The new opposition in the post-Mandelite Fourth International

Submitted by martin on 9 August, 2017 - 11:28 Author: Martin Thomas

1. How the Fourth International's world view was shattered in 1989-91

Since the 1990s, the "Fourth International" has become more and more like a loosely-Marxist think-tank, or association of think-tanks, geared to left social democracy.

"Fourth International" here refers to the international network associated with the ideas of Ernest Mandel, otherwise called "USFI" or "United Secretariat of the Fourth International", though it ceased to have a leading body called "United Secretariat" as long ago as 2003.

In 1967, the "Mandelite" current had celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution by publishing a book entitled "50 years of world revolution".

They conceded that Trotsky had been right to see the Stalinist USSR as having suffered counter-revolution, which contributed to "a succession of the most terrible and depressing defeats throughout the entire world" for the working class in the 1930s. Since about 1943, however, they claimed, "the revolutionary process" had been moving forward on a world scale. And - so they would argue up to the 1980s, though then a more cautious note started to appear - moving forward with increasing speed and power.

The empirical manifestation of "the revolutionary process" was Stalinist victories in ex-colonial countries, or radical-nationalist victories which the "Mandelites" hoped and expected to produce new states approximately on the Stalinist model or maybe with some semi-democratic improvements.

Generally they considered the states modelled on the USSR to be only "deformed workers' states", not fully developed workers' states of the sort they themselves wanted to help create. But even those "deformed workers' states" were steps forward in a "process" of which the creation of fully developed workers' states in the richer countries, and "political revolutions" or other changes to mend the deformations in the "deformed workers' states" would be the culmination.

Then in 1989-91 the peoples of the Stalinist states in Europe, including their working classes, rose up, overthrew the Stalinist states, and replaced them by bourgeois democracies (or semi-democracies), which they saw as preferable. Elsewhere in the world even the ruling Stalinist bureaucracies mostly gave up on the idea that Stalinist social economy was a "progressive" and "transitional" form.

The Chinese bureaucracy moved fast, and successfully, to transform its economy from above into an oligarchic capitalist economy, still with Stalinist political forms. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos have followed close behind; Cuba, more hesitatingly. The only hold-out, North Korea, has such a repressive regime that people flee to still-totalitarian China to breath a fraction more freely, and an economy with widespread hunger.

All the results of almost half-a-century of advance of "the revolutionary process" were shown to be empty, worthless, in fact regressions rather than progress.

At the time of the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the chief Mandelite organisation, the LCR in France, formally resolved that their traditional theorisation of the Stalinist states as "degenerated and deformed workers' states" must be reviewed.

And in a series of books (notably "Marx l’intempestif", 1995) the LCR's foremost writer, Daniel Bensaid, critically demolished the concepts of "degenerated and deformed workers' states", "transitional societies", and so on. Yet his critique took the form of a philosophical dissection of the idea of more-or-less linear processes in history, was his own personal work rather than the centre of a thorough debate within the Mandelite organisations, and was never pushed through to sharp political conclusions and reformulations.

Mostly, the Mandelites just lapsed into silence on the Stalinist history, while retaining many ideas derived from it, for example the idea of "imperialism" as identified with the USA and its allies, and non-imperialism or anti-imperialism as the anti-US states or movements. That idea made a sort of addled sense when the core of the anti-US camp called "anti-imperialist" comprised what the Mandelites reckoned to be "deformed workers' states", but has been retained even after it ceased to make such sense.

2. The Fourth International after 1991 and "broad parties"

When Ernest Mandel himself died in 1995, we wrote: "Mandel has died while the cadres of his version of Trotskyism are still trying to come to terms with the collapse of what most of them, following Mandel himself, saw as the USSR workers' state. He leaves them politically orphaned. If they do not now face up to the facts, and critically reassess everything 'Trotskyist' after Trotsky’s time, then either they will drop out of revolutionary politics, or, utterly defeated in the ideological struggle with the bourgeoisie, they will take refuge in fantasies and delusions..."

Many of the Mandelite activists have dropped out. Many, however, with an estimable moral commitment to the general ideas of revolutionary socialism which outweighs all perplexities and doubts, remain active. Less and less, however, does their activity take the form of an attempt at concerted revolutionary intervention.

From 1995 their official line is that they are a sort of ginger group to promote the building of "broad parties", to the left of official social democracy but not necessarily revolutionary.

That line does not just mean that a revolutionary workers' party should have a broad and open democracy. It does not just mean that broad left-wing parties may emerge which revolutionaries should engage with patiently and sensitively.

