30 June 2012
LETTER TO RCIT ON METHOD AND PROGRAM
Dear Comrades of RCIT,
We welcome the letter critiquing the degeneration of the LFI. Class composition is indeed the material cause of this degeneration. It is interesting that you say that WPB was for ‘many years’ oriented towards the students and labour aristocracy. And you are clear on Trotsky’s attitude towards the dangers this poses especially under pressure of crises. So why, as a left grouping inside LFI that did not originate in Cliffism but the Fourth International, did the leading RCIT comrades not identify the real basis of the LRCI/LFI degeneration, and recognise that bureaucratic expulsion has a long tradition in the LRCI/LFI?
Briefly, to outline our position. Cliffism is not centrism but reformism. A semi-Cliffite faction in the LRCI leadership around KH, British academics and labour aristocratic full-timers, has contested the Trotskyist faction drawn from a British group around Dave Hughes, the Latin American comrades, the NZ comrades, and if we understand the internal life of the 1990s and 2000s, the leading comrades who came from the Austrian section. The history of the LRCI/LFI reflects not a healthy Trotskyism until recently, but the ongoing contest between these two tendencies under pressure of restoration, war and democratic counter-revolution, and finally the opening of a revolutionary period from 2007. The LRCI/LFI therefore on balance vacillated from right to left centrism according to which tendency was in the ascendancy. Therefore, any balance sheet of the history of the LRCI/LFI has to drawn on the basis of understanding this long term internal struggle. We would argue that the expulsion of the comrades who have formed the leadership of the RCIT is not the result of a recent degeneration but rather a birth defect rooted in the incomplete break of the LRCI from Cliffism in 1975.
At its founding in 1989 the majority tendency of the LRCI led by Dave Hughes became a healthy Trotskyist current not least because it was augmented by non-British and to a large extent Latin American semi-colonial comrades who come from much less petty bourgeois and ‘aristocratic’ class backgrounds. There was however a tension in the WPB leadership between the majority left centrism moving towards Trotskyism, and the minority right centrism pulling back towards Cliffite 3rd campism. However, this was immediately put to the test by the restoration process in the workers states. The revisionists around Hassall who were camped between Cliff and Trotsky held that in the workers states, workers property coexisted with a bourgeois state. Therefore the fight against restoration would take place within the state initially as a defence of bourgeois democracy.
This was the basis of the August 1991 united front with Yeltsin against the right Stalinist coup. At the time this position was critiqued by the RTT in the US and by WPNZ before joining the LRCI in 1992. The Latin American comrades also opposed it. If the RTT had not been prevented from attending the 2nd Congress, and had the WPNZ (which had not yet joined) been able to vote at that Congress in 1991, the right would probably have been defeated by the left. Afraid to face the opposition, the right in the LRCI used bureaucratic methods to pull back from Trotskyism. The LRCI at this point broke with its program – the Trotskyist Manifesto, and Trotsky’s position that the restoration of bourgeois democracy is the method by which the counter-revolution is completed in workers states since it transforms that state into a capitalist state defending private property.
Calling workers to defend bourgeois democracy behind Yeltsin as a means of opposing restoration is therefore its opposite, a means of advancing restoration. Worse, the LRCI leadership showed it was prepared to call on ‘democratic’ imperialism to assist in restoring ‘bourgeois’ democracy and defend the secessionist Baltic States from Stalinist Russia. Later in 1995 it refused to defend ‘Stalinist’ Greater Serbia from NATO bombs.
Thus the semi-Cliffite program of the right centrists around Hassall drew the logical conclusion that workers property would not be restored so long as workers used bourgeois democracy to put up a resistance. So long as the fight for bourgeois democracy continued within the workers state, workers could resist the transition from the ‘moribund’ workers state to the restoration of capitalism.
After the expulsion of the Latin American comrades and the Proletarian faction of WPNZ in 1995, the left current inside the LRCI led by the main leader of the RCIT today was weakened. Nonetheless it fought to have the wrong position on restoration reversed. The semi-Cliffite position was defeated both in its view of the using the Stalinist state to defend workers property and the conclusion that a moribund workers state could survive alongside a bourgeois state. Moreover the left won the majority to the view that Russia had not only been restored since 1991, but by 2000 far from a moribund workers state the left was proposing that Russia was a new imperialist state. In our view, as a consequence it follows from these changes that the revisionist programmatic basis for the Yeltsin ‘democratic’ bloc no longer exists, and the RCIT needs to acknowledge this in its new Manifesto.
While these fights inside the LRCI led to a healthy break to the left, the RCIT does not draw the conclusion that the LRCI zigzags since its break from the SWP are all explained by the pressure of petty bourgeois and labour aristocratic layers of the British working class. In our view there is a common cause underlying these left and right zigzags and that is the LRCI class composition within the British imperialist class structure which renders it subject to the social imperialist pressures that ‘democratic’ imperialism was more progressive than Stalinism. We made this argument in our Proletarian Faction document prior to our ‘constructive’ expulsion in 1995.
Worse, since it was founded the LRCI has had a covert inside/outside faction around Hassall and Bill Jeffries (who was no longer a member of WPB) that campaigned doggedly to defend its semi-Cliffite Stalinlophobic positions. So not only was LRCI under constant pressure from the petty bourgeois and labour aristocratic base of British social imperialism, it was hostage to a covert faction transmitting those pressures internally. It is interesting to note that the Hassall/Jeffries faction was a leading part of the split to from Permanent Revolution in 2006. The principle differences of this faction with the centre and left of WPB was its view that there was no structural crisis of falling profits since the 1980s, the class struggle was quiescent, and the period was not pre-revolutionary. For them the crisis did not exist, there was no foreseeable pre-revolutionary situation developing and the working class was in no position to mount a struggle against capital.
In summary, what has been the character of LRCI over all these years? We would say that the left was a left moving centrism that in the late 1980s under the influence of Dave Hughes and Jose Villa moved away from Cliffism towards a healthy Trotskyism. One mark of this health was Villa’s document adopted by the LRCI on the Bolivian Revolution of 1952. This was an expression of a semi-colonial current that in 1985 broke in the throes of political struggle with POR Lora and Latin American national Trotskyism. Without the struggle of the semi-colonial Trotskyism the LRCI would never have written the Trotskyist Manifesto and moved as far as it did towards Trotskyism.
On the right were the semi-Cliffites who tried to drag Trotskyism back towards the reformist 3rd camp. It was this faction that sought to characterise the Bolivian defeat of 1985 as an ‘historic defeat’. The Latin American’s fought against this as a social imperialist relegation of the importance of semi-colonial struggles. As we say we regard this camp as revisionist ending up in the camp of reformism in the post-war period. Centrism covers a lot of sins but in essence means revolutionary program and reformist practice. Obviously this poses the question, in what way is the Cliffite’s program ‘revolutionary’?
Cliffites are ‘reformists’ not ‘centrists’
When Trotsky argued that the 3rd camp should not be expelled that was in order to continue the process of convincing them they were wrong. Trotsky regarded the Comintern as ‘centrist’ before 1933. But after 1933 the Comintern became a counter-revolutionary force inside the workers movement. What would it take to expel the 3rd camp? Before his death, Trotsky called the abandonment of the Leninist position on imperialist war ‘counter-revolutionary’. Unconditional defence of workers states was part of that Leninist position. The ‘3rd camp’ once established during WW2 was not merely a centrist camp between revolution and reform, but became the reformist camp inside the revolutionary camp.
