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Fraccion Trotskista: failing to break with centrism

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Four years of discussions between the LRCI and the Latin American based Fraccion Trotskista have failed to produce revolutionary unity. Keith Harvey sums up the lessons and explains the principled basis for international left regroupment

In London in autumn 1995 the LRCI began discussions with representatives of the Partido de los Trabajadores por el Socialismo (PTS) of Argentina.

These discussions, plus a reading of the PTS’ latest publications alerted the LRCI to considerable areas of common ground in the two organisations assessment of the world in the wake of the collapse of Stalinism.

For this reason the LRCI sent a representative to Buenos Aires in December for further discussions involving other members of the international tendency of which the PTS is a part (now called the Fraccion Trotskista - FT). This led to the signing of a joint declaration at the conclusion of the visit.

In this agreement we recognised that “there has been a convergence of programme and perspective during the last years between the two organisations".1

Many areas of agreement were noted, as were significant differences. In a situation where, in the 1990s, the main international currents calling themselves Trotskyist had drawn right-centrist conclusions from the collapse of Stalinism and the apparent omnipotence of US imperialism, we recognised that we had a heavy responsibility to devote resources to overcoming the differences.

Both agreed that a successful outcome would have a powerful effect on forces on the international left fighting this rightward drift within the official labour movements and the centrist groups of a Trotskyist origin.

Unfortunately, four years on, we have to conclude that the desired outcome did not happen. Was it a question of what Trotsky called the “conservatism” of small groups, content with the status quo, or was there a real opportunity for revolutionary unity? The LRCI believes there was such an opportunity -and that the leadership of the FT/PTS squandered it.

There was a tension at the heart of the 1995 declaration. It noted:

"There seems to be a difference on the degree of centralism and democracy that there would have to be in an international regroupment in the actual conditions of the stage of development of our tendencies".2

In reality this phrase inadequately expressed the PTS-FT’s the view that democratic centralism is not possible or desirable for a an international tendency consisting of propaganda groups. The LRCI, on the other hand, believes that, once a common programmatic basis exists, an organisational expression of it, through an international party, is essential.

Regular international conferences and the construction of an international leadership are obligatory for all genuine international revolutionary organisations. Only by this means is it possible to put a programme to the test, in a disciplined manner, in the class struggle. For this reason the LRCI pressed the FT from the outset to concentrate on the areas of programmatic disagreement, to see if we could overcome these.

In contrast to this the PTS preferred to approach the question of fusion by the method of constructing partial political “blocs” around “common declarations” on important international political events.

The LRCI saw this as useful up to a point, but mainly as a way of testing the extent of existing agreement on principles and on the progress made in resolving programmatic differences. But we did not see it either as the desired way to conduct a regroupment discussion, or as a prior stage before discussions on programme could begin.

To concentrate on declarations on conjunctural events in the class struggle -however important -ran the danger of agreeing on what could be agreed upon and leaving aside what was contentious to either side. It could in short lead to them representing a “lowest common denominator” .This could even mean that such declarations were scarcely distinct from many other international tendencies outside the framework of the agreed regroupment process.

Over the subsequent three years a number of declarations were hammered out in this way -each principled in itself. But they did not draw the support of other leftward moving groups as the FT had hoped; nor did they play a major role in getting to the heart of the known or anticipated differences over strategy and tactics that the declaration of 1995 outlined. In short they did not act as the basis of a fusion discussions -an objective clearly stated in the 1995 declaration, on the LRCI’s initiative.

The 1995 agreement did envisage two stages of such a fusion process -though these were not common declarations first and then programmatic discussions. Rather, the first stage was to involve an intensive study and exchange of material; later in 1996 the two organisations would decide whether the political basis existed for a Liaison Committee whose task would be to decide “whether the basis exists to move to the fusion of both currents into a common international tendency".3

In the event, in 1996 and on into 1997 the fusion process stalled at the first stage. Major political letters from the LRCI went unanswered; long silences were punctuated only by the occasional urgent request from the FT for another draft declaration.

Relations between the LRCI and the FT fell into crisis during mid-to late 1997 -during and immediately after the LRCI’s Fourth Congress (July 1997), which three members of the FT attended. At the Fourth Congress, the LRCI attempted to move the discussions forward by proposing a Liaison Committee comprised of the FT and the LRCI. This would effectively act as a programme commission to intensify discussions on key areas and try urgently to resolve differences. If successful, it would draft a new common programmatic manifesto and suggest steps towards fusion between the two tendencies.

The FT by contrast revealed at the Congress an alternative method. They proposed an Open Liaison Committee, aimed attracting and possibly regrouping, a supposed “left wing” of the Trotskyist movement. The LRCI stated clearly that we believed this represented a downgrading of the original project in favour of a more nebulous attempt to rally those who wish to “refound the Fourth International” -forces the FT felt sure would emerge as the crisis of centrism deepened.

For the FT the stress was to remain on common declarations and open public initiatives aimed at leftward moving tendencies trapped within right centrist internationals -for example in the USFI and the UCI. By contrast we emphasised working for principled left splits from the rightward moving centrist currents and fusions with them to build a programmatically united democratic centralist international tendency. A clear programmatic manifesto and demonstration in practice of coherent action in the class struggle would we believe attract the best elements to our banner.

The FT proposed an Open Liaison Committee around a platform that neither codified what the LRCI and FT stood for in common up to that point, nor addressed itself to all the key issues and positions that marked revolutionaries off from centrism in the 1990s. In our view it was abstract, designed to appeal to broader forces. Yet at the same time it introduced sectarian and ultra-left positions regarding tactics towards reformism in Europe that would doom the far left to phrasemongering and guarantee their continued marginalisation within the labour movement.

In the aftermath of the 1997 LRCI Congress both sides agreed to differ; though neither side suggested breaking off discussions they effectively stopped.

But in early 1998 the FT showed its ability to respond positively to frank and honest criticism. The appearance of their own programmatic manifesto in early 1998 was an important break with the method of the “common declaration” and offered an opportunity to escape from the impasse in our relations.

That Manifesto (January 1998) represented a political advance in the FT’s break with degenerate Trotskyism, particularly the Morenoite LIT, from which the PTS split in 1988. Indeed, the very fact that they recognised the need for such a programmatic document was itself a major development on the international left. Its merit was as a codification of the programmatic lessons drawn by the FT in the years of its existence and reflections upon the decades long crisis of centrism, together with a brief action programme and set of perspectives.

