by Michael Pröbsting (Revolutionary Communist Organization for Liberation, RKOB) 20.1.2012
Chavez turns to Chinese Imperialism
Neo-LFI leadership drops Marxist methods
The struggle for the Fifths Workers International
What sort of Fifth International do we need?
The existing leaderships of the working class
What we shall adopt from the experiences of the past four Internationals
The Fifth International - fighting party for socialist revolution
Building mass organisations
We can only overthrow capitalism
Struggle for power
Socialism of the 21st century
Democratically planned economy
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Preface to “What sort of Fifth International do we need?”
The following essay was written in early 2010. It served as a background document for the program which I drafted for the League for the Fifth International (LFI) and which was discussed, amended and adopted at the LFI congress in June 2010. This background document was published in German language in the theoretical journal of the Austrian section in autumn 2010.
At that time I was a member of the International Secretariat which is the executive body of the International Executive Committee of the LFI (its broader leadership body). In April 2011 a group of comrades – the two IEC members Nina Gunić and myself and three leaders from the youth organisation REVOLUTION in Austria (Johannes Wiener, Marc Hangler and Lisa Pichler) – were bureaucratically expelled by the LFI leadership majority. Formally this expulsion was justified by claiming the comrades “violated the discipline” (in fact we just dared not to withdraw our sharp criticism of the majority). In reality this was only a pretext for their desire to silence our political opposition against the labour-aristocratic, opportunist policy of the leadership majority.
As readers of our publications know this group of comrades who were from the Austrian section went ahead to continue a policy based on the revolutionary program and founded the Revolutionary Communist Organisation for Liberation (RKOB). Other leading members from the Sri Lankan, Pakistani and US sections also left the LFI and founded – together with previously unorganised comrades or former members from other organisations – new revolutionary organisations. Together we have decided to build a new revolutionary communist international tendency.
There are several reasons why we publish this document now. First it explains the revolutionary approach to the question of the necessity for a new International. It shows how Bolshevik-Communists combine a principled approach fighting for a proletarian, revolutionary world party with a united front tactic on the question of a mass party in a period where the revolutionary forces are extremely weak.
Chavez turns to Chinese imperialism
As the document elaborates it was written shortly after the call of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez for a “new, socialist Fifth International” and before a planned meeting on this issue on this subject. As the subsequent development showed Chavez dropped this project. While revolutionaries would have been sectarian to stand aside from this potential development which could have drawn hundreds of thousands militant workers, peasants, poor and youth into a politicization process, it would have also been criminal if revolutionaries would not have warned of the potential betrayal by the Chavez leadership. While various centrist currents like the IMT of Alan Woods or the Fourth International opportunistically adapted to Chavezismo, we – as the document which we publish here shows – where not surprised by this since and we already alerted people to the non-revolutionary, reformist, bourgeois character of Chavez and the PSUV leadership.
What where the main reasons for Chavez dropping of the project of the Fifth International? We think that the main reason has to be sought in the development of the international class forces since 2009. In particular one has to emphasize the importance of the emerging imperialist power China. Today China is not only the home of 10% of the world’s industrial production but also a major capital exporter – it has become the fifth-largest foreign investor with important investments in all continents.
For bourgeois-populist forces like the Chavez leadership this created the basis for a “realistic” alternative to the anti-US/NATO-alliance. Much more “realistic” and in particular less dangerous than a mass Fifth International full of socialist rhetoric and militant politics! Such a Fifth International – even if it would have been lead by Bolivarian forces – would have had a potentially radical dynamic which could have created enormous pressure on the Chavez leadership itself. Therefore Chavez was quiet happy to drop the Fifth International project in change of a closer alliance with anti-US imperialist powers.
In other words what we have seen in the last 2 years is a process of bourgeoisification of the Bolivarian movement. Its leadership becomes more and more a pro-social-imperialist leadership of forces who lean towards Chinese imperialism as an alternative pole against US/Western imperialism.
This of course must lead neither to any sectarianism towards mass movements lead by Bolivarian forces nor a retreat of the defence of Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia etc. against any attacks by US imperialism. But at the same time we must warn of the reformist betrayal of these leaderships.
The Neo-LFI leadership drops the Marxist method
Finally the essay also shows the difference between the LFI two years ago, when at least in words such documents had to be approved, and their centrist degeneration since then. Today the Neo-LFI follows an opportunist policy of uncritically “uniting the left” and creating illusions into left-reformist top trade union bureaucrats.
In this document from early 2010 which expressed the position of the – at time still revolutionary – LFI we outlined our approach of intransigent opposition against reformist forces unambiguously: “We are fighting for a revolutionary working class Fifth International from the beginning. We therefore argue for a revolutionary programme from the outset. (…) At the same time, it is clear that the Chavista Fifth International will be dominated by left-populist and reformist forces. (…) Because of the contradictory class character of a Chávista Fifth International, we will act as a revolutionary opposition faction from the beginning. We must have no illusions and, equally importantly, must not create any illusions; this would be an International whose leaders would be on the other side of the barricades against the workers on various occasions (strikes in Venezuela and Bolivia, support for Ahmedinejad against the youth of Iran, for Mugabe and Zanu-PF against the workers of Zimbabwe, etc.). We have to wage a revolutionary class struggle inside the Fifth International against any Chavista/Castroite/ELP leadership.”
