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 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.