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The Globalization of the Class Struggle and the Utopia of a Revolutionary Party in One Country

In earlier articles we looked at the relationship between revolt and revolution from a number of different angles. Here we explore the relationship between different national revolutionary processes from an international point of view, in order to focus on the significance of the internationalist struggle today.

Matías Maiello

December 23, 2019
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Graphic: Juan Atacho

One of the most distinctive features of the new wave of class struggle sweeping the world today is its tremendous geographical reach. It touches North Africa, the Middle East, Hong Kong, Europe, and Latin America. While today’s media, social networks, and the immediacy with which information can be disseminated all contribute to some degree to the spread of these revolutionary processes, the explanation for this phenomenon runs much deeper.

What is commonly referred to as “globalization” is actually the result of decades of an imperialist offensive—from the end of the last century up to the present day—that through widespread plundering and heightened exploitation advanced the internationalization of capital through a process of uneven and combined development. It has left in its wake a small minority of “winners” and a great majority of “losers.”

The historical crisis of capitalism that broke out in 2008 accentuated this scenario. It highlighted the decay of a capitalism no longer capable of generating new engines for the world economy. It essentially left only a declining U.S. imperialism and China—the only new power and economic resuscitator to emerge in the period, and which owes its current existence to the unification of the country as a result of the 1949 revolution that expropriated the bourgeoisie and advanced with a planned (albeit bureaucratic) economy. The Chinese Communist Party first sustained the program of “socialism in one country” and later restored capitalism, using what had been achieved for the purpose of “modernization” at the hands of international capital. And it is only thanks to this capitalist restoration that the imperialist bourgeoisie is able to achieve its current development—based on enormous levels of exploitation and precariousness, comparable to levels from two centuries ago. But China has neither the historical consistency to officiate world hegemony, nor to intercede in new wars on a large scale. 

The British elections on December 12 also exemplify capitalism adrift. Britain’s major employers, who once opposed Brexit, are now lining up behind Boris Johnson, the British Trump. The bourgeoisie sails aimlessly, propelled by the winds of brutality against immigrants, nationalism, and “fake news.”

In Latin America, as in the rest of the dependent and semi-colonial countries, the bourgeoisie has long since abandoned any claim to national emancipation. Clinging to imperialism’s legs, they seek nothing beyond a role as supporting actors. Neither the extreme neoliberalism of Brazilian President Bolsonaro and his Finance Minister Guedes, nor the “post-neoliberalism” of Argentine President Alberto Fernández and Vice President Cristina Kirchner, propose any autonomous development plans. For the former, it is simply a matter of handing over everything they can to imperialism by means of looting working people and worsening their living conditions. The latter occasionally blunt some of the effects of a socio-economic structure that is completely subordinated to imperialism without question, which condemns the vast majority to suffer periodic catastrophes. Even the most radical versions of “post-neoliberalism” such as Chavism in Venezuela have been unable to modify a dependent structure so tied to the ups and downs of oil prices.

Only through the unity of the working class, together with the exploited and oppressed peoples of the Latin American countries, linking their struggles to those of the working class in the central countries, can a genuine alternative be built—using its own power against imperialism and its local partners to resolve, fully and effectively, the democratic tasks and national emancipation, establishing a new social order. The strategic question is how the explosions of class struggle that today crisscross the region and the world are not exhausted as mere processes of pressure (sometimes quite extreme) and instead open this perspective, which is inescapably international.

Against the widely held utopian view that it is possible to build a (truly) revolutionary party “in one country,” this struggle poses a key problem: the need for an international revolutionary party. That said, what is the path and what does the fight for such a party involve today?

National in Form and International in Content

The current class-struggle processes, with all their specificities and particular dynamics, demonstrate that there is no automatic path from revolt to revolution. In this sense, the fight for workers’ hegemony is key, as is the fight against the bourgeois nationalist, reformist, and bureaucratic leaderships.

