The following document was sent to the Trotskyist Fraction - Fourth International on July 16, 2007 as our response to their International Appeal: The Tasks of the Left in Response to Chávez’s Project. Their Appeal can be found at Sources for all other citations in the LRP document are available upon request.

Traducción en español

A reply to the Trotskyist Fraction’s International Appeal

In recent years the potential for a mass fightback against imperialism has been shown in a number of significant upheavals in Latin America. It is the duty of revolutionary workers in imperialist countries to defend all oppressed nations against imperialist attack.  We also know that the working class of oppressed nations must come to recognize that its own national bourgeoisie is incapable of breaking with imperialism in this epoch. Therefore, armed with an internationalist outlook, the working class must lead a struggle of all the downtrodden for the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system. By building its vanguard party internationally, the most class conscious workers will lead the fight for international socialist revolution, the only way to end imperialism. This strategy of permanent revolution represents the only hope for humanity.

Holding back our class from developing consciousness of its independent class interests are the proponents of populism and popular frontism. These workers’ and peasants’ misleaders held back mass upheavals by pushing these false pro-capitalist ideologies. Populism and popular frontism are strategies of class collaboration and deadly enemies of working class independent struggle.

The most prominent populist misleader today is undoubtedly Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.  His radical pseudo-socialist and anti-imperialist posturing, coupled with some actual reforms, have won him wide support among the masses in Venezuela – and well beyond. Behind the left populist façade, Chávez has been taking obvious steps to tighten his grip on the masses. This is what’s behind his attempt to bind the workers and bourgeois sectors together in the PSUV (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela or United Socialist Party of Venezuela), as well as his aggressive opposition to union autonomy. The number of direct attacks on workers carried out by the National Guard and police is still small. But the Chávez regime is using pseudo-socialist populist appeals to preempt and disarm a greater development of class struggle.

Considering this dangerous context, the International Appeal by the FT-CI (Fracción Trotskista- Cuarta Internacional or Trotskyist Fraction- Fourth International) for a united left campaign for independent working-class politics in Venezuela may look promising – since it seems to target Chávez and his pseudo-socialist populist politics. We will explain that it unfortunately fails to advance the revolutionary counterposition to Chávez that is absolutely necessary.

To start, we must state our overall view. The FT-CI is itself a far left centrist current. Its importance derives in part from its correct stance in opposing the dominant left trend of open capitulation to populists like Chávez and Morales of Bolivia. Unlike most groups in Latin America and indeed the world, the small FT-CI sections in Venezuela and Bolivia have courageously stood up against the stream of leftists who advocated a vote for Chávez and the like. Principled stands on electoral matters make these FT-CI groups far more significant than their current size; they are likely to attract some of the most revolutionary minded workers.

However, the FT-CI chooses to withhold their criticisms of other centrists to their right who have crossed the class line at key times – when they are proposing or are carrying out a united political campaign with other groups. We will show that the Appeal uses exactly this kind of “diplomatic” approach to other centrists, an approach which is disorienting to the advancing layers of the working class and undermines the Trotskyist Fraction’s own principled stands in Bolivia and Venezuela. We will later turn to the question of the content of their proposal.

The FT-CI Appeal opens by calling on three other left organizations to join them in a “united campaign for the nationalization without compensation and under workers’ control and management of all companies and strategic industries of Venezuela and to fight for an independent workers’ party and for a government of the workers, peasants and the poor.” The choice of allies presents the most blatant problem with the Appeal. The groupings addressed are:

  1. the LIT (Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores or International Workers League) and its principal organization, the PSTU of Brazil (Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificados or United Socialist Workers’ Party);
  2. the CRCI (Coordinadora por la Refundación de la Cuarta Internacional or Coordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International) led by the PO (Partido Obrero or Workers’ Party) of Argentina;
  3. the POR (Partido Obrero Revolucionario) of Bolivia.

