Doubletalk & Zigzags
Workers Power, Chávez & the ‘Fifth International’
Delegates to the November 2009 “International Encounter of Left Parties,” held in Caracas at the invitation of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, endorsed his proposal to hold a conference in April 2010 to discuss launching a “Fifth International.” Among those supporting this initiative were representatives of El Salvador’s Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), Nicaragua’s Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), Evo Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) of Bolivia, the Alianza País of Ecuador and various other leftist organizations from around the world. The new “International” is advertised as “a space for socialist-oriented parties, movements and currents in which we can harmonize a common strategy for the struggle against imperialism, the overthrow of capitalism by socialism” (Venezuelanalysis.com, 30 November 2009).
The League for the Fifth International (L5I), whose flagship is the British Workers Power group, has been critical of a proposed Bolivarian Fifth International headquartered in Caracas. Castigating Alan Woods’ ostensibly Trotskyist International Marxist Tendency for being insufficiently critical of the Venezuelan líder máximo, the L5I observed:
“…Chávez’ simultaneous support for the brutally repressive regimes of Presidents Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran indicate his confusion of socialism with ‘anti-imperialist’ military bonapartism. This shows that his purpose in creating a new International is to establish a support mechanism for his own, and what he evidently regards as analogous, regimes.
“…[I]t is completely crazy to see him as the instrument, conscious or otherwise, of the world revolution.”
—“Hugo Chávez, the call for the Fifth International and his Trotskyist supporters,” 25 November 2009
Quite right. Yet we recall that only a few years ago, when Chávez launched his populist Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), Workers Power described it as a “multi-class alliance, what Leon Trotsky called a popular front party,” but nonetheless concluded that, in view of its mass appeal, “it would be sectarian for revolutionary communists to do anything other than join this party.” In the same article, the L5I leadership declared its intention to participate in “any international initiative Chávez may promote in the months ahead” (Workers Power, September 2007).
The L5I still maintains an upbeat attitude: “Hugo Chávez’ call for a Fifth International in November 2009 offers an excellent opportunity to popularise the idea of a new world party of socialist revolution” (Workers Power, Winter 2009/10). The apparent contradiction between declaring the proposed “International” to be a revolutionary opportunity while at the same time decrying it as a prop for bonapartists is rationalized as follows: “Chávez conceives of the Fifth International as a support mechanism for his regime and its policies. But he will find that the revolutionary impulses of the masses will outstrip his limited notions of socialism” (Ibid.). This recalls how Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel routinely invoked the supposedly “objectively revolutionary dynamic” of history to justify their enthusiasm for a succession of non-proletarian formations—from Ben Bella’s petty-bourgeois Front de Libération Nationale in the 1950s to Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution in the 1970s.
To put a leftist spin on its political adaptation to the Bolivarian bonapartist’s initiative, the L5I portrays its hypothetical intervention in the campaign for the “Fifth International” as an attempt to rescue it from:
“bourgeois nationalists merely dressed up as socialists. If it were to be founded under the aegis of Chávez and his bourgeois regime, then it would never be able to chart a course of class independence.”
—“Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez calls for Fifth International,” 25 November 2009
Of course there was never any possibility of a real competition between the tiny L5I and Chávez over whose “aegis” would be used in founding his “International.” But for their own reasons, Workers Power’s leaders find it convenient to talk about a struggle for the “class independence” of what they acknowledge amounts to little more than a “support mechanism” for various bourgeois regimes. Rather than attempting to distinguish its “Fifth International” from Chávez’s initiative, the L5I plays on the ambiguities:
“The Fifth International is a vital weapon in the hands of the world working class and its allies. Its historic mission will be to overthrow capitalism and oppression across the world. It needs to be built, and it needs to be built on a revolutionary basis. Everyone who is committed to this project should join us in this fight.”