As Marx and Engels indicate in The Communist Manifesto, these struggles are national in form but international in content. As Trotsky pointed out, “Lenin’s internationalism is by no means a form of reconciliation of Nationalism and Internationalism in words but a form of international revolutionary action.” And he added, “The territory of the earth … is looked upon as a coherent field of combat on which the separate peoples and classes wage gigantic warfare against each other.”1Leon Trotsky, Nationalism in Lenin (1920).  

From this point of view, the internationalist struggle—and the fight to build parties in each country—is inextricably linked to the search for ways to anticipate, rehearse, take the measure of our forces, with respect to actions of a future international revolutionary party, since such an organization will emerge only in the heat of the very battles this new cycle of class struggle has begun to put on the agenda. This is what we seek to do in the Trotskyist Fraction–Fourth International (FT–CI) in the 14 countries in which we intervene,2The FT–CI includes the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS, Party of Socialist Workers) in Argentina; the Movimento Revolucionário de Trabalhadores (MRT, Revolutionary Workers Movement) in Brazil; the Partido de Trabajadores Revolucionario (PTR, Revolutionary Workers Party) in Chile; the Movimiento de los Trabajadores Socialistas (MTS, Workers Movement for Socialism) in Mexico; the Liga Obrera Revolucionaria por la Cuarta Internacional (LOR–CI, Revolutionary Workers League – Fourth International) in Bolivia; the Revolutionary Workers Current (CRT) in the Spanish State; the Courant Communiste Révolutionnaire (CCR, Revolutionary Communist Current) that is part of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA, New Anticapitalist Party) in France; the Revolutionäre Internationalistische Organisation (RIO, Revolutionary Internationalist Organization) in Germany; comrades of Left Voice in the United States; the Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo (LTS, Workers League for Socialism) in Venezuela; and the Corriente de Trabajadores Socialistas (CTS, Socialist Workers Current) in Uruguay. Sympathizing organizations include the Frazione Internazionalista Rivoluzionaria (FIR, Revolutionary Internationalist Fraction) in Italy; the Corriente Socialistas de las y los Trabajadores (CST, Socialist Workers Current) in Peru; and the Organización Socialista (Socialist Organization) in Costa Rica. as well as from the La Izquierda Diario / Left Voice network of newspapers.

That conception of internationalism as a “coherent field of combat” leads an international current to establish certain centers of gravity with respect to action where the workers are waging their hardest and most advanced fights. But at the same time, it implies simultaneous intervention in very different national scenarios, with diverse relationships of forces, political processes, and so on—but that are necessarily part of the same theater of international struggle.

France and Chile as Centers of Gravity of the Class Struggle

The current axes of the FT intervention are in France and Chile, where the most significant confrontations of the international class struggle are taking place. If in France it ends up forcing the government to drop its pension reform, it could open up a new situation with repercussions far beyond its borders. The struggle in Chile is currently the main process in Latin America.

Right in the heart of Europe,3Also in Europe, beyond France, we have seen a reactivation of the massive independence struggle in Catalonia against the reactionary Spanish monarchical regime. Our comrades of the Revolutionary Workers Current (CRT) are intervening, not only in Catalonia itself but also in Madrid, Zaragoza, Vigo, Burgos, and other cities (as can be followed in Izquierdadiario.es and its Catalan edition Esquerra Diari). We also note the phenomena of a rising Right, as witnessed in the resounding electoral victory of Boris Johnson in Britain. In Germany, the Revolutionäre Internationalistische Organisation (RIO) of the FT–CI is intervening in a situation marked by the strengthening of the extreme Right of the AfD (Alternative for Germany) party. the French working class has been making a great show of force, with strikes, pickets, and important mobilizations over the last 10 days. This demonstrates the power of intervening not as diluted “citizens” in general but as the working class, putting into play its control of “strategic positions”—and paralyzing the buses, subways, trains, ports, airports, schools, and so on. The Macron government’s pronouncements this week on the pension reform served only to deepen and extend the strike, which has enjoyed great momentum among rank-and-file workers, especially in sectors such as the RATP (the Paris metropolitan area bus system). This reveals what our comrade Juan Chingo refers to in his book Gilets jaunes as the “yellow-vest-ization” of sectors of the workers’ movement.4Juan Chingo, Le soulèvement (Quand le trône a vacillé), Paris: Communard.e.s., 2019. Translator’s note: The book title in English is Yellow Vests: The Uprising (When the Throne Wavered).

