The ISL’s Break with the IMT (August 2009)

The ISL, as most people who have heard of the group know, was created as a left split from the International Marxist Tendency (IMT). The impetus for the split was a lengthy debate on the revolutionary position on the Civil War between Hamas and Fatah forces in Gaza in June 2007. In a process spanning less than three months, the members of the small group then known as the In Defense of Marxism Circle (IDMC) transformed from the most convinced supporters of the IMT into its fiercest denunciators.

How could this come to pass? In the minds of the centrist and reformist leftists, the Israelis had for months, if not from the beginning of their membership in the IMT, been effectively a Trojan horse in the service of some other group (most had suggested the British SWP, due to the ISL’s admittedly ill-advised attempt to approach the group). The IMT’s explanation was less conspiratorial but no less dastardly – the Israeli Marxists, who had fought for years for the formation of a revolutionary group, apart from both the Zionist ‘left’ and the Palestinian nationalists of all stripes, had ‘crossed the class line’ between revolution and counterrevolution (a label which apparently was too severe to apply to the likes of Chavez, Morales, and Benazir Bhutto) to become supporters of Islamic fundamentalism – in the IMT’s words, “black reaction.”

It is our intention to show in this document that the main cause of the split was the pro-imperialist position taken by the IMT on the question of Palestine, with the inherently anti-democratic nature of this cult-like organization as a secondary factor that contributed significantly to the acceleration of the split. Generalizing our position on Palestine, we have come to the conclusion that our opposition to the popular front politics of the IMT in Pakistan and in Venezuela, and to their building of their International as a rotten coalition of groups with different programs, makes it impossible for us to continue to accede to their conduct.

A Naïve Beginning

The conflict between Hamas and Fatah came to a conclusion in June 2007, when the last of Fatah’s forces were driven out of the Gaza Strip by Hamas. Less than a year had passed since Israel’s second war against Lebanon, on which the IDMC took the position that Lebanese Marxists should side with the Lebanese resistance, led by Hizb Allah, against Israeli forces. This means that revolutionaries would fight on the side of the resistance, all the while stressing the need and propagating for a revolutionary workers’ party to lead the working class to power. This position not only received the approval of the international leadership of the IMT, but also has many precedents in the history of Marxism. As Lenin wrote in “Socialism and War” (1915):

For example, if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, India on England, Persia or China on Russia, and so forth, those would be “just,” “defensive” wars, irrespective of who attacked first; and every Socialist would sympathize with the victory of the oppressed, dependent, unequal states against the oppressing, slave-owning, predatory “great” powers.

Trotsky described this attitude in one of his letters to Diego Rivera:

We do not and never have put all wars on the same plane. Marx and Engels supported the revolutionary struggle of the Irish against Great Britain, of the Poles against the tsar, even though in these two nationalist wars the leaders were, for the most part, members of the bourgeoisie and even at times of the feudal aristocracy. . . at all events, Catholic reactionaries. When Abdel-Krim rose up against France, the democrats and Social Democrats spoke with hate of the struggle of a “savage tyrant” against the “democracy.” The party of Leon Blum supported this point of view. But we, Marxists and Bolsheviks, considered the struggle of the Riffians against imperialist domination as a progressive war. Lenin wrote hundreds of pages demonstrating the primary necessity of distinguishing between imperialist nations and the colonial and semicolonial nations which comprise the great majority of humanity. To speak of “revolutionary defeatism” in general, without distinguishing between exploiter and exploited countries, is to make a miserable caricature of Bolshevism and to put that caricature at the service of the imperialists.” (Leon Trotsky, “On the Sino-Japanese War”)[1]

The conclusion that the IDMC drew from the theories of Lenin and Trotsky, expressed in these quotes, is that in a struggle between an imperialist state and an oppressed people, Marxists are duty-bound to support the oppressed as long as the oppressed side is not controlled by another imperialist power. In the context of the civil war in Gaza, this meant that, given that no one seriously doubts that Fatah acts in the interests of Israeli imperialism and with its practical support, Marxists in Gaza would take the side of Hamas without giving it political support. The IDMC took this position, and soon thereafter, Yehuda Stern submitted the first draft of an article explaining it. However, the position so willingly accepted by the IMT in the past was now condemned by the same people as a betrayal of the working class.

