The Federalism debate in the ISA – the Majority positions

The February 23-26, 2021 International Committee (IC) of the ISA voted on two documents that were supposed to be dealing with organizational issues and the building of the ISA.
The first document voted by the majority was titled Towards the Youth – Building a revolutionary international. 
The minority document, signed and presented by the IC members of the Greek section, was titled “Building the International” – an alternative proposal.
Although the document of the majority was supposed to be dealing with the building of the forces of the ISA, its real core was the development of a new position, which was that the real danger threatening the ISA was that of Federalism. This (potential, according to the majority) danger was inherited from the CWI.
Through what can only be described as theoretical acrobatics, “federalism” was identified as the root-cause of what the majority described as “national degeneration” (of a revolutionary organisation) which was then linked to Stalinism and Mandelism (in the words of the majority).
By taking this position the majority was, indirectly but clearly, deciding that what was until then commonplace in the ISA i.e. that the real problem in relation to the CWI’s internal regime was the lack of sufficient democracy, was no longer the case! It was also quite striking that at the same time as deciding that “federalism” and not the “democratic deficit” was the real problem of the CWI’s internal regime, the majority decided (at the same IC meeting) to start a discussion in the membership of the ISA on the roots of the crisis and split of the CWI (this discussion was described as the “Review”). But through its “building document” the majority was already deciding on one of the most important aspects of this issue, before the discussion had even started. We should add, in relation to this, that it took 13 months for the ISA (after the January 2020 congress decided to appoint a commission to make proposals) to decide on the procedures to be followed in relation to the “Review”; and its decision was that the discussions should… spread over a period of four years – i.e. they would end sometime in 2025, for a crisis that began in 2018. In this way (and in the name of a proper and in depth discussion) the majority was actually avoiding an immediate discussion on the roots of the crisis and of the CWI. We will present the related documents, as with all the important documents related to the debates in the ISA, in the next weeks.
It is of course no surprise that the Greek section and other sections in which the majority of comrades disagreed with the methods of the ISA leadership (Spain, Australia, Turkey, Cyprus, Taiwan -as we were to discover later- etc), plus minority comrades in other sections (particularly so in Sweden) had already been accused of federalism. The internal enemy was thus identified and it was described as representing a “mortal” danger to the future of the ISA.
Below, the document of the majority, “Towards the Youth – Building a revolutionary international”. The document of the minority, is posted here: Building the International – an alternative proposal


Towards the Youth – Building a revolutionary international

Introductory note

ISA’s 12th World Congress in 2020 discussed and agreed a significant document on party building, which remains an important tool to prepare our international for the challenges of building revolutionary parties in the 2020s. It should be read in conjunction with this resolution. Here, we will attempt to reinforce some of the points made in the World Congress document, and update it with some of ISA’s experiences during Covid, as well as deepen the necessary discussion in ISA on the building of a healthy, revolutionary international.

1.  Across the ISA our comrades have responded to these unprecedented times with innovation. Public activities have been severely curtailed by lockdowns and restrictions on street activities and gatherings. Some sections have had to significantly restrict their activities to cyberspace or, as has become more the “norm”, a hybrid of online and restricted public activities, comrades have successfully striven to overcome these impediments. As the crisis in capitalism deepens the ISA is beginning to grow, with our perspectives pointing to even greater opportunities ahead.

2.  The defeat of Trump is the latest in significant setbacks for the right-wing internationally. Poland has seen the biggest demonstrations in 30 years that have forced the right-wing government to delay and potentially abandon its plan to implement an almost total ban on abortion. This protest movement has been led and dominated by women and youth, many of whom are also demanding that the government goes.

3.  A price rise on Santiago’s metro sparked youth protests in 2019 that grew into a generalised revolt of workers and youth, including a demonstration of a million against inequality that stemmed from the Pinochet era. Following Chile’s “transition” to democracy, the new regime maintained Pinochet’s constitutions which embedded private ownership and control of health, education, housing and pensions. On the back of a mass movement this reactionary constitution has been swept away in a referendum with 78% voting in favour of drawing up a new constitution. An overwhelming majority of 79% also voted in favour of the new constitution being drawn up by a body which will be 100% elected by a popular vote rather than one which would have been made up by 50% of members of Congress. This massive rejection of neo-liberalism by the Chilean working class was matched by the Bolivian election defeat for the right-wing, military andimperialism that conducted a coup in the country only a year previously. This victory was a product of mass working class struggle, including general strikes, in the recent months.

4.  The World Perspectives update deals with these and the many other historic events such as the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, the general strike in South Africa and the mass youth uprising against repression in Nigeria. Events and movements involving millions of young people who are bearing the brunt of the capitalist crisis. Many of these youth are now grappling to find a political alternative and are gravitating towards the need to overthrow capitalism and towards the ideas of socialism.

5.  This complex but nevertheless generally favourable objective situation presents all of our sections with challenges, to sharpen our programme and analysis to meet the new era, to fine tune and hone our political message in ways that can attract the best of these youth and workers towards our party.

Turn to the youth!

6.  Our international was built on an orientation to the youth. From our inception we recognised the historically important role of young people in the struggles to change society. The role of youth in revolutions is decisive. So too is the role of youth in the revolutionary party. Revolutions are not the handiwork of youth led by parties of older women and men. Mass revolutionary parties are essentially parties of youth.

7.  Unfortunately the ex-IS, who now lead the fake-CWI, lost sight of this revolutionary maxim. Also with less youth activity in society in general, for a period we, as an international have not had the necessary dynamic orientation towards youth work in many of our sections – which unfortunately meant we missed opportunities to build our forces on an international level. However this has begun to change. The World Congress emphasised that the most important task of the ISA was to take a turn to the youth. It is from the ranks of the thousands of young people who are being politicised by international events that a new generation of revolutionary cadre will be built.

8.  Capitalist induced climate change is the greatest threat to humanity. As the time elapses towards several tipping points, the urgency of the impending crisis will have a qualitative impact on the consciousness of young people, exposing theculpability of capitalism and driving millions to seek an alternative economic and social system.