Of course, the union bureaucracy in its different variants—which has been in charge of keeping the unions separated from the Yellow Vests—did not propose an open-ended strike. Far from it. Instead, is has not ruled out sitting down with the government to negotiate. The success of the strike and the mass struggle depends on whether it can be deployed as a real people‘s movement (Rosa Luxemburg) and remains in the hands of the strikers themselves through assemblies, strike committees, and coordinating committees, which in turn can secure the paralysis of the economy and organize self-defense.

In this sense, our comrades of the Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR), a revolutionary tendency within the NPA, are fighting to establish examples of real self-organization and coordination, like the meeting in Saint-Lazare (Paris) called by RAPT and SNCF (railroad) workers, with bus and subway workers, teachers, students, Yellow Vests, and others. These bodies are becoming key to organizing pickets to guarantee the strike, for example. It is part of a policy of promoting the prospect of an open-ended strike until the pension reform is defeated, by coordinating multiple sectors of the CGT, SUD, student organizations, left groups, and so on—as expressed in the statement published in the newspaper Libération on December 2.5Translator’s note: The Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT, General Confederation of Labor) is one of France’s major trade union federations. The Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques (SUD, Democratic Unitary Solidarity) is a group of French trade unions that function largely as left-wing factions within the French trade union confederations. Libération is a left-wing daily newspaper published in Paris; it published a statement titled “En décembre, c’est tous ensemble” (“In December, it’s all together”) written by a “collective of trade union officers and trade union organizations.” In these fights, one of the main spokespersons for the strike has been our comrade Anasse Kazib, railroad workers’ leader and member of the CCR. He recently sparred with the Transport Minister on a popular television show, exposing the government’s hypocrisy. In turn, the online newspaper Révolution Permanente, which in 2018 became a point of reference for following the Yellow Vests movement (with more than 2 million monthly visits to the website), is once again playing an important role in the current movement.

The main fight, however, remains the need to set up a revolutionary party in France. The previous process of the Yellow Vests has already shown the failure both of a trade unionist orientation outside the movement (like the Trotskyist organization Lutte Ouvrière), and of building “broad parties” without a revolutionary program or strategy to participate superficially in “the movements” as they are. The CCR has been openly fighting within the NPA against that “broad party” policy (which is why it has never voted for the “founding principles” of the NPA) and for a unified revolutionary party of the “extreme left” (LO and NPA) which attempts to unite this new breed of workers who are leading the current hard fights.

In a very different scenario, as is the case of Chile, with more than 50 days of intense struggle under many different circumstances, our comrades of the Revolutionary Workers Party (PTR) are actively intervening in Santiago, Antofagasta, Valparaíso, Arica, Temuco, Puerto Montt, Rancagua, and other major cities in the country. They have been fighting to set up organs of self-organization, which are fundamental for coordinating the different sectors of the movement (precarious workers, wage earners, students, women’s movement, etc.). They have been promoting initiatives that have gained special importance, such as the Emergency and Rescue Committee in Antofagasta, or around the Barros Luco Hospital in Santiago, and so on. They are facing repression. They are carrying out systematic political agitation for a transitional program in each factory, company, hospital, school, and university where they intervene, and in the pages of La Izquierda Diario Chile, which in less than two months has surpassed 4 million visits. They are fighting for a truly free and sovereign Constituent Assembly on the ruins of the regime, and demanding Piñera’s resignation. For these proposals, Dauno Tótoro, leader of the PTR and candidate in the 2017 Santiago municipal elections, has been accused by the government under the State Security Law of “inciting subversion.” Piñera seeks to symbolize in Dauno’s political persecution that of the thousands of young people and workers who fight for the same perspective.

