Forwarded from "a.nonymous" (Callinicos internal memo on regroupment)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue May 22 18:57:13 MDT 2001

The IST groups got this from Alex Callinicos


17 May 2001

Dear Comrades,

1. Accompanying this document you will find some notes on international
regroupment on the revolutionary left. These originated as a letter that I
wrote in March to Daniel Bensaïd of the Ligue Révolutionnaire Communiste,
and they helped to provide the basis of discussions that took place between
members of the SWP Central Committee and the LCR Political Bureau on 17
May. Also accompanying are the notes that formed the basis of Chris
Harman‚s presentation of the SWP‚s position at this meeting.

2. This meeting took place at the initiative of the LCR. The discussions
showed quite a high degree of agreement over the nature of the objective
situation ˆ there was, in particular a shared appreciation of the
significance of the movement against capitalist globalization. A number of
practical issues came up: it was agreed that the SWP and the LCR would try
to organize a far-left rally in Genoa; in addition to the presence of a
number of LCR speakers at Marxism 2001, we have been invited to attend the
LCR conference in June, to participate in the Fourth International Youth
Camp in Rome in late July, and to speak at the LCR Summer Camp at the end
of August. The possibility of the SWP being invited to the next
International Executive Committee of the FI was also mooted.

3. As my letter to Bensaïd makes clear, the starting point for any
consideration of regroupment on the revolutionary left is the changed
situation created by Seattle and the rise of the anti-capitalist movement..
More specifically:

; The key test of left currents today is how they relate to the
anti-capitalist movement. As we know, the ISO (US), despite its history and
theory, failed this test, while currents much further away from our
tradition ˆ for example, elements from an orthodox Trotskyist background,
and even the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) in Australia ˆ have not; ; It
would therefore be sectarian to insist that we will only work  in the same
organization with revolutionaries who also accept the theory of state
capitalism (though the issue ˆ of course, closely related to Cliff‚s theory
ˆ of substitutionism is still very important); ; Because of the prominence
of international mobilizations and conferences in the anti-capitalist
movement, the different international revolutionary tendencies are coming
into contact with much more than in the past twenty years. In the 1980s and
1990s each tendency ploughed its own furrow: we are now entering a period
more like the 1970s when the different international currents interact much
more, whether as allies or rivals (or both). As in the 1970s, the British
SWP, still much the largest group in  the Tendency, may have to make its
own initiatives towards other big far left organizations; ; The IS Tendency
made a big impact on the European left thanks to its interventions at
Prague and Nice: because of this, and because of the British SWP‚s
electoral initiatives with the Socialist Alliance and the  SSP, we are
being taken more seriously as an internationally current. We can‚t any
longer be dismissed as the SWP and its tributaries.

4. In Britain the united-front approach that the SWP has been pursuing
since the outbreak of the Balkan War two years has helped to produce a
process of realignment on the left. To be precise:

The Socialist Alliance in England and Wales has brought together the bulk
of the far left in an electoral intervention that has begun to attract the
support of significant elements from a Labourist background. Some elements
would like it to become a new party. We disagree, for the reasons spelled
out by Lindsey German in SW 5 May 2001. But we do envisage the SA becoming
an organization that campaigns on a broad range of issues after the
election; ; We have worked very well with some elements in the SA, notably
certain ex-Militant cadres and the International Socialist Group (British
section of the FI). We see no principled reason why they shouldn‚t be
integrated into the SWP. The ISG have said they will propose that the SWP
is invited to the next World Congress of the Fourth International in 2002;
; The Scottish Socialist Party is a peculiar formation: based on a
relatively small group of ex-Militant activists whose politics remains at
best centrist, it has a very significant working-class periphery thanks in
particular to Sheridan‚s high profile in Scottish politics. Their
prominence is in part a consequence of our past mistakes ˆ in particular
the opening  we gave to Militant through our failure properly to intervene
in the anti-Poll Tax movement in Scotland. But the balance of forces on the
ground between our Scottish comrades and the ex-Militant cadres is much
more even. The SSP hard core is divided between sectarians who are
irredeemably hostile to us, and key elements in the leadership (notably
Sheridan and McCoombes) who recognize the contribution we can make to build
a much broader workers‚ party on the basis of disillusionment with New
Labour. Joining the SSP involves an element of risk, but not to have done
so would have thrown away an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the left
in Scotland.

