As part of our effort to publish all the main documents of the internal debate that led to the split of the ISA, we publish below four documents that were voted upon in the International Committee (IC) of February 2021, with a general comment which was part of the minority’s internal newsletter. The documents in our view highlight the differences on issues of internal democracy and democratic centralism that developed after the split with the CWI. Our readers can compare the documents and form an opinion of their own. They can read the internal documents of the ISA debates here.
On the different views and motions on “democratic debates” and “use of publications for debates” in the February IC
By Athina K (Cyprus) and Nikos A (Greece)
Published on May 14, 2021, in TIDU newsletter #3
The February IC – a general appraisal
As we have explained in our declaration, the February 23 to 26 IC meeting was a turning point for developments in the ISA. The reason is that comrades with different opinions faced an extremely hostile atmosphere, even worse than what they had faced in previous meetings. Comrades from the majority have challenged us on that, saying that their account is different. We understand that it is difficult for comrades who weren’t there to make up their minds when there are different accounts. Therefore, we propose that if the majority comrades want to prove their point, they can release the recordings of the meeting, particularly the first and the last two days, to members who ask for them, and let them make up their mind.
Another factual point that proves our argument was the voting results. We can hardly remember any meeting in our entire history in which the majority did not accept any amendment by the minority (except some minor amendments on the World Perspectives document), any alternative proposal, any proposal for remitting some texts, ect. Is it ever possible that not one single proposition by a minority is worth taking into consideration by the majority?
The tradition we always had was that the leadership approached comrades proposing amendments reflecting a different opinion to discuss and see if there is common ground for alternative formulations. This didn’t happen at this meeting on any of the amendments/proposals (except an amendment by Athina K and Nihat B which was agreed to be remitted, but after the IC the majority comrades explained that in essence, they don’t agree with it so they kept the initial formulations).
Two of the issues that came up during the meeting were
a) How does the ISA organize internal democratic debates and
b) How is the international website (and our publications in general) used in relation to the debates taking place in the ISA.
On the issue of “publications” the Greek IC members presented an amended version of the proposed document.
On the issue of “debates” the Greek IC comrades presented their position in a short document explaining why they propose that the resolution should be remitted and not voted upon in this IC.
The resolution on “debates” was voted by 28 IC members in favor, with 6 votes against, with no abstentions. The votes of the candidate members were again 6, 1 and 2 respectively.
The resolution on the use of publications was voted by 27 IC members in favor, 6 IC members voted for the Greek IC members proposal and 1 abstained. The votes of the candidate members were 6, 1 and 2 respectively.
Even though the discussion on these issues is not conducted in the correct atmosphere, we welcome the opening up of these issues.
In our opinion the CWI had problematic traditions in the field of how democracy actually worked inside the international, and we need to discuss and correct those traditions.
We intend to continue contributing on this and related issues (for example about the internal regime of the Bolsheviks, how do we correctly apply democratic centralism today, ect).
Proposals for use of publications of the ISA for debate
Majority proposal that was voted on the IC:
We recognize that the public face of the international is the International website, materials posted are reposted on section pages and through social media. It is therefore important that articles are well edited, not just from a technical/language point of view but to ensure that they are politically clear and reflect the position of the International.
The position of the International, whether on programmatic issues or perspectives is decided through a process of internal and democratic debate using elected structures and members’ bulletins to ensure the maximum practical involvement of all members. In general, our approach has and should remain broadly based on the position outlined in the following quote by Trotsky: “The New International and Socialist Appeal are not instruments of the discussion under the control of a special discussion committee, but rather instruments of the Party and its National Committee. In the discussion bulletin the opposition can ask for equal rights with the majority, but the official party publications have the duty to defend the point of view of the Party and the Fourth International until they are changed. A discussion on the pages of the official party publications can be conducted only within the limits established by the majority of the National Committee. It is so self-evident that arguments are not necessary (LT December 26, 1939)”
In certain circumstances, taking into consideration political criteria, internal debates in ISA can be reflected and dealt with in more public forums, including the ISA website or national publications. Previous debates, including the debate on the character of the Chinese state in the CWI, were covered in publications in a useful and productive manner.
The use of public forums in this way can help in developing the political understanding of comrades by encouraging their engagement in the discussion of key issues, with the understanding that any decisions on the political positions of the International are taken by the relevant elected structures. At the same time, this can assist in demonstrating the openness and democratic nature of the International and strengthen the political clarity and cohesion of its membership.