On November 12 in Chile, the workers’ movement led the most important national strike since the fall of the dictatorship. It was a revolutionary leap forward, denying the regime any easy way to use reformism and bureaucracy to help combat this perspective. With the deception of the so-called “Agreement for Social Peace and the New Constitution,” signed on to by a sector of the reformist Frente Amplio (FA, Broad Front), they have been seeking to get part of the movement out of the streets. They try with the anti-protest law, voted by the majority of the FA and with the majority abstention of the Communist Party, and with the scandalous truce the CUT trade union confederation and the Social Unity Roundtable currently have with the government. All this demonstrates the urgency of the struggle, promoted by the PTR, to establish a revolutionary party in Chile.

Latin America and the Broad Theater of International Struggle

Latin America, where the FT–CI has its greatest concentration of militants, is one of the regions where the cycle of uprisings is most widespread, but where different tendencies are also expressed. On the one hand, we have seen the emergence of the class struggle in Chile, also expressed in Colombia, Haiti, Honduras, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, and through the resistance in Bolivia. On the other hand, we see the reactionary and Bonapartist tendencies—the most recent example being the coup in Bolivia, and their main bastion being in the Bolsonaro government in Brazil, which is deploying a large-scale offensive against the workers and the masses (pension reform, labor, privatizations, etc.). We also see them in the growing intervention of the army in the different countries to confront the mass movement.

In this scenario, the reformist currents, the “national-populists,” and the union bureaucracies themselves agitate for the need to accept “lesser-evilism,” arguing that is necessary to avoid confrontation and class struggle to keep the Right from advancing. But the recent history of Latin America shows the opposite. Brazil is a clear example. The Workers Party (PT) ruled for years on capitalism’s behalf by assimilating its methods. Faced with a crisis and the eruption of the masses in June 2013—the immediate antecedent of the current cycle—the PT responded with new attacks on working people, thus contributing to the demoralization of its own social base and paving the way for the Right. The PT failed to mount a battle against the institutional coup or even against Lula’s imprisonment, which ended up opening the way to Bolsonaro’s ascent.

Thus, in Brazil, the comrades of the Revolutionary Workers Movement (MRT) have been fighting for years for an independent left that is a true alternative, since throughout this process, a part of the left (PSTU) situated itself within the framework of the institutional coup, while the main party of the left (PSOL) continued to orbit around the PT.6Translator’s note: The Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores (PTSU, Unified Socialist Workers Party) is the largest section of the International Workers League (Fourth International). The Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL, Socialism and Liberty Party) is a self-described socialist and democratic party in Brazil. With that objective, at a certain moment, the MRT publicly asked to join the PSOL, openly stating that it wanted to fight in its ranks for a revolutionary program and strategy—but it was never admitted to the party by the leadership majority. Today, from this same perspective of building an independent left, the MRT intervenes by promoting the struggle against Bolsonaro’s attacks and fighting the complete passivity of the union bureaucracy (CUT, CTB) as well as the student bureaucracy (UNE) in every place it has militants: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, Brasilia, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, among other cities, and in every union, student group, and so on.7The MRT recently won elections in the union of the non-academic workers of the University of São Paulo, as well as in the student unions in the Language and Education departments of the same university, with this perspective. The perspective is also expressed in the digital newspaper Esquerda Diário, which has become the main left publication in Brazil and during the crisis of Bolsonaro’s rise has reached 6.5 million visits each month.

Bolivia raises another clear example of how “lesser-evilism” pacifies and demoralizes the mass movement and allows the Right to advance. As our comrade Javo Ferreira points out in his book Community, Indigenism and Marxism, the response to the hatred of the white elite towards the indigenous peoples shows the vitality and mobilizing force of their national demands, while the betrayal of the MAS in legitimizing the de facto government of Áñez has been key to dismantling the struggle against the coup, along with the leadership of the COB trade union confederation adapting to the coup leaders.

The heroic struggle in El Alto and the blockade in Senkata have showed the workers’ will to fight. The comrades of the LOR-CI participated in this struggle as much as their forces allowed, and have also waged a tough fight in those sectors of the workers‘ movement that have looked favorably upon the coup. They have sought to help organize the youth of El Alto, who have refused to “negotiate with our dead.” And they have agitated for an independent program in the pages of Bolivia’s La Izquierda Diario, one of the only media sources that continually reflected El Alto’s struggle. In this scenario, the complete bankruptcy of POR, the historic party of the Bolivian left,8Translator’s note: The Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Revolutionary Workers Party) is a group that identifies itself as Trotskyist and has its origins in the original Trotskyist group founded in 1935 in Bolivia. was revealed when it colluded with the coup d’état. The current resistance in the face of the coup government, the repression, and the persecution goes hand in hand with the increasingly urgent need to build a new revolutionary organization in Bolivia.