The Neo-LFI leadership today does the opposite. They claim the main problem of the centrist and left-reformist left is not their rotten program and politics but the fact that they are not united. For the LFI leadership the solution is “unity of the left”: “The left is too divided – now more than ever we need unity.” (WP November 2011, Editorial: Anticapitalism hits the streets, http://www.workerspower.co.uk/2011/11/editorial-anticapitalism-hits-the-streets)
“There are a growing number of us who think that we need a realignment on the left, we need a new perspective and a new organisation. We believe that an organisation like the NPA in France, the NAL in the Czech Republic or Antarsya in Greece is needed, one that unites people from different traditions and backgrounds in a common struggle against the government.” (WPB: Building a new Anticapitalist organisation, 23.11.2011, http://www.workerspower.co.uk/a-new-anticapitalist-organisation)
This liquidationist policy of the LFI is combined with an increasing self-criticism of their past Bolshevik tradition. The comrades believe that they followed until recently a too centralist, hard-core Bolshevik policy: “…we need to look to revive the democratic spirit of the Bolshevik tradition.” (WPB Anticapitalism 2011 discusses future of the left, 28.10.2011, http://www.workerspower.co.uk/2011/10/anticapitalism-discusses-future-of-the-left)
“Importantly, we need to have some humility about our own tradition, modest about the forces that we can bring and determined that a new political project is genuinely the property of a new generation of activists. It has to be thoroughly democratic and avoid the bureaucratism that has undermined previous left initiatives. (…) We are not therefore saying, like many on the left still are, simply ‘join us’. (…) We can learn lessons from the international left too. In recent years the foundation of organisations like P-Sol in Brazil, the NPA in France or Antarsya in Greece show that it can be done. But in this day and age, with everything that is at stake, we have to work towards unity that can deliver victory. That means left groups should put aside narrow, organisational interests and look to the growth of the wider movement.” (WPB: We need an anticapitalist alternative, 08.11.2011, http://www.workerspower.co.uk/2011/11/we-need-an-anticapitalist-alternative)
The complete failure of the NPA caused by the centrist character of its leading forces is totally ignored by the LFI leaders. Exactly because the centrist leaders from the Fourth International and their policy could not be removed from the NPA leadership the NPA could not realize their progressive potential which it initially had and consequently failed. To call now – after all this experiences! – for a repetition of a failure, to call for new political formations looking to the NPA as a model, without explaining that a political formation like the NAP must overcome its centrist character, must change its program, strategy and tactics to avoid bankruptcy – all this reflects that the LFI leaders are infected by the syndrome which was said about the French royal house of the Bourbons: they have nothing learned and nothing forgotten. In other words they have drawn the wrong conclusions from the experiences of the last years.
We Bolshevik-Communists say: While supporting and joining initiatives like the NAP is be absolutely justified if it corresponds to a real development in the class struggle amongst the working class vanguard, it has to be combined with a principled open stand for a revolutionary program and criticism of the centrist and reformist left. The LFI leaders today draw the opposite conclusion: Reduce the criticism, avoid class characterization of the political opponents and “unite the left”. This is called by us Marxists the program of opportunist centrism. Trotsky mocked about such centrists that they are „… creating the genial theory of unprincipled combinations and propaganda through silence.“ (Leon Trotsky: Tasks of the ICL (1934); in: Leon Trotsky, Writings Supplement 1934-40, p. 508)
This LFI’s opportunism towards centrism is related to their ignorance of the (petty-)bourgeois character of the established leadership of the labour movement. They ignore their class character and therefore believe that their wrong policy flows from the bureaucrats wrong political understanding. So when faced with the recent huge betrayal of the left trade union bureaucrats in Britain in the struggle against the pension reform the LFI leadership unbelievable explained this betrayal with their wrong policy and lack of activists support instead of pointing out the material interests as bureaucrats which hinder them to follow a consistent militant policy:
So the LFI says about the bureaucrats’ betrayal of the recent struggle against the pension reform in Britain: “This is hopelessly inadequate and flows from these left bureaucrats’ refusal to think outside the box: i.e. their refusal to break with their more conservative counterparts in Unison, the ATL, etc. Serwotka and Courtney are reformists; they argue that unity with the centre-right unions is necessary because they have no concept of mobilising the rank and file of these unions against their misleaders around a strategy that could win.” (WPB: What’s wrong with the union lefts today? http://www.workerspower.co.uk/2011/12/what%E2%80%99s-wrong-with-the-union-lefts-today)
“The problem is that these leaders do not have an active base of rank and file militants, who can educate, agitate and organise the members to up the ante and take the fight to the government. Therefore they are reliant on the centre-right not breaking ranks. So, despite the PCS and NUT executives both agreeing, apparently unanimously, for further strike action in January, now their leaders are talking of the same industrial strategy as Prentis and Cartmail. Both unions “have not ruled out” so-called “smart” strikes as a supplement to all-out national action, but they have not even named a date yet.” (WPB, Now we can stop the pensions robbery, http://www.workerspower.co.uk/2011/12/now-we-can-stop-the-pensions-robbery)
Hence the LFI leadership hopes with some propaganda and pressure from below – may be with a “united reformist, centrist, ‘revolutionary’ left” which creates an “active base of rank and file militants” for these leaders – they can be won to a consistent militant class policy. And indeed this is what the LFI leadership today is hoping and preparing for today. A sad, idealist, illusion which will soon cause them a lot of problems and can only confuse revolutionary militants.
The LFI leaders make the grave mistake that they wish to overcome the crisis of leadership by opportunistically adapting towards left-reformist union bureaucrats and striving for unprincipled unity with small centrist groups in the name of “unity of the left”. They don’t care if their chosen partners – like the Permanent Revolution (PR) group – supported the chauvinistic “'British jobs for British workers'” strike at Lindsey in 2009 or that half of it which recently renounced Bolshevism under Lenin and claims that the early Soviet Union became a bureaucratic workers state not only under Stalin but already under Lenin. (The PR group seem to be a model for the LFI/WPB leadership for a “humble” approach to the tradition of Bolshevism!) Or if another hopeful partner – like the “Committee for Marxist Revival” (CMR) – openly refuses to defend Iran against a threatening imperialist attack by US/UK/Israel. Opportunist “Unity of the Left” unfortunately stand higher for the LFI leaders than the fundamental principles of authentic Marxism!
Such a unity with small centrists groups will not be a step forward because if they face any serious challenge from the class struggle they must show their true colour. If British imperialism makes sanctions against Iran or even participate in a military attack, will the new “left unity” take the only principled Marxist position and stand for the military defeat of Britain respective the military victory of Iran or will it take an ambiguous, i.e. opportunist position? If there is another uprising of the black, migrants and poor will they collectively decide not to support and join the uprising as they did in August 2011?! We have reason to fear that it is not the PR or the CMR groups which are moving to the left but rather the WPB/LFI leadership which is moving to the right.
