My experience in the ICC - Devrim Valerian

My experience in the ICC - Devrim Valerian

A piece explaining some of the reasons why I left the left communist organisation the International Communist Current (ICC).

By way of introduction:

There have been, over the years, a lot of people who have left the ICC. Many of them have written commentaries on it, and some of them, both groups and individuals have spent years, and in some cases even decades going on about it. I don't want to be one of those people, and yet there has been a certain amount of interest in why I left. I have been asked over the internet by people from four of the five continents of the world (nobody in Africa seems at all interested though), and sat in pubs in as diverse places as Ankara, Florence, Prague and Manchester and been asked about it in person. So here it is. I don't plan to dwell on this in any way, and have no intention of responding to it unless any of the factual assertions that I make are challenged, or anybody asks directly for clarifications. I have no desire to engage with the ICC, and merely want to place my views on record for those who may be interested.

First contacts with the ICC

As some readers will know before joining the ICC I was a member of a small left communist group in Ankara, Turkey. EKS (Internationalist Communist Left) joined the ICC in the winter of 2008. Contrary to what most people might imagine I was not one of those pushing for integration into the ICC, but on the contrary was very reluctant from the start.

The process of joining the ICC is a drawn out and tedious one. Speaking to members of the ICC later they admitted that mistakes had been made during this process with what was to become the Turkish section. Basically to join the ICC you have to agree with the platform and statutes. I have heard of incidences within the ICC when this process has taken years. With us it was quicker, but still a very long extended process.

We first got in contact with the ICC, as well as other left communist groups, in the previous spring. Contacts developed and we were initially urged to discuss their platform as a means of focusing discussions. Over time, and visits by ICC members to Turkey, and also the ICC taking one of our members to the congress of its French section, it metamorphosed into the process of joining. We had agreed as a group that this was what we wanted to do, and the date of May 2009, the time of the ICC's international congress was set as a goal for our integration.

CWO visit

During this period we were also in contact with the Communist Workers' Organisation and the IBRP (now ICT). In the winter of 2008 a comrade from the CWO decided to accept our invitation and pay us a visit in Ankara. Given that we knew of the past hostility that had existed between the ICC and this organisation, we informed the ICC of this visit. We didn't want to be accused of doing things behind people's backs.

Suddenly the whole timetable of our discussions with the ICC changed. It was decided by the ICC that our integration would be moved forward to before the CWO's visit. To people in Ankara who were becoming increasingly bored with the whole lengthy process of joining, this was very welcome news. They were keen to join an international organisation, and had been deeply impressed by the ICC.

I think when we look at the context of this, it is important to understand how the ICC can impress people, particularly in countries which have no left communist tradition at all. I can remember one member of the ICC in Turkey saying about the first time she went to an ICC congress in Paris that it had been the first time she had ever been in a room with more than ten left communists. The whole thing from the website to the international meetings comes across as very impressive. To those who are unfamiliar with the behaviour and mode of operation of the ICC in Europe, it comes across as quite an impressive organisation. When there is nobody there to put across the other side of the argument, it manages to present itself as dynamic and non-sectarian. It also stresses that it has made mistakes in the past and is changing. Indeed the last time I spoke to a European member of the ICC, he told me exactly that and that I had left too early, and not given it enough time, adding that I had left prematurely.

Anyway, with the CWO's visit to Ankara scheduled the ICC announced that our integration was being moved forward, and a visit from two members of the ICC was planned for before the visit of the CWO. On more than one occasion subsequently I asked about the timing of this, and whether there was any connection to the CWO visit, and a member of the ICC international secretariat strenuously denied that there was any connection at all, and stated that it had been moved forward for completely different reasons. Personally, I remained very dubious.

Joining the ICC

The process of discussing the ICC statues within the EKS was then accelerated. Whereas previously we had discussed one chapter of the platform a week, we ended up going to a schedule where two, or even three sections were discussed within one evening. Of course this lead to there being little discussion on the actual content of the platform, and resulted in just a yes, I agree with that. Let's move on attitude. In my personal opinion, the whole process of discussing the platform was deeply flawed, and based on 'routinism'. This was how the ICC did things. Despite the fact that they were dealing with an actual organised group, which had at the time a monthly paper, public meetings and other activity, they followed exactly the same forms as they did towards individuals applying to join the ICC in countries where sections already existed. For us it was quite absurd that a group, which had a clearly defined position on something like parliamentarianism had to go through the formality of discussing the relevant point in the ICC's platform, and then sending a written report to the ICC IS. In my opinion this led to important issues being ignored whilst we spent time discussing things upon which we were already agreed. This was true to the extent that after about a year of being members when I mentioned the idea of the 'historic course' in discussion with another member she had absolutely no idea of what I was talking about despite the fact that the whole idea of the 'historic course' is central to the ICC's politics. However, this was nothing compared to what happened at the meeting where we were finally integrated as members of the ICC.

The final meeting involved discussing the ICC's statutes. This is basically the rule book, which explains how the ICC works. It is not a publicly available document. It was a particularly long and boring meeting. The ICC member giving the presentation insisted on reading the entire statutes out point by point despite the fact that we had all already read, and even discussed them, and giving very lengthy explanations of why each particular point had been adopted. On two points there was disagreement expressed from members of the Turkish section. On both of these points the discussion was eventually deferred until the end of the session, and as this was a session that never seemed to end, we never did go back to them.

