Reply to Comrade Daniel Bengoechea

Part Two

by Sy Landy, May 2001

II. Your section, On the national question

You say that,

The term “Anti-imperialist United Front” has a tactical character for us, not a strategic one. In no way do we hold expectations in the national bourgeoisie, which in the current stage of capitalist development is incapable of finishing the democratic tasks that are still pending in our countries.

It would be good if you were to refer us to articles in your public press which explain this usage as you have done in your document. Is the readership of your publications really aware of this explanation? While we disagree with your use of the slogan, we think that giving prominence to such an explanation would offset at least some of its bad effects.

We do not question the sincerity of your belief that the slogan implies no capitulation to the bourgeoisie, which indeed cannot carry out decisive democratic and anti-imperialist tasks. But, regardless of your intentions, we believe that the slogan communicates the opposite; it builds illusions among your audience about the national bourgeoisie. We believe it is stagist and undermines the necessity of building the revolutionary party.

Given present conditions and questions of size, the POR must conceive of itself as a propaganda group – that is a group devoted to primarily addressing the advanced workers and turning them into cadres rather stressing agitation directed toward the masses. Nevertheless, Masas raises the slogan with such frequency that it seems to a reader to have the same importance as the need to build the party, the central purpose of a propaganda organization.

You say that use of the anti-imperialist front is tactical rather than strategic. However, often-used tactical slogans can approximate strategic slogans in practice; the label isn’t decisive, the practical use is. For example, we have written in Proletarian Revolution [in The Centrality of the Revolutionary Party] about the fact that in reviewing our past usage of the tactical general strike slogan, we let it interfere with our communicating the decisive, key strategic demand of re-creating the vanguard party. Yet, we believe that the general strike was and is a correct tactic for the U.S. and it must be used frequently. We now try to be very careful, however, to use it in a subordinate fashion to the strategic party slogan. We do not see that the POR exercises the same care.

We have already made the specific criticism of misuse of the slogan in our critique of Cde. Gamboa’s piece, Ecuador: A Revolutionary Situation Whose Perspectives Are Still Uncertain [Available online in Spanish translation]. In a country faced with a revolutionary situation and no party or even pre-party formation, the concentration on the “anti-imperialist united front” simply overwhelms the needed stress on building the vanguard nucleus. The party is tacked on in the last paragraph whereas the anti-imperialist united front is pressed first and is elaborated. The anti-imperialist front is put in the forefront: “For the masses, the task at hand is to forge the ‘United Front’....”

We must primarily address the advanced workers, vanguard workers. Lenin warned us again and again that we cannot go over the heads of the advanced and directly to the masses without reactionary consequences. The central task is the need to create the party formation. In turn, we should point out that it will be that party nucleus which can and should agitate and fight among the masses for whatever united fronts are necessary.

Further, as we have already written to the POR, the linkage between the united front and the party was made unclear in Gamboa’s Ecuador statement. In connection with the discussion on the united front and before even mentioning the party, Cde. Gamboa states, “For all this it is inconceivable for the power of workers and peasants to develop without the elaboration of a clear anti-imperialist program....” We agree that such a program is necessary but it is not only inconceivable that an anti-imperialist united front could have such a program, it is only the vanguard party of workers (not including peasants and certainly no element of the bourgeoisie) which could! Why is this not pointed out if the POR has no illusions in the anti-imperialist united front?

Why in Gamboa’s document does not the elementary statement appear that no element of the bourgeoisie – or even of the petty bourgeois leadership – is to be trusted not to betray in the struggle against imperialism? You insist on that meaning to us in your document. Isn’t it far more important to put such a thought into a statement addressed more widely to the working class public?

Everywhere in the world our primary opponent is imperialism. Pre-capitalist relations are no longer the chief enemy of the world working class; imperialism is. In Ecuador as well as other superexploited countries, it is particularly vital that imperialism be fought. At particular times, in particular situations, the anti-imperialist united front tactic could conceivably be useful in such countries. Stated repeatedly as a continuous slogan, and therefore a seemingly inevitable slogan, it is stagist and a barrier to the party, despite the POR’s disclaimers. No united front can really carry out the anti-imperialist tasks, only socialist revolution led by the proletarian party (with the support of the peasants and urban poor) can. That is what we must hammer away at, day and night. We have to be absolutely careful that the united fronts that we advocate are not presented as solutions to the workers but as means toward that end, an end that only the party can reach. If we agitate wrongly on this, we help create a barrier to the party; why create a party when a front will do?