9.  The global economic crisis, hastened and intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic, has had a huge impact on young people. According to the International Labour Organisation up to 20% of young people may lose their jobs and those remaining in employment will see their hours cut by up to 25%. As a result of decades of neoliberalism precarious employment is the norm for hundreds of millions of youth. In the advanced capitalist countries the youth of today will have a lower standard of living than their parents and in some cases grand-parents, struggling to work multiple jobs to pay for accommodation in a housing market dominated by landlords and vulture capitalists. In the neo-colonial world the already desperate conditions of dire poverty faced by young people are intensifying, pushing them to breaking point as was seen in the mass uprising in Nigeria.

10.International events impact upon youth consciousness more than any other section of society, reinforced by the role of social media and improved language skills among the younger generation.. Just as the Black Civil Rights and the anti-war movements in the US in the 1960s played a role in radicalising millions of young people globally, so too the Black Lives Matter movement, the significant struggles by women against inequality and for bodily autonomy, the LGBT community and indigenous peoples and minorities struggles against persecution, for equality, and struggles for democratic rights are collectively having a similar impact today.

Greek youth work – important new recruits

11.In Greece our comrades in Xekinima have done more than just hold their ground during the difficult years that followed the Syriza government’s historic betrayal and capitulation to the Troika. In an objective situation dominated by the collective demoralisation of the working class that had participated in more than 40 general strikes against austerity and the economic and social “terror” of the EU Memorandum, our comrades patiently continued to build campaigns against the fascist Golden Dawn, in support of striking workers (though these were limited in number and dimensions) and alongside local communities to stop environmental destruction from gold mining and the construction of a waste incinerator in Volos.

12.Forced to meet online the comrades were able to organise successful open branch meetings, attracting over 70 non-members to these meetings, many ofthem youth. This gave the comrades the basis to mobilise these new youth names and contacts to the annual summer camp. Despite the pandemic restrictions the camp was a success with 236 attending, the majority being youth, who had a better understanding of our ideas having attended branch meetings for quite a while. Fifteen of them have so far joined the organisation. The total recruitment so far in 2020 is 30.

13.Apart from the very successful antifascist initiatives taken by the comrades and the role they played in the campaign around the trial of Golden Dawn, they also organised, in the past month, a very successful school students strike in Volos. The anti-incinerator campaign, “Citizens Against the Incinerator” split as the middle class elements in the leadership wanted us out because they were politically challenged by the dynamic approach of our comrades.

14.Our comrades had orientated towards the youth and were able to win control of the youth section of the campaign and from this to form a new campaign “No Burn” and also set-up “Youth for the Environment” (YFE) led by the young comrades from Xekinima. On 23 October 2020 YFE organised a successful school student strike in Volos, with 1,000 participating in a demonstration and six out of 15 schools occupied. The comrades in Volos have recruited seven new comrades (six youth) through this campaign, some of whom played a leading role in this strike, including a 17 year old comrade who featured in the media.

#EndSARS youth uprising in Nigeria

15.In Nigeria, the #EndSARS uprising against police repression and corruption quickly developed into a movement that challenged the Buhari regime. #EndSARS was of course influenced and emboldened by BLM. With up to 60% youth unemployment and underemployment it is not surprising that young Nigerians’ anger sparked by police murders evolved to target the political elite who are responsible for the mass poverty that grips society. This mass movement had the potential of incorporating into its ranks the broader layers of the working class and rural poor thus creating a movement that could potentially overthrow the regime. Faced with this inherent threat Buhari ordered the army to carry out the massacre at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos.

16.Whereas the movement has receded it is not defeated and Nigeria’s young people will recuperate and rebuild for the next struggle. Our comrades in the Movement for a Socialist Alternative (MSA) had a bold intervention into thismovement. Our relatively small forces punched way above their weight. Our young comrades, thrust by the split into leading roles in our new section spoke to mass gatherings of thousands. The comrades now have approximately 20 youth contacts for the party and as well as prioritising recruitment of these contacts are also moving to produce the first edition of their new paper to draw out the lessons of the #EndSARS movement and for the need to build a revolutionary party.

Black Lives Matter inspires Irish youth

17.BLM has also had an impact on Ireland. For the first time in Irish history anti-racist protests were led by young people of colour and in response to this important development the party launched YARI (Youth Against Racism and Inequality). Despite quite stringent Covid-19 restrictions YARI has organised protests, banner drops at schools and online public meetings with comrades speaking from the US and Nigeria. YARI now has a database of 800 names of mainly young working class people from around the country. There is a core group of 35 young people that the comrades are focused on consolidating into key YARI activists, and to further their political development the comrades are discussing key themes such as:

  • Why does an anti racist movement need to be anti capitalist;
  • How do movements, like the BLM movement, emerge;
  • The role of young people and the working class in leading change;
  • The role of YARI in leading a fighting approach, educating people, and propagating a certain viewpoint (of organising, class solidarity, etc).

15 of these names (mainly female school students and female school students of colour) are party contacts.

Mexico – an influx of youth

18.The important growth in the Mexican section has been based on a conscious orientation to  youth. The comrades used their social media networks to identify young people who were reading and interacting with our political material. The new recruits also brought others towards the party for example a school student who joined in Puebla, a city two hours from Mexico City recruited two of their classmates.

19.A key aspect of the recruitment of a number of new members in Mexico and also one in Argentina was the comrades focusing on the ideas and work of the ISA.The VMU played an important role in assisting the comrades in this recruitment and also the consolidation of the new members as well as the assistance the comrades received from the US section. The VMU and the intervention of US comrades has brought the idea of a dynamic and real international organisation to life for the new members in Mexico. The average age of the new members is 22, some are school students and importantly five of the new comrades are female. The comrades have also been using the Rosa banner and holding discussions on socialist feminism and are now discussing launching a youth banner.

China/Hong Kong/Taiwan – the important role of youth cadre

20. It is by focusing on youth that the comrades built first in China, and then spread to Hong Kong and Taiwan. This factor above all has enabled us to quadruple our membership in five years from 21 in 2015, to 85 today. An initial group or small section that succeeds in attracting youth and politically consolidating young cadres can grow and establish itself much more rapidly than a group based primarily on older comrades, as important as experience is. In the past year or so, the age of the new recruits has fallen even lower. In China, most new members are under 18 years old. We have also recruited high school students in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

21.Young people have naturally been the most receptive layer to our campaigns for democratic rights, for women’s and LGBTQ rights, for the right of asylum, and international solidarity actions. Also, while workers’ struggles have been few and far between especially in Hong Kong and Taiwan, when struggles have broken out there is significant scope to attract youth through solidarity campaigns with the workers. While successful campaigns can raise our profile, the recruited members who stay are those who initially have a deeper interest in Marxist theory and our unique position, especially in Hong Kong, where consciousness in general is more complicated and youth are more politically disorientated.

