On the Trotskyist Fraction’s centrist zigzags

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On the Trotskyist Fraction’s centrist zigzags

By Rodolfo Kaleb

November 2015

About two years ago we published a lengthy polemical article directed to the Trotskyist Fraction (Fracción Trotskista) [1], which is the international organization of the Argentinian PTS (Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas). The polemic was about the task of building a revolutionary party and what we consider the Trotskyist Fraction’s centrist strategy on this issue: they try to approach opportunist groups of the “family of Trotskyism” with the aim of mixing with them inside common political blocs. This position is revealed by the TF’s constant appeals for programmatic unity addressed to various revisionist groups. On these occasions, the TF usually ignores or minimizes the many times the opportunist currents they are wooing rejected major Marxist principles such as class independence.

The Argentinian “Workers Left Front” (FIT)

As we discussed in that piece, the Argentinian Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores (FIT – Workers Left Front) has been the main arena in which the PTS has tried to implement this position in recent years. The FIT is an electoral coalition among the PTS and two other organizations that claim the Trotskyist heritage – the Partido Obrero (PO) of Jorge Altamira and the Izquierda Socialista (IS – Argentinian section of the Morenoite Unidad Internacional de los Trabajadores).

The FIT is not a bloc of class collaboration, meaning it is not what Trotskyists usually call a “popular front” with bourgeois parties. Therefore, in certain cases, a critical electoral support to the FIT candidates would be a principled tactic. However, the FIT is not just a tactical electoral bloc with the purpose of allowing working class groups to participate in the bourgeois elections of Argentina. For us, it is clear that the PTS regards the FIT as a trampoline to build political unity with the other left groups in it, especially the Partido Obrero. On certain occasions, the TF recognizes this, but on others they deny it. The PTS is always putting pressure on the other groups to maintain their unity beyond the electoral period, it is, to form a permanent bloc. In that sense, the TF has repeatedly said that the FIT is a “revolutionary front” and an embryo to a revolutionary party.

Since we wrote our article, we’ve had many conversations with Trotskyist Fraction militants in Brazil about this topic. One of the answers we heard was that the intention of the PTS was not to merge with the opportunist groups, but that the FIT was simply a “united front”, a collaboration for practical purposes, especially to allow the groups to participate in the bourgeois elections under Argentina’s restrict electoral law. The same opinion was broadcast by the German section of the Trotskyist Fraction (RIO – Revolutionary Internationalist Organization):

Another important issue for the formation of the FIT is the question of electoral fronts as a temporary united front based on partial agreements in a concrete situation, as opposed to long-term projects that are based on more profound agreements in terms of program, strategy and practice. The FIT is by no means a project that has been designed in terms of a long-term alignment of the PTS with the PO, but on the concrete necessity of a united workers’ front against bourgeois repression.” (our emphasis)
The electoral campaign of the FIT in Argentina. July 27th, 2011
http://www.onesolutionrevolution.org/?p=757&language=en

However the PTS itself is now clearly denying that the FIT is a “united front”. As the FIT has recently undergone a harsh dispute involving the formation of the slate for presidential elections, the PTS wrote several articles to answer the PO’s leader assertion that the bloc was only a “united front”:

The FIT is a bloc of agitation among three parties that claim to be Trotskyists and defend a program of transitional demands, class independence and a workers’ government. This is not a ‘united front’, but a regroupment of left formations which claim to be revolutionary and are not yet big parties; and their objective is to agitate a common revolutionary program in electoral processes. The program of the FIT, more than the program of a ‘united front’, opens the way for debating the necessity of a revolutionary party, a proposal we have raised in many opportunities and which our allies have, unfortunately, systematically denied.” (our emphasis).
The Partido Obrero at the Luna Park and Jorge Altamira’s speech. November 9, 2014. http://www.laizquierdadiario.com/El-Partido-Obrero-en-el-Luna-Park-y-el-discurso-de-Jorge-Altamira (Spanish)

This statement, among many others put out by the PTS leadership, confirms what we have written (and what some Trotskyist Faction militants and even their German section failed to recognize). It is, that the PTS goal inside the FIT is to seek programmatic unity with blatantly opportunist parties.

Another (verbal) answer we frequently got was the recognition that “yes, the Trotskyist Fraction does issue calls for programmatic unity with opportunist groups” (what is evident just by reading the quote above). But, continues the answer, this would be just a “tactic” designed for the rank and file of these opportunist groups. The goal would be to show them that the PTS is not running away from the debate, that it’s not a sectarian group. If this were true, it would imply the TF does not actually intend to have unity with the revisionists, but that the TF only “says so” as a way of winning over the opportunists’ ranks.

We have a serious problem with this “explanation”. First of all, because it is dishonest. The Trotskyist Fraction’s supposed “tactic” – if it indeed is all that is – would consist of telling one thing to these ranks (that they desire unity with them) while actually having other intentions. Besides, if this is the truth, that would be a crappy “tactic” for the purpose of convincing these militants to join the TF. The TF often makes sharp correct criticisms of the PO and the Morenoites. However, these criticisms lose much of their value when, every now and then, the TF says that these opportunist groups “defend a program of transitional demands, class independence and a workers’ government” (as they supposedly do within the FIT).

