What we stand for
INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST LEAGUE
The International Socialist League (ISL) is the British section of the International Workers League-fourth international (IWL-fi). We have active members in England (Birmingham, Cambridge, Liverpool, London and Manchester) and Wales (Swansea).
We are active in the PCS, UVW, Unite, USDAW, GMB and other unions including trades councils, and we have solidarity connections with BLM, Women’s, anti-war movements and LGBTQ+ struggles etc.
The ISL corresponds regularly with the leadership of the IWL and different sections of the IWL such Brazil (PSTU), the USA (La Voz), Italy (PdAC), Spain (CR), Belgium (LCT) and Portugal (EL). Before Covid we participate face to face in the IWL congresses and European meetings.
As part of that task the ISL aims to build in Britain, a revolutionary party which would organise the working class for the establishment of a workers’ government ending capitalist ownership of land and the means of the production of wealth and substituting the common ownership and democratic control of those means of production. It will fight for a Socialist Revolution against capitalism, as the only way to end exploitation, oppression and misery.
Its central task is the building of a mass Fourth International as the World Party of Socialist Revolution, with sections in every country.
Our struggle in the working class will be for workers’ democracy at every level against all forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, xenophobia and against disabled people and against national oppression. organised from London
To fight British capitalism is to fight against Imperialism, which dominates the world over to benefit the multinationals. We are Internationalists – we understand the working class struggle worldwide as part of the fight against capitalism.
We stand for revolutionary morals, as opposed to the degenerated and corrupt morality normalised by capitalism.
The ISL is a democratic centralist organisation based on the First Four Congresses of the Communist International and the Transitional Programme adopted at the Founding Congress of the Fourth International. The ISL operates within the statutes of the IWL (FI).
Why We Need a Party
Many workers and young activists who understand that our current society, a capitalist society, needs a radical change, think that this change can emerge organically through the radicalizing of mass actions and struggles. Alternatively, they may believe that the system itself will reach a point of great poverty or total collapse and then people will be forced to invent and build something new: socialism. We say this is not enough. We need a political force to unite all the different isolated struggles, to propose a strategy for action for our class to take power and build a new society.
Workers need to form different kinds of organization to achieve different goals. Workers need unions to protect their wages and rights; assemblies, committees and pickets to build a strike, and grassroots community or popular organizations to carry forward certain forms of social struggle. But if the task is to overthrow capitalism and seize power through a socialist revolution, then unions and community organizations are not enough. It’s necessary to build a revolutionary party. For us socialists, building a party is not a task that can be postponed, it is the most urgent one. The construction of a revolutionary organization rooted in our class is central to our strategy. This is why every time we intervene in social movements and the labour struggles, not only do we do everything to make them strong and successful, but we also seek to regroup the best activists of the movement into a revolutionary organization, and discuss with them our socialist program, the need to destroy capitalism, and build a political organization to do so.
A Party Rooted in the Struggles of the Working Class
In England, Scotland and Wales the first task we have is to build the working class’s willingness to engage in struggle, to organize actions and mobilize. The second task is to build a political base of our party in the class, through the accumulation of actions and mobilizations, and through the combination of struggle with political education. In order to build a base, an area of political influence, we need a sustained intervention in some sectors. We cannot jump from one campaign to another. We need to set roots in workplaces, unions, neighbourhoods, and sectors of struggle where our leadership can gain recognition, where socialist ideas are discussed, debated and eventually adopted. This is why as a party we prioritise sectors of intervention and construction, and we have middle term and long term plans of insertion.
We believe political consciousness develops through a combination of action and education. Experiences of struggle play a key role in radicalization and power building among working class communities. Education and propaganda are crucial, but they lose their meaning and relevance if they are not connected to lived and concrete experiences of struggle and action. Workers will only understand the meaning of socialist ideas and the need of a party through their own experiences of struggle, and the lessons they will draw from them (the role of the Labour Party and union bureaucracy, of police, the corruption of public institutions, the impossibility of reforming capitalism etc). It is not enough for us to say it, to demonstrate it scientifically and argue for it very convincingly, it needs to be experienced, lived and reflected upon. Furthermore, the political experience of struggle enriches our program and our theory. We socialists also have many things to learn by participating in such struggles.
