The 12th World Congress of the Fourth International and the future of the Socialist Workers Party’s international relations

SWP NC August 1985
By Doug Lorimer 

This report has two purposes. The first is to give an assessment of the 12th World Congress of the Fourth International, which was held in the last week of January and the first week of February this year. And the second is to explain the motivation behind the decision taken by the National Executive on June 27 to recommend to this National Committee meeting that our party cease its affiliation to the Fourth International.

I will take up the second question later in the report. I want to begin with an account of the recent Fourth International congress.

As comrades will recall our party submitted two major line resolutions for discussion and vote at the World Congress “The Cuban Revolution and its Extension” and “The Struggle for Socialism in the Imperialist Epoch”.

We sent a delegation consisting of four comrades — Jim Percy, John Percy, Sue Reilly and myself. In the lead up to the congress Comrade Roberto, one of the leaders of the Mexican section of the Fourth International — the Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT) — informed us of his agreement with our Cuba resolution and he agreed to report on it at the congress.

Initially we had planned to present counter-reports to those of the United Secretariat majority under only three of the major agenda items — the world political situation, Central America, and the question of building the Fourth International.

At the United Secretariat meeting that preceded the congress, the United States SWP insisted on having counter-reports on all the major items even though they had presented no written counter-line resolutions on these questions. The USec majority agreed to their demand even though previously it had been agreed that only those delegations presenting written a counter-resolution on a particular question could have an oral counter-report on that question. Given this, and the fact that we had positions on all of these questions that we considered were distinctively different from both the USec majority and the US SWP, and moreover, our written counter-resolutions covered all of these topics, we decided to commit ourselves to the presentation of counter-reports on the three other major agenda points — Poland, socialist democracy, and an item that the agenda committee entitled “Workers and farmers government/In defence of permanent revolution”.

Doing this obviously involved considerable effort on our part, particularly, given the small size of our delegation and the fact that as a minority we were also allocated specific time for interventions during the discussions on these agenda items. However, all of us in the delegation were satisfied that we had done a capable job of presenting our point of view, even if we didn’t make much headway in convincing many other delegates of its correctness.

The first item on the congress agenda was the question of procedural motions and attendance. Under this, Larry Seigle from the US SWP moved to seat as observers “those from the USA, Canada and Australia who are appealing their exclusion from the section or fraternal section in those countries to this World Congress”. This was counterposed to the recommendation of the outgoing international Executive Committee, which had met the previous day, to seat as delegates with full voting rights representatives of the two organisations that grouped together most of the 107 comrades purged by the US SWP leadership in last two years — that is, representatives from Socialist Action (SA) and the Fourth Internationalist Tendency (FIT).

At the IEC we’d moved a resolution that Dave Deutschmann and Lynda Boland (two members of the pro-US SWP grouping in this country), who arrived at the congress site without our prior knowledge or approval, be excluded from the congress sessions and the hotels where delegates were accommodated. This motion was passed, with the US SWP and other members of its undeclared international faction being the main ones voting against.

Seigle’s motion to the congress was a crude attempt to put Deutschmann and Boland in the same category as those purged by the US SWP. This typically cynical manoeuvre by the US SWP was decisively rejected by the congress. I should just add that, as comrades who have read the congress minutes that were sent out to the branches several weeks ago know, the congress refused to consider the so-called appeals of Boland and Lee Walkington, since they had not been expelled from our party, but had left voluntarily. The appeals by four of those who had been expelled in late 1983 for organising a secret faction — Dave Deutschmann, Deb Shnookal, Nita Keig, and Ron Poulsen — were considered and rejected by the congress by a 3-to-1 majority.

Following the vote to seat representatives of SA and the FIT as fraternal delegates, US SWP leader Jack Barnes called for a meeting of all those IEC members who voted against, claiming this decision amounted to the de-recognition of the US SWP as the fraternal section of the Fourth International in the US. At this meeting, attended only by those who were already part of Barnes’ undeclared international faction, it was decided to constitute a formal IEC faction for the duration of the congress. This faction then, on a printing press it hired for the two weeks of the congress, printed up an “Appeal to delegates by 18 IEC members” that centred totally on organisational disputes.

So right from the beginning of the congress it was apparent that the Barnes faction was not interested in clarifying the political issues before the congress but with engaging in organisational manoeuvres. That this is the only perspective they had and have was confirmed by the content of the counter-reports and interventions in the discussions on the main political reports that they presented during the congress.

For example, under the first major item — the world political situation — Brian Brewster, the leading member of the Barnesite faction in the British section, presented a rant against all the supposed deviations being made by other sections of the Fourth International. For example, the Mexican PRT was denounced by him for its supposed capitulation to “bourgeois electoralism”, because of its attempts to form united electoral tickets with other left formations such as the Mexican Communist Party. The same accusation was made against us because of our support for the Nuclear Disarmament Party. He denounced the European sections for supposedly capitulating to “petty bourgeois pacifism” because of their support for and involvement in the antinuclear missiles movement. His counter-report seemed to be aimed at firming up the Barnes faction, rather than convincing those whom he was polemicising against.

