Workers Power Abandons Trotskyist Pretensions

Fifth Wheel Internationalists

In May 2003 the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) announced that it henceforth wished to be known as the “League for a Fifth International” (L5I). This was hailed as a “new and bold step” by Workers Power, the newspaper of the group’s British leading section, which also bizarrely praised the “unbroken struggle against capitalism” of the hypothetical “Fifth International.”

Workers Power originated in the mid-1970s as a split from Tony Cliff’s Third-Campist International Socialists (IS—today the British Socialist Workers Party [SWP]). In the early 1980s Workers Power lurched to the left, rejected the theory of state capitalism and adopted a nominally Soviet defensist posture, but, like its Cliffite parent, Workers Power remained consistent only in its opportunist adaptation to popular moods. Thus, while claiming to defend the deformed and degenerated workers’ states against counterrevolution, the LRCI consistently sided with capitalist restorationist forces at every important turn, from Lech Walesa’s Polish Solidarnosc in 1981 to Boris Yeltsin in 1991, as we documented at the time. In 1995, when NATO bombers attacked the (unpopular) Bosnian Serbs, Workers Power combined claims of intransigent anti-imperialism with a position of neutrality (see 1917 No. 17).

The LRCI’s change of name is obviously an attempt to attract the liberal-anarchoid youth in the “anti-globalization” milieu, who tend to be hostile to the Leninist/Trotskyist tradition. Previously these centrists maintained:

“The LRCI is a revolutionary communist organisation. We base our programme The Trotskyist Manifesto and our day to day policies on the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, on the revolutionary documents of the first four congresses of the Third International and the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International.”

—“Where We Stand,” LRCI webpage

Only a few years ago Workers Power asserted:

“There is only one theory that has applied Marxism in a revolutionary way to the world we live in today. It is known to its enemies as it is to its supporters: Trotskyism.”

—“Trotsky: an introduction,” LRCI webpage

Today Workers Power no longer lays claim to this theory, and has replaced its muddled centrist 1989 Trotskyist Manifesto with a Manifesto for World Revolution in which “Trotskyism” is mentioned only as a place from whence “the largest centrist tendencies today originate.” The new L5I manifesto is essentially agnostic on the history of the revolutionary left and, apart from a few oblique hints, makes no claim to stand on the tradition of either the revolutionary Comintern or Trotsky’s Fourth International. Instead Workers Power has begun pushing the notion of an all-inclusive party, which, they claim:

“successfully built two internationals, the First and the Second, under Marxist leadership. Such an approach, combining the flexibility of the united front in action with the defence of Marxist internationalism and revolutionary principles, and the steady fight for more and more elements of a Marxist programme could allow us to build a new international today.”

Workers Power, January 2003

The suggestion that the social-democratic Second International was a model of “Marxist internationalism” and “revolutionary principle” highlights the crass opportunism of these partisans of a “Fifth International.” The adaptation to the anarcho-liberal prejudices of the anti-globalization milieu has also led Workers Power to discover “revolutionary” potential in the World Social Forum (WSF), a popular-frontist lash-up of Third Worldists, trade-union bureaucrats and NGO hustlers committed to peddling the illusion that “another world is possible” under capitalism:

“Revolutionary Marxists say openly that we want to help it [the WSF] develop into an international movement, able to direct the struggle against capitalism and imperialism—a new world party of socialist revolution.
“Over a century ago the forces of Marxism faced similar challenges within a period of rising struggles when the movement, which came to be known as the Second International, was born. There are many lessons to be learned in the way that this movement was founded in 1889....”

Workers Power, January 2003

Their projected world party is modeled on the Second International of Karl Kautsky, Eduard Bernstein and Henry Hyndman:

“The Second International proved beyond doubt that political struggle, trade union action, electoral campaigning and wide-scale agitation and propaganda can rally mass forces to working class parties everywhere.”

Workers Power, May 2003

Kautsky, the leading theorist of the Second International, argued that Marxists, centrists and reformists all belonged in a single party. He claimed that bourgeois influence in the workers’ movement had its origins outside the class, and would tend to diminish with the assimilation of recently proletarianized peasant and petty-bourgeois layers. He maintained that the growing social weight of the proletariat would translate into increased support for socialism, provided the workers were organized into a single political party. His formula, “one class—one party,” sums up Workers Power’s new strategy.

