Comrade Hansen and the leadership of the SWP should ponder the situation in which they find themselves at this stage in the discussion. How does it happen that inside the world Trotskyist movement, in which presumably “adaptation to ultra-leftism,” if not “universal extension of rural guerilla warfare to all countries, including the workers states” was the main and only danger which had to be fought against, they find themselves in an unprincipled bloc with comrades, groups and tendencies which are characterised by various degrees of opportunist tail-endism; throwing overboard some key aspects of Leninism and of the Trotskyist tradition, questioning the very nature of the Leninist party and of the transitional programme for which the SWP and Comrade Cannon especially have fought so consistently for so many years? What is the objective dialectic which has caught them in its net? What are the origins and motive forces of that dialectic? Perhaps, after all, “adaptation to ultra-leftism” was not the only or even the “main danger” at this stage? Perhaps, after all, the majority of the leadership of the FI was not wedded to universal guerilla warfare, nor to liquidating “the Leninist strategy of party building”? Perhaps the whole discussion was started on a wrong footing, and it should be wise to re-examine the positions adopted on all sides, in the light of the subsequent developments of that discussion?
The way in which the debate around armed struggle has evolved is an excellent example of this objective dialectic in which Comrade Hansen personally, and the present leadership of the SWP collectively, have been caught and forced to evolve independently from their intentions.
When in the article written together with Comrade Martine Knoeller, we asked Comrade Hansen whether he thought that armed struggle was only admissible in the final, insurrectional phase of the struggle for power, he answered negatively and repeated the formula from the Reunification Congress document that guerilla warfare was a permissible and useful means of struggle to apply by Marxist revolutionaries under certain circumstances. We were glad to read that answer, as it confirmed our impression that the differences on armed struggle were not of a principled nature, but simply a matter of estimate and analysis of specific situation.
Likewise Comrades Moreno and Lorenzo, in the amendment which they submitted to the 9th World Congress political resolution, categorically stated:
“ One of the conquests of the past thirty years of the movement of the colonial masses is the demonstration that armed struggle and guerilla war are not a slogan and a method that is applicable only at the culmination of the rise of the mass movement to take power, but are applicable at any particular moment of class struggle, mainly when the exploiters themselves open a stage of civil war against the mass movement.”
Even Comrade Peter Camejo in his article Why Guevara’s Guerilla Strategy has no Future (ISR, November 1972), ranged armed struggle, including guerilla warfare, among “appropriate forms of struggle” – an indication incidentally, that by no means everything in that article – parts of which we have been compelled to criticise heavily in our present contribution to the international discussion – is wrong.
But hardly had Comrade Camejo’s article appeared that one of the staunchest supporters of the SWP positions, a member of the present majority of the Canadian section, published a contribution in the Canadian Internal Bulletin entitled: Terrorism, Guerilla Warfare and the “Strategy of Armed Struggle”: The Leninist View (LSA/LSO Discussion Bulletin 1972, December 1972, No. 19), in which the conjunctural analysis made by Lenin and Trotsky of the specific tasks of the European Communist Parties, in a specific situation of partial retreat of the revolution in 1921, at the Third Congress of the Communist International, which implied a warning to these communists not to let themselves be provoked into premature massive armed confrontations with bourgeois state power, is transformed into a general principle: don’t engage in armed struggle as long as you number only a few hundred thousands! The implication is clear: armed struggle is only an appropriate means of struggle at the eve of the conquest of power or after that conquest, when you have won already the majority of the toiling masses to the revolutionary party. But this presentation – which contradicts Comrade Hansen’s, Comrade Moreno’s and Comrade Camejo’s position – flies in the face of the whole tradition of Leninism and Trotskyism. It transforms into “ultra-left adventurers” or even “terrorists” not only the Cuban revolutionists and the Algerian revolutionists, not only the Yugoslav Communists of 1941 and the Palestinian revolutionists of 1967, all of whom started armed struggle when they only numbered a few thousands, but also the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks of 1905, who were probably not more than 10-15,000 when they set up armed detachments, not only the Lenin of 1906 advocating the setting up of the partisan detachments precisely by the party; not only the Austrian social-democrats when they took arms with a few thousand fighters agsint the Dollfuss clerico-fascist coup in February 1934, but Trotsky himself who advocated resistance against the fascists’ rise to power which had to start from vanguard actions, Trotsky who advocated guerilla warfare against the Japanese invasion of China and the Russian Bolsheviks of February 1917 who set up armed detachments of workers in the factories when they were still a rather limited minority of the Russian toiling masses but were strongly supported by the vanguard workers. In all these instances Comrade Angus, with his logic, would have used that famous formula: “We shouldn’t have taken up arms”! which wasn’t exactly Lenin’s.
How is it that Comrade Hansen’s alleged defence of “orthodoxy” can produce such “unorthodox” fruits? We repeat: let the leading cadres of the SWP seriously ponder that question.
The question also applies to the positions adopted by the SWP itself. Why, when the Cuban revolutionists were struggling against Batista, in the course of which struggle not a few “kidnappings” happened to occur, did The Militant not denounce them as “terrorists” and “ultra-left adventurers”? Why, when the El Fatah fighters were sometimes brought to use much harsher methods in their struggle, was there no such denunciation in the pages of The Militant? Why didn’t The Militant publicly denounce and condemn the guerilla struggle organised by the comrades of the Peruvian FIR in support of Hugo Blanco’s struggle? Had Hugo Blanco already succeeded in building a “mass Leninist party”? Had he already conquered a majority influence among the Peruvian masses? Was there any qualitative difference between the situation then in Peru and the situation in Argentina now? Or was the SWP of the opinion that, although they rather disliked actions of that sort, it would be wrong to brand the Peruvian comrades for that reason publicly as “terrorists” and start to make concessions to the “anti-terrorist” hue-and-cry, which after all imperialism and petty-bourgeois reformism have been consistently using against Bolshevism for more than fifty years, calling Lenin, Trotsky and all their followers the world over “terrorists,” “blanquists,” etc.
Wasn’t the SWP at that time of the opinion that you had to look upon the struggle of the Peruvian comrades and their Argentinian supporters in its totality, and that in that totality the facts like the shot policeman, were incidents perhaps regrettable but upon which judgment was impossible without very detailed knowledge of all factors involved, and couldn’t be decided upon thousands of miles away? Isn’t that the position adopted by the United Secretariat of the FI towards the Sallustro affair? We have said that it would be slanderous to brand the Argentinian comrades as “terrorists”; that nobody in good faith could say that they had elevated the execution of capitalists into a “strategy”; that armed struggle or guerilla warfare has nothing to do with such executions; that therefore the Sallustro affair was only a minor incident in the framework of a complex struggle, and that we refuse to be drawn into “approving” or “condemning” individual incidents of such a struggle, be it only because on lack of sufficient information necessary to judge them.
Why did the SWP change its position in that respect? Why the different attitude toward similar, if not identical events in Peru and Argentina? What are the objective motive forces behind this change?