Debate on world political situation

The majority report on this question, which was presented by Ernest Mandel, was devoted largely to an exposition of generalities with which no one would disagree such as the current stage of the capitalist economic crisis, the revolutionary potential of the working class, etc. While the report was obviously designed to be as uncontroversial as possible, so as not to provoke the evident differences that existed within the majority bloc, it completely failed to address the real concerns that many majority delegates had. There was considerable expression by many of them of dissatisfaction with Mandel’s report and this was reflected in the vote on it, where it received the lowest vote of any majority report, 58 out of 93.

By comparison the USec majority’s world political resolution received 66 votes in favour.

As we have noted before, the key problem with the majority’s approach to the world situation is their failure to understand the anti-imperialist axis of the world class struggle; their view that it proceeds along two axes of approximately equal weight — the anti-imperialist axis in the capitalist countries and the antibureaucratic axis in the bureaucratised socialist states. This leads them into a series of errors of approach and practice. I’ll come back to the most significant of these in describing the majority’s views on some of the other major agenda points.

Alan Jones from the British Socialist League presented a counter-report which contained many elements of the point of view we presented in our counter-resolution on “The Struggle for Socialism in the Imperialist Epoch” and in the counter-report we presented to Mandel’s.

Jones explained the centrality of the rise of imperialist capitalism to the course of the world revolutionary process in the 20th century — that the creation of a labour bureaucracy through imperialism’s colonial superprofits was the key factor in retarding and delaying the socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries; that imperialist domination and exploitation of the dependent capitalist nations created better objective conditions for revolution there, and that this was why the “Third World” had been and continues to be the most dynamic sector of the world revolutionary process.

He correctly criticised the view that had gained currency in the European sections after the May-June 1968 events in France that revolution was on the agenda in Western Europe. It was this view, he noted, that because it totally underestimated the strength of the labour bureaucracy had led to an underestimation of the problems of building revolutionary parties in Europe and to numerous ultraleft errors in the 1970s.

He also pointed out, correctly in our opinion, that the analysis made in the world political resolution adopted by the 11th World Congress in November 1979 contained serious elements of this same error. It had downplayed the continuing centrality of the national liberation revolution and wrongly talked about the predominance of the working class of the imperialist countries in the world class struggle. This error was even more glaring in that it was made after the July 1979 victory in Nicaragua.

Jones pointed out that while there were some very important battles being waged by the workers in the imperialist countries, and he cited the British miners’ strike as the key example, these were of far less significance than the unfolding revolution in Nicaragua, since the latter involved not merely a defensive struggle against the capitalist austerity drive but the overthrow of capitalism itself.

However, while making these correct points, Jones’ report suffered from two major drawbacks.

Firstly, it failed to place the question of democratisation of the bureaucratically-ruled socialist states within the anti-imperialist framework he outlined for approaching the class struggle in the capitalist world. Like the majority, Jones placed the anti-bureaucratic struggle in relative isolation from the struggle against world imperialism.

Secondly, he presented an extremely mechanical, objectivist analysis of the socialist revolutions that have occurred in the oppressed countries.

He explained that the reason socialist revolutions had succeeded in colonial and semicolonial countries like China, Vietnam, Cuba and Nicaragua was because imperialist domination made the local capitalist class much weaker in relation to the working class than was the case in the imperialist countries. While this is certainly true, Jones made this the prime factor in explaining why socialist victories had occurred in these particular countries.

For example, he explained that the reason why Cuba had been the first Latin American country to have a socialist revolution was because it had been the last to win independence from Spain and had been the most heavily dominated by US imperialism. This, he said, had made conditions easier there for carrying out an anti-capitalist revolution.

The problem with this “explanation” is that it explains nothing. Surely better objective conditions existed in Cuba to make a revolution during the 1930s depression than in the midst of the world capitalist boom. Why then had the revolutionary upsurge in Cuba in the early 1930s failed while the movement led by Fidel Castro in the late 1950s succeeded?

Or we could take the case of Indochina. Certainly the Vietnamese bourgeoisie was very weak and that made conditions easier for revolution. But by the same token, the Indonesian bourgeoisie was very weak as compared to the Indonesian working-class movement. The intervention of half a million French troops in the late 1940s and early ’50s, and the subsequent intervention of a similar number of US troops in the 1960s made conditions much more difficult for carrying out a successful revolution in Vietnam than those faced by the three-million strong Indonesian Communist Party. Why then did the Vietnamese masses succeed while the Indonesian masses were crushed?

Jones’ explanation cannot account for these contradictions for the simple reason that it eliminates the importance of the subjective factor — the consciousness of the masses as reflected and developed by a revolutionary leadership. He preferred to explain the Cuban and Vietnamese victories as the result of purely objective factors because he didn’t want to look at the politics — the program and strategy — that enabled these victories to occur. Because that might lead to the conclusion that the Fourth International’s program and strategy are wrong.

Debate over ‘permanent revolution’

This refusal to seriously confront the lessons of the revolutions that have and are occurring in the oppressed countries was also evident in the debate on the next item on the World Congress agenda — the debate over permanent revolution.

This point was added to the agenda at the insistence of the Barnesites, who claimed that it was the central issue facing the Fourth International.

