In Response to the Self-Proclaimed “Leadership” of the World Socialist Movement

A Reply to the Recent Polemic of the ICFI/WSWS against the RCIT


By Johannes Wiener, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 30 April 2016,


Note of the Editorial Board: Several weeks ago, the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) of the “International Committee of the Fourth International” (ICFI), published a slanderous polemic against our organization in three languages. [1] A few days later, we published a brief reply, promising to deal with ICFI’s accusations in greater detail at a later date. What follows is our response. [2]


The ICFI describes itself on their website ( as “the leadership of the world socialist movement” [3]. This – let’s call it “over-confident” – statement is in no small part presumptuous, given their having groups only in the US, Britain, Canada, Germany, Australia and Sri Lanka. In fact, all of their groups – except for the one in Sri Lanka – are located in rich, imperialist Western countries. Despite the existence of this organization for several decades, in practice they have been unable to win over groups and fighters outside the imperialist metropolises (or, for that matter, in any new country). Given this fact, it is clear that the ICFI believes that “the leadership of the world socialist movement” can consist of a small group of intellectuals who reside mostly in the richest states of the world – undoubtedly an essentially imperialistic perspective. To believe that you can lead the world socialist movement without having a single fighter in Africa or Latin America nor even one comrade in the Arab world is either a thoroughly bankrupt view of the notion of a “world socialist movement” or unabashed hubris.


While we in the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) have sections and activists in 10 countries, with the majority of our members living in semi-colonial countries, we are fully aware that we are still a small organization and are still terribly behind the objective needs and tasks of our class. However, in contrast to the ICFI, we do not have the temerity to mislead revolutionary fighters by making empty declarations about our current status or role, which have no connection whatsoever with the reality of class struggle.


Furthermore, from the well-polished format of its website, it is clear that the ICFI consists almost entirely of an Internet-group of journalists with no active connection with real class struggle – and who are rather mostly concerned about donations to their website. This emphasis on contributions would be amusing if it weren’t so sad, given the financial status of the ICFI leader, David North, who in his professional career is known as David W. Green, CEO of Grand River Printing & Imaging – a company that has annual earnings of about $25 million, according to its website. [4]


In their recent polemic against the RCIT, the ICFI focused its attack mostly on our position that, over the last 25 years, Russia and China have become imperialist great powers. We in the RCIT have published a number of economic studies and political analyses about these developments. [5] What most jumps out at any neutral observer from their recent polemic is that the “theoreticians” of the ICFI are entirely unable to disprove any of the multitudinous facts which we have provided in our studies, let alone present a single bit of economic data of their own. Rather, their entire “argument” against our position vis. the imperialist nature of Russia and China today, rests on two exceedingly disingenuous assertions:


“What political purpose, it must be asked, is served by adding the word “imperialist” to descriptions of China and Russia? In practical political terms, it serves very definite functions. (…) First, it relativizes, and therefore diminishes, the central and decisive global counterrevolutionary role of American, European and Japanese imperialism. (…) Second, and even more significantly, the designation of China and Russia as imperialist—and thus, by implication, as colonial powers suppressing ethnic, national, linguistic and religious minorities—sanctions the pseudo-left’s support for imperialist-backed “national liberation” uprisings and “color revolutions” within the boundaries of the existing states.”[6]


This argument might possibly have some contextual coherence if it were to appear in the editorial-opinion columns of Russia Today (RT), but certainly not in the discourse of an organization which purports to represent (let alone lead) the revolutionary workers’ movement. How does considering Russia and China as imperialist great powers in any way relativize the crimes of Western imperialism?! Using the same simplistic, undialectical method of the ICFI, Lenin himself could be accused of having relativized the crimes of German imperialism just because he considered Tsarist Russia to be an imperialist great power. Armed with such specious logic, authentic socialists probably should also have joined the chorus of the Stalinists against the revolutionary 4th International, declaring them pro-imperialist because they supported anti-imperialist struggles of all oppressed peoples – not just those who happened to be oppressed by imperialist great powers who were at war with the Soviet Union at that time. The RCIT consistently fights against all imperialist wars and aggression launched by the EU and US, but such severe condemnation cannot come in place of a rigorous scientific analysis of the class character of the various states in the world.


