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The following document was adopted by the ICL’s Eighth International Conference.

Great periods of class struggle fuse the working-class movement in common action against the capitalist class. Periods of reaction have the opposite effect, exacerbating divisions within the working class along lines of nationality, race, gender and craft. These cycles of unification and division find their reflection within the most politically advanced sectors of the working-class movement, the parties and organizations claiming to fight for socialist revolution. In the long period of post-Soviet reaction, the Marxist left has splintered ever more into smaller and smaller groups divided along dogmatic and cliquist lines. With so many groups claiming the mantle of revolutionary leadership, it begs the question: what is revolutionary leadership? As class struggle intensifies in the changing world situation, a correct approach to this question is essential to critically review the record of organizations claiming to fight for revolution and to establish the basis for unifying the revolutionary vanguard internationally.

The question of revolutionary leadership is almost always overcomplicated. And on this basic question of Marxism—as on most others—there is no better response than the simple and clear explanation in the Communist Manifesto:

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”

Communist leadership of the class struggle must be based on a scientific understanding of class relations, from the overall international situation down to the specific conditions on the individual shop floor. It is not defined by purity of heart, by abstract doctrine or by proclaiming the need for “the dictatorship of the proletariat” but by the ability to put forward the course of action which best corresponds to the objective interests of the workers movement as a whole. It is necessary to be guided by the final goal—the overturn of capitalism and the foundation of an international socialist order. But this goal is only advanced to the extent that its pursuit is grounded in the living reality of a given time and place, not by avoiding but confronting the principal obstacles blocking its march forward.

Flowing from this understanding, the only way to truly evaluate the revolutionary character of a party or grouping is by judging if in the course of events it fights for the interests of the movement as a whole or if those are sacrificed in favor of the interests of other class forces or the narrow interests of isolated segments of the workers movement. At each twist and turn of the class struggle, the party is tested in its ability to guide the working class. In The Lessons of October (1924), Trotsky describes the internal workings of this process:

“A revolutionary party is subjected to the pressure of other political forces. At every given stage of its development the party elaborates its own methods of counteracting and resisting this pressure. During a tactical turn and the resulting internal regroupments and frictions, the party’s power of resistance becomes weakened. From this the possibility always arises that the internal groupings in the party, which originate from the necessity of a turn in tactics, may develop far beyond the original controversial points of departure and serve as a support for various class tendencies. To put the case more plainly: the party that does not keep step with the historical tasks of its own class becomes, or runs the risk of becoming, the indirect tool of other classes.”

Great world events—such as wars, revolutions…or a pandemic—exacerbate the pressures from other classes on the vanguard and reveal in the clearest light the true character of a party.

While periods of crisis provide the best test of a revolutionary party, the outcome is prepared by its course in the preceding period. Revolutionary parties do not spring out of thin air on the eve of war or revolution, they are steeled through the ups and downs of the class struggle in a continuous process. Only a correct course of action in periods of reaction can lay the basis for success in outbreaks of revolutionary struggle.

Simply put, a revolutionary party is one that can guide the working class through events in a manner that will advance its emancipation. It is by this criteria that we must evaluate the course of the ICL and that of any other grouping or party which claims to be providing revolutionary leadership.