Mon Jan 30, 2023
January 30, 2023

Four decades sustaining the strategy of the socialist revolution

Albert Camus, French philosopher and existentialist writer, wrote an essay on the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Mythology tells how Sisyphus is punished by the gods to climb up a slope. With effort he manages to climb to the top, only to fall rolling back down. And thus, Sisyphus is condemned to this useless and absurd work of climbing up the rock eternally without finishing his work. Camus, as a good existentialist, lucidly uses the myth of Sisyphus as a metaphor of modern man. More specifically, it is a metaphor of the worker who performs over and over again an alienated work without meaning and without end and with absurdity proposes that “The effort itself to reach the summits is enough to fill a man’s heart. We must presume a happy Sisyphus” [1]

By Jorge Martínez

Eduard Bernstein, friend and disciple of Engels, ended up denying Marxism. He postulated that socialism could – and should – be reached not through a revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, but through the struggle for gradual reforms that would drive the tendency of capitalism to overcome itself through a continuous movement of democratization. He summed up his whole conception when he wrote: “This goal [the final goal of socialism], whatever it is, means nothing to me; the movement is everything” [2]. This, which is the fundamental premise of reformism, is equivalent to the happy Sisyphean consciousness proposed by Camus. For reformism, the meaning and objective of the struggle in capitalism is the satisfaction of obtaining reforms. It subordinates the overcoming of capitalist society and the arrival at socialism.

What strange force makes the workers, like Sisyphus, struggle again and again, obtaining triumphs only to lose them and have to start all over again? Leon Trotsky became aware of this tragedy in the Transitional Program when he wrote that “the historical crisis of humanity is reduced to revolutionary leadership” [3]. With this he intended to show how decadent imperialism on the cusp of the Second World War could not bring anything progressive to humanity. On the contrary, he demonstrated that the objective conditions for revolution and socialism were not only more than ripe, but were beginning to decompose. Consequently, the overcoming of capitalism depended on the working class being able to overcome the obstacles that separated it from revolutionary consciousness and program. And ultimately, the decisive obstacle was the majority leadership of the workers’ movement that led their struggles towards reformism.

Therefore, one of the most important tasks of revolutionaries is to break this vicious circle. To break the spell that, like the punishment of Sisyphus, condemns the working class and with it all humanity to endure the absurd and decadent capitalist system. It is to succeed in banishing the influence and control of the bourgeoisie over the consciousness of the working class. This influence is expressed directly in the propaganda and bourgeois ideologies that naturalize capitalism as the only possible society, or that it is possible to transform it through “good will” or gradual reforms.

The IWL-FI and its origin in the face of reformism

The IWL-FI was born in the midst of several polemics and discussions within Trotskyism. The current led by Nahuel Moreno was forged almost 80 years ago on the basis of defending three fundamental questions: the revolutionary program synthesized in Trotsky’s Transitional Program, a policy of struggle and mobilization aimed at the working class, and the construction of revolutionary parties independent of the petty bourgeois, reformist and centrist organizations in the framework of a democratically centralized international. From these polemics emerged different policies towards the different forms of reformism and the pressure it in turn exerts on Trotskyism.

In the seventies, through the critique of Eurocommunism and its capitulation led by Ernest Mandel and the Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International, emerged a critique of positions that capitulate to Stalinist reformism and European social democracy. By renouncing the core of the Marxist program, the dictatorship of the proletariat, these groups abandoned the revolutionary strategy to instead exalt bourgeois democracy.

Parallel to these discussions a polemic was developing around a fundamental issue of the class struggle: the rise of guerrilla warfare in Latin America between 1960 and 1970. A large part of the left at that time was seduced by the image of the guerrilla in arms against tyranny, and even part of Trotskyism (once again Mandel) capitulated to these non-working class vanguards. From our tendency, we developed a critique of the guerrilla strategy. It imposed a tactic, valid in certain circumstances, as a permanent strategy that substituted the revolutionary role of the working class and the masses for a party-army.

The criticism was not reduced to guerrilla methods. Instead, it pointed to their program. The great majority of the guerrilla organizations had a democratic and petty-bourgeois program that did not break with capitalism, configuring a kind of “armed reformism” which, although it confronted the bourgeois regimes with gunfire, in practice never broke with capitalism. During the 1980s, the great majority of these organizations ended up negotiating their incorporation into the regimes of each country, even integrating Bonapartist regimes and capitalist governments, especially in Central America.

