In January 1982 the IWL-FI was founded. Its Foundational Theses defined that: “…the most urgent and deepest need of humanity today is the world socialist revolution. Even the most elementary daily needs, which are more and more difficult to satisfy -from having a job. Food and housing, to the enjoyment of freedoms – are summed up in it. Our policy does not start from a utopia nor from an expression of desires but from an objective, absolutely material fact: that the agony of capitalism sharpens every day the need for a world socialist revolution”.
By Alicia Sagra
To achieve this goal, the Theses state that we must build revolutionary workers’ parties, which are part of a democratically centralized International, because “…without exception, all the experiences of federalism or national Trotskyism have ended up in the dustbin of history. We want, as is our norm, to call things by their name: federalism is synonymous with dissolution…”.
Consistent with this, the newly founded International defined as its strategy the reconstruction of the Fourth International as a programmatic and methodological continuity of the Third International led by Lenin.
Today, 40 years later, we continue to defend the same. But we must recognize that, unfortunately, we are a total minority within the world Left. We are the only international organization that functions on the basis of the principle of democratic centralism. And this is intimately related to the fact that the great majority of leftist organizations, more or less explicitly, have abandoned the strategy of socialist revolution.
Some because they think it is not possible, others because they have come to the conclusion that it is not necessary, since the problems could be solved without the workers taking power. Thus, they have been substituting the struggle for workers’ power and the construction of socialism, for the parliamentary struggle. The strategy has become to win seats in parliament, and even in the ministerial cabinets of the bourgeois governments. And democratic centralism is not necessary, since the struggle for the power of the working class has left the horizon of these organizations.
It is not something new
There are those who think that these positions emerged after the Eastern European processes of the late 80s and early 90s of the last century. But this is not the case. Those processes and the restoration of capitalism, which preceded them, made those positions grow, but they did not emerge there.
The abandonment of the strategy of socialist revolution occurred for the first time in the old German Social Democratic Party, where a sector emerged that maintained that revolution was not necessary to progressively improve the life of the workers and that socialism could be reached through parliamentary means. That sector was impressed by the conquests wrested from the European bosses, enriched by the imperialist exploitation of the colonies. To this was added the electoral successes of the party, which in each election increased the number of its deputies.
But the abandonment of the socialist strategy also occurred in countries where neither great conquests nor electoral triumphs were achieved, as in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century.
After the defeat of the 1905 revolution there arose, even within the Bolshevik fraction, a sector of important cadres, very demoralized, who ceased to believe in the revolution and began to propose such strange things as the synthesis with religion and a series of idealist proposals. Lenin dedicated two years to write his work Materialism and Empirio Criticism (critical notes on a reactionary philosophy), with which he responded to these sectors, in 1908.
It is common for defeats or important setbacks to provoke demoralization in the vanguard, opening space for proposals that lead to the abandonment of the revolutionary strategy and the growth of reformist opportunism.
That is what explains why, today, when there is no possibility of lasting conquests, the reformist positions have grown so much. The leap took place from the 1990s, after the restoration of capitalism in the former bureaucratic worker states of the USSR and Eastern Europe, which began in the mid-1980s (in China it began earlier, at the end of the 1970s).
The restoration, combined with the lying campaign of imperialism on the “death of socialism”, provoked a great demoralization in the workers and popular vanguard, generating what we call “opportunist flood”, a process of capitulation that we are suffering until today. That “flood” dragged the majority of the organizations that claimed to be revolutionary, which were, little by little, focusing their activity on elections and parliamentarism and thus were (with different rhythms) heading towards reformism.
The IWL-FI also suffered that alluvial onslaught. We were able to resist, but by paying a high price: we lost 80% of our militancy. For that reason, today we continue defending not only the necessity, but also the possibility of the socialist revolution as the only way to save humanity from barbarism.
Did socialism fail?
That is the big question in broad sectors of the vanguard after the processes of Eastern Europe. The first was that the restoration of capitalism was associated with the great mass mobilizations that took place after 1989. When in reality, the restoration began four years earlier, in 1985, and those great mobilizations were the response to the application of the capitalist plans promoted by the bureaucracy. The masses of the East, due to the absence of a revolutionary leadership, did not manage to reverse the restoration, but they achieved a great conquest: they put an end to the totalitarian regimes of the Stalinist bureaucracies. They made them pay dearly for the restoration they had imposed.
The second reason was that, thinking that the restoration was imposed by the mobilized masses, they believed in the imperialist campaign that socialism had failed.
It is interesting the answer given by the Argentine filmmaker, Daniel Szifron, when asked about the subject: “Who told you that socialism failed? I am passionate about ‘Romeo and Juliet’, if I go to see the play and the director is very bad and the show is lousy, do I have the right to say that Shakespeare failed?”.