With the second imperialist war, two imperialist wars against degenerate workers states (Korea and Vietnam) and the capitalist restoration of Eastern Europe, the USSR, Yugoslavia, China and Vietnam behind us, we can see how what began as a revision on the question of Russia, led to a reformist program and betrayal of Trotskyism over a period of decades. First, 3rd Campism is a revision of Marx’s theory of capitalist production. Second, as a consequence, it is revision of the workers’ state as ‘state capitalism’. Third, decisively for Trotskyism, its revisionism ‘matured’ into a reformism that actively betrayed, by refusing to unconditionally defend the workers’ states. Fourth, it capitulates to the popular front and the liquidation of the revolutionary party into the petty bourgeois milieu.
Thus in sum the method and programme of the 3rd Campism results from a long-term adaptation to social imperialism. On all of these counts, 3rd Campism is a break from Trotskyism in its central principles. Therefore it does not have what we call today a Bolshevik-Leninist or Trotskyist program. We cannot call it centrist since it does not have a Marxist program that meets the requirements of the Communist Manifesto and the revolutionary programs of the succeeding internationals. It recruits new layers of revolutionaries on a program that breaks with Marxism on the essential principle of representing the general and international interests of the proletariat.
On this reasoning we can explain the left-right zigzagging of the LRCI/LFI as the ongoing fight between a left proletarian tendency and a petty bourgeois reformist tendency. Using the principle of parsimony, the explanation offered by the RCIT for its own expulsion in 2011, can be taken back to its materialist roots, the failure of the LRCI/LFI to make a complete break with 3rd Campism, manifest in an ongoing fight between a proletarian tendency struggling to overcome social imperialist pressures, constantly contested by a closet semi-Cliffite faction dedicated to returning the LRCI to the reformist 3rd Camp.
Why doesn’t the RCIT draw these conclusions?
This brings us to our conclusions about the consequences of the failure of the RCIT to go to the material roots of the LRCI/LFI degeneration – the incomplete split with ‘3rd camp’ Cliffism. Without a purging of those degenerate roots in social imperialism, the RCIT’s Manifesto will reproduce the same contradictions. Despite its healthy break to the left from the LFI, the failure to draw these conclusions leaves the prospect that the RCIT will be dragged back by the LFI method of adapting to social imperialism. We can see this in the recent Manifesto. Despite the corrections to the wrong program on the Workers States, there is no acknowledgement of the capitulation to social imperialism during the restoration process and specifically the popular front with Yeltsin; there is no recognition of the social imperialist capitulation to the NATO bombings in Yugoslavia; there is a revisionist conception of the ‘world party of socialist revolution’ which is in danger of liquidating it into a ‘party of the whole class’. Let’s deal with these in turn.
The Yeltsin Coup
We reprint the relevant section from the Proletarian Faction document:
“The first major test was the Yeltsin coup. The LRCI’s position was confused. On the one hand it recognised correctly that neither those behind the coup nor Yeltsin intended to defend state property. On the other it said, against those who claimed that the coup makers should be supported because they were defending state property, that their reason for defending it, namely their caste privilege, was insufficient. [“Revolution and Counter-Revolution in the Soviet Union” Trotskyist International, No 7, Sept/Jan1991/92] “The [conservative faction of the old nomenclature] hoped by their actions on 19 August to defend their privileges on the basis of post-capitalist property relations and sought political legitimacy in the Supreme Soviet….In what sense could it be said that the SCSE “defended the planned property relations”? Only in this: that it resisted their abolition to the extent that they were the “host” off which it was parasitic. However, this massive social parasite was the principle cause of the sickness unto death of the bureaucratically centrally planned economy, of the consequent disillusion of the masses in it”. [p7-9]
So according to the LRCI to the extent that the “parasites” still defended “post-capitalist” property, they should not be supported because they caused the collapse of the “planned economy” in the first place. This was a clear break from Trotsky who argued that notwithstanding the Stalinists reasons for supporting state property, workers must bloc with them in this defence. What this break revealed was a residual Stalinophobia present in the LRCI.
This was further revealed in the nature of the support given Yeltsin during the coup. Both sides were restorationist and both posed a threat to workers. It is wrong to say that Yeltsin’s “democratic” method of restoration allowed a “democratic breathing space” for workers to mobilise a political revolution. Yeltsin’s method was that of a restorationist “popular front”. He wanted to use the widespread illusions in bourgeois democracy as the cover for his restoration. So while the conservatives were against Yeltsin, this did not mean that Yeltsin was for the workers. The point is that a fight between the enemies of the workers should have been used by workers to arm themselves against all their enemies. This required a workers united front against Yeltsin’s popular front of democrats, would-be exploiters, nationalists, and more privileged workers. The workers who supported Yeltsin were mainly privileged miners whose union leaders were supporters of restoration. Their leaders were composed of petty bourgeois graduates etc strongly influenced by marketising ideology. [See Trotskyist International April-July 1992 p27 “suicide of the Bureaucracy” p. 31.] Yeltsin flew to mines to call off strike. [p. 34.] The LRCI having argued against the WRP “stalinophobia” that the miners were “influenced by imperialism” [IIB 37 May 1991] turns around and claims in a polemic against the RTT [Trotskyist International April-July 1992] that the miners led the workers defence of democratic rights. In the space of several months the miners go from being a new labour aristocracy to being the vanguard of workers struggles.
The miners got sucked into the popular front which is proven by Yeltsin calling off their strike! Yeltsin as agent of imperialist restoration tells workers they are going too far [and his supporters disarm the soviets!]. Not all workers got sucked into the popular front. Most stayed at home, but others armed themselves and defended the soviets. They were the vanguard workers who mobilised as a working class united front against the coup, and who also regarded Yeltsin as their enemy. In “Suicide of a Bureaucracy” [Trotskyist International April-July 1992] the LRCI makes light of the socialists who went to defend the “Red House”. Kagarlitsky was clearly a social democrat, but he is committed to “market socialism”, not rapid restoration. The thousands of workers who wanted to defend “socialism” were the obvious vanguard to be mobilised against the Yeltsinites. Those few who did go to the White House, they went to “support their enemies”. [Interview with Kagarlitsky, IIB 44, November 1991]
It was necessary for revolutionaries to expose Yeltsin as the enemy of the political revolution. The correct position was to mobilise workers independently of Yeltsin, an open restorationist. If Yeltsin was serious in opposing the coup we could offer a military bloc with him, but only if he “broke with the bourgeoisie”. Kagarlitsky is reported to have claimed that Yeltsin was not serious about opposing the coup since its purpose “was to pull Yeltsin and Gorbachev together into the government of national reconciliation, with emergency powers”. Yeltsin became serious and betrayed the coup when he realised that he could take emergency powers and have his own coup. So by the time Yeltsin got serious he was already taking more emergency powers than the Committee of Emergency, justifying this in the name of “democracy”. According to this view, Yeltsin usurped the coup to strengthen his relationship with the bourgeoisie. [Kagarlitsky interview cited above]
Revolutionaries would have demanded that Yeltsin not only called for and supported a general strike, but called on the army to defect and arm the workers. We would not have defended the White House during the coup [except in the unlikely event that it became part of the defence of workers democracy.] The correct place for revolutionaries was the armed defence of the Soviets. Kagarlitsky also claims that there was no attack on the Moscow or Leningrad soviets by the Emergency Committee. It was the members of the Soviets, members of the “democratic” bodies, not the coup plotters, that attempted to disarm the Moscow and Leningrad soviets. [Kagarlitsky interview cited above.] Against Yeltsin calling off the strike we would have called on the miners to break from Yeltsin. This would have helped Yeltsin to expose himself to those layers of workers who saw the need to build an independent, armed workers movement.