It means that the revolutionary socialist organisation itself dissolves into a loose association of advisers to existing parties reckoned to be "broad left", or gives priority to trying to conjure up or engineer a future "broad party", to the detriment of what the actual organisation should and must do in the actual class struggle.

The most vigorous of the Mandelite groups, the LCR in France, in and after the Juquin presidential candidacy of 1995, turned its attention more and more to ineffectual pleading and politicking to develop would-be "broad" left regroupments. Its members continued to be individually active in workplaces and trade unions, but the LCR officially declared that it would have no "party" discipline over its members' activities in trade unions.

In 2003 Miguel Rossetto, a member of the Brazilian Mandelite group DS became a minister in the Lula government in Brazil - a government which would over time bring in some important reforms, but was indisputably a bourgeois, in fact a neoliberal, government. Even over two years later, in 2005, the Fourth International would go no further in criticism of this step than to say: "Once the DS had decided in favour of participation, without hiding our reservations and doubts, we respected your decision and tried to help rather than put a spoke in your wheel...[but] participation in the government has become more and more problematic. In discussions among the Fourth International’s militants we have insisted on not posing the question in abstract, doctrinaire terms... A number of indications nonetheless provided cause for worry that, in the absence of major social mobilisations (with the exception of the landless peasants), several ministers known as left-wingers could become mere alibis or hostages for policies whose basic choices had already been announced... during the election campaign".

In Britain we can see what the "broad party" perspective means in the self-submergence of the small British Mandelite group, Socialist Resistance, first in the Green Left and then in Left Unity, where its influence was devoted to making Left Unity less left-wing rather than more so.

3. The new opposition in the Fourth International

In early 2017, six groups in the Fourth International came together to declare an opposition tendency. They were:
• Anticapitalisme et Revolution (A&R), a grouping within the French NPA (successor to the LCR)
• IZAR, a group expelled from the Spanish Mandelite organisation Anticapitalistas because of a drive by Anticapitalistas to establish themselves as loyal and friendly advisers to the leadership of Podemos
• OKDE-Spartakos in Greece
• The Collettivo Guevara in Italy, where the former Mandelite group, Sinistra Critica, shipwrecked itself by taking the role of friendly left advisers to the leadership of Rifondazione Comunista, which, once hailed as an exemplar of the modern "broad left" party, collapsed after its participation in the Prodi government (2006-8)
• Socialist Action in the USA, and its sister group Socialist Action-LAS in Canada.

Socialist Action is the longest-established of these groups. It has well-stated position on a range of international and theoretical questions, and a long record of criticisms of the majority of the Fourth International. It was formed in 1984, by people expelled by the SWP-USA in its abrupt turn after 1979 to quasi-Stalinist Castroism.

Socialist Action regrouped mostly people influenced by Tom Kerry, who had been the central day-to-day leader of the SWP, with Farrell Dobbs, from the 1950s to the 1970s, and died in 1983. They were willing to go further along the road of the SWP's Castroite turn - though they rebelled as it accelerated - and less inclined to criticise the SWP in retrospect than the other old-timers' opposition, the FIT, led by George Breitman and Sara and Frank Lovell. The FIT joined Solidarity-USA in 1992.

The new international opposition denounces "a series of catastrophes, of which no balance-sheet has been drawn. The list is long: in Brazil, the participation in the Lula government; in Italy, where the comrades supported in parliament the formation of the Prodi governmnt and voted for war credits; in Portugal, the recent support for the Socialist Party government.

"The common points in these failures have been support for political forces or governments operating in the framework of managing capitalism, and the dislocation of the sections of the Fourth International".

The oppositionists want a turn to militant here-and-now revolutionary socialist politics, in place of the "broad parties" line. They are surely right about that. But to declare one's politics to be revolutionary, or to use the word "revolution" a lot, is not the same as contributing truly revolutionary-socialist, critical, emancipatory ideas to the labour movement. It depends on the content one gives to the word "revolution".

The oppositionists have failed to reconsider the political legacy generated by the difficulties and confusions of the self-declared "Orthodox", or "Cannonite", comrades of Trotsky after his death, and their eventual "refounding" of their politics, around 1948-51, on the basis of the scheme of the "advancing revolutionary process", regrettably Stalinist and deformed but still revolutionary.