Comrade Hansen’s implicit answer to this question is “the danger of adaptation to ultraleftism.” We have already tried to show that this alleged “danger” can only be construed out of a one-sided, mechanistic and unrealistic analysis of the evolution of the world Trotskyist movement during the last 5-6 years, which glosses over a series of mistakes and inclinations of right-wing opportunist and tail-endist nature. A blindness towards this danger drives the leadership of the SWP and Comrade Hansen into unprincipled blocs with opportunist tendencies, justified by the “priority” of fighting the “main danger.”
The problem can be clarified if the question is asked: what has the leadership of the Fourth International tried to accomplish since the May ‘68 events in France? What has been its general line? In what consists the “turn of the 9th World Congress,” to which Comrade Hansen now refers on several occasions? Is it a universal turn towards “rural guerilla warfare,” or even a universal turn towards “the strategy of armed struggle?’ Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Ninth World Congress’ general political resolution correctly pointed out that the May events in France, seen in their global context, linked to the serious deterioration of the economic situation of world capitalism, with the strong upsurge of working class struggles in Western Europe, and with the new deepening of the crisis of Stalinism, both inside the bureaucratised workers states and inside the CPs in the capitalist countries, reflected the beginning of a new upsurge of world revolution, which for the first time since 1923 was occurring under conditions in which the hold of the traditional bureaucracies on the mass movement, although still strong, was seriously weakened by the appearance of a mass vanguard ready to act independently of the reformists, the Stalinists and the traditional nationalist leaderships in the colonial and semi-colonial countries.
From this basic analysis, we drew two essential conclusions: that the general trend of mass struggles, of revolutionary explosions the world over would come nearer to the “Leninist norm of proletarian revolution,” that the building of Trotskyist parties could make a qualitative leap forward, provided they knew how to profit from the existence of that mass vanguard to outgrow the phase of propaganda groups and to become organisations capable of political initiatives of a mass character, which could trigger off even broader advanced mass struggles (advanced both in the nature of their demands and in their forms of organisation).
This was the “general line of the Ninth World Congress,” as it was clearly and explicitly expressed by the reporter for the political resolution, accepted unanimously by the Congress with only Comrade Peng dissenting.
If one regards the text of that political report to the Congress, one will understand why, contrary to Comrade Hansen, all those who voted for the resolution on Latin America (myself included), did not see any contradiction between the “general line” and the Latin-American resolution. In our eyes, what was involved in Latin-America, was a specific application of that general estimate to specific circumstances. As we were convinced that in countries like Bolivia and Argentina armed confrontations between the masses and the strong bourgeois armies were inevitable, because of the increasing probability of explosions “much closer to the Leninist norm of proletarian revolutions,” we naturally drew from that analysis the conclusion that it was of key importance for the building of strong Trotskyist parties in Bolivia and Argentina, that our forces in these two countries, which were the strongest we had in Latin-America, and which were not insignificant compared to other vanguard tendencies, should take initiatives for the preparation of armed struggle, initiatives which would pay off inside the mass movement if the assumed turn would actually occur.
We remain convinced that these projections were confirmed by events, and that the said preparations, whatever have been their insufficiencies, their one-sidedness, the inevitable mistakes which accompanied them, inasmuch as they were the first experiments of the FI in that field since its inception, have paid and will continue to pay an important dividend, both in the field of political mass influence and in the field of party building, i.e., of winning vanguard elements, advanced workers and radicalised students, for our sections. Comrade Hansen strongly disagrees with that assessment. But independently from the difference in judging the balance-sheet of events and interventions since 1969 on Bolivia and Argentina, he should admit that a careful rereading of both the political resolution adopted at the 9th World Congress and of the political report and summary of the reporter for that resolution confirms the version that there was not the slightest intention of projecting any “universal turn towards the strategy of armed struggle,” or even worse “a universal turn towards the strategy of rural guerilla warfare.” What was projected was a turn towards the transformation of Trotskyist organisations from propaganda groups into organisations already capable of those political initiatives of a mass vanguard level which are required by the dynamics of the class struggle itself.
Was that real turn justified or not? We think it was. We think it has started to transform the Fourth International into a qualitatively stronger organisation than in the pre-1968 period (a transformation which is of course a still very limited and insufficient expression on the level of the subjective factor, of the “new rise of world revolution” we were all convinced of witnessing since May ‘68). We shall give four instances where the effects of that “turn” have been striking.
We have deliberately grouped together examples of strikes and hunger strikes, of peaceful demonstrations and rather violent action. The Bolivian Trotskyist role on August 20-21, 1971, can be placed in the same category. It is obvious that the capacity of Trotskyist organisations to take initiatives of action which draw into movement masses of vanguard workers and students, and sometimes even large sectors of the working class, have to be conceived in the framework of the concrete situation of each country, have to express the objective key needs of the class struggle at a given stage, and that these situations and key needs differ widely from continent to continent and from country to country. No general rule applies to all and every country, certainly not “armed struggle.” And to transform this real history of the “turn of the 9th World Congress” into a universal appeal for “guerilla warfare” is a bad joke which the leading comrades of the minority cannot seriously believe themselves, and which is just a way to avoid the real debate.
All sections of the FI cannot yet make that turn. The question of passing a first threshold of organisational and political strength is essential for the capacity of even conceiving the correct initiative, let alone applying it successfully. It is also evident that the amount of initial forces involved greatly influences and pre-determines the organisational outcome of the initiative. That is why the initiatives taken by the French and American Trotskyists who at the outset had a much stronger organisation at their disposal than the Spanish, Bolivian and Ceylonese comrades, brought much higher organisational gains than in the latter countries.
But all these considerations do not modify the nature of the turn nor its significance. It is not at all a turn away from any basic tradition of Leninism, of building proletarian revolutionary vanguard parties, but on the contrary a turn toward seizing the opportunities of speeding up the building of such parties by becoming still small but already significant factors of initiative in the mass struggle itself.
Why is the word “turn” justified? Because the capacity for initiative in action contrasts with the propaganda group approach, which was predominant in the previous period, not because of any mistake or weakness of our movement, but as a reflection of objective conditions and especially of the predominance of the traditional working class organisations (and nationalist leaderships in the colonies and semi-colonies) in the mass movement.
Under conditions of such predominance, the normal “propaganda group” approach of small nuclei of revolutionists would have been to struggle inside the trade unions (or the CP and SP) for them to take the initiative: for defending the students in May ’68 in France; for organising the antiwar movement in the USA; for arming the workers in August 1971 in La Paz; for switching from participation toward boycotting the elections in Spain; for organising the struggle against the repression in Ceylon. We do not underestimate the need to continue this type of activity even today, even in the above mentioned cases. But it has ceased to be the main axis of our activity. In France, we did not limit ourselves to vote resolutions calling upon the CGT to do this, that or the other: we organised the defence of the students ourselves. In the USA, we did not limit ourselves to presenting resolutions at union conferences calling upon the AFL-CIO to organise the antiwar movement; we started to organise it ourselves. In Bolivia, we did not limit ourselves in presenting resolutions to the COB or the Popular Assembly to arm the workers; we started to act ourselves. In Ceylon, we did not call upon the LSSP and CP-led unions to organise the fight against the repression; we took the initiative of the struggle ourselves. And we believe that these initiatives in action contribute more than a hundred debates and resolutions to shift the relationship of forces inside the traditional mass organisations as well, a shift which still remains essential to influence the attitude of the majority of the working class.