The LRCI called for a “united front” with Yeltsin without conditions. They were prepared to stand side by side with Yeltsin defending the Russian “White House” the symbol of bourgeois parliament. This was capitulating to the illusions in bourgeois democracy by claiming that such “democratic rights” empowered the working class. But talking about democracy in the abstract confuses bourgeois and workers democracy in a degenerated workers state. The LRCI had strongly argued some months earlier against any concessions to bourgeois democracy, although it was never “against democracy” but rather “in favour of workers democracy”. It now abandoned its formally correct position on the grounds that the struggle for bourgeois democratic rights could advance the political revolution.
Trotsky rejected the concept of democracy in the abstract. [See Trotsky, “Is Parliamentary Democracy likely?” p55. Defence of Soviet Republic and the Opposition, p291; “Does SU follow principles etc” p37/38.] The LRCI too, formally rejected bourgeois democracy up until the coup: “An extension of parliamentary democracy in the Stalinist states will prove a cruel deception for the masses. This “separation of power” between the apparent equality of parliament and the hidden but real inequality within society is not possible within the degenerate(d) workers states because the economy is not privately owned (p.17); “A freely elected parliament would sound the death-knell of Stalinist control – but it would not herald the victory of the proletariat. This does not mean that revolutionary Marxists are against democracy. It means that we are in favour of working class democracy. A five yearly election of a few hundred Mps is not vehicle for the exercise of such democracy (p.17).; “It is not surprising that in the Stalinist states today the “soviets” – a grotesque parody of the original workers’ and peasants’ councils are hated by the masses. But the alternative is not to turn the clock back to capitalist “democracy”. It is to build completely new councils as the basis for completely new workers’ democracy, a democracy that can and must triumph through a political revolution against bureaucracy”.[ Stalinism in Crisis. p 18].
The LRCI changed its mind when the extent of popular illusions in bourgeois democracy became clear. See the debate over bourgeois democracy at 3rd Congress. [Section on “Changes to Chapter 5” in “Why we need a good 3rd Congress”, and reply “Once again on August 1991”, and “A Backward looking opposition: A Reply to Comrade Leo”.] The reason the LRCI thinks that bourgeois democratic rights are progressive in a DWS is that it regards the Stalinist states as “bourgeois” in form, and therefore, during the August coup it was progressive to bloc with the bourgeois “democrat” Yeltsin against the bourgeois [Stalinist] dictators.
But how is the working class empowered by its illusions in the “freedoms” offered by glasnost and perestroika? This is the path of “democratic counter-revolution” in which workers voted for the end of workers property in the false hope that it would bring real freedom and economic salvation. Again this showed the tendency to succumb to popular pressure to defend the democratic rights of workers by appealing to Yeltsin’s restorationist friends including the imperialists. [On the question of “democratic counter-revolution” see Dobbs “Twenty-one weeks is a very long time in politics” and Brian Green’s Resignation letter]. What Green argues is that you cannot view the process of “democratic counter-revolution” as a “political revolutionary crisis”. It is the false perspective of the LRCI which held out hope that bourgeois democratic rights could provide a “breathing space” for political revolution which leads to the false characterisation of this phase of struggle as a political revolutionary crisis. A political revolution must involve the overthrow of the bureaucracy in defence of workers property. The “democratic” aspects of the process resulted from elements of the bureaucracy co-opting layers of the working class in support of a “democratic” restoration. A similar weakness had already become apparent in the defence of the Baltic States from Soviet invasion. The LRCI correctly called for the unconditional right to self-determination of the Baltic States from the USSR i.e. in the case of Lithuania calling for independent workers state, and opposed the invasion of the Red Army. Yet at the same time it called on aid from imperialist states [without strings!] to defend these states.” [Editors emphasis]
The case of Bosnia
“In the case of Bosnia we reject the LRCI line in defense of Bosnia as it is now in a bloc with Croatia and backed by the US and Germany. Bosnia is now clearly engaged in the oppression of other nationalities. We support the original defeatist line on Bosnia and for a workers revolution and the transformation of the inter-communal war into a war against bureaucracies, restorationists and all imperialist states. Instead of killing each other with the aim of creating ethnic semi-colonial capitalist micro-states the workers from all communities should unite and overthrow their rulers and create a socialist federation. Instead of calling more international volunteers to support Izetbegovic, we should be for the expulsion of all the Islamic and Croat chauvinists “volunteers”, as well as other nationalists, and communalist militia. We should be for workers in other countries to volunteer fighters and arms to build anti-imperialist multi-ethnic councils and militias that should expel all the great powers from the region. We support the analysis of Comrade Johnson in From a Revolutionary Line to Eclectic Line in IIB 84. We don’t agree with the IS Resolution on The Croatian Seizure of Krajina of 8th August 1995, since it fails to recognise Imperialist/Bosnian involvement in the seizure and draw the necessary conclusion – a return to a defeatist position.
Once more we think that the LRCI is putting the tactic of the right of self-determination before strategy of political revolution. The whole thrust of the collapse of Stalinism under the combined pressure of imperialism and the crisis of the plan, makes nationalism reactionary in all but extreme cases. In which Eastern European country are capitalist restorationist regimes promoting good relations between ethnic groups? Social counter-revolution produces inevitably ethnic chauvinism. The introduction of free market and capitalist laws means that capitalism’s main enemies are collectivism and working class consciousness, solidarity and internationalism. Individualism and the right to own private property is linked with the right to (re-)create one’s own ethnic identity and Statelet. Imperialism needs to destroy Comecon and the planned economy. World capitalism pressures companies, regions and republics to be profitable. The companies that in the past were under a common plan must now compete to destroy each other. The same competitive destruction is expressed at national/communal levels.
All nationalist/communalist bourgeois movements try to distract the working class. Instead of fighting against its class enemies (imperialism and capitalism), the workers are split according to national/communal lines. With this the proletariat is divided and workers support is won for national-capitalist interests. The Yugoslav wars were inter-communal wars in which the roots of it were the imperialist and capitalist penetration. Every side is trying to create a communalist bourgeois state ruled by a new class. The arms dealers and imperialist powers increase these rivalries as part of a game around who could have more power in the international arena.
The LRCI had a correct position at the beginning of the war. We were in favour of defending Sarajevo, Tuzla and any multi-ethnic community against the Serbs but without supporting the Bosnian government. We were in favour of defending every community against Muslim, Croat or Serb militia attack. We were for the transformation of the ethnic war into a civil war against bureaucracy and imperialism. We should return to that line. Under imperialist and reformist pressure the LRCI changed and adapted to “democratic” imperialism.” Proletarian Faction
This became clear in its failure to oppose NATO bombing of Serbian Bosnia. Dave Stocking in Trotskyist International 18, Oct/Dec 95, writes:
“The large scale bombing of Serb targets by imperialist warplanes naturally provokes the question: should socialists take sides with the Bosnian Serbs against imperialism? Aren’t the Serbs objectively anti-imperialist? Is it not the case that imperialism is always “the main enemy” and therefore whoever is fighting it becomes a “lesser evil” and objectively anti-imperialist?
Marxists never take positions in a war on the basis of abstractly counterposed definitions of the combatant states: imperialism, degenerate workers state, semi-colony etc. Vital as these categories are, they cannot be used to replace a concrete analysis of whether the parties in a given war are progressive. They cannot be used in isolation from the fundamental objectives that warring sides are pursuing.
A war to defend a workers’ state or a semi-colony against conquest and exploitation by an imperialist state is a progressive war. A war by a section of the fragmented chauvinist bureaucracy and nascent bourgeoisie of a moribund workers state, to commit genocide against a section of its population is a reactionary war.
A limited, tactical, military intervention by imperialism against the reactionary side in such a national war does not in and of itself change the character of the war and render the Bosnian Serbs “progressive”. An all out imperialist intervention which subordinated the BiH forces to its reactionary aims would be a different matter (see below).
