For over fifty years the Socialist Workers Party and its organizational predecessors have based themselves on the revolutionary Marxist program and method. The majority of our party has consistently fought off all attempts at programmatic revision. No other revolutionary party in world history has been able to maintain such an orientation for as long as the SWP.
Now, unlike in all past political struggles since the founding of the American Trotskyist movement, the central leaders of our party have issued a fundamental challenge to its programmatic continuity. They have undertaken a thoroughgoing revision of our Trotskyist heritage, prevented discussion of that revision by the party rank and file (twice postponing the party convention), and conducted a bureaucratic political purge of all known or suspected critics of their line. They have already dealt a serious though not yet irreversible blow to our organization. If they are successful in definitively imposing their perspectives on the SWP this will be a tragic setback to prospects for creating a revolutionary Marxist vanguard in this country.
The Fourth Internationalist Tendency was organized in February 1984, by SWP members who have been the victims of the leadership's political purge. Our purpose is to defend, maintain, enrich, and apply the programmatic foundations of the party—the scientific socialist acquisitions of the working class.
The continuity of our current as an ideological tendency in the party goes back to the Fourth Internationalist Caucus in the SWP National Committee. We stand on the general line of the reports and resolutions introduced by this caucus beginning with its initial platform submitted to the National Committee on December 23, 1981. In addition, we maintain the views presented in the documents of the Opposition Bloc in the National Committee (of which the Fourth Internationalist Caucus was one component) from May to August 1983.
Historically we base ourselves on the programmatic record of our party and our International. Major documents of that record include the theses and resolutions of the first four congresses of the Communist International, 1919-1922; the “Transitional Program,” 1938; the “American Theses,” 1946; and the “Dynamics of World Revolution Today,” 1963.
When we tried to defend this program in the SWP we were expelled. We are now compelled to organize as a separate current in order to present our views to the party ranks, and to pursue political activity in our unions, movement groups, and solidarity campaigns.
It is not our choice to organize a separate ideological tendency. We are appealing our expulsions both individually and collectively. We attach no conditions to these appeals. If we regain our place in the SWP, we will function on the basis of full membership responsibilities and rights, as we have always done in the past, and will abide by all decisions of the party—even those we disagree with. But we continue to believe that loyal members have an obligation to try to change those policies which they think are harmful to the party.
Building the SWP means more than simply participating in the day-to-day tasks of the organization, though this is essential. It also means engaging in a struggle to try to correct mistaken policies which are derailing the party from its historic revolutionary course. Such a struggle is not only a right, it is a responsibility for serious militants who are concerned about and loyal to the SWP.
Even if we are forced to remain outside of the party, we will do what we can to build, defend, and strengthen it. We are not trying to create a rival party or a separate organization in competition with the SWP. In addition to attempting to convince the party to change its wrong perspectives, we have asked to work with the SWP in such areas as the 1984 election campaign, publication projects, sales of the Militant, and defense cases.
The current leadership accuses us of being “splitters” who are “hostile to the party.” Our attitude toward party-building projects can be easily tested by accepting our offers of help. We want to do all we can to guarantee that there are no organizational obstacles to the all-important political discussion that needs to take place.
We will try to collaborate with the party in the movements and coalitions defending working people against the ruling class assaults in this country and around the world. Primary in this regard for revolutionary militants today is defense of the Central American revolution against the threat of invasion by the U.S. government. The American people must be educated and mobilized against this imperialist attack. We will join on a united front basis with any and all forces around the demand, “U.S. Hands Off Central America!” Whatever our differences on other questions, and whatever our past disagreements over this work, we cannot let them stand in the way of the greatest possible common effort in support of the Central American and Caribbean revolution.
The future of the SWP as a revolutionary party is jeopardized by the programmatic revisions introduced by the majority leadership. The SWP retains its socialist aims and has not given up its class struggle approach to major questions such as independent political action by the working class. However, over the last few years the central leaders have attacked major elements of the party's Marxist, Leninist and Trotskyist theory and practice.
The SWP has in the past distinguished itself programmatically from all other tendencies in the working class movement by 1) its adherence to the theory of permanent revolution; 2) its call for political revolution in the deformed and degenerated workers' states, combined with and as part of our defense of proletarian property relations; 3) its recognition of the interdependence of the three sectors of the world revolution; 4) its application of the transitional method and the united front to the class struggle in this country; and 5) its defense of workers' democracy as a necessary basis for the functioning of the working class movement in general, and of the Leninist party in particular.
