International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)

International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)

The International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), popularly referred to as the Spartacist League and by its critics as "The Sparts", is a Trotskyist international organisation based primarily in the United States. The group originated within the Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Workers Party. Upon its expulsion from the SWP it became known as Spartacist in 1964 basing its name on the Spartacist League of Weimar Republic-era Germany, though the current League has no formal descent from its namesake. Depending on the context, the League will often self-identify as a "revolutionary communist" organization.

There are smaller sections of the ICL (FI) in Mexico, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Australia, Greece and the United Kingdom. The Spartacist League characterizes itself as a revolutionary fighting propaganda group and devotes much attention to polemicizing against both capitalist parties and other groups that consider themselves to be Marxist-Leninist.

Since the early 1980s the League and affiliates have also organized mobilizations against Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan; in the late-1980s it was an early campaigner to save Mumia Abu-Jamal from death row. [] The Spartacist League regards what they term the "struggle for black liberation" as central to communist revolution in the U.S.; to that end, they promote "revolutionary integrationism" [] and also prominently support the right to bear arms. Their publications frequently criticize the Christian Right's opposition to abortion and homosexuality as examples of an attempt to establish a "sex police." Less popularly, the Spartacist League has defended groups like the North American Man-Boy Love Association on civil libertarian grounds and have called for an end to age-of-consent laws.


The central theoretical journal of the ICL(FI) is "Spartacist" which is published in four languages approximately once a year. Apart from the above the ICL(FI)'s American section, the Spartacist League, operates the Prometheus Research Library in New York City. The library has published a number of bulletins and books and houses the tendency's archives and other material on the history of Trotskyism.

In addition to Spartacist the national sections of the ICL(FI) each publish a regular paper of varying regularity. For example the U.S. group publishes the newspaper "Workers Vanguard", which is known for its running commentary on the activities of other leftist groups, its sarcastic wit, and its obituaries of leftist figures whose lives often are inadequately analyzed and/or memorialized in the mainstream media, recently including Bill Epton, Richard Fraser, Robert F. Williams, and Myra Tanner Weiss. Since the 1990s "Workers Vanguard" has also featured original essays on the history of Marxist and pre-Marxist radical ideas written under the party name Joseph Seymour. From time to time Workers Vanguard also carries features under the rubrics Women and Revolution and Young Spartacus, these being the titles of once separate publications since discontinued.


Regarding similar groups

The League rejects left-wing political coalitions and campaigns on the grounds that they are popular fronts aimed at providing platforms for bourgeois politicians from the Democratic Party and the U.S. Green Party, a strategy the SL's ideas abhor. Instead, the League denounces all support to "capitalist parties," especially the left-wing ones founded through popular front formation, and instead argue for an independent workers' party aiming for state power.

The Spartacists also devote much attention to polemicizing against other communist and socialist groups. These polemics are usually exceptionally forceful and are often seen by the groups being attacked as unnecessarily disruptive of their activities. The Spartacist League is also highly critical of groups associated with the reunified Fourth International, whose politics they characterize as Pabloite.

In a book entitled Death Agony of the Fourth International, Workers Power and the Irish Workers Group claim the iSt's strategy was/is based on, and they quote from an iSt document, "destroying" other left wing groups. They claim this involves occupying rooms where other left groups are due to have meetings as well as other methods. Furthermore, they argue that the Spartacists, while developing a correct position that the SWP were centrist, did not recognise that the Fourth International had degenerated before it split, and therefore were more critical of one section than of the other.

On Islamic states

MuchWho|date=August 2008 of the left supported Ayatollah Khomeini during the Islamic Revolution in Iran as "anti-imperialist,"Fact|date=August 2008 but the Spartacists gave no support to this. However, the League was one of the few communist groups other than the Workers World Party to hail the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the occupation that followed. At the time the Spartacists believed it provided an opportunity to extend the gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan people, especially women, in a struggle against the misogynistic Islamic fundamentalists of the U.S.-backed Mujahideen. Later, when the U.S. intervention led to the formation of the successive Islamic governments of the Mujahideen and the Taliban, the League echoed its condemnation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and denounced these governments as theocratic, capitalist and anti-woman.

