Building a mass socialist international
Added online, March 27th 2005: This article is a reply, by Peter Taaffe, from the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), to an article by John Percy, National Secretary of the Australian Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP - formerly the Democratic Socialist Party), carried in the DSP's journal, 'Links' (Links
no. 25, January to June, 2004).
In the article, 'The Ukraine scam, internationals and internationalism', John Percy attacks the ideas and practice of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) and, furthermore, the very idea of building a mass socialist international, which, in the CWI's view, would be a huge step forward in developing socialist forces needed to overthrow capitalism throughout the world.
During the coming Easter weekend, March 25-28, 2005, the DSP will host its 'Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference', in Sydney, Australia. Representatives of socialist and left parties from Asia, Latin America, and other parts of the world, will attend this event. The Socialist Party (CWI in Australia) will be present, putting forward its ideas and excellent campaigning record. This will include the following reply by Peter Taaffe to the Links article by John Percy, National Secretary of the DSP. Peter's reply explains the key political and organisational differences between the CWI and the ex-Trotskyist DSP. This includes examining the struggle to build mass workers' and socialist parties in the neo-colonial world, looking at important lessons from past workers' revolutions, learning from the failures of previous attempts to build international socialist organisations, like the 'United Secretariat of the Fourth International' (to which the DSP was previously aligned), and defending and developing the need for workers, radical youth and the poor to have their own mass, international organisations of solidarity and struggle.
Reply by Peter Taaffe (cwi) to 'The Ukraine scam, internationals and internationalism', by John Percy (DSP, Australia)
The following is a reply by the CWI to comments of the Democratic Socialist Party (now renamed DS 'Perspective') of Australia, on building an international, contained in an article by John Percy, National Secretary of the DSP, originally published in their journal Links
The Australian Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) is an ex-Trotskyist organisation, which now embraces ideas advanced by Stalinists in the neo-colonial world, such as the discredited "two stages" theory. Its general insignificance in the life of the Australian labour movement is in inverse proportion to the loudness of its voice, particularly in its vituperative attacks on other left organisations. It reserves special venom for those Trotskyist organisations which still adhere to Trotsky's method and approach, and refuse to follow the DSP along its path away from Trotskyism, both politically and organisationally.
The CWI excites particular animosity from this organisation. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, when appropriate, we have never hesitated to criticise their ideas, programme and methods, which we see as a barrier to workers and young people finding a road to genuine Marxism (see the reply to their ideas on Cuba [Cuba: Socialism and Democracy]. Secondly, the CWI, particularly its Australian section the Socialist Party, has been more successful in its 'practical' work than the DSP; in the recent council elections in Melbourne, Steve Jolly was elected on a Socialist Party platform as a councillor in Yarra, while the Socialist Alliance (of which the DSP is the largest part) received a small vote in the federal election and got no where near winning a seat in the council elections.
The success of the CWI, modest though it is at this stage when set against the task of building significant mass forces, is both a source of envy and fear for the leaders of the DSP. They have tried consistently in the past, by misinformation and outright lies, to attack and vilify the CWI, particularly in the DSP's own 'backyard' of Australia and what it considers is its 'sphere of influence', the Asia-Pacific region. In its journal 'Links' [Issue 25, January to June 2004], a scurrilous attack was launched against the CWI by a 'defector' from our ranks, Phil Hearse, who had previously defected from the DSP's ranks, as he had before from the Mandelites (USFI). When we demanded a right to reply to these, the DSP leadership refused, suggesting that any answer to Hearse would be delayed for six months! This so-called "non-sectarian" journal, allegedly open to all international trends, is devoted to "international clarification and discussion", but this does not extend to the CWI.
We cite this incident not to rake over the coals of past disputes between different left organisations but because the DSP masquerades as a non-sectarian, friendly, open and even 'inclusive' type of organisation. Yet, it particularly inveighs against any organisation such as the CWI which argues for the need to construct international organisations in order to begin to combat the centralisation of capitalism and imperialism through capitalist globalisation and neo-liberalism. All "internationals", particularly those arbitrarily designated by the DSP as "toy" internationals, are to be avoided at all cost. This is the kind of dismissive language used by the DSP towards other organisations on the left. It invariably results in those attacked replying in equally robust language.
The irony is that the DSP itself is an 'anti-international international'. In practice, it tries to organise an international force under its control and direction, particularly in Asia, in a 'non-sectarian fashion' of course - including the disbursement of funds to its co-thinkers - unlike those profane Trotskyists and Marxists. This, of course, is heavily disguised when they attack others who are attempting openly and honestly to lay the basis for a fighting, combative, revolutionary international, which can lead the worldwide struggle of the working class against the world system of capitalism.
This is illustrated by the main thrust of the above article. Outrageously, Percy refers to "CWI scammers". The hook on which Percy hangs his case is, ostensibly, the fraud perpetrated by ex-members of the CWI in the Ukraine, which is 'old news', as he suggests when he says that this first "surfaced in the Ukraine in mid-2003". Why wait until now to comment on these events, especially as the CWI had disciplined and expelled those who were responsible for what Percy calls a "scam", in reality a fraud against us, the CWI, and others on the left. In the best DSP 'holier than thou' tradition, Percy seeks to indict the CWI and, to some extent, the International Socialist Tendency (IST) too, because this incident allegedly reveals the sham of trying to create an international organisation per se.
It seems, according to him, that the CWI seeks to "export" its method and approach internationally, thereby creating "clones" of its international leadership and of the Socialist Party in England and Wales (which Percy wrongly calls the "Socialist Party of the UK"). To substantiate this point, he goes further into the past to invoke the example of Pakistan where, allegedly, "excuses" were manufactured for the expulsion of the Labour Party of Pakistan (LPP), led by Farooq Tariq, from the CWI in 1998. We have dealt with this extensively in publicly available written material in the past but, for the record, there were no "excuses", either manufactured or not. The LPP was expelled for very sound reasons, namely the corruption of the leadership of the LPP, which accepted funds from NGOs, and still does, from the pro-capitalist Swedish social democracy that used this to maintain control. The CWI could quite easily have ignored this fact but acted precisely because we are a principled organisation. We are not prepared to be involved with corrupt methods, which will repel all workers, especially in the neo-colonial world. The fact that we acted in a principled fashion in relation to the LPP and the DSP closed their eyes to the false methods of the LPP led by Farooq Tariq, speaks volumes about our principled approach and their shady methods. The successful launch of the Socialist Movement Pakistan at a congress of Lahore 19/20 March 2005, with a clear organisational and political banner shows the correctness of our decision to separate ourselves from the LPP.
The exploitation by the expelled group of CWI members in the Ukraine of the CWI and others who genuinely wished to see independent Marxist forces in the Ukraine is, in and of itself, a criticism of the CWI and other left organisations, says Percy. He jeeringly declaims: "How many laptops and free trips have they supplied?" We could ask the same question of the DSP. It is a fact, is it not, vindicated from a number of sources, that the DSP finances, for instance, full-time workers for the People's Democratic Party (PRD) in Indonesia? Is this because the PRD was united together with the DSP in a swamp of theoretical confusion at the time of the overthrow of Suharto in Indonesia? Fully backed by the DSP, the PRD leaders argued for support for Megawati. She subsequently came to power and revealed herself as a stout defender of rotten Indonesian landlordism and capitalism, and of a thinly veiled military regime which still predominates, as shown by the situation in Aceh. Even after the tsunami, the army has continued to attack the forces of GAM, the Aceh liberation army. Not a peep of criticism of the PRD leadership in this fatal policy has crossed the lips of the DSP. Moreover, the PRD is now divided into four factions, with some of them now proposing a boycott of elections in Indonesia. This is probably an ultra-left reaction to the PRD's previous opportunism, arising from the 'advice' given to them by the DSP that they should support Megawati.