The challenge of the Barnes leadership now questions each of these basic conceptions: 1) World history, from the Russian revolution of 1917 to the present day, has repeatedly confirmed the validity of the theory of permanent revolution. Far from being in contradiction with current developments in Nicaragua and Central America, as the SWP leadership asserts, permanent revolution is completely confirmed by these events. A successful revolution against imperialist domination in the colonial and semi-colonial world can be completed only if the old bourgeois state is totally destroyed and power is taken by those who will carry through a political and economic program in the interests of the workers and poor peasants. This is what the Marxist movement has traditionally labeled the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The revolution cannot stop with democratic reforms, but must push on to the socialist transformation of the economy. Only this can begin to break the grip of imperialist oppression, and set the stage for future progress. It is the course charted by the Sandinistas toward socialist development in Nicaragua that allows them to move forward today. Ultimately of course, the future of the Nicaraguan revolution, as of all other revolutions in the colonial and semicolonial countries, depends on the advance of the world revolution—in the last analysis to the imperialist centers themselves.
A correct understanding of permanent revolution—of the necessity for proletarian revolution in the developing countries - is in no way contradictory to the idea of alliances by the proletariat and poor peasants with other class forces. In fact, proletarian revolution in an underdeveloped country requires such alliances. Trotsky's theory is not in contradiction with the possibility of varying tempos for the overall process, or with the basic concept of the workers' and farmers' government developed by Joseph Hansen, or with the idea that Nicaragua today has a workers' and farmers' government—as Grenada did from 1979 to 1983.
In their polemics against Trotsky, Barnes and Jenness claim these things to be contradictory with the theory of permanent revolution. Their public attacks on our traditional program are little more than warmed-over slanders, straight from the Stalinist school, long ago thoroughly refuted by Trotsky himself—ideas which were correctly dismissed by Barnes and Jenness as well before 1981.
The rejection of permanent revolution by the Barnes leadership has had a damaging effect on the SWP's political orientation. One particularly striking example of this is the failure of the party press to rally to the defense of the Iranian workers and oppressed nationalities when they came under attack from the bourgeois-nationalist Khomeini regime. In the name of “anti-imperialism,” the Militant and Intercontinental Press remained silent, and even at times expressed political confidence in the IRP government, while that government progressively organized the counterrevolution in Iran.
2) The SWP must return to our long-established understanding of Stalinism, and of the need for the workers of the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, etc. to rise up and throw off the bureaucratic yoke. Only a genuine revolution involving the masses themselves directly in the political process can remove this obstacle to socialist development.
“Political Revolution” must be the rallying cry of all revolutionary Marxists. We cannot allow the imperialists to get away with their masquerade as the best opponents of Stalinist tyranny. We must combat the bourgeois opponents of Stalinism, whose opposition is in reality only to the gains of the proletarian revolution. Our opposition to Stalinism is the exact opposite—the best means of defending the workers' states and extending the revolution.
The self-organization of the Polish masses and their resistance to the Jaruzelski government continue to be an inspiration for working people throughout the globe. Yet the Militant remains virtually silent about the struggle by the Polish workers against their bureaucratic overlords. This is a far cry from the ringing defense of socialist democracy and opposition to Stalinist dictatorship that were the hallmarks of our coverage of East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The new attitude toward Stalinism does not end with Poland. Gone are the days when the Militant was in the forefront of the fight to defend Soviet dissidents. Our press no longer exposes the crimes and betrayals of the Stalinist regimes, such as the failure of the Kremlin to raise a finger to help the Palestinian cause during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Even the terminology of “political revolution” is disappearing from the vocabulary of the SWP leadership. It is being replaced by new concepts, such as “democratization” and “regeneration” of the workers' states.
3) One of the fundamental political bases for the reunification of the Fourth International in 1963 was a common understanding of the interrelationship and interdependence between the three sectors of the world revolution. The text of the reunification document, entitled “Dynamics of World Revolution Today,” explained it this way:
“At the same time, it is important to recognize that the three main forces of world revolution—the colonial revolution, the political revolution in the degenerated and deformed workers' states, and the proletarian revolution in the imperialist countries—form a dialectical unity. Each force influences the others and receives in return powerful impulses or brakes on its own development.”
The majority leadership of the SWP challenges this understanding. It declares that the center of the world revolution today is in Central America and the Caribbean. Such a statement is correct in important respects. The Cuban revolution was the first since 1917 to prove that the anti-capitalist struggle can triumph under a non-Stalinist leadership. Cuba and the 1979 revolutions in Nicaragua and Grenada have inspired a new generation throughout the world. We in the United States have a special responsibility in combating the U.S. threat to the revolutionary process in that region, since our own government is its main enemy.
