Socialist Equality Party (Germany)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Germany)

The conflict with the OCI and the fraction fight in the IAK

152. The BSA emerged out of a Marxist minority faction within the Gruppe Internationale Arbeiterkorrespondenz (IAK), which had developed from an initiative of the French OCI and had worked closely with it. In 1963, the OCI had sent a delegation to Germany to discuss the political lessons of the metal workers’ strike in Baden-Württemberg. The OCI representatives identified themselves clearly as Trotskyists, translating and circulating the Transitional Programme and organising discussions on Trotsky’s writings. They were in contact with a variety of people, including social democrats seeking a left image, such as Hans Matthöfer, later to become a federal minister, and foreign policy expert Karsten Voigt; radicalised political science and sociology students; but also workers, students and apprentices who were seriously looking for an alternative to social democracy and Stalinism. One of this group was an 18-year-old engineering apprentice, Ulrich Rippert, who joined the IAK in Frankfurt in 1969. Rippert is today chairman of the PSG. From the summer of 1965, a group of political science and sociology students from the Frankfurt Fetscher-Seminar, who were in close contact with the OCI, published a journal called International Worker Correspondence (IAK). At the end of the 1960s, they were joined by a student group from Bochum.

153. At this time, the OCI was still a section of the International Committee but was increasingly distancing itself politically. In the fight against the reunification of the SWP with the Pabloites in 1963, the OCI had played only a subordinate role, leaving the debate to the SLL. In 1966, at the Third World Congress of the International Committee, the OCI supported a motion from the SLL that affirmed that the Fourth International had successfully repelled the efforts of the revisionists to destroy it. However, less than a year later, the OCI declared that the International Committee was “not the leadership of the Fourth International”, which had been destroyed “under the pressure of hostile class forces” and had to be rebuilt.[1] “Reconstruction of the Fourth International” became the slogan with which the OCI distanced itself from the programmatic principles defended by the International Committee against Pabloism. This was rejected by the British SLL: “The future of the Fourth International is represented in the stored-up hatred and experience of millions of workers for the Stalinists and reformists which betray their struggles…. Only the struggle against revisionism can prepare the cadres to take the leadership of the millions of workers drawn into the struggle against capitalism and against the bureaucracy…. The living struggle against Pabloism and the training of cadres and parties on the basis of this fight was the life of the Fourth International since 1952.”[2]

154. The SLL warned the OCI of the consequences of its scepticism towards the International Committee: “Now the radicalisation of the workers in Western Europe is proceeding rapidly, particularly in France…. There is always a danger at such a stage of development that a revolutionary party responds to the situation in the working class not in a revolutionary way, but by adaptation to the level of struggle to which the workers are restricted by their own experience under the old leadership, i.e. to the inevitable initial confusion. Such revisions of the fight for the independent Party and the Transitional Programme are usually dressed up in the disguise of getting closer to the working class‚ unity with all those in struggle, not poising ultimatums, abandoning dogmatism, etc.”[3]

155. This warning was to be confirmed in 1968. As the student revolt and the general strike led France to the edge of a revolution, the OCI reacted in a centrist, not a revolutionary manner. It did not challenge the leadership of the Stalinists, who ultimately strangled the general strike. Their programme was limited to demands for the unity of the mutually hostile trade union federations and for “a central strike committee”, without connecting this to socialist demands. It systematically avoided the question of political power, even as workers called for a “popular government” and President de Gaulle fled abroad. The OCI never placed demands on the French Communist Party and the trade union CGT to form a government. A systematic agitation in this direction would have intensified the conflict between the workers and the Stalinists and strongly undermined their credibility.