The opposite policy is that of the Lambertists (and partially of the Healyites), who stick to purely propagandistic orientation and try to theoretise with their “united front strategy of party building.” When repression struck the Paris student movement in the beginning of May ’68, they opposed the militant student demonstrations and the building of the barricades. Their line was to pressure the trade unions to organise a “mass demonstration of 500,000 workers in front of the President’s palace, in defence of the students.” Against imperialism’s counter-revolutionary war in Vietnam, the American Healyites tended equally to substitute for initiatives in action calls upon Meany and other top bureaucrats of the AFL-CIO to do this, that or the other (build a labour party, organise a general strike, the variants were numerous), which, under the circumstances, had to remain purely on paper. In Ceylon, the Healyites opposed to the mass actions initiated by our comrades against the repression, calls upon the LSSP and CP-led unions to “organise actions” against the repression, or even calls to the LSSP and CP ministers who share the responsibility in the repression, to take various initiatives. And in Bolivia – most tragic and treacherous example of all – the Lora variant of Lambertism substituted for the vital task of arming the workers against the impending military coup, the empty expectation that General Torres, in the hour of need, somehow would arm the workers himself.
As long as the new rise of world revolution continues and is not broken by grave defeats of the working class, in important sectors of the world; as long as the mass vanguard capable of acting independently from the traditional treacherous mass leaderships exists, and as long as in a series of countries the growth of our movement enables us to pass the threshold of primitive accumulation of cadres which makes such initiatives in action realistically possible, the “turn of the 9th World Congress” remains vital for building the Fourth International under the present conditions. It is no shortcut to “get rich quick.” It is no substitute for patient expansion of the cadre of our sections, for them gaining influence among larger sectors of the masses, for the crystallisation of national leaderships which are politically and organisationally maturing in the process of party building itself. But it is a precondition for efficiently exploiting the main opportunities which have opened up for revolutionary Marxists through the deepening of the twin crisis of imperialist and Stalinism. It is today the main source of our recruitment. It forms an important lap of the road which leads our movement from the status of propaganda groups to that of revolutionary mass parties.
As long as the Trotskyist organisations were condemned by events and size to be essentially propaganda groups – with only conjunctural possibilities to pass to a higher stage of activity on local levels, in a given branch of industry, city or region – the homogeneity of the movement was essentially of a programmatic nature. Trotskyists in Berlin and in La Paz, in Tokyo and in Paris, in New York and in Johannesburg could write the same articles about the crisis of imperialism, the nature of Stalinism, the need to defend the Soviet Union against bourgeois armies, or the theory of the permanent revolution. Application of the common programmatic outlook to current conjunctural developments was done more or less successfully, depending on the degree of maturity and experience of the cadre and the sharpness of the turns in the world situation.
When significant sectors of the world movement started to transform themselves from propaganda groups into organisations capable of political initiatives on a mass level, this homogeneity was submitted to a new and more difficult test. The nature and the form of the initiatives in action are a function of specific national objective conditions, of specific relations between the mass vanguard and the broader mass movement, of specific weight of our own forces inside the mass vanguard, and of specific perspectives for the development of the mass movement (i.e., of the degree of understanding of concrete short-and medium-term dynamics of the class struggle). They differ from country to country and from sector to sector of world revolution. The less our forces understand these concrete conditions, the less they will be capable of action, the more they will remain pure propaganda groups. But the more they understand these peculiarities, the more they have to take them into consideration in order to work out initiatives and plans of action, the more they will tend to be influenced and moulded in their general outlook, at least partially, by these peculiar national circumstances of the class struggle.
In other words: in the process of transformation of our sections from propaganda groups into organisations capable of political initiatives in action, the different objective and subjective conditions of the mass movement in different parts of the world threaten to become a factor of differentiation of the Fourth International, in spite of its common programmatic basis. The uneven development of world revolution threatens to reflect itself inside the world Trotskyist movement through different approaches to similar problems of orientation, which are a function of different objective conditions in different parts of the world, which express themselves in different experiences in action of our cadres in these different sectors of the world.
There is a real danger that cadres recruited, educated and experienced essentially through actions determined by these national peculiarities will tend to generalise them on an international scale; that methods of party building, of tactics and of orientation in the mass movement which may be adequate in the United States will apply to Argentina or Bolivia where they are inappropriate to the needs of the given stage in the class struggle; that Argentine comrades will commit the same mistakes by generalising their own experience to the whole of Asia or Southern Europe; the European comrades will tend to export their own experiences to Chile or to Mexico.
What we are dealing with here are not general principles, the common programme, the universal strategical and tactical rules distilled by the classics of Marxism-Leninism from a century and a half of experience of revolutionary class struggle. We are dealing with more detailed and more precise problems of political orientation and methods of party building, where these national (or sectoral) peculiarities have a large weight.
Two examples will illustrate the danger we refer to.
One of the greatest political achievements of the SWP in the last 15 years has been the correct understanding of the peculiar way in which the national question – the question of the oppression of the Black and the Chicano people – poses itself inside the United States. Given the fact that both these nationalities-in-formation do not have “their own” ruling class in the real sense of the word, and cannot acquire such a ruling class – not to speak of their own bourgeois state – without a complete disintegration of US imperialist economy and society; given the tremendous weight of oppression, humiliation and demoralisation which centuries of slavery and semi-slavery have brought down on the Black people in the United States, the specific character and dynamics of the Black (and the Chicano) liberation struggle in the United States was correctly understood by the comrades of the SWP. The analysis and projections made by Comrade George Breitman in that respect were among the most important creative contributions to Marxist thought realised by the world Trotskyist movement since the murder of Leon Trotsky. The conclusion was obvious: Black (and Chicano) nationalism in the United States are objectively progressive forces which revolutionary Marxists had to support, stimulate and help organise independently from the two big American bourgeois parties and from the still non-existent labour party.
But this positive attitude towards Black (and Chicano) nationalist is an exception to a general rule. It corresponds to specific circumstances in the history and the structure of US bourgeois society. To extend the same method of approach to Quebecois nationalism, Arab nationalism, Bengali nationalism, Ceylonese nationalism, not to speak of “anti-US imperialism,” Canadian or European nationalism, means to court disaster. In all these cases potential, developed or already extremely powerful bourgeois ruling classes do exist, which already have or could conquer state power under given circumstances. To educate the toilers in a “nationalist” spirit, and not in a spirit of total distrust to their own bourgeoisie, means to make the conquest of proletarian hegemony in the mass movement more difficult, and thereby contributes to the risk of defeat of future revolutionary developments.
The political test is easy. In function of the specific analysis of the Black and Chicano national question in the USA, the call for independent mass parties of the Black and Chicano people corresponds to the positive attitude towards Black and Chicano nationalism. But what Trotskyist would issue a call for an “independent Quebecois mass party,” or an “independent Palestinian mass party,” or an “independent mass party of Bengalis” or “Sinhala speaking people,” instead of struggling for the independent organisation of the workers and poor peasants in these countries, i.e., for an organisation along class lines and not along national lines?
