For over eighteen months, the League for the Revolutionary Party (U.S.) and the Internationalist Socialist League (Israel/Occupied Palestine) have conducted discussions over political theory and program. Through these discussions our two organizations have established a very significant degree of agreement on key questions.
Practical participation in great working-class struggles quickly and decisively tests the revolutionary credentials of political parties. Both the LRP and ISL are, however, small propaganda groups; while we make every effort to join in the struggles of our fellow workers and oppressed people, our size and geographic isolation inevitably limit our ability to participate in and test our revolutionary program in practice. Under these conditions, our two groups’ claims to represent the genuine banner of revolutionary Marxism are mostly to be judged on the level of theory and program and on stands on the great events in the international class struggle. Therefore, the LRP and the ISL have taken an extended period of time to methodically discuss a broad range of theoretical and programmatic questions. Mindful of the hasty, unprincipled fusions and splits that typify relations between groups on the far left, we aim to present a principled, theoretically serious alternative, the better to win the confidence of revolutionary-minded workers.
Our discussions so far have addressed questions ranging from the strategy for Palestinian liberation, to the class nature of the Stalinist and ex-Stalinist states and the causes of the current global economic crisis. During this time we have also discussed new events – such as the Russia-Georgia war of 2008, Israel’s war on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, and the recent events in Iran – and the attitude revolutionary socialists should have toward them.
Comrades of the LRP and ISL have also visited each other’s countries for face-to-face discussions. Those visits have provided both groups the opportunity to experience first-hand the democratic debate from which each group’s positions develop, as well as each other’s practical efforts to advance the cause of building the revolutionary party through participation in existing working-class struggles, protest movements and left milieus.
Genuine revolutionaries look for co-thinkers – comrades who think for themselves and who can collectively work to solve the current and future theoretical and programmatic problems presented by the class struggle – and who can together conduct a determined struggle to build the international revolutionary leadership our class needs. The LRP and ISL’s experience of discussions and cooperation to this point give us no reason to doubt that in our respective organizations we have found such comrades. By announcing our discussions, our two groups wish to provide interested revolutionary-minded workers and youth with the opportunity to follow our developing political discussion and collaboration and judge its serious and principled character. In this report, since the ISL is a relatively new organization, we will describe some of its history and then summarize our two groups’ discussions so far.
The comrades who founded the ISL have traveled a long way politically in recent years: from the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), which is among the most class-collaborationist groups claiming the banner of Trotskyism, to their current discussions with the LRP. Indeed the ISL’s senior member, Yossi Schwartz, began his search for genuine revolutionary working-class politics as a member of the Israeli Communist Party. After breaking from Stalinism, however, Comrade Schwartz, like many other would-be revolutionaries, became trapped for years inside the maze of “orthodox Trotskyism,” most notably as a long-term and prominent member of the Spartacist Tendency, as well as a brief later association with the Co-ordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International (led by the Argentine Partido Obrero).
Having gone through the traumatic experience of the Spartacists’ stifling sectarianism and abusively bureaucratic internal life, Comrade Schwartz mistakenly looked to join an ostensibly Trotskyist group that seemed the exact opposite. So in 2003, he and others chose to join the IMT. A key reason for their decision was their mistaken belief that the most important thing they could do to advance the cause of building a revolutionary party in Israel at the time was to enter the Communist Party in order to recruit radicalizing elements, particularly among its Palestinian rank-and-file. The IMT, which is known for its conception that entry into and support for reformist Social Democratic and Stalinist parties is an unavoidable stage of working-class struggle, was all too eager to encourage such a perspective.
But historical events were already working to spur the radicalization of the comrades who would go on to form the ISL. Zionism was rapidly heading toward a crisis of legitimacy, as its brutal oppression of the Palestinians became increasingly exposed around the world. Most importantly, the Palestinian struggle had reached a dead-end and a terrible crisis of leadership. In the Oslo Accords of 1993, the nationalist PLO leadership had completely betrayed the struggle for Palestinian self-determination by accepting the state of Israel’s right to exist on stolen Palestinian land. Since then, through its notoriously corrupt Palestinian Authority government, the PLO has acted to police the masses on behalf of Israel in the small territories it had been permitted to oversee. In reaction to this betrayal, the populist Islamists of Hamas and other groups claimed to represent a political alternative that would not sellout to the Zionists. While events would disprove these claims, their radical posturing won them increasing popular support.
The founding ISL comrades’ initial differences with the IMT arose in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006. The IMT’s leaders insisted that Israel’s Jewish working class is no less potentially revolutionary than any other, and so they expected that the defeat of Israel’s war aims in Lebanon in 2006 would trigger a leftward radicalization within it. It turned out that the Israeli Jewish workers not only overwhelmingly supported their government’s bloody offensive, but after the war they swung further to the right, boosting support for right-wing Israeli politicians who criticized the government for not prosecuting the war more ruthlessly.