The role of a combat party, however, is not only to fight and struggle for the sake of it. We want to build a combat party for socialism, not just an “activist” party. When we socialists intervene, and show we are the best fighters and activists, we do it not only because we want to get good credentials in the class struggle, but because in the course of every small or local struggle we want to fight for leadership. What does it mean to fight for leadership? We want to demonstrate the power of our organizing methods, building movements through democratic means, developing confidence and power at the base, educating workers, and maintaining the independence of workers’ struggle separate from the bosses. We want to demonstrate the dedication and seriousness with which socialists approach class struggle. But above all, we want to show that local or regional problems cannot be resolved at the local scale, that they are the manifestation of a corrupt and broken economic system: capitalism. A socialist leadership is one that consciously connects all political problems to their material roots (capitalism) and proposes a revolutionary and durable solution (socialism). We want to lead the daily struggles of our class, but to do so with a revolutionary socialist strategy in mind, which we want to popularize in the course of those struggles. We want to politically lead our class, not only in terms of actions and pragmatic gains, but also to appear as a political alternative in society.
A Democratically Centralized Party
We organize in the tradition of revolutionary socialists who have developed their organizational methods from over a century of experience of fighting for socialism. The basis of Democratic Centralism is to conduct internal strategic discussions in a democratic fashion while maintaining unity in action. We do not see centralism and democracy as incompatible, we see them as complementary when it comes to transforming society. This means that our policies are discussed with the membership, and every member has the right to agree, disagree, give their opinion, and develop their own point of view. After the discussion, policies are decided by a majority vote, with the expectation that every member will help to implement the result, even if they personally disagree with it. If we go to a movement or union meeting, a conference, a strike, etc., every member should be able to present and defend the proposal discussed in the party meeting. If there is a new situation and we have to make an immediate decision with no time to meet, a decision should be made by the party’s elected leadership. After the policy has been implemented, we go back and evaluate it, so that we can assess its effectiveness as well as identifying what changes should be made, etc. If we follow this process, we will be able to conduct strong interventions in the class struggle, more chances to develop a correct political line, and all comrades will grow politically through discussion and common experience.
At our national meetings and conferences we can then evaluate our previous decisions and actions to see if they were correct or could have been improved for the next tasks and actions.
An International Party
For our party internationalism is not an abstract principle or a mere ideal. It is based on Marxist theory and history of the revolutionary and working class movement. The international character of the capitalist economy and thus of the socialist revolution necessary to defeat it. For us, internationalism has an organizational expression: the construction of an international party. The abandonment of international socialism in favour of “socialism in one country” by the USSR under Stalin led to the reimplementation of capitalism under bureaucratic dictatorial regimes that were not controlled by the working class, first in the USSR and later in other countries that were coerced into adopting their politico-economic model. The struggle for workers’ emancipation needs to be international if we want to win.
“Socialism in one Country” led Stalinism to the strategy of peaceful co-existance, which has caused countless deaths as the might of a capitalist state and imperialism, such as in the Vietnam war will never give up their control, riches and privilege
The international character of the socialist revolution is derived from the material base established by capitalism: a world system with an uneven and contradictory development of its productive forces (not all countries have the same level of development), and an international division of labour (not all countries perform the same kinds of labour). We do not believe that we can establish a socialist society that will fully satisfy human needs on the basis of individual nation-states. The socialization of the means of production, the material base for socialism, can only succeed if conducted at the international level. This is why the ISL wants to become a full section of the International Workers League-Fourth International representing the revolutionary socialist movement in the Uk (but not Ireland, which united should be a separate country).
Our Party Structure
The highest decision making body of our party is the National conference, held every two years, where elected delegates from branches participate to discuss our major political positions and organizational initiatives. Our Congress also elects a leadership that is in charge of implementing what has been discussed and voted at the Congress. All our Congresses are preceded by 3 months of pre-Congress discussions where the major documents are presented to members, members have the right to make amendments, criticisms and formulate alternative framings, as well as to constitute tendencies and factions.
The International Workers League- Fourth International has 23 parties affiliated to the IWL. Its congresses formulate a shared framing on international politics and key programmatic debates at the World Congresses by sending our delegates. These have also a pre-Congress period where we actively participate. Being regularly engaged with our international comrades allow us in return to better frame our politics and positions in through real working class, anti-imperialist and internationalist issues.
