Fri Feb 03, 2023
February 03, 2023

The IWL and the Fourth International

There are thousands of working-class and activists from the popular classes who sympathize with the revolutionary ideas of Trotsky and Trotskyism, and are involved in various national and international organizations that claim to be Trotskyist. At the same time, they see that there is no unified international organization (the Fourth International) but a diffusion of numerous “Fourth Internationals,” the differences of which tend to be accentuated by new divisions in the existing organizations.

By Alejandro Iturbe

We must ask ourselves, then, why has it been nearly impossible to make progress in the regroupment of Trotskyist organizations? We believe that the problem isn’t a matter of sectarianism or self-proclamation, but rather the result of what occurred in the Fourth International after Trotsky’s death. This is the main challenge we face, in addition to the deep differences that exist in the characterization and program that a Trotskyist organization should have in the face of the important processes unfolding in our world-historical moment, such as the war in Ukraine or the popular protests in Cuba.

The diffusion of the Trotskyist movement began with the division of the Fourth International in 1953 between the leadership of Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel on the one hand, and the majority of the Trotskyist forces on the other.[1]

We will not deal with the debates between all the currents that emerged within Trotskyism here.[2] We will concentrate on the differences between two of them: the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International (the current name of the ex-United Secretariat-USec, heir of Mandelism) and the Trotskyist Fraction for the Fourth International-FT (which originated from a split between the Argentine MAS and the IWL in 1988).

The Heirs of Mandelism

Ernest Mandel (1923-1995) and Michel Pablo centralized the leadership of the Fourth International, and were co-responsible for the 1953 split. After Pablo left Trotskyism, and following the partial reunification of 1963 in the USec, Mandel became one of the main Trotskyist leaders, founding the current known as Mandelism. The forces headed by the Argentine leader Nahuel Moreno (antecedent of the present IWL) participated in that reunification, but in a critical way and in permanent opposition to Mandelism.

Mandel maintained a central element of Pabloism: his totally impressionistic analyses, characterizations, and the elaboration of political orientations adapted to the prevailing “fashions” of the vanguard left. From there, he capitulated to diverse bureaucratic and petty bourgeois directions: he was “guerrillaist” in the 60s and “vanguardist” in the 70s. Moreno debated hard against these deviations.[3]

In the second half of the 1970s, Mandel assumed a “democratist” position as an expression of the impact so-called “Eurocommunism” had on the European left. In his text “Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” (1979), later approved by the USec congress, he presented a model of the dictatorship of the proletariat which was a capitulation to Eurocommunism and social democracy.[4] 

Moreno, apart from analyzing and defending the essence of the political regime of the workers’ state, made the prognosis that if Mandel and Mandelism continued down that road, they would abandon the revolutionary camp and would pass over to reformism. This prognosis would be fulfilled years later. This regressive qualitative leap took place at the Fourtheenth Congress of the USec (1995) and was expressed in Daniel Bensaid’s report and its programmatic conclusions: the strategy of the seizure of power and the socialist revolution was no longer proposed.[5]

At the start of the “democratist” turn, Mandelism once again expressed its policy of capitulation to the petty bourgeois and bureaucratic leadership in a revolutionary process: it supported the bourgeois government of the Nicaraguan FSLN which had repressed and expelled the Simon Bolivar Brigade from the country, a group which had been promoted by Morenoism from Colombia.[6] This intolerable transgression of political principles led to the break of the Morenoist Bolshevik Fraction from the USec and the founding of the IWL with other forces in 1982.

A New Type of Party

As a consequence, the USec abandoned the task of building revolutionary parties according to the Leninist model. Its main organization, the French Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), dissolved itself in 2009 in order to found the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA). Its general proposal became the construction of “big-tent parties” that include “revolutionaries and honest reformists” alike, which of course implies the acceptance of the reformist program.

In Portugal, they are part of the Bloco de Esquerda; in the Spanish state they are integrated with Podemos; and, in Greece, they support the Syriza government. In Brazil, this current was expressed in the construction of the PSOL. These big-tent parties were first “anti-capitalist,” then “anti-austerity” and finally, a leftist support of “progressive” bourgeois governments (as they say will be Lula’s government in Brazil), in a programmatic dynamic moving increasingly to the right. The former USec is no longer a revolutionary Trotskyist organization. Therefore, it can’t be considered as a possible participant in a process of reconstruction of a revolutionary Fourth International, although it insists on presenting itself as “the continuity” of the Fourth, usurping its name.

