wsws.org is the online publication of the ICFI, the ‘International Committee of the Fourth International’. You may remember the ICFI from such rallies as took place in Melbourne in the early 1990s (when they were still known as the ‘Socialist Labour League’); the selling of their newspaper, Workers News, sometimes being accompanied by angry denunciations of anarchism.
Well, I do anyway.
In any case, the ICFI is one of umpteen FIs out there battling to maintain
Brotsky’s Crotsky’s Drotsky’s Frotsky’s Trotsky’s legacy. For its part, the ICFI modestly describes itself as “the leadership of the world socialist movement… consist[ing] of Socialist Equality Party national sections throughout the world”. ‘The world’, in this instance, meaning Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Sri Lanka, and ‘the leadership’ an American bloke named David North.
(The history of the FI (est.1938) is complicated, and there are many different international associations claiming descent. Wikipedia, for example, lists 20, of which four–CWI, ICFI, ICL and IST–have a noticeable presence Down Under. Their size ranges from the tiny (eg. IBT) to the very, very small.)
In its current incarnation the ICFI, aka the leadership of the world socialist movement, developed in the wake of a split in the I during the mid-1980s. Bob Gould:
…after several years of intense activity, including publishing a bi-weekly newpaper for some time, [the Australian SLL] imploded in 1985, about the same time that the British Workers Revolutionary Party collapsed. Bob Pitt’s thorough political biography of WRP leader Gerry Healy [The Rise And Fall of Gerry Healy] explains most of the reasons for the collapse of the SLL/WRP current. The remnants of the SLL were subsequently incorporated into the Socialist Equality Party, and the newspaper Workers News was closed and incorporated in the World Wide Socialist Website.
So much for Australia. As Bob Pitt puts it: “In February 1986 supporters of David North, led by Dave Hyland, were kicked out with all the WRP’s usual contempt for democratic procedure. Adopting the name of the International Communist Party, the Northites [in the UK] quickly relapsed into sectarian ultra-leftism, adopting the Bordigist position that the trade unions are no longer workers’ organisations having been entirely incorporated into the capitalist state.” Ten Years After, according to the SEP nee SLL:
In June 1996, the SLL held its 17th National Congress to begin the process of transforming itself into the Socialist Equality Party. A similar initiative was being undertaken in all the sections of the ICFI. This was not simply a change of name. It was based on the recognition of the new responsibilities posed to the party by the far-reaching changes in the fundamental historical context in which the party conducted its work. New forms of work were necessitated by the political realignment underway in the international working class.
As part of this transformation, the wsws site was launched wayback in 1998 (that is, three years after The Mid Atlantic Infoshop site). Strangely, despite being launched wayback when, the inaugural SEP conference was only held in January, 2010: many years after its supposed birth. Leaving aside the question of the ICFI’s access to time travel, the blast-off into cyberspace was not greeted with much enthusiasm by their comrades in the International Communist League, who of the historic occasion remarked (Bulletin Liquidated: Northite Pirates Run for Cyberspace, Workers Vanguard, No.687, March 27, 1996):
Contrary to the hostile buzzing of a small clot of petty-bourgeois losers and nerds who obviously have nothing better to do than clog up the Internet with sneers that the SL is “anti-technology,” we actually do believe that computers, and yes, even Web sites, are useful tools — for certain purposes. But that’s all they are. 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.
As well as providing incisive analysis of World-Historical Events (and film reviews), wsws also includes innumerable exhortations to join the ICFI, such calls almost invariably concluding ‘most any such analysis. Which makes perfect sense if the reader is committed to following the leadership* of the world** socialist movement.
Be that as it may, recently, while searching for critical materials on Drink-Soaked Ex-Trotskyite Popinjay for War Christopher Hitchens, I stumbledupon a rather unflattering portrayal of him on the ICFI site: Journalist, scoundrel Christopher Hitchens dies at 62 (David Walsh, December 17, 2011). The mournful response to his death on the part of The New York Times, Walsh argues, is on account of his exemplifying “a social type they admire”:
Taken from the widest angle, Hitchens’ trajectory resembled that followed by many of his contemporaries in the “protest generation.” His was an especially spectacular and filthy evolution, but the difference between a Hitchens and a great many left celebrities, including those who still maintain a pretense now and then of opposition to the existing order, is slight. What has characterized these middle class elements, above all, has been an immense unseriousness about the great life-and-death questions of our day.
And certainly, if a complete absence of humour regarding both Life and Death is your thing, then so too is the ICFI; revolution, like the ah, internets, is serious business. With regards Hitchens (Scoundrel time redux: Christopher Hitchens as a social type, David Walsh, February 13, 1999):
He takes positions… that draw attention to himself, allow him to stand out in a crowd, but don’t threaten his social position or standing. To get on in the world it helps sometimes to raise a few eyebrows. In some circles, a British accent, a little sauciness (but nothing too profound) will do the trick.
Maybe. But Hitchens wasn’t the only one to be tricky. The thing is, wayback in April 2007, the leader of the ICFI, David North, was exposed as being David Green, the CEO of a Michigan-based printing company (Grand River Printing and Imaging).
Well, kinda sorta.
When I blogged about it a year later (May 2008) one commenter described ex-SEP member Scott Solomon’s outing as “a pathetic effort to slander David North and the SEP”. Which again, may be so. But this didn’t actually answer the question: is David North, the leader of the world socialist movement aka the ICFI, also David Green, CEO of Grand River?
Solomon’s allegations caused something of a stir at the time, and another FI — the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) — was certainly happy to elaborate, first with Notes on the SEP/GRPI Puzzle (May 15, 2007) and then with Northites Inc.: Toeing the Bottom Line: Being Determines Consciousness (Bolshevik, No.30, 2008). Another FI — (Jan Norden’s) Internationalist Group — also makes reference to the seeming contradiction in Socialists in Bourgeois Electionland (The Internationalist, November 2008) and Where Were You, David North? (The Internationalist, July 2009).
Upon receiving a local business award (“Best Places to Work in Southeast Michigan”, an honour bestowed by Crain’s Detroit Business and IRI Consultants to Management) in 2003, David Green (David North?) remarked of his company that it “places heavy emphasis on what an employee has to deal with day to day, including personal and social responsibilities, and accommodates accordingly. The company firmly believes it and employees must work together to survive.”
As of this date, the name ‘David Green’ has been expunged from the Grand River website; Grand River remains a union-free workplace.
See also : On the Socialist Equality Party, The Partisan, April 6, 2010 | The Downward Spiral of the International Committee of the Fourth International, Alex Steiner, Permanent Revolution, November 2009. NB. This PR is to be confused with Permanent Revolution, the group that split from Workers’ Power aka the Fifth International, in 2006. Sadly, its five Australian members failed to keep the flame of the Fifth International-And-A-Half alive Down Under, their spark expiring a few short years later.