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International Marxist Tendency: For the Fifth International

By the International Marxist Tendency

March 17, 2010 -- In Defence of Marxism -- The call issued by President Chavez to set up a new revolutionary international, the Fifth International, has provoked a passionate discussion in the ranks of the workers’ movement in Latin America and on a world scale. It is impossible for Marxists to remain indifferent to this question. What attitude should we take towards it?

The first question that needs to be answered is: do we need an International? Marxism is internationalist, or it is nothing. Already at the dawn of our movement, in the pages of the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote: “The workers have no country.”

The internationalism of Marx and Engels was not a caprice, or the result of sentimental considerations. It flowed from the fact that capitalism develops as a world system—out of the different national economies and markets there arises one single, indivisible and interdependent whole—the world market.

Today this prediction of the founders of Marxism has been brilliantly demonstrated, in almost laboratory fashion. The crushing domination of the world market is the most decisive fact of our epoch. Not a single country, no matter how big and powerful—not the USA, not China, not Russia—can stand apart from the mighty pull of the world market. This was, in fact, part of the reason for the collapse of the USSR.

The First and Second Internationals

Marx and Engels took part in the founding of the 
First International, which was an anticipation for the future.The Communist League was, from the beginning, an international organisation. However, the formation of the International Workingman’s Association (the First International) in 1864 represented a qualitative step forward. The historical task of the First International was to establish the main principles, programme, strategy and tactics of revolutionary Marxism on a world scale. However, at its inception, the IWA was not a Marxist International, but an extremely heterogeneous organisation, composed of British reformist trade unionists, French Proudhonists, Italian followers of Mazzini, anarchists, and the like. By combining firmness on principles with great tactical flexibility, gradually Marx and Engels won over the majority.

The IWA succeeded in laying the theoretical foundations for a genuine revolutionary International. But it never was a real mass workers’ International. It was really an anticipation of the future. The Socialist International (Second International), launched in 1889, began where the First International had left off. Unlike the latter, the Second International began as a mass International which gathered and organised millions of workers. It had mass parties and trade unions in Germany, France, Britain, Belgium, etc. Moreover, it stood, at least in words, on the basis of revolutionary Marxism. The future of world socialism appeared to be guaranteed.

However, the misfortune of the Second International was to be formed during a long period of capitalist upswing. This set its stamp on the mentality of the leading layer of the Social Democratic parties and trade unions. The period of 1871-1914 was the classical period of Social Democracy. On the basis of a long period of economic growth, it was possible for capitalism to give concessions to the working class, or, more correctly, to its upper layer.

The formation of a numerous caste of trade union officials, Party bureaucrats and parliamentary careerists led to a process of degeneration, in which the bureaucracy increasingly divorced itself from the masses and the party rank-and-file. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the revolutionary aims were lost sight of. The leaders became absorbed in the daily routine of parliamentary or trade union activity. Eventually, theories were found to justify this abandonment of principle.

This was the material basis for the national-reformist degeneration of the Second (Socialist) International, which was cruelly exposed in 1914, when the leaders of the International voted for the war credits and supported “their” bourgeoisie in the imperialist slaughter of the First World War.

The Third International

Lenin and 
Trotsky led the Third International before it degenerated.The Third (Communist) International stood on a qualitatively higher level than either of its two predecessors. Like the IWA, at the high-point of its development, the Third International stood for a clear revolutionary, internationalist programme. Like the Second International, it had a mass base of millions. Once again, it appeared that the fate of the world revolution was in good hands.

Under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, the Communist International maintained a correct line. However, the isolation of the Russian Revolution under conditions of frightful material and cultural backwardness caused the bureaucratic degeneration of the Revolution. The bureaucratic faction led by Stalin gained the upper hand, especially after Lenin’s death in 1924.

Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition attempted to defend the spotless traditions of October against Stalinist reaction—the Leninist traditions of workers’ democracy and proletarian internationalism. But they were fighting against the tide. The Russian workers were exhausted by years of war, revolution and Civil War. On the other hand, the bureaucracy felt increasingly confident, pushed the workers to one side and took over the Party.

With Lenin’s final illness and death, under Stalin and Bukharin, the bureaucracy steered a right-wing course, conciliating the kulaks and other capitalist elements within Russia, and striving for a bloc with the so-called progressive bourgeois elements in the colonial countries (Chiang Kai Shek in China) and the Labour bureaucracy in the West (the Anglo-Soviet Committee). This opportunist policy led to the bloody defeat of the Chinese revolution and the missing of an opportunity in Britain in 1926 and, more importantly, in Germany in 1923.

