Repackaging cannot hide continuation of bureaucratic centralism

Same old same old

Having abandoned clause four Fabianism, the Woods-Sewell tendency has issued a manifesto with a view to grandly renaming their oil slick international. Mike Macnair asks what, if anything, is new about their Revolutionary Communist International

Socialist Appeal is to rename itself in May as the ‘Revolutionary Communist Party’, having got up to four figures in membership: 1,100 (0.0016% of the UK population or 0.3% of the Labour Party membership).1 As is usual with Trotskyist oil-slick internationals, its International Marxist Tendency is to follow the lead of its flagship organisation and also rename itself - as the ‘Revolutionary Communist International’. The IMT has now published a Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist International explaining this decision.2

Much of the Manifesto is the same sort of journalistic analysis of the political conjuncture, spun towards over-optimistic conclusions, found in Socialist Appeal - RCP’s ‘Theses on the coming British revolution’, which I discussed two weeks ago.3 But the Manifesto also provides indications of what the Woods-Sewell tendency ‘stands for’, in the sense of what it would mean for the working class to accept this group as its party or its leadership.

My point is not that it is particularly likely for the Woods-Sewell tendency to achieve more than a short-lived growth spurt, like other Trotskyist groups before it. It is, rather, to raise the question whether it is desirable that the RCP should, by bypassing the existing left, make the ‘breakthrough’ to mass influence that has been longed for by each of the groups in turn over the last 80 years (since the original RCP in 1944).

What lies behind this question is that the far left is reasonably suspected by broad layers (of those who are at all aware of its existence) of being likely to repeat the experience of the Stalinist bureaucratic dictatorship in the USSR and the other ‘socialist countries’, which only led by a long detour back to capitalism. In the light of this outcome it is insufficient merely to stand for communism and/or merely to take moral distance from the old Soviet regime by denouncing it as ‘Stalinism’, ‘not socialism’, ‘state capitalism’ or whatever. It is necessary to have a clear sense of what we stand for: not only in ultimate aims (communism), but also in what we would advocate the working class do with power.

The Manifesto only provides limited information on this front. It needs to be read together with the ‘What we fight for’ column in The Communist, and with the document, ‘How communists are preparing for power in Britain’, and the draft constitution of the new RCP, which indicate what new RCP members will be signing up to.

As I said earlier, the Manifesto is largely a journalistic analysis of the political situation, spun towards r-r-revolutionary conclusions. We arrive at the RCI’s purported distinctive ‘offer’ with the subhead, ‘The subjective factor’.

This and the following subhead, ‘The bankruptcy of the “left”’, largely reports common far-left criticisms of the mainstream Labour or socialist leaderships, and of the official lefts as clinging to unity with them. In this respect the analysis has the strength of avoiding the idea that what is wrong with the official lefts is lack of a ‘strike and street action’ approach (as found in the Socialist Workers Party and its offshoots, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Workers Power, or Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century.)

But the first weakness is its emptiness - what, concretely, does it mean to “break with the capitalist system itself”? The previous paragraph contains the statement: “It is necessary to expropriate the bankers and capitalists and replace the anarchy of the market with a harmonious and rational system of planning.” This is certainly the long-term aim of all communists. But it remains very vague and fails to address either the global division of labour and its implications for single countries, or how far “expropriate the capitalists” extends to small businesses and farms.

Secondly, for a global document, the argument about the official lefts is very British in character. Yes, the Corbynites’ clinging to unity with the Labour right led to political capitulation. But Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, for example, did not become revolutionary by breaking the unity of the Parti Socialiste in 2008. This is merely a single example; the nationalism of official lefts is equally a source of political capitulation.


With the subhead, ‘The struggle against oppression’, we move to something that is more distinctively an IMT-RCI ‘offer’. This is the explicit rejection of ‘identity politics’ and of ‘postmodernism’. This calls for fairly extensive quotation to make the argument clear. The section begins with entirely conventional comments on the oppression of women: increased economic dependence due to state social expenditure cuts, growing violence against women (which may, in reality, be the growing political visibility of such violence) and attacks on access to abortion. It then goes on:

The struggle against all forms of oppression and discrimination is a necessary part of the fight against capitalism.

