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Ten Years of the LRCI

José Villa

IN COMMEMORATION of the ten years since the foundation of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI), Dave Stockton recently wrote a major article in Workers Power (July-August 1999) which reveals how deformed this organisation has become.

In it there is no balance sheet of the LRCI’s intervention inside the workers’ movement or its programmatic achievements. Its only enemies seem to be the "Stalinophiles". But moribund Stalinism and the currents that adapt to it are not the main enemies of a working class which is globally facing the terrible imperialist offensive that is destroying the workers’ states and the main conquests of the labour movement.

Comrade Dave Hughes was not even mentioned once in the article. He was the theoretical architect of Workers Power and the LRCI, and the man who won the organisation to orthodox Trotskyism from its original state capitalist position. After his death (1991) the anti-defencists he had defeated took control of the organisation, transforming it into a centrist sect.

Stockton’s article is dominated by an obsession with the Bolivian, New Zealand and Peruvian sections which broke with the LRCI in 1995, and in particular with José Villa, whose name was mentioned more than all the other names put together. These are the comrades who most strongly defended the League’s original programme against the right-wing shift that Keith Harvey started to push forward after Hughes’s death. In fact, Stockton continues the method of Harvey, who always attacked the LRCI’s initial Trotskyist orthodox positions by trying to unite the comrades from the imperialist countries against the Left Opposition within the LRCI, through scapegoating Villa and the comrades from the semi-colonies. From Stockton’s account, it would appear that for the LRCI’s leaders their greatest achievement in the last ten years was to get rid of Villa and all the comrades from the "Third World".

In the following article we shall examine how the LRCI was created and how it degenerated.

On 4 August 1989, exactly 75 years to the day after the collapse of the Second International, the LRCI was founded in Coventry. It adopted a very serious programme and democratic centralist structures. The new organisation’s aim was to overcome the bankruptcy of the Third and Fourth Internationals.

As a revolutionary force, the Fourth International did not survive the end of the Second World War. Democratic imperialism and Stalinism mutilated the post-war revolutionary upheavals. Trotskyists could not understand the new phenomenon of the bureaucratic revolutions in Eastern Europe and Asia. In the immediate post-war period none of the Trotskyists understood that the new "socialist" states were degenerated workers’ states from their inception. These states needed to be defended against internal and external counter-revolution while, simultaneously, the Stalinist bureaucratic caste had to be overthrown by means of a political revolution. Stalinism, even when it smashed the bourgeois state, had not renounced its counter-revolutionary opposition to a real and democratic transition towards international socialism.

The anti-defencists thought that because these states were not based on workers’ councils the Stalinists had not smashed the bourgeois state but merely established another form of class exploitation. The majority of the Fourth International recognised that these revolutions expropriated capitalism and the bourgeoisie, establishing nationalised planned economies. In that sense they recognised that they were deformed workers’ states, but they believed that in some cases these states could be reoriented through reforms. The Fourth International collapsed politically in 1948 when it adopted the position that the Yugoslav Stalinist party could be reformed, and it later applied that same method to other petit bourgeois movements that it believed could become revolutionary tools.

In the Bolivian Revolution (1952), when Trotskyists had their best chance ever to take power, the whole Fourth International supported the bourgeois nationalist regime and demanded more labour ministers in it. In 1953 the International split between the "Pabloites" and ex-Pabloites. All of them backed the Menshevik line that betrayed the Bolivian revolution, and their only difference was over which counter-revolutionary apparatus they would practice deep entrism in (social democracy, nationalism or Stalinism). Over the following decades these fragments were atomised.

Several failed attempts were made by small orthodox Trotskyist groups with the aim of restoring and developing the Transitional Programme in the face of such terrible bankruptcy. The last significant one was the LRCI. It was created around very good programmatic positions and international analysis. Initially this organisation was an attempt to fuse the traditions of the Western European comrades around Workers Power (so rich in important theoretical contributions) with those developed in revolutionary crises by the comrades who had launched an Andean Workers Trotskyist Fraction. Later on, other important traditions came to the LRCI, the most significant of which was a long established group in New Zealand.

