Fifty Years of the Fourth International: What future for World Trotskyism?

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With the historic founding the Fourth International (FI) in 1938, Leon Trotsky and his co-thinkers rescued socialism from oblivion. The Third International had been mutilated by Stalin. The world proletariat reeled from horrific defeats in Germany and Spain. Only Trotskyism kept communism alive and continued to do so throughout World War Two, McCarthyism, the tumult of the ‘60s, and the conservatism that is only disintegrating in the wake of the Iran Contragate affair, the stock market crash, working class upheavals in Poland, Nicaragua, Glasnost, and the unrelenting pressure of revolts and revolutions around the world.

US and Australian SWP Adapt to Stalinism. But political cancers ravage the Fourth International today. The Australian Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has abandoned Trotskyism completely. It has re-written history to say that Trotsky should never have founded the Fourth International fifty years ago and is now trying to organisationally fuse with the Stalinist Socialist Party of Australia. The US SWP is only a step behind the former Australian section of the FI, which abandoned Permanent Revolution. The FI majority, in order to keep the largest group of US Trotskyists formerly within its fold, refuse to confront the SWP. This subordination of political principle to organisational expediency is an anathema to Trotskyist tradition. It’s a self-defeating tactic.

The SWP’s postwar love affair with conservatised, white male-dominated trade unions long ago sapped its labour militancy and helped congeal the racism and sexism of old guard unions. This neo-economism shattered the faith of the SWP in the revolutionary potential of workers of advanced countries, leaving the party to exist primarily as an uncritical cheering squad for revolutions abroad, namely those led by Castro and the Sandinistas. But Cuba and Nicaragua seek their security in prolonged and polite bargaining with imperialism — just as the Kremlin does. SWP policy mirrors Stalinism, so it’s no surprise that the party has jettisoned Permanent Revolution.

FI Tail-ending. The FI majority’s refusal to settle accounts with the US SWP is objectively an acquiescence to Stalinism. The FI version of Permanent Revolution denies the primary and ultimate importance of revolution in the West, above all in the US, and this repudiation of Trotsky is no less drastic than US SWP revisionism.

What lies behind it? The same myopic and racist, sexist fixation on the labour aristocracy. What is the FI’s “turn to heavy industry” but a courtship of these aristocrats and a rejection of a vanguard stream of workers — women, people of colour and migrants. Prohibiting women’s caucuses inside the International only reflects this sexism.

The FI’s skewed view of revolution in the West is matched by its misshapen Central American policy. It proclaims Nicaragua to be a workers’ state — despite the Sandinistas’ intent to maintain a predominantly capitalist economy — and hails FSLN efforts to accommodate the US. This SWP-style policy is peaceful coexistence, not revolutionary internationalism.

Reverse Course: Back to the Basics! The FI majority, like Trotsky, must battle against Stalinism for its own life. It must debate the SWP on the great questions: the primacy of revolution in advanced countries; the need for socialist revolution in the Third world; intervention as Trotskyists in the unfolding revolution in workers’ states. The FI must invite participation by the entire Trotskyist movement, not just affiliates. Only free-wheeling debate can rejuvenate our movement and regroup the forces demanded to meet the challenges of the ‘90s. The time is ripe. Global turmoil signals that Stalinist hegemony is cracking like an iceflow under the summer sun of Permanent Revolution. World Trotskyism is summoned by history to illuminate, inspire, and lead.

Let us start, all together now, to hammer out in a climate of Bolshevik democracy the programmatic and practical agreements that will liberate us to jointly fulfil our mandate.