Reply to Rousset – The Party Question: The Actuality of the Revolution and the Pessimism of Comrade Rousset
by Bob L., a member of Socialist Action in the Canadian state
“The prospect of a major class confrontation has been pushed off into the mists of the distant future”. Pierre Rousset, May, 2017.
This reply is written response to a document published in the May 2017 edition of International Viewpoint, the on-line publication of the Political Bureau of the Fourth International (USFI), by Pierre Rousset, an historic leader of French Trotskyism with long years of militancy, especially around questions of an international character.
Entitled “Reflections on ‘the party question’ (expanded version) – an overview”, Rousset’s stated purpose is to “contribute to an international debate, rather than a solely French one”. What Rousset fails to specify is that this debate is about the overall orientation of the present leadership of the USFI, its strategic liquidation of a series of viable and vibrant sections of the organization, under the rubric of what has become known as “the broad party strategy”. We can assume that what comrade Rousset writes regarding this question reflects the thinking of the leading clique within the USFI, and his theoretical explanations for their orientation represents discussions amongst a certain group of historic cadres.
Whilst comrade Rousset avoids, quite purposefully, the thrust of the arguments put forward by a growing number of active cadres and indeed entire sections and sympathizing organizations of the USFI, as to the long litany of failures engendered by the leadership’s strategy, his musings are worth reading for their exposition of the thinking underlying their practice. Previous documents from this leadership group have hinted at why they think the way they do. Comrade Rousset lays it all out for us, in all its subjective glory.
Before analysis, a word about style. Comrade Rousset writes in the style common to a certain section of European intellectuals, with an air of a certain detachment from the issues under debate, and with a point of perspective which has more in common with a disinterested academic observer rather than an active participant in a serious political struggle. The political effect of this tone of ‘air of detachment’ style is to indicate to the reader that commitment to position is really not as important as a dispassionate reading of things. It also allows the writer to evade putting things in a straight forward and honest way. Rather, it depends upon implication, tentative and vacuous propositions, and, in the end, leaves the reader to wonder where matters really stand with the writer.
Epochal Reality, Conjectural Subjectivity, and the Nature of the Times
It is instructive to examine the method and structure, first of all, of Rousset’s arguments, to understand the growing gulf between the leadership clique Rousset’s thinking represents, and the growing opposition to this thinking within the sections of the USFI.
Rousset structures his clever argument like this: he creates three categories of parties: those which are possible, those which are necessary and those which are useful. He leaves it to the reader to imagine what constitutes the content of these three categories, though he gives a hint as to what he thinks are useful and necessary by praising the practice of the Awami Workers Party of Pakistan, and the Revolutionary Workers Party-Mindanao of the Philippines.
Both these parties are revolutionary combat parties, so he is on safe ground with his argument here. In effect, he instrumentalizes the existence of these two parties within the context of his created categories, in order to give validity to the other side of his argument, which is to defend the actions of the leading clique of the USFI in dissolving the other revolutionary combat organizations like the Revolutionary Communist League in France, or the organization of Anticapitalists throughout the Spanish state, or the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Portugal, or the Socialist Workers’ Party of Denmark, etc., in order to build “parties which are possible”.
What he doesn’t do is define what he thinks are possible and useful parties, though he hints at the Left Bloc of Portugal, Enhedslisten in Denmark and Podemos in the Spanish state, as well as the Polish Labour Party as meeting his criteria for this combination of categories. One wonders where doth the NPA of France fit in his schema.
The central problem of Rousset’s argument is the very basis of his argument defending “parties which are possible”. After one wades through the reams of fluff in his survey of existing parties, there is his interpretation of Leninism. He uses quotation marks around the term to denigrate the very notion of Leninism, to derogate a strain of Marxist thought which constitutes an important body of political knowledge. These “parties which are possible” turn out to be reformist parties, as opposed to “parties which are “necessary”’, that is, revolutionary combat parties of the Leninist type.
For Rousset, the reason to construct reformist organizations is based on the notion that parties are built according to some abstract level of social consciousness. It is important to emphasize this point, for it is at the heart of all liquidationist endeavors. Rousset writes:
“Which brings us to the fundamental question. The main way activists understand the world is not necessarily equal to the certain present tasks and coming challenges. But political work is conducted on the basis of “actually existing” levels of consciousness and not categorical imperatives. So even when people genuinely want to build a party, there may be a gap between what is possible (given the level of consciousness) and what is necessary (given the tasks of the day). This a major source of difficulty that gives rise to a great deal of experimentation.” (Emphasis in the original)
It is from this fundamentally non-Marxist conception that the errors of the USFI Bureau and its followers flow. Whether it is giving unqualified support to SYRIZA, or urging activists of Left Unity in Britain to adopt a more RIGHT-WING program, this adaptation to subjectivism leads the comrades down a crumbling path into the swamp of opportunism.