The FT-CI explains what it sees as the basis for a joint campaign with these three groups:

While we stood together with the millions of workers in Venezuela in order to defeat the reactionary and imperialist coup in April 2002 and the lockout-sabotage in 2003, our international organizations maintain political independence from the Chávez project, representing the only basis for a united campaign.

Then, after describing Chávez’s “new policy of concentrating power,” and the “new Bonapartization of the regime,” the FT remarks:

It is notable that the vast majority of organizations on the Left internationally, including many of those claiming to be Trotskyist, acquiesce to Chávez’s bourgeois nationalism. For this reason, we revolutionary Marxists must join forces and raise a program which is clearly differentiated from that of Chávez and which promotes the political independence of the workers.

However, the real record of the LIT, CRCI and POR shows that they can in no way be regarded as “revolutionary Marxists” or as standing for “the political independence of the workers” in Venezuela or elsewhere. The FT-CI has explained elsewhere that it considers these groups centrist. Concretely, they each have an actual record of crossing the class line and promoting class collaboration.

For example, the LIT-PSTU has not renounced a whole history of class conciliatory politics that characterizes Morenoism. On the contrary, the LIT rests on Moreno’s extensive history of political support for bourgeois parties and alliances: Moreno’s political capitulations to Peronism in Argentina perhaps being the most infamous example. More recently, in 2002 the LIT-PSTU called for a vote for the popular front alliance in Brazil that Lula’s Workers Party had formed with the bourgeois Liberal Party. And most to the point, both the LIT as a whole – and its representation in Venezuela – called for a vote for Chávez in 2006. The FT-CI’s section in Venezuela, the Juventud de Izquierda Revolucionaria (JIR), has operated as a public faction within a left grouping called the PRS (Partido de Revolución y Socialismo or Party of Revolution and Socialism) . When the JIR opposed the decision of the PRS majority to campaign for Chávez, they reported that “we were also opposed by the representative of the LIT-PSTU, which distinguished itself by forming a united front with the majority sectors of the PRS, telling us that we ‘screwed up big time’...” Given the LIT’s history, their political support for Chávez should have come as no surprise.

As for the CRCI-PO centered in Argentina, they had a dispute with their Venezuelan representation over calling for a vote for Chávez (with CRCI-PO opposing the vote). But this dispute was hardly a matter of principle. After all, in the 2005 presidential election in Bolivia, the CRCI-PO enthusiastically called for a vote for the bourgeois populist candidacy of Evo Morales. Indeed, the PO condemned the FT-CI as “politically bankrupt,” “charlatans” and “fools” for opposing Morales.

The third organization is the Bolivian POR. The Trotskyist Fraction’s Bolivian section, the LOR (Liga Obrera Revolucionaria or Revolutionary Workers’ League), has defined the POR as “inveterate centrists,” noting its long history of betrayal. In its press, the FT-CI has denounced the POR’s role in actual revolutionary situations. In the course of the 1952 revolution, the POR’s political support to the bourgeois MNR guaranteed the triumph of counterrevolution. The LRP understands that this treasonous policy, which secured the almost unanimous support of the Fourth International, actually sounded the death-knell of the original FI as a proletarian revolutionary party. (See our pamphlet Bolivia: The Revolution the “Fourth International” Betrayed.) The POR went on to betray the 1970-71 revolutionary movement and the pivotal 1985 class upsurge. In more recent years, the POR has gone through a notable sectarian turn. In regard to the Bolivian uprisings of 2003 and 2005, the LOR aptly notes that “already for some time the POR has converted itself into a sterile sect from the political point of view and that also explains the dramatically horrible role during the last national crises...”

We are not surprised that the FT-CI has not reported any substantive response to the Appeal by any of these groups. The obvious question is this: why did the FT-CI put out an Appeal that made it seem as if these groups could comprise an effective political counterweight to Chávez?