On communist states

The League also fought hard in mobilizing to defend the Soviet Union and East Germany from capitalist restoration, though they were of course unsuccessful. Their group in Germany waged a campaign in 1989 calling for political revolution against Stalinism and opposition to the capitalist reunification. Today, the Spartacists maintain a position of defending what they see as the remaining deformed workers states, including, more recently, its call for defense of North Korea's right to nuclear arms as a necessary component keeping North Korea free of U.S. military intervention. This is a continuation of their earlier positions on what they consider the deformed workers states of the Republic of Cuba, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and the People's Republic of China. On these countries they continue to call for political revolution against the ruling communist parties while at the same time calling for the defense of these revolutions from imperialism and internal capitalist counter-revolution.



The origins of the Spartacist League and the International Communist League (Fourth International) can be found in a group of left wing youth recruited to the American Young Socialist League, which was linked to the Independent Socialist League led by Max Shachtman, in the 1950s. The Left Wing Caucus of the YSL were soon after recruited to the Socialist Workers Party just as the ISL dissolved into the Socialist Party of America. This small group included James Robertson, who would go on to be the central leader of the Spartacist League, and Tim Wohlforth.

A central influence in the recruitment of the former Shachtmanite youth leaders to the SWP was Murray Weiss who, together with Myra Tanner Weiss, would be among the few older members of the SWP to speak up when they newly recruited youth were later expelled. Another important influence on the emerging tendency was Dick Fraser who developed the theory of revolutionary integrationism, later adopted by the Spartacist League, which argued that Blacks in the USA constituted a color-caste who could only be fully integrated into society as a result of a social revolution overthrowing capitalism. Like the Weisses, Fraser would exit the SWP in the mid-1960s, going on to lead the Freedom Socialist Party. Also important in the early days were Shane Mage and Geoff White who had a background in the Communist Party.

Although the Spartacist League stresses its Trotskyist orthodoxy, claims the heritage of that movement in the USA, and places a great deal of importance on being Cannonites, they retain some positions from their origins within the Shachtmanite tendency. Thus they reject to this day the Proletarian Military Policy associated with Leon Trotsky and James Cannon in the early years of the Second World War and forthrightly argue that it was wrong. This is best summarised in the Prometheus Research Library's 1989 publication Documents on the "Proletarian Military Policy"

By 1960 this grouping, mostly active in the youth group associated with the SWP, had become worried by what they saw as the opportunism of the leadership of the SWP headed by Farrell Dobbs and by overtures by the SWP to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International. Particular issues in the dispute included the character of the Cuban revolution, characterized by the majority as a "healthy workers' state," and proper orientation towards the Civil Rights Movement, where the majority attitude was that of uncritical support from afar.

Rather than continue as leadership of the youth group, Robertson and the others formed an opposition caucus named the "Revolutionary Tendency" and made clear their loyalty to the International Committee of the Fourth International in 1962. Differences developed in the Revolutionary Tendency as to how to characterise the SWP, leading to a split within the caucus. A minority closer to the ICFI left to form the "Reorganised Minority Tendency" (RMT), led by Tim Wohlforth, just as the Robertson-led grouping was being expelled from the SWP. The RMT played a role in the expulsion of the Robertson grouping, on grounds of "party disloyalty."

Lyndon LaRouche was briefly a member of the Revolutionary Tendency and then the Spartacist League as he circulated through various groupings on the Left in the 1960s. [ [ - A '60's Socialist Takes a Hard Right ] ]

Having been expelled in 1964 the Robertson group were swift to publish a magazine entitled "Spartacist" from which they would later take their name. They still stressed their loyalty to the International Committee for the Fourth International, and attended that body's conference held in London, England, in 1966, only to find themselves shut out from the conference's ranks.


Following founding of the Spartacist League the small group found itself isolated and failed to recruit new members. This resulted in a degree of demoralisation on the part of some members including the groups leading West Coast figure Geoff White who resigned in 1968. By this time another leading figure, Shane Mage, had also quit the group.

Meanwhile the New York branch was developing work in the unions through the Militant Labor Civil Rights Committee. This work being advocated by Harry Turner, real name Tanzer, and Rose Jersawitz, aka Kay Ellens, who had spent a year working with Voix Ouvrière in France. Robertson opposed the MLCRC and a faction fight developed which ended when a most of the minority, that is those who supported Ellens, resigned from the League in time founding The Spark group. Harry Turner tried to forestall this split and briefly remained in the Spartacists and formed a faction. Turner and his remaining two supporters split off within a few months and began publishing Vanguard Newsletter. By the end of this split, James Robertson was the only leader of the former Revolutionary Tendency to remain central to the League.