Workers Power originated inside Tony Cliff’s International Socialists, and during its first five years (1975-80) it remained a state capitalist group. With the opening of the Second Cold War, however, this group made a radical shift towards orthodox Trotskyism. Under Dave Hughes’s influence, Workers Power critically sided with the Afghan popular front government and the USSR against the pro-CIA Mujahedin. It published the best book written at that time on the character of the Stalinist states (The Degenerated Revolution), and also produced a very good analysis of the post-war collapse of the Trotskyist movement (The Death Agony of the Fourth International). On the basis of these theoretical developments, comrades inside other organisations were influenced. In the mid-1980s Workers Power was able to create very small circles around its policies in Ireland, Germany, France and Austria. They set up a Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International (MRCI), which was based on fraternal relations rather than democratic centralism.

In 1985-86 comrades from Peru and Bolivia developed similar conclusions arising from another continent and conditions. They were active in the two revolutionary situations that put the self-proclaimed Trotskyists in the forefront of the struggles in those years. In Peru the Trotskyists achieved 12% of the vote and were the largest electoral anti-imperialist force during a period of intense class conflict marked by several general strikes.

In Bolivia, when the miners occupied the capital for two weeks in March 1985, the comrades who launched Guía organised daily political schools with hundreds of workers. In September 1985 they were the main opposition in Oruro during the Popular Assembly and the five-week general strike. In August 1986, when 15,000 miners marched to the capital, these comrades were extremely active. Thousands of workers listened to them every day and some of their supporters were elected to the leadership of mining and metallurgical unions.

The Peruvian and Bolivian comrades saw how all the "Fourth Internationals" squandered so many good possibilities, and they adopted a quite radical analysis of the collapse of that International, calling for a New International Workers Trotskyist Fraction (FOT). These comrades would maintain very strong links with the workers’ movement. Poder Obrero Bolivia was once elected to the leadership of the main workers’ union (Huanuni). It still leads a national union and has delegates in the assemblies and congress of the COB (national trade union congress), and today has comrades in leading positions in the current wave of strikes that is shaking this country.

In 1986-87 the first discussions started between the MRCI and the FOT. None of the European groups had experience of leading unions or mass strikes, but their strength was in their political positions and potential. The European comrades were very much influenced by the Andean comrades and learned a lot from their policies and experiences in the class struggle. The theoretical contributions made by Dave Hughes and the then healthy Workers Power were also important in developing the Andean comrades.

During the 1980s the groups that constituted the LRCI adopted a clear revolutionary profile. We differentiated ourselves from the Stalinophobic currents like the Morenoites, Lambertists or Cliffites, who sided with the Afghan clerical-feudal reaction against the USSR or who fought for Walesa’s Solidarnosc to form a government in Poland. We also demarcated ourselves from the Stalinophiles like the Spartacists who hailed the USSR’s military intervention in Afghanistan and backed Jaruselski’s coup against the most militant European workers’ movement. In Afghanistan we sided with the left bourgeois government and the Stalinist army against the medievalist reaction, but condemned the reactionary methods of the Soviet invasion and the bureaucracy’s conduct of the war. We defended the Polish workers’ committees and unions against Stalinist repression without trying to overthrow the workers’ state and install a pro-church capitalist restorationist Solidarnosc government.

On the question of the struggle against imperialism, we differentiated ourselves from currents like the USec or Healyites that capitulated to the PLO, FSLN and other nationalist movements. We also defended Palestine, Argentina, Ireland, Iran and other oppressed nations in their confrontations with imperialism, unlike the Cliffites, Militant or the Spartacists who adopted a neutral and dual defeatist position which in practice aided imperialism.

However, the LRCI did not understand the new period that opened some months after its founding congress. The disintegration of the Stalinist dictatorships in Eastern Europe did not lead to working class political revolution but to a multi-class democratic social counter-revolution. Trotsky always aimed to replace the bureaucratic dictatorship of the proletariat with a revolutionary one based on workers’ councils. However, after 1989 a worse scenario developed, and the dictatorship of the incipient local bourgeoisie and the multinationals replaced every form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Communists had to actively intervene in the mass demonstrations against Stalinist rule but without making united fronts with the pro-imperialist bourgeois opposition, which we always had to treat as the main enemy. If Stalinism was the political counter-revolution inside the workers’ states, the pro-imperialist "democrats" were organising a vast capitalist social counter-revolution.

At the beginning of the post-1989 events the LRCI adopted correct positions. It fought against German unification on a capitalist basis and against any bourgeois parliament in the East. It fought for workers’ democracy but it believed that the restoration of capitalism in bourgeois-democratic form was even worse than the authoritarian workers’ states. In 1990 the LRCI also critically sided with the Stalinists against the Azerbaijani bourgeois independence movement and the pro-imperialist democratic and anti-Communist student demonstration in Romania.