But the awkward fact remains that the union bureaucrats, social-democrats and Stalinists who dominate the “World Social Forum” and the “European Social Forum” (ESF) are explicitly pro-capitalist. Workers Power proposes to get around this by simply having the reformists pledge to be more revolutionary:

“Parties [in the ESF] must declare that they will not govern in coalition with the capitalists or on their behalf but will struggle to overthrow them.
“In this way, we can unite the ESF (and the WSF too) not only into a democratic forum and co-ordinator of action, but also into a new World Party—a fifth international—to struggle for an end to the rule of global capital and the establishment of the rule of the majority of humanity.”

Workers Power, October 2003

Trotsky and Lenin explicitly rejected Kautsky’s model of an all-inclusive party because they recognized that the reformist labor bureaucracy is a capitalist agency within the workers’ movement. They also rejected Kautsky’s view that socialism can be attained through the unfolding of a semi-automatic historical “process.” The Third (Communist) International under Lenin and Trotsky asserted that the precondition for socialist victory was the organization of the most advanced workers into a disciplined, revolutionary vanguard party, separate from, and politically hostile to, the labor lieutenants of capital. The lesson drawn by Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky and other leaders of the revolutionary Comintern, was that the August 1914 collapse of the Second International into social-patriotism was inevitable, because a workers’ party that embraces reformists and centrists is organically incapable of presenting a serious threat to the rule of the exploiters.

While touting the Second International, Workers Power continues its long history of confusionist doubletalk by occasionally referring positively to the Bolshevik tradition. For example, the October 2003 issue contained an article on the Middle East entitled “Roadmap to Permanent Revolution” which broadly approved of Trotsky’s strategy for the neo-colonial world. The July/August 2003 issue had gone even further and explicitly endorsed Lenin’s faction in the famous 1903 split with the Mensheviks:

“The great revolution of 1917 confirmed that the issues of the split of 1903 had not been accidental. The Mensheviks formed a government with the Liberals against the revolutionary workers: the Bolsheviks led the revolutionary majority of the working class to the seizure of power.
“Thus the birth of Bolshevism one hundred years ago is something all revolutionaries today should celebrate. It initiated the necessary split between reform and a revolution. Everyone today who turns their back on Bolshevism, who proclaims that the divisions of 1903 and 1917 are outmoded or irrelevant, is giving us a fair warning that they will act as Mensheviks in the great revolutions of the 21 st century.”
Workers Power, July/August 2003

The willingness of Workers Power to publish such statements, and at the same time recommend the reformist Second International as a model for revolutionaries today, provides an index of the utter cynicism and unseriousness of the group’s leadership.

Swamp-Building Sui Generis

Workers Power’s leading members no doubt imagine that dropping the label Trotskyist is a clever “tactical” maneuver that will bring them closer to the anti-globalizers. The heirs of Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel have made the same calculation. At its 15 th World Congress in February 2003, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec) also discussed prospects for getting in on the ground floor of a new, politically heterogeneous international thrown up by the anti-globalization movement:

“This new International, or at least a first step on the road to its construction, will emerge from the current movements and mobilizations. It will not resemble any of its predecessors, and certainly not the revolutionary Marxist party-based internationals. It will be the massive ‘spontaneous’ response to the current historically unprecedented global despotic reign of capitalism, and its anchoring will be its internationalism and intuitive anti-capitalism; but also its very great heterogeneity from every viewpoint.”

International Viewpoint, May 2003

The USec Pabloites pledge in advance not to try to “impose” their own views in such a formation:

“Our objective is not to make a short term political- organizational raid on the global justice movement according to the lines of fracture already perceptible in it so as to impose on it a political organization. On the contrary, we must build it, strengthen it as a combat movement sui generis, and realize all its potentialities on different levels....”