Thus in Bosnia we have to look at the concrete aims of NATO and the Bosnian Serbs in their present limited conflict. We maintain that they are both thoroughly reactionary. Whoever sides with the Serbs –if they are serious – must wish to see their victory in a given conflict. They must not only desire to see the NATO warplanes downed by the Serbs but the continuation of the siege of Sarajavo and Tuzla.
The Serbs are not trying to drive the UN or NATO forces out of Bosnia. They are continuing their four-year campaign to drive the Bosnians out of Bosnia.
Do the NATO air attacks make this objective any less reactionary? No! What the Bosnian Serbs are actually “fighting imperialism” over is the “right” to continue to besiege and bombard Sarajevo. Thus the limited conflict of the Bosnian Serbs with imperialism is not a progressive struggle. It is not in the Leninist sense of the world, either objectively or subjectively “anti-imperialist” at all.
The imperialist powers have been drawn into this conflict, not in order to directly annex the Balkans to the EU nor immediately to restore capitalism, but to prevent a reactionary nationalist war de-stabilising the World Order.”
And in a box “Danger of escalating war” (p7) the same point is made: “Thus in the present limited military conflict between NATO and the Bosnian Serbs, revolutionaries must take a revolutionary defeatist position on both sides.”
In other words, the Bosnian Serbs are ‘ethnically cleansing’ the Bosnian Muslims, so ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the Serbs is as bad as NATO bombing the Serbs. But ‘ethnic cleansing’ was a consequence of the breakup of Yugoslavia and the competition among new national bourgeoisies for territory. We have to be opposed to all ‘ethnic cleansing’ but we cannot equate ‘ethnic cleansing’ as a consequence of imperialism, with its cause, imperialism itself. What’s more if the LRCI still saw Serbia as a ‘moribund workers state’ it was obliged to defend it ‘unconditionally’. We would go further, because for us Serbia was already restored as a new capitalist semi-colony, so in any military conflict with imperialism, is to be defended, as Trotsky defended Haile Sellasie the dictator of Ethiopia against fascist Italy. If Serbia’s immediate purpose is to ‘ethnically cleanse” Muslims from Bosnia that is a “lesser evil” to imperialist bombs. As the LRCI admits, those who rely on imperialism to defend their rights are doomed to defeat because imperialism is ultimately the ‘main enemy’ and the cause of all evils in this epoch.
As Comrade Johnson put it:
“In the Balkan wars the LRCI leaders sided with everybody. In the conflict between Serbs and Croats they sided with both camps at the same time. Until November 1992 they opposed the independence of Bosnia and condemned Izetbegovic’s Bosnian Muslims as reactionary, ethnic cleansers and pro-imperialists. One month later they decided to support them, and later on to ask imperialism to send weapons, money and men for them. In 1992 they organised a common demonstration in Vienna with Great Serb monarchists and year later with Muslim and Albanians who were asking for NATO intervention against the Serbs. They always said that they were willing to defend the Serbs against NATO and its Muslim and Croat allies if imperialism bombed them. However, when it happened they called for a dual defeatist position in those bombardments, for more resolute action by the Muslim-Croat troops who were ethnically cleansing almost one million Serbs, and for imperialism to give tanks, planes and missiles to their local puppets.
In 1995 all the Latin American comrades were expelled because they organised a tendency proposing that the LRCI defend Haiti and the Serbs against imperialist attacks. Immediately after that the LRCI moved towards a fusion process with the PTS who also defended Serbia and Haiti against the USA. The LRCI decided once more to shift its position. In the last Kosovar conflict it called for the defence of the Serbs. However, it did so in an extremely contradictory way, because it was also for a military victory of the pro-NATO KLA. The LRCI advised the KLA to demand more money and weapons from NATO and to use their massive bombardments to smash the Serbs. It regards and anti-Communist formation that was using US military support to destroy what remained from a workers state as ‘petit bourgeois revolutionaries’- a position that contrasts sharply with the LRCI’s attitude to the Basque nationalist republican ETA, which it denounces as completely reactionary’ and refuses to defend against Spanish imperialist state repression.”
The CEMICOR explains what is behind this confused politics:
“LRCI’s eclectic and impressionistic method
This way of combining the most amazing contradictions is becoming the official LRCI “method” on every single question. In Britain, Workers Power was strongly opposed to any degree of autonomy for Scotland and Wales because it said this threatened the integrity of the United Kingdom that should be preserved as the best way to maintain the unity of the class. Later on they decided to vote ‘Yes’ for devolution for Scotland but against it for Wales.
On the Socialist Labour Party they zigzagged. Initially they enthusiastically supported it, then later condemned it as a Stalinist sect, then some more weeks later send more than 10% of their members into it. Workers Power actively campaigned for New Labour against SLP candidates (including leafleting for an ex-Tory Blairite against Scargill) while its entryists inside the SLP were advocating more SLP candidates. At the end, instead of recruiting people, they lost members in this adventure. For years Workers Power campaigned for right-wing bourgeois workers parties against the far-left in France and Britain. In the last European elections they proposed exactly the opposite line. They called for a vote against the European Socialist Party and United Left in France and Britain but for it in Sweden.
It is possible to go on describing these inconsistencies but we don’t have the space. The important conclusion is that the LRCI is becoming a very erratic and irresponsible sect with the most antagonistic lines and zigzags.
The undemocratic regime
This eclecticism is impossible to maintain without a bureaucratic regime. The organisation is not united around political positions but around personal links and friendships. Is becoming like a social club around a pedantic academic clique who can make the most incredible U-turn at any moment. All the members have to be loyal to those leaders.
Harvey and Stockton changed radically the LRCI programme without declared officially a fraction. They created a secret clique that manipulated the LRCI through the International Secretariat sanctioning their opponents. Exactly the opposite happened with *all* the comrades that led tendencies inside the LRCI who finally were excluded.
After the League’s first congress, two tendencies emerged in the British section that ended up fusing with the Revolutionary Internationalist League (RIL). One raised differences over work in the gay/lesbian movement, while the other called for a more serious intervention in the industrial working class and criticised Workers Power’s zigzags over the “Victory to Iraq” slogan during the Gulf War. In the first case, instead of discussing the political issues (as the Austrian and Andean comrades demanded), the Workers Power leadership launched a campaign against the RIL over the alleged theft of a computer. The comrade who led the other tendency was suspended and obliged to return all the internal bulletins.
In 1991 Brian Green and eight other comrades in WP launched a tendency proposing that the world period was counter-revolutionary. Brian Green went on to argue that the ex-Stalinist countries had restored capitalism and that it was wrong to continue calling them ‘workers’ states. He wrote a major book on world economy, but the League vetoed its publication. He was removed from every commission and ostracised. Later on, the LRCI forbade members to live in the same house as him.
After August 1991 the US sympathising section, the Revolutionary Trotskyist Tendency (RTT), criticised the LRCI leaders for capitulating to Yeltsin during his coup. Two weeks before the LRCI congress in December, without asking the delegates, International Executive Committee (IEC) members or sections, Dave Stockton in the name of the LRCI broke relations with the RTT and vetoed its participation at a congress that came very close to removing the right-wing leadership. LRCI members were forbidden to contact any RTT member or sympathiser.
In 1994 an opposition developed in the Austrian section, comprising half of the Vienna branch and most of the youth. Like the earlier opposition in the British section, they argued that the world period was essentially counter-revolutionary. Instead of efforts being made to integrate this tendency into the leadership, they were under-represented at the LRCI congress and were excluded from electing the IEC.