In Argentina, this same strategy of pacification could be seen after the days of December 2017. The union bureaucracy and Kirchnerism9Translator’s note: Kirchnerism refers to the populist political movement of supporters of the late Néstor Kirchner, Argentina’s president from 2003 to 2007, and his wife, who is the current vice president. were key to liquidating the perspective of class struggle, making it possible for then-President Mauricio Macri to deepen the attacks (debt, currency devaluation, layoffs, poverty, rate hikes, etc.). Alberto Fernández, the current president, inherited this situation and now, seeking to strike a balance with the deep trends crisscrossing the region, proposes this pacification as the starting point of his government—without calling on the real winners (the banks, the big capitalists, and agribusiness) to pay back any of their plunder.

When, at the international level, many left-wing organizations fold into this or that “anti-neoliberal” front or “coalition against the Right,” or they align with one of the camps into which the capitalists are divided, the Workers Left Front–Unity (FIT-U) in Argentina expresses a modest but important opposing example, and it has already existed for eight years. It is a principled electoral alliance with a clear program of class independence, anti-imperialism (as was shown, for example, in the FIT’s positioning against the coup in Venezuela), and the struggle for a workers’ government. Of course, as is to be expected in a front comprised of different parties, there were discussions when important differences arose—as, for example, regarding the political processes in Venezuela Brazil, among others—as well as differences in the public practices of each party.

Given all this, and given the tasks before us in the framework of the new cycle of international class struggle, the proposal we have been making from the PTS becomes increasingly necessary: move forward in building a unified party of the left, of workers and socialists, clearly differentiated from reformism and “anti-capitalism” in general, a party for the class struggle with a revolutionary program and strategy. Such a party can only have as its starting point the struggle for the construction of revolutionary socialist international.

A Network of Newspapers and Internationalism

In What Is to Be Done?, Lenin stated as an objective establishing a weekly newspaper “for regular distribution in tens of thousands of copies throughout Russia” as a means to become “tribunes of the people” through broad, systematic agitation.10V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?: Burning Questions of Our Movement (1902). When he wrote this, he would not have imagined the possibilities we have today to develop newspapers not only for an entire country, but also for multiple countries and in different languages simultaneously.

New technologies have strengthened this Leninism and with it the possibilities for internationalism. The development of the Internet, social networks, and digital platforms, even with the obstacles imposed by its capitalist control and the tyranny of the “algorithm,” present new opportunities for revolutionary political agitation, its massive character, its development in “real time,” and its national and international deployment, allowing ideas to be spread ahead of the “apparatus” to develop militant currents that aim to engage sectors of the masses in an on-going political dialogue.

With the network of newspapers La Izquierda Diario—several of which have hundreds of thousands or even millions of monthly visits—we are, to the extent possible given our forces, taking up this “Leninist” method under new conditions. The network currently has 12 national editions, publishing in 8 languages (Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, German, English, French, Italian, and occasionally Turkish). This makes it possible to circumvent the practice of reducing political agitation to an intermittent and exclusively “top-down” activity during elections every two years. The international and everyday character of the network of newspapers also allows for establishing a common international practice that goes much further than the method—so widespread on the left—of international diplomatic agreements between currents that do not reflect any real agreement regarding intervention in the class struggle.

At present, there are multiple currents in different countries that claim to be revolutionary and socialist. They possess militancy, cadres, intellectuals, and resources (including from parliamentary activity). And they are in a position to develop daily publications—national and international—that could reach millions with revolutionary agitation. But electoralism and trade union routinism conspire against this, just as they conspire against any internationalism that transcends pure discourse to become genuinely consequential.