However, the LRCI was under extraordinarily great pressure from the pro-democracy imperialist media and public opinion. In 1991 it started to radically shift its policies. It proposed to make a united front with the Lithuanian bourgeois restorationist movement Sajudis and to ask the imperialist powers to intervene in the internal affairs of a workers’ state in order to help them. Trotskyists could not support Gorbachev’s repression of the Lithuanian workers because he was not defending the workers’ state against a counter-revolution, but neither could they block with imperialism.

In August 1991, when Yeltsin made his counter-coup that finally dismantled the Soviet Union and created a new Russian bourgeois republic, the LRCI proposed a united front with him and all the non-fascist bourgeois parties. This was a radical departure from the original LRCI programme, which said that revolutionaries should not be in favour of freedom for bourgeois parties in a workers’ state, still less make blocs with them. During those events, revolutionaries should have opposed the Yanayev coup because it was launched against union rights, but without making a bloc with the social counter-revolution and keeping in mind always that the latter was the main threat.

The introduction of these new right-wing policies created a big conflict at the second LRCI congress (December 1991), where the leadership of the League was heavily punished. However, after it they decided to introduce new revisions to the programme behind the backs of the rank and file. The LRCI’s thesis that the right of self-determination is a bourgeois concept which could not be mechanically applied to the workers’ states was replaced by another supporting unconditionally the right of every nation or ethnic group to separate from a workers’ state, even when this could lead to capitalist restoration. Harvey tried to introduce the idea that the struggle for bourgeois parliaments and constituent assemblies was progressive in the workers’ states. He was defeated when he attempted to revise our line on Germany to say that it was wrong not to have been in favour of a pan-German constituent assembly in 1989.

Later on it was discovered that in 1991-93 Harvey had been holding secret meetings with a Stalinophobic ex-member hostile to the League, planning to move the LRCI back to anti-defencist positions. In 1980-81, when Workers Power shifted from state capitalist theories to orthodox Trotskyism, Harvey was the main opponent of that turn. Harvey had argued for a third way between Cliff and Trotsky, claiming that a bourgeois counter-revolution had happened in the USSR in 1927 and that since then the struggle for bourgeois democratic demands and united fronts with bourgeois anti-Stalinist forces was progressive. He considered the Afghan feudal-clerical Mujahedin to be a legitimate "national liberation movement" which should be supported against "soviet expansionism", and argued that revolutionaries had to join its ranks. After Hughes’s death, Harvey decided to relaunch a big offensive against the LRCI’s programmatic foundations.

The term "workers’ state" remained in the lexicon, but only as a category without content. For Harvey a "workers’ state" could be ruled for a decade by an anti-Communist regime and have a market economy controlled by private and multinational capitals. In Yugoslavia, the LRCI said that a workers’ state was ruled by fascists, even though fascism is a movement that smashes any element of working class organisation in the interests of finance capital. Until July 1997 the LRCI described all the states east of Germany as workers’ states, and one month later it accepted that eight of them had become bourgeois states.

The LRCI was becoming an extremely eclectic current which was trying to reconcile its existing revolutionary Trotskyist defencism with the pressure of Western democratic public opinion and Harvey’s anti-defencist theories. That led it into the most bizarre contradictions.

Until November 1992 the LRCI leaders opposed the independence of Bosnia and condemned Izetbegovic’s Bosnian Muslim forces as reactionary ethnic cleansers and pro-imperialists. One month later they decided to support them, and later on to ask imperialism to send weapons, money and men for them. In 1992 they organised a common demonstration in Vienna with Great Serb monarchists and a year later with Muslims and Albanians who were asking for NATO intervention against the Serbs. They always said that they would be willing to defend the Serbs against NATO and its Muslim and Croat allies if imperialism bombed Serbia. However, when it happened, they adopted a neutral position towards those bombardments, combining this with calls for more resolute action by the Muslim and Croat troops who were ethnically cleansing hundreds of thousands of Serbs, and for imperialism to give tanks, planes and missiles to their local puppets.

In 1995 all the Latin American comrades were expelled because they organised a tendency proposing that the LRCI defend both Haiti and the Serbs against imperialist attacks. Immediately after that, the LRCI moved towards a fusion process with the PTS in Argentina, who also defended Serbia and Haiti against the USA. The LRCI decided once more to shift its position. In the last Kosovo conflict it called for the defence of the Serbs.