The two points about which there were disagreement were feminism and membership of the trade unions. Both issues were basically brushed aside. There was some discussion on these issues before this, and in the discussion on the trade union issue there is a passage in the ICC statutes which says that people could not be members of trade unions except in 'the case of professional constraints'. My understanding of the meaning of this was that it meant unless there was a closed shop. During the discussion a comrade from the Turkish ICC ended up giving a long definition of this term, which could be effectively interpreted to mean that you could be a member of a trade union if you thought that it was good for you. This was generally accepted as a form of compromise and the issue brushed away under the carpet with the later discussion never taking place. One has to remember that the discussion all took place in English, which wasn't the first language of this comrade, or indeed that of the ICC member giving the presentation. Whether the EKS comrade making the explanation knew at the time that it didn't fit with what the ICC were saying in their statutes was unclear to me.

Anyway we ended up joining the ICC in a somewhat strange situation where an organisation that continually stressed how it was a unitary international organisation accepted a section, where, contrary to the policy of this organisation, members could also be members of feminist groups (the comrade who raised this point quickly departed anyway), and still are, to my knowledge, members of trade unions.

Of course, it would be possible to interpret this as a complete abandonment of principle, and an act of blatant opportunism to hasten our integration into the ICC before the CWO's visit. You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment.

Inside the ICC

At this point rather than going through all of the events that happened whilst we were in the ICC, and providing a chronology, I think that it would be better if I sort of focused on various themes using the events to illustrate them.

*Micro-management:

The ICC sees itself as a single internationally centralised organisation, and not as a collection of different national sections. This said the amount of intervention of the central organs into the everyday running of the various sections seemed to me to be not just excessive, but absolutely overbearing. One good example of this would be when the Turkish ICC recruited its first member outside of Ankara. Of course, for an organisation in Turkey it is essential to have people in Istanbul, which is by far the biggest city in the country, being perhaps four times as big as the capital, Ankara, but also to a large extent the centre of political, economic, and social life. The integration of the first ICC member in Istanbul was something that happened over a reasonably short time scale, and when compared with the amount of time that it can take the ICC to integrate people, (I met somebody in India who had been involved in the discussions with the ICC with a view to joining for over three years) it happened almost instantaneously.

After the comrade joined the organisation, I was questioned, over Skype, by a member of the ICC central organ as to whether it was all a bit sudden. By the standards usually practised by the ICC, it almost certainly was a bit sudden, but something that I also saw expressed here was the complete obsession with micro-management down to the smallest detail. It wasn't enough that we told the centre that we had a new member, more they expected to be informed of all of the minuscule events that happened during the process of a new member joining. The ICC centre regularly asks for reports concerning how many contacts each section has, and how close to the organisation they are. To me, it seemed that there was very little autonomy within each individual section, and that the International Secretariat seemed obsessed about managing every tiny detail, concerning the sections day to day functioning.

Perhaps, to give the ICC the benefit of the doubt, they were particularly concerned about the Turkish section in that they seemed to consider that we had joined the ICC too quickly (see above). In the period after we joined, one of the original members left in what was quite an acrimonious dispute. Through out this dispute, which to my mind was political, but was essentially one of a personal nature, Paris centre tried to constantly play a leading role, sending delegations to Ankara on more than one occasion (of course it was not only for this reason), and placing themselves as arbitrators in what to my mind was a personal dispute, which they knew very little about.

Without going into all of the details about what went on, in my opinion it was handled extremely badly by Paris centre. That is not to say that it was handled particularly well by the comrades in Turkey, and during the process mistakes were made, in my opinion by everybody involved. I know that I myself said some things that I personally regret. The difference being though that apart from myself every member of the ICC in Turkey was very young (mostly in their twenties, but including people under twenty), and seemed to me to look to the ICC as an established organisation that could solve their problems for them. I don't think that the behaviour of the ICC throughout this period in anyway contributed to the development of a section that could function by itself, but rather seemed to me to be of a type that encouraged reliance upon the centre. My overall impression is that this is not something that is limited to their behaviour towards the Turkish section, but something, which permeates the entire organisation. If I had a dollar for everytime that I have heard ICC militants utter the phrase “I will have to ask the IS”, I would probably be enjoying life as a member of the idle rich now, and not concerning myself with communist politics.
I think that this gives rise to two important questions; The first concerns how I feel that an organisation should function, and the relationship between the members and the organisation, and the second involves how the organisation itself functions.

On the subject of the relationship between the members and the organisation, I feel that the one that exists within the ICC serves to diminish the initiative of the individual members, and also of the sections by encouraging an organisational culture, which, in my opinion, is too highly centralised. Members of the English ICC have joked in public about going to 'robot centre' to receive their orders, but my personal impression after spending a about two and a half years in the organisation is that this is pretty much how it actually operates. Of the three ICC members from Turkey (including myself) who had attended the meetings of the ICC International Bureau, two of us came back with the feeling that it was little more than a transmission belt for decisions that had already been made by the IS.