Nor is the PRD's position of looking towards the "urban poor" ahead of the potentially powerful Indonesian working class a subject of criticism for the DSP. Without question the PRD has lost opportunities because of their wrong theoretical and political position, and one of the factors in this was the baleful role of the DSP. This 'sect', the DSP, has a position on the revolution in the neo-colonial world which is a historical regurgitation of the discredited Stalinist/Menshevik position of "stages" in the revolution in the "underdeveloped" world (see Clare Doyle's pamphlet on Indonesia).
However, these past theoretical conflicts featuring the CWI and the DSP are not the main concern of Percy. These are a hook, particularly the 'recent' Ukraine scandal on which he hangs his case against all attempts to create a "democratic centralist international", which he calls "Cominternism". The very use of this term in an indiscriminate fashion by alleged Marxists is itself shameful. There is a massive gulf, in fact a river of blood, between the genuine Comintern of Lenin and Trotsky as an instrument of socialist and democratic workers' world revolution, and the Stalinist caricature of this, which was a weapon against revolution, both on a national and international scale.
In order to justify this false theoretical premise, Percy is involved in a tortuous and fatuous exercise of verbal gymnastics in order to create as much confusion as possible. He is well aware that Marx and Engels proceeded, as did the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky, from a world point of view. As we have stated elsewhere (see 'A Socialist World is Possible'), the young Marx and Engels understood capitalism as a world system, which for the first time had made possible "world history" through the development of a world working class. A big part of Marx's efforts were devoted to creating the International Working Men's Association - the 'First International'. This actually got in the way of Marx completing the first volume of Capital. Without his work in the IWMA he would have probably completed it in a much shorter period of time. This is how much Marx considered the importance of the international organisation of the working class.
A "loose federation"?
Percy merely comments that this was just a "very loose federation", thereby hinting that this was the preferred type of organisation of Marx and Engels. The fact is that this was not the ultimate aim of Marx but it arose from the concrete circumstances facing the working class at that stage, with the diverse consciousness amongst different layers of the working class. It was a great achievement to unite in one organisation English trade unionists, French socialists, German scientific socialists as well as the anarchists, which conducted mass work; for instance, intervention in the immortal Paris Commune of 1871. But this was not the finished article in Marx's eyes but was a product of the concrete stage through which the working class was passing. But Percy, breezily, writes they "were quite happy to see it dissolved in the 1870s when its usefulness was finished". Neither Marx nor Engels were "happy" but recognised the specific circumstances of the time and never gave up the attempt to create a new international on more solid foundations (see the History of the CWI). Percy uses a quote of Engels, taken out of context, where he explains that the solidarity of the working class is "able to assert itself even without the bond of a formal international association, which for the moment [our emphasis] had become a fetter".
This temporary situation, "for the moment", is recognised by Engels who still strove to build a new international and participated in the organising efforts of the Second International. This has been transformed by Percy into an everlasting principle. Lenin in the hands of Percy also becomes an opponent of building an international. He admits that, "On arriving in Russia in April 1917 after the February revolution, Lenin repeated [the] call in his April Theses." Percy says "Lenin did call for a new international… But he counterposed 'internationalism in deed' to the 'internationalism in word' of the Second International." In other words, Lenin counterposed the fake, reformist, social-patriotic Second International, which he had declared was dead and set about to try and form the basis of a new international on the foundations of the Russian Revolution.
Before this, Lenin did not discount the Second International as Percy argues. He downgrades this by saying that it did not take off until after Engels's death. This can be compared to Lenin's view, on so many occasions. For example, in an article "Russian Workers and the International", (written as late as Dec 8, 1913), Lenin refers to a discussion in the International Socialist Bureau of the International. Lenin writes: "Russian Marxist workers will welcome the fact that the workers' international has shown a desire to make a serious study of the principled discussions which have such a prominent part in our Russian working-class movement".
Percy asks "Why is the 'international party' form necessary?" New answers to that issue develop all the time. The latest example is the tsunami - and our Sri Lanka campaign. The anti-war movement, only two years ago, showed the need for clear ideas and actions around the world. Thanks to the CWI, school strikes took place in countries across the globe and we argued for workers' strikes against the war.
While parts of Percy's five points in his section "Real Internationalism" are acceptable for general solidarity links, they also show the political limits he sets himself. A key to the DSP's position is the statement later in this section that "It's not just an argument about the small size of our forces today - i.e., let's wait until we get real parties with a definite base in the working class before we attempt to build an international party. It's not just an argument about the stage we're at, or the period we're in, whether revolution is on the agenda soon or not. The idea of a centre to give guidelines and directions for national revolutionary struggles is not just unnecessary, but often counterproductive. The one democratic centralist world leadership actually destroys and stunts national leaderships."
Obviously we are against the Stalinist and sectarian caricatures of a "world leadership", and we accept that revolutions generally start within the framework of a national state, but the DSP is against the idea of a revolutionary international as an instrument to aid the birth of a socialist world. Why, according to Percy, are discussions between parties in principled agreement a "waste of time", while discussions with a loose network are "sorely needed"? There is not a single concrete, practical example in Percy's text of any gain of any kind from such a network. And what about the political activity of refugees, immigrants and exiles? What is their "own country"? Should Marx have focused on Germany or on England? And yet, Percy still wants to "direct" the entire world left. He has very definite ideas on how to work in Europe and Latin America.
Percy makes the profound statement: "For Lenin, as for Marx and Engels, politics rather than organisational form was paramount." Absolutely, and so it is with us, but not as far as the DSP is concerned. In fact, Percy's article is devoid or real political content. We seek to organise a principled international of like-minded co-thinkers and not an international "network" like the DSP. In their hands, Lenin's idea of a fighting international has been transformed into a mutual "non-aggression pact" (which does not apply to the CWI) where it is not polite to criticise theoretical mistakes, even though they could lead to the kind of mistakes we have seen on the part of the PRD leadership in Indonesia and the DSP in Australia.
He categorically states: "There is one, and only one, kind of internationalism and that is working whole-heartedly for the development of the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary struggle in one's own country, and supporting (by propaganda, sympathy and material aid) this struggle, this, and only this, line in every country without exception. " Is this not the cry of every reformist and Stalinist organisation?
Seeking to make mild criticisms of Lenin, Percy declares: "Perhaps Lenin's greatest mistake was that he didn't realise how perfidious the German social democrats were." This is true; when, at the beginning of the First World War, he received the issue of Vorwärts, the German SPD's newspaper, which supported "war credits" and, therefore, the German ruling class in the First World War, he declared that it must be a forgery. This arose from the fact that Lenin did not have sufficient first-hand experience of the internal degeneration of the Social Democratic Party, because he wasn't present in the country, did not see the day-to-day actions of its leaders, etc. Rosa Luxemburg did and warned forcefully, prior to the betrayal of 4 August 1914, about the internal degeneration of the German SPD leaders. However, if Lenin had agreed with Luxemburg at this stage and criticised the German SPD leaders in advance, the equivalents of the DSP at the time would have roundly condemned Lenin for "theoretical hair splitting", "acting from outside" and accusing him of an "ultimatist" position of "invoking discipline" against those who differed with him.
