Fourth International's response to Chavez’s call to found a Fifth Socialist International

[The following is an excerpt from the "Role and tasks of the Fourth International", a report adopted by the Fourth International at its 16th World Congress held in Belgium in February 2010. Click here for the full report.]

Chavez’s call to found a Fifth International poses other questions about its origins, its framework, that is to say, its viability. The Fourth International declares that it is willing to participate in the debates and preparatory meetings that may be organised. We will contribute our historic gains and our vision about what a new international and its programatic foundations could be. A genuine new international can only be born if its members share a program, an ability to intervene in society, a democratic, pluralist form of functioning, as well as clear independence from governments in order to break with capitalism.

In the present relationship of forces, the policy for advancing towards a mass international must rather take the road of open and periodic conferences on central political questions -- activity, specific themes or discussions -- which make possible the convergence and the emergence of anti-capitalist and revolutionary poles. In this sense, the Fourth International is in favour of the proposals from revolutionary Marxist currents and/or groups who share with us a common understanding of the international situation and our aspirations for building new international frameworks.

In the new anti-capitalist parties which may be formed in the years to come, and which express the current stage of combativeness, experience and consciousness of the sectors that are the most committed to the search for an anti-capitalist alternative, the question of a new international is and will be posed. We act and we will continue to act so that it is not posed in terms of ideological or historical choices, which are likely to lead to divisions and splits. It must be posed on a double level, on the one hand real political convergence on tasks of international intervention, on the other pluralism of the new formations, which must bring together currents of various origins: Trotskyists of different kinds, libertarians, revolutionary syndicalists, revolutionary nationalists, left reformists.

So in general, when there have been concrete steps towards new parties, we have proposed that the new broad anti-capitalist party functions with the right of tendency or currents, and that the supporters of the Fourth International in these new parties organise themselves in ways to be decided, according to the specific situation of each party. Our Portuguese comrades in the Left Bloc, our Danish comrades in the Red-Green Alliance, our Brazilian comrades in the PSOL are organised, in particular forms, as a Fourth International current or in class-struggle currents with other political tendencies.

In this movement we are confronted with desynchronisations between the building of parties on a national level and the construction of new international groupings. There can be, in the present situation or in the next years, new anti-capitalist parties in a series of countries, but the emergence of a new international force, and all the more so, of a new international, is not, at this stage, foreseeable. A new international will only be the result of a prolonged period of joint action and common understanding of events and tasks for overthrowing capitalism. While we affirm a policy of international convergence, this confirms the particular responsibilities of the FI, and thus the need for its reinforcement. We can and we seek to represent an organisational framework that is attractive and, democratic, for revolutionary organisations which share the same political projects as ours. It is in this dynamic that the Filipino comrades are situated, the Pakistani comrades and the Russian comrades are situated, and that can be the case tomorrow of, for example, the Polish or Malian comrades.

We have, in fact, a particular role that is recognised by a series of political currents. We may be the only ones who can make political forces of various origins converge. This is, for example, what in Latin America the Venezuelan comrades of left currents of the Bolivarian process say to us. It is also the case in Europe, in the framework of the relations of the European Anti-Capitalist Left and of other currents. So, the next world congress must be an important step for the meeting of all these forces. This congress will be a congress of the FI and there will be no organisational growing over at this stage. But we want the FI to play the role of a “facilitator” of convergences in the perspective of new international groupings.


What a load of obscurantism and rhetoric, formatted by arrogance: Example --"We may be the only ones who can make political forces of various origins converge."(!)

..and driven by a rigid sectarian schema --"While we affirm a policy of international convergence, this confirms the particular responsibilities of the FI, and thus the need for its reinforcement. We can and we seek to represent an organisational framework that is attractive and, democratic, for revolutionary organisations which share the same political projects as ours."

...which is justified by peripheral examples unexplored -- "It is in this dynamic that the Filipino comrades are situated, the Pakistani comrades and the Russian comrades are situated, and that can be the case tomorrow of, for example, the Polish or Malian comrades."

...when what the Chavez option calls for is an international network of mass formations with primary tasks and perspectives, not one an 'ideological' convergence..

...One also has to wonder what the FI means by this:"... as well as clear independence from governments in order to break with capitalism."? Does the FI mean the governments of Venezuela or of Cuba -- or the FMLN in El Salvador -- have to expunged from any association with a new international before the FI will sign up?

Is the FI sub texting its long held distrust and chronic ambivalence toward Cuba and its total reticence in embracing the promise of the Bolivarian Revolution?