Furthermore, the united front should not have a program, anti-imperialist or otherwise – or it is a propaganda bloc and not a united front at all! Trotsky correctly pointed out that united fronts cannot and should not be programmatic blocs. “March separately, strike together.” Joint acts, yes. Joint political agreement, no – any such program would be cross-class and a lie.

Further, Cde. Gamboa discusses a cross-class anti-imperialist front for the exact point in time where tactics called for stressing the necessity for a class break with the agents of the bourgeoisie! The Ecuadorian masses were already engaged in a massive revolt against imperialism and its compradores. The forces that could conceivably be drawn into a purported “anti-imperialist united front” (CONAIE’s Antonio Vargas, nationalist army colonels, etc.) were already in a “united front” – a front in the leadership of the masses – already betraying them, and already paving the way back to restoring power to the pro-U.S. imperialist ruling class. Once again as Trotsky warned, communists must know when to call for and maintain a common front and when it is a disaster to be in such a bloc. In revolutionary situations, communists must make clear what kind of common front is appropriate for the changing tactical situation. A united front against imperialism might be useful at one moment, whereas the stress must be placed upon dual power soviets – juntas – the highest form of united front at the next moment.

Any communist who rejects the use of the united front tactic when it is appropriate is no communist at all but a frightened Philistine. However, the specific form of united front which you in the POR advocate seems to us to be highly dubious in the overwhelming number of possible cases.

The early Third International discussed and adopted this slogan in 1922, at a time when it still felt that in many colonial countries, the working class was too weak to independently rule. It still held to ideas about the potentially progressive role of the indigenous bourgeoisies in the colonies and semi-colonies. It did not yet point to proletarian revolution as the solution within these countries. There is no record that Trotsky participated in discussions on the slogan. And even Trotsky had not yet begun to see that Permanent Revolution applied outside of Russia.

There is a real record of “anti-imperialist” blocs pushed by the Stalinists which included the bourgeoisie in semi-colonial countries like China which proved disasters for the proletarian revolution. The bloc with the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek serves as a bloody reminder for us not to waste a lesson paid for in the blood of the Chinese workers slaughtered during the revolution of 1925-27.

Trotsky has told us that,

The policy of Lenin in regard to oppressed nations did not, however, have anything in common with the policy of the epigones. The Bolshevik Party defended the right of oppressed nations to self-determination with the methods of proletarian class struggle, entirely rejecting the charlatan ‘anti-imperialist’ blocs with the numerous petty-bourgeois ‘national’ parties of czarist Russia (the Polish Socialist Party (PPS – the party of Pilsudski in czarist Poland), Dashnaki in Armenia, the Ukrainian nationalists, the Jewish Zionists, etc., etc.).

In today’s world where neo-colonialism has become dominant in the former colonies and semi-colonies, any overall use of the slogan seems to us to be far more problematic than even in the past. Immediate and tactical military defense or immediate practical blocs even with bourgeois elements against imperialism? Yes, if possible and necessary, absolutely. A constantly repeated call for an anti-imperialist united front, that is a statement that it must be necessary? No, that is stagist, we believe.

Constant anti-imperialist slogans? Yes! Constant calls for an anti-imperialist united front? No!

In our minds, there is a good reason why the anti-imperialist united front slogan has been adopted as a chief point by inveterate opportunists like Workers Power/LRCI, Lora, etc. At least, are there public polemics written by the POR distinguishing its understanding of the slogan from that of such political tendencies?

III. On the concept of the party

No extended commentary is needed here, since we both agree that the formation of working class consciousness occurs within our class and is not the beneficent gift awarded to us by condescending saviors. We have repeatedly challenged the various groups who hold the contrary view, and who pretend to follow Trotsky, as to why they do not acknowledge his position on this question and polemicize against it. After all, he absolutely and repeatedly denied the assertion that it is the intellectuals who bring socialist consciousness to the working class. Of course, they usually tend to treat Trotsky’s writings as holy scripture and rarely, if ever, question anything in them. And, if they did explicitly reject his teaching on this issue, they would be actually acknowledging the fact that there is a class gulf between them and the Old Man! We can also note that the centrist tendencies we have come in contact rely upon “common sense” and empiricism as a way of looking at the world. The dialectical method is celebrated in words, and treated as gibberish in practice. To them it is just obvious that ideas come from the intelligentsia and not the workers-in-struggle.