One way in which some discussions can be reflected is by carrying articles that sum up the conclusion of debates with an explanation of any differences. This could only be feasible if a common agreement is reached during the debate.
Although it should be understood that it is not common practice, there may be debates in which there are two crystallized positions, when it could be beneficial to present a minority position alongside that adopted by the majority on the public website. To do so we believe that the following principles should be followed:
The debates should be significant within the international, and the minority position should be supported by a significant section of comrades;
Any discussion articles should be carried publicly only after a debate has taken place within the structures, to avoid an early polarization of discussions;
A decision to engage in public debate should be based on what the purpose of a public exchange is, what the target audience is, and what aspects should be featured;
Any decision on whether to publish discussion articles should be taken by the International Committee; Discussion articles should be of good quality and written for public consumption;
Articles representing a minority position should be clearly represented as such.
After the IC has taken the decision to publish such a debate, the IEB [International Editorial Board]. shall be responsible for any editorial work and publication, agreeing any proposed edits with the author.
Minority position of IC:
1. We recognize that the public face of the international is the International website, materials posted are reposted on section pages and through social media. It is therefore important that articles are well edited, not just from a technical/language point of view but to ensure that they are politically clear and reflect the position of the International.
2. The position of the International, whether on programmatic issues or perspectives is decided through a process of internal and democratic debate through its structures and members’ bulletins to ensure the maximum practical involvement of all members.
3. In general, our approach should remain broadly based on the position outlined in the following quote by Trotsky:
“The New International and Socialist Appeal are not instruments of the discussion under the control of a special discussion committee, but rather instruments of the Party and its National Committee. In the discussion bulletin the opposition can ask for equal rights with the majority, but the official party publications have the duty to defend the point of view of the Party and the Fourth International until they are changed. A discussion on the pages of the official party publications can be conducted only within the limits established by the majority of the National Committee. It is so self-evident that arguments are not necessary”. (LT December 26, 1939)
4. We also base ourselves on the positions of Lenin and the experience of the Bolsheviks before the seizure of power by the Stalinist bureaucracy.
Replying in 1906 to a resolution of the Central Committee of the RSDLP, controlled by the Mensheviks, in the then united party, Lenin wrote:
“…Those who drafted the resolution have a totally wrong conception of the relationship between freedom to criticise within the Party and the Party’s unity of action. Criticism within the limits of the principles of the Party Programme must be quite free (we remind the reader of what Plekhanov said on this subject at the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.) not only at Party meetings, but also at public meetings. Such criticism, or such ‘agitation’ (for criticism is inseparable from agitation) cannot be prohibited.”
In other words, Lenin was in favor of all different opinions to be raised openly not only inside but also outside internal party structures as long as they don’t call for a boycott of the party’s actions.
5. More important than words of course, is the actual practice of the Bolsheviks, in the years before the rise of Stalinism
• Key leaders of the Bolshevik party had free access to the party media. Their opinion was publicly expressed without having to get the permission of any leading body. Debates in the Bolshevik party and the Communist International were continuous and public.
• The positions of Lenin that came to be known as the April theses initially took the form of a number of letters sent from his exile in Zurich and before arriving in Petrograd. These letters, known as “letters from afar”, were published in the party press (Pravda) which was controlled at that time by Stalin and Kamenev, as personal opinions of Lenin, with the editorial board simply noting its disagreement. 
• At the time of the October insurrection Zinoviev and Kamenev expressed in public their disagreement with the Bolsheviks’ plans to overthrow the Provisional Government. This was a betrayal of the party’s plans which complicated the work of the Bolsheviks. But they were not expelled from the party, despite Lenin proposing it! And immediately after the capture of power they were given very important positions in the leadership of the party and of the International.
• At the March 1918 Bolshevik Congress the opposition against the signing of the peace of Brest Litovsk, led by Bukharin and the Moscow District Committee (having their own newspaper expressing the views of the opposition) refused to be included in the new Central Committee. Lenin argued against this, insisted that they should be elected on the CC and his proposal was voted by the Congress.
• At the time of the civil war in the years 1918 to 1921 there was an internal opposition in the red army. This opposition was public, it was producing its own (public) journal and some very good material was written by Trotsky in the context of those debates.