The FT-CI, despite its commendable willingness to swim against the stream in Bolivia and Venezuela, has a fundamentally wrong conception of how the revolutionary party of the working class is to be built. And this leads them to dishonest diplomacy with other groups in the centrist left, which undermines their principled stand for working class independence in Venezuela.

The approach demonstrated in its Appeal was forecast in the short report on its Fourth Conference published in La Verdad Obrera. There the FT-CI describes the collapse of much of the centrist left around the world (such as the Mandelite USec and the Cliffite International Socialism tendency) into open class-collaborationism. The FT-CI then states that as part of the “struggle for the reconstruction of the Fourth International,” it would approach currents like the LIT, the CRCI-PO or the POR of Bolivia that criticized “subordination to Chavismo totally or partially”with proposals to them that look “beyond the big political differences that we have.”

Something is terribly wrong with this picture. International tendencies like the LIT and CRCI have only tried to cover up their capitulation to Chávez by mouthing this or that criticism; they are no better than the Mandelites or the Cliffites in any essential way. To say that such groups have criticized subordination to Chávez “partially” is to leave unsaid that they have “partially” capitulated to Chávez. In fact the Appeal helps these rotten centrist outfits cloak their criminal betrayal of the fight for working- class independence. The FT-CI convention document at least notes a “partial” subordination to Chavismo: but the Appeal, intended for broader left and public consumption, simply claims that the “international organizations maintain political independence from the Chávez project.” This is a blatant lie in the case of the LIT, as we have shown. And while the CRCI and POR have not directly endorsed a vote for Chávez, they have directly capitulated to other bourgeois figures and are therefore equally untrustworthy. Isn’t this what revolutionaries should want their fellow workers to understand?

As Trotsky explained, the question of crossing the class line is no “tactical question or ... technical maneuver” but rather “the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch ... the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism.” The FT-CI would claim to understand this, yet the Appeal doesn’t demonstrate such an understanding. Rather their convention document stated that these groups should look “beyond the big political differences we that have” in order to form an alternative “pole” to Chavismo . Out of this conception an Appeal was constructed which doesn’t even mention that these groups have already betrayed on the “main question of proletarian class strategy.”

There is nothing wrong with a joint campaign of different left groups for a specific purpose, as an abstract proposition. However the FT has no business covering up the dangers of these centrist tendencies to their right. And it is not warning our class in advance of the capacity for more betrayal from these outfits. The net effect is to raise the prestige of these centrists in the eyes of the workers, rather than raising working class political consciousness about the nature of centrism.

In Trotsky’s writings about centrism, he noted that reformism was objectively counterrevolutionary. He saw that centrism, whether it was right or more left-wing in appearance, tended to become the critical barrier to revolution at times when reformism was exposed, that is, when the working class was searching for a revolutionary alternative. Trotsky in no way excluded the possibility of winning over whole sections of the ranks or even leaders of centrist parties under certain circumstances; in other circumstances Trotsky thought workers might bypass centrist efforts and be reached directly by the revolutionary vanguard. The main point is that Trotsky always argued for an open fight by revolutionaries against centrism, most importantly during the varied tactical maneuvers he advocated in attempting to build the International Left Opposition.  As he put it, “Those revolutionists will fight reformism best who are absolutely independent of centrism and view it critically and intransigently.” The fight against populism requires no less.

We must note that the FT-CI regularly publishes exposures of populist politics and criticisms of these centrist tendencies as well. In fact, they are a good source of information, and we have depended on their publications even in composing this critique. Their newspapers offer far more of value than those of most other tendencies. But, the Appeal, a central international statement coming out of a convention and intended for a broader audience, does not tell workers the truth about these groups. The fact that critical points were made elsewhere is a poor excuse for an obvious decision to withhold criticism when making a proposal. The reason for the diplomatic cover-up is not because the FT-CI is inherently or habitually dishonest. Rather we believe the reason is this. If the FT-CI had included, within the Appeal, an indication of these tendencies’ record of class collaboration, it would have been obvious that the Appeal made no sense. At the very least, the FT-CI would have then had to directly ask these tendencies to reverse their history of class collaboration and explain to their readers whether or not they expected them to do so and why. The fact is that none of these tendencies are moving to repudiate their past positions in favor of a principled stance for class independence.

