National Sections of the L5I:

An ongoing history: the LRCI ten years on

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The LRCI was founded ten years ago. Richard Brenner draws a balance sheet of our fight for a re-elaborated Trotskyist programme and a new democratic centralist international

"Revolutionary Marxists find ourselves thrown back into a position of a small and persecuted minority, almost as at the beginning of the imperialist war. As all of history demonstrates, beginning, say, with the First International, such regressions are unavoidable ... today we are once again only an international propaganda society. I do not see in this the slightest reason for pessimism Do we need a platform of transitional demands? We do. Do we need correct tactics in the trade unions? Unquestionably. But it is possible to discuss these questions only with those who have clearly and firmly decided for what ends we need all this ... We must first entrench ourselves on principled positions, take a correct starting point, and then proceed to move along tactical lines. We are now in the period of principled self-clarification and merciless demarcation from opportunists and muddlers. This is the only avenue to the highway of revolution."1

These are the words of Leon Trotsky, writing in 1929, at the beginning of a ten year struggle to recreate a revolutionary international. Ten years ago the League for a Revolutionary Communist International was founded to continue that fight.2

The assembled delegates had drawn, both from their own political experiences and the history of the class struggle in the twentieth century, certain firm conclusions that shaped the organisation they launched.

The first was that the decline of the Soviet Union into Stalinist dictatorship and economic stagnation proved that the construction of a socialist society could only be assured if working class revolution succeeds in several advanced countries.

The second was that, for this task to have a chance of being realised, the revolutionary communists must be organised internationally to fight for a new world party of social revolution.

The third - and this was the idea that distinguished the Congress delegates from other tendencies on the far left - was that nationally-based revolutionary groups should establish the highest level of international organisation from the outset. The Leninist method of organisation - democratic centralism - should be applied at the international level in the new organisation.3

To be effective, an international tendency would have to shun a loose federal relationship between autonomous national groups. Equally, it should also safeguard against an undemocratic structure in which one national group dominates through setting up satellite or franchise groups in other countries.

Finally, the delegates were convinced that such an organisation would only succeed in taking forward the struggle to build a new world party of socialist revolution if it could overcome the failure of the surviving fragments of the post world war two Fourth International to re-develop a revolutionary programme.

The process of founding the LRCI involved the democratic discussion, amendment and adoption of an international programme, a common set of tasks, and the election of an authoritative and accountable international leadership.

Ten years on, how has the LRCI fared? Today it is larger, both in the number of its national sections and of its militants, than at its first congress in 1989. The organisation embodies greater experience of struggle, expresses a higher level of common campaigning action and has further developed Marxist theory to address a range of new and complex problems. New organisations, in New Zealand, Australia and Sweden, have joined its ranks; it fully expects to add a section in the Czech Republic this year. Its German and Swedish groups have grown significantly through fusion with other groups of revolutionary communists.

The LRCI also suffered reverses. A sustained intervention into Russia in the early 1990s failed to establish a section. The League lost both its sections in Latin America - the Bolivian and Peruvian groups - in a damaging split in 1995. Efforts to reach a principled agreement for fusion with the PTS of Argentina and its fraternal groups in Brazil, Chile and Mexico have not produced any significant progress after four years of exchanges.

The end of the twentieth century should be a time when the idea of a centralised and disciplined international organisation is widely accepted on the left. The globalisation of capital, the emergence of European, American and Asian trading blocs, increased co-ordination of trade union struggles across national borders (Liverpool Dockers, Renault), the horrors of nationalism manifest in brutal regional wars, the complete and humiliating defeat of the Stalinist project of “Socialism in One Country"; all of these factors should make the urgency of achieving the highest possible level of international working class organisation obvious.

And yet, perversely, for the far left the opposite appears to be the case. The SWP (GB), despite a large network of groups around the world which support its ideas, persistently refuses to organise its international current on democratic centralist lines. The consequence is that affiliates of its International Socialist tendency must toe the line of the “parent” (i.e. British) section or relinquish their international ties.

The justification for this approach is that it is “first” necessary to build strong national parties. But if consistently applied, the same logic would block efforts to set up a democratic centralist organisation at the national level too.

Strong organisations would first have to be built in each of the main regions of the country. A simple comparison of these two arguments, and the fact that only one of them is advanced by the SWP (GB), reveals the deep seated national centredness that really underlies the argument against international democratic centralism as a necessary method of revolutionary organisation.

None of this is to suggest that a democratic centralist international tendency can simply be called into being or declared without years of struggle to create the real political and organisational conditions for its existence.

This article will examine the history of LRCI to draw out the way in which the political and organisational foundations of a principled international tendency were laid down. A combination of ongoing refinement of programme and agreement over tasks - each involving sharp internal struggle at times - has helped the LRCI build successfully on these foundations and orient its cadre to the new millennium with revolutionary confidence.

The pre-history of the LRCI

Five years before the foundation of the LRCI, four organisations set up its precursor - the Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International (MRCI). Established at a meeting in Conway Hall, London, during 21-23 April 1984, around twenty delegates from the British Workers Power group, the Irish Workers Group (IWG), the Gruppe Arbeitermacht of West Germany and Pouvoir Ouvrier of France agreed a statement of common aims. The MRCI Declaration of Fraternal Relations stated:

"The building of a revolutionary international cannot be put off until national parties have been built. The international must be built by revolutionaries simultaneously with the building of national parties. It must be founded on the basis of an international programme guiding and informing the work of the national sections. On this basis it can and must be organised as a democratic centralist international."4

The organisations had no illusions that they had already developed such a programme. All traced their origins to splits from organisations like the Socialist Workers Party in Britain or the Spartacusbund in Germany which they believed had failed to meet the revolutionary challenges of the 1970s - a period of mass anti-war movements, militant strike activities, in which throughout Europe, organisations openly describing themselves as revolutionary or Trotskyist had won tens of thousands of workers, students and other youth to their ranks.

But in the late 1970s and early 1980s all these organisations came up against the limitations of their politics. They suffered decline or splits because of either their sectarianism or opportunism towards the trade unions or the mass reformist parties, which despite waves of rank and file militancy maintained their grip on the great majority of workers.

At the same time far left organisations which had grown during the same period in the semi-colonial countries revealed similar defects in relation to bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalism and Stalinism, in particular in the face of the Nicaraguan and Iranian revolutions of 1979.

Between 1979 and 1982 there was a series of attempted unifications and further splits among the fragments of the Fourth International. This experience convinced the four groups of the MRCI of tthat the existing international tendencies lacked both the political capacity for self-reform and the democratic structures to enable others to join them and help refound a Trotskyist international on the basis of a newly elaborated transitional programme.

Of the four founding groups, only one - the French - had been formed by former members of the British organisation. From the foundation of Workers Power and the IWG in the mid-1970s, the two groups had worked together on all our major political projects.

In the early 1980s they participated together in the international conferences organised in Britain by the Workers Socialist League (WSL). There they made contact with the Austrian IKL and the German Spartacusbund.

The WSL’s initiative produced the Trotskyist International Liaison Committee (TILC). This organisation proved short-lived, replicating as it did the loose federal structure of the larger “Trotskyist” organisations. Differences between its constituent parts plunged it into internal crises, its British section undergoing several splits before eventually merging with the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI).