5. The objective situation is thus posing the question of  regroupment,
certainly in Britain and potentially internationally. It is important,
however, to draw distinctions between the various formations with which we
are coming into contact. For example,

The SSP is a special case rather than a general model. It is very important
to be clear about this, since what is happening in Scotland is being
closely watched internationally. Centrist parties with a high public
profile whose key leaders actually welcome revolutionaries joining them
don‚t grow on trees; ; The LCR is another kettle of fish altogether. It is
the USFI flagship in Europe, and did well in the recent municipal
elections. It is a highly heterogeneous formation, with members ranging
from left (and sometimes not so left) social democrats to genuine
revolutionaries. A leading FI member described it to me as Œcentrist‚. It
took an equivocal line on the Balkan War; LCR members have played an
important role in the ATTAC leadership, but the organization failed
miserably to mobilize for Prague or (worse still) for Nice. Our comrades in
Socialisme par en bas would be well advised to concentrate on building the
broader movement through ATTAC and sharpening the small revolutionary axe
within it rather than in getting involved in manoeuvres with the LCR. The
same is likely often to be true of the FI groups elsewhere, which are often
small and sectarian; ; The DSP is involved with the ISO (Australia) in the
Socialist Alliance, which is planning to stand candidates against Labor. It
is also linked to the SSP. The DSP has plenty of money and is active
internationally, notably in the Asia-Pacific region (e.g. Indonesia,
Pakistan, the Philippines). Its politics remains Stalinist ˆ it has played
a key role in encouraging the PRD in Indonesia to continue pursuing a
stages strategy. It is therefore definitely a rival rather than a potential
ally, but it is one that we must take seriously.

6. It‚s quite unclear where the discussions with the LCR and  possibly the
FI itself will lead. But the idea might emerge of some larger international
far left grouping embracing both the FI and the IST, and possibly other
currents. At that stage, the Tendency (and it would, of course, have to be
the Tendency that decided) would have to make a hard-headed assessment of
the pros and cons of such a move.

7. What regroupment means in individual countries is likely to vary
tremendously because of the state of the local left and the situation of
our group there. It may mean nothing, either because our group is too small
or because the line-up on the left is pretty rigid. The very deep crisis of
British Labourism that Blair has accelerated won‚t necessarily be
replicated elsewhere. But the left internationally is in more flux than it
has been  for decades. Individual groups need to think creatively about how
they can  seize the opportunities that this situation may create for them.

Yours fraternally, Alex Callinicos


The starting point for our approach to regroupment is the new situation
created by Seattle and the development of the anti-capitalist movement
internationally. As I argue in my document, this conjuncture is creating
the conditions for a major revival of the left. Political currents must be
judged less on the basis of their history and more on their response to the
post-Seattle movement. It is clear that a process of political realignment
is under way. We can see this in Britain with the Socialist Alliance, where
very positive working relationships have developed between the SWP and
comrades from other Trotskyist tendencies (for example, the ISG and some
ex-Militant cadres).

This is one facet ­ intensified by the impact of New Labour on the left and
the working-class movement in Britain ­ of a much broader process. We
approach the question of regroupment with the framework of our
understanding of revolutionary internationalism. The experience of the
early Comintern is our model of how a real International develops. It shows
how major upheavals in the class struggle and the break by substantial
sections of workers with reformism are necessary conditions for any attempt
to create an international revolutionary organization. Our criticism of the
FI and of Trotsky before it has focused on the attempt to ‘declare’ an
International in the absence of these conditions (they were, of course,
completely missing in 1938; the upturn of 1968-76 provided at best the
first of these conditions and certainly not the second).

The experience of the Comintern also shows how a genuine International must
be a coalescence of currents with different histories ­ in that case, for
example, the Bolsheviks, Luxemburg and her supporters in Germany and
Poland, North European left-radicals, currents influenced to a greater and
lesser extent by anarchism and syndicalism (Gramsci and Ordine Nuovo in
Italy, ex-Wobblies in the US), centrists and left reformists (the USPD
majority). Of course, we don’t think that 1917-23 is going to repeat itself
in any simple way ­ a new revolutionary period will take different forms,
and we are far from uncritical of the Third International even in its early
years (see especially Cliff, Lenin, vol. 4), but the three elements I have
referred to ­ social upheaval, big splits in the reformist parties, and the
fusion of diverse political traditions ­ would, we believe, be features of
any future International worthy of the name.

You said that we have moved from a pluralistic conception of the
International to one that is much more centralized than certainly the USFI
now accepts. As evidence for our earlier views, you cited the article Pete
Goodwin and I wrote for the 11th Congress of the FI in 1979. I had
forgotten what we said so I had to reread the article. What we argued
against then was the strategy that then seemed to prevail in the FI of a
regroupment of the international far left based on the orthodox Trotskyist
currents. We called this a ‘dogmatic and triumphalist approach’ both
because it overestimated the virtues of various orthodox Trotskyist
tendencies (we mentioned the Lambertists, but our reservations also applied
to the American SWP, then of course still affiliated to the USFI), and
dismissed the Mao-centrists (International Socialism, 2.6, pp. 110-1). This
argument still seems to me correct: one of the key developments of the IS
Tendency was winning OSE (now SEK) in Greece, whose key leaders had been
strongly attracted towards Avanguardia Operaia during the 1970s.