So, what sin does Rousset commit, in terms of a Trotskyist understanding of political theory and practice? First and foremost, there is the abstract notion of “social consciousness”. There is no such animal, even though Rousset tries to saddle the youth of Europe with it as a blanket condemnation of their supposed lack of revolutionary consciousness.
The development of consciousness is a non-linear process subject to the law of uneven and combined development. Because the classes of all societies are divided by age, political experience, gender, race, and so forth, the levels of consciousness, without the intervention of mass action, reflect those divisions. There is a qualitative difference in the level of consciousness of a young working class activist of IZAR to that of a petit bourgeois youth marching in the streets of Madrid under the banner of the Falange, just to pick a topical example.
Consciousness is transitory, varied and volatile, something which is constantly subject to processes which Marx compared to the work of an old mole, and which Trotsky, Lenin and others understood as eminently changeable. Indeed, the very method underlying the concept of transitional political demands is predicated on a change in consciousness which can lead to an understanding by a unified working class that only the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat can solve society’s most acute problems.
But what Rousset is really arguing for, without daring to put it clearly and plainly, is the idea that because, according to some leading European comrades, there is a low level of revolutionary consciousness in Europe, the cadre of the USFI should abandon the task of constructing revolutionary parties there (those useful and necessary parties), and expend its resources to become the leading lights of reformism.
The history of the organization to which he belongs, the NPA, proves the exact opposite. The animator of the NPA project, the former LCR, was a combat party of a Leninist type with a great deal of weight and gravitas within the French left, its several thousand members having won respect for its positions around the fight against the imperial project of the European bourgeois, and the electrifying presidential candidacy of Oliver Besancenot, a candidacy which drew more support than that of the French Communist Party.
But under the influence of chief liquidators like Murray Smith (a pale imitation of Kautsky who landed himself a job as an advisor to the European left reformist parties in Belgium) and Francois Sabado, now a waning force representing a minority view on the NPA national council, the LCR liquidated itself into the NPA, which originally started with nearly 10,000 supporters, but has now dwindled in activists and voting members to less than 3,000, about the same size as the LCR when it began the project.
Let us imagine, for a moment, what might have been, if the LCR had decided to maintain itself as a Leninist organization, warts and all, and had embarked on a course of patiently educating its cadres and periphery of the need to fight for working class independence, the self-organization of the masses, and the practical application of revolutionary internationalism.
Not only would the reformism of Melanchon be facing a stronger pole of attraction to its left, the 1,000 or so activists who applied to join the LCR after the presidential campaign would have received the type of cadre training to operate as self-acting revolutionaries able to organize and fight the state of emergency and the moves towards the strong state exhibited throughout the European Union, and given dramatic presence by the repression of the Catalan independence movement.
In building revolutionary parties, one begins with an analysis of the objective development of society, its actually existing class structures and tendencies of development, the political landscape in its totality, and, most importantly, the accumulated history and experience of the international revolutionary Marxist movement.
The role of consciousness, a phenomenon which is varied, transitory and highly volatile, is not the basis upon which strategy and tactics, except in the most conjectural aspect, is based. To do so, as the comrades of the FI Bureau have done, and still advocate (although they now seem to be limiting their “broad party” strategy to Europe), is to lead into the opportunist swamp, without having the courage to draw up a balance of the results of their subjectivist methodology. Whether in Greece, France or elsewhere, all is just a “learning experience” to them, without any idea of political accountability to the militancy of the sections who believe in the Trotskyist understanding of revolutionary history.
One only has to compare the growth of Trotskyism throughout Latin America, for example, which is now the center of the kind of theoretical and practical debates the Europeans can only dream about, and the lack of any real presence of the FI Bureau’s type of politics outside a few academic circles; with those tendencies who have made class independence, proletarian feminism and anti-imperialism, and the revolutionary Marxism of Lenin and Trotsky the center of their combat party building experience. One is a model for success, that of the present FI Bureau, for a litany of failures.