However, it did so in an extremely contradictory way, because it was also for a military victory of the pro-NATO Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The LRCI advised the KLA to demand more money and weapons from NATO and to use the bombing to smash the Serbs. It regards an anti-Communist formation like the KLA as "petit bourgeois revolutionaries" – a position that contrasts sharply with the LRCI’s attitude to the Basque nationalist ETA, which it denounces as "completely reactionary" and refuses to defend against Spanish state repression.

This way of combining the most amazing contradictions is becoming the official LRCI "method" on every single question. In Britain, Workers Power was strongly opposed to any degree of devolution for Scotland and Wales because they said this threatened the integrity of the United Kingdom, which should be preserved as the best way to maintain the unity of the class. Later on they decided to vote in favour of autonomy for Scotland but against it for Wales.

On the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) they zigzagged. Initially they enthusiastically supported it, shortly afterwards they condemned it as a Stalinist sect, then some weeks later they sent over 10% of their members into it. In the 1997 general election Workers Power actively campaigned for New Labour against the SLP (including leafleting for an ex-Tory Blairite against Arthur Scargill), while its entryists inside the SLP were advocating standing more SLP candidates. At the end, instead of recruiting people, they lost members in this adventure.

It is possible to go on describing these inconsistencies but we don’t have the space. The important conclusion is that the LRCI is becoming a very erratic and irresponsible sect with the most contradictory lines and zigzags.

This eclecticism is impossible to maintain without a bureaucratic regime. Harvey and Stockton radically changed the LRCI’s programme without having officially declared a faction. They created a secret clique that manipulated the LRCI through the International Secretariat, suppressing their opponents. All the comrades that led opposition tendencies inside the LRCI were driven out. Good independent thinkers in Austria, Britain and elsewhere were also pushed away.

After the League’s first congress, two tendencies emerged in the British section which ended up fusing with the Revolutionary Internationalist League (RIL). One raised differences over work in the gay and lesbian movement, while the other called for a more serious intervention in the industrial working class and criticised Workers Power’s equivocation over the "Victory to Iraq" slogan during the Gulf War. In the first case, instead of discussing the political issues (as the Austrian and Andean comrades demanded), the Workers Power leadership launched a campaign against the RIL over the alleged theft of a computer. The comrade who led the other tendency was suspended and obliged to return all the internal bulletins.

In 1991 Brian Green and eight other comrades in Workers Power launched a tendency. Challenging the leadership’s confused line that the disintegration of Stalinism had opened up a world revolutionary period, within which however a counter-revolutionary situation had simultaneously developed, this tendency proposed that the world period was fundamentally counter-revolutionary. Brian Green went on to argue that the ex-Stalinist countries had restored capitalism and that it was wrong to continue calling them workers’ states. He wrote a major book on world economy, but the League vetoed its publication. He was removed from every commission and ostracised. Later on, the LRCI forbade members to live in the same house as him.

After August 1991 the US sympathising section, the Revolutionary Trotskyist Tendency (RTT), criticised the LRCI’s leaders for capitulating to Yeltsin during his coup. Two weeks before the LRCI congress in December, without asking the delegates, International Executive Committee (IEC) members or the sections, Dave Stockton broke relations with the RTT and vetoed its participation at a congress that came very close to removing the right-wing leadership. LRCI members were forbidden to contact any RTT member or sympathiser.

In 1994 an opposition developed in the Austrian section, comprising half of the Vienna branch and most of the youth. Like the earlier opposition in the British section, they argued that the world period was essentially counter-revolutionary. Instead of efforts being made to integrate this tendency into the leadership, they were under-represented at the 1994 LRCI congress and were excluded from participating in the election of the IEC.

In mid-1995, when the majority of the New Zealand section created the Proletarian Fraction, the LRCI’s leaders intervened from Europe to suspend its only full-timer and change the leadership that the section had just elected at its national conference. The LRCI reacted with so much hostility to the Proletarian Faction comrades that they were driven away. Members were instructed to cease contact with the New Zealand dissidents and to show personal letters that they received from them.

In December 1992 all the Latin Americans proclaimed a Left Opposition, but were persuaded by the LRCI leaders not to form a faction. The leadership then conducted a series of manoeuvres, attempting to destroy the Peruvian section and to demoralise and divide their adversaries. In 1995 the Latin Americans decided to formally launch a tendency. The tendency was not recognised and its platform was not translated. None of its four full or alternate IEC members was allowed to attend committee meetings, and the comrade who wrote the tendency’s platform was suspended and told he would be expelled if he came to the IEC. The Bolivian section was threatened with expulsion. Villa was forbidden to discuss with any Latin American group or to participate on the editorial board of Revolutionary History. The comrades who defended the principles of the LRCI’s founding conference in Coventry were sent to Coventry.