The IS Tendency developed as a serious current after this debate, during
the 1980s and 1990s. I am attaching a note I wrote on the history of the
Tendency for Cliff’s autobiography, A World to Win (you will also find it,
with other information on our international work, in that book). It is
quite a politically homogenous grouping, for two reasons: (1) the different
groups largely originated in the same theoretical tradition, defined in
particular by Cliff’s theory of state capitalism; and (2) we came together,
meeting annually from the mid-1980s, because we had converged (partly
independently, partly through mutual influence) on the same propaganda
perspective as a way of addressing the international downturn in class
struggle. Therefore our meetings have always discussed not simply broad
issues of analysis and strategy but more concrete questions of perspective.

In consequence, the IST has gone through a series of reorientations based
on quite sharp debates, notably over our attitude to the final phase of the
First Gulf War (1987-8) and our response in 1993-4 to what we saw as a new
period of class polarization in Europe that developed in the wake of German
reunification. Nevertheless the IST is a political current uniting
autonomous organizations on the basis of shared theory and not a democratic
centralist international organization: the line taken at its meetings do
not bind individual groups, even though the discussions have tended to
influence their approach. It should be clear from my remarks in para. 2
above that we do not regard the IST as an embryonic International. The
Tendency at least in Europe has developed a higher profile over the past
couple of years.

This is partly because it now comprises, in addition to the SWP in Britain,
a number of substantial organizations ­ notably in Germany, Greece, and
Ireland. But this development has also reflected events that have required
a more concerted international response ­ first the Balkan War and then the
Seattle and the crystallization of the anti-capitalist mood. The result has
been the IST mobilizations for Prague, Nice, and Davos, and those we are
preparing for Gothenburg, Barcelona, Salzburg, and Genoa. This evolution
shows how wrong Mandel was to criticize the SWP as recently as 1992 for
‘national communism’ (see International Socialism, 2.56). In any critical
balance sheet of the performance of various international currents in this
period, we would want to point to what we regard as the defensive and
hesitant response of the LCR and other USFI groups to the Balkan War, and
to the LCR’s failure to mobilize seriously for Prague and even for Nice..

It has been against this background of the IS Tendency’s clear emergence as
a major international revolutionary current that the differences developed
over the past two years between the ISO (US) and the rest of the IST. In
themselves these disagreements over perspective would not justify a split,
but it became increasingly clear that they were the symptom of a more
fundamental divergence. Faced with a new period, most organizations in the
Tendency have fought to reorient themselves; the ISO, by contrast, has
retreated into an increasingly sectarian approach which differs not simply
from the trajectory of the rest of the IST but represents a break with its
own past. This has been accompanied by the consolidation of a
quasi-Healyite internal regime.

The expulsion of IST supporters in the US and the ISO’s role in provoking a
breakaway from SEK faced us with a choice: either accept a continuation of
this faction-fight, which would mean the progressive internalization of the
IST as the two sides struggled for influence within individual groups (we
had in mind the unhappy example of the struggle between the IMT and the LTF
within the FI during the 1970s), or make a break with the ISO, with the
implication that this would mean starting again in the US. In taking the
second course, the leaderships of the SEK and SWP have had the support of
the other main organizations in the Tendency. We do not believe the
conditions currently exist for an authentic International..

Nevertheless, we believe that the present situation makes it worthwhile
exploring the possibilities of international regroupment. The established
revolutionary organizations will prove whether or not they are alive by how
they respond to the post-Seattle new left. The split with the ISO has shown
us that past track record and even correct theoretical stance doesn’t
guarantee that an organization will necessarily pass this test. Currents
from an FI or ex-FI background have reacted better to the post-Seattle
period than our former American confrères. This does not mean that we think
that the historical divergences within the Trotskyist movement have simply
become irrelevant: the theoretical understanding of Stalinism provided by
Cliff’s analysis allowed the IST to resist the wave of despondency that
swept over the left after 1989 and to grow very substantially in the 1990s
(in addition to our European growth, the decade saw the emergence of
important sister organizations in the Third World, for example, in South
Korea and Zimbabwe).