It is about such opportunist degeneration on which the comrades should be “humble”, not the revolutionary past of the LFI! In fact the recent collapse of the LFI into opportunism makes one remind to the characterisation which Leo Jogiches, the leader of the revolutionary Social Democracy before the WWI, said about the Mensheviks – that they don’t stand, but rather lie on the view point of Marxism.
For revolutionary policy – particularly in historic periods like the present one where all class contradictions sharpen enormously – the principle of Bolshevism „state what is“ is more important than ever. We call on all revolutionary comrades in the LFI to break with their organisations political degeneration and join us to build a new, authentic revolutionary international tendency!
The struggle for the Fifth Workers’ International
The fact that Chavez sabotaged the initiative for the formation of Fifth International could lead sceptics to the viewpoint that the whole perspective of the Fifth International might be wrong. Such a conclusion is absolutely baseless. The neoliberal or semi-neoliberal betrayal of the of the social democratic parties of the Second International, the bankruptcy of the Stalinist parties of the former Third International and the political death of the Fourth International already more than 60 years ago and the complete failure of its various centrist successors – all this demonstrates the need for a new, the next in the history of the working class movement, alias the Fifth International.
We cannot foresee how exactly the Fifth International will emerge. Naturally there is not only one road which leads to Rome. We Bolshevik-Communists will take the concrete conditions of the class struggle and the political formations process of the workers vanguard as they are. Any dogmatism would be nonsense. Inspired by his studies of materialist dialectic Lenin stressed the importance of Gibkost, what can be translated by words like elasticity, flexibility or manoeuvrability. And indeed such elasticity will be particularly necessary in the coming period for revolutionaries to intersect with authentic mass movements, to participate in the formation process of new vanguard layers.
Combined with this Gibkost another quality of the Bolsheviks will be equally important – their kamend-tverdost (intransigence, hardness, solid like a rock). Only with a full and open demarcation of the revolutionary line from the vacillating and deviating forces will it be possible for the militant workers and youth to discover the correct way forward in the liberation struggle. Nearly all centrists denounce this direct and clear approach as “sectarian”. But – as Trotsky pointed out – programmatic clarity is particularly important if the revolutionary forces are small:
„The philistines will sneer over the fact that we, a tiny minority, are constantly occupied with internal demarcations. But that will not disturb us. Precisely because we are a tiny minority whose entire strength lies in ideological clarity, we must be especially implacable towards dubious friends on the right and on the left.“ (Leon Trotsky: The Defense of the Soviet Union and the Opposition (1929); in: Writings 1929, p. 298)
We therefore continue the way outlined in the following essay: combination of active intervention and participation in the real political formations processes of the vanguard with political clarity and open propaganda and agitation for revolutionary Marxism. We don’t make agreement on our principles as a precondition for joining any real initiatives for a Fifth International but at the same time we constantly fight that it becomes a working class world party based on an authentic revolutionary program.
Our critics will remind us that our forces are very small. This is true and we are fully aware of it. But while demoralised elements of the left draw from this the conclusion that it is time to withdraw from the battle field of class struggle we draw the opposite conclusion: we must double our efforts, build roots amongst the working class and the oppressed, intervene in the struggle as it is, collaborate with all honest fighters of the class and look for unity with those who are seriously joining the camp of authentic Marxism.
So while it is true that the forces committed to build a new revolutionary International are very small it is equally true that such an International is desperately needed – particularly in a period like the present one.
Leon Trotsky, the leader of the October Revolution 1917 and founder of the III. and IV. International, answered similar centrist sceptics’ already long time ago:
„However, wherein does the “profound problem” involved in this question lie? Observe, objectively the new International is necessary, but subjectively it is impossible. In simpler terms, without the new International the proletariat will be crushed, but the masses do not understand this as yet. And what else is the task of the Marxists if not to raise the subjective factor to the level of the objective and to bring the consciousness of the masses closer to the understanding of the historical necessity – in simpler terms, to explain to the masses their own interests, which they do not yet understand? The “profound problem” of the centrists is profound cowardice in the face of a great and undeferrable task. The leaders of the SAP do not understand the importance of class-conscious revolutionary activity in history.“ (Leon Trotsky: Centrist Alchemy Or Marxism? (1935); in: Writings 1934/35, p. 262f.)
Similarly today “class-conscious revolutionary activity in history” is of central importance and this is and can only be the organised, collective activity in a Bolshevik international organisation. This is what our organisations are going to do. We call all revolutionary activists to read and study our positions, engage in discussion and practical collaboration with us and build with us together the revolutionary communist international tendency!
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What sort of Fifth International do we need?
When Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez called for the formation of the "Fifth Socialist International", the League for the Fifth International (LFI) immediately responded positively to this call. The LFI is an international organisation of revolutionary socialists - pledged from its foundation to the building of a new revolutionary International as a successor to the previous four Internationals.
From 1999 onwards, the LFI and the youth movement Revolution were active in the summit sieges, international days of actions and the world and continental social forums, what came to be known as the anticapitalist movement.
From the beginning we argued that the amorphous, mass “civil society” movement had to become, firstly, a movement with the working class as its leading force. Secondly, it had to become openly and unashamedly political. Thirdly, it had to give birth to a worldwide organisation of Parties, an International. Thus, as early as April 2003, we issued a call for the Fifth International.
We made this call to the hundreds of thousands who assembled in the European and World Social Forums (Paris 2003, Mumbai 2004, London 2004, Porto Alegre 2005, and Athens 2006. We issued this call to the trade unions and anti-capitalist initiatives, to the working class parties that actually took to the streets against neo-liberalism, capital and war. We argued for forming the new International not in some far distant future but in the months and years immediately ahead, when it was needed to coordinate the fightback against neoliberalism and imperialist war.
In Porto Alegre, in 2005, and in Caracas in 2007, Hugo Chávez correctly pointed out that the anticapitalist movement had to drop its opposition to politics and its naïve belief that it was possible to “change the world without taking power.” He called on the movement to transform itself into one actively striving to take power.