The revolution in Central America and the Caribbean, however, important as it is and central as it is, must be viewed in a broader international context to be understood in its totality. The present SWP leadership treats these struggles as the beginning and end of the international revolutionary process today. This results in a superficial rather than serious analytical treatment of the class struggle both in the U.S. and around the world, and is dangerously one-sided. It has meant a downplaying or ignoring of other developments (most notably Poland).
4) Two of the hallmarks of the SWP's approach to the class struggle in the U.S., until the last few years, have been the creative application of the transitional method, and the use of the united front tactic in defense of the interests of the working class and its allies. These are fundamental for reaching and mobilizing working people in the U.S. today. Instead of using these tools, the leadership of the party has retreated from our previous interventionist approach to the class struggle and has substituted an abstract propagandism around our broad socialist program. Our role has, to a large extent, been limited to “engaging in discussions” and selling our press in our unions, at meetings and demonstrations.
Propaganda work which concentrates on our general revolutionary program is always an essential task no matter what mass activity we are involved in. It allows the proletarian vanguard to reach the most advanced workers who can be won to the ranks of our party. But when this is pursued as the only task, and is counterposed to real participation in the broader, more immediate day-today struggles of working people, it becomes sterile and self-isolating.
We must regain an understanding of the necessary political leadership role of our party in the labor movement and in the other vanguard movements for social change: the struggles of oppressed nationalities; of women; and the fight against imperialist war, which includes the anti-intervention struggle along with opposition to nuclear weapons and other imperialist armaments programs. Our historical experience and class understanding allows us to play a role in these developments which is unique and invaluable—a role that gained the SWP immense respect during the 1960s and early 70s, along with a substantial growth in membership.
Present party policy has had us standing on the sidelines, as commentators and critics, waiting for a “proletarian leadership” to emerge. This passive approach by the vanguard party is no aid to the emergence of such a leadership. It is, in fact a barrier to it. For a mass proletarian leadership to develop in this country, we need the conscious, active participation and intervention of revolutionaries—showing that we have good practical proposals about how to move forward, trying to unite with others around these proposals, and demonstrating that we are willing to pitch in to do the necessary work to carry them out. If we do not try to provide such leadership, we cannot expect anyone else to do the job for us.
Although the turn to basic industry is officially the guide to all other tasks in the SWP today, the majority leadership has, in fact, failed to carry out the turn in a consistent and fruitful manner. It is necessary now to really undertake the tasks of the turn to industry. We need to focus some attention on sinking roots and becoming established, as well as continuing to maintain a reasonable amount of flexibility when genuine openings arise. We should have a rounded approach to our industrial work—dealing with the everyday problems and trade-union concerns of our co-workers on the job, as well as carrying out our tasks as socialist propagandists. Undertaken correctly, these two sides of our activity will complement and reinforce each other, helping us to recruit members and supporters out of industry and become a real workers' party. This is very different from shifting comrades from job to job, from industry to industry, from city to city, and proclaiming ourselves a party of workers.
5) The change in the attitude of the central leaders of the SWP towards democratic functioning in the working class movement is nowhere more clearly revealed than in their present attitude concerning the membership of their own party. We must reject the harmful “new norms” implemented as an excuse for their purge of political dissidents. And we must reject the transformation of the concept of “norms” into rigid rules, applied schematically and in a factional and discriminatory fashion. We must revive the previous concept of norms practiced as flexible guidelines for our organization.
Genuine democracy in arriving at decisions in the Leninist party is the absolute prerequisite and dialectical complement of the centralism we must apply in carrying them out. These two concepts, democracy and centralism, are for us inherently linked and inseparable; neither one can exist in isolation from the other.
We call for a reversal of the present organizational policy and the reinstatement of all those expelled for their political views. The Barnes leadership is in the process of imposing a split on our party, and to that end has expelled ten percent of the membership since 1981. There is no principled basis at this time for such a split—either in our party or in our world movement. Fundamental political differences can never be resolved through punitive organizational measures. Now is the time for a real political discussion by the party as a whole, in which all sides can be heard and freely considered. Only this kind of discussion and decision by the party can resolve our current difficulties.
