Our Next Steps


A Proposal for Building a New Revolutionary International


A contribution to a highly important debate among Marxists


By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 11 February 2019, www.thecommunists.net




All serious Marxists recognize that the crucial problem of our time is the profound crisis of leadership. Humanity experienced in the 20th Century (and continuing into the 21st) an unprecedented bourgeoisification of the workers movement and, equally, a degeneration of the official Marxist organizations. The working class and the oppressed fight and revolt again and again, but they are continuously misled by reformist and populist leaderships. The role of the centrists is opportunist adaptation. As a result, our class has suffered a succession of defeats and setbacks for an entire historical period.


Some of the worst enemies of the working class and the oppressed camouflage themselves today as “communists” (e.g. the Stalinist-capitalist dictatorship in China). Furthermore, it is an obscene, tragicomic contradiction that numerous so-called “Marxists” – e.g. Stalinist and former Stalinist, Bolivarian and various other “left-wing” forces – lend open or concealed support to Chinese, Russian, European or Japanese imperialism or reactionary capitalist regimes like Assad in Syria. [1]


At the same time, one has to recognize the bitter truth that authentic revolutionaries represent much smaller forces than these diluters and corrupters of “Marxism”.


However, this is only one part of the picture. At the same time, the decay of capitalism and the evident crisis of the bourgeois order, the acceleration of the rivalry between the Great Powers and the eruptions of class struggles and revolutionary upheavals in numerous countries around the world – all of this offers tremendous opportunities for authentic Marxists to overcome this crisis of leadership. Overcoming this crisis means building a new International or, to use the language of Leon Trotsky, a World Party of Socialist Revolution.


In order to exploit those opportunities for rebuilding a revolutionary International, Marxists must, following the advice of the Jewish-Dutch philosopher Benedictus de Spinoza, “neither laugh nor weep but understand.


In the following article we will focus on the ongoing discussion among Trotskyists on how to overcome this crisis of leadership. At this point we will not discuss our assessment of the world situation or the strategic and tactical conclusions following from it as the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) has elaborated on these in detail in numerous available documents. [2] We will rather limit ourselves to discussing some principles and lessons that, in our opinion, are crucial for the next steps towards building a revolutionary International.


The RCIT clearly understands that the historic task of building a new International will be neither easy nor achieved in a single day. However, we have to emphasize that this must not delay the energetic commencement of such an effort. We must start now and not wait for better times. Just the opposite. We are called upon to recognize the central role that our interventions must play in transforming the inevitable opportunities… into real advances!


We do not start from zero in such an endeavor. We can build upon a rich accumulation of experience in building a Revolutionary World Party – in particular the lessons of the work towards building the Communist International by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the Zimmerwald Movement and, later, the lessons from building the Fourth International by Trotsky and his comrades-in-arms. Furthermore, we can build upon our experiences of several decades of international party building without ignoring their limitations. [3]


While implementing these lessons does not guarantee automatic success in the building of a revolutionary world party (as this also depends on related objective circumstances), refusal to proceed based on these lessons and their derivative principles can only ensure failure.


What are the lessons and principles that the RCIT consider as essential for the next steps in building a Revolutionary World Party? We summarize them as follows:


1) We must begin on a clear programmatic basis.


2) Agreement in words is not enough – that agreement must be applied to the class struggle today.


3) Every single step towards building the Revolutionary World Party must begin on the basis of internationalism.


4) The process of building the World Party must be advanced with neither ultimatism nor delay.


5) Building the new International must not be limited to self-proclaimed Trotskyists.


Let us elaborate on these principles and lessons in more detail.




1) The process of building the Revolutionary World Party must start on a clear programmatic basis




The party – nationally as well as internationally, in its first pre-party stages as well as later as a fully developed party – is an organizational instrument to fight for a program. The US-American Trotskyist, John G. Wright, the chief translator of Trotsky’s writings in the 1930s and 1940s, reported: One of Trotsky's favorite sayings was: "It is not the party that makes the program; it is the program that makes the party."[4]


Such a program encompasses the historic lessons of the class struggle as well as the main strategies and tactics for the tasks of a given historic period. Without such a program, a party cannot fight for the historic interests of the working class.