Lessons of Scotland
The reason why we can assert this is so is because they behave in exactly this way today. For instance, Percy's attacks on the CWI includes the following: "In Scotland, it was CWI members who in 1996 were the initiators and leaders of the most successful advance for the socialist movement in decades, the Scottish Socialist Alliance, which became the Scottish Socialist Party in 1998. But it was a course not approved by the London Centre. In spite of their very visible success, the Scottish comrades were dropped from the fold; they threatened the authority of the wise men in London."
Leave aside the hyperbole, "the most successful advance for the socialist movement in decades"; every word here is a mistake and some are two. Not only did the CWI "wise men" (why not the "wise women" who make up 50 per cent of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party - an indication, perhaps, of the sexist approach of the DSP leaders) support the Scottish Socialist Alliance, but were the "initiators" of this idea, particularly as it was applied to England and Wales. This arose from our rejection of the Labour Party as still representing a viable vehicle for struggle for working-class people. Therefore, we proposed the formation of the Socialist Alliance as a means of gathering together those lefts who were prepared to struggle to create the conditions of a new mass workers' party. This idea was not the brainchild of the Scottish CWI comrades but was the product of the leaderships of the Socialist Party and the CWI.
It is also well documented, despite the repeated accusations of the leadership of the SSP, that the CWI and the leadership of the Socialist Party in England and Wales did not oppose the formation of the SSP. What we opposed was the liquidation of the Marxist members of the CWI and their organisation into the SSP. We warned that if this happened, the comrades who took to this road would inevitably face reformist and nationalist degeneration. This is always a danger without the check of a revolutionary organisation and leadership, both in Scotland linked to our movement in Britain, and internationally. At this stage, the DSP rushed eagerly in to embrace the SSP leadership, for the very simple reason that they were opposed to the CWI leadership: "the enemy of my enemy is my friend".
Not a whiff of criticism has been made of the SSP leadership since, despite their obvious concessions to reformism - again, well documented by the 'International Socialist', organ of the CWI members within the SSP - as well as the concessions to nationalism which have been made by this leadership. What has the DSP leadership to say about this? Absolutely nothing. It is more important to picture the CWI leadership, "London based" (a whiff of "national chauvinism", if not prejudice by the "Sydney-based" DSP here?) rather than seek to explain the situation in Scotland, to discuss and debate in an honest fashion the political differences that led to the split of some CWI comrades in Scotland from our international organisation.
There is not an atom of politics in Percy's approach, which is revealing about the machine-type politics which his organisation pursues. It is also not true that the "Scottish comrades were dropped from the fold". The CWI did not expel them but urged them to stay with us so we could debate and discuss their ideas and their subsequent experiences in the SSP, but the supporters of this right turn voted to leave the CWI in January 2001. We were confident that our warnings would be borne out, as unfortunately they have been. This is indicated by the decision of the SSP leadership to appeal to nationalists, amongst them the Scottish National Party (SNP), for a Scottish 'nationalist' front for independence. Yet not a peep of criticism drops from the lips of Percy or the DSP.
The fact that its recent internecine strife - to call it by its right name, a jostling for position on a non-political basis - could put in jeopardy the SSP - is of secondary importance for Percy. The CWI leadership must be chastised for warning the SSP leadership of the dangers inherent in their liquidationist position in the run-up to the formation of the party. The very existence of the SSP could be put in jeopardy by this, which would be a big blow, both to the Scottish left, particularly to the trade unions such as the RMT who have broken from the Labour Party and are looking towards the SSP. It would also play into the hands of right-wing trade union leaders who are dragging their feet about breaking from Blair's pro-imperialist, corrupt Labour Party.
Their uncritical acceptance of the SSP leadership's position is motivated in part by their sectarian animosity to the CWI and also because it echoes the DSP's opportunist turn in Australia - the alleged dissolution of their organisation into the force of the 'Socialist Alliance', dominated by them and the Australian supporters of the IST. In this sense they bear some responsibility, particularly internationally, for acting as cheerleaders of the SSP rather than seeking, as the CWI does, to help the SSP, with firm but friendly criticism, to embrace a correct programme and perspectives.
DSP oppose Lenin and Trotsky's approach
The method of Percy amounts to "All the internationals have failed; therefore it is futile to strive to build an international". This is in place of a serious analysis explaining why and how previous internationals failed, and what is required from the new generation to learn from this and build on firm foundations for the present and future battles of the working class. Percy counterposes to this perspective the building of national organisations, loosely linked together, along the lines of the 'International Conference of the Anti-Capitalist Left", or the "Tendency for the New International". And the reason for not seeking to build an international organisation on the real democratic practices of democratic centralism? Percy's answer is that a real international leadership, with wrong policies and wrong methods imposing "international discipline" can harm or even wreck real socialist and revolutionary possibilities in different countries.
This is indisputable, and there are many instances of where this has happened. But if we take the argument further and apply it on a national scale, what is to stop the same thing happening with a leadership and an organisation with similar maladies which the DSP ascribes to different internationals? In fact, what is to stop the DSP from making the same blunders on a national scale, despite its claim to understand the situation in Australia, rather than an international leadership? Certainly, the record of the DSP does not engender confidence in its ability to withstand the pressures, which could lead to it making similar mistakes as previous internationals. In fact, in the past they have succumbed. They abandoned Trotsky's idea of the permanent revolution and they have given uncritical support to the bureaucratic national leadership of Cuba. They welcomed Gorbachev as a harbinger of the coming political revolution in Russia prior to 1989 (he was the gateman of the capitalist counter-revolution). And then there is their position in relation to Indonesia and the PRD mentioned above.
The DSP, in effect, opposes not just Stalin's 'Comintern' and its methods but Lenin and Trotsky's approach too, as well as the decision of Trotsky to form the Fourth International in 1938. They subscribe - ex post facto - to the approach of the late Isaac Deutscher who believed that the formation of the Fourth International was premature and therefore a mistake. This could only be considered as a "mistake" if one did not take account of Trotsky's conception of what it represented, including its timing. Trotsky expected a revolutionary wave to come out of the Second World War - which actually took place in Europe during the period from 1943-47 - which would lead to the splintering of the old internationals, thereby laying the basis for the creation of mass parties and a mass Fourth International. It did not turn out like this completely, because social democracy and Stalinism saved capitalism, by entering coalition governments in Western Europe, particularly France and Italy, as well as through the Labour government in Britain of 1945-51. These were the political preconditions for the post-war economic boom which introduced certain stability into world capitalism.
