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Fourth Internationalist Unity in the United States

Adopted by the Fourth Internationalist Tendency National Conference, September 2, 1990

Since its founding in 1984, the Fourth Internationalist Tendency (FIT) has advocated the reunification of the splintered Fourth Internationalist movement in the United States. Our call for readmission into the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) included all who were undemocratically driven out of or expelled from the SWP because of political differences with the Barnes leadership. This is no longer a feasible position, given the SWP's deepening degeneration, culminating in its recent formal break with the Fourth International (FI). The FIT is now challenged to find an alternative perspective for reunifying U.S. Fourth Internationalists. An obvious starting point is to consider the present relations between the three currents which continue to express a loyalty to the FI and its program, and which function within our world movement as recognized groupings of unjustly expelled SWP members: the FIT, Socialist Action (SA), and the Fourth International Caucus of Solidarity (FI Caucus).

Obstacles to Unity

We see no immediate or short-term prospects for achieving unity of these three groups. Two major obstacles are: the present unwillingness of SA and the FI Caucus to work toward such unity, and the divergent perspectives of all of these groups.

SA and the FI Caucus are so hostile toward each other that they show not the slightest interest in even communicating with each other—let alone discussing politics or working together. Neither of these groups has demonstrated any consistent interest in discussing politics or working with the FIT, despite our periodic efforts to generate such interaction and cooperation. Unlike the FIT, which projects ultimately dissolving itself into a unified grouping of U.S. Fourth Internationalists, both SA and Solidarity have the objective of maintaining themselves indefinitely as distinct organizations.

The perspectives of the FIT, SA, and the FI Caucus are presently divergent. 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. Socialist Action presents itself as the replacement to the SWP and as the only true revolutionary vanguard party in this country. The FI Caucus prioritizes the regroupment of a variety of radicals within Solidarity. Solidarity includes members who are indifferent and even hostile to the FI as well as to any concept of building a Leninist party.

The following sections present evaluations of the strengths and weaknesses of SA, the FI Caucus, and Solidarity as a whole.

Socialist Action

Socialist Action has a significant concentration of well-organized activists with relatively high morale. It is serious, principled, and loyal to the Trotskyist program—although we have disagreements with SA's application and understanding of Trotskyism. It has an attractive monthly newspaper, Socialist Action, as well as a large number of popular pamphlets of varying quality. It has engaged in significant coalition and united front activities, helping to mobilize large numbers of people in opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America and the Caribbean, in protests against South African apartheid and U.S. racism, in support of women's rights, in opposition to the danger of nuclear war, and in important trade union struggles. It has also taken positive initiatives in regard to recent events in the USSR, Eastern Europe, and China - for example, organizing information-gathering tours abroad and report-back meetings in the U.S. Whatever serious disagreements we have with it, SA clearly attempts to carry on in the best traditions of American Trotskyism.

Some of our criticisms of Socialist Action have focused on its tendency to function in a manner which puts its own narrow organizational interests before those of the larger movements of social protest and class struggle. SA's policies, for example, subordinated the democratic functioning of the Bay Area anti-intervention coalition in order to advance SA's particular interest in cementing alliances with labor officials.

Within SA itself, we have noted practices designed to maintain the leadership's control through rigid and arbitrary applications of centralism which undercut the democratic rights of members.

The central leadership of SA has also exhibited a schematic and mechanistic approach to revolutionary Marxist theory and program which has generated some sectarian and dogmatic distortions. This is particularly evident in its analysis of the Nicaraguan revolution, and in its confrontational stance towards our world movement. This last question is of special concern. In a March 1990 document, “The Deepening Crisis in the Fourth International Today,” the SA leaders denounced what they called “an increasingly destructive path [taken] by the USec leadership and its international supporters,” the “openly revisionist positions adopted by the 12th World Congress,” and systematic capitulations to Stalinism and popular frontism. The document asserts as “a life-or-death question” whether it is “possible to build the Fourth International” if it fails to break from this leadership and its policies.

Our most fundamental difference with SA has always revolved around its sectarian conception of itself as the only legitimate Fourth Internationalist organization in the U.S. This self-concept was reflected as early as 1983 in SA's insistence on downgrading the theoretical and programmatic fight against the Barnes leadership of the SWP, and later in its adamant and destructive refusal to consider the comrades in the FI Caucus as part of our world movement. In these respects, SA consistently places its own narrow organizational interests above the larger needs of our movement—within this country and the world.