In my opinion, one of the reasons for left communists insisting on a tight level of political agreement for membership of their organisations is so that these organisations have an organic level of theoretical and tactical unity. Organisations such as the UK SWP, who will recruit anybody who has a left leg, by necessity end up with a situation where there are the leaders, who decided on virtually everything, and the led, who end up implementing decisions made above them. Theoretically a tight level of political organisation should enable an organisation to avoid this sort of problem. In my opinion in the ICC's case it doesn't. Despite what I would consider an extremely high level of political agreement as a criteria for membership, it still seems to me that in the ICC the orders come from the top, and are transmitted downwards. This process, I feel, acts to discourage initiative coming from the membership of the organisation as a whole and despite the ICC's protests to the contrary tends to mirror the hierarchical relations prevalent in society as a whole.

To just pause for a moment to look at the composition of the ICC IB, which according to the statues is the supreme decision making body of the ICC between congresses in the period that I was a member of the ICC in which I saw two international congresses, and was therefore aware of the make up of this body, not only for the time I was a member, but also for the previous period, and the upcoming period, there was one change in the composition of the IB, caused by the unfortunate death of one of its members. Apart from that its membership remained unchanged (with one new person 'associated with its work') over a six year period. Now, I am not somebody who is for the idea of rotation on principle, and don't see any problem with some individuals serving consecutive terms in any organisational position. In fact I think that it is in some ways a good thing, as it can serve to pass on experience, and lead to organisational stability. However, I feel that when there is no change over such a period, there is some sort of problem,especially when the ICC continually goes on about a new generation coming to the organisation, yet none of them are represented upon its ruling body.

The second point about the whole micro-management issue is that it is obviously not a model that could be reproduced in a political organisation that was experiencing any sort of growth. Whilst it may be 'practical' to have this level of control in a tiny organisation made up of handfuls of members dispersed across the world, it would not be possible in any way to reproduce this practice in an organisation that was experiencing even a small amount of growth. Now it is possible that the ICC recognises this, and realises that if it were to enjoy any significant period of growth, it would entail a complete change in its internal workings. My feeling is that it doesn't and that it sincerely sees the way that it organises as a real practical model for the future.

In this way the ICC seems to operate as more of a 'club', others would perhaps use less kind words, than a political organisation. Of course, if the sections were growing, it would be absolutely impossible for a handful of people in Paris to exercise the same degree of monitoring and control, and that a lesser degree of centralism would become a necessity by default. Rather than preparing a structure that will be flexible enough to deal with the challenges of the future, the whole mode of operation of the ICC seems to be one designed to maintain an extremely small organisational structure. This doesn't just refer to the whole level of micro-management that is involved, but also touches on other issues concerning its internal operation.

One of these issues would be the way that the ICC recruits new members. There seems to be a perception in some anarchist circles that the whole reason for the ICC to engage in various actions, such as participation on the English anarchist Libcom forum, is to recruit people. To be honest, I don't think that the reality could possibly be much further from the truth. My impression would be more one that it seems that the ICC actively tries to avoid recruiting new people by making it as difficult to join as possible. The feeling that I got was that the centre felt that we had been integrated too quickly, and that part of the problem was that we hadn't agreed with them on certain issues before joining, particularly the 'Theses on Parasitism', but also many others. This presents a dichotomy for the ICC because although officially membership relies upon adherence to the platform and statues, the desired level of political agreement is actually much higher. When we were originally discussing the platform, there were numerous 'supplementary' texts that it was also suggested that we discuss. My feeling is that in the future the ICC will insist on even more of these texts, which will have the dual effect of not only making it more difficult to recruit people but also mean that there are less fresh ideas within the ICC itself.

This brings us to the next point, which is internal discussion within the ICC.

*Internal Discussion:

There is an impression amongst many outside of the ICC that there is little internal debate within the organisation. As has been said before by others who have left the ICC, this is in no way true. In fact the opposite is true. There is so much 'debate' within the ICC that it tends to make any real discussion impossible.

The first thing that needs to be said about the internal discussion within the ICC is the absolutely vast amount of documents that it generates. When considered along side the international nature of the organisation and the burden of translation that this obviously places upon it, this invariably leads to a situation where documents, such as the texts for the international congresses are completely overwhelming, and arrive with very little time to allow any time to discuss them before the relevant meetings. At first I thought that it was just us in Turkey who were having this problem, but having discussed the issue with people in other sections, saw that this was something much more common across the entire organisation.

This leads to a problem where just to keep up with the internal business of the ICC requires an amount of time which I would imagine that most people in political organisations put into their entire political activity. This obviously has consequences, and the ones that would appear obvious to me would be that the ICC demands such an intense workload that it invariably leads to either burnout or people becoming purely political creatures and disconnected from everyday life, again militating against the emergence of fresh ideas within the organisation.