The hundreds of comrades rallying to the call of a Platform for a Revolutionary International know that the present leading clique of the FI Bureau most be replaced if the forces of revolutionary Marxism are to advance in Europe and elsewhere, and that the “learning experience” which is needed is to construct a Trotskyist, not a liquidationist, leadership, one which understands that to build “those parties which are necessary” is the only useful and possible course to set.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Pessimism of the Will
Part 1 of this reply to Pierre Rousset examined his rationale for building left-reformist parties, exposing a formalist methodology which equates a non-revolutionary period and a reformist subjective factor with the need to build a non-revolutionary and reformist political agent like the Bloco Equerreda in Portugal, Podemos in Spain, Left Unity in England and Wales, the New Anti-capitalist Party in France, Enhedslisten in Denmark, Die Linke in Germany, and so forth. We saw how this approach replaces an orientation to building revolutionary parties, with a strategy of liquidating vibrant organizations with influence within the broad left, like the LCR in France, the PSR in Portugal and the SAP in Denmark.
This major revision of dialectical materialism, which makes consciousness an objective factor determining strategic orientation, has more in common with Negri and Hardt than it does with Trotsky or Mandel.
Unfortunately, this theoretical framework, which turns Lenin upside down, leads to the abstraction known as the broad party strategy. This subjectivist theory underlies an absolutely incorrect appreciation of the present rise in the global class struggle, substituting instead a Eurocentric analysis which ignores a large part of the history of the past several decades internationally.
The propositions which Rousset touts in his overview of the “Party Question” are drenched in a wretched pessimism. From the opening lines, where he justifies calling the militancy of the cadres of the International “radicals”, as opposed to “revolutionaries”, is summed up in a single phrase: “The prospect of a major class confrontation has been pushed off into the mists of the distant future”.
Indeed! How can a formerly perceptive Marxist militant think he can get away with writing such drivel? It just does not make sense if you start with a global perspective, and comrade Rousset is, after all, the USFI Bureau’s expert in global affairs.
Surveying Latin America alone, the major class confrontations beginning with the mass movement which led to the ouster of Pinochet in a controlled transition with its parallels in Spain, the uprising in Cordoba in Argentina, the mass movement in Columbia and the continuation of the guerrilla warfare there, the water wars in Bolivia leading to the election of the MAS and Evo Morales; the uprising in Caracas which led to the conquest of office by Hugo Chavez; the uprising in Argentina leading to the ouster of Menem and three others within the span of weeks, the occupation of hundreds of factories by the workers’ movement; the mass struggles of the workers and rural masses from Baja California to Oaxaca in Mexico, including mass occupations of the capital for months by tens of thousands of workers and students; the rise of the workers movement in Brazil leading to the establishment of the Workers Party government of Lula, and the subsequent rupture of its left wing and the evolution of it within the PSOL, which has more the characteristics of a political coalition of the far left than a “broad party”, and not to forget the mass class confrontations around the Olympics, the increase in transport charges, and the ouster of Dilma Rousset in a constitutional coup; the mass class confrontations leading to the ouster of the president of Guatemala; and the destabilizing of the post-dictatorship pacts; the continuing mass social and working class mobilizations against the illegitimate government in Honduras, established after the ouster of the democratically elected president Mel Zelaya, and the discredited electoral farce held four years later; the mass movements in Central America and especially in Costa Rica against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which mobilized millions of workers in a political struggle against this overt imperialist mechanism; and the continuing mass radicalization of the youth of Nicaragua and the growth of a revolutionary left wing within Sandinismo which will have important implications for the near future.
Yet all of these mass working class confrontations have not led to any growth in the forces of Trotskyism associated with the political positions of comrade Rousset and his friends in the USFI Bureau. Instead, Latin America has become the home of the type of Trotskyism more associated with the thinking of Trotsky and Cannon, but enriched with the lessons of decades of struggle against some of the most brutal dictatorships and their overt and covert allies in the workers’ movement; from the thugs of the Argentinian ‘patotas’ intimidating and killing the militants of the left organizations struggling against the class collaborationist bureaucrats of the Peronist-led trade unions, through to the conservative bureaucrats of Chavismo allied to the Bolibourgeoisie of Venezuela.
How on earth can anyone write that the prospect of major class confrontations must be relegated to a foggy future, when in the past several decades the working classes of the Philippines, Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Korea, India and China have engaged in waves of mass confrontations at both the economic and political levels, including the most massive one-day general strike in history involving over 100 million Indian workers?
But, some might argue, Rousset was confining his comments to the situation in Europe. If that is the case, then he is wrong even at that level. His contribution was written in May 0f 2017. Does he think that the mobilization of the Greek workers in more than 20 days of general strikes, and the actions of the airport, dock, national radio, hospital, school teachers, anti-mining activists, anti-fascist mobilizations, and so on, were not aspects of the same “major class confrontation “against Greek and European capital? Does he not think the massive mobilization for OXI, which struck fear into the Eurocommunist leadership of the reformist party he uncritically supported, and which turned tail and capitulated to European imperialism, were not part of the same class confrontation?