On this he was right, even if we disagree over what the power of the working masses is and how to achieve it.
Once again, Hugo Chávez is right; it is high time to found a Fifth International.
Humanity stands at a crossroads. Capitalism is a system in decline that offers no future to billions. Its blind drive for profit leads inevitably to deep recessions, spreading poverty, famine, increasing rivalry between Great Powers and wars. If it continues as the basis of production then catastrophic climate change will endanger the survival of a large part of humanity.
Thus Hugo Chávez's statement that we will either build socialism in the 21st century or there will be no 22nd century is the plain truth.
Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, have heard Chávez’ calls and we hope will send representatives to Caracas to discuss them and decide on a course of action and then take that action.
If socialism, anticapitalism and revolution are to be more than militant slogans they have to become objectives within an overall strategy. How will we achieve socialism? It will not drop from the skies. The capitalist ruling classes will not passively accept their loss of power because of defeat in an election. The great powers like the United States, the European Union, Japan, Russia or China, will resist this by all the means at their disposal. So too will the ruling classes in the so-called Third World
We can therefore only build a socialist world if we first destroy the state power of the capitalist class in every country by the workers and all the oppressed and exploited people taking this power into their own hands. This revolution is not simply the passing of state power, unchanged in its form, from one president or one party of professional politicians to another. Only if the workers and the poor govern themselves through a state of democratic workers’, peasants’ and popular councils, without bosses or bureaucrats, can we build socialism.
Overcoming capitalism and building socialism around the world is not something that will happen spontaneously without a plan. To achieve this historic transformation we need a programme, a strategy and a worldwide party to lead this struggle. All attempts over the past century and a half to take power and build a socialist society have failed or foundered because we did not have such a programme and world party. Twice in the nineteenth century, and twice again in the twentieth, such parties and programmes were founded; the four proletarian Internationals, and the programmes that were developed for them by Marx and Engels, by Lenin and Trotsky. But, for over half a century, there has been no effective revolutionary international party - no International worthy of the name.
This is why the League for the Fifth International, as our name suggests, has argued for seven years that the building of a Fifth International is a burning necessity. The time is ripe to lay the foundations of the Fifth International NOW!
The Existing Leaderships of the working class
The working class is the class of those who do not possess any of the means of production as their private property and consequently are forced to sell their labour power to earn their living. Thus, the working class consists not only of factory workers or miners but also those in the so-called service sector, office workers, shop workers, nurses, teachers, call centre workers, etc. With more than one billion members worldwide, the working class is, together with the small farm-owning or renting peasantry who earn their living by selling the produce of their land, by far the majority of the world’s population
In capitalist society, the bourgeoisie, the owners of the banks and enterprises, live from the profits based on the surplus they extract from the workers by not paying them the full equivalent of their labour. They also oppress and exploit other classes and layers like the urban poor, the peasants and sectors of the middle classes. This is why we can and we shall mobilise all those oppressed to fight together against the capitalist class and for a socialist revolution.
But socialism can only be achieved if the working class leads such an alliance. Only the working class has the power to halt the all the wheels of capitalist profit making. It is the class whose liberation from exploitation requires the abolition of capitalist private ownership. As a class it is engaged in the collective labour within the modern means of production, exchange, communication that is essential to create a world of abundance and equality. This is why socialists see the working class as the central, revolutionary class.
Of course, the working class can only win, and socialism can only be built, if the working class succeeds in building an alliance with the other oppressed popular classes and layers. That is why the Fifth International must fight for a mass popular movement for socialism under the leadership of the working class.
This leadership is necessary because, without it, a mass popular movement for socialism would fall, directly or indirectly, under the hegemony of sectors of the bourgeoisie. In capitalist society the only classes strong enough to direct society and determine its future are the proletariat or the capitalists. What we have seen in the past and present is that workers and popular movements which are not led by revolutionary socialist forces, and left-wing governments that do not base their rule on working class and popular councils and break with capitalism, will be forced in the end to surrender to the capitalists.
The most important reason for the failure of socialist revolutions since 1917 has been the terrible crisis of leadership amongst the workers and their allies. They have leaderships of their mass organisations that are incapable of advancing their class interests because they lack a revolutionary programme and strategy and in most cases are headed by a bureaucratic caste for whom the rank and file are mere cannon fodder for their manoeuvres within the capitalist power structures.
In the rich, imperialist countries, Social Democratic parties have served the capitalists, in or out of government, for nearly a century. They became what Lenin and Trotsky called bourgeois workers’ parties, that is, parties that have organised links with sectors of the working class as their main social base but are dominated by a bureaucratic caste that serves the bosses and is deeply embedded with the capitalist state via numerous material privileges. Added to this, in recent years, is the fact that they have adopted neo-liberal policies and, as a result, their working class links and support have been substantially weakened and they have become increasingly discredited amongst their previous supporters.
The European Left Party (which is the Linkspartei in Germany, the French Communist Party, Rifondazione Comunista, the Party of Fausto Bertinotti, in Italy etc.) and parties like the two Communist Parties of India are also reformist, bourgeois workers’ parties. They, too, have proven in practice that they are determined to act as parties of the bosses. In India, the CPI(M) has ruled West-Bengal for decades, it has dispossessed peasants to hand land over to multi-national corporations and unleashed the police force and its own party thugs against those who fight for their land.
In France, the PCF was part of the imperialist government of Lionel Jospin, 1997-2002, which privatised many enterprises and joined the NATO wars against Serbia in 1999 and against Afghanistan 2001. Similarly, Bertinotti’s party joined Romano Prodi’s neo-liberal government (2006-2008) and implemented pension reforms and other social cuts. In Germany, the Linkspartei is part of regional governments (Berlin, Brandenburg etc.) which oversee neo-liberal social cuts and privatisation plans.
Old-style Stalinist parties, like the Greek KKE, still try to cover their reformism by "Marxist-Leninist" rhetoric. But their true nature has been shown during the rebellion of the youth and poor in winter 2008/09 when they denounced the militant youth as "hooligans" and obstructed any move for an all-out general strike that could have transformed rebellion into a revolution.
