in some cases National Committees (NC) the International Executive (IE) and the International Committee (IC), as well as several submissions to the IMBs, debates in sections and the two VMUs. Unfortunately, this has been insufficient to resolve the issues, but on the contrary some of them have intensified.

Part of the reason for our decision to create a tendency is the varied response we have encountered when we raised differences. In our experience, the overwhelming majority of ISA members respond constructively to differences being raised, in order to reach a better collective understanding. Unfortunately, this has not been our experience of the IE and IC, and at times, the leaderships of some sections: on many occasions the response from several leading comrades has been characterized by defensiveness and hostility to different opinions. We believe that this approach is an unfortunate legacy of the past, an unhealthy inheritance from the CWI that we need to jettison. Rather than discussing the political situation and our tasks, the last IC was characterized primarily by contributions of the kind described above.

We would urge comrades to question the recent building document. Why is it the case that instead of a document that focuses on building the international and the challenges we have to overcome, the document speaks so extensively of federalism as a mortal danger to the organization that has to be combated by an increasingly centralized leadership?

This document gives an entirely unbalanced emphasis on “national degeneration” and “federalism”, it is a weak but also dangerous document. Its main potential effect is to lead to the “over-centralization” of the International, with an excessively “strong” international center, whereas the main deficit of the CWI that contributed immensely to the split of 2019 was, in our view, the lack of a sufficiently democratic internal regime. This over-centralization is not accompanied by any measures that deepen internal democracy and enhance democratic checks and control by the membership on the leadership. It seems that the kind of integration suggested as an antidote to federalism is only to take place vertically, from above, rather than by building the cohesion of the international among sections, branches and members. 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. 

The reports by the IC members present at our meeting were very worrying. They mentioned, among many other things: the refusal of the IC majority to accept a proposal by 9 IC members (27% of those present) in January to have the neoliberalism debate on the agenda of the last VMU; the refusal of the international center to distribute to the leaderships of the sections resolutions decided upon by the Greek EC (a protest about not having “neoliberalism” on the VMU agenda) and the Spanish EB (a protest for posting on the international website only one view on the NL debate) thus violating the Statutes of the International. Belatedly, these have now been circulated (10.03.2021) with a delay of months and only once a reply had been written to accompany them – this is not in keeping with the ISA statutes, which state that communication between national sections’ leading bodies should be free and unhindered.

Another issue that we want to draw comrades’ attention to is that the international center invited around 25 visitors to the February IC but not a single one of them represented minority views, despite two debates officially taking place in the IC meeting (on the world economy and on the building document). 

At the same time as these are taking place, there is an underground campaign with all sorts of accusations of a very personal character against comrades who do not share the opinions of the majority. For example, the Greek comrades have been accused of not translating the majority documents, although this is a falsehood and repeatedly protested to by the Greek comrades, including in writing and with the provision of proof to the opposite. On the contrary, there are clear examples of sections in which minority documents went to the membership with a 3-month delay, together with heaps of other material.

The declaration of a tendency is a way for us to continue to raise our views, bring them to the whole membership of the International, attempt to cut across this polarization and re-politicize these debates in a comradely and constructive manner.

We believe that when there are different ideas and approaches in the organization, they should be freely expressed. What we see, however, is that differences are approached with increasing hostility and an attempt to polarize the membership against the views of the minority. This is a direct inheritance from the CWI. If there are two or more tendencies or currents of opinion in the organization then they should exist as such. Otherwise, the result will be repeated splits and a mass revolutionary international will never be built. We stand for the maximum unity and strengthening of ISA, but this will not happen by hiding differences and not discussing them openly. The experience of the Bolsheviks is testimony to this: the only party able to conquer power was at the same time the party with the most advanced internal democracy, with continual internal discussions and debates between tendencies or factions.

