RSS 2.0

rss feed
printer friendly page email this article to a friend

a socialistworld is possible: the history of the cwi by peter taaffe
new introduction

An International or a 'post box'?

One vital issue for Marxists today is whether or not it is necessary to build revolutionary parties and the character of the parties which the working class will require in the struggle to overthrow capitalism and establish a socialist world.

The planet is controlled by a handful of ruthless capitalists. Their governments are led by a resurgent US imperialism, which threatens the very existence of humankind and even the planet. The British Sunday newspaper, ‘The Observer’, has revealed the contents of a secret Pentagon document, which warns of massive environmental damage. Climate change, it says, could even result in a “Siberian winter” in Britain within 20 years from 2004, if the damage to the environment goes unchecked.

The war in Iraq shows the lengths to which the ‘guiding’ sections of the bourgeois – in the US and Britain, in particular, but supported by others including Italy and Spain – were prepared to go in order to capture the resources, particularly the oil reserves, of the second largest oil producer in the Middle East. The fact that the ‘liberation’ of Iraq is in reality a brutal occupation and is recoiling on them does not undermine our analysis about the assertive, brutal, methods of imperialism, in particular US imperialism, in the modern era. The US will soon, at the rate of expenditure it is now undertaking, spend on arms for alleged ‘defence’ as much as the whole of the rest of the world put together. This is against the obscene background of mass poverty and a worsening of the conditions of life in significant parts of the world, with the prospects of this getting even worse as long as capitalism and imperialism is maintained.

The centralisation of capital, not just within nations but on an international scale, and the collaboration between bourgeois governments against the demands of the working class – particularly to enforce the policies of neo-liberalism – all compel the working class to organise counter-measures. However, if they are inchoate, merely restricted to a ‘movement’, they will ultimately be defeated. The massive anti-capitalist, anti-war movements have shaken the ruling bourgeois circles worldwide to their foundations. But even splendid movements like these, without organisation, are not capable of stopping the drive to war, never mind overthrowing centralised capital. This has been quite clearly grasped by the significant layer of young people and workers who have participated in these movements. The idea, therefore, of a party and of an International can grow rapidly in this period. The question is: What kind of party? Also, what role will Marxists and Trotskyists play within such a development?

The leaders of the Scottish Socialist Party clearly drew the conclusion of the need for a broad party, with which we concurred. But, they accompanied this with the idea that the maintenance of the revolutionary core, which they previously belonged to, was no longer necessary. Opportunism – an adaptation to reformist, non-revolutionary ideas, particularly in a non-revolutionary period – never openly proclaims its abandonment of Marxism or Trotskyism. Bernstein, who revised Marx’s ideas in a reformist direction, maintained he was defending Marx’s concepts. So, our former comrades in Scotland still claim to maintain their “revolutionary credentials”, while in practice they now pursue a reformist agenda.

We pointed out that, inevitably, they would opportunistically revise their programme, on the national question, in particular, and on the need for a revolutionary organisation. Unfortunately, our prognostications have been borne out and in a much shorter historical timescale than even we could have envisaged. From constituting themselves as the International Socialist Movement (ISM) within the SSP, the leaders of this trend, as we have seen, in effect proposed that it should be wound up. But this met resistance even from within their ranks, which has delayed the process. Nevertheless, the ISM is now a loose grouping of part of the leadership of the SSP.  It has done little to check the opportunist slide of the leadership towards a more nationalist position (support for capitalist independence of Scotland), or for a ‘Social Europe’. On the contrary, they have, if anything, reinforced this process.

A similar situation exists with the USFI – particularly with its largest section in France, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire (LCR). The LCR openly states that it is no longer a revolutionary organisation but is more akin to left social democracy, although containing within it “revolutionary wings”. All of this has been done in the cause of chasing after cheap popularity and electoral success. These opportunist policies are combined with a most peculiar internal organisation, which diverges considerably from the norms of a revolutionary organisation based on democratic centralism. An extremely loose form of internal organisation now prevails in the LCR.