Thus to construct their politics they have instead had to pluck bits from that legacy, the bit which give a more combative tone. That makes them tend to fall into the "fantasies and delusions" which, as we warned in 1995, were the staple of the various critical splinters which over the decades had raged against Mandel's subtleties while basing themselves on the same lexicon of Orthodox Trotskyist concepts.

4. Cuba

For decades Cuba has allowed no opposition press or parties or meetings, and no trade unions independent of the state. Since the collapse of the USSR, and the consequent closure of Russian aid and markets, living standards for Cuban workers have been poor and stagnant. In recent decades the government has started a slow and hesitant march along the road of China and Vietnam, sponsoring private industry while keeping tight political control. So far that trajectory has developed mainly in the tourist industry, creating a "dollar economy" estimated at about 10% of GDP in which often highly-qualified Cuban workers seek menial jobs because they pay better than the peso economy.

Yet when Fidel Castro died in December 2016, Socialist Action's long obituary was entirely uncritical. Its attitude to Cuba is only in nuance different from hailing it outright as a model of socialism. Much more critical comment on Cuba was routine in the Mandelite mainstream as early as the 1980s: Janette Habel of the LCR wrote in her book "Ruptures à Cuba" in 1989 that "the bureaucratic model... is now devouring the revolution".

Orthodox Trotskyists have mostly called states modelled on the USSR "deformed workers' states", and sometimes been strident in denouncing the bureaucratic "deformations". Socialist Action, however, states that: "we have consistently rejected use of the terms 'deformed' or 'degenerated' workers' state".

The most they will admit in criticism is that Cuba is a workers' state "lacking as yet the forms of democratic proletarian rule". "Workers’ councils... do not exist in Cuba. In essence, Cuba's Communist Party makes most of the key decisions in Cuban society". That Communist Party is in fact not a political party, but a bureaucratic-plebiscitary support apparatus for the state machine. It did not have its first congress until 1975, 16 years after Castro took power, and in all has had only seven congresses over nearly 60 years of power: that would disqualify it as a real party, even if those were real congresses with fluid debate, which they're not.

To say nearly sixty years after Castro took power that Cuba is defined as a workers' state lacking "as yet" workers' democracy is a bit like saying of someone in their 70s jailed since their teens (even, let's say, in a liberal prison, with education courses and good food for the prisoners) that their life has been a liberated one "lacking as yet the forms of release from prison".

Emphasis on revolutionary socialist politics, as against the Fourth International majority's flabby "broadness", is good. But if "revolution" - and pretty much healthy revolution, for whose shortcomings the word "deformed" would be too strong - is identified with Cuba, then the "revolutionary" line is some distance from independent working-class politics.

What is "revolution", if its major appearance in recent decades was the seizure of power by a military band - with left-wing sentiments (and enjoying sizeable popular support) - which subsequently allied with the local Stalinist party and the USSR to install a bureaucratic regime (with some relatively good health and education services)? What is a "revolutionary party", if the most triumphant example of one was that military band?

5. North Korea: workers' state where the workers starve?

Socialist Action concedes that North Korea denies workers all democratic rights and leaves them hungry and impoverished.

It refers, accurately, to South Korea "brutally repressing labor and students, often at gunpoint". It uses milder words for North Korea, although South Korea has legal independent trade unions (strong and militant in the 1990s, and still active, though pushed back a bit), a legal opposition press, and scope for revolutionary socialists to organise legally.

Socialist Action reports that in the 1990s, "while still referring to themselves as socialists, the North Korean Stalinists rejected Marxism and Leninism as European notions. In essence, Juche became the ideological framework for a particularly nationalistic, and even xenophobic, form of Stalinism.

"Despite what it called itself, though, North Korea remained a deformed workers’ state. Capitalism had been expropriated, but the workers had been denied democratic control of the society by a self-serving, parasitic bureaucracy surrounding Kim Il-Sung".

"Socialist Action agrees that North Korea has the right to develop... nuclear weapons... as much as we find [them] distasteful. Given the threat that the US poses, North Korea has the right to defend itself, and to create a deterrent to possible aggression".

Is the argument that North Korea's system must be defined as "workers'", and its government as trustworthy to wield nuclear weapons, despite workers having no political rights, because it allows economic progress? That cannot get past first base because - although North Korea was the more developed part of the country at partition - South Korea's income per head is now almost twenty times the North's.

What is "revolution", if North Korea is a "deformed" example of its triumph, in fact the only existing example of its triumph other than Cuba?