What were these merits which set it above the rest of the “Trotskyist” movement?

• the recognition of the break in revolutionary continuity after the war and the collapse of all fragments of the FI into centrism ("Yalta Trotskyism");

• the need for an action programme based on a re-elaborated Transitional Programme that values agreement over broad principles less than of detailed exposition of strategy and tactics towards the key events of the international class struggle;

• a common appreciation of the contemporary capitalist crisis -a view of the post-1989 years as opening a new revolutionary period;

• the urgency of an international initiative to bring to about a principled fusion of revolutionary forces;

• agreement on the use of central tactics inside the workers’ movement (united front, demands on and denunciation of reformist workers’ parties in government;

• appreciation of the right of nations to self-determination and especially a principled position in the Balkan Wars up to 1999;

• the deployment of a combined programme of political and social revolution in the remaining workers’ states in decomposition (moribund workers’ states).

In the opinion of the LRCI these positions brought us closer to the FT than any other tendency that we are aware of on the international left.

Unfortunately, it soon became clear that this advance promised more than the FT was prepared to deliver.

To our knowledge, only the LRCI responded seriously and in detail to the stated aim of the document, namely, to find “a way of exploring possible convergence with other tendencies or individuals that make a claim to principled Trotskyism.” But our responses were once again shelved and ignored. In fact they were taken by the FT leadership as a statement of differences that ended any hope of success in the fusion process.

At discussions in Buenos Aires in December 1998 the FT admitted as much. The FT concluded that disagreement “on the method to reconstruct the FI, or found a Leninist-Trotskyist International” meant that, even if we were able to remove the tactical differences over reformism and centrism, they would still not be willing to set up a joint programme commission or even a Liaison Committee with the LRCI.

In effect the search for the programmatic basis for fusion agreed to in December 1995 -of finding a principled political basis to overcome our organisational separateness -had failed. During the first half of 1999 we tried once more to resurrect the process, by seeking to convince the FT comrades that their outlook on international party-building represented an unsurmounted element of centrism in their politics. Our arguments fell on deaf ears.

Four years on from the joint declaration the LRCI has come to the conclusion that its aims have not been realised. Without a major change the attitude of the PTS-FT to building a Trotskyist international tendency, they will not be realised.

Thus we have to recognise that there is no “process of revolutionary regroupment” operative between our tendencies. The method of the FT’s leadership has proved an insuperable obstacle to that process.

How to fight reformism?

The history of the discussion between the FT and the LRCI over social democratic governments in the European Union -and more generally how to break workers from their illusions in reformist parties -illustrates some of the most positive aspects of the discussion process. In the 1995 statement the first disagreement with the PTS materialised on the subject of social democratic governments.

At first they counterposed denouncing these governments to the tactic of placing demands on them. This was because -at that time -the FT seriously underestimated the effect of on working class consciousness of the defeats of the 1980s and 1990s. The LRCI took account of these effects: that was the reality which we summed up as a counter-revolutionary phase whose deepest period was late 1991 to late 1995. A partial recovery began in France and Italy in 1995-6 and we consider this period to have definitively ended in 1998. We claim no great credit for observing this since we obviously have deeper roots in Europe than the FT. We felt very sharply the fall in workers’ hopes and aspirations as a result of the collapse of Stalinism.

In the course of the argument the FT came to a more realistic assessment, as could be seen in the 1998 Manifesto. It recognised that workers will overcome their leaders only as a result of a clash between their own hopes and expectations in what they still see as “their” parties and “their” trade unions (even if these hopes are very modest) and the reality of their betrayal.

A resolution adopted by the PTS Conference in December 1998 noted:

"Only a blinded sectarian can refuse to see that the putting by the European proletariat of its reformist leaderships into power opens the possibility of eventual confrontations between the workers’ movement and its leadership, indispensable for a truly revolutionary process of political radicalisation to arise."

This is a clear recognition that it is insufficient to simply denounce these governments, that it is permissible and indeed necessary to utilise the tactics of “exposure demands” on them. Savage revolutionary denunciation on its own is all the more inadequate where, as the PTS acknowledged, the recomposition of the workers’ resistance in Europe has been on a reformist basis. Hence the social democratic governments’ deviation from class principles, let alone revolutionary principles, will not, in itself shock workers. In Lenin’s words, when the workers’ consciousness is not revolutionary our duty is to patiently explain -over and over again if necessary. We cannot force the workers to break with the reformists by strong language. All we will do in such circumstances is to convince them that we are irresponsible hotheads with little or no experience of the reality of the defeats and problems workers have recently experienced.

In such conditions it is necessary to utilise the tactics of demands on them. The fact is that the workers of Europe, primarily by their votes it is true, have put “their” parties into government. At the same time there is a recovery of trade union activity -beginning slowly at least even in Britain. We have to recognise in this a limited recovery from the defeats of the late 1980s and early 1990s and at the same time the product of the absence of a militant revolutionary alternative capable of challenging the still very right-wing social democratic and trade union leaders.

Such pedagogic adaptation is not at all a retreat on fundamentals -we must still clearly condemn every betrayal and every imperialist action of these governments.

In a passage in Estrategia Internacional No. 10, the earlier difference between the FT and LRCI is largely overcome in the following passage:

"These governments support themselves, in the carrying out of their political perfidy, on the illusions which, despite the revival of broad layers of the workers’ movement, preserves certain organic links with them, despite the rightist turn of recent years and the conversion of them into mere electoral machines. The implacable policy of denouncing daily these governments, hostile to the mobilisation of the masses, should be complemented with a policy of demands faced with their demagogy or reformist concessions which these governments may be forced to make, with the objective of mobilising and so that the masses complete their experience of them."4

In these conditions we believe that it is far better for the reformists to be in power than in opposition. We agree with the FT that to tell the workers the full truth about the nature of these governments is a strategic question to which all tactics must be subordinated. But denunciation without tactics -in particular without united front tactics -would be only passive propagandism and sectarianism, not revolutionary agitation. Revolutionary agitation always seeks to grasp the positive class elements in the contradictory consciousness of the masses, turning them against the bourgeois elements in this same consciousness. The essence of Trotsky’s method is to be able to utilise the reformist workers’ hopes and aspirations to bring about action which will expose the capitalist agents in the workers’ movement.

