We publish two documents about the relationship between our tendency and the FLTI. This is part of a wider discussion with ex-Militants of the FLTI that documents the history of that tendency. These refer specifically to the debate of the character of China that blew up in the FLTI in 2009. The point of disagreement was whether China was emerging as an imperialist power or not. As a result of the dispute our tendency split from the FLTI as a relapsing national Trotskyist tendency characterised by a bureaucratic centralist internal regime centred on the LOI-CI of Argentina. The first document is an account of the way this dispute led to the FLTI resorting to Stalinist methods in the formation of a Zimbabwe section. The second, summarises the main points of the debate over China as a contribution to the reflections on this issue among ex-members of the FLTI today.
We broke with ISO (International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe) in early 2009 after a bitter and acrimonious fight with the then leadership headed by GW. We agreed to identify ourselves then as the New ISO pending a name change, should that be warranted. The majority of comrades followed us with a sizeable minority remaining with GW’s group and others quitting all together.
The break was preceded by a protracted political fight that culminated in a huge defeat for the GW slate at the 2008 ISO congress/National Members Conference (NMC). The fight centred on the critique of the Cliffite centrist method of adapting to the labour bureaucracy as opposed to the rank and file, a popular front approach and a bureaucratic centrist regime.
The election was immediately followed by persecution and victimisation resulting in the arrest of three leading comrades (LM and myself initially with AM rushing from South Africa to join us) at the behest of the GW group.
It was during this period that we made contact with WIVL (now WIVP) of South Africa led by Cde SM. We agreed to start exchanging notes with the view of finding answers to the political limitations we had identified in ISO. The engagements involved exchanging documents.
Soon, by around mid-2009, the FLTI was introduced to us and we initiated engagement more or less on the same level with WIVL, informal yet regular. This later culminated in a trip to SA by AM and another comrade with a view of establishing how best we can relate and continue engagements. At this meeting there were proposals for fusion made to us and we stated that only a general meeting/congress of comrades scheduled for later that year would deal with that.
It was in South Africa that we also got to know of a major political debate within the FLTI over the nature of China and we resolved at leadership level to probe the issue further and make a decision at our congress, if possible.
AM used the trip (his second one after the first personal one when he rushed back to join us in jail) to South Africa to also get in touch with individuals he wanted to work with to form an NGO, Zimbabwe Action Trust. We only got to know about this later on. This was to form the backbone of accusations of working with NGO’s when the FLTI turned against him towards the end of 2010.
We held our congress in December 2009 where it was resolved to continue probing the issue of China and maintain a fraternal relationship with FLTI.
Soon after our congress, and becoming increasingly impatient, FLTI quickly dispatched Cdes SM and MT twice to Zimbabwe in early 2010 to ostensibly look at how best they could help us but in actual fact trying to identify hurdles to immediate fusion and agreement on China.
It was during these visits that a proposal was made for us to change our name and leadership structure to reflect the tradition of FLTI. Little did we know that AM had already made a commitment (during the first official South Africa trip around October 2009) to the FLTI to fuse New ISO into FLTI and also adopt the position of the majority on China.
This was to become apparent when AM returned from Argentina in April of 2010 when we later learned that he had, together with SM of WIVL, doctored the minutes of our congress to appear as if we had agreed on fusion, on China, and to change our name. This was done during the second organisational trip to South Africa enroute to Argentina.
The FLTI/WIVL resorted to this method after realising that their positions were in the minority and could not allow for proper discussion. We can only imagine that if they could do this to thwart a majority view, how far would they go to thwart a minority position as happened with comrades of CWG-NZ/HRWS over the China issue?
The trip to Argentina (in April 2010) proved to be a turning point in that our name, structure and position on China was imposed on us with the help of Mutero who was now acting unilaterally on key issues taking instructions from FLTI.
Just a few days after AM had returned from Argentina, I was to leave Zimbabwe for South Africa. AM indicated to me that they had resolved in Argentina for me to go to South Africa for a brief period as a guest of the WIVL. Little did I know then that it was a plot to remove me from the ground in preparation for an imposition of a name, RIL-FI, and majority position on China. I never got to meet SM and when I was informed by other cdes of developments back in Zimbabwe I quickly made preparations to return and confront AM on the issue.
