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Memoirs of a Critical Communist. Towards a History of the Fourth International. Livio Maitan. Review.

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Memoirs of a Critical Communist. Towards a History of the Fourth International. Livio Maitan. Resistance Books/Merlin Press. 2019.

(This review appears in the latest, March-April, Chartist Magazine.).

Livio Maitan (1923 – 2004) was a leading figure in the international Trotskyist Movement who won respect and had an influence, on the wider left. Memoirs of a Critical Communist, published in Italian in 2006, his last book, is a “contribution” to the history of the Fourth International. The Italian was, with Pierre Frank, (France) and the influential economist Ernest Mandel (Belgium), a leading figure in the main branch of Trotskyism. Maitan had, the late French Marxist philosopher Daniel Bensaïd, writes in the Preface, “a sense of humour and self-irony”, a warmth and intellectual breadth, which is far from the general picture of a Trotskyist leader.

Maitan’s book  Party, Army and Masses in China (published in Italian in 1969), appeared in English in 1976. Written with an audience sympathetic to the Cultural Revolution in mind it was critical of the Chinese bureaucracy but falls far short of the robust demolition of Mao’s “sterilising totalitarianism,” by Simon Leys.

The present volume ranges much wider. It is a “history of the activities of the activities of the international leadership” of his current until his passing. Pages cover the disputes within Trotskyism during the Cold War, the anti-colonial revolutions, the 68 upheavals, the Portuguese Carnation Revolution of 1974, up to what Franco Turigliatto has called “the congress of “disillusionment” of 1995. This tried to come to terms with the fall of Communism and world-wide setbacks for the whole the left (Livio Maitan’s last book). This saw an end of hopes for democratic left-wing developments in what Trotskyists considered to be “bureaucratised transitional societies”.

Latin American Left.

Memoirs recounts Maitan’s extensive involvement with the Latin American left. The faction run by Posadas, best known today for its belief in flying saucers, but in the ‘sixties for asserting that the world revolution was now led from Latin America and Africa, was one of many to stress the importance of these countries. The guerrilla strategy of Che Guevara, who had “read, and liked Mandel’s Marxist Economic Theory”, attracted support in Bolivia, where Trotskyism had influence in the workers’ movement.

The practice of armed struggle led to intense debates across the continent, and the creation of “political-military” groups committed to armed struggle. Disputes in Argentina, where Trotskyism, continues to have an influence, took place against the background of extreme state repression, and calls for militaristic responses. The niceties of Maitan’s account, which also covers Chile and Mexico, including the row with the ‘Moreno’ tendency that continued till the 1980s, will interest specialists.

Maitan has an eye for detail. He describes the Militant leader Ted Grant carting around Marxist relics in his briefcase to quote Trotsky “chapter and verse”. Talented Rally Speaker Tariq Ali is cited as returning from a visit to  North Korea in 1971 with “fairly positive opinion” about its economic development.

The American Socialist Workers Party (no relation to the UK SWP), the oldest Trotskyist party in the world, and an influence on the celebrated list of 1930s New York Intellectuals under the impact of Jack Barnes today subordinates its politics to the Cuban state. Maitan charges them with their leader’s “authoritarian behaviour” and purging their group by accusations of “disloyalty”. He does not explore allegations of ‘cultism’ and  being “Trotskyist missionaries” common to those who have had contact with them in Europe.

Memoirs of a Critical Communist is far from the work of a cultist. If not always an easy read, even for those familiar with the personalities involved and the movements. From optimism in 1968 “during the heat of the action”, to criticism of one of Trotskyism most abiding traits, leaders “wedded to centralising tendencies and charismatic methods” Maitan emerges as a keen observer.

The willingness to engage with other radical movements, to rethink ideas in the light of experience, to try to build “a global anticapitalist movement” on a socialist basis, has been helped by activists of his calibre. For those prepared to plunge into the difficulties the left faces this book is an important reference point.



See also: Book Review: Heroism of reason – On Livio Maitan’s “Memoirs” LÖWY Michael

This is of particular relevance to the Chartist article:

I confess that I don’t agree with my friend Daniel Bensaid’s criticism of Livio’s discussion of Latin America: “The comments about the controversies regarding the armed struggle in Latin America may appear incomplete and partial to many of us”. On the contrary, I find these pages among the most lively and interesting of the Memoirs. Livio’s draft on armed struggle, presented at the 9h World Congress provoked as he writes, “moment of highest tension and passionate interest”, both among the Latin American delegates and the others. [4] He recognizes that prioritizing rural guerrilla was a mistake, but explains that these were the views of our main organizations in the continent, in Bolivia and Argentina. There are a few very moving pages about Roberto Santucho, the main leader of the the PRT (Revolutionary Workers Party), the Argentinian section of the FI until 1973, both criticizing his wrong views – the illusion that, by leaving the FI, he would get weapons from the “Soviet comrades” – and paying homage to an intransigent revolutionary who gave his life for the cause.