The process of isolation of the Fourth was also compounded by the political mistakes made by its leaders, such as Ernest Mandel and others. Percy even equates, in a sense, the degenerate Comintern to "different Trotskyist internationals", which he claims are "closer to the monolithic practices of the Comintern under Stalin". That was undoubtedly the case, for instance, in Gerry Healy's Workers Revolutionary Party's attempt to create an "international" in the 1960s and 1970s. There were elements of this in other international attempts as well. But the roots of this lay in politics not in organisation. Organisation is always an inference from politics and not vice versa - organisation flows from politics. The practices of Stalinism, bureaucratic centralism, undoubtedly exercised a baleful effect, sometimes even on organisations and individuals which genuinely strove to be Marxist. The problems of bureaucratism also exist in the workers' movement everywhere. All this means is, first of all, the politics of an organisation need to be clear, but also democratic control should be exercised on every level in an organisation claiming to be Marxist.
This is certainly not the case in the DSP. For instance, as much as they denounce the lack of democracy in other organisations, their version of "democratic centralism" in Australia is very centralised with factions only allowed in a pre-conference period, which was certainly not the practice of Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks. This is not the case in the CWI, which has had a number of factions in its ranks, particularly in the 1990s. No "disciplinary action" was taken on the basis of their policies. A number of them just left the organisation, because they were incapable of politically debating and winning a majority for their ideas. A handful, including the Grant split in 1991-92, were separated from our ranks because they were creating an alternative organisation, not paying subs and collecting for their own press within our party. The friends of the DSP who worked within the Socialist Party at one stage, such as Phil Hearse, organised a tendency but left without trying to win over a majority in our ranks. They did not avail themselves of the right to argue their point of view and try and convince a majority because they were not confident of convincing anybody outside of their little circle. Their subsequent political development or degeneration into obscurity is sufficient testimony to this.
Percy attacks what he calls the "Trotskyist tradition", which he equates to a misunderstanding of internationalism, which involves "substituting the form for the political content". It is precisely Percy and the DSP who are guilty of the sin he ascribes to others. The organisational forms of an international can be discussed and not all the forms of the Comintern need to be adopted in this era. But the need for an international, as understood by Lenin and Trotsky, as well as Marx and Engels before them, is indisputable, from the standpoint of the CWI and, we also believe, for the world working class. Percy disputes this and argues for a loose organisation which can, in his eyes, "do the job", at least for the time being.
This is at variance with the DSP on a national scale, which runs a "disciplined", if not rigid and bureaucratic, form of organisation. This was highlighted in 2003 by a letter of resignation from their party by a longstanding member, Sean Healy. In this he stated: "I have watched over the last decade a steady hardening of the party's conception of its essential foundations: to the point where I think the central leadership is now convinced that they already know the "true" Leninist line and all that has to be done is continue repeating the categories until history somehow turns our way again. To such a view, even the Socialist Alliance becomes little more than a long detour back to (an enlarged but otherwise identical) 'New DSP'." He then continues: "There is simply no space left in the party for principled difference, no space for me to engage in an honest, serious discussion along these lines. The formal space exists (the counter-report you allowed me to give, for example), but the real space does not: the minds of the majority of comrades are firmly closed and there is nothing I can do to reopen them. The Congress was certainly a practical proof of this - the venom was particularly chilling."
Why have on a national scale this type of organisation and not apply it internationally? Because a national leadership is in closer touch with "reality". And what is the evidence for this? They say so! Lenin was an internationalist when no real revolutionary international existed. The CWI from its inception was internationalist, without seeking to create "the" international. We do not claim today that we are "the" international. We are prepared to collaborate on an international scale, on a European scale, such as with the international and European anti-capitalist left. But we recognise the limits of such an organisation and strive for the building of a powerful rounded-out workers' international on clear revolutionary lines. This is our "ultimate aim".
This is clearly not the approach of the DSP who fetishise "organisational forms" because they do not wish to take up the political ideas of those that oppose them, particularly the CWI. They consequently get themselves into all sorts of muddles. The scandal in the Ukraine allegedly shows the consequences of seeking to financially and organisationally assist what appear to be revolutionary forces or those attempting to adopt a revolutionary position. Yet, Percy also states, "The Bolsheviks had resources for the international - a permanent centre ion Moscow, assistance for travel to conferences - and resources to help some parties in other countries where they thought the possibility of revolution existed." Does John Percy approve of this? If so, why is it wrong for others, including his organisation, to seek to assist revolutionaries in other countries politically, organisationally and financially if necessary?
Democracy and the International
Percy writes with weasel words in relation to the effects of the Bolsheviks, which pass as a qualification: "Such a forced march to form an international and construct revolutionary parties in the midst of ongoing revolutionary upheavals was possible only with the tremendous political authority of the Bolsheviks. It was a gamble, and not necessarily one that should have been refused." He then adds: "However, this type of international organisation should not have been taken as a general principle." Percy then counterposes the traditions of the Comintern: "Discipline was often more theoretical than real." Precisely that approach exists within the CWI. As stated earlier, we have open democratic structures, which allow the leadership at all levels to be checked, right of recall, etc. But it also allows the CWI to exclude from its ranks those it considers, after debate and discussion, no longer share its aims.
This was precisely how Lenin and Trotsky behaved in the Comintern. Discipline was only used as a last resort, as in the case of the French Socialist Party, which openly disagreed with the policies of the Comintern on the "united front" for a period of years. An open polemic and debate took place between the leadership of the French CP and the Comintern, and only after lengthy debate was "international discipline" exercised, but it was exercised. Percy gives the impression that the Comintern was merely a debating club and little else.
Percy's document is very little to do with an honest and principled appraisal of the general experience of trying to create an international or of the experience of the CWI today. It is calculated to throw dust in the eyes of emerging left forces, particularly in Asia, by dishonestly distorting the ideas, method and approach of the CWI. It will not succeed. Events, and great events at that, including a brutal centralised capitalism on a national and, above all an international scale, will demonstrate to working people moving into struggle the absolute necessity for them to be organised. Indeed, they need to be as seriously organised as the enemy, the capitalists, in democratic, disciplined parties. This task is not just a national one but must be applied on the international plane as well. In this process, the CWI intends to fully participate, thereby hoping to create the basis for a genuine, democratic and new internationalism, leading to a new international organisation that can mobilise the working class worldwide for the socialist transformation of society.
Committee for a Workers' International, PO Box 3688, London, Britain, E11 1YE, Tel: ++ 44 20 8988 8760, Fax: ++ 44 20 8988 8793, email@example.com
The Ukraine scam, internationals and internationalism
by John Percy, LINKS no. 25: January to June, 2004
John Percy is the national secretary of the Australian Democratic Socialist Perspective.
Embarrassing details of an extensive scam being operated against left-wing organisations surfaced in the Ukraine in mid-2003. At least twelve, possibly up to twenty, small left groups, mainly in England and the United States, were conned by an enterprising group of Ukrainian politicos pretending to be supporters of each of these parties or their "internationals" setting up their Ukrainian "sections".
The same group, as members of Workers Resistance (Robitnichi Sprotiv-RS) ran the lot. Workers Resistance was the Ukraine section of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), led by Peter Taaffe's Socialist Party from London. The same individuals travelled to international conferences of the different groups under different names. The same individuals orchestrated meetings or conferences for each of the different international groups when they visited Kiev. Up to twenty people were involved in the scam. They received money for offices, printing, translations and computers.