For the capitalist class in Europe, the bourgeois workers’ parties and trade union bureaucracies have become central -both as a means to contain working class action as well as to ensure the implementation of the single currency. As long as the expansionary phase of the cycle persists, the room for manoeuvre of these governments will generally still be sufficient to allow both the mass of workers and the majority of the bourgeoisie to think that they are serving their interests.

Certainly, so far they have been able to integrate the trade union bureaucracy, contain the left-right conflicts within the reformist parties and even to allow for the integration of some left reformist parties into government -even if they are not formally part of coalitions (e.g. Rifondazione Comunista in Italy, the German PDS, the Left Party in Sweden).

However, internal conflicts continue in the unions and in workplace organisations between the base and the bureaucracy. Those sections of workers directly betrayed by these governments (e.g. by privatisations, on citizenship rights) will be more sharply disillusioned and may turn to more leftist solutions ("Trotskyist” candidates, Rifondazione Comunista). But we are convinced that when the full force of recession hits Europe the conflicts, both within the unions and between them and reformist parties, will erupt, opening up excellent opportunities for revolutionary intervention.

It will also increase the leverage of the left-reformist (and ex-Stalinist) parties and the larger centrist groups too. Indeed in such conditions we expect these to grow substantially -which they have not yet done. Their growth to date has been restricted by the focus of workers’ attention on the reformist governments. Revolutionaries have to be firm and clear about their own programme whilst intervening vigorously in the clashes between the rank and file and the union bureaucracy in the trade unions, in the mass reformist parties, in the left reformist parties and the larger centrist organisations.

The FT is an international tendency rooted in Latin America, above all Argentina, where there has been no history of significant reformist workers’ parties in which the working class has illusions. There have been no social democratic governments. It was understandable therefore that the PTS should gravitate towards a one-sided position of denunciations alone as a tactic towards reformism. Nevertheless, the discussion proved too that the PTS was capable of changing its mind.

The crisis of Stalinism and the restoration of capitalism

In 1995 the FT agreed to “reject the position that the process of restoration has finished and that capitalist states have been constructed” in the ex-USSR and eastern Europe. But it soon became clear that the FT position was untheorised and dogmatic. The LRCI’s view, by contrast, was provisional: framed within a considerable body of theoretical analysis and under constant review.

There was significant agreement on the origin of the crisis of Stalinism in the 1980s, as well as on the programme for the political revolutionary crises in 1989-90. The two tendencies also agreed on the way the anti-Stalinist revolutions were derailed, and in their critique of centrism, which moved right in the face of these events.5

Nevertheless, the FT tended to exaggerate the homogeneity of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the 1980s in becoming the direct agent of restoration. In reality the bureaucracies were riven with factions, some closer to the IMF, some closer to the nationally-minded intelligentsia, some committed to bureaucratic planning. Cutting across all of these factions were ideas about the limits of political reform.

The FT Manifesto of 1998 suggested that Gorbachev represented the open and committed restorationists, which he certainly did not -he represented the last attempt at “market socialist” reforms, short of capitalism, while objectively preparing the way for it. Ligachev headed the Stalinist bureaucratic planners and Yeltsin the open pro-imperialist restorationists. Elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe decades of market socialism had reduced the hard-line Stalinist central planners to an insignificant political force by 1989.

However, the main differences revolved around the question: how far has capitalist restoration gone since 1989 and what methodology should we use to study the process?

The LRCI and FT from the start rejected a purely political set of criteria for judging this process. Our opponents asserted that the process of political revolution and counter-revolution between 1989-91 was sufficient to restore capitalism to the countries of eastern Europe and Russia. For the LRCI the form of the state machine in the Stalinist ruled states was always bourgeois -ever since they became degenerate or degenerated workers’ states -even though the property and production relations were not bourgeois but proletarian. Hence the process of regime change (government, personnel etc.) in the years after 1989 produced no qualitative rupture in the form of the state machine. The open restorationists (both from within and outside the old Stalinist bureaucracy) “took hold of the state machine” and began the process of restoring capitalism consciously.

The LRCI. therefore felt it was critical to analysis the changes in the nature of finance and production inside these states. We recognised that the destruction of the instruments of central co-ordinated planning and the monopoly of foreign trade, while an important precondition for the advance of capitalism in these countries, was not self-sufficient.

The transformation of use values into exchange values, of labour into labour-power, of means of production into capital, of money as a means of accounting and exchange into the embodiment of surplus value -all required a social counter-revolution. This could only be carried through by means of classes and parties struggling against each other. The content of the measures required in each country have been the same, although the timing, sequence and even form of some of these measures (e.g. privatisation of state assets) have differed.

The essential objectives of the restorationists has been to transform the labour process itself. This is far more important than changes in legal title to ownership of assets, although in some countries this was more important than others in allowing for new relationships of exploitation to be imposed upon production. We have examined in detail in different countries how industrial and banking capital have imposed the logic of profit- making upon their own operations, which has included mass unemployment, closures, wage cuts on the one hand, and on the other forcible bankruptcies and mergers within the capitalist class. The negative proof of this process can be seen all too clearly in Russia today where the radical restructuring of labour and the shakeout of failed capital has not taken place; instead in its place we have witnessed the seemingly endless extended reproduction of losses and the demonetisation of whole sectors of the economy and of the country.

But we have also seen where the restorationists have succeeded, as in Hungary.6 Here we have the clearest and most pure form of the integration of a former moribund workers’ state into global capitalism, via the direct absorption of much of its manufacturing and banking by imperialist finance capital.

In all of the 1990s the FT has chosen to ignore a concrete analysis of Central Europe and its progress towards capitalism, focusing on Russia and China alone, where the difficulties of the transition are evident. This is hardly credible as a method of approach, leading the FT to be silent on the very real differences between the contemporary political economy of East Europe and the former USSR.

Capitalist central Europe’s production, trade and investment is directed in the first instance to the European Union and its fate is bound up with the further development of the crisis there. It will be a crisis of over-investment, of lower profits and productivity. It will be in short a capitalist crisis; it will not be a crisis of non-payment of wages, of mounting unpaid debts between loss-making enterprises, of a failure to construct a state machine that can organise taxation.

