David North
Marxism, History and Socialist Consciousness

The International Committee and the World Socialist Web Site

Although you have not been members of the International Committee for almost three decades, and have no knowledge of its internal life, you make the most sweeping accusations against it. You assert that there is “a disturbing absence of organized theoretical or political discussion within the movement.” On what is this claim based? Other than your displeasure with the manner in which we have dealt with your documents, how has this theoretical and political decay manifested itself in our political line? This is a question that you do not address. Even if one were to admit the possibility that the ICFI failed to give your documents the attention they merited, this error would not, by itself, rise to the level of a world-historical event. It is still necessary for you to demonstrate a connection between your complaint and more serious political problems relating to world developments external to yourselves. It is not sufficient to assert that a connection exists. You must prove it, and the way this has been done in the history of the Marxist movement is through a careful and exhaustive analysis of the political line of the organization being criticized.

If you had chosen to proceed in this theoretically principled manner, there is no shortage of materials upon which you would be able to draw. The last twenty years have witnessed colossal changes: in technology, the structure of world capitalism, the relation of national states to the global economy, and, let us not forget, the political geography of the world. Maps printed twenty years ago are now useless. All of these interrelated processes—technological, economic and political—have had a profound impact on the international class struggle. The response of the International Committee to these historic changes would easily fill several dozen volumes.

However, nowhere in your document can one find any analysis of, or even reference to, the political line of the International Committee. One does not even find the words “Iraq War,” “Bush administration,” “September 11th,” “China,” “Afghanistan,” “Iran,” “terror,” or “globalization.” These are not careless omissions. You are not interested in political analysis and perspectives, at least as these have been historically understood in the Fourth International. Quite the opposite: you believe that the International Committee’s concentration on Marxist political analysis and commentary is, itself, a fundamental mistake. You vehemently reject the conception that such analysis and commentary, based on the method of historical materialism, are essential, or even relevant, to the development of socialist consciousness. This position underlies your bitter hostility toward the World Socialist Web Site, which you consider to be the main expression of all that is wrong with the International Committee.

You write that “for all intents and purposes the International Committee has ceased to function.” On what is this conclusion based? “It is hard even to recall the last time the International Committee held a meeting in its own name. For years now virtually all the authoritative statements of the movement have been issued as WSWS statements, and now the gathering in Australia—which was clearly an international conference of the movement—is presented not in the name of a revolutionary party but rather in that of an editorial board of a web site.”

That is not all. You ask: “Was the morphing of the IC into the WSWS ever discussed or voted on at a party conference?” And “Where is the document that explains to the working class public the reasons for such an important shift? How is it possible to square the repeated proclamations of internationalism with the mothballing of the organizational expression of revolutionary internationalism?”

You speak of the “morphing of the IC into the WSWS” as if there were something illegitimate and underhanded in the founding of the latter. In this regard, your attack closely parallels the response of the Spartacist League to the establishment of the World Socialist Web Site. [2] However, nowhere do you claim that the founding of the WSWS involved a change in the political line of the International Committee. The World Socialist Web Site, as its masthead explicitly states, is published by the International Committee. While you may be in doubt about the political connection of the ICFI to the World Socialist Web Site, it is not a secret to its thousands of daily readers. Moreover, since the days of Marx’s Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the theoretical and programmatic identity of a revolutionary tendency has been synonymous with the name of its publication. We might include in our list the Neue Zeit of the revolutionary German Social Democratic Party, the Iskra, Vperyod and Pravda of the Leninists, the Bulletin of the anti-Stalinist opposition in the U.S.S.R., The Militant and, later, the Socialist Appeal of the Trotskyists in the United States during the late 1920s and 1930s, the Newsletter produced by the British Trotskyists working inside the British Labour Party, and even the Bulletin of the Workers League. We have no reason to be troubled by the fact that the World Socialist Web Site is looked to by thousands of readers as the authentic voice of socialist internationalism.

Your suggestion that the WSWS was somehow established behind the back of the ICFI is absurd on its face. Yes, there was a public statement issued on the founding of the World Socialist Web Site, which you can still access if you are interested. [3] And, since you have asked, the founding of the WSWS was, indeed, preceded by an intensive discussion, spanning almost one year, within every section of the ICFI. How else would it have been possible to mobilize the high level of active support and participation by the cadre, which has sustained daily publication for the last eight and a half years? Since the founding of the WSWS in February 1998, more than eighteen thousand articles have been published by an international editorial board that directs the collective work of a constantly-expanding cadre of Marxist writers, assembled on the basis of the principles, history, theoretical outlook and perspective of the International Committee. In both theory and practice, the WSWS represents a historic milestone in the development of revolutionary internationalism. Your political blindness, exacerbated by personal subjectivism, leads you to speak of the “mothballing of the organizational expression of revolutionary internationalism” at a time when the ICFI is directing the daily publication of a web site that provides commentary in thirteen languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Sinhalese, Tamil and Indonesian. If this represents, in your mind, the end “for all intents and purposes” of the International Committee, one can only wonder what you think constitutes real international activity? Three decades ago, when you were still members of the movement, the internal life of the ICFI consisted of little more than occasional visits by representatives of affiliated or sympathizing sections to the offices of the WRP in London. Cliff Slaughter, the nominal secretary of the ICFI, maintained no regular contact with the international cadre. There was no systematic discussion, let alone collaboration, on the perspective of the International Committee. To the extent that your conception of internationalism was shaped in the era of the extreme degeneration of Healy’s organization, it is simply impossible for either of you to conceive of what it is to work in a movement whose daily political activity entails the most intense international collaboration.


The Robertson group wrote in March 1998: “The new SEP Web site, rapidly expanding via the gaseous ‘great Thoughts’ of David North, is the latest in a growing junk belt of virtual fantasy worlds, where posturing little grey men with gigantic egos and dubious politics can play at revolution. . . . To pretend dumping some documents into cyberspace is any substitute for the hard fight—in the real world, among real people—to build a revolutionary workers party, only confirms the total depths of cynicism and humbug for which the Northites are infamous.”