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Building the U.S. Fourth Internationalist Movement

Fourth Internationalist Unity in the United States

Report to the Fourth Internationalist Tendency National Conference, 1990

by Paul Le Blanc

The goal of the Fourth Internationalist Tendency remains the same: to rebuild a unified sympathizing section of the Fourth International, and to move toward this in a manner which advances the prospects for creating a mass working-class party that can win a revolutionary struggle for socialism.

While the Socialist Workers Party has degenerated to the point of removing itself from this project, the SWP was never the entire universe for us. There are other groups in the United States that remain committed to the program of the Fourth International. There are growing numbers of radical activists in the working class, in the unions, in the current struggles against racism and sexism and other injustices, on the campuses and elsewhere—thoughtful people who are looking for the kinds of things that the program of the Fourth International offers. There is the class struggle itself, in all of its many faceted dimensions, which inevitably generates new waves of fighters who are drawn to the revolutionary Marxist program.

The signs of ferment that we see in our own country can be found around the world—stirrings in some places, explosions in others, “now hidden, now open,” as the Communist Manifesto puts it. One of the keys to the importance and the attraction of the Fourth International is that it raises the unstained banner of revolutionary socialism in every part of the world, drawing on more than 150 years of class-struggle experience and Marxist theory, also absorbing new experiences and developing new insights in the struggles unfolding in each sector of the world revolution. There is no other international left-wing current today which even pretends to be what the Fourth International is.

There are exciting possibilities for the growth of our movement at the present time. The kinds of people that we are meeting, talking to, working with, and recruiting are of very high quality: thoughtful, committed, activist-oriented, open to learning, critical-minded—precisely the kinds of people who can and must help bring about a revolutionary transformation in our country. How can we concentrate growing numbers of such people into a single Fourth Internationalist organization in the United States?

Reasons for Unity of FI Forces

Some comrades have argued that this will be best advanced by the merger of all Fourth Internationalist currents in the U.S.—our own organization, Socialist Action, and the Fl Caucus of Solidarity. And there are some things to be said for this view.

Most crudely, there is the question of raw numbers. The FIT has more than 50 members. Socialist Action has about 130. The FI Caucus of Solidarity has about 100, close to half of the membership of Solidarity as a whole. Each group has a periphery of sympathizers. On the face of it, unity would mean an organization of 300 or 400, perhaps more. That seems better than an organization of fifty or a hundred. A bigger organization can do much more political work, have a much bigger political impact, recruit more easily, and so on.

In addition, as Leninists we recognize that revolutionaries formally committed to the same basic program—in spite of partial disagreements on how to interpret and apply that program, or shades of difference on other important points—should function together, democratically and in disciplined fashion, in a common organization. A democratic centralist framework would allow wide and free discussion, with a considerable amount of latitude for comrades in a local area to decide how best to carry out political work. Discussion of political differences combined with carrying out political work together, testing a majority line in practice and then critically and democratically evaluating the results, and building on this common experience—such a Leninist framework can encompass a wide range of differences, and can also help to overcome many differences.

This is related to the objective need for a strong revolutionary party which combines the political and geographical strengths, as well as the considerable energies, and resources represented by the three organizations. While we can be assured that the class struggle will continue and that there will inevitably be radical upsurges to equal and even surpass those that have taken place earlier in U.S. history, it is also true that the working class and its allies may well be deflected into reformist dead-ends or even defeated in reactionary onslaughts. This is likely unless there is a revolutionary working-class vanguard with the experience, authority and organizational strength to win a majority of working people to embrace and implement an effective revolutionary socialist program. We cannot afford to cut across the effectiveness of revolutionary socialists by maintaining their fragmentation through unnecessary organizational divisions.

Obstacles to Unity

All of this is true. But these are rather general arguments. When we focus on real-life specifics, things become more complicated. If we really care about the unity of Fourth Internationalist forces in the United States, we must look carefully at the specifics—especially at the obstacles to unity. These obstacles are considerable.

The basic obstacle is that the three organizations have fundamentally different orientations.

The FIT wants to rebuild a U.S. component of the FI and seeks to involve all other U.S. Fourth Internationalists in this process. We have given high priority to the defense and critical development of American Trotskyism, especially in response to the programmatic challenge posed by the Barnes leadership of the SWP, but also in response to events in the world revolutionary process. While in harmony with much of the FI majority in the world, and while seriously working to build the Fl, the FIT has sought to make its own serious contributions to the process of political clarification in the Fourth International.

Socialist Action, on the other hand, presents itself as the replacement to the SWP and as the only true revolutionary vanguard party in the country. It has a static and un-Marxist notion of American Trotskyist “orthodoxy” which diverges, in our opinion, from the genuinely revolutionary quality of our movement's tradition in this country. In the name of its own narrow “orthodoxy,” it has declared war against the present leadership and policies of the Fourth International in a manner so extreme as to isolate itself in the FI.

The FI Caucus of Solidarity prioritizes the regroupment of a variety of radicals within Solidarity, a fairly loose organization which includes people who are relatively indifferent or hostile to Leninism, Trotskyism and the Fourth International. The FI Caucus itself barely functions as a distinct entity, aside from being a general source of information on what the FI is doing, how to subscribe to the FI's publications, etc. It is questionable whether it would be willing to antagonize other Solidarity members by attempting to win the organization as a whole to FI positions through democratic and comradely debate. Despite the isolated work of certain talented individuals, there is no indication that, as a body, the FI Caucus is interested in or capable of making a distinct contribution to the political development of the Fourth International.