A second example is of a more conjunctural but no less revealing nature. In the wake of the rise of the youth radicalisation in North America, ultra-left tendencies, completely misjudging the objective situation in the country, the correlationship of forces, the immediate perspectives of the class struggle, the level of consciousness of the masses, wanted to use methods of open confrontation or even armed struggle with the most powerful bourgeois state apparatus in the world. The SWP-YSA were correct to oppose the irresponsible adventurism inherent in these tendencies. Isolated confrontations between small groups of dedicated revolutionaries and the powerful state apparatus of the imperialist countries, under conditions where the class struggle has not reached a point where broad masses of workers understand the inevitability of such confrontations, and are ready to take part in it, can only end in political disaster and threaten to lead to the destruction (included sometimes the physical destruction) of the revolutionary nuclei which, through impatience and lack of understanding of the dialectics of the class struggle, let themselves be drawn into such desperate adventures.
Such an opposition to premature use of armed struggle methods is correct not only in the USA and in other imperialist countries where similar conditions prevail, but obvious also in the bureaucratised workers states and in all those semi-colonial and colonial countries where the necessary pre-conditions have not yet been attained, that is to say where the class struggle has not reached the point where broad masses can understand, on the basis of their own experience, the necessity and inevitability of armed confrontations with the class enemy and his state – because it is using violent oppression against the masses on a scale qualitatively different from that of the USA or Canada – and where revolutionists have therefore the duty to propagandise the preparation for such confrontations and to take initiatives in this sense as soon as they have passed a given threshold of organisational strength.
But to oppose propaganda for armed struggle and the beginning of preparation for armed struggle in Bolivia and Argentina because one opposed the Weathermen and their like in the USA, is to throw overboard the necessity of determining the correct political orientation and method of party building in function of the concrete dynamics of the class struggle in each country.
In Bolivia after the 1964 and 1967 massacres; after the experience of Che’s guerrillas; after the experience of the Barrientos dictatorship – and now after the experience of the August 1971 coup and the Banzer dictatorship – the need for armed struggle is understood by broad masses and started to become practised by them. Likewise in Argentina, after the Ongania dictatorship, after the m’assive arrests, kidnappings, tortures and murders of left militants, after the constant interventions in the unions by the military the need for armed struggle began to be understood by the masses and started to be applied by them in the semi-insurrectional local uprisings. Under these specific circumstances the approach towards armed struggle by revolutionary Marxists had obviously to be different from what it was in the USA and Canada. To have an identical approach to this problem in North and in South America means to generalise nationally limited and determined experiences into universal rules. In our opinion, this is to a large extent the origin of the present discussion between the leadership of the SWP and the majority leadership of the Fourth International.
For the same reason we view with great misgivings the rejection, by the minority members of the United Secretariat, of the draft theses on the building of revolutionary mass parties in capitalist Europe. Obviously, this rejection has opened a new stage in the international discussion. It has at the same tune drawn the rug from under the feet of Comrade Hansen and other spokesmen of the minority.
Carefully reading the draft thesis, nobody can honestly say that they tend to make a “turn” towards “rural guerrilla warfare” nor do they project any orientation towards universal “urban guerrilla warfare.” To counterpose to these theses the concept of “Leninist combat party building” or the Transitional Programme would be ridiculous: the theses are entirely centered around these two concepts. In the light of this document, and its rejection by the international minority, the whole thesis of Comrade Hansen presenting the “crisis” in the Fourth International as an opposition between comrades who make concessions to “Guevarist,” “ultraleft terrorist” and “guerrillaist” pressure, and comrades who staunchly defend the traditions of Leninist party building with the methods of the Transitional Programme, completely collapses.
But perhaps the thesis is making basic concessions to “ultraleftism” in other fields than “guerrilla warfare”? If this would be the contention of the minority, the least one can say is that no serious evidence has been advanced in that field. The embarrassed justifications of the minority for their negative vote have centered up to now on minor aspects of the thesis like the contention that they give a historical version of the reasons for postwar entryism (twenty years ago!) which the minority disputes, that there is an underestimation of the potentialities of the women’s liberation movement and the youth radicalisation, etc., etc.
We call these minor matters because experienced comrades like those of the SWP leadership understand perfectly well the differences between the general line of a thesis, and all kinds of other questions which get involved – over-estimated or under-estimated – at the initial stage of a discussion, when a rounded medium-term perspective for a whole sector of the world revolution, and for our movement working in that sector, is being projected. Surely it would have been easy for the comrades of the minority to present half a dozen amendments on all kinds of disputed minor matters, while at the same time unequivocally stating their attitude towards the general line of the European Perspectives Document. The fact that they hide behind these other questions in order to avoid a clear cut answer whether the general line projected by the European thesis is right or wrong, is revealing for the embarrassment in which the minority finds itself, for the impossibility to maintain the myth of a dispute between “Comrades-giving-in-to-Guevarist-pressure” and “orthodox Trotskyists,” and for the need to come to grips with the real problem raised by the international discussion: how to approach and to solve the transformation of the Trotskyist organisations from propaganda groups into organisations already capable of political mass initiatives with effects on the development of the class struggle, in different countries and different sectors of world revolution.
The answer to that question which the European document projects for the imperialist countries in Europe is the following: as the economic and social crisis in these countries will continue to deepen in various degrees; as the general trend of working class struggles will be to widen and to reach in a series of countries heights rarely or never attained in the past; as a mass vanguard of young workers and students has appeared ready to act independently from the treacherous traditional working class leaderships; and as the tight control of these leaderships on the mass actions of the proletariat – independent of electoral ups and downs – is weakening, the fundamental orientation of the European Trotskyists must be to implant themselves in the working class, to use the weight of the mass vanguard to modify the relationship of forces between the bureaucracies and the advanced workers in the unions, the factories, the offices and on the streets, and to concentrate their propaganda and whenever possible, their agitation, on the preparation of these advanced workers for the appearance of factory committees, of organs of dual power, at the height of the next wave of generalised mass struggles massive strikes, general strikes, general strikes with factory occupations.
In other words: the European perspective document spells out in the terms of party building and party activity the logical conclusions to be drawn, under conditions of growing mass upsurge of the European proletariat, from the analysis of the 9th World Congress accepted by the SWP leadership, that the “new rise of world revolution” was reverting to the “Leninist norms of the proletarian revolution.”
A new attempt at diversion made by some representatives of the minority at the last IEC consisted of accusing the majority of projecting a “short-term-struggle-for-power-perspective” for our movement. This is completely unfounded. We are not fools, (and nobody should present us as fools) who seriously consider orienting towards a “struggle for power” with some hundreds or, in the best of cases, some thousands of Trotskyists “leading” millions of European workers. There is no trace of such a childish illusion in the Thesis on the building of revolutionary parties in capitalist Europe.
We speak about something entirely different, something which belongs to the main conquests of the Transitional Programme, as developed by the Third International first, and as embodied by the Programme drafted by Leon Trotsky later: that before they have already reached a revolutionary mass party capable of victorious leading a struggle for power, revolutionists should try by all means to transform generalised struggles of the working class into struggles where the question of power starts to become posed before the masses, where they start to build their own power organs as opposed to the organs of the bourgeois state. In other words: that revolutionary Marxists should prepare themselves and the masses to have soviet-type committees, organs of dual power, arise out of general strikes. With Trotskyist groups much weaker than the present sections of the Fourth International, Trotsky projected such a line for countries like France, Belgium, Spain, between 1934 and 1936, because he correctly foresaw similar developments of the class struggle. By projecting a similar line today in Western Europe, we remain in the strictest Leninist-Trotskyist orthodoxy, under conditions of a gradually unfolding pre-revolutionary situation in highly industrialised imperialist countries.