Taking stock of four decades since the foundation of the FI, Livio raises the difficult question: why has our movement failed to play a leading role anywhere ? Among the reasons: the destructive splits, the negative role of authoritarian, centralist, even “Bonapartist” leaders (the list of names is too long), propagandist and voluntarist attitudes, and, for some, a dogmatic approach, exclusively based on the Russian experience of 1917, and on quotes from Leon Trotsky. But the main factor was objective: the force of attraction of the USSR, China, Cuba. Castroism had a special power of attraction for the radical left, and this led to the last split, when the SWP (under the leadership of Jack Barnes) broke with the FI (in 1990), gave up Trotskyism and uncritically adopted the line of the Cuban government.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 3, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Committee for a Workers International (CWI – Socialist Party) Splits and Expels “Petty Bourgeois Mandelism”.

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Struggle against “petty bourgeois Mandelism” creates international split.

This, some might say, bland announcement appears on the Socialist Party’s website.

Socialist Party conference reaffirms the CWI’s historic approach

It requires close reading to get to the gist of the important bits.

On Sunday 21 July over 200 delegates at a special conference of the Socialist Party (England/Wales) voted overwhelmingly, 173 – 35 with 0 abstentions, to sponsor an international conference to reconstitute the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI – the international organisation of which the Socialist Party is part).

This followed a nine month long international debate. Key issues included the central role of the working class in the struggle for socialism, the need for consistent work in the trade unions, the danger of making concessions to identity politics, and the importance of fighting for a programme which links the immediate struggles of the working class to the need for the socialist transformation of society.

In the view of the Socialist Party, and the majority of CWI members internationally, it is vital to defend the CWI’s historic approach to these issues in order for our international to be able to play a role in the struggle for socialism in the coming period.


To give in to the pressures created by the complications of the current situation, as a number of the CWI’s  previous co-thinkers have unfortunately done, is a fundamental error.

It is followed by these optimistic, some might suggest out-of-touch and wild,  claims.

At the present time our method has allowed us to orientate effectively to those mobilised in support of Jeremy Corbyn, campaigning for the removal of the Blairites and the transformation of Labour into a workers’ party.

We are pioneers of the fight against council cuts.

We play a vital role in the trade union movement, including our members playing a leading role in the rank-and-file National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN).

At the same time we have built a significant base on the university campuses.

Most importantly, we are building a party based on a clear socialist programme, currently over 2,000 members strong, which will be able to play a vital role in the mighty struggles of the working class which are ahead.

Opposition to this “method” has come from the Non Faction Faction (NFF).

After the conference, in which it is said 9 sections of the CWI led by Taaffe’s Socialist Party) have expelled the other 31 they held their own rally attended by dozens.

Today we learn that scores of individual members have been expelled, in England and Wales, for opposing Peter Taaffe’s “reconsitute” line.

The NFF have set up a Fighting Fund to back their initiative to Refound the CWI.

One wonders how anybody who backed efforts to affiliate the hard-line pro-Brexit Socialist Party to Labour would now welcome a group bent on expelling members who disagree with the leadership.

Background to this dispute is given in these articles (extracts):

Pete Boggs.

The SP (Socialist Party) is holding a special conference on 21 July to discuss issues from the conflict in the international network linked to the SP (Committee for a Workers’ International, CWI), and a split looks likely.

SP doyen Peter Taaffe has formed a faction in the CWI, “In Defence of a Working-Class Trotskyist CWI”. They contend that the Irish section has moved into “petty-bourgeois Mandelism” through its work in its feminist pro-choice campaign ROSA and an overemphasis on students.

The “Non-Faction Faction” (NFF) in the SP, aligned with the majority in the CWI, charges Taaffe with bureaucratism and being unable to relate to the new wave of left-wing and liberation movements across the world.

Taaffe’s faction has a comfortable majority in Britain, and has been able to remove NFF supporters Sarah Wrack and Claire Laker-Mansfield as (successive) editors of the SP’s weekly paper and from the SP’s Executive Committee.

Evidence for the NFF’s claims of bureaucratism comes from an email sent in error by Taaffe- supporting CWI secretary Tony Saunois to every national section revealing plans to expel Taaffe’s opponents if they convened a meeting of the CWI’s leading committee.

From another well-informed activist:

Petty bourgeois deviations?


Monday 22 July 2019 Manuel Kellner

The CWI is an international organization in the Trotskyist tradition. [1] Its strongest national organization is the “mother party” Socialist Party in England and Wales. In the 1980s, when its members were still working in the Labour Party, then as the “Militant Tendency”, it gained great prestige through its fight against Margret Thatcher’s poll tax, among other things.

