Why we disaffiliate from the ISA – Open letter by the ISA sections in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus

It has been two and a half years since the crisis began in the CWI, starting at the IEC of November 2018. The split was an extremely negative development in the progress of what had become the biggest Trotskyist international organisation. The CWI split into three main parts and a number of smaller ones. The creation of the ISA was a necessity to which we gave all our powers and energy. 

From the very beginning comrades that belong to what developed into the ISA minority warned that the ISA was facing a very serious danger, that of multi-fragmentation. This was based on the experience of the many splits in the Trotskyist and anti-capitalist Left, historically, whenever a vacuum was created in the leadership core: every split had a series of aftershocks. In the case of the ISA, this danger was particularly grave because the new leading centre, created out of necessity by drawing available cadre from the sections, lacked homogeneity, sufficient experience in the working class and the social movements and in building sizeable organisations. We argued that the way to start building the ISA was to put exceptional emphasis on patient, democratic discussion, to create the necessary homogeneity while simultaneously building the sections. 

Differences were soon to emerge in the ISA – this was something inevitable. Unfortunately, the majority approached these differences in the worst possible way, with direct attacks, very often of a personal character, increasing hostility and smear campaigns, instead of focusing on the political arguments and being open to correct mistakes in the light of experience, facts, reality. 

Under formally democratic debates, a toxic atmosphere was created, and all those who had differences with the leading bodies were essentially being pushed out – this was applied not only on an international level but also nationally. Only in the past four months we had the split of the Australian section (a ¾ majority voted to disaffiliate), we were informed of the departure of the Taiwan organisation (again by about ¾ majority), and that of the Cincinnati branches in the US (by about 90% majority).  

Political differences over world perspectives

Since the opening of the Covid-19 crisis, a number of differences came up in relation to perspectives. The full timers’ group presented material on perspectives which declared the “end of Neoliberalism”, the entry into “a new Keynesian variant” and a period closely resembling the 1930s. It envisaged a process of fast radicalization of millions in an anti-capitalist direction and a speedy development of mass consciousness in a leftward, socialist direction. Working class, youth and social movements were presented as if they would be on a continuous rise with a higher consciousness capable of leading humanity to a new stage of development.  

These perspectives raised differences in the International Executive Committee (IE) the International Committee (IC) and in the sections. Comrades from Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Germany, Australia, Sweden, EWS (Britain), the Spanish State and the US raised differences, while some others were undecided. 

The arguments of the minority

Some of the arguments of what later became the minority and established the “Tendency for Internal Democracy and Unity” (TIDU) pointed out that that: 

  • Neoliberal policies and characteristics would continue on a global scale and would provide the general framework for the next period, and therefore it would be wrong to speak of the end of neoliberalism; 
  • The mass injection of funds into the economy was inevitable and predictable, on the lines of the state interventions of 2008-9 crisis but actually on a much higher level – a significant part of this economic stimulus would be of a Keynesian character; 
  • However, it would be wrong to think that Keynesianism would return as a dominant economic policy for any significant length of time because of the level of debt and deficits globally (particularly in the poorer countries) the intense competition for global markets and the lack of a serious threat to the capitalist system which in the past was represented by the Soviet Union and radical left mass working class parties;
  • It would be wrong to overemphasize “de-globalisation” and “decoupling” and refer to “a new epoch of protectionism”. Such tendencies of course exist in the present conjuncture, but we should predict an adaptation and not the demise of neoliberalism. The minority argued that from the end of 2020 and the beginning 2021, international growth, trade and investment should be expected to rebound after the collapse caused in the first half of 2020, i.e., that despite the intensification of protectionist policies there would be a rebound of globalization; 
  • Drawing close parallels with the 1930s and describing the period in which we are as the “new Great Depression” (in the latest perspectives document of the majority, February 2021) was wrong. The economic policies followed after the Covid crisis are the complete opposite of what was followed in the first years after 1929; the four year free fall of the US economy after 1929, touching bottom at -26% of its GDP, is not going to be repeated today; the Keynesianism of Roosevelt of the 1930s cannot be repeated today; the prospect of fascism on the one hand or socialist revolution and workers’ power on the other are not on the agenda of the coming period; the working class lacks a revolutionary leadership – it even lacks mass left working class parties as they existed in the interwar period and in the decades after WWII.