In 1995, when the majority of the New Zealand section created the Proletarian Fraction, the LRCI leaders intervened from Europe to suspend its only full-timer and change the leadership that the section had just elected at its national conference. The LRCI reacted with so much hostility to the Proletarian Fraction comrades that they were driven away. LRCI members were instructed to cease contact with the New Zealand dissidents and to show personal letters that they received from them.
In December 1992 all the Latin American members proclaimed a Left Opposition, but were persuaded by the LRCI leaders not to form a faction. The leadership then conducted a series of manoeuvres, attempting to destroy the Peruvian section and to demoralise and divides their adversaries. In 1995 the Latin Americans decided to formally launch a tendency. The Tendency was not recognised, its platform was not translated and all its signers were immediately suspended or sanctioned. The only one of the four alternate or full IEC members that was able to come to the IEC meeting (mid-1995) was forbidden to do so, and the comrade who wrote the tendency’s platform was suspended and threatened with expulsion. Villa was suspended twice, and forbidden to discuss with any Latin American group, to receive internal bulletins, to discuss with any Latin American group or to participate in the editorial board of Revolutionary History…
…In 1998-99 an opposition in France was declared, attacking the LRCI’s leadership for advocating a vote for the government and not for the far left. They were suspended and expelled. Members of the League were forbidden to discuss or socialise with them. Good independent thinkers in Vienna, the Midlands and other places were also pushed away.
Instead of allowing the oppositions to discuss their differences openly in their paper or special meetings, an intolerant atmosphere was set up. In the case of the Left Opposition we received the most terrible persecution. Our full-timers were immediately sacked. The Latin American anti-imperialist tendency was not recognised and all the signers were sanctioned or suspended. The Left Opposition, including the comrade that put the name of the LRCI, was expelled without the right of defence or even of appeal. Some comrades were even physically assaulted. Nearly all of us were unfoundedly accused of being thieves and other moral charges. This shows an extremely cowardice from a leadership that often uses manoeuvres and slanders because it cannot use political arguments. The comrades that defended the principles of the LRCI’s foundation congress in Coventry were sent to Coventry.
Class roots of right opportunism
The LRCI is not a democratic-centralist international. All the power is concentrated in an International Secretariat which is not elected in a congress, it is composed by British full-timers and academics (none of them with the slightest experiences in leading mass demonstrations or revolutionary crises) and have the power to change the programme, statutes, resolutions of the congresses, to break with sympathise sections, to exclude from the organisation entire sections or members of the International Executive Committee (the highest body elected at congresses), or even to change the leadership and policies of the national sections. At the end this the small Secretariat is dominated by one single great leader who could be the treasurer, the editor of the journal and the person who does the minutes and edit (change) all the League’s documents.
On 4 August 1995 the Croat army was launching the worst ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. An entire Republic (Serb Krajina) was completely depopulated. Helped by previous NATO bombs and financial, military and logistic help the Croat and Muslim troops reversed the ethnic cleansing. In that significant moments the LRCI decided to consider the people attacked by the worst imperialist attacks as their main enemy. We considered that it meant the final collapse of the organisation and that we need to openly put publicly our own line.
On 1 May 1996 in a mine in the *altiplano* the Liaison Committee of Militant for a Revolutionary Communist International (CEMICOR in Spanish) was founded. It gathered the Bolivian, New Zealand and Peruvian sections and some comrades in Europe who resisted the LRCI’s degeneration and collapse.
Our strength is rooted in our positions and our experiences in the class struggles. When the LRCI started to shift to the right the workers movements where we were based were suffering serious defeats. In the case of Peru, after having one of the strongest sections of the LRCI, the imposition of Fujimori’s dictatorship and heavy repression severely weakened Poder Obrero…
…Today the LRCI does not have any significant links with the class in any part of the globe and it is so confused that it cannot attract any new important force. They will fail to succeed in regroupment with any considerable organisation as happening with the Argentinean PTS. They are reducing the range, the periodicity and the quality of their publications. They don’t have open meetings and they are incapable of any serious discussion. They recently opened a discussion site on the Internet but only appeal to censorship and moral accusations because they could not answer the slightest criticisms we made of them. In the last ten years Workers Power has lost at least five times more comrades than it recruited. The LRCI has fewer members in its International Executive Committee today than ex-members of that body who are not in the League any more. The LRCI is dying. It could survive as an apparatus for some years on and would win some new people, but it will fail to produce any serious impact or political contribution.”
RCIT: Method and Program
As we argue above, the bureaucratic expulsion of the leading RCIL comrades follows the long-established pattern which goes back to the late 1980s of the leaders of the LRCI/LFI removing all dissidents defending Trotskyism. The Austrian comrades were kicked out when their political criticisms of the LFI adaptation to the labour aristocracy threatened the current leadership. These same comrades were leading the Trotskyist opposition to the old semi-Cliffites and the younger student vanguard elements. You forced the LFI to abandon the absurd semi-Cliffism on restoration and on the question of the period. As you point out in your letter to the LFI, the current leadership has moved to the right and shed two layers to the right – the PR faction and the Hardy faction. But recognising that the cause of this is the class composition of the LRCI/LFI in the British labour aristocracy and petty bourgeois is only the start. Is not a recent development; as there had been a continuous contest between the reformist semi-Cliffite faction and the Trotskyists since at least 1979. As we said above, this contest led the LRCI/LFI zigzag left and right depending on which faction prevailed in the leadership.
If the RCIT do not purge the Cliffite roots of the LRCI/LFI then it risks falling foul of this method. All of the revisions in the Trotskyist Manifesto under pressure of restoration and breakup of the workers states were due to the pressure of imperialism. The bloc with pro-imperialist restorationist Yeltsin in the name of defending bourgeois democracy; the call for imperialist aid to the Baltic states to defend them from Russian troops; the failure to give Serbia unconditional support against NATO bombs, or even the backing of the Serbian ‘fascists’ against NATO; the 1998 call for imperialist support to the KLA against Serbia; these are all adaptations and capitulations to British imperialism. We do not see any recognition of these reformist revisions in the RCIL Manifesto.
On the other hand, we have co-signed two statements, on Libya and Greece, amended and agreed to a statement on China, and collaborated on other statements such as on Occupy. There is obviously a high level of agreement on method over many questions. We agree on various tactics such as critical support and entry into bourgeois workers parties including those in formation such as Syriza. We agree on brief tactical entry into newly forming popular front parties such as PSUV and MDC. However, one sticking point is that while Chavez or other ‘internationals’ may emerge as popular front internationals and while we naturally will enter them with a full program to break workers from them, we cannot take responsibility for these ‘internationals’ as “Fifth Internationals”. For us the Fifth international will be the Revolutionary Communist International based on the 1938 Transitional Program and the programs of the preceding four Revolutionary Internationals.
Thus in our recent exchange you quote the RCIT Manifesto on the Fifth International:
“We are fighting for a Fifth International, which has a revolutionary and proletarian character. We, therefore, argue from the outset for a revolutionary programme. Unlike the IMT, the CWI and the Fourth International, we reject the stages model for a new International, which in their opinion should be formed first on a left-reformist, then a centrist and then at some point on a revolutionary basis.
We are of course aware that such a new national party or a Fifth International, under present conditions would have a contradictory class character, since it would involve not only revolutionary, but reformist and centrist forces. This would be an International, whose leaders would fail in a series of class struggles, or even stand on the other side of the barricades against the workers.