Among some members of the groups who attended the WSL sponsored conferences the attempt to discuss and reach agreement on aspects of an international programme had a significant effect. Militants had come into contact with each other. Discussions had been started, experiences exchanged. The effect of this was to rally together those serious about building an international tendency. In Germany a split in the Spartacusbund gave rise to a small group of militants in Frankfurt and northern Germany who quickly entered into organised discussions and then fraternal relations with Workers Power.

They formed the Gruppe Arbeitermacht (GAM) in 1983. Within the Austrian IKL certain comrades developed a strong commitment to forcing their organisation to take international collaboration and discussion with Workers Power/ IWG/GAM seriously.

At the same time a former member of Workers Power living in France, who had been translating and publishing its material, began to make contact with and win over some young French militants, founding Pouvoir Ouvrier.

In 1984 the four groups decided that what was needed was an international tendency able to fight simultaneously in several countries, seeking out like-minded groups and individuals around the world. To achieve this would require a series of steps to establish clear political demarcation, discussion and common work.

The declaration said:

"prior to [the] foundation of a New International there must exist a more embryonic organisation whose purpose is to develop [a revolutionary] programme. We call such an organisation an international tendency. Such a tendency would be characterised by:

(i) the recognition of the need to elaborate a world programme on the basis of the 1938 Transitional Programme.

(ii) proven agreement between the component sections with regard to the fundamental tenets and tactics of Marxism and therefore agreement on how to proceed with the necessary programmatic work.

(iii) proven agreement with regard to the application of such principles to conjunctural crises of proletarian leadership both historical and contemporary.

(iv) an established and recognised democratic centralist leadership - necessary organisational structures."5

Theoretical foundations

The nascent organisation turned to major programmatic and tactical questions. Foremost among them were the nature of Stalinism, the meaning of its post-war expansion and the political collapse and organisational disintegration of the Fourth International.

In 1982 Workers Power and the Irish Workers Group had published The Degenerated Revolution - a book that analysed the rise and nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the 1920s and 1930s and then the expansion of Stalinism after the Second World War, in Eastern Europe, China, Cuba and the Indo-Chinese revolutions.

It showed that the Stalinist bureaucratic caste had not somehow thrown off its counterrevolutionary character by “making socialist revolutions". Although the Stalinists overthrew capitalism in these countries, the working class was totally excluded from power in these states from the outset.

The Stalinists blocked an essential prerequisite for socialism: the political rule of the working class itself through a semi-state based on the soviet form. Democratic planning never emerged - the planned economies of Eastern Europe had profound bureaucratic deformations built into them from their creation during the period 1947-51.

Nor could Stalinism be “structurally reformed". Unless the workers carried through a violent political revolution to drive the bureaucracy from power, eventually the ruling caste would lead the bureaucratically planned economies to stagnation and collapse.

At the same time, the book predicted, they would bring further political disasters down on these states (wars, brutal repression, national hatreds, even genocide) and lead those sections of the working class movement influenced by them to further defeats around the world.

The IWG and Workers Power had also analysed the collapse of the Fourth International (FI) in their 1983 book, The Death Agony of the Fourth International and the Tasks of Trotskyists Today. The FI, increasingly disoriented by Stalinist-led overturns of capitalism (Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia, China) decided at its Third Congress in 1951 that sections of Stalinism had ceased to be counterrevolutionary, and were becoming centrist again “under the pressure of the masses". In turn, these centrist parties could be pressured to reform as could the states they set up. Trotsky’s programme of political revolution was abandoned.

In the subsequent years a general accommodation to Stalinism, the left-wing of social democracy and to petit-bourgeois nationalism swept the FI. First Tito, then Mao, then Castro, then Ho Chi Minh, were to play the role of “blunt instruments” or “unconscious Trotskyists".

The need to accommodate to specific Stalinist or petit-bourgeois reformist or nationalist tendencies in different countries and continents - whilst still retaining whichever isolated elements of Trotskyist orthodoxy that did not directly impede this adaptation - had the effect of fragmenting and splitting the FI.

In the 1960s and 1970s an upsurge in class struggle around the world saw many of these fragments grow from organisations of dozens to hundreds or thousands. Yet while they tried to reunite “the Fourth International” they did so only on the basis of their accumulated errors and their common methodological collapse into centrism in 1948-1951.

The MRCI discussed and assimilated the theoretical insights of these two books. But the first collective work of the four MRCI groups was the elaboration and adoption of theses on the nature of modern Social Democracy and on the tactics which could be adopted to break its hold on the working class, and a variety of forms of the united front, including critical electoral support. Related to this was the adoption of theses on the anti-imperialist united front in the semi-colonial countries.

Over the next five years these organisations held quarterly meetings at which they adopted a series of resolutions on the major events in the international class struggle of the period: Poland 1980-82, the Nicaraguan Revolution 1979, the Iranian Revolution 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war 1980-82, the US invasion of Grenada 1982, the Malvinas War between Britain and Argentina in 1982, the upsurge of the South African workers’ struggle against Apartheid. In April 1989 the MRCI adopted Theses on Women’s Oppression.

The purpose of these common resolutions was to establish - and develop - a common programmatic method. Only by submitting our programme to the test of the major class struggles of the both the recent past and the present, could we ascertain whether we were really in agreement.

Too many organisations had been cobbled together on a hastily written abstract programme, only to then split as a result of sharp differences when that programme was applied to the class struggle - the USFI over Nicaragua, the TILC over the Malvinas war, the Morenoite/Lambert organisation over reformism in power.

We were determined to guard against this fate, as far as possible, by assessing whether we could reach programmatic agreement based on the application of Marxist demands and tactics in particular class struggle situations.

A major preoccupation of the MRCI during its brief existence was analysing the significance of Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union after 1985. In a series of resolutions the MRCI rejected the pro-Gorbachev stance of the large “Trotskyist” currents: the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, the Lambertists and the Morenoites.

We warned of the Stalinist bureaucracy’s rapidly evolving tendency to surrender the remaining gains of the working class - the planned and statified non-capitalist economy - to imperialism. But we rejected the tendency, most crudely expressed by the Spartacists, to turn to the hardline Stalinists and back their brutal repression of the working class wherever it fought for democratic gains.

Instead the MRCI re-elaborated a programme for political revolution which understood the importance of fighting for the democratic freedoms of the working class; freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and press, trade union rights and national self-determination. Such demands, the MRCI was sure, would stand in the forefront of the struggle once the crisis broke in the Stalinist states.

The workers would inevitably fight for such freedoms, and securing them was inseparable from the fight to recreate workers’ councils and a revolutionary party. The validity of the MRCI’s conclusions were put to the test when Stalinism entered its death agony in the convulsions of 1989-91.

The growth of the MRCI

In 1985, as part of the discussion on Social Democracy, delegates from the MRCI were invited to a conference of the Austrian IKL. The outcome of the conference was a split in that organisation by a group of comrades who agreed with the fundamental line of the theses on social democratic reformism. This nucleus went on to form a group, Arbeiterstandpunkt, which became the first new section of the MRCI since its foundation.

