The Internationalist Socialist League of Israel/Occupied Palestine (ISL) has announced its decision to end its five years of collaboration with the LRP. Their decision did not surprise us.
Recent weeks had seen a sharp debate begin between our two groups. This at first concerned how revolutionaries should fight the French imperialist invasion of Mali, but quickly it spread to other questions.
The LRP remained committed to these discussions in the hope that a patient, comradely exchange of opinions could convince ISL comrades of our perspective. All correspondence and documents in the debate were circulated throughout the LRP so that the ISL had the opportunity to address all of our comrades.
The ISL’s statement announcing their break from working with us gives the public an indication of the resistance we faced to our attempts at honest debate. Full of bluster and name-calling and spiced with slanderous accusations, it provides little real political explanation for their decision.
The ISL’s difficulty in providing a coherent political explanation for their break is understandable: although their public statements give no hint of this, in the course of their debate with the LRP a majority of ISLers indicated that it is their intention to overturn some of their group’s most important founding principles and documents.
With this response we want to provide readers with a brief summary of our view of the ISL’s break – both from us and from the key revolutionary principles that formed the basis of our collaboration until now. We will publish a more in-depth analysis in the near future, because the subjects that were being debated between us deserve a thorough examination by all revolutionary-minded workers and youth.
Differences between the LRP and ISL began to emerge with the French imperialist military intervention in Mali in January, about which the ISL and the LRP issued separate statements. Both statements clearly opposed the French invasion and called for its defeat. The ISL now charges that the LRP “failed to take an anti-imperialist position in Mali” because we “failed to say explicitly that revolutionaries must defend the Islamist rebels” fighting imperialism. But any reader of our statement, which clearly called for the defeat of French imperialism and for the defense of all in Mali against its attacks, should be able to see that this charge is false. Further, since ISL comrades seemed confused about our position and we were questioned by West African friends as well, we even published a follow-up note to re-state and explain where we stood in the bluntest possible terms.
In reality, major differences between the LRP and ISL statements begin with the fact that the ISL’s statement not only defended the Islamist forces from imperialist military attack; it also defended the Islamists’ political reputations. The ISL’s statement covered up the fact that during their ten months in power in northern Mali, the Islamists brutally oppressed the local population. These abuses were widely documented; indeed the version of “Sharia” enforced by the main Islamist group there, Ansar Dine, was even criticized by Al Qaeda for its extremism. But the ISL could not even bring itself to admit that this oppression took place, referring to it as merely “alleged” – despite our warning them that this was a travesty of both truth and justice.
The ISL’s disgraceful downplaying of the Islamists’ crimes was only a symptom of the un-Marxist perspective it put forward regarding the struggle against imperialism. As we will explain at length in a forthcoming document, the ISL’s statement actually suggested that an independent struggle of the workers and poor people against their local oppressors could be deferred until after the battle against imperialism, regardless of the conditions of the class struggle at the time in the oppressed country. It thus put forward, in effect, a stagist perspective for the struggle against imperialism in oppressed countries – a first stage of struggle against the imperialists, and a later stage of struggle against local bourgeois forces, whom the ISL’s statement described as only “ultimately” a threat to the masses.
Such an approach represents a sharp divergence from the Trotskyist strategy of permanent revolution, which recognizes the counterrevolutionary character of the bourgeoisie in all countries. This means that the struggle against imperialism can only triumph through working-class-led revolution.
Despite the serious errors in their statement on Mali, we did not rush to condemn the ISL for them, especially since those errors contradicted the views that the ISL had been putting forward for years. So we sought to pursue a discussion with the comrades through which they might realize that they were straying from the principles upon which their group had been founded.
The ISL proved unable to admit to even the most obvious mistakes, however. For example, the ISL’s statement declares that the position of the French New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) on the imperialist invasion was “no less reprehensible” than the support for the invasion by the French Socialist Party government and the Left Front and Communist Party. The NPA, however, raised the slogan “No to the Military Intervention in Mali.” This was not the revolutionary position of favoring the defeat of the imperialist forces – but it is ludicrous to claim that saying “No” to the intervention is as bad as saying “Yes.” We pointed out that the ISL’s attitude would preclude revolutionaries from joining with groups like the NPA to support and build common protests against the invasion. But the ISL refused to accept this obvious point.