When millions of workers are on strike or prepare to go on strike; when successive layers of advanced workers become politicised and drawn into large-scale debates around the need to overthrow capitalism, to build socialism, and the ways and means to do this; when even notorious social-democratic labor fakers as those of the French social-democracy are forced, under such conditions, to involve themselves hi byzantine discussions about “workers’ power,” “workers’ self-management” and “the road to socialism” (we say “byzantine discussions” because these gentlemen have not the slightest intentions of actually breaking with capitalism), obviously the general line of Trotskyists should be to involve themselves in this main radicalisation process, and to view the forces they devote to the women’s liberation movement, the radicalised student movement, the high school student movement – and in several countries these forces should be considerable – as part and parcel of a general orientation toward intervention in working class struggles, implantation hi the working class, and attempts to build a proletarian vanguard party.
We said that we viewed with grave misgivings the rejection, by the international minority of the European thesis, because this rejection at least implies the danger that its general line is being rejected. By rejecting that general line (without proposing any coherent alternative) the comrades of the SWP would be spitting into the well from which they’ll have to draw all their water in the coming years.
It is evident that there is an important time-lag between the rhythm and the scope of working class radicalism in key countries of Western Europe since 1967, and the rhythm and the scope of working class radicalism in other imperialist countries of the world: Japan, Australia, Canada, the USA. But Marxists analysis goes from the general to the particular, tries to understand the overall trend before it incorporates national pecularities into this analysis. For reasons many times explained, the general trend is towards a growing crisis of bourgeois society in all imperialist countries, including the US, towards a growing radicalisation and self-activity of the working class – especially the younger workers – everywhere, including the US. As we said after May 68 paraphrasing a formula of Marx’s (and at that time there seemed to be general agreement about that statement): if the USA is the industrially most advanced country of the world, and show other capitalist countries their own industrial future, France is the politically most advanced country, and shows what is going to happen tomorrow politically in Britain and the day after tomorrow in Japan and in the USA.
The time-lag in the radicalisation of the American working class as a class, compared to the radicalisation of other sectors of the world proletariat, has already had grave consequences from an objective point of view. While we are finishing this article, several trade-unions in Australia in Italy, in Denmark have started or proposed industrial action on a high level against US imperialism’s crimes in Vietnam. If the American working class had been ready to act the same way, the Vietnamese revolution would be victorious within a month. Similarly, the time-lag in the rhythm of maturing of the political revolution in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and in the USSR enabled the bureaucracy to inflict a grave defeat on the Czechoslovak working class in August 1968. The fact that the two numerically strongest sectors of the world proletariat – the American and the Soviet working class – have not yet joined the rising tide of world revolution, still gravely impedes and limits the upsurge at the present stage. And subjectively, this fact reflects itself also inside the world revolutionary movement, inside the Fourth International. The present discussion is a partial expression of this fact.
As long as the proletariat is not yet entering the radicalisation process as a class, in the factories, it is understandable that the SWP Comrades attach great importance to subsequent waves of radicalisation at the periphery of the industrial society of the USA. A correct intervention in these successive waves will help to strengthen and train a larger cadre of revolutionarists, who in the next stage would then be able to intervene with increased strength in the key centres of the class struggle. The radicalisation processes among black people, among Chicanos, among youth, among women inevitably also has a growing impact inside the working class itself, as not a few workers after all are black, chicanos, young or women, themselves. It’s not for people living thousands of miles away from the cities and brought where these interventions are being made to judge whether all tactical aspects of them have been correct or not.
While the need to give priority to participation in the existing and unfolding process of radicalisation seems to us to have been correctly assessed, we wonder whether this has been sufficiently combined with the need for deliberately trying to win to the party the vanguard elements which are thrown up by such a radicalisation process. After all, the impact of the Transitional Programme lies primarily in its overall answer to the crisis of society. To limit the activity of revolutionary party essentially to providing answers to particular needs thrown up by sectors of the masses which progressively are drawn into the radicalisation process cannot satisfy the more radical elements. The whole idea of “transitional programmes” for sectors of the masses must at least be submitted to a critical discussion, as the very nature of the Transitional Programme lies in its function to bring the masses through their own experience to a single conclusion: the need to struggle for power, to make a socialist revolution.
In the same sense, we wonder whether e.g. in the mass antiwar movement, which the SWP has helped to organize in such an exemplary way, it wouldn’t have been necessary to combine a general united front approach toward mobilizing the maximum number of people for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, with a more specific propaganda directed to a more limited vanguard, explaining the need to support the Vietnamese revolution till its final victory (i.e. the need to support the process of permanent revolution unfolding in Vietnam). While the largest possible mass demonstrations for the withdrawal of the US troops were undoubtedly the best contributions which American revolutionists could make to the victory of the Vietnamese revolution – and in that sense we entirely approved and approve the SWP’s line in the antiwar movement – withdrawal of troops does not equal victory of the Vietnamese revolution, as subsequent events have stressed sufficiently. To continue a more limited solidarity movement with the Vietnamese revolution, once the US troops had been withdrawn, could have been prepared by a more combined approach to agitation and propaganda, which, incidently, would have helped recruitment among vanguard elements too.
Whatever may be the opinion one arrives at on the question, the pre-conditions of the “single-issue-campaigns-orientation” should be correctly understood and not idealised, so as not to make a virtue out of what could be considered, in the last hypothesis a dire necessity. In his contribution to the 1971 pre-convention discussion of the SWP Comrade George Novack expressed the problem in a nutshell:
“At the present stage of development, the best way to strengthen our forces for reaching the working class is to deploy our cadres, as we have been doing for the past ten years of our growth, in those sectors of social struggle that are presently more intensely radicalised and open to rapid recruitment. Success in this endeavour will prepare our party for more extensive and intensive activity among the organised workers when and as their insurgency manifests itself and begins to match that of the more aroused and advanced contingents of the populations already in motion.
“... All the fruitful work that can be done among the organised workers is integral to our line. We have several hundred union members who are conducting political activity, as far as possible among the militants they are in contact with. We are likewise involved in several struggles on a local or national scale in the building trades, railroad workers, auto, teachers and other public employee unions. However important they are in themselves and for the future, these continuing activities perforce occupy a secondary status in our total operations, and, while they can be expected to expand, will not command priority until and unless large sections of the industrial workers go into action.”
(George Novack, Schematism or Marxism?, SWP Discussion Bulletin, Vol.29 No.14, July 1971, p.3)
Once the SWP leadership accepts this method of approach, it must accept the correctness and timeliness of the turns towards the industrial working class implies in the European perspectives documents, lest doubts are cast on its own ability to make a similar turn in the US “when the conditions ripen for such an orientation.”