In the same year, as a result of articles in Workers Power on the significance of the revolutions in Bolivia in 1952 and 1971, the MRCI made contact with José Villa, an expelled member of the Bolivian POR led by Guillermo Lora.

A revolutionary period existed in Bolivia from 1982-86, which culminated in the occupation of La Paz by the country’s tin miners in mid-1985; however, it was tragically betrayed an ended in defeat.

Several visits by MRCI members to Bolivia, and Peru and visits by Bolivian comrades to Europe eventually led to Villa joining the MRCI. But political and party-building differences, plus the demoralisation of the post-1986 mass closures of the mines and factories, meant that the Bolivian comrades did not join at this time.

From the late 1980s the comrades were never persuaded of the strategic defeat that the Bolivian miners had suffered in 1986 - so similar to that suffered by the British miners one year previously. Nor could the MRCI and later LRCI persuade them of the need to re-orient tactically in such conditions.

The most that was conceded was that this was an “interrevolutionary period"; to concede more, namely that a revolutionary period had ended, it was wrongly suggested would condone propagandistic passivity.

But all this revealed was an inability to distinguish the face of a revolution from its back - a fatal weakness for a propaganda group that needed to steer its militants away from a diet of agitation and mass activity towards serious propaganda to a more restricted audience.

Their failure to undertake this reorientation would lead to persistent low grade agitation and difficulty in distinguishing themselves from their much larger centrist rivals, especially Lora’s POR.

At this time Peru too was undergoing a deep economic crisis under the presidency of Alan Garcia and the Sendero Luminoso guerrilla group was growing. José Villa returned to his native Peru and formed a small group of MRCI members there - Poder Obrero (POP). The experience of this work with POP, the discussion of their opportunities and difficulties, was of great value to the hitherto entirely European-based MRCI.

The sudden explosion of Gerry Healy’s International Committee in late 1985 caused ferment in “Trotskyist” groupings around the world. For two years there was endless talk of an open conference of all Trotskyists to discuss the question of international regroupment.

In this period the MRCI entered into discussions with the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency (LTT) of the USA. We renewed our discussions with the IKL and the Italian GOR as well as with former TILC affiliates such as the RWL in the USA. We attended the US Trotskyist Open conference held in San Francisco in 1988.

The very existence of the MRCI enabled us to intervene collectively and effectively in this ferment. Our assessment of the major issues and trends in the “world Trotskyist movement” was embodied in a set of Theses in Defence of Trotskyism (May 1987).6

However, most of the groups involved in this process rejected the idea of serious programmatic clarification and steps towards a disciplined democratic centralist international organisation. Filled with impatience and philistinism, they regarded such a painstaking approach as “sectarian". Instead they proposed a broad, open, all-inclusive discussion process, without decisions or commitment.

The end result was a series of manoeuvres, exclusions and splits. The open conference never happened. The initially sizeable forces of the Workers Revolutionary Party were frittered away and organisations like the IKL (later RKL) and the GOR underwent a process of rapid political degeneration; neither now consider themselves Trotskyist.

To intervene in this flux in 1986, the MRCI set up a permanent secretariat and decided to draft a programmatic manifesto which would form the political basis for the MRCI to move to a democratic centralist structure.

In this period - a period of intense class struggles compared to most of the 1990s - sections such as WPB and the group of comrades around José Villa in Bolivia gained invaluable experience of fighting alongside workers - particularly miners - in major class battles which decided the direction of national workers movements for long periods to come.

There were rich lessons to learn - in terms of militant organisation, courage and self-sacrifice - from the miners of Oruro and South Yorkshire. But also there was the lesson to learn of maintaining in the heat of these struggles an unsparing criticism of the leaderships; of the FSTMB (Bolivian Miners Federation) or the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) of the TUC or the COB (the Bolivian trade union federation).

Latin American comrades participated in the entire heroic “March for Life and Peace” where ten thousand miners marched towards the capital La Paz, only to be turned back by government tanks and troops. They won a hearing for a strategy that could have overcome these obstacles and enabled the miners to return to the offensive.

Likewise in Britain in 1984-85 Workers Power in Britain was shoulder to shoulder with the miners on the picket lines, in the front rank at major battles such as the miners’ attempts to close the Orgreave coking plant. In France, Austria, Ireland and Germany the MRCI organised solidarity with the British miners, collecting money, organising meetings of workers and students addressed by miners and representatives of the women’s movement, mainly made up of miners’ wives and partners, that had grown enormously during the strike.

Visits to pit villages became part of the “holiday itinerary” of European MRCI (and IKL) members. WP began to recruit striking miners and won a significant hearing amongst a militant minority in some pits in South Yorkshire, Warwickshire and North Derbyshire, laying the basis for the launch of a long running miners’ paper, The Red Miner.

Most of the groups in the MRCI grew rapidly during and immediately after this period. Workers Power more than doubled in size, the French group recruited new militants, the new Austrian organisation expanded rapidly.

The only partial exception to this was the German section. The dispersal of its small membership over a large country meant that it was not able to create a national leadership - a problem rectified by an international intervention into the crisis of East Germany after 1989.

The increasing activity and political homogeneity of the MRCI enormously helped the national sections. The MRCI ended this period with two new sections (Austria and Peru). The experience of these five years was invaluable; step by step we re-elaborated the building blocs of a revolutionary programme, we learnt to know and trust one another - not of course without conflicts or misunderstandings.

The MRCI was in Lenin’s phrase “a school of comradely feelings” in which national-centred prejudices were in large measure overcome. It remains a model of how to achieve programmatic agreement and democratic centralism and will - we are convinced - be repeated on a larger scale in the future.

The founding of the League

In the summer of 1989 a nine-day congress in Britain agreed to transform the six organisations of the MRCI into the League for Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI).

This Congress had as its main task to debate, amend and finally adopt a common programme - which was duly published as the Trotskyist Manifesto. On the basis of this achievement it was possible and necessary to elect the bodies for a functioning democratic centralist organisation - an International Executive Committee (IEC) on which members from each section sat (although not now narrowly representatives of them as before) and an International Secretariat (IS), responsible for administration and day to day political guidance.

The First Congress took place in the immediate aftermath of the June Tiananmen Square massacre and around the time of the first Polish “free elections". In September Solidarnosc formed Eastern Europe’s first “non-communist” government since 1947.

In November and December the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed like a pack of cards. Clearly, one of the decisive turning points of the twentieth century had begun, similar in magnitude to 1914-18 and 1945-48. Would its immediate effect be revolutionary or counterrevolutionary? What would be the longer term consequences, and what re-ordering of the world order would result?

The LRCI insisted that the years 1989-91 saw a series of political revolutionary crises; with the correct leadership they could have led to one or more successful political revolutions.

Unlike the sectarian and Stalinophile sects (such as the Spartacists and their offshoots) the LRCI did not view the loss of power by the Stalinist bureaucrats as constituting per se the end of the degenerate workers’ states and the restoration of capitalism; in short, a successful counterrevolution.

But, unlike the USFI, the Lambertists or the LIT (Morenoites) neither did we ignore the danger presented by the masses’ strong illusions in bourgeois democracy and the market. Above all, we were aware of the crippling effect of the near total absence of any sort of anti-capitalist leadership in the working class.