The second thing about the way the ICC conducts its internal discussions is the way that it sees that it as necessary to discuss a topic until it comes to some sort of conclusion before presenting it to the outside in order to present 'a united face to the class'. Now personally I believe that there are issues upon which an organisation needs to present a united face although I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to believe that the working class is hanging on to our every word, I still believe that there are issues on which it is important to present a unified approach to the tiny groups of people who may be listening to us. An example of this would be the disputes around the building workers disputes in the UK a few years ago over which there was an immense amount of discussion within the UK section of the ICC. Of course if you are making an argument about a strike, there should be some sort of tactical unity. If you were to have some parts of an organisation arguing that a strike that others were supporting was racist and reactionary, you would of course had problems.

The ICC, however, takes this to a complete new level. Everything must be discussed endlessly internally before it can be presented to the outside. The first example of this that springs to mind is the angry letters that the Turkish section received upon my questioning an article by Pannekoek on Darwin on the ICC's website forum. I think that this is problematic for various reasons; Firstly, I think that it presents the impression that the ICC is composed of a bunch of robots who all parrot the same line. However, true or untrue this may be, it is certainly an impression held by many outside the ICC, which the ICC does very little to dispel. The second is that the ICC generates an immense volume of texts, may of which, as has already been discussed, don't even get read by all of their own members. Surely there must be some people out there who might be interested in some of them. It seems to me that the ICC is wasting a great amount of its own members work here, which could possibly be used to engage people in a discussion. Finally, and most importantly, I feel that the ICC needs help. Unlike others who have left the ICC, I wouldn't characterise it as an organisation, which has psychiatric problems, but it is an organisation that I feel does have problems and they are problems that I don't feel that it can deal with on its own.

As I understand it, the ICC is currently conducting an internal discussion on 'parasitism'. I don't know how much of an attempt to make a genuine reflection upon its past this represents, or whether it is just a sop being given to those within the organisation who are questioning the idea, or even just a reflection of the ICC's capacity for endless 'debate'. If, however, it is born of some genuine desire to re-examine the past, I feel that it is a discussion that can not be fruitful if it is conducted solely within the ICC. If the ICC is to move forward as an organisation, it needs to confront this issue with the help of people outside of the organisation in an open discussion. The feeling that I have about an internal discussion is that it will merely end up reinforcing the position held by the majority of the ICC against those dissenting. Of course, the ICC has, through its own actions, over the years generated a great deal of suspicion, and hostility towards itself from those who might otherwise be somewhat more sympathetic towards it. In my opinion, one step towards beginning to break that barrier down would be a candid admission of its own mistakes rather than its continual insistence that even when 'mistakes were made' (in a Reaganesque formulation), its general perspective were absolutely correct.

Before going on to the issue of 'parasitism' and the ICC's sectarianism, I would like to address the way that our criticisms on certain issues were dealt with. The general impression that I received was firstly one of continually being told to 'shut up', and not to discuss things in public or outside of the organisation, but to deal with everything through the internal structures of the ICC. I have already mentioned why I thought it important for these issues to be raised beyond the confines of the organisation, but I also found the process of discussion within the ICC profoundly alienating. There was continual pressure from all parts of the organisation to keep things 'in house' as it were. This was the case on things ranging from articles that the ICC had published that the Turkish section as a whole was deeply critical of, and that even members of other sections confessed to having been horrified by, where I believe that there should be a public discussion over, to things such as the fact that the ICC has members who are actually employers, where although it horrified the entire Turkish section, perhaps a little more discretion was required, and requesting the deletion of people's real names that had been used in the ICC press/website. My feeling, as well as that of others in the section at the time was that these issues were pretty much brushed under the carpet, and ignored.

*Parasitism and Sectarianism

I think that I have expressed my views on the 'Thesis on Parasitism' more than often enough in public to bore people with them here. Very briefly for those who aren't aware of them I completely reject the ICC's idea of parasitism, and think that it has been primarily responsible for much of the ill feeling that afflicts the communist left today.

The ICC certainly realises that the 'ToP' has led them into isolation. To a certain extent they have even theorised this, which is evident when they talk about the 'old milieu' and the 'new milieu'. Basically the ICC uses these two concepts to describe on the one hand the groups from which they have become estranged in Europe, and the groups and individuals in what they would term the 'periphery' with whom they are developing links, and who incidentally are more often than not unaware of how the ICC is perceived by other communists in Europe, and have very little idea of what disputes that took place in the past, in some cases decades ago, are about at all.

The ICC seems to have taken a strategic decision (I have been told as much by a member of the IS) to concentrate on spreading its influence internationally. The way it sees it can do this is by concentrating on picking up small groups of people scattered across the world. It seems to see this as a crucial part of its development. It could be suggested that this is a result of the fact that it has generated so much antagonism towards itself in much of Europe that it finds itself unable to make any forward movement there whatsoever, and has thus been forced to switch to this strategy by necessity.

It is a policy that raises interesting questions. In some ways we can trace the roots of this discussion back to a series of 'polemics', which the ICC previously carried out against the IBRP. Basically, the ICC accused to IBRP of being federalist, and of not being sufficiently centralised, and the IBRP replied that it believed that you had to build real existing groups on the ground, and construct an organisation based upon those groups. Of course, this is a gross simplification of the opposing positions, though that is probably better than the distortion and insult, which these type of polemics often resulted in.

