Fourth International in Crisis


The programmatic heritage of the Fourth International (FI), the world party of socialist revolution founded in 1938 by Leon Trotsky and his collaborators in response to the degeneration and betrayal of the Stalinized Third International, has been proposed for elimination.

The Feb. 21-26, 1999, Amsterdam meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the FI, a body of some 40 delegates elected at the 1995 World Congress of the FI, voted by a 60 percent majority to propose to its affiliated parties around the world the substitution of new statutes “inspired by the basic approach of the first workers’ International.”

A final decision on the statutes will be taken at the World Congress set for 2001.

The original programmatic basis of the Fourth International is stated in section I.3 of the current statutes, which have served the FI for the past 61 years:

“The Fourth International,” according to its preamble statement, “seeks to incorporate in its program the progressive social experiences of humanity, maintaining the continuity of the ideological heritage of the revolutionary Marxist movement. It offers to the vanguard of the international working class the indispensable lessons to be drawn from the October 1917 Revolution in Russia, the subsequent struggle against Stalinist degeneration, and the new revolutionary developments following World War II.”

The statutes continue: “The Fourth International stands on the programmatic documents of the first four congresses of the Third International;the International Left Opposition; the Movement for the Fourth International; the Transitional Program adopted at its founding congress in 1938 … and the key documents of the world Trotskyist movement since then.”

These references to the programmatic heritage of the FI, as well as the fundamental organizational structure of the FI are proposed for elimination.

The proposed statutes changes are designed to codify the orientation pursued by the FI leadership for the past decade and longer.

The main resolutions adopted by the last several world congresses and the many failed fusion attempts over this period demonstrated that the FI leadership was moving to abandon its Trotskyist and revolutionary heritage in favor of a “regroupment” with non-revolutionary currents ranging from assorted “ex-Stalinists” emerging from Moscow, Chinese, and Albanian-oriented Stalinist parties to middle-class formations like the European Greens.

Back to the First International?

The proposed new statutes quote at length from the founding document of the First International, founded by Karl Marx and others in 1864.

Marx’s International was shortlived, in the end becoming entangled in endless disputes between its revolutionary wing-led by Marx-and a disparate assortment of anarchists, utopian socialists, and “middle class” reformists who rejected the central role of the working class in the struggle against capitalism.

Marx himself was instrumental in breaking with these currents, which he deemed antithetical to the formation of a revolutionary international movement.

With the passing from the historic scene of each of the first three international socialist movements, the succeeding world revolutionary movement sought to incorporate in its program the lessons learned from past defeats, the programmatic gains that retained their relevance, as well as the fundamental principles conquered by the new generation of revolutionary fighters.

The Second (or Socialist) International, on the eve of World War I, fell prey to national chauvinism, with virtually all of its leading parties defending their own capitalist governments as the world’s imperialist nations engaged in a world slaughter that pitted worker against worker in the interest of capitalist profit and plunder.

Marx’s ringing maxim, “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” was turned into its opposite, with workers of the world killing each other at the behest of their capitalist bosses.

The refusal of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party to support the Russian imperialist government in the First World War, and the associated Bolshevik-led victory of the great Russian Revolution of 1917, laid the foundation for the formation of the Third (or Communist) International.

The new international included in its ranks the revolutionary currents that stood against the imperialist war and rejected, as a matter of class principle, participation in and support to coalition capitalist governments.

But with the rise to power of Stalin in the USSR and the destruction of the basic institutions of workers democracy created by the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Third International too abandoned its revolutionary heritage. By the late 1920s it had succumbed to national chauvinism.

Stalin purged from the ranks of the party and murdered virtually the entire leadership of the revolution, including the most dedicated followers of Lenin and Trotsky.

The result was a 60-year Stalinist rapprochement with world imperialism, in which Stalinist-influenced struggles of workers and their organizations worldwide were used as bargaining chips to affect deals with imperialism designed to preserve the ruling bureaucratic caste in the USSR and maintain capitalist stability at the same time.

Despite self-serving capitalist propaganda equating Stalinism with communism, in fact Stalinism represented the graveyard of revolutions and a deadly counterrevolutionary force in the workers’ movement.

The process of rebuilding the international revolutionary movement began anew in 1933 and culminated in the founding of the Fourth International in 1938.

The FI represented the historic continuity of the revolutionary socialist movement from Marx and Engels through Lenin and Trotsky.

Is U.S. immune from economic crisis?

The proposal to abandon the FI’s program is indicative of the deep demoralization that permeates the ranks of those at the head of the FI. This was reflected in every agenda item discussed at the February IEC meeting.

The meeting opened with majority reports on “The World Political and Economic Situation.” Two majority representatives presented the leadership’s view in oral reports. The majority, a combination of secondary leaders who have no clear vision as to how to proceed, presented no written texts.