Our position is very simple: in every struggle, we will always take the side of the oppressed against the oppressors. But this general statement is insufficient in itself to define our position. We must add that our attitude is essentially a negative one.

That is to say: we are opposed to oppression and discrimination of any sort, whether it be directed against women, people of colour, gay people, transgender people or any other oppressed group or minority.

However, we utterly reject identity politics, which, under the guise of defending the rights of a particular group, plays a reactionary and divisive role that ultimately weakens the unity of the working class and provides invaluable assistance to the ruling class.

The labour movement has become infected with all kinds of alien ideas: postmodernism, identity politics, ‘political correctness’, and all the other bizarre nonsense that has been smuggled in from the universities by the ‘left’ petty bourgeoisie, which acts as a transmission belt for alien and reactionary ideology.

A by-product of so-called postmodernism, identity politics has served to addle the brains of students. These alien ideas have been introduced into the labour movement, where they act as a most effective weapon in the hands of the bureaucracy for its struggle against the most militant class fighters.

Lenin laid stress on the need for communists to fight on all fronts - not just the economic and political front, but also the ideological front. We stand firmly on the solid foundation of Marxist theory and the philosophy of dialectical materialism.

This stands in complete contradiction with philosophical idealism in all its forms: whether the open, undisguised mysticism of religion or the cynical, disguised and no-less-poisonous mysticism of postmodernism …

Communists stand firmly on the ground of class politics and defend the unity of the working class above all divisions of race, colour, gender, language or religion. We do not care if you are black or white, male or female. Nor are we remotely interested in your lifestyle or who your partner is, or is not. These are purely personal matters and no concern of anyone - bureaucrats, priests or politicians.

The only requirement for joining us is that you are prepared and willing to fight for the only cause that can offer genuine freedom, equality and genuinely human relations between men and women: the sacred cause of the fight to emancipate the working class.

But the prior condition for joining the communists is that you leave all the reactionary nonsense of identity politics outside the door.

This passage contains three elements. The first is its remarkably ‘retro’ character. ‘Political correctness’ is in origin a piece of self-deprecating humour from the 1970s US Maoist and Maoist-influenced left, which was subsequently appropriated for culture-wars purposes by the US right.4

‘Identity politics’ is a product of late 1960s-70s ‘soft Maoism’, built on the Communist Party of the USA’s prior interpretation of the ‘people’s front’ concept of the 7th Congress of Comintern as a race-gender-class ‘trinity’ coalition of apolitical trade unionists, liberal feminists and black nationalists. It passed from this background into the universities, alongside being used by US and British Eurocommunists in the later 1970s-80s as a stick with which to beat ‘backward’ leftist wings in their own parties. Its internal contradictions have resulted in general rebranding as ‘intersectionality’ since the 1990s.5 Talking today about the rejection of ‘identity politics’ is to polemicise with a largely dead ideology, ignoring its current version.

The same is true of ‘postmodernism’. This is, indeed, (unlike identity politics) a product of the academic rather than the activist left; though its promoters have been intimately connected with what became Eurocommunism and its critique of class politics. Starting under the name ‘structuralism’, broadly the same group of Anglophone left academics rebranded themselves in response to criticism as ‘post-structuralist’; then, when that ideology was sharply critiqued, as ‘postmodernists’ (borrowing the term from architectural fashion); then, most recently, as ‘post-Marxists’. (In saying “most recently”, I may not be completely up to date with the rebranding process …). Again, the focus on ‘postmodernism’ identifies the target of the polemic with the 1980s-90s version of the ideology, rather than the 2020s version.


The second element is the vagueness of what is to be rejected. As with ‘political correctness’, and as with ‘wokeness’ (which comes from the same stable) ‘identity politics’ has become a ‘boo word’ for conservative writers. But what does it mean?