Faced with the downfall of Stalinism we neither sank into despairing passivity nor did we have a naive optimism that was shattered by the defeats that were inflicted on the workers of the region without a serious class-wide fightback over the next three years.

The LRCI was not surprised to see the USA and its European allies once more assume the role of world policeman and launch a brutal assault on Iraq in defence of “its” oil fields in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in 1991. Instead it set to work to fight against imperialism.

The sections of the LRCI - working with organisations with which we were in political discussion in the USA (Revolutionary Trotskyist Tendency) and Italy (GOR) - campaigned vigorously in defence of Iraq in the long build-up to the short and devastating Gulf War, opposing the imperialists’ invasion and calling for an Iraqi victory in the war.

We were also in solidarity with the Kurds against Saddam’s genocidal revenge attack in the immediate aftermath of his defeat by the US-led coalition.

Imperialism, motivated entirely by the defence of its world order (the diktats of the IMF and the multinationals, privatisation and austerity worldwide) was coming into armed conflict not with genuine mass anti-imperialist movements as it had done in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s (the Vietnamese NLF, the Sandinistas) but with its own Frankenstein’s monsters: reactionary dictatorships it had sponsored but which had now “got out of control".

Thus ethnic cleansing, brutal national oppression, attempted genocide were all played out by brutal regimes, from Iraqi Kurdistan and central Africa (Rwanda) to the Balkans, where a series of savage wars broke out in 1991.

Though these real crimes against humanity were invariably the result of the economic and political pressures of the neo-liberal world system, including the restoration of capitalism from 1988 onwards, their executioners were independent actors like Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic.

Moreover, “democratic imperialism” - once such crimes came to light - set out to use a humanitarian ideology to justify the assertion of their New World Order, in which the sovereignty of smaller states was entirely relative.

It was vital for revolutionaries to defend the oppressed nations against genocide by these regimes without giving an inch to imperialism’s claims to be acting out of humanitarian concern.

Generally speaking the “Trotskyist” centrists fell over in one direction or the other - either downplaying or ignoring imperialism’s role or treating the Saddams or Milosevics as bona fide anti-imperialists and regarding the victims of genocide as so much “collateral damage” in the struggle against imperialism.

This “anti-imperialism of fools” found a distant echo in the LRCI’s own ranks in the form of an unwillingness by a small minority to act in a united front with the oppressed against their oppressors, especially once imperialism began to show a self-serving and cynical interest in restraining the crimes of the oppressors.

Likewise, in the Soviet Union rapid economic breakdown led to national revolts in the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and later Chechnya) and in the Baltic states and the Ukraine. The LRCI defended the rights of these oppressed peoples to self-determination up to and including secession without preconditions.

In 1990, we were able to work with other leftward moving tendencies particularly the RTT. We sent a member of the British section at the time of the anti-Gulf war movement to assist them in effectively founding their organisation and launching its publication.

A member of the International Secretariat visited the RTT for discussions and we received several visits from them in return. Across Europe in late 1990 and early 1991 there was a large anti-war movement. In London over 200,000 marched on the last demonstration before the fighting started followed by weekly demonstrations of over 20,000.

In this period LRCI members also visited Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania and Russia. But we were only able to concentrate serious long-term resources in East Germany (DDR). Here we established a permanent presence in east Berlin and sold huge numbers of bulletins in the period from the collapse of the Berlin Wall, through the last DDR elections, to German re-unification in the summer of 1990.

Years later when the unification seems such an unalloyed triumph for German imperialism, people too easily forget that the masses of anti-Stalinist workers and youth who thronged the streets, who gathered in large conferences and forums to debate what to do after the fall of the Wall were by no means all supporters of capitalism and tens of thousands snapped up revolutionary socialist publications and newspapers.

The result of persistent work by a team of Austrian, West German and British activists was recruitment of East German comrades and the creation of first an East German section of the LRCI and then its fusion with the Gruppe Arbeitermacht.

Also during 1989-90, as the result of an extended visit to Bolivia by a leading member of the Austrian section, the comrades founded a group and in 1991 Poder Obrero Bolivia joined the LRCI.

The August 1991 coup in the USSR

In August 1991 the revolutionary situation in the Soviet Union came to a head. The coup attempt launched by Yanaev and Pugo rapidly collapsed in the face of mass resistance. Boris Yeltsin put himself at the head of this movement by raising the call for a general strike.

The LRCI immediately took the position of supporting resistance to the Yanaev/Pugo coup. Two LRCI members were actually in Moscow at the time and participated in mass actions in defence of democratic rights.

The International Secretariat of the LRCI responded to the events by calling for mass working class opposition to the attempted Yanaev coup - alongside pro-Yeltsinite forces such as the miners - though in no sense accepting Yeltsin’s leadership, let alone his ultimate goals. This was made clear in a declaration on 22 August 1991 - the day after the failure of the coup. The LRCI said:

"Our task is to get the working class to defend their post-capitalist property relations in the context of defending their democratic gains. The destruction of the democratic gains [by Pugo/Yanaev] would have made it impossible to raise the consciousness of the masses to a level adequate to this task".

Far from sowing any illusions in Yeltsin or seeking to help him attain his political objectives, we warned the Russian workers:

"The greatest danger to the working class now that the coup has collapsed is Yeltsin (...) Yeltsin is no friend of the working class. He represents all the elements in the former bureaucratic caste who have abandoned the prospect of bureaucratic parasitism on proletarian property relations in favour of becoming the new ruling class of a restored capitalist Russia.

"His pro-capitalist policies spell mass unemployment and the destruction of social welfare for millions of workers; he wants to open up the 120 million Soviet workers to unbridled imperialist exploitation the events of the past week, whilst they have blocked the road to a Stalinist bureaucratic counterrevolution, have acted as a catalyst to speed up the social counterrevolution; the cause of the democratic restorationists has been immeasurably advanced. The tempo of the demise of the nomenklatura has likewise been accelerated".

We went on to call for “workers’ councils elected in every workplace and region of the USSR” and “proletarian political revolution to smash the dictatorship of the Stalinists and prevent the restoration of Stalinism."7

Thus we resolutely opposed Yeltsin’s counter coup - from the dissolution of the CPSU to the dissolution of the USSR itself - which unleashed the process of capitalist counterrevolution.

In the same month the LRCI suffered a heavy loss. Dave Hughes, who had been seriously ill for over six months, died suddenly on 13 August. His funeral took place on the day after the Yanaev coup collapsed.

As a founder of Workers Power (Britain), the MRCI and the LRCI, and as a Russian speaker and writer on Russian history and politics, he had laid the foundations of our method and programmatic positions on this central question in the 1980s. This work provided the LRCI with a rich inheritance with which to address the many and varied political problems opened up by the seizure of power by the Yeltsin pro-imperialists.

Serious differences emerge inside the LRCI

The events in Russia led to the eruption of a major political struggle both within the LRCI and with two organisations in discussions with it with a view to joining: the Communist Left of New Zealand and the Revolutionary Trotskyist Tendency of the USA.