22.Older workers will give money, vote for us, but the experience of the comrades in what is still the pioneer phase of our history, is that they mostly stand back from joining the party. Through building upon young forces we will be able to wield much greater influence on the older layers of the working class at a later stage.

23.The recruitment work has to be organised in a very systematic, meticulous way. When we get contacts from our website or magazine, they are phoned within 24hours. The phone call is only used to book an online discussion, to which a comrade or comrades are assigned. The contacts are booked for discussions in this way every one, two or three weeks. Every comrade in charge of the contacts follows a plan of discussions on key topics such as Stalinism, Marxists and the democracy struggle, Socialist Feminism, the national question, and perspectives. In the first discussion the contacts are always asked for some practical contribution (money, or help with translation for example) to test them. The discussions are centrally reported and evaluated to determine who to prioritise, who requires specific discussions, who to drop from the contact list.

Bold Belgian youth initiatives

24.The Belgian section has approximately 50 active youth members, the majority of whom were recruited in the last year. The comrades have taken a bold and audacious approach to the youth work launching new active campaigns in the last few years, Campagne ROSA, Campagne Solidarity as well as working under the banner of Active Left Students. The launching of Campagne ROSA in 2017 and our interventions into the climate change movement and anti-racism work have been an important turning point for the Belgian section and it is from this work that the majority of the new youth members have been recruited.

25.Campagne Solidarity was launched at the time the BLM took off in the US. This anti-racist banner has allowed the comrades to connect with young people who have been radicalised by this historic movement against systemic racism and police repression.

26.Recognising the developing radicalisation amongst layers of the youth and seizing the opportunities presented was important for the section to be able to make the right choices at the right time to launch our new political banners. Campagne ROSA, Actif Left Students & Campagne Solidarity have been very active and not only did the bold actions of the comrades under these banners draw a new layer of youth around us but it has also helped in the consolidation and political development of these new members. This has resulted in 38 new recruits so far in 2020, 20 of whom are school and third level students.Attention to detail, the importance of a correct political method

27.The comrades in England/Wales and Scotland have conducted an exemplary recruitment campaign, a good example to all of the importance of “attention to detail” and the need to give all comrades the political support and resources they need to maximise their ability to recruit. The comrades launched their recruitment drive after a high number of requests to join were received via the website.

28.They produced guidelines for political agreement with the new recruits, to insure as much as possible that we are recruiting on the correct political basis.

29.This political criteria for recruitment is universally applicable, although not exclusive, for example in some sections agreement on issues such as the national question will also be important for the recruitment of a new member. The comrades proposed four areas of political agreement and three basic requirements for membership, this is a brief summary:

30.Need for a socialist revolution, based on an explanation that socialism can only be achieved by the overthrow of capitalism and not through reformism, while also dealing with an explanation of the transitional method. The need for a revolutionary party, the centrality of the working class as the only force capable of overthrowing capitalism and that the struggle for socialism is international.

31.For membership criteria beyond political agreement the comrades stressed the need for contacts to commit “to some level of activity”. Whilst recognising that new members can have particular issues that can restrict their availability for activities, such as working multiple jobs, childcare etc, we need to push new members to be as active as possible and also agree to attend their weekly branch meetings. Of course no one can be considered a member until they have agreed to and paid a membership sub, as well as agreeing to buying and trying to sell the paper and a commitment to participate in ongoing political education, and emphasising the importance of self education and the reading and studying of the Marxist “classics” and the books/pamphlets/documents of the ISA/CWI.

32.The comrades also sent out daily recruitment messages to all members giving the latest recruitment figures, and a general encouragement and assistance in positively and constructively “driving” the party to reach its target. This attention to detail paid off and the comrades have recruited 70  so far this year up to the beginning of November,  of which 32 are youth, 23 are women/non binary, 28 are workers and 21 are students. In this time, two full membership reviews, and asystematic “consolidation drive” have also been carried out. This has taken our new section past the crucial milestone of 200 members.

Confused consciousness not a barrier to growth

33.Whereas there are many positive international developments, there are still important complicating factors that impact on consciousness. The lack of a fighting leadership is a problem faced by the working class in the vast majority of countries. The betrayals of the “social democracy”, the Stalinist parties, the political weaknesses (and betrayals in some cases) of the leaderships of the “new formations” and of the right wing trade union leaders continue to be a relative fetter on the development of struggle. They are not an absolute fetter on the development of struggle but they are a major complication. In particular, linked to the problem of leadership, we continue to encounter a mood amongst many in newly activated layers of opposition to the idea of “leaders” and of the need for parties. This was a feature of the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria.The decision by the trade union leaders to call off a planned general strike and to kowtow before the regime only days before the #EndSARS movement exploded will have reinforced this consciousness.

34.While consciousness has shifted to the left since 2008, and there is a sharper understanding and rejection of racism and sexism  generally speaking the class consciousness we encounter with the new names and contacts we get is much more confused and of a lower level than some decades ago – reflective of the impact of the events of the last 30 years post the collapse of Stalinism and capitalist globalisation. A consequence of the lack of leadership and relatively speaking the lower levels of struggle during this period, is that the working class and youth have less experience of struggle, of the benefit of mass working class parties and even of the importance of trade unions. There is also a lack of confidence amongst some about the ability of the working class to struggle and in the countries and regions where the national question is prominent our ideas and programme for how the national question can be resolved can seem utopian to even some good people.

35.This is precisely why we need to have a well developed political approach to recruitment. Our membership needs to be armed with the ideas and positive arguments that will provide answers to the doubts and questions of the more advanced layers we are targeting for recruitment. Therefore it is important that we review the quality of our contact work. That we discuss with comrades the details of the political discussions they are having. What questions are thecontacts raising? What doubts do they have? Are there common themes on these issues between the contacts? What is the best way to answer these questions and doubts? Sharing these experiences and discussions with all members of the party will collectively enhance our ability to recruit and contact work. Recruitment must regularly feature at branch meetings, as well as the youth work in order to place both of these vital issues centre stage in the work of the party and the consciousness of all members.