The merit of the LRCI’s approach has been to understand what unifies the different moribund workers’ states in this process as well as what distinguishes them from each other. The relationship of imperialism to the different post-1989 regimes, the backwardness or otherwise of the economy of the moribund workers’ state in question at the start of the process of restoration, the balance of class forces within each country -all have to be studied concretely (as we have done in many cases).

In the FT’s 1998 Manifesto all the states in question are treated as though their internal dynamic could seriously be analysed as if they were essentially similar to Russia. The FT suggest that the main obstacles in the path of capitalism in central Europe was or is (i) the weakened nature of the state as a result of the battles of 1989-91; (ii) the failure of the bureaucratic faction to rise above plunder of state assets and act as guarantor of business interests; and (iii) the old relations of production living on in the consciousness of the masses. Even if this is partially correct account of Russian capitalists difficulties is totally false for Central Europe.

The FT contented itself with the abstract view (to be found in its Manifesto) that capitalist restoration is “impossible without decisive defeats of the mass movement". To insist upon anything else suggested to the FT that it is possible to pass from a “superior system” to an inferior one peacefully, hence winding the film of reformism backwards.

We answered these charges several times. First, just what constitutes a “decisive defeat” is left conveniently vague and open. The FT’s analysis of the 1997 Albanian uprising suggested that they thought the restorationists would have to defeat an armed resistance in each country. There was a tendency to generalise falsely from the Albanian case rather than see in those events what was specific and limited. The utter impoverishment and bandit form of capitalism which was unsuccessfully being implanted into Albania, on top of the wretched social conditions of the people as inherited from Stalinism, led to this explosion. Such drastic social conditions were absent elsewhere in central Europe. 7

Secondly, we explained that we have not seen, nor can we expect, generalised civil wars in the process of restoration. The explanation lies in the defeats inflicted upon the working class in those countries during Stalinist domination, which eroded the subjective attachment of the workers to their own property relations and their organisational ability to collectively resist the plans of the bureaucracy.

Further, to rest content with the statement that post-capitalism is superior to capitalism and hence cannot give way peacefully to it leaves out of account the fact that this “superior” system went into free fall economically in the 1980s, first relatively and then absolutely in comparison with imperialist capitalism. We have to distinguish between the historic pre-requisites of the transition to socialism (planned property, monopoly of foreign trade etc.), which are advances, and the worsening living conditions of the masses as a result of the ineptitude and corruption of the bureaucracy.

The most extensive exposition of the FT’s methodology appeared in 1998 for the first time.8 It seemed in essence an attempt to give more substance to the idea that capitalism is a socially inferior system, which in an era of crisis has no inner strength to restore itself where it has been abolished. There is no empirical evidence for this assertion, still less any concrete study of imperialism’s actual relations with any of the central or eastern European countries involved in the restoration process.

The FT leans back upon the barest of abstractions and quotes torn from Trotsky to “prove” that it is “vulgar” to try to analyse the moribund workers’ states within their own national terrain since “every Marxist knows” that one has to start from an understanding of the world economy. Since world capitalism has been in crisis since the early 1970s, and it is getting worse, then it is unlikely to be able to restore capitalism where once it had been uprooted, so the reasoning goes. This is little more than a syllogism.

It is indeed valuable to start with the nature of the world economy. World imperialist pressure and capitalist penetration of the eastern bloc was one major cause of the downfall of Stalinism. We also recognised in 1991 that the transition process would be protracted due to the fact that imperialism was in recession: it was destroying factories in Europe, Japan and the USA with far higher productivity levels than could be found in the former Stalinist states, despite the lower operating costs in the latter.

But we also recognised that capitalism could see an opportunity once the recovery was underway after 1992. The capitalists were able to relocate production more cheaply in central Europe with a highly skilled workforce. The MNCs also needed to get access to a substantial market for white goods, autos and food in the bigger central European markets. This was more easily done by taking over native companies and launching new start-ups to get around protective barriers to trade.

The real reason the FT refuses even now to recognise the completion of capitalist restoration -even in the handful of central European states where it is obvious -is fear. The comrades fear that to recognise restoration would mean abandoning the idea that the 1990s are essentially a revolutionary period. In contrast, the LRCI believes that the weak, semi-colonial and often crisis-ridden nature of the newly restored capitalism in the region guarantees further social explosions in Central and Eastern Europe.

The test of war in Balkans

Ever since the break-up of former Yugoslavia after 1989 the FT and LRCI have found themselves in agreement many times. We agreed on the nature of the Stalinist crisis that led to the rise of Serbian nationalism; we agreed on the programme to be adopted in the face of the Bosnian war (1991-95); we shared the same view of the role played by imperialism in its diplomatic and military intervention into the region. Yet the differences with the PTS over Kosovar in the course of 1999 were symptomatic.

The PTS criticised the LRCI for its position of demanding arms for the KLA in the war against Serbian occupation in April/May 1999. They objected to this demand claiming, correctly, that the KLA is pro-imperialist.

They maintained that the LRCI came “dangerously close” to the NATO “war camp” because we supported the demand of arms for the KLA. They implied that our support for the arming of the KLA was enough to render worthless our fight to stop the bombing of Serbia.

The PTS held an untenable position: On the one hand, it supported the demand for self-determination for Kosova and, on the other, opposed the arming of the only organised mass Kosovar force then fighting to achieve it. This rendered their support for self-determination abstract in the extreme. Using the same polemical method one could argue this brought the PTS “dangerously close” to the Serbian regime.

The issue is not whether either the LRCI or PTS were “dangerously close” to those to whom we were opposed. In fact, the PTS was principled in its opposition to Milosevic just as they acknowledged that the LRCI in Europe fought the pro-war position of Blair, Shröder and Jospin.

Tactics by their nature bring revolutionaries alongside those who you seek to defeat ultimately. The united front by its very nature does this in all spheres of political life.

Our criticism of the PTS position is that it leaves their tactics in war abstract and therefore sectarian. They argued that “The PTS defends the right of the Kosovar people to arms themselves in order to struggle for independence, yet we say that this not the same as ‘arms to the KLA’."