This does not contradict a centralist organization. On the contrary, in our opinion, revolutionary centralism is impossible without extensive internal democracy. Revolutionary centralism is never a formal question but a question of political understanding amongst all layers of the party that centralism is a necessary weapon. It cannot be implemented; it has to be achieved.  We think that it is absolutely impossible to build a mass revolutionary party without a very deep and extensive internal democratic regime. We are firmly opposed to the idea that there are infallible leaderships, we are opposed to the idea of identifying the authority of the leadership with never making mistakes, we are opposed to the idea that the membership must be loyal to the leadership – it should only be so in relation to our revolutionary ideas. We want ideas to be openly circulated in the International and we do not agree that the only democratic structures for discussion are the branches, the committees and the bulletins. Because this means that the leadership controls all channels of communication and discussion. Branches and elected bodies are the only democratic decision-making structures, but discussion is a different matter. Free internal communication (both formal and informal), free flow of information, transparency, free exchange of ideas, are fundamental for a democratic internal regime, without which serious mistakes are more probable and unnecessary splits unavoidable.

We appeal to all members to look at the internal life of the ISA in a very different light to the one that existed in the CWI and to follow the traditions of the Bolsheviks in relation to this; to see the declaration of our tendency as a potentially very positive step; as a step to enrich the internal life of the international, which can on a long-term basis help not only deepen internal democracy, act as a corrective mechanism to political mistakes, but also strengthen the unity and political level of our international organization.

We also appeal to the membership of ISA to put pressure on that section of the international leadership that polarizes the situation, to urgently de-escalate. The same within sections, where some of our supporters have faced uncomradely response. We recognize that many leading comrades do not agree with large parts of what we’ve written here – after all, the development of a tendency inevitably reflects disagreement. We ask them to respond positively and consider how we can structure a discussion in the whole organization. Debating these issues in a comradely manner serves only to strengthen our collective understanding, our perspectives and in turn our International. There should be nothing to fear from an honest exchange.

Our disagreement to some of the positions put forward by the majority in the leadership should not be interpreted as an attack aiming at the removal of these comrades who are making a valuable contribution. What we want to stress is that the huge majority of the cadre and membership of the ISA, including supporters of the present tendency, were trained in a wrong way in the CWI –without, by saying this, diminishing the immense contribution of the CWI– assuming among other things that they have the “responsibility” to be correct about everything. We do not expect this from anybody including ourselves – we will gladly accept and correct any mistake we make once shown to be. We do not want to change the leadership, we want to change the wrong attitudes, at all levels, inherited from our past.

We understand that the declaration of a tendency may create worries in the membership, of polarization and of endangering the unity of the ISA. But this is only because of the wrong traditions of the CWI. We are creating a tendency and not a faction to indicate that we don’t see political or other differences in a rigid way and that we are open and flexible as regards the issues under debate.

The most important thing for us is the atmosphere in which debates take place and the development of a culture that allows for different opinions and approaches to be discussed in a non-toxic atmosphere. Creating this internal culture, which never existed in the CWI, is a key reason for the creation of our tendency and does not necessitate agreement by every supporter of the tendency on all the issues that have been raised. Mistakes as such are not a problem (unless they are very serious or if made repeatedly) but can become a serious problem if they are not corrected. When differences exist, if they are not expressed and openly debated, they will tend to boil under the surface and explode at some stage into dangerous faction fights. We want to avoid that and actually believe that the creation of our tendency will help in that direction. In other words, it can be a tool in our lifelong efforts and sacrifices to build the ISA into a mass force to offer a revolutionary perspective to the working class globally, to reshape human life and the planet.

March 17, 2021

Comrades who want to contact the Tendency for Internal Democracy and Unity (TIDU) can do so either by emailing to TIDUtendency@gmail.com or through the following comrades in the following sections: 

Cyprus:  Ruyam O. (north); Athina K. (south) (International Committee member); England, Wales, Scotland: Nigel S. (National Committee member), Neil C., Glyn M.; Germany: Angela B., P. Narog; Greece: Andros P. (International Executive member) Eleni M. (IE member), Nikos A. (IC member); Turkey: Nihat B. (IC candidate member), Ecehan B. Spanish State: Rob M. (Editorial Board member), Vlad B. (EB member); Sweden: Kristofer L. (Executive Committee member), Patrik H (NC member), Johannes L. (NC member).

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