Is a Regroupment of Revolutionaries Something to Embrace? Where to Start and Where to go to?

International Revolutionary Convergence V.1, Aug. 2020 (written in April 2020)

[this article has been translated from French]

It is obvious that communist revolutionaries, first and foremost the Trotskyists, today lack an international organization that could be a general staff of proletarian forces, a leadership for all those who have only their labor power to live by and/or who suffer specific oppressions. This lack is all the more pressing in the face of the iron heel of the multinationals and the warlike political aggressiveness of the great powers that defend their interests, piling up austerity plans and cutting public services to the bone. Social revolts have broken out in many countries, not only at the same time, but against the same injustices and inequalities of the capitalist system, with urban youth at the forefront.

This potential for protest — if not yet revolutionary, but carrying democratic ideals that challenge the discredited old bourgeois democracies — requires strengthening by links, exchanges of information and experiences, even common actions and interventions around perspectives toward social emancipation and the overthrow of the ruling power of the bourgeoisie. An international organization, a flag and a program, would now more than ever be indispensable in the current situation. This is all the more true as the violent shocks that have marked recent years and especially 2019, after the wave of revolts of the Arab Spring in 2011, may not be so easily stifled by the tragic coronavirus pandemic and the upsurge of repressive measures to which it gives rise, under the pretext of enforcing confinement. Before our very eyes, we see all over the world, imperialism offers to the proletariat only the choice of dying of the coronavirus (among other diseases and epidemics linked to negligence of health and safety) or dying of hunger.

Among the revolutionaries, unfortunately, the picture offered is obviously not that of an international front against the enemy! Rather, it is one of total disorganization and dispersal, rarely addressed until now. But is the situation as catastrophic as it seems?

An “objectively” favorable situation, as there has been a rise in social mobilizations that have taken on a global character

The assets: the revolts and insurrections that have been occurring across the globe in recurring waves, and in reaction to diverse, yet similar, causes can be the foundation of an organizational rapprochement among currents and groups representing revolts and insurgents. The conditions imposed by the global pandemic, managed everywhere in the interest not of lives but of profits, can strengthen the common ferment. It is from situations of social and political struggles — rarely times of peace — that revolutionary consciousness and organizations can emerge — even if nothing is automatic. And an international grouping can emerge when revolts seize almost the entire planet at the same time, even if not in an orderly way.

For decades, since the aftermath of the Second World War, the world has unfortunately not lacked fire and blood. There has been a wave of colonial revolts; revolutions or mass mobilizations in some Eastern European countries against the stranglehold of the Soviet bureaucracy; then the wave of protest in 1968; then waves of riots in the global South against the IMF’s adjustment plans; then great waves of strikes in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in Brazil as well as in Korea, Poland and South Africa, at a time when we were still living in a world partitioned into two blocs whose (apparent) division certainly harmed the global cohesion of the class struggle. With some optimism – for a revolutionary, it is necessary — based on the globalization of the class struggle which we are witnessing today — with all its weaknesses — we can hope that the rather brutal globalization of capitalism, resulting from the disappearance of the USSR and its zone of influence, will create a new level of exasperation and proletarian mobilization, on a global scale, which could lead to contacts and coordinated interventions, and could be the crucible of a future international. At a very small level, of course, we have seen the resurgence in the mobilizations in France, particularly in the Yellow Vest movement, but also elsewhere, often in reaction to the inhumane social situation and police brutality, the shouting of “anti-capitalist” or “revolutionary” slogans.

Of course, there are not only favorable elements in the situation. Reactionary currents are also growing bolder, and not only during elections. Even today, in the context of the healthcare struggle against the coronavirus, political difficulties and problems are emerging. Some of the poorest workers, whether in the USA or in African countries, are shouting “I’d rather work than die of hunger” because not only does coronavirus kill, but “poverty also kills.” There is the risk that workers may side with their exploiters or right-wing or even far-right politicians, starting with Trump and Brazil’s Bolsonaro. To these currents, too, the period could be favorable. And in this race, it is clear that the revolutionaries are not one step ahead!

A complex situation on the “subjective” level: more revolutionaries than ever on the planet, but more dispersed than ever?

In the last few decades, and especially in the last ten years, we have witnessed a massive dispersion of Trotskyist “internationals” and of their national subdivisions. Organizations of historical importance have collapsed, and it could be said that all the great historical currents of Trotskyism with a certain existence and a history of several decades (including some successes) have suffered the same kind of shock. With a few exceptions, it is true of the United Secretariat which seems to have unraveled and drowned in left-wing alliances; it is true of the currents of the CWI and the SWP (United Kingdom); it is true of the Morenists, it is true of the Lambertists (in France at least); it’s even true of the Lutte Ouvriere current, even if it has seemed more solid. These changes have been parallel. And if we think about the deeper reasons, beyond the anecdotal, we can make the hypothesis — admittedly open to debate — that division, even excessive division, is not — or not exclusively — synonymous with the weakening of the movement as a whole. Perhaps it is the strange expression of a rebirth, and of a certain “growth” through division — a kind of necessary transition, not always easy to experience. Just as the aging European social democracy may have been shaken by the mass strikes at the beginning of the 20th century in the Russian working class, just one example among others.