Given this, their counter-report on the question was eagerly awaited by many of the delegates. However, it proved to be a complete letdown. The Barnesites’ reporter, Malik Miah, avoided any discussion of even the real theoretical issues in dispute. Instead, he treated the delegates to a condescending primer consisting of little more than the following argument, with which no-one would have disagreed: Working farmers are potential allies of the working class; in order for the working class to take power there needs to be a worker-farmer alliance. Miah avoided any discussion of what this meant for revolutionary strategy in the dependent capitalist countries where, in general, working farmers are the majority of the population and the chief obstacle to social progress is foreign imperialism. That is, he avoided the debate around the Trotskyist permanent revolution theory as opposed to the Leninist two-stage strategy — the question that was supposed to be debated under this item of the congress agenda.

The Barnesites did decide to take up the theoretical debate on permanent revolution, though not in the agenda item specifically set aside for it. Mary-Alice Waters devoted the bulk of her counter-report on Central America to it and Barnes made it the centrepiece of his counter-report on building the Fourth International.

There was some conjecture as to why the Barnesites hadn’t spoken about the permanent revolution issue under the agenda item allocated for this discussion but were doing it under other agenda points. One “explanation” was that Barnes had misread the agenda. That may have been a rather cynical way of looking at it, but it was far less cynical than the actual way the Barnesites treated the congress. They deliberately avoided any serious political discussion. Where they did join the actual discussion it was only to make the most pedantic arguments.

For example, the USec majority has adopted the position that Nicaragua is a proletarian dictatorship, and has been since the Sandinista victory. At same time the majority says Nicaragua is not yet a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat. The Barnesites worked themselves up over the use of the term “proletarian dictatorship”. This term, they formalistically insisted, can only be used to refer to a regime based on a nationalised, planned economy, which of course does not yet exist in Nicaragua. They were incapable of getting beyond labels to the real political content of the issue.

In our opinion, and we explained this in our counter-report on this item, the USec majority has empirically shifted from adherence to Trotsky’s single-stage, simultaneous democratic and socialist, permanent revolution theory toward the Leninist two-stage position.

The majority leaders now recognise that the revolution in the oppressed capitalist countries must unfold in two stages — a democratic stage in which the revolutionary vanguard seeks to mobilise the broadest multi-class alliance against imperialism and its agents, followed by a socialist stage in which the revolutionary vanguard seeks to mobilise an alliance of the workers and other sectors with interests opposed to capitalism.

In an interview published in the June 17 International Viewpoint in which he assesses the World Congress, Daniel Bensaid, who was the majority reporter on this item at the congress, says:

"While the bourgeois democratic and socialist tasks are not separated in time by a Chinese wall, they are not totally telescoped either. The proletariat can have different allies at different times in the revolutionary process."

This represents an advance in the comrades’ thinking. Unfortunately, the majority leaders refuse to acknowledge that this view is in contradiction with Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which explicitly excludes the idea of a distinct democratic stage preceding a socialist stage. They claim that their new view is in fact what Trotsky’s theory really says. But if that were true why is it that they have only come to this view now, 43 years after Trotsky founded the Fourth International and made his theory one of the cornerstones of its programmatic basis.

In reality the majority leaders are being forced to redefine the theory of permanent revolution in order to reconcile it with the experience of the Nicaraguan revolution, which has convincingly demonstrated that the revolutionary process in the oppressed countries unfolds in two fairly distinct stages. In order to reconcile this fact with the permanent revolution theory the majority leaders now use the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” to describe the revolutionary regime in the first, democratic, stage of this revolution. This is because Trotsky’s permanent revolution theory is based on the idea that in order to solve the democratic tasks (agrarian reform, national independence) the workers in the oppressed capitalist countries have to take state power out of the hands of the local landlord-capitalist class and its imperialist masters.

Of course, this position isn’t in conflict with the Leninist two-stage theory. Vietnamese Communist Party leaders like Truong-Chinh, for example, point out that “in the countries which carry out the new-type bourgeois democratic revolution [that is, one lead by the proletarian vanguard], the worker-peasant dictatorship is a transition state due to grow into the dictatorship of the proletariat, of which it constitutes the basis and for the establishment of which it paves the way.” At the same time they point out that the worker-peasant dictatorship, considered historically, is a form of the proletarian dictatorship.

That is, as we’ve explained it, the worker-peasant dictatorship or workers’ and peasants, government is the first stage of the proletarian dictatorship, a regime transitional to the full, or socialist proletarian dictatorship.

Using the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” to describe the revolutionary regime in the first, democratic, stage would only be a problem if you made no distinction at all between the nature of the regime in this stage and in the subsequent, socialist, stage. That would lead to confusing and mixing up the stages.

This is precisely the problem with the Trotskyist permanent revolution theory. It asserts that in order to carry out the democratic tasks the proletariat must take state power. But it rules out the need for a distinct period in which, because of its alliance with all of the peasants, including the rich peasants, against imperialism and the bourgeois-landlord oligarchy, the working class does not immediately embark on the fulfilment of socialist tasks (expropriation of capital and the creation of a nationalised, planned economy). To the contrary, the Trotskyist theory asserts that once the revolutionary workers possess state power they are forced, no matter what their intentions are, to immediately implement socialist measures. Since, according to the permanent revolution theory, democratic and socialist tasks are telescoped together, that is, carried out simultaneously, no distinction is drawn between the character of the revolutionary regime that solves the democratic tasks and the regime that implements the socialist tasks.

