Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has been calling for a new International Association of left wing groups. – A 5th International. In response, the British section of The League for the 5th International has recently circulated an open letter to the left urging support for Hugo Chavez’s call and explaining why. We publish this letter in full below.
The fight for a revolutionary International today
An appeal to open a discussion about convening a common conference of all organisations that have indicated agreement that the time is right to take concrete steps towards the formation of a new revolutionary working class International
The League for the Fifth International addresses this proposal for discussion to organisations that have indicated they would support steps towards the founding of a new international organisation of the working class, a new International, capable of coordinating a worldwide resistance to the capitalist classes’ offensive against the workers’ social gains, their democratic rights and their natural environment.
Concretely, the need for a new International has been emphasised by Hugo Chávez’ call for a Fifth International. This has attracted interest from a number of socialist organisations on the far left who recognise that the building of a new International is an urgent task of the day, not a theoretical project for the distant future.
The need for a revolutionary international is posed right now by the sharp offensive of the bosses against working people all over the world. The enemies of the working class are attacking jobs, wage levels, social welfare, health, education and democratic rights.
The capitalist classes of the world survived the initial shock of the most severe economic crisis since the Second World War thanks to the weakness of the traditional leaderships of the workers. Now, they are determined to unload the full cost of the crisis onto the backs of wage earners, pensioners, the unemployed and the young.
There has been a determined fight back, but it has been hampered by the national and continental fragmentation of the forces of resistance. In Europe, the governments of the EU, led by Germany, coordinated an international campaign of vilification against the Greek workers, farmers and lower middle classes, accusing them of laziness and living beyond their means. Their journalists extended the hate campaign to most of the southern nations of the continent, describing them by the disgusting acronym “the PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain).
At the height of the crisis in Greece, we clearly needed a body that could, and would, mobilise the workers of Germany, France, Britain, indeed the whole of Europe, against this chauvinism; that would explain that it was not Greek working people but the bankers of the City of London, Frankfurt, Zürich and the billionaires of the bond markets who were master minding the biggest rip-off in history and turn the hatred of the masses against them. There was no such body and now governments across the continent are seeking to impose their own austerity programmes, insisting that workers accept huge cuts in social spending “or suffer the fate of Greece.”
What is the network, the organisation, and the leadership that could mobilise the working class resistance? It is an International. We believe that the global capitalist crisis has created conditions in which the task of creating a new revolutionary International can no longer be postponed. It is a task of the day, alongside the task of building revolutionary parties in every country.
We believe the present crisis is no “normal” cyclical recession, but marks the entry of the world into a period in which the overall trend of capitalist development is downward – constituting a historic crisis of the system as a whole which obliges the bourgeoisie to launch a sustained attack on the working class. In general, cyclical upturns will be shallow, downturns deep and protracted. Rivalries between the powers will intensify; pre-revolutionary and revolutionary situations, the rise of reactionary forces, wars and environmental disasters will increasingly pose point-blank the need to resolve the crisis of proletarian leadership, the need for a socialist transformation of society.
There is great unevenness between the old imperialist heartlands and the emerging global powers on the one hand, and the underdeveloped semi-colonial economies on the other, some of which are growing while others sink deeper into debt and destitution.Although we recognise the historic character of the current crisis, we should not turn a blind eye to sporadic recoveries and speculative booms. The cyclical rhythm of capitalist development naturally continues, but it is sclerotic and painful, with expansion in one country or region exacerbating crisis in others. As the system as a whole moves in a downward trajectory, the competition for dwindling spoils intensifies.
The crisis is greatly accelerated by the contradictions generated by globalisation over the preceding period. In Europe, we are faced with the dismantling of our post war gains (the welfare state) and in the third world we are struggling under a new round of debt and austerity measures. We are seeing the beginnings of a struggle for the re-division the world between rising and declining imperialist powers, threatening regional and proxy wars and intensified diplomatic and economic conflicts. Instability is further increased by severe environmental catastrophes.
We believe the present crisis has a special significance because, by bringing to the surface of events the historic contradictions of the capitalist system, it underscores the basic insight articulated by the revolutionary Comintern in the days of Lenin and Trotsky: that the imperialist epoch is a revolutionary epoch, the epoch of capitalism’s decline and fall, and that the actuality of the revolution, the potential struggle for socialism, is lodged in every episode of the class struggle.
In such a period, the intensification of the class struggle leads inevitably to the possibility of revolutionary or counter-revolutionary outcomes. Where the question of power is posed, the victory of the working class is certainly not an issue that can be left to the dynamics of some sort of objective process. For victory, the working class needs a correct strategy (a programme) a combat organisation of the vanguard (a party) and a class struggle that builds up new or renewed fighting organisations of the masses. Ultimately, none of these tasks can be completed in national isolation.
These immense challenges find the working class movement worldwide, above all its mass organisations, parties and trade unions, without even the rudiments of a revolutionary leadership. Neither is this simply an absence, a vacuum waiting to be filled. The existing leaderships of the unions, the Communist, Socialist and Labour Parties, are agents of capital who, at best, have no idea of the alternative to capitalism in crisis and, at worst, seek to thwart and divert the mass militant struggles which continue to erupt, despite them.