Because we are building a “combat party” that intervenes in the class struggle, our ISL meetings need to be able to reflect on, strategize and organize our joint political intervention in our fronts of struggle (be it unions, immigrant rights or public education movements, upcoming mass mobilisation, solidarity campaign etc). Our party meetings, however, are not only a place to centralize organizing and action, they are before that a place to give a political direction to our active intervention. We are not a party of mere activists, we are a party of revolutionary socialist militants, that is to say of activists with a socialist program and an organizational perspective.
Our party meetings need to allow us to reflect on the political direction of our struggles, on how to intervene in the polemics and debates in our schools or workplaces, and allow us to develop our political position in a way that is accessible to working people and communities of color and is enriched by their feedback. This is why we usually divide our party meetings in three parts: 1) Political Point or discussion and education on a relevant national or international topic 2) Intervention: where we discuss our ongoing work in the class struggle, we strategize and decide collectively what to do, 3) Construction: where we discuss how to grow our organisations, what kind of events or meetings we need to set up; ISL publications such as leaflets, Socialist Voice; The international Newsletter and the internationalsocialistleague.net
How we differ from capitalist and reformist parties
The internal regime of an organization is intimately tied to its primary strategies and tactics. A bourgeois party in a capitalist society has the goal of maintaining the status quo of the society. Their main mode of organization is to organize and participate in broad elections that respect and reify the state, and that draw on only a superficial amount of involvement from the masses necessary to maintain the pretense of democracy without ceding control of their party. Therefore, it’s better for their parties to have internal regimes that are not organic and militant, since they only need to gather rank-and-file members for electoral purposes. These parties are very centralized at the top, but not in a democratic manner. Their regime works around different personalities and outside corporate groups of influence who lobby for more power inside the party. The result is an organization which seems to accommodate “different points of view” but that is not controlled by its rank-and-file members and that lacks internal democracy.
The Labour Party hopes to reform the existing political system, and thus also primarily engages in elections. While it may not be as invested in the existing political system as a bourgeois party, it still hopes to build legitimacy for its reforms by appealing to the existing bourgeois political norms, and thus does not actively organize to defeat capitalism as a whole, emphasizing societal ills as the result of misrule by the bourgeois parties, rather than a systemic problem inherent to the capitalist mode of production. The Labour party under all leaderships imposed the burden of capitalist crisis on the working class such as implementing Tory austerity, maintaining immigration controls, conceding to Zionism, maintaining anti-trade union laws etc.
A Labour Party at its top leadership was always pro-imperialist in maintaining colonies after WWII, in supporting dictatorships such as Harold Wilson did in supplying heavy military arms to Nigeria.
Our Differences with Stalinist and Guerrilla-Type Parties
A Stalinist party maintains a bureaucratically centralized regime. This centralization allows the Stalinist party to effectively intervene in non-electoral struggles. However, its lack of internal democracy, creates a leadership that is not accountable to the party’s rank and file. This regime matches their conception of the path to socialism and has been embodied by states such as Cuba, the USSR, China, Vietnam and the former Eastern Bloc. Such parties often clamp down on their membership’s ability to communicate horizontally, limiting the ability for opposition caucuses to form and leaving no easy path for the rank and file membership to challenge the leadership’s decisions. This type of party regime both hampers the ability for the party to self-correct past mistakes and can open the door to the replication of oppression within the party, with strict hierarchies of leadership allowing higher ranking party cadre to abuse new or prospective members with little fear of repercussion.