This development is explained by the unique nature of Israel as a colonial settler state. It is a basic truth that the great majority of the world’s workers have “nothing to lose but their chains” and therefore have a fundamental interest in overthrowing the capitalist system. The same cannot be said of Israel’s Jewish workers. Like other labor-aristocratic layers in imperialist countries, they enjoy certain material privileges based on the imperialist status of their ruling class. But unlike even other labor-aristocratic workers, their gains are enjoyed at the direct expense of the Palestinian masses and they live on land stolen from the Palestinians. Thus they see the aggressive actions of the Israeli state as the guarantor of their privileged existence. While the IMT, like most socialist groups, stubbornly closes its eyes to these facts, the future ISLers soon realized that they could not afford to do the same if they were to advance a genuine perspective for the struggle for Palestinian liberation and for socialist revolution in the Middle East.
The breaking point came with the 2007 civil war in Gaza. Elections to the parliament of the Palestinian Authority in 2006 had seen Hamas score a crushing victory over the PLO’s dominant Fatah faction. The following year, Fatah military forces, with the political and material support of both Israel and the United States, launched an offensive against Hamas with the aim of driving it from power. Recognizing that the Palestinian masses had handed Hamas their electoral victory as a protest against Fatah’s betrayals, and that the latter’s military attack on Hamas was being conducted at the service of Israeli and U.S. imperialism, the future ISLers correctly took a stand on the side of the Palestinian masses in Gaza under the leadership of Hamas and for the defeat for Fatah and the aims of its imperialist backers. The IMT leaders, on the other hand, opposed this courageous stand and instead insisted on a position of neutrality in the civil war.
The future ISLers did not capitulate to the IMT leadership’s arguments, however, and went to the Tendency’s next international conference, in Barcelona in 2007 to argue their case. The pressure of debate there forced the comrades to look more critically at the positions the IMT was taking elsewhere around the world, as well as to look deeper to the roots of their political disagreements. As they explain in their document “The ISL’s Break with the IMT,” the comrades soon argued against the IMT’s popular frontist policies in Pakistan, where its supporters were functioning as a part of the bourgeois Pakistan People’s Party, and in Venezuela, where the IMT had become uncritical cheerleaders of bourgeois nationalist Hugo Chávez. During these debates they also caught IMT leader Alan Woods in an outright lie when he denied that the Irish Communists had supported the nationalists in the 1922-23 civil war. All this was predictably more than the IMT’s leaders could take, and they soon expelled the comrades without ever pressing charges or allowing them the right to defend their views in a trial.
In their political struggle with the IMT leadership, the future ISLers’ disagreements over the Palestinian struggle quickly spread to differences over a range of international issues. Following their expulsion, the comrades began rethinking their understanding of Marxism on the most fundamental level.
The betrayal of the cause of Palestinian self-determination by the PLO confirmed Trotsky’s perspective of permanent revolution, which teaches that bourgeois forces among the oppressed are ultimately dependent on the imperialist system for their privileged social position and would inevitably side against the masses. Trotsky argued that the struggle of the oppressed for their liberation could only achieve victory through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the working class; and that the working class could, in turn, only win popular support and fit itself to rule by establishing itself as the unwavering champion of the cause of the oppressed.
However, many who claimed the banner of Trotskyism insisted that the Palestinians had to sacrifice their rights to one extent or another in order to win the support of Israeli workers. The ISL comrades concluded that the starting point for a revolutionary program in Israel/Occupied Palestine had to be an uncompromising struggle for Palestinian self-determination, which means the full right of return of Palestinians to their homeland and their right to majority rule in a Palestinian workers’ state.
How could such a workers’ revolution be achieved? Recognizing that the Palestinian masses were outgunned and overpowered by the Israeli state, the IMT’s leaders had previously convinced the ISLers that the Palestinians had no alternative but to base their hopes on the supposedly revolutionary potential of the Israeli working class. The ISLers recognized that this perspective was hopeless. They broke out of the narrow perspective limited to the national borders of Israel and Palestine and pointed to the potential of the revolutionary struggles of the working class of the entire region, particularly that of the Arab working class of neighboring states, to come to the aid of the Palestinian workers and poor. The Palestinian working class would at the same time continue its inspiring role in the anti-imperialist and working-class struggle in the Middle East and around the world.
Further, the ISL comrades understood that behind the IMT’s refusal to defend Hamas against Fatah’s imperialist-backed attacks stood an overall accommodation by the IMT to imperialism. For example, in the case of the Malvinas (Falklands) war of 1982, the IMT refused to defend Argentina, an oppressed neo-colonial country, against British imperialism. Similarly, in the struggles in Northern Ireland, the IMT had refused to side with the Irish Republican Army fighting against British imperialism. And beyond the IMT, the ISL comrades saw that all the major groupings claiming the banner of Trotskyism had at some time or other similarly betrayed the principle of unwavering defense of the oppressed against imperialist attack.