Ignoring the National Question


An independent, revolutionary anti-imperialism must be directed against all great powers. It must condemn and fight against all imperialist wars, whether it be the occupation of Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Mali, and Central African Republic, Haiti or the assaults on Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya by the Western imperialists and their allies, or the occupation of Chechnya, East Turkestan as well as the military intervention in Syria and South Sudan by imperialist China and Russia. Covering the period from the end of the 19th century until today, we know that, quantitatively, the crimes of US imperialism in particular have far outnumbered those which have been committed by Russia and China (mostly due the strength of the US compared to the relative weakness of the latter two countries). But this doesn’t make any qualitative difference. One could also argue, for example, that the crimes of Dutch, Swiss, Swedish, Australian or Austrian imperialism are quantitatively much fewer than what the US has committed during the last 50 years, but this shouldn’t stop socialists from characterizing these smaller countries as imperialist states (although of a lower rank).


Truth be told, it is as a general principle that the ICFI opposes the national liberation of oppressed peoples. In actual practice, however, it seems that they’re in particular against the national liberation of oppressed peoples who reside in a country which is in conflict with US and EU imperialism. The authentic Marxist tradition has a very different approach to such questions. The 4th International, as based on Lenin and Trotsky, acknowledged that the oppression of nations is a paramount aspect of capitalism. Lenin emphasized in his writings on imperialism and the national question that the division of nations into oppressor and oppressed … forms the essence of imperialism“. [7]


Therefore, for Marxists, the liberation of oppressed peoples is a central motif in the overall liberation of all workers and oppressed. It is patently absurd and reactionary to believe, like the WSWS, that “Many pseudo-left organizations (including the RCIT, Ed.) cooperated closely with the imperialist powers to spread the poison of bourgeois nationalism.” [8] Again, the self-proclaimed “leadership of the world socialist movement” demonstrates a complete lack of dialectical understanding when they reduce nationalism to being merely a plague spread by imperialism – with or without “the help small left-wing organizations.” As long as imperialism exists with its systematic oppression of peoples, nationalism will arise; but this is particularly so during the present period, marked as it is by the decline of world capitalism, when imperialists must tighten their grip in order to continue their accumulation of extra-profits derived from the work of semi-colonial peoples. Nationalism of oppressed peoples is a natural reaction to this imperialist oppression, given the absence of a revolutionary mass workers party to lead them. The Bolsheviks always understood, in contrast to their epigones like the ICFI, that nationalism of the oppressed people is not exclusively reactionary, but also contains a progressive side insofar as it manifests opposition to the oppressor nation. As Lenin wrote: „The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content that we unconditionally support. [9]


Of course, Marxists are in principle opposed to the nationalism of the oppressed, but this opposition is not something which Marxists can express by simply not supporting and participating in justified national liberation struggles, and only resorting to denouncing them as “poison.” We, therefore, must combine the struggle for the right of oppressed peoples to self-determination with our struggle to put the working class to power. This was also the position of Lenin and Trotsky, the latter of whom wrote: “The resolute struggle of the Bolshevik party for the right of self-determination of oppressed nationalities in Russia facilitated in the extreme the conquest of power by the proletariat.” [10] He answered to those who opposed the right of self-determination: “…many others used this very same argument against the program of national self-determination: Under capitalism it is utopian; under socialism, reactionary. The argument is false to the core…“ [11] About the struggle for the right to self-determination, Lenin had to say this: “We say: In order that we may have the strength to accomplish the socialist revolution and overthrow the bourgeoisie, the workers must unite more closely and this close union is promoted by the struggle for self-determination…” [12]


For the ICFI, support by the RCIT for the right of self-determination of the oppressed peoples in Russia and China is particularly “poisonous,” even stating that: “The documents written by its international secretary and leading theoretician Michael Pröbsting—notwithstanding references to Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, buttressed by radical-sounding rhetoric—read like strategy papers authored in the foreign and defense ministries and think tanks of the imperialist powers.” [13] Such nonsense parrots quite similar but absurd “accusations” made by the Stalinists against Trotskyites to “prove” that the latter were working in the service of Hitler, the Japanese Tennō, or the western colonial powers.


