Our Opinion of the World Congress of the Fourth International (US)

The 17th World Congress of the United Secretariat (US) of the Fourth International has just finished. It took place in Belgium, from February 24th to March 2nd. I participated in representation of the MST as an observer, our status since 2012. Comrades representing official sections, and sympathizer, observer and invited organizations from about 40 countries, participated. The leadership presented four extensive documents. There were also two alternative texts presented by comrades from various countries. The leadership´s documents were approved by an ample majority. This article expresses the opinions that we contributed to the Congress.

Although we agree with much of the information and some of the conclusions of the majority´s documents, we have disagreements on global aspects of all of them, and wish to explain them, in a constructive spirit, hoping to contribute to a continuing collective discussion.

Different views on the 1990s

Our differences exceed the boundaries of this Congress. Many of them, stem from the differing views we have of the world that emerged in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. The US comrades believe that, “from the early 1990s, the fall of the USSR and the Eastern countries, combined with neoliberal capitalist globalization, has closed an historic cycle and opened a new one. ´New age, new program, new party´: this triad should constitute the framework for a reflection on this new historic period.”[1].

It is evident that the events of the 1990s provoked huge changes, but they represented the beginning of a new period, not a new era. We are convinced that we are still in the same revolutionary era of crisis, wars and revolutions that began in the early XX Century. The reformist era, in which capitalism still had something to offer, died in World War I and will not come back. That is why the urgent necessity of the socialist revolution is still in order.

The capitalist restoration in the third of the planet in which the bourgeoisie had been expropriated and the economic counterrevolution that the neoliberal offensive unloaded on workers across the globe, did not usher in a new period of capitalist prosperity and sustained development of the forces of production. This is why it is incorrect to speak of a “new era.”

The collapse of the world economy in 2008 put an end to the illusions of those who predicted the definitive triumph of the capitalist system. Working class resistance to the neoliberal agenda, the crisis of the political regimes, parties and traditional leaderships that drove that agenda, and the revolutions that took place in Latin America and the Middle East in this new century, are proof that the 90s did not provoke a defeat on workers of such proportions that would have blocked any perspective for socialism in the future, or imposed a correlation of forces completely favorable to the exploiters for decades, as the US comrades seem to imply.

A contradictory period

Actually, Stalinism had long before destroyed the achievements of the revolution in the states it ruled, and imposed a dictatorial regime that added constant repression and the lack of basic democratic liberties to peoples´ economic hardships. It was not a victorious counterrevolution that gave way to the capitalist restoration, but one democratic revolution after another that ended Stalinist domination over a third of the world. The confusions in consciousness that decades of Stalinist dictatorship produced and the absence of a revolutionary leadership with a mass base and international recognition, prevented revolutionaries from capitalizing that energy, avoiding the restoration and channeling the struggle towards a regime of workers´ democracy.

The complexity of the situation suggests that the new period that began worldwide in the 1990s had a contradictory sign: positive on the one hand, because of the extraordinary achievement that putting an end to the most hideous counterrevolutionary apparatus humanity has known, meant; but negative on the other, because the cost was high: capitalist restoration and the chain collapse of the bureaucratized workers´ states.

The fall of Stalinism shattered the world order that emerged after World War II, and imperialism has been unable to restore that order to this date.

Since then, we are immersed in an international situation of strong polarization, with political phenomena of all sorts emerging to the right as well as to the left, with ever decreasing space for intermediate grays. Although there are still many difficulties and a strong backwardness in consciousness, many confusions are tending to slowly dissipate. Opportunities for building broad anti-capitalist alternatives, as well as revolutionary parties, are growing day by day. What is still decisive, is the attitude revolutionaries assume towards these tasks.

Program and party

Logically, our characterization that the era we are immersed in is still revolutionary has a direct relationship with the program and the kind of party we need to build. This is why we also disagree with the need to change the program and build a new kind of party, like the US comrades propose.

We still sustain that the Theory of Permanent Revolution and the Transitional Program and its method -beyond the adaptations which were needed over the years to respond to new phenomena- are still valid. The objective, material, economic conditions for the transition from capitalism to socialism are still over ripe. “The historic crisis of humanity is reduced to the crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.” (Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Program) This is why it is indispensable to not renounce to the building of the only political instrument capable of fighting and defeating the traitorous leaderships in the workers´ movement, driving permanent mobilization and new organisms of democratic self-determination, and wresting power from the bourgeoisie. That instrument is the Leninist revolutionary party, for combat, formed by professional militants with democratic centralism.

