Friday, June 8, 2012

All the dead ends in the world

The Fourth International and failed perspectives
Mike Macnair reviews Daniel Bensaïd, Alda Sousa, Alan Thornett and others, 'New parties of the left: experiences from Europe', London 2011, pp202, £7

Fred Leplat's preface to this book outlines its basic premise. He says that in the last 25 years the rightward evolution of the socialist and 'official' communist parties has changed the political landscape on the left:

"This has opened up a political space to the left of social-democracy which the radical left and revolutionary Marxists have a duty to fill. This task cannot be carried out by these currents simply continuing in their traditional forms without seeking new levels of unity. What is therefore necessary are broad, pluralist parties embracing both the radical and Marxist left to restore independent working class organisation."

As John McAnulty comments in his sharply critical review of the book,[1] the general regroupment line comrade Leplat outlines has been that of the Mandelite Fourth International since the 1980s, though it was given a semi-codified form in 1995. The book is a collection of articles, of varying dates, by Mandelite authors involved in 'new party' projects. The countries covered are France, Denmark, Britain, Germany, Italy and Portugal. These are bracketed at the beginning by a 'left academic' political science piece by Berthil Videt on new left parties in general, and at the end by the resolution, 'Role and tasks of the Fourth International', adopted at this organisation's 16th world congress in March 2010.

It is clear, therefore, that what the book really offers are perspectives on the 'new parties' question very much from the particular experience of militants of the Mandelite Fourth International participating in such projects. The book's coverage of European parties to the left of the social-liberals is defined by Fourth Internationalist involvement. Syriza in Greece is absent, since the Fourth Internationalist OKDE-Spartakos (Organisation of Communist Internationalists of Greece-Spartacus) is in the rival and much smaller anti-capitalist coalition, Antarsya. The Netherlands Socialist Party (in origin a Maoist formation) is similarly absent. And so on. Some of these parties are discussed (using academic political science methods) in Bertil Videt's introductory chapter. We should not conclude that the book is worthless; merely bear in mind its limitations.

A second limitation is inevitable, and hence equally not a criticism of the book. This is that since the outbreak of the crisis of 2008 - a real capitalist crisis with destabilising political effects, as opposed to the 'crises' the far left has talked about endlessly since the 1970s - there has been a fast-moving and unstable evolution of configurations of political forces. The book is in consequence inevitably partly out of date by the time of this (rather belated) review, as will be apparent below in comments on the individual chapters.

Among European parties at least officially to the left of the social-liberals not covered by the book, the most prominent case is that of the strong showing of the coalition-party, Syriza, in the May general election in Greece and its (so far) continued strength in the opinion polls for the June 17 rerun. Opinion polls in May 2012 in the Netherlands show the Socialist Party running second behind the right-liberal VVD, well ahead of the PVdA Labour Party.[2] In Spain Izquierda Unida (effectively derived from the old Communist Party) after a long decline revived in the 2011 elections and is now standing at around 10% in opinion polls.[3]

It should also be said that in several other countries there are surviving communist or post-communist parties which have not travelled all the way to social-liberalism and have been able to retain significant shares of the vote in their respective countries. These, of course, do not fall within the subject-matter of this book, which is new parties. But the fact calls into question the Mandelites' judgment of the available political space, so clearly expressed by Fred Leplat above.[4]

As I said, none of this implies the book is useless. What it offers us is a series of histories of the experiences of 'soft Trotskyists' in trying to create and build new parties to the left of social-democracy over somewhat varying periods: in chronological order, the Red-Green Alliance from 1989 to 2011; Rifondazione Comunista from 1991 to 2008; various British attempts from 1992 to 2011; the Left Bloc from 1999 to 2011; Die Linke from 2007 to 2010' the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste project from 2007 to 2010. Within this framework - of the record of FI experiences - it is worth adding João Machado's 2012 'The experience of building DS and the PT, from 1979 to the first Lula government', on the FI's experience in Brazil, which has been published on the International Viewpoint website.[5] The various attempts show some radical diversity, but also some common features.

This review will be in two parts. The first part will examine the individual chapters and the Machado article critically. The second part will try to draw out the common lessons and questions that emerge from these histories.