Or, even closer to home, the struggle of the French working class against French and European capital, whether it was the workers of Goodyear fighting to save their jobs, or the traileros of the refineries who nearly brought the country to a standstill, or the dock workers of LeHarve, or the millions of workers, young and old, who mobilized against the attacks on workers’ rights and the reforms of both Sarkozy and Hollande, were not aspects of the major class confrontation over the attempt of Capital to impose its austerity agenda?
Or in Britain, where massive anti-war and anti-austerity movements which organized themselves outside the structures of official politics, led by the far-left, destroyed the Blairite neo-liberal project inside the Labour party, mobilized 600,000 persons to join and engage politically, and now have produced a discourse in which the British and European imperialists are on the one hand using the forces of the state openly trying to discredit the Corbynist leadership whilst on the other opening talks with them about their plans for the Brexit.
Or, the major class confrontations in Romania against the austerity imposed by the NATO supporting government and the dictates of the IMF and World Bank. Or the uprisings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia, against government corruption, and the consequent emergence of new far-left forces in these countries.
And let us not forget Spain, the movement of the public squares, and the democratic national struggles of Catalonia — events which preceded Rousset’s writing by years, and which involved millions of young workers and sections of the traditional proletarian vanguard such as the miners of Asturias fighting for their social demands. Or the anti-austerity struggles in Portugal.
Or the…. well I think I have made my case that the class struggle in Europe is not destined to be confined to the mists of history, but is ongoing and makes its appearance in a rainbow of colours and in many shapes and forms.
“But, but….”, sputters the clique defending their “broad party” strategy. “We have not seen anything like May ’68 or the Portuguese uprising for generations. That proves there is no revolutionary consciousness nor ‘major class confrontations’.
No, we respond. It only proves three things. First is the old adage that history never repeats, but often rhymes.
Secondly, it proves that both the bourgeoisie and their labour lieutenants actually have the capacity to learn something from history. It is to this question we will return shortly.
Thirdly, it proves that some old-timers, to use Rousset’s description of older and more experienced comrades, a category which I unashamedly occupy, spend their days wrapped in a nostalgia for “the good, old days” rather than in working hard to dissect the “actually existing” class struggle.
Really Useful and Necessary Parties
Comrade Rousset, in order to shape his discourse, dumps the concept of reformist and revolutionary parties and replaces them with the concept of possible parties or useful parties, both types being necessary at some moment, according to his schema.
The question we would ask is this: Is or was SYRIZA, a reformist party which the Greek section warned against, and a party uncritically supported by the USFI bureau without any consultation of the Greek section, a useful and necessary party? Is the Popular Unity, the left reformist split from SYRIZA, also supported by the USFI bureau members, a necessary and useful party?
The same question can be posed in relation to the British section’s amorous adventures with reformist rumps like RESPECT or Left Unity, or the Scottish Socialist party? Were these formations necessary and useful, or were they road blocks to the building of mass, revolutionary workers’ parties?
Is Podemos, with a leadership and program shot through and through with a neo-Kautskyism salvaged from the dust bin of history, whose open hostility to a revolutionary transformation of Spanish society, and an intolerable agnosticism towards a disobedient mobilization for national self-determination; and with a strategic orientation of building a popular front government with the PSOE, a useful and necessary party?
Rousset tells us that the daily activities of the militants of the organizations of the FI are now indistinguishable from those of the reformists. I would suggest to comrade Rousset that the orientation supplied by the old leaderships of what once were combat organizations with a more defined strategic orientation, might have a great deal to do with this. When one turns the black sheep of Portuguese politics into a foot soldier for reformist electoralism, one can expect these types of things to happen. Is the Left Bloc that party which is necessary and useful?
The Real Fundamental Issue
This is of course the fundamental issue: what type of party is both useful and necessary. There are two sub-questions associated with this larger issue. The first is, what do we mean by useful? The second is, necessary for what?
In reply to the first question, Rousset and the USFI bureau members reply that useful parties are those which can influence events. By “influence events”, it is crystal clear that they are speaking solely of events at the level of bourgeois electoral politics, thus their orientation to building reformist electoral organizations. In their eyes that is the role of useful parties, at least in Europe.