It currently acts as a polestar in the regroupment of other international and national organizations (some of which still claim to be Trotskyist), which as a consequence are drawn to its reformist positions and proposals. We are of the opinion that those within the USec or its “sphere of influence” who honestly believe that this helps to “reconstruct the Fourth International” are mistaken. A true reconstruction of the Fourth will only emerge from a struggle against the theoretical, programmatic, and political positions of the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International (USec).

On Cuba

These differences in perspective and political proposals are expressed in key debates on our current world-historical moment. For instance, how do we characterize Cuba today, and what position should be adopted with respect to the popular protests against the government of Miguel Diaz-Canel on July 11, 2021 (J11), as well as the most recent unrest against the widespread blackouts on the island?[7]

Since the early 2000s, the IWL has affirmed that the Castro regime itself is responsible for the restoration of capitalism in Cuba, which began during the so-called “special period” of the 1990s. We can draw parallels between what happened in Cuba to what Deng Xiaoping did in China beginning in 1979, and Gorbachev in the former Soviet Union in 1986. Since this process began, Cuba has ceased to be a bureaucratized workers’ state and has become a capitalist state undergoing a rapid process of semi-colonization by several imperialist powers.

The Castro regime has ceased to be an expression of the bureaucracy of that old workers’ state. It has become a capitalist dictatorship and defender of the interests of a new Cuban bourgeoisie, who has made good use of the restoration to take control of state enterprises centralized under GAESA. The regime has progressively been eliminating the revolutionary gains for working people while subjecting them to intolerable changes in their living conditions, while at the same time it denies them any democratic freedoms. For this reason, we consider the recent protests to be just, and we support and encourage them. Our support comes with the understanding that these struggles must be linked to the essential task of overthrowing the Castro dictatorship.[8]       

Within this framework, we also understand that the economic blockade that has been sustained by U.S. imperialism for decades, under pressure from the Cuban bourgeoisie that fled to Miami (the “gusanos”), has had a negative impact on the situation in Cuba. However, in the current Cuban context, it is only a supplementary factor and not the main cause of the Cuban peoples’ suffering.

For the USec, and for a large part of the organizations that call themselves Trotskyist, Cuba continues to be a bureaucratized workers’ state in which the Castro regime has a restorationist plan which must be fought, but which has not yet made the qualitative leap towards capitalism. At the same time, they see an equivalent “restorationist danger” coming from U.S. imperialism and the Miami bourgeoisie. For that reason, we have a profoundly different characterization of Cuba and, therefore, an alternative revolutionary strategy for that country.

On Ukraine

Regarding the war in Ukraine, the IWL is in agreement with the former USec on a very important point: both organizations characterize the war as one of military aggression initiated by a stronger country (Russia) against a weaker one (Ukraine). Therefore, both organizations support the struggle of the Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression and are for Putin’s defeat. It is not a minor agreement since a large part of the world left supports the Russian invasion, while another part takes a “neutral” position.

However, despite the above agreement, we have profound differences on the key issue of armament. The Ukrainian workers and masses have amply demonstrated the heroism with which they have defended their country. But without the necessary weapons (in quantity and quality) this heroism may not be enough to defeat the enemy.

That is why the IWL, following the historical tradition of Trotsky and Trotskyism, claims the right of the Ukrainian resistance to demand unconditional armament from other countries’ governments (including the imperialist countries who are members of NATO). On the other hand, the USec has refrained from making clear its position on the issue.[9] At the same time, one of its main referents in international politics (Gilbert Achcar) has explicitly denied this right to the Ukrainian resistance.[10]

Achcar and the former USec support the resistance, but, for various reasons, they are against demanding arms from the governments of the countries which can supply them. In this way, they abandon the tradition and historical Trotskyist position in the face of wars of this type.[11]

The FT/PTS

The Trotskyist Fraction of the Fourth International (FT) was born out of the rupture of a sector of militants with the MAS of Argentina and the IWL in 1988. First, they built the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas – PTS in that country and then the FT, with sections in Latin America and some groups in Europe.[12] Since then, the FT/PTS has continually criticized Nahuel Moreno’s and the IWL’s formulations and political positions as “opportunist” or “stageist” (in other words, contrary to the idea of permanent revolution).