After all, during the last four years we have had more than 10 million workers on strike in France, (the largest part participating in a general strike), more than 15 million in Italy, at least three million in Britain and more than a million in Spain. In several other Western European countries like Belgium, Sweden, West Germany, Denmark and Holland, the working class upsurge and radicalisation, while having been slower and more modest, is nevertheless real and strikingly opposed to the downward trend of working class struggles and consciousness during the preceding years. “The insurgency of the organised workers” has certainly manifested itself and more than matched that “of the more aroused and advanced contingents of the population already in motion.” Conditions are certainly ripe for such an orientation towards the industrial workers under circumstances where “large sections of the industrial workers have already gone into action.” Under these circumstances isn’t the general line of the European perspectives document absolutely in conformity with the very projections the SWP leadership makes itself for a future stage of its own orientation inside the US, “when and as” the radicalisation process pushes the proletariat as a class to the forefront of the mass movement? Which doesn’t imply either that you have to wait to millions of workers are already on the move, before making a decisive turn in that direction.
Once the working class gets into motion, an extremely powerful centripetal force is introduced into all rebellious mass movements in an advanced industrial country, precisely because of the overwhelming weight of the industrial proletariat in society. In most of the European countries, to have a correct and practical orientation towards the working class and towards industrial action becomes a precondition for an efficient intervention in the student and high school field, because when massive strikes occur again and again, when the confrontation between Capital and Labour is in the centre of political debate, controversy and polarisation, students increasingly view even their own particular demands as tied in and integrated with the broader issues around which the test of strength between the working class and the capitalists is developing. To hesitate or waver in applying an orientation which gives priority to interventions in working class struggles under such conditions means to reduce even the possibilities of recruiting students or high school students to the revolutionary organisations.
Instead of rejecting the general line of the Thesis on the building of revolutionary mass parties in capitalist Europe, the leadership of the SWP should have carefully studied this document, and the overall experience of the European Trotskyist movement during the last couple of years which it summarises, because such a study would enable it to have a preview of some of the questions with which they will be confronted in the coming years in the US, when the radicalisation of the industrial working class will gather momentum. They should especially ponder one of the key lessons which experience has taught the European Trotskyist cadres and which is likely to repeat itself in the US, to wit the important role which the young workers, less controlled by the union bureaucracies, will play in the coming working class upsurge in the USA, the first signs of which are already visible.
The relationship of these young workers to the established unions is more complex than that of the generation of the thirties and the forties which built the CIO. It is undisputed that no large-scale radicalisation of the American working class is possible without a tidal wave of upheaval expressing that radicalisation inside the trade unions.
But one cannot dismiss in advance that, given the extreme degree of bureaucratisation of some trade-unions, the close collaboration of some of their leaders with the bourgeois state apparatus, and the extreme resistance to change which many of these bureaucrats show, the insurgency of the young workers could in some cases – like in the thirties – bypass the existing union channels and take several new directions, either that of new unions or that of setting up factory committees directly. The rich experience of new organisational forms thrown up by the upsurge of the Western European working class during the last years – of which the elected “conveyor-belt-delegates” of the Italian metal workers union, elected by the unionised and non-unionised workers alike, but recognised by the unions as representatives of all the workers, are the most impressive one – should be carefully studied by the American Comrades. The discussion around the European thesis should be used for an educational discussion around these fundamental issues, which are extremely important for the future of the SWP itself, and not for throwing in red herrings of “ultraleftism,” “short-term-conquest-of-power-perspectives,” or “missing-the-opportunities-of-the-women’s-liberation-movement” type. After all, Comrade Cannon’s most important contribution to the development of Trotskyist theory is entitled The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, not The Struggle for a Single-Issue-Campaigns Party.
Both the question of the concrete intervention in mass struggles developing in various parts of the world, and the question of building a proletarian party, evolve in the last analysis around the correct understanding of the function of the Transitional Programme, a problem which we have encountered in judging the differences on Latin America as well as the turn of the 9th World Congress, the meaning of the European Thesis as well as the underlying reasons for the SWP leadership’s resistance to accept the general line of that thesis.
The question boils down essentially to this: is the function of the Transitional Programme exclusively or mainly a function of recruiting individual militants to the revolutionary vanguard organisation, a function of assisting Trotskyists in cadre building? Or to pose the question even in a more general way: what is the nature of the inadequacy of the subjective factor which, in spite of historically favourable objective conditions, has till now prevented the victory of socialist revolutions in the industrialised countries of the world?
Trotsky himself answered the question without ambiguity: the subjective immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard. The two factors – the insufficient level of proletarian class consciousness, and the weakness of the revolutionary party – are, from a Marxist, i.e., dialectical point of view, intertwined. The solution of the crisis of proletarian leadership is the product of a dual process: the raising of the class consciousness of the proletariat and the building of a revolutionary mass party. Neither one can be solved without the other being solved too. A powerful revolutionary party cannot trick an essentially reformist working class into “making a socialist revolution without really trying,” or without even noticing it. A powerful party claiming to be revolutionary which has not succeeded in raising the level of class consciousness significantly above its present level would be in serious trouble to prove that it has done its revolutionary duty, i.e., that it has really acted like a revolutionary party. And where could such a powerful revolutionary party originate from if not from the rapidly increasing class consciousness of a growing number of layers of the working class, itself made possible by a growing crisis of capitalism and growing mass activity, but by no means a mechanical reflection or a simple product of these objective conditions?
It thus follows that the key task which the Transitional Programme lays before revolutionary cadres is the task to raise the level of consciousness, of subjective maturity, of the working class. And while it encompasses also several other essential tasks, at least One of the key tasks of building a revolutionary Leninist party boils down to the same function likewise. This implies something quite different from adaptation to a given level of mass consciousness in order to organise mass actions which are as broad as possible. It gives a special stamp to those kinds of mass actions, around those kinds of slogans, which in given concrete objective situation, in function of a given objective dynamics of the class struggle, assists in the most efficient possibly way significant sector of the working class to understand, through their own experience the need for a socialist revolution, the need for a decisive break with capitalist relations of production, the need to set up their own organs of power (Soviets and workers militias).
In the light of this analysis of the dual function of the Transitional Programme, the “general line of the 9th World Congress” becomes integrated into an overall estimate of the world situation and our tasks. What this “general line” helps us to understand, is the specific form of “party-building” and of “cadre-building” which is both possible and necessary, once a pre-revolutionary situation starts to unfold, and a mass vanguard starts to appear, capable of acting independently from the control of the traditional labour bureaucracies. Class struggle initiatives taken by our sections, related to our view of the dynamics of the mass upsurge which is unfolding, can only help us recruit these elements for our organisations which have the ability to become revolutionary mass leaders, if and when these initiatives correspond to the needs of the most militant sectors of the masses, which will be tomorrow recognised by much broader masses as their needs as well. This is not a restrictive formula. It does not mean that we should only take initiatives in the field of workers control struggles in Western Europe, to take that most obvious example. But it means that the vanguard role of the party will only be recognised by the mass vanguard inasmuch as the party responds to those new, revolutionary trends of the objective situation, and shows itself capable of initiative and centralization on these fields. And only through organised initiatives in action can a real contribution be made to significantly raising the level of class consciousness of broader masses; propaganda alone cannot achieve important results in that key field.