Record recruitment in 2020

36.The US section has recruited 443 new members so far in 2020. Approximately one-third of these new members are aged under 25. This impressive level of recruitment reflects the significant political events in the US which aside from the impact of the current economic crisis and the impact of Covid-19, has seen the Bernie Sanders campaign,  the second phase of BLM and the mood amongst the youth and more generally to remove Trump from the presidency.

37.These new members didn’t just stumble into the organisation. The comrades took a very systematic and well organised approach to recruitment. They appointed a national recruitment organiser who is a member of the national party building team, as well as a special team of comrades to do what they call “at large work” (intervening to recruit and build branches in new areas and regions). They also published a new edition of a new members reading pack to assist with consolidation. The complications with consciousness that in the US include an increase in a mood of “lesser evilism” (anyone but Trump), and a preparedness to overlook Biden’s politics to achieve an immediate end were also a challenge to the comrades. In spite of this and because the comrades consciously and consistently took a political approach that armed the comrades with the political arguments to challenge such ideas they have achieved their highest level of recruitment ever.

International Youth Bureau

38.The International Committee has established a Youth Bureau made up of international full timers and members of the International Executive. These comrades will assist all sections and the ISA collectively to place youth work at the forefront of the building of our international; to imprint in the consciousness of all comrades that in order to further the urgent task of building a mass revolutionary international we must turn to the youth!A Mass Revolutionary International – An Idea Made for the 2020s

39.Building a mass revolutionary international is the most urgent task  facing  the working masses and a prerequisite to the successful overthrow of  capitalism and the establishment of a socialist world. This is a central lesson of many decades of class struggle, and of the recent past. The working class is international, the bourgeoisclassesultimatelyarenational​. An important part of  the new period we now enter, will be  a political class struggle between an international perspective to resolve the global crises and the increasing national propaganda of the ruling classes.

40.Though no mass revolutionary international currently exists, this idea swims with the current of important aspects of the global situation, especially the class struggle. We have already seen how struggles are spreading from one country to another, taking inspiration and learning lessons from each other. The women’s and feminist struggles have been more interlinked in the last decade than they have been for many years . The climate movement can’t be anything  but global, with last year’s school strikes gathering millions from Australia to Canada. Also the wave of revolts in 2019 spread from one continent to another and from one country to another within Latin America, North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. This was again clear when the massive Black Lives Matter movement beginning in the US in May was followed by significant demonstrations internationally. In the coming period, these more or less spontaneous struggles and their inherent internationalism need to be built upon and be expressed more clearly in both organisation and political clarity around the struggle for an international socialist alternative.

41.The need for an international is a fundamental part of Marxism. All discussions on perspectives and struggles need international developments and processes as a starting point. This was particularly underlined by Trotsky in his struggle against the Stalinist degeneration of the Communist International: ”An international communist program is in no case the sum total of national programs or an amalgam of their common features. The international program must proceed directly from an analysis of the conditions and tendencies of the world economy and of the world political system taken as a whole in all its connections and contradictions, that is, with the mutually antagonistic interdependence of its separate parts.” (“The Program of the International Revolution or a Program of Socialism in One Country?” in The Third International after Lenin)

42.One of the crucial differences between genuine Marxism and both Social Democracy and Stalinism is the defence of real internationalism in politics, method and organisation. Stalin’s policy of “socialism in one country” ,  was possible because of defeats of revolutions in other countries and Russia’s backwardness strengthened by the effects of WW1 and civil war. In practice its effect was to secure the power of the bureaucracy in Moscow above everything else, leading to major defeats of the working class in the 1920s and 30s. Eventually, this lack of an internationalist revolutionary Marxist approach caused the collapse of Stalinism. Stalinism led to the national degeneration of the sections of the Third International, from parties fighting for world revolution, into an international association to defend the national interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy. This increasingly meant a class collaborationist approach, a seeking of political alliances with sections of the ruling class. Social democratic attempts to create national welfare models based on class collaboration – such as in the Nordic countries – have also failed under the pressure of global capitalism. Despite its national basis, capitalism acts globally against any threats to its system.

43.For Marxists, from political perspectives and theory flows the need for an international organisation, a common world party of the working class. This has been the objective since Marx and Engels, and is even more pronounced today. An international that brings together lessons and experiences from previous revolutions and struggles, as well as always striving to be up to date in its perspectives.

44.An international is needed to overcome the challenges of the 2020s. Alongside the  wave of mass struggles by a new generation fighting oppression, inequality and exploitation, there exists among many a general opposition to organisations, especially parties,  which are perceived as hierarchical and to the concept of leadership itself.  In some cases, there is even scepticism towards the idea of a programme which goes beyond immediate demands. This is a complication caused by previously failed and fake leaderships, who also still can confuse, derail and act as a brake on struggles.

45.Our answer to this political confusion is to skilfully and confidently put forward that the struggle against capitalism is international and the necessity of building a mass Marxist international and to show in practice the difference between a democratic party like ours and the “normal” parties as well as proving the benefit of having an organisation as a tool to actually win battles.

46.  The International  creates a common political perspective and programme, offering real support and solidarity, and is a tool to spread the lessons of struggles and victories.

47.Collective international discussions and action are an essential facet of a real international. The Third International founded in 1919 was built on experiences of the betrayal of Social Democracy in WW1 and the working class taking power in the Russian Revolution. A big number of former left-wing social democrats, anarcho-syndicalists and their parties became communists. This posed political dangers, of both opportunism and of ultra-leftism. The Comintern leadership under Lenin and Trotsky fought many internal political battles, aiming to arm the new international with the real lessons of Bolshevism.

48.This was especially the case in their writings and debates about Germany in 1921, the “March events”, when the German party prematurely attempted to start a revolution. Lenin’s Left-wing Communism, Trotsky’ many writings to the French party and the discussions on the united front at the Third Congress of the Comintern are political treasures, showing the method of a revolutionary international.