The ICC tends to see its collecting of tiny groups of individuals spread across the world as some sort of proof that there is a resurgence of class consciousness. A good example of this would be the absurd level of hyperbole and self congratulation that greeted the integration of the new sections in Turkey and the Philippines. Of course one could see the increase in contacts in far flung countries as having at least as much to do with the development of the internet as a rising tide of class consciousness.

What this means for the ICC is that it is experiencing small growth in the 'peripheral' counties whilst experiencing a slow decline in the countries where it has long had sections, which due to the demographics of an organisation, which has attracted very few new people in decades is bound to get worse. Today we have a situation where of the 'sections' advertised on the ICC home page include those of a single person, and others that don't meet the ICC's own definition of a section, which is three people. As far as I know at least three of the ICC's sections fail to meet this definition. There could of course be more.

Alongside this comes the complete sectarianism displayed towards left communist groups in Europe, i.e. those who know enough about the ICC to criticise its past practice. At the time when we were organising a series of meetings in Germany for a worker involved in a strike in Turkey to speak at, we were told very clearly that whilst it was OK to organise meetings together with the anarcho-syndicalist FAU, it was absolutely unacceptable for us to organise a meeting in Berlin in co-operation with the ICT section there. I won't repeat the words that were used to describe them on that occasion, or on others, but suffice to say, they were less than what would be considered 'comradely'. Now, I don't think that there is a problem organising meetings of this kind with anarchists, but I find it quite strange that a left communist organisation can hold joint meetings with an anarchist group, but not with fellow left communists.

The ICC has had a long running antipathy towards the IBRP/ICT due to some obscure events that happened at the turn of the last decade in Argentina. When we charecterised this as two bald men fighting over a hair brush, we were told that there was a deep matter of principle now. Obviously this deep matter of principle is no longer relevant as they have agreed to hold a joint meeting to discuss with the ICT. Something they would not have countenanced a year ago. Of course they must have realised that there is a considerable amount of disgust amongst the small group of people sympathetic towards the communist left with this sort of sectarian behaviour, so whatever principles were guiding their previous policy have been conveniently dumped. I believe that in common Marxist jargon this is called opportunism, which is of course the other side of the sectarian coin. Personally I don't expect much to come from this meeting, but I think it will allow the ICC to continue its sectarian behaviour while at the same time seem to be behaving in a non-sectarian manner.

Why I left:

So I suppose that it is now time to answer the question of why I actually left. People in the ICC have said that it was changing, and I was too impatient with it, and somebody outside of the ICC I spoke with in the pub today at lunch said it seemed like it changed after we joined.

Ultimately I feel like the Turkish section of the ICC, and particularly myself and Leo, who both wrote extensively on English language forums, gave an impression of the ICC, which I think was fundamentally incorrect. I think that we put across the impression that the ICC was an organisation, which was beginning to challenge the sectarianism that had marked it in the past, and was a dynamic organisation, in which there was an open discussion on past mistakes, and vibrant debate. I don't think that this was at all the case. One of the things that really struck me on this was a comment made by a former member of the German Wildcat group at the last ICC congress. He was saying that he had heard all these things about the ICC being monolithic, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the congress had real discussion and conflict of ideas. To me this didn't at all seem to be the case. My impression of ICC congresses is one where there is virtual complete agreement, and people go up to the podium to 'salute' the previous speaker. That there was disagreement at that congress seemed to me more to be members of the Turkish section being lectured and patronised. When we pointed out that although we accepted that our ideas on the 'Arab revolts', one of the issues of contention, may have been wrong, but that we felt that they should be considered seriously as everything that we said would happen had come to pass, we were asked if we also did lottery numbers.

Is the ICC changing? As I have said they think that they are, and have certainly convinced others that this is the case. At the moment they are conducting this internal discussion reassessing the whole question of 'parasitism'. The impression that I get is that the idea is deep at the heart of everything that the ICC are doing and have done over the past couple of decades. An example of this would be when one of the members of the Turkish delegation suggested that the term be removed from a resolution at the last congress, the entire organisation voted against the Turkish section on this. Indeed the organisation was so sure of it that even the proxy votes exercised on behalf of the section in the Philippines, who had been unable to attend, but had clearly stated in a letter that they didn't understand the whole issue of 'parasitism', were cast against us instead of being abstentions. That though is the way of the ICC congress. Virtually everything is unanimous except when they are experiencing one of their periodic splits.

I don't believe that the ICC is capable of making the reassessment necessary to regenerate itself. As I have mentioned already it has a great difficulty in admitting it has made mistakes, and to move forward, it would have to admit that it had made some pretty major ones. While it can accept that it may have made mistakes in the application of its theories, the organisation as a whole is deeply convinced that the core of its ideas were right. This is the case however much these ideas conflict with reality. Members of the ICC still defend the idea that they were fundamentally correct when the charecterised the 1980s as the 'Years of Truth', during which the working class would either “continue its offensive” or the way would “be open for a new holocaust”. As anybody today can see this wasn't the case. For a communist organisation to have believed that “the future of humanity will in large part be decided” in the 1980s was obviously a mistake. Organisations can make mistakes. What reduces it to a level of farce is that they still maintain, against all the evidence, that they were still fundamentally correct. Of course, the discrepancy between the theory, and material reality had to be explained somehow, and thus another grand theory was invented 'the Theses on Decomposition'. Personally I think that a lot of what it has to say is a good description of the new period that began with the fall of the Soviet Union, but it has to be understood also as a way to justify the mistakes present in the stuff about the years of truth.