Bolshevik-Communists would in such a case assume the role of a revolutionary opposition faction from the beginning, and therefore would have to wage a sharp struggle within such parties or in the Fifth International against a reformist, centrist or populist leadership. Their goal would be to win these parties for a revolutionary program. Of course, this must be done in a pedagogical way, which takes into account the illusions of many workers to avoid unnecessary isolation from day one. The goal is to rally left-wing forces, newly radicalised workers and youth and lead them to the left and towards a revolutionary path. While the Bolshevik-Communists maintain an independent profile as an organisation with their full programme, they must also try to include broader forces in opposition to a possible reformist leadership. Ultimately, the goal is to build a Fifth International, which actually serves the interests of the working class and where therefore no room exists for forces who serve the class enemy in the liberation struggle.” (Page 25-26)
For us the slogan of the Fifth International is not a passive declaration of our desire to have a new international. Quite the opposite:
- i) It is the recognition that the Fourth International is politically dead since more than 60 years and cannot be revived.
- ii) It expresses the need for a new mass party of the working class.
iii) It contains our desire to build such a Fifth International with “a revolutionary and proletarian character”, i.e. a revolutionary Fifth International in the tradition of the first four International. This is why we often put the slogan in the form of “For a Fifth Workers International on a revolutionary basis”.
- iv) It contains also the recognition that at the moment the revolutionary forces are very weak.
Therefore we have to develop a tactic which takes these necessities and conditions into account. We have to apply the united front tactic and direct the call to the workers and working class youth who have a desire to change the world and who participate in the mass movements (like the Arab Revolution, the militant trade unions, the Occupation movements, the various mass movements in Latin America etc.). At the moment these workers and youth in most cases have a reformist, petty-bourgeois, pacifist, Bolivarian etc. consciousness. Such an orientation – as it is one principle of the united front tactic – includes that revolutionaries put demand to the leaders of these movements. It is basically the same what we would do in a strike where we put demands towards the trade unions leaders or petty-bourgeois or even bourgeois leaders in a national liberation struggle (we can take Libya and the TNC in Benghazi in spring/summer 2011 or the Occupation movements as a recent example).
We therefore use the tactic of the Fifth International as an application of the new workers party tactic on an international level. We call therefore on radical workers and youth, on reformist-led mass organisations and centrist organisations to build a Fifth International. As Bolshevik-Communists we would agitate from the beginning for a revolutionary transitional programme as the basis for such a Fifth International and will openly fight for it. However it is likely that we will lose this struggle at the beginning given the bad relation of forces. We don’t put our programme as an ultimatum – this means we would not voluntarily withdraw if we don’t get a majority for our programme. We would rather continue to fight as a revolutionary opposition – for some time – inside such a reformist-led Fifth International. [Our emphasis]
Obviously such reformist and centrist forces would introduce a petty-bourgeois influence into such a Fifth International. But if we want to win over mass elements to revolutionary communism, we have to fight inside the existing mass movements and have to apply concrete tactics and demands (including to the leaderships) there instead of reducing our role to only disseminating our propaganda. (as important as disseminating propaganda undoubtedly is!)”
We agree that if an international association of workers misnamed the “Fifth International” is formed by reformists and centrists, then we have to enter it to break workers from it. Chavez’ initiative was such, and extension of the popular front party, the PSUV, onto the international level. As it was correct to enter the PSUV at its foundation, it would be correct to enter such a misnamed “Fifth International” to fight for a revolutionary Fifth International with a full Transitional Program. This is the method of the united front against the popular front. It follows that we cannot initiate such a call for such a “Fifth International” on this basis. It is one thing to call for a bourgeois-workers party in countries where they do not exist, but we do not misname them revolutionary workers parties. We can call for a ‘workers international’, but we cannot misname it The Fifth International. We have to say that it is an international of reformists, centrists and revolutionaries – not the Fifth Communist International which is heir to the revolutionary First, Second, Third and Fourth Internationals!
Conclusion: The missing Fifth Communist International
In the Manifesto (as addition to the quotes above) we have a number of statements referring to the leadership and party we need. We annotate our comments to signify what we think is missing from the Manifesto on the question of The Fifth International.
The likely extensive nature of the current historical period also follows from this. Due to the lack of a revolutionary combat party on the basis of a Bolshevik programme, the proletariat and the masses will rather first suffer painful experiences and bitter defeats. The task is to draw the necessary lessons of this experience and to forge such a party in the fire of the battles… Only the timely construction of a revolutionary workers party based on a Bolshevik, thus a consistently revolutionary programme, can ensure that the resolute struggle of the masses ends with a victory – that is, the proletarian seizure of power – and not with a heavy defeat.
The revolutionary combat party is based on a scientific analysis of the conditions of class struggle and a revolutionary programme. It organises the politically conscious, militant vanguard of the proletariat and all oppressed and declares open war against the still dominating bureaucracies in the labour movement. It is based on the principle of Democratic Centralism – this means democratic decision-making within the party, collective implementing of these decisions and defending of it outside of the party. [our emphasis]
There is a need to spell out what is meant by Democratic Centralism to counter the lies and misinformation that present Democent as the ‘dictatorship of the party’. It has to be understood in the same way ‘scientific socialism’ was understood in Lenin’s time as embodying the “universal, historical interests of the proletariat”. Marxism is a science which does not arise spontaneously from the class struggle. Capitalism masks its exploitation social relations behind inverted market relations at the level of appearance. Marx discovered the laws of capitalism as much as Newton discovered the laws of gravity and Darwin discovered the laws of evolution. The Bolshevik Leninist party acts to develop the program by applying Marxist theory in practice through a process of democratic decision making and centralised application. In this way the working class ‘merges’ or ‘fuses’ with the revolutionary Marxist program developed by the revolutionary party.
The revolutionary party can only really play the role of an instrument to combat the exploitation and oppression if it is firmly rooted in the working class, if they organise its vanguard (the most militant and progressive parts) and if it also includes the oppressed layers. Therefore, the organising of women, minorities, youth, etc. plays a central role.
Such a party does not exist today. Strictly speaking, our class has not possessed a vanguard party since the mid of the 20th century. In this deep crisis of leadership – combined with the possibilities of the imperialist bourgeoisie for the systematic bribery of the labour bureaucracy and aristocracy – the ultimate cause can be found in the extraordinary bourgeoisification of the labour movement and the De-revolutionisation of Marxism, as is has been distorted by left reformism, centrism and the left-wing academics in recent decades.
There is no history of the causes of the betrayals and collapse of previous internationals or the crisis of Marxism today. The passage above implies the collapse and betrayal of the Fourth is that of imperialist super-profits which is a general feature of the imperialist epoch. Yet the collapses of each international resulted from periodic crises and wars that found the leaderships wanting, so that a minority was forced to declare the old international dead, and build a new International. There should be a section on the betrayal of the Fourth which establishes why a new Fifth International must be built.
The immediate and most urgent task is therefore to create Bolshevik pre-party organisation nationally and internationally, from which such a party can then grow. These pre-party organisations have the task of bringing together many activists on the basis of the revolutionary program through participation in the class struggle and the persistent spread of revolutionary ideas. For this purpose they base themselves on the model of Bolshevik organisation – Democratic Centralism. Thus they come out of the ranks of the class fighters, gain experience and enhance the fighting strength of the working class with the utmost devotion to the revolution. The revolutionary pre-party organisation creates from the beginning class fighters who oppose tough, fierce and implacable the non-proletarian forces, as “left” as they may present themselves. Accordingly, it is the duty of the Bolshevik pre-party organisation to recruit primarily from the most advanced and most militant sections of the working class. Like a runner who is preparing his training long before the actual competition by all means, our organisation strives to prepare the revolution with just as many hardships and sacrifices to perform, as the revolution itself will require from us.” [Our emphasis] [Chapt 4]
This would be an opportunity to demonstrate with examples how a pre-party organisation can be built internationally. Here there is a need to talk of splits and fusions in the process of winning the vanguard and cite important examples. A critical point we would always include is to show how internationalism is critical in preventing the degeneration of any international. The history of past betrayals always found the leadership of the sections in the imperialist countries succumbing to social imperialism. The only counter to that in our experience is the principle of basing the new international in the overrepresentation of the semi-colonial countries. Thus the betrayal of the Fourth resulted from the domination of the imperialist leaderships and under-representation of the semi-colonial sections. A Fifth International should give pride of place to the semi-colonies of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
So just as the history of the LRCI/LFI can be explained on the basis of the two tendencies, one representing the petty bourgeois, labour aristocracy in imperialist Britain, the other tendency, that representing the more proletarian elements in the semi-colonies and weaker imperialisms, any new International has to consciously guard against the imperio-centrism of the labour aristocracy in the imperialist countries that inevitably infects the international leadership. We finish this letter with some quotes from our most recent statement on the necessity to found a Fifth International “Why we call for a Fifth International” from Class Struggle No 33/34, June-July 2000.