It’s inevitable that most dedicated militants will remain in their current centrist organizations even if s/he concedes the existence of some errors, if these errors are considered somehow correctable in the long run. To win over the members of an opportunist group it is necessary to clearly expose their leaderships’ revisionist method. Revolutionaries must patiently explain to the ranks of these currents how the politics of their leaders can only lead the proletariat into defeats. Instead, the TF chooses to make these appeals for discussions and unity to the opportunists. As Trotsky wrote: “If a text book on physics contained only two lines on God as the first cause it would be my right to conclude the author is an obscurantist.” What are the Trotskyist Fraction’s many correct criticisms worth of when (in way more than two lines) they consider the opportunists capable of defending a “common revolutionary program” with the PTS?

How many times have these very same groups crossed class independence? Let’s not forget the various occasions in which the PO supported bourgeois platforms in the elections, the most noteworthy being their vote for Evo Morales’ 2006 campaign in Bolivia [2]. Or the time the Morenoites of Izquierda Socialista hailed NATO’s takeover of Libya in 2011 as a popular victory against dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi [3]. In 2012, the PO raised the perspective of a “left government” (led by SYRIZA) to rule over the bourgeois state in Greece and insisted this could be a solution to the political and economic crisis of this country [4]. The Morenoites, on their part, claimed the military coup against the Egyptian government in 2013 was a “victorious democratic revolution” [5]. The Trotskyist Fraction knows better, since they have criticized all these opportunist positions. So we can safely say that the TF’s statement that the PO and the IS (along with the PTS) defend “class independence” and “a workers government” is a centrist capitulation. It is centrist precisely because while on some occasions the opportunist groups are correctly criticized, these criticisms are intertwined with the TF’s occasional appeals for unity and the claim they raise a “revolutionary program”.

These appeals are not limited to an Argentinian context, but rather consist of the entire international perspective of the Trotskyist Fraction. See, for instance, the campaign initiated by the TF a couple of years ago “For a Movement for a Revolutionary Socialist International” (which seems to have been silently put aside). This campaign issued a Manifesto calling for the “regroupment” of a myriad of groups and tendencies around positions on the situation in Greece and the Arab Spring:

We are making this proposal especially to the comrades of the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) of France, both to those who, with us, make up Platform Z, and to those who are grouped together in Platform Y, who see that it is necessary to confront the policy of the majority leadership of the NPA… and to the comrades of the United Secretariat from other countries who are confronting the majority’s orientation of reproducing this type of bloc with reformists, and those who are resisting the line of subordination to SYRIZA in Greece; to the leaders and workers who constitute the left wing of the miners of Huanuni in Bolivia …; to the comrades of the Partido Obrero of Argentina and to the Coordinating Committee for the Re-foundation of the Fourth International, with whom we make up, in Argentina, the Front of the Left and the Workers, and with whom we have agreed on different actions in the national and international class struggle; and to all those organizations of the revolutionary Left, or of the workers’ and young people’s vanguard, that seek a road towards the revolution.”
For a Movement for a Revolutionary Socialist International – The Fourth International. August 20, 2013.
http://www.leftvoice.org/For-a-Movement-for-a-Revolutionary-Socialist-International-The-Fourth-International

It is clear that the groups and tendencies included in this appeal have political differences with the TF not only on the Arab Spring and on Greece but on many other questions as well. Some TF leaders think these appeals are some sort of “maneuver” while many ranks prefer to ignore the existence of such statements or buy the idea that they consist of “tactics” to win over the ranks of the opportunist organizations. Whatever is the reason for the appeals (if not itself the result of centrist confusion), they are a capitulation and a compromise with centrism that deeply undermines any serious attempt to defeat opportunism in the workers’ movement.

First the Brazilian PSTU, now the Partido Obrero…

Today the PTS is wooing and raising appeals for unity with the Partido Obrero of Argentina and the other groups in the FIT, which are considered to have a “common revolutionary program”. But until a few years ago, the Trotskyist Fraction had its attention devoted to the Brazilian Morenoites of the PSTU (Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado). In 2006, for example, the TF published an “open letter the PSTU and the LIT” (LIT/IWL is the PSTU’s international organization). They wrote:

Our current, just like the LIT, has correctly criticized the turn to the right of most international groups that claim Trotskyism, a phenomenon you call ‘opportunist rendezvous’… Recently, the PO took steps in the same direction and voted for Evo Morales’ popular front in Bolivia, and later for Romano Prodi in Italy. We consider that, just like us, the comrades of the PSTU and the LIT had the merit of not committing any of these capitulations mentioned and it is based on these political agreements that we propose to open a national and international discussion.”
Open letter to the militants of the PSTU and the LIT. May 5, 2006.
http://www.palavraoperaria.org/E-necessaria-uma-politica-ofensiva-de-construcao-de-um-partido-revolucionario (Portuguese)

First of all, in 2013 the TF had apparently “forgotten” about these opportunist positions of the PO, since they then claimed to “have agreed” with them on “different actions in the national and international class struggle”. By the same token, in 2006 the TF had “forgotten” all the opportunist history of the Morenoites, including their support to “popular fronts” with the bourgeoisie, like the ones built around the Brazilian Workers Party, which the PSTU had voted for just a few years before [6].