The main problem of the ICFI is that, while they claim to stand in the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky, they have utterly broken with Trotskyism and its method. The ICFI accuses us of “acting in the interest of western imperialism by defending the national minorities in Russia and China.” However, they should be aware that Trotsky was accused of the very same thing when he developed his program for the Soviet Union under Stalinism. Even the ICFI is forced to admit that Russia is a capitalist power (although they deny its imperialist nature). Trotsky on the other hand supported the right of the Ukraine for self-determination in 1939, when the Soviet Union was still a (degenerated) workers’ state. Trotsky’s words at the time sound like they were directed against the ICFI: “If our critic were capable of thinking politically, he would have surmised without much difficulty the arguments of the Stalinists against the slogan of an independent Ukraine: “It negates the position of the defense of the Soviet Union”; “disrupts the unity of the revolutionary masses”; “serves not the interests of revolution but those of imperialism.” In other words, the Stalinists would repeat all the three arguments of our author.“ [14]


The Tactic of Slander


A well-known tactic of theoretically impotent people is to replace argument with slander. The ICFI is a prime example for this. In their polemic against the RCIT they write: “In a programmatic article—bearing the pretentious title “Liberation Struggles and Imperialist Interference. The failure of sectarian ‘anti-imperialism’ in the West: Some general considerations from the Marxist point of view and the example of the democratic revolution in Libya in 2011” — Pröbsting attacks all of those who refused to greet the NATO war in Libya in 2011 as a revolution and a victory for the working class.”


In actual fact, however, in the very same essay we wrote quite the opposite: “At the same time, however, fight against NATO! For the defeat of the NATO armed forces! For direct actions of the workers’ movement, especially in the NATO countries and in the countries where the imperialist forces and their accomplices have bases, in order to impede their military action and if possible to prevent them. (…) We argued to fight inside the rebel movement against the bourgeois leadership of the TNC which tried – together with NATO imperialism – to contain the revolution and reduce it to the regime-change. We called for the deepening of the revolution by the formation of workers’ and popular councils and militias and the transformation of the democratic revolution into a socialist one. For this reason we fought against the NATO attacks, since they just helped to contain the revolution.” [15]


With regard to Syria, the ICFI misleadingly quotes the RCIT so as to give the false impression that we are only opposed to the Russian intervention. Our opponents write: “In an “Open letter to All Revolutionary Organisations and Activists” from last December, they [the RCIT] write[s], “In Syria the revolutionary liberation struggle is continuing but is facing huge threats. The murderous dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad—with the wholesale support of Russian imperialism as well as that of Iran—is continuing its war of destruction against its own people.”“[16]


Once again, in the very same document we unequivocally state: “…all the Great Powers are united in their determination to liquidate the Syrian Revolution since they fear both a destabilization of the imperialist order throughout the entire region as well as growing waves of refugees coming to Europe. (…) Down with the military intervention of Russian as well as French, US, British and German imperialism! No to any negotiated settlement by the Great Powers! (…) Down with imperialist aggressions and wars! In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Mali, Somalia, and North Korea: Defeat the imperialist NATO and Russian forces and their local allies! We are on the side of those resisting the imperialist invaders without giving any political support for nationalist, Islamist or Stalinist forces!”


Russia and China as Imperialist Great Powers: An Enigma for the ICFI


In concluding this response, let us briefly reply to the ICFI why we consider Russia and China to be great imperialist powers. The ICFI asks: “What political purpose, it must be asked, is served by adding the word “imperialist” to descriptions of China and Russia?” [17] Then they go on with their conspiracy theories describing how the RCIT and the “pseudo-left” are operating in the interest of the western imperialist nations. We remark briefly that the very Western imperialism with which –according to the ICFI – the RCIT is secretly collaborating is obviously not very pleased with our services. For this reason I was personally charged with sedition by the Austrian state in 2012/13, because of my Antizionist stand against Israel. Similarly, Michael Pröbsting, our international secretary, currently faces the very same charges because – in contrast to what ICFI journalists claim – we do consistently fight against western imperialism. [18]


But let us go back to the question raised by the ICFI. Clearly, there is no political “purpose” in considering Russia and China imperialist powers, although there are obviously political conclusions one has to draw from such a political-economic analysis. I will limit myself here to just a few brief arguments – none of which the ICFI has even tried, let alone been able, to disprove – and which we have elaborated in detail in the documents we referred to above.