6. Russia and China: phantom workers' states?

Socialist Action's take on 1989-91 seems to be that the popular uprisings were a good anti-bureaucratic move, which, unfortunately, subsequently got tangled up with attempts by right-wing politicians to install world-market capitalism. This construction makes it possible to comment favourably on the uprisings and yet regard their results and aims as wholly negative - but at the expense of producing nonsense.

As late as 2000, nine full years after Russian governments had started mass privatisation and opening up the country to foreign investment, Socialist Action declared: "Russia is a transitional society in reverse gear, with parallel and competing modes of production and a disintegrating state apparatus. The economy of Russia, along with most of the countries of the ex-USSR, is no longer a planned socialised economy, yet neither is it predominantly subject to the law of value or integrated into the world market...

"It is in this sense that Russia remains essentially a collapsed, deformed workers' state".

Likewise in 1999, twenty years into China's drive to convert its economy to the domination of private and crony capital, Socialist Action described it as one of the "states in flux between capitalism and socialism".

"Chinese Stalinists, like their counterparts in Eastern Europe, know that every concession they make brings them a step closer to coming under the complete domination of world imperialism... Sooner or later, they know, their economies will come under imperialist control, or they will be wrecked... Just think of what will happen to these states in flux between capitalism and socialism..."

The argument seemed to be that the ex-Stalinist states, however much they had lost all the traits which ever motivated people to call them "workers' states", must remain "workers' states" until there was a violent counter-revolution. "A society cannot just evolve from one social system to another, it requires huge and violent ruptures - in this case counter-revolutions that overthrow the existing state forms and begin the construction of new ones".

That argument has been quietly abandoned. Without any violent upheavals intervening, Socialist Action now describes Russia and China as capitalist. It keeps a sort-of friendly attitude to Russia - its articles on Syria and Ukraine, for example, dismiss out of hand the idea that there could be anything imperialist about Russia's activity there - but describes it as capitalist.

Socialist Action thus constructs itself a picture of the last thirty years or so as one of successive triumphs of imperialism (more or less identified with the USA) over what was previously a good number of workers' states. It lightens the picture by hyping up economic crises and popular revolts, so that the otherwise-triumphant US imperialism appears as on the brink of being overwhelmed by economic disarray and mass resistance.

"US capitalism must resort to repression of a magnitude never before seen in this country as its only 'solution' to the rise of mass working-class resistance. We expect that such resistance will arise since US capitalism, which is enveloped by crisis, has no alternative to its present course of steadily imposing austerity measures against workers and all oppressed people".

This picture makes it near-impossible to distinguish between major crises and routine disorder accompanied by capitalist growth, or to recognise any significant reactionary forces other than the US government and its allies.

7. Syria and "imperialism"

Events in Syria since the street demonstrations of 2011 against the Assad dictatorship are presented by Socialist Action as a matter of a US war to gain control of Syria, against which even the Assad regime should be defended. Socialist Action interprets all the Islamist rebel groups in Syria, apparently even Daesh, as catspaws of the USA, and says little about the Kurdish forces.

"In accord with our unconditional support to the historic right of oppressed nations to self-determination, we demand 'US Out Now!' This unconditional right to self-determination... extends to all poor and oppressed nations, including those led by dictators, like Bashar Assad... In our view, the right to self-determination necessarily includes the right of oppressed nations to request intervention from other nations - in the case of Syria, the intervention of Russia, Iran, and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah".

Here "revolution" is conflated into "militant clashes with the USA" and thus into de facto support for reactionary forces.

8. Palestine

Socialist Action sees Israel as primarily a contingent in the supposed general US war to control the Middle East. It advocates a "democratic secular Palestine with equal rights for all, including the critical right of the dispossessed Palestinian Diaspora to return to their historic homeland".

This differs from the old "democratic secular state" policy coined by the DFLP, which the PLO advocated between 1969 and 1988, by excluding the Palestinian organisations' call for religious rights for the Jewish inhabitants of what is now Israel. Even religious rights are not the same as national rights - the Israeli Jews have long been indisputably a nation - and don't help the many non-religious Jews. But the dismissal of national rights for the Israeli Jews is given a sharper edge by the dropping of even the postulate of religious rights.

The "democratic secular state" proposal in fact comes down to a coded form of advocating Arab conquest of Israel (justified by the Israeli Jews' refusal to submerge their national existence in a state which, though hypothetically "democratic", grants them no collective national rights). For the Palestinians, it means the despairing and nihilistic message that they should expect no relief from oppression until the Arab states overrun Israel.

Socialist Action rejects self-determination for the Palestinians to form a viable independent state alongside Israel, declaring "two-state solutions" "a horror to contemplate".