Another example of a party that serves capitalism in the name of Communism is the Chinese Communist Party. Whilst still using the cover of the red flag and occasional Mao-quotes it has restored capitalism in China. These “communists” have overseen huge privatisation programmes, the return of the Chinese bourgeoisie and the opening of the economy to imperialist capital, social cuts and mass lay-offs in state-enterprises. In name alone is the CCP a party of the working class and peasantry: in its deeds it is a party serving the Chinese capitalists and state bureaucrats.
Finally, the policy of the bourgeois populist and left-bonapartist governments in Latin America (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua etc.) show the impossibility of a middle way between authentic socialism and capitalism. Hugo Chávez and his government have, on one hand, issued important social programmes for the poor and nationalised the oil industry and some other enterprises whilst, on the other, they have failed to expropriate the decisive sectors of the Venezuelan big bourgeoisie and foreign capital. They have, at best, given only half-hearted support to various workers’ strikes and occupations, despite being in power since 1998. What Chávez and the PSUV leadership have really built in Venezuela is a capitalist system with a strong state capitalist sector and important social programmes. As Chávez said himself in mid-2009 "we don't deny the market, but the free market." But a fusion between socialism and capitalism is not possible. They are irreconcilable opposites.
Similarly, in Venezuelan foreign policy we can see zigzags, not a consistent socialist policy. While Chávez correctly denounces sharply the state terrorist policy of US imperialism and opposed Israel's war against Lebanon and the Palestinians, at the same time he praises the reactionary Islamist regime in Iran. How can the proposed Fifth International really be a socialist International if it dares not denounce the dictatorship in Teheran and actively support the rights of workers there to form independent unions, support the democratic rights of women and the national minorities like the Kurds to self-determination including separation if they so wish it. Chávez invokes Lenin and Trotsky. Let him look at what their clear and unequivocal position was on such issues.
In some countries, political Islamist forces have a radical anti-imperialist rhetoric and indeed take a lead in national liberation struggles against occupations (like Hamas, Hezbollah or the Taliban). While socialists certainly support these struggles and defend the Islamists against imperialism they also point out the socially reactionary character of their policy. Hostility to women's rights and to all democratic and secular freedoms makes them an enemy of the liberation of the poor, the exploited and the oppressed. The Fifth International shall therefore fight for the political independence of the working class and popular masses from Islamism.
The Fifth International should reject all forms of reformism, Stalinism and populism. It must never participate in a capitalist government, that is, a government which is not based on working class and popular councils and which is not breaking with capitalism. The Fifth International shall demand from the leaders of reformist and populist parties, movements and governments that they break with capitalism, that is that they do not collaborate with sectors of the bourgeoisie and imperialism but expropriate the whole capitalist class, that they support the formation of workers’ and popular councils and militias and create workers’ and popular governments resting on such councils and militias. If Hugo Chávez has sincerely come to accept the views of Trotsky and Lenin, of Permanent Revolution and State and Revolution, if the PSUV too adopts such positions, then there is only one conclusion:
Break with the Venezuelan Bourgeoisie!
Give a lead to the masses to create a workers’ and peasants’ government!
Help arm the workers and win over the army to their side!
Transform the revolutionary situation into a victorious socialist revolution!
At the same time, we call on the rank and file supporters of those parties and the whole working class and popular masses and urge them not to wait for any leader's initiative. Under the impact of economic crisis, inflation and bourgeois sabotage, the situation can turn into a counterrevolutionary one. A coup or an assassination could put all the gains of the poor into jeopardy. If the leaders will not take the lead, and the whole experience of the past decade indicates that they are unwilling to break with capitalism, the workers, the peasants and the urban poor must fight for their demands, build their own organs of struggle that are completely independent of the “Bolivarian bourgeoisie”. For this they need their own parties and this is why we call on militant unions, social movements and all workers and oppressed looking for an alternative to reformism to build new workers’ parties. The Fifth International will be a vanguard force to help the masses in this process and to lead them forward to the socialist revolution.
What we shall adopt from the experience of the past four Internationals
The Fifth International must rest on the shoulders of the four working class Internationals our predecessors built. It must take the best elements of each of them, learning the lessons of their early achievements and ultimate failures, adapting them to the needs of fighting for the world revolution and socialism in the 21st century.
The First International
In 1864, English, French and Belgian workers’ representatives meeting in London formed the International Working Men’s Association. Also present were English followers of Robert Owen, former Chartists, Christian Socialists, Irish, Italian and Polish nationalists and a small group of German communists. The latter were refugees, resident in London, amongst them Karl Marx. Rapidly he became key figure in its coordinating body, the General Council.
The International, as it came to be known, consisted of workers organised in unions, co-operatives or in small socialist and anarchist circles. The French were largely followers of Pierre Joseph Proudhon, the founder of anarchism, and a few followers of Auguste Blanqui, a heroic figure who placed great emphasis on armed insurrection directed by secret societies. Later, the followers of the Russian Mikhail Bakunin, the second founder of anarchism, joined it.
Marx set out to win them to understanding the need for an international political organisation. He explained to the English trade unionists that it is not sufficient to fight only for economic gains against their own particular bosses but to fight the whole capitalist system of wage slavery. To guide the work of the International, he drafted The Inaugural Address, and the Provisional Rules
This short and concise political manifesto already stated the basic principle of working class political independence, and the need to take state power in order to abolish all class rules and, indeed, all classes: "To conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working classes." It further stated:
"That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves, that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule."
The Inaugural Address, and the Provisional Rules were to form the basis of the first programmes of the new workers’ parties that were founded right around the world over the next three decades.
From Marx's intervention we must learn that circumstances may oblige revolutionaries to initiate the founding of an International with leaders who are not in their judgement revolutionary communists, if they stand at the head of mass militant working class forces.
