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Newsletter (in English)


How should socialists react to the call by Hugo Chávez for a Fifth International?

At an international meeting of left-wing parties in Caracas on November 21, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frias called for the formation of a “Fifth International”. How should socialists react to this call? We want to use the opportunity to contribute to the debate about what kind of organization is necessary in the fight against capitalism. We believe the first step is to analyze the social forces and the political program behind Chávez’ call.

This call was signed by political parties from 40 countries (1). The list includes newer populist formations from Latin America (like the Bolivian MAS and of course the Venezuelan PSUV), but also so-called “communist” parties that manage capitalist economies (like the Chinese and Vietnamese Communist Parties), left-wing reformist parties (such as “Die Linke” from Germany, “Rifondazione” from Italy and the Japanese CP) and also older populist formations (like the FSLN from Nicaragua and the FMLN from El Salvador). But the list even includes parties who might have been considered populist more than 50 years ago, such as the Justicialist Party from Argentina (the “Peronists”) and the PRI from Mexico (who ruled the country for 70 years). There are also national liberation movements who have become bourgeois ruling parties including the ZANU-PF from Zimbabwe and Al Fatah from Palestine. Lastly, there are also parties that have essentially no progressive tradition such as the Liberal Party of Honduras.

The call for a new international is an expression of the contradictory world situation at the beginning of the new decade. Faced with an economic crisis of global scale, different capitalist states have cooperated to a certain extent (such as at the G20 summits). However, the workers, who are bearing the largest burden in the crisis, have had no internationally coordinated response.

The working class needs to organize internationally to defend its interests. So far in history, there have been four workers’ Internationals (2):

The First International (1864-1876) established the first political organizations of the workers movement and supported the Paris Commune, before falling victim to reaction and sectarian infighting.
The Second International (1889-1914) built up mass workers’ parties and trade unions, but eventually its parties capitulated to nationalist pressures by supporting “their” governments in the First World War.
The Third International (1919-1933) emerged from the ruins of the Second, creating clear divisions between reformist and revolutionary tendencies and building up parties based on clear anticapitalist and anti-imperialist programs.
The Fourth International (1938-1953) continued the struggle for a worldwide revolutionary party after the Third International was subjected to the Stalinist bureaucracy of the Soviet Union and began to collaborate with ruling classes as part of “popular fronts”.

Each of these internationals represented a development of the program for the liberation of the working class. Each of them was based on the idea that workers need their own program and organization, independent of all other social classes. Chávez, however, proposes an international including sectors of the capitalist classes. His own party, the PSUV, is based on this kind of alliance between workers and “Boliviarian” capitalists (3). Now, in the face of increased imperialist pressure and popular dissatisfaction, he is trying to internationalize his multi-class project. In this sense, his proposal is politically behind even the First International – he is proposing the Zeroth International.

In the last year, many sectors of the international left have become critical of Chávez’ foreign policy, for example his support of the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran, the Putin regime in Russia, or the “Communist” dictatorship in China. However, these alliances are not some “mistake” (as if Chávez did not read the newspaper!) but instead a direct expression of Chávez’ own social base. It is little reported in the left-wing media, but Venezuela’s government can be repressive against the workers‘ movement (4).

Ten years after Chávez assumed power, Venezuela remains a capitalist country. His government enjoys the support of the poor masses, but also of a wing of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie that wants to break up the old oligarchic structures of the economy and force an industrial development (5). This sector of the bourgeoisie, in order to push back the historic dominance of US imperialism in their country, needs to mobilize the workers and peasants with minor material concessions and lots of rhetoric about socialism. The Chávez government balances between these opposed social forces who are in a shaky alliance, all the while defending private property of the means of production.

Chávez “Fifth International”, if it comes into existence at all, will combine a series of capitalist parties and even governments. (In fact, looking at the list of supporters, this “Fifth International” would represent a dozen governments and even some one-party states!) Of course it would include large numbers of workers and peasants, like the PSUV itself. But the ruling classes under capitalism are numerically insignificant. In fact, virtually every capitalist party in the world has a majority of non-capitalists as members. Decisive for determining the class nature of a party is not its social composition but its program, its leadership and the interests it represents.

