Resistencia: About ruptures and fragmentations

We publish an important text from the organisation Resistencia in Brazil. This text was distributed in the recent face-to-face Internationalist Standpoint conference (read more here), which was held between February 10-15 in Athens, as part of the discussions. As the Resistencia comrades write: “With this text, we want to contribute to the important and necessary debate that will take place at the Internationalist Standpoint Conference, on the present and future of revolutionary Marxist organizations, in particular Trotskyism.”

Paulo Aguena (Catatau), translation from portuguese by Ge Souza

Paulo Afonso was one of the main leaders of the Psol internal current, the Resistance, and a militant of the Brazilian socialist left for more than 40 years, who passed away in December 2022 after a fight against cancer.

The publication of this text, this Tuesday, December 13th, Paulo Aguena’s birthday, is one more of our tributes and reminders of his memory. It is a request from him in life. About two months ago Paulo had asked Mauro Puerro to publish as a public article a text of internal reflection on the Resistance that he had written together with other comrades. On this first edition he worked this article. At the hospital, two weeks ago, Paulo asked Mauro to do the final editing, guiding him on the content and format. The work was completed days before his death.

Paulo considered the question of the political regime in revolutionary organizations key to understanding the crises and divisions in the Trotskyist tradition and, consequently, to thinking about the project of rebuilding an international revolutionary alternative. This article represents the author’s elaboration effort on a theme crucial to socialists. The publication of Paulo’s ideas on the day of his birth is yet another proof that he is still present among us, contributing to the socialist struggle and critical Marxist reflection.

There is a question and a great doubt that invades the minds of thousands of serious and honest militants. Why are there so many splits in the revolutionary left, including those claiming Trotskyism? Most leaderships of revolutionary currents claim that political differences are the fundamental cause of divisions. This text goes in another direction. Political differences are very important and have already generated inevitable divisions, but, in most cases, the ruptures occur due to problems of regime and internal method of the organizations.

Political differences are not always the causes of crises and ruptures

Every party is constituted to carry out a program and therefore has a political purpose. For this reason, we do not deny that political differences are always at the root of crises and ruptures. But it is not always the only or even the main cause. A definitive conclusion would require a more accurate study of cases, but it is already possible to state that they are also motivated by fractional and bureaucratic procedures, something that unfortunately has become quite common in the Trotskyist movement.

In recent examples of crises and ruptures, this component is present to a greater or lesser extent. When positions of the “main leader” become minority or are questioned, the regime becomes unsustainable. In the breakup of the CWI (2019), for example, it seems to us that when the historic leader was in a minority, as soon as the characterization came that the adverse position was revisionist and petty-bourgeois, and then the organization was not recognized as legitimate . With that began the first rupture. However, the factional struggle established in the current did not end and in the course of the debate there were two other ruptures and many individual departures. That is, the chain exploded into four parts. Thus, in a matter of months, they lost what they had built in decades.

But this case is not an exception or a new phenomenon. In fact, it is quite old and follows the crises of the Fourth International like a shadow. An emblematic case was the rupture of the IV International that gave rise to the International Committee in 1953, which we can consider the most serious crisis of the IV. It started a diaspora, whose dynamics were never reversed, despite the partial reunification that took place in 1963, which gave rise to the Unified Secretariat.

As we know, in the immediate post-war period important debates and differences accumulated. Among them we can mention those that involved the character of the new states of the East; the revolutionary process in Yugoslavia and politics towards Tito; the position towards the cold war and the possibility or not of a third world war; on post-war economic development; about the role of communist parties in this new scenario; about the so-called “sui generis entryism” in these parties, etc.

During the course of the debates, positions critical of the preparations of the International Secretariat became the majority. According to Mercedez Petit, these sectors accounted for around 80% of Internacional. However, the rupture became an unavoidable fact. Now, why did this happen? Why didn