I will treat the chapters, etc, in a different order from that in which they appear in the book: that is, chronologically in order of appearance of the new parties. The reason is that what has happened first has influenced the choices made later. Hence Brazil comes first, followed by Denmark, Italy, Britain (taking Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party as the starting point), Portugal, Germany and France.

The Brazilian Workers Party (PT) is an outlier relative to the European parties discussed in the book for several reasons. It is outside Europe. It was created as, and remains, a workers' party based on the trade unions, like the Labour Party. It has passed from being a left minority party in its early history to being, since 2002, a governing party, albeit one which cannot command anything like a majority in the legislature and has to govern in coalition with other parties. In addition, the Brazilian Mandelite organisation was created in the PT; before the formation of the PT took place, Brazilian Trotskyism was dominated by the Morenista (Argentinian-based), Lorista (Bolivian-based) and Lambertiste (French-based) international Trotskyist trends.

That said, João Machado's article discusses a number of features of the Mandelites' intervention in the PT which reappear in the European cases discussed in the book; and the PT was to a considerable extent a model in the Mandelites' more general thinking about 'class struggle parties' which were 'not programmatically defined between reform and revolution'.

Brazil had been under military rule since a coup in 1964, but with a gradual transition from the mid-1970s towards a parliamentary-constitutional regime, giving rise by the late 1970s to significant openings. The Brazilian left had been dominated by a series of popular front projects more or less animated in origin by 'official communist' ideas, but which in the period of transition from military government rapidly evolved from left rhetoric into centre-right clientelist party formations.

The PT therefore represented a distinct break in the direction of the idea of the independent political representation of the working class. It was based on a combination between a militant steelworkers' trade union leadership round Luiz Inácio da Silva - 'Lula' - with both far-left and 'liberation theology' activists. Lula's personal popularity as a militant was an important part of the mix. The idea of a workers' party rather than a new popular front project probably indicates an ideological influence of ex-Lambertiste militants who were involved in the new initiative: the idea of fighting for a workers' party based on the trade unions in countries where there was no workers' party was orthodox Trotskyism, but only taken seriously by the Lambertistes at this period.

The PT remained - and remains - very much a minority party in Brazil's fragmented party system. But by the late 80s-early 90s it was beginning to win local elections, and Lula was achieving respectable results in presidential elections. In the early 90s a split in the central leadership gave the left in the PT temporary control. But Lula's failure to win the 1994 election (as it had been hoped he might) led to a shift towards 'realism', which was to accelerate as the 1990s went on, until in 2002 Lula could win the presidency as a 'safe pair of hands' for capital.

Democracia Socialista was created with 60 members in the period of the campaign in 1979-80 to launch the PT. It grew to around 1,000 members by 1990 and 2,000 by 2002. Within the PT it was in competition with other Trotskyist tendencies, even after the 1992 expulsion of the Morenista Convergencia Socialista for acting as a 'party within a party': part of the failure of the PT left in the early 1990s was its inability to propose a common project. After 2002, DS participation in the Lula government led to a split, drawn out over 2004-05, in which the majority of DS broke with the FI to stay with the PT and in government. Only about a quarter of the group left the PT, and this segment lost further forces to demoralisation after the split.

Comrade Machado attempts to draw a self-critical balance sheet of the fact that the DS majority broke with the FI rather than with Lula. In essence, the self-criticism comes down to two elements. The first is that the DS was over-optimistic about the political trajectory of the PT. This over-optimism led it to a dual identity: as partisans of the PT and partisans of DS/the FI; and, when it came to the crunch, for the majority the PT identity was more important. The second element is, though FI leaders - Mandel and Bensaïd - warned the DS in 1994 of the dangers of a Lula government and participation in it, the DS leadership did not educate the militants of the party sufficiently on this question.

There are, I think, two other elements displayed in comrade Machado's narrative. The first relates to political method, and affects both the conduct of DS in relation to the PT leadership and the conduct of the FI leadership in relation to DS. Both were characterised by diplomacy. The Mandelites quite properly want to avoid the denunciatory style of the 'orthodox Trotskyists', in which all political opponents are treated as scabs, and to avoid premature and unprincipled splits. But their alternative turns out to be equally problematic: they sign up to dodgy diplomatic deals on policy, write murky and diffuse documents which avoid giving straight answers to questions, and keep criticisms and differences for private conversations and correspondence. In doing so, they are as much denying the membership access to real debates as people who do so by expulsions and splits. When splits do come after such a practice, they are as unclear to broader forces involved as the ortho-Trots' splits.

