The call issued by President Chavez to
set up a new revolutionary
international, the Fifth International, has provoked a passionate
discussion in the ranks of the workers’ movement in Latin America and on
a world scale. It is impossible for Marxists to remain indifferent to
this question. What attitude should we take towards it?
The first question that needs to be answered is: do we need an
International? Marxism is internationalist, or it is nothing. Already at
the dawn of our movement, in the pages of the Communist Manifesto, Marx
and Engels wrote: “The workers have no country.”
The internationalism of Marx and Engels was not a caprice, or the
result of sentimental considerations. It flowed from the fact that
capitalism develops as a world system—out of the different national
economies and markets there arises one single, indivisible and
interdependent whole—the world market.
Today this prediction of the founders of Marxism has been brilliantly
demonstrated, in almost laboratory fashion. The crushing domination of
the world market is the most decisive fact of our epoch. Not a single
country, no matter how big and powerful—not the USA, not China, not
Russia—can stand apart from the mighty pull of the world market. This
was, in fact, part of the reason for the collapse of the USSR.
The First and Second Internationals
an international organisation. However, the formation of the
International Workingman’s Association (the First International) in 1864
represented a qualitative step forward. The historical task of the
First International was to establish the main principles, programme,
strategy and tactics of revolutionary Marxism on a world scale. However,
at its inception, the IWA was not a Marxist International, but an
extremely heterogeneous organisation, composed of British reformist
trade unionists, French Proudhonists, Italian followers of Mazzini,
anarchists, and the like. By combining firmness on principles with great
tactical flexibility, gradually Marx and Engels won over the majority.
The IWA succeeded in laying the theoretical foundations for a genuine
revolutionary International. But it never was a real mass workers’
International. It was really an anticipation of the future. The
Socialist International (Second International), launched in 1889, began
where the First International had left off. Unlike the latter, the
Second International began as a mass International which gathered and
organised millions of workers. It had mass parties and trade unions in
Germany, France, Britain, Belgium, etc. Moreover, it stood, at least in
words, on the basis of revolutionary Marxism. The future of world
socialism appeared to be guaranteed.
However, the misfortune of the Second International was to be formed
during a long period of capitalist upswing. This set its stamp on the
mentality of the leading layer of the Social Democratic parties and
trade unions. The period of 1871-1914 was the classical period of Social
Democracy. On the basis of a long period of economic growth, it was
possible for capitalism to give concessions to the working class, or,
more correctly, to its upper layer.
The formation of a numerous caste of trade union officials, Party
bureaucrats and parliamentary careerists led to a process of
degeneration, in which the bureaucracy increasingly divorced itself from
the masses and the party rank-and-file. Gradually, almost
imperceptibly, the revolutionary aims were lost sight of. The leaders
became absorbed in the daily routine of parliamentary or trade union
activity. Eventually, theories were found to justify this abandonment of
This was the material basis for the national-reformist degeneration
of the Second (Socialist) International, which was cruelly exposed in
1914, when the leaders of the International voted for the war credits
and supported “their” bourgeoisie in the imperialist slaughter of the
First World War.
The Third International
(Communist) International stood on a qualitatively higher level than
either of its two predecessors. Like the IWA, at the high-point of its
development, the Third International stood for a clear revolutionary,
internationalist programme. Like the Second International, it had a mass
base of millions. Once again, it appeared that the fate of the world
revolution was in good hands.
Under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, the Communist
International maintained a correct line. However, the isolation of the
Russian Revolution under conditions of frightful material and cultural
backwardness caused the bureaucratic degeneration of the Revolution. The
bureaucratic faction led by Stalin gained the upper hand, especially
after Lenin’s death in 1924.
Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition attempted to defend the spotless
traditions of October against Stalinist reaction—the Leninist
traditions of workers’ democracy and proletarian internationalism. But
they were fighting against the tide. The Russian workers were exhausted
by years of war, revolution and Civil War. On the other hand, the
bureaucracy felt increasingly confident, pushed the workers to one side
and took over the Party.
With Lenin’s final illness and death, under Stalin and Bukharin, the
bureaucracy steered a right-wing course, conciliating the kulaks and
other capitalist elements within Russia, and striving for a bloc with
the so-called progressive bourgeois elements in the colonial countries
(Chiang Kai Shek in China) and the Labour bureaucracy in the West (the
Anglo-Soviet Committee). This opportunist policy led to the bloody
defeat of the Chinese revolution and the missing of an opportunity in
Britain in 1926 and, more importantly, in Germany in 1923.
With every defeat of the international revolution, the Soviet workers
were more disappointed and demoralised, and the bureaucracy and the
Stalinist faction in the Party acquired new strength and confidence.