As we indicated at the start, a second problem with the Appeal is the content itself. Toward the end of their statement, the FT-CI sums up their proposal this way:

In short, comrades, we call for a united campaign on three fundamental points. a) For the nationalization without compensation of all strategic industries under workers’ control and management and opposition to the false nationalizations of Chávez. b) For an independent workers party so that the working class may begin to influence national politics free of all varieties of reformism and bourgeois nationalism. c) The perspective of a workers’, campesinos’, and peoples’ government as the only method for achieving the demands of the workers, the peasants and the poor against the farce of Socialism of the 21st Century.

Let’s be clear. The FT-CI has not proposed any specific actions. It proposes a propaganda campaign wherein the groups would promote the three points. The FT-CI claims this would be a useful political counterposition to Chavismo. But nothing concrete is put forward beyond listing the three demands.

But what about the three demands? These are transitional demands. Such demands can often be tactically crucial – at other times particular demands may be tactically unwise. In any case, simply advocating these demands only give a partial counterposition to Chavismo. And that is not sufficient for a revolutionary campaign.

Our tendency objects to the widespread misuse of the Transitional Program whereby transitional demands are routinely raised as a substitute for being open with our fellow workers about our revolutionary goals. This has nothing in common with Trotsky’s approach. Trotsky formulated the Transitional Program to replace the old minimum program of reforms that were raised by reformists as the immediate goals of struggle, totally cut off from the maximum goal of socialist revolution. In the hands of centrists, transitional demands have been used to replace the maximum program – the opposite of Trotsky’s intention. (We urge comrades to read our article Myth and Reality of the Transitional Program [available on this website] at [available also in Spanish].)

The FT-CI tendency, like many others, uses these demands a lot. But they usually just hint at the need for socialist revolution and the workers’ state when addressing the working class. We will demonstrate our differences with that method concretely. The first demand proposed, nationalization without compensation, is one we believe is key today. However it’s also true that merely raising the demand is insufficient in the concrete situation.. Today the most militant workers in Venezuela are following the leaders of the trade union current C-CURA (Corriente Clasista, Unitaria, Revolucionaria y Autónoma or United Revolutionary and Autonomous Class-struggle Current), headed by Orlando Chirino, Stalin Peréz Borges and others with a long history of affiliation with right centrist organizations. The same people also lead the associated PRS. There are some disputes within the C-CURA/PRS milieu over how much to subordinate themselves to Chávez. But the disputes are secondary. These union leaders all favor some organizational independence for workers, in the sense of union autonomy, but they all also politically tie the class to Chávez and the capitalist state. They all advocated voting for Chavez and then wanted to get into the PSUV(although there has now been a division over that question.) The entire current of union leaders basically supports Chávez, although they have their criticisms.

The Appeal turns at the end to stating the three point campaign should be directed toward these union leaders. They say: “for the building of a united campaign directed towards currents within Venezuela, especially the PRS and the trade union C-CURA and to fight for this perspective in each one of our countries and internationally.” But beyond this sentence, the Appeal doesn’t explain what they have in mind.

Thus the Appeal doesn’t pose the need for revolutionaries to address the betrayals of the union misleaders, who also call for nationalization without compensation – but capitulate to Chávez at the same time. It is vital to defend these union misleaders when they are under attack by the bosses and the Chávez regime. But at the same time we insist on an approach which tries to cut through the illusions also encouraged by the centrists who lead workers’ struggles. We explain that these union leaders are incapable of fighting all the way for nationalization even if they use the words – because fundamentally they do support Chavez. They don’t warn against Chavez’s inevitable opposition to genuine expropriation in the hands of the working class. They do not explain that behind its “socialist” rhetoric, the Chavez government is a capitalist government which will prove an enemy of the workers and the poor. Instead they all push the idea that Chavez is leading a “revolutionary process” within which our class can just participate and push forward its fight for working class demands.