A one-sided discussion, with the muzzling of oppositional views, held in an atmosphere of intimidation and threats of disciplinary action, is no discussion at all. The fact that it is this kind of discussion which the Barnes leadership seeks reveals a complete lack of self-confidence and a contempt for the party membership totally incompatible with the tasks of a Bolshevik leadership.
We are committed to building and strengthening the Fourth International. This means both a defense of its programmatic heritage and an active participation in the day-to-day political life of our world movement. All past experience has demonstrated that no national organization can remain on a revolutionary course for long without collaboration and common activity with other fighters in other countries.
The majority leadership of the SWP has presented a perspective of a “new mass Leninist International,” to be created by the Cubans and Nicaraguans. In pursuit of this non-existent international it has proceeded to progressively withdraw from the Fourth International, both politically and organizationally. All of the programmatic revisions and other errors that have been made derive fundamentally from this false counterposition.
Instead of learning from and utilizing the strengths of Castroism in their effort to establish ties with the Cubans, the SWP central leadership has adapted to that current's weaknesses, and is progressively abandoning our Trotskyist program. Such an approach cannot succeed and will ultimately lead to political bankruptcy.
No new mass Leninist International will ever be brought into existence if we abandon the programmatic lessons that have been learned as a result of long and bitter experience in the struggle for socialism, or if we abandon the organizational nucleus which today embodies those programmatic lessons—the Fourth International. Others in the history of our movement, like Healy and Moreno, have made the mistake of thinking that they could do without the Fourth International or find some substitute for it. Barnes is now in the process of repeating this mistake, and it makes no fundamental difference that he is doing so by rejecting Trotskyism, instead of asserting—as Healy and Moreno do—a greater “Trotskyist orthodoxy.”
The history of the working class movement, from the time of Marx and Engels to the present day, has been a history of the struggle to develop, maintain, and defend the program of proletarian revolution. The Second and Third Internationals, once powerful hopes for the liberation of humanity, degenerated to the point of becoming obstacles to socialism, and a long list of promising national parties have followed a similar path. It is not unusual for small groups of dedicated revolutionaries to be left to pick up the struggle, with nothing to rely on but their own defense of a genuine Marxist program and method.
Like the pioneer Trotskyists who were expelled from the Communist Party in 1928 and founded the Communist League of America—the last time such a break in continuity occurred in the United States—our primary task must be to do all we can to fight to save the revolutionary party from degeneration. This will remain our focus unless and until the SWP's political demise has been clearly and decisively demonstrated.
The Barnes leadership has gone quite far in its programmatic revisions and bureaucratic methods. But it is always a serious error to mistake the leadership of the party for the party as a whole. The political struggle to convince the SWP membership of the correct program and policy has not been definitively won either by those who would alter our historic program—or by those of us who defend it. We will not concede that struggle without doing all we can to thwart the efforts of the Barnes leadership to transform the SWP.
The present programmatic challenge is a serious danger to the revolutionary vanguard in the United States. At the same time, it also presents an opportunity for a new generation of proletarian fighters in this country to renew its understanding of the program and learn to apply it in today's world. Ideological struggles that occur periodically are an inherent part of the growth and development of the revolutionary workers' movement, and force all members of the party to think through for themselves the problems at hand. This can be a rich educational experience which compresses in a relatively short time lessons that are otherwise learned through years of experience and study. Comrades involved in such debates gained a rich education from battles like that of the Left Opposition against the Stalinist degeneration of the Communist International in the 1920s, and in the SWP against the petty-bourgeois opposition in 1939-40. We are now faced with the most serious challenge to our revolutionary Marxist program since 1940.
An ideological struggle to defend and enrich our theory and practice must be the primary item on our agenda today; the fight to win the party back to a Trotskyist program is our central task. We must take up this struggle because it is the best way to reach those who still support the incorrect course of the Barnes leadership as a result of political confusion or misplaced loyalties, and also for the education of those of us who seek to defend the real continuity of the SWP.
There can be no shortcut to the building of a revolutionary party, either in this country or on a world scale. The key question of party building is always the question of program. We must take the long historical view—the Trotskyist, the Leninist, the Marxist view—on this question. The leadership of the SWP believes it can link up with the successful revolutions in Central America and the Caribbean by jettisoning our programmatic heritage. This is a cruel deception and not a new one in the history of the Marxist movement. It is an error that has always had disastrous consequences if not reversed in time.
The active intervention of the party ranks will be necessary to either change the course of the present leadership or replace it with a new one. Although we are not assured of success in this effort, we can be sure that it is only by making the effort that we will influence the most serious comrades and win them to our cause.