International left collaboration and socialist renewal

By John Percy


As we reflect on the tumultuous twentieth century -- ``wars, revolutions, crises and constant technological change -- we have to reaffirm that socialism, now more than ever, is necessary for the future development of humanity. In fact, it's necessary for preventing society's collapse into barbarism and the ecological destruction of the planet. Marxism not only has continuing relevance; it's more applicable than ever. Society continues to be divided into economically opposed classes. Capitalism expropriates the wealth created by working people through their labour. Social production on a world scale is the norm, yet the fruits of that production remain privately owned and controlled. There is an obscene and widening gap between rich and poor, within countries and between countries: in 1995, 358 billionaires had a total wealth equal to the combined income of the world's 2.3 billion poorest people. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, demoralisation among left forces has been extensive. Some were bought off by crumbs from the imperialist table and have become outright defenders of the capitalist system. Some parties shut up shop, like the Communist Party of Australia. Activists have felt disconnection, alienation and isolation, and have been diverted by false solutions, the resurrection of ideas long discredited and shown to be dead ends, which often get paraded as something ``modern''.

But we have had some wins.

  • Here in Australia, there are still strong sentiments against racism, highlighted by the 1998 high school walkouts against Hanson1 (although Hanson's agenda has been implemented by Howard, with racist attacks on Aborigines, refugees and immigrants.)
  • There have been some union wins and mobilisations -- most spectacularly with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), though the gains were promptly handed back by the union leadership.
  • The long struggle by the people of East Timor for freedom was finally rewarded, supported by magnificent demonstrations in Lisbon, Melbourne and Sydney and democratic forces in Jakarta.
  • In Seattle in December, 50,000 demonstrated against the World Trade Organisation and all it stands for -- a symbolic end to a century of struggle and a portent for the century we're entering.

But often such victories have been short. The thousands who mobilised can quickly lapse back into demoralisation and apathy. The bureaucrats reassert control. Fake solutions, compatible with capitalism, and not challenging the cause of all our problems, can flourish.

Now, more than ever, we need parties, based on Marxism, learning from Lenin and the Bolsheviks, that can build mass struggles and incorporate all the lessons. Now, more than ever, we need international solidarity, international collaboration and discussion, mutual help, real internationalism.

Working-class unity

The general principles laid out in The Communist Manifesto are still valid: ``United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat''. ``Workers of all countries, unite!'' is still our most deeply felt and cherished slogan.

We have to counterpose international working-class unity to the ``national unity'' that the bourgeoisie uses to divide the working class and to build false consciousness and gather support for itself.

Internationalism requires our solidarity on many levels:

1. Class war prisoners and victims, around the globe

That's our basic duty, from Sacco and Vanzetti, who were murdered by the US ruling class in 1927; through the heroic H-Block political prisoners, like Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike in Northern Ireland; to Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is still on death row, with many other victims of racism in the USA; to a class war hostage, Elian, a six-year-old child from Cuba; and over the last few years, Dita Sari and Budiman Sujatmiko, who are now free, a great victory.

2. Trade unions, and struggles on other issues

The Liverpool Dockers won wide international support. The MUA here in turn received support from workers in many countries. We have to build international opposition to the Mauritian government's repressive new law, which targets trade unions and basic civil liberties.

Trade union solidarity is far too limited in practice today, because many trade union leaders are shackled to their own ruling class. The AFL-CIO affiliates to imperialist international institutions, but the us government bans real class affiliation (the Voorhis Act).

The ACTU [Australian Congress of Trade Unions] here, controlled by the ALP [Australian Labor Party], demonstrates solidarity only when it's pushed to the brink -- on East Timor, it reversed its stance only when even Howard was being forced to back down.

3. National liberation struggles

Countries fighting for freedom from colonialism or neo-colonialism, or for national self-determination within a repressive state, need our solidarity. The second half of the 20th century had many such struggles -- Vietnam, Palestine, Nicaragua, Ireland, East Timor, Indonesia, to mention just a few.

International solidarity was indispensable for the Russian and Chinese revolutions and the Cuban revolution today, which is still blockaded and constantly attacked.

4. Revolutions

But all these levels of international solidarity, essential as they are, do not in themselves add up to an internationalist outlook. We also have to thoroughly comprehend the international nature of socialist revolution. There won't be complete victory in isolated countries.

The Paris Commune in 1871 was our first breakthrough, where the workers seized power and held out for a few months. The lessons of that struggle and the defeat were learned by our movement.

The Russian Revolution, in October 1917, was our biggest victory yet. But the Bolsheviks knew they would not be able to survive alone. They were well versed in the fundamental axioms since the time of The Communist Manifesto -- the need for an international revolutionary perspective.

Shortly after the February 1917 revolution, Lenin wrote:

Russia is a peasant country, one of the most backward of European countries. Socialism cannot triumph there directly and immediately. But the peasant character of the country, the vast reserve of land in the hands of the nobility, may, to judge from the experience of 1905, give tremendous sweep to the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia and may make our revolution the prologue to the world socialist revolution, a step toward it ... Single-handed, the Russian proletariat cannot bring the socialist revolution to a victorious conclusion.2

Even Stalin, in April 1924, wrote:

Can the final victory of socialism be achieved, in one country, without the joint efforts of the proletarians in several advanced countries? No, it cannot. To overthrow the bourgeoisie, the efforts of one country are sufficient; this is proved by the history of our revolution. For the final victory of socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of a peasant country like Russia, are insufficient; for that, the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are required.3

By 1926, he'd changed his words and revised the universal position held by the whole Bolshevik party, adopting a line of ``socialism in one country''.

The Soviet Union held out for almost 75 years, but the isolation led to terrible bureaucratic distortions, and ultimately its degeneration and final collapse. Many lessons need to be thoroughly learned for our next major attempt. One that's reinforced is that the overthrow of capitalism on a world scale is the only guarantee of final victory.

So it's not just solidarity that's needed; we need to make revolutions, in our own country. That's real internationalism.