These fake Ukrainian left organisations are an ironic echo of the elaborate village facades built in the Ukraine and Crimea for Catherine the Great's tours in 1787, designed to give the illusion of prosperity. These modern-day "Potemkin villages" operating for the last year or two have given quite a few "internationals" the illusion of growth. Among those scammed were
- Workers Power (League for a Revolutionary Communist International, now League for the Fifth International (LFI));
- The Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL);
- The Workers Revolutionary Party (one of the fragments of Gerry Healy's party, led by Sheila Torrance);
- The League for the Revolutionary Party of the US (Schactmanite, Communist Organisation for the Fourth International);
- The Socialist Party of Great Britain (World Socialist Movement);
- The Socialist Studies group [of SPGB dissidents];
- The US group that publishes News and Letters, followers of Raya Dunayevskaya;
- The DeLeonist Socialist Labor Party in the US;
- The International Trotskyist Opposition group inside the Fourth International;
- The International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party, a Bordigist group.
- The Groupe Communiste Internationaliste from Belgium;
- The Partido de Trabajadores por el Socialismo from Argentina;
- The Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International, a split from the Spartacist League;
- The International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT), another split from the Spartacists. (Note 1)
All fell for the scam to one extent or another, and there are probably some others who have yet to own up to being conned. A total figure of US$40,000 has been mentioned, but only the Ukrainian masterminds would know the full extent of the swindle.
Some of the victims excused themselves by saying it was easy to be misled by clones in cyberspace. They pointed out the Ukrainian scammers hid behind the claimed difficulties of repression, the different language, the very different and difficult political situation. Nevertheless, these "internationals" quickly welcomed a new flag on the world map for their particular sect.
The LFI carried out a "fusion" with their Ukrainian group in 2001, now declared "null and void". They claimed they "had had suspicions for the last nine months that something was amiss" with their phoney section.
The IBT had also trumpeted a "fusion" with their Ukrainian group in 2001. "It is little consolation that we are not the only people to have been duped", they conceded.
The AWL's consolation was that they were only "relatively minor" victims. They parted with only £300!
The Spartacist League gloated because one of the groups that split from them, the IBT, fell for the Ukrainian scam hook, line and sinker. Why weren't the Spartacists stung? As the international sect par excellence, they pride themselves on their much more rigorous political standards-the absolute detail of their doctrine and 200% agreement with James Robertson-thought is hard to imitate, even for the versatile Ukrainian scammers. But a more likely reason is the fact that the Spartacist international takes an even more extreme form than other sects: it operates on the export method, sending US Spartacists to build little groups in other countries. It would be hard to con a proconsul stationed permanently in Kiev. Potemkin villages succeed only with empresses making fleeting inspections from the capital.
The Ukrainian CWI scammers had their scam down to a fine art. Running a con via cyberspace is very easy: just echo back what the "international" would like to hear. Make sure to say something positive about the main shibboleths of the group. A nice refinement is to be slightly awry or sceptical on a secondary point of doctrine, allowing the mother group the satisfaction of putting the new chums right and bringing them into the fold. It would have taken more skills to entertain politically the visitors from abroad face-to-face, and represent the new "section" at the international conferences of the "international", requiring considerable acting talent to juggle the increasing number of roles.
The victims have mainly reacted with cries of "fraud against the workers' movement". (Perhaps they have faint hopes of the CWI paying compensation for their lost investments?) Maybe fraud is an issue, but that's not the main problem that the Ukrainian scam exposes.
It lays bare some of the errors of the whole conception of an "international party".
International Potemkin villages
The CWI has been extremely embarrassed by the exposure of the enterprise, and not completely forthcoming about it. It subsequently emerged that a prominent CWI member from Russia, Ilya Budraitskis, was also actively involved in the scam.
A CWI statement (not available on their web site) railed against the shameful fraud of its "section" in the Ukraine and Kiev. "The CWI has been the main victim of this duplicity", they claimed. Yes, perhaps more than they realise. How many laptops and free trips have they supplied?
The Ukraine scam is not at all original, only the most audacious and extensive implementation of it. As the CWI statement admitted: "In the past, the CWI, like others, has on a few occasions been duped into supplying limited resources to groups in the neo-colonial world and even in Europe, who have subsequently turned out to be completely unscrupulous and who did not agree with us politically".
Some of the victims attempted to preempt the obvious criticisms.
"No doubt cynics and gossips", wrote the League for the Fourth International "will seize upon this episode to disparage the struggle to reforge an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International".
Similarly, the League for the Fifth International (Workers Power) suggested in its statement that one motive for the deception could be "a conscious attempt to discredit revolutionary internationalism", and declared: "Doubtless those tendencies that have always opposed attempting to build a common international organisation in general or claimed it was necessary to `postpone' it until large and stable mass organisations are built on a national basis, will claim to be vindicated by such incidents".
Certainly. And why not? All these groups should face up to the fact that the conception of such "internationals" is totally wrong.
The CWI and the UK Socialist Party do take their "international" most seriously, priding themselves on each new CWI flag on the world map, even if it's just five individuals with absolutely no connection with the political life of the country. They implement an international discipline.
It seems that when the leadership of one of the CWI`s sections consistently starts thinking for itself, and demonstrates a connection with the real class struggle in its country, that's incompatible with this model of international relations between parties. Even if initially there's not a huge political difference between the mother party and the "offspring", the act of independent thinking is the problem. Given the diversity of political conditions parties face from country to country, such developments will be frequent.
For example, the Labour Party Pakistan was originally part of the CWI. But a number of successes and a period of growth were threatening to London, so excuses were manufactured for expulsion. (They're better off now, of course, and continue to grow.) Now the CWI keeps its loyal little group alive with a cash injection of £200 a month, a lot in Pakistan.
In Scotland, it was CWI members who in 1996 were the initiators and leaders of the most successful advance for the socialist movement in decades, the Scottish Socialist Alliance, which became the Scottish Socialist Party in 1998. But it was a course not approved by the London Centre. In spite of their very visible success, the Scottish comrades were dropped from the fold; they threatened the authority of the wise men in London.
The British Socialist Workers Party has for years claimed that it's different, that it doesn't have a perspective of constructing another "toy international". It has tried to pretend that its International Socialist Tendency (IST) wasn't trying to be an international, but just an international political tendency.
However, its discipline was just as rigorous as any of the other "internationals", and its desperation to get new flags on the map was just as intense.
When its US section, the International Socialist Organisation, showed that it was thinking more for itself, was growing and had developed a self-confident leadership, it was inevitable that a rift would occur. It came in 2000, with the spurious charge that the ISO "didn't respond to Seattle". The SWP excommunicated it.
The SWP's new group in the US was Left Turn, initiated by a few members who had been expelled from the ISO for being a faction directed from London. Now Left Turn has embarrassed the SWP by requesting that it not be listed as a section of the IST. They'd differentiated themselves from the ISO's Leninist party perspective, and had related to the autonomist milieu in the anti-globalisation movement. They have taken their autonomist leanings further-no party, and no IST.(2)
None of the Trotskyist currents have really escaped from the problems posed by the "international party" perspective.
Bill Jones, a defender of this conception of building a "world party" elaborated the argument crudely, shorn of some of the usual disguise, in a polemical letter to the British Weekly Worker:(3)
Only a common decision-making process at the international level, at international conferences and meetings, and a common international discipline based on political (not bureaucratic) methods-remonstration, political argument, moral pressure and dialogue-can avoid a nationally distorted view of the world and a consequent national chauvinist degeneration.