Fortunately, the USec majority comrades do not do this. They do draw a distinction between the “proletarian dictatorship” in the democratic stage and what they call a fully consolidated, or the socialist, dictatorship of the proletariat.

The real problem with the majority’s position is that they want to put the label of “permanent revolution” on a position that is, and has been since 1905, counterposed to “permanent revolution”. Doing this only creates confusion and miseducation. And it leads to maintaining an unnecessary obstacle to discussion and collaboration with those revolutionaries who agree with the Leninist position, and therefore reject the ultraleft, Trotskyist permanent revolution schema.

Nevertheless, the USec majority’s position, in terms of its real content and in terms of how they see it applied in practice, is actually better than that of the Barnesites who pay lip service to the Leninist strategy, but who in fact remain trapped in the Trotskyist schema. This is because the Barnesites are unable to relate their theoretical positions to practical activity. While acknowledging the need for a multi-class alliance to win the democratic revolution, they reject the political forms that such alliances assume, particularly in Latin America today.

In his International Viewpoint interview, Bensaid refers to an example of these forms.

“In Uruguay”, Bensaid asks, “should we join the Frente Amplio, a broad front which does include a bourgeois party but also embodies the united resistance to the dictatorship, which has been the political expression of the united reorganisation of the trade union movement, which gave rise to a thousand local and street committees, etc., in Montevideo?”

On this particular question the USec majority leaders are in favour of the Uruguayan Trotskyists being in the FA.

The Barnesites, on the other hand, are opposed to any participation in the FA because it is a multi-class electoral alliance. This position flows from their view that it is unprincipled for Marxists to participate in or support any electoral coalition that is not based on an explicitly socialist program. Leave aside whether this is correct or not in the imperialist countries, in countries like Uruguay such a position is patently sectarian since the immediate task confronting revolutionaries is not to fight for the implementation of a socialist program. It is to fight for a revolutionary democratic, anti-imperialist program. It was through fighting for just such a program that the Cuban revolutionaries in the late 1950s and the FSLN in 1979 succeeded in winning the mass support that enabled them to take power and to create the conditions for then moving forward to socialist measures.

Socialist democracy discussion

The Nicaraguan revolution has obviously been a major factor in forcing the majority comrades to adjust their views on revolution in the oppressed countries. Unfortunately, they have drawn some false conclusions from the Nicaraguan experience. These were exemplified in the discussion on the question of socialist democracy.

At the last World Congress in November 1979 an indicative vote was taken on a draft resolution on this question and it was referred to the next congress for a decisive vote. At the 1979 World Congress we and other delegates, including those from the US SWP, opposed the majority document. We considered it to be based on an abstract, normative method that did not place the question of socialist democracy within the framework of the struggle to take and hold workers’ power.

While some minor changes were made to the document before it was presented to this World Congress it still has this essential flaw.

It lays down a series of what amount to idealised prescriptions of what should and shouldn’t be done by revolutionaries.

For example, it insists that there has to be a multi-party system, there has to be what it calls pluralism, and it condemns the view that a proletarian dictatorship requires a one-party state.

The majority comrades mistakenly think that Nicaragua has confirmed the correctness of their position, because there is a plurality of parties in the National Assembly. They ignore the fact that Nicaragua is the most obvious one-party state in the world. The army is called the Sandinista People’s Army. The same is true of the police. I don’t know of another country in the world where the institutions of the state, the army and police for example, take the name of the ruling party.

What happens when the Sandinistas, as they may have to as the war deepens, ban the other parties, all of which to one degree or another are opposed to their revolutionary government and aid the contras in one way or another? Will the comrades, saddled with their illusions that Nicaragua is more “democratic” than Cuba, because there’s a “multi-party system” in the former, drop their enthusiasm for the Sandinistas and adopt the same lukewarm attitude toward them that they have toward the Cubans?

The majority mistakenly identifies socialist democracy with the existence of a plurality of parties and insists that only when the latter exists can there be real socialist democracy. But, as we’ve pointed out in our Cuba resolution, the ideal situation, the goal we strive for, is not a multi-party system, but a system of peoples’ power in which the masses have the right to form different parties, but in which revolutionary Marxists seek to win, by persuasion, the masses to support only one party — the revolutionary Marxist party.

The lack of socialist democracy in the East European socialist states has nothing to do with whether one party or many parties exist. In most of these countries there formally exist multi-party political systems. The problem is that all of the parties there are instruments in the hands of a bureaucratic oligarchy. Cuba and Vietnam are socialist democracies, whatever their limitations due to their economic backwardness and the pressure of imperialism, because they have genuinely representative institutions of popular power and the ruling parties are not instruments for a caste of privileged administrators, but are instruments of the revolutionary vanguard of the masses.

Attitude to anti-bureaucratic struggle in Eastern Europe

The counter-position by the Fourth International majority of their abstract principles of socialist democracy to the measures that may have to be taken in order for the working class to take and hold state power against imperialism is also reflected in their attitude to the question of the struggle to democratise the bureaucratically-ruled socialist states.

In the International Viewpoint interview Bensaid gives an example of this when discussing the debate on Poland at the World Congress. He says that there was “a very small minority that tended to reduce the struggle against the bureaucracy to a fight for democratic reform of the institutions of the Polish state.”