The IMT’s response was measured at first. The editors of made several arguments, from purely linguistic ones – criticizing Stern for using the term ‘centrist’ instead of ‘sects’ – to others which bordered on the ridiculous, such as that claiming that Hamas “liberated” Gaza, hints that Hamas is a revolutionary organization, or that the situation in Palestine is different than Lebanon, because in Lebanon the Israeli army did the fighting, while in Palestine it was a Palestinian militia acting in the interests of Israel.

What Changed In a Year?

The cowardice of the IMT, expressed in their lame excuses for not publishing the article, was a shock for the IDMC. Given the nature of the IMT’s arguments, at around this time we were already starting to think that we were with the wrong crowd. However, it took a world conference of the IMT, where we were constantly lied to and had promises of support from IMT leaders broken, for us to understand fully the IMT’s problems.

The IMT is an organization built on a simple premise: the working class today has no faith in Marxism. Most of it is not politically conscious. Therefore, in order to build a revolutionary organization, one must work within reformist parties until one can convince enough party members to become revolutionaries.[2] Those with a sharp eye will recognize this as an opportunist version of Trotsky’s proposed entryism tactics (the “French turn”).

Such entryism, other than being mostly futile – as evinced by the IMT’s sorry state today – also requires that its practitioners support the reformist parties, and consequently, build up illusions in those parties. It eventually leads to the ranks of the organization being filled with elements of the left reformists and bureaucrats from these parties. These elements come to dominate the entry groups, and when they are lucky, become part of the reformist party apparatus (as has happened, in the past and present, to IMT sections in Britain, France, Italy, and Pakistan, for example). In this way, the class pressures of the ‘left’ bureaucracy are transmitted all the more easily to the group, making it another link in the chain extending from social-democracy to the working class.

The IMT’s ambivalence, then, is quite easy to explain: Israel’s war on Lebanon was seen by the European imperialists as a threat to the relative quiet in the region and as Israeli-American imperialism trying to assert its interests against theirs, mainly those of French imperialism. As a group with revolutionary pretenses, it was all the more difficult for the IMT to stay neutral in a war between Israel and an Arab state.[3] In Palestine, however, the civil war was between the Hamas Islamists and the PLO bourgeois nationalists, the old dears of the European left.

In other words, although one could argue that the IDMC had changed due to its experience with the Grantites’ entry tactic (first in the CP, then in the Labor Party), and had already begun to doubt this theory, among others, and although one could argue that the IMT was already feeling pressures to turn sharply to the right (a turn which would assert itself vigorously in the following year), it is much more likely that from the get-go, the IDMC was a very different creature from the run of the mill IMT section.

The First Crack

For a month, the Stern article was delayed by all sorts of strange excuses. Although the question of the position came up again and again, the IDMC was able to protect it each time, and failing to find new arguments, the IMT had to resort to other excuses, at times even linguistic ones. However, after a protest by Yossi Schwartz, the IMT felt compelled to publish a heavily edited version of the article.[4]

Things cooled down for a while until the next international conference of the IMT in Barcelona, in 2007. Schwartz and Stern attended the conference, and from the beginning had to fight against distortions of their positions, by then common among the IMT membership. Whenever we tried to explain our position, we understood that IMT members had heard from their leaders that we suggested giving full political support to the fundamentalists. Given the sect mentality of most IMT members, their shrieking about “sects” notwithstanding, it was impossible to convince most members that this was not true.

Many things that happened during the conference shook the confidence of the IDMC in the leadership of the IMT. First of all, to protect his position, IMT leader Alan Woods used the example of the Irish Civil War (1922-1923) between supporters of the Free State and the Irish nationalists and claimed that in such a conflict revolutionaries would take no side. He claimed that this is in the tradition of the Comintern under Lenin’s leadership. However, later on, we discovered that he was lying – the Irish CP, still a revolutionary party, fought alongside the nationalists. Woods, who prides himself as an expert on Ireland, should have known this fact.