This writer, representing Socialist Action/USA, reported on a written counter-resolution adopted by Socialist Action’s national convention last summer and distributed to all IEC members present.

Socialist Action is prohibited by reactionary U.S. legislation from maintaining formal relations with the FI. Its participation, nonetheless, has been in fraternal solidarity with the FI.

The majority reporters argued that U.S. imperialism had emerged in the past decade as the world’s unchallenged and hegemonic superpower, virtually free to intervene militarily and economically anywhere on earth. The United States was deemed to be essentially immune from the great economic and political pressures that are currently wracking all capitalist nations.

The demise of the previous Stalinist leaderships of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, according to the majority, has disoriented virtually the entire left.

According to the majority, “Social democrats are social liberals, Stalinists are social democrats, former guerrilla currents are right-wing social democrats and populist nationalists are today right-wing nationalists.

“In truth, the bemoaning of the current rightist course of these reformist forces further indicates the majority’s orientation. Most of these forces were previously seen by the majority as components of and allies in the coming revolutionary struggles.

That is, rather than look to the fresh forces emerging from the existing workers movements, the FI leadership sought alliances with forces that consistently betrayed worker’s struggles in favor of alliances with capitalism.

The United States, according to the majority, is no longer concerned about the USSR but rather “is paranoid about terrorism, rogue states, and terrorists getting nuclear weapons.”

“There’s a real feeling of powerlessness since the Gulf War. No one opposes NATO’s expansion to the east. There is no willingness to do anti-imperialist work. We’re at the beginning of the 19th century, organizing the workers’ movement with minimal demands,” the majority reporter continued.

In addition to this one-sided and demoralized presentation, the majority reporter argued for the first time in the FI’s history that “it would be ultraleft to say that we will have nothing to do with the United Nations. .. The UN issue is very complex and can’t be settled with simplistic answers.

“There’s a difference between UN peacekeeping missions and the Iraq war. What about people who are demanding NATO intervention in Kosovo? .. We can’t condemn all UN and NATO interventions. We have to take them case by case.”

Socialist Action rejected all imperialist interventions for any reason whether they be initiated by the United States, the imperialist-controlled United Nations, or the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance.

At the same time, we rejected the majority premise of American imperialist omnipotence and immunity from the inherent and unresolvable contradictions of world capitalism.

We pointed to the growing crisis of capitalist overproduction as ever increasing compe tition for shrinking world markets drives every capitalist state to modernize its productive capacities and replace workers with machines.

We noted the generalized decline in world capitalist profit rates and the associated impending protectionist trade wars, financial crises, and increasing tendency to collapse-as with the so-called Asian Tigers like South Korea, as well as Indonesia, Mexico, and Brazil.

The incapacity of the weaker capitalist states and the so-called developing economies in Asia and Latin America, not to mention industrialized Europe, to compete on world markets pushes them closer and closer to ruin, as whole industries are closed and increasing millions are left without jobs.

Rather than stability, we described the rising unemployment and underemployment in the United States and worldwide, camouflaged by statistical manipulations, as ever eroding the quality of life.

We pointed to the rise in capitalist-promoted racism and anti-immigrant prejudice, to the growing disparity between rich and poor, to the rise of poverty in the advanced capitalist nations, to the massive cuts in social services, and to the devastation of the underdeveloped world.

We noted that the United States was the world’s leading debtor nation, with a growing proportion of its budget required to service its debt while at the same time being incapable of resolving this problem through Keynesian-style deficit spending.

The option of Keynesian pump priming was open to U.S. imperialism following World War II when it emerged as the world’s leading creditor nation and both its allies and enemies stood in ruin.

At the cost of 45 million dead in the imperialist slaughter, the United States stood unchallenged in regard to access to world markets. A half century later it is increasingly compelled to close or threaten to close its borders to more competitive foreign products while at the same time pressuring its world capitalist “allies” to open theirs to U.S. exports.

Capitalism restored in ex-USSR?

The second major debate at the IEC was over the class nature of the ex-USSR and the former Stalinist states of Eastern Europe. The majority contended for the first time, with virtually no proof, that capitalism had been restored in these degenerated and deformed workers states.

The gains of the Russian Revolution, however distorted by Stalinism, were gone, said majority supporters. There was nothing to defend. Russia was treated as an imperialist power, comparable to the major capitalist nations of Western Europe.

Socialist Action rejected the fundamental assertion that capitalism had been restored. Our reporter, Nat Weinstein, characterized the ex-USSR and Eastern Europe as rapidly degenerating workers states in transition to capitalism, but far from having completed this transition.

The big struggles of the working class in these nations, he asserted, were ahead, not behind. There were no solutions to Russia’s plight, including massive shortages, and social cutbacks, devastation of key sectors of industry, unemployment, etc., in the context of the world capitalist market.