The RTT denounced the League’s position on the August events as centrist and asked to join “in order to fight this centrism” and “overthrow the leadership of the LRCI.” Earlier in the year the RTT had declined to join before its Second Congress, scheduled for late 1991. The LRCI wisely now declined this request from an organisation with whom it did not have programmatic unity.

We did however invite the CLNZ to observe the congress; despite the fact that they were also critical of our position on the Yanaev coup they did not consider either the LRCI or its leadership to be centrist.

Within the League it soon became clear that the Peruvian and Bolivian sections had also taken a sectarian attitude to the Yeltsin-led resistance to the Yanaev coup during 19-21 August. They rejected unity in action with the Yeltsin-mobilised workers and students in favour of what they called “independent” opposition to Yanaev and Yeltsin.

They insisted that our position somehow meant we had supported or been complicit in Yeltsin’s coup. In fact what this showed was their differential sensitivity towards the Stalinophile groupings, from the Spartacist tradition and from groupings like the GOR and the IKL.

The Second Congress of the League - held in Birmingham in December-January 1991-2 - was undoubtedly a congress of crisis. At the root of this crisis lay sharp disagreements between the two Latin American sections and the sections in Europe over the events in Russia.

They, together with the representatives of the CLNZ, recently renamed Worker Power (NZ), sought to persuade the League to admit the RTT and thus maximise the Stalinophile forces within the organisation. The congress refused. At the end of the congress, the WPNZ delegates announced that they wished to join the LRCI and a New Zealand section was recognised and one of their comrades was elected onto the IEC.

But superimposed on the disputes over Russia was the fact that the delegates from the Peruvian and Bolivian sections were discontented with the functioning of the League, and sought, by organisational measures, to magnify their influence within it.

Several times over the next few years they tried to weaken the central bodies of the League, especially the International Secretariat, proposing that it assume a semi-federal character. In reality this would have been a step back to the structure of the MRCI - an arrangement which would have given the Latin American comrades a permanent veto over positions agreed upon by a clear majority of the LRCI.

As it was the first congress of the LRCI had voluntarily created a system of deliberate over-representation of the smaller sections both in terms of votes at congresses and representation at the IEC.

The reason for this was to maximise the political influence of these sections, their experience and the contributions of their leaderships, and to diminish that of the British section, which made up nearly three quarters of the entire membership of the LRCI at this time.

We did not want to reproduce the “parent-child” relationship of many of the centrist tendencies calling themselves Trotskyist, especially those from the IC (Healy-Lambert-Spartacist) tradition.

At the second congress this “positive discrimination” was further increased with the aim of expressing as strongly as possible the political differences within the quarterly to six monthly meeting IEC, even though this meant over-representing even more the sectarian and Stalinophile tendencies.

Was this wise? Probably not. Its purpose was to maximise the exposure of comrades in disagreement and who at the same time had material difficulties in participating fully in the internal life of the LRCI through its discussion bulletins. However, the cost was high; it condemned the LRCI to several years of internal struggle, despite the fact that the disputants remained a tiny minority of the League’s membership.

But our overwhelming aim was to succeed in integrating our sections in Latin America into the democratic centralist functioning of the League. A large measure of the failure to understand what democratic centralism meant lay in the strong influence of the pre-existing political traditions of the members in Peru and Bolivia (those of Lora, Altamira, Moreno and Healy). This required us to lay a heavy emphasis on democracy and inclusivity at the expense of centralism and organisational efficiency.

The Congress thus elected four members of the Latin American sections onto the IEC. The leadership persuaded José Villa to become an LRCI full timer in London and member of the International Secretariat for a full year (1993) before the next congress.

In addition several members of the international leadership and militants from other sections visited Peru and Bolivia in the years 1991-94. One British militant spent an extended period with the Bolivian section helping it to regularise its publications and internal education.

The LRCI launched an irregular publication - Guia - which carried Theses on Latin America, a Latin American Action programme and a series of articles on the key political issues and events of the period, many of them of special relevance to Latin America. However, the long disputed issue of the character of the period in Bolivia and Peru after 1986 meant that we did not reach agreement with the comrades.

After many delays and much debate the IEC eventually passed positions recognising the strategic character of the setbacks suffered by the working class in Bolivia, even against the votes of the Latin American comrades. Worse, the Bolivian comrades refused, delayed and evaded publishing these documents. Indeed it was only a few months before they walked out of the League in October 1995 that they actually published our assessment of the seriousness of the miners’ defeat of 1986.

Unfinished business

In addition to the differences with our Latin American sections, several of the the documents submitted to the Second Congress aroused much wider oppostion than just the Latin American sections.

A new draft constitution and Theses on the Early Stages of Party Building aroused considerable oppostion in the British and German sections. The drafters -the International Secretariat - had thought that further steps towards international democratic centralism were urgently needed. But it became clear that a substantial section of the membership were scarcely ready for this.

In addition there were substantial differences over the International Perspectives put before the congress. These argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of a process of social counterevolution heralded what we called a “reactionary phase"- lastinga few years, perhaps.

But they also asserted that the instability which the downfall of Stalinism would cause meant that in the longer term a new revolutionary period would develop. This dual perspective met opposition from two sides. Those who could see only social counterevolution on the march and those who refused to see it at all .

This debate over perspectives was to continue- on and off- until the next congress. Amongst the “pessimists", passive propgandistic tendencies emerged which were to lead to losses in the Austrian section. No less were there losses from amongst the optimists when the level of class struggle in Europe and Latin America and the mass resistance to restoration failed to materialise.

Clearly a longer period was required during which the leaders of the sections worked collectively on the new areas of analysis and programmatic eleboration which the unfolding restoration process posed. Discussion on the methodology underlying key tactical questions was required, These took place on the on the International Executive Committee over the next three years.

Over the next two years the now six-monthly week-long IEC meetings of the League had to address a whole series of programmatic and tactical questions as well as attempting to integrate the Latin American sections.

The IEC also had to decide on our economic and political perspectives (the character of the new period which resulted from the world historic events of 1989-91), the theoretical analysis of the restoration process clearly underway in Eastern Europe, the USSR and China and of any re-elaboration or development of our programme which these events made necessary.

In the year after the Second Congress we tried to help the weaker sections by an input of members from the two strongest - the British and the Austrian sections. One comrade from each spent extended periods in Dublin helping the IWG. ASt members spent extended periods in Berlin helping the Gam to consolidate new East German recruits there. In early 1992 we renewed contact with a Swedish Trotskyist and within the year had a small nucleus of sympathisers within the Socialist Party - the Swedish section of the USFI.

Overall the years 1992 and 1993 were not ones of growth for the two larger sections. The British section declined, reflecting the slump in the British class struggle after the end of the poll tax mass movement. The full impact of the scale of the defeat inflicted upon the British trade union movement in the 1984-89 period (miners, printers, dockers) was now making itself fully felt.

Although there was a brief upsurge of mass street protest after the proposal for the final butchery of the mining industry was announced in late 1992, there was no hiding from the defeat and dispersal of a generation of trade union militants after two decades of militancy.

Understandably, given these problems, a sharp dispute erupted in the British section - and in the IEC - over whether the answer to this was a greater concentration on the workplaces and on young people involved in the anti-fascist movement or a strengthening of theoretical and propaganda circle work.

