Valerio Arcary – A note on the fragmentation of the international Trotskyist movement

By Valerio Arcary

November 20, 2019

1. Divisions are not uncommon on the revolutionary left. Small organizations are always vulnerable to strong pressures towards breakdown. But a tsunami of unusual proportions has hit the Trotskyist world movement this decade. Six of the leading revolutionary organizations claiming the tradition of the Fourth International have split, qualitatively increasing the dispersion of those who share a revolutionary Marxist program. The British Socialist Workers Party split, the Brazilian Unified Socialist Workers Party (PSTU) split, the French Independent Workers Party (POI) split, the International Socialist Organization in the U.S. dissolved, the Committee for a Workers International, led by the Socialist Party, which came from the Militant stream, broke into three fractions; and the Argentine Workers Party (PO) split.

2. These six parties were some of the most important Trotskyist organizations in the world. All of them had grown beyond their origins as propaganda circles. They had organized for decades, accumulated programmatic lessons, and had trained thousands of active and selfless militants. They had built up a national presence, a certain influence with young people, a recognition in popular struggles, some implantation amongst workers and trade unions, experience in the movements against oppression, the capacity to launch to political campaigns, the know-how to publish newspapers, magazines and books, and significant international links. The destructive dynamics and devastating crises affecting each of these groups raises an interpretive challenge that must go beyond the national peculiarities of each crack up. 

3. Clearly, international conditions are highly adverse for those who advocate global socialist revolution. When prospects are dim, discouragement tends to increase bitterness, anguish favors despair, and demoralization piles up grudges. Each of these organizations had suffered ideologically because – since the victory in Vietnam in 1975 – there has not been a single anti-capitalist, revolutionary triumph. However, all of them had survived (some in better shape than others) the devastating impact of capitalist restoration in the late 1980s some thirty years ago. The national political situation, and the reality of the left in each of these countries, was very different. At a general level historically, the Trotskyist movement has faced extreme pressure over the decades from Stalinism and social democracy, depending on the country. Yet, suddenly, the international context has changed. The decay of both social democracy and Stalinism (or Castroism, Chavism, and PTism – as we call the influence of the Workers Party in Brazil) points to a situation in which the pressure of the great reformist apparatuses, while they should not to be disregarded, does not appear to be the key factor in the current crisis of the revolutionary left. Furthermore, the working class and the left have not suffered recent historical defeats. Exogenous (external) factors surely matter, but endogenous (internal) factors cannot be downplayed in the cases outlined above because they appear to prevail.

4. When a problem is very complex, it is prudent to study contradictions and conflicts as they express themselves at different levels of abstraction, and then to tentatively construct an analysis without immediately attempting a finished synthesis. Political conflicts are not always crystal clear. But we must try to identify, given competing pressures, when a progressive or regressive dynamic predominates. There are, among others, at least five major possible hypotheses that cannot be excluded when analysing the crises confronting the revolutionary left.

5. The first factor relates to a clash between sectarian deformations – generated by a long period of social marginality – and the emerging possibilities of an expanding political audience. This clash must account for opportunistic pressures generated by the danger of adapting to the limits of democratic-electoral regimes. The second factor relates to a clash between bureaucratic-monolithic deformations arising in internal party (or political organization) regimes and apparatuses in tension with the need to build organizations that can learn to operate within the democratic pluralities developing in the new left, even as horizontalist party-movement pressures grow powerfully. The third factor relates to a clash between patriarchal-machista-homophobic deformations or attitudes resulting from reactionary social pressures or old habits and the need for healthy relations between party members. This is true even if common identitarian pressures amongst feminist, Black and LGBT movements are potentially disruptive. The fourth factor relates to a clash between an aging generation of these organizations’ founders, people who dedicated their lives to the work but who became predominantly accustomed to propaganda tasks. And we must include here, the inordinate role played by big personalities within each group’s leadership and the tensions created by the unavoidable need to renew leadership as a precondition for collective work. There is not place in our movement for political bosses, even if the impatience of young cadres struggling for their space may produce factional excesses. And, finally, the fifth factor relates to a clash between theoretical dogmatism and programmatic conservatism in the face of immense transformations occurring in the world after capitalist restoration in 1989-1991 as opposed to the urgent tasks facing a regeneration of Marxism, a Marxism that can only be revolutionary if it is open and dedicated to creating a twenty-first century program. All this while we recognize that eclectic-nationalist pressures might prove disastrous.

6. It is possible that all five of these conflicts were present – to one degree or another and in different combinations – in the political splits referred to above. What is to be done? The answer is more difficult than ever. But it is necessary to change. The danger is that, depending on the dose, the medicine may be more dangerous than the disease. However, it is necessary to change.

Valerio Arcary is a leading member of Resistência, a revolutionary socialist current inside the Party for Socialism and Freedom (PSOL).

Originally published by Esquerda Online, translated and published by No Borders News with permission.

Categories: Brazil

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