Fourth International Caucus of Solidarity

Solidarity is not part of the Fourth Internationalist movement and includes members who are hostile or indifferent to the FI. At the same time, Solidarity contains the FI Caucus as well as many other experienced and serious activists. It has a generally anti-sectarian outlook, with a refreshing openness to others—but there is a partial and significant exception to these traits: it is inclined to be contemptuous toward Fourth Internationalist currents in the U.S. (other than the FI Caucus). Perhaps the most impressive contribution of the organization is the involvement of some of its leading members in the monthly trade union newsletter Labor Notes, and in the regular conferences sponsored by that publication. Solidarity also helps to produce a bimonthly magazine, Against the Current, which has brought some left-wing intellectuals into its periphery. While Solidarity members appear to do little in some cities, in other places its members have engaged in serious coalition work around various worthwhile struggles.

The groups which fused to form Solidarity agreed from the beginning that substantial political differences would be set aside for purposes of unity. On most questions, Solidarity avoids developing orientations that might come into conflict with the inclinations of any of its own members or with those of other radical activists. Solidarity is explicitly non-Leninist and, in terms of accomplishments, achieves less than the sum total of its membership would lead one to expect. Many of its members do excellent work (as noted above) but often it seems that they do so independently of the projects, structures, and decisions of Solidarity itself.

The two primary publications with which the organization is identified are in fact not Solidarity organs; their editorial policies are set independently from Solidarity. With Against the Current, this results, despite some articles of value, in a relatively unfocused journal, and—of special interest to us—it publishes explicit attacks on Leninist and Trotskyist perspectives, attacks which are hardly counterbalanced by the modest defense of those perspectives presented in the magazine.

While the Fl Caucus reports that more than a hundred members of Solidarity have affiliated with the caucus, this constitutes little more than paper membership in an entity which hardly functions. The FI Caucus occasionally circulates information about the Fourth International and FI publications. But the caucus has self-consciously avoided any activity which might be perceived as threatening to other Solidarity members—such as attempting to win the organization as a whole to the program of the FI as a result of comradely and democratic discussion and debate. The primary energies and commitments of FI Caucus members involve maintaining a common non-Fourth Internationalist organization with their non-Trotskyist comembers—not working to help build a sympathizing section of the FI in the U.S. There is a serious danger that, instead of Solidarity as a whole or in its majority being won to the program of the FI, some of the Trotskyist cadre in that organization will move away from Leninist and Trotskyist perspectives.

Solidarity is not presently a force for building the FI or a U.S. component of our world movement. And it is not clear how it might become such a force given the policy of the FI Caucus, and the nature of Solidarity itself.

Trends Working for Unity

Clearly, there are substantial obstacles to the unification of the Fourth Internationalist movement in the U.S. There are, however, important countervailing trends which could help to overcome these problems.

One factor working in favor of a solution is that some members of SA and the FI Caucus recognize and are uneasy about the problems we have pointed to in their respective organizations. One of the most important factors contributing to some type of future unity is the present loyalty of each of the currents to the program of the FI. Related to this is their present desire to remain part of the world movement which is based on that program. This in itself creates an objective logic for unity, particularly since a genuinely unified force would be far more effective in winning others to that program. And obviously, a unified effort would be much better able to advance that program within the struggles of the working class and the oppressed in the U.S.A. Each of the currents has certain strengths—geographically as well as politically—whose combination in a dynamic and cohesive organization could have immensely positive consequences.

Another key factor is the deepening crisis of U.S. capitalism, which is already beginning to create the objective possibility for a future mass socialist movement in this country. There is an unprecedented opportunity, at this juncture, for a revolutionary socialist vanguard in the U.S. to play a major role in beginning to draw such a movement together and ultimately leading it to victory. But if that vanguard remains fragmented and diffused, the struggle for socialism—in the U.S. and in the world—will be greatly set back.

We are not alone in recognizing these facts. Many members of SA and the FI Caucus also note them to some extent. So do comrades of the Fourth International as a whole. The pressures of such allies here and abroad, combined with the pressures of objective reality, can help us as we intensify our campaign for a principled and effective Fourth Internationalist unity in the United States.

Practical Measures for the FIT

The FIT is committed to maintaining relations with both of the other currents to the best of our abilities, looking for opportunities to exchange ideas on issues, to share appropriate information, to advance the struggles of the working class and the oppressed, and to cooperate on practical efforts to build the Fl.

An obvious practical step toward unity involves establishing a commission at the upcoming World Congress to create a framework for the FIT, SA and the FI Caucus to discuss: (1) cooperative relations on specific proposals relating to the FI (publications, speakers' tours, defense work, etc.); (2) the three currents' different points of view on U.S. political, social, and economic realities; (3) impediments to working together in U.S. political and social struggles and ways to overcome those impediments; (4) obstacles to the unification of the three currents and ways to overcome such obstacles.