However, we do have a question with respect to the POR in regard to this question. You have informed us that POR holds the proletarian view in this regard, whereas the LBI holds the patronizing middle-class view maintained by the rest of the centrist epigones. Then, how is it that the POR regarded the LBI as being revolutionary? After all, as you and we agree, authentic revolutionary politics are fundamentally a class question.

IV. On the Fourth International

A. Entryism and the degeneration of the FI

We clearly agree on the necessity of having a materialist and class analysis of the political degeneration of the Fourth International (FI). The sections of the pseudo-Trotskyist left who trace their heritage to some sort of split with the Pablo-Mandelite “FI,” discuss the decay of the International as resulting from errors and bad ideas of a misguided leadership. Very correctly in our opinion, you see that explanation as “idealist.” All serious divisions within the workers’ movement must reflect class-determined issues. And, in this regard we, like you, find the position of the POR on the centrism of the epigones to be empiricist rather than deeply analyzed. We would also add for your consideration – and that of the POR as a whole – that a number of the tendencies that both you and we would regard negatively (LRCI and the Spartacists, for example), regard most of the rest of the “Trotskyist” milieu as “centrist.” That doesn’t prove that they, themselves, are not also centrist.

You and we seem to agree on the nature of the various splits which occurred between sections of the FI which failed to break with the serious capitulations common to all the pseudo-Trotskyists. Lora and the Bolivian section, with the agreement of the rest of the FI, supported the left bourgeois nationalists and betrayed the revolution in that country in 1952. In 1953, the schism occurred between Cannon, Healy, Lambert, Moreno, etc. on one side and Pablo, Mandel, et al on the other. Both sides were complicit with respect to Bolivia and to the degeneration in general, as you point out.

We also agree with you that the final political collapse of the FI was the product of a lengthy period of previous degeneration. We regard the changes in position in the post-war period with regard to both social democratic reformism and Stalinism as significant milestones in this process of decay. The view which developed in the late 1940’s – that Stalinism could create workers’ states – we believe reflected a profound change in class relationships in the West. The leadership of the FI began to see the world from a new class vantage point, one that they did not notice.

The late 1940’s saw the rise of the post-war prosperity bubble. The labor aristocracy and the middle class strata grew rapidly in various countries – certainly, but not only, in the advanced imperialist nations. Trotskyist workers during the 1930’s had aligned themselves with other worker militants in trade unions who were clustered in the shop steward networks. In the new period, stewards were being slowly but surely being incorporated into the union bureaucracies; given time off from work with full pay and having their tasks increasingly institutionalized by laws and other forms of governmental penetration.

As I stressed above, the bourgeoisie never charitably dispensed gains, they were won in battles; however, during the period of increased prosperity, the battles and consequent reforms were won far more often than in the past. Reformism, dying in the late 30’s, became alive again in the middle-late 1940’s. In Britain, when the Labour Party won power in 1945, it actually nationalized large basic industries, including the still-profitable steel industry. That kind of action by reformists was never expected by communists.

Is it any wonder that Trotskyists began to see counterrevolutionary social democracy and counterrevolutionary Stalinism as being capable of being progressive? What was once thought of as reactionary and a barrier to socialism was then thought of as being ‘too moderate,’ ‘too slow,’ ‘incapable of reaching the final goal’ – ‘but a force and an ideology which at least went some distance toward the goal,’ ‘a real step toward socialism.’

The Labour parties, Communist parties and Socialist parties had become ‘blunt instruments’ which could be pushed by the far left and by the working class toward the socialist revolution. The USSR, which had been seen as a counterrevolutionary workers’ state now became capable of making the socialist revolution, although in a deformed fashion. Reactionary “petty bourgeois Stalinism” would now be viewed as being sometimes progressive, sometimes reactionary. Perhaps the revolutionary party wasn’t always necessary. With this new outlook, conditioned by the changes in the economy and class relations, the new leadership of the FI led the organization down the path to tailism and capitulation.