Didn’t these “historical” currents of Trotskyism, these relatively “large groups” of several hundred or even thousands of militants and supporters, led by “historical” leaders, break up because their foundational leaders were unable to adapt to new situations, or even to make the most of situations of “success,” which are in fact the most demanding situations? (The kind of halt and blockage to Lutte Ouvriere’s growth in the first half of the 1990s — a general situation that was considered “backward” when it was not — would tend to confirm that idea). And for the “offspring” of these breakdowns, the new independent life, although it did not always evolve like a long, quiet river, brought a breath of fresh air, a new horizon and a new framework for posing problems, learning by starting from the bottom up, releasing talents and achievements.

For these new groups are not less vibrant, far from it. Sometimes they are even more so, and more relentless and capable of recruiting, than the initial groups. And furthermore, new topics have been added to the classic areas of struggle of the workers’ movement, like anti-globalization movements, feminist and ecological mobilizations, mobilizations on the directly social or even political terrain, but also on a scale such as the struggle of the Yellow Vests, not to mention the new revolutionary groups that have also appeared in the realm of anarchism, which contain many currents as well.

The situation raises many questions — political and organizational

How can we get out of this paradoxical situation, of the existence of a very large number of essentially Trotskyist revolutionary currents and groups, of unequal size, reputation, and influence in their own countries, of diverse and diversely formalized international attachments with groups from other countries, some of which are attached to a declared international current, and others not or more modestly? How can we get out of a situation made up, beyond the myriad of these organizations, of a relatively vast militant Trotskyist or more generally revolutionary milieu not currently organized, which often reactivates itself on the occasion of social and political upheavals, and in a context where a part of the youth is attracted by revolutionary programs and perspectives?

In short, a number of questions arise, both national and international, of similar types, even if at their different scales.

How to go from a more or less small group to a party? This would be a question of drawing up a political-historical inventory of Trotskyist groups in a few countries, starting with those we know best, which would bring to light and enable us to analyze the assets and successes — all things considered — of each and every one of them. Their failures, too.

A large number of other questions are subordinated to this first question:

  • How did Trotskyist groups become visible in their own countries, while others remained almost invisible? How did spokespeople or leaders emerge? Through their role in social and/or political struggles (and which ones), and/or through their electoral politics? By what mix of the two?
  • What is the relationship between the size of a group and its capacity for intervention?
  • What role should electoral interventions play? What weight do their successes and failures have?
  • What are the means of better anchoring the organization in the working class milieu and among youth?
  • What relationships and joint activities and interventions should be established among groups in the same country? What criteria would make them desirable or not?

How to go towards an international grouping? This raises the question of the steps to be taken, and in what order. What are the priorities? How can we move away from “craftsmanship” in terms of international policy, for certain groups like ours, for example, toward something that is really growing? There are many subordinate questions:

  • Those of the true opportunity to move towards a regroupment of revolutionaries.
  • Those of the program, and therefore of the political limits that would have to be defined.
  • The question of the “proclamation” of an international or a new regroupment, where there are already so many others.
  • The question of the knowledge and mutual understanding of the respective policies (and their concrete implications within the working class) which sometimes, in order not to remain abstract and approximate, must not be limited to oral and written exchanges, but must go through exchanges of actual militants.

Now is certainly not the time to build an international “democratic centralist” framework. For a long time and up to now, international currents have fought too many wars against each other instead of trying to learn from one another. There are political reasons for these choices, but there is also sectarianism (the generally erroneous idea that some could score points against others, whereas the same situations of social mobilization generally lead both sides to benefit politically and organizationally). This question of the tension between political rigor and sectarianism also arises, and already does so with regard to relations among groups, or even sub-groups, in the same country.

In conclusion to these questions

The necessity of a regroupment of revolutionaries in a common framework is certainly not debatable today (even if there is always the question of the value of unity and regroupment, which are not in themselves panaceas), in view of the rise of social and political struggles of our class on the scale of the planet. The great political and organizational diversity of the present Trotskyist world would certainly imply that a grouping should be imagined within a flexible framework of mutual attention and goodwill, which would probably lead, initially and as a step, to a “front” of revolutionaries rather than an international with leadership that would have authority over its sections. The history of the internationals that have appeared in the workers’ movement offers food for thought on this question — with both examples and counter-examples.

There remains the important question of the temptations that have never ceased to taint or even undermine the Trotskyist movement: among others, that of the great orientation to the reformist left, long assimilated to the “workers’ movement” (“Vote workers, vote PC-PS” is still proclaimed by many Trotskyists in France and elsewhere until the 1980s). If political alliances with traditional parties of the old left seem to have become obsolete with the weakening of the latter, there remains the temptation for many Trotskyists (such as the leadership of the NPA in France), under the pretext of carrying out an indispensable so-called “united front” policy, to systematically seek alliances with generally dissident formations of this left that are nevertheless situated on a clearly bourgeois institutional terrain. And to look for them not only in the interest of struggles that could win through a regrouping of forces, but on a political terrain (the border between the two being not always easy to recognize) where the far left fades politically behind reformists whose programs and perspectives are dead-ends for the working class.

Many Trotskyist organizations in the world — for reasons which obviously remain to be analyzed and validated or invalidated — are more concerned with trying to build alliances “on their right,” towards those reformist or “centrist” formations that seem stronger electorally rather than allowing revolutionary perspectives to emerge for the workers (among others, a policy of class independence in the struggles).

What revolutionary policy for the workers and young people in struggle, on the national and international levels? This question is linked to that of an organization of revolutionaries and political perspectives that would emerge from it. The question is above all political, as an organization does not mean an erasing of divergences in the choice of fields of action and conceptions of organization, but means, above all, the politics of intervention in the struggles, for an independent and class-based perspective of the revolutionary workers’ movement in those fields of action (free from reformist, political or trade union dead-ends).