However, creating a non-revolutionary International was not Marx’s aim, as some people claim today, and it cannot be ours. Nevertheless, Marx did realise that the fully developed expression of revolutionary communism, which he and Engels had embodied in the Communist Manifesto sixteen years previously, could not simply be repeated when trying to draw together mass workers’ organisations. He commented in a letter to Engels: "It was very difficult to keep the thing (the Address and the Rules) in a form which made our views acceptable at the present stage of the labour movement. Time is needed before the movement, now revived, will permit the old vigour of language."
Yet, even in the nineteenth century, during the growth of capitalism into a worldwide system, the decisive movements of the class struggle, 1848-49 and 1870-71, posed the seizure of power point blank. Indeed, the latter saw the first seizure of power by the working class, though in a single city; the Paris Commune of 1871. Under Marx’s leadership the General Council supported the Commune and drew the correct lessons from it; namely the need to smash the old capitalist state machinery and replace it with a council of recallable delegates and the universal arming of the people. However, the heterogeneous character of the International’s mass base made this a Pyrrhic victory for Marx. The British trade unionists withdrew their support in horror at such revolutionary lessons, evolving into Liberals. The anarchists, too, though for the opposite reason, they rejected the dictatorship of the proletariat, split the International.
Thus the First International collapsed as a victim of English bourgeois reformist trade unionism and "European" petty bourgeois, decentralising anarchism. As a result of the historic regression caused by Stalinism and the collapse of the degenerated workers’ states, thanks to its betrayal, similar forces can be seen at work in the movement of today. They must be fought in the arenas where they influence the working masses not just by literary exposure alone, or in small discussion forums of self-selected "Trotskyists."
The Second International
The Second International focussed on the necessity of building well-organised political parties, of utilising elections and mass trade unionism to achieve working class identity. Under the leadership of German Social Democracy, it pledged itself to political independence from all other classes, refusal to share government with bourgeois parties, and saw this intransigence as a necessary preparation for the inevitable and approaching social revolution. The Second International also saw the triumph of Marxism over all the petit bourgeois "socialisms" of the nineteenth century. Through its left wing (Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Lenin and Trotsky) it also gave birth to its successor, an International tasked with actually leading the proletarian revolution. Learning from historic defects and the fate of the Second International (the betrayal of 1914) we must break from all those for whom elections and trade unionism become ends in themselves, those prepared to assume office within the straightjacket of the bourgeois state and to rule on behalf of the capitalist class, those who support the imperialist fatherland in time of war, those who reject the party as a combat organisation of the proletarian vanguard.
Within the Second International, from 1903-1912, Lenin actually created a different type of party from that of the SPD, Bolshevism, even though he was not, at first, clearly aware of its generalised applicability. After the great betrayal of 1914, through participation in the amorphous anti-war Zimmerwald - Kienthal movement as a communist left wing, but above all because of the victory of Bolshevism in 1917, this party proved able to create a Third International (1919-23), to spread the lessons of Bolshevism to the whole world. The Fifth International's parties, too, must be democratic centralist combat organisations, not election machines dominated by parliamentarians and municipal councillors and their allies in the trade union bureaucracy.
The Third International
The Communist International, founded by Lenin and Trotsky in 1919, drew the lessons of the failure of the Second International when it was faced with war and chauvinism at the beginning of the First World War in 1914. It insisted on building fighting parties that did not tolerate any gap between words and deeds. It generalised the experience of the class struggles where workers, peasants and soldiers organised themselves in workers’ councils (soviets) to debate and decide their demands and tactics to win their struggles and to elect and control their leaders.
The Third International, added to the lessons of the Paris Commune those of the October Revolution, that socialism can only be built if the working class, in alliance with all exploited and oppressed, smashes the old capitalist state, its bureaucracy and machinery of repression and creates its own new type of state, only a “semi-state” in Lenin’s words, because the masses will be armed and their network of councils will run society. Such a state will be the fullest kind of democracy for the working classes but will at the same time be a dictatorship for the exploiting minority since it will crush their revolts and take away their ownership of the factories, the banks and the land and turn them into social property. This is what the proletarian dictatorship means. On the basis of a democratically planned economy, inequality between developed and underdeveloped nations, between the rich and the poor, will all wither away. Eventually there will be a world and a society without states or classes.
The Third International also understood that capitalism had led to a world divided between a small number of dominating, imperialist states and the vast majority of people living in colonial or semi-colonial countries (that is, countries which whilst formally independent are economically and politically subjected to the imperialist ones). It concluded that revolutionary socialists must support the struggles of oppressed nations against imperialism. And it concluded that socialism could only be successfully built if, after each national revolution, a workers’ state is not left isolated in one country but spreads internationally. Finally, the Communist International of Lenin and Trotsky gave us the understanding that the working class must always support the struggles of the peasants against the big landowners, of indigenous peoples and of those resisting racism, of women, youth, lesbian and gays, fighting for their liberation. Only by this can a strong alliance of the working class and all oppressed be created.
The Third International saw itself not as a confederation of national parties, each pursuing its own strategy, but as single world party of social revolution. Whilst it proclaimed itself communist and proletarian, it also saw itself as the "tribune" of all the exploited and oppressed people of the world, drawing in the fighters against all oppressions, national, racial, gender etc. Thus, it was not a narrowly "workerist", that is, in the end, an economistic International. Hence its slogan: Workers of the World, and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!
But the fate of this International after Lenin's departure from its leadership and death, under first Zinoviev's leadership (1923-5) and then Bukharin’s (1925-28) and finally under Stalin's dictatorship over the Comintern (1928-1943) is also a warning to all of us, that bureaucratism and collaboration with supposed "anti-imperialist" or "antifascist" bourgeois regimes will weaken the independence of the workers and lead only to historic defeats, as it did in the 1920s and 30s.
The International must never be subordinated to the interest of any state, not even a healthy workers’ state. How much less can it agree to be the instrument of a bourgeois state and its foreign policy and alliances. Venezuela under Chávez, a bourgeois state preserving private ownership of the means of production, is allied to other such states and seeks as its allies any states with common antagonism to the USA. This has led Chávez to praise China, Iran, and Zimbabwe despite their repression of oppressed nationalities and workers and youth struggling for democratic rights. It has led to a block with Cuba, which does not allow free trade unions or alternative working class political parties. This lesson of the Third International, the need for class independence from any state, the right and duty to criticise the actions of any government, is essential to an International acting as the world leadership of a revolutionary class.
