The recomposition of the International Workers’ Movement, part 2

The refusal to work out its line on the basis of the class character of the conflict has finally led the Fourth International to disaster in its line on the war in Yugoslavia.

The real situation in Yugoslavia is that German imperialism sponsored the break-up of the federation to create new capitalist states in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. The Serb minorities fought to remain part of the Yugoslav Federation – a non-capitalist state. The United States and German imperialism built up Croatian and Bosnian armies. NATO was moved into the area. Imperialism conducted a propaganda campaign, swallowed by most of the west European ‘left intelligentsia’, likening the Serbs to Hitler and then launched the massive aerial, missile and artillery bombardment of the Bosnian Serbs.

Instead of starting from a class position, and seeing the intervention of imperialism into Yugoslavia, the Fourth International refused to oppose the capitalist break-up of Yugoslavia and then called for support and arming of the Bosnian capitalist state in its war on the Bosnian Serbs who wish to remain part of the Yugoslav federation. For the first time in its history, the Fourth International is seeking the military victory of a capitalist state backed by imperialism against forces fighting to remain part of a non-capitalist state.

The World Congress of the Fourth International started to systematise these positions into a world view which is social democratic not Marxist. It is asserted, for example, that: ‘The working class in imperialist Europe remains – in spite of its partial integration into the state and the capitalist economy – the best organised core of the world proletariat.’ Marxism, on the contrary argues that the conquest of political power by the working class – which has taken place in the Soviet Union, China, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and Cuba – constitutes a incomparably higher level of organisation than anything which currently exists in western Europe.

It is also proposed to amend the programme of the Fourth International, because, it is claimed, the world is now in a ‘period of real political impotency where the masses and their struggles are bereft of adequate political and organisational tools and without hope of being able to change society.’

If the working class had ‘no hope of being able to change society’, political organisation, including the Fourth International, would be futile. No doubt that conclusion will sooner or later be drawn from these positions.

3. The new international left

Today far larger forces than those with Lenin in 1914, or Trotsky in 1933, stand against the new onslaught of imperialism.

With different starting points, on different levels and with many contradictory currents within them, these include the majority of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation; the Cuban Communist Party and many of the forces around the São Paulo Forum in Latin America; some components of the former Communist Parties throughout eastern Europe and the former USSR, new left political forces like the Left Alternative in Hungary, Josef Pinior in Poland and Boris Kagarlitsky in Russia; and forces coming together around the pole of the PDS in Germany, the Party of Communist Refoundation in Italy and the United Left in Spain. The alliance of the Communist Party of Britain and part of Labour left in the Socialist Forum in Britain is part of the same process.

These organisations and currents contain contradictory political positions – some still containing rightward-moving social democratic currents and other forces moving to the left. Many are new organisations or alliances. Some are coming together on a regional basis. Their evolution is by no means finished nor determined in advance. But, in relation to the most fundamental events of the international class struggle today, they are converging. The strategic ideas of Trotsky have a vital contribution to make to that process.

Furthermore, the disasters of 1989 and 1991 have led to an openness to consider all views, including those of Trotsky, which can help understand how eastern Europe and the USSR were led to the point of capitalist restoration and what strategy is necessary to advance out of the present situation.

Thus the chair of the German PDS, the successor to the east German Communist Party, made clear in opening this year’s PDS conference: ‘Moreover, together we want to tap and use the ideas of communists such as Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, the old Leon Trotsky or Antonio Gramsci. It is undisputed for us that we commemorate those communists who were persecuted and killed by fascists. Yet it is also our duty to honour those who were killed by Stalin.’ [33]

Dario Machado, a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban CP specifically argued for a new revolutionary international bringing together socialists from different original traditions in a recent interview: ‘It seems to me that a revolutionary international should also exist. It should undertake a global analysis of problems and provide an interchange and debate of ideas and viewpoints between revolutionaries without being subject to schema and criteria that there is only one form of revolutionary organisation. We need to understand that today’s complexity presents many methods and formulas for change. We need to create the space for this dialogue to strengthen the recomposition and the ideology of revolutionary transformation and to nourish and interpret new elements.’ [34]

The South African Communist Party congress this year decided: ‘The new international environment dominated by our class adversary is difficult for us as socialists. But it is a global reality that is not without possibilities for effective engagement. These include… a wide range of initiatives among socialist, communist, new left and other forces to regroup internationally. While these efforts remain uneven, the collapse of the Soviet bloc has necessitated and opened up possibilities for a much wider and less sectarian interaction.’ [35]

In eastern Europe, Hungary’s Left Alternative has taken the initiative to promote debate between socialists from across western and eastern Europe.

Obviously, this international process of demarcation and political convergence is not going to advance on the basis of ideas alone. Immense common experiences will form the basis on which political and ideological clarification proceeds. The first struggle of that scope was the international mobilisation of millions against the war in the Gulf. This drew a clear line of demarcation between Gorbachev and the emerging international left.

