World Party of Socialist Revolution?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jul 2 12:28:13 MDT 2002

With the degeneration of the cpsu and the Comintern under Stalin, the
remaining revolutionary currents in the Soviet Union and abroad gathered
around Trotsky, former leader of the Red Army, second only to Lenin in
stature as a leader of the revolution. 

It was a heroic fight by Trotsky and his supporters against the
degeneration of the cpsu and the Comintern-against the purges (nearly all
of Lenin’s central committee killed), against the political disasters. Most
of the political opposition were persecuted, exiled, killed. 

Trotsky and his followers kept the revolutionary perspective alive. Trotsky
made important analyses of what went wrong in the Soviet Union. But there
were many unfortunate distortions in the resulting opposition
organisations, which was perhaps inevitable, given the objective conditions. 

Following the failure of the German CP to respond effectively to the rise
of Hitlerism in 1933, the Left Opposition changed from being an opposition
within the CPSU and CPS (mostly excluded anyway) to calling for the
overthrow of the Stalin leadership and a perspective of building a new
international. After five years of debates on whether to set up the Fourth
International, it was finally established in September 1938, at a one-day
conference in France with twenty-two delegates. 

But it was a shell. The structure of the Third International was an
emergency, temporary instrument to build parties, with a perspective of
revolutions within months, but it had real forces backing it. The Fourth
International, with no state power behind it, lacking a mass base, lacking
resources or apparatus, tried to copy the form of the early Comintern. It
described itself as the “World Party of Socialist Revolution”. 

The only resource the Trotskyists could point to was the program, so this
was elevated. A tendency developed towards the endless elaboration of the
written program, with prescriptions for everybody else’s revolution. But
isolation from real struggle continued. 

Splits inevitably resulted, leading to a multitude of groups claiming to be
the “Fourth International”. When we were in the FI, we had to draw up
charts, the Trotskyist family tree, reflecting all the splits. It was
complicated enough then. In the last fifteen years, there have been even
more branches, or twigs. 

Our experience with the FI was rich in lessons, from the first year of our
current in 1965, to when we left in 1985. In the early years we were
desperately eager for international contact. We were internationalists, we
were won to socialism in the struggle against the Vietnam War. But we had
no party, and only minimal contact with the FI. When the first
representative of the FI visited here in 1969, we yearned for advice,
instructions: how do we build a party, what should we do next? We
enthusiastically wanted to join the FI. 

But it was a double-edged sword. Less than a year after we formally became
a section of the FI, in January 1972, our party split, with the help of the
International! The FI was in the middle of an intense factional struggle.
It had some useful results — the educational value of the polemical
discussion. But it also led to splits and a tendency to separate off from
real problems here. We healed that split ourselves, in 1977-78 (probably
against the real wishes of the two sides in the Fourth International). 

The reasons we left the FI in 1985 are set out in the pamphlet, The SWP and
the Fourth International, containing a report to the October 1984 national
committee meeting by our former national secretary, Jim Percy, and to our
August 1985 NC by Doug Lorimer. Those reports are full of valuable lessons,
and we intend to reprint the pamphlet to make it readily available for new

Our thinking then was prompted by the Nicaraguan revolution, a better
understanding of the continuing impact of the Cuban revolution, our
experiences in the bitter factional fight in the FI, and the beginning of
the degeneration of the US Socialist Workers Party, which we had previously
looked up to. We concluded that the FI was an obstacle to fully
participating in the process of building new revolutionary parties and a
new, mass, international revolutionary movement. 

Doug Lorimer concluded in his 1985 report: 

Does this mean we are turning away from internationalism? Such a view could
only be made by those who confuse a particular form of international
organisation with internationalism. Our conception of internationalism
involves developing international collaboration. It involves the fraternal
exchange of views and experiences among revolutionaries based on a
willingness to learn from others, while thinking for ourselves. The forms
through which this occurs are totally secondary. 

Far from turning away from internationalism by leaving the Fourth
International, we are turning toward a more real internationalism, toward
collaboration with those revolutionary forces that are really extending the
world socialist revolution. 
 We want to have relations, exchanges of views
and experiences, with anyone who wishes to have such fraternal relations
with us. But we refuse to have such relations held hostage to a particular
organisational form. 

Today the FI is not embroiled in bitter factional struggles, although it
does have debates and divisions. (The US SWP left after implementing splits
in parties where it had any supporters; other parties, such as those
following Nahuel Moreno in Argentina, also left.) 

And the FI is not dominated by one party, as most of the other Trotskyist
“internationals” are. It’s not centralised, partly because of financial
constraints, but perhaps also getting some wisdom from past disasters. 