Upon my return, all leading cdes including me, had been either stripped of their positions or demoted using a new leadership structure imposed on us by FLTI to facilitate an unprincipled fusion and control. We quickly began to mobilise for an extra ordinary congress to primarily look at the issue of imposed fusion, name and position on China.
The extra-ordinary congress, held in August 2010, was attended by the majority of both the general members and members of the leading organ, the National Coordinating Committee (NCC). The result of the congress, as per the published statement, was to reject the imposed fusion, name, leadership structure, position on China and other minor issues resulting in AM being expelled and resolving to continue calling ourselves the New ISO.
Whist in South Africa, after failing to meet SM, I made contact with cdes of CWG (NZ) and CWG (US), then HRWS, who constituted a minority on the question of China and had recently broke with the FLTI to form a Liaison Committee of Communists (LCC).These comrades enabled us to look at the Chinese issue intensively and openly resulting in an agreement that China had become an emerging imperialist nation. We became a section of the LCC in mid-2011 after extensive engagements, enough time necessary to look at the issue given our Cliffite history, and launched the RWG.
Soon after our congress in 2010 we heard that a moral commission had been established by the FLIT which had found that AM was working with NGO’s, and was still following the Cliffite IST tradition of holding an annual public meeting (called Marxism) where even members of the reformist mainstream parties were invited to speak, among other findings.
The real results of the findings remain unclear to us save to say that SM and some FLTI cdes spent time in Zimbabwe around this period. AM did not produce any response to the findings that we are aware of but the RIL-FI soon split in two with AM keeping the name and most comrades, and Cde JS leading another group soon to be named WIL centred on the out of Harare comrades. RIL-FI died a natural death as AM went on to be a leader of a food federation working with the MST of Brazil.
Cde Tigwe (For RWG-Z) 29 August 2020
Some salient points on the China question
Comrades, as ex-Militants of the FLTI, you probably know that the CWG and HWRS joined the FLTI at its founding conference in 2009. We immediately got into a dispute about the character of China. Everyone thought it had restored capitalism, but we were divided over whether or not it could become an imperialist power. We agreed to a public debate on China. An exchange of documents began between the majority (China cannot become an imperialist power) and minority (China is already an emerging imperialist power). However, the debate was not conducted in a democratic centralist way as it was diverted by CM into the Japanese adventure with the JRCL. As you will know from our balance sheet on the FLTI written in early 2010, we think that this episode was evidence of the emergence of a bureaucratic centralist regime around CM. Both the Japanese adventure and the Zimbabwe adventure in our view were driven by the wrong position on China taken by the Majority. Here is a summary of the salient differences on the character of China.
(1) "The world is divided, there can be no more room for imperialism powers."
Majority: From the start, this was the main argument of the majority. It was argued, following Lenin, that the world was already divided by the imperialist powers, and thereafter could only be re-divided in future inter-imperialist wars. Old imperialist powers may fall and new ones rise, but new imperialist powers can never be.
Minority: The minority agrees with this in the context in which it was written. Imperialist (oppressor) powers back their imperialist monopolies, including banks, to extract super-profits from the (oppressed) colonies and semi-colonies. No oppressed country can accumulate sufficient surplus-value to trigger growth that would bring the LTRPF into effect and the export of surplus profits as the necessary condition of imperialism. To escape imperialist exploitation would require the overthrow of imperialism and its comprador bourgeois agents. A big task for a semi-colony (or even a weak imperialist power such as Tsarist Russia.
Resolution: This position is correct insofar as no oppressed capitalist semi-colony has broken from the imperialist world system forcing a repartition of the world economy from ‘below’...except for workers' or peasants' revolutions going all the way to a break with the national bourgeoisie and imperialism. The Russian revolution did exactly this. We don't need to tell the whole story to those who know it, it is sufficient to show that these revolutionary breaks did not reject Lenin on imperialism. Rather they confirmed his theory and method. What’s more, Lenin's theory and practice was instrumental in making the revolution that broke free of the capitalist world by winning the civil war in 1921, as did China in 1949.
(2) The workers states, isolated and backward, could not escape their bureaucratic deformation or degeneration. Without political revolutions supported by world revolution, their fate was, as Trotsky thought most likely, a state capitalist restoration.
The majority and minority agree that this historic defeat took place in Russia and China by 1992. In China we agreed that restoration converted the bureaucracy into the Red Bourgeoisie. But we differed on the legacy of the bureaucratic workers state in determining the outcome for the restored state capitalist regime.