We have answered those criticisms and we are not going to reiterate those debates here.[13] What it is necessary to point out is that, for many years, the FT criticized the IWL from the “left” and the “Trotskyist ultra-orthodoxy.” However, over the last few years, it has continued to criticize us as harshly as before, but now we see that it has placed itself to our “right” and uses previously unthinkable arguments.

The FT/PTS has adopted the “characterization” that there is currently a “reactionary wave” unfolding across the globe. They contend that, given the correlation of forces, the left is in an unfavorable position with respect to the enemy, and therefore defensive and unitary tactics are the only way forward. For this reason, the most important sections of the FT have turned the better part of their political activity towards the electoral-parliamentary axis. This is the case, for example, with the Argentine PTS and the Brazilian MRT.[14]

In Argentina, the PTS is the main force behind the FIT-U (Workers’ Left Front – Unity). The Argentine section of the IWL (the PSTU) runs its candidates under this same front during the electoral periods. The debate is not about the value of this tactic in and of itself, but the fact that the PTS has centered the construction of its party on electoral and parliamentary activity, and that its legislators are the public face of the party. Within this framework, processes of struggle have become subordinated and complementary to this activity. The MRT has advanced even further since its foundation (almost 10 years ago) and up until recently, it concentrated its activities around the campaign to join the PSOL (an electoral front-party with a reformist program). According to this policy, they criticized the Brazilian PSTU for focusing on workers’ struggles and trade unions, and characterized it as “a big syndicalist sect”.[15]

The theoretical and political differences we have with the FT are profound. And unfortunately, they have also engaged in disloyal means of relating to the party, such as the tactic of “secret entry” in other Trotskyist organizations. This is what they did with the Brazilian PSTU in the 1990s to bring about the rupture of the party by some militants who founded the LER (their first organization in Brazil). That today makes any strategic regroupment on a serious and honest basis impossible.

Cuba and Ukraine

In its characterization of Cuba, the FT has used the same analysis as the USec. However, unlike the latter which oscillates on its positions in the face of the protests, the FT has always remained within the political “dead end” into which its analysis has led them. The FT tends to be evasive in its abstentionist policy: it has not taken a position on the mobilizations and instead espouses an ultra-propagandist policy of struggle for a “program for the revolution and socialism.” This is what they did in the face of J11,[16] and it is a policy that ends up serving the Castro regime. Further, the FT went to the extreme of refusing to join the campaign that called for the release of the political prisoners who participated in J11 actions. In the face of the latest protests, it published an article reiterating their abstentionist position (nowhere does it say that they support them) and the need for a “socialist” propagandistic response.[17]

On the war in Ukraine, the FT has also returned to its “dead end” reasoning, which makes “equivalent counterrevolutionary enemies” Putin’s Russia and the imperialist powers of NATO. For this reason, it considers the struggle against Russian aggression to be “just” in one sense, but in another, it ends up (or risks ending up) a tool of imperialist NATO. Thus, it presents a position of “we have no side” and formulates a “pacifist” policy.

This policy ends up favoring Russian aggression. However, what is central is that the FT has abandoned Lenin’s criteria in the context of the First Inter-imperialist World War when he argued that there were “just wars” of national liberation when weaker nations fought against the powers that oppressed them. In that case, he affirmed that “socialists have a motherland” and we must unhesitatingly support the struggle of oppressed nations.[18]

The IWL is fully aware that there is a project to colonize Ukraine by the U.S. and European imperialisms, which the Zelensky government supports, and that they will try to use the war to advance in that objective. We have denounced this project and we call on the Ukrainian workers and masses to fight it.[19] At the same time, we maintain that the war is still a just war on the part of Ukraine and, following Lenin’s criteria that “we have a motherland.” The FT, on the other hand, has abandoned these criteria.

The IWL’s Strategy is to Rebuild the Fourth International

We are conscious of the confusion generated by the existence of so many “Fourth Internationals.” We also believe in the need to rebuild a great Fourth International that can attract the best fighters emerging from the working class and the masses, who will be able to successfully dispute the leadership of the revolutionary processes taking place in the world, against the leaderships that will sterilize them or lead them to defeat. That is the “mother of all tasks,” the priority which we pose to the revolutionaries of the world.

