By DANIEL ADAM and LISA LUINENBURG
On Aug. 3-9, some 400 young revolutionaries from around the world gathered in Greece to attend the Fourth International’s 30th annual youth camp. The authors of this article, members of Socialist Action (U.S.), were able to participate in the camp this year and share their experiences in the United States while learning from other young socialists.
Socialist Action is a sympathizing organization of the Fourth International (FI) since reactionary legislation in the U.S. prevents its being a formal member.
The gathering comes amid years of world economic crisis and a series of mass uprisings throughout the globe, most notably in Greece itself. This context made the camp a highly fertile ground for broad ranging political discussion. The central debates in the camp concerned the very political direction of the Fourth International and its member parties.
Representatives from every country reported cuts in health care and education, youth unemployment rates sometimes above 50%, and attacks on teachers and students. In Denmark, 70,000 teachers were locked out, and in Greece teachers recently went on strike. Students in Denmark, Canada, Spain, the UK, and Mexico are fighting back against education cuts and tuition hikes. Delegates frequently discussed the increase in precarious work. The increases in political repression and surveillance in a number of countries were also striking.
At the same time, the young delegates reported that trade-union leadership in most of their countries has proved incapable of leading a pushback. Social democrats and other reformists have taken office in many countries but have only continued the austerity cutbacks and attacks on workers.
The spontaneous protests, workers’ and students’ struggles, and even general strikes unfolding in countries like Greece, Tunisia, Brazil, and Turkey still have not been able to overcome the absence of a revolutionary leadership. Frequently these struggles have been dispersed after a few months; some political movements are beginning to face grave threats.
In Greece, Golden Dawn, a fascist party, has targeted immigrants and other oppressed groups with violent attacks and racist propaganda. By all accounts the group appears to have cooperation from the police. In Tunisia, two leaders of opposition currents have been assassinated, including the leader of the alliance supported by the FI section there. Even in Germany, where the struggle has been at a much lower level, delegates said that over 150 people, including immigrants and people of color, have been killed by fascists.
Still, members of the Greek section made sure to caution visitors against overestimating the present strength of the Golden Dawn. Their new socialist office, for instance, rests in a neighborhood controlled by the left, where the fascists never set foot, and the police enter only in large armed contingents.
Two young women from Turkey described their work within the recent uprisings centered on Istanbul’s Taksim Square. They described the persecution that many left groups underwent in Turkey in the 1980s, and the opportunities they have had to work together again during the recent protests. Despite weeks of protests they believe that a lot of work still needs to be done to unite the different groups that make up the left in Turkey.
A young socialist woman from Ireland spoke about the struggle for reproductive rights in her country. She described how her pro-choice group helped break the recent story about Savita Halappanavar, a dentist living in Galway, who died after she was refused an abortion when she was miscarrying. Her death led to protests of thousands in Ireland and provoked an international outcry.
The Mexican delegation from the PRT (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores) is working in the SME (Sindicato de Electristas Mexicanos, or Mexican Electrical Workers Union) to help form an alternative labor party. Unfortunately, the leadership of the new party supported a bourgeois candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, in the last election. The SME is one of the most combative unions in Mexico. Some 44,000 workers were fired several years ago during an attempt to privatize the Mexican electrical system, and 16,000 of those workers are continuing to struggle. The young comrades have also been active in YoSoy132, a recent student movement.
According to long-time participants, the discussions in the camp dealt far more directly with the political direction of the Fourth International than in previous years. The sharpest expression of this debate grew over the direction of the NPA (New Anti-capitalist Party) in France.
The NPA was founded in 2009 by the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League, the former French section of the Fourth International), by drawing in its periphery and a few much smaller tendencies to create a far more heterogeneous grouping. The formation was initiated in order to build a larger left party, and grab the political space that the social democracy had lost when it began implementing austerity measures on behalf of the capitalist class.
The NPA was founded with over 9000 members—an increase of 6000 over its predecessor, the LCR. Now the NPA’s numbers have fallen down to 3000 or fewer. Losses include a split of some 700 who left to join Jean-Luc Melanchon’s reformist Left Front, taking with them a major layer of young leaders, including many staff.
This crisis, coming as mass uprisings around the world are bursting in wave after wave, has bolstered opposition tendencies within the party. These tendencies were represented at the NPA’s last convention as W, Y, and Z. (the X platform represented the positions of the incumbent leadership).
Members of the Y platform believe that the launch of the NPA was necessary, but argue that the sharp fall in membership expresses a crisis of orientation and political clarity. They oppose the orientation of seizing the space formerly held by reformists. In their experience this has meant preventing many key debates from reaching a conclusion, and failing to systematically educate the ranks in revolutionary politics.
The mass exodus towards Melanchon’s Left Front demonstrates one obvious weakness of the present approach: The membership increase that is won at the expense of clear politics can just as easily be taken away by a new, larger reformist party.
The Y platform has come to see the focus on electoral strategy itself as a distraction from building independent mass action in the streets. In a formal panel debate on the question, a Y representative emphasized that the recent uprisings around the world have underlined the need to prepare for a revolutionary crisis. The Y platform will establish itself as a formal tendency of the NPA in the coming months.
The Z platform originated in a tendency founded by followers of the Argentine Trotskyist Nahuel Moreno. Its members at the camp agreed with many points of critique laid out by the Y platform. Members of the Z platform presented a relatively finished program, while the Y platform’s members expressed a wider variety of perspectives, reflecting all levels of political sophistication. The W platform represents an anarchist tendency that did not appear to be present at the camp.
The debate surrounding the NPA touched upon burning questions for practically every section. Many countries now have more than one affiliate to the Fourth International, each with a different approaches to party organization, electoral strategy, or even revolution and reform. The FI section in Italy split down the middle, with one portion rejecting parties altogether, and possibly even trade-unions as well.
Many sections have experimented with NPA-like formations, joining reformist parties, or joining electoral alliances. For quite a few it has involved serious errors and betrayals, including votes for austerity measures, for imperialist war credits, and often the complete disappearance of the FI section. It is certainly heartening that many of these turns are facing increasing scrutiny.
Nonetheless, at a time when mass upheavals are becoming the norm, the question remains: How will revolutionaries make contact with the radicalizing masses? The conscious seizure of power by the working millions requires a mass revolutionary party. Of course, the question of alliances or entry into other groups was not at all off the table for anyone. The issue was the political orientation expressed by such projects.
The women’s space and the debate on feminism were highlights of the camp. Every day included a separate women’s space, where young women from the camp met to discuss issues that affect them all as women and as Marxists. Women and LGBT people led workshops and participated in panels and discussions throughout the week and were given ample time to contribute their unique perspectives on all issues.
The numerous perspectives and experiences shared by the participants were invaluable. This meeting concretized for participants the understanding of what it means to build an international party of the working class.