He goes on to say: “Their view was that the task was not to overthrow these institutions, inasmuch as they were part of the defences of the workers’ state against imperialism.”

“Our view”, he says, speaking of the majority’s position, “to the contrary was that one of the most interesting things about the experience of the Polish revolution was that it showed, or confirmed, the need to destroy the key elements of this state apparatus, its repressive supports, which serve to oppress the working class of these countries.”

The majority thus puts the task in relation to the state machine, particularly its repressive apparatus — army, police — in a post-capitalist country like Poland on the same plane as the task confronting the workers of an imperialist country like Australia. This is an erroneous and extremely dangerous position.

In a bureaucratised socialist state, the repressive apparatus has a dual role and character. It is used to defend the social conquests of the proletariat, the new socialist forms of property, against imperialism, and it is used by the bureaucratic oligarchy to protect its material privileges and monopoly of political power against the working class. The Soviet army for example has not only been used to suppress working-class struggles for socialist democracy as in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, but also to stop capitalist restoration, as in World War II.

This dual nature of the repressive apparatus of the bureaucratised socialist states means that one cannot, in advance, say that this apparatus as a whole will have to be destroyed in order for a genuine and radical democratisation to occur. As the experience of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 showed, some sections of the repressive apparatus will most probably have to be destroyed — those, such as the secret police that are highly privileged and identify most closely with the bureaucracy against the workers. But this cannot be said of the whole repressive apparatus. This was shown by the Hungarian experience where whole units of the army, including the officers, went over to the workers’ side against the bureaucratic oligarchy. Whether sections of the state apparatus will have to be destroyed will be decided by struggle, by whether they stand in the way of the working class carrying through a radical democratisation.

The same cannot be said of the repressive apparatus of the imperialist states. In an imperialist country, the repressive institutions of the state are instruments deliberately trained for suppressing the working class and protecting the property and power of the imperialist ruling class. They have no progressive role whatsoever. Historical experience has shown that they can’t be reformed so as to serve the working class’ interests. They will have to be dismantled, “smashed”, as Lenin put it, and new repressive institutions created that are based on the working class and defend its property and class power.

The error the Fourth International majority makes flows from their failure to understand the anti-imperialist axis of the world revolution, including the anti-imperialist axis of the struggle to make the bureaucratised socialist states better and stronger instruments of the workers in opposing imperialism, through the radical democratisation of the institutions of these states.

By failing to view the anti-bureaucratic struggle from within the anti-imperialist axis of the worldwide struggle for socialism, and not subordinating it to the latter, they only see the anti-worker side of the repressive apparatus. They ignore the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist side.

Just like those who fail to place the struggle for democracy in bureaucratised trade unions within and subordinate to the struggle against the bosses are led, no matter what their intentions, into providing objective aid to the class enemy, the Fourth International majority’s approach to the antibureaucratic struggle in the USSR and Eastern Europe, leads them objectively to reactionary positions.

An example of this is their support for the so-called independent peace movement in Eastern Europe. Even though this movement raises demands, such as opposition to military conscription, that would weaken these socialist states in the face of imperialism, the Fourth International majority ends up thinking such demands either don’t matter or are even progressive, so long as these movements oppose the ruling bureaucracies. Such a position leads them to adapt to the anti-communism of many of the middle-class pacifists in the Western peace movement, which in turn is really a capitulation to the imperialist rulers’ hostility to what is progressive in the bureaucratised socialist states.

The description I have so far given of the Fourth International majority’s general political positions, I should point out, is somewhat distorted, since it does not take into account the views of many of these comrades on the political situation in their own country, their approach to party-building, the work they are doing in the unions, in solidarity with Central America, etc. As before, our judgement is that on these areas we believe that the comrades have a basically similar approach to ourselves. Unfortunately, I can’t reflect that in a report on the World Congress since the congress itself did not orient to these areas. As Bensaid notes in his interview: “Some 80% of the time was devoted to discussing general programmatic questions and the remaining 20% to the conception and functioning of the International.” The latter reference was perhaps an elliptical way of saying that a considerable amount of time was devoted to organisational disputes.

The lack of time devoted to the practical political work of the sections caused considerable dissatisfaction among most of the delegates and was reflected even before the congress in the precongress discussion in many sections. For example, in the French Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) only about half of the party’s membership participated in the voting on the congress documents and the election of delegates to the LCR’s pre-World Congress conference.

In many ways this apathy has a healthy side to it. More and more comrades in the Fourth International are less and less interested in the interminable discussion of what appears to them as very abstract programmatic issues and the organisational wrangling that has tended to dominate the political life of the International. They are interested in general programmatic debates only in so far as they have relevance to the practical political work of party-building.

But the dominance of discussion of what can easily be seen as rarefied theoretical questions and the incessant factionalism within the Fourth International are inevitable products of the way the Fourth International came into existence as an international organisation based on small propaganda groups united around a “precise program, strategy and tactics”, as the 1954 World Congress put it, rather than around big mass struggles. This feature of the Fourth International remains largely true today.

The tendency to elevate written programmatic positions above practical activity in the class struggle continues to dominate the thinking and approach of the Fourth International leadership. This could be seen in the majority’s approach to the Central American revolutions and the question of building a mass international revolutionary movement, which were the other two major points on the congress agenda.