The second, and in its historical implications, most important of these experiences, is unfolding in Russia. In 1991 Yeltsin created Russia’s first capitalist government since 1917. But he has not yet succeeded in creating a capitalist state apparatus powerful enough to break up the resistance of the Russian population to capitalism. Furthermore, although imperialism is extremely active in Russia, military intervention has been impossible because of Russia’s possession of nuclear weapons.

The outcome of this struggle will be decided by whether the Russian working class can raise its subjective political capacity quickly enough to regain the leadership of society. This means overcoming the most disastrous legacy of Stalinism – the atomisation and demoralisation of the Soviet working class. The battles of the last four years constitute an immense learning process towards that end.

No other working class in the world has been through such a rapid succession of experiences in such a short space of time: perestroika, mass strikes , the August 1991 coup attempt, the dissolution of the USSR, the price liberalisation of January 1991 followed by a 50 per cent fall in living standards, the pressure of parliament against shock therapy, Yeltsin’s first attempted coup blocked by parliament in March 1993, Yeltsin’s dissolution and siege of parliament, the lifting of the siege by mass demonstrations followed by a misguided and abortive armed uprising, the destruction of parliament by Yeltsin’s tanks, the victory of the nationalists and Communists in the December 1993 parliamentary elections, the amnesty for the August 1991 coup plotters and the defenders of parliament, mass strikes and demonstrations against non–payment of wages and the threat of unemployment, and the rapid rise of the Communist Party since September 1993.

Today the leading force in this struggle is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. This party, founded in 1993, is in rapid evolution. It is not yet clear what its final trajectory will be. The CP has won hegemony over the necessary patriotic struggle against western imperialism. Far from this being a concession to right wing nationalism, it is the only way to wrest the leadership of the opposition away from nationalists like Rutskoi or Zhirinovsky.

But, the Zyuganov leadership started on a wrong position on the class alliances necessary to wage that struggle. For nearly a year after December 1993, the CP attempted an alliance with the ‘national bourgeoisie’, voting for the 1994 budget. This line broke the CP’s momentum and provoked major opposition in its ranks.

In September 1994 the CP broke with its previous line and has advanced ever since. But that issue of the class alliances – the fact that there is no way out for Russia in alliance with the capitalist class – is the key strategic issue for the left. As Trotsky put it: ‘Russian capitalism today would be a dependent, semi-colonial capitalism without prospects.’ [36] A second key issue is that the strategy of ‘socialism in one country’ destroyed domestic and international support for the Soviet state. An economic policy is needed which puts raising the living standards of the population, not heavy industry, as its first priority. Marxist theory, and the experience of the Chinese economic reforms, show this to be perfectly feasible.

Third, the creation of a socialist government in Russia will be met by a new cold war. That must be countered by recreating the international unity of the vanguard of the international workers movement, supporting every class struggle against imperialism and re-cementing an alliance with China.

Obviously, only the organisations of the Soviet working class are going to directly participate in the struggle in Russia. But every socialist in the world can learn from it. And every socialist can aid it – by helping to stretch the resources of imperialism so that they cannot be focused on crushing just one of its enemies at a time.

A continuous struggle must be waged against imperialist interventions around the world. The bloody nose which the United States received in Somalia showed that the Vietnam syndrome has not been overcome. The NATO bombing in the former Yugoslavia is made possible not only by the Yeltsin govemment’s acquiescence, but also by complete disorientation of the left in the NATO states.

The international campaign against the US blockade of Cuba, on the other hand, has made major progress, with the Cuban leadership actively seeking to unite the broadest possible movement of support. The Cuban Communist Party made clear its rejection of Gorbachev’s concessions to imperialism and responded to the collapse of the Soviet Union by deepening their collaboration with communist, socialist and anti-imperialist forces throughout the world but particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, through the São Paulo Forum.

In eastern Europe within the successors to the Communist Parties, social democratic currents moving to the right and other forces moving to the left continue to co-exist within the same parties. At the same time, there is a convergence of ‘new left’ political currents with left Communists. Boris Kagarlitsky, who was jailed under the previous regime, will be a parliamentary candidate on the Russian Communist Party slate in December’s elections.

In Hungary, the Left Alternative acts as an umbrella for left currents inside and outside the Hungarian Socialist Party – the successor to the Communist Party currently in government carrying out policies agreed with the IMF.

Tamas Krauz, one of the leading members of Left Alternative, specifically rejects the views of 1989 prevalent in the west European far left: ‘It is a serious mistake to characterise the changes of 1989–90 in Eastern Europe as revolutions, as even many leftist and new leftist theoreticians and politicians in the West have done. This has turned out to be a grave misinterpretation, both politically and theoretically… Compared to the old state socialist systems, the new ones signify a step backward from both the economic and social point of view.’ He argues: ‘The decisive link in the chain, however, is undoubtedly Russia. Historical preconditions in Eastern Europe will not allow the capitalist restoration to occur according to the recipes of the IMF or other monetary institutions and bourgeois political scientists. There is no “liberal alternative”. Even if shock therapy is able to paralyse the old systems and structures in Eastern Europe, there is still no chance of a bourgeois democracy arising to take their place.’ [37]

In the Czech Republic, the Communist Party has stabilised 14 per cent of the vote and opened its slate to other forces on the left.