At the same time, the minority was stressing that the capitalist crisis is extremely deep; that the capitalist system has no real solutions to it; that an epoch of instability has opened up and there will be very important opportunities for revolutionary ideas. However, at the same time there will be serious dangers for the movements, in the sense of defeats and retreats due to the weakness of the subjective factor, the lack of fighting working class organisations, recent failures of new left parties and leaders, the rise of nationalism, the far right, right wing populism and authoritarianism, etc. 

Despite the fact that in relation to class struggle later documents attempted to be more balanced, at least in words, in relation to perspectives and processes in the global economy and the characterization of the epoch, the differences remained. These differences could perhaps have been resolved, at least partially, had a real, comradely and patient discussion taken place, but the majority opted for polarizing debates attacking the minority as “pessimistic” etc. 

Making mistakes, even serious ones, is not a crime and does not determine a future of doom for any organisation; but this is conditional on the assumption that they are approached with an open mind and a willingness to learn from reality and correct them. The full timers’ “sub-commission” however, with the support of the majority in the IE and IC, went on a full-scale attack on the IE/IC members who criticised their views. The minority was accused of “pessimism” and of an underestimation of the depth of the capitalist crisis. Personal motives were attributed to those who disagreed. Soon the opposition was also to be accused of “federalism” and “revisionism”. Every attempt was made to discredit the minority and polarize the membership, including that of not understanding women’s oppression.

The Code of Conduct”

The “Code of Conduct” (CoC) produced by the majority around the issues of sexual harassment was a very controversial document. The notion of consent which is central in defining sexual harassment and assault was completely side lined and degraded. Instead, we were presented with a list of “inappropriate” and “indecent” behaviors and a moralistic tone. In addition, the procedures of how to handle a concrete complaint of sexual harassment or assault were not clear and not as concrete as they ought to. What was clear however, was that no means of control of the decisions of the leadership are described at any point in the document. Members are only instructed to accept measures the leadership decides “in relation to their own behavior” because “they are of the utmost importance for their political development”! Confidentiality, which is important, is blown out of proportion making the leadership unaccountable in all decision making around relevant complaints. Furthermore, even the “proof of guilt” is degraded. According to the CoC, decisions and actions by the leadership will not be based on the “proof of guilt” at the conclusion of an investigation, but on the “best interests of the organisation”! That is, the truth is not at the core of decision making. These are only some of the issues around the CoC, which minority female comrades, all of them established fighters for feminist rights in their countries, raised in meetings (International Womens’ Conference and IC) and in a document signed by 5 of them. (The two documents will be posted soon on our websites). All the points they raised were rejected.

The four-day IC of February 2021

The majority made the atmosphere increasingly toxic. It was not possible to have any serious and honest discussion on the leading bodies – essentially there was a block vote, a “united fist” approach, against everything that was proposed by the minority. All the allegations that we refer to above, and more, were made in writing. Verbally, the accusations against the minority were of course much worse.

A four-day IC, between February 23 and 26, this year, was an absolutely shocking experience. This meeting had nothing to do with the needs of the international organisation, but only aimed to “smash” the opposition. 

The February 2021 IC meeting reminded us of the worst kind of sectarian quarrels and student politics that we had experienced in the past and had always believed that the CWI/ISA had rid itself of. This meeting however, was not an exception but a continuation of what had been taking place in the elected bodies over the previous months – this time however it was concentrated in one long IC meeting. 

The “mortal danger” of Federalism

The “building document” voted for at the February 23-26 IC meeting had at its center the so called “struggle against federalism”. It stated that federalism was an incipient danger that we inherited from the CWI, but did not claim that the CWI was federalist. This incipient danger could, according to the document, have developed and “lead to an International only in name” therefore it had to be tackled here and now. 

Through some unbelievable theoretical somersaults and acrobatics, federalism was declared as the root cause of “national degeneration”, “Stalinism” and “Mandelism”. Not accidentally, the Greek, Spanish, Australian (before its disaffiliation) and other sections, had already been accused of being federalist. The real problem which existed in the CWI which was a serious deficit in its internal democratic regime, was brushed under the carpet. This democratic deficit was obvious to all when the CWI International Secretariat refused to accept being in a minority on certain issues and provoked a split. In the building document the internal regime of the CWI was no longer an issue; federalism was the danger facing the International. 