According to reports, this organization could be threatened with division. By all accounts ‒ and that is where the problem begins. We are dependent on “leaked” internal documents on the Internet, press articles based on them from other left-wing groups in the English-speaking world and a kind of Kreml-astrology. The CWI does not publicly discuss the differences of opinion that have arisen.

In particular, a 12-page text by Peter Taaffe (English member of the leadership of the CWI for almost 50 years) dated 15 January this year and entitled “In defence of a working-class orientation for the CWI” is available on the Internet. At the very beginning, heavy guns are fired at the CWI: “… the CWI is confronted with …tendencies towards petty bourgeois Mandelism”. [2] Above all, Taaffe accuses the Irish organization of the CWI of “abandoning the necessity of an organization based on the working class movement” in favour of “identity politics”…

Taaffe is obsessed with defeating “petty bourgeois Mandelites”…

Defence of a Working-class Orientation for the CWI Peter Taaffe for the International Secretariat (Majority).

It is necessary to call things by their right name. Barely a month has passed since the IEC and yet it is already quite clear that the CWI faces an opposition to the policies and programme of the CWI with tendencies towards petty bourgeois Mandelism. This opposition originated with the leadership of the Irish section, but it is also present in the leadership of a number of sections of the CWI who support them. This is most prominently displayed in the recent lengthy Greek Executive Committee’s resolution written by Andros P, which represents an open political retreat from the policies and analysis of the CWI.

This is a complete apologia – both organisational and political – for the false methods, policies and perspectives of the Irish organisation.

We have characterised this as representing substantial concessions to ‘Mandelite’ political positions on identity politics, the abandonment of the need for a revolutionary organisation based upon the movement of the working class and the internal regime and democracy of the revolutionary party, and the revolutionary programme and perspectives that flow from such an approach.

Ernest Mandel ( 1923 – 1995) was a greatly respected, and liked, leading figure in the main international Trotskyist current represented in the Fourth International.

In total, he published approximately 2,000 articles and around 30 books during his life in German, Dutch, French, English and other languages, which were in turn translated into many more languages. During the Second World War, he was one of the editors of the underground newspaper, Het Vrije Woord. In addition, he also edited or contributed to many books, maintained a voluminous correspondence, and went on speaking engagements worldwide. He considered it his mission to transmit the heritage of classical Marxist thought, deformed by the experience of Stalinism and the Cold War, to a new generation. And to a large extent he did influence a generation of scholars and activists in their understanding of important Marxist concepts. In his writings, perhaps most striking is the tension between creative independent thinking and the desire for a strict adherence to Marxist doctrinal orthodoxy. Due to his commitment to socialist democracy, he has even been characterised as “Luxemburgist”.

As a young member of the same Fourth International as Mandel (in the International Marxist Group, IMG) I read many of Mandel’s articles, pamphlets and books. In the International Marxist Group, and the wider left, his influence was important. From books, such as The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx (1971), Late Capitalism (1975), the Leninist Theory of Organisation (1970) to From Stalinism to Eurocommunism (1979) Mandel played a significant role in shaping the thinking of the left – even those who disagreed with his (open-minded) Leninism and Trotskyism.

Taaffe is fixated on the way Mandel (and the FI) related to what was initially called the “new mass vanguard”. This was the FI’s was of describing  the radical left that broke from traditional social democratic and Communist leadership in the 1960s on issues such as the Vietnam War,. In the 1970s, the “new social movements” that emerged in the wake of the events of 1968 existed at a time (above all in the UK) with mass worker unrest and anti-fascist and anti-racist struggles, including the emerging black movement. Other issues emerged, more associated with the intelligentsia, such as the Second Women’s movement, which came to interact with struggles in the unions.

It is true that Mandel’s wing of Trotskyism, across Europe, was receptive to the issues of feminism and gay rights, and later, developed innovative ideas about green politics. Unlike the remnants of traditional Trotksyism who, when they finally recognised them, spent their time trying to control these forces, this tendency tried to grapple with their autonomy as well as the need for unity.

The IMG was one of the forums in which many of these activities and debates took place,  in a period when Taaffe’s progenitors in Militant dismissed feminism as middle class, “petty bourgeois”, supported the self-organisation of women comrades and published Socialist Women. The group was open to the debates created by the path-breaking Beyond the Fragments by Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Hilary Wainwright (1979). This widely read pamphlet, subtited Feminism and the Making of Socialism, contained, amongst other ideas, a critique of the leaden form of top-down political organisation represented by Taaffe’s little band of always-right comrades guided by their “perspectives”.