In this regard, you indicate that you have given

...some thought as to whether the form in which the Fourth International degenerated is related in some way to the entrism into social democracy recommended by Trotsky to some of its most important sections. For me it seems that this helped the sections of the Fourth International fill with intellectuals and bought-off workers, isolating it from the most oppressed sectors of the working class. Therefore, the Fourth International, instead of winning vanguard proletarians, which was very difficult in the period of retreat in which it was being built, ended up recruiting intellectuals and sectors of the labor aristocracy, which would have to be reflected in centrist and opportunist deviations. What else could account for the various fractions of the Fourth International? What else could account for the policy applied during the 1952 revolution in Bolivia, a key event in the degeneration of the Fourth International.

We believe that the post-war historical-sociological description that I sketched in above, gives a more immediate and decisive explanation for the middle class transformation of the FI than does yours, when you cite the 1930’s entry tactic as a cause. That doesn’t mean we rule out your contention as being a possible longer-term contributing factor. In that sense, you may be right. We would have to study the empirical evidence in various countries more closely than we have up until this time, to know it for a fact. Unfortunately, at the moment, we do not have the resources for such a study.

We have no vested interest in claiming that the Trotskyist movement was always correct and pure prior to the end of the 1930’s, where our retrospective difference with the majority of our tendency would have become apparent. We know the North American scene best of course, and we believe that the early U.S. Trotskyists made serious errors in terms of trade union work and were too aristocratic to correctly understand the key Black struggle. Certainly, Trotsky thought so and with information available to us now, we would go even further than he did in his criticisms.

In relation to entryism, with the advantage of hindsight many of us have serious doubts about the entry into the Socialist Party in the U.S., but we have not yet fully discussed this question. However, one thing is clear: the overwhelming majority of the petty bourgeois elements won especially from the Socialist Party youth in the 1930’s, broke from Trotskyism and went with Shachtman, Burnham & Co. in 1939-40. They capitulated, but outside of our ranks in the FI. They were not the ones who made the fatal post-war decisions in the leadership of the U.S. section, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The Cannon leadership of the SWP played an instrumental role in creating the Pablo-Mandel leadership of the post-war FI. By and large, these leaders did not originate in the Socialist Party, nor as far as we know find their primary political base in the SWP among such elements.

We would add a few more points to the discussion. During the faction fight with Shachtman, Trotsky pointed out that the majority – which as we say included large numbers of workers who were not won from the Socialist Party – were also too labor aristocratic. He said, as well, that the party had neglected their cadre education as to appreciating the importance of theory, especially the dialectical method. Combine that estimate with what we have pointed out about the growth of cynicism because of the Moscow trials and one can see a possible seedbed for problems which could become decisive a decade and more later.

In sum, with respect to the U.S., we tend to believe that the general difficulties faced by Trotskyists, in bad circumstances (which you correctly point out was true), together with class deficiencies, were potentially contributing factors for the future political collapse. It does not seem likely that the entry into the SP in the U.S. played a particular role.

Even if study of the 1930’s class questions in relation to the world Trotskyist movement does bear out your tentative contention, we would stress that all it would prove would be that the potential for the collapse was thus created. It was the specific class and historical tendencies operative in the post-war 1940’s and early 1950’s which were decisive in producing the crisis which the leadership failed to meet. Nevertheless, your point is thought-provoking and valuable.

However, let me make one point clear with respect to entry. Even if the tactic was carried out poorly and with problematic results, we fully agree with the legitimacy of the tactic. In the 1930’s, with sectors of the working class moving left but into the social democratic and centrist parties, it was necessary to go into those parties and go through the experience with those workers in order to guide them into breaking with the reformists. We see entry as a weapon, like critical support, the united front, military-technical support and practical blocs, designed to unite with important sectors of the working class in action and to help break the ranks from their misleaders.