A number of comrades in various parts of the world have asked why we are Fifth Internationalists. They usually assume that we are hostile to the Fourth International. Either we are anti-Trotskyists, Maoists, Cliffites, Tony Bennites, or we are misguided ‘Fourthists’ who have not justified our rejection of the ‘Fourth’ adequately. Here we try to explain as briefly and simply as we can what we are on about.
We can dispense with the first objection easily. We are Trotskyists, who recognise the founding of the Fourth International in 1938 as the world party of revolution to replace the degenerated 3rd International. We oppose state capitalists of all sorts as anti-Trotskyists. Their calls for a 5th International are an act of betrayal of the founding of the 4th International.
But while we recognise the founding of the 4th International, we are against its ‘refounding’. For the same reason as the earlier 2nd and 3rd Internationals were replaced by the 4th we replace the 4th because it betrayed the revolution. There can be no rebuilding of an international that has historically betrayed the international working class. By this we mean that the act of betrayal changed history for the worse from a revolutionary to a counter-revolutionary outcome.
This is where our critics claim we are unable to defend our position. Our critics are usually Fourthists who recognise the historic degeneration of the 4th, sometimes as early as 1946, but mostly 1948 or 1951. But this term ‘degeneration’ means that the 4th has yet to betray and can be rebuilt, reborn, refounded etc. Degeneration is not as serious a crime as betrayal.
We think that this is a copout. Degeneration is used to shift the blame from the leadership of the 4th to external factors that caused the 4th to be too small, too weak and too isolated to lead workers against the bourgeoisie, the reformists and the Stalinists. We think that these external factors were clearly present but do not provide an excuse for betrayal.
What do you call the leadership that led to such clear betrayals as Indochina in 1945, Yugoslavia in 1948, Bolivia in 1952? It cannot be said that the 4th had so little influence in these situations that workers in 4th Parties took no notice of their leaders. The fact is that in where there were revolutionary situations, the potential for victory was real, yet the 4thist leaders abandoned their revolutionary duty and joined or adapted to popular fronts with Stalinists and elements of the bourgeoisie. The consequence of each was an historic betrayal that changed history decisively for the worse.
Trotsky called the popular front the “question of our time”, and it was on this question that the 4th betrayed. But is this test of betrayal of the same order of importance as the betrayal of the 2nd in 1914 and the 3rd in 1933? Those betrayals seemed clear cut. They were historic betrayals because they led to historic defeats. There was no going back after the 2nd sided with imperialism. There was no going back after the 3rd sided with fascism against social democracy. In both cases the international leaderships handed the international working class over to their bosses and certain death.
Is capitulation to a popular front a betrayal of the same order? Let’s hear what Trotsky had to say about this when the POUM joined the Popular Front and signed its program during the civil war in Spain. There is no doubting that Trotsky condemned this as a ‘betrayal’. He called on Spanish Trotskyists to “condemn and denounce mercilessly before the masses the policy of all the leaders participating in the Popular Front.” And, “To grasp in full the wretchedness of the leadership of the “Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification” (POUM) and especially the former “Left Communists” – Andres Nin, Andrade, etc. –and to portray them clearly before the eyes of all the advanced workers.” (The Spanish Revolution, p.214 Pathfinder). So there is no doubt on this question Trotsky referred to Nin and his party as the “Spanish betrayers” (p. 220).
Then follows Trotsky’s best known statement on the Popular Front: “The question of questions at present is the Popular Front. The left centrists seek to present this question as a tactical or even as a technical maneuver, so as to be able to peddle their wares in the shadow of the Popular Front. In reality, the Popular Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch. It also offers the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism. For it is often forgotten that the greatest historical example of the Popular Front is the February 1917 revolution. From February to October, the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries, who represent a very good parallel to the “Communists” and the Social Democrats, were in closest alliance and in a permanent coalition with the bourgeois party of the Cadets, together with whom they formed a series of coalition governments. Under the sign of this Popular Front stood the whole mass of the people, including workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ councils. To be sure the Bolsheviks participated in the councils. But they did not make the slightest concession to the Popular Front. Their demand was to break this Popular Front, to destroy the alliance with the Cadets, and to create a genuine workers’ and peasants’ government.” (p. 220 emphasis Trotsky’s)
So it is clear that Trotsky saw entry into a Popular Front and agreeing with its program as an historic betrayal making the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism, and thus grounds for expulsion from the 4I. It remains to be seen when and how the Fourth International betrayed the revolution after his death, and whether these betrayals were historic, in changing the course of history.
How many historic betrayals is enough?
We will attempt to prove our point by looking at the cases of Indochina (1945) Yugoslavia (1948) and Bolivia (1952). In the cases of Indochina and Bolivia, colonial or semi-colonial sections were sufficiently large to be able to challenge the Stalinists for the leadership. Neither small size nor class composition provided excuses or mitigating circumstances for the betrayals that occurred. In each case the FI leadership played a supporting role by misleading these non-European sections into the traps of popular fronts.
The betrayal of the Vietnamese revolution was a failure of Eurocentric leadership of the 4I to overcome its own divisions to give a strong lead to correct elements of the Trotskyist movement that had illusions in the Stalinists. As a result the movement was split and one group, La Lutte, condemned the other, the LCI, for organising armed action committees to defeat the allies and the Stalinists in 1945 (Revolutionary History 3, 2, 1990).
In other words, the more petty bourgeois layers of Vietnamese Trotskyists who looked to France for guidance were already adapting to the Eurocentric perspective that the Stalinists could be a progressive force. This was a tragic defeat because large sections of the workers and peasants voted for the Trotskyists rather than the Stalinists in 1939, and in 1945 were mobilised and armed and could have been won over from the Stalinist misleadership by uniting around a correct program. This betrayal was second only to that of Stalin in China in 1927, but this time the International Trotskyist leadership and not the Stalinist Comintern was responsible.
By 1948 the perspective that Stalinism could be progressive was to become official after a victorious Marshall Tito in Yugoslavia was pronounced an “unconscious Trotskyist” by the 4I leadership. From here on in, Trotsky’s perspective that Stalinism was a counter-revolutionary force in the worker’s movement became turned into its opposite – a progressive force able to create and defend workers’ states independently of a Trotskyist revolutionary party. The lessons of the Stalinists’ role in suppressing revolutions in Europe and Indo China were forgotten in the enthusiasm of the Pabloite perspective of a long period of Stalinist rule.
