Debate in the Fourth International: The Leninist Strategy of Party Building and the Impending Ecological Catastrophe

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[Editor’s note: The text below entitled, “A Transitional Program Without a Revolutionary Instrument: A Countertext to the Fourth International (FI) Bureau’s 2022 Resolution,” was adopted by Socialist Action’s National Committee for presentation to the annual February meeting of the delegates to the Fourth International’s elected international leadership. Representatives of some 56 parties across the globe were present at this five-day zoom gathering. Socialist Action participated in a fraternal capacity only due to reactionary U.S. legislation that bars membership in international revolutionary organizations. In addition to the text below, Socialist Action, a small minority in the FI today and for many years, presented two additional counter-resolutions to the texts prepared by the Fourth International majority leadership. All three of our texts were overwhelmingly defeated, a further indication of the ever-widening gap between the present leadership’s increasing abandonment of the FI’s historic Trotskyist program and practice and Socialist Action’s allegiance to it.]

The FI Bureau text entitled “An ecosocialist programme of just degrowth” purports to be a “Transitional Program” aimed at the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a future socialist society.

The text declares, “… in the face of the ecological crisis, an anti-capitalist revolution is even more objectively necessary. It is this fundamental judgment that must serve as a sub-base for the elaboration of a programme, a strategy and a tactic, because there is no other way.”

The text continues that what is needed is “A programme whose demands are feasible within the capitalist framework, but whose overall coherence makes it incompatible with the normal functioning of the system, so that it leads to the conclusion that it is necessary to seize political power in order to revolutionize society from top to bottom. This approach of the Transitional Programme is more relevant than ever.”

Well and good! Yet something fundamental is missing. Our historic conception of the Transitional Program and its underlying method is aimed at the construction of a deeply rooted, mass revolutionary socialist working class party with the central objective of leading the proletarian struggle for state power and the construction of a socialist society. The Bureau text is silent on this fundamental question. It states that “Only a world ecosocialist revolution could stop” the impending  “cataclysm” but this “is not on the agenda.”

The Bureau’s silence is not a careless omission but rather, because building Leninist parties as the FI’s strategic objective today, has been formally, repeatedly and officially rejected by a series of texts adopted at FI meetings over the past several years. Reversal of this rejection of our Trotskyist/Leninist heritage stands at the center of this counter-resolution and the two associated resolutions that we have submitted to the forthcoming February 2022 IC meeting.

Contradictory FI perspectives/assessments

The Bureau text proceeds to repeat its previous pessimistic assessment of the political conjuncture.  “Capital is strengthening its grip everywhere,” it insists,’’  “The unions are clinging to the capitalist revival as if it were a lifeline, social movements are on the defensive, democratic and social rights are receding, the political field is shifting to the right and to the far right in most countries…”

Yet the Bureau’s text states in part III on “The world geostrategic situation” that “We must take full measure of the acceleration of the global crisis opened up by capitalism, an issue that permeates the three texts under discussion at the IC.”

We can only wonder which of the Bureau’s assessments prevail, “Capital is strengthening its grip everywhere,” or that there is “an acceleration of the global crisis.” Regardless, the Bureau’s perspective rejecting the formation of Leninist parties remains unchanged!

This base rejection underlies the present course pursued by the FI majority, that is, the abandonment of the construction of Leninist parties aimed at the organization of the working class for the seizure of state power in favor of the construction of vaguely-defined “broad parties” that more often than not engage in electoral activities in alliance with openly reformist, that is pro-capitalist forces. We have detailed this orientation in previous texts with FI-supported reformist electoral formations around the world – Brazil, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Greece/Syriza, Uruguay, etc.

Inventive militant teams or revolutionary parties?

The Bureau text asks “How do we train workers to counter the productivist madness on which their daily existence depends? This is the crucial question. The answer can only come from struggles and the convergence of struggles. We have to work systematically on this, which implies building inventive militant teams in the different social movements, capable of exchanging and accumulating experience, knowledge and know-how.” [Emphasis in italics added.]