The second relates to political strategy. What is the Mandelites' positive alternative to the reformist policy which is reflected in Lula and his co-thinkers' choices, and those of the majority of DS? So far as it is possible to tell, it is that a PT government should 'adopt a left line of confronting the bourgeoisie and imperialism'. But the blunt fact is that this line is desperately unrealistic. Do the Mandelites want Brazil to introduce generalised nationalisation and autarkic central planning, go break-neck for the bomb and build a large enough navy to defeat a Nato naval blockade? Or simply to default on the debt and crash the economy, à la Argentina in 2001 (which, though it has produced widespread occupations and cooperatives, is certainly not a socialist revolution)?

The reality, which is evident all through Machado's article, is that the Mandelite FI's rejection of international 'democratic centralism' in the 1970s-80s was a rejection of the international element of the practice on the ground of 'national specificities', rather than a rejection of the bureaucratic centralism which affected the national sections in the peculiar form of diplomacy. As a result, it has involved a move away from facing up to the fact that the capitalist class organises on an international scale and that, hence, 'confronting the bourgeoisie and imperialism' with any hope other than disastrous defeat requires the working class also to organise itself, and to begin to act, on an international scale, or at least on a continental scale. And this means more that a "centre for reflection and exchange, and ... a network of sections" (Machado).

Socialist revolution in a single country under globalisation is as unrealistic a project as 'socialism in one country.' It is therefore unsurprising that the DS majority - forced by real politics to choose between a sentimental attachment to the FI and revolution, and the real, if extremely limited, reformism of the Lula governments - should choose the latter.

Michael Voss's chapter shows that the Danish case is, in reality, not one of the creation of new political space to the left of the social democracy and 'official' communism, since the Danish proportional representation system has allowed significant representation of forces to the left of the Social Democratic Party since the World War II. The Socialist People's Party (SF) was established on the basis of a split to the right from the CP after the 1956 Hungarian uprising. A left split from SF created the Left Party (VS) in 1969. The Mandelites split from VS in the early 1970s to create an independent organisation, which was renamed the Socialist Workers Party (SAP) in 1980.

Enhedslisten (Unity List)/Red Green Alliance was created in 1989 as a regroupment of the CP (of around 4,000 members), VS (of around 500-600) and SAP (of around 100) (p53). This amounted to more than simply the adherence of VA and the SAP to the CP, partly because the CP was going through the crisis created by Gorbachevism; partly because VS and the SAP were able independently to raise sufficient signatures to stand for parliament, forcing the CP to take these small groups more seriously. 'Red-Green Alliance' is merely branding: at the time of the creation of the party there was no Green Party in Denmark, because the existing left had already occupied the space (p54). The party gained parliamentary representation in 1993 by being the only party to oppose Danish membership of the European Union; it continues to boycott EU elections.

Comrade Voss is positive about some democratic aspects of Enhedslisten's internal culture, but remarks that the unity sentiment and anti-factionalism created at the time of its foundation has the effect that there is little open discussion of varying strategic perspectives (pp58-60). The party's reaction to the economic crisis has been dominated by Keynesianism (pp64-65) and in Copenhagen local government the party's representatives have been sucked into managing the system (p65).

Enhedslisten made substantial gains in the 2011 general election, and has been since then 'externally supporting' the Danish coalition government of the Social Democratic Party and Socialist People's Party. The Danish Fourth Internationalists rightly warned in October 2011 of the dangers of this situation;[6] but that is the most recent news from Denmark in the Fourth International's International Viewpoint online magazine.