It tries to smooth out the contradictions by saying that none of what it advocates can happen anyway, short of a socialist revolution in the whole region. "The fate of the Palestinian people begins with their capacity to challenge and remove their bourgeois rulers and unify their struggle for self-determination - and continues uninterruptedly with the rise of the Arab revolution to challenge capitalist rule in the region".

This position is nihilistic and ultimatistic towards the Palestinians, revanchist and irredentist towards the Israeli Jews.

9. General strike

The French group Anticapitalisme et Révolution (A&R) is linked into the international faction within which Socialist Action represents the most fully-developed and articulated political positions, and as far as I know A&R has never criticised those positions explicitly.

It has, however, a different slant on Syria, at least to the extent that it denounces the role of Russia as well as the USA, Turkey, France, and the Gulf monarchies. A&R's website carries only a short report on Palestine, sympathising with the plight of the Palestinians and expressing solidarity with the protests of Palestinian youth against the Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank. As far as I have found, it has no comment on the character of Cuba or of North Korea.

A&R's website has a fresher, more combative tone, less obsessed with formulaic contraptions, than Socialist Action's. Its basic drive is for concerted and forthright revolutionary socialist militancy, in contrast to the NPA majority leadership's flaccidity and focus on "anti-neoliberal" coalitions.

Where, to get a revolutionary tone, Socialist Action has reverted to militant championing of the Stalinist "anti-imperialist" camp against the USA (equals imperialism, equals capitalism) in the style of the Orthodox Trotskyists of the 1960s, A&R has picked ideas from the Mandelites of the mid-70s to try to gain revolutionary zing.

One is sloganising for a general strike, both as the immediate active answer to class-struggle issues now, and as tantamount to or the portal to socialist revolution, in a way similar to that of some Mandelite organisations, notably the British IMG, for a few years after mid-1972.

"The general strike", says A&R, "is at the heart of a revolutionary strategy". But "this slogan is a plumb line in our strategy which enables dialogue with the the experiences of thousands of workers and youth. In face of [the reformists, the police]... the starting point of the response is the general strike".

Let us consider the classic Marxist discussions of the general strike:
Engels, 1873
Luxemburg, 1906
Trotsky,1935
Trotsky, 1932
Trotsky, 1936
Trotsky, 1930

It is possible - and it was at one time common on the British Marxist left - to read these texts as ruling out the call for a general strike except when there is a mass revolutionary socialist party and the working class is ready to fight for power. We have argued that such a reading is wrong.

We agitated for a general strike in 1972, in the fight against the first Tory anti-union laws (and that fight did indeed develop into a mass strike movement, welling up from below, in January 1972, which paralysed those laws). We agitated it for it again in the first big working-class struggles against Thatcher's first onslaught, around 1980, and we agitated for it as a way of bringing together other working-class struggles with the miners' strike in 1984-5.

But we also corrected ourselves in 1973 when we perceived ourselves sliding into the use of "general strike" as a specific for all ills and a diversion from realistic politics.

"The mass strike", as Rosa Luxemburg argued, "is not artificially 'made', not 'decided' at random, not 'propagated', but... it is a historical phenomenon which, at a given moment, results from social conditions with historical inevitability". It may be part of a revolutionary crisis, or it may not. A revolution may include general strikes, or it may not (Russia, in 1917, did not).

Today, in France as in Britain, the working class is on the back foot. Trotsky's comment is relevant: "To put forward today the slogan of a general political strike as an actual one, on the basis that the coming crisis may push the masses on the road of revolutionary struggle, means to attempt to appease the hunger of today with the dinner of tomorrow".

To use the "general strike" as a way of seeming to give a general, society-wide answer to issues which is both immediate and revolutionary, and bypasses the need to consider issues and nuances in current politics, is to give a verbal solution which is not a real solution. It seems to be on the same wavelength as Socialist Action's vehement denunciation of any support for Bernie Sanders, and OKDE-Spartakos's refusal to get involved in Syriza even when it was at its peak.

And, as a critic within the Mandelite FI rightly said in the mid-70s, "an overriding emphasis on methods of struggle [comes] at the expense of a rounded-out conception of the demands which are capable of sustaining these more advanced methods of struggle".

10. New mass vanguard

A&R also takes up the idea of "the new mass vanguard". That was at the centre of the political calculations of the Mandelite current in the first half of the 70s.