Workers Power’s parent, the SWP, is also eagerly awaiting the creation of a heterogeneous, all-inclusive anti- globalization swamp. Alex Callinicos, the SWP’s leading propagandist, has even written an Anti-Capitalist Manifesto for such a formation. Workers Power, whose hypothetical Fifth International is also supposed to be all-inclusive, rejects Callinicos’ offering as “an opportunist manifesto” that attempts to:

“accommodate to the reformist policies and practice of the SWP’s hoped for allies in the movement. It tries to split the difference between the ideas currently in vogue in the movement and the principles of communism.”

Workers Power, July/August 2003

The absurdity of these would-be architects of a reborn Second International invoking “the principles of the communist movement” to chastise a larger rival is comical. But Workers Power often makes abstractly correct political observations and/or accurate criticisms of the revisionist deviations of others, while pursuing grossly opportunist policies of its own.

A recent example is WP’s activity in the SWP’s “Stop the War Coalition” (StWC)—a reformist propaganda bloc that organized demonstrations against British involvement in the U.S. attack on Iraq. The January 2003 issue of Workers Power proclaimed: “revolutionaries are not afraid to say that we positively want Iraq to defeat the attacking US and UK forces, just as we want the Palestinians to defeat their Israeli oppressors.” But this was just a literary posture. Workers Power cadres attended the 11 January 2003 conference of the StWC where the SWP outlined its plans for building a movement “on the widest possible basis” to pressure British imperialism into pursuing a more pacific foreign policy. Just to make it clear what was meant by “broad,” the SWP made sure that a seat on the steering committee of the StWC was explicitly reserved for a representative of the bourgeois Liberal Democrats.

At no point did Workers Power criticize the overtures to the Liberal Democrats, nor the resolutions supporting the United Nations den of imperialist thieves, nor the StWC’s bourgeois-pacifist political program. They used their time instead to put forward anodyne proposals that more should be done to build support for the StWC among young people and trade unionists. The February 2003 issue of Workers Power proudly reported: “Our members have leading positions in the National Stop the War Coalition.” Workers Power’s presence in the StWC represented an accommodation to the SWP’s “reformist politics and practices” and helped provide a left cover for the Cliffites’ class-collaborationist policy.

The StWC’s chief accomplishment was to organize a massive demonstration in London on 15 February 2003, which Workers Power claimed “changed the world.” While unprecedented in size and the degree of international coordination, the politics presented at StWC events were tailored to exclude anything unacceptable to the “progressive” wing of the imperialist ruling class. Clergymen, mullahs, Labour dissidents and Liberal Democrats were all invited to put forward their views, but no one, including the coalition’s ostensibly revolutionary animators, was so gauche as to breathe a word about Marxism from the podium. The desire for “unity” (with the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie), which was rationalized as a means of ensuring the “broadest” mobilizations, only guaranteed that imperialist war preparations could go ahead without serious resistance.

The task of revolutionaries in seeking to oppose a criminal imperialist assault on a neo-colony is to struggle to shift the political axis of “anti-war” sentiment amongst working people and youth by winning them to an understanding of the need to side with the victims of their own ruling class. This requires a sharp political struggle against the rotten class-collaborationist politics represented by the StWC, something the Second Internationalists of the L5I leadership are organically incapable of. Workers Power’s relentlessly upbeat treatment of the StWC’s massive, but confused and bourgeois-pacifist, anti-war mobilization in February 2003 recalled the mechanically “optimistic” objectivism of the Second International. Closing their eyes to the fact that the February protests were hegemonized by social-pacifists and pro-capitalist ideologues, these charlatans proclaimed:

“The movement in the West is already extraordinarily strong. As it moves from million-strong marches through blockading railroads and ports to strike action, it will become with each step more aware of its power to stop not only this war, but the system that creates war—capitalism.”

Workers Power, March 2003

But the overt social-pacifism of the StWC made the anti-war movement extraordinarily weak. By gutting the protests of anything that might offend the bishops, mullahs, Liberal Democrats, union bureaucrats and other eminent persons, the SWP (aided by its left tail, Workers Power) ensured that popular opposition to Blair’s adventure remained within the framework of bourgeois politics. This is why the mass “movement” melted away so quickly after the U.S./UK axis conquered Baghdad.