The IMG also backed those who became involved in wider movements such as the Abortion rights campaigns of the 1970s.

The highly regarded IMG comrade Leonora Lloyd was a leading light in the new wave of the women’s movement.

This is the record of the comrade, which speaks for itself.

By 1975, Leonora was living in Harrow, and was a member of a socialist women’s group. When it was learned that the anti-abortion Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child was planning a local public meeting, the group organised a picket and got in touch with other women’s groups. The result was the formation of NAC.

Abortion law had been reformed in 1967, but the anti-abortion lobby was mounting well-resourced campaigns, and Scottish Labour MP James White was introducing his abortion (amendment) bill, which would have seriously curbed the numbers of legal abortions. NAC was launched at a major London rally and Leonora was central to it from the beginning. As NAC full-time coordinator from 1983 to 1993, she campaigned against White’s bill, and the others that followed. She spoke at meetings, debated on radio and TV, organised demonstrations and lobbied MPs. She didn’t ignore routine either; stuffing envelopes, phoning, photocopying. No task was too daunting, no task beneath her.

A stalwart of the left, she played a key role in the birth of the women’s movement (Liz Davis. Obituary 2002)


The contrast with the Taaffe faction’s stand on the Irish campaigners on the same issue does not need underlining.

The main issue is that the SP does not believe in working in campaigns which they do not control and would prefer to run isolated front organisations that they can tell what to do, rather than engage in broad movements

A final point on the IMG.

While the majority, and particularly the tendency this writer was part of, was influenced by the largest section of the Fourth International (the wing called at time the Unified Secretariat (USFI) the French Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (now the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste)  and Mandel himself, there was never a sense of being led by a senior party (like the SP…) or a unique guiding figure (Taaffe).

The idea would have seemed ridiculous.

Here is one of many tributes to ‘petty bourgeois’ Ernest Mandel.

The Life and Struggles of Ernest Mandel

Comrade Mandel had weaknesses. He made mistakes. But he had a great capacity to admit his errors and to take the necessary steps towards correcting them. He was dedicated to building the revolutionary party, no matter how modest its starting point, because of, as he taught us, the essential importance of programme and revolutionary method. But he was also and at the same time oriented to the masses, to the big struggles of our century. He had no patience for sidelined commentators, for abstract critics, for sectarians of any stripe. His last work is a polemic against sectarianism, which you can read in BIDOM.

I will quote only the closing paragraph, a stanza that is really more about empowerment and socialist humanism, in the face of difficult obstacles. And I appeal to each person here. If you agree with these words, join us. Your place is with us, in Socialist Action and the FI, in the fight for a better world.

Ernest Mandel wrote these words: “Do not succumb to despair, resignation, or cynicism, given the terrible odds we all have to face. Do not retreat into “individual solutions” (the flesh pots of the consumer society are still open for some, be it on a much more restricted basis than before) … Never forget the moral commitment of all those who claim to be Marxists: the intransigent defense of the interests of the exploited and the oppressed on a world scale, everywhere, all the time.

“Never content yourself with pure propaganda activities. Never forget the initial and final commitment of Marx: The philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”




How Not to Analyse Ukraine: the Sad Case of Socialist Resistance.

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There once was a Fourth International.

Liam Mac Uaid , who is a respected comrade, has roused an unusual unanimously hostile reaction on the left for this article.

Ukraine – the Russians are the aggressors

We can agree or disagree with the Fourth International’s analysis: whether there is a ‘side’ worth taking, or not.

But these sentences have become notorious. 

Putin’s strategy is to gouge out chunks of Ukrainian territory. He started with Crimea. That is roughly analogous to the north of Ireland. The British state has used the presence of a Protestant population which is opposed to a united Ireland to claim sovereignty over Irish territory.

Another analogy is the Israeli state. There, a settler population displaced the original inhabitants and denied them the right to a Palestinian state. Stalin’s tactics in Crimea were not too different from those of the Israeli state’s founders. He deported almost 200 000 Crimean Tatars and filled the gap with ethnic Russians.

Putin is planning to use the presence of Russian speakers in other parts of Ukrainian territory to annex them. This has even worried Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. According to The Moscow Times  he criticised Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea as setting a “bad precedent.” Even Putin’s friends in the region are twitchy now.

Northern Ireland, Israel, plenty more about Stalin.

A confused phrase stating that, “A defeat for Russian imperialism in Ukraine is both a victory for that mass movement and the Russian working class. ”

This article, with the central analogies cited above, has caused great offence on the left, including some of my close comrades.

Mind you some individuals  seem to think that Stalinism=Israel=Northern Ireland=Putin.

The magic of dialectical thinking at work no doubt.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 27, 2014 at 5:33 pm