In response to the parties which are necessary, Rousset points to the Awami Workers party in Pakistan and the Revolutionary Workers Party of Mindinao as being both useful and necessary. With that we agree. After all, our goal is to build revolutionary combat parties in every country and continent in the world. So, in Pakistan, unlike the comrades of the International Marxist Tendency which buries itself inside the bourgeois People’s Party of Pakistan, the comrades of the AWP set out on their course of constructing a mass workers’ party which can influence events and do those things which are necessary to help the working people of Pakistan develop the confidence and organization necessary to overthrow their comprador bourgeoisie and defend themselves from the attacks of imperialism.
If it is in the interests of the working masses of Pakistan or Philippines to have their own organization fighting for their political independence from the bourgeoisie, why is it not in the interest of the workers of France or Spain or Denmark or Portugal?
We say that supporting electoral versions of reformism is neither useful nor necessary. The strategic goal of revolutionary Marxists, given the structure of capitalist and imperialist social relations, in the present epoch, is to prepare the workers to take power through their self-organized mechanisms, in whatever form they appear.
The axis of that strategy centers around three common tasks:
- to politically defeat and replace the class collaborationist misleaders of the workers’ organizations, through the creation of class struggle tendencies inside the trade unions, and the bourgeois workers parties where feasible;
- forge electoral coalitions and united fronts with other revolutionary forces as an alternative to the electoralism of the reformists, as part of the process of fighting for working class political independence;
- to build a revolutionary combat international and its national sections which can creatively apply the fundamental principles of Trotskyism to the national and regional specificities, but without developing deviations associated with the sad history of ‘national Trotskyisms’.
There is nothing new in this. What is new is the political situation created by the processes of Capital restructuring and the composition of the working class, combined with a structural crisis of capital accumulation undergoing ever deepening cyclical disasters, and an unacceptable failed response to these processes by the members of the USFI bureau.
Where Trotskyism Is and How it Grows
I previously pointed to the fact that Latin America has become the international center of Trotskyism. While this may come as a severe shock to the Eurocentric pretensions of the members of the USFI bureau, the existence of more Trotskyists in Argentina than in the rest of the world combined (plus more varieties of Trotskyists as well, 23 at last count), and the dominance of Trotskyism as the revolutionary alternative, combined with the decline of misnamed Guevera-ism, is precisely because of the focus on party and international building, and the insistence that the working class as THE revolutionary subject.
While the subjectivist criteria of party building employed by Rousset leads away from the working class as the central focus of revolutionary political intervention, and to a fascination with “the social movements” (an indeterminate category whose usage easily allows one to slip into sociological frames of reference employed by French theorists Chantal Mouffe – her notions of the ‘milieu’- and Lacau, and its logical next step into the “multitude’ of Toni Negri), the consistent and at times seemingly obsessive insistence on the centrality of the workers’ movement and its relations to the strategic and programmatic formulations of Latin American Trotskyism are bearing fruit in the form of a massive growth in cadre, a rich and varied experiential basis upon which to base the tactical paths forward, and a hegemonic position within the youth movements in a whole series of countries, stretching from Mexico to Costa Rica to Argentina, with a growing interest in the ideas of revolutionary Marxism helped by the appearance of many of Trotsky’s works republished in Spanish, and by the network of the digital Izquierda Diario in Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Brasil, and its counterparts Left Voice in English and Revolution Permanante in French.
I cannot stress too strongly how the variety of Trotskyists groups in Latin America allows for the testing out of a plethora of ideas in actual practice in the massive class confrontations which are a regular feature of a people struggling to escape from the ravages of imperialism and to build a new continent of social justice.
While some people see this as a sectarian virus, the actual living processes at work means that as the various currents are tested and their political lines are put before the workers of Latin America, a regroupment based on practical tasks jointly pursued becomes possible. Thus, for example, we see the realignments within the Trotskyist left in Argentina and the developments within the Front of the Left and the Workers, where the debate over the next step forward becomes critical for not only the three components of the Front, but the nine other Trotskyist groups which support it electorally, as well as the two main groups who have chosen, for what I believe are sectarian reasons, to remain outside this process. One of these groups, the MTS, has observer status at the IEC of the USFI.
In Brazil the recent addition of the left split from the PSTU, one of the tendencies spawned by Morenism, which includes both a large section of its historic leadership and a section of the leading trade union leadership of the important Conlutas trade union federation, to the ranks of the electoral coalition known as PSOL, is a welcome development. PSOL, like the NPA, has become a coalition of tendencies and each addition allows for the bringing to the table another history of ideas and experiences gained in the class struggle. So, while PSOL as an electoral vehicle allows for the far left as a whole to leverage an influence greater than the influence of any of its parts, each of its components can concentrate on their strategy of mobilizing the working class and its allies in the massive struggles which have wracked Brazil in the past years and today, and each will be tested as they do so. It is the historical process of building a revolutionary leadership of the working class to solve its fundamental crisis which is being played out here.