This sophistry brought them no nearer to reality on the ground. The Kosova working class was dispersed -by and large -from its places of employment. The vast majority of the population inside and outside Kosova backed the KLA; many thousands joined it. If a working class community remained intact in Kosova that was not part of the KLA and had it been possible to get arms to it, it would almost certainly still have been nationalist and sympathetic to, or supportive of, imperialism.

What would the PTS then have proposed? To only give arms to those Kosovars that agreed with the programme of permanent revolution? Presumably not, for it would have been a long wait. Perhaps only to those that agreed not to take arms from the west? Then from whom should they have got arms? Or perhaps they would have agreed to arm only those that in principle renounced the bombing of Serbia? In which case it would have be more honest if the LVO and PTS had made this much clear to its readers.

Unfortunately, the LRCI was not aware of such organised forces inside the Kosovar population and this meant that we were obliged to recognise that if revolutionaries will the end (self-determination against armed Serbian resistance) then we must will the means (arms) for those carrying out the fight.

No one has yet proven to us that support for the fight against Serbs inside Kosova (at least before Nato troops were inside Kosova) was incompatible with opposition to KLA support for the bombing.

When the war ended NATO sought to disarm the KLA. Did the PTS argue against this? Did they demand that the KLA keep their arms and refuse to allow the west to become the sole legitimate armed force inside Kosova?

The LRCI argued that the demand for self-organisation in the refugee camps and elected committees in the towns and villages was best combined with demands for the KLA to keep its arms and put them under the control of the returning Kosovars.

Do we think that the KLA is “independent"? It is far more “independent” of Trotskyism than it is of imperialism. Politically, it is a vacillating and ultimately treacherous force that will lead the Kosovars to ruin.

But throughout the war the KLA has been in collaboration and conflict with imperialism for the simple fact that NATO refused to arm it, restricted its field of military operations as far as possible and resolutely opposed the KLA goal of state independence for Kosova.

If the war had have escalated and NATO had have sent in a ground invasion force then the contradiction between the KLA and imperialism would have been obliterated. However, this did not come to pass. Trotskyists should have done two things in the aftermath of Nato’s entry.

First, it should have resisted tooth and nail the killings and expulsion of Serbs from Kosova, while demanding justice against those proven complicit in crimes of ethnic cleansing or burning or looting of Kosovar Albanian property.

The PTS by contrast only had one operative tactic for bringing about a split within the Kosovar liberation movement; namely, opposition to NATO bombing of Serbia, combined with abstract propaganda for arming the working class.

The fight for an Trotskyist international tendency

The tactics towards reformism and the analysis of restoration of capitalism were just two of the issues under discussion over the past four years. The former saw a narrowing of the political differences, illustrating the principled nature of the whole discussion process. The latter highlighted the tendency for the FT to lean back on dogma and doctrine when theoretical innovation was needed.

But progress on these and other areas of difference and agreement were stalled -indeed derailed eventually -by the inability of the FT to break with centrism in one key area: the analysis of centrist groups originating from Trotskyism and the kind of tactics and slogans needed to combat their influence.

It was the difference over this that eventually drove the fusion process into the sand. In a 1997 letter to the LRCI, in reference to various amendments to a draft Open Liaison Committee (OLC) platform proposed by the FT to the LRCI’s 1997 Congress the FT bluntly insisted:

"there was no point in discussing the amendments that the LRCI presented to our draft since we did not have agreement over the objective for which it had been proposed, whether or not we agreed with the content of them."

What did this reveal? What was the aim of the OLC as far as the FT were concerned? Despite agreement on programme the FT believe that the slogan of the “reconstruction of the Fourth International” was so overwhelmingly important that the FT felt little progress could be made with the LRCI towards a common tendency. Why?

The FT acknowledged in the 1995 joint statement that essential revolutionary continuity within Trotskyism was broken “during the years 1951-53". But in fact it became clear in subsequent exchanges that the FT did not understand or accept that this break was rooted in a collapse into a centrism with its own distinct methodology and set of positions in the period 1948-51.

The Fourth International’s failure to come to grips with the emergence of the degenerate workers’ states after 1945 cut across the partial self-criticism of wrong positions adopted by some sections during the war that was underway between 1944-48.9

The FI took a principled position of opposition to the actions of the Soviet Armed Forces into eastern Europe, but were confused by the dynamics of the process. Under Mandel’s leadership the FI refused to consider the possibility of a social overturn by purely bureaucratic means. In 1948 the leadership flipped over into the opposite stance and made unforgivable opportunist accommodation towards Tito in 1948/4.

The FI was on certain ground when it was a matter of denouncing the reactionary actions of the Soviet Armed Forces in 1944-5 in derailing the revolutionary struggles. But they were disarmed ideologically when the Communist Parties later overthrew the national bourgeoisie and believed that had thereby ceased to be Stalinist and must have become a variety of centrism.

So by 1948-9 what had been isolated centrist deviations on the war became a fully blown centrist methodology which asserted that Stalinism had been transformed into a form of centrism. This was only fully summed up and codified in an international programme with the 1951 Congress, but by then three years of consistent centrist policies and purges made it certain that the Third Congress documents would be adopted virtually unanimously.

The FT’s 1998 Manifesto says contradictory things on the question of continuity. On the one hand, the FT correctly states that by the time of the 1953 split revolutionary continuity had been broken.

The International Committee offered no revolutionary alternative to the Mandel-Pablo ISFI; indeed the IC’s leaders had fashioned many “Pabloite” policies themselves.

All they offered was phrasemongering about the need for a revolutionary party which served to hide a criminal opportunism towards petit-bourgeois nationalism and social democracy. It is no surprise to us, or the FT, that centrism of Trotskyist origin failed the test of the crises of 1968-76.

Nevertheless, the FT accused the LRCI of pedantry for suggesting that “in the adaptations of 1953 one can find already present those mistakes of later years.” Connected to this, the FT rejected the LRCI’s concept of “petrified centrism” to describe the positions of the FI after 1951.

Instead, the FT says that “the possibility existed that a combination of the influence of the thousands of radicalised workers and the youth who joined their ranks together with the force of the prevailing programme could have led to important steps in the revolutionary regeneration of the vanguard."

This is a sort of processism and objectivism and hits directly against the observation made earlier that revolutionary continuity was broken.