As it turned out the British section became more involved in youth work via the developments in the British Militant and the CWI who initiated two militant demonstrations against the BNP headquarters in south London.

In February 1992 we produced an action programme for the states of the former Soviet Union which were in the earliest stages of transition to capitalism. This programme was in a sense a combined one - including elements of the anti-bureaucratic political revolution and the tasks of opposing and reversing capitalist restoration.

Over the next three years we debated and adopted resolutions on the nature of restoration, published in a series of articles in Trotskyist International.

But our work on this was far from purely theoretical. From late 1991 to early 1993 a member of the Austrian section lived in Moscow. Several members of the Austrian, French, British and German sections visited Moscow too. Six issues of a small journal in Russian, Rabochaya Vlast, were produced and sold in large numbers. Discussions with the Russian left-anarchist and “Trotskyists” - took place.

We were able to witness at first hand the terrible effects of the neo-liberal shock therapy on the workers, pensioners and youth of Russia, and also the political paralysis of the working class and the reactionary bloc of the hard-line Stalinist and fascistic elements. We handed out thousands of leaflets on marches to celebrate the anniversary of the October revolution in 1992, and were forced to defend ourselves against physical attacks by Stalinists.

In December 1992 we organised a weekend school in Moscow on the politics and programme of the LRCI. It was attended by forty people including anarchists and members of other Trotskyist tendencies. The debate was lively but unfortunately we did not win over any co-thinkers.

In the years 1992-95, the period of the growing restoration of capitalism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, the LRCI made strides in other areas of its programmatic work adopting Theses on the early stages of Party Building (July 1992), Democratic Demands in the Political Revolution (January 1993), Theses on the United Front (July 1994) and Theses on the National Question (April 1995).

In this period we brought to a successful conclusion discussions with USFI members in Sweden. During 1992-3 they waged a tendency struggle in the Socialist Party and in October 1994 a Swedish section of the LRCI was founded, Arbetarmakt (AM).

Unfortunately, the conditions in Bolivia, after the defeat of the miners eight years before, were not propitious to building a section with activist appetites and abilities. Still less was this the case in Peru after Fujimori’s election in 1990.

But even with the handful of comrades that existed José Villa’s weakness as an organiser and an educator of cadres proved an insurmountable barrier to consolidation, collaborative work and growth. Consequently no other leaders of his talent and experience emerged within them.

Both sections suffered serious internal crises between 1992 and 1994, expelling members temporarily or permanently for serious lapses of discipline. Indeed the Peruvian group was decimated and ceased to be a section. It was only the interventions of the LRCI which gave them what stability they had and saved them in many crises.

Villa responded ever more often with attempts to boost his own standing by bluff and exaggeration. This was perhaps a gamble based on his belief that Bolivia- if not Peru- was always on the verge of a revolutionary upsurge which would make good his claims. When reality failed to come up trumps he increasingly sought to blame “the Europeans."

He was unable to develop loyal collaboration with any of the comrades in Europe (whatever their national origins) who were charged with helping with the work of “his” two sections, nor would he allow them to develop any independence. In this one could see all too much of the caudillismo (leader cult) he himself had accurately described as the bane of Latin American “Trotskyism".8

Between the Second and Third Congresses the LRCI suffered a protracted period of internal struggle. While this did not paralyse the organisation completely, it hampered its growth and restricted scope for outward intervention. But even such a problem strewn period is not without its positive aspects.

Internal struggle can strengthen an organisation and it can do so in different ways - comrades can learn how to fight loyally over their differences and they can learn why disloyal factional struggle obstructs, rather than facilitates the resolution of real differences.

Within the British section the dispute over perspectives was heated, but it was conducted by comrades who understood that they shared more than just a coincidental membership of a common organisation.

They were in fundamental agreement over the principal, epoch defining questions - the collapse of Stalinism, the role of imperialism, the character of the programme and the party needed to resolve the crisis of working class leadership.

Unity over these questions had been forged over a period of time in which the triumph of collective leadership over individual domination had been well and truly won.

A collective centralised leadership in the British section emerged out of a truly functioning democracy in which the strengths of individuals were recognised and utilised while their weaknesses were compensated for by the overall balance of the leading body. Common struggle - both theoretical and practical - collective work and discipline all bred a spirit of loyalty. This loyalty did not at all mean agreeing over everything.

That would reek of cliquism. But it did mean, above all, conducting debates over differences in an honest and fraternal way, without recourse to threats, abuse, manoeuvres or unprincipled factionalism.

This model of collective leadership was the goal the LRCI set itself. The proof that it was an inclusive model was the expansion of the IEC to represent oppositionists, the inclusion within the apparatus of the leading oppositionist and the repeated willingness of the sections of the League to allow oppositionists to canvass for their views.

The attempt to achieve this goal is testified to not simply by the number of discussion bulletin pages that flew from the duplicators of the sections in this period but by the investment of thousands of pounds of the LRCI’s money to help make it happen.

It was precisely this attempt to build a collective leadership that opened the overwhelming majority comrades’ eyes to the difference in character between the disputes that took place within the LRCI.

The arguments in the British section were had out, resolved at a conference, majority decisions were accepted and a leadership including different strands of opinion was elected to implement the agreed perspective.

The end result of this was that the gap between the two positions narrowed considerably over subsequent years. The same process did not take place with the opposition emanating from Latin America and New Zealand. Indeed, the comrades involved revealed themselves to be incapable of taking part in a collective leadership.

As the Third Congress approached one thing became apparent - regardless of the character of their political differences, regardless of what they upon among themselves or indeed with others, they would continue to resist the operation of a collective leadership and democratically agreed upon decisions.

They were united by something else altogether, something that flowed from their fundamental adherence to that debilitating aspect of the degenerate Trotskyist tradition, Stalinophile sectarianism: namely, unprincipled factionalism.

That is, regardless of disagreements among themselves, and regardless of agreements with other members of the LRCI not within their charmed circle, they would unite “against the leadership” no matter what.

In the eyes of many comrades this mode of operation militated against honest and loyal discussion since it turned every difference - major or minor - into a factional issue, yet, as the congress approached, without a faction being openly declared. It was time to openly face this trend within the LRCI and defeat it.

A settling of accounts: the Third Congress

At the Third Congress the LRCI, held near Vienna in July 1994, we faced a battle once again with the Stalinophile positions of its Bolivian and Peruvian sections and the majority of the New Zealand section over the events of 1991. The congress rejected them by an overwhelming majority.

The congress represented a major step forward for the League. Unlike the near-abortive Second Congress, all key documents and proposals were fully debated and decided on. Minority views were fully aired; majority views were to be implemented.

A really centralised democratic functioning now existed at an international level, overcoming the vestiges of an earlier federalism based on consensus between national groups.

Inevitably, perhaps, the period following the Third Congress and its decisive outcome, saw the defection of those unwilling and unable to implement its decisions. In Austria the majority of the section’s youth organisation, Internationalist Action, left the LRCI.

Its key leaders strongly objected to what they called the “over-optimistic” perspective of the congress - that despite a counterrevolutionary phase of some years following the downfall of Stalinism, in the medium term a new revolutionary period was opening.