The struggle against Stalinism’s policy of popular fronts was also exposed as reformist strategies. Faced with the Allende government in Chile and nationalist or anti-imperialist fronts, our current maintained a policy of unity of action and defense of conquests when necessary without capitulating to the reformist programs. All this without ever abandoning the task of building independent revolutionary parties.

Francois Mitterrand and the return of the Popular Front to France [4] brought with it a great debate on what should be the position of Trotskyism before that government, its “progressive” measures, and the eventual attacks by right-wing bourgeois factions. Pierre Lambert’s International Communist Organization ended up assuming a policy supporting the government, thus breaking with class independence in the face of a bourgeois government. They yielded to the reformist pressures of the popular front.

In 1982, the IWL was founded based in the development of these debates combined with the unsuccessful attempt to rebuild the IV International by unifying with Lambert’s CORCI. The new international organization was founded with the conviction to rebuild the IV International on the basis of the revolutionary program, the permanent mobilization of the masses towards the seizure of power, and the construction of the revolutionary party both at the national and international level. A daily task of the IWL was the permanent fight against reformism, both social democracy and Stalinism, as well as centrism and revisionism inside Trotskyism.

The opportunistic avalanche: a crucial test

The decade of the eighties culminated in historic events that shook the world. The fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the restoration of capitalism in the bureaucratic workers’ states. Stalinist bureaucracies, complicit with imperialism, led the process of capitalist restoration. It faced processes of political revolution in which the working class of those countries rose up against the bureaucracy, but was successively defeated.

With the restoration of capitalism in the USSR and the other workers’ states, imperialism imposed important defeats on the world workers’ movement. The policy “the Democratic Reaction of imperialism” triumphed. Bourgeois democracy was privileged over revolutionary processes. The wave of privatizations and rollback of important gains and the imposition of neo-liberal policies was accompanied by an ideological offensive against socialism and Marxism.

Among the left, these events also caused a crisis. For many, the fall of the workers’ states meant the fading of the perspective of revolution and socialism. Marxism and Bolshevism were blamed for the failure that, in reality, only corresponded to Stalinism, the negation of both.

The setbacks of the world working class deepened the weakness of a revolutionary socialist perspective. This process corresponded to a growing skepticism and adaptation to imperialist domination and the permanence of capitalism. The scene was set for the continued weakening of the left and the workers’ movements.

Marxism was replaced by ideologies linked to postmodernism. The revolutionary strategy to defeat the capitalist system was replaced by the fragmentation of movements fighting for “possible” transformations. Social democracy applied neo-liberal policies. Stalinism became social democratic. Centrist organizations crystallized into reformism. And many of the revolutionary organizations took up the space previously held by the centrist camp and quickly move enthusiastically towards reformism.

This whole phenomenon meant a hard test for revolutionaries. It meant a real opportunist flood that lashed against weak revolutionary leaderships. This storm brought about the destruction of many revolutionaries or, in the best of cases, produced great havoc.

The IWL was not immune to this process. The fall of the workers’ states generated many debates. Some within these conversations arrived at a denial of Marxism and Trotskyism (breaking with the IWL), which at the same time that the pressure for the adaptation to bourgeois democracy acquired greater strength. That abandonment of Marxism dragged several sectors of the IWL to reformism, mainly from theoretical revisions, which were expressed in capitulation in politics and tactics. This put the IWL on the verge of disintegration and dissolution in the mid nineties. Despite this crisis, the IWL persisted.

The return of the uprisings

Despite the retreat and the defensive situation of the working class and the masses in the world, the rebellion against the neoliberal offensive did not take long to break out. In South America, mass rebellions broke out in several countries. These revolts were aimed against their governments’ application of ferocious anti-working class plans.

Governments fell in Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia, while in the world a new vanguard rose up against the effects of imperialist globalization. The summits of the richest in Seattle, Geneva, and Davos became true battlefields in which capitalism was once again questioned, raising the alternative that “another world is possible.” But in the absence of true revolutionary leadership that would direct these new uprisings towards an anti-capitalist alternative, these processes were channeled through reformism, filling the so-called anti-globalization movement with reformist content.