Let me begin by saying I am in sympathy with the thrust of the remarks of Dave Riley regarding this portion of the "Tasks" document from the 16th World Congress. What puzzles me is the overwhelming support it received at the February conference in Oestend. I am also a member and supporter of the Fourth International, and have been for more than 40 years, so this criticism comes from someone who has seen the ups and downs of the international during that time.
However, I will take issue with some of his remarks, particularly regarding Cuba. There has been no "long held distrust and chronic ambivalence toward Cuba" held by the great majority of Trotskyists. In the aftermath of the seizure of power, when imperialism began to take aim at the Cuban revolution, the Trotskyists were the first to build national campaigns in defense of the Cuban revolution. That is an historical fact which can not be disputed. Despite the secterianism of splinter groups of Trotskyists, like the Posadistas, the Fourth International gave unconditional support to the Revolution.
Similarily in the present instances of the Bolivarian process, the supporters of the Fourth International around the revista "Marea Socialista" are an active tendency within the PSUV, helping to build and define it as a party against capitalists, against bureacracy, against corruption, and for a mass party of revolutionary struggle for the destruction of the bourgeoise state, the building of organs of workers and popular power, the expropriation of the capitalist class under workers control, etc.
Despite this there is an attitude of arrogance exhibited in the document which forms a framework of "more revolutionary than thou" politics within which the call for the Fifth International is discussed; and from which emerges a borderline secterianism towards the Bolivarian process.
This does not imply that the forms and rythms of the process can not be criticised, indeed General Mueller has himself made scathing criticisms via his "nest of scorpions" comments. But what is lacking from the documentation is a clear and unobfuscated message of support to the direction of the process.
Dave Riley is correct in pointing out the glaring contradiction between the process of building the Fifth International and the inclusion of those organisations which actually have the responsibility of building societies in the transition to socialism. Here we can reference not only the Cuban Communist party and the PSUV of Venezuela, but also the MAS of Bolivia, the FSLN of Nicaragua, the EL Pais of Equador, the FMNLF of El Salvador. Will the FI join an Internation which contains these organisations, if such is to emerge from Commandante Chavez's call. As well, what will the leadership of the FI be towards the companeras and companeros of organisations such as the Partido Obrero and Union des Militantes por el Socialismo of Argentina, should they decide to adhere to this project.
The issue here, Companero Riley, is unity. To build unity amongst revolutionaries is the meaning behind the call of Hugo Chavez for the V Socialist International. To build unity in action in Nuestra America in the face of the imperialist counter offenive, to build unity in action to link the struggles of the workers of the South with the revolutionaries of the North, and through them the reactivation of the workers movement in North America, to build unity in action to defend our revolution is to create the conditions in the North for the social explosion to come in the framework of the death agony of capitalism, the present crisis of imperialism.
Within this framework of building revolutionary unity, the document as presented falls far short of the mark.


What is Socialist Resistance's position on a Fifth International?

Can someone from Britain explain why SR is ``sceptical''?

Excerpt from

Fourth International declares itself ecosocialist
March 5th, 2010

Alan Thornett reports from the sixteenth world congress of the Fourth International (FI) which was held in Ostend Belgium in late February. There were over 200 delegates, observers and invited guests from around 40 countries. The International brings together revolutionary socialists from around the world and Socialist Resistance is its section in the British state....

... A text was agreed on the role and tasks of the Fourth International around the need to build anti-capitalist parties to provide a political voice for all those abandoned by social democracy which has now embraced neo-liberalism.

Socialist Resistance was sceptical about the call for a future broader anti-capitalist international although the text nevertheless called for the building and strengthening of the FI in its present form as a revolutionary socialist international...


I take EZ's comments to heart. In way of explanation, what I am reading from the statement -- despite what is the FI's history of support for Cuba et al may be ( and it aint as grand as he suggests it is as current outside the FI do it much more and much better)-- is a determined reticence that, to be frank because it is not explained or justified, borders almost on a sort of liberalism.

Either Cuba is or Venezuela is or El Salvador is a succession of gains in the struggle for socialism that we can all embrace and unconditionally support and promote -- or they are not. And if they are not what form of cheapened products are they supposed to be such that the FI is unwilling to publicly & enthusiastically explore and link up with them in the context of this call for a new international?

There's a sub text here that the FIers aren't broaching. To my mind I believe what is at stake goes to the very heart of "Trotskyism" -- the holy framework of "more revolutionary than thou" that EZ suggests.

Maybe I'm wrong. But there's a whiff here of something that is not being explored -- I think -- on purpose..


Sadly I think it is the case that the statement by the Fourth International comrades on the call for a 5th International is in danger of elevating theory over practice; programmatic fidelity over practical diversity; idealism over materialism. For them, as many others in this particular anti-capitalist tradition, the profane heritage of Marx with its call for the self-activity of the working class, has been replaced by a pious adherence to the importance of ‘a relatively small number of resolute, well-organised comrades‘ around a carefully crafted programme. The advice of Marx that;

“Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes. Hence, if it was impossible to advance beyond the Eisenach Programme—and circumstances at the time precluded this—they should simply have come to an agreement about action against the common foe.” (Critique of Gotha Programme.)

Has been replaced in this particular anti-capitalist tradition by an extreme version of that held by Lenin, that;

“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” (Selected works Volume 1.)

The reversal of Marx inherent in the Leninist idealistic proposition being insufficiently recognised. In such a dualistic framework it would be more correct to state that ‘without a revolutionary movement, there can be no revolutionary theory’. Ideas are never more than a reflection of reality and then not always accurate reflections. It is a reversal of Marx (and reality) to argue that ideas can carry out anything at all. And of course reality is never static so even previously accurate ideas can become inaccurate over time.

Standing aside from any real movement toward a new International, even if it ultimately failed, would be the worst kind of sectarianism. To demand it adopt ones own position before engaging with it would also be sectarianism. Marx noted that the 1st International was “..founded in order to replace the socialist or semi-socialist sects by a militant organisation of the working class..” (Marx Correspondence.) The task of replacing the many socialist sects - most of whom think they are the necessary and sufficient condition, for the overthrow of capitalism, once the working class has recognised their ‘leadership’ - has still not been accomplished. In the same letter Marx considered the existence of sects, beyond a certain point, as “essentially reactionary”.

If the following statement by Marx still has any relevance, (with the addition of women in the second sentence) concerning the long struggles and processes, facing the working class in its opposition to capital, and I consider it does, then how much more would it apply to the struggle for a new International.

“The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune. They have no ready-made utopias to introduce par décret du peuple. They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistibly tending by its own economical agencies, they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men. They have no ideals to realise, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant.” (18th Brummaire.)

R. Ratcliffe

Dear EZ, Roy and Dave,

I just noticed your comments. If you want to know Socialist Resistance's, them come over to our website and ask. We're not likely to be trawling through comments here. Generally, I should say that this selection and the headline is made by LINKS. Much of this extract is not about the Fifth specifically, but about any new international, and most of the text in this section was published long before the Fifth was called for.

- When we say independence from governments we mean just that: that the international should be independent of governments. We won't say that the parties that participate in workers' and peasants' governments should be excluded. I think that also suggests two things specifically: independence from bourgeois governments, and that the international should be an international of parties, and not of governments.

- I am sure the FI would participate in a Fifth International (5I) with the parties you mention, EZ. We would take a comradely attitude to members of workers' parties and socialist organisations. If you want a clearer statement of the FI's stance towards the 5I, then there's one by Francois Sabado on the IV website.

- Socialist Resistance's scepticism is about whether or not the new international will actually be created, not about whether it's desirable. It unsuccessfully proposed some amendments to the resolution:


A personal response to the statement of the 4th International concerning the call for a 5th International.

1. The response and comments on the recent extract from the 4th International statement made in Links I feel were quite positive. This is to be welcomed. But there is still more to say. I do not doubt, that like most of us opposed to capitalism, the hearts of the 4th International comrades are in the right place and they have very good intentions. However, for most of us, - yes me included - the cliché ‘the way to hell is paved with good intentions’, has some relevance, particularly if we honestly evaluate our anti-capitalist tradition. In the matter of honest evaluation is it not the case that Marx frequently called for a ‘criticism of everything’ and always subjected his own and others researches to self-critical reflection? For example his complete revisions of much of capital Vol.1, four versions of Vol 2 sections, etc, etc. As he also noted in contrasting bourgeois revolutions with proletarian ones;

“Proletarian revolutions, however, such as those in the nineteenth century, constantly engage in self-criticism and in repeated interruptions of their own course. They return to what has apparently been accomplished in order to begin the task again; with merciless thoroughness they mock the inadequate, weak, wretched aspects of their first attempts;” (Marx 18th Brumaire.)

In contrast I suggest that in the 20th and 21st centuries, on the anti-capitalist left, self-criticism has often been entirely missing or limited to minor, unthreatening aspects of their theory and practice. Also mockery of inadequate attempts has generally been directed exclusively against other anti-capitalist groups and during the all-too frequent splits within them. So it is not at all in a spirit of mockery that I wish to engage with other anti-capitalists in critically discussing how I think our past effects the present situation as well as the future. Permit me therefore to make the following comradely observations with regard to the full statement made by the comrades in the 4th International.

2. The statement and its introduction by Laurent Carasso among other things correctly stresses the need for workers self-activity in the developing movement against global capital along with developing a credible alternative to the reformist left. However, such abstractly correct concepts - beyond a certain point - need further elaboration. Given the endemic sectarianism of the contemporary anti-capitalist left, what would a ‘re-organised’ and reconstructed’ ‘credible alternative’ actually look like? Also what does the concept of workers self-activity actually mean to us and what are its implications? In my understanding of this concept - as I understand the tradition of Marx - it means; ’the self-activity of workers organising their own movement and learning from their mistakes‘. (See for example; Letters, Marx to Bolte 23/11/1871; Engels to Sorge 7/12/1889; Engels to Schlueter 1/1/1890)

To my mind, the implications of this form of self-activity are that working people are ‘free’ to make mistakes and ‘free’ to asses them and learn from them. In other words their collective decisions may on occasion not be consistent or sufficiently astute - in certain groups opinions - but to ’own’ the process workers still need to be in a position to decide things for themselves and change those decisions if and when they identify a problem or wrong direction.(See Marx ’Class Struggles in France, Peking edition p 72; and Engel’s forceful letter to Sorge 29/11/1886.) From this perspective an activist does not stand aside but acts alongside the ‘divided and fragmented’ workers and others in struggle - even illusory struggles for reform - whilst consistently and calmly pointing out (ie not shrilly denouncing) any illusion in reforms. For example;

“Had we from 1864 to 1873 insisted on working together only with those who openly adopted our platform, where would we be today? I think all our practice has shown that it is possible to work along with the general movement of the working class at every one of its stages without giving up or hiding our own distinctive position…” (Engels to Florence Kelley 27/1/1887.)

Note ‘distinctive position‘, not ‘distinctive organisation‘. The rest of this letter is well worth reading for contains some very strong but useful advice on revolutionaries working within broad movements. It is clear from the writings of Marx and Engels, that the 1st International, with both of them active in assisting its formation, was set up to overcome the divisive sectarian bickering and posturing of various socialist groups. So much so that a rule was passed (resolutions 2 and 3 of the London Conference of the 1st International) which outlawed the retention of any previous identity or political label. From that moment on, to be members, all sections could only be known as the geographical district of the 1st International. (See Marx’s letter to Bolte 23/11/1871.) In other words, those who joined, could no longer have an independent political organisation. In this way there could be no continuing conflict between dual organisational loyalties within the International and the focus would be on actual solidarity and self-activity of working people.

Yet the 4th International statement in its approach to the call for a new (5th) international reserves a ‘special and leading place’ for its own organisation.

“We may be the only ones who can make political forces of various origins converge..and we must discuss how to strengthen and transform the Fourth International in order to make it an effective tool in the perspective of a new international grouping.” (section 5, my emphasis. RR)

A 4th inside a 5th , or a 4th outside a 5th? How would those possibilities unfold? Caution, for some people, is perhaps necessary and understandable under certain circumstances, such as the call for a 5th International, but it seems to me that the reasoning in the statement is the result of something more than just caution. To my mind, among many points of agreement, there is an unresolved contradiction between two very different perspectives and values in the statement, which will result sooner or later in the one dominating the other. And since the presently established tradition of much of the anti-capitalist left has not been unequivocally that of advocating workers ‘self-activity’, but vanguard ‘leadership‘, it is this second value which is likely to eventually dominate in practice if not always in rhetoric.

3. I strongly suggest that the original perspective of Marx is very different from much of the ‘vanguard’ concepts of ‘leaders and led’ which still abound on the Leninist, Stalinist and Trotskyist anti-capitalist left today and which is confusingly described as ‘Marxist‘. It is a tradition in which many of us were immersed for a considerable amount of time and find difficulty in extracting ourselves. The roots of this elitist ‘vanguard’ position are well established; just the minimum of examples;

“ organisation taking in the whole proletariat cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can only be exercised by a vanguard..“(Lenin. Complete Works, Vol. 32 p 21. See also Vol. 27 p 269; Vol. 29 p 535; Vol.30 p 187)

“The labour state considers itself empowered to send every worker to the place where his work is necessary…not one serious socialist will begin to deny the labour state the right to lay its hand upon the worker who refuses to execute his labour duty.” (Trotsky ’Terrorism & Communism’ p 153 see also page 146 -148)

“We Communists are people of a special mould. We are made of special stuff.” (Stalin. Speech to Second Congress of Soviets. See also ‘Problems of Leninism‘, particularly pages 724 -727.)

These are not the only statements of revolutionaries being different and superior to workers within the works of these three ‘leaders’. Yet no elitist ‘top down’ sentiments of these kinds can be found within the views of Marx. Indeed there is much opposition to such views, by Marx and Engels, as the following extract makes clear.

“The emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class themselves. We cannot therefore co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above..“ (Selected Correspondence. Progress page 307)

The ‘from above‘, for Marx and Engels, were those ‘educated people’, ‘professional revolutionaries’ of the ‘writing desk’ or ‘arm chair’ as he often called them. Incidentally, Marx also had quite a jaundiced view of some of his so-called followers for he also declared at one point that he was “not a Marxist”, a position which Engels defended after Marx died and which I now often feel compelled to use myself. And it is clear from a study of the Bolshevik revolution that the ‘vanguard’ organised in the Communist Party, excluded the ‘self-activity’ of the proletariat and that Lenin along with Trotsky and Stalin thought there was no contradiction between socialist democracy “..and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individuals..” (Lenin’s version in Complete Works Vol 27 p 268.).

4. Another shortcoming I feel is the serious problem of anti-capitalist sectarianism which is not mentioned at all within the statement or its prior report. Yet, interestingly, and I think also relevant to our present situation, (see below) Stalinist vanguard Bolshevism exhibited 9 of the 10 sectarian characteristics identified by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. Tragically, these characteristics are still very much in evidence, with serious implications for present and future solidarity and unity for workers. I suggest that once the full spectrum of sectarian characteristics are fully understood, Stalinism is revealed as a personified example of the international sectarian tradition, originally identified by Marx and consistently opposed by him. It was a tradition which, particularly under the leadership of Stalin, managed to gain control of a powerful state machine in the soviet Union and was supported by that same tradition active in the various communist parties of the world. In my view Stalinism was sectarianism writ large. If the reader considers what they know of the Stalinist period in light of the following sectarian characteristics a revealing insight emerges.

1. Sectarians maintain they have ‘the key’ or ‘solution’ for workers to adopt. (from Marx/Engels.)

2. Their point of honour is what ‘criteria’ (shibboleth) distinguishes them from the working class. (Marx/Engels.)

3. Sectarians are ‘religious’ in having an unshakeable belief in their correctness despite a gap between this conviction and reality. (Marx, Engels, Trotsky.)

4. They carry out struggles against each other even in face of common dangers. (Engels.)

5. They elevate trivialities into principles and then use these to split the movement. (Lenin)

6. They often shout loudest for unity but only on their own terms. (Engels)

7. They are characterised by extreme bitterness. (Trotsky

8. They are often boastful and arrogant. (Marx/Engels.)

9. They are satisfied by logical deductions and operate by with abstractions. (Trotsky)

10. They demand (sooner or later) the movement as a whole subordinate itself to their leadership. (Marx.)

This analysis is relevant to my mind, for it is not the failure of the above noted Soviet attempt at a post-capitalist form of society which still casts a shadow over any revolutionary aspirations of working people, but the brutal and brutalised methods adopted by the ‘vanguard’ to implement its own understanding of a post-capitalist society. Working people are familiar with failures and very few give up on things they want simply because they initially fail. In general they regroup, reassess, and try again. However, also in general, they do give up on objectives which are inhumane, oppressive and exploitative. This is not surprising. It is what they experience under the domination of capital, so why should they willingly embrace another form under another name? Most anti-capitalist workers I have been in contact with during my working and activist life have shown no desire to create or replicate a soviet or Chinese style communist society.

In this regard, my own opinion is that there have been too few satisfactory (and convincing) explanations of the degeneration of the Soviet experiment in Russia from within the revolutionary anti-capitalist viewpoint and viewed from the standpoint of the working class. Most have focussed on the progress or otherwise of the vanguard or ‘the party’. Fewer still convincing ones have been communicated to ordinary working people. And with reference to the earlier point of self-criticism, very few explanations have involved serious self-criticism or included observations of how a different post-capitalist attempt (Michael Albert excepted) might be developed in future.

5. Another closely related problem. Faced with long, abstract documents from competing groups who argue fiercely over small details and disrespect each other; who frequently split and fail to unite, workers are unlikely to heed any calls from such a divisive bunch as we presently are. Indeed sadly, the best advice workers could get at the moment would be to avoid entanglement with such dogmatic, sectarian, wannabe leaders as those of us who cannot lead ourselves out of the ruts of our own sectarian habits and pre-dispositions to assert our absolute ’correctness‘. We would only introduce competition into workers ranks as we fought for our rival ‘positions‘ and intrigued before and after larger meetings. This probability would do much to ‘poison the atmosphere’, create confusion, ‘repel serious working people‘ and possibly cause divisions among those workers who chose to take sides. The result often being the practical opposite of any rhetorical desire for unity and self-activity of workers. By the way that is no theoretical speculation. I have been in too many struggles when this has actually happened.

Some time ago I suggested that the following five points (abstractly presented for the moment) sum up the areas of the present situation which negatively and positively bear upon the activities of those revolutionary anti-capitalists who wish to assist the working classes to put an end to wage labour and capital.

a) A structural (economic, ecological) crisis of Capital with violent, episodic and linked financial collapses. (Hence the general questioning of the system also noted in the 4th International statement.)

b) The complete abandonment of any serious anti-capitalist pretence by ‘modern’ and modernised social-democratic (including ex-Stalinist) reformist political parties. (Hence the opportunities also mentioned.)

c) The development of diverse and disparate global anti-capitalist movements, which are sometimes idealist, frequently confused and often contradictory. (also identified)

d) The above mentioned negative example of Stalinist post-capitalism which haunts, distorts and suppresses the collective aspirations of many working people for a post-capitalist form of society.

e) The divisive and debilitating residue of the sectarian virus which afflicts many of those remaining in the revolutionary anti-capitalist tradition. In one or more of the above ten variants.

6. So I consider it is highly problematic for those anti-capitalists who seriously wish to assist the working classes of the world to go beyond capital and wage-slavery to attempt (on the basis of points a to c) to intervene anywhere particularly in ‘implementing a united front offensive’ whilst not sufficiently addressing points d and e.

Therefore my own assessment of the tasks needed to best prepare us for the present unfolding and the next episodic shift in the development of the ‘crisis’ facing humanity is as follows.

A.) Follow Marx’s long unheeded advice and genuinely overcome - in practice - the multi-faceted and ingrained sectarian habits wherever they are entrenched.

B) Help extend and develop an international, non-sectarian network of anti-capitalist workers - in the above noted spirit of Marx and Engels.

C) Recognise the contradictions in developing movements such as anti-global, anti-imperialist struggles and workers struggles assisting them where able, whilst pointing out the logic of their struggles and the role of wage labour and capital as a barrier to their aspirations.

D.) Share with those in all anti-capitalist struggles the previously noted critical and self-critical understandings to begin to positively re-assert the humane post-capitalist perspective for humanity within the global anti-capitalist movements.

If we could make a serious start on these four aspects they in turn could create a practical foundation from which working class anti-capitalist, self-activity, imagination and creativity could be assisted rather than hindered - encouraged rather than controlled - in the coming struggles against the moribund and dangerous forces of capital.

R. Ratcliffe. (April 2010)

Roy, I think you are extrapolating your own meaning of what the Fourth International is writing. If you want to know what we think, then discuss with supporters of the FI - ideally in your country. There is no need to build castles in the air.

When we say that "We may be the only ones who can make political forces of various origins converge" mean mean that there are various political forces, with different origins, which (right now, at the moment) will only meet through the work of the Fourth International. That does not mean that only we can bring different people together. It means that, right now, we seem to be the only people to are able to brintg various people together. The best recent example of that was the recent world congress of the FI. It brought together various democratic and activist revolutionary groups which together organise around 25,000 people. We are the only organisation, right now, which is able to bring that together. Similarly the Paris conference which united around 50 European far left parties could onoy, right now, have been animated by Fourth Internationalists.

Hi Duncan,

I feel I really did engage in a serious and comradely manner with the position your document outlined along with discussing more general observations, yet you consider my contribution to that discussion as 'extrapolation' and 'building castles in the air'. I think that type of dismissive response sadly underlines the problem I outlined in my contribution.


Roy, when I say that you extrapolated, I did not mean that you were neither serious nor uncomradely. I mean that you ascribe to the Fourth International positions that are not ours. Simply that. If you want to engage with us, engage with what we say, not with what we don't say. And look at our practice i supporting regroupment parties around the world.

Sabado's article is at:


In a previous contribution on the subject of the call for a 5th International, I argued that the characteristics of sectarianism had been insufficiently recognised and addressed. I also suggested a list of ten characteristics of sectarianism, drawn from the observations of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, which were also useful in identifying the sectarian tendency of Stalinism and its role in the degeneration of the workers and peasant revolution in Russia. I would also like to add the following points, asking the reader to note that the form they take are abstract comments. They refer to no particular person or group. So if the sectarian cap doesn’t fit, so to speak, there is no intention of trying to force it upon the reader. Having said that, the points made are not imaginary or speculative abstractions, but are taken from the direct observations of real events – mainly by the above noted individuals, but also from my own.


1. It repels serious working people. (Trotsky)

2. Sectarianism is essentially reactionary. (Marx.)

3. Sectarians do not create leaders amongst working people. (Lenin.)

4. Where they exist, sectarians infect or adulterate the workers' and anti-capitalist movement. (Engels.)

5. Sectarians transform theory into a dogma. (Marx/Engels/Lenin.)

6. Sectarianism is a pernicious menace. (Lenin)


1. The immaturity of the working class movement. (Marx.)

2. Certain people become static and cannot advance. (Engels.)

3. A downturn or an ebb in the revolutionary movement. (Trotsky)

4. The existence within the left of people of force and ability who think themselves and their ideas superior. (Marx, Engels, Trotsky)

Since human beings are products, not simply of natural processes, but of the form of human society in which they live, we can also trace the underlying cause of modern sectarianism in the nature of modern capital-dominated society. It is obvious that the influences of the external world (natural and social) upon human beings manifest themselves as thoughts, feelings, reflexes and tendencies in the brains of individuals and groups. We also know that the world dominated by capital is characterised at every level by contradictions; between wealth and poverty; co-operation and competition; ideology and practice; rhetoric and reality etc. It is therefore inevitable that these and similar contradictions manifest themselves, in the political structures of modern society. From the working class perspective we see this intrusion most profoundly in the reformist political parties and trade union movements with their respective oligarchic controls. From time to time, these contradictions also emerge within the anti-capitalist movement. How could they not? Capital dominated societies, due to their material circumstances, not only produce thoughts and feelings of solidarity emanating from the experience of working and oppressed classes, but also those of competition and accentuated individualism haemorrhaging corrosively from the experience of other classes. We are all subject to these conflicting and contradictory pressures. Despite any good intentions (or in some cases grandiose pretensions), the numerous ‘brands’ of ‘left’ groups competitively struggling among the masses, for superior ‘product identity’, have in many ways become a distorted reflection of the capitalist ‘service sector’ - also limited only by their own niche-market customer base. The two extreme ‘poles’ of socialised production and individual capitalist precedence contained within the totality of capitalist relations, I suggest, are often reflected in the totality of the workers movement by the two extreme ‘poles’ of workers self-activity and sectarian vanguard superiority. Anti-capitalist sectarianism and vanguard elitism (for me, two sides of the same ideological currency), in this sense, is a direct manifestation of the bourgeois and petite-bourgeois competitive ethos within the workers movement. As such it needs to be consistently and strenuously opposed. If it is not, it will remain a primary source of division and disunity among the working class anti-capitalist forces. In addition, without continuous, careful identification and isolation, in the event of a successful, overthrow of the capitalist system, sectarianism will also become the main cause any future post-capitalist degeneration.


Of course there can be no hope of overcoming sectarianism within the anti-capitalist workers movement unless it is recognised that a serious problem of sectarianism exists. In my view a difficulty in the past in clearly recognising the extent of the problem has been caused by the lack of sufficient analysis of its characteristics. By using the previous lists of characteristics and effects we can examine our own and others conduct in the continuing struggle against capital and take the necessary steps to oppose it where it exists. I suggest the following points as logical steps in that process.

1. A determination to get rid of sectarianism.

2. A refusal to allow different interpretations to prevent a positive unity of the anti-capitalist movement.

3. The elevation of the needs of the anti-capitalist workers movement above the needs of ones' own group and questioning the reason for the groups’ separate existence.

4. A refusal to hero worship individuals.

5. A re-examination of the concept of leadership within the revolutionary struggle against capital.

6. The identification of working-class men and women as non-sectarian facilitators among their class and the anti-capitalist movement.

We can see from the combined analysis of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, that sectarianism is an egocentric pattern of behaviour. A pattern which displays arrogance and an unshakeable belief in the correctness of a particular set of views - often in the form of logical deductions, speculative 'abstractions' and political 'trade marks'. In its political form it is a deep seated and long lasting tendency within and around left wing revolutionary, anti-capitalist and even nationalist politics. As with religious sectarianism, it is ideologically parasitic on the humanist aspirations of those suffering exploitation and oppression and wishing to end it. For sectarians (religious and political) feed off this humanistic aspiration, in order to justify their existence, whilst they simultaneously destroy it by their divisive practices. Practices that only serve to undermine the potential achievement of those aspirations. We need only ask ourselves a few simple but searching questions at this point. What would be the result of giving such sectarian individuals considerable power? If anti-capitalist (or religious) sectarians were ever to succeed in their quest to have the working class put them in power, what would happen? If, as a result of an anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist revolution they found at their disposal armed forces of coercion with the power and authority to implement their ideas, how would they go about it? Points 1 to 10 (in the previous contribution) provide us with an indication of how these questions might be answered. We need only go back over those ten points one by one and ask ourselves how sectarians with full control of state power would conduct themselves; with power to implement their policies with an unshakeable belief in their correctness. Men of arrogance and extreme bitterness - in control of weapons of oppression and destruction. Some sectarians even without state power can be dangerous enough in unleashing indiscriminate acts of vilification, character assassination, vengeance and even terror, it makes one shudder to contemplate their control of even greater forces. Can we really expect such people to lead humanity into a non-oppressive future? The effects as summarised in points 1 to 6 (above) are serious enough when the sectarians in question have little or no power and authority. To see the extreme effects of these political sectarian characteristics, when displayed by men with unlimited power to back them up, we need only examine reality as it unfolded in Cambodia under Pol Pot, in the Soviet Union under Stalin, or for that matter, under National Socialism in Nazi Germany.1

Although it is quite correct to apply the term 'sectarian' to small groupings which display divisive and bigoted behaviour by sectarian 'leaders' and 'followers', these characteristics are not necessarily exclusive to small groups. They are merely more frequently found there. The characteristics of sectarianism, since they arise from the actions of individuals, singly and in groups, can arise within large political movements as well as small ones. It should be noted, therefore, that sectarian behaviour takes place wherever the mixture of the previously noted characteristics is strong enough to organise as a distinct political (or religious) tendency or manifest itself within one. It is essential to recognise the full range of sectarian characteristics, identified and not just the most extreme or bizarre. Otherwise, groups or individuals, who are thoroughly sectarian, yet do not manifest the more extreme symptoms, can mask their sectarianism, for long periods of time. Long enough to do important damage to the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggle. All the characteristics are important, but in one sense it is more important that the subtle and hidden characteristics of sectarianism are given serious consideration. It is obvious that the more bizarre aspects are easily identifiable, whilst other aspects can go on almost unnoticed - until it is too late! Once in existence sectarianism is divisive, corrosive and leads to disgust and disillusionment amongst working people and others in the anti-capitalist struggle and in other struggles against oppression. It could not be otherwise in movements with a humanist purpose, because sectarianism so clearly contradicts that purpose. This much could perhaps have been established by a study of existing sectarian organisations and without recourse to the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky. However, the response of sectarians, claiming orthodoxy with Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky, may have led to attempts to rebuff such challenges. Many are often in what elsewhere, might be classified as - a psychological state of ‘denial’. Alternatively, many undoubtedly claim that their ready-made answers and 'unshakeable beliefs' derive from a superior knowledge of their originators thoughts. Sectarian defensive rationalisation often attempts to represent its bitterness and poison as revolutionary zeal and political steel; their use of logical deductions and abstractions as flowing from their advanced theoretical (or scriptural) grasp. Now at least, in order to rationalise any continued sectarianism, anti-capitalist sectarians will have to take into account their own ideological forerunners.

To sum up.
It should no longer escape the notice of anyone but the most dogmatic and blind sectarian, that sectarianism is not just a minor aberration, but cuts to the very heart of the opposition to the capitalist system. In all its forms, religious and political the tendency focuses on differences and exacerbates divisions. It’s anti-capitalist adherents turn materialist dialectics into fixed categories or dogma. As a political tendency it invariably repels serious working people and other potential anti-capitalists. Marx considered sectarianism as quite simply reactionary! There can be no greater verbal indictments than those encountered so far. The implications of these combined observations are clear. Sectarianism, within the ranks of those opposed to the capitalist or imperialist system, can undermine that opposition to such a degree that it becomes a significant factor - if not the most significant factor in the present period - in preventing unity of the anti-capitalist forces. In the 21st century it is not enough simply to be part of the anti-capitalist struggle: in order to further that struggle, we need also to seriously combat sectarianism.

Roy Ratcliffe (April 2010)
1.In many countries, the Stalinist communist parties at one time were quite large yet operated along many of the sectarian lines described here. The resurgence of religious sectarianism in the form of ‘fundamentalist’ developments in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Bhuddism and their campaigns among the oppressed also need to be countered by a non-sectarian anti-capitalist movement.


Dear Companero Roy:

Thank you for your many insightful comments regarding sectarianism in general. You obviously have put a lot of thought into this question and have reached some interesting conclusions. Hopefully Duncan will take the time to reflect upon your words, particularly as he lives in a society were left wing sectarianism is of a world class, dare I say of a world beating variety. In Great Britain, even the non-sectarians are sectarian towards the sectarians.

I want to limit my observation here to a problem that while you have identified it in general, takes a particular form in the organised Trotskyist movement, and which has its roots which can be traced back to a debate between James P. Cannon and CLR James, two giants of North American Trotskyism. This debate, which is archived under the title of the Johnson-Forrest tendency and the Socialist Workers Party, USA, finds its way into present day Trotskyism as "the Leninist strategy of party building." This schema says, to reduce the argument to its simplest level, that unless there is a party of a Bolshevik type, there can be no truly socialist revolutions, and that unless there are workers councils lead by a party of the Bolshevik type, there really aren't forms of workers power which can be declared as genuine. The logical deduction therefore, is that it is the role of revolutionaries to "build parties of a Bolshevik type" and that revolutionaries should intervene in the class struggle (in all its miriad forms) in order to do so, that is, to recruit the militants produced by those struggles to "the nucleus of the vanguard party".

Thus we have the spectacle, beloved by the bourgeoisie and its political police agents, of a fierce and sectarian and ultimately futile struggle to "win the vanguard" to a particular brand of revolutionary Marxism. After all, there are only so many militants to go around, so to speak, whereas there are many more variants of Trotskyism to choose from. This form of sectarianism arises from the schema of the so-called "Leninist strategy of Party building".

It has nothing whatsoever to do with the great and real debates within the socialist movement: reform or revolution; Permanent Revolution or a revolution in historical stages; socialism in one country or the historical nescessity to extend and deepen continental and global revolutionary processes. These debates were of a fundamental nature, they were and are debates which determined great historical tendencies in the international workers movements, and are reflected in the present by the social democratic, "Communist" and Trotskyist traditions.

As a footnote, CLR James lost the debate within the SWP to Cannon and his followers. History however, has proven him right. "It is not, I repeat not, party, party, party", said James. For James, as for Trotsky, it was always about the mass struggle of the oppressd. For in organising the fight with the oppressed to change their situation, to find ways to build unity amongst the different strata and sectors of the workers and oppressed,to encourage analysis and to act as a tribune of all the people, to fight with a pessimism of the intellect and an optimism of the will, was to find the road by which the masses will build their own, unitary and non-sectarian instruments of their own liberation.
It is the revolutionary movement which builds the revolutionary organisation, and the forms it takes corresponds to the class structure of society itself. For example, the form of organisation which the masses find most useful in Central America is the mass front, represented by the FLMN in El Salvador, the FSLN in Nicaragua, the Honduran Front of National Resistance. These forms of organisation act to unite the broadest sectors of the workers, campesinos, and popular layers including sectors of the petite bourgeoisie and the students. While revolutionary organisations play a role in these mass fronts, nonetheless they are made up of mass organisations of the people: revolutionary trade unions, landless agriculture workers and small landholders, womens' organisations and revolutionary student groups.
In this sense, in fact, I would argue that the 26 July Movement which lead the Cuban revolution was a mass front of this type, and while the military component receives the greatest level of attention, nontheless there were real popular organisations which formed the urban component and which organised the mass strike helping pave the way for the military forces to defeat a demoralised army with no popular support base.
Sectarianism can be overcome. Not only is it a question of being mindful, the heat of the struggle itself can melt the ossified thinking which sectarianism produces (after all, if you have all the answers, who cares about the questions!). The key is to build revolutionary unity. The key is to sit down and discuss, really discuss, the way forward and how people, groups and organisations can find ways to effectively unite their efforts in common struggle and for common goals, for the common good.

Hi Elena.

I enjoyed reading your comments and the information you supplied was very useful. The points I have made in my two contributions to links are contained within a book I have written which goes into these issues (among others) in much greater depth. In the interests of further commradely discussion I would be happy to send you a copy free of charge if you contact me at with an address.

I do think for a long time many of us on the revolutionary left were not even asking the right questions let alone coming up with the 'correct' answers. My hope is to contact revolutionary anti-capitalist people who are not afraid to soberly and critically explore the contradictions in our heritage. As you say to really discuss.

In solidarity,