In 1952 Bolivia was the first test case of this perspective. In 1952 a mass workers organisation, the COB (Bolivian Trade Union Centre) that had endorsed Trotsky’s Transitional Program, was led into a national popular front government by the Bolivian 4I party! Even more than in Vietnam, the masses were under the clear leadership of Trotskyism, only to be sacrificed within reach of the seizure of power to the popular front. Here there was no question of who was responsible since the 4I leadership openly endorsed joining the MNR government (see J. Villa, Bolivia: the 1952 Revolution)
Each of these betrayals has a common cause and it is the misleadership of the Imperio-centrist dominated centres and the breakdown of democratic centralism that resulted in the adaptation to the Stalinist popular front.
Failure of dialectics
Our explanation for these betrayals is that the imperialist based sections developed before and after the war an imperio-centrist deviation from Trotsky’s program in adapting to the labour aristocracy. Trotsky had already recognised the dangers inherent in the small international going into a world war inadequately prepared. He dealt with the hesitancy of those who opposed the founding of the 4I in quick measure. Bolsheviks had no option but to fight for the leadership of workers in an imperialist war or else by default that leadership would remain in the hands of the popular front.
This danger was unavoidable but could be lessened by rearming the leadership with Marx’s method and in revolutionary strategy and tactics. This meant removing the petty bourgeois intellectuals and their hostility to dialectics from the international leadership and basing the sections in the industrial working class for whom Trotsky said dialectics was natural. The decisive test was the war.
In Britain, Europe and North America the strategy was to turn imperialist war into civil war. The tactic was to counter petty bourgeois pacifism with the Proletarian Military Policy. The tactic was for the revolutionaries to enter the military and to agitate for a civil war perspective, thus counter-posing the chauvinist, racist and authoritarian policies of the military, to the proletarian policies of antiracism, workers internationalism, and rank and file democracy against the officers.
This was a daring tactic expressing a dialectical transformation through the vanguard acting on the opportunities offered by imperialist war. Unfortunately these opportunities were turned into opportunism in practice by the leaderships of the US and European sections. The reactionary aspects of the war bent and then broke first the PMP tactic and then the Leninist strategy. In the US Cannon and other SWP leaders were arrested as war resisters. Instead of explaining in full their program they pulled back from confronting the chauvinism, racism and authoritarianism of the US military and ruling class that had permeated into the labor aristocracy, and instead referred to Fascism as the ‘main enemy’.
What influence Cannon and the SWP could have had in rallying the ranks of the military against the war was lost in the compromise to retain the support of the chauvinist labour aristocracy of the US working class. This chauvinism had dire consequences for Latin American workers and poor peasants too. The SWP (US) characterised Argentina (like the rest of the LA states) as a semi-colony, but never spelt out the full implications of this as it would have meant the prospect of nationalist wars against the US running up against the chauvinism of the US labor aristocracy. This set the seal on the misshapen development of Latin American Trotskyism which split between the majority who entered popular fronts with the national bourgeoisie, and the minority that abstained from the national question and took a sectarian line. This imperio-centrist misleadership made the 1952 Bolivian betrayal virtually certain.
In Europe, where the tasks of the sections were complicated by Nazi occupation, the 4I sections split between the majority who joined the underground alongside the Stalinists fighting for democracy against fascism, and the few who bravely fought alone against their own military. As we have seen this pattern was repeated in Indo China where the French parent section promoted its disastrous popular front policy that surely led to the beheading of the Trotskyist movement in a situation when a permanent revolution against the nationalists and imperialists was on the agenda.
In all cases the post-war reconstruction of the 4I failed to see these ‘deviations’ as decisive breaks from the Bolshevik/Leninist program. These capitulations to the popular front could not be corrected because their main critics in the colonies and semi-colonies were not given sufficient representation to outvote the imperialist sections. The betrayal in Indo China was such as to destroy the Bolshevik/Leninist leadership and, as in China two decades earlier, to forestall the Permanent Revolution. It eliminated a powerful force that could have helped counter the Imperio-centrist sections. The calls of other semi-colonial sections such as that of Munis and Natalia Trotsky for greater representation failed to win support and they could not prevent the 4I from rolling down its path the self-destruction.
The wartime ‘deviations’ therefore led unchecked to the post-war liquidation of the 4I into the popular front politics of nationalist socialism. The defeat of workers at the hands of imperialism and its Stalinist ally disoriented the 4I theoretically and politically. The imperialist sections turned their subjective defeat into objective wishful thinking. Faced with the choice between a revolution that had failed, and a fait accompli in which new ‘workers’ states’ formed by Stalinists ‘from above’ offered a progressive way forward, the majority abandoned dialectics and the independence of the working class vanguard and sought refuge in any progressive, democratic, or popular movement going. Thus Cannon in the US and Pablo/Mandel in Europe retreated from Trotskyism into a sort of Menshevik fatalism which proclaimed the war was not over, or WW3 was just round the corner, or that the struggle for democracy would last 1000 years. A minority rejected the new states as contradicting the Marxist theory of revolution and became state capitalists. (see article on Cliff).
The first big break for the liquidationists came with Tito’s victory in Yugoslavia in 1948. As we have seen this in itself was not a decisive betrayal by Trotskyists. Unlike Italy, Greece and Indo-China they played no role in Yugoslavia. But in adapting to Tito, the 4I virtually abolished their separate existence. All sections of the 4I welcomed the victory in Yugoslavia as evidence that a popular Stalinist movement could overthrow the bourgeoisie. Trotsky had anticipated as much in the Transitional Program, but he did not then go on to say that this fact made the existence of the 4I superfluous. The 4I drew the opposite conclusion revising Trotskyism in its fundamentals back into Menshevism.
First, Stalinism as a counter-revolutionary caste was transformed theoretically into a force with both positive and negative features. Its positive aspect was its ability to overthrow the bourgeoisie. The negative was its exclusion of the working class from democratic participation in the process. But if Stalinists could do the former then the latter could be left to the vanguard with the lesser role of fighting for democracy and workers control during the transition to socialism. And if the Stalinist bureaucracy could act on behalf of workers, why not the petty bourgeoisie, and even the progressive nationalist bourgeoisie? Then all that would be necessary in such popular fronts would be the participation of the vanguard as a partner dedicated to completing the democratic transition to socialism.
So by 1948 Menshevism ruled where before the war Bolshevik Leninism had ruled. This applied equally to the minority that rejected the new states as workers’ states and who ended up as state capitalists. Their position was an idealist one also since they rejected any gains from the overthrow of the bourgeoisie unless they resulted from the actions of the working class itself. While earlier state capitalists had taken the purges, or the Stalin-Hitler pact as evidence of the lapse of the SU from socialism, a new layer of state capitalists once more found new grounds in ‘soviet expansionism’ on which to question the credentials of the SU itself to be considered a workers state.
The scene was set for Bolivia and Ceylon and beyond. In 1963, the ‘reunited’ 4I overcame its European/US rivalry and agreed to the Menshevik scenario of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the petty bourgeoisie, and even the national bourgeoisie, playing a progressive role in the transition to socialism. The Cuban revolution was the catalyst. The SWP (US) could now claim its own ‘workers’ state’ led by Castro the “unconscious Yankee Trotskyist”. In effect, a petty bourgeois nationalist movement transformed itself into a Stalinist movement and then into a socialist movement by an objective process without the subjective agency of the revolutionary vanguard.
The ‘new’ vanguard was made up of social movements such as youth, blacks, women and petty bourgeois nationalists, rather than the industrial proletariat. This amounted to a fundamental rejection of the vanguard party and the industrial proletariat on which it is based, and the Transitional Program and the dialectical method that informs it. Permanent Revolution was junked for the Menshevik conception of the completion of the democratic revolution in some more or less peaceful transition to socialism. It is our view that these betrayals, and the fundamental shift from BL to Menshevism that caused them, have destroyed the 4th International beyond reconstruction.
For a New World Party of Socialist Revolution!
Liaison Committee of Communists