All forms of solidarity are valuable, but as part of the international struggle for socialism, they're ten times more valuable. So helping to build revolutionary Marxist parties is an important aspect of our internationalism. But how? Some well-intentioned assistance can hinder rather than help.

Even though our task is the overthrow of our own ruling class, an international perspective is an essential part of the program of a revolutionary party. The right sort of help to others will help build our own party and the revolutionary process in our own country, breaking down nationalist illusions, building class solidarity and bringing closer the victory over our own bourgeoisie.

First International

We're internationalists. Internationalism is a fundamental part of our socialism, but how do we organise, what form should that internationalism take? Let's briefly review the efforts to date.

The International Workingmen's Association was formed in 1864, and lasted till 1878. It was based on its forerunner, the Communist League, for which Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto.

After the defeats of the 1848 revolutions, demoralisation and dispersal of the revolutionary forces set in. The labour movement revived in the late 1850s, with a big economic crisis in 1857. The Italian war for independence in 1859, the US civil war of 1861-65, and advances by the French working class and a big upsurge of workers' struggles in England provided the political background for the founding of the First International at a meeting in London on September 28, 1864.

The ``Inaugural Address'' drafted by Marx differed in form from The Communist Manifesto. ``Time is necessary'', Marx wrote to Engels, ''before the revived movement can permit itself the old audacious language. The need of the moment is: bold in matter, but mild in manner.''

The document aimed to embrace workers of varying degrees of political development. It contained implicitly the fundamental ideas of communism, but Marx relied upon the further development of working-class consciousness, which would result from their united action, to guarantee the final victory of scientific socialism within the International.

The International had some important achievements, and led some important struggles. It provided a practical demonstration of international working-class solidarity and helped popularise the ideas of Marxism. But Marxism had to contend constantly with the bourgeois liberal ideology of the British trade union leaders and the varieties of petty-bourgeois socialism, especially followers of Proudhon, and anarchism, led by Bakunin. After the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871, these destructive forces became overwhelming, leading to the decline, disintegration and final dissolution of the First International in 1878.

How effective was the First International? It was not based on parties, but brought together trade unions and workers' societies in most of the key countries in Europe and North America. It was dissolved by Marx and Engels when it no longer had essence, when it became just a form and in danger of playing a reactionary role. Afterwards, with the form dissolved, Marx could argue that the essence of international collaboration still persisted.

In 1878 he wrote, attacking the contention that the International had failed:

In reality the social-democratic workers parties in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Holland and North America, organized more or less within national frontiers, represent just as many international groups, no longer isolated sections sparsely distributed over various countries and held together by a General Council on the periphery, but rather the working-class itself in constant, active and direct connection, held together by the exchange of ideas, mutual assistance and joint aims … Thus, far from dying out, the International has developed from one stage into another and higher one in which many of its original tendencies have already been fulfilled. During the course of this constant development it will experience many changes before the final chapter in its history can be written.5

Second International

Marx opposed any premature attempts to proclaim a second international. But with the upsurge of the labour movement in the 1880s and the growth of working-class parties, especially the Social Democratic Party in Germany, a conference in Paris in 1889, bringing together parties based on Marxist principles, announced the formation of the Second International.

Early debates excluded the ideas of the anarchists, who opposed political and parliamentary action, practised terrorism and made a fetish of the general strike. The parties in the Second International grew and increased their support; the circulation of their party papers rose; the authority of the International and its impressive congresses was high. Debates on reform and revolution seemed clearly resolved in a Marxist framework.

It seemed a strong, healthy organisation, a structure to express the international solidarity of the workers of the world, a way to unite the parties, to organise trade union solidarity. But the cancer of opportunism and revisionism in most parties of the Second International was not far under the surface. Leaders of parties in parliament started accepting posts in government; theoretical representatives such as Eduard Bernstein elaborated excuses justifying such behaviour. The degeneration had its roots in the super-profits of imperialism, allowing the capitalists to toss some crumbs the way of a small layer of workers. The parliamentarians and trade union and party bureaucracies developed a comfortable existence; their interests became more aligned with the bosses than with struggling workers in their own countries and the exploited peoples of the colonies.

There were disputes within the International over colonial policy, immigration policy, ``politics in the unions'' and imperialist war. Often the formally correct left, Marxist, position won the majority.

So the Second International's degeneration was masked with big speeches, fine words, good-sounding resolutions. Anti-war conferences denounced war and their bourgeois governments, until their real nature was unmasked in August 1914.

Here you had an international, with a form, structures, leadership bodies, debates, congresses, publications, resolutions -- sometimes even good resolutions. But it was riddled with opportunism. In essence, it was a shell.

There was the form, but no real internationalism when it counted. It still exists today, a totally imperialist agency. After 1914 it was dead, with no possible pretension to fulfil the real tasks of international solidarity.

Third International

The real internationalists who had been part of the Second International, primarily the Russian Bolshevik party and a few smaller and diverse currents, tried to keep international contact and collaboration alive during the war. But it was the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the victory of the Bolsheviks in October that laid the basis for the Third, Communist, International.

The Communist International was founded in 1919 in Moscow, in the midst of civil war, invasion by imperialist powers and acute economic crisis for the fledgling Soviet state. It was very much based on the Bolshevik party and its revolutionary socialist program. Most of the delegates were Bolsheviks or exiles stranded in Russia. There were not many genuinely revolutionary parties around the world, certainly few with anything approaching a mass base.

After 1914, the Bolsheviks always stood for a new, genuinely revolutionary, international. After the victorious revolution, it was going to be set up. But the timing and the nature of the new international resulted from the needs of the Russian Revolution and the revolutionary potential in Europe. Lenin and the Bolsheviks used the founding of the Third International for an emergency task: to defend the revolution by extending it.

But there were dangers inherent in this tactic.

Measures were taken to accelerate the revolutionary process in Europe, to quickly build parties that could meet the challenge. The stronger party financially underwrote the weaker parties. For example, the German party had five daily papers, financed from Moscow.