1.) China has more billionaires than the US. [19]


This number even excludes the billionaires who live in Macao and Hong Cong. Can the ICFI name a semi-colonial country that can have a larger bourgeoisie than the strongest imperialist power on the earth, the USA? The billionaires in China are Chinese are not, after all, foreigners who moved there because of the “laissez-faire” Chinese state or the low taxes.


2) China’s foreign investments have increased nearly 14 times from 2004 to 2013. [20]


Since then foreign investments of China have increased even more to the point where today more investment capital is flowing out of China than flowing in. [21] We seriously ask the ICFI whether, in their opinion, it is a normal phenomenon that an allegedly “semi-colonial” country massively invests overseas in other Asian, African or Latin American countries.


3) China is currently building the Nicaragua Canal as rival project to the Panama Canal. [22]


Chinese billionaire Wang Jang is constructing the Nicaragua Canal in the interest of Chinese imperialism, so that China will no longer be dependent on the US-controlled Panama Canal. Can the ICIF name any other nation who can so successfully challenge US hegemony in such a strategic aspect in their own “backyard”?


4) Russia stands up to NATO without consequences


Russia, with is enormous military power, was able to challenge western imperialism in the Ukraine. They could invade and annex the Crimean Peninsula without NATO’s being able to do anything effective against this – even though the NATO allies were strongly opposed to this unilateral takeover. When a semi-colonial country does something like this, for example Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait or Argentina’s military offensive to retake the Malvinas, we generally can predict the outcome. Added to this, the two examples cited were geo-strategically much less important than Russia’s actions in Crimea. Let us not forget, too, that Russia was able to stand up against the plans of NATO to bomb their ally Assad in Syria in August 2013.


The ICFI – correctly – publishes regular warnings about the dangers of major wars and even a world war. They describe how there is an ongoing major conflict between the US, EU and Japan on the one side and Russia and China on the other. But the ICFI leaders seem unfazed by their own logical contradiction: on one hand they claim that Russia and China are not imperialists, i.e., they are semi-colonial countries – subordinate to the great imperialist powers; while on the other hand they claim that there is a real danger of world war. Can a rational person imagine two semi-colonial countries successfully challenging the unity of all imperialist powers, resisting them, and even becoming stronger?! No, this is absolutely impossible. The much more reasonable, authentically Marxist position is that Russia and China have in fact become imperialist powers in their own right, and that it is they who have become strong enough to challenge the “old” western imperialist powers. This is the reason they are fighting – not over the carving up of Russia or China – but rather about who controls the semi-colonial world; who controls the South China Sea, the Black Sea, Syria and Nicaragua.


In its polemic against us, the ICFI claims that “in Africa and Asia, their supporters (the RCIT, Ed.) cooperate with extreme right-wing nationalist forces.” however, they are incapable of citing a single bit of evidence for such slander. Obviously, no such example can be easily given, based on the fact that their claim is a bald-faced lie about the politics and practice of our comrades in Asia and Africa (Pakistan, Sir Lanka, Occupied Palestine, Yemen and Tunisia)


In summary, the entire polemic published by the ICFI/WSWS against us is somewhat amusing, given its title “A case study in theoretical charlatanry.” In light of its groundless attacks against us and its ridiculous impotent resorting to slander to misrepresent our positions, it is fair to say that, if one deletes the word “theoretical” from the title of their article, it perfectly describes the methods and policies of the ICFI itself.


[1] Johannes Stern: Behind the designation of Russia and China as “imperialist”: A case study in theoretical charlatanry, WSWS, 14 April 2016,; Warum werden Russland und China „imperialistisch“ genannt? Eine Fallstudie über theoretische Betrügerei, WSWS, 15. April 2016,; L'«impérialisme» de la Russie et de la Chine: Une étude de cas de charlatanisme théorique, 30 avril 2016,

[2] Michael Pröbsting: The Involuntary Self-Exposure of the WSWS. A Brief Reply to a Lengthy Attack by David North’s WSWS against the RCIT, 18.4.2016,

[5] Here you can find a collection of the RCIT documents dealing with China and Russia as Emerging Great Imperialist Powers: