Hugo Chávez's call for a Fifth International in November 2009 offers an excellent opportunity to popularise the idea of a new world party of the working class. As many socialists as possible should intervene into the debates around the issue, fighting for a clear revolutionary perspective. In contrast to Chávez's 21st century socialism in Venezuela, which is in reality still a mixed economy of welfare state and big corporations, with all the inequality and exploitation that is inseparable from the market, socialists call for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and its state, for workers’ control of industry and a planned economy. Chávez conceives of the Fifth International as a support mechanism for his regime and its policies. He will find that the revolutionary impulses of the masses will outstrip his limited notions of socialism.
The fight for a Trotskyist transitional programme and a Leninist democratic centralist form of party organisation must take place amongst all those who actively respond to the idea of a working class, anti-imperialist, anticapitalist and socialist International. Those who formally declare themselves Trotskyists or Leninists but who, at the same time, regard the question of the International as a distant and far off project, entirely a product for the objective process, or simply the result of the expansion of their own propaganda society to other countries, are hopelessly nationally limited, passive propagandists (sectarians in the real sense of the word). They are internationalists only in a platonic sense.
This fact remains as true today as ten years ago or as in 2003 when we issued the call for a Fifth International but clearly formulated it as a slogan to fight for in the mass movement of resistance to globalisation and imperialist war. Today, because of the change of period from one of capitalist stagnation to one of the convulsions of a historic period of decline, refusal to address the issue of the International on a mass scale is even more criminal.
The Chávez project may, of course, be aborted at an early stage as a result of opposition to it from most of the Stalinist parties, from the anti-political NGOs and libertarians, or from anticommunist bourgeois populist forces, even before the conference in Caracas. Even if it does take place, it may very well be no more than a Cuban Stalinist-Populist mass rally presided over by Chávez, Morales or even Castro. However, Chávez' call to gather in Caracas in April, if he goes ahead with it, would probably attract many of the most militant forces on a global scale. This is true whatever populist objectives it is based on and whatever undemocratic structures he may embody in it. In any case, the very naming of the Fifth International supports the validity of the historic call the League made in 2003 and must be responded to with positive proposals.
Whilst it is likely that, at first, the call to build the Fifth International may attract a heterogeneous crowd of activists from all sorts of radical political backgrounds, in order for it to succeed as a revolutionary international, it would have to develop a clear programme, build combat parties in every country and create an international leadership. This will certainly mean a hard fight between the different political tendencies. That Chávez has recognised the validity of all four historic workers’ Internationals is, in itself, a blow to Stalinism and opens up a debate on the lessons to be drawn from each of them.
We are fighting for a revolutionary working class Fifth International from the beginning. We therefore argue for a revolutionary programme from the outset. In contrast to the IMT, the CWI or the USFI, we reject the stageist model of a new International built first on a left-reformist, then centrist and sometime far away in the future revolutionary basis. At the same time, it is clear that the Chavista Fifth International will be dominated by left-populist and reformist forces. We therefore favour having an extended period, perhaps a year, of intensive programme discussion inside such an International. This would be justified by the fact that many more forces will probably join it after the Caracas conference and should have a chance to participate in the discussions.
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. Of course, this must be done in a pedagogic way which takes into account the illusions of many workers in order to avoid isolating ourselves unnecessarily from day one. Our goal must be to rally left-wing forces, newly radicalised workers and youth and lead them to the left and onto the revolutionary road. While keeping an independent profile as the League, with its full programme, we must attempt to draw wider forces into an opposition struggle against the Chavista.
The formation of a Fifth International, involving both revolutionaries and reformists and those who vacillate between these fundamental positions (centrists), could have tremendous progressive consequences:
• providing it was internally democratic and based on mass working class forces in struggle and political development, and
• providing revolutionaries openly and tenaciously fight for it to adopt a revolutionary programme and methods of party organisation.
Such a formation would enhance the possibility of the creation of new parties to the left of social democracy and Stalinism in which questions of strategy and tactics would not be already long settled questions but living issues of debate, intimately related to the demands of resistance to capitalist crisis and inter-imperialist rivalry and threatening war. While the question of new workers’ parties, new anticapitalist parties, is already on the agenda in many countries, this tendency would be strengthened if such a Fifth International came into being.
It is time to seize the opportunity to begin the creation of a Fifth, working class and revolutionary, International.