In 1998-99 an opposition in France was declared, attacking the LRCI’s leadership for advocating a vote for the government and not for the far left. They were suspended and expelled. Members of the League were forbidden to discuss or socialise with them.

The LRCI is like a middle class social club in which many people are allowed to put forward the most contradictory ideas and the leadership will try to satisfy all of them, combining the antagonistic positions into an eclectic ("dialectical") line. However, if anyone tries to organise an opposition, the LRCI leaders accuse them of being "factionalists", and all the members are urged to close ranks against them. Later on, the oppositionists are witch-hunted or expelled, and accused of robbery or other moral charges. Dissidents in Britain and France were even physically threatened or assaulted. This shows the extreme cowardice of a leadership that resorts to manoeuvres, slanders and threats because it cannot win the political arguments.

The LRCI is not a democratic centralist International. All the power is concentrated in the International Secretariat, which is not elected at a congress. It is composed of British full-timers and academics (none of them with the slightest experience of leading mass struggles) and has the power to change the programme, statutes or congress resolutions, to break with sympathising sections, to exclude from the organisation members of the IEC (the highest body elected at congresses), to change the leadership and policies of the national sections, or even to exclude entire sections. Ultimately this small secretariat is dominated by one single great leader who could be the treasurer, the editor of the journal and the person who takes the minutes and edits (changes) all the League’s documents.

On 4 August 1995 the Croat army carried out one of the worst atrocities to take place in the Balkans. The entire Serb republic of Krajina was completely depopulated. With financial, military and logistical support from imperialism, and assisted by NATO airstrikes against the Serbs, the Croat troops were able to carry out their own ethnic cleansing. In that significant moment the LRCI decided to treat the people who were victims of imperialist attack as the main enemy. We considered that it meant the final collapse of the organisation and that we needed to publicly declare our own line. We were immediately expelled, and denied the right to attend the IEC in order to defend ourselves or even to appeal, either to the IEC or to congress.

On 1 May 1996, in an Andean mine, the Liaison Committee of Militants for a Revolutionary Communist International (CEMICOR in Spanish) was founded. It gathered the Bolivian, New Zealand and Peruvian sections and some comrades in Europe who resisted the LRCI’s degeneration and collapse.

Our strength lies in our positions and our experiences in the class struggle, our weakness in the adverse objective conditions we face. The break with the LRCI’s centrist and bureaucratic methods left us with comrades scattered over the globe. Normally an international tendency is created around groups that converge around some geopolitical centre. However, between New Zealand, the Andes and the European countries there were no strong links. We managed to resist the neoliberal wave that destroyed our League but we are still incapable, for geographic and material reasons, of creating a democratic centralist tendency that can meet regularly.

In New Zealand we maintain a regular bi-monthly journal, Class Struggle; we have published some issues of Guía and other theoretical publications in English; and in Peru and Bolivia we constantly produce leaflets, bulletins and documents, being very active in the unions. Our international tendency produced a joint declaration against NATO with four other South American groups. We have established some new contacts in the imperialist countries.

Today the LRCI does not have any significant links with the class anywhere and it is so confused that it cannot attract any important new forces. The LCRI’s leaders will fail in their attempts at regroupment with any considerable organisation, as is happening with the Argentinian PTS. They are reducing the range, the periodicity and the quality of their publications. They don’t have open meetings, and they are incapable of any serious political discussion. They recently opened a discussion site on the Internet, but after resorting to censorship and moral accusations against us they then closed the site, because they were unable to answer the slightest criticisms we made of them. In the last ten years Workers Power has lost at least five times more comrades than it has recruited. The LRCI is dying. It may survive as an apparatus for some years and perhaps win a few individuals, but it will fail to produce any serious impact or political contribution.

Our small international current is open to debate and willing to respond to any critique of us. We are committed to discussion with other groups and comrades in the Americas, Australasia and Europe in order to establish a new pole of attraction that could rescue and develop Leninist-Trotskyist principles.

For further information about the LCMRCI, write to: BCM Box 3213, London WC1N 3XX

Email: LCMRCI@hotmail.com

From What Next? No.14 1999