This does not mean, needless to say, that a revolutionary vanguard can, under favourable conditions, artificially “electrify” the workers into sudden leaps forward of their class consciousness. A sober and realistic assessment of immediate perspectives and possibilities of the class struggle, based on correct assessment of the correlation of class forces, both economically and politically, on the depth and immediate dynamics of the contradictions of capitalism and the way in which different classes of society react to them, is essential to solving that task. This is why the call to the formation of a tendency which 19 members of the IEC issued during the December 1972 IEC session underlines that the role and the function of the Transitional Programme in a pre-revolutionary (and revolutionary) situation needs to be clarified. But the SWP leadership has to seriously ponder whether its objections against the armed struggle orientation of the Bolivian and Argentine sections; whether its objections against the European Thesis; whether its tendency to extent exceptional characteristics of the Black and Chicano liberation struggle in the USA to a generalised concept of “Trotskyism = consistent nationalism” in all kinds of oppressed or semi-colonial nationalities around the world; whether the blind eye it turns on obvious right-wing tail-endist deviations of the Canadian section’s majority, of the Moreno group and of the minority tendency of the IMG, do not fundamentally originate from a wrong onesided concept of the function of the Transitional Programme under conditions of growing working class upsurge, of imminent or already real pre-revolutionary crisis in society.
One of the most fundamental characteristics of Leninism is its quality of posing consciously and deliberately all aspects of the subjective factor in history, not only the problems of party building but also the problems of the party leadership. We have to add today to this classical formulation: not only the problem of building a new revolutionary International, but also the problem of building an international leadership.
Leninism abhors spontaneism and the resigned expectation that “somehow things will arrange themselves in the long run.” Nothing “will arrange itself which is not consciously conceived, planned, prepared and striven for. The time has come to draw the necessary conclusions from this elementary truth of Leninism on the level of building the leadership of the International too.
When we said that there is a real danger that with the growth of the world Trotskyist movement, its deeper involvement in mass movements of various countries not only in a propagandistic or commenting but in an active leadership capacity, the uneven development of world revolution would start to express itself in our own ranks, we approached the problem from the materialist hypothesis that social existence, social reality, determines consciousness, and not the other way around. Conscious revolutionists try to remain masters of their own political and theoretical evolution – that’s after all the first function of a correct, scientific programme and method of political analysis. But they would not be fully conscious Marxists, materialists, if they wouldn’t be simultaneously conscious of the objective limitations imposed on that mastery.
Therefore, if we want to avoid a growing process of differentiation inside the movement, expressing growing differences in actual experiences of party building and interventions in mass movements – in the last analysis in function of growing unevenness of the world revolutionary process – we should strive to create the best possible conditions to overcome these limitations. These best possible conditions imply the creation of a collective day-to-day international leadership, working as a political team, trying to integrate at the highest level of consciousness which our movement is today capable of reaching (and of which we all feel the inadequacies compared to the needs of the epoch: there are alas no new Marx, no new Lenins and no new Trotskys around) the constantly changing and varying experiences in intervention in the class struggle and in party building on a world scale.
We say deliberately working as a team, and working as a political team. The problem thrown up by the development of the Fourth International since 1968 itself cannot be solved on the level of collaboration between national leaderships. It cannot be solved on the level of creating a stronger international administrative apparatus. All that is absolutely indispensable. Any progress made in that direction should be welcomed. But the key problem is not there. The key problem is that of creating a team, each member of which deliberately tries to transcend his national experience of class struggle intervention and party building, in order to judge in a more mature way the problems of class struggle intervention and party building on an international scale. It means, in other words, a conscious attempt to transform the uneven development of the Fourth International, which expresses the uneven development of the world revolutionary process, into a less uneven and more combined development, which would be a source of tremendous strength and unity for our world movement. Needless to say, the leading cadres of the North American Trotskyist movement could play an extremely important role in the building of such a team, provided they understand the need for this deliberate and planned worldwide integration of experience and revolutionary consciousness. Common programme and common principles are obviously necessary preconditions for such an endeavour. But such a common programme and common principles exist today. Majority and minority tendencies alike share the same views on the nature of capitalism and socialism, on the necessity of a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, on the theory of permanent revolution, on the necessity of political revolutions in the bureaucratised workers state, on the nature of labour bureaucracies, both in the unions and revisionist mass parties of the capitalist countries and in the bureaucratised workers states, i.e., on reformism and Stalinism, on the Leninist theory of organisation and of the state, on the Transitional Programme, on the need to build revolutionary vanguard parties of the proletariat, on the need to conquer the majority of the toiling masses before power can be wrested from the ruling classes, on the way to build a classless society. Important differences exist on the field of political analysis and evaluation of various orientations of intervention in the class struggle, in some parts of the world. But these differences do not destroy the programmatic unity of the movement.
As a matter of fact, a few months ago, leading representatives of the majority and the minority tried to edit together a full programme for the Fourth International, encompassing, in addition to the transitional programme, an analysis of class society, capitalism, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the building of a classless society, following indications of Trotsky of 1938. They agreed without too many difficulties on practically the whole draft, except a couple of paragraphs concerning the exact formulations relative to the place of armed struggle in the class struggle and the building of the revolutionary party. These differences in formulation reflect the differences at present discussed in the pre-world-congress discussion. But they likewise reflect the large field of programmatic agreement which ties the world movement together.
Precisely because the differences reflect various methods and experiences of class struggle intervention in various parties of the world, and possible differences in analysis of given situations and perspectives, the building of an integrated international leadership team which deliberately tries to transcend limitations of purely national experiences in this field, would be the most efficient way to try and consciously overcome them. Not by sweeping the real differences under the carpet or trying to “solve” them through compromise formulas: but by re-examining them and (at least we hope in the future) limiting them, by looking upon them deliberately not in the light of abstract principles but in the light of concrete class struggle experiences and different class struggle needs in various parts of the world.
If such a deliberate attempt is not undertaken, the danger that various parts of the world movement grow more and more apart under the pressure of a different praxis of class struggle intervention and party building, reflecting the unevenness of the world revolutionary development, becomes very real.
What we call for is not the long-term “uprooting” of nationally leading cadres of the movement. Experience has shown the dangers of such an uprooting. In addition, it would lead to a nucleus of a world leadership much too small to tackle the tremendous job which must be fulfilled today. Rather what we have in mind is a rotation system in which the strongest sections of the movement and the most qualified leading cadres participate 3-4 years in the international leadership, living and working together in the same town, and forming a daily leadership team of the world movement. The movement has today the resources to make this solution possible. Anything less than that solution will increase the difficulties instead of solving them.
What this also implies is the deliberate attempt for each of the members of that team not to operate as the representative of “his” section, or “his” continental sector of the world movement, but to acquire a global outlook towards the problems of development of the world revolution and of building the Fourth International. Of course, nobody can request of any leading cadre that he should cut himself arbitrarily off from his own national organisation, his own experience and his own background. That would not only be impossible. It would be counter-productive, as the capital of experience which he has to bring to this team is essentially of a national character. But it means that a deliberate attempt be made to transcend the inevitable limitations of that national background, and to integrate the various different and sometimes conflicting national experiences into a higher body of understanding and consciousness.