The TF’s intentions “to open a national and international discussion” with the Morenoites was apparently frustrated by the PSTU’s own turn to the right in recent years, which involved their support to the overthrow of governments by right-wing sectors of the bourgeoisie as supposed “successful democratic revolutions”, including even processes led by the imperialist powers (Libya, Ukraine, twice in Egypt). If revolutionaries are supposed to be the “political memory” of the workers and warn them about treacherous reformist and opportunist leaders, in this case the TF couldn’t remember (or, what is even worse, pretended not to remember) their own writings.

Conclusion

All the attempts by the Trotskyist Fraction to justify their capitulation involve the idea that they’re actively struggling to build a mass revolutionary party as quickly as possible. All those who make criticisms to them on this issue are labeled “sectarians” who are not actively pursuing other left groups and will never build a party.

It is certainly important for revolutionaries to look for opportunities of fusion with other left-wing organizations. But there are some considerations to be made. In any attempt of fusion, there must be no “amnesty” towards the “weak spots” or centrist policies of the other groups, specially when they continue to apply the same politics as before. The history of the construction of the Fourth International gives us numerous examples of how to engage with young centrist organizations and win over their ranks (in some cases, the entire organizations) to a revolutionary perspective. To succeed in this, however, there must be no concessions of program, no illusions that any of these centrists can play a progressive role without a critical account and break from their previous politics. There is not even a whim of that from the groups to which the Trotskyist Fraction issue their appeals. Both the Brazilian PSTU and the Argentinian PO, for example, are consolidated centrist organizations, with decades of treacherous positions and methods. It is highly unlikely, to say the minimum, that these groups could be won as a whole to genuine Trotskyism. Even if this was possible, it certainly would not happen through the Trotskyist Fraction’s diplomatic approach of not mentioning shameful past positions of these groups when they issue their “open letters”. Their opportunism cannot be put under a rug. Debating it as much as possible is the only way to build a revolutionary party.

Just like most centrists wobble between an ostensibly revolutionary position and an openly opportunist one, so does the Trotskyist Fraction on regard to their position towards the revisionist groups of Trotskyism. Sometimes clear criticisms, sometimes a capitulation followed by a desire of unity. But the Fourth International won’t be rebuilt by “maneuvers” of any kind. Only a sharp and consistent criticism of opportunism can lead us to the rebirth of the world party of socialist revolution. As Trotsky once wrote about centrism:

… The new International cannot form itself in any other way than that of struggle against centrism. Ideological intransigence and flexible united front policy are, in these conditions, two weapons for attaining one and the same end.

The centrist, never sure of his position and his methods, regards with detestation the revolutionary principle: State that which is; it inclines to substituting, in the place of political principles, personal combinations and petty organizational diplomacy.

The centrist always remains in spiritual dependence upon right groupings, is induced to court the goodwill of the most moderate, to keep silent about their opportunist faults and to regild their actions before the workers.

… It is precisely on this plane that one must now deliver the principle blows at centrism. For carrying out this work with success it is essential to have one’s hands free, that means not only maintaining complete organic independence, but also critical intransigence concerning the most ‘left’ of the ramifications of centrism.”

Two Articles on Centrism, 1934.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1934/02/centrism.htm

NOTES

[1] Fração Trotskista e sua ruptura incompleta com o morenismo (May 2013).

[2] Read our critique of this position in PCO, Partido Obrero e as frentes populares (February 2013).

[3] Check La revolución árabe y el final de Kadafi, available in Spanish at: http://www.uit-ci.org/index.php/noticias-y-documentos/revolucion-arabe/43-la-revolucion-arabe-y-el-final-de-kadafi- To read a critique by Revolutionary Regroupment of a similar position taken by the PSTU/IWL, see: PSTU, Fração Trotskista e a defesa da Líbia contra o imperialismo (November 2011).

[4] Check La pulseada entre el FMI y Syriza, available in Spanish at http://www.po.org.ar/prensaObrera/1224/internacionales/la-pulseada-entre-el-fmi-y-syriza To read the critique published by the PTS, see: Los revolucionarios y la cuestión del “gobierno de izquierda”. Available in Spanish at: http://www.pts.org.ar/Los-revolucionarios-y-la-cuestion-del-gobierno-de-izquierda

[5] Check Egipto: la movilización revolucionaria derribó a Mursi!, available in Spanish at http://www.izquierdasocialista.org.ar/index.php/noticias/internacionales/112-egipto-la-movilizacion-revolucionaria-derribo-a-mursi To read a critique by Revolutionary Regroupment of a similar position taken by the PSTU/IWL, see: O golpe militar no Egito e a posição escandalosa do PSTU/LIT (October 2013).

[6] Check their statement at the time: PSTU chama voto em Lula (2002), available in Portuguese at http://www.pstu.org.br/node/3435 To read a critique by Revolutionary Regroupment of the Morenoites’ practice of supporting popular fronts, see: A Frente de Belém na lógica do morenismo (August 2012).

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