But it still persists with the forms — a world congress, votes, an
international centre, the shibboleth of Permanent Revolution. It’s based on
small groups not rooted in the mass movements; that’s true of most
revolutionary parties today, but the FI’s life seems dominated by the
smallest groups, those least connected with the mass movement. And often
the centre has been staffed by individuals who are not members of parties
at all. 

Look at the experiences around East Timor. The major parties in the FI such
as the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire in France and Party of
Revolutionary Socialism in Portugal just acted; they didn’t check with the
“centre”. You don’t need an international centre to coordinate actions.
Even in Europe, it doesn’t occur through an international centre, but
through meetings of the leading comrades from the national parties, an
informal network. We’ve shown we can do these things without an

The FI at its International Executive Committee meeting in February 1999
had a chance to broaden out significantly beyond the narrow boundaries of
FI membership by opening up its scheduled world congress, but it declined.
There were possibilities of having a conference that would genuinely
involve many other Marxist parties. We had been prepared to subsume this
conference into something that had wider international potential. But it
was an opportunity not grasped. Hopefully, in future they’ll be able to
make the step. 

‘World parties’

Although in practice the FI is moving away from it, most of the other
attempts at Trotskyist internationals still try to implement that “World
Party of Socialist Revolution” structure, with a “leading staff” at the
centre. These are mostly tiny forces, multiple general staffs for directing
the world revolution, with centres in London, Paris, New York, Latin
America. Their “sections” are sometimes just a handful of individuals. 

Recent experiences with the Committee for a Workers International, the
international based on the Militant group in Britain, have been
unfortunate. At one stage it looked like they were moving away from that
narrow conception. They began to reach out to other parties from other
traditions, away from the caricature of an international where the true
line came from London and the task was to create factions and splits in
other parties. 

There are some proud experiences in the history of Militant — the struggles
in Liverpool; the poll tax fight initiated in Glasgow. The CWI’s retreat to
narrow sectarianism after their short period of opening up is well analysed
by Phil Hearse in his article “Militant: what went wrong”.

But it’s more than unfortunate; it’s destructive, since the CWI method
threatens to smother independent parties, and crush them if they don’t toe
the line from London. 

This was most dramatically demonstrated in Pakistan. The Labour Party
Pakistan’s general secretary, Farooq Tariq, can give comrades the sorry
details. Fortunately, their attempt to split and crush the LPP failed; now
a tiny handful of CWI supporters in Pakistan get their £200 a month to keep
the cwi flag on the map. 

The CWI tightening up is being implemented in Britain too. In 1998 they
expelled the whole regional leadership in Liverpool, once a strong mass
base for Militant politics, where they had hundreds, possibly thousands, of

In Scotland, London opposed the formation of the Scottish Socialist Party,
and now has its own semi-secret faction within the SSP to try to revert to
a cosy little group of those with 100% agreement with London, rather than
the exciting, challenging, growing party that the SSP is. 

I think the International Workers League (LIT), the international
Trotskyist organisation with its centre in Brazil, still has that
perspective, of building the “World Party of Socialist Revolution”, and
that their program is the one true basis on which to build it. We welcome
comrade Eduardo Neto from the Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores
Unificado (PSTU) of Brazil and the leadership of the LIT to this
conference, and look forward to hearing their views and ideas, especially
on international collaboration and organisation. But unfortunately, they
seem still to have this perspective, which can lead only to further splits
in the all too small forces of revolutionary Marxism. 

An LIT statement insists that it rejects “all proposals for a federal
organisation of the International. The imperialist epoch of crises, wars
and revolutions demands a world party, and a federation is not a party. We
affirm the necessity of a world party based on the principle of democratic
centralism, constituted at the national level by Leninist combat parties.” 

It’s worthwhile for us all to review the many internationals, the many
splits, even the many bizarre cults, especially in the Trotskyist movement,
but also in the Maoist movement. There have been many unfortunate
experiences in the workers’ movement of sectarianism and cults. 

Cults have one leader, located in one country, but the world must revolve
around that leader’s thought, and the tendency is to want to spread that
omniscience to the world. Other parties’ role is to follow, be clones or
satellites of that central party, that central leader. Often it’s a
farcical miniature of Stalin’s control of other Communist parties in the
Comintern and Cominform. Universal recipes are prescribed, often from past
periods and different countries when circumstances were fundamentally

A terrible consequence is the continual division and re-division of the
communist forces internationally. In Britain there are possibly 50 groups
from the Trotskyist tradition, most with some pretension at an
international organisation. 

You try to set up little clones, or create factions in existing parties.
And you set up barriers: parties refuse to have relations with other
parties, for fear of factionalising being done against them. Healthier
groups might laugh at extreme cases like the Spartacist League, but
unfortunately there’s an element of sectarian barriers and raiding
mentality in most groups. So let’s learn the lessons from that
sectarianism, and not just dismiss it as aberrations. 

Louis Proyect
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