49.In the 1930s, one of many achievements of Trotsky and his movement towards a Fourth International was his struggle to maintain an international perspective. This was done despite the  differences to the period immediately after the Russian revolution. Struggles and revolutionary opportunities were seemingly taking place more within national borders: for example in Spain, Germany, France, and the US. The lessons of the Spanish revolution (despite there only being tiny Trotskyist forces in Spain at the time) and Hitler coming to power in Germany were first on the agenda of discussions in the new embryonic international. These developments took place in the context of the Great Depression and the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union.

50.Trotsky took part in discussions with  new small groups, as well as attempts to form alliances with others. He also participated in sharp debates that took place within the sections. He often welcomed new publications, such as in Poland and Mexico, and gave advice on how to go forward. He took full part in the “Declaration of the Four” in 1933, when three other left parties, two Dutch and one German, joined the Trotskyists in declaring the need for a new international. In the sharp debates in the French section from 1934, Trotsky played a decisive role. His key writings on these issues were distributed and discussed. Trotsky built on the lessons from the workers movement which had no international at the eve of WW1 as the 2nd international broke exactly at the point when it was mostneeded. That’s why he pushed so hard for building of the Fourth International before the start of WW2.

51.National degeneration was also a key factor in the degeneration and fragmentation of the Fourth International. After WW2, and without Trotsky, it faced a very difficult situation. Contrary to Trotsky’s original perspective which emphasised how WW2 would be the midwife of world revolution in the East and the West, Stalinism was strengthened by the outcome of the war; the revolution in China and other revolutionary movements in the neocolonial world held up the degenerated Soviet Union as a model. Global capitalism went into an unprecedented upswing which in turn strengthened social democracy. Failing to adequately adjust its perspective in line with the new reality, the Fourth International gradually dissolved into different trends and tendencies, with less and less common politics or international exchange or leadership. In several countries, there were soon two or three organisations claiming to be the section of the “Fourth International”.

52.Politically, there were sharp debates over the character of the new Stalinist states in Eastern Europe, with part of the leadership believing Tito in Yugoslavia was an “unconscious Trotskyist” and displaying similar illusions in Mao Zedong. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Eastern Europe and China were recognised asStalinist states by the “mainstream” leaders of post-war Trotskyism. There were also debates over the economy, with some (the Healyites, now WSWS) arguing that Western Europe would stay in permanent crisis and predicting an international civil war. Much later, in the early 1980s, the USFI was completely uncritical to FSLN in Nicaragua and Solidarnosc in Poland.

53.In the post WW2  debates, , the tendency led by Ted Grant from the Revolutionary Communist Party RCP in Britain, stood out, both recognising the role of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and China, and the new capitalist upswing. His organisation was a small group with clear international perspectives, active in the Labour Party and in the main Fourth International.

54.The official Fourth International split in 1953, when the US section (led by James P. Cannon) and some others, especially in France (Lambert) and Britain (Healy) thought the leadership (Pablo) had become too conciliatory to Moscow after Stalin’s death. Two parallel organisations – the “United Secretariat” and the “International Committee” – existed until they formally re-unified in 1963.

55.Real internationalism was replaced by impressionism, with leaderships opportunistically adapting to new events. Rather than put forward a perspective based on the power of the world working class in opposition to Stalinism and capitalism, the leaders of the Fourth international tail-ended national phenomena sowing illusions in the guerilla struggle in Cuba and internationally, the role of the peasantry and the leaderships of the colonial revolution in general, as well as Maoism and left reformism. The Fourth International lost its emphasis on the centrality of the role of the working class, while at the same time lowering its revolutionary profile.

56.A real test of the international character of the organisation came in 1964. The Trotskyist LSSP in Sri Lanka was the traditional working class organisation in that country and therefore held a special standing in the international. It had led a “hartal” in 1953 (a  general strike involving the countryside) and stood out as organiser of both Sinhalese and Tamil workers and youth. In the 1950s, the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) was formed as a challenger to the traditional bourgeois political force, the UNP. Like some other parties in the neo-colonial world, it combined nationalism with a quasi “socialist” rhetoric. It was already from the beginning a Sinhala-chauvinist party.

57.The LSSP, while in the 50s sharply criticising the SLFP, gradually became allied to, arguing that it was a “lesser evil”, a “petty bourgeois” in contrast to a traditional bourgeois party. This position, because of the high standing of LSSP was never properly debated and discussed in the international, on the basis that the “leadership” argued the international organisation lacked the “authority” to intervene in the work of the section. Contrast this with the approach of Lenin and Trotsky! A common feature of the LSSP and the Fourth International after Trotsky was that a number of leading members were not fulltimers, but academics or lawyers,

58.The LSSP entered a government with the SLFP in 1964, a key blow to Trotskyism, and a result of the federalism within the then “united secretariat” of the Fourth International. The LSSP was ultimately expelled from the international, but the same trends continued.

59.In the same period, the founders of the CWI left that international (and were at the same time expelled) as a result of many debates, over the colonial revolution, the world economy and tactics towards the labour movement. Militant was launched in 1964 in Britain and international contacts were made that led to the foundation of the CWI in 1974 based on 5 countries for a start.

60.The CWI started with strong internationalism. Despite being geographically limited, continuous discussions on world perspectives – the economy, world relations, the colonial revolution, the Stalinist states, revolts and revolutions – laid a strong basis for its work. In the 1970s and 80s, many international campaigns were a central part of its work – on Spain, South Africa, the miners’ strike in Britain, against comrades being arrested and harassed in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Israel/Palestine, etc. There was a natural exchange of visits and assistance between sections. In the 1990s, this took a further leap, with Youth against Racism in Europe, coordinated interventions in demonstrations against capitalist globalisation and in 2003 against the US war in Iraq.

61.Internally, the 1980s and 90s, alongside annual summer schools, saw international gatherings of leading youth and women comrades, treasurers, editors, etc. Bilingual international bulletins (English and Spanish) were produced. The international full time staff was increased and the international centre assisted, intervened and kept up a dialogue with sections.