With every defeat of the international revolution, the Soviet workers were more disappointed and demoralised, and the bureaucracy and the Stalinist faction in the Party acquired new strength and confidence. After the defeat of Trotsky’s Left Opposition (1927), Stalin having burnt his fingers with the pro-Kulak policy broke with Bukharin and swung to an ultra-left position of forced collectivisation inside Russia and simultaneously foisted upon the International (the Comintern) the insane policy of the “Third Period”.

Trotsky and his followers, the Bolshevik-Leninists were expelled from the Communist Party and the International. Then they were slandered, persecuted, imprisoned and murdered. Stalin drew a line of blood between the bureaucracy that usurped and betrayed the October revolution and the Trotskyists who fought to defend the real ideas of Bolshevism-Leninism.

The International Left Opposition

The tremendous potential of the Third International was destroyed by the rise of Stalinism in Russia. The Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union played havoc with the still immature leaderships of the Communist Parties abroad. Whereas Lenin and Trotsky looked to the international workers’ revolution as the only safeguard for the future of the Russian revolution and the Soviet state, Stalin and his supporters were indifferent to the world revolution. The “theory” of socialism in one country expressed the national limitedness of the outlook of the bureaucracy, which looked on the Communist International merely as an instrument of the foreign policy of Moscow.

The worst result was in Germany. Trotsky called for a united front of Communist and Social Democratic workers to fight the Nazi menace. But the warnings of Trotsky to the members of the Communist Parties fell on deaf ears. The German working class was split down the middle. The insane policy of “social fascism” split and paralysed the powerful German labour movement, and allowed Hitler to come to power in 1933.

The defeat of the German working class in 1933, arising from the refusal of the Communist Party to offer a united front to the Social Democratic workers, was a turning-point. Trotsky drew the conclusion that an international which was incapable of reacting in the face of such a defeat, was dead and a new revolutionary international needed to be forged. History proved him right. In 1943, having been cynically used by Stalin as an instrument of Moscow’s foreign policy, the Communist International was ignominiously buried, without even calling a congress. The political and organisational heritage of Lenin was dealt a heavy blow for a whole historical period.

The Fourth International

Trotsky founded the Fourth International after the failures of the 
Third in many countries.Under the most difficult conditions in exile, slandered by the Stalinists and persecuted by the GPU, Trotsky attempted to re-group the small forces that remained loyal to the traditions of Bolshevism and the October revolution. Unfortunately, in addition to the smallness of their forces, many of the adherents of the Opposition were confused and disoriented, and many mistakes were made, particularly of a sectarian character. This reflected in part the isolation of the Trotskyists from the mass movement. This sectarianism is present today in most of the groups that claim to represent Trotskyism, but have failed to grasp the most elementary ideas that Trotsky defended.

Trotsky launched the Fourth International in 1938 on the basis of a definite perspective. However, this perspective was falsified by history. The murder of Trotsky by one of Stalin’s assassins in 1940 struck a mortal blow against the movement. The other leaders of the Fourth International proved to be completely unequal to the tasks posed by history. They repeated the words of Trotsky without understanding Trotsky’s method. As a result, they made serious errors which led to the shipwreck of the Fourth. The leadership of the Fourth International was totally incapable of understanding the new situation that arose after 1945. The break-up and splintering of the Trotskyist movement is rooted in that period.

It is not possible here to go into more detail about the mistakes of the then leadership of the Fourth International, but it is sufficient to say that Mandel, Cannon and co., lost their bearings after the war and this led to a complete abandonment of genuine Marxism. The so-called Fourth International degenerated after the death of Trotsky into an organically petit-bourgeois sect. It has nothing in common with the ideas of its founder or with the genuine tendency of Bolshevism-Leninism. The sectarian attitude of the pseudo-Trotskyist sects towards the Bolivarian Revolution is a particularly crass example of this.

The Second and Third Internationals degenerated into reformist organisations, but at least they had the masses. Trotsky, in exile, did not have a mass organization, but he had a correct programme and policy and a clean banner. He was respected by workers all over the world and his ideas were listened to. Today the so-called Fourth International does not exist as an organisation. Those who speak in its name (and there are a few of them) have neither the masses, nor the correct ideas, nor even a clean banner. All talk of resurrecting the IV International on this basis is absolutely excluded.

The movement has been thrown back

Lenin was always honest. His slogan was: always say what is. Sometimes the truth is unpalatable, but we need to state the truth always. The truth is that, for a combination of circumstances, objective and subjective, the revolutionary movement has been thrown back, and the forces of genuine Marxism reduced to a small minority. That is the truth, and whoever denies it is merely deceiving himself and deceiving others.

