David North
Marxism, History and Socialist Consciousness


The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) has asked that I reply to your document, “Objectivism or Marxism,” on its behalf. This is a task that I undertake with a certain degree of regret. Notwithstanding the different paths our lives have taken over the past three decades, I retain warm recollections of the time when we worked closely together within the movement. However, that was very long ago, and your latest document serves only to underscore what your various writings over the past several years have made increasingly apparent: that you have traveled very far, politically, from Marxism, the political heritage of the Trotskyist movement, and the ICFI. This inescapable political reality must determine the content and tone of my reply.

Your letter begins by protesting that the ICFI has failed to answer your previous documents, from which you draw the most disturbing conclusions: The ICFI suffers from “an aversion to criticism” that is “symptomatic of deeper problems within the movement that every member and supporter of the IC should be concerned about.” The leadership of the movement “stonewalls political debate,” and seeks “to quell discussion in order to insulate itself from criticism.” Our alleged failure to respond to your documents “only underscores how alien a practice genuinely critical debate has become within the movement.”

To the uninformed observer, the situation you describe can only evoke images of a besieged opposition tendency in a dictatorial political party, battling against a bureaucratic regime’s suppression of its democratic right to be heard by the rank-and-file membership. The reality, as you both know, is radically different. Neither of you is a member of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP). You have been out of the movement for just short of 28 years. [1] This does count for something. You refer to your “long histories with the movement”—a description that is self-consciously ambiguous. There is a difference between “with” and “within.” For most of your adult lives, you have not been members of the party. The mere fact that you have maintained cordial relations with the movement does not obligate us to respond to your documents as we would to those of members of the SEP or other sections of the ICFI.

No one in the ICFI is stopping you from criticizing the policies and program of our movement, and posting what you write on your own web site for all to read (to the extent that you are willing to moderate what appears to be your rejection of the internet as a fully legitimate mode of political communication). You are free to gather the support of like-minded individuals and campaign for your views. In turn, the ICFI and the SEP are well within their political rights to reply or not to your documents as we see fit. It is not our responsibility to provide you with a forum for a perspective that opposes the traditions and program of the Fourth International. In submitting this reply to your public criticisms, the ICFI is not fulfilling a “legal” responsibility, but making clear the deep and fundamental differences between Marxian socialism and the pseudo-utopianism—a form of middle-class ideology—that you, Comrades Steiner and Brenner, espouse.


Comrade Steiner, you left the Workers League in September 1978, and Comrade Brenner, you resigned in January 1979.