Central America

Comrade Sergio Rodriguez, one of the central leaders of the Mexican PRT, presented the majority report on Central America. As with the report he gave to the 1982 IEC meeting, there was nothing in his report that we would have substantial disagreement with. The analysts of the development of the revolutionary process, of the role and policies of the FSLN and FMLN, were basically the same as those presented in our resolution on “The Cuban Revolution and its Extension”. The report was however, fundamentally flawed by what was left out of it — the role of the Cuban revolution and its leadership, and the meaning of the conscious extension of the socialist revolution in Central America to the question of recomposing the international revolutionary vanguard.

As I pointed out earlier, Comrade Roberto presented the point of view that we shared in common on the question of Cuba under this item on the agenda. While this was the one report reflecting our views that received the highest delegate vote, it was still only a tiny minority. While it received only eight votes, there were a considerable number of abstentions — 13, many of which came from the PRT delegation. This indicates that at least comrades from the PRT were thinking about the arguments we raised, even if they were not yet convinced.

It was clear however, that the majority at the congress wanted to avoid the Cuba question. The very fact that the Fourth International leadership at the May 1981 IEC changed the characterisation of the Cuban leadership that the Fourth International had traditionally had — from a view of them as genuine Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries to the view that they are some sort of centrists — and refused to place a discussion of this issue on the World Congress agenda, further indicates this.

In his report, Rodriguez made one brief reference to the Cuban leadership. He noted at the beginning of his report that the leaderships in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Cuba represented the overcoming of the crisis of revolutionary leadership in that area of the world. And that was as far as he or any other leader of the majority were prepared to go.

This attitude demonstrates the most glaring problem with the outlook and approach of the Fourth International majority. Here we have a congress of a small international revolutionary organisation — with no more than 10,000 members worldwide — but nevertheless, an organisation whose proclaimed goal is to help overcome the crisis of revolutionary leadership and to make revolutions. And on the other hand, we have the overcoming of the crisis of leadership in a part of the world in which revolutionary developments can and are having tremendous repercussions on Latin American and world politics. But what do these momentous developments mean for the role of the Fourth International in terms of its stated goal of building a mass revolutionary international movement? Apparently for the Fourth International majority, very little at all.

The attitude of the Fourth International majority was very clearly expressed by Daniel Bensaid in his interview in International Viewpoint.

Referring to Nicaragua he says: “In a way, the Nicaraguan revolution represents a challenge for us. It is a revolution made by others, and at the beginning we understood it badly.”

One would think that the Fourth International has actually been leading revolutions and that Nicaragua had been an exception to that pattern. Bensaid does not explain why “we understood it badly.” It certainly wasn’t because the Fourth International lacked information, since it had observers in the country within days of the July 1979 victory.

Further on, Bensaid acknowledges that it was the Sandinista’s policy that enabled the Nicaraguan revolution to triumph. But then he says a recognition of this fact can lead to a “danger” of falling “into a certain masochism and false humility”.

“Other people have made revolutions. We should learn from them”, he says, rhetorically presenting the argument of those who he alleges wish to be “masochists” and adopt a “false humility”.

“We reject this”, he replies. Why? Here is Bensaid’s explanation: “Of course, we always have to learn from experiences. But we are a historic current that preserves one little thing, in particular, an international view of revolution, and which from its origins has represented an alternative view of Stalinism.”

I’ll return to this view that Bensaid expresses later, since it encapsulates the heart of the problem with the Fourth International. For the moment let us continue to consider Bensaid’s explanation of why it would be wrong for the Fourth International to “learn” from those who’ve actually succeeded in making revolutions.

“We”, he says of the Fourth International, “who have maintained a programmatic tradition for decades, should not run away from it at the very time that other people in Latin America are discovering that the democratic and socialist phases of the revolution are part of the same process, when the Salvadoran CP, under the pressure of events, is rejecting the old Menshevik and Stalinist theory of ‘two revolutions’, a democratic one and a socialist one separated in time.”

“It is not for us to retreat at a time like that!” Bensaid exclaims. “It is not for us to hang our head or eat humble pie when history proves you right.”

Just think what he’s saying: Other people have made revolutions, but history has proved the Fourth International right. That such an attitude can be expressed by someone who considers himself a Marxist, a Leninist, is what really should cause us to “hang our heads”.

It apparently doesn’t even enter his head to ask: if the Fourth International is and has always been right, why hasn’t it led any revolutions? Why, if the Fourth International was always right, did it understand the Nicaraguan revolution “badly”? If the Nicaraguan revolution succeeded because of, not in spite of, the policy of the FSLN, surely it proved them right? And couldn’t the reason why the Fourth International understood the Sandinista revolution “badly” be because it wasn’t right, because it had a wrong policy?

The refusal to acknowledge that other people — those who made revolutions — are right and the Fourth International has been wrong makes a mockery of the statement that “Of course, we always have to learn from experiences.” In reality, this becomes a ritualistic incantation similar to that made by any sect.

Contrasting the supposed situation at the time the Fourth International was founded with the situation today Bensaid says:

"The spectrum of political forces in the international workers’ movement today is much more open-ended. There are not only Stalinists, social democrats and the Fourth International. There are intermediary positions that have strong bases of support. The situation, therefore is much more complex. The question of forming new parties is being raised everywhere in Latin America. We must participate fully in these processes, while continuing to keep our sights set on the need for the Fourth International and defending its program."