We do think that entry – temporary surrender of our organizational independence – is more dangerous than many of the other tactical weapons in our arsenal and therefore must be used only when absolutely necessary. In the 1930’s, it was necessary to enter and to break from the reformist parties in a short time, lest we be swallowed up by our enemies. It was crucial that Trotsky and the international leadership stayed independent and outside, pressuring the entryists to avoid falling victim to the petty bourgeois leaderships.

We see that the entries engaged in by the Shachtmanites, Cliffites and Pabloites in the post-World War II period as being the opposite of the 1930’s entries. They were adventures which marked the increasing tailism and degeneration of the FI. These were small group maneuvers, not class maneuvers. In the 30’s, workers were moving left through the reformist parties; in the late 40’s, workers were moving right as prosperity grew in the imperialist countries. In the 1930’s, Trotsky constantly sought to expose the reformist betrayers and their parties; in the late 40’s Pablo-Mandel, Shachtman, Cliff, Grant, Healy, Lambert, Lora, et al created illusions in the reformists and their parties. The entries of the 1940’s and 50’s were outright betrayals.

B. The significance of Bolivia

We have stressed the idea that the capitulation in Bolivia was the final act of betrayal for the formerly-revolutionary FI. For you, it was “a key event in the degeneration.” We hope that means that we have agreement on how decisive it was as an endpoint.

We agree with Trotsky’s insistence that revolutionary optimism demands that we do not give up on the gains of the working class (objective and subjective) until the last possible point of no-return. (That is one of the many reasons why we disagree with the Cliffites and Shachtmanites, who see the capitalist counterrevolution as having been victorious in the USSR in the late 1920’s.) The Pabloite entries were very serious capitulations, but not absolutely conclusive in relation to crossing the class line. The conceptual transformations in class analysis concerning East Europe were left mostly on the plane of cognition rather than that of practice. (Of course, for Marxists, final proof can be determined only through practice.) The betrayal in Bolivia was a decisive practical action, definitively crossing the class line, taken by an important section of the FI; one with serious influence during a revolution in that country; and one taken with the full support of the leadership and other sections of the International.

You point out that the FI’s “very grave error,” which it made by giving support to the left bourgeois nationalist MNR in the 1952 Bolivian revolution, represented a “turning point” for that organization. But, you add, no case do I think it was treason comparable to the approval of war credits by the Social Democrats in 1914, or to the betrayal of the German and Spanish proletariat by the Third International in the 30’s. These events implied that the Second and Third Internationals were converted into counterrevolutionary structures at the service of the bourgeoisie. This did not happen with the Fourth International. If it had occurred we would have to speak about founding a new international, instead of reconstructing or recreating the Fourth. The Fourth International degenerated into a multitude of centrist, bureaucratic and opportunist tendencies which oscillate between revolution and counterrevolution but which are not counterrevolutionary apparatuses at the service of the bourgeoisie. Obviously these currents are an obstacle to the development of working-class consciousness, but they are not the same as social democracy or Stalinism.

We certainly agree with you that the FI during and after the decisive events in Bolivia had become centrist, rather than counterrevolutionary. We have always described the pseudo-Trotskyists that way. In comparing the end of the FI with the end of the Second and Third internationals, our point has been that they all stopped being politically revolutionary at critical junctures in time, not that the organizations which continued afterward, parading under the same names, were all the same. (7)

Nevertheless, we accept this aspect of your implied criticism because we feel that often we have too glibly equated the political end of the FI with the political end of the Second and Third internationals, without immediately linking that point with our correct stress on the fact that the pseudo-Trotskyists were, and continue to be, centrist. Just as we advised you on the need to be extra-careful in explaining your understanding of the anti-imperialist united front, we too must be extra-careful in this regard. If we are not, the consequences could be serious.

In our own defense, let us note that our comparisons in this area have not generally been mechanical. We have always pointed to the fact that Bolivia in 1952 did not have the same center-stage world significance that Germany did in 1914 or 1933. (We have pointed out, however, that a successful and unalloyed proletarian revolution in 1952 in Bolivia would not only have had a huge guiding impact on the whole tumultuous Latin American scene, but would have had a very important effect upon the thwarted East German, Czech, and Hungarian uprisings which occurred shortly thereafter.)