That is a very good answer, because it was not socialism that failed in the former USSR. The Russian revolution, led by the working class and the Bolshevik party, opened the road to socialism. With the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, the planned economy and workers’ democracy, Russia became a great power, the workers and the people changed their lives qualitatively, with economic and political conquests. But the world revolution was defeated and imperialism continued to exist. This was taken advantage of by a sector of bureaucrats led by Stalin, who seized power from the workers. The road to socialism was diverted by that bureaucracy which imposed a regime of terror, destroyed Lenin’s party and gradually wiped out the gains of 1917, until in the 1980s it restored capitalism.
So, what failed was not socialism. What failed was the Stalinist bureaucracy, which put an end to the revolution, soiling the name of socialism.
Is the technological and military might of imperialism an absolute obstacle to the triumph of the revolution?
Many honest comrades, who hate capitalism and would like to do away with it, think so.
Of course, military might, as well as the mastery of technology is very important, since the bourgeoisie will not allow itself to be peacefully expropriated. That is why we defend the right of the workers to armament, to self-defense. That is why we demand, for example, arms for Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion.
But history shows that military superiority is not the decisive element. In 1918 civil war broke out in Russia. England, France, USA, Japan, sent troops, weapons, advisers, fourteen armies invaded the Soviet territory and joined the Russian capitalists (the so-called White Russians). All to defeat the young workers’ state, which had to build its army on the fly.
Why did they not destroy the revolution, if they had a qualitatively superior military power? The explanation lies in the fact that, in addition to the difference in military power, there was also a great difference in the morale of these armies. The soldiers of the imperialist armies and of the White Russians fought to defend the interests of their bosses. While the workers and peasants of the Red Army fought to defend what they had won with the revolution: the end of unemployment, housing, land, equality before the law. They were defending their dignity. That is why they fought with a very different morality, and that was what prevailed.
Another great example is that of the Vietnamese people who, much worse armed and fed than the Yankee army, ended up, in 1975, humiliating the “invincible” Marines and defeating the most powerful army in the world. There, the morale and heroism of the Vietnamese were combined with the rebellion of the American people themselves, who refused to let their sons continue to die defending interests that were not theirs.
Something similar, in relation to the difference in the morale of the opposing armies, we are seeing in the Ukraine, where, in spite of a very great inferiority in arms, the Ukrainian people are creating many problems for the demoralized Russian army of occupation.
That is why we say that, although it is very important, military superiority is not an absolute obstacle.
Is the problem that the working class and the masses do not want to fight?
That is an argument we have also heard. Many activists tell us: now it is not the same as in 1917, when the Russian revolution took place, or in 1959, when the Cuban revolution took place. Now the working class is different, people are conformist, they accept anything.
It is enough to take a quick look at the world to see that things are not like that. The Chilean youth, workers and students who took to the streets shouting “it’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years”, many of whom were imprisoned, mutilated, killed; didn’t they want to fight?
Did not those who rebelled in Sri Lanka, in Colombia, in Palestine, in Cuba, in Iran want to fight? The women of India, of Chile, of Argentina, those who took to the streets after the assassination of George Floyd, were they conformists who accepted anything?
The reality is different. The problem is not in the unwillingness of the working and popular masses to fight. The problem is in what their leaders tell them, who make theories to justify that it is not possible to put an end to capitalism, that we must achieve the best possible within the system, that we must make broad fronts with reformists and even with the bourgeoisie, because together we are more, etc.
The theories justifying the abandonment of the socialist revolution
The greatest example, although not the only one, is that of the former US (Unified Secretariat), which is now called “Political Bureau of the IV International”.
In 2006, Daniel Bensaid1, wrote an article2 where he affirmed the need to return to the strategic debate, passing from the utopian stage and taking into account the “possible world”.
There he explains the need to make institutions of antagonistic classes coincide, giving as an example the “Participatory Budget” of the Municipality of Porto Alegre, Brazil, between 1996-20003:
“We may even, at some point, have been disturbed or shocked by Ernest Mandel’s idea of ‘mixed democracy’ after having evaluated the relationship between the soviets and the Constituent Assembly in Russia. However, it is not possible to imagine a revolutionary process in any other way than through the transfer of legitimacy that confers preponderance to ‘socialism by the base’ but integrates with forms of representation, mainly in countries with long parliamentary traditions and where the principle of universal suffrage is firmly rooted”.
And he specifies his vision of the revolution today:
“The notion of ‘actuality of the revolution’ has a double meaning: a broad sense (‘the epoch of wars and revolutions’) and an immediate and conjunctural sense. In the defensive moment in which the movement finds itself, having receded for more than twenty years in Europe, no one will be able to claim the actuality of the revolution in an immediate sense. On the other hand, it would be risky, and no less important, to eliminate its perspective from the horizons of our epoch (…) But an idea susceptible of debate is that of maintaining the objective of the conquest of power “as a symbol of radicalism, but admitting that its realization is at present far from our horizons”.