The left union misleaders use the demand of nationalization in a way that fools the workers about the nature of Venezuelan society. On the contrary, revolutionaries use the demand of nationalization to prove the need for socialist revolution. We fight side by side with our fellow workers in the fight for expropriation but we openly affirm that the workers’ own experience will confirm our arguments and prove the need for revolution and a workers’ state. This methodology is key if revolutionaries want to separate the workers from the political misleadership they now follow. As far as the Appeal goes, one could think that the FT-CI believes that four groups of leftists banding together will pressure or convince the current C-CURA/ PRS leadership to definitively break from their pro-Chávez political practice.

(On a subordinate point, Chirino and his associates do equivocate on the question of workers’ management. They usually go along with Chávez’s call for co-management instead, arguing that it is just an insufficient step toward full workers’ management. But even the FT-CI Appeal fudges this kind of question. They raise the demand of “workers’ and consumers’ control,” which also dilutes the central class question. Whether discussing control or management, Trotsky’s Transitional Program was unequivocal on the matter.)

The “independent workers party” demand presents even more of a problem. The Trotskyist Fraction calls for “an independent workers party so that the working class may begin to influence national politics free of all varieties of reformism and bourgeois nationalism.” This is confusionist. The only party which will be free of reformism and bourgeois nationalism is the internationalist vanguard party. The FT-CI believes it is applying Trotsky’s labor party tactic to the Venezuelan context. Indeed, this tactic can be very important in certain circumstances. (See [The Labor Party in the United States] However, even where the use of the tactic is correct, it does not mean that revolutionists submerge or muddle their message for the revolutionary vanguard party and program.

Further, we do not agree that this tactic, in Venezuela today, would advance the revolutionary cause. There are not thousands of workers moving to break with Chávez. The militant layers have shown they will follow Chirino and other union leaders in practical struggles, but they do not look toward these union leaders at this time to lead in founding a new mass political party. The situation points to the general need for advocating a broad mass action strategy within which revolutionaries would fight for our program and party, and aim to expose the workers’ misleaders. The most politically advanced workers, a minority, are already looking for an alternative to Chávez – even if their consciousness is mixed on the question. We say that above all the explicit call for the proletarian revolutionary vanguard party is needed more than ever to win those that can be won now to the vanguard. (At a later point in time, when the motion of masses in an independent political direction is on the horizon, the idea of a labor party would probably be appropriate.)

Indeed, the FT-CI has already gone through the experience of subordinating the independence of the vanguard party by co-founding the PRS, which they argued would be a mass workers’ party. They have already seen that it was not possible for it to become a revolutionary party. Instead, the PRS-majority has supported Chávez, as the FT-CI has described in detail in their own press. If the FT-CI and the JIR want to continue to call for an independent workers party now, they should at least present a balance sheet of their work in building the PRS and explain how their currently proposed party would be different than the right centrist PRS that already exists.

The third demand is for the workers’, campesinos’, and peoples’ government. We presume Trotskyist Fraction intends this formulation to be a call for a governmental alliance of a number of parties led by the working class, a variant of the workers’ government slogan. As with their workers’ party proposal, we do not agree that the workers’ government tactic is useful in Venezuela today. (The method behind our approach is well taken up in our article “Myth and Reality of the Transitional Program.”) Nor do we accept the call for the workers’ government as a substitute to be used instead of propaganda for the workers’ state. This  is not just an issue of wordage. If there was a party today calling for a government led by the working class but explaining the need to smash the entire bourgeois state apparatus and replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat that would not be a political capitulation to Chávez’s populist myth of evolutionary socialism. But in the current context publicizing the idea of a workers’ government slogan without talking about the fundamental concept of the workers’ state  implies that, if not Chávez, then some left reformist  or centrist alternative can achieve the solution workers need – without the destruction of the capitalist state. The workers’ government slogan is a valid tactic but not in Venezuela at this time. Since Chávez’s left tails in C-CURA do argue that a workers’ government can be achieved through the “revolutionary process” it is even more critical to tell our fellow revolutionary-minded workers the whole truth.