If we take ourselves seriously in insisting on the rupture of continuity, then for the possibility of regeneration to have existed in the 1960s one thing above all else was needed: a revolutionary pole of attraction, a party, or at least a significant fighting propaganda group that could have been a point of reference to such radicalised workers.

But tragically none existed. Only a variety of critical left centrist forces emerged in the cauldron of these events of the late 1960s and early 1970s -including the faction inside the International Socialists that was to give rise to Workers Power.

Worryingly, the FT’s formulation suggests that the pressure of the radicalised workers alone would have seen the scales drop from the eyes of the established centrist leaders of the USFI and other tendencies as they reached out for the Transitional Programme, forcing them to abandon the centrist programme with which they have operated for the previous two decades. These centrist leaders on the contrary blocked, intimated and expelled any critical voices.

Our use of the term “petrified centrism” which draws the FT’s fire, to describe the centrism of Trotskyist origin in the post-war period, is intended to draw a parallel with Trotsky’s use of a similar term to label the Independent Labour Party in the 1930s, a member of the London Bureau. He meant by this term to indicate a form of centrism that avoids for a certain time the harsh fate that awaits all centrism -to choose decisively between reform and revolution. Essentially this is because these centrist formations are marginalised sufficiently from the workers’ vanguard not to have to choose either option under the hammer blows of the class struggle.

The FT’s rejection of this term is linked to its refusal to identify a coherent centrist method within the FI post-1951-53. Once the FI’s centrism was defined as uniquely remediable by the experience of the masses and their pressure on the International, the way is open to classifying it as a special kind of centrism.

This flawed analysis of the FI’s complete programmatic collapse has led the FT to adopt an objectivist and one-sided view of the possibility of regeneration and to the superiority of this form of centrism over others; hence the fetishisation of the slogan of reconstruction of the Fourth International and the privileged position it is given in the process of revolutionary regroupment.

For relations with the LRCI it became an absolute hurdle. Conversely, for those that could agree on this slogan like the POR of Argentina, it was a passport for prioritised discussions. This led swiftly to the adoption of a political agreement signed between the FT and the POR which represented a real step back in the FT’s approach to revolutionary regroupment.10

The document is so general and abstract as to be of little use; the level of agreement would not withstand the first serious test of the class struggle. It could have been signed by any one of dozens of groups internationally. But the FT’s willingness to put agreement on the Fourth International slogan above all else bore bitter fruits when a clash over tactics inside Argentina saw the process derailed amid acrimony.

In the analysis of the post-war FI, the FT’s nerve fails at the last moment. The FT correctly note it collapsed into centrism, that revolutionary continuity was broken and that its organisational fragmentation has lasted until this day. In short, it has ceased to exist.

The FT rejected the idea, along with the LRCI, of putting back the broken pieces of the FI or bringing the “world family of Trotskyism” back under the same roof because of a some supposed common affinity to principles of the Transitional Programme.

The FI failed the test of history in the 1940s and collapsed. To assert despite this and over and against this that the Transitional Programme “remains valid” and that it was simply the Trotskyists that failed, not Trotskyism, is not good enough. The centrist errors were committed in the name of the Transitional Programme just as they were carried out under the banner of the Fourth International. Just as a new programme is needed so to a new International is needed.

Of course, the many “Fourth Internationals” have not embraced counter-revolution: they remain centrist. But this does not justify the perspective of reforming them. Trotsky broke with the Third International when it was centrist; centrist parties and Internationals can become useless for making a revolution -irreformable. It is exactly the nature of centrist forces that they do not actively implement a counter-revolution: their political vacillation often facilitates it however.

The German USPD, the Chinese or the British CPs in the 1920s, the ILP or the POUM in the 1930s etc. did not themselves implement the bourgeois counter-revolution -indeed many of them were among its first victims. What they did was to obstruct the decisive independent action of the vanguard, stopping it from breaking in time with reformism.

Revolutionaries are obliged to break politically not only with parties which openly side with the counter-revolution but also with all forces which do not consciously and with the correct program fight for the proletarian revolution. That is why Lenin and Trotsky called for a decisive break from centrist forces.

A wrong perspective

In the resolution adopted at the December FT/PTS 1998 conference “On the balance and orientation of the international policy of the PTS and the FT(AEI)” there is a self-criticism:

". . . we think that we made an error in seeking to transform the major theoretico-political strength and the strategic policy of the ‘Liaison Committee’ into a policy for immediate action, thus separating the objective and subjective conditions for its correct application. The central feature of the conjuncture which prevents this policy being of immediately applicable is the non-existence of “left wings” in the Trotskyist movement."

This passage refers to the FT’s hopes of influencing what the they refer to as unstable national-Trotskyist currents (the POR-A, with whom the FT formed an exploratory committee) or “transitory phenomena” (the Voix des Travailleurs split from Lutte Ouvriere in France).

The FT says that it “overestimated the possibility of influencing [them] into taking a progressive course". To us this is only an empirical recognition of a concrete failure rather than a serious self-criticism of an erroneous perspective. Worse, it threatens to turn the Liaison Committee into a general principle -in fact into an obstacle to concrete and real steps to building a real international democratic centralist tendency. The negative sides of this can be seen in the criticism of what the FT takes to be the LRCI’S position.

"Strengthening ones’ own tendency, gaining groups or individuals (or fusing with them) around an accord, with its theoretical and historic bases, and a general programme."

Such a method, the FT say, was that of the LIT under Moreno and “today the comrades of the LRCI have a similar method. For us this is a self-proclamatory method and one which is powerless to make strategic steps forward on the road to the reconstruction of the FI."

The FT says there is a contradiction in our view that continuity was broken in the late 1940s or early 1950s and claiming it can be restored by currents moving to the left from centrism. How should such forces recognise one another unless they have been able to “effectively incarnate the revolutionary programme in the class struggle. Not only is it self-proclamatory but it runs the danger, of transforming itself, through its impotence, into the search for short-cuts, whereby the revolutionary programme will be degraded".

Against these two false methods the FT puts forward the Liaison Committee, built on the basis of programmatic and strategic lessons and the sharp facts of the class struggle, claiming this is “the same method as Trotsky followed after the definitive break with the Third International in 1933".

Nevertheless, the FT affirms at the same time that this policy of Liaison Committees, nationally and internationally, is not counterposed to fusions with other tendencies on an international or national level.