What certainly falls to be rejected is the race-gender-class ‘trinity’ and all the elaborated variants of this approach; and the ‘intersectional’ claim that only the oppressed can speak to their own oppression, and therefore all forms of veto rights and/or compulsory participation in official women’s, black, etc, caucuses that have more rights to voice than factions more generally. Going back to the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, the 1903 decision to reject the idea that the Jewish Bund should have the exclusive right to organise all Jews was correct. The ground for rejection is that these projects, besides being founded on the 1935 people’s front concept, are opposed to practical solidarity.6

On the other hand, it has been a common argument in left groups that the self-organisation of oppressed groups as such (women’s caucuses, and so on) is to be rejected. The problem with this line is that it is, in fact, a variant on the 1921 ban on factions (as also are bans on ‘permanent factions’, public factions, and so on). The grounds for rejecting this approach were given in Trotsky’s The Third International after Lenin: the effect of banning factions is not, in fact, to abolish factions but to ban all factions except one: the full-time apparatus of the party. Political differences then unavoidably appear in the form of court clique intrigues among the apparatus.7 The point is just as true of banning voluntary caucuses of oppressed groups.

In this context, it has to be added that the following claim - “We do not care if you are black or white, male or female. Nor are we remotely interested in your lifestyle or who your partner is, or is not. These are purely personal matters and no concern of anyone - bureaucrats, priests or politicians” - is hopelessly liberal anti-discrimination politics. As we in the CPGB have argued, the tradition of the workers’ movement of defending the discriminatory provision for pregnant women, and so on, is essential socialism - ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’.8

And this liberal anti-discrimination politics results in failure to grasp why the right are able to run effective culture-war politics round issues of the family, gender and sexuality. Thus, for example, Rob Sewell’s January 23 2023 article, ‘Scotland: Tory culture wars won’t wash’, which radically underestimated the political mileage the Tory press could get out of the ‘gender recognition’ issue.9

It is a connected point that opposition to ‘identity politics’ in Trotskyist groups has in recent years been connected with the defence of apparatus members accused of rape or lesser forms of sexual abuse. The underlying cause of the problem is that bureaucratic apparatuses based on top-down authority, together with confidentiality rules, naturally produce the same dynamic of sexual abuse by exploiting authority as capitalism itself does, and the same inability to deal with it as the capitalist courts. The public political context of ‘#MeToo’, plus the left’s commitments to tailing liberal feminism more generally, has produced a tendency for opponents to explain these abuses by insufficient feminism of the groups involved, which has then enabled the apparatus clique to defend their practices by accusing their opponents of ‘identity politics’. The IMT has not been exempt from such cases.10

This is a partial truth, but a deeply misleading one, because it fails to grasp that the abuses and the inability to deal with them are the product of the bureaucratic-centralist political regimes of the groups mimicking capitalist managerialism.


The third element is the claim that “We stand firmly on the solid foundation of Marxist theory and the philosophy of dialectical materialism.” This, too, is badly affected by vagueness. Pretty much all Marxists would claim to use ‘dialectical materialist’ (or perhaps ‘dialectical-historical materialist’) reasoning. But what they mean by that varies very widely indeed. I argued years ago (in 2008) that parties have to be founded on political programmes, not on philosophical commitments, because it is in the nature of philosophical commitments that, being grounded on reflection rather than on praxis, a political organisation grounded on philosophical commitments will inevitably involve the personality cult of some individual.11

In the case of the IMT-RCI, the commitment is presumably to Ted Grant’s and Alan Woods’ 1995 book Reason in revolt (repeatedly reprinted since), which treats Engels’ posthumously published draft, Dialectics of nature, as dogma. If so, to “stand firmly on … the philosophy of dialectical materialism” would involve commitment to a bunch of at best debatable claims about physics.

The RCP and RCI are committed to building a ‘party’ based on theoretical claims rather than on a political platform: that is, a sect in the utopian-socialist style. The point is reflected in the document How communists are preparing for power in Britain at point 13:

The iron core of our Party is the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. It’s the highest responsibility of every Party member to perpetually study, conquer and apply these ideas, with a particular focus on the ideas and methods of Lenin in 2024.