The Bolsheviks had overwhelming authority among revolutionaries. Their resources, authority, political understanding, experience and practice far outweighed those of any other party. No other party had a team of revolutionary leaders steeled and trained over nearly two decades. So the Comintern was lopsided from the start because of that.

There's a fine line between assistance and dominance. The key consideration in helping is to develop independent parties with team leaderships that can stand on their own feet and make their own political assessments and decisions. Rosa Luxembourg was aware of the dangers, and wrote about them. But Lenin's time frame was revolution in Europe in a few months. The Bolsheviks felt an urgent need for a general staff to direct the coming battles.

There's a tendency to portray the early Comintern as a ``Leninist international'' that degenerated under Stalin. But it was organised in its early years for those very specific reasons. It was based on totally understandable, but disappointed, expectations of a revolutionary upsurge in Europe, a European-wide civil war, which would be coordinated by the centralised apparatus of the Red Army (the Red Army, not the Russian Army, the army led by a party with a perspective of revolutions throughout Europe).

It's well worth reading the documents of the first four congresses of the Comintern. But they should be read historically, not as recipes to be applied today, in very different situations.

The revolutionary wave receded, no revolutions succeeded, the Soviet Union remained isolated. With the degeneration of the CPSU, the degeneration of the Comintern followed. It became a tool controlled by Moscow. Its purpose was to implement Moscow's foreign policy, not to help make revolutions elsewhere. The Comintern became a brake on revolutions, sapped initiative and prevented the development of independent Marxist parties. Eventually it became a betrayer of revolutions.

The formal dissolution of the Comintern in 1943 was a concession to imperialism, to demonstrate good faith to Moscow's wartime allies. But it was already a shell. There had been no essence of internationalism there for a long time. It had the form of an international, but it was not internationalist.

Fourth International

With the degeneration of the CPSU and the Comintern under Stalin, the remaining revolutionary currents in the Soviet Union and abroad gathered around Trotsky, former leader of the Red Army, second only to Lenin in stature as a leader of the revolution.

It was a heroic fight by Trotsky and his supporters against the degeneration of the CPSU and the Comintern-against the purges (nearly all of Lenin's central committee killed), against the political disasters. Most of the political opposition were persecuted, exiled, killed.

Trotsky and his followers kept the revolutionary perspective alive. Trotsky made important analyses of what went wrong in the Soviet Union. But there were many unfortunate distortions in the resulting opposition organisations, which was perhaps inevitable, given the objective conditions.

Following the failure of the German CP to respond effectively to the rise of Hitlerism in 1933, the Left Opposition changed from being an opposition within the CPSU and CPS (mostly excluded anyway) to calling for the overthrow of the Stalin leadership and a perspective of building a new international. After five years of debates on whether to set up the Fourth International, it was finally established in September 1938, at a one-day conference in France with twenty-two delegates.

But it was a shell. The structure of the Third International was an emergency, temporary instrument to build parties, with a perspective of revolutions within months, but it had real forces backing it. The Fourth International, with no state power behind it, lacking a mass base, lacking resources or apparatus, tried to copy the form of the early Comintern. It described itself as the ``World Party of Socialist Revolution''.

The only resource the Trotskyists could point to was the program, so this was elevated. A tendency developed towards the endless elaboration of the written program, with prescriptions for everybody else's revolution. But isolation from real struggle continued.

Splits inevitably resulted, leading to a multitude of groups claiming to be the ``Fourth International''. When we were in the FI, we had to draw up charts, the Trotskyist family tree, reflecting all the splits. It was complicated enough then. In the last fifteen years, there have been even more branches, or twigs.

Our experience with the FI was rich in lessons, from the first year of our current in 1965, to when we left in 1985. In the early years we were desperately eager for international contact. We were internationalists, we were won to socialism in the struggle against the Vietnam War. But we had no party, and only minimal contact with the FI. When the first representative of the FI visited here in 1969, we yearned for advice, instructions: how do we build a party, what should we do next? We enthusiastically wanted to join the FI.

But it was a double-edged sword. Less than a year after we formally became a section of the FI, in January 1972, our party split, with the help of the International! The FI was in the middle of an intense factional struggle. It had some useful results -- the educational value of the polemical discussion. But it also led to splits and a tendency to separate off from real problems here. We healed that split ourselves, in 1977-78 (probably against the real wishes of the two sides in the Fourth International).

The reasons we left the FI in 1985 are set out in the pamphlet, The SWP and the Fourth International, containing a report to the October 1984 national committee meeting by our former national secretary, Jim Percy, and to our August 1985 NC by Doug Lorimer. Those reports are full of valuable lessons, and we intend to reprint the pamphlet to make it readily available for new comrades.

Our thinking then was prompted by the Nicaraguan revolution, a better understanding of the continuing impact of the Cuban revolution, our experiences in the bitter factional fight in the FI, and the beginning of the degeneration of the US Socialist Workers Party, which we had previously looked up to. We concluded that the FI was an obstacle to fully participating in the process of building new revolutionary parties and a new, mass, international revolutionary movement.

Doug Lorimer concluded in his 1985 report:

Does this mean we are turning away from internationalism? Such a view could only be made by those who confuse a particular form of international organisation with internationalism. Our conception of internationalism involves developing international collaboration. It involves the fraternal exchange of views and experiences among revolutionaries based on a willingness to learn from others, while thinking for ourselves. The forms through which this occurs are totally secondary.

Far from turning away from internationalism by leaving the Fourth International, we are turning toward a more real internationalism, toward collaboration with those revolutionary forces that are really extending the world socialist revolution.

We want to have relations, exchanges of views and experiences, with anyone who wishes to have such fraternal relations with us. But we refuse to have such relations held hostage to a particular organisational form.

Today the FI is not embroiled in bitter factional struggles, although it does have debates and divisions. (The US SWP left after implementing splits in parties where it had any supporters; other parties, such as those following Nahuel Moreno in Argentina, also left.)