So why then do the FT rule out even a serious organised discussion to see whether the basis exists for a fusion into a common tendency with us? Who else other than the LRCI responded positively to the FT’s draft Manifesto of February last year?

No one. Yet the FT have refused to even acknowledge, let alone reply, to what we suspect is the only fraternal, positive and detailed critique of the FT’s major international document of the last years. This leads us to question the FT leaders’ seriousness as real internationalists: to be a real proletarian internationalist you have to do more than denounce imperialism and solidarise with the actions of the world’s oppressed -you need actively to build an international Trotskyist tendency.

We think the FT are very confused on this question. This confusion is in part a product of Morenoism and the FT’s break from it. We have nothing in common with the Moreno-Lambert notions of fusion that dominated the 1978-80 period. We reject absolutely the idea of a statement of “orthodox” Trotskyist principles, that is, a programme which has drawn no revolutionary lessons from events since 1940 and confines itself to platitudes.

It was no surprise to us at the time that the Moreno-Lambert “Fourth International” scarcely lasted 12 months or that it was unable to stand up to the election of Mitterrand in France. Indeed, we publicly predicted it at the time.

But that is exactly why we want to re-elaborate our programme on the questions and major tactical methods which Trotsky only outlined, such as electoral tactics (which were little discussed and debated in the 1930s, because other issues stood in the foreground). The last thing we suggest is an abstract programme of ancient truths.

Hitherto, this issue has been mixed up with the entirely separate issue of what strategy is needed to reconstruct the revolutionary international. We know well that to found a new (or refound the Fourth) International we need serious forces drawn from centrism and from the major countries on all the continents. We are not likely to proclaim this task accomplished when it has not been. We are talking today not of founding an International but of building an international tendency. We are building an international revolutionary tendency that can be an instrument for this indispensable and urgent task.

We recognise that this tendency will itself need go through a series of fusions (and splits too) which will enrich and transform our programme as well as strengthening our active intervention in the class struggle in as many countries as possible. The same transformation will take place in our organisational structure and the personnel of our leading bodies. We are not a capitalist business trying to increase its market share or take over its rivals.

We seek to fuse with other revolutionary forces, to transform and be transformed by them. The deeper such forces have already sunk roots in the working class, the more seasoned in class battles is their leadership, the more such a new organisation will represent a qualitative as well as a quantitative transformation of the Trotskyist forces on the planet.

Why is it any more “self-proclamatory” to form such a tendency, on the best programmatic basis possible, than it is to form a national organisation?

There is nothing wrong with “proclaiming” what the LRCI are -revolutionaries -and what we have achieved -the foundation of a small international tendency. Who else will “proclaim” this to the workers’ vanguard if we don’t do it ourselves? What do the FT counterpose to this -a modest silence? Waiting for the masses to spontaneously hail the FT or the LRCI? Or do they stand by Trotsky’s method?

It seems to us wrong to elevate the Bloc of Four as Trotsky’s “method of building an international organisation".11 It was a short-lived bloc between an international revolutionary organisation (the ICL) and three supposedly leftwards-moving centrist organisations whose avowed aim was to draft a common programme and achieve fusion. The International Left Opposition, the International Communist League and the Movement for the Fourth International -Trotsky’s actual international organisations -achieved the maximum programmatic homogeneity and sought the best democratic centralist structure that human and material circumstances permitted.

"The opposition is now taking shape on the basis of principled ideological demarcation and not on the basis of mass actions. This corresponds to the character of our era, similar processes occurred within the Russian Social Democracy and during the years of the counter-revolution and within the international Social Democracy during the war years ideological groupings in a period of stagnation or ebb tide disclose great tendency toward differentiation, splits, and internal struggles. We cannot leap out of the period in which we live. A clear, precise ideological differentiation is unconditionally necessary. it prepares future successes."12

Trotsky explicitly rejected the idea that small size, or the obstacle this constitutes to “effectively incarnate the revolutionary programme in the class struggle". Lack of deep roots in the working class is no alibi for inaction in building an international organisation:

"If the Communist Left throughout the world consisted of only five individuals, they would have nevertheless have been obliged to build an international organisation simultaneously with the building of one or more international organisations."

"It is wrong to view a national organisation as the foundation and the International as the roof. The interrelation here is of an entirely different type. Marx and Engels started the communist movement in 1847 with an international document and with the creation of an international organisation. The same thing was repeated in the creation of the First International. The very same path was followed by the Zimmerwald Left in preparation for the Third International. Today this road is dictated far more imperiously than in the days of Marx. It is of course possible in the epoch of imperialism for a revolutionary proletarian tendency to arise in one or another country, but it cannot thrive and develop in one isolated country; on the very next day after its formation it must seek or create international ties, an international platform, an international organisation, because a guarantee of the correctness of the national policy can be found only along this road. A tendency which remains shut-in nationally over a stretch of years condemns itself irrevocably to degeneration."12

The above quotations were aimed at the Bordigists but Trotsky experienced similar hesitation from within the French Left Opposition:

"The main reason for this loss of months, almost a year, in the formation of the international organisations, is in my opinion, the lack of understanding that can be observed among a number of comrades about the reciprocal relations between national and international organisations of the proletariat. Among certain elements of the opposition the struggle against bureaucratic centralism has revived a non-Marxist conception of the reciprocal relationship between the national sections and the international organisation, according to which the national sections are the foundation and walls and the international organisation is the roof to be added at the end. Among some of the Belgian and French comrades there was a strong opposition to “premature” international organisation."13

And again:

"Some wise men who understand nothing of the character of our epoch, and learned nothing from the victories and defeats of the proletariat, try to reason as follows: first we will build a national party and then, on a solid and safe foundation, we shall erect the International. This argument sounds very serious, circumspect, solid, but in reality it demonstrates philistine short-sightedness. Can they, in this case, refuse the establishment of international connections, elaboration of programmatic and strategic questions, exchange of political experience and, finally, mutual practical support, already at the first steps of their work"14

We cite these passages not out of dogmatism but because we have never heard a good argument against them. The FT has occasionally quipped that “neither you nor we are Trotsky” -that is, we are not seasoned leaders of workers in mass struggles. But this false argument would hold well on a national terrain too. Indeed its falsity is shown if one does just that.