62.This gradually disappeared in the 10-15 years leading up to the 2019 factional struggle and split. The process will be fully discussed in the evaluation which ISA decided to initiate at the World Congress in early 2020. Here we can only briefly examine  the federalist drift which to  different degrees developed out of a lack of real discussions and political clarity, plus the reduction in visits and exchange between the IS and the sections. Criticism was either not raised, done in closed circles or just left to one side. The section’s leaderships developed their work and politics – with many good initiatives – without the international leadership (the IS and the IEC) being really involved in most cases.

Well placed to build on an internationalist basis

63. As explained above, the history of the CWI as a distinct Marxist current, which dates back to WW2, and the Fourth International in the time of Trotsky, is primarily one of proud and meaningful internationalism. The founders of the CWI started out from a single country, but with a unique ability, at that stage, to judge the world situation and develop perspectives. From the outset, their struggle to build a viable organisation in Britain was considered first and foremost as a crucial strategic task which would lay the basis for the building of an international organisation.

64. Once they had established a leading presence in the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) they immediately strove to seize upon the international avenues which this offered them for the building of support for Marxism overseas. It was this which led to the establishment of several of the CWI’s founding sections, including in Sweden, Germanyand elsewhere. Writing in May 1970, in the “Programme of the International”, one of our key founding documents, when Militant had no organised support outside of Britain, Ted Grant stresses the importance of British cadres learning foreign languages, and of the development of full time staff devoted to international work.

65. It remains an historic achievement that from this starting point, of national isolation combined with a profoundly internationalist political approach, spirit and strategy, one of the most significant international Trotskyist organisations since Trotsky’s Fourth International was built.

66. Compared to the situation faced by our predecessors described here, the situation facing ISA as we enter a new period, is infinitely more favourable. We have emerged from the crisis of the CWI weakened numerically and geographically, but not by any means reduced to an isolated core in a single country. We embark on our mission with an organisation which has significant, though still very small, forces and accumulated cadre on all of the world’s continents. We have several living generations of cadre, and a rich experience of intervention, party building, and in some cases leadership in the class struggle in a wide range of countries.

67. Though there are more than a few gaping geographical holes in our international – not least France, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Iran, Japan, and the Indian subcontinent – we have a promising concentration of cadres in some of the world’s key countries where perspectives for capitalism and the class struggle are especially significant. We have publications in more than 20 languages and are in the process of building a multi-national, multi-generational international apparatus and leadership. In summary, we are well placed to build our organisation on a truly internationalist basis.

Inheritance of a “federalist” drift

68. However, there is another side to our inheritance from the CWI. Despite our impressive geographical extension, we have also inherited an organisation in the process of a “federalist” drift over a period of years. From the point of view of revolutionary Marxism, federalism is understood as a tendency for organisations to exist as a collection of separate national parties, as opposed to a politically and organisationally cohesive world party.

69. First and foremost, the CWI’s federalist drift was rooted in the qualitative decline in its approach to world perspectives. This both reflected the declining political ability of central individuals, as well as the absence of a sufficiently collective approach to political leadership,

70. Revolutionary organisations start with political ideas, and an international revolutionary organisation must start from an international perspective which can serve, in a meaningful way, as a political framework for the perspectives and work of its nationalsections and local branches. An indepth and insightful international perspective can only be developed if it draws on an understanding of key processes and events in the world’s key countries and regions, combined with an understanding of Marxism.

71. Instead, in recent years, the international perspectives put forward by the CWI’s leadership became increasingly superficial and hollow. Instead of starting from a thorough analysis and explanation of world processes, world perspectives documents tended to resemble more a series of brief and often superficial commentaries on events in one country after another, rounded off by all-encompassing statements of the obvious. Moreover, this commentary was increasingly based on references to the same handful of British-based media outlets and sources, writing “from afar”, and less and less in a living dialogue with the CWI’s forces or linked to an attempt to gain insight from the ground. Linked to this, an important part of the political degeneration of the CWI’s former leadership was a growing “Anglocentrism” in its political approach – taking English politics as a starting point for global analysis and perspectives, as well as advice on tactics, campaigns and program, rather than a more rounded out view of the world situation.

72. While on the surface, these contained little that was wrong or objectionable, the point is that such an approach does not provide meaningful political guidance to the work of sections around the world. In practice, it meant that instead of starting from a rounded out framework and revolutionary strategy, national sections were to a great extent left to elaborate their perspectives and work “from scratch”. It is a testament to the political strength of cadre throughout the majority of the CWI, that this situation did not lead to major political mistakes by our sections.

73. But there can be no doubt that if such a situation had continued or developed further, and if ISA does not manage to reverse this process, this will be the outcome. As we have seen above, the degeneration of revolutionary parties is always, at least partially, national degeneration.

74. The problem of federalism in the CWI was also expressed organisationally. Put simply, there was a growing divorce between the CWI’s international structures and the work of its sections. This originated in the political degeneration described above. Without a strong international political perspective, the role of the international organisation in the sections is naturally diminished.

75. This was combined with a growing disconnect of the international leadership from the work of sections. There was a tendency for leading individuals in the international leadership to themselves withdraw, often related to the ageing process, from party building work. A pronounced change took place in the international, marked by an overall diminishing of party building in the discussions and internal life of the international. In practice, this led to an undermining of a Bolshevik approach to party building methods in many sections, , with a lack of constant discussion and debate whichis essential to lay a common political basis and approach to the work of the international in this field, which should be regularly reaffirmed. Relations between the IS and many of the national sections were established and maintained not on the basis of a principled, critical political dialogue in both directions, but often on the basis of prestige and false diplomacy.

76. Whereas in a previous period, international initiatives (eg YRE) played a major role in the activity of sections, and international cadre were tasked with playing a role in providing assistance to the building of the CWI on the ground, in recent years party building became seen as something for “national sections to worry about”, with the international leadership concentrating on the “politics”. The exception to this was the role of younger international FTers and IS members whose work in building and visiting sections was seen as a reflection of playing a “secondary” role by those who now lead the fake-CWI.

77. The CWI’s International Executive Committee, which had a strong composition in terms of political level and experience, in practice  did not play its stated role as the international’s highest leading body. Only a small handful of IEC members had any international roles or responsibilities beyond attending an annual meeting. IEC meetings were often extremely useful and interesting, but essentially had more the character of annual conferences, in which members would be encouraged to focus on reporting from their specific region or area of work. Other international bodies, like the European Bureau (which brought together European IEC members annually) and Latin American bureau became intermittent or were discontinued over time.