The main function of such an international leadership would be fourfold:
It would be a tragedy if the Fourth International, which embodies the highest level of internationalist consciousness of our epoch, would be less capable of international integration of forces, and international establishment of priorities, than international capital, the Stalinist bureaucracy or even the trade union bureaucrats who, by their very nature, are torn apart by conflicting material interests and national narrowness of outlook. It would be a tragedy if the Fourth International, in the epoch of multinational corporations, of world banking, of global military strategy and of space travel, would be unable to make this modest next step in the direction of international organisation, which is the building of a permanent day-to-day international leadership team.
The discussion starting around the orientation and methods of intervention and party building in Latin America and extending now to Europe has been going on for more than three years. It has led to the call for the creation of two international tendencies inside the world movement. All experienced cadres understand the gravity of such a call, and the dangers which arise out of it for the unity of the International. At the same time, the way in which the Fourth International will go through this experience could make an important contribution, not only to its own strengthening, but also to the re-education of the whole young mass vanguard on a world scale, in the superiority of the Leninist concept of democratic centralism – and not its various bureaucratic caricatures – as the organisational framework for the revolutionary movement
In spite of the youthful character of the great majority of the membership of the world movement at the present stage, and in spite of elements of immaturity, impatience and inexperience which inevitably accompany this youthfulness, our movement is perfectly capable of a worldwide organised fully democratic discussion, in which all the key issues in dispute are presented before the membership, in which the membership can read and listen to the full debate in swing, then make up its mind and elect a world congress which scrupulously respects all the rights of national and international minority tendencies, whichever they may be in the present debate. There is some delay hi the publication of document in some key languages; this delay can be and will be rapidly overcome, taking into consideration the – for our movement – exceptional dimension of the literary contributions and the limited resources of smaller language sectors of the world movement. There is time enough left before the World Congress to enable all sectors of the world movement to familiarise themselves with the key issues and to decide themselves the outcome of the discussion at this stage. Whatever may be the misgivings we can have in front of the appearance of two international tendencies, they represent at the same time to a certain point a guarantee of the unity of the movement. The constitution of the minority tendency means a call for a change of political line of the world movement, and for a change of leadership. This is entirely legitimate. But it would be platonic and a waste of time, if decisions of world congresses of a general political nature would stop being considered binding for international minorities. Surely nobody can be naive to the point to think that he could impose majority decisions when he is in a majority, while refusing to apply them as long as he is in a minority.
The call for the constitution of a minority tendency therefore has only a meaning inasmuch as it implies the recognition that within certain limits, determined by the statutes, world congress decisions are binding for the whole world movement.
In this sense, the constitution of the two international tendencies is a step forward compared to a situation in which differences arose essentially between national sections, or between national sections and the international centre. When two international tendencies confront each other in the world movement on an international basis, this means in reality that a given degree of democratic centralism on an international scale becomes recognised as an indispensable organisational infrastructure of the world Trotskyist movement.
In that field, it is necessary to advance cautiously and with the utmost tact and sense of responsibility. The Fourth International, contrary to the First, the Second and Third one, does not dispose of any material basis which exercises a restraining influence on centrifugal tendencies. We are neither based on mass trade-unions nor on mass parties nor on workers states. The only form of discipline which is applicable in such a movement is discipline which Comrades freely accept to apply. This might seem a weakness compared to the material strength of previous international organisations. In the long run it will appear as a tremendous source of strength, because it expresses freely accepted discipline based on a much higher degree of programmatic agreement, i.e., of class consciousness, than was the case in any of the previous international organisations of the working class.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that the pressure to which the unity of the movement is submitted under conditions of growing political differences – be they of a conjunctural and non-programmatic nature – can only be safely wintered if the two key conditions of democratic centralism are respected: if minority is convinced that it enjoys unrestricted democratic rights in discussion periods to develop its points of view before the membership, to get a fair hearing and thereby has a chance of gradually convincing sectors of the movement of the correctness of its ideas, providing events and experience confirm that correctness; if the majority is convinced that the minority does not claim rights without duties, is willing to recognise majority decisions, to loyally accept the majority leadership leads the movement after a democratic discussion has established who is the majority and who is the minority, and gives the majority a chance to prove in practice and through experience that its point of view was correct.
There are no reasons why these two key conditions should not be respected in the world movement today. We underlined already that the broad programmatic agreement which unites the two tendencies is a guarantee that this unity remains a principled one. We should add another consideration, which the most responsible Comrades on both sides certainly understand and include in their perspectives: regardless of exceptional circumstances in this or that country, where there either are not yet Trotskyist organisations or where these are numerically very weak, the great bulk of the cadre of the world Trotskyist movement is today inside the organisation of the Fourth International and its co-thinkers. Even if differences in the approach to class struggle intervention in this or that country are important, surely the existence of Trotskyist cadres is the prime precondition for the efficient application of any tactic of party building. Surely experience has taught us that it takes many years to educate an experienced revolutionary Marxist cadre. The hope to get better results for this or that specific tactic by by-passing the existing cadre – what we are in the habit of calling organisational sectarianism – which has been at the basis of so many splits in the world Trotskyist movement during the last 25 years, has proved itself utterly Utopian in 9 out of 10 cases. On a world scale it is 100% utopian.
Therefore, there exists a strong principled objective basis for safe-guarding the unity of the world movement in spite of the heated discussion now going on, provided the key conditions of democratic centralism which we mentioned above are respected on both sides. We ourselves will do whatever possible to have them respected.
In the process of transformation of the world Trotskyist movement from propaganda groups into organisations capable of political initiatives in the class struggle, the coherence and the growth of the Fourth International is a key element of strength. Besides our programme, the existence of our international organisation – which is part of our programme – is our main distinctive feature. There are many nationally organised centrist or ultra-left groups in the world, many weaker than our national sections in the given country, some a bit stronger. But there is only one really functioning international organisation: the Fourth International. This has been a source of great confidence and appeal for Trotskyists the world over, since the reunification congress. At a time when the world Stalinist movement has fallen apart into at least half a dozen rival “centres”; when the maoist grouping? are hopelessly split in nearly all countries and haven’t even been able to create a semblance of an international body, when Healy splits with Lambert who can’t even agree with his closest ally, Lora – the cause of his split with Healy – the existence and the strengthening of the Fourth International is an absolute precondition for the continuation, not to say the acceleration, of the pace of growth which we have been enjoying since 1968.
Let us show to the revolutionary mass vanguard the world over the validity not only of the Leninist programme but also of the Leninist organisational principles. Let us demonstrate, by the way in which we conduct ourselves in this international debate, that revolutionary Marxists who, against the heaviest odds in world history, have already been capable of building a world party which today counts thousands of members and influences hundreds of thousands of people, are apt to organise a democratic discussion on disputed question, apt to respect the rights of tendencies, apt to guarantee the freest discussion which ever existed inside the international labour movement, and in the same time capable of maintaining unity of action on the basis of majority decisions and majority leadership, thanks to a common programme and a community of principles and of revolutionary goals. If we can achieve that, and understand the wise point formulated by Lenin that in every discussion one will learn something, because errors themselves are sources of higher consciousness as they generally reveal new aspects of reality but in a one-sided and exagerated way, the present discussion will prove itself to have been a fruitful stage in the history of building the Fourth International, in the history of solving the crisis of proletarian leadership which is more than ever at the root of the crisis of mankind today.
January 5, 1973
Last updated on 9.10.2005