In some cases, Stalinist organizations have adopted guerrilla- or foco-based organizations. This body of organizing theory has been most prominently developed by Ernesto Che Guevara, and has also been practiced by groups such as the Shining Path (Communist Party of Peru) and the Communist Party of the Philippines. While we do not disavow mass armed struggle such as in Ukraine, we nevertheless recognized that the guerilla struggle as advocated and practiced by Guevara and later others marks a significant break from Marxist working class politics: rather than building a mass party by and for the working class, Guevaraist guerilla parties are comprised of a core of petit-bourgeois guerillas that fight on behalf of a rural peasantry that provides a wide but minimal base of support: rather than forming an active rank and file and participating in party life, the peasantry primarily provides diffuse material support, hiding and feeding the guerillas but not becoming actual party members themselves. While in the later stages of struggle such parties may recruit from their peasant bases, the overwhelming majority of their base plays no active role in directing the political development organization or carrying out its program. The emphasis on building among the peasant class, while nominally justifiable given the lack of a large industrial working class in certain countries, abandons one of Marx’s key insights: that the working class, by virtue of its position and tight organization in the capitalist economy, is perfectly poised to seize control from the bourgeoisie. The remaining peasant classes of the world lack this natural leverage over the capitalist system.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge that while democratic centralism is a central political principle of our party, simply declaring ourselves to be democratic centralists does not make it so. Many Trotskyist organizations, such as the SWP in England, or the ISO in the United States, have claimed to be organized along the principles of democratic centralism while nevertheless implementing a bureaucratic model of organization (some Stalinist parties have similarly called themselves democratically centralist). Democratic centralism is not simply a buzzword that we throw out to denounce parties that are organized according to the tenets of other political tendencies: it is a constant political process.
Our Differences with Anarchist and Autonomist Organizing Culture
Anarchists and autonomists comprise a wide variety of political tendencies that are united only in their opposition to the existence of states, and do not share a single method of political organizing. We do not have the space here to criticize every anarchist tendency, and thus will focus on some common features of left-anarchist organizations.
Anarchists often believe that a revolution will spring out of the “natural” radicalisation of the class struggle, and that it is thus unnecessary to construct a conscious and organized force (a party) to fight for the leadership of social movements. While most anarchists are happy to organize unions and spaces of struggle, they are generally opposed to building broad political organizations. In addition to believing that the fall of capitalism can occur without conscious mass self-organization, their skepticism of the party form is predicated on the (valid) observation that revolutionary parties can themselves transform into oppressive institutions. Anarchists and autonomists are often against coordinating committees in the movement because they defend “horizontalist” practices. This is because they see any kind of centralization and political leadership as inherently bureaucratic and authoritarian. This skepticism, however, leaves movements and struggles to the mercy of the “tyranny of structurelessness”, where a de facto leadership emerges and crystallizes, but it is not democratically discussed and often reproduces existing social hierarchies and privileges. Time and time again we have seen anarchist collectives dictated by a small leading clique comprising the most charismatic members of the group. We believe it is better to elect leaderships and coordinating committees in the movement, with clear tasks and propose their rotation, and to have people who share similar viewpoints to organize politically in an open way to defend their views and act together. By consciously electing our leadership, we create a system whereby the leadership can be held accountable to the organization, and replaced if need be.
Another difference with some autonomist and anarchist currents is their defence of the method of consensus to make decisions. While consensus or unanimity, a higher form of agreement than democracy, is a great aspirational goal, it can become an obstacle to political organizing for several reasons. First, consensus presupposes a level of political homogeneity of viewpoints, which implicitly undermines people’s ability to disagree with political proposals as they are formed. There is a social pressure to self-censor opinions that break the consensus, making it difficult to dialectically develop cohesive political plans of action because of a tacit pressure to avoid conflict within the organization. It is difficult to advance, implement and test ideas and actions that go against the mainstream ideology when operating on a basis of consensus. The inverse situation is also a danger of consensus-based organizing: in the event of political disagreement in the group, a single individual can shut down a proposal, even if all other members have been won over to it. We have seen in our organizing spaces can easily become the tyranny of a very small but very outspoken minority. Political organizing in such conditions ceases to be about finding optimal solutions to external problems and transforms into a contest to cater to the whims of internal kingmakers. Majority (or super-majority) decisions allow for ongoing debates in the movement and party, with different currents and positions being able to unite in action. Minorities can keep their opinions while implementing a shared action, and stimulate reflective and critical assessments. We believe people learn through experience and therefore that people will become open to new ideas once they engage with them practically. Majority decision-making allows us to do that.
Our regime, Democratic Centralism, is based on our ultimate goal: we want to build a party that is capable of leading the working class in a democratic manner to make a revolution and take over state power. Therefore, it is important to have a very disciplined and centralized party when it comes to our intervention in the class struggle in order to be able to fight politically against our opponents, and also to lead any kind of actions, such as demonstrations, occupations, strikes and uprisings. At the same time, the party must have a deep internal democracy, to be able to collectively formulate, implement and evaluate its policies, as well as to criticize and control its leadership, thereby preventing bureaucratization.