In Germany, communists, left social democrats and Trotskyists are regrouping around the PDS. This is the third strongest party in eastern Germany with 132,000 members. It contains contradictory trends to the right and the left. But it is the only parliamentary group which defended the right to abortion, opposed sending German troops abroad, opposed the restrictions on rights to asylum of refugees, opposed the Gulf War, opposed the military intervention in Somalia and opposed the German recognition of Slovenia and Croatia which triggered the war in Yugoslavia. It includes members of other parties, including supporters of Trotsky, on its parliamentary slate.

After Russia and eastern Europe, the next level of development of left communist currents in Europe has been in the south. We take here the example of Spain and Italy in what is an international process.

Italy’s Party of Communist Refoundation (PCR) was founded in December 1991 by the non-Social Democratic minority of the Italian Communist Party. They were joined by the main far left group – Democrazia Proletaria. In 1992 the PCR won 5.6% of the vote for the lower house of parliament and, in the municipal elections, beat the PDS in Milan with 11.4% and in Turin with 14.6%. In 1994 the PCR won 6 per cent of the vote in the general election. Refoundation campaigned against the Maastricht treaty, mobilised against the Gulf war; denounced Italian military intervention in Somalia; opposed NATO intervention in Yugoslavia and has called for the embargoes on Iraq, Libya and Cuba to be lifted.

In Spain, after its Euro-communist period, the Communist Party (PCE) moved left. It leads the United Left alliance – lzquierda Unida (IU) – the left opposition to Felipe Gonzales’ social democratic government. This was set up as a result of the campaign against Spain’s membership of NATO in March 1986. The IU included left social democrats, pro-Soviet communists, and Trotskyists.

The IU won 13.4 per cent in the 1994 Euro-elections and 11.7 per cent in the 1995 municipal elections.

In Britain the largest forces of the left wing of the labour movement are linked to the Labour left which developed after 1981 into a significant political force.

The decisive left/right split in the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) took place in 1984/85, over control of the daily newspaper the Morning Star. The underlying political issue was the clash between the CPGB leadership going over to right wing social democracy, and in some cases, liberalism, for example, supporting wage restraint, and much of the the party’s trade union base and left wing. The Morning Star was saved because the leading part of the Communist left was even prepared to lose their party membership to politically defend the paper and retain its links with the left wing of the labour movement. The more Stalinist current, Straight Left, on the other hand, put artificial ‘communist’ unity with the CPGB leadership, before the wider interests of the class struggle.

The largest part of those excluded from the CPGB later formed a new party, the Communist Party of Britain. The Morning Star, particularly during and after the Gulf War, went on to play a key role in promoting left alliances and broader united action around the main international and domestic struggles which followed – the Committee to Stop War in the Gulf, the Committee to Support Democratic Socialism in the former USSR, the Campaign Against the Maastricht Treaty, the Campaign to Defend the Welfare State, the launch of the Anti–Racist Alliance and then the National Assembly Against Racism, defence of Clause 4, the campaign against NATO intervention in Yugoslavia, the conference on social justice for women, for example. Many of these were initiated through the umbrella group Socialist Forum.

These experiences in Britain are part of the same international process which has given rise to the alliance of Kagarlitsky and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the work of the Left Alternative in Hungary, the Cuban Communist Party’s cooperation with left currents throughout Latin America as well as the type of alliance emerging around the PDS in Germany and Refoundation in Italy. They are the first steps in the the most fundamental recomposition of the international workers’ movement since 1917.

The driving force of this recomposition is the re-mobilisation of class struggles after the majority disorientation which followed 1919. The re-forging of international political leadership of the left wing of the workers’ movement will proceed by taking these struggles forward and drawing together and bringing to bear the collective international and historical experience of the working class movement.

Because its outcome will determine every other development, the key to this will be the fight for the survival of the Russian revolution – the race between the rise and renewal of the socialist left against the drive by capital to try to assemble conditions for a capitalist dictatorship.

Finally, it should be clear what the goal of this international process should be – the re-foundation of the left wing of the international workers’ movement on the basis of the elementary principle of socialist organisation outlined by Marx and Engels: ‘Communists have no interests separate and apart from the interests of the working class as a whole.’


33. Links, Number 4
34. ibid.
35. Draft strategy and tactics document, 9th Congress, South African Communist Party.
36. Trotsky, Writings 1929, p55
37. ‘Elections in eastern Europe, Some observations regarding the left wing turn’, Links, Number 2, July–September 1994