The theory of the ICC is an impressive body of work, more so because of its deep coherence. It all fits together perfectly with every block having its place in the entire structure. Certainly for those looking for theoretical coherence it can seem very attractive, especially for new groups, as we were at the time, the adopting of a theoretical whole in one go can seem deeply attractive rather than going through the painstaking theoretical work that is the alternative. The problem is though that it is a house of cards where each part is dependent on the others to stop the entire edifice from collapsing. To my mind the ICC isn't capable of putting into question the whole theoretical structure that underlies it, which would ultimately mean that it would end up questioning the ideas at the very core of its being, the historic course.

Yet it faces a conflict. If as events over the past decade or so suggest there is a slow resurgence of class struggle the ICC will need to abandon its sectarianism and the 'Theses on parasitism' to go forward. After all, it certainly doesn't play very well today. However, doing this will be difficult for much of its membership, and will raise fundamental questions about its whole direction if not since the very beginning at least since its splits in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

Putting this together with a stagnating membership in its core sections with many of its members getting to the age where political activity must become increasingly difficult, and its opportunist recruitment policy towards new groups/individuals outside of the countries where it currently has sections, I would expect to see the ICC going through another round of deeply destabilising splits within the next ten years. Of course there is the possibility that the ICC could manage to reinvigorate itself, which is what the comrades in the Turkish section believe. I don't. More so I believe that its practice is not something that will contribute towards the establishment of a living vibrant left communist organisation.

Devrim Valerian, Istanbul and Prague, February 2012

Comments

Spikymike
Aug 3 2013 13:50

Devrim,

Thank you for that honest and insightful explanation of your experience with the ICC.

Given the ICC's claims most recently to be learning from it's past mistakes and it's generally more friendly approach to sections of the 'internationalist' anarchist milieu this can only act as a caution for anyone working with the ICC let alone considering joining it. This is so precisely because almost everything you have expressed based on your experience has been expressed previously in detail by a close comrade of my own (in Wildcat UK) who was formerly an active member of the ICC in Manchester but left in the early eighties splits, which suggests no fundamental improvement in that organisation during the last 32 years!!

The ICC can still claim to be a communist organisation but it is a severely deformed one which demonstrates that formal commitment to independent class struggle and communism is no guarantee within capitalism of a healthy organisational structure and practice and longevity no proof of correctness.

syndicalist
Aug 3 2013 14:11

I emailed myself this link. Plan on reading. Always interested organizational experiences. Always something to learn and ponder. Thanks for the posting.

Steven.
Aug 3 2013 14:23

Yeah, thanks for taking the time to write it up and post it, I appreciate the info

Khawaga
Aug 3 2013 15:15

Yeah, thanks Devrim. Really interesting write-up. I've recently left the organization I was in and plan to write something similar.

Theft
Aug 3 2013 15:45

As other have said thanks for posting this. As someone who also recently left a political organisation over organisational issues (Very different issues), it made interesting reading.

Entdinglichung
Aug 3 2013 18:19
Quote:
If I had a dollar for everytime that I have heard ICC militants utter the phrase “I will have to ask the IS”, I would probably be enjoying life as a member of the idle rich now, and not concerning myself with communist politics.

leading members of the German clone of the SWP always phoned "London" when they were running out of wisdom or when they did not know how to react on certain developments ... among the less dogmatic Trotskyists, the term "Sinovievism" is used for that kind of organisational structures

Behruz
Aug 4 2013 02:47

Devrim, thanks for sharing your experience with others!
personally, I don't see any cure for ICC, its past history is more than enough in showing how it is and can be worsen when needed.
LC activists just need to ignore it completely and build a new fresh organization from scratch ... my two cents anyway!

Chilli Sauce
Aug 5 2013 21:46
Quote:
admission of its own mistakes rather than its continual insistence that even when 'mistakes were made'

This is basically totally off topic, but when I teach my students about the passive voice, this the exact example I use. Not about the ICC (that would be a whole new level of crazy) by the political use of 'mistakes were made'.

In any case, thanks for posting this. Having recently met some of the members of the Turkish section of the ICC, it certainly makes for interesting reading.

Harrison
Aug 5 2013 23:33
Chilli Sauce wrote:
when I teach my students... about the ICC

You should combine concise favourable introductions to left communism with anti-drugs educationals, I can provide syllabus if needed.

If its tefl you're teaching, I like the thought of young job seekers moving to england with the ability to discuss at length Bordigist positions on the united front.

jojo
Aug 6 2013 02:38

Thanks for writing and publishing this Devrim. I only know the ICC from its website, which I find truly amazing and would be so sorry should it no longer exist. Where else can you find such in-depth articles analyzing the current situation from a communist perspective on a regular basis, rather than spasmodically? The forum is also fairly active and fairly interesting, and has a coherence not always found on other forums that claim some connection with communism. If web sites presenting stuff from a communist perspective were two a dollar then the demise of the ICC would be of far less concern than its possible disappearance has to be for communists now. What else is there?