Trotsky always emphasized the importance of such a program: Now, what is the party? In what does the cohesion consist? This cohesion is a common understanding of the events, of the tasks, and this common understanding - that is the program of the party. Just as modern workers more than the barbarian cannot work without tools so in the party the program is the instrument. Without the program every worker must improvise his tool, find improvised tools, and one contradicts another. Only when we have the vanguard organized upon the basis of common conceptions then we can act.[5]


Hence, the formation process of revolutionary organizations was always accompanied with programmatic clarifications. To name a few examples we refer to the elaboration and the struggle for the program by the Russian Marxists in the Iskra period 1901-03, the programmatic documents of the Zimmerwald Left in 1915-17, the elaboration of the platform of the Left Opposition in 1927, the 11 Points adopted by the International Left Opposition in 1933, the Platform of the Bloc of Four later in the same year, the Open Letter for the Fourth International in 1935 and, finally, the Transitional Program of 1938 – these documents all underline the crucial role of a clear programmatic basis in the process of building a party, nationally as well as internationally.


It is therefore absolutely wrong to start the process of unification on the basis of organizational maneuvers and superficial agreements about general principles. Such superficial agreements are dangerous because behind such “agreements” substantial differences can remain hidden. For example, one can agree “in principle“ on the necessity of anti-imperialism. However, such agreement is not worth anything if this principle is not translated in concrete tactics in the current world situation – i.e. advocating the defeat of an imperialist power which is occupying a semi-colonial country and the military victory of the resistance of the oppressed people (e.g. in Palestine, Afghanistan, etc.). Hence, any merging of forces must be based on a programmatic basis that applies the shared principles to the current world situation and to the main challenges of the international class struggle. Without such an agreement, any fusion must end in failure.


The RCIT has summarized in its 6 POINTS document those issues that it considers as the most important for such a joint programmatic basis today. [6] We propose these 6 POINTS as the basis for joining forces in the construction of the new International. However, as we have stated in the past, we are open to discussing alternate proposals.




2) Agreement on general principles is not enough – they must be applied to the class struggle today




There is a tendency among Trotskyists to focus on agreement on very general principles or on the assessment of the history of the Trotskyist movement. We do not deny the importance of such issues and we have published various works on them. [7]


However, we think that the focus of any discussion about joining forces in the struggle for a new International must be on the tasks of the international class struggle today and not exclusively on historical issues. This was also the method with which Trotsky operated. When he was building the International Left Opposition in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he focused on the most important class struggle events at that time. Trotsky wrote in 1929:


There are, in my opinion, three classic questions which provide a decisive criterion for appraising the tendencies of world communism. These questions are: (1) The policy of the Anglo-Russian Committee, (2) The course of the Chinese Revolution, (3) The economic policy of the USSR in connection with the theory of socialism in one country.[8]


Later in the 1930s, other issues came to the forefront (e.g. the dangers of fascism and the popular front exemplified by France and Spain, the looming imperialist war and the issues of defeatism and defencism, the national liberation struggles in Ethiopia and China). In all these situations, Trotsky was never content with “general agreements” but always related them to the concrete issues of the world situation of his time. Hence, all programmatic documents of this era (which we mentioned before) related the Marxist principles concretely to the major class struggles of the day.


The same method is valid today. Sometimes Trotskyists deny the necessity of elaborating a program for the current world situation and claim that it is sufficient to refer to Trotsky’s Transitional Program of 1938. They consider the changes of the past 80 years as irrelevant. For them the program is a set of abstract principles and not a guide to action for the current period. We judge such an approach as absolutely wrong.


The revolutionary program must apply the method of the Transitional Program to the major issues of the international class struggle today. We have elaborated in the RCIT’s program our approach. [9]


The discussion about a joint program should focus on those crucial questions that constitute axes around which the revolutionary line is defined. They relate, as we have pointed out in the 6 POINTS, to the analysis and the programmatic conclusions of the Great Power rivalry, the liberation struggles of the workers and oppressed against imperialist aggressors and their local proxies, the issue of the united front tactic to the non-revolutionary forces which currently dominate the vanguard in the mass struggles, etc.