Why? Did Lenin's Bolsheviks have a "nationally distorted view of the world"? Did the Cuban revolutionaries have a "national chauvinist degeneration"? In fact, often these fake "internationals"-frequently with their centre in London-have an actual whiff of national chauvinism about them.
Jones argues: "In Britain the main pressures acting on the revolutionary left are left Labourism, left liberalism, narrow syndicalism, `Guardianism', pacifism and NGOism … " and "the British academic milieu".
Only by discussing and deciding positions in relation to key world events at international conferences and meetings can these national distorted views be synthesised into balanced fully rounded assessments and positions. That is why international democratic centralism is so important.
That doesn't follow at all. The actual effect of being part of a fake international is not to raise barriers against such pressures, but often to transmit them to their clones. Most of these "internationals" have limited contact with other forces that are outside their narrow "international", so their synthesis at their international conferences is far from balanced and rounded.
Bill Jones' remedy? "All monies available for international work" to be equally parcelled out to sections in poorer countries. (The Ukrainian scammers would have certainly loved that!)
How did this bizarre form of "international" become such an article of faith for all these Trotskyist groups?
Actual Marxist practice
Internationalism is at the very core of the communist program-the Communist Manifesto ends with the rallying call "Workers of all countries, unite!" But the writings and actions of the founders of our movement make it very clear that this essential internationalism doesn't imply any particular international form.
What was the actual Marxist tradition, the reality of the first three internationals?
The International Working Men's Association-the First International-was a very loose federation of diverse groups, parties, cooperatives and associations. (Some think we're at that stage today, and liken the World Social Forum to that broad, all-encompassing association.) Marx and Engels inspired its formation in 1864, but were quite happy to see it dissolved in the 1870s when its usefulness was finished. As Engels wrote in 1877:
… the continuing close intercourse between the socialist workers' parties of the various countries proved that the consciousness of the identity of interests and of the solidarity of the proletariat of all countries evoked by the International is able to assert itself even without the bond of a formal international association, which for the moment had become a fetter."(4)
Internationalism for them did not depend on a structure, but on program and action, as Marx stressed in attacking the narrow national perspective of Lassalle:
It is altogether self-evident that, to be able to fight at all, the working class must organise itself at home as a class and that its own country is the immediate arena of its struggle. In so far its class struggle is national, not in substance, but, as the Communist Manifesto says, "in form". But the "framework of the present-day national state", for instance, the German Empire, is itself in its turn economically "within the framework" of the world market, politically "within the framework" of the system of states.
The task of the German working class was not to issue pious phrases about "the international brotherhood of peoples", Marx wrote, but to challenge its own bourgeoisie, at home and internationally. "The international activity of the working classes does not in any way depend on the existence of the International Working Men's Association." (5)
Marx and Engels were against any new international that was not related to action. In the early 1880s they weren't in favour of founding a new international. Marx wrote in 1881:
It is my conviction that the critical juncture for a new international workingmen's association has not yet arrived and for this reason I regard all workers' congresses or socialist congresses, in so far as they are not directly related to the conditions existing in this or that particular nation, as not merely useless but harmful. They will always fade away in innumerable stale, generalised banalities. (6)
Although the first congress of what became known as the Second International was held in 1889, it was a one-off congress, and the Second International wasn't really established until after Engels died in 1895. In 1900 an International Socialist Bureau, with a technical and coordinating rather than a directive function, was established in Brussels.
The political hollowness of the internationalism of the Second International was exposed in August 1914, when nearly all parties voted to back their own bourgeoisies, and marched off to war. After these betrayals, Lenin did call for a new international, but his emphasis was on the new politics needed, calling for a break with the betrayers.
On arriving in Russia in April 1917 after the February Revolution, Lenin repeated that call in his April Theses. But he counterposed "internationalism in deed" to the "internationalism in word" of the Second International, "empty assurances of devotion to internationalism".
There is one, and only one, kind of real internationalism, and that is-working whole-heartedly for the development of the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary struggle in one's own country, and supporting (by propaganda, sympathy and material aid) this struggle, this, and only this, line in every country without exception.
The "internationalists in deed" were those who continued the perspective of making the revolution against their own bourgeoisie, even in time of war. "Our chief enemy is at home." He wrote that we
… must found, and right now, without delay, a new, revolutionary proletarian International, or rather, we must not fear to acknowledge publicly that this new International is already established and operating. This is the International of those "internationalists in deed" … The thing is not to "proclaim" internationalism but to be able to be an internationalist in deed, even when times were most trying.(7)
For Lenin, as for Marx and Engels, politics rather than organisational form was paramount.
Outside of Russia, however, this internationalist trend was small. The Bolsheviks were able to carry through the October 1917 revolution, but they did not expect to be alone-they thought the revolution would continue in the rest of Europe, and the isolation of the weakened, invaded, Soviet state would be broken. The revolutionaries' hold on power was precarious. They had nominal control in a devastated country, with a decimated working class. They hoped that real Marxist parties could be built rapidly out of the revolutionary ferment in Europe following World War I. There were real revolutionary possibilities, especially in Germany. Workers were rising up, seizing factories, establishing local soviets. The ruling classes were in absolute disarray, with the treacherous social democrats their only hope.
Lenin explained that "Europe's greatest misfortune and danger is that it has no revolutionary party. It has parties of traitors like the Scheidemanns, Renaudels, Hendersons, Webbs and Co, and servile souls like Kautsky", although conditions were ripe for revolution.8 (Perhaps Lenin's greatest mistake was that he didn't realise how perfidious the German social democrats were.)
Thus the Communist International was formed in very particular circumstances, for a very specific purpose. The Bolsheviks saw an urgent need to force splits in the social democratic parties and construct revolutionary parties strong enough and capable enough to follow the Bolshevik example, especially in Germany. The manifesto of the founding congress stated:
Our task is to generalise the revolutionary experience of the working class, to purge the movement of the corroding admixtures of opportunism and social-patriotism, to unify the efforts of all genuinely revolutionary parties of the world proletariat and thereby facilitate and hasten the victory of the Communist revolution throughout the world.(9)
It was a real and immediate task, reinforced by the Bolsheviks' unanimous belief (Stalin included) that only through this course would their revolution be saved.
Although the state they controlled was devastated, with limited resources, going through tremendous difficulties, with people dying of hunger, it was still a state. The Bolsheviks had resources for the international-a permanent centre in Moscow, assistance for travel to conferences-and resources to help some other parties in countries where they thought the possibility of revolution existed.
Such a forced march to form an international and construct revolutionary parties in the midst of ongoing revolutionary upheavals was possible only with the tremendous political authority of the Bolsheviks. It was a gamble, and not necessarily one that should have been refused.
However, this type of international organisation should not have been taken as a general principle (certainly not after all the political experiences and lessons of the last century). Even with the emergency tasks of the Comintern, and the actual revolutionary situations faced by some of the sections, democratic debate and discussion flourished in both the Comintern and in the parties. As Marcel Liebman noted, "discipline was often more theoretical than real … Nothing had been finally settled so long as the depth of internationalist feelings helped to slow down the march of Russification, and so long as Lenin still stood at the head of the movement."(10) Again, real internationalism was more important than structure.