156. Under the pressure of thousands of new members, who streamed into the party in 1968, the OCI moved sharply to the right in ensuing years and ended up being taken in tow by the Socialist Party. In 1971, the Socialist Party’s leadership was taken over by François Mitterrand, a bourgeois politician who had begun his political career under the Vichy regime and served in the Fourth Republic as a Minister of the Interior and Law. Mitterrand developed a political mechanism that permitted the French bourgeoisie to overcome the crisis of 1968 and to secure its rule in the decades that followed—”the Alliance of the Left”, in which he included the French Communist Party. After Mitterrand’s election to the presidency in 1981, the Alliance of the Left took office, and with a few interruptions, led the government for the next 21 years. The OCI supported Mitterrand, celebrated the Alliance of the Left as the realisation “of the workers united front” and in 1971 sent numerous members into the Socialist Party. One of them, Lionel Jospin, worked closely with Mitterrand and finally became French prime minister in 1997. On the international level, the OCI formed a bloc with centrist organisations against the International Committee. In Bolivia, it defended the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) of Guillermo Lora, a Pabloite organisation, which placed confidence in the Stalinists and the “left” military regime of Juan José Torres, and so paved the way for the bloody military dictatorship of Hugo Banzer.

157. The rightward movement of the OCI resulted in fierce conflicts within the IAK. Initially, the IAK had distanced itself clearly from the SPD and the trade union bureaucracy. In the student movement—in contrast to the Stalinist and anarchist currents of the SDS—it fought for an orientation to the working class and stressed that this was possible only in the fight against social democracy and the trade union bureaucracy. Thus, it explained in 1968: “The workers’ bureaucracies help the ruling class in their task of isolating the struggle of the students. Only in the struggle against these bureaucracies can students make links to the struggles of the working class, by taking part in the fight for the building of the revolutionary organisations of the proletariat.”[4]

158. But shortly before Willy Brandt became chancellor in 1969, the IAK changed its position. The entire group joined the SPD and stated that one could establish a workers’ government with the help of this party: “The demand placed on the SPD for a workers’ government is not only a tactic to expose it. We assume rather that the intensification of the class struggle will force the apparatuses to break more completely with the bourgeoisie than they originally intended on the basis of their counter-revolutionary ideology. So a social-democratic workers’ government is quite possible, i.e. it is possible when the control of social-democracy over the working masses can only be maintained by a social-democratic government carrying out policies which limit the power of individual capitalists or groups of capitalists.”[5] This was a classic Pabloite formulation: The way to workers’ power was not through the independent mobilisation of the working class under the banner of the Fourth International; the same goal could be achieved through the SPD, if the working class exerted appropriate pressure on it.

159. The IAK expressly rejected the fight for a socialist perspective within the SPD. Instead, it limited itself to trade union demands, which it termed “transitional demands”: “As the masses take up transitional demands in the first stage of their mobilisation without being conscious of the fight for the conquest of power, so we develop an organisation around the Social-Democratic Worker without demanding that the workers join the Fourth International and accept its full programme. We are, however, always ready to openly fight for its full programme. The tendency and, at a later point, organisation to be built around the Social-Democratic Worker is not based on the programme of the Fourth International.”[6] While the bourgeoisie depended on Willy Brandt to contain the offensive of the working class and youth, the IAK subordinated itself to the SPD and provided it with a left cover.

160. The IAK also developed a political formula to support Brandt’s Ostpolitik. It had originally called for the reunification of Germany by the working class on a socialist basis, but from 1969 onwards it called for immediate reunification without any preconditions. In the first issue of its fraction paper in the SPD, it stated in the spring of 1971, that “the entire German working class” had given the task to Willy Brandt to stand up for “national self-determination” and “immediate reunification”.[7] It thus justified the penetration of German capital into Eastern Europe, the core of Brandt’s Ostpolitik, and substituted the left opposition to Stalinism with the right-wing anti-communism of the SPD. Twenty years later, when the SED regime collapsed and Willy Brandt stood beside Helmut Kohl to push for German unity, the successors of the IAK used openly anti-communist language, characterising the GDR as a “prison for 17-18 million German women, men and children”, while celebrating the fall of the wall as a triumph “of the German people (Volk)”, who could “now finally jointly celebrate its unity.”[8]