After the defeat of Trotsky’s Left Opposition (1927), Stalin having
burnt his fingers with the pro-Kulak policy broke with Bukharin and
swung to an ultra-left position of forced collectivisation inside Russia
and simultaneously foisted upon the International (the Comintern) the
insane policy of the “Third Period”.
Trotsky and his followers, the Bolshevik-Leninists were expelled from
the Communist Party and the International. Then they were slandered,
persecuted, imprisoned and murdered. Stalin drew a line of blood between
the bureaucracy that usurped and betrayed the October revolution and
the Trotskyists who fought to defend the real ideas of
The International Left Opposition
The tremendous potential of the Third International was destroyed by
the rise of Stalinism in Russia. The Stalinist degeneration of the
Soviet Union played havoc with the still immature leaderships of the
Communist Parties abroad. Whereas Lenin and Trotsky looked to the
international workers’ revolution as the only safeguard for the future
of the Russian revolution and the Soviet state, Stalin and his
supporters were indifferent to the world revolution. The “theory” of
socialism in one country expressed the national limitedness of the
outlook of the bureaucracy, which looked on the Communist International
merely as an instrument of the foreign policy of Moscow.
The worst result was in Germany. Trotsky called for a united front of
Communist and Social Democratic workers to fight the Nazi menace. But
the warnings of Trotsky to the members of the Communist Parties fell on
deaf ears. The German working class was split down the middle. The
insane policy of “social fascism” split and paralysed the powerful
German labour movement, and allowed Hitler to come to power in 1933.
The defeat of the German working class in 1933, arising from the
refusal of the Communist Party to offer a united front to the Social
Democratic workers, was a turning-point. Trotsky drew the conclusion
that an international which was incapable of reacting in the face of
such a defeat, was dead and a new revolutionary international needed to
be forged. History proved him right. In 1943, having been cynically used
by Stalin as an instrument of Moscow’s foreign policy, the Communist
International was ignominiously buried, without even calling a congress.
The political and organisational heritage of Lenin was dealt a heavy
blow for a whole historical period.
The Fourth International
the most difficult conditions in exile, slandered by the Stalinists and
persecuted by the GPU, Trotsky attempted to re-group the small forces
that remained loyal to the traditions of Bolshevism and the October
revolution. Unfortunately, in addition to the smallness of their forces,
many of the adherents of the Opposition were confused and disoriented,
and many mistakes were made, particularly of a sectarian character. This
reflected in part the isolation of the Trotskyists from the mass
movement. This sectarianism is present today in most of the groups that
claim to represent Trotskyism, but have failed to grasp the most
elementary ideas that Trotsky defended.
Trotsky launched the Fourth International in 1938 on the basis of a
definite perspective. However, this perspective was falsified by
history. The murder of Trotsky by one of Stalin’s assassins in 1940
struck a mortal blow against the movement. The other leaders of the
Fourth International proved to be completely unequal to the tasks posed
by history. They repeated the words of Trotsky without understanding
Trotsky’s method. As a result, they made serious errors which led to the
shipwreck of the Fourth. The leadership of the Fourth International was
totally incapable of understanding the new situation that arose after
1945. The break-up and splintering of the Trotskyist movement is rooted
in that period.
It is not possible here to go into more detail about the mistakes of
the then leadership of the Fourth International, but it is sufficient to
say that Mandel, Cannon and co., lost their bearings after the war and
this led to a complete abandonment of genuine Marxism. The so-called
Fourth International degenerated after the death of Trotsky into an
organically petit-bourgeois sect. It has nothing in common with the
ideas of its founder or with the genuine tendency of
Bolshevism-Leninism. The sectarian attitude of the pseudo-Trotskyist
sects towards the Bolivarian Revolution is a particularly crass example
The Second and Third Internationals degenerated into reformist
organisations, but at least they had the masses. Trotsky, in exile, did
not have a mass organization, but he had a correct programme and policy
and a clean banner. He was respected by workers all over the world and
his ideas were listened to. Today the so-called Fourth International
does not exist as an organisation. Those who speak in its name (and
there are a few of them) have neither the masses, nor the correct ideas,
nor even a clean banner. All talk of resurrecting the IV International
on this basis is absolutely excluded.
The movement has been thrown back
Lenin was always honest. His slogan was: always say what is.
Sometimes the truth is unpalatable, but we need to state the truth
always. The truth is that, for a combination of circumstances,
objective and subjective, the revolutionary movement has been thrown
back, and the forces of genuine Marxism reduced to a small minority.
That is the truth, and whoever denies it is merely deceiving himself
and deceiving others.