The initial illusions held by Russian and Eastern European workers that capitalism would bring prosperity were giving way to a grim awareness that the profit system is inimical to human progress.

For the majority, the demise of the Stalinist states represented a historic setback for the worldwide workers’ movement. “We have lost most of the last century,” the majority has proclaimed.

For Socialist Action, despite the difficulties, the repudiation of Stalinism and the demise of the former Stalinist leaderships removes a major obstacle standing in the way of the world socialist revolution.

Popular fronts

Another decisive discussion at the IEC concerned a resolution on Mexico fraternally presented by Socialist Action and signed by delegates from Germany, Sweden, England, Ireland, and Austria. The resolution read in part:

“The IEC considers that the electoral alliance of the Mexican section(s) of the Fourth International, the PRT, with the capitalist PRD (Cardenas), contradicts the fundamental principle of working-class independence, a principle that is central to the FI’s program.”

This resolution was overwhelmingly defeated. While a few of those who voted against it stated that they agreed with the basic content but opposed the method of resolving disputes by organizational condemnations before a written discussion could be organized, the vast majority not only agreed with the PRT’s support to Cardenas, but supported similar violations of working-class independence that have become the norm in FI functioning.

In past years the Peruvian section (now defunct), the Uruguayan section, and others, participated in multi-class electoral formations in which openly bourgeois parties and prominent representatives were present. Revolutionary socialists have always rejected such multi-class electoral formations where the program of socialism and class independence is subordinated to the program of capital, albeit presented with a “left” face.

These popular front agreements between capitalists and workers parties-usually led by Stalinists, social democrats, and privileged trade-union bureaucrats-are sought by capitalist forces, especially in times of crisis. They are designed to subordinate the independent struggles of workers against capital to electoral solutions based on promises of capitalist reform.

The aim of both the bureaucratic misleaders and their capitalist allies is to harness the energies of the mass movement to the service of capitalist reform. The result has always been the dissipation of mass movements and the betrayal by capitalist politicians and their parties.

In past years, the FI majority argued, in the case of Peru, Uruguay, and perhaps today in the case of Brazil and the Basque Country, that multi-class popular fronts were in order provided only that the workers had “hegemony” in these formations. The FI had previously and historically rejected this position.

By definition, capitalists are always in the minority of such formations that include masses of working people and their organizations. It is not the numbers that are decisive but rather the agreement of the workers’ parties to subordinate their program to that of capital.

The very presence of capitalist forces in electoral formations, even miniscule in numbers, signals to all that the interests of capital are not to be undermined.

No capitalist would participate if this were not the case. History has recorded an unbroken list of popular front formations that betrayed worker’s interests in favor of capitalist interests and continued capitalist rule.

Today, the FI majority has dropped even the pretense of opposition to multi-class electoral fronts.

The past spurious argument justifying such fronts, “working class hegemony,” has been dropped in favor of open support to capitalist parties, as is the case today in Mexico.

For the past decade the Mexican PRT (Revolutionary Workers Party), formerly a party of 5000 members and the largest section of the FI, has been part of an electoral alliance with the capitalist party of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, a bourgeois nationalist, currently the mayor of Mexico City.

The PRT not only signs electoral agreements with Cardenas’s PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution). PRT members run as candidates and serve in the National Assembly-having been elected on the capitalist PRD slate.

The subordination of the once revolutionary PRT to capitalist politics has been a disaster for Mexican Trotskyism. The PRT has lost virtually all its members. Its most recent split left the FI without any section in Mexico.

For almost a decade, the FI majority has refused to prepare a balance sheet on the PRT experience, defending the PRT leadership’s electoral decisions in virtually every instance.

The IEC vote to reject the PRT’s class-collaborationist course represents a codification of a practice that has become the norm for several FI sections as well as the FI majority. This decision is in keeping with the majority’s move to abandon the program of the FI outright.

As one leading reporter for the majority declared at the IEC, “If we had continued to change the program of the FI in the form of resolutions at World Congresses as we have done in the past, people would say, ‘Why don’t you just change the statutes and be up front about it?'”

The reporter concluded, “Yes, we will now be up front about it. We will change the statutes.”

A small minority at the IEC registered their opposition to the course of the FI leadership. Others registered their displeasure with this or that agenda report but abstained from voting or supported majority position.

The formal discussions and debates in the coming year or so in the Fourth International-as well as the debates inside each section of the FI-will determine the final outcome of the sharp divisions evidenced at the IEC.

Until now, the slow pace of the world class struggle has fueled the demoralization of many of the FI’s members and sections.

A change in this situation will inevitably help to stem the tide of retreat and liquidation embarked on by the current leadership. The fight for the FI and its program will be a critical test for FI revolutionaries in the coming year.

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