Rousset’s Silence of the Lambs
While comrades might think the above section is a bit of a diversion from the main focus of this article, it is in fact, the central point.
Nowhere does Rousset address the developments of building Trotskyism as the dominant left political current in Latin America. The reason for it is plain for all to see. In Argentina for example, those currents which have tried to engage in the “broad party strategy”, like the MST (Workers Socialist Movement) of Argentina, have failed miserably and have been reduced to sectarian whining about the actions of the FIT (Workers and Left Front). On the other hand, those Trotskyists currents which have focused on building revolutionary workers’ parties, with the emphasis on workers, are now able to gather round themselves thousands of workers and youth who annually fill football stadiums and May Day marches numbering in the tens of thousands.
At the electoral level, these currents not only elect representatives to the national, provincial and municipal assemblies, but rotate their representatives based on the strength each tendency receives in the internal elections of the front. The representatives are subject to recall and each take only the wages a teacher would earn. The representatives use their elected positions to inform the struggles of the workers, youth and the oppressed layers of society, acting as Lenin suggested: tribunes of the working class, decrying all cases of injustice and showing the links between the class nature of society and the reasons for the oppression and injustice suffered by the masses.
They are models for the building of Trotskyist parties, yet from the USFI, not a word about them. Perhaps it lies in the fact that the USFI bureau has been unable to respond to the developments in Latin America, with the exception of an existing group of Mexican comrades gathered in the PRT, and another small tendency within a tendency within the PSOL of Brazil.
This in a continent in which the most massive continuing class confrontations at a political level have unfolded. In Latin America, the politics of the USFI bureau have utterly failed to produce anything useful, necessary, or even possible.
If only for this reason alone, these comrades need to be replaced from the leading bodies of the FI by those whose commitment is to build a revolutionary Marxist, Trotskyist international, based on sections of cadre working to build class struggle tendencies in the workers’ movement, working to build electoral coalitions and united fronts with Marxist organizations who can defend a program of democratic and transitional demands, and who understand the need to mobilize the workers and youth in their tens of millions to fight for their own demands in their own way, that is, via the political independence of the class.
Unity, Sectarianism and the Case of Spain and Canada
As Lenin once said: ”Unity is a great thing. But we are for the unity of Marxists, not unity with reformists or with those who would distort and denigrate Marxism”.
To build an International of self-acting, political aware and militant cadre, requires an understanding that the primary purpose and focus of their militancy must be to “make the revolution” as Che Guevara said.
For Trotskyists there is a wide body of shared and commonly accepted theoretical propositions, which forms the basis of doing that. It also forms the framework for unifying the forces of revolutionary Marxism within a shared common practice, broadly understood. For example, defense of the Catalan people’s right of self-determination has not been disputed by any of the revolutionary Marxist international tendencies. This is the theoretical agreement amongst Marxists.
In practice however, there are those tendencies which do not call for Catalonian independence, and there are those who do. Those who support Catalonian independence do so from the point of view that a disobedient movement of rupture weakens the Spanish state, creating both a political and institutional crisis within both the Spanish state, and within and amongst the European proto-state structures of the European Union and the European imperialist bourgeoisie.
On the other hand, there are those who whilst defending the right to self-determination, oppose the call for independence as a diversion designed to undermine the unity of the Spanish plurinational working class.
The differences between the two positions arise from strategic and tactical differences as to how the revolutionary process will develop and unfold, even though both tendencies start with the same theoretical principle. This is a difference between revolutionaries. It is not the same as the difference between the comrades of IZAR and those of the reformist leadership factions of Podemos, for example.
For, if the Catalan movement towards independence takes on an insurrectionary character, acting as a detonator of the social explosion where the working people of Spain enter the stage of history, one can expect the comrades of those tendencies who oppose Catalan independence to join the fight of the plurinational working classes imprisoned by the shackles of Spanish imperialism.
One cannot, nor should they expect the reformist leaderships of Podemos to join in that fight. As reformists, their heart lies with bourgeois parliamentary cretinism, to use Lenin’s term, and not with the revolutionary actions of the masses.
One should take to heart Pablo Iglesias’s description of revolutionary Marxists as “self-deluded utopians” dreaming of workers’ soviets in Madrid and Barcelona. Like Tsipras, when push comes to shove, he will betray the aspirations of the workers of Iberia, and those who give him political cover will share his shame and approbation.