The general principle that party members should self-educate (and, as the section goes on, organise education) is sound. But the specification here is not to education, which develops the participant’s ability to think critically and decide between alternative views, but to training in the ideas of the great men of 1844-1940 as a dogma. And “the ideas of Lenin” here means, in reality, the standard Trotskyist narrative of the ideas of Lenin, without any attention to critiques that have been offered of this narrative - for example by Lars T Lih in his Lenin rediscovered (2006) and subsequent publications. Again, it may be that Lih’s historical arguments and those of other critics of the standard Trotskyist narrative are wrong. But to the extent that SA-RCP members are trained in ignoring these arguments, they become unable to answer them.

The Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party develops the point further in Article IV.ii:

Membership requires a serious commitment to study the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, including the lessons of the first four congresses of the Communist International and the founding congress of the Fourth International, which have been built upon over many decades by our predecessor organisations in one unbroken thread.

The “lessons” of the first four congresses of Comintern is a vague idea. In contrast, the International Left Opposition 1933 Preconference referred to “essential principles” of the first four congresses - and proceeded to list these, and to spell out in 11 points principles that the ILO promoted, as against the fifth and sixth congresses.12 They would then have accepted that there were also “lessons” - negative ones - from the fifth to seventh congresses. The “one unbroken thread” is, of course, nonsense. There is no institutional continuity, since the institutions of the Fourth International founded in 1938 broke down in 1940-44, and the institutions reconstructed in 1944-45 are considered to be problematic by comrades from the ‘Grantite’ tradition. The claim is, in reality, of theoretical continuity of the old 1944 RCP majority tendency through the individual Ted Grant and his associates in the 1950s-60s.


This personalistic idea of the “unbroken thread” is also reflected in the preamble to the Constitution:

… this constitution is no more than a skeleton. The internal life of the RCP comes from its political ideas, which are grounded in Marxist theory. The only guarantee of a healthy party is the political and moral authority of the leadership, a solid cadre base, and an active and politically developed membership that is capable of thinking for itself. These things can only be achieved through a long period of collective work, education and experience. That, and not any formal set of rules, is the foundation of our party.

In reality there is no guarantee of a “healthy party”. And the weight given to the “political and moral authority of the leadership” in this skeleton constitution can be contrasted with principle no11 of the 1933 ILO principles mentioned above:

Recognition of party democracy not only in words but also in fact; ruthless condemnation of the Stalinist plebiscitary regime (the rule of usurpers, gagging the thought and the will of the party, deliberate suppression of information from the party, etc).

Or Trotsky’s 1931 comment on the crisis in the German Left Opposition:

Naturally, as soon as it became necessary, the Bolshevik central committee could give orders. But subordination to the committee was possible only because the absolute loyalty of the central committee toward every member of the party was well known, as well as the constant readiness of the leadership to hand over every serious dispute for consideration by the party.13

The Grant tendency - Militant from 1964 - claimed that the superiority of Grant’s theoretical ideas, producing the “unbroken thread”, meant that the tendency was not, unlike the rest of the Trotskyist left, subject to splintering. As soon as serious issues broke out in 1991, this proved to be false. The Taaffeite majority could not countenance a prolonged faction struggle with Grant and his co-thinkers and engaged in all the usual “Stalinist plebiscitary regime” behaviours. Both sides have subsequently experienced a series of splits, with oppositions repeatedly complaining of the same bureaucratic-centralist methods.14 The underlying problem is that a group based on theory and philosophy cannot be a party, but can only be a personality cult.


The IMT-RCI stands for communism. Very good. How is this concretised? Under the heading, ‘What are we fighting for?’, the Manifesto says:

In essence, the aims of the communists are the same as those of the workers in general. We stand for the complete elimination of hunger and of homelessness; for guaranteed work in good conditions; for the drastic reduction of the working week and the conquest of free time; for guaranteed, high-quality healthcare and education; for an end to imperialism and war; and for an end to the insane destruction of our planet.