Again, “militant teams” not revolutionary parties!

And who is to lead these “teams”? The Bureau text is clear. “We need an ecosocialist transition programme for a just degrowth that abolishes exploitation and oppression. The chances of success will depend on the uncompromising radicality of the struggles of those who are practically at the forefront of the ecosocialist struggle today: youth, indigenous peoples, peasants and women.”

The working class as the revolutionary subject

What about the working class? Here the Bureau text departs from its purported transitional method aimed at the mobilization of the broad working class and instead postulates that the future struggles will be led by vaguely-defined forces, that is, “youth, indigenous peoples, peasants and women.” Again, the relationship of these forces to the construction of Leninist parties is absent.

Tragically, today’s climate movement is largely dominated by corporate-funded NGOs, most often devoid of working class character.

Glasgow debacle and the reformist NGO’s

Glasgow’s COP26 debacle, billed as the “most inclusive” ever, was controlled solely by the elite corporate monopolies and their government representatives while the so-called civil society NGOs, who has been promised input to partake in the “negotiations,” were relegated to a chosen few who were granted last minute tickets to “participate” as powerless “watch dog observers.” How could it be otherwise?

Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network (CAN) stated, naively at best, at the time, “Civil society voices are critical to the outcome of COP, but we’ve not been able to do our jobs. If participation and inclusion are the measure of legitimacy, then we’re on very shaky grounds.” CAN represents more than 1,500 organizations in over 130 countries. It is one of two environmental “constituencies” – loose networks of NGOs including youth groups, trade unions, indigenous peoples, business, agriculture, and gender – recognized by the UN. Its leaders seek “representation” and “inclusion” alongside the world’s elite to decide matters of world import!

Any conception that the Bureau’s Transitional Program, however excellent in its demands and working class degrowth focus, will find common ground with these petty-bourgeois, staff-dominated, corporate-funded NGOs is pure fantasy.

This is not to say that we should have rejected support and participation for Glasgow’s mass mobilization, where some 100,000, mostly youth, participated, not to mention the millions who mobilized around the world immediately prior to the previous, COP25 in Paris – there were 400,000 in New York City to protest COP25 – it is only to mark that our objective is the construction of massive independent working class based movements and, again, the simultaneous construction of Leninist parties. In and the U.S. the COP25 mobilizations were led by NGOs that featured almost exclusively Democratic Party speakers.

Building an independent movement

During the Vietnam War era and for decades after, when FI sections played key roles in the largely youthful antiwar, social justice, anti-racist mobilizations, our key demands aimed at fostering independent working class-oriented mobilizations. With regard to U.S. imperialist wars we demanded, “U.S. Out Now!” In the course of this mass work, FI sections simultaneously built and rebuilt their parties based on the Leninist model and attracted the best fighters, including working class youth who went on to play important roles in the trade union upsurges during that period.

Critical role of youth

Today’s youth are undoubtedly at the forefront of the ongoing climate mobilizations. In Glasgow, they were more than receptive to the radical remarks of Swedish climate youth activist Greta Thunberg, who spoke at the student strike rally during by “Fridays For Future” march of 10,000 that rallied at Glasgow’s city center: Said Thunberg, “We don’t need any more distant, non-binding pledges. We don’t need any more empty promises. Policymakers’ apparently believe that our world can survive a 2.7°C or 3°C hotter world. Yet that is all that we are getting and no, that is not radical to say it. It’s pure madness.”

Thunberg told the UK Guardian soon after: “Science doesn’t lie. If we are to stay below the targets set in the 2015 Paris agreement – and thereby minimize the risks of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control – we need immediate, drastic, annual emission reductions unlike anything the world has ever seen. And since we don’t have the technological solutions which alone will do anything close to that in the foreseeable future, it means we have to make fundamental changes to our society.”

That Glasgow’s actions found endorsements from important UK trade unions like UNITE was a modest step in the right direction. But today, the distance between largely token endorsement and the kind of massive working class actions needed to fundamentally change the character of the fight for humanity’s very existence remains for the moment.