The Fourth International
The Fourth International was founded in 1938 after a 15-year long struggle by Leon Trotsky and his supporters against the degeneration of the USSR into a Stalinist dictatorship and against the mis-leadership of the workers’ movement by the social democratic, "Communist" and centrist parties. The Fourth International gave us the lessons that socialism not only cannot be built in one country but also that it must inevitably degenerate into a bureaucratic dictatorship if the revolution is not spread internationally, both to the industrially developed and to the semi-colonial countries.
It deepened the communist understanding of the united front tactic that criticism of the treacherous role played by the reformist and union leaders must be combined with a systematic campaign to organise the rank and file by calling their leaders to fight against the class enemies. It also learned from the experience in China and other countries in the 1920s and 1930s that, while it might be necessary to fight together with sectors of the national bourgeoisie against imperialism, it is equally important that the working class does not submit to other classes but takes a leading role in this struggle and hence turns against the national bourgeoisie once it betrays the struggle. Finally, it deepened the understanding of the revolutionary programme of the Communist International in relation to the day-to-day demands for higher wages, democratic reforms etc. by arguing for the mobilisation and organising of the working class and the oppressed for transitional demands. Such transitional demands, like workers’ control in enterprises or workers’ and popular militias, are characterised by their challenge to the economic, political and military power of the ruling class that opens the way to socialist revolution.
The Fourth International was built and founded in a period of deep political reaction and had to swim against the adverse tide of repression and defeats for the working class, in Germany (1933) in Austria (1934) in Spain (1939) and the Great Purges in the USSR (1936-38) which were aimed directly at wiping out the thousands of Left Oppositionists. Its historically specific task was to fight against the bureaucratic degeneration of the world's first workers’ state by means of political revolution, and the replacement of the Third Communist International as a worldwide revolutionary party.
The Fourth International's militants heroically participated in, and even led, mass movements and revolutionary struggles before, during and after the Second World War but the Fourth never became a mass International. It underwent centrist degeneration and collapse between 1948 and 1953 with its Third Congress (1951) embodying this new form of centrism. This degeneration/collapse was not because of any weakness inherent in its programme nor because its declaration had been "premature" or should have awaited a revolutionary upsurge. Before it could fuse its revolutionary cadres with the masses in new revolutionary parties, its leading cadres were disoriented by the survival and expansion of Social Democracy and Stalinism following the second imperialist War, an outcome not foreseen in Trotsky's pre-war perspectives.
After a short period of trying to justify pre-war prognoses and perspectives, the undeniable expansion of degenerate workers’ states to Eastern Europe and to China, Vietnam and Korea, fatally disoriented it. Unable to analyse the new situation on a revolutionary basis and to re-elaborate its programme to deal with the radically changed circumstances, it degenerated into centrism.
The reorientation, led by the post-war leaders, Michael Pablo, Joseph Hansen and Ernest Mandel was in fact a capitulation to Stalinism, Left Social Democracy and Third World nationalism. It took the form of a processist, objectivist acceptance of the leadership of these forces as necessary for a whole historic period. Without any operative reason to exist as the strategist of world revolution (including the anti-bureaucratic political revolution) the FI then collapsed into centrist fragments. The development of an extended period of economic expansion for capitalism in the period 1950-70, itself unprecedented in the imperialist epoch, and the explosion of revolutionary struggles in this period in the "Third World" (including the formation/expansion of new degenerate workers’ states in Cuba and Vietnam) gave further impetus to this degeneration.
However, despite falsifying or abandoning the revolutionary heritage of Trotskyism many of these fragments continued to preserve elements of its programme and lessons, to train cadres and to issue and translate the works of Trotsky and his co-thinkers. The main branch of the centrist Fourth International (the former United Secretariat) recognises the futility of its own existence and seeks to join a new International, should other forces establish one on a significant scale. Its main theoretician, François Sabado, has hailed, if cautiously, the call of Hugo Chávez.
Chávez himself has expressed a positive attitude to Trotsky and Trotskyism as he understands it. He explicitly recognised the Fourth International as part of the continuity of the Internationals by calling for a Fifth. This is certainly a unique position from a head of state, since it includes an expression of political sympathy, although in 1937 President Lazaro Cardenas gave Trotsky refuge in Mexico. It is of course no accident that Chávez, like Cardenas, is the head of a semi-colonial state which has asserted its independence of imperialism and supported the antiwar and anticapitalist movement. He has praised Trotsky's Permanent Revolution and Lenin's State and Revolution. But can he, as the president of a state machine that still defends capitalism, have understood it? The downfall of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism by the CCP also weakens the prestige of Stalinism as against this "Trotskyism." Whilst Chávez’ misuse of Trotskyism is something we have to fight, even the fact that these issues are open to public debate, on the agenda of mass organisations, is an enormous step forward from the situation between 1945 - 2000 and we have to take advantage of this skilfully and in a principled manner.
The Fifth International - the fighting party for socialist revolution
The Fifth International can and must liberate humanity from capitalism and all the horrors produced by it. It can and must be the solution for the terrible crisis of leadership by offering the working and popular masses a programme and an instrument for removing capitalism from history. For this, the Fifth International itself needs a programme of international socialist revolution. But a programme is not enough. The programme can only become reality if we build a world party that fights to put this programme into action. For this we need a party of action, a fighting party for socialist revolution.
The Fifth International must be the world party of all forms of working class organisation; parties, unions, cooperatives, women’s associations, youth clubs, for example, and of all those who support the struggle for socialism. We call on the rank and file, and their leaders, of all those organisations to join the Fifth International.
The Fifth International certainly can and must be "a space for socialist-oriented parties, movements and currents in which we can harmonise a common strategy for the struggle against imperialism, the overthrow of capitalism by socialism", as the Caracas Commitment from November 21, 2009 declared. It needs the broadest possible democracy to discuss freely and without bureaucratic restrictions. At the same time, it must be an international party with unity in action, that is, a world party which acts for commonly agreed goals. This naturally means that, as far as action is concerned, the parts are subordinate to the whole and national parties are subordinate to the International.