With the degeneration of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union under Stalin, the Comintern was converted into its opposite, not an emergency booster for revolution, but a permanent stabiliser of counter-revolution. It served as an instrument to make the Communist parties around the world reliable tools of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow. Having been broken and tamed to Stalin's will, the Communist parties adopted the same relationship to Moscow that the Ukrainian "groups" maintained with their "centres". But in the Stalinist practice of Cominternism, the relationship of rewards for political toadyism was out in the open, and the largesse flowing to the loyal followers in other countries, in the form of subsidies and free international trips, was immeasurably greater.
The conceptions of internationalism of the multiple "internationals" splitting off from the Trotskyist tradition are all influenced by the particular circumstances of the Stalinist degeneration of the CPSU and the heroic efforts by Leon Trotsky to counter it.
All the Trotskyist internationals have persisted in a misunderstanding of internationalism, substituting the form for the political content, and making an unjustified theoretical leap to defend the "one world party" concept. Most will quote Trotsky's important criticism of the 1928 draft program of Stalin's Communist International as justification for their existence. Trotsky was valiantly fighting against the bureaucratisation and degeneration of the Bolshevik revolution, and correctly polemicising against Stalin's perspective of "socialism in one country". (He was also arguing against the dropping of the slogan for a Soviet United States of Europe, which could be more debatable.)
In our epoch, which is the epoch of imperialism, i.e., of world economy and world politics under the hegemony of finance capital, not a single communist party can establish its program by proceeding solely or mainly from conditions and tendencies of development in its own country … The international program must proceed directly from an analysis of the conditions and tendencies of world economy and of the world political system taken as a whole in all its connections and contradictions, that is, with the mutually antagonistic interdependence of its separate parts. In the present epoch, to a much larger extent than in the past, the national orientation of the proletariat must and can flow only from a world orientation and not vice versa.(11)
Yes, an understanding of imperialism is absolutely essential for a party to "establish its program". But Trotskyists have followed this with a non sequitur. Why is the "international party" form necessary? Why embrace the "general staff of the world revolution" model, copying the form and structure taken up by the Comintern to cope with the specific revolutionary circumstances in Europe following World War I and the successful but isolated Russian Revolution?
"The World Party of Socialist Revolution" is the ambitious but presumptuous name adopted by the founding congress of the Fourth International in 1938. It was a small gathering of twenty, able to meet in secret only for a day. The formation was opposed by the Polish Trotskyist group, whose leading figure was Isaac Deutscher, writer of the authoritative three-volume biography of Trotsky. The Poles' opposition probably related more to the premature nature, and the weakness of the organisation, rather than understanding the problems with the "international party" concept.
Perhaps there was some rationale for an international current, as a faction trying to expose and counter the crimes of Stalinism in that very distorted situation. Murray Smith argues thus in Links 19: "The epoch of small, competing, ideologically defined internationals is over. In many ways they played a useful role in defending, against the dominant forces of reformism and Stalinism …"12 Once they are splintered into dozens of different sects, this rationale disappears, and further loses point when Stalinism collapses. Stalinism is increasingly a relic of the past. Its legacy still impacts on and harms the revolutionary movement, but our tasks today are very different.
Stalin was certainly quite happy with his international party; the Comintern served its purpose. The cps had been so thoroughly tamed by 1943 that he could just ditch it as a "concession" to Roosevelt and Churchill. Unfortunately, the practice of so many of the different Trotskyist internationals has been closer to the monolithic practices of the Comintern under Stalin. Any new political difference, and sometimes just a personality clash between leaders, leads to a new split and yet another "international party".
Yet many revolutionary Marxists still idealise and fetishise the Comintern form, some perhaps conceding that it had to be big enough (not a "toy"), or it would be appropriate if "the time is ripe".
But the whole conception is wrong. Certainly the toy internationals are misdirected; even if their proponents are sometimes idealistic, they are a sad waste of energy. Moreover, even if these toy internationals were a lot bigger, and not so thoroughly disunited, the verdict would be the same-they're even harmful. The latest farce in the Ukraine could be the final blow to the pretensions of some of them.
It's not a question of denigrating or downplaying the necessity of internationalism. An internationalist perspective, and real internationalist action, is essential:
§ being implacably opposed to your own ruling class, and fighting to overthrow it, and building a strong, united revolutionary party in your own country as the means to reach that goal;
§ organising and expressing solidarity with workers and other oppressed people struggling in other countries;
§ collaborating with other parties and movements in coordinating anti-war or anti-imperialist or trade union struggles and actions internationally;
§ benefiting from the diverse experiences and class struggles in other countries; organising exchanges and helping where possible, without creating an external centre or distorting newer parties and groups;
§ learning from and discussing with socialists from other countries and other traditions, through exchanging publications, participating in a wide range of international conferences and real international collaboration.
But all this can be done and better achieved without being part of an international, certainly not the toy internationals, certainly not an international modelled on the Comintern of Stalin's rule, but also not even an international that might be bigger and with real authority and led by genuine, serious revolutionaries.
Revolution is international in content, but national in form-the ruling class we have to overthrow is "our own" national ruling class, with its own state power.
And practice tells us something. The revolutions that have succeeded all took place without an "international" to organise the world revolution. The Russian revolutionaries, the Chinese, the Cuban and the Vietnamese weren't in an international when they made their revolutions. (In the latter three cases, you can be confident that if they had been in an international, and submitted to Moscow's directions, they wouldn't have made their revolutions.)
The experience of internationals has been almost totally negative for building what is actually needed-self-confident revolutionary parties capable of making an impact in the class struggle in their countries. This was certainly the case in the Stalinised Comintern and in the various offshoots of this tradition following the Sino-Soviet split in the international communist movement. It has also been the case with the many "internationals" flowing from the Trotskyist tradition.
This doesn't imply at all that parties have to develop in national isolation, and can never make use of experiences abroad. But it's a question of genuinely learning from other experiences in other countries, in order to apply that experience creatively to local conditions, rather than just copying blueprints blindly. It's a question of learning from abroad versus taking orders.
How do new groups learn and develop a leadership? We know the lessons we in the Democratic Socialist Party were able to learn from our early history in the 1960s and 1970s. We made our own decisions and tested them in practice, and also looked abroad for ideas and ways of doing things that we could adopt as well. But we tested these as well and increasingly became more confident in testing and thinking things through for ourselves, so that by the 1980s we made some breaks with some of those inherited traditions. On some questions, we found it useful to go back and study the experiences of Lenin and the Bolsheviks more thoroughly.
One lesson reaffirmed from our own experience, as well as from the experience of more successful revolutionaries, is the need for a revolutionary Marxist party, organised on a democratic centralist basis, on a national level. Some have concluded, from the terrible experience of Stalinism, or from the sectarian experiences of various attempts at revolutionary parties or revolutionary "internationals", that the whole idea of a party is faulty. But on examination of many of the complaints and arguments, we find that often it's not an argument against a party, but against "Cominternism".
It's not just an argument about the small size of our forces today-i.e., let's wait until we get real parties with a definite base in the working class before we attempt to build an international party. It's not just an argument about the stage we're at, or the period we're in, whether revolution is on the agenda soon or not. The idea of a centre to give guidelines and directions for national revolutionary struggles is not just unnecessary, but often counterproductive. The one democratic centralist world leadership actually destroys and stunts national leaderships.