This, of course, is not the fault of the Bureau to be sure, but only to re-state that the FI’s historic thesis that the future we fight for rests in our capacity to build mass deeply-rooted working class Leninist parties aimed at the abolition of capitalism is as valid as ever. The FI’s current rejection of this perspective can only render us impotent when today’s massive capitalist assault on every aspect of working class life, brings untold numbers into the streets demanding fundamental change. The gap between then and now is narrowing.

That the Bureau text presents a rational series of degrowth perspectives, focused essentially on making the rich and superrich pay while essentially guaranteeing that the broad working class and poor of the world do not, is to the credit of the comrades who prepared the text. Yet, the text is fundamentally flawed. There can be no Transitional Program for socialist revolution that is not aimed at the construction of mass Leninist parties.

The FI’s adopted views of this fundamental question of Marxism relegate its text to little more than an academic exercise.

Scientific deadlines to doomsday

The world has already warmed at least 1.1°C (2 degrees Fahrenheit) in consequence of which catastrophic deadly fires, hurricanes, flooding and killer heat waves have become the new norm. COP25’s Paris goals notwithstanding, the ruling rich have overseen a marked increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Some scientists say that current emissions, which are still rising, must be halved in this decade and not after. That was Joseph Biden’s stance at COP26. The vast majority, however, have affirmed that all emissions must been ended by 2030. Yet not a single COP26 proposal was based on any specific commitment or plan to meet either of these objective. To the contrary, countries’ national emissions plans made at the time of conference projected that greenhouse gas emissions will rise by 13.7 percent by 2030, according to the UN.

Debunking pseudo-science

Alan Thornet, climate activist/theoretician of the FI’s UK section, has presented some startling facts over the years on the depth of the climate crisis today. He wrote after COP26:

“At the moment we are heading for a 2.7°C increase by the end of the century – which would be catastrophic – and that is only if countries meet all of the pledges they made in Paris.”
“The problem in Glasgow.” Thornet continued, “is not just whether an agreement is reached, or even whether it will be implemented, it is that the target that has been set by the elites – ‘a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and then ‘net’ zero by 2050’ – was entirely inadequate before the conference opened.”

And further, said Thornet “The 1.5°C limit was a last-minute breakthrough at the Paris COP in 2015 and was agreed only as an aspiration and not a policy. Two years later (in October 2018) it was officially adopted in a Special Report on Global Warming published by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). The Report concluded that the 1.5°C limit was entirely possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but would require unprecedented effort in all aspects of society to implement. The IPCC also warned that we have just 12 years to do something about it, since a 1.5°C increase could be reached as soon as 2030.”

Thornet’s dire warnings over a year ago of approaching catastrophe made no mention of degrowth. They were based, however, on scientific estimates that in a rational society deadly temperature thresholds could be avoided by present technologies. The Bureau’s transitional demand conceptions have the great and additional merit of highlighting the emergency nature the our times and at aiming to assure working people that the climate movement’s solutions are not to be implemented at their expense. But again, again, and yet again, they are divorced from any party-building perspective, thus relegating their appeal to the social milieu of  “broad” reformist parties that the FI majority aims to enter, subordinate itself to, and build in order to gain  “influence,” largely in the capitalist electoral arena.

The challenge ahead

Today the anger and rising consciousness of increasing millions and billions of working people and their allies that the predatory capitalist-imperialist system does not represent their interests is on the rise. Workers face massive capitalist-imposed austerity, relentless unemployment, miserable housing, mounting evictions, endless wars, systemic racism, sexism and LGBTQI repression, horrific pandemics, disgusting capitalist greed and profiteering and overt and immediate climate threats to their lives and the lives of their children.

The tasks ahead for revolutionaries include the re-building and massive democratization of a fighting trade union movement and all social justice organizations in alliance with oppressed people everywhere. It will require the forging of a new leadership aimed at the exercise of working class power in the streets, at the point of production and in the political arena – aimed at challenging capitalist rule itself. The FI’s return to the strategy of Leninist party building stands before us as never before.

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