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Statement on the IS Tendency


The International Socialist Tendency

1.                  As we arose out of the Socialist Workers Party and the International Socialist Tendency, the tradition represented by the SWP/IST is our political starting point. Whatever its many faults, the SWP/IST has historically performed a valuable role in keeping alive the classical Marxist tradition and the concept of socialism from below.

2.                  As Marxists we are internationalists. We believe international co-ordination is indispensable for a revolutionary political current. However, the form of that co-ordination can be a help or a hindrance. The toy Cominternism of many orthodox Trotskyist currents, most notably the Healy group, led to delusions of grandeur and in some cases outright megalomania.

3.                  In the IS tradition we have rightly refused to proclaim ourselves an “international leadership”. Rather we have traditionally sought to build a cadre around a set of political principles. With proper modesty the IST has always referred to itself as a “loose grouping” of organisations united by its shared politics.

4.                  However, the very formlessness of a tendency which has no organisational existence can lead to a democratic deficit. As by far the largest organisation in the Tendency the British SWP has naturally taken a leading role. Furthermore, in the absence of an international leadership body the SWP Central Committee has become the de facto international leadership. This places a clear onus on the SWP CC to behave with restraint, to respect the smaller groupings and not to act like a bull in a china shop.

5.                  For much of the history of the IST the SWP CC has indeed behaved with healthy restraint, offering advice and not orders. However, in the 1990s a pronounced shift took place. The SWP CC, represented in the main by Comrades Cliff and Callinicos, took an increasingly commandist approach to the Tendency. The reasons for this lie in the failed catastrophist perspectives of the SWP and need not be discussed here. Practically, this has led to serious splits in one country after another and to a ridiculous situation where numerous countries have rival IS groups sharing the same basic politics. As Fourth International comrades have wryly observed, it is ironic that the SWP’s “loose current” allows much less national autonomy than the FI’s “world party”.


The SWP-ISO Rift

6.                  The events of 2001, the split in the Greek SEK and particularly the purge of the ISO-US from the Tendency represent a qualitative escalation of the gradual degeneration of the IST. By virtue of the ISO’s size and historic weight in the IST it could not be carved up quietly: it had to be fought in the open. As a result, SWP members, though they were given a one-sided and distorted picture, were at least aware that a dispute was going on. In previous splits (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, South Africa etc.) the SWP simply did not deign to inform its members. The open war in the IST has also raised many important issues about the way forward for revolutionary socialists.

7.                  The ISO comrades make a very important distinction between principles and perspectives. One manifestation of the SWP leadership’s confusion of the two is in Scotland. After years of sectarian isolation from the SSA/SSP, refusing to recognise its significance, the CC has abruptly done an about turn and its members have liquidated themselves into the SSP. Likewise European groups are currently throwing themselves into Attac, not on a united front basis of maintaining and arguing their politics but in line with the tailist 90/10 formulation. Meanwhile the SWP CC is wantonly splitting IS groups around the world for refusing to blindly apply a London perspective or for failing one of Comrade Callinicos’ arbitrary tests.

8.                  Having studied the documents of both the SWP-GB and the ISO-US we conclude that the ISO has a much more realistic perspective than the SWP. Even if it did not, we would still defend it on democratic grounds. As national or even local conditions can and do vary widely, national and local perspectives should be tailored to the tasks on the ground. The idea that differences in perspectives to take into account the differing conditions in Britain and the US cannot be tolerated belongs to Stalin’s Comintern, not the IS tradition. We should also point out that the SWP does not even have a realistic perspective for Britain.

9.                  On the SWP’s organisational allegations against the ISO, we claim no detailed knowledge of the ISO’s affairs. However, we are disinclined to take on trust any claims made by the SWP CC. Furthermore, even if the allegations were 100% true, they would still not justify the mass expulsion of the ISO from the Tendency. Even if they did, the record of the SWP leadership over the last ten years or so surely means that the SWP-GB should be the first party expelled from the Tendency for organisational breaches.


The Way Forward

10.              We do not propose to write off the whole history of the IS tradition simply because of the degeneration of the IST. Recent developments in the Tendency are contrary to the whole ethos of International Socialism. We reject the revisionist political and organisational concepts of the SWP CC. By the same token, we do not propose to set up a citadel of Orthodox Cliffism. One of the best elements of the IS tradition is its scepticism of all orthodoxies, and we are acutely aware of Cliff’s tragedy in becoming his own epigone. We seek to preserve the best elements of the IS tradition and adapt them creatively to new circumstances.

11.              The position of IS dissidents towards the official Tendency is likewise contradictory, and depends heavily on the balance of forces in each country. We feel it would be ridiculous for the ISO-US to “relate” to the tiny cult which is now the official IS group in the States. At the opposite extreme is Britain, where a large SWP faces no formal oppositional IS grouping. In most countries the dissident IS forces are numerically weak and may be politically confused. Those groups or indeed individuals in various countries who seek to regenerate the IS tradition must find their own line of march.

12.              It follows that we do not favour the proclamation of a counter-tendency. We seek the reunification of the IST on a democratic and collaborative basis. It may be that under the present leadership in London this proves impossible. However, we believe that this is the best strategic orientation. In the meantime, we favour informal collaboration between those IS forces who find themselves outside the official Tendency. If formal links develop from that collaboration, they should develop slowly, organically and on a basis of equality between the organisations involved.


Our demands are:

End the SWP’s arbitrary dictatorship in the IS Tendency!

Reunite IS forces worldwide!


International Socialists (Ireland)

17th December, 2001.