Just what are these “intermediary positions that have strong bases of support”? When you consider what they really represent and compare Bensaid’s approach to them one begins to get an idea of the dead-end that the Fourth International is in.

The “intermediary positions that have strong bases of support” that Bensaid is referring to are the Cuban Communist Party, the FSLN and the FMLN. And what do they represent? One is a revolutionary Marxist party that has nearly half a million members, millions of supporters and a leadership that is doing everything it can to aid the extension of the socialist revolution right on the doorstep of US imperialism. The second is a revolutionary vanguard organisation that is consciously consolidating its mass support and building a socialist state. And the third is a mass revolutionary movement that is being consciously led in the battle for power. It is the actions of these revolutionary leaderships with mass support that has raised the question of forming new parties “everywhere in Latin America”.

How does the Fourth International leadership propose to respond? They say they must “participate fully in these processes”. But at the same time continue “to keep our sights set on the need for the Fourth International” and to defend its program, since this has supposedly been proved right — though not by the Fourth International leading revolutions, but by other people doing this with a different program.

The comrades refuse to see that by continuing to keep their sights on building an international organisation on a program that is different from those of the people who have made revolutions they are blocking any real possibility of participating fully in the process of building of new parties in Latin America. These parties will not be built through identification with the Fourth International and its program. They will be built only by identifying fully with the mass revolutionary parties in Nicaragua and Cuba, by assimilating the lessons, the policies, the program, that enabled those parties to make revolutions.

Fourth International

This gets to the heart of the problem with the perspective of building the Fourth International: its very existence is an obstacle to the revolutionaries who are in it participating fully in the process of building a new international revolutionary movement, one with mass influence. This is because it is counterposed to the mass international revolutionary movement that already does exist and that is extending itself, particularly in Latin America.

Bensaid himself alludes to this, unintentionally, in the quote I cited earlier:

"[We] are a historic current that preserves one little thing in particular, an international view of revolution, and which from its origins has represented an alternative view of Stalinism."

But the international revolutionary movement that the Cuban Communist Party and the FSLN represent has done far more than “preserve an international view of revolution” and “an alternative view of Stalinism”. It has promoted the actual international extension of the revolution. It has presented an alternative to “Stalinism”, that is, to the reformist communist parties and the bureaucratic leaderships in the USSR and Eastern Europe, in practice. The failure of the Fourth International majority to see this shows that for them words are more important than deeds.

Moreover, because the Fourth International majority has a false conception of the framework of the world revolutionary process, because they fail to see that the anti-bureaucratic struggle is secondary to the overall struggle against world imperialism, they make the question of their particular view of “Stalinism” a shibboleth — a point of honour to distinguish themselves from the mass revolutionary international movement that does exist, a justification for their separate existence from this movement.

We think organisations like the Cuban Communist Party, the FSLN, the FMLN, and the Vietnamese Communist Party are dealing with present political developments most dynamically and creatively. There is a growing current of revolutionary fighters around the world who are seeking to learn from these parties, which have had the most recent experiences of leading mass revolutionary struggles. There is no need to build a political current separate and distinct from them.

If the revolutionary cadres who constitute the Fourth International are really going to participate in the process of building new mass parties and a new mass revolutionary international movement then they must break with the idea that because they have an alternative view of “Stalinism” this justifies being in a separate “historic current”. That is, they must break with Trotskyism and its international organisational expression — the Fourth International.

New mass revolutionary parties will not be built, even in the imperialist countries, through the perspective of building the Fourth International. This is not only because it is too small but also because it is too politically narrow. It is an international organisation built around a “precise program, strategy and tactics”, moreover, a program which has key elements that have been repeatedly proven wrong by the revolutionary victories that have occurred this century. And, no matter what corrections have been made by its individual sections, the Fourth International as a body, because of the very way it conceives of itself, has a false, idealistic view of how a mass revolutionary international movement will be built.

Real Marxist parties are not developed through debates around abstract programmatic questions, nor by agreement on a “precise program, strategy and tactics”. It is the big, living revolutionary developments that act as a beacon for important sections of the working-class political vanguard, and that enables this vanguard to be crystallised into genuine Marxist parties by enabling abstract programmatic differences to be settled by living experience, by learning from those who have made revolutions.

The recomposition of the revolutionary vanguard in the imperialist countries, as was the case in the early 1920s, will come about through an identification with, and orientation to, the big revolutionary events in the world, to the living revolutions, and their revolutionary vanguards. Those who fall or refuse to follow this course, even if they carry out revolutionary work in their own countries, and even if they have some international organisation, will become irrelevant to the process, just as the IWW in the US and Australia became irrelevant in the early 1920s because of their failure to orient to the Russian Revolution and become an integral part of the international current that sought to learn from it.

What is involved in orienting to the revolutionary leaderships that have succeeded in winning power is not becoming a cheer squad for these revolutions and their leaderships, nor seeking some sort of franchise from them. What is involved is establishing relations so that we can engage in a political discussion — an exchange of views and experiences — so that we can learn the lessons of how they built parties, how they made revolutions.

Obstacle to real internationalism

The continued existence of the Fourth International as an organised international current distinct from the current represented by those leaderships that have succeeded in making revolutions and are consciously working to extend the revolutionary process, is an obstacle to its members fully developing those relations.