Of course, this party has nothing to do with the grotesque and bureaucratic Stalinist caricature that impregnated even some currents that proclaim themselves Trotskyist. We stand for the broadest internal democracy, the right to organize tendencies and fractions, and we educate our cadre and militants against dogmatism and in favor of the obligation of thinking freely.

Broad parties versus revolutionary parties

The US Comrades have been proposing the same orientation for the past few congresses. For them, the strategy for the “new era” has to do with building broad anti-capitalist parties with reformist currents everywhere, and not building Leninist parties.

We disagree with this perspective. As we explained, our strategy is still the building of revolutionary parties. And for these to attain influence in mass sectors, we consider important to adopt all kinds of unitary tactics. Among them, the building of broad anti-capitalist parties, wherever there may be conditions for their existence, and being conscious of their limitations.

This was perhaps the most important debate of the Congress, because all other debates are resumed in it. Various comrades of different countries, criticized the leadership´s orientation and defended not abandoning the strategy of building revolutionary parties.

The strategy defended by the US leadership

The resolution that the previous World Congress voted said the following: “Our aim is the creation of broad anti-capitalist parties. It´s not about reediting old formulas of the regroupment of revolutionaries. The objective is to attract forces from beyond the strictly revolutionary. These can be a support for the process of re-composition, so long as they are clearly in favor of building anti-capitalist parties.”

The same resolution then gave a general sense of what relation these broad parties would have with the organizations of the Fourth: “In general, once there have been concrete steps towards new parties, we have proposed that the new broad anti-capitalist party function with the right to form tendencies and currents, and that members of the Fourth International in these parties organize in a manner to be decided on, according to the concrete situation of each party. Our Portuguese comrades in the Bloco de Esquerda, our Danish comrades in the Red-Green Alliance, our Brazilian comrades en the PSOL, are organized in particular forms, as a Fourth International current, or as a class struggle current along side other political tendencies.”

This subordination of the tasks of building their own organization and a series of political mistakes led to fall-backs and important crises in many sections of the Fourth (US). In a recent example, the weakness due to subordinating its own construction has led the Brazilian section to split into four groups over the discussion of what position to adopt in relation to Lula´s candidature.

In the document titled “Towards a resolution on Role and Tasks” presented and voted by a majority in this Congress, this orientation is deepened. In it, the US leadership clarifies once again that the strategy is not the building of revolutionary parties, and they explain the reason for reaching this conclusion: “Since we hold that the nature of the political instrument evolves necessarily with the situation, we know that when the revolution appears on the horizon we will need a party capable of understanding and taking advantage of that opportunity. Nonetheless, we know that proclaiming the party today, in most cases, does not necessarily allow us to fulfill the requirement that it be useful to the class struggle.”

It is important to pick apart all the ideas contained in this phrase. On the one hand, it says that it is not useful to build “the revolutionary party today” because “the revolution” is no longer “on the horizon.” We have already explained why we consider this analysis completely wrong.

Let us continue analyzing this phrase: “ we know that when the revolution appears on the horizon, we will need a party…” The comrades should explain how they will manage to quickly build a party “capable of understanding and taking advantage of that opportunity” when “the revolution appears on the horizon,” taking into account that History has exhaustively demonstrated that the building of a revolutionary party and leadership cannot be improvised, and that it takes years of activity to achieve the maturity needed to act when a revolutionary situation happens.

We can see an emphatic example of the conscious abandoning of the building of the revolutionary party in France. In 2009, when the comrades founded the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) -broad party that we enthusiastically supported- they dissolved, at the same time, their own party, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), which was the most important section of the International. From that moment, they began a downward spiral of crisis in which they have lost most of their leaders and militants, seen the broad party capsize and their International paralyzed. Unfortunately, they have not as of yet drawn any lessons from this (in our opinion, monumental) mistake, which has categorically confirmed that without a revolutionary party, not only is it impossible to dispute power, but also to guarantee the development of a broad organization proposed and led by oneself.

These positions reflect an international current of thought that goes beyond the US comrades. That is why they have many points of contact with some positions developed by our comrades of the Brazilian MES, with which we have been debating for some time.

Strategy and tactics

The debacle of Stalinism since the fall of the USSR, the fatal crisis of social-democracy because of its active role in applying neoliberal policies, the failure of this century´s nationalist governments and the economic counterrevolution that governments have been unloading on workers for years -to which we should add the weakness of Trotskyism- have generated new political phenomena in the shape of broad, vaguely anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist regroupments. Despite the limitations of these spaces an the petty bourgeois and non revolutionary character of the leaderships of these processes, we consider it a sectarian mistake -common in some organizations who also consider themselves Trotskyist- to refuse, in principle, to participate in these experiences and contend for a period, from within them, for influence over the workers and youth that are attracted to them.