That is why, since its own foundation and its statutes, the IWL never proclaimed itself “the Fourth,” but always put its own construction at the service of the strategic task of rebuilding the Fourth International.

Since our foundation, we have tried various approaches with other international and national organizations to explore the possibility of unification. Some were successful, and others failed. We approached these attempts with very clear criteria, and we will continue to do so in the future.

The first criterion is to verify whether we have a common understanding of the global reality and a common strategy in the face of it, which should be expressed in a common program.[20] Second, we have to see if we coincide on the main facts of the class struggle, especially with respect to revolutionary processes, in order to be able to develop a common militant action on them. And third, the relations between the organizations must be honest and free from disloyal maneuvers.

Finally, and just as important as the previous criteria “We defend the working class and revolutionary morality” because “The deep degeneration of the Trotskyist organizations, a product of the long crisis, of the past pressures of Stalinism, and of the ‘opportunist flood’ in the last two decades, has also produced a methodological and moral degeneration.” We speak of infighting for use of the party apparatus, the theft of party and union headquarters, parliamentary mandates, and money as well as accusations without proof, and slander, etc… We position ourselves categorically against these methods which are evidence of a profound moral degradation.

For its centralist-democratic functioning, for its program, for maintaining the strategy of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for its policy in the face of the processes, and for its defense of revolutionary morality, the IWL is today, with all its weaknesses, the only international Trotskyist revolutionary organization deserving of that name.

Perhaps in the future, the class struggle will allow a rapprochement with some of the organizations we have analyzed, or with others. When that possibility becomes a reality, we will act as we have already done in the past: with seriousness, honesty and loyalty, to try to make it concrete. For that reason, we consider that a true reconstruction of the Fourth International at present passes through the construction of the IWL.


[1] For those interested in deepening this theme, we refer to the various articles published in this series. We recommend in particular: For the reconstruction of the IV International – International Workers League (litci.org).  

[2] See previous reference.

[3] This debate was developed mainly in the work “The Party and the Revolution” (“El Morenazo” of 1973).

[4] Against this material, Nahuel Moreno wrote Dictadura Revolucionaria del Proletariado.

[5] The critique of these positions is developed in Alicia Sagra’s article “Necessity and possibility of the socialist revolution”.

[6] Colombia: The SWP and the Simon Bolivar Brigade – International Workers League (litci.org)

[7]  On the protests against the blackout in Cuba – Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores (litci.org)

[8]   See previous reference.

[9]  War in Ukraine: Solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance, against all imperialisms | Fourth International (fourth.international)

[10] ACHCAR, Gilbert, “The difference between helping Ukraine to defend itself and practicing a warmongering policy”. Taken from the Spanish version published by Viento Sur on https://vientosur.info/ (16/05/2022).

[11] See the whole debate with the USec on the war in Ukraine in: Debate on Ukraine with the “Executive Bureau of the IVth International” and Gilbert Achcar – International Workers League (litci.org)

[12] See https://litci.org/es/menu/especial/80-anos-de-la-cuarta/fraccion-trotskista-pts-del-sectarismo-propagandistico-al-oportunismo-electoralista-parte-i/

[13] See, for example: In Defense of the Permanent Revolution – International Workers League (litci.org)

[14] See Fracción Trotskista/PTS: del sectarismo propagandístico al oportunismo electoralista [parte II] – International Workers League (litci.org)

[15] See Polémica con el PTS-FT | Dos políticas frente a la revolución chilena y los procesos latinoamericanos – International Workers League (litci.org)

[16] On this debate, see ¿Qué política debe tener el trotskismo ante el actual proceso cubano? – Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores (litci.org)

[17] See Crisis social. Nuevas protestas en Cuba tras apagón general (laizquierdadiario.com)

[18] See Polémica | Sobre la consigna “No a la guerra” en Ucrania – Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores (litci.org)

[19] See La guerra de Ucrania y el imperialismo estadounidense – Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores (litci.org) y La estrategia imperialista de colonizar Ucrania – Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores (litci.org)

[20] https://litci.org/es/menu/teoria/el-proyecto-estrategico-de-la-lit-ci-es-reconstruir-la-iv-internacional/

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