And we can make this prediction based not on some fundamental character flaw or psychological appreciation of Iglesias, but on our understanding of politics and of his fundamental political orientation, which is to build a parliamentary government of the Left which includes the organized Spanish labour lieutenants of capital, the PSOE, as the major partner.
It was this common Trotskyist understanding of the trajectory of reformist leaderships emerging from the Eurocommunist tradition, combined with a practical analysis of the specific nature of the leadership of SYRIZA, which enabled the comrades of the OKDE-Spartacus to warn the international about the real nature of this reformist project.
The USFI bureau failed to heed the warning, decrying the sharp polemics of the OKDE-Spartacus as sectarian and refusing to acknowledge the analysis presented by our Greek comrades.
But this has been a constant pattern of the USFI Bureau leadership group: branding as sectarian those who practice the Leninist strategy of party building based upon the theoretical and experiential acquisitions of more than 150 years of proletarian organization and struggle, but rushing to find any reason to embrace reformist and neo-Kautskyist leaderships and organizations in their haste to ’be useful’ and ‘to make a difference’.
We have seen this sectarianism in the case of the USFI bureau’s arrogant and non-comradely relationship to the leadership of the Greek section. We see it again in the anti-democratic actions of the Anticapitalistas leadership in their expulsion of the comrades of the IZAR group, who have an understanding of the trajectory of the Podemos leadership which led them to fight against the liquidation of their organization into the mush of a Spanish SYRIZA.
But it is in Canada, and Quebec, where the differences in strategic orientation, and the USFI Bureau’s sectarianism is on full display.
In Canada there are two organizations whose reference is the Fourth International. One is an organization which supports the Platform for a Revolutionary International, Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action socialiste.
This is an organization which has members from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and in two countries of Central America. SA/LAS contains the bulk of the historic leadership of Canadian Trotskyism, including former Political Committee members of both the League for Socialist Action and the Revolutionary Marxist group. It includes former members of the International Executive Committee of the USFI. It includes a member of the Marxist current within the Sandinista Front for National Liberation.
It is the largest orthodox Trotskyist group in Canada, and has experienced a period of marked growth in recent years after focusing its work on developing class struggle currents within several working class organizations. It is the leadership of the largest socialist current within the New Democratic Party, Canada’s version of a bourgeois worker’s party, as Lenin described it.
It is an activist organization with an independent and visible presence in the anti-racism, anti-war, international solidarity and workers’ defense campaigns. SA/LAS has professional media and cyber-security members and supporters, with a growing on-line presence and an evolving social media strategy.
All this development and growth has taken place in a vast country where there have been, with the exception of Quebec, no major class confrontations for the past several decades, and where the class collaborationist policies of the trade union leaderships are reflected inside the NDP as well.
The second Trotskyist organization is a group called Gauche Socialiste. It is a tiny grouplet confined to Quebec which more than a decade ago dropped any orientation to build a Trotskyist party. It has no independent existence. It has no independent press, not even a website. It had one, at one time, but its domain name has been put up for sale. It is a proponent of the broad party strategy, and its orientation is to liquidate itself into the left reformist Quebec Solidaire.
Gauche Socialiste operates in a nation whose national aspirations and working class militancy, have produced major class confrontations over the past few decades, and from which has emerged the second largest, self-organized militant and political student movement in the western hemisphere, after Chile.
Gauche Socialiste, with less than a dozen members and with no visible presence within the working class movement has built no political organization which is either useful or possible, to use Rousset’s categories, for the Quebec and Canadian workers movement.
Yet Gauche Socialiste is recognized by the USFI bureau as the official Canadian section of the FI, while these same comrades deny the existence of Socialist Action/Ligue pour lÁction Socialiste, evident in their refusal to acknowledge repeated letters sent to them asking for recognition. This is not just USFI Bureau incompetence. It is another example of the sectarianism exhibited by the USFI leaders towards those comrades who uphold and base themselves upon the rich history of proletarian revolutionary struggle, of Trotskyism.
So, what is the political purpose behind comrade Rousset’s contribution? On one level, it is seemingly a defense of the USFI Bureau’s broad party strategy, and a refusal to deal with the disasters for which they are responsible.
But, it also is an attempt to justify another process at work; not just the liquidation of Leninist organizations, but the liquidation of the Trotskyist brand itself. This is the underlying political project of Rousset and company.
Thus, we find in the founding statement of the newly formed German section, the International Socialist Organization, the following:
“Our identity is no longer solely informed by the label ‘Trotskyist’. We consider ourselves today as an internationally organized current which seeks to contribute to the reconstitution of the consciousness of the political class and the formation of a mass anti-capitalist party, through the construction of revolutionary parties in each of the countries, and also a revolutionary international.”