3) Building the Revolutionary World Party must take place from the beginning on the basis of Internationalism




It is a widespread misconception among revolutionaries to prioritize building the national party over building the International. Usually, this is not openly expressed or these comrades are even not aware of this. But there are a number of unmistaken signs of such national-Trotskyism. If, for example, an organization exists purely on a national basis over a longer period or if its leadership (and publications) devotes 90% of its time and energy to national issues, than we can recognize unmistakable signs of such national-centeredness. There can also be the situation that organizations formally belong to some kind of international affiliate. But if such an international entity rarely issues statements as an international collective, if it does not have an international leadership which regularly meets and discusses about and decides on the joint work, if it does not have a leadership with an international composition, than such “internationalism” is only a cover for the national-centered nature of the organizations involved. At the times of Trotsky, the so-called “International Revolutionary Marxist Centre” (usually known as London Bureau) – a loose federation of national centrist parties – was a prime example for such pseudo-internationalism. Today, forces like the Cliffite IST or the PO/CRFI are similar examples.


However, without an international organization and an internationalist policy from the very beginning, any national organization is doomed to degenerate if it does not overcome such a situation soon. Trotsky once rightly remarked: “Marxist policies ’in one country’ are as impossible as the construction of a socialist society ’in one country’.” [10]


Such a conception is true for both a party and a pre-party organization, as Trotsky explained in numerous articles and letters:


From its very first steps the Opposition must therefore act as an international faction – as did the Communists in the days of the publication of the Communist Manifesto, or in the Zimmerwald Left at the beginning of the war. In all these cases the groups were for the most part small numerically or it was a matter of isolated individuals; but they nevertheless acted as an international organization. In the epoch of imperialism such a position is a hundred times more imperative than in the days of Marx.


Those who believe that the International Left will someday take shape as a simple sum of national groups, and that therefore the international unification can be postponed indefinitely until the national groups “grow strong,” attribute only a secondary importance to the international factor and by this very reason take the path of national opportunism.


It is undeniable that each country has greatest peculiarities of its own; but in our epoch these peculiarities can be assayed and exploited in a revolutionary way only from an internationalist point of view. On the other hand, only an international organization can be the bearer of an international ideology.


Can anyone seriously believe that isolated Oppositional national groups, divided among themselves and left to their own resources, are capable of finding the correct road by themselves? No, this is a certain path to national degeneration, sectarianism, and ruin. The tasks facing the International Opposition are enormously difficult. Only by being indissolubly tied together, only by working out answers jointly to all current problems, only by creating their international platform, only by mutually verifying each one of their steps, that is, only by uniting in a single international body, will the national groups of the Opposition be able to carry out their historic task.[11]


History has proven that international and internationalist unity is far superior than national-centeredness. As is well known, there existed a number of centrist organizations in the 1930s. While they were often formally part of the London Bureau, they were basically national parties. Several of them – like the German SAP, the Norwegian NAP, the Spanish POUM, the Swedish SKP led by Karl Kilbom, later the French PSOP led by Marceau Pivert – were all larger organizations than the whole international Trotskyist organization (in terms of membership numbers). However, they lacked a clear programmatic basis and a cadre united on this basis. As a result, their political positions zigzagged and they collapsed organizationally when faced with major political upheavals (like the approaching World War II). On the other hand, the Fourth International, as with its predecessor organizations, passed these difficult tests and survived organizationally (despite the murder of Trotsky in 1940).


Overcoming national-centeredness is particularly important for organizations located in the old imperialist countries in Western Europe, North America and Japan. The global capitalist production process has changed dramatically and today – in contrast to the times of Lenin and Trotsky – the huge majority of the world working class (about 85%) resides in the South. New imperialist powers, such as China, exemplify that fact. Any serious revolutionary organization must build an International which has a special focus on these emerged, emerging, and powerful sectors of the world proletariat. It is crucial that a revolutionary organization orientates towards the mass of the working class and not to its most privileged, aristocratic elements or to the middle class.