About the internal workings of the ICC I know nothing. What you say about it is scary if its all true as I suppose it must be from your point of view. I mean I believe you. It's very sad, disquieting and disappointing. I take your point about "the years of truth" mess up and can't understand why an organization consisting of such strong communists minds - that manifests on its web site such proletarian consciousness - cant admit mistakes and open up a culture of debate rather than just continually advocating it for everyone else.

But having said this, what the ICC actually achieves publicly on its web site, in the quality of its articles analyzing the current situation of capitalism, and in trying to relate current communist thought to the lessons of proletarian history, is not really available anywhere else. Not even on lib com, red marx or rev left, where communists and others may discuss with each other (very important this) but where there really isn't an established organization continually presenting a coherent point of view from a communist perspective. (The ICT does of course, but not so much. And there may be others elsewhere.)

So, while the ICC is clearly not beyond criticism, and is clearly an organization that could be improved (what organization, what web site couldnt be improved?) wouldn't its death be a cause for enormous regret? What could replace it?

Chilli Sauce
Aug 6 2013 07:05
Harrison wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
when I teach my students... about the ICC

You should combine concise favourable introductions to left communism with anti-drugs educationals, I can provide syllabus if needed.

If its tefl you're teaching, I like the thought of young job seekers moving to england with the ability to discuss at length Bordigist positions on the united front.

It's not exactly left communism (yet...) , with my more advance students I do 'class struggle lesson plans'. A while back, we talked about landlords and SeaSol and for the interactive part of the lesson I had them plan and execute a march on the landlord. And they rocked that shit!

Harrison
Aug 6 2013 10:37

super !

Spikymike
Aug 6 2013 11:29

jojo,

I don't entirely write off the ICC's contribution to communist discussion via it's website (or some of it's members of course) but you need to distinguish a 'coherent point of view' from a 'monolithic' one and the remote external public face from the real organisational nature and practice of the ICC. Certainly the spread of discussion on their site is no better than that which you rightly criticise in relation to 'leftcom' and 'red marx'. To get even a half decent handle on analysis from a marxist influenced communist perspective it is unfortunately necessary to consider contributions from a number of sites run by such as the ICT, Internationalist Perspectives, Troploin, Mouvement Communiste, ICG, Insurgent Notes, to name but a few of those I am most familiar with. This may be annoyingly frustrating but is unavoidable, a result in part of the sectarian and competitive nature of politics in our milieu (with long historical routes) and I suppose the ease with which tiny political groups and even individuals can set up their own public front in the age of the internet. Beyond that it is a very narrow approach if you ignore the anarchist contribution past and present to the communist milieu and from that point of view libcom for all it's failings contributes more than most to cutting accross the anarchist/marxist divide and providing a forum in library contributions and discussions of real value. There are of course other publications and websites not self-describing as anarchist, marxist or even communist from which we might gain useful insights. The ICC makes a contribution if you approach it with a critical eye but no more or better than others and certainly it would be a very unmarxist and materialist analysis which suggested that it's disapearance could not be adequately and even better filled by others.

jojo
Aug 7 2013 01:41

Perhaps the chance to replace the iCC with something better - though undefined as yet - is here now. Their web site is down due to "Denial of Service" what ever that means. Does this mean the NSA, or some bourgeois spy group has had them removed, censored, possibly renditioned (lol). But is something serious afoot?

sabot
Aug 7 2013 16:59
Spikymike wrote:
To get even a half decent handle on analysis from a marxist influenced communist perspective it is unfortunately necessary to consider contributions from a number of sites run by such as the ICT, Internationalist Perspectives, Troploin, Mouvement Communiste, ICG, Insurgent Notes, to name but a few of those I am most familiar with. This may be annoyingly frustrating but is unavoidable, a result in part of the sectarian and competitive nature of politics in our milieu (with long historical routes) and I suppose the ease with which tiny political groups and even individuals can set up their own public front in the age of the internet.

Just curious, are there any threads discussing these historical divisions between the orgs listed above mentioned (or not mentioned)?

Edit: Good write up by Devrim btw.

sabot
Aug 7 2013 16:59

Deleted

Theft
Aug 7 2013 23:10

This is how the ICT see the differences
http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2011-04-17/marxism-or-idealism-our-differences-with-the-icc

With the ICC site down can't give there views though.

From my understanding there was a 3-4 international conferences in the 80's between various left communist groups though I'm not sure if the documents have ever been put online? Maybe someone from the ICC or ICT could link to them?

Spikymike
Aug 8 2013 10:05

sabot,

Not sure about any recent substantial discussions. Historically the diferences between the mainly German/Durtch left-communist/council communist tendency and the Italian/Bordigist tendencies are at the root of a number of subsequent divergent tendencies that followed - but for us today many of these splits, reorganisations and dispersals of the tiny marxist influenced communist groups are to be found in the re-emmergence of radical politics from the mid to late 1960's and responses to the ebb and flow of economic crisis and cycles of class struggle - some genuine differences but also the result of many unfortunate sectarian and even personal battle lines.