On an international plane, the same loose organisational conceptions exist. The USFI’s World Congress document, ‘The Role and Tasks of the Fourth International, new statutes adopted in 2003’ states: “The IC [former International Executive Committee of the USFI] must continue to play its role at the centre of gravity in an ongoing debate with counterposed positions. The debate is all the freer, inasmuch as the statutes codify an autonomy of national sections which no longer imposes any obligation to carry out the positions carried out by the IC majority. This is even more open given the presence, at the IC, of outside organisations that take part in our discussions, without any organisational commitments towards us.” In other words, this International is merely a discussion club which imposes no organisational obligations to carry out policies arrived at through debate. How different is this from Lenin’s description of the degenerated Second International as merely a “post-box” and not a very effective one at that? The USFI now exists as an organisation for the exchange of international documents, rather than an international centre to mobilise the advanced layer of workers and youth and through them the working class.

A genuine democratic, revolutionary International does not ‘impose’ decisions arrived at on an international level in a top-down, bureaucratic fashion. Unfortunately, the USFI did this in the past, as did other international organisations which stood under the broad banner of ‘Trotskyism’. The methods of Gerry Healy and the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, in Britain come to mind, as do the methods of James Cannon and Joseph Hansen, former leaders of the American SWP. In these cases, when the leaders failed to convince different sections of their ‘International’, they usually took disciplinary measures or imposed a decision without proper discussion and debate. This is in contrast to the methods of the early days of the Third International (Communist International – CI), under Lenin and Trotsky. The Third International involved mass parties, in the case of France, for instance, but carried out a dialogue and discussion over a considerable period of time before a national section was obliged to carry out any decision. For example, Trotsky, on behalf of the Communist International, polemicised with the French Communist Party (PCF) over almost two years on the issue of the ‘United Front’, which the PCF initially refused to accept. Only after considerable debate, and with majority support within the Communist International, did the Executive Committee of the CI then compel the PCF to carry out its decision. Not to have done so would have reduced the Communist International from a combat international organisation of the working class into a discussion club.

There are obligations in any organisation or party and, of necessity, discipline in any revolutionary party worthy of the name. There are no rights without duties, and no duties without rights. Full discussion and debate, and the arrival at decisions by a majority, are necessary but then the decisions have to be carried out in a disciplined fashion. This should be axiomatic for a revolutionary party but it is not for the USFI today. In the case of a broader federal, transitional organisation, such strict discipline is inappropriate. But for an organisation claiming to stand under the banner of Marxism and Trotskyism, amorphous and woolly forms of organisation defeat the whole object of preparing a mass force that is capable, together with the working class, of overthrowing capitalism and establishing socialism. The fact is that the USFI, as with the SSP leadership, have abandoned, and in a light-minded fashion, at that, conquests of the past, which is what the real concept of democratic centralism is, and replaced it with non-revolutionary, quasi-social democratic forms of organisation. The USFI puts their case succinctly: “In a new International, the Fourth International will be one current amongst others. It will definitely involve a certain continuity. But the major feature is a refoundation on a new programme whose renewal, obviously, will be carried through on the basis of a new social and ideological constellation”.29

The reference to the “Fourth International” is to the USFI and not to other Trotskyist currents, like the CWI, which still subscribes to Trotsky’s concept of a new, mass revolutionary International. In all the writings of the USFI and its leaders, one searches for criticism of the political opportunism of trends that once were Trotskyist, like the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) in Australia, or others that claim to still stand under the banner of Trotskyism. But this, it seems, is just not a problem for the USFI. Historically, Marxism and Trotskyism has had to struggle not just against sectarianism and ultra-leftism, but also against opportunism, reformism, centrism and other ideological departures from the body of ideas handed down by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Yet today the USFI declares: “We have the conviction that it will be through a systematic collaboration with other radical, non-sectarian currents and, especially, with the new forces that the new parties and the new international will attract.” 30