Well, if we think that the Fourth International is an obstacle to fully participating in the process of building new revolutionary parties and a new, mass, international revolutionary movement, the question is obviously posed, should our party remain in it?

It is the view of the National Executive that we shouldn’t. We could continue to argue within the framework of the Fourth International for our views, but we don’t think this would be of much value. If the shock of the Nicaraguan revolution is not enough to cause the Fourth International majority to reconsider its fundamental course, no amount of argument on our part will change it. If the comrades are going to rethink their course, it will only be as a result of further shocks, of further revolutions made by “other people”.

In the meantime, we cannot afford for our own party-building work to wait for the comrades in the Fourth International to wake up to the realities of the world. Our own continued affiliation to the Fourth International is becoming an obstacle to the possibilities that are opening up to us to establish the political relations we seek with those revolutionaries who have mass influence.

Does this mean we are turning way from internationalism? Such a view could only be made by those who confuse a particular form of international organisation with internationalism. Our conception of internationalism involves developing international collaboration. It involves the fraternal exchange of views and experiences among revolutionaries based on a willingness to learn from others, while thinking for ourselves. The forms through which this occurs are totally secondary.

Far from turning away from internationalism by leaving the Fourth International, we are turning toward a more real internationalism, toward international collaboration with those revolutionary forces that are really extending the world socialist revolution.

Does this mean we are breaking political relations with the revolutionaries in the Fourth International? No, we are simply terminating our participation in the Fourth International as an international organisation. We want to have relations, exchanges of views and experiences, with anyone who wishes to have such fraternal relations with us. But we refuse to have such relations held hostage to a particular organisational form.

We want the international relations that we establish to be based on the same criteria that the Cubans have. Fidel Castro outlined those in a speech he gave in 1967.

"We conceive of Marxism as revolutionary thinking and action [he said] Those who do not possess a truly revolutionary spirit cannot be called communists.

"Anyone can have `eagle' for a last name without having a single feather on his back. In the same way, there are people who call themselves communists without having a communist hair on their head. The international communist movement, to our way of thinking, is not a church, it is not a religious sect or Masonic lodge that obliges us to hallow any weakness, any deviation, that obliges us to follow the policy of a mutual admiration society with an kinds of reformists and pseudo-revolutionaries.

"… What is important are the revolutionaries, those who are capable of making revolutions and developing themselves in revolutionary theory.

"Many times practice comes first and then theory. Our people too are an example of that. Many, the immense majority of those who proudly call themselves Marxists-Leninists, arrived at Marxism-Leninism by way of the revolutionary struggle. To exclude, to deny, to reject a priori all those who from the beginning did not call themselves communists is an act of dogmatism and sectarianism. Whoever denies that it is the road of revolution which leads people to Marxism is no Marxist although he may call himself a communist.

“This will be our line of conduct. It is the line that has guided our conduct in relations with the revolutionary movement”, Fidel concluded.17

This will also be the line of conduct that we will seek to follow. We will judge people by their actions, and enter into relations with them accordingly. And we hope and expect other revolutionaries to treat us the same way.


Trotskyism and the Socialist Workers Party

1 SWP, The Struggle for Socialism in the Imperialist Epoch (Pathfinder Press [Australia]: Chippendale, 1984), pp. 91-102.

2 “Rise, Decline, and Perspectives for the Fall of Stalinism” in The Development and Disintegration of World Stalinism (Education for Socialists/National Education Department of the Socialist Workers Party: New York, 1970), p. 26.

3 Trotsky, “The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International”, The Transitional Program and the Struggle for Socialism (Resistance Books: Chippendale, 1999), p. 59.

4 Myers, The Vietnamese Revolution and its Leadership (Pathfinder Press: Sydney, 1984).

5 SWP, The Struggle for Socialism in the Imperialist Epoch, p. 95.

6 Percy, “Preparing the party to meet the crisis”, Socialist Worker, Vol. 2, No. 3 (December 1982).

7 Trotsky, “The New Course”, The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25) (Pathfinder Press: New York, 1975), pp. 96 & 98.

8 Ibid., p. 97.

9 SWP, The Struggle for Socialism in the Imperialist Epoch, p. 94.

10 Ibid., p. 94.

11 Segur, “Report on the Present Stage of Building the International” (adopted by the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, January 26, 1984), International Internal Discussion Bulletin (SWP: New York), Vol. XX, No. 4 (July 1984), pp. 14-15.

12 Ibid.

13 SWP, The Struggle for Socialism in the Imperialist Epoch, p. 95.

14 “The world capitalist crisis and the coming Australian socialist revolution”, Draft political resolution for the Socialist Workers Party 8th national conference, printed as a supplement to Direct Action, No. 320, October 8, 1980, p. 17.

15 Lenin, ‘Left-Wing’ Communism — An Infantile Disorder (Resistance Books: Chippendale, 1999), p. 31.

16 Montane, “Revolutionary Perspectives in Latin America and the Caribbean”, Intercontinental Press, January 31, 1983, p. 60.

The 12th World Congress of the Fourth International …

17 Castro, Those Who Are Not Revolutionary Fighters Cannot Be Called Communists (Merit Publishers: New York, 1968), pp. 49-50.