But we point out that, under conditions of capitalist crisis, these aims can only be achieved through an implacable struggle, and that this can only ultimately be successful when it leads to the expropriation of the bankers and capitalists. It was for this reason that Trotsky developed the idea of transitional demands … The communists fight for the total emancipation of the working class, for freedom from oppression and agony of toil. This can only be achieved by the destruction of the bourgeois state, the expropriation of the means of production and the introduction of socialist planning under democratic workers’ control and management.

What follows is a commonplace Trotskyist discussion of the idea of “transitional demands”.

There are three problems. Two I have already mentioned. The first is that there is no clarity about the implications of the global material division of labour. For example, in 2020 the UK imported 46% of the food it consumed.15 These imports were not paid for by material exports: “The trade in goods deficit widened by £1.4 billion to £49.9 billion in quarter four 2023, while the trade in services surplus is estimated to have narrowed by £4.8 billion to £34.9 billion.” The balance of payments for the quarter was negative at £21.18 billion.16 In essence, the gap was borrowed.

The result is that a revolutionary regime in the UK alone would be starved by ‘sanctions’ far more rapidly than regimes in countries that have smaller industrial and larger agricultural sectors. But the converse is that the countries that can survive blockade lack the industrial capabilities … The working class could take Europe as a whole out of the capitalist world order, but not any individual European country.

Secondly, there is no clarity about the relation of a workers’ regime to the middle classes. We are invited to imagine that the “expropriation of the bankers and capitalists” leads immediately to a regime of socialist planning. But suppose that we take power in Europe as a whole - or a fortiori in any continent outside Europe - the question of the correct relationship of a workers’ regime to small businesses and farmers will inevitably be posed.

The Manifesto hand-waves away this question. The disastrous experience of forced collectivisation is attributed simply to ‘Stalinism’. Under the heading, ‘Stalinism versus Bolshevism’, this is said to be “a horrible, bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature that bore no relation to the regime of workers’ democracy established by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917”, and that “Stalin carried out a political counterrevolution against Bolshevism, basing himself on a privileged caste of officials that rose to power in a period of the ebb of the revolution following Lenin’s death.” This is personality-cult reasoning - a negative personality cult of Stalin set against a positive personality cult of Lenin.

There is no mention of the rise of the bureaucracy in Lenin’s time, of his 1921 characterisation of soviet Russia as “a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions”,17 or the history narrated in Moshe Lewin’s 1969 book, Lenin’s last struggle. There is no discussion of the severe difficulties in relations with the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie that led to the 1921 New Economic Policy.

It is connected to this that the IMT-RCI can offer no accounting for the debates of the Russian communists about economic policy and relations with the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie in the period between Lenin’s disablement by his second stroke in December 1922 and the police coups within the party to exclude the left wing in late 1927, and the right wing in early 1929, which inaugurated the actual regime of ‘Stalinism’.

The third issue, which is related, is: what is “democratic workers’ control and management”? The personality-cult reasoning that treats Soviet history of the 1920s as a simple story of good Lenin - bad Stalin cannot answer this question, because the Russian communist leadership broke with workers’ control in favour of ‘one-man management’ in industry in 1919,18 and moved away from the sovereignty of soviet democracy as a principle with the theorisation of the dictatorship of the proletariat as necessarily taking the form of the dictatorship of the party at the Second Congress of Comintern in July 1920.19

The IMT-RCI offers no critique of decisions taken in Lenin’s time, nor even the level of explicit critique of the institutional forms of bureaucratic-centralism offered by Trotsky in 1929 in Third International after Lenin or by the ILO in 1933 in the passage quoted above. In this context, we have to understand the IMT-RCI’s “offer” on what counts as “democratic workers’ control and management” as actually meaning a regime like the internal regime of the IMT organisations - which is, in essence, the same as the internal regimes of the SWP, SPEW, and so on.

For all the denunciations of Stalinism in the Manifesto, this offer is actually - Stalinism, with Alan Woods as a ‘little Stalin’ like Gerry Healy, Tony Cliff, Pierre Lambert, Nahuel Moreno, James Robertson, David North, Bob Avakian, Aravindan Balakrishnan, and so on and on.