And the FI is not dominated by one party, as most of the other Trotskyist ``internationals'' are. It's not centralised, partly because of financial constraints, but perhaps also getting some wisdom from past disasters.

But it still persists with the forms -- a world congress, votes, an international centre, the shibboleth of Permanent Revolution. It's based on small groups not rooted in the mass movements; that's true of most revolutionary parties today, but the FI's life seems dominated by the smallest groups, those least connected with the mass movement. And often the centre has been staffed by individuals who are not members of parties at all.

Look at the experiences around East Timor. The major parties in the FI such as the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire in France and Party of Revolutionary Socialism in Portugal just acted; they didn't check with the ``centre''. You don't need an international centre to coordinate actions. Even in Europe, it doesn't occur through an international centre, but through meetings of the leading comrades from the national parties, an informal network. We've shown we can do these things without an international.

The FI at its International Executive Committee meeting in February 1999 had a chance to broaden out significantly beyond the narrow boundaries of FI membership by opening up its scheduled world congress, but it declined. There were possibilities of having a conference that would genuinely involve many other Marxist parties. We had been prepared to subsume this conference into something that had wider international potential. But it was an opportunity not grasped. Hopefully, in future they’ll be able to make the step.

`World parties'

Although in practice the FI is moving away from it, most of the other attempts at Trotskyist internationals still try to implement that ``World Party of Socialist Revolution'' structure, with a ``leading staff'' at the centre. These are mostly tiny forces, multiple general staffs for directing the world revolution, with centres in London, Paris, New York, Latin America. Their ``sections'' are sometimes just a handful of individuals.

Recent experiences with the Committee for a Workers International, the international based on the Militant group in Britain, have been unfortunate. At one stage it looked like they were moving away from that narrow conception. They began to reach out to other parties from other traditions, away from the caricature of an international where the true line came from London and the task was to create factions and splits in other parties.

There are some proud experiences in the history of Militant -- the struggles in Liverpool; the poll tax fight initiated in Glasgow. The CW's retreat to narrow sectarianism after their short period of opening up is well analysed by Phil Hearse in his article ``Militant: what went wrong''

But it's more than unfortunate; it's destructive, since the CWI method threatens to smother independent parties, and crush them if they don't toe the line from London.

This was most dramatically demonstrated in Pakistan. The Labour Party Pakistan's general secretary, Farooq Tariq, can give comrades the sorry details. Fortunately, their attempt to split and crush the LPP failed; now a tiny handful of CWI supporters in Pakistan get their £200 a month to keep the cwi flag on the map.

The CWI tightening up is being implemented in Britain too. In 1998 they expelled the whole regional leadership in Liverpool, once a strong mass base for Militant politics, where they had hundreds, possibly thousands, of members.

In Scotland, London opposed the formation of the Scottish Socialist Party, and now has its own semi-secret faction within the SSP to try to revert to a cosy little group of those with 100% agreement with London, rather than the exciting, challenging, growing party that the SSP is.

I think the International Workers League (LIT), the international Trotskyist organisation with its centre in Brazil, still has that perspective, of building the ``World Party of Socialist Revolution'', and that their program is the one true basis on which to build it. We welcome comrade Eduardo Neto from the Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado (PSTU) of Brazil and the leadership of the LIT to this conference, and look forward to hearing their views and ideas, especially on international collaboration and organisation. But unfortunately, they seem still to have this perspective, which can lead only to further splits in the all too small forces of revolutionary Marxism.

An LIT statement insists that it rejects ``all proposals for a federal organisation of the International. The imperialist epoch of crises, wars and revolutions demands a world party, and a federation is not a party. We affirm the necessity of a world party based on the principle of democratic centralism, constituted at the national level by Leninist combat parties.''

It's worthwhile for us all to review the many internationals, the many splits, even the many bizarre cults, especially in the Trotskyist movement, but also in the Maoist movement. There have been many unfortunate experiences in the workers' movement of sectarianism and cults.

Cults have one leader, located in one country, but the world must revolve around that leader's thought, and the tendency is to want to spread that omniscience to the world. Other parties' role is to follow, be clones or satellites of that central party, that central leader. Often it's a farcical miniature of Stalin's control of other Communist parties in the Comintern and Cominform. Universal recipes are prescribed, often from past periods and different countries when circumstances were fundamentally different.

A terrible consequence is the continual division and re-division of the communist forces internationally. In Britain there are possibly 50 groups from the Trotskyist tradition, most with some pretension at an international organisation.

You try to set up little clones, or create factions in existing parties. And you set up barriers: parties refuse to have relations with other parties, for fear of factionalising being done against them. Healthier groups might laugh at extreme cases like the Spartacist League, but unfortunately there's an element of sectarian barriers and raiding mentality in most groups. So let's learn the lessons from that sectarianism, and not just dismiss it as aberrations.

Negative experiences

Shining Path, the Maoist sect in Peru, is an extreme example of the sectarian dangers that beset the communist movement. Unfortunately, they've got their own bands of devotees in some countries, one of the Maoist style attempts at an international. Here's a sample of what passes for political analysis, Gonzalo Thought:

All revolutions … generate a group of leaders and principally one who represents and leads it, a Great Leader with acknowledged authority and rising influence. In our reality this has materialized … in Chairman Gonzalo, Great Leader of the Party and the revolution. Moreover … revolutions give rise to a thought that guides them … a guiding thought that, arriving at a qualitative leap of decisive importance for the revolutionary process which it leads, becomes identified with the name of the one who shaped it theoretically and practically. In our situation, this phenomenon specified itself first as guiding thought, then as Chairman Gonzalo’s guiding thought, and later, as Gonzalo Thought.7

Specifically, they’ve applied this “all-powerful Gonzalo Thought” to wiping out anyone in the workers’ movement who disagrees with them.

The comrades of the CPI (ML) in India have suffered from a number of Maoist-anarchist sects that have targeted them in the same way. Dozens of their comrades have been killed.