Finally, we want to emphasize that Democratic Centralism is a crucial organizational method and principle which is essential not only for national but equally for international parties, not only for fully developed parties but also for smaller pre-party organizations. We saw the application of such an organizational conception in the Third and the Fourth International. Likewise, Marxist pre-party organizations were also built on such a basis as the examples of the Trotskyist formations before the foundation of the Fourth International in 1938 (e.g. the ILO, the ICL, and the MFI) demonstrate. Such an application of democratic centralism is no less relevant today. We can state, from our own experience in the RCIT, that such international democratic centralism is both possible as well as essential for international and national work.




4) Building the World Party must advance with neither ultimatism nor delay




The building of the world party is determined by both objective and subjective circumstances. It would be ultimatistic to suppose that the alternative is all or nothing. This process has to be advanced as energetically as possible without hasty organizational maneuvers resulting in superficial agreement which will not stand the test of the class struggle.


We believe this can be done by opening a process of serious discussion and collaboration between revolutionary forces. Advancing such a process and testing possible areas of agreement could be done by working on joint statements on crucial issues of the international class struggle, by having regular meetings (physically or via internet communication), by issuing common journals for debate, and by undertaking joint interventions in international class struggle events.


It is likely that some forces will be prepared to move forward faster in such a unification process and others at a slower pace. This is no tragedy in itself. As long as the slower forces move forward in the right direction and are seriously willing to overcome the obstacles, it would be utter nonsense to erect arbitrary barriers. However, it would be equally wrong if those forces willing to move forward at a faster pace would delay such progress in order to wait for the slower ones.


If different forces are seriously willing to work together for the building of a new International but, at the same time, still need time to clarify various differences, it can be useful to begin with the creation of a bloc – like the Bloc of Four initiated by Trotsky in 1933. Such a project could be an instrument in advancing a process of discussion and collaboration.




5) Towards which forces should revolutionaries orient in the process of building a new International?




In our opinion it would be a serious mistake to limit such efforts exclusively towards the Trotskyist milieu. Why? As a matter of fact, the huge majority of the vanguard of the working class and the oppressed, not to speak about the proletarian masses themselves,  have nothing to do with Trotskyist organizations. In most cases they do not even know about their existence. Trotskyism – in the form of self-proclaimed Trotskyist organizations – does not even exist in most countries of Asia, the Middle East and Africa (or, at best, only as extremely miniscule groups like in India or Bangladesh). This is because of the state repression (e.g. in China and Vietnam ruled by Stalinist-capitalist dictatorships) and other, related, historical reasons. However, these are the regions that now contain the vast majority of the international working class. And even in countries where Trotskyist organizations have a certain tradition (Latin America and Western Europe), these forces usually represent only a small minority of the workers vanguard.


In most cases the vanguard of the working class and the oppressed is dominated either by Stalinist, Maoist or petty-bourgeois populist forces (Bolivarians, Pan-Africanists, nationalists – sometimes mixed with religion – of oppressed peoples, etc.) This is the reality revolutionaries have to face instead of dreaming about an important role for the various fragments of so-called Trotskyism.


In other words, limiting our efforts in building the new International to those Trotskyist organizations would be a serious mistake and cut revolutionaries off from the workers vanguard in most countries in the world.


It is worth pointing out that this has also never been the method of Lenin and Trotsky. As it is well-known, the Communist International not only tried to win the left opposition of the Second International after World War I, but also engaged leftward moving forces coming from the anarcho-syndicalist tradition (like the French syndicalists, the IWW or the Spanish CNT) as well as from petty-bourgeois nationalism (like the Indian nationalists around M.N. Roy or the African Blood Brotherhood in the U.S.). It should be noted that some of the later leaders of the Trotskyist movement like Alfred Rosmer or Andrés Nin came from such a background.