It is structurally impossible to change a bourgeois party (or international) into a workers’ party – just like a bourgeois state cannot be changed into a socialist one with some fiery speech. The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky argued against the plans of the Stalinists in the 1920s in China to transform the multi-class Chinese National Party (Kuomintang) into a revolutionary party:

The Stalinists “imagined that by means of ordinary elections at Kuomintang Congresses power would pass from the hands of the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. Can one conceive of a more touching and idealistic idolization of “party democracy” … in a bourgeois party? For indeed, the army, the bureaucracy, the press, the capital are all in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Precisely because of this and this alone it stands at the helm of the ruling party. The bourgeois “summit” tolerates or tolerated “nine-tenths” of the Lefts (…), only in so far as they did not venture against the army, the bureaucracy, the press, and against capital. By these powerful means the bourgeois summit kept in subjection not only the so-called nine-tenths of the “Left” party members, but also the masses as a whole. In this the theory of the bloc of classes, the theory that the Kuomintang is a workers’ and peasants’ party, provides the best possible assistance for the bourgeoisie. When the bourgeoisie later comes into hostile conflict with the masses and shoots them down, in this clash between the two real forces, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, not even the bleating of the celebrated nine-tenths is heard. The pitiful democratic fiction evaporates without a trace in face of the bloody reality of the class struggle.” (6)

In this sense it is fatal that some Trotskyist tendencies imply that Chávez’ “Fifth International” could become a revolutionary socialist instrument for the liberation of humanity. The bourgeois states behind this call cannot be won to the fight against the very system they administrate and defend.

The working class should defend every progressive measure of populist governments against imperialist pressure, against coups, against defamations etc. In this sense, the masses of Honduras fought heroically against the US-sponsored coup this summer, even though the deposed president was a ruling-class politician. But this kind of anti-imperialist united front needs to be based on the complete political independence of the working class. Bourgeois forces can only be temporary allies for they will always seek compromises with imperialism.

This can be seen in the fact that different Latin American governments (Chávez in Venezuela, Lula in Brazil, Kirchner in Argentina etc.) protested verbally against the Honduran coup – however, they did not organize a continent-wide mobilization to topple the regime. The reason is simple: such a mobilization could have gone beyond the struggle against the coup and endangered the stability of capitalist rule in general. Therefore these “left-wing” governments were not lacking some kind of International – they were simply lacking political will!

At the meeting Chávez has called for April 2010 in Caracas, it might be possible to build up a revolutionary pole fighting for independent working class politics. However, this pole can only be successful if it is based on a clear understanding of the impossibility of transforming capitalist parties or states into socialist ones. The only possibility for ending capitalism is a revolution led by the working class, and for this, our class needs its own organization.

Our rejection of Chávez “Zeroth International” is not some dogmatism about names or traditions. A new international needs to be based on the traditions of the four workers’ Internationals, above all on the political independence of the working class. The working class needs more than an international structure regardless of its class character and its program – if all that were necessary is some kind of International, then the Socialist International, which still exists with millions of members and dozens of social-democratic, bourgeois governments around the world, would be enough!

Chávez said, referring to a well-known Mexican song: “The Fifth one can’t be bad.” (7) As revolutionary socialists we must counter that a Fifth International made up of an alliance of “left-wing” capitalist parties and states would be no good for the international working class!

Revolutionary Internationalist Organization, January 27, 2010

(1) For the list see: “Ecos del Encuentro Internacional de partidos de Izquierda en Caracas.”
(2) It is difficult to say when, exactly, each international ended. The First was dissolved in 1876. The Second collapsed with the outbreak of World War One in 1914, but continues to exist as the Socialist International to this day. The Third International was dissolved by Stalin in 1943, but its capitulation to the rise of fascism in Germany made it undeniable by 1933 that it was no longer a revolutionary international. The Fourth International exists in many fragments to this day. The first major split was in 1953, but already in 1949 the international gave up Marxism by adapting to the Yugoslav Stalinist Tito.
(3) For our analysis of the PSUV, see:
(4) See the examples of workers’ protests at Sanitarios de Maracay and SIDOR, who were violently attacked by police, or the Metro de Caracas, which were attacked by Chávez personally.
(5) See an interview with the Venezuelan capitalist leader Alejandro Uzcátegui:
(6) Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin, Chapter 10:
(7) “No hay quinto malo.” The funny thing about this quote is that the point of the song is that the fifth one will, of course, also be bad.

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