Decades of economic growth in the advanced capitalist countries have
given rise to an unprecedented degeneration of the mass organizations of
the working class. It has isolated the revolutionary current, which
everywhere has been reduced to a small minority. The collapse of the
Soviet Union has served to sow confusion and disorientation in the
movement, and set the final seal on the degeneration of the former
Stalinist leaders, many of whom have passed over to the camp of
Many have drawn pessimistic conclusions from this. To those people we
say: it is not the first time we have faced difficulties, and we are
not in the least frightened by such difficulties. We retain unshakable
confidence in the correctness of Marxism, in the revolutionary potential
of the working class and in the final victory of socialism. The present
crisis exposes the reactionary role of capitalism, and places on the
order of the day the revival of international socialism. There are the
beginnings of a regroupment of forces internationally. What is required
is to give that regroupment an organized expression and a clear
programme, perspective and policy.
The task we are confronted with is roughly analogous to that which
confronted Marx and Engels at the time of the founding of the First
International. As we explained above, that organization was not
homogeneous but composed of many different tendencies. However, Marx and
Engels were not deterred by this. They joined the general movement for a
working class International and worked patiently to provide it with a
scientific ideology and programme.
What sets the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) apart from all the
other tendencies that claim to be Trotskyists is, on the one hand, our
painstaking attitude to theory, on the other, our approach towards the
mass organisations. As opposed to all the other groups we take as our
starting point the fact that when the workers move into action, they
will not go towards some small grouping on the fringes of the Labour
movement. In the founding document of our movement Marx and Engels
“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a
“The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other
“They have no interests separate and apart from those of the
proletariat as a whole.
“They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which
to shape and mould the proletarian movement.
“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class
parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians
of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the
common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all
nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle
of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they
always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a
“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the
most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every
country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other
hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat
the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the
conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian
movement.” (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto,
Proletarians and Communists)
What conclusion do we draw from this? Only this: that genuine
Marxists must not separate themselves from the mass organisations. The
dilemma of the epoch is that the Social democratic leadership of the
workers’ movement has capitulated to bourgeois policies stifling the
aspirations of the workers, but still retains mass support in many
countries. It is very easy to declare the official leadership
degenerate. However, the task is to build up an alternative.
The International will not be built by merely proclaiming it. It will
only be built on the basis of events, as the Communist International
was built on the basis of the experience of the masses in the stormy
period of 1914-1920. Events, events, events are what are necessary to
educate the masses in the necessity of a revolutionary transformation of
society. But in addition to events, we need to create an organization
with clear ideas and solid roots in the masses on a world scale.
How to defend the Venezuelan revolution
Caracas speech, Hugo Chavez pointed out that all previous Internationals
were originally based in Europe, reflecting the class battles in Europe
at that time, but that today the epicentre of world revolution was in
Latin America, and especially in Venezuela. It is an undeniable fact
that, at least for the present, the revolution in Latin America has gone
further than anywhere else in the world. The IMT explained this
perspective ten years ago, and it has been amply confirmed by events.
In stating this undeniable fact, Chavez by no means denied the
existence of a revolutionary potential in the rest of the world,
including Europe and North America. On the contrary, he has made
repeated appeals to the workers and youth of these countries to join the
movement for socialist revolution. He has appealed directly to the
workers, the poor and the Afro-Americans of the USA to support the
Venezuelan Revolution. This has nothing in common with the reactionary
demagogy of “Third Worldism” that tries to counterpose “Latin America”
with the “gringos”. It is the voice of true Internationalism, which long
ago launched the inspiring slogan: “workers of all countries unite!”
Imperialism is hell-bent on putting an end to the revolutionary
process that is taking place in Latin America. Venezuela is the
undisputed vanguard of this process and the internationalist policies of
Chávez and his continued calls for world revolution is a beacon of
light to all anti-imperialist fighters throughout the world. The
Venezuelan revolution represents a mortal danger for the ruling classes
throughout the Americas. This explains why U.S. Imperialism has taken
new steps to control the situation: the installation of seven military
bases in Colombia, the coup d’etat in Honduras and last but not least
the agreement for setting up new military bases in Panama, which will
effectively surround Venezuela with a U.S. Military presence.
For the Venezuelan Revolution, internationalism is not a secondary
consideration but a life and death question. In the last analysis, the
only way to paralyze the hand of US imperialism is to build a powerful
mass movement on a world scale in defence of the Revolution. It is
important to build this movement in Latin America, but it is a thousand
times more important to build it north of the Rio Grande. That is why
the IMT has launched and consistently supported the international
campaign Hands Off Venezuela. The HOV campaign has a proud record in
mobilizing the public opinion of the world in support of the Venezuelan
Revolution. We have to our credit the passing of a unanimous resolution
of the British trade unions in defence of the Venezuelan Revolution, the
mass meeting of 5,000 young people and trade unionists in Vienna to
hear President Chavez speak, among others.