One might think that Bensaid was only speaking of a conjuncture, of a defensive situation in which revolution was not immediately in sight. If so, he might be wrong, since the Transitional Program was written in 1938 in the most counterrevolutionary situation in history: Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, Stalin imposing his terror in the USSR. In spite of that, at no time did Trotsky say that the “revolution was not on our horizon”. On the contrary, he said that this program was synthesized in three words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
But Bensaid was not talking about a conjunctural situation. He says explicitly that what has taken place is a change of epoch. The epoch that Lenin defined as “war and revolutions”, has for him only a symbolic character. And this is confirmed when the French LCR takes the “dictatorship of the proletariat” out of its program, with the support of the SU and when the XIV congress of the Unified Secretariat votes that, since the revolution is not on our horizon, the barrier separating revolutionaries and reformists fell and calls to build broad parties and a broad International, containing both: the “anti-capitalist parties”: NPA in France, the Bloco de Esquerda in Portugal, PSOL in Brazil.
“(…) We confirm the essentials of our resolutions of the last world congress of 2003 concerning the construction of broad anti-capitalist parties. The Fourth International (CI) faces, in a general way, a new phase. Revolutionary Marxist militants, nuclei, currents and organizations must place the question of building anti-capitalist, revolutionary political formations, with the perspective of establishing a new independent political representation of the working class.
(…) It is not only a question of recovering the beautiful formulas of regroupment of revolutionary currents. The ambition is to gather forces beyond the simply revolutionary ones. These can be a support in the process of joining forces since they are clearly for the construction of anti-capitalist parties (…) the IV International, for historical reasons, already analyzed, does not have the legitimacy to represent or be the new international of the masses that we need (…) In the new anti-capitalist parties that can be formed in the coming years, and that express the current phase of combativity, experience and consciousness of the sectors most committed to the search for an anti-capitalist alternative. The question of a new International exists and will continue to be raised. We act and will continue to act in such a way that this question is not posed in terms of ideological or historical decisions, which could generate divisions and splits. It must be posed on a double level, on the one hand, in terms of real political convergence in the tasks of international intervention, in the pluralism of new political formations, which must be able to bring together currents of diverse origins: Trotskyists of diverse origins, libertarians, revolutionary syndicalists, revolutionary nationalists, left reformists (…)”. 4
Already in 1916, after the great betrayal of the Second International in the face of the First World War, Lenin had come to the conclusion that common organization with the reformists was impossible. This was proven once again. The SU, which in Mandel’s time had begun to revise Marxism, ended up abandoning it completely, becoming a reformist organization, although it retained part of its old red discourse. That is why it is not surprising, not only that its center of activity is parliamentary, but also that it defends participation in bourgeois governments and supports UN interventions.
The socialist revolution remains the only way out to avoid the destruction of humanity.
Seeing the effects of the pandemic, the climate crisis, the wars, the refugee crisis, there is no doubt that capitalism, not only cannot solve the problems of humanity, but is destroying it. The alternative of “socialism or barbarism” is more and more present. The need to put an end to capitalism is life or death, so the socialist revolution becomes more and more necessary.
As Trotsky said, “revolution seems impossible, until it becomes inevitable”. As history has shown, it is not the military might of imperialism that prevents revolution. Nor is the problem the lack of combativity of the masses. The great problem remains the one posed by the Transitional Program: the crisis of humanity is the crisis of its revolutionary leadership.
That crisis is not only given by the absence of a revolutionary leadership with mass weight, but also by the existence of leaderships like that of the former SU, and many others that have it as a reference, that convince the fighters that the revolution is impossible, that win them over to their positions of broad fronts, that the unity of reformists and revolutionaries is possible, and let them see that there are sums that subtract.
From the IWL-FI we remain convinced of what we voted for 40 years ago: the great task is to defeat imperialism with the world socialist revolution and to do so we need to build a party and a revolutionary international following the model of the IV and III International led by Lenin and Trotsky.
With the triumph of the revolution, with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, there were peoples like the Russian, the Cuban, the Chinese, who overcame hunger, unemployment, put an end to prostitution. Those revolutions were lost, but they can happen again. It is a difficult task, but it is not a utopia, it has already been done so it can be done again. What is a reactionary utopia is to think that without destroying capitalism the problems of the working class and humanity can be solved.
The triumph of the revolution is not inevitable, it is a fight to be fought. The result is not a given, but there is no God who has defined that the working class will not be able to fulfill its historical mission, to lead the rest of the exploited and oppressed, defeat imperialism and conquer the kingdom of freedom of which Marx spoke.
1 Daniel Bensaid, one of the main leaders and theoreticians of the SU, after the death of Ernest Mandel. Bensaid. He was one of the student leaders of the “French May” of 1968 and one of the main leaders of the Revolutionary Communist League of France. He died in 2010.
2 The beginning of a new debate: The return of the Strategy. Rouge (Journal of the French LCR), quoted in Marxismo Vivo 22, July 2009, pp.100-11.
3 Period in which SU was in charge of the Municipality of Porto Alegre, Brazil.
4 “Role and Tasks of the Fourth International: Preliminary Resolution of the International Committee” (www.combate.info). Approved by the XIV Congress of the SU (2010).