During the conference, we discovered that Manzoor Ahmed, the IMT’s foremost Pakistani member and only MP, was not present because he was in negotiations with Benazir Bhutto. She threatened to prevent him from becoming an MP in the next elections, but through a deal they had struck (whose details are unclear to this day), they agreed that he would run with her support.

This was another sign that the IMT’s entryism is not a revolutionary tactic but an electoralist strategy, designed to influence the leaders of the left parties (an exceptionally ridiculous effort in Pakistan, as the PPP is a bourgeois party).

These things, among others, aroused our suspicions in the IMT. At that point we were still of the opinion that the IMT degenerated following the death of Ted Grant, a short time before the 2006 conference. There was some basis for such an analysis, as the IMT certainly diminished in both the theoretical level of the membership and in the revolutionary rhetoric of its leaders. Also, as stated, the IDMC had taken similar positions before, with no protest from the IMT. However, we were soon to develop criticisms of the Grantites on a far higher level.

The Ideological and Organizational Split

Upon returning to Israel, the IDMC obviously had to address the issues that were brought up in the international conference. These by now included not only the Civil War, but also Venezuela. At the conference, the IDMC had already begun to argue that Chavez was becoming an obstacle to the socialist revolution, not its leader, and that the IMT section, instead of trying to expose him, was acting as a left flank for his government. In one speech given at the conference, Schwartz referred to Chavez as a Kerensky, and demanded that the Venezuelan section treat his government as the Bolsheviks treated the Provisional Government – as a bourgeois government which must be exposed in the eyes of the workers.[5] Surprisingly, the speech was received quite enthusiastically by the rank and file members.

As stated, the next months saw the IDMC develop criticisms of IMT positions, past and present. Stern suggested first that the degeneration of the IMT began in the 80’s, when the Militant became a large organization, and that class pressures led Grant to adopt an opportunist line which eventually led to the IMT’s pro-imperialist positions.[6] Schwartz went further than that, understanding that since all the groups who tried to portray the Soviet state as somehow progressive or proletarian had adopted opportunist politics, the problem must lie with this notion and especially with the theory of deformed workers’ states.

This empiric conclusion led the ISL to break ideologically with the IMT It adopted, after some debates, a state capitalist position on the USSR. It also changed its analysis of Israel to the one it holds today, i.e. that Israeli workers are aristocratic because of the colonialist nature of Israel, and only the struggle of the Arab workers can lead to a change of consciousness among a minority of Jewish workers.

The IDMC reached the conclusion that the theory of Proletarian Bonapartism led essentially to support for Stalinism as a force which was progressive, or at least had a progressive element – a clear revision of Trotsky’s conclusion that by the time of the consolidation of the Stalinist faction’s power in the USSR, Stalinism had become a counterrevolutionary tendency within the workers’ movement, not particularly different from social-democracy. This line, of course, followed consistently, leads to the conclusion that not only is Stalinism capable of carrying out proletarian revolutions, but that in fact any and all radical petty-bourgeois forces could.

Following the conference, the IDMC was offered a deal by the IMT leadership – the IDMC would have a chance to write an article defending its position on Gaza, and this article would be published on, so that the members of the IMT would be able to judge for themselves who had the right position. However, the incident with Manzoor Ahmed in the International meeting, as well as increased political support for the PPP and Benazir Bhutto in articles published on, led the members of the IDMC to a realization: the IMT’s position on Islamic fundamentalism – that it is “black reaction” – was a smokescreen intended to defend its participation in a future PPP government, which would take part in the suppression of Muslim insurgencies by American imperialism and its Pakistani agents.

The IDMC refused to take this part out of the article. The leaders of the IMT decided to expel the Israeli members from the International, citing their supposedly “provocative” behavior in exposing the dirty deals of the IMT with Benazir Bhutto. Shortly thereafter, an article, supposedly written by the Moroccan members of the IMT, appeared on, delivering a criticism of Stern’s article which was more in the style of a cheap yellow rag than that of Marxist polemics.


The ISL today remains a small organization, as in the days of the IDMC. Detractors point to our size and say that it is either our allegedly constant change of positions, or maybe our “sectarianism” that prevents our growth. In this sense, they claim, our break with the IMT is meaningless.