Early Activities and Expansion

Initially the Spartacists sought to intervene in the Civil Rights protests, on the basis of their support for the idea of revolutionary integrationism, but as small as they were, this activity foundered. They also developed a small presence in the Students for a Democratic Society; within the SDS they opposed all the major factions that developed from that body as these factions turned more and more towards Maoist ideas by 1969.

As the student and anti-Vietnam war movements passed their late 1960s peak the Spartacists did begin to recruit from the then large milieu of radicalised students. This led to substantial growth and the development of a national presence as they expanded from their initial branches in New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. In part this process involved the recruitment of former students who had formed local Maoist collectives which had then come across Trotskyist ideas, including the Communist Working Collective, led by Marv Treiger, in southern California and Buffalo Marxist Collective, led by Jan Norden, in Buffalo, New York.

Some years time later they recruited a not dissimilar "Gay Left" group based in the Bay area called the Red Flag Union. Throughout the 1970s the Spartacists did develop a series of what they described as exemplary interventions in industry and the trade unions. For example, there were supporters involved with the ILWU in the Bay Area, the automotive industry in California, the telephone industry and others.

Modest growth continued through the early to mid-1970s. In 1975, the Spartacist League founded the Partisan Defense Committee as ""a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization that champions cases and causes in the interests of the whole of the working people" working in accordance with the political positions of the Spartacist League and working in the tradition of the International Labor Defense organization established by the Communist Party in the 1920s.


The late 1970s saw the growth of the league stalled as the radical tide of the 1960s began to ebb. Major internal factional struggles in the group have developed from time to time. These tended to lead to the departure of the dissenting minority.

In 1972, the life of the organization was punctuated by the loss of several leading cadres. Dissatisfied with the group's regime, some senior members gathered around Moore, Stewart, Dave Cunningham, and Marv Treiger. They challenged Robertson only to find themselves expelled from the SL. They then formed a short-lived group, the International Group, which issued a single pamphlet and then dissolved. Curiously the SL reissued the dissidents' pamphlet as part of their series "Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacist League". That split did not interrupt the growth of the League. Critics have argued that the unchallenged domination of Jim Robertson dates from the 1972 purge.

In 1978 internal disagreements led to what was later referred to by the International Bolshevik Tendency as the "the Clone Purge" [] . This was the term given to the expulsion or demotion of a number of leading members of the SL collectively known as the clones.

For the Spartacist League these were years of retrenchment in the face of what it saw as a world-wide offensive on the part of the capitalist class. While it maintained its (sometimes intensive) polemical efforts directed at the members of what they described as Ostensibly Revolutionary Organisations, ORO's for short, it began to withdraw its members from union work. In time the union fractions, once the most boasted of element of the SL's work, were dismantled as detailed by the IBT in their second bulletin "Stop the Liquidation of the Trade Union Work" in 1983.

This withdrawal from work within the unions eventually led to a number of former members who had quit the SL regrouping to found the External Tendency of the SL. Initially based in the San Francisco Bay area and Toronto the ET was to define itself as a public faction of the SL and sought to be readmitted to the ranks of the parent organisation. Said efforts were rebuffed by the SL who have since waged a polemical war with the ET and its succesor groups the BT and IBT.

Later splits

In 1996 the founders of the League for the Fourth International were expelled, allegedly for maneuvering with a group from Brazil involved in bringing court suit against a trade union. []

The Australian section of the Spartacist League, which had previously been involved in IBT events, split again in 2005, with one member leaving to found the Trotskyist Platform.

International Affiliates

The current members of the ICL include:
*Spartacist Group Japan
*Spartacist League of Britain
*Spartacist League (US)
*Trotskyist Group of Greece
*Trotskyist League of Canada
*Spartacist League of Australia
*Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands
*Spartacist Group Ireland
*Lega trotskista d'Italia
*Grupo Espartaquista de México
*Spartacist/South Africa
*Ligue trotskyste de FranceFormer sections include:
*Spartacist League (Sweden)
*Spartacist League of Israel


External links

* [ International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)]
* [ International Bolshevik Tendency]
* [ Internationalist Group (League for the Fourth International)]
* [ Workers Vanguard] biweekly paper of the Spartacist League
* [ Trotskyist Work in the Trade Unions, by Chris Knox]
* [ Sect appeal] Scott McLemee of "Salon" on the entertainment value of the 1996 split in the ICL.

See also: List of Trotskyist internationals

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