The SWP's formal termination of affiliation with the FI does not in itself create any new basis for the unification of Fourth Internationalist forces in the U.S. The SWP's withdrawal is a purely negative factor and any type of fusion or regroupment of U.S. Fourth Internationalists must arise out of positive factors involving political convergence and honest comradely collaboration.

Our belief in the need for unity of Fourth Internationalist forces in the U.S. flows from the seriousness of our approach to the task of building a revolutionary party: we believe that comrades in each of the three groups should consider the significance of our common adherence to the program of the Fl. Foremost among Leninist organizational principles is the understanding that revolutionaries who are committed to the same basic program should function together—democratically and in disciplined fashion—in a common organization. At the same time, a serious approach compels us to recognize that organizational abstractions alone, no matter how sound, cannot be expected to bring about the unity of SA, pro-FI comrades in Solidarity, and the FIT. There is no possibility of genuine unity until there is a general political convergence based on practical work together and serious discussion.

We must stress, however, that we do not project any “rapid fusion” or “unity for the sake of unity.” We see such proposals as being counterproductive to the goal of principled and durable unity of Fourth Internationalist forces. Instead of a rush toward unity, we favor a process of serious political collaboration and discussion, finally culminating in Fourth Internationalists coming together within a single revolutionary vanguard organization. We believe the FI can play a positive role in this process—not in somehow trying to force unity, not in formally or informally giving the “franchise” to one or another current, but in helping all of the U.S. currents to discuss together the barriers to achieving unity and the means to remove them. The problem can only be resolved by the U.S. comrades themselves.

At this time, we cannot predict the form of a future reunified FI grouping in the U.S. It may well be that a simple reunification of the three present currents proves to be impossible. Unity may develop through two of the groupings being joined by elements from the third, or members from two currents joining the third, or components from each coming together in a new organization. More than the current situation must be considered as well. There are new forces within the working class, the youth, various oppressed groups, and radicalizing layers from which we will find important fresh cadres. These new forces, and the resurgent struggles of which they are a part, may well play the decisive role in determining what a unified U.S. sympathizing section of the FI will look like.

Building the FIT and the FI

For the coming period, strengthening and expanding the FIT is the most important contribution we can make to building the Fourth Internationalist movement in the U.S. We intend to move forward to develop an organization, as stated in our founding platform, whose purpose is to defend, maintain, enrich, and apply the programmatic foundations of scientific socialism. We will integrate the important developments and experiences of the 1980s—including the lessons of the SWP's degeneration and the principled programmatic struggle waged by our current against that development. We will analyze and relate to new realities which have unfolded in each sector of the world revolution: the technologically advanced capitalist nations; the unevenly developed countries dominated by imperialist powers; and the different types of workers' states. Our enrichment and application of the revolutionary program encompasses not only theoretical and educational efforts, but also contributions to the practical struggles of the working class and the oppressed as we function in various larger formations: trade unions, organizations defending women's rights and oppressed racial and national groups, campaigns opposing imperialist aggression and war, and mass efforts to protect human rights and our planet's survival.

Internationalism will be a keystone of our political perspectives as we build the FIT, recruit new members, and develop our cadres. Capitalism is a world system and cannot be replaced by socialism except on a global scale. Just as socialism in a single country is not possible, so a successful socialist strategy cannot be developed except on an international scale. Revolutionaries can achieve an adequate understanding of their particular situations only by comprehending the realities in the other sectors of the world revolution. Victories and defeats of the workers and the oppressed in one part of the world profoundly impact upon struggles in other parts. Cooperation in developing analyses and advancing struggles is vital for revolutionary socialists in all countries. For these reasons, it is essential for revolutionary socialists in the United States to help build and strengthen the Fourth International on a world scale. Although reactionary U.S. laws prohibit statutory membership in the Fl, revolutionaries in this country have a special responsibility: to build a sympathizing section of the FI.

The FIT traces its roots back to the founding of the Fourth International in 1938. In distinction from the Social-Democratic reformism of the Second International and the bureaucratic-authoritarian Stalinism which deformed and killed the Third International, the Fourth International has sought to maintain and advance the revolutionary socialist perspectives of Marx and Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, and the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Trotsky. We would betray our heritage and evade our political responsibilities if we did not make our best possible effort to work for a reunified and strengthened Fourth Internationalist organization in the United States.

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