Learning the right lessons – fight to internationalise the International!

78. While many other factors and examples could be mentioned, these suffice to paint a picture of the direction of travel in the CWI – a federalist drift  that risked ending up with an “international in name only”. Ultimately, it was only tumultuous political and internal events, which interrupted this process. Starting with the IEC, the wider international leadership and membership asserted itself in the internal life of the CWI. The result has been the raising of the profile and importance of the international, to  a very high level throughout ISA. Maintaining this, and reversing the trend towards federalism, is one of our most crucial tasks.

79. The 2019 faction fight and split was a huge experience, and distilling its lessons requires time, thought and discussion. The process which ISA has initiated to conduct such a discussion is important and will undoubtedly assist in generating greater clarity, with the benefit of hindsight, in terms of the lessons of this experience. While many lessons from our experience are already clear in our collective mind, as with all important historical events, we have to ensure that we draw the correct conclusions and lessons.

80. For example, the heavy-handed, insensitive and bureaucratic methods employed by the former IS during the factional dispute was a central part of our experience. This couldpotentially invite comrades to draw the conclusion that the weight and role of the international’s structures should be consciously diminished in order to safeguard against such abuses in the future. However, as we have attempted to explain briefly here, the central problem of the old international leadership was not its strength but its weakness, and not an over centralisation of the international, but the contrary.

Reaffirming an internationalist political approach

81. Building ISA on a truly internationalist basis starts with politics. Put simply, it starts with the ISA as a whole, having the best possible world perspectives which combine a knowledge and understanding of world events with a Marxist analysis. This is not exclusively, or even primarily, the task of an international full time apparatus but of cadre throughout the ISA. It means national leaderships and our wider cadre resisting any temptation to confine their political reading, thought and preparation to their national, or even regional, situation. It means that meetings throughout ISA, from branches and caucuses to leading bodies, should prominently feature international discussions and themes.

82. Cadre should be encouraged to develop political expertise in other countries, and to read and write regularly on international events. And comrades should welcome, and seek out, the thoughts, input and advice of comrades from outside their country or region, on events there and the work of our sections. While comrades from outside a given country must always take an open-minded, and humble approach to discussing the work of another section, arguments along the lines of “these comrades from afar don’t understand X country” should be eschewed in the ISA. Our international must be imbued with the basic idea that Marxist cadre from any country are armed with methods which can be of use to any section.

Building a Wider Collective International Leadership

83. This also goes for all aspects of the running of our international. A crucial task for ISA is to break with the idea, which became very entrenched in the CWI, that the role of leading cadre in the international – especially in the International Committee IC – is only or even mainly to lead and build their own sections.  Neither is the task to merely “supervise” or “check” the role of the International Executive or Full Time Sub Commission. Of course these are important tasks which cannot be neglected. But the primary role of the International Committee is to lead the international, together with other elected bodies.

84. There are some straightforward steps that have quickly been taken towards resolving this in practice. IC members are already involved in political discussion far more often than annually which was the case in the CWI. Since the World Congress the IC has met eleven times (19 March to 5 November) , and had political discussions mainly on the effects on the pandemic and world perspectives. In ISA, being a member of the IC isalready a far more significant commitment than was the case in the CWI. This is something that national sections are adjusting their work to accommodate.

85. Many IC members and other leading comrades in national sections are also already playing regular roles in organizing and carrying out the work of the international in key fields. This includes four comrades on the International Editorial Board, six comrades on the International Womens’ Bureau, and comrades who have played an important role in attempting to begin a more meaningful coordination of our trade union work.

86. We need to build on this progress, and develop more and better  teams of comrades which bring together IE, IC and other leading members to take the work of the international forward in these and other fields. IC members will also be able to play crucial roles in providing assistance to the work of the international leadership in providing support and advice to other sections on a regular basis.

87. Going forward, our ambition should be that every member of the IC, as well as participating in its discussions, is involved in at least one aspect of the regular work of ISA internationally. This would be a very strong starting point for the building of a really collective wider international leadership and would ensure ISA moves onto a higher level politically.

International Publications – A Resource and Responsibility for All

88. Our international organisation having a high profile and visibility in our work is a crucial part of our strategy for success in this period. Our sections being clearly and prominently presented as part of ISA appeals to the internationalist instinct and understanding of advanced layers and concretises our unique contribution to the class struggle and labour movement. Having high quality international publications is necessary in order to achieve this. Since our existence as ISA began we have established a solid base for our international publications, launching internationalsocialist.net, the World to Win show and YouTube channel, and renewing our social media work on a higher level.

89. This work has so far seen modest success, and must be urgently developed and improved. High quality international publications are first and foremost political resources for the international organisation and its sections – offering high level Marxist analysis and a dynamic visible profile for ISA to assist our sections in all aspects of party building. Our website, World to Win and social media pages should be both assisted and contributed to by cadres internationally, and promoted by national leaderships in our sections. The IEB has also discussed making greater use of Socialist World, the political journal of the US section, in the international and it has been agreed to include an IEB member and international FTer on the journal’s editorial staff.

90. Our international publications are playing a role in building our international. The World to Win broadcasts have already brought ISA potentially important contacts in Indonesia,Tanzania, Croatia, Scotland and India, some of whom have already agreed to join ISA. Our website has been the source of contacts from XX countries and led to the successful recruitment of comrades in several countries.

91. Steps are beginning to be taken to diversify the language profile of our international publications, though still far from sufficient. Thanks to the work of our Mexican, US and Spanish comrades, the volume of Spanish language translations being carried out of important international articles is higher than at any point during the past few years. The launching of Un Mundo Por Ganar/Um Mundo a Ganhar as a regular show in Spanish and Portuguese can be of assistance to our work in building ISA in Latin America, Portugal and the Spanish state. Similar initiatives should be considered in relation to French, Arabic and other ‘international’ languages.

International Finances – A Necessary Foundation for our Success

92. None of the political objectives outlined above can be met without resources which are specifically dedicated to the needs of the international organisation. Central to this is a sizeable, capable and multinational international full time staff, on a higher level than has existed previously. This can only be achieved on the basis of boosting the international’s finances on a sustainable basis.