The English-language Copenhagen Post website reported on April 3 this year that Enhedslisten was threatening to vote against the budget and bring the government down if it did not back off on 'welfare reforms' (the vote is not due till the autumn); and on May 7 the Enhedslisten party conference was reported, with the party leadership promising to "push the government to the left"; the leadership was defeated by 202 to 151 on a proposal to abandon the party's existing platform and draft a new one, which delegates feared would be a move to the right.[7]

It looks, therefore, as though 'external support' will prove not to avoid the problem of perceived responsibility for government decisions, so that the Mandelites in Enhedslisten may in the near future be about to confront the choice which was faced by Democracia Socialista in the Brazilian PT under the Lula government. The pull towards supporting the Social Democrat government will be all the stronger because of Enhedslisten's traditional anti-European policy: an attempt to face down the EU through economic autarky or a national policy of 'soak the rich' and Keynesianism is far less plausible for Denmark, a country with a smaller population than Greater London, than it is for Brazil.

Salvatore Cannavo's contribution on Rifondazione Comunista consists of the first and last chapters of a book he published in 2009: La rifondazione mancata ('The failed [or perhaps more exactly 'missed'] refoundation'). This gives it a rhetorical, generalising and broad-brush character, and makes it hard to get clear exactly what lessons comrade Cannavo draws. There is no element of self-criticism of the Mandelites' practice in Rifondazione.

Rifondazione was founded in 1991 by factions in the Italian Communist Party in opposition to the decision of the Eurocommunists to rename the party 'Democratic Left' (now, of course, the 'Democratic Party'). It pretty much immediately absorbed Democrazia Proletaria, which was the 'last man standing' of the large Italian far-left groups of the 1970s (originally a joint electoral list of two of them, the Partito di Unità Proletaria and Avangardia Operaia). DP had continued in operation through the 1980s, obtaining parliamentary representation with around 1.5% of the votes, thanks to the Italian proportional representation system then in force. By this time DP had absorbed a good deal of the Trotskyist left, including the Mandelites. The latter appeared in Rifondazione as a tendency, Sinistra Critica, and obtained elected representatives in 2006.

It can thus be seen that, though the ex-PCI element of Rifondazione was very much larger in numbers than the ex-DP element, the latter accounted for a substantial element of Rifondazione's share of the vote, which never got beyond 8.6% and was more usually around 5%-6%.

Comrade Cannavo's outline narrative of the history of Rifondazione is broadly a description of a roller-coaster ride, as the party leadership took a series of turns in the hope of a breakthrough beyond single figures in elections - into and out of government in 1996-98, oriented round the 'anti-globalisation movement' of the early 2000s, back into government in 2006-08. Finally the party was effectively destroyed by the fall of the Prodi government (in which Sinistra Critica senator Franco Turigliatto played a significant role, voting against the government and being expelled from Rifondazione), a disastrous showing in the 2008 elections, and a series of splits.

His critical assessment boils down (I think, since it is not entirely clear) to the propositions that Rifondazione never really settled accounts with Stalinism; that the several PCI factions and left groups that formed it never got beyond their own historical identities; and that Rifondazione could have gone for the long-haul project of consistent opposition and building at the base, but instead went for get-rich-quick solutions of one sort or another, which also implied increasing apparatus control of decision-making; the combination ended with a split over the question of government.

The Trotskyists in Rifondazione were never able to unite themselves, even presenting three platforms when they were all in opposition to government entry in 2006. This is clearly partly due to the dogmatic ortho-Trot character of the Ferrando-Grisolia group (now the Partito Comunista dei Lavoratori) and the competing interests of the Mandelite Fourth International, the Argentine-based (Altamira) Coordinating Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International, the (Morenista) International Workers League, and the International Marxist Tendency, in having 'their own' Italian groups. But Sinistra Critica cannot be exempt from criticism here. Its policy in Rifondazione was until a late stage to identify itself as a loyal (or diplomatic) critic of the Rifondazione leadership and take distance from the 'sectarian' Trotskyists who formally shared its fundamental political orientation.

Alan Thornett's and John Lister's article on Britain is largely and quite legitimately a catalogue of failures, which will be too familiar to readers of this paper to need recapitulation. That said, George Galloway's victory in the Bradford West by-election has somewhat revived the fortunes of Respect compared to when they were writing, while the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition's results in the May local elections, though they certainly did not amount to a breakthrough, were on the better end of recent far-left results.[8]

Comrades Thornett and Lister criticise the far left for sectarian pursuit of the apparatus interests of the individual groups (Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales), and manoeuvrism; and Scargill's Socialist Labour Party and No2EU-Tusc for top-down bureaucratism. More generally they argue that the history displays "failure to organise the various formations ... as political parties, with their own political life"; "failure to establish genuine democracy"; and "failure to establish the right relationship between the far left organisations ... and the leadership structures" (p95). All these criticisms are broadly sound.