The last straw of the most recent controversies

The most recent events that caused an uproar in the membership of our sections are related to the shutting down of discussions in the Facebook internal group of the ISA (CWI majority) and the experience of the debate at the Greek members’ national aggregate. 

As regards the first, a simple announcement by TIDU of the production of its Newsletter number 4, met with an avalanche of attacks and then with the intervention of the international center to shut down the discussion. A protest in that regard raised by TIDU was met with vitriolic attacks by supporters of the majority. 

Soon after this incident, no discussion was allowed to take place in relation to questions about the departure of the Cincinnati branches from the US section. Even information about these events was blocked: it was imposed that a statement by the US leadership should be presented. 

Similar incidents had taken place before, in relation to other issues. Members were directed to raise issues only in the branches. This of course meant that members from different branches could not communicate between them in any collective way, which could allow for open, informal information and discussions, which is not only inevitable but should be desirable. Without underestimating the potential excesses on Facebook which can turn into a serious problem, the way to solve them is not by employing police measures – it is by political means, explanation and discussion, and particularly by challenging those who create a toxic atmosphere! 

Facebook and other internal groups cannot be decision making platforms – these should be the branches and the elected bodies. But if exchange and discussion are censored, then a ticking time bomb is planted in the organisation – discussions will take place outside the internal groups, in public, and will lead to splits. Particularly so, when the majority is uncomradely, aggressive and confrontational towards the minority, and then that same majority uses this fact to censor the very same discussion. Thus, we have the development of a really serious threat to democratic discussion.

The experience of the Greek members’ aggregate which debated the controversial issues in the International (at which two leading comrades from Turkey and Cyprus were also present) was also a very important element in recent developments. 

What took place at the national aggregate revealed to all the Greek comrades that the problems in the ISA leadership are extremely deep. The agenda of the national aggregate was precisely the differences in the ISA, but the speaker who led off on behalf of the international majority seemed to have just arrived from another planet, pretending that the differences do not really exist. More than one and a half year of clashes seemed to be a figment of the imagination. The representative of the majority who did the reply to the discussion, having to respond to the questions and points raised by over 15 speeches from the floor went on the offensive, fully contradicting the first speaker and stating that all the majority positions had been fully vindicated. 

The experience of the Facebook controversy and the Greek aggregate came as the last straw – they caused uproar in the Greek membership. A discussion was immediately sparked off in the branches and the elected bodies of the Greek section after which, in communication with the Cyprus and Turkish sections (leading comrades from these sections followed the aggregate) the decision to disaffiliate from the ISA was taken.

An unprecedented decision

Disaffiliating from the ISA is a decision that has been forced on our sections.After decades of working to build a mass revolutionary International, we have come to the conclusion that this historic task cannot be achieved under the present leadership of the ISA. Not so much because of its weak political analysis and lack of sufficient understanding of the complexities of the epoch that we are living through but rather because it will not accept criticism, it will not allow different voices to survive in the International. Once a criticism of the “official position” emerges, it leads to relentless attacks. On the surface “democratic debates” are organised, but beneath the surface dirty campaigns of slander and character assassination are taking place, which polarize the membership, make it close its ears to critical voices and create a toxic atmosphere for discussions. 

Of course, this is not about one comrade or another in the leadership, but about the unhealthy methods and internal culture at play. It is this internal culture that the ISA inherited from the CWI but has been unable to rid itself of. While we realize that our departure may come as a shock to many comrades, particularly to those to whom the debate might still seem at the beginning, the concrete situation is that our sections can’t afford to spend more time and energy replying to all the falsifications and distortions of the full timer apparatus and the majority in the leadership in the ISA, while also trying to counter its persisting political mistakes. If we were to keep doing that, we’d severely jeopardize the actual work of building the revolutionary forces and be dragged into endless and largely meaningless controversies, which would be highly unlikely to result in the kind of change we would want to see in the methods and culture of the ISA.  

In the whole history of the CWI/ISA, over nearly 5 decades, there has never been a tendency or a faction which survived. They all led to splits. In its whole history the international leadership of the CWI (IEC) had totally failed to check the international center (the full timer body called International Secretariat – IS). The IEC had played a passive role, even when it was absolutely clear that the problems with the internal regime were very serious. The only exception was the 2018 clash of the IEC majority with the IS that led to the split of the CWI. 