Do recent developments with the increasing "globalisation" of capitalism, the heightened imperialist offensive and the worldwide anti-capitalist resistance of recent years change this?
Certainly there's an upsurge, an increased mobilisation among young radicals and older activists, willing to struggle for a different world. Certainly there's need for continuing, or more extensive, coordination of anti-war and anti-capitalist action. And there's certainly the need for greater political clarity to counter the confusion and false theories so rampant in the movement. But what sort of international collaboration and regroupment are needed?
Is the solution a more formal establishment of the "new movements" into a new international framework, a "movement of movements" that is going to replace the old style internationals, as well as the old-style parties? A framework in which the new leaders are from the movements, the ngos and the new gurus who have made themselves a name in the bourgeois media?
Certainly we don't need a new "international" dominated by NGOs. A big problem here is the political distortions flowing from NGO money, which allows considerable control and even power of veto from those with money, the foundations and governments! We've witnessed the hypocritical exclusion of the open participation of revolutionary parties in the World Social Forum by the dominating NGOs, only to see the social democratic and right-wing parties welcomed on board with their special status of parliamentarians, or holders of the purse strings.
Is the solution a new attempt at an international of socialist parties, based upon the radicalising struggles of recent years, and avoiding the political mistakes of past internationals?
Some in the Fourth International are considering the possibility of an expansion, a regroupment, to a "Fifth" International (although several tiny international groups have already tried to stake out the claim to that number). Michael Löwy puts this argument forcefully in an article reprinted in the Fourth International's magazine International Viewpoint, "Towards a new International?":
This movement for another world is broad and, necessarily, heterogeneous. But it emerged with an immediately worldwide, international and internationalist character …
The Movement of Global Resistance, or at least its most organized expression, the World Social Forum (WSF), already has a certain degree of international organization …
Does this amount to a "Fifth International"? No, for two obvious reasons: 1) we are talking about social movements and not political organizations and a project of global social transformation; 2) the Movement of Global Resistance and its bodies are very heterogeneous-as they should be-including sectors who still believe in the possibility of a regulated, humanized, national and democratic capitalism. The same heterogeneity is found also inside the International Parliamentary Forum.
What is lacking is a network of political organizations-parties, fronts, movements-that can propose an alternative project inside the Movement, going beyond capitalism, and the perspective of a new society, with neither oppressor nor oppressed. Something of the sort exists already in Europe-the Conference of the European Anti-Capitalist Left.
If this experience could be extended to other continents, to constitute a network that included, in a broad manner, the most radical political positions in the great Movement of Global Resistance, we would have a "New International" which need not necessarily be called the "Fifth" because not all the currents would necessarily identify with the history of the workers' and socialist Internationals of the past. It could be called the "International Conference of the Anti-Capitalist Left", or the "Tendency for the New International" or any other name that could be invented by the creative imagination of its participants.(13)
In Europe there's a strong rationale for closer collaboration between parties in the European Anti-Capitalist Left. Apart from the close geographical proximity of parties, there's now the common framework of the capitalist European Union to organise against, and participation in the European Parliament as an important arena of political struggle and propaganda.
In Latin America there's also a logic for closer coordination of the struggles, in addition to the broad annual gathering of left parties that takes place within the Sao Paulo Forum framework.
Contact, exchanges, collaboration and support for common international actions, yes. If that's a "network", fine. A party, or groups of parties, can organise international conferences for education and discussion. It can be a network, or as Murray Smith argues in his article in Links 21, an international alliance of socialist parties that are "clearly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist … and work out their policies through democratic debate" and "that have roots in their national reality, that are not just branch offices of an international centre".
14 But not a new "international". Certainly not a politically narrow international regroupment (although perhaps any reversal of the fragmentation of the left should be seen as positive). If it's in the form of a new "international", whatever it's called, it would be harmful and reinforce the sectarian tendencies. It could set back the task of building strong, united revolutionary parties in each country, which would foster the international collaboration of real forces in each country. We should recognise the fact that persistence in such forms, or hankering after them, lessens the chance of actual collaboration, actual networks and actual internationalism.
The key task is to concentrate on building the strongest possible revolutionary Marxist parties in our own countries, uniting all possible forces and guaranteeing a democratic structure to have the productive discussion that can develop and test our program to take the struggle forward. Internationalism will be enhanced by developing collaboration with similar parties in other countries on the basis of solidarity and mutual non-interference.
The socialist alliances and multi-tendency parties that have developed and had some initial successes in recent years are an important step in the right direction.
An important article [reprinted in this issue] by José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba, makes a strong case for such alliances, based on their own experiences and the "analysis of the victories and setbacks that make up the history of the popular struggles".
Perhaps the Ukrainian fraudsters have in the end done the revolutionary cause a service. Let's hope the reductio ad absurdum of the Ukrainian multiple scam provokes genuine revolutionaries in the multiple efforts at "internationals" to reflect on the contradiction increasingly posed today between real internationalism and the mistaken attempts to construct "the International Party". Without all those toy internationals and the myth of the need for an "international", the revolutionaries might actually start cooperating in building revolutionary parties in their own countries.
Our numbers are small, our tasks are so immense, and our capitalist enemies are so strong that such collaboration and cooperation are sorely needed. The steps of building socialist alliances and developing those socialist alliances into stronger revolutionary parties would be greatly assisted by the final demise of a few more of those fake internationals.
They make a mockery of the real internationalism of Marx and Lenin. They not only hinder genuine international solidarity, but in fact can substitute for, and divert attention and resources from, the central, real and difficult task of building a party with a mass base that can make a revolution against your own ruling class. Even worse, the antics of toy internationals, exposed so starkly by this Ukraine scam, can miseducate and repel radicalising workers and youth from committing themselves to that task of building a revolutionary party.
1. The IBT web site has posted many of the statements by the scammed organisations.
2. See .
3. Weekly Worker 496, September 18, 2003. (This is the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain, a new small group, not the old cpgb.)
4. Karl Marx, by Frederick Engels, MESW Vol. 3, p. 83.
5. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, MESW Vol. 3, pp. 21-22.
6. Letter to Dutch revolutionist F. Domela-Nieuenhuis, February 22, 1881, Marx-Engels Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, p. 339.
7. In "Tasks of the Proletariat in our Revolution", written April 10. Collected Works, Vol. 24, Moscow, 1977, pp. 74, 75, 82.
8. Collected Works, Vol. 28, p. 113.
9. Manifesto of First Congress of the Third International, 1919, drafted by Trotsky. Theses, Resolutions and Manifestoes of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, Ink Links, London, 1980, p. 27.
10. Marcel Liebman, Leninism Under Lenin, Jonathan Cape, London, 1975, p. 416.
11. Leon Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, Pathfinder, New York, 1970, p. 4.
12. Murray Smith,"Internationalism and international links", Frontline 2; Links 19, September to December, 2001, p. 119.
13. International Viewpoint 348, March 2003. The article was originally written for the Mexican magazine Revista Rebeldia, see .
14. Murray Smith, "Axes of Marxist internationalism", Links 21, p. 100.