If anyone suggested to the PTS that it should not offer itself as a leader in the class struggles of the Argentine proletariat because it had not yet got deep enough roots in the working class or because its leaders had insufficient experience they would reject such ideas with indignation.

The refusal to lead signifies an ossified centrist organisation, content to vegetate on the fringes of the bureaucratically-led mass labour movement, making savage criticism of the leaders perhaps, but so fearful of “self-proclamation” that it never offers workers a revolutionary alternative.

The PTS rightly rejects this attitude on the national scale. But its fatally flawed understanding of post-1953 Trotskyism prevents it from applying the correct method on an international scale.

From the moment that a leftward-moving centrist throws off centrism they have an imperative duty to seek and fuse with co-thinkers on an international level. On what basis ? On the basis of a revolutionary programme. Their mutual support and co-operation must aim towards that of single organisation whether that is a faction or a party.

We think that the FT should reconsider this position on building the International very seriously. The spirit of internationalism cannot live without an earthly body, no matter how weak the latter is.

National and international rooting in the class struggle should, as Trotsky says, be pursued simultaneously and equally seriously. An organisation as numerically strong as the PTS, with a strong basis of theoretical analysis over the last eight years, with clear positions on many of the major events of the class struggle, should be much more pro-active in the formation of an international tendency. The FT are not idle, we are aware of that.

The FT started its work with fraternal co-thinkers in Mexico and Chile. The FT have sent comrades to Brazil and have contacts in Bolivia; the FT have an emissary in London and two more in France. On this road there are setbacks we no only too well. The FT lost a major part of its Chilean group and is having to rebuild it. Results in Brazil and Mexico we understand have been slow. Yet the objective situation in Latin America in the last five years has been more favourable than before.

We know the value of inherited fraternal groups from a faction fight (the Irish Workers Group played that part in the case of Workers Power); we know the value of sending comrades from one section to another country (the LRCI’s French section was founded by them).

But in Latin America, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden our modest successes have been due to the equal priority we have accorded to searching out and intersecting with critically-minded groups and devoting time and resources to a dialogue aimed at overcoming our separateness.

We think the PTS/FT could have and should have achieved as much if not more than the LRCI along these lines in the last ten years. Together we believe that we could achieve far more.

In previous discussions the FT rejected democratic centralism at an international level while claiming to have adopted it at a national level.

We replied that such distinction is arbitrary and dangerous; the idea that the adoption of it nationally flows from greater “national rootedness” when we are talking of hundreds of militants in the case of Argentina and substantially less elsewhere makes no sense.

It seems to us a recipe for potential relapse into the “mother section” syndrome, with one largish section “earning” its right to be dominant due to its size, its roots etc.


The PTS has many fine qualities. Its members are youthful, energetic, determined to find a road to the working class. We know from personal experience the revolutionary mettle of the cadres of the PTS in Argentina, and the FT in Mexico. They have small but effective cells of working class militants in several industries. They run impressive electoral campaigns at a national level. They have in the past years produced considerable amount of propaganda and theory. They orient outwards towards world events and to the international left which they appraise with appropriate revolutionary sharpness.

Of course, we are now only too aware of grave weakenesses in the politics and method of the FT. We consider the PTS to have a tendency towards theoretical dogmatism when what is required is theoretical re-elaboration and innovation; that they have tended to abstract and sectarian tactics in the European labour movement; that they pivot their support for petit-bourgeois nationalists simply and one-sidedly around whether they are in a clash with imperialism, rather than deriving it from the concrete content of that clash (e.g. Haiti 1994, Republika Srpska 1995, Kosova 1999).

Some of this may have obstructed a fusion or they may have been overcome by further discussion and debate. We were prepared to invest the time and effort into finding out since we consider the PTS and the FT to be still the only international current with whom we have a wide spectrum of programmatic and methodological agreement. But the PTS/FT seem unwilling to prioritise a serious search for agreement or the uncovering of the roots of our differences.

The PTS leaders have not broken with a left-centrist view of building an international tendency, its relationship with national parties and necessity of democratic centralism eve at the earliest stage.

To a false view of the role of programme in building the International must be added a tendency to cling to Trotsky’s perspectival prognoses rather than to boldly use his method to analyse those predictions which were falsified as he did himself. Lastly the comrades by showing a fear of “self-proclamation” run the danger of failing to break with Moreno’s Argentine exceptionalism.

Therefore we say to the PTS members what we have proposed many times to the PTS leadership: either join with us in drafting a common programmatic manifesto or indicate to us what are the principled obstacles to this. We set out above the differences which still exist or which have emerged since the agreement of 1995.

After having reconsidered this balance sheet we appeal to the militants of the PTS-FT to take once more the road of revolutionary regroupment and to clear out of the way those who obstruct revolutionary unity.

1 Workers Power, January 1996
2 ibid.
3 See Dave Stockton, “The PTS and Argentine Trotskyism", Trotskyist International 21, January 1997, for an evaluation of the differences that existed.
4 Estrategia Internacional 10,
5 Even so differences existed over the weight of certain factors pushing towards restoration in the 1980s, see “The PTS and Argentine Trotskyism", ibid.
6 For a recent worked example of the LRCI’s analysis of a completed restoration process, see Keith Harvey, “Hungary; the end of goulash communism", Trotskyist International 23
7 Furthermore even the Albanian 1997 example does not prove the case of the FT methodology. Even here the rulers did not have to crush the armed resistance of the workers but could “peacefully” pacify them -by the election of a social democratic government and the welcoming of an imperialist peace keeping force. This again demonstrates the dominance of the democratic form of counter-revolution in the ex-Stalinist states.)
8 See Estrategia Internacional 7
9 See The Death Agony of the Fourth International and the Tasks of Trotskyists Today, Workers Power/IWG, 1983
10. Published in La Verdad Obrera #39
11 See Dave Stockton, “The Fight for the Fourth International", Trotskyist International 20
12 L Trotsky,"To the editorial board of Prometeo", 21 June 1930, Writings of Leon Trotsky, [1930], New York.
13 L Trotsky, “Circular letter No 1” 21 June 1930, ibid.
14 L Trotsky, “A Real Achievement", Writings Leon Trotsky [1933--34], New York p22