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In June of this year the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) will found the Revolutionary Communist International (RCI). It is not every day that a new international is proclaimed, much less one that promises to be the first genuine working-class international since Lenin’s Comintern. What is behind this radical transformation of the IMT? Has the tendency founded by the late Ted Grant unlocked the secret to Leninism in the new epoch?

To answer this question, we must analyse the political basis of this leap forward, elaborated centrally in the “Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist International”, a document the IMT describes as a historic landmark of the “utmost importance to the world communist movement”. In this manifesto, the soon to be RCI claims to uniquely have the “correct ideas”. So, let’s look at which ideas exactly warrant such bold claims.

The RCI manifesto has lots of analysis, but beyond abstractly calling for communism it offers no road forward on the major conflicts shaking the world. Astonishingly, the manifesto includes no programme for the liberation of Palestine, even as Gaza is being starved and bombed. And what about the current tasks for workers regarding the Ukraine war, the most important conflict in Europe since World War II? Nothing, not a word.

On the other hand, and somewhat bizarrely, the manifesto takes the time to explain that there is no danger of fascism because

“wide layers that formerly saw themselves as middle-class (professional people, white-collar workers, teachers, university professors[!], civil servants, doctors[!] and nurses) have drawn closer to the proletariat and become unionised.”

But what about how to fight the rise of right-wing reaction, a burning question throughout the world? Nothing. But no worries, surely university professors and doctors will come to the rescue.

On the struggle for black liberation, women’s liberation and trans liberation, the manifesto states the platitude that “the struggle against all forms of oppression and discrimination is a necessary part of the fight against capitalism”, only to then make clear that “our attitude is essentially a negative one. That is to say: we are opposed to oppression and discrimination of any sort.” In other words, they have nothing positive to say about how to concretely advance any of these struggles today.

What about the fight against imperialism? Surely the manifesto for a new international says something on how to liberate the majority of the world population from the boot of foreign finance capital? Beyond the empty slogan “Down with the imperialist robbers!”, not a word. In fact, national oppression is not even mentioned.

The point is not that the IMT/RCI says nothing about all these questions in general (more on what they say later). Rather it is that answering the question “what is to be done?” in the face of the world crisis does not constitute the basis for their Revolutionary Communist International. This begs the question, what then is the basis to found this new international?

Answering the question “Is the time right for a Revolutionary Communist International?” the manifesto explains:

“The latest polls from Britain, the USA, Australia and other countries provide us with a very clear indication that the idea of communism is spreading rapidly. The potential for communism is enormous. Our task is to make this potential a reality by giving it an organisational expression.”

This is the key to the IMT’s great transformation. Article after article repeats that millions of young people are attracted to communism, and that they “do not need to be convinced. They are already communists” (marxist.com, 5 April). In other words, the principal reason to found the RCI is a conjunctural leftward movement among certain layers of petty-bourgeois youth in imperialist countries. This is hardly a strong foundation. In “Left-wing” communism — an infantile disorder, Lenin explained:

“A petty bourgeois driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries. The instability of such revolutionism, its barrenness, and its tendency to turn rapidly into submission, apathy, phantasms, and even a frenzied infatuation with one bourgeois fad or another—all this is common knowledge.”

Clearly the boldness of the RCI’s pretensions is surpassed only by the vacuousness of their content.

Corbyn: their lessons and ours

It is important to appreciate that the IMT’s radical reorientation has not appeared out of thin air but is an impressionistic and opportunist reaction to changes in the political landscape, first and foremost in Britain. It was the IMT’s British section, Socialist Appeal (SA), which first started agitating for communism. And it is from the London centre that the international tone was set.

As RCI documents make clear, it is largely because of the disillusionment in the likes of Corbyn, Syriza and Sanders that the IMT has turned towards the supposedly untarnished banner of “communism”. To explain the IMT’s current turn we must then look at its actions during the Corbyn years, and more specifically the lessons it has drawn from this experience.