Majority: Starting from its assumption that no imperialist powers can emerge once the world was divided in the imperialist epoch, the restoration of capitalism means that China would re-enter the world economy as an oppressed country unable to accumulate sufficient value to emerge as imperialist. Whether China is semi-colonial, or some 'transitional' state, the point is it is oppressed and fought over by rival imperialist powers. Massive FDI in the free trade zones, big branch plants of most of the big multinationals, and China's role as the workshop of the world, all fit the 'profile' of a semi-colony that serves the imperialist division-of-labour by producing cheap imports of capital and consumer goods for the world market.
Minority: The minority questions how can this be true? China has accumulated massive surpluses since 2001 when it joined the WTO, and now exports surplus capital to every continent as FDI or state-to-state deals in competition with the established imperialist powers. While China allowed the controlled penetration of imperialism in the special zones, it also imposed terms that required joint ventures and intellectual property transfer unlike any semi-colony. The legacy of the workers state allowed it to control and limit the extend of imperialist penetration, and thus to retain the ability to accumulate capital and emerge as an imperialist power.
Resolution: Abandon the dogmatic assumption that Lenin's theory of imperialism cannot predict and spark revolutions that allowed socialist revolutions to re-partition the world economy! Further, failing the world revolution, counter-revolutions forced the bureaucracy to restore capitalism but not at the expense of re-colonization. The legacy of the workers' state proved to be the advantages of a strong central state, a dominant state-owned monopoly sector, and a centralised Communist Party that could plan the economy. The minority asserts that this legacy of the workers' state allowed the Red bourgeoisie to accumulate capital sufficient to trigger the LTRPF and the export of capital.
(3) The Character of China at the concrete level
The two points above cover the theoretical development of Lenin's theory of imperialism, the victory of socialist revolution against imperialism, and of the inevitable failure of an isolated revolution in a single backward country. This is consistent with the observed reality of the character of China today. But we need to evaluate the program and practice of the Majority and Minority as a consequence of their method and theory.
Majority: The majority theory of no new imperialisms must be put to the test against the observed reality today. At the time we had the debate in 2009, the evidence of China's restoration as a semi-colony, open to re-colonisation by imperialism especially the US and Japan, was superficially convincing. It required a program for the socialist revolution, the defence of China, especially from the US, and a bloc with the JRCL in support of the socialist revolution in China. The Minority was naturally cast as abandoning Lenin and Trotsky in order to support the US ruling class in its attempt to recolonise China. At that time the Minority held that China was an 'emerging' imperialism with semi-colonial characteristics and would have defended it from a US (or any other imperialist) attack to increase the super-exploitation and oppression of China. The Majority today still argues that the growth of China is that of an oppressed nation subordinated to imperialist powers. Even the Belt and Road project that invests $trillions in unprecedented global infrastructure is interpreted as reducing labour costs for imports and exports that serve the profits of China’s imperialist masters!
Minority: For the Minority Lenin's theory of a re-divided world applies to the workers states which he had a hand in establishing. It can explain the return of the workers' state to the capitalist world with the legacy of state capitalism that avoids re-colonisation and the lawful emergence of new imperialist powers. It counters the unipolar world of the fake left that delegates the workers revolution to this or that imperialist dictatorship including that of Xi Jinping, president-for-life. The program for China that flows from this is dual defeatism in every inter-imperialist war and defeatism in wars against semi-colonies.
Resolution: In the decade since this debate began, China has risen to become second only to the US as a world power, and ahead on real GDP and capital accumulation. Back In 2010 China was only beginning the trajectory of its imperialist expansion. But already it was accumulating a surplus in trade much of which was invested in US treasury bonds. No semi-colony ever did this. It had virtually no external debt, unheard of for those of us living in semi-colonies. It was becoming a banker for the Bolivarians and the Castroists. The only reason that the Majority did not see these trends as contradicting its theory on China was the preconceived schema misrepresenting Lenin which saw the world revolving around only the USA. Back then we referred to this theory as missing the 'elephant' in the room. Today there is no question: the elephant has broken out of the room, trampled on those who still do not see it, and is now challenging the US for the lead in dominating the world. As comrades look back at the FLTI to see what went wrong and why, they should re-evaluate the debate on China and the adventures in Japan and Zimbabwe, which revolved around his question China.
Dave Brown (for ILTT) 4 August 2020