There is no substitute for the winning of the vanguard workers, no matter how few in numbers, to a clear and consistent revolutionary program. This must be our top priority as revolutionary internationalists. Tactical maneuvers are possible, and they become even more vital with the rise of more massive struggles. But revolutionaries always explain to the advanced workers what they hope to accomplish within any tactical approach.

Trotsky was certainly right to advocate transitional demands and  a whole range of tactics which revolutionaries must be prepared to use. But his method was based on the premise that revolutionaries always, at every step, “say what is.” As he insisted:

... on whatever arena, and whatever the methods of functioning, they [the Fourth Internationalists – ed.] are bound to speak in the name of unqualified principles and clear revolutionary slogans. They do not play hide and seek with the working class; they do not conceal their aims; they do not substitute diplomacy and combinations for a principled struggle. Marxists at all times and under all conditions openly say what is. ...

The FT-CI has sections which deserve much credit for taking correct positions in relation to Chávez, Morales and the like. But the Appeal utilizes diplomacy and evasion instead of sticking with a hard revolutionary opposition. In this way, in our view the FT-CI’s Appeal unfortunately reflects its own failure to separate itself from the rest of the centrist, fake Trotskyist milieu.

We make our criticisms of the Appeal frankly and without artificial diplomacy. We don’t agree with the particular proposal.  But we definitely do agree with the FT-CI that an international campaign that aids the struggle for working class independence is sorely needed. The FT-CI and its section in Venezuela, the JIR, have been effectively publicizing a number of key battles of our class in Venezuela, showing concretely how Chávez opposes the workers’ demands for expropriation and workers’ control. En Clave Obrera has highlighted, in words and pictures, attacks against striking and protesting workers by the National Guard and police, such as was perpetrated against  workers at the Sanitarios Maracay plant. This attack, in conjunction with Chávez’s declaration of war on union autonomy,  sparked a solid regional strike in the State of Aragua late May, which raised the stakes of the conflict greatly. Even though the size of current struggles are small, they are growing. It  points to the need for mass united action of the working class.

An international publicity campaign could provide material aid to the pivotal struggle of the Sanitarios Maracay workers, and other strikes and protests. As well, we know that the international “solidarity” milieu provides an invaluable service to Chávez in covering up his anti-working class policies.  The myth is perpetrated in Venezuela and abroad that critics of Chávez are objectively pro-imperialist.  Information on conflicts like this are heavily suppressed because if the facts are spread, and the voices of these workers can be heard more widely, the reality of the class conflict at the heart of Venezuela is harder to deny. It would shed a lot of light where Chávez doesn’t want it. So-called “solidarity” campaigns which submerge differences within the left undermine the genuine struggle against imperialism, a struggle which demands a conscious proletariat.

With our modest resources, the LRP has already participated in many protest actions against American imperialism and intervened energetically within that movement in the U.S., fighting against the stream wherever possible to expose and counter the pro-Chávez populist mythology that is rampant in the Left internationally. We have a consistently principled record in this regard. We are equally consistent in our opposition to every populist pretender at home and abroad. While not hiding our political differences, we stand ready to join with the FT-CI and other tendencies in efforts to aid our fellow workers in Venezuela. Because the FT-CI has comrades on the ground in Venezuela, and is part of a larger international tendency on the continent, they are in a prime position to spark an international campaign of this nature.  We look forward to a response from the FT-CI to both our critique of the Appeal and our concrete proposal.

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