Each of these groups takes its particular project and political approach very seriously. This is as it should be, but it means that unification is no simple thing—especially because there are three groups involved, not two. The argument for a rapid fusion process would be a more powerful one if we were dealing with only two different groups. Surely the FIT could combine flexibility with principle sufficiently to advance the unity process visibly and quickly. But a far more complex dynamic exists when there are three groups, two of which are less inclined to be flexible.

SA and the FI Caucus, which refuse even to communicate with each other, have made it very clear that they will not consider abandoning or in any way compromising their present goals and commitments. They are not interested in unity. The only way the FIT could achieve unity with either of them at the present moment would be to compromise our own project and approach by dissolving into Socialist Action or Solidarity. It is highly questionable whether this would result in durable unity or in the genuine strengthening of the Fourth Internationalist movement in the United States. More likely, it would lead to frustrations and factional in-fighting among the newly-unified forces, paving the way for future splits.

The kind of unity we want is better than that. We want unity of the Fourth Internationalists in all the groups, a principled and durable unity that will embrace revolutionary Marxists of all three currents, that will inspire and attract increasing numbers of serious-minded radicalizing activists. Fortunately, there are several factors working in the direction of such unity. These should guide the practical policies which we develop to advance toward our goal.

Working Toward Unity

Each of the groups identifies with the Fourth International, and the organizational bodies of the FI therefore have a certain amount of authority with the FIT, SA, and the FI Caucus. The FI recognizes each of the groups as being part of our world movement, and instead of being inclined to give some kind of “franchise” to any one of them, it would like to see FI unity in the United States.

This suggests several positive opportunities. One is the possibility of joint work in the U.S. around circulating the publications of the FI, participating in the institutions of the FI such as the international leadership school and the annual youth encampment, assisting in defense campaigns for victimized members of the FI and other internationally-coordinated efforts, and promoting tours in the United States of FI speakers.

Something else we will participate in together is the World Congress of the Fourth International. We should propose and actively seek to set up in various cities at least one or two joint pre-World Congress discussion sessions. Both SA and the FI Caucus have made it clear that they don't want to participate in such things with each other. But it may be possible for us at separate times to meet with members of one group and then the other to discuss the issues facing our world movement.

We think that the FIT should formally propose establishing a special commission at the upcoming World Congress which would have at least three functions. One would be to facilitate discussion between the three groups on possibilities of joint work on the FI's publications, campaigns, and so on—since there is much that the FIT believes the three groups can and should be working on together. A second function would be to facilitate discussion on the problems which the different groups believe to exist that would prevent their working together on these and other efforts. A third would be to facilitate a discussion on the obstacles to the unification of the three groups. Even joint discussions enumerating problems and obstacles between the three groups would be an accomplishment. This would clarify some things for each of the groups as well as for others in the FI, and perhaps it could even set the stage for further discussions of how some of the problems and obstacles might be overcome.

By itself, however, such a commission will not bring about unity. We must initiate discussions with SA and with Solidarity on the possibility of collaboration in trade union work, in women's liberation work, in Black liberation work, in anti-war activity, in socialist educational efforts, and so on. In some cases, there will not be sufficient agreement to justify any collaboration, but our experience in various cities indicates that there is sometimes a basis for meaningful cooperation. This should be combined with individual political discussions and also with a continuing comradely discussion of our differing perspectives in the pages of Bulletin in Defense of Marxism (hopefully with comrades from the other groups also contributing to the pages of our magazine). Such things can advance the clarity and common understanding that are preconditions for unity.

It may be that, in the end, the three groups will not fuse. Perhaps only elements of the three will be able to form a unified sympathizing section of the Fourth International. We should not be trapped in any mechanistic schemas or rigid expectations. There are serious revolutionaries in each group who are loyal to the program of the Fourth International, but precisely how they will come together can't be blue-printed by us.

What we must do is call for and work for a process that will make possible the durable unity of Fourth Internationalists in the United States. We should call for a process which embraces all of the presently recognized sympathizing groups of the FI in this country. We should make clear our support for Fl unity in individual discussions. We should make it clear in communications to SA and to the FI Caucus and to Solidarity. We should make it clear to the other comrades of the Fourth International. And we should make it clear to all readers of the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism.

Building the FIT

The Fourth Internationalist Tendency should become known to all as the group that favors and works for revolutionary Marxist unity in the United States. We should not confine our attention only to the other groups. In order to have the greatest amount of leverage in prying open possibilities to advance that process, we must build the FIT.

Through the good, serious work that we do, we must be seen as a vital force on the left, in the class struggle, and in the various social movements that we are active in. If there is finally unity, we will be able to feed our own substantial accomplishments and efforts into the new revolutionary organization. If unity doesn't come as soon as we would like, at least we will be doing good work that has value in and of itself, and which will contribute to the larger revolutionary organization of the future. By building the FIT, we will be a more effective force for revolutionary socialist unity and for the growth of the Fourth International.

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