161. In close cooperation with the British SLL, a Marxist minority fraction was formed in 1970 against this rightward course. It founded the BSA one year later. The minority rejected subordination to the SPD. In its founding manifesto, the BSA affirmed its irreconcilable opposition to the social-democratic bureaucracy and the need to develop an independent revolutionary party: “The working class faces the danger of entering into revolutionary struggles without a clear consciousness of the real perspective of capitalism and with illusions in the cowardly class compromise policies of the old leaderships.… Each struggle against the Concerted Action and wage policies of the government, against the new industrial relations legislation, against rationalisation measures and the closure of factories, against short-time work and unemployment, against high rents and against cuts to public services must be concentrated on the building of an alternative leadership of the working class.”

162. The fraction fight within the IAK intensified rapidly in 1971. At a summer school in Fallingbostel, near Hanover, in which representatives of the SLL and the American Workers League participated, fierce disputes erupted over Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? The IAK majority designated Lenin’s view, that socialism had to be brought into the working class from outside, as “outright idealism” and put forward a spontaneous conception. The task of Marxists was to unite all spontaneous struggles. This was the essence of “the strategy of the united workers’ front”. From the spontaneous struggles, natural organisers of the working class would develop. It was necessary to build committees and forms of action where these natural organisers could rally and, on the basis of their own experiences, develop into Marxists. The minority declared war on these conceptions. In a letter, “On the meaning of the minority fraction,” it wrote: “The principled fight against the petit bourgeois mixture of radical protest and opportunist adaptation to the interests of the traitorous trade union bureaucracies, embodied in the leadership of the IAK, is at its core a fight against an entire tendency in our society that prevents the working class and youth from finding their way to Marxism. This tendency comprises numerous independent groups and tendencies in the SPD (Jusos) and trade unions. The theoretical and political fight against these tendencies, born and nourished from the petit bourgeois student movement, is indispensable for the development of Marxism in Germany.”[9]

163. In 1971, the OCI openly opposed the International Committee. In July, it organised an international youth meeting in Essen, to which it invited centrist and openly right-wing organisations. Together with them, it opposed an SLL motion that affirmed the historical continuity of the International Committee and stated that there existed no revolutionary parties outside the Fourth International. One month later, the military in Bolivia carried out a putsch. When the Workers League and the SLL published a critique of Lora’s POR, which shared responsibility for this disaster, they were publicly attacked by the OCI and accused of capitulating to imperialism. In September, the Marxist minority of the IAK founded the BSA, and a month later the majority of the International Committee announced its split with the OCI.


Statement by the OCI, May 1967 in Trotskyism versus Revisionism, Volume 5, London 1975, p. 91-92.


Reply to the OCI by the Central Committee of the SLL, June 19, 1967, in Trotskyism versus Revisionism, Volume 5, London 1975, p. 107, 114.


ibid. p. 113-114.


Adresse der IAK an die außerordentliche Delegierten-Konferenz des SDS, March 1968, in the pamphlet Der Kampf der Studenten und die Rolle des SDS.


IAK No. 28. March 1970.


Internes IAK-Bulletin March 1971. Sozialdemokratischer Arbeiter (Social-Democratic Worker) was the name originally planned for the paper issued by the IAK inside the SPD. But finally it appeared under the name Sozialistische Arbeiterpolitik - Organ für eine Arbeiterpolitik in der SPD (Socialist Workers’ Policies – Organ for Workers’ Policies inside the SPD).


Wer wir sind und was wir wollen, in Sozialistische Arbeiterpolitik – Organ für eine Arbeiterpolitik in der SPD, 1. Mai 1971.


Manifesto of the Vereinigung der Arbeitskreise für Arbeitnehmerpolitik und Demokratie im vereinten Deutschland (VAA) for the 1990 Federal Election, quoted in Das Ende der DDR, Arbeiterpresse Verlag, S. 447.


Letter Über den Sinn der Minderheitsfraktion, 26. Mai 1971.