The Trotskyist movement too has had more than its fair share of cults — Healy, Pablo, Posadas, now Jack Barnes from the US SWP.

They'e published a book of Barnes' articles and speeches of the last few years, titled Capitalism's World Disorder, and it's getting elevated to a sacred text. The November 15 issue of their paper, the Militant, gives you a taste of it.

It begins on the front with an eighth of a page ad. Page four is devoted totally to it, a ``Campaigning with Capitalism's World Disorder'' page, with at least thirteen mentions of the book, plus a sales table. The lead article on page five is about their Young Socialists conference, and it gets several mentions, with ``the central campaign of the YS, SWP and supporters of the communist movement to get Capitalism's World Disorder in bookstores and libraries''. The other two articles on that page also make the obligatory reference to Capitalism's World Disorder. The page six lead article is about airline workers, and of course, ``Capitalism's World Disorder is a book that can help airline workers''. The lead article on page seven is about the World Trade Organisation, and the concluding paragraph begins: ``As Jack Barnes writes in Capitalism's World Disorder''. Page thirteen is a page for ``Selections from Capitalism's World Disorder''. Page fourteen has the conclusion of the editorial that began on the front page, about a Teamsters' strike, and ends with an admonition that the workers should read which book? No prizes for guessing this one!

This wonderful book has been able to help this political current discover that workers' states still exist in eastern Europe, including East Germany!

This sort of cult worship is more appropriate to religion, not the revolutionary workers' movement. It's an idealist method -- they have the only true thought, they're the only true revolutionaries. Therefore everything they do must be right; anything they do is justified.

We're not against learning from great revolutionaries of the past. Our movement takes its name from Karl Marx. We want to learn from the past, the positive lessons and the mistakes. We printed half a dozen Marxist classics this year. But that type of apolitical, unscientific approach to ``leader's thought'' would have disgusted Karl Marx. The surest way to guarantee that capitalism lasts another century is to convert socialism into a religious sect.

On this and many other questions, we can learn from the Cuban revolutionaries. Fidel has held overwhelming authority with the Cuban masses for four decades, and their fallen hero Che is an icon for young radicals throughout the world. But cults and blind following of fixed recipes are the furthest things from the Cubans' political method. In that 1984 speech, Jim Percy quoted from Jesus Montane Oropesa, an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the Cuban CP's Central Committee. This comrade died last year, and his comments are worth repeating:

It is true that the Latin American and Caribbean revolutionary movement has been significantly enriched during the last 25 years, and this heritage contains useful lessons of great value which no fighter in our countries can ignore.

Notwithstanding, we believe that nothing could be less Marxist than to elevate today's revolutionary experiences into prescriptions for all future situations.

We are sure of one thing, however: the advance of the people's processes on this continent and the development of their potential will be largely dependent on the subjective factor -- the ability of the revolutionary vanguards and their leaders. The importance of this ideological element is steadily increasing. As always, those who learn from others and think for themselves will lead the struggle. Those who do not lack determination and courage will deserve to be in the vanguard. Those who demonstrate the ability to judge situations, mobilise the people, win them over, advance along the path of unity, select the most effective methods of struggle for every stage and carry out a correct strategy by means of equally correct tactical measures will deserve to be leaders.8

Form and essence

We want real internationalism, the essence, not an empty form, and realise that sometimes the form turns into its opposite, a barrier to internationalism.

International collaboration of the workers and oppressed, working towards a world revolution, is our goal. But revolutions are made at the level of the state, against the national capitalist class organised on a national level. So the central task is building real parties, to make revolutions against your own bourgeoisie.

We need international collaboration, but those giving international orders will not know the right orders to give; and those blindly accepting orders will not have learned the confidence and developed the team to lead a revolution; they won't have learned to stand on their own feet against their own ruling class.

So in general it's not the way, and specifically in the present political situation it's wrong. Following the many working-class defeats, the collapse of the Soviet Union, privatisation in China and the splits and dead end roads taken by many sectarian groups, building revolutionary parties in most countries is still at an early stage. In many countries we've been rebuilding from scratch -- like Indonesia, after the massacre of 1965. In some countries, we've come through splits and regroupments to get out of a dead end.

In this situation, we need to gather together the healthy currents, from different traditions. We need to learn, to develop our Marxist perspectives, to test them in practice. We can't afford to get caught in ruts, trapped in organisational sectarianism. That leads to smaller and smaller splits, with each group, internationally multiplied, narrowing its ideological platform.

It doesn't mean we're opposed to all or any forms of international organisation. There can be intermediate forms, other structures for specific purposes.

So what should be the next steps in developing international collaboration?

An appeal for international collaboration

At our party congress a year ago, we adopted a proposal to draft a statement on what might be the key political questions around which revolutionary Marxists should come together, and what should be the principles of international collaboration, and begin a discussion among parties we've had regular collaboration with.

That statement, ``An Appeal for International Socialist Collaboration in the 21st Century'', was drafted during the year, and sent to three other parties, in Pakistan, the Philippines and Indonesia, for initial consideration. It's now published for discussion. We hope it promotes thinking, discussion, suggestions and constructive amendments.

With the present development of left forces around the world, we asked, what should be the political basis and organisational form of socialist renewal during the next stages? We offer as our suggestions four points as a guide to the next stage of international realignment.

1. Revolutionary Marxism

Firstly, we argue for a Marxist socialist renewal. We should be going back to Marx, studying, learning, developing the method, analysis and revolutionary spirit of Marxism, reaffirming the essence of the Communist Manifesto. We have to reaffirm the basics.

Marx's materialist conception of history is fully valid. Capitalism is a system of recurring crises; the polarisation of capitalist society between bourgeoisie and proletariat is a fact. We reaffirm the revolutionary potential of the working class. We understand the nature of the state under capitalism, as ``but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie''. We take up new issues, all struggles of the oppressed, but they don't replace the fundamental issues of class, class struggle and socialism.

We stand for a reaffirmation of Marx and Marxism, but not merely a return to Marx. We also have to base ourselves on the experiences and lessons of the last 150 years.