Try a read of this if you haven't seen it before:

http://libcom.org/library/re-collecting-our-past-la-banquise

Entdinglichung
Aug 8 2013 13:36

much of Devrim's description in terms of organisational structure sounded pretty similar to the stuff, I've heard from former CWI members ... but am I right, that the ICC does not display typically cultish features (like at the Sparts, Healyites, etc.) e.g. tight regulation of member's life outside politics (if existing), material exploitation, etc.

Spikymike
Aug 10 2013 15:01

Entdinglichung,

I'm not aware of the ICC seeking to 'tightly regulate' it's members behavior outside of politics except in terms of their approach to membership of trade unions but perhaps other ex-members might know more. On the other hand full commitment to the 'life of the organisation' can become all-consuming and a bit constraining even if entered into voluntarily and doesn't tend to guarantee a healthy internal life. I've mostly got on OK with their members on a personal level - even though some have intially come accross a bit robot-like. Ex-member McIver titled one of his misives on the ICC back in 1999 'escaping a paranoid cult' but for at the time sound reasons I think, other than those you are refering to.

Nate
Aug 13 2013 19:34

Thanks for this Devrim, it was informative reading, on the ICC and about organizations more broadly.

I was surprised to hear that the ICC will consider a group of three people a section, let alone that there might sections of only one member. Approximately how many people are in the ICC? From the remarks on the section sizes and the bit where you talked about a comrade being impressed by being in a room with more than ten people... that makes me thing the group's membership is in the mid- double digits, somewhere from 40-80. Is that right? If so, I'm surprised as I'd always assumed the ICC was bigger than that.

Android
Aug 13 2013 22:33

edit: deleted, misunderstood your point/question, sorry Nate, obviously need to read things more carefully.

Nate wrote:
that makes me thing the group's membership is in the mid- double digits, somewhere from 40-80

Yeah, my guess would be something like that. If I had to bet on it, maybe, middle bit of that range.

Nate
Aug 14 2013 03:19

No prob Android. I didn't see what you posted before anyway.

Spikymike
Aug 31 2013 15:20

ICC members have chosen to ignore this criticism and discussion thread (perhaps whilst a more disciplined, centralised response from the organisation is prepared?) but there is some reflection on one aspect of the discussion on their website forum under the title 'Monolithic coherance...' for those who wish to follow this up. My off-hand mention of McIver (an ICC hate figure) has perhaps not suprisingly got singled out and labelled as 'an attack on the organisation' but they have shown a greater willingness to respond to the milder criticism posted on their own forum.

Now that their site is back up those interested in their differences with the ICT can also check that out for themselves.

slothjabber
Sep 1 2013 14:08

I thought it was your description of the ICC as 'monolithic' that was seen as an attack - by a sympathiser rather than a member of the organistion, I believe:

http://en.internationalism.org/forum/1056/fred/8995/monolithic-coherence#comment-17241

It wasn't your mention of McIver that was seen as an attack, but your agreement that his description of the ICC as a 'paranoid cult' was justified which was seen as such:

http://en.internationalism.org/forum/1056/fred/8995/monolithic-coherence#comment-17246

Spikymike
Sep 1 2013 15:05

Always happy to accept a clarification from you slothjabber. I think I have been pretty consistent over the years in my criticism of the ICC's past organisational practice whilst continuing to accept them as a communist organisation and engage with them politically. Devrim's text here suggests however that much of that criticism is still valid.

OliverTwister
Oct 8 2013 23:42
Nate wrote:
Thanks for this Devrim, it was informative reading, on the ICC and about organizations more broadly.

I was surprised to hear that the ICC will consider a group of three people a section, let alone that there might sections of only one member. Approximately how many people are in the ICC? From the remarks on the section sizes and the bit where you talked about a comrade being impressed by being in a room with more than ten people... that makes me thing the group's membership is in the mid- double digits, somewhere from 40-80. Is that right? If so, I'm surprised as I'd always assumed the ICC was bigger than that.

The IWW will consider a group of five people to be a "Regional Organizing Committee", does that surprize you?

meerov21
Oct 9 2013 14:06

So,
what do you think about an attempt to create international council-communist (left-communist) movement (on the platform of KAPD - AAUD-E or something like that) without being somithing like ICC? Whithout this total authoritarian "micro--manajment" of international secretariat and paranoid "parasites discussions" of ICC stile?

Even ICC have comrades in 16 states.
So why other left-communists can't?

Nate
Oct 17 2013 03:24
OliverTwister wrote:
Nate wrote:
I was surprised to hear that the ICC will consider a group of three people a section, let alone that there might sections of only one member.

The IWW will consider a group of five people to be a "Regional Organizing Committee", does that surprize you?

Are you asking if I was being sincere when I said I was surprised about the ICC or are you asking my opinion about an unrelated IWW matter? Either way, why? I can't tell if you're being annoying on purpose or on accident.

slothjabber
Oct 17 2013 08:30

I think the point is probably that small groups (three or five) count as viable units in organisations. I'd hazard that OliverTwister was after what you would consider 'too small to count'. If three is too small (as it surprises you the ICC counts this) is five too small (as this is considered viable by the IWW)?

I guess another way of asking (what I take to be) the question is 'how small is too small, Nate?'