• Debate between members of the International and between parties of the international was free – in the party press and in the theoretical journals of the International and the parties (which also were public). 
• Lenin’s book on “Left wing communism” was critically directed against German, British and Dutch sections (or parts/tendencies in the sections) of the International.
• Trotsky’s “New Course” was first published as a series of articles in Pravda, criticizing the lack of democracy in the party and the state apparatus, before coming out as a book in the course of 1923.
• Trotsky’s “Lessons of October” aimed against the Stalinist bureaucracy which had already taken hold of the party, was openly published in the course of 1924. It led to the massive counter attack by the bureaucracy and his forced resignation from his post at the head of the Red Army. Trotsky stuck to revolutionary principles and did not hesitate to pay the cost for his stand.
6. Except when we are faced with events of crucial importance, posing serious dangers to the organisation, internal debates in ISA will be reflected and dealt with in public forums, including the ISA website or national publications. One such example from the history of the CWI is the debate on the character of the Chinese state which was covered in party publications.
7. The use of public forums in this way can help in developing the political understanding of comrades by encouraging their engagement in the discussion of key issues. At the same time, this can assist in demonstrating the openness and democratic nature of the International and strengthen the political clarity and cohesion of its membership.
8. The debates should be structured so that at the end a decision is taken involving the membership on a branch level and the elected structures at various levels. On many issues, it will be possible to have side by side with the official position, minority positions on various issues, in the way Lenin describes the expression of different views in public.
9. The above can be put in practice through a combination of the following measures
• We can have on the front page of the ISA website a box where different views by different comrades can be hosted. A condition for views of members to be published on the ISA website should be to have first raised it in their branch or have the “endorsement” of a number of comrades. The branch or the comrades “endorsing” it do not have to agree with the content, but it/they will have to agree with posting the article on the website- either of the national section or of the International.
• The IEB can always of course try to convince the comrade (or branch) of its opinion in case of disagreement, but if there is no agreement then the article is published under the responsibility of the signatory-ies.
• For internal discussions we could have an internal website which will be free to all – members, branches, elected national bodies and of course the international bodies. No censorship of whatever kind should take place. The internal website can be divided into a number of columns, or sections to post a) the positions of elected bodies of the international and national sections, b) resolutions, views and opinions of branches, c) individual contributions of comrades. We could have a limit on the number of contributions that can be made by any individual comrade in a specific period of time so as to avoid imbalances.
10. Another way in which some discussions can be reflected on the ISA website is by carrying articles that sum up the conclusion of debates with an explanation of any differences. This could only be feasible if a common agreement is reached during the debate.
Note: We add here some short clarifications because of the discussion that came up on two of these points during the IC meeting:
 This point was criticised by comrades of the majority, as being inaccurate. That only one of the letters sent by Lenin was published in Pravda instead of two that we had in mind as being the case. We accept this “inaccuracy”. The details of this are the following: the reason why the rest of the (four complete in total) letters were not published in Pravda was not due to a policy of not publishing different opinions but because they did not reach Petrograd on time (and before Lenin himself did). The first letter was published in two parts, on 21 and 22 March, and that is why there is a certain confusion about whether one or two letters by Lenin were published.
 The reference to the theoretical journals of the 3rd International was also criticised, by referring to the official theoretical journal of the 3rd International in which majority comrades mentioned that there was only one article by Trotsky criticizing the French Communist Party. However, what we are referring to is debates “in the party press and in the theoretical journals of the International and the parties”. That this was taking place in the International, its sections, its papers and journals, is unquestionable! We intend to come back to these issues in the next period, providing more evidence about the really lively discussions and debates that were taking place in the Bolshevik party and in the parties of the 3rd International of the time of Lenin, hoping that the ISA draws all the necessary conclusions from that experience.
Majority decision voted by the IC:
1. The International Executive acknowledges the encouraging progress made in the rebuilding of ISA as a revolutionary Marxist international over the course of the last 18 months. A democratic, free, and critical method of organized political discussion and debate has been crucial to this, and must be maintained at all costs going forward.
2. The discussion currently taking place on World Perspectives, the character of the period and its implications for our work throughout ISA is a sign of health in our international, and has already served to raise our level of understanding and sharpen our political positions. While the discussion has included aspects of disagreement, all views put forward fit solidly within the overall framework of Marxism and have been valuable contributions. Continued patient discussion, avoiding an atmosphere of polarisation, together with events, will ensure further benefit to ISA going forward.