2. A Leninist party

Secondly, It's a revolutionary socialist renewal that's needed. The touchstone is still going to be a positive assessment of the October Revolution and Leninism.

We stress the need to build strong, democratically centralised, politically homogeneous Marxist parties. Certainly we have to adapt to specific conditions. Where there are real possibilities of regroupments, alliances and recomposition at a national level, or the possibility of winning mass forces through temporarily working in broader formations, such tactics should be flexibly pursued. But in general, we recognise the need for disciplined, activist parties, organised democratically, and able to act decisively in a united way.

3. Socialism that's democratic

Thirdly, we're for a socialism that's democratic, for a healthy, creative, non-dogmatic application of Marxism.

Our method should be to examine reality, work out our program, strategy and tactics on the basis of applying Marxist theory and the experience of the revolutionary movement to that reality, to test our perspectives in practice and learn and modify our perspectives where necessary. We're against a dogmatic approach that regards tactics as a recipe to be applied regardless of concrete circumstances.

In this framework, we raise questions of democracy, now, in the movement, and in the future, under socialism. Our socialism has to be an active involvement and participation of workers in the running of society.

4. Internationalism

Fourthly, we have a clear position on what the international relations between revolutionary Marxist parties should be, both in general, and in the present period.

Today, while not retreating from the recognition of the eventual need for a more structured international organisation of Marxist parties, we're at the stage of rebuilding, winning mass support for, and political hegemony for, those parties in each country. The task is building and training leadership teams in each country and then collaborating with parties and teams in other countries.

The last 80 years have also provided some general lessons about internationalism and relations between parties. The centralisation that was necessary at one particular emergency for the Communist International doesn't assist the building of strong parties, able to think for themselves. This centralisation, ``Cominternism'', even with Lenin and the Bolsheviks, was a hindrance.

We don't need new Moscows, Beijings, or Paris, New York or London centres, narrow ``internationals'' based on one-party hegemony. We don't need clones and commissars. The socialist movement is cursed with a multiplicity of false internationals that automatically contribute to factionalism. That was the terrible experience of Cominternism under Stalin; it's also been the Trotskyist experience and the experience of Maoist ``internationals''.

This method leads to unthinking acceptance of directives. It prevents the development of real teams able to collaborate in the building of parties. It leads to narrowness, when independent, creative thinking is needed. It leads to a sect outlook, to toy internationals, with the view that those in your narrowly defined sect are the only revolutionaries.

For our times and circumstances, when reach-out and rethinking are needed, we need relations between parties that are multilateral, relations based on mutual respect and non-interference, with no factional meddling. We need a framework where we can have comradely and useful debates, a real international discussion. We need to emphasise solidarity, comradely collaboration, and non-selfish help where it's possible. We need a network.

What sort of international network?

International relations between parties today are and will be diverse. There are many rivers in which we swim.

Parties will have relations with a spectrum of other parties and international currents, some very close politically, others with big political differences. We'll have diverse contact with other groups, magazines, currents and individuals, some in parties and some not.

In all our relations we should be careful not to factionalise, or appear to factionalise, with individuals or groups in other parties. We value the political discussion and collaboration with those on similar political wavelengths, but we're not in the game of setting up our own mini-international.

There will be a natural desire to firm up the links, to move towards a new international, but we can achieve the contact, collaboration, assistance and discussion without a formal body. That would be premature, create unnecessary pressures, encourage factionalism and go beyond a network.

These four points could be our guideline for the next stage of international regroupment and left renewal. But they are just that, guidelines for a stage, not a final program or platform for anything.

Our party and other parties are organised on a much more extensive range of political issues, much more detailed programs. We don't insist on full agreement with each other's program in order to have collaborative relations. And although we would want to prioritise relations with parties around the four points listed above, we also want broader relations, links with others on the left who might not agree with those points.

The broadest network of course is that of all those parties against capitalist austerity, against the worst social-democratic betrayals, all those saying ``enough'' and fighting back in some way. We want united fronts and cooperation around other political issues too.

So identifying these four key points shouldn't be seen in any way as a limitation on who we relate to, what networks we're part of. We still want to have collaborative relations with parties from the many traditions, with many political positions we'd differ with.

But these four points can help us conceptualise the direction the international socialist movement needs to go. They're our suggestions for a realistic next stage in renewal, the issues that are the most important to take international regroupment and renewal the next stage forward, allowing both reach-out and political clarification.

Such a document, which is starting to outline the basis for agreement and collaboration and renewal, shouldn't dream of setting global tactics. Diverse situations require a whole variety of party-building tactics in different countries. The universalisation of tactics was and is a frequent mistake of international sects. We also shouldn't attempt to spell out all aspects of revolutionary strategy. Agreement can be reached on the broad strategic perspectives, while other questions will continue to be debated and tested.

Of course, there are many other issues, documents and articles that will contribute to this clarification and regroupment further down the track.

Some comrades might observe: this is a fairly limited program, just four points! Surely we can and should add this or that. But we want to limit the number of points of demarcation we have to make with other revolutionaries.

Some have the view that they have to maximise their points of demarcation from others on the left. They act as if they're back in 1919-20, when Lenin had to demarcate the revolutionaries from the reformists, to urgently carve out new Communist parties from the social democratic parties, to insist on those 21 points for affiliation to the Communist International. They act as though they've just made a revolution, with a Red Army of millions at their back.

In this period of demoralisation and retreats by some parties and individuals, some reject sectarianism and bureaucratic practices, but draw the wrong conclusions, rejecting a revolutionary perspective and a revolutionary organisation altogether.

We have seen unfortunate trends in these difficult times for socialists, where parties or individuals rectify some mistakes, take some steps away from sectarianism, but reject Leninism and give up on building a party.

All too frequently currents that have rejected or been tossed out by sectarian Trotskyist currents have become totally demoralised with revolutionary politics, or tried to put on a pedestal, as something new or original, long-discarded and disproved anarchist or liberal or utopian theories.