We have a problem with your formulation that the FI’s Bolivian acts were not “treason comparable to” the acts of the previous internationals. Do we agree that the support to the MNR during the revolution was itself treasonous – a mortal betrayal of the Bolivian proletariat? We can only accept your characterization insofar as the point is the important distinction between the counterrevolutionary and/or centrist character of the different internationals. The Bolivian act, by itself, was an act of treason to our class and to its revolution in that country. Further, it betrayed “our holy of holies,” our International!

Centrists commit treasonous acts too, as they vacillate between reformist practices and revolutionary claims. For example, when Trotsky correctly considered Stalin to be a bureaucratic centrist, there was no doubt that the Stalinists were carrying out numerous acts of treachery. They had not yet crystallized them into a permanent pattern, a pattern from which there was no return.

I think that you agree with us on that point but that your formulation was not clear enough. Is that true?

Lastly, in this regard, you and we evidently disagree as to why we both still identify with the Fourth International, as opposed to a call for a Fifth International. Let me outline our view:

  1. We call for the re-creation of the FI rather than its reconstruction or rebuilding (the more common slogans) in order to open up our explanation that we do not wish to put together the various existing groups as such. Centrists vacillate but that does not mean that they are reformist one day and revolutionary the next, even though upon occasion some of them can carry out particular pro-revolutionary acts. They are not revolutionary Bolsheviks nor is their leadership proletarian. We wish to return to the authentic FI, the genuinely revolutionary FI. That means we seek to split some groups and fuse with others; the few who may be still revolutionary or can become revolutionary.
  2. We distinguish between the Second/Third internationals and the FI after their collapse in the following way. The Yellow International had powerful parties in powerful imperialist nations, frequently holding governmental positions. The Third International was a weapon controlled by the Stalinists who commanded state power in the USSR. (Trotsky pointed to the significance of that fact as one reason for moving away from the left oppositional stance.) The various centrist tendencies who claimed to be the FI had no such forces and no such power. While our own forces were and are tiny, the balance of political power between the molecularly divided – and constantly re-dividing – pseudo-Trotskyists, was and is qualitatively different than the relation of forces faced by our communist ancestors.

    Further, from our beginning days, our analysis told us that the trajectory of the centrist “Trotskyist” leaderships, despite secondary vacillations, would be toward tailing the reformist forces. Thus they would eventually be forced to abandon their independent stance and to abandon their claim to the unstained banner of Trotsky’s Fourth International. We would be in a far better position to provide a pole of attraction to the best militant workers within the centrist milieu internationally, if we stood clearly as the ones who wished to remain independent and international; the ones who wished to maintain Trotsky’s original program and party. We foresaw that the decisive issue would become ‘which tendency stood for authentic Trotskyism,’ and standing for the FI rather than some new formation, made that most clear. Given the unfavorable but not qualitatively prohibitive balance of power, plus the anti-party trajectory of the Pabloites, Cliffites and Shachtmanites, the banner of the FI was best indicated to convey our message as to who constituted the authentic Bolshevik-Leninist alternative.

    The decision to raise the slogan of Re-Create the Fourth International!, rather than to adopt the new slogan of Forward to the Fifth International!, therefore was and is one of name and is tactical in nature.

    Our predictions are now coming true. In the early 1990’s, we predicted that soon, when the traditional reformist parties lost more and more of their appeal to working class militants, the centrists would move toward filling the political vacuum and move to create new reformist parties. We predicted that the line between the independently organized pseudo-Trotskyist centrists and the left reformists would disappear as they moved to replace the old discredited parties.

    Today, Mandel’s USec, the biggest formation, is about to drop even the formal nod it has made in the past to the Trotskyist FI, its independent role and its program. The Cliffites in Scotland, England and Australia, together with most of the various Pabloite groups, are trying to build new “socialist parties,” and “socialist alliances.” In Germany, the ex-Stalinist PDS, initiated by Gysi, attracted many centrists for a while. The various centrist groups in West Europe are busy maneuvering over an effort to put together a unified pre-party, based upon a sub-reformist program. Already in other countries, various Pabloite and Cliffite groups are supporting popular fronts with the Greens. In Zimbabwe, the Cliffites are in a party led by the big capitalists and white landowners! Of course, you know better than we do, the history of Lula’s “Workers Party” in Brazil and its left proponents! We could go on. We believe that the current rapid rightward developments within the pseudo-Trotskyist milieu confirm our predictions and our tactical line designed to meet the possibilities.