They are effectively silent on the Tommy Sheridan affair and the collapse of the Scottish Socialist Party, merely noting it at the end of a discussion of the 'Respect Party Platform' they supported within Respect (p87). This is a matter of some importance, because the SSP got substantially further than the other attempts in Britain, and earlier in the chapter (pp76-77) comrades Thornett and Lister present it as a model. Indeed, Socialist Resistance split from Respect in 2010 on the ludicrous ground that after the collapse of the SSP it would still be unprincipled for Respect to stand George Galloway in Glasgow (pp94-95).

The chapter contains no element of self-criticism. The nearest thing to it is the criticism of the former International Socialist Group members organised as the Fourth International Supporters Caucus (Fisc), who acted for a while as Scargill's enforcers in the SLP (pp75-76). If the ISG itself had not been sticking to the Labour Party at the time of the launch of the SLP, it is likely that it would have pursued the same policy of acting as enforcers: witness the comrades' characterisation of the groups which did join the SLP as "sectarian leftists" (p76). Fisc was merely carrying to an extreme the general policy of the Mandelites of acting as loyal - that is, at most diplomatic - critics of the leaderships of the 'new parties' and voicing real differences in private. The reality is that this was the substance of the ISG-SR's policy towards the leadership majority in the SSP, towards the SWP in the Socialist Alliance, and towards Galloway in Respect. The breaks which inevitably follow this policy appear as unmotivated.

The two chapters on the Portuguese Left Bloc - a 2010 interview with Left Bloc MP Francisco Louça and an article by Alda Sousa and Jorge Costa - are in a sense more encouraging. The Left Bloc was formed in 1999 as a party uniting the soft-Maoist União Democrática Popular, the Mandelite Partido Socialista Revolucionário, and Politica XXI, a group arising from a split in the Portuguese Communist Party. The bloc was formed out of discussions at leadership level and there was an early decision to form a unified leadership, although the constituents remained in existence. Starting with 2.4% of the vote in 2000, it has progressed to 6.4% in 2005 and 9.8% in 2010.

The articles show a realistic assessment of the fact that the party is 'in there for the long haul', and of one aspect of the relation of forces: that is, that the Socialist Party in spite of its social-liberal character remains the dominant party of the Portuguese working class and tactics towards this party are necessary. The authors also show a sense of the need to think seriously about using the parliamentary tribune to make concrete proposals for alternative policies, and the irrealism of 'revolution in one country'.

The party also pursues united-front tactics towards the PCP, but there is some sense that they may underestimate its weight. The Left Bloc proved not to be immune to the overall shift to the right in the June 2011 parliamentary elections, with its share of the vote falling by nearly half and its seats by half from the results achieved in 2009. The Democratic Unity Coalition run by the PCP, in contrast, held its 2009 share of the vote and slightly increased the seats it holds.[9] IVP has not commented on this result.

Klaus Engert's account of Die Linke is that of an outsider, since the Revolutionär Sozialistische Bund of which he is a member is the part of the FI section which did not go into the Arbeit und soziale Gerechtigkeit - the Wahlalternative (WASG) party founded in 2005, which was one of the major constituents of Die Linke. The RSB is apparently engaged with other small far-left groups in discussions with a view to an initiative for a new anti-capitalist organisation.[10]

Comrade Engert characterises the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) as having by now become a purely bourgeois party, not a bourgeois workers' party (p97). Certainly, the 'Agenda 2010' labour market 'reforms' of the Schröder SPD-Green administration led to a split in the SPD in 2004 and the formation of the WASG; most of the far left joined the WASG (p101). Meanwhile, the former governing party in the German Democratic Republic had after unification reorganised itself as the Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus (PDS) and managed to survive, though tending to decline (pp98-100). When Schröder called a snap election in 2005, this forced the WASG to run on the PDS ticket, renamed PDS-Die Linke, in the 2005 federal elections. This ticket won 8.7% of the vote, giving it a substantial parliamentary representation. In 2007 the two parties fused as Die Linke, the former PDS remaining numerically dominant.