Nor have various related issues disappeared ­ for example, what we regard
as the tendency of orthodox Trotskyists to search for substitutes for
working-class action (e.g. left governments) and the question of the
class-struggle left-wing approach versus our rank-and-file strategy in the
trade unions. But we wish to explore, with open minds and without making
these divergences a barrier, the possibilities for closer co-operation
between revolutionaries from different traditions. One issue that we will
have to confront is our differing understandings of democratic centralism.
The USFI has developed a conception of revolutionary organization as
involving permanent tendencies that we reject. We believe that this
approach tends in institutionalize a government-versus-opposition regime
that encourages members to interpret specific issues in the light of the
factional struggle. We permit factions only during periods of
pre-conference discussion. This does not mean we are hostile to internal
political debate: one of our main reasons for breaking with the ISO is its
suppression of such debate. We have a tradition of vigorous political
argument both within the SWP and in the IST more generally. But we think
such argument is effective when it arises from the specific issues at hand
rather than reflecting long-term divergences between institutionalized
factions. Alex Callinicos 2 April


We should begin by explaining how we see international situation of left.

2 First we need to look back over last two decades. From late 1970s to mid
1990s period which we called ‘the downturn’. - Period of defeats and
demoralisation for the working class, even where there were bitter
defensive battles ­ from Chile and Argentina, through Fiat Turin to the
miners and printworkers in Britain to the isolation and absorption of the
guerrilla movements in Central America.

Period also of isolation and to varying degrees demoralisation and
fragmentation of revolutionary left ­ in Europe most spectacularly in Italy
and Spain, but also in Britain and France.

Then when the Stalinist regimes fell apart in Eastern Europe and the
formers USSR, despite the important role of workers struggles (eg the
miners’ strikes in Russia), the only ideological alternative for the
democratic opposition seemed to be market capitalism ­ which then led the
oppositions to be absorbed by a wing of the nomenclature who had turned to
privatisation, the Mafia etc.

This further isolated the revolutionary left in the west and the third world.

All the pressure was on revolutionaries to make concessions to reformist
ideas, and, even worse, to post Marxism, identity politics, even
neo-liberalism. We analysed the beginning of the end of this period seven
or eight years ago. The absence of a left focus in the crisis of the early
1990s was encouraging the rise of far right groups in important European
countries. But it was also producing the first signs of a revival of class
struggle and of the left. This was clear in Germany , then Italy and
finally Britain and France.

The revival was both industrial and political (except tin Britain, where
the defeats of the 1980s meant a still very low level of class struggle).
The industrial revival showed itself in the public sector and metal workers
strikes in Germany, the mass strikes against the Belusconi government in
Italy, above all Nov-Dec 95 movement in France.

The political beneficiaries of the change were the social democrats ­
despite their attempts to move to even more right wing Third Way positions.
But we argued the revival had a tendency to spill over to the left of the
social democrats, so creating a layer of disillusioned reforests who were
willing to work with revolutionaries and open to revolutionary arguments.

Today this seems to us an important phenomenon in most European countries ­
eg the openings for the left in France, the Socialist Alliance and SSP in

At same time, new, often semi-spontaneous movements in a whole range of
third world countries ­ Indonesian revolution, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina,
Nigeria, Algeria etc

Finally, the sudden growth of a generalised movement to the left such as we
have not seen since the mid 1970s ­ the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement from
Seattle onwards.

Important as providing a focus for a minority which exists in every
factory, mine, office, school or college in the world.

Sudden ‘respectability’ of anti-capitalist arguments.

Like movements in the US, Britain, Germany or Italy before 1968 ­ a whole
mix of different political positions ­ reformist, anarchist, revolutionary
Marxist, combinations etc - Just as you would expect in a new, spontaneous
insurgency ­

Test for the revolutionary left is relating to the three new components ­
the revival of the workers struggle, the overflow to the left from social
democracy, the anti-capitalist movement.

Central is seeing the anti-capitalist movement as key to other two ­ the
minorities it attracts among both youth and trade unionists can be key to
tapping move to left of social democracy and to new militancy in industry.

There are formally revolutionary organisations who are refusing to see
this.. Most notably LO in France. Did not understand importance of Nov-Dec
95. Attacks anti-capitalist movement. This has also been true of one of the
organisations in our tendency, the ISO in the US. Is refusing to shift from
the methods it developed in the early 1990s to relate to the new situation,
and is missing enormous opportunities..

Even for our members , the shift is not easy. Great danger of sectarian
response ­ veterans of the miners’ strike dismissing 18 year old who are
impressed by Naomi Klein and Susan George ­ people who defended independent
revolutionary organisation for 20 years not seeing possibilities with rise
of layer who have half-broken with reformism.

There is also another danger. Pouring new wine into old bottles. Eg
breaking movement down into one issues campaigns, or adoption of ‘post
Marxist’ ideas and methods within movement (eg semi-autonomism, Ya Basta etc)

or adapting to reformist milieu (article n Labour left paper saying we will
inevitably do this!) ­ there will be pressures to do this we have to resist
­ eg there are important people in SSP for whom all that really matters are
Scottish elections in two years time, not struggle in between.

Louis Proyect
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