  3. The question of the number of the coming International – “4” or “5” – is not the question of principle at issue; the program is the principled question. For us, the best tactical way to explain our adherence to the international and the program of Lenin and Trotsky was and is to raise the banner of the FI. It is we and not the centrists (who are now becoming open reformists) who stand for the genuine independent workers’ international party!

    Given the lack of political definition which advanced workers would inevitably see if faced with a call for a Fifth International, its call now could only be confusing. It does not help that various tendencies, including ultra-lefts, have identified with such a slogan over the years, thereby confusing its meaning even more.

  4. As the new reformist clones develop, we expect more and more workers to learn from the experience that the world does not need more reformist parties. We hope to win such elements. The immediate situation today could also develop into a possible international confrontation between those centrists who will initially resist the liquidationist tide, versus those who are moving more rapidly to reformism. In the language of carpenters, we will regard that division as “the first rough cut.” We will attempt to separate the proletarian elements out of the left centrist milieu by planting a hard pole of attraction featuring the authentic, if updated, program and name of the Fourth International!

V. Your section On the current phase of the class struggle

We substantially agree with your description of the current period. We view it as a time during which the capitalists have deepened their offensive against the working class. We point out, however, that as murderous as the offensive has been and still is, it is hesitant. They still fear the power of the working class, as bad as its leadership is. Therefore, they generally try to maintain the facade of bourgeois democracy and have not yet resorted to fascism and the open destruction of the trade unions.

We further agree with you that the state of the movement is such that revolutionaries must concentrate upon preparing the vanguard. That means that our organizations must be propaganda leagues rather than agitational parties. We have already made clear our belief after reading Masas, that the POR is not carrying this task out in practice.

We also note the fact that if we believed that the collapse of the USSR was the collapse of a workers’ state, we would have to have a far less optimistic perspective than the one you put forward. In our opinion, it is very dangerous not to carry the logic of one’s position to its conclusion. We are glad that you do not; but for us that means that we think that you must go all the way in re-evaluating your position on the nature of USSR.

VI. Your section A question

Yes, we believe that World War II was an inter-imperialist war and would have favored defeatism on both sides, including within the USSR. Not by accident, Stalin fought the war under the banner of Russian nationalism and not proletarian international communism.

Other forces besides the Bordigaists actually opposed both sides during the war. So, for example, did the Shachtmanites. We would have been distinguished from the Shachtmanites in that their policies were opportunist. For example, as Trotsky pointed out, they abandoned the “proletarian military policy.” Bordigaists conducted themselves as sectarians.

There is another sense in which we would have distinguished our practice from that of the Shachtmanites and the Bordigaists. In the 1939-40 factional struggle with the Shachtmanites within the FI, we would have been a separate faction from that of Trotsky’s because of the Russian question. Nevertheless, from our point of view, we had far less in common with Shachtman-Burnham who were “doubters” or Bureaucratic Collectivists on the Russian question, views we believe were and are anti-proletarian. The major issue in the fight was the party question; the petty bourgeois Shachtman tendency was disloyal and splitting the FI. This treachery was made qualitatively worse by the fact that it occurred at the outset of the world war.

During the faction fight and during the war, we would have been loyal to our international and its discipline. We would have argued against the defense of the USSR as well as other mistakes we feel occurred, but we would have carried out the line of the majority in practice. The FI was still the bastion of revolution! We can also note that elements within the FI, including Jim Cannon and Natalia Trotsky, were growing less confident in stressing their defense of the USSR as the war progressed. We might have made a difference and taken such views further along to our conclusions.

Like you, we too hope that we and you will be able to join together in the struggle for reasserting the leadership of the revolutionary proletariat on the left and on the world scene in general. We too wish to engage in a joint struggle against centrism. As a result of our discussion with you so far, our expectations of such solidarity are higher. Forward to the Re-Creation of the Fourth International!


7. It is true, however, that when Trotsky pronounced the end of the Third International as a revolutionary organization after the German betrayal, he considered the Stalinists as bureaucratic centrists rather than as counterrevolutionaries. That came with the Spanish betrayal. Return to main text