The period we are entering undoubtedly presents great opportunities but also great dangers. The opportunities centre on the possibility that revolutionary socialist ideas and politics can again become a mass phenomenon, winning over the actual vanguard of working class militants and of all the oppressed and exploited classes and strata that form the natural allies of the proletariat.
This possibility, however, will only be realised if revolutionaries play an organising and politicising role internationally – as Marx and Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky did in the previous four Internationals. In this task, we are not starting from the beginning; we have the heritage of all these historic figures on whose shoulders we must stand. In part, we will be continuing the work of the revolutionary years of the Internationals that they founded. However, we will also be addressing positive developments over the last ten years. In the period of expanding globalisation, the forces of internationalism were plainly on the march.
The most remarkable examples of this were the anticapitalist mobilisations from Seattle to Genoa, the mass mobilisations in Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, and the global antiwar movement of 2003 which, even though it failed to stop the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, significantly undermined popular support at home for the war and placed limits on further attacks. Likewise, in Europe and Latin America, links of solidarity between countries resisting capitalist and imperialist offensives, economic and military, have led to mass mobilisations.
These developments have been manifested at various gatherings such as the world and continental social forums and, most recently, in the call issued last November/December by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, for a Fifth Socialist International.
A number of political forces worldwide, generally those that have been active in the various anticapitalist, anti-imperialist and antiwar movements of the last ten years, have responded positively to this call. These have included various Trotskyist currents as well as non-Trotskyist and Marxist-Leninist organisations.
Varying degrees of criticism have accompanied this support for Chávez’s call. These have mainly centred on the obvious danger that this ‘International’ would be subject to the foreign policy of a capitalist state (even if an “anti-imperialist” one) and the class contradictions lodged in the very heart of ‘Bolivarian socialism’.
We certainly share these criticisms. The class contradictions in Venezuela are very real. They express, yet again, the simple fact that socialism cannot be brought into being in any sense without the expropriation of the capitalist class, the breaking up of the old state institutions and the establishment of working class states. The lack of democracy in the PSUV, the decline and bureaucratisation of the missiones, and Chávez’s condemnation of workers fighting for pay rises amid spiralling inflation as ‘counter-revolutionary’, give a clear warning of what a new international would look like if it were built around his reformist vision of socialism and under his leadership.
If a new international looked like a re-born bourgeois Non-Aligned Movement, as Chávez has on occasion suggested with his appeals to the Iranian regime and the Chinese Communist Party, it would be a dead-end. We need, in contrast, a new working class international that fights for genuine socialism and the final overthrow of capitalism in a revolution.
Does this mean that those who contemptuously rejected Chávez’s call, often with formally correct criticisms of his record and policies, were right to do so? Absolutely not. Firstly, they ignore one simple fact: the working class does need an International, not some distant future but now; to fightback against the massive attacks launched against it in the context of the present crisis. If workers’ organisations respond positively to this call, then it would be the height of sectarianism to refuse to engage with them.
Secondly, if revolutionaries refuse to participate in any initiatives resulting from Chávez’ call this would actually tend to ensure the very outcome which they say they want to prevent: the formation of a bourgeois international. Such an outcome would certainly be a crime against the working class, particularly if it were draped in the red banners of Lenin and Trotsky, but to avert this outcome requires that we do something.
That means that we do not stand passively on the sidelines, giving Chávez and company every opportunity to shape an international as they want it, but intervene and fight for a revolutionary internationalist programme and policy in any and every arena created by this new initiative. This is why we welcomed Chávez’s call without endorsing his project and why we would attend any international conference he organises. Whether this conference can play a positive role depends on how many organisations respond, who they are and what they do at it.
A Fifth International must be built, but on a revolutionary basis which accords not merely with areas of agreement between existing organisations, but to the objectively determined necessities of advancing the class struggle. That is why we appeal to all revolutionary and working class organisations to join us in the struggle to make the new international stand on firm socialist foundations. The mass vanguard of the working class, presently fighting back against the savage austerity programmes of bourgeois governments, desperately needs a network of national sections (parties) and an international centre to coordinate its struggles, to hammer out a strategy for a counteroffensive which ends in the seizure of power: a world revolution.
We, in the League for the Fifth International, believe that, if Chávez calls a conference open to all who want to fight capitalism and imperialism, then all revolutionary tendencies and currents should attend it. More, they should collaborate in advance to prepare a revolutionary intervention, and argue for a militant programme of action, for class independence from all states and for a debate on our revolutionary goals and strategy (i.e. on programme).
However, we do not believe that it is right, or necessary, to wait for an event that may never happen, or that may happen in a form that discredits the very idea of an International. It is high time that all those forces who believe in the necessity for a new International themselves take an initiative to summon forces to the task of creating a new International.
For this reason, we propose that all such forces organise an open conference to discuss the linked questions of coordinated global resistance to the crisis and the austerity measures of the capitalist governments and the question of putting the issue of a new (Fifth) International squarely before the mass fighting organisations of the working class in every country.
We are eager to hear your response to our proposal.
With revolutionary greetings,
Dave Stockton for the League for a Fifth International