Likewise did the Trotskyist movement not limit itself to winning adherents from among the Stalinist Third International despite the fact that this organization encompassed the majority of the international workers vanguard and the fact that Trotskyists even worked as a faction inside the Comintern in the years 1923 till 1933. Nevertheless, the Trotskyists won important forces (or tried to win such) from organizations coming from a social democratic background (the whole Bloc of Four tactic and later the entryism tactic was based on this) or from leftward moving petty-bourgeois nationalists (e.g. Tạ Thu Thâu and the original core of the Vietnamese Trotskyists, CLR James).


Today, there are also numerous vanguard forces outside of the ranks of the established Trotskyist organizations. The RCIT has made the experience that it is possible and useful to work together and to draw closer revolutionary forces from non-Trotskyist backgrounds.


Let us conclude by restating that we are fully aware about the incomplete nature of the above list of principles and lessons. However, we are convinced that these lessons will be crucial in working towards the most important task of the current historic period – the construction of a new World Party of Socialist Revolution!




[1] Here is not the place to expand on the numerous strands of treacherous pseudo-Marxism. We refer readers for a detailed study of this problem to a number of documents of the RCIT which have been published on our website. In particular we refer to the following works:

Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors Behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019; this new book can be read online or downloaded as a pdf for free at https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/

Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2013: this book can also be read online or downloaded as a pdf for free at https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-of-the-south/

Michael Pröbsting: Syria and Great Power Rivalry: The Failure of the "Left". The bleeding Syrian Revolution and the recent Escalation of Inter-Imperialist Rivalry between the US and Russia – A Marxist Critique of Social Democracy, Stalinism and Centrism, 21 April 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/syria-great-power-rivalry-and-the-failure-of-the-left/

[2] See on this e.g., in addition to the above-mentioned book Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry, our work World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, RCIT Books, Vienna 2018; this book can also be read online or downloaded as a pdf for free at https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2018/

[3] [3] On the RCIT’s analysis of the revolutionary party see e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Building the Revolutionary Party in Theory and Practice. Looking Back and Ahead after 25 Years of Organized Struggle for Bolshevism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2014; this book can also be read online or downloaded as a pdf for free at https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/rcit-party-building/

[4] John G. Wright: Trotsky's Struggle for the Fourth International (1946), in: Towards a History of the Fourth International (Part II), Pathfinder Press, New York 1973, p. 6

[5] Leon Trotsky: Discussions with Trotsky On the Transitional Program (1938); Fourth International [New York], Vol.7 No.2 (Whole No.63), February 1946, pp.53-59, http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/tpdiscuss.htm

[6] RCIT: Open Letter: Great Tasks demand Great Initiative! A Call to All Revolutionary Organizations and Activists to Fulfill Our Responsibility in this Historic Time! 7 January 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/open-letter-great-tasks-demand-great-initiative/

[7] See e.g. Workers Power (the precursor of the RCIT): The Death Agony of the Fourth International and the Tasks of Trotskyists Today (1983); this book can also be read online or downloaded as a pdf for free at https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/death-agony-of-the-fourth-international-1983/; Michael Pröbsting: Healy’s Pupils Fail to Break with their Master. The revolutionary tradition of the Fourth International and the centrist tradition of its Epigones Gerry Healy and the ”International Committee”, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/healy-and-fourth-international/ There are also critical assessments of various so-called Trotskyist organizations in our above-mentioned books The Great Robbery of the South (Chapter 13) and Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry.

[8] Leon Trotsky: The Groupings in the Communist Opposition, 31 March 1929, in: Trotsky Writings 1929, pp. 80-85, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1929/03/commopp.htm

[9] See the RCIT’s central programmatic documents: “The Revolutionary Communist Manifesto” (2012) and the “Manifesto for Revolutionary Liberation” (2016). Both can be read online or downloaded at our website at https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit-manifesto/ and https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit-program-2016/.

[10] Leon Trotsky: Unifying the Left Opposition (1930); in: Writings 1930, p. 99

[11] Leon Trotsky: An Open Letter to All Members of the Leninbund (1930); in: Writings 1930, pp. 91-92