International Socialist Tendency Split

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Fri Mar 9 08:21:42 MST 2001

Lou Proyect wrote:

>> Both wings of the FI, the mostly English-speaking groups led by the American
SWP, and the European sections led by Ernest Mandel adhered to the notion that
democratic centralism had some kind of application to the world, let alone to
national sections. In fact the differences in the FI were all legitimate
positions within Marxism, but both sides tended to view the other as "petty
bourgeois" deviations. In the case of the SWP, the Mandelistas were seen as
adapting to the student movement. Meanwhile the Mandelistas viewed the Americans
as capitulating to legalistic pressures in the imperialist stronghold. So a
split was inevitable. <<

Although I agree with your premise, Lou, that "the differences in the FI were
all legitimate positions with Marxism", I think your conclusion misrepresents
things. In fact, deep as the differences were in the period you mention, a split
was not "inevitable", and did not in fact occur.

The differences in the USFI in the 1970s covered a range of issues but most
centrally a thesis adopted by the FI in 1969 that sought to build the Trotskyist
current throughout Latin America around a Guevarist guerrilla-war "strategy",
with the rest of the international current playing a supporting role. The
American SWP-oriented minority fought this approach, first within the FI
leadership bodies, then as an organized tendency and then faction within the FI
as a whole. It was a dead-serious "debate", not least because comrades' lives
were at stake (e.g. in Bolivia, Argentina, etc.).

But in the end, there was no split. The majority, under the pressure of events
(the abandonment of this strategy by the Cubans, the conflicting experiences of
the respective factions in Argentina, the Allende experience in Chile, etc.)
published a "self-criticism" in the mid-1970s that largely accepted the
criticisms that American comrades such as Joe Hansen had made of their
"strategy". A few years of fruitful collaboration ensued in the USFI forces,
with the adoption at the 1979 World Congress of a common political resolution by
a very large majority that included the support of the SWP sympathizers.

Although I am less informed about the subsequent history, I think the actual
split that developed in the 1980s had a lot more to do the American SWP's "turn
to industry" and the dogmatic interpretation that the Barnes leadership gave to
it over the years, with a consequent depoliticization of the SWP.

In Canada, the reconciliation of the international factions made it possible in
1977 to reunite the three major groups that had developed as a byproduct of the
international faction fight. Although this regroupment, the "Revolutionary
Marxist League", fell apart in 1980, largely but not entirely along the old
factional lines, the break-up was to a considerable degree provoked by some very
arbitrary leadership practices that reflected American SWP leadership influence,
but could hardly be attributed to the "g-war" debates of the previous decade.

Richard Fidler
rfidler at

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