All too frequently currents that have rejected or been tossed out by sectarian Trotskyist currents have become totally demoralised with revolutionary politics, or tried to put on a pedestal, as something new or original, long-discarded and disproved anarchist or liberal or utopian theories.

The dissolution of the Communist Party of Australia followed that path, rejecting Stalinism, but then rejecting Marxism, Leninism and finally the very idea of a party. Parties in the USA that have broken with the CPUSA, or with a Maoist tradition, have too often taken this course also.

Some parties, in reaction, make the opposite error. They reaffirm all the old mistakes and sectarian methods, under the banner of defending Marxism. The ``new'' CPA here, the old Socialist Party of Australia, does this, thinking it's holding the line in difficult times, but actually deepening the dogmatism, repeating the errors that contributed to the defeats.

Parties with our view on internationalism would probably be a small minority among revolutionary Marxist parties around the world. Firstly, not too many would give it the serious attention we do. Secondly, those that do often think the matter resolved by attaching themselves to an ``international'' and letting that body handle their international obligations.

But things have been changing over the last few years. A small part of it is due to our own efforts to broaden out and open discussions with parties from different traditions. Sometimes you get pleasant surprises, for example with the Mauritian party Lalit, whose views on international collaboration seem very similar to our own, and which we've learned about only in recent months.

They're also for a loose, non-exclusive network, with varied international contacts. They want to ``counter the bicycle spokes form of Euro-centred or US-centred internationalism''. They see more hope in ``regional internationalism''.

Our ``Appeal'' is a way of gathering potential participants in a collaborative network. It's not to be misinterpreted as yet another comprehensive platform for multiplication of yet another narrow ``international''. It recognises that each party will have varied collaborators and be involved in different networks.

There's a natural impulse to establish an international organisation, or join one; we know that from our early years. And we don't want to give the idea we're providing a blueprint for the international movement (no centre in Sydney, heaven help us!). It's designed to present some ideas, open a discussion, develop further collaboration.

What we can do today

What concretely can we do today? As the network of parties able to collaborate in a non-sectarian way grows, and we find ways to promote more intensive and productive political discussions, more of this real international work will be able to be carried out.

Firstly, we need genuine international solidarity with the important struggles taking place.

In the Asian region at the moment, unstinting solidarity with the peoples' struggle in Indonesia and East Timor needs to continue.

We've organised very successfully through Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) in recent years, and many of the ongoing and projected activities will be discussed in coming days at this conference: people's inquiries into war crimes in East Timor; exposure tours for students and trade unionists; a work brigade to Timor, to help the Socialist Party of Timor (PST) rebuild; campaigns to ensure that the peoples' struggles are supported, and that our own imperialist government doesn't have its own way.

Especially in the 1980s, solidarity with Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador was urgent, and we took it seriously here, organising through the Committee in Solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean (CISLAC). Are we facing the need to step up our solidarity with Colombia, with the FARC? Certainly it has to be ongoing with Cuba, and we all have to keep up the pressure on us imperialism until it returns Elián to Cuba.

We have to keep up solidarity and international campaigns for prisoners, such as Mumia Abu-Jamal; against repressive legislation in Mauritius; in support of trade union struggles in South Korea.

And flowing from the Australian government's racist denial of visas to delegates who were planning to participate in this conference from the Philippines, Bangladesh and Turkey, we need an international campaign to expose this, to force it to back down and apologise.

Secondly, we need to develop an international information exchange. This can be done through news magazines, exchanging each other's publications, but also through news services and web sites that help and promote all parties in the network.

Our main contribution would be Green Left Weekly. GLW is primarily our tool for agitation and propaganda and building the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance. But it's increasingly useful internationally, especially via email and the web.

The FI's Intercontinental Press, produced by the US SWP in the healthy years, was an extremely useful service. As the SWP degenerated, IP became unreliable and irrelevant, and then folded. The FI's International Viewpoint is a monthly carrying a range of useful material; but if it's going to concentrate on FI statements and articles by FI sections, it will be much less interesting.

Thirdly, we need forums for international discussions and theoretical debates.

Links magazine has been an important step forward in that direction. It will continue to provide a unique forum for discussion and exchange of information and views for parties around the world. It will be increasingly important in furthering the collaboration and common political thinking of this developing network, especially in our region.

But we don't want to restrict the breadth of the participation in Links. All those currently involved should be encouraged to continue and new forces need to be welcomed into the project, whatever their background and traditions and political perspectives, as long as they're anti-capitalist. It needs the breadth. It needs the debates. We must have that lively, open discussion.

Fourthly, we can assist each other where possible with common educational and propaganda needs.

The DSP has had an expanded publishing program in 1999, and will continue in 2000, reprinting more of the classics and more of our own books.

We recognise a certain responsibility to make the results of our publications program available to some of the other parties in the region that have fewer resources. That should be a responsibility of parties in imperialist countries. We can look to joint publishing ventures with other parties.

We should also be planning participation in each other's schools and educational projects.

The FI's Amsterdam school has played a very positive role when it's been able to provide Marxist education for comrades from parties around the world. It's a very comfortable building and a valuable library.

Our own school has also made some modest contribution, with several dozen comrades from Asian parties having attended, when we had the building, from 1980 to 1992 with three-to-four-month schools, and since then with shorter schools.

Fifthly, email and the World Wide Web have opened up new possibilities for developing and speeding communications between socialists.

The internet is a genie let out of the bottle. The capitalists are looking for ways to put a door on it, to charge, to monopolise it, to make money. But it can't be stuffed back in the bottle. Email makes communication instant and cheap, and has led to an explosion in our international correspondence in the last few years.

There is an information expansion that can assist our political work. There are enormous quantities of educational resources on the web now. We shouldn't lag in getting access to information.

We can also reach increasingly larger audiences with our ideas through our own web pages, promoting our parties, our newspapers, and making our own publications and Marxist classics available.