93. As with membership of our national sections, a financial contribution is essential for membership of ISA. It also makes each section, and each member’s attachment and commitment to the organisation tangible. Every member should know how much of their membership sub is intended for the financing of ISA. The historic finance appeal at the VMU showed how much previously untapped political enthusiasm and commitment exists throughout ISA and can be expressed financially. The key lesson here is that financial appeals for the international should never again be confined to those attending a physical meeting (such as the summer school) but reach every branch and member of ISA in advance.

No Strong International Without Strong Sections

94. Without strong and growing sections, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the international cannot move forward. In a revolutionary international, all sections and the international as a whole own and benefit from growth and achievements in any section. This is the case through association with victories and the raising of the profile of the international, but also, crucially, through the growth and strengthening of sections contributing to the human and material resources of the international.

95. We are confident that the coming period will offer opportunities to all our sections to move forward. However, as with the class struggle in general, the growth of our sections will inevitably be uneven. As sections grow qualitatively, it is essential that the international be able to draw on the benefits of growth in the form of political analysisand guidance, human resources to assist the international’s expansion, and increased assistance to our international finance and publications.

96. An aspect of the degeneration of the CWI was the outsized role played by a single section in the international leadership, which became increasingly problematic over time. As strong sections developed outside of Britain, the necessary moves were not made to build on this to further internationalise the CWI’s full time staff and IS. As ISA develops, it will be crucial to combine in a flexible and dialectical way the need to draw on the strength of leading sections while at the same time maintaining a multi-national leadership at all levels. Ultimately the only way to guarantee this is to ensure the development of strong ISA sections in as many countries as possible.

Active membership – campaigns and discussions

97.Immediately after the split last summer (2019), the then-CWI Majority launched new international campaigns. Following political discussions at the IEC in August and the work of an international coordinating group with comrades from X sections, the international intervened successfully in the large climate strikes and demonstrations in the end of September. Common political material was used and reports circulated in an International Members’ Bulletin afterwards. An international delegation with comrades from different sections intervened in the demonstrations in Paris.

98.For the campaign around the international day for elimination of men’s violence against women, 25 November, the intervention was coordinated by the then provisional International Women’s Bureau. For  International Women’s Day in 2020, this work was further developed with the launch of Rosa internationally and an international intervention in Seville. On top of this we organised a number of international solidarity campaigns for supporting the work of our comrades in Hong Kong, Israel/Palestine, Russia, Ireland and many other examples.

99.Strengthened internationalism was also underlined when record delegations of comrades participated in the election campaigns in Seattle last year and in Ireland early this year. This  benefits not only the campaigns, but provides a real exchange and builds stronger links between comrades from different sections.

100. This important expression of internationalism has been cut across by the pandemic, but ISA is preparing to launch new international initiatives and campaigns, including the international coordination of youth and trade union work, as well as interventions into priority campaigns and tasks around the world, starting with the crucial fight to defend our position in Seattle city council.

101. The new methods we have been forced to use during the pandemic have also benefited internationalism, even if they can’t replace the unique benefit of real physical meetings. The VMU involved more comrades than any previous event, increasing the understanding about the international.

102. Similarly, ten issues of the International Member’s Bulletin in one year has stimulated necessary political discussions and internationalism. This is even more important in a period with historical turning points. The international has already benefited politically from the debate which has taken place on perspectives for the new epoch.

103. Both the VMU and the bulletins also serve to involve all members in debates that are inevitable when we are relaunching the international and at the same time pass through so many major global events,

Seize the opportunities of the new era

104.  We have entered a new historic period of crisis for capitalism with the working class, youth, women and the oppressed masses already moving into struggle in many countries. In the next period, the class struggle will intensify and bring with it many new opportunities for our sections to build and grow and we must seize these opportunities with both hands.

105.  Trotsky’s opening line from the Transitional Programme, “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterised by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat” posed a challenge to the embryonic forces of the Fourth International. Today, in the age of capitalist induced climate change posing an existential threat to human civilisation as we know it, the need to build a mass revolutionary Marxist International is even more urgent. Our international will play a decisive role in rebuilding fighting worker’s organisations and arming mass struggles with a revolutionary programme.

106.  We have taken important steps forward in the period since the split with those who now lead the fake-CWI. We have established new international structures that have transformed the way our international functions, a qualitative change which has drawn leading comrades from dozens of sections into a fuller participation in the political and organisational discussions that are crucial for the clarification of perspectives and the prioritisation of tasks.

107.  The hugely successful VMU brought together 1,500 comrades for a week of political discussions. Although we missed out on the benefits of having a face to face international school, this event brought together an unprecedented number of comrades from all continents, with a record number attending from the neo-colonial world. The VMU, alongside other new and renewed initiatives in the last year, have sharply raised the profile of the international.

108.  The VMU online “model” of political discussions is now being used by sections for both internal and public events to overcome the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Whereas we look forward to the time when we can recommence face to face meetings and physical activities, we can adapt and use our successful online activities and events as an important addition to our more traditional modus operandi.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

109.  We are not starting from scratch. The ISA incorporates all of the positives of the previous 45 years of the CWI. The political review of the split and the processes that lead up to it will bring forth many lessons that we can apply to improve the building of our International. Based in over 30 countries, we can intervene into this new more positive period for the growth of our forces with confidence.

110.  At the time of our 12th World Congress in January 2020, ISA had 2,674 members. Based on our political perspectives, which anticipate a period of challenges, but also of great opportunity for Marxism, we can boldly set ourselves the target of adding another one thousand members to our ranks before our next World Congress, tentatively scheduled for the beginning of 2022. The growth which several of our sections are already experiencing shows the basis for such revolutionary ambition.

111.  Marxists are visionaries focused on the advancement of human society and we need a visionary and bold approach to the building of the ISA. By building the numerical and political strength of all of the sections we can create the conditions for us to expand our international leadership by bringing on board younger energetic comrades and overcoming the pressing issue of gender imbalance.

112.  This will allow us to generalise the collective experiences of the working class and of our sections, applying these lessons to strengthen the whole, as well as giving us the opportunity to build new groups and sections in key and importantcountries. The first year of ISA, in an unprecedented period, shows us the way forward.

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