This is especially acute in places such as Argentina, where the left has great weight and responsibility. The failure to develop means of one’s own that seek to escape from the narrow circles of the left, and instead to depend on the “good will” of the mass media companies or to limit mass agitation to an intermittent practice once every two years, is to succumb to the most crass electoralism and movementism. That is why the PTS, beginning from the base of what has been achieved with La Izquierda Diario and the newspaper network—including the radio program “El Círculo Rojo,” the weekly Ideas de Izquierda, the weekly broadcasts of “Reperfilando,” the Virtual Campus, the developments in the different social networks, and so on—we propose to redouble our efforts in the next period. As part of our broad activity of agitation, propaganda, and organization, we propose to establish with our comrades of the FT–CI a strong multimedia channel, both national and international, to reach millions with our ideas.

The Struggle for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International

In the tradition of the revolutionary workers’ movement, the construction of revolutionary parties at the national level is indissolubly linked to internationalism. The International Workingmen’s Association (First International) was forged around the main battles of the international class struggle; the Second International thrived until its nationalist bankruptcy in 1914 as World War I broke out; and the Third International emerged from the ascent in the class struggle that brought forth the Russian Revolution in 1917, but was then bureaucratized and liquidated definitively by Stalinism when it failed to combat the rise of Hitler. In 1938, in the struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy and its collaborationist fronts with the bourgeoisie, and standing for the regeneration of the power of the soviets and the internationalization of the revolution against the nationalist “theory” that “socialism in one country” could be built, the Fourth International was founded, led by Leon Trotsky.

For us, the struggle for an international socialist revolution today begins with raising those flags and reconstructing the Fourth International—despite a world scenario that has changed substantially since 1938. None of the organizations existing today that claim to be revolutionary can solve by themselves this task of such historical magnitude. It will, of necessity, be the result of a fusion, not only of the left wings of the revolutionary Marxist organizations, but above all, with the sectors of the workers’ and youth vanguard that—in the heat of crisis and the class struggle—are oriented towards social revolution.

The FT–CI always bets on such a confluence. To this end, we take up again the method employed by Trotsky on the road to the foundation the Fourth International: seeking agreements on the great strategic and programmatic questions that the capitalist crisis and the new processes of class struggle posed for the international left, as well testing political practice in the class struggle. We begin, as Trotsky advised: do not consider “the great struggles of the proletariat  … only as objective occurrences, as an expression of the ‘general crisis of capitalism’” but “as a strategic experience of the proletariat.”11Leon Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin (1928). It is precisely a question of achieving agreements that are not diplomatic, not formal, but that are based on these lessons and that serve taking common action.12Employing this logic, in recent years we have converged with the Italian group FIR, whose militants come from the youth of the PCL, as well as with the CST of Peru and the Socialist Organization of Costa Rica. Translator’s note: The members of the Frazione Internazionalista Rivoluzionaria (FIR, Revolutionary Internationalist Fraction) were expelled from the Partito Comunista dei Lavoratori (PCL, Workers Communist Party) in April 2017.

Such agreements must serve as a basis for taking action. This is not just a whim, but rather based on the necessity to intervene in different struggles and situations such as the ones we have been describing. Without such agreements, there is no practical internationalism. At the same time, there is no revolutionary practice without continually recreating revolutionary theory, which is why theoretical elaboration plays a fundamental role in the activities of the FT–CI, as should be the case with any organization claiming to be revolutionary and socialist. That is a question we will explore in a future article.

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new international scenario is being outlined. The historical crisis of capitalism, the return of the nationalism of the great powers, and the cycle of class struggle that runs through the world pose the prospect of much deeper confrontations and, with that, an increasingly critical need for a revolutionary international that is up to the task of fighting for a new socialist order. The current cycle also presents new and better conditions for the struggle to reconstruct the Fourth International. It is a matter of taking full advantage of those conditions now, before it is too late.

First published in Spanish on December 15 in Ideas de Izquierda.

Translation: Scott Cooper


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Matías Maiello

Matías is a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires and a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party (PTS) in Argentina. He is co-author, together with Emilio Albamonte, of the book Estrategia socialista y arte militar (Buenos Aires: Ediciones IPS, 2018).

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