It took a while for this fact to register with Workers Power, which is why the report on the launch of the L5I in May 2003 was still hailing the 15 February demonstrations as “world historic” (WP, May 2003). But by July 2003, Workers Power had changed its tune, and without any mention of its own role, began complaining that at the 15 February demonstration, “The SWP left the trade union and reformist leaders unchallenged....” and “neither called on the official leaders to act in the interests of the working class nor criticised them for their refusal to commit to action.” This, they sagely intoned, meant, “the SWP in reality lets the reformists off the hook and spares them concrete criticism at the crucial time.” All that remains is to explain why the “revolutionary Marxists” of Workers Power would have joined such a propaganda bloc in the first place.

Converting the Devil Himself

This passive objectivism is evident in the LRCI/L5I’s treatment of other questions. An article on the imperialist-sponsored attempts to overthrow Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in Workers Power (January 2003) correctly suggests that the plebeian masses, “need to be won from Chavez’s brand of neo-populism, from the reliance on him as a ‘people’s president’, to the goal of making a revolution themselves to install workers’ power,” and even ventured that it is necessary to found, “a new party of the poor and working class against the bosses and US imperialism.” Yet the LRCI/L5I, in classically centrist fashion, combines the call for a “new party” with tactical advice for Chavez, who, they complain, has, “taken far too few radical or socialist measures which could have won over the organised working class to his side.” Workers Power offers the following advice to the Venezuelan Bonaparte:

“To defeat his enemies he should, of course, seize the wealth of the ‘investment strikers’, of the US and EU-based banks and corporations and put this wealth at the service of the impoverished millions. He should take the weapons away from the professional officer caste and create a mass workers’ and people’s militia. He should encourage and help build organs of working class and popular resistance—councils or committees of action—as an alternative to the capitalist state machinery.”

This overlooks one detail—Chavez is a bourgeois politician. His job is neither to expropriate capitalists nor to “build organs of working class and popular resistance.” His task is to ensure the continued domination of capital over labor and to strengthen the position of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie in the international capitalist world order. If Chavez is someone Workers Power expects to carry out “radical or socialist measures” why not invite him to help launch their Fifth International? After all, Chiang Kai-Shek joined the Comintern (for a while) and the suggestion that Chavez can be pressured into acting in the interests of the workers closely parallels Stalin’s disastrous adaptation to the Kuomintang in the 1920s. The chief difference is that Stalin’s class-collaborationist policy beheaded the Chinese working class, while the LRCI/L5I’s daydreaming about finding a shortcut to mass influence through Third World “anti-imperialist” bonapartists is purely literary. But politically there is little to distinguish them.

Whatever might be said about Chavez, he has at least come into conflict with Latin America’s imperial overlords. This distinguishes him from Lula who was elected president of Brazil in October 2002 promising to carry out the instructions of the IMF and World Bank and to keep paying off the imperialist loansharks, “instead of reneging on them as he once proposed” (Economist, 2 November 2002). The popular-frontist character of Lula’s campaign was highlighted by his selection of José Alencar, a millionaire textile magnate from the bourgeois Liberal Party, as his vice- presidential running mate.

In September 2003, Workers Power described Lula’s government as a cross-class “popular front” and indignantly denounced the USec’s Miguel Rossetto, who holds the portfolio as Lula’s Minister of Agrarian Reform, for “sowing illusions that Lula governs in the workers and peasants interests.” The L5I quite correctly denounced the USec for “trampl[ing] on these principles of working class independence” and also for alibiing the PT “selling out [the workers’] interests to the bourgeoisie.” Yet when Lula was first elected, and illusions ran high, Workers Power was singing a different tune. At that time, it described Lula’s popular- frontist campaign as a potential “base for radical socialist measures” and argued that his government:

“must be forced to table progressive legislation on the minimum wage, social welfare, land reform and labour rights. The workers must call on the CUT to organise mass strikes and protests to stop the right wing in parliament from voting such measures down.
“Out of such a movement a powerful force for revolution can be assembled, one fighting for the expropriation of the banks and big businesses and the repudiation of the foreign debt—and for the overthrow of the capitalist state machine that is committed to the preservation of both.”