The uprisings in Latin America were channeled towards a first wave of “alternative governments” which under different forms (popular front governments, bourgeois nationalist governments) had in common the application of the neo-liberal policies in which their predecessors failed. They qualified these measures with welfare and the co-optation of the trade union bureaucracies and the great majority of the reformist left.

The IWL had the merit of not succumbing to this phenomenon, keeping the revolutionary program, class independence and the strategy of the socialist revolution alive. Meanwhile, other Trotskyist currents were sliding towards reformism.

The so-called anti-capitalist parties emerged, where Trotskyist currents merged with the reformists. The borders and distances between them became blurred, their main strategy becoming to dissolve their parties into broader movements such as the NPA in France or the PSOL in Brazil. They became part of Popular Front and bourgeois nationalist governments.

The IWL, as it was recovering and growing, increasingly felt the pressure of bourgeois democracy and reformism. The programmatic updates introduced by the “opportunist flood” deepened the divisions on the question of parliamentarism and the necessary fight against reformism. Simultaneously, the processes and the pressures on revolutionaries in the XXI century were being studied in depth. This led to new ruptures of sectors that had already adapted to reformism. These sectors ended up breaking with the IWL in 2016 to continue to integrate reformist projects, especially in Brazil and Portugal.

After the failure and degeneration of several of these projects of class collaboration governments, the bourgeois right regained the government in many countries. They have applied again more attacks against the working class, the peasantry, the indigenous and the youth. At the same time that new economic crises put an end to the illusion of perfecting capitalism, the order of imperialist domination in the world is crumbling.

As before, the masses fight against the policies of adjustment and attacks on the living conditions of the masses. The struggle against oppressions and against job precarity and criminalization of the youth have injected the movement with new life. Revolutionary and pre-revolutionary processes are re-emerging in Latin America, as in Chile and Colombia. The threat of environmental collapse and the climate crisis caused by capitalism is becoming an ever closer reality.

These new struggles are once again being funneled through the possibilities of reformism, either through old classical conceptions, or under new neo-reformist groups who no longer claim socialism, but instead a so-called radical democracy within capitalism. The task of revolutionaries is to fight not only the bourgeoisie, but also its agents. It is to unmask reformists as agents of the bourgeoisie and imperialism, and show the working class and the exploited masses the role of these sectors.

Today class-collaborationist governments are emerging again: Boric in Chile, Petro in Colombia, and Lula in Brazil. But this time they no longer have the favorable economic situation they previously had. They will not be able to grant reforms and concessions to the masses to suffocate and divert the struggles. This new situation poses a new challenge for the IWL. Once again the pressures of reformism grow stronger, and the need to confront them with correct policies and a correct program becomes an ever more pressing necessity.

The IWL has had the historical merit of maintaining itself -not without sectarian errors and opportunist deviations- within the framework of Marxism, the legacy of Nahuel Mor,eno and our focus on the working class. It is there, within these elements, where revolutionaries will again find the tools to continue the struggle against the obstacles faced by the working class to defeat imperialist capitalism.

Only by overcoming capitalism can the working class, at last, set out on the road to socialism. This is the task to which the IWL has devoted itself for 40 years, and in which it continues with conviction, sacrifice, and revolutionary enthusiasm.


[1] 4 France had already lived under a Popular Front government with Leon Blum in 1936. The policy towards popular fronts is extensively developed by Trotsky in his work Whither France?

[2]     E. Bernstein, ‘The theory of collapse and colonial policy’ Neue Zeit January 19 1898, in JM Tudor, op.cit. pp168–69. Citado en: Mulholland, «Cuando Bernstein asaltó la “ortodoxia” marxista». Available here: https://ctxt.es/es/20161012/Politica/8882/socialismo-marxismo-Bernstein-revolucion-rosa-luxemburgo-psd-socialdemocracia.htm

[3]     Trotsky, The Transitional Program.

[4]     France had already experienced a Popular Front government with Leon Blum in 1936. The phenomenon of the policy towards the popular fronts is extensively developed by Trotsky in his work Whither France?

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