—Workers Power, Winter 2009/10
Workers Power calls on those who support “class independence” and a “revolutionary programme” to join the “fight” to revolutionize the Bolivarian International:
“The League for the Fifth International, which will, if it is able, intervene in Chávez’s gathering in 2010, calls on all who support the struggle for a new International based on proletarian class independence and a new revolutionary programme, (whatever name or number they presently give to it) to join forces with us in 2010 to take real steps in this direction.”
—“Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez calls for Fifth International,” 25 November 2009
The “real steps” proposed by the L5I refer to yet another fantastic projection—a joint conference with the French Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA):
“it is the duty of all who consider themselves anticapitalist, like the NPA in France, all who call themselves revolutionary socialists, communists, Leninists and Trotskyists, to combine forces and to convene a conference of their organisations.”
There is no chance that the NPA will feel a “duty” to participate in a bloc with Workers Power—and not only because of the vast disproportion of forces. The NPA has no interest in promoting “proletarian class independence” in Venezuela or anywhere else. It was founded on the basis of a commitment to reformist electoralism, and has already in its short life demonstrated an appetite for class-collaborationist alliances. Instead of discussing how best to expose “bourgeois nationalists merely dressed up as socialists,” François Sabado, one of the NPA’s senior members, wrote a statement posted on the group’s website in which he fulsomely endorsed Chávez’s plans for an “anti-imperialist front”:
“On the basis of this call, a broad world anti-imperialist front can be established, to mark its solidarity with the struggle of the peoples for their social and political rights, to oppose the new US bases in Colombia, to support, in particular, the mobilization of the people of Honduras against the new dictatorial regime.
“In the trial of strength in which the imperialists are confronted with the struggles of the peoples, such a world front would constitute an important instrument to fight the power of the ruling classes, not only in Latin America but in the whole world.”
—translated in International Viewpoint, November 2009
Workers Power’s ridiculous “tactic” of demanding that the NPA change its spots recalls an earlier proposal that the assorted reformist cranks and bourgeois officials of the World Social Forum (WSF) transform themselves into a force for socialist revolution:
“Parties [in the European Social Forum (ESF)] must declare that they will not govern in coalition with the capitalists or on their behalf but will struggle to overthrow them.
“In this way, we can unite the ESF (and the WSF too) not only into a democratic forum and co-ordinator of action, but also into a new World Party—a fifth international—to struggle for an end to the rule of global capital and the establishment of the rule of the majority of humanity.”
—Workers Power, October 2003
Chávez later put forward the same idea:
“Chávez has called for a ‘new International’ during his recent visit to Spain….
“The idea of the WSF giving birth to an anti-imperialist International, with agreed policies and co-ordinated action, was invoked by Chávez and others.”
—Workers Power, March 2005
At the time Workers Power, adapting to popular illusions in the Venezuelan strongman, was gently criticizing him for having “taken far too few radical or socialist measures which could have won over the organised working class to his side” (Workers Power, January 2003). We commented:
“This overlooks one detail—Chávez is a bourgeois politician. His job is neither to expropriate capitalists nor to ‘build organs of working class and popular resistance.’ His task is to ensure the continued domination of capital over labor and to strengthen the position of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie in the international capitalist world order. If Chávez is someone Workers Power expects to carry out ‘radical or socialist measures’ why not invite him to help launch their Fifth International?”
—1917 No. 26
It turns out the Venezuelan caudillo did not need an invitation from the L5I. As Chávez announced plans for a “Fifth International” to “overthrow capitalism” and “fight imperialism” alongside Mugabe and Ahmadinejad, Workers Power correctly observed that it would be “completely crazy” to regard him as “the instrument, conscious or otherwise, of the world revolution.” But was it any less “crazy” to have called on Chávez to take “socialist measures” in 2003, or to have joined him in promoting the absurd notion that the multi-class WSF swamp could somehow be forged into a revolutionary International? L5I members who are serious about building a genuinely Marxist international tendency must reject the doubletalk and political zigzags their leaders pass off as clever “tactics.”