We reject completely these groups’ reasoning and conclusion. We have no patience for those who judge a group on the basis of its size and not its ideas. It portrays an electoralist and activist outlook, judging political tendencies only on the basis of the immediate political power that they hold, a common characteristic of the middle-class left. To paraphrase one Marxist, whatever religion the petty bourgeoisie has, its god is power. Revolutionaries would not merely look at the number of people adhering to the IDMC/ISL before and after the break, but would look at the changes it has gone through, at the road it has traversed.

What is the number one cause of the inability of Jewish and Palestinian workers to feel solidarity towards each other? The causes are, of course, material first and foremost. But then again, workers in imperialist countries have been able to unite with oppressed workers many times in history. What prevents such a thing from happening in Israel is that the Israeli Jews are the sons and daughters of colonialist settlers, who have expropriated the Palestinian people and expelled them from their land. As long as Jewish workers continue to feel that their interest is in maintaining the Zionist state, in the continued existence of Israel in some form, there can never be solidarity between Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

In this sense, the ISL’s importance lies in the fact that it is the first Marxist group in Israel to oppose the existence of this state in any form and, using Trotsky’s position on South Africa as a model, consistently advocate a Palestinian workers’ state from the Jordan to the sea as a solution.[7]Although the ISL is not numerically significant at the moment, politically it will definitely be of significance in the future. However, today it is also the ISL’s weakness – it is based in Israel, but its politics could not appeal to most of the Israeli working class at this point. This means that the ISL will remain small and isolated for some time, even more so than revolutionaries in other countries.

In the future, our break with the IMT’s pro-Zionist positions will definitely be of value. Arab workers are already beginning to awaken politically, as the recent actions of workers in Egypt and Algeria have shown. In Lebanon, the Zionist state was roundly defeated in the recent war, and the masses have seen how Hizb Allah backed away from the fight against the pro-imperialist Prime Minister Siniora even though it had the power to win. Advanced workers will at some point return to the study of the ideas of Marxism, and will learn that the only way to defeat Zionism and imperialism is through the socialist revolution. When this happens, the ISL will reach out to any revolutionary worker, rebuilding with them side by side the Fourth International, the world party of socialist revolution. In the meantime, the ISL’s task remains to defend Marxism and preserve and develop the theoretical basis for the future organization.

[1] The original article, for some reason, does not appear on the Marxist Internet Archives. However, it can be found online quite easily, and is recommended to all those who are interested in the subject, as it is a superb statement of the Marxist position on this question. Interestingly enough, when these same quotes were offered to be part of the Stern article, the IMT rejected them, saying they were “irrelevant to the situation.”

[2] How does working in a reformist party when the workers are not politically conscious help gain the support of workers? No answer from the Grantites. But the logic of the IMT’s tactics fails when one assumes the group is indeed trying to build a revolutionary organization. As we will show in another article, the IMT’s deep entryism merely reflects its support of reformism and much hidden past association with the Pabloites.

[3] Truth be told, at first the IMT took a pacifist position – that the war is wrong (presumably on both sides) and that Arabs and Jews must oppose it. Only under the influence of the IDMC did it take a nominally revolutionary position.

[4] The title of the article, originally “the Liberation of Gaza and the Questions Facing Israeli and Palestinian Workers,” was changed to “the Victory of Hamas In Gaza and…” – the change is indicative of the change of tone in the article, though the position was not changed.

[5] Today, of course, the ISL knows better. There is no revolution without a revolutionary consciousness, and Venezuelan workers were yet to challenge the bourgeois state. In this sense it was meaningless to compare Venezuela of 2007 to Russia of 90 years earlier. Either way, this position had the merit of offering a political break with Chavez and of searching for a way to advance the revolutionary cause in Venezuela against the populist government, and was in any case ten times better than the IMT position.

[6] Stern began the process of writing this criticism in a document which was to be circulated among IMT members receptive to the IDMC’s positions on Venezuela and Gaza, but later developments led Stern to regard this as a sterile attempt and the document was never finished.

[7] Cde Schwartz had already taken a similar position when he was a member of the Socialist Workers League, an organization which preceded the IDMC, but its content was in essence centrist and it confused a democratic program with a proletarian one.

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