Decades of economic growth in the advanced capitalist countries have given rise to an unprecedented degeneration of the mass organizations of the working class. It has isolated the revolutionary current, which everywhere has been reduced to a small minority. The collapse of the Soviet Union has served to sow confusion and disorientation in the movement, and set the final seal on the degeneration of the former Stalinist leaders, many of whom have passed over to the camp of capitalist reaction.

Many have drawn pessimistic conclusions from this. To those people we say: it is not the first time we have faced difficulties, and we are not in the least frightened by such difficulties. We retain unshakable confidence in the correctness of Marxism, in the revolutionary potential of the working class and in the final victory of socialism. The present crisis exposes the reactionary role of capitalism, and places on the order of the day the revival of international socialism. There are the beginnings of a regroupment of forces internationally. What is required is to give that regroupment an organized expression and a clear programme, perspective and policy.

The task we are confronted with is roughly analogous to that which confronted Marx and Engels at the time of the founding of the First International. As we explained above, that organization was not homogeneous but composed of many different tendencies. However, Marx and Engels were not deterred by this. They joined the general movement for a working class International and worked patiently to provide it with a scientific ideology and programme.

What sets the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) apart from all the other tendencies that claim to be Trotskyists is, on the one hand, our painstaking attitude to theory, on the other, our approach towards the mass organisations. As opposed to all the other groups we take as our starting point the fact that when the workers move into action, they will not go towards some small grouping on the fringes of the Labour movement. In the founding document of our movement Marx and Engels explained:

“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?

“The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

“They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

“They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.” (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Proletarians and Communists)

What conclusion do we draw from this? Only this: that genuine Marxists must not separate themselves from the mass organisations. The dilemma of the epoch is that the Social democratic leadership of the workers’ movement has capitulated to bourgeois policies stifling the aspirations of the workers, but still retains mass support in many countries. It is very easy to declare the official leadership degenerate. However, the task is to build up an alternative.

The International will not be built by merely proclaiming it. It will only be built on the basis of events, as the Communist International was built on the basis of the experience of the masses in the stormy period of 1914-1920. Events, events, events are what are necessary to educate the masses in the necessity of a revolutionary transformation of society. But in addition to events, we need to create an organization with clear ideas and solid roots in the masses on a world scale.

How to defend the Venezuelan revolution

Hugo Chávez, 
leader of the Venezuelan Revolution, is now proposing the setting up the
 Fifth International. Photo by Uh Ah, ¡Chavez no se va!
In his Caracas speech, Hugo Chavez pointed out that all previous Internationals were originally based in Europe, reflecting the class battles in Europe at that time, but that today the epicentre of world revolution was in Latin America, and especially in Venezuela. It is an undeniable fact that, at least for the present, the revolution in Latin America has gone further than anywhere else in the world. The IMT explained this perspective ten years ago, and it has been amply confirmed by events.

In stating this undeniable fact, Chavez by no means denied the existence of a revolutionary potential in the rest of the world, including Europe and North America. On the contrary, he has made repeated appeals to the workers and youth of these countries to join the movement for socialist revolution. He has appealed directly to the workers, the poor and the Afro-Americans of the USA to support the Venezuelan Revolution. This has nothing in common with the reactionary demagogy of “Third Worldism” that tries to counterpose “Latin America” with the “gringos”. It is the voice of true Internationalism, which long ago launched the inspiring slogan: “workers of all countries unite!”

Imperialism is hell-bent on putting an end to the revolutionary process that is taking place in Latin America. Venezuela is the undisputed vanguard of this process and the internationalist policies of Chávez and his continued calls for world revolution is a beacon of light to all anti-imperialist fighters throughout the world. The Venezuelan revolution represents a mortal danger for the ruling classes throughout the Americas. This explains why U.S. Imperialism has taken new steps to control the situation: the installation of seven military bases in Colombia, the coup d'etat in Honduras and last but not least the agreement for setting up new military bases in Panama, which will effectively surround Venezuela with a U.S. Military presence.

For the Venezuelan Revolution, internationalism is not a secondary consideration but a life and death question. In the last analysis, the only way to paralyze the hand of US imperialism is to build a powerful mass movement on a world scale in defence of the Revolution. It is important to build this movement in Latin America, but it is a thousand times more important to build it north of the Rio Grande. That is why the IMT has launched and consistently supported the international campaign Hands Off Venezuela. The HOV campaign has a proud record in mobilizing the public opinion of the world in support of the Venezuelan Revolution. We have to our credit the passing of a unanimous resolution of the British trade unions in defence of the Venezuelan Revolution, the mass meeting of 5,000 young people and trade unionists in Vienna to hear President Chavez speak, among others.