One must first ask, if you are not “solely” Trotskyist, then what else constitutes your thinking? And leaving aside the contradiction between building a mass, anti-capitalist party, and a revolutionary party, each in contradistinction to the other, the comrades go on to say:
“This means that the defense of our ideas is not a one-way path, but an exchange with the other components of the radical left on a basis of equality. That differentiates us from groups and organizations which draw their references from the same source as us, but which falsify this tradition in a doctrinaire and sectarian sense, and finally discredit it.”
While one can agree that all individual members off the radical left, as defined by their practice, should be treated as equals, the idea that the theories of Stalinism, or of neo-Kautskyism, or left reformism, or Eurocommunism should be treated as equals of Trotskyism is just plain nonsense. Hopefully this is not what the comrades of the ISO are advocating, but in denying your heritage, in defining yourself by references from other traditions of the workers movement, you start down that slippery slope pioneered by the formerly Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party of the USA.
The parallels between the aims of the USFI leadership group, and the activities and results of the Barnes-Watters leadership of the SWP, in dumping the Trotskyist label, in order to find other references, should serve as a warning and wake up call for all sections of the FI.
For this is the real and crucial underlying question animating the political struggle inside the Fourth International. Rousset encapsulates the point of view of the present FI bureau comrades like this: “A good past example of this kind of re-assessment is the way we applied the notion of pluralism to the revolutionary movement itself – and no longer only to the reformist and centrist workers parties. This was a break with the formulation that had traditionally prevailed within our ranks: “many workers parties, one revolutionary party”. Indeed, revolutionary experience is far too complex to imagine that it can be captured in one all-encompassing synthesis and be embodied in a single party. This revolutionary pluralism can be expressed in many ways – a number of parties; a permanent coalition; currents within a composite party – but it is here to stay.” (Our emphasis)
But what is new about this? The Russian revolution, at least in its first democratic revolutionary stage, involved many parties: Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries, Anarchists, and so forth.
The Cuban revolution, at least in its first bourgeois democratic stage, was composed by several currents, including in its latter stages the Stalinists. So too with the Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions.
But it is not which parties participate in the initial stages of the revolution that matters as much as those who see the revolution through to its conclusion – the dictatorship of the proletariat and the destruction of the bourgeois state.
In that regard, history has pronounced as well. The Bolsheviks in Russia, the Chinese CP in China, the VCP in Vietnam, and the Cuban July 26 Movement were the parties which finished the job.
And it is precisely the failure of the Greek CP, and the French CP in particular, as well as the Indonesian CP, to take power when they had the opportunity which proves the point: “Without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary party. Without a revolutionary party there will not be a successful proletarian revolution.” Just ask the Chileans, if you won’t take anybody else’s word for it.
The former formulation was more correct than Rousset will ever know. For it was really this: “Out of many workers’ parties, one revolutionary party.” That has been the real history of the development of the primary revolutionary party in all socialist revolutions, that the testing of political lines in practice will produce the coming together of those vanguard cadre which will follow a leadership whose success has been demonstrated in the “actually existing class struggle”.
No schematic proclamations by a self-proclaimed leadership, especially one tainted with a litany of strategic and tactic failures: continental guerrilla warfare, the liquidation of the PRT of Mexico, the social democratization of the Democracia Socialista in the Workers’ Party of Brazil, the liquidation of the LCR of France; the Italian fiasco; the adoration of first SYRIZA, then the Popular Unity, and now the reformists of Podemos; the liquidation of Gauche Socialiste in Quebec; and on and on and on, can change this fundamental Leninist historical fact.
What will be comrade Rousset’s response when the Left Bloc forms a popular front government with the Portuguese Socialist Party, the Portuguese Communist Party, and with a party representing the “progressive national bourgeoisie”, a government designed to find national solutions”” to the next series of economic crisis? Just another learning experience from forces with references outside our source?
Those of us who are proud of our Trotskyist heritage, who take great delight in knowing that of all the currents of the workers’ movement, only Trotskyism represents the revolutionary Marxism of the 21st Century, that no other current can provide the analytical and political tools based on the rich accumulated history of the world Trotskyist movement as a whole, are dedicated to building the revolutionary, Trotskyist International which the world working class needs to overcome its greatest crisis, that of revolutionary leadership.
Sadly, the political current inside the USFI which comrade Rousset represents, has shown in practice that not only is it incapable of doing this across wide sections of the globe; its leaders have shown by their own words that they are no longer interested in doing so.
Oct. 22, 2017