For starters, to say that SA, soon to be the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), was neck-deep in the Corbyn movement would be a gross understatement. Their entire existence was always defined by the Labour Party, so when Jeremy Corbyn got elected leader, it was a dream come true. Socialist Appeal headlines featured “Complete the Corbyn Revolution!” (15 July 2016), “Vote for Corbyn! Fight for Socialism!” (22 August 2016), “We face the fight of our lives — mobilise for a Corbyn victory!” (30 October 2019). The goal was clear: support Corbyn and push him to the left.

Even after Corbyn’s disastrous 2019 election, when he betrayed the working class by campaigning for a second EU referendum, in an article titled “After the election: Continue the Corbyn revolution” IMT leader Alan Woods explained that “it is not Corbynism that has failed, but Blairism, liberalism, and the centre ground” (18 December 2019).

However, in the years following Corbyn’s defeat left Labourism has been in constant retreat. Sir Keir Starmer has purged the left wing of Labour and made a particular point of expelling Socialist Appeal. At bottom, it is these objective blows and not a critical re-evaluation of its previous course that has pushed SA to radically reorient. It is only recently that they have started denouncing Corbyn in order to argue that a “particularly pernicious role has been played by the so-called Left” (RCI manifesto).

While such statements are certainly true, the practical conclusions that the RCP draws from them are wrong. For example, it has shut the door on any kind of tactical approach whatsoever to Labour, the Labour lefts or elections at the current time. The RCP is instead engaging in empty radicalism totally disconnected from the struggles and consciousness of the British working class.

It must be said that Socialist Appeal was far from alone in cheerleading for Corbyn during his leadership of the Labour Party. The entire left did the same, including Workers Hammer. However, unlike SA, we recognised our mistakes and sought to draw key political lessons from them (see Workers Hammer no 247, Winter 2021-2022). Instead of simply denouncing Labour, changing our name and waving red flags, we understood that at bottom the failure of the so-called revolutionaries throughout the Corbyn years was to not fight for a split with left Labourism.

This could not be done by simply denouncing Corbyn but by showing the need to break with his programme, which, by always putting unity with the right above principles, was an obstacle to defeating the Blairites. This is the meaning of the united-front tactic: to engage in joint struggle with reformists and demonstrate in action the need for a split with opportunism.

However, instead of this the entire “Marxist” left liquidated into the united front and refused to put forward a fundamentally different strategy to fight the Blairites. Not only did this subordinate the most militant elements of the party to the losing strategy of Corbyn and his team, but it also betrayed the task of winning a fraction of the Labour Party to communism.

Far from recognising this reality and seeking to understand how their strategic perspective within Labour was wrong, the new RCP has just turned the page. Now it ironically embodies the worst caricature of the ultraleft sectarians denounced by SA not so long ago.

Lessons of the strike wave

After Corbyn, the most important event shaping the British left was the 2022-2023 strike wave. Here, too, we can understand the overall trajectory of the IMT/RCI by looking at the wild zigzags of their British section.

At the height of the strikes, SA supported the general secretary of Unite, Sharon Graham, a proud NATO stooge and one of the main figures responsible for the defeat of the strike wave (see “Sharon Graham or Lenin? You can’t have both”, Workers Hammer no 250, Summer 2023). The urgent task throughout the conflict was to build a left opposition within the trade unions based on organising a real confrontation with the hated and weak Tory government. But instead of this SA, like most other groups on the left, simply called for more co-ordination between the unions, or a few more strike days here and there, while being in a bloc with a wing of the bureaucracy.

Nothing better symbolises this non-aggression pact with the union tops than SA’s refusal to raise the basic slogan “Never cross a picket line”. Not only was this slogan essential to build the strikes, but it directly went against the photo-op strategy of the union leaders. The opportunism of SA on this question is all the more obvious given the fact that their comrades in English Canada organised a whole campaign around the slogan “Picket lines mean don’t cross”, while in Britain they staunchly refused our appeals to raise such a call.

Now that the strike wave has been defeated, the RCP has denounced Sharon Graham and finally mentioned her support for “the NATO-backed regime in Ukraine” (The Communist, 10 April). Consistent with the RCP’s new left turn, the article proclaims, “What is required instead is to build up a revolutionary communist leadership that is both fighting and democratic, based upon the militancy of the union rank-and-file.” This is certainly correct, formally speaking; the question is: how do you advance this perspective concretely?