From small beginnings we are now present in more than 40 countries.
This is a great achievement but it is only the beginning. What is needed
is something more than a solidarity campaign. What is needed is a
revolutionary international against imperialism and capitalism, for
socialism and in defence of the Venezuelan Revolution. What is
needed is a genuine worldwide revolutionary International.
Reformism or revolution?
The Caracas Agreement (El Compromiso de Caracas) was based on the
idea of a worldwide fight against imperialism and capitalism, for
socialism. That is a sufficient basis to unite the most militant
sections of the international labour movement. However, we note
that this appeal has met with a mixed response, even among some of the
leaders that were present in the PSUV Congress. The reformists and
Social Democrats did not like the President’s insistence that the Fifth
International should not be merely anti-imperialist but also
anti-capitalist and socialist. This ruffled a few feathers. Some of
the representatives present at the Gathering of Left Parties in Caracas
opposed this call with the argument that we already have the “Sao Paulo
Forum” and that such an international did not need to be openly
The repeated meetings of the “Sao Paulo Forum” have clearly exposed
the limitations of such gatherings, which have turned out to be nothing
more than a mere talking shop: a place where all kinds of reformists can
gather to complain about the injustices of capitalism, but who never
offer a revolutionary perspective and do not stand for socialism.
Rather, they advocate the reformist method of partial reforms, which do
not change anything substantial. That is why the international organs of
imperialism, such as the World Bank, look with favour on this kind of
thing and actively encourage and finance the NGOs as a means of diverting
attention away from the revolutionary struggle to change society.
Organizations like the “Sao Paulo Forum” and the World Social Forum
do not carry the world struggle against capitalism a single step
forward. That is why Chavez has proposed the formation of the Fifth
International, which is a radical break with such movements. In his
speech Chavez said that the real threat to the future of the human race
was capitalism itself. Referring to the world capitalist
crisis, he condemned the attempts of western governments to save the
system with lavish state bailouts. Our task, he said, was not to
save capitalism but to destroy it.
Chavez said that the appeal is made to left parties,
organisations and currents. The appeal has opened a mass debate in
Venezuela and also a debate within many left wing parties and
organisations throughout Latin America and beyond. It has naturally
caused divisions – but these divisions already existed. They are the
divisions that have always existed within the movement: the division
between those who wish merely to introduce a few reforms, to prettify
capitalism, and those who wish to abolish capitalism, root and branch.
In El Salvador for instance, President Funes, who is formally a
member of the FMLN, has opposed the Fifth International and said he has
nothing to do with socialism. Yet the FMLN has officially come out in
favour of the Fifth International. In Mexico the idea has been taken up
by sections of the PRD and other mass organisations. In Europe this will
be surely discussed in the Communist Parties and ex-Communist Parties,
and in the Left in general. Sooner or later, every tendency will have to
take a position on this.
What attitude should Marxists take?
What position should the Marxists take? As Marxists we are
unconditionally in favour of the setting up of mass international
organisation of the working class. No genuine mass International
exists at present. What was the IV International was destroyed by the
mistakes of the leaders after Trotsky’s assassination, and in effect is
only alive in the ideas, methods and programme defended by the IMT. The
IMT defends the ideas of Marxism in the mass organisations of the
working class in all countries. It is within these organisations that a
discussion around the proposal of the Fifth International should be
promoted with urgency.
It is too early to say whether the appeal for a Fifth International
will actually lead to the formation of a genuine International. That
depends on many things. However, it is clear that the fact that this
appeal comes from Venezuela and President Chavez means that it will get
an echo among many people in Latin America to start with. This appeal
will raise many questions in the minds of workers and youth about the
programme such an international should have and about the history of the
previous internationals, the reasons for their rise and fall.
This is a debate in which the Marxists have a duty to participate
actively. The IMT, which is already recognised widely for its role in
building solidarity with and providing Marxist analysis about the
Venezuelan Revolution, must take a clear position. And we have taken a
position. At a meeting of the International Executive Committee in the
first week of March, with the presence of more than 40 comrades
representing more than 30 different countries in Asia, Europe and
America (including Canada and the USA), the IMT voted
unanimously in favour of participating in the building of the Fifth
We declare our full support for the setting up of a mass based
revolutionary international, and will make clear proposals of what we
think the programme and ideas of the new International should be. We do
not seek to impose our views on anybody. The International, and its
component parts, will work out its political positions over a period,
through a democratic debate and also on the basis of common experience.
For a worldwide anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist united front!
For the international socialist revolution!
For a Marxist programme!
Long live the Fifth International!
Workers of the world unite!