Instead, we received from the ISL a steady stream of denunciations of us as capitulators to imperialism. Yossi Schwartz, the ISL’s senior member, went on a hunt for such capitulations in the LRP’s past. For example, he denounced us for failing to “stand militarily” with the Islamist guerrillas in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion of 1979. But these mujahedin were proxies for U.S. imperialism and were waging a counterrevolutionary war against land reform, women’s rights and any other sign of social progress. These tools of U.S. imperialism did not represent any sort of anti-imperialist struggle against the Russian forces.
When Schwartz’s comrades started accepting such outrageous positions, it became clear to us that a break by the ISL from their collaboration with us was probably only a matter of time. The only surprise was that before doing so, ISLers made clear that they were consciously breaking from their founding ideas.
When we and the ISL first announced our political discussions and collaboration to the left-wing public, we explained that this was based on our unique agreement on two key revolutionary principles:
Following from these principles, we both rejected the idea that counterrevolutionary Stalinism or any force other than the working class could overthrow capitalism. We rejected the supposedly “Orthodox Trotskyist” idea that states which had no connection to the working class (except for oppressing and exploiting them) could in any way be considered workers’ states.
In late February, Schwartz circulated a document proclaiming that recent theoretical study had revealed to him that the working class was in fact not necessary to the overthrow of capitalism or the establishment of a workers’ state – counterrevolutionary Stalinists could and did achieve this monumentally progressive task. Schwartz put forward these ideas as criticisms of the book The Life and Death of Stalinism by the LRP’s Walter Daum, but they could just as well have been leveled at the ISL’s founding documents Trotskyism and the Class Character of the Stalinist States, The Socialist Revolution and the Vanguard Party, and The ISL Position on Wars.
Schwartz spelled out that for him the USSR after World War II, as well as the new Stalinist states created by the Soviet Army and Communist Parties, were all workers’ states. But this meant that his new discovery, in addition to surrendering the fundamental Marxist principle of working-class self-emancipation, placed him in the awkward position of calling the USSR in 1979 a workers’ state – while siding with the counterrevolutionary mujahedin against it. Schwartz was switching positions so quickly that he did not even notice the dilemma until we pointed it out.
The LRP responded to this last development with an urgent letter to the ISL that concluded:
“We think that the ISL, based on its original revolutionary program, is still worth fighting for. But its fate is in its comrades’ hands. The LRP is proud to have stood with the ISL as it began to build itself on the principle of working-class self-emancipation. For as long as there is hope that the ISL as an organization can stay true to that principle, we will continue to make it a priority to continue our comradely discussion of political differences. …
“Of course, should ISL comrades choose to abandon the Marxist principles they have until recently upheld, the LRP will continue its work to do all it can to contribute to building an authentically Marxist revolutionary leadership among the workers and oppressed of the world. And we will continue to combat all those who stand in the way of those principles and reject proletarian self-emancipation – including, if need be, the revised ISL.”
The ISL made its choice.
In their statement announcing their break from collaborating with the LRP, the ISL bombastically declared that our present shames our past. Like so many of the charges they raise against us, the accuser is the guilty party.
The LRP remains true to the revolutionary principles upon which it was founded. The ISL is breaking from theirs – but they are ashamed to admit it, especially since they have not yet worked out what new principles they stand for. The ISL can hope to hold itself together for a moment longer with new attacks on the LRP, but they will soon have to face up to their own identity crisis.
The ISL’s break from its revolutionary principles is a small tragedy. It set itself the task of laying the foundations for a revolutionary party in a part of the world whose struggles could determine the fate of millions. It is now betraying those principles and breaking that foundation – with a casual disregard for the consequences.
The LRP will publish a more extensive balance-sheet of our work with the ISL, including a thoroughly documented examination of the key political issues that arose in our recent debates. And we will welcome any questions about this statement from our readers.