A revolutionary leadership in the unions will never be built by waving red flags and proclaiming the need for radical action, no matter the obstacles standing in the way. But this is precisely what the RCP means by “revolutionary leadership”. The 5 April article in The Communist on the results of the NEU indicative ballot is symptomatic. Not only does the article deny the very real fact that sentiment in the union is far more demoralised than it was last year, but its “bold perspective and militant strategy that links our fight to defend education to the fight against capitalism” consists of a series of broad political demands with no bridge to the actual situation facing teachers. Of course, it is necessary to “overthrow the Tories and the rotten system they defend!” The question they leave unanswered is how the union will do this while it invites senior managers to its meetings, and while teachers feel utterly powerless in the face of crushing workloads, decrepit schools and worsening behaviour shaped by two years of lockdowns and social decay (see teachers article, page 3).

When the social context in Britain was explosive, SA raised minimal demands and supported left-wing bureaucrats. Now that the mood is sombre and demoralised, the RCP denounces all trade union bureaucrats and calls for radical action. The continuity between the old course and the new is that neither one does anything to push the class struggle forward or build a serious opposition to the bureaucracy.

Pyramid scheme or Leninism?

A revolutionary party is built by guiding class struggle, helping workers and the oppressed overcome the obstacles holding back the advancement of their interests. The pro-Palestine movement in Britain is stuck because its leaders have one foot with the movement and the other with Starmer (see front page). The same can be said for the barely existent opposition to the NATO campaign in Ukraine. It is impotent because it relies on left-Labour MPs cowed into silence by Starmer. In the unions, the rank and file are hurting while the union tops refuse to organise any real struggle.

In all these cases, the task of revolutionaries is to break the chains holding back the movement and to show concretely that advancing the various struggles requires breaking from the clutches of spineless Labourites. This is the essence of Leninism and must be the purpose of all tactics.

For decades, the IMT’s approach was to push reformist parties and trade union bureaucrats to the left, never fighting to advance a revolutionary split. Now, without acknowledging a single previous misstep, the RCI proclaims that it will build a revolutionary party through the exponential growth of its own forces. The problem is that they propose to do this without seriously responding to any of the arguments tying the workers and oppressed to their reformist leaders, including Stalinist parties like the Greek KKE which they now seem so fond of.

The solution for Palestine? Intifada until victory. The solution for Ukraine? Revolution. For women’s oppression and black oppression? Abolish capitalism. Against the dominance of Modi? General strike. Against Starmer? Communism. These are not answers. They are empty slogans that can attract a certain amount of youth…for a time, but are utterly useless in actually advancing the class struggle.

Instead of directly confronting the problems which have plagued the IMT and the entire Marxist left in the past decades, the RCI has turned sharply to the left, yelling their anger at capitalism into the void. But since they cannot provide answers to the questions facing the working class, they have opted to build their party through a vulgar pyramid scheme. The formula is simple: foster frenetic energy and pressure each new member to recruit one new member every few months. This way the RCI will grow from thousands to tens of thousands to millions. You don’t need Marxism to know how this will end. Like every such scheme, it will eventually collapse under its own weight.

Coming from our own experience of sectarianism, collapse and reorientation, we can only urge comrades of the RCI to confront the hard realities of their past and present head on, rooting themselves in the lessons of the Marxist movement (see Spartacist no 68, September 2023). The RCI has invented nothing new—except a catchy ad campaign. One only has to look at the writings of Lenin and Trotsky with open eyes to see that the trajectory of the RCI has been followed and analysed time and time again:

“Like reformism in the preceding epoch, sectarianism transforms historic tendencies into omnipotent and absolute factors. The ‘ultralefts’ conclude their analysis just where it should really begin. They counterpose a ready-made schema to reality. But since the masses live in the sphere of reality, the sectarian schema does not make the slightest impression on the mentality of the workers. By its very essence, sectarianism is doomed to sterility.”

— Leon Trotsky, “Ultralefts in general and incurable ultralefts in particular”, 28 September 1937