Comrade Engert characterises Die Linke quite simply as a social democratic party, and in that sense unlike other 'new parties of the left', and takes a pretty negative view of its membership and prospects. To the extent that the left is involved, he argues (from the outside) that "a common strategy of the radical left forces" is needed, but hard to see because of the far leftists either pursuing a sectarian course (Sozialistische Alternative, the Committee for a Workers' International affiliate) or integrating themselves more or less uncritically in the party (Linksruck, the International Socialist Tendency affiliate). This is true enough, but comrade Engert's approach is rather static and somewhat sociological, and in some respects this paper's (very episodic) coverage of Die Linke is more informative. No explanation is given of the divergent choices of the German Mandelites in relation to the WASG and Die Linke.

Since comrade Engert wrote, Die Linke has now lost its parliamentary representation in two western Land (provincial) parliaments as a result of the unexpected emergence of the Pirate Party, leading to a strengthening of the right within the party, as Tina Becker reported in this paper on May 24.[11]

In relation to France, the problem that the book has dated rapidly is exacerbated by the choice to translate an article by Daniel Bensaïd from 2008, while the supplementary article by Alain Krivine from January 2011 failed to face up to what was already obvious then: that the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste project had failed to produce the hoped-for breakthrough on the back of the popularity of Olivier Besancenot, and ended with a rebranded group of the size of the original Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. The NPA is not, therefore, really a 'new party of the left'.

The 2012 French presidential elections have made it brutally clear that the Parti Communiste Français has been able through alliance with Jean-Luc Mélenchon's Parti de Gauche to recover the electoral ground it had lost to the Trotskyists around 2000. Krivine remarked about Mélenchon's Parti de Gauche: "Trapped between the PCF and the NPA, the PG risks disappearing by remaining alone" (p45). The reverse was the result: the NPA (and Lutte Ouvrière) were squeezed out by the weight of the alliance of the PCF and PG.

The failure results from a combination of a correct but unpopular political judgment, with a mistaken but commonplace one - in combination leading to a certain political silence. The correct but unpopular judgment is that what the working class needs at the moment is a party of opposition to the dominant order, and this implies a clear commitment in advance not to participate in a social-liberal government. But the question this poses is: OK, under what conditions would you participate in or back a government? Or, put another way: what's your minimum programme?

The mistaken but commonplace judgment is one common to the 'children of 68': that the way to a mass party is around the existing mass parties and through newly radicalising young activists, strikers and street-fighters. That was the character of the decision to launch the NPA.[12] The result is an underestimation of the political weight of the existing organised left, whether it is the traditional mass parties or the smaller groups. The leadership of the Ligue underestimated the resilience of the PCF and of LO, and the ideological influence of Lambertisme in the left of the PS - which is reflected in the character of the PG.

The political silence which is implied by both is to be found in the NPA's 'founding principles' adopted in 2009.[13] The party identifies 'reform or revolution' as counterposing the mass struggles, and their coordination, to the institutions. As a result it says nothing positive about alternatives to the institutions. Similarly, the manifesto on which Philippe Poitou stood for the presidency and NPA candidates are standing for the legislature[14] is less clear and more ambiguous than the manifesto of the PG-PCF Front de Gauche on this issue, which call for the immediate convention of a constituent assembly to change the French constitution[15].

1 .

2 .

3 .,_2015.

4 . The 2010 resolution printed in the book is more cautious: see p187.

5 .

6 .

7 . April 3:; May 7:

8 . Peter Manson's 'Same old failings' (Weekly Worker May 10) emphasises the negative point that these results are not a breakthrough.

9 .,_2011.

10. 'Zusammenarbeit und öffentliche Debatten', February 21:; cf also the polemic by Manuel Kellner on the website of the other FI group, Internationale Sozialistische Linke, March 12: under 'Debatte'.

11. 'Split looming in Die Linke' Weekly Worker May 24.

12. The same judgment is reproduced in a cruder form in Chris Bambery's September 2011 review of the book:




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