From small beginnings we are now present in more than 40 countries. This is a great achievement but it is only the beginning. What is needed is something more than a solidarity campaign. What is needed is a revolutionary international against imperialism and capitalism, for socialism and in defence of the Venezuelan Revolution. What is needed is a genuine worldwide revolutionary International.

Reformism or revolution?

The Caracas Agreement (El Compromiso de Caracas) was based on the idea of a worldwide fight against imperialism and capitalism, for socialism. That is a sufficient basis to unite the most militant sections of the international labour movement. However, we note that this appeal has met with a mixed response, even among some of the leaders that were present in the PSUV Congress. The reformists and Social Democrats did not like the President’s insistence that the Fifth International should not be merely anti-imperialist but also anti-capitalist and socialist. This ruffled a few feathers. Some of the representatives present at the Gathering of Left Parties in Caracas opposed this call with the argument that we already have the “Sao Paulo Forum” and that such an international did not need to be openly anti-capitalist.

The repeated meetings of the “Sao Paulo Forum” have clearly exposed the limitations of such gatherings, which have turned out to be nothing more than a mere talking shop: a place where all kinds of reformists can gather to complain about the injustices of capitalism, but who never offer a revolutionary perspective and do not stand for socialism. Rather, they advocate the reformist method of partial reforms, which do not change anything substantial. That is why the international organs of imperialism, such as the World Bank, look with favour on this kind of thing and actively encourage and finance the NGOs as a means of diverting attention away from the revolutionary struggle to change society.

Organizations like the “Sao Paulo Forum” and the World Social Forum do not carry the world struggle against capitalism a single step forward. That is why Chavez has proposed the formation of the Fifth International, which is a radical break with such movements. In his speech Chavez said that the real threat to the future of the human race was capitalism itself. Referring to the world capitalist crisis, he condemned the attempts of western governments to save the system with lavish state bailouts. Our task, he said, was not to save capitalism but to destroy it.

Chavez said that the appeal is made to left parties, organisations and currents. The appeal has opened a mass debate in Venezuela and also a debate within many left wing parties and organisations throughout Latin America and beyond. It has naturally caused divisions – but these divisions already existed. They are the divisions that have always existed within the movement: the division between those who wish merely to introduce a few reforms, to prettify capitalism, and those who wish to abolish capitalism, root and branch.

In El Salvador for instance, President Funes, who is formally a member of the FMLN, has opposed the Fifth International and said he has nothing to do with socialism. Yet the FMLN has officially come out in favour of the Fifth International. In Mexico the idea has been taken up by sections of the PRD and other mass organisations. In Europe this will be surely discussed in the Communist Parties and ex-Communist Parties, and in the Left in general. Sooner or later, every tendency will have to take a position on this.

What attitude should Marxists take?

What position should the Marxists take? As Marxists we are unconditionally in favour of the setting up of mass international organisation of the working class. No genuine mass International exists at present. What was the IV International was destroyed by the mistakes of the leaders after Trotsky’s assassination, and in effect is only alive in the ideas, methods and programme defended by the IMT. The IMT defends the ideas of Marxism in the mass organisations of the working class in all countries. It is within these organisations that a discussion around the proposal of the Fifth International should be promoted with urgency.

It is too early to say whether the appeal for a Fifth International will actually lead to the formation of a genuine International. That depends on many things. However, it is clear that the fact that this appeal comes from Venezuela and President Chavez means that it will get an echo among many people in Latin America to start with. This appeal will raise many questions in the minds of workers and youth about the programme such an international should have and about the history of the previous internationals, the reasons for their rise and fall.

This is a debate in which the Marxists have a duty to participate actively. The IMT, which is already recognised widely for its role in building solidarity with and providing Marxist analysis about the Venezuelan Revolution, must take a clear position. And we have taken a position. At a meeting of the International Executive Committee in the first week of March, with the presence of more than 40 comrades representing more than 30 different countries in Asia, Europe and America (including Canada and the USA), the IMT voted unanimously in favour of participating in the building of the Fifth International.

We declare our full support for the setting up of a mass based revolutionary international, and will make clear proposals of what we think the programme and ideas of the new International should be. We do not seek to impose our views on anybody. The International, and its component parts, will work out its political positions over a period, through a democratic debate and also on the basis of common experience.

  • For a worldwide anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist united front!
  • For the international socialist revolution!
  • For a Marxist programme!
  • Long live the Fifth International!
  • Workers of the world unite!

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