The rational core of it was the observation that after 1968, in Europe and in many other areas, there were lots of left-wing young people ready to be active and unwilling to wait for the "traditional" social-democratic and Communist Party organisations.

That was true. In fact, in Britain, for example, there had been a sizeable contingent of shop stewards willing and able to organise industrial action without caring what the union leaders said long before 1968. And with the decline in the grip of the "traditional" leaderships over the decades since, it remains true today that there are many left-wing young people (not as many as in the early 70s, but many) ready for "unofficial" action.

Almost everyone on the activist left has been able to register that. Labelling the phenomenon "new mass vanguard", in the early 70s, added elements of mystification.

An FI resolution declared: "This new mass vanguard can be characterised... as the totality of forces acting independently and to the left of the traditional bureaucratic leaderships of the mass movement. What is involved is both a social and a political phenomenon, with the new vanguard including the radicalised layers, those that have gone into action, of the youth, the working class, women..."

And again: "The development of a new mass vanguard prepared to act independently of the reformist and Stalinist apparatuses and in a more clearly anticapitalist manner than the sectors still tightly controlled by these traditional apparatuses (although the level of consciousness of the militants of this new mass vanguard often oscillates between left reformism and ultraleftism) has powerfully stimulated the rise of workers' struggles as well as new forms of struggle and self-organisation of the masses".

Workers on "unofficial" strike, students in a university occupation, and women on a feminist protest, were added together and declared part of a single collective - the "new mass vanguard" - although in fact they often had few connections, their participation in those militant actions might be one-off, and the militant action did not necessarily at all mean that they were politically emancipated from the broad political ideas of the reformists.

The "new mass vanguard" labelling was criticised by the SWP-USA (the forerunners of Socialist Action), by the so-called "Third Trend", centred round the Kompass tendency in Germany, and by others within the Mandelite current, and it gradually faded from Mandelite usage.

It had harmful political effects in a variety of ways. It often led to a focus on trying to coax, prompt, or promote the "new mass vanguard" into actions which it was thought could deal with the reformists by "outflanking" them. As one critic from within the Mandelite movement put it, "the view that the Portuguese CP or the British Labour Party [for example] are capable of being outflanked without any accompanying process of confrontation [on the level of politics]" ("Wilcox" [Robin Blackburn], "Critical Notes", in International Internal Discussion Bulletin, XIII/4, Nov. 1976).

Thus "a hectic, hyper-active style of work, a grasshopper jumping from one campaign to another and a search for political short-cuts at the expense of the necessary programmatic clarity" (Wilcox). Moreover, an approach to the often-impatient young activists which hindered, not helped them, in the task of learning how to get dialogue with and convince wider layers of the working class who were more cautious.

The "traditional" organisations "[could] be verbally expelled from the workers' movement: thus the Portuguese Socialist Party or the SPD are declared to be bourgeois parties through and through, or the IMG leadership declares the Labour Party to be 'organisationally dead' at its Spring 1973 conference. (And now finding that it is still alive, executes a 180 degree turn which is equally incorrect.) The real influence which these parties are able to exercise within the working class is in no way reduced by such leftist rhetoric" (Wilcox again).

The sectarian dismissal of attention to the "traditional" organisations often flipped into opportunist opposites, with extravagant overestimation of modest left turns by those "traditional" organisation.

11. Revolutionary party

The front page slogan of A&R 27 is the call to build a revolutionary party. That sort of agitation in the 1970s came rather from the critics of Mandelism from within Orthodox Trotskyism, notably the Healy group in Britain. Still, it seems to be another example of trying to remedy the troubles of an Orthodox Trotskyism suffering from having its ideas demolished by events in 1989-91 by sifting through the rubble to find this or that shiny-looking fragment from before the collapse.

No doubt the thought here is to express the will to build a properly revolutionary socialist organisation, rather than the sort of ineffectual "broad party" which the Fourth International majority talks about.

But to express that will as an appeal to your general readership - people who by definition do not yet agree with your substantive revolutionary socialist ideas, or do not yet know enough about those ideas to have a firm opinion on them - is to empty it of proper content.

As we have explained elsewhere:

If "building the party" becomes the all-saving, all-explaining, all-defining idea in politics, then the membership becomes more or less depoliticised. To shout "build the party" as the answer to political questions now is only another way of saying: leave it until later.

The cry "build the revolutionary party" expresses a yearning for a condition of completeness - a condition where the working class is militant and socialistically conscious. It is a yearning for a general change in conditions which cannot be brought about at will, translated into something which can in theory be brought about at will, namely building the organisation.