In contrast they believed that a prolonged counterrevolutionary period had opened; one in which only a single-minded focus on theoretical work and the building of propaganda circles was really possible.

In particular they rejected the more active agitational attitude to youth work which was being developed by the LRCI at this time.

The leaders of Internationalist Action opposed every suggestion that their growing discussion groups should launch an active campaign against racism, despite clear signs that the CWI-led Youth against Racism in Europe was making gains in Austria at this time.

A more general trend to passive propagandism manifesting itself within the Austrian section was to lead to the loss of several other members in the coming years. Decades of a largely quiescent class struggle situation had left some comrades unprepared and even unsuited for pro-active tasks now demanded by the LRCI’s political perspectives.

This pessimistic approach to the downfall of Stalinism ("historic defeat” “forty years of reaction", “midnight in the century") became a common theme amongst the Trotskyist and non-Trotskyist left and has not disappeared to this day. It represents an over-reaction to the downfall of the Stalinist bureaucracy which it identifies with the near destruction of the socialist consciousness of the working class and the labour movement itself.

The historically low levels of the class struggle in several (but not all) European countries, the ideological triumphalism of the market, and bourgeois democracy, the rise of globalisation, convinced many that any serious revival of the class struggle and the building of revolutionary combat organisations was almost indefinitely postponed.

Given the small size and relative isolation of the LRCI, it was no surprise - indeed it was almost inevitable - that such passive and conservative moods should affect some of its members.

The denouement of undeclared factionalism

In 1995 two leaders of the New Zealand section and two other members together with José Villa began to undertake secret factional activity inside the LRCI. This clandestinity was unnecessary, because no restriction on the formation of tendencies and factions exists in the LRCI. But by a curious bungling on the part of Villa, the LRCI leadership became aware that they were discussing splitting from the League.

To our invitation to form a faction but to clarify their intentions over splitting, the New Zealanders, but not José Villa and the Bolivians, rapidly declared a “Proletarian Faction".

This pronounced the LRCI centrist, accused it of capitulating to democratic imperialism, failing to “root itself in the working class” and having a revisionist position on the state (curious, because at the Third Congress the position that they characterised as revisionist had been defeated - but the importance they attached to democratic decisions was slender given their split agenda).

The IS and the IEC replied to this platform and debated it, with its main proponent present at the IEC meeting in July 1995. At the end of the discussion he confirmed that he had no complaints whatsoever about way this had been discussed. He read and approved the minutes of the discussion.

In these minutes he explained (contrary to the myth that the faction was driven out of the LRCI) that he thought “there would be a rapid parting of the ways, within a few months” but that the discussion was a “frank exchange and I’m grateful for that". Even more curiously he made no attempt to debate and discuss this afterwards either with the other half of the New Zealand section or with the new Australian section with whom he had long established links. Then on 4 September they walked out of the New Zealand section and the LRCI.

In early October we learned of a cowardly walkout by the Bolivian section by means of an announcement at a WPB public meeting in London by José Villa. POB announced that “we do not recognise the resolutions of the last IEC nor the International Secretariat elected by it".

Another, entirely separate, pretext was the position taken by the LRCI on the NATO bombing of the Serb artillery emplacements bombarding Sarajevo. The LRCI had unambiguously opposed the bombing, but refused to seek the victory of the Bosnian Serbs armed forces in this specific conflict.

Villa and POB claimed the LRCI had “put themselves on the side of their own (sic) imperialism", despite an IS statement saying “Stop the air strikes! Stop the artillery bombardment! UN/Nato out of the Balkans!” What the comrades wanted us to say was that we supported the Serb bombarders of Sarajevo against the imperialist planes trying to knock them out.

But the three year long siege of Sarajevo, like the near genocide of the Bosnian ethnic Muslims by the Republic Srpska, was not a progressive anti-imperialist struggle. Nor was it a legitimate defence of a non-imperialist state.

The LRCI called for the bombing to stop and Nato to get out, but refused to call for the victory of the Serb besiegers of Sarajevo. In itself this issue was no more serious a political difference with the comrades than previous ones we had on defending the rights of nations to self-determination, from Lithuania in 1990 onwards.

Moreover since this statement dates from early September it could be no reason for rejecting as illegitimate an IEC held and an IS elected in mid-July. In reality José Villa was by now totally demoralised. Later he stitched back together an unprincipled bloc with the New Zealanders which has since then made no serious efforts to build a democratic centralist international tendency.

Nevertheless the loss of our Bolivian section and half the New Zealand section was a blow. It left the LRCI with only political lessons to draw from nine years of work in Latin America. However, the New Zealand section survived the desertion of two of its founding members, David and Janet Bedggood.

The remaining comrades were strengthened politically by the fight and newer comrades assumed leadership responsibilities. In addition the section received extended visits by an experienced British cadre to help stabilise and reorient the section at a time when the full force of the neo-liberal attacks on New Zealand workers after 1991 was being felt. In the same period, again largely as a result of the recruitment work of the New Zealand section in 1993-94 we saw the foundation of the Australian section and its rapid growth among students in 1996-98.

These serious, if not unexpected, losses were to be compounded over the next three years by the resignation or retirement of a number of older members in Europe. These losses were in part offset by the growth of the French section, recruiting students and youth. Pouvoir Ouvrier nearly tripled in size between 1994 and 1997.

The background was one of intensified class struggle in 1995 - most notably the public sectors workers’ strike and street demonstration movement of November-December. The other sections of the LRCI sent comrades to help with the massive increase of activity this demanded.

How do we explain the serious losses we suffered in this period? Certainly, in the case of the Latin American and New Zealand groups there were long term differences of method - broadly summed up in their sectarian-Stalinophilia which we had been unable to overcome. In the young Austrian comrades there was a distinct passive propagandist method that sought refuge and justification in a pessimistic perspective.

But for many of these comrades and for others who had no political differences, there was undoubtedly the long-term demoralising effects of the defeats suffered by the working class. What the Third Congress characterised as a counterrevolutionary phase (1990-1 onwards) was clear enough both in the former workers’ states, in the shift to the right of the entire world labour movement including the centrist “Trotskyists” under the impact of the victories in the Reagan-Thatcher 1980s, and in the relatively low level of the class struggle in many countries where it had been high in the 1970s and 1980s. In an important objective as well as subjective sense these were the LRCI’s “dog days", to use James Cannon’s expression.

The Fourth Congress

It was these problems that the Fourth Congress, again held near Vienna in summer of 1997, set out to overcome. The Australian section was represented for the first time; we also welcomed to the Congress three delegates of the Marxist Left of Sweden who were to fuse with Arbetarmakt the following year.

It also welcomed three representatives of the Argentine Partido de los Trabajadores por el Socialismo (PTS, which with its Mexican and other Latin American co-thinkers formed the Trotskyist Fraction). In the summer and autumn of 1995 we had entered into an organised series of discussions with London representatives of the PTS-FT.

These talks were continued in Buenos Aires in early 1996 and led to a joint declaration setting out a plan for further discussions with a view to possible fusion. Between the Third and Fourth Congresses of the LRCI, we produced six semi-public bulletins of discussion documents, political letters and translations of important FT materials.