Concretely, we do not consider the tactic of integrating Podemos in Spain, the Left Block in Portugal, Die Linke in Germany, or even Syriza in its beginnings, for a time, in order to try to build strong revolutionary currents within these broad constructions to be wrong. What is incorrect is falling in line behind the reformist leaderships of these processes and abandoning the strategy of building the revolutionary party, or dissolving oneself within these organizations.

Although there is not one model, and the alternatives that have risen are not equal to one another, the same can be said about participating in the construction of the PSOL in Brazil, or about the politics Marea Socialista adopted within the PSUV in Venezuela, or about adopting politics towards phenomena like the Broad Front in Chile, or the New Peru Movement.

There are many currents that reject having unitarian tactics toward this kind of phenomena, as is the case with organizations like the ones that conform the FIT or the MAS in our country.

In this period, in many countries, it will not be possible to achieve qualitative advances in our construction, or in contending for mass influence, without adopting broad politics and tactics towards the new phenomena that rise.  This  does not deny that, in certain national realities, the correct tactic could be the unity of Trotskyism or of the radical left. In Argentina, for example, the unity that would be necessary today -and that does not materialize due to sectarian currents- is the unity of the FIT and Izquierda al Frente, calling for the rest of the organic, independent and social left to join.

More on our strategy

The comrades of the Brazilian MES have also written for this World Congress. In relation to broad alternatives, they write: “it is a grave mistake that the sectarian left commits, defining that the sign is adaptation, that is to say, class conciliation. This false conclusion leads to combating them, either from without or from a policy of “entryism”, within them. Both are incorrect policies that isolate revolutionary currents from the objective processes toward the revolutionary consciousness of the workers. These processes are a fundamental place from which to advance towards that consciousness. This is why it is essential to be a part of them, a constructive part of them, defending an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist program as well as internal democracy within them. The result is not predetermined (as the sectarian left holds); it will depend not only on the leaders´ intentions, but also on the class struggle driving mobilizations, as it is happening in Peru, and on the anti-capitalist left organizing and developing within them.”

We disagree with this whole perspective. One thing is to support building broad alternatives, even vaguely anti-capitalist ones, like most recent experiences, and another thing is to overlook their limitations, as the comrades unfortunately do. Not all broad alternatives that have risen are equal, although they all have reformist currents heading them. They are essentially electoral alternatives with limited programs. Thus far, the dynamic of almost all these experiences has been an increasing adaptation to the regimes. To the degree that they have advanced in disputing local, state or national governments, they have become “left wing administrators” of the bourgeois state.

The maximum expression of this was the betrayal of Syriza when it assumed the Greek government. In Spain, as well, Podemos has just given in to the monarchical regime born out of the Francoist Constitution of 1978, turning its back on the mass independence mobilization that shook Catalonia. Were they to govern, they would probably follow Syriza´s steps. We have already seen the dynamic Die Linke acquired in Germany, where they positioned themselves to the right of Merkel on the question of refugee asylum in the last elections.

None of the broad alternatives that have emerged in Europe, Latin America and other regions are exempt from similar dynamics, due to the petty bourgeois class character of their leaderships, their limited programs and their electoralist strategy. This has nothing to do with sectarianism: it´s pure, hard reality. Not preparing for the transitory character of these political instruments leads to either demoralization in the face of abrupt turns like Tsipras´, or to an adaptation to the new reactionary course.

Using the example of a train that stops at various stations before reaching the last one, which, for us, represents the international socialist revolution, we can say that this kind of alternative will play a progressive role until a determined point of the trip, and then, it will most likely change character and become reactionary. For this reason, it is important to be clear on that, sooner or later, our program will come into conflict with the dynamic imposed by the most reformist components of these alternatives, and that they will then either shatter or we will have to break with them. The point is to take advantage of the opportunities presented before, during and after to strengthen our revolutionary organization.

Because of all this we don´t believe that it will be possible to integrate a future government of this kind of organizations. Our strategy is still tied to driving mass mobilization and building the revolutionary party with mass influence to contend for power in the factories and in the streets, taking advantage of all opportunities to advance in this direction.

We hope this debate helps to educate and politicize the new waves of activists that continue fighting the capitalist system and dreaming of a socialist world, despite the difficulties.

Alejandro Bodart

[1] From the LCR to the NPA, 12/15/08, signed by leading SU members.