Further spurring the ISL’s radicalization was the collapse of Stalinism, an event totally unexpected by the “orthodox Trotskyist” milieu that the ISL’s founding members were part of. The core faith of the orthodox milieu is that the Stalinist states were workers’ states. That view was refuted by the fact that the working class barely lifted a finger to defend “their” states from collapsing and in many cases had been a key force in anti-Stalinist mass struggles. But if the Stalinist states were not workers’ states, what was their class nature? The ISL comrades correctly concluded that if the working class had been oppressed and exploited by those states, then the Stalinist bureaucracy that ruled them must have functioned as a capitalist ruling class.
The ISL’s break from the orthodox “deformed workers’ state” theory did not lead them to a break from Trotskyism, however. On the contrary, they continued their struggle to defend the authentic revolutionary tradition from abuse and distortion. The ISL comrades had fought inside the IMT to defend the perspective of permanent revolution from those who betrayed it in Trotsky’s name. Now they understood that the idea that the Stalinists had created workers’ states after the Second World War betrayed not only Trotsky’s judgment that the Stalinists were a thoroughly counterrevolutionary force, but also the fundamental Marxist understanding that only the working class could overthrow capitalism. The ISL now saw that rejecting illusions in the progressive potential of Stalinism was essential for reviving the genuine revolutionary tradition of Trotskyism.
Importantly, the ISL comrades quickly concluded that the idea that Stalinist forces could play a revolutionary role expressed a cynical lack of confidence in the revolutionary potential of the working class, as well as the illusory hope that non-proletarian forces could succeed in overthrowing capitalism where the workers had failed. This cynicism explained the IMT’s capitulation to social democratic reformism at home in Britain, as well as its political support for bourgeois nationalist forces in Pakistan and Venezuela. It also explained the very similar capitulations of the Spartacists, who are notorious for their celebratory support for Stalinists as well as for Stalinist-influenced nationalist popular fronts like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the FMLN in El Salvador in the 1980s.
As the ISL comrades re-examined the history of Trotskyism, they began tracing a pattern of betrayals all the way back to the post-World War II period. The IMT’s craven support to Chávez in Venezuela was not fundamentally different from the degenerating post-war Fourth International’s support to Tito in Yugoslavia, to whom its leaders ludicrously offered membership in the International. ISLers had known that the Fourth International had crossed the class line by supporting the government of an “anti-imperialist” bourgeois party in the Bolivian revolution of 1952; the FI’s relatively large Bolivian section, with a significant base in the working class, betrayed Trotskyism’s basic principle of always fighting for the political and organizational independence of the working class from capitalist forces. The FI thus contributed to the demobilization and demoralization of the working class and bore responsibility for the workers’ ultimate defeat. The ISLers would later conclude that this decisive betrayal in practice marked the end of the FI as a revolutionary organization.
With these basic ideas, the ISL turned to studying the views of the few ostensibly Trotskyist groupings with a “state capitalist” analysis of Stalinism. They turned first to the largest such grouping, the International Socialist Tendency led by the British Socialist Workers Party. But a quick review of the IST’s political record revealed a pattern of opportunist positions no better than those of the “orthodox Trotskyist” milieu they had broken from. In particular, the SWP was certainly anti-Zionist but it habitually capitulated to the nationalist and Islamist leaderships of Muslims both in Britain and in the Middle Eastern countries occupied by the imperialists. The ISL had a brief correspondence with the IST, which also revealed the IST’s stunningly cynical attitude toward the prospects for working-class revolutionary struggle in the Middle East: the IST advised the ISL to give up their efforts and move to Britain!
Soon thereafter, the ISL turned to the LRP and discovered that we already shared common positions on both Stalinism and struggles in Palestine. The ISL then initiated contact with the LRP and we set about our political discussions.
After sharing our respective political histories and general worldview, our two groups began examining in more detail those questions on which we already had basic agreement, Israel/Occupied Palestine and the class nature of the Stalinist states.
Reviewing key historical struggles, we began with the revolutionary attitude toward the wars of 1948, 1956 and 1973. We agreed on the importance of standing with the Palestinians against all of Israel’s imperialist attacks, including in the war of 1948, a position that even the then-still-revolutionary Fourth International had failed to take at the time.