Building mass organisations fighting for our future
The struggle to overcome the crisis of leadership centres around building the Fifth International as the World Party of Socialist Revolution. But we need more than this. The Fifth International must commit itself to the building or renewing of the trades unions and mass organisations of the peasants, the poor, the youth and women.
We need unions and mass organisations which do not accommodate to the dictates of the bosses but which defend the interests of the working and popular classes with militant methods of struggle (like mass strikes, occupations, up to the general strike).
We need unions and mass organisations which are not bureaucratically controlled from top down but which are democratic, in which differences can freely be debated and leaders can be controlled and, if necessary, recalled.
We certainly must not passively wait and expect the unions and mass organisations to be transformed and taken out of the hands of their present leaders as if by some process of evolution. Quite the opposite! We must demand from today’s leaders that they fight for the urgent needs of the masses but, at the same time, we alert the rank and file not to trust them. We fight for the formation of rank and file movements in existing unions and mass organisations to fight against the control by the bureaucratic caste.
We need unions and mass organisations which are not dominated by white, male, and better-off layers but which can really unite the whole working class and the oppressed. We therefore need unions and mass organisations which give full rights and full representation in their leadership structures to the lower strata of the working class and the poor, to women, youth and migrants.
We can never achieve a society where all human beings are equal if we do not show our determination to overcome inequality in our own movements. Various means can help this process; the right to meet independently to discuss the specific problems of women, youth, migrants or lesbians and gays, the right of representation in leadership structures in proportion to their share amongst the rank and file and other measures.
In the end, this need for new (or renewed) mass organisations is related to the necessity of winning them to the programme of socialist revolution. The task of the Fifth International is therefore to win these mass organisations to its revolutionary programme.
We can only overthrow capitalism - not reform it!
The Fifth International that we need should have a programme based on the historic and recent lessons of the struggles against capitalism and imperialism. It should state clearly that we defend each and every achievement against the capitalist bosses; against lowering of wages, lengthening of working hours, attacks on democratic rights or infringement of national sovereignty by imperialists. Moreover, we support all struggles to improve our living standards by reforms.
But we are not utopians. In the end the struggle for reforms is a labour of Sisyphus. Every gain we can force capitalists and their state to deliver with their left hands they will try to take back with their right. Capitalism cannot be reformed. It must be destroyed.
The capitalists and the oligarchs will never give up power peacefully. Where they feel endangered by popular movements, they will try to mobilise their state apparatus and/or foreign imperialist troops, as they did with coups, or coup attempts, in Chile 1973, in Venezuela 2002 or in Nepal and Honduras 2009. This is why the working class and the popular masses must organise themselves in councils of action and arm themselves in their own militia. Their aim must not be to take over the old state apparatus but to destroy it and replace it with a completely new state apparatus build from below on the basis of such councils of action.
Even when political forces that claim their goal is socialism, like Chávez's PSUV in Venezuela, the MAS of Evo Morales in Bolivia or the UCPN (Maoists) in Nepal, take governmental power, decisive obstacles to socialist transformation remain. As long as the capitalist class is not expropriated, that is, it continues to own and control the heart of the economy, and as long as the old state, that is, the whole strata of military and police officers, the judges, the state and municipal bureaucracy, continue to exist, so long the real power is not in the hands of the people but in the hands of the bourgeoisie. President Chávez himself said, in November 2009, that even 11 years after his election both the state apparatus and the economy have remained capitalist. So even a socialist-minded government remains limited in its power to abolish capitalism. If the working class and the popular masses do not take power themselves, such a socialist-minded government will either appease the capitalists or it will be overthrown as in Chile 1973 or in Honduras in 2009.
We therefore criticise the political strategy of leaderships like the PSUV, the MAS in Bolivia or the Nepalese Maoists, as utopian reformists. They might have honest intentions to build a socialist society but they believe that this is possible via gradual reforms. This is wrong! There are no rigidly separate stages in the revolution, each of which has to be completed before the next can begin; the revolution must be permanently, uninterruptedly driven forward until the complete political and economic expropriation of the capitalist class has been achieved. As long as this enemy is not expropriated, it will mobilise its military, political and economic means to destroy the people's power. Them or us, there are no other options!
Of course, under certain circumstances it is not excluded that such a socialist-minded government might be pushed by events to go further than they initially intended. When the Castro-leadership took power in Cuba in 1959 they had no strategy to introduce nationalise the whole economy and a planned economy. However given the aggression of US imperialism and the joining of the camp of the Stalinist Soviet Union the Castro-leadership created a "socialism" like in Eastern Europe. While the Cuban revolution certainly brought enormous gains for the workers and peasants and delivered a heavy blow to imperialism we don't think that such a strategy is a model for today's revolutions. Why? Because it created not a socialist society but a bureaucratic, one-party regime where power does not rest on councils of the workers and peasants but rather in the hands of a small strata of bureaucrats. Similarly the first attempts to spread the Revolution to other countries (by militants like Che Guevara) were aborted and under the pressure of Moscow a policy of peaceful co-existence with the capitalist regimes in Latin America was implemented. While the Fifth International certainly will defend Cuba against any form of imperialist aggression and pressure it must also open the road to socialism via a political revolution against the Castroite bureaucratic regime.
The struggle for power - the strategy of permanent revolution
A socialist revolution is not "conquering" the state via elections and it is not building "free spaces", that is, "socialist" islands inside the capitalist societies. It begins by mobilising the working class and the oppressed for the permanent struggle against the bosses and imperialist rulers and organising them in independent organisations (militant unions, socialist women, youth etc. movements, revolutionary parties). To be strong enough to challenge the power of the ruling class the working class and the oppressed must create their own organs, councils of action, and arm themselves in popular militias. Based on such fighting organs the working class can take power via an armed insurrection against the capitalist state. Only such a socialist revolution, which destroys the state of the capitalists and abolishes their ownership in the economy, can open the road towards socialism.