Workers Power, January 2003

In the seminal text of the International Left Opposition, Leon Trotsky ridiculed Stalinist/Menshevik utopian “demands” that petty-bourgeois demagogues, hustlers and bureaucrats (like Chavez, Lula and the WSF honchos) act as revolutionaries:

“As was said long ago, purely practical agreements, such as do not bind us in the least and do not oblige us to anything politically, can be concluded with the devil himself, if that is advantageous at a given moment. But it would be absurd in such a case to demand that the devil should generally become converted to Christianity, and that he use his horns not against workers and peasants but exclusively for pious deeds. In presenting such conditions we act in reality as the devil’s advocates, and beg him to let us become his godfathers.”

The Third International After Lenin

The policy of “demanding” that pro-capitalist elements initiate anti-capitalist struggles also characterizes Workers Power’s domestic politics. The September 2003 issue of Workers Power proposes that Britain’s trade-union tops create a new workers’ leadership: “We must call on the union leaders and Labour left to break with Blair and rally anti-capitalist and anti-war forces to a new workers’ party.” This is incongruously combined with a proposal to “fight for a rank and file movement” inside the unions. The “rank and file” strategy, carried over from the Cliffites, is based on the workerist presumption that the “class in itself,” with all its Labourite/trade-unionist (i.e., bourgeois) consciousness, only needs to be organized separately from its current leadership to automatically become a “class for itself.”

“Rank and file” trade-union reformism takes workers down a political dead-end. The core proposition of Leninism is that it is necessary to forge a new leadership in the working class that is both organizationally and politically independent of the “labor lieutenants of capital.” This requires the intervention of revolutionaries to combat the prevailing reformist ideology represented by the Labourite bureaucracy. Instead of undertaking a political struggle to expose and discredit the bureaucrats, who constitute the central agency of the capitalists within the workers’ movement, Workers Power calls on them to build an “anti-capitalist” workers’ party!

Kautskyism for the Twenty-First Century

The key lesson drawn by the Bolsheviks from the social- imperialist betrayal of the Second International in August 1914 was that the “unity” of revolutionaries and reformists in a single organization can only lead to disaster. The Third International was launched on the basis of organizing revolutionaries independently of the capitalists and their lackeys in the workers’ movement. Workers Power, after almost 30 years spent wandering about in a centrist no-man’s-land between Cliffite reformism and genuine Trotskyism, has apparently drawn the opposite conclusion.

The most obvious question posed by Workers Power’s latest maneuver is why bother to maintain an independent organizational existence if what is necessary is the creation of an amorphous all-embracing movement. The SWP is many times larger than the L5I and, apart from a bit of rhetorical leftist posturing (which International Socialism Journal also features from time to time) there is really nothing much that politically distinguishes Workers Power from the Cliffites, who have also signaled a willingness to dissolve into a larger, all-inclusive “socialist” party. The SWP at least has a few thousand members to throw into such a venture—but why should anyone expect a few dozen Workers Power members to play a catalytic role in reviving Kautsky’s all-inclusive “party of the whole class”?

While Lenin and Trotsky advocated speaking the truth to the masses, “no matter how bitter,” Workers Power has been primarily concerned with avoiding “isolation,” and typically waits until the masses are already losing their illusions before putting forward anything resembling a hard position. As we observed several years ago:

“The LRCI were burdened since birth with a glaring contradiction. On the one hand, their empirical observations were often trenchant and realistic, and appeared to support a Trotskyist political understanding; on the other hand, [Workers Power] were unwilling to draw the proper political and theoretical conclusions from these observations for fear of offending left-liberal and social-democratic opinion. To pursue their thinking to its logical conclusions might isolate them on the left, and gain them a reputation for being ‘sectarians’—which to the centrist mind is a fate worse then death.”

1917 No. 17, 1996

In its new Manifesto for World Revolution, Workers Power congratulates itself for being “bold enough to write a guide to action to an entire international movement” while apologizing that it may still contain “jargon that is off-putting to many” in the anti-globalization milieu. Having abandoned their Leninist-Trotskyist pretensions in an attempt to find a shortcut to mass influence via the gimmick of a “Fifth International,” this peculiar centrist grouping is on a path to outright liquidation. With their renunciation of the Fourth International in favor of the Second, these confusionists have taken a major step toward bringing their nominal politics into alignment with their practice.

from 1917 no. 26, 2004

Posted: 18 April 2004