We need to devote more of our resources to it, and other parties do also, to reflect the real forces. There's a danger of facades by fakers, e.g. the ``World Socialism Web Site'' run by one of the fragments of the Healyite sect.

There's also tremendous potential for using the internet for debates. Last year debate raged on the internet on Kosova, on East Timor, on events in Seattle and many other important issues. Perhaps we need to intervene more consciously.

A contradiction is posed for us. The potential exists for immediate, almost instantaneous international discussion. But computers aren't yet universal tools, even in the USA. Many comrades would be denied access to the discussion if that was the only method. We'll still rely on paper for our documents and discussion bulletins. Computers are even more an elitist tool in the Third World.

But what information technology can already facilitate is easy, cheap, almost immediate international discussion and exchanges between parties. It's had a big impact on our international work. It's an essential tool.

Sixthly, we also need more conferences and opportunities for contact and exchange of views.

We need more broad international gatherings and discussions such as the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference held in Sydney in April 1998. This provided a unique opportunity for many parties from the region to meet for the first time.

We need more exposure tours, varied party to party collaboration, attending each other's conferences, international exchanges, in a spirit of parties helping each other.

Finally, we need to do all we can to assist new, weaker parties.

We feel the terrible pressure to grow, to recruit, to build a stronger party. With the default of other parties, the dissolution of the CPA, the total betrayal of the ALP, the continuing neo-liberal attacks, we see the need to act on so many fronts, on so many issues. Every now and then we can make ourselves felt in the larger political arena: the high school walkouts against Hanson; the September demonstrations demanding UN action in support of East Timor. But in the unions, in the working class, our weight is small, although in a few areas we can give the bureaucrats a decent fight. We have a committed, active membership that performs; we look many times bigger than we are, helped by our infrastructure, our apparatus, the propaganda weapons we have and the resources we've contributed and accumulated.

We will grow, but it is likely to be slow. It's much slower than we wish, much slower than circumstances cry out for. Although the gap between rich and poor is growing, although attacks escalate on our rights and services and gains of last century, Australia is still a wealthy imperialist country. The capitalists can buy off many workers, and have huge resources for purposes of mass mis-education and misinformation.

But in the region, there is potential for very quick growth of socialist forces. Often these comrades are in the early stages of building their parties; resources and propaganda materials are limited. In the case of East Timor, for example, small quantities of equipment and resources that we take for granted can make an enormous difference.

Real internationalism

The capitalist class is certainly getting more organised internationally -- admittedly with a lot of bullying from US imperialism, the IMF, World Bank, WTO.

The liberal NGOs have multiple opportunities for organising internationally. The Greens are taking some steps towards international organisation; they have a conference planned for Australia in 2001. Even the anarchists are getting more organised internationally.

Surely, revolutionary Marxists should be able to find a way towards closer international collaboration and less factionalism and division.

We're critical of existing ``internationals''. But we want to maintain collaboration and contact with parties in them, and the international organisation too. We're open about our views on what we think are the best forms for international collaboration, as we were open when we left the FI in 1985. Comrades in international organisations should take our criticism -- our sincerely held positions -- as constructive. We hope that more and more parties can relate and debate and discuss in a comradely way, implement a new practice, without the sectarianism and the excommunications of the past.

What would be the result of a newish party today joining one of the existing attempts at an international? Does its international practice increase? Do doors open, or doors shut? Generally it's the latter. Rather than heading in a direction that would increase their international experiences, increase their collaboration with other parties and solidarity with other struggles, they enter a more closed world. To one extent or another you're supposed to shun other parties, because they don't have 100% political agreement with the international centre.

What has been our experience in Australia? On leaving the FI, did our horizons narrow? Look at our international practice over the last 15 years. We've made extraordinary efforts to gather information, analyse it, make it available to others around the world. First with Direct Action, and then with Green Left Weekly, we established correspondents in Europe, Moscow and South Africa.

We've run our own party education schools, and made places available for comrades from a range of parties in the region. Our international solidarity work, with Central America, through CISLAC, in the 1980s, with Indonesia and East Timor, through ASIET in the 1990s, has been exemplary.

We've organised frequent impressive conferences with an international orientation -- the two Socialist Scholars Conferences, the International Green Left Conference, the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference. We've put considerable resources into international travel, attending other conferences, and meeting and working with other parties. We initiated Links magazine as a broad socialist international discussion journal, and have continued to subsidise it.

For a small party, with modest resources, that's more real international work, more internationalism, than most parties in ``internationals'', and most ``internationals''.

The point is, internationalism is an activity, not an organisational form.

Because we're internationalists, we're eager to help others to build revolutionary parties, to build better collaboration, to build a real network, to build parties that can make revolutions, in all the countries of the world.

As the ``Appeal'' we've circulated concludes:

Our long-term goal is to rebuild a revolutionary international. But for this to succeed will take big new working class victories to realign the political vanguard around the world. So in this period our international approach has to include both reaching out to all sorts of forces, as we've been doing, as well as the process of ideological clarification and political differentiation, without cutting ourselves off from any healthy processes through burying ourselves in or prematurely constructing artificial internationals. We need to assist, collaborate and discuss through an international network of socialist parties.

[At the time of writing, John Percy was the national secretary of the Australian Democratic Socialist Party. This article was a talk presented to the Marxism 2000 conference, held January 5-9, 2000, in Sydney.]


  1. In June 1998, the racist One Nation party led by Pauline Hanson won 25 per cent of the vote in the Queensland state election. In response, there were protests by young people in many parts of the country. These culminated in a walkout of more than 10,000 high school students organised by Resistance, the socialist youth organisation in political solidarity with the Democratic Socialist Party.
  2. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 23, pp. 371-2.
  3. Quoted in Leon Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1970, p. 36.
  4. Franz Mehring, Karl Marx, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1979, p. 329.
  5. ibid., pp. 483-4.
  6. See this issue, p. 54.
  7. Communist Party Peru, First Party Congress, (Fundamental Documents).
  8. Jim Percy, The Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International, New Course, Sydney, 1985, p. 29.