The ISA leadership is unfortunately continuing these bad traditions of the CWI. 

It is refusing to accept, actually it is distorting, the experience of the Bolsheviks, who had a very rich internal life of disagreements and factions and whose debates, in the party and the International, were very often public under circumstances incomparably more difficult than today. 

The issue of the internal regime, i.e., of democratic centralism applied in a sensitive and dialectical manner, as a condition for correct political analysis and for being able to convince and involve the youth and the working class in the building of a mass revolutionary party is, in many ways, even more important today than at the time of the Bolsheviks. Moreover, the means at our disposal today, particularly with the use of the internet, are such, that internal democracy, exchange of information and discussion of ideas can reach unparalleled levels compared to any other time in the past. 

The struggle for a mass revolutionary International continues

The last two and a half years of continuous faction fights have meant a significant cost for our sections. It’s been an achievement that we were able to keep our forces, but we certainly missed opportunities, spending huge energy on internal debates. We decided to turn a page and continue our efforts to contribute to the building of a mass revolutionary International. 

We reject with contempt the ridiculous allegations against us by the majority of the international leadership, that we are federalists, that we have abandoned democratic centralism and revolutionary internationalism that we are revisionists, that we don’t understand gender oppression, etc. The fact that the majority has resorted to such characterisations is an indication of its political weakness and the lack of a healthy internal democratic regime.  

A lot of the internal material that was produced by both sides in the course of the debate will be made public soon, with care taken when sensitive issues are referred to. We don’t expect comrades to trust what we say, we invite them to read the material and decide on the basis of political criteria. 

We will continue our efforts to build our sections into sizeable revolutionary organisations and at the same time, we’ll make an exceptional effort to respond to our international revolutionary tasks. We have great respect for the vast majority of the membership of the ISA and hope to continue communication, mutual respect, discussions and common solidarity activities. We will be open to discuss with groups or sections that have left the ISA or the CWI in the past months or even years, if only, in order to discover what had actually taken place. The same is true of course for those that will leave the ISA in the future. We’ll engage in discussions with respect to the different approaches and will aim at collaboration and united action, if unity is not possible. The same will be the case with other Trotskyist currents or groups. 

We believe that the “messianic” characteristics of the old CWI, the ISA and many organisations in the anti-capitalist Left, i.e., that “us and only us can achieve the historical tasks” are absurd. They are a huge obstacle in the way of building a mass revolutionary International, they only lead to fragmentation. A mass revolutionary International, in our opinion, will be built not only on the basis of a powerful pole of attraction, but also on the basis of events, mass eruptions and upheavals and through the emergence of new revolutionary currents and forces. A coming together of these forces will be necessary, and it can only be achieved on the basis of constructively and honestly engaging with different traditions, ideas and “schools of thought”. The anti-federalism crusade of the ISA majority shows that it does not understand these processes in any way. 

A mass revolutionary International must be able to incorporate all such different revolutionary currents, on the basis of an agreement on the fundamental principles of revolutionary Marxism, on the basic political tasks, program and methods and on the condition that they are currents with organic links and roots in the working class, the poor and the exploited.  

There has never been a monolithic International except after Stalinism took over the Third International. The Third International of the time of Lenin and Trotsky was the most centralized International that existed (compared to the 1st and 2nd Internationals) but it was not at all monolithic. On the contrary, differences were intense and debates vibrant, and very frequently open, as mentioned above. And this in conditions of war, civil war, revolution and counter revolution. The future mass revolutionary International will only come into existence if it allows freedom and coexistence of different revolutionary currents and forces. Friendly, comradely, educative discussions can take place on a continuous basis without having to lead to heated debates and polarization. 

We are committed to the idea of building a mass revolutionary International and we’ll take initiatives in that direction, through an open and democratic dialogue with other groups, tendencies and individual comrades. At this stage, as the decision to depart now was not planned but was provoked by the anger of the membership in our ranks, we will use our websites and sections’ email addresses for communication. Soon, we will move in the direction of a common website, which will be open to different ideas and contributions, within the context of our revolutionary Marxist internationalist principles. 

We can be contacted at the following addresses: 

Recent Articles