  1. By doing so they have probably - at least on paper - overtaken their former co-thinkers in the Socialist Party in England and Wales, but so far remain behind the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and substantially behind the Socialist Workers Party. The figures are from: (SA-RCP) The Communist No4, supplement, subhead ‘7 weeks’; (UK population) www.worldometers.info/world-population/uk-population; (Labour Party membership) www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-membership-gaza-green-policies-b2521064.html; (CPB and SWP) ‘Delusions of “official optimism”’ Weekly Worker March 21 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1483/delusions-of-official-optimism).↩︎

  2. www.marxist.com/manifesto-of-the-revolutionary-communist-international.htm.↩︎

  3. ‘Delusions of “official optimism”’ Weekly Worker March 21 (see note 1).↩︎

  4. There is a useful overview at www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump.↩︎

  5. See my series, as follows: ‘Intersectionality is a dead end’, Weekly Worker June 7 2018 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1206/intersectionality-is-a-dead-end); ‘Race and class’, June 21 2018 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1208/race-and-class); ‘Mistaken versions of Maoism’, June 28 2018 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1209/mistaken-versions-of-maoism); ‘Getting beyond capitalism’, July 5 2018 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1210/getting-beyond-capitalism); and the more general ‘Dead end of intersectionality’ August 2 2018 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1214/dead-end-of-intersectionality), and ‘Intersectionalism, the highest stage of western Stalinism?’ Critique Vol 46, pp541-558 (2018). Though these articles are just me, nobody has offered explicit criticism of the historical claims made there.↩︎

  6. I argue this point in relation to the ‘trans rights’ question in ‘Effective collectivity is key’ Weekly Worker March 2 2023 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1432/effective-collectivity-is-key).↩︎

  7. L Trotsky’s The Third International after Lenin [1929], New York 1970, pp147-60.↩︎

  8. D Lazare, ‘Not equality to compete’ Weekly Worker January 19 2023 usefully covers the background of the workers’ movement’s positions (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1426/not-equality-to-compete).↩︎

  9. communist.red/scotland-tory-culture-wars-wont-wash.↩︎

  10. SWP: references to articles by Ben Lewis and Paul Demarty can be found in my article, ‘Workers’ movement: Bureaucratic “justice” and dealing with sex assault cases’ Weekly Worker April 18 2013 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/958/workers-movement-bureaucratic-justice-and-dealing-). On the US ISO see M Macnair, ‘Transparency and solidarity’ Weekly Worker April 4 2019 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1245/transparency-and-solidarity); ‘Full-timers and “cadre”’ April 25 2019 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1248/full-timers-and-cadre). On the IMT see cosmonautmag.com/2023/12/statement-on-the-events-in-canada.↩︎

  11. ‘Against philosopher-kings’ Weekly Worker December 11 2008 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/749/against-philosopher-kings).↩︎

  12. Documents of the Fourth International New York 1973, pp23-25.↩︎

  13. Writings of Leon Trotsky [1930-31] New York 1973, p155.↩︎

  14. On the CWI, see, for example, xekinima.org/resolution-on-the-splits-of-the-cwi-and-the-isa. For the IMT, J Turley, ‘Real attempt to learn the lessons’ Weekly Worker June 30 2011 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/872/real-attempt-to-learn-the-lessons). For the Cosmonaut reference see note 10.↩︎

  15. www.gov.uk/government/statistics/united-kingdom-food-security-report-2021/united-kingdom-food-security-report-2021-theme-2-uk-food-supply-sources.↩︎

  16. www.ons.gov.uk/economy/nationalaccounts/balanceofpayments/bulletins/uktrade/december2023; www.ons.gov.uk/economy/nationalaccounts/balanceofpayments.↩︎

  17. VI Lenin, ‘The party crisis’ (January 1921) CW Vol 32, p48.↩︎

  18. Eg, www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/sep/04.htm.↩︎

  19. www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch03a.htm.↩︎