On the program for the working-class struggle in Israel/Occupied Palestine today, we agreed that its starting point is an uncompromising struggle for the overthrow of the Israeli state and for the self-determination of the oppressed Palestinian people, which can only be achieved in the form of a Palestinian workers’ state over the whole territory that is now Israel and Palestine. We reached tentative agreement on a number of programmatic issues – including language policy, opposition to revolutionaries participating in elections to the Israeli Knesset, the demand for a constituent assembly in Israel/Occupied Palestine, the land question, the revolutionary attitude toward Israel’s Histadrut unions, Trotsky’s Proletarian Military Policy, and tactics for promoting working class struggle in Israel. We expect our agreement on these issues to be confirmed in the form of published documents in the future.
One question our two organizations do not agree on is whether Israeli Jews constitute a nation. The LRP has taken for granted that the struggle to dispossess the Palestinian people and build the Zionist state established an Israeli Jewish nation with a distinct national consciousness. The ISL, on the other hand, believes that while Israel bears many of the basic characteristics of a nation, it lacks the conscious identification of itself as such. Indeed, Israel officially denies that it is the state of its own citizens, insisting that it is rather the state and homeland of a world Jewish nation. Both groups recognize that this disagreement does not affect our attitude towards Israeli self-determination: as an oppressor people whose self-determination can only be exercised at the expense of the oppressed Palestinians, Israeli Jews do not have rights to stolen Palestinian land or property, or the right to an apartheid-style minority rule.
The ISL studied the LRP’s book, The Life and Death of Stalinism and came to a broad agreement with the LRP’s theory of Stalinism as statified capitalism. This was later expressed in its document Trotskyism and the Class Character of the Stalinist States. We also discussed the LRP’s understanding of economic theory and the pattern of economic crises in capitalism’s epoch of decay that is developed at length in The Life and Death of Stalinism and in several published articles, and explored those ideas further in discussions of the current economic crisis.
We also discussed, point by point, the LRP’s most comprehensive programmatic statement, the Political Resolution of the Communist Organization for the Fourth International. We established comprehensive agreement on its perspective, which has been confirmed as the ISL has begun publishing programmatic documents of its own, including The Socialist Revolution and the Vanguard Party, which deals with the decisive role of the vanguard revolutionary party in raising the revolutionary consciousness of the working class, and The ISL Position on Wars. We specifically agreed that we opposed the strategy of “deep entrism” into Stalinist or Social-Democratic parties, which is not the same as the temporary entry tactic advocated by Trotsky in the 1930’s.
Our discussions also addressed contemporary events in the international class struggle. We came to similar conclusions regarding the Russia-Georgia war in the summer of 2008. The LRP’s public statement on the question, Russian Imperialism Out of Georgia! U.S., NATO Imperialists Out of the Caucasus! greatly benefited from our discussions, and the ISL’s position was later expressed in The ISL Position on Wars. We also discussed Israel’s war on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, and our agreement was expressed in the independent statements our two organizations published on these events, the LRP’s leaflet “Defeat Israeli and U.S. Imperialism – Stop the Slaughter in Gaza”. and the ISL’s leaflet “Not for a cease fire but for the immediate withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the smashing of the siege of Gaza!”
This past summer ISL comrades visited the U.S., and the ISL’s Yossi Schwartz was the featured speaker at a public meeting organized by the LRP in New York City on “The Crisis of Zionism and the Prospects for Revolution in the Middle East.” At that meeting, both our groups argued for an uncompromising struggle against Zionism and for the Palestinian nation’s right to self-determination as an essential part of the struggle for socialist revolution in the Middle East. Others at the meeting, including representatives and former supporters of the Spartacist League and the International Bolshevik Tendency, argued that socialists should support both the Palestinians’ and the Israeli Jews’ claims to self-determination. LRP and ISL speakers challenged them to state clearly which of the Palestinians’ democratic rights they were opposed to, since Israeli Jews can only have a state of their own by either denying Palestinians’ right to return to the land from which they were ethnically cleansed, or by ruling over the Palestinian majority in a form of apartheid. No supporter of the Spartacist perspective even attempted to answer our question. LRP and ISL comrades’ experience of jointly defending the only viable perspective for Palestinian liberation only further confirmed our shared political perspective and our growing bonds of comradeship.
The discussions so far have clearly established a great degree of political agreement between the LRP and ISL. Future discussions will focus more on the LRP’s perspectives on issues of strategic importance to the United States class struggle in particular, such as the struggle against racism, as well as of questions that have so far only been discussed in passing, such as our understanding of revolutionary work in the unions and other mass movements. Perspectives for building our two organizations in our respective countries will be discussed. We will also seek to put our agreement to the test of new developments in the international class struggle by issuing joint statements on major issues. We have begun by adopting our first joint statement, “Stop the U.S./Israeli War Threats Against Iran!”
We are confident that further discussions, as well as the test of collaborative work in responding to new events in the international class struggle, will confirm that we share a common Marxist world view, and that the ISL will be joining the fraternal grouping of comrades in the Communist Organization for the Fourth International (COFI).