This discussion reached an important impasse however at the Fourth Congress when no agreement was possible either on the form of a common intervention into the international Trotskyist left nor on the content of a political platform with which to do it.9

The Congress studied the significance of the temporary revival of militant class struggle in Europe in 1995-96 in Italy, France and Germany). It drew from an analysis of the world situation the conclusion that the counterrevolutionary phase was coming to an end, marked by rising class struggles and also by the election of Social Democratic governments across Europe.

Free of the serious differences that had dogged the previous two congresses - and of the unprincipled factionalism that had clouded the discussion of any real differences that did exist - the Fourth Congress was able to significantly develop the League’s democratic centralism.

This was achieved by formulating guidelines and instructions for key areas of practical intervention for the national sections and having these regularly checked and overseen by the IEC and not merely the leading bodies of the national sections. The uniformity of party-building priorities - where political conditions allowed for it - was already foreseen in the Theses on Party Building, but had never before been so actively pursued. This reflected the growing trust, borne of common experience, that the LRCI membership had in its leading bodies.

After a debate, the Congress also adopted a perspective of turning to youth and building autonomous youth organisations around the three major European sections - all with publications called Revolution. Opposition to this perspective continued and played a role in the development of a factional struggle inside the French section.10

Our work since the last congress has centred internationally on this youth work - including two successful international youth camps in France in 1998 and 1999, international contingents on the European Marches for Jobs in Amsterdam in 1997 and in Cologne in 1999 and the production of regular youth bulletins by the French, British and Austrian sections.

The Fourth Congress also adopted a resolution on the class character of the state machine in the former degenerate workers’ states which corrected some important mistakes in the original joint work of the IWG and Workers Power/Britain on the expansion of Stalinism after the second world war.11

The Congress passed a Manifesto setting out the key perspectives and programme of the LRCI for the remaining years of the century. Its conclusion is one that has underpinned the work of the MRCI and LRCI since their foundation and remains as valid today as ever:

"The old bureaucratic leaderships of the working class are directly responsible for the heavy defeats of the last decade or more. Their prestige, which in the boom years rested on solid gains for the working class in all sectors of the world, is now shattered. They could not defend these gains which they did not win but rather acted as parasites upon them.

They have abandoned all pretence of fighting to replace capitalism with an alternative world order - socialism. Yet the need to struggle, to fight back, is more urgent than ever. Spontaneity and improvisation will not be enough in the years ahead. The mounting struggles lack centralisation, lack consciousness of the fact that their common resolution resides in the overthrow of capitalism and imperialism.

Only a new world international party of socialist revolution can bring this centralisation and consciousness. The fear that all centralism must be bureaucratic will have to be set aside if effective co-ordinated combat parties are to be built. In the new millennium if these struggles are to attain lasting success - if partial gains are to endure, one victory not to be set against defeat elsewhere - today’s vanguard must become the steeled cadre of a new world party of revolution.

This new international will have to be built on the firm programmatic and organisational foundations laid down by Lenin and Trotsky. None of the events of the past eight years invalidate either the Transitional Programme or the Leninist Party. There is no need to confuse reform and revolution in sickly utopian rhetoric and limp pleadings.

Revolutionary communists have no need to conceal their aims nor to seek strategic blocs with reformist or petit bourgeois forces. They still stand for the forcible overthrow of all existing conditions - for the dictatorship of the proletariat as the only road to a classless and stateless world order."12

Towards the Fifth Congress

The founding organisations of the LRCI were born in the 1970s, the stormy period of class struggles in Europe and revolutionary upheavals in the semi-colonial and Stalinist world. The experience of political mass strikes, factory occupations, mass movements of students and youth, the recreating of a mass feminist movement, of revolutions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile and Portugal, Nicaragua and Iran taught us countless lessons.

In this period we made a basic critique of the inadequacy of the major leaders and organisations of the working class. At the same time we discovered the invaluable key to overcoming these inadequacies in the writings and actions of Lenin and Trotsky.

This period of revolutionary ascent gave way to a period of retreat in the 1980s - although this too was a period of massive class battles against neo-liberalism and the New Cold War of Reagan and Thatcher. In this period we built the MRCI and moved towards democratic centralism.

Then came the historic turning point of the downfall of Stalinism - once more presenting a real, if short-lived, revolutionary opportunity.

As we had feared, the “revolutionary” organisations which had failed the tests of the 1970s and 1980s failed this test too. But the programme and the democratic centralist structure which the LRCI had adopted in 1989, just as the storm was breaking, stood us in good stead to intervene with a militant revolutionary policy.

It prepared us too when the effects of the defeats of workers in China, Russia and Eastern Europe became manifest. The counterrevolutionary tide of the years 1992-5 swept most tendencies and countless individuals off their feet and out of politics.

It inevitably produced internal struggles in our own ranks. But such struggles are the necessary means of political clarification and demarcation. We strengthened and matured our attachment to democratic centralism, to Leninist norms of party membership.

The LRCI set about analysing new problems posed acutely in the 1990s - could planning overcome the apparently all-powerful market, what was the internationalist strategy in a world of erupting national struggles and genocide, what was the nature of modern imperialism and of its crises to come?

We have not solved all these questions but we are setting out to do so, just as we set out to deal with questions of similar importance in the early 1980s.

But just as in the 1980s we realised that such work could never be divorced from the living practice of the class struggle, so today we look to those in active struggle.

That means first and foremost to a new, younger generation not scarred by the scepticism and demoralisation of the defeats of the last decades.

The forthcoming Fifth Congress of the LRCI will have to draw a balance sheet of all this work and develop new tactics for growth. But one thing is certain: international democratic centralism works.

It is the only way to develop an effective international programme and to train a cadre that is internationalist in a practical rather than a Platonic sense.

International “permanent discussion forums", political post-restantes that are going nowhere, will play no role in creating the basis for the new revolutionary communist international the working class must build in the twenty first century.


1 L Trotsky, “Once More on Brandler and Thalheimer” Writings of Leon Trotsky ,1929, p159-60
2 The delegates at its first Congress, in Coventry, England, came from France, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Britain and Peru.
3 For an exposition of the origins of democratic centralism in the revolutionary movement see D Stockton, “In Defence of Democratic Centralism", Trotskyist International 23
4 “Declaration of Fraternal Relations", Permanent Revolution No 2 p 45
5 ibid
6 Originally numbering 22 theses they were expanded to 30 and reissued in January 1992.
7 Trotskyist International 7 September 1991
8 For documents relating to the split with Poder Obrero Peru and Bolivia, see Trotskyist Bulletin 7, January 1996
9 See the separate article in this journal on the PTS/FT.
10 Eventually in 1999 this led to an unprincipled walk-out by eight comrades, ostensibly over our non-support of the LCR-LO slate in the June 1999 Euro-elections; in fact Pouvoir Ouvrier did support this slate, but not in the uncritical manner they advocated.
11 See Mark Abram and Helen Watson, “Stalinism and the Marxist Theory of the State". Trotskyist International 23
12 “Manifesto of the Fourth Congress", Workers Power 215 October 1997.