3. The purpose of this debate is two-fold: developing and clarifying our understanding of the situation and perspectives, and educating our membership and leadership in a Marxist analysis and method. In order to have as constructive discussion as possible which really engages the ISA membership, debates with a binary format should be combined with discussions in other formats.
4. The International Committee at its meeting 23-26 February has continued the debate, based on the International Executive’s world perspectives draft and amendments or alternative proposals as well as on the proposed document on the building of the international. Those are the main documents for the debate at this moment as they incorporate results of the discussion and try to present a rounded out view rather then answers to other documents. Following the meeting, these debates should continue for further clarification but also as the situation is developing, in sections, the IC and at the July VMU [Virtual Marxist University].
5. The IC encourages all sections to discuss and debate the issues arising. Discussions should take place in leading bodies and continue in the democratic structures of all sections. Equal democratic accessibility of all members to the content of the debate is essential and should be a consistent consideration in the production and distribution of International Members’ Bulletins. Crucial to this is the translation of IMB texts related to debates into at least ISA’s main language groups. The viability of translation of this material into these languages must be an important consideration in discussions about the frequency and volume of such material, as should questions of priorities and the balance of work in the international.
6. For the IC itself, the IC shall allocate one of its meetings before the July VMU for continued debate, with the exact date and agenda to be proposed in time.
7. The VMU in July should have sessions around world perspectives, building of the international. These sessions should include sessions with a binary “debate” format if politically appropriate, and also include sessions aimed at examining the issues from an educational point of view, encouraging a non polarised discussion. In relation to any other issues that arise for debate, proposals and decisions can be made at a later IC meeting.
8. Regarding the website, the IC confirms an amended version of the IE [International Executive]. resolution from December. A publication with contributions about the basic different positions on world perspectives, in line with the IE resolution in December, can take place after a decision by the IC.
Minority proposal to remit the Resolution on Debates:
We think that this resolution is wrong and we propose to remit it to be reformulated on the basis of the present discussion.
1. As you all well aware we have raised issues about the way Democratic Centralism is applied in the International, with an imbalance, in our opinion, between an excessive centralism at the expense of a richer democratic exchange and discussion. The first two paragraphs take as a matter of fact that the procedures around the debate and other differences have been more or less perfect.
2. By voting for this resolution the IC is asked not only to decide how to proceed with the debates but to also take a clear position against the criticisms raised in the past months and to a lesser extent (but still) to the different views on democratic centralism!
3. Paragraph 4 is in essence asking for the debate to take place on the basis of the latest documents produced by the majority and respective amendments or alternative documents. This leaves outside very important minority documents such as “A balance sheet of the debate on neo-liberalism”, signed by comrades from the US, Sweden and Greece, or the material produced by comrades from Germany, Spain and Greece previously. In addition, leaving out of the discussion older documents (of both the majority and the minority) is putting an obstacle to an important aspect of the discussion which has to do with comparisons to see if positions have been vindicated or not, if they have changed or developed, etc.
4. In relation to paragraph 7, we welcome the proposal to have a debate on neoliberalism in a future IC meeting and in the summer VMU, unlike the winter VMU and despite the fact that 9 IC members had asked for such a debate to take place. At the same time however “world perspectives” is not the only issue of debate. We now have the “building” document (in which we take up a lot of the issues) and of course there is the debate on democratic centralism from the previous period.
5. Paragraph 7 also states that there will be sessions on the debated issues “aimed at examining the issues from an educational point of view”. The Winter VMU experience was that in the “educational” discussions on the issues around the economy and the neoliberalism debate the minority view was not represented in the lead offs in the vast majority of the discussions. We think comrades of the “minority” should be invited to co-organise the relevant discussions.
6. On paragraph 5 the document states that “The viability of translation of this material into these languages must be an important consideration in discussions about the frequency and volume of such material, as should questions of priorities and the balance of work in the international.” We believe that the International Centre should take at least a significant part of the responsibility of translating the documents and discuss how it can support the sections in this work so translation does not become a barrier to democracy and debates.
7. Voting for the IE majority resolution on debates would undermine any comrade’s ability (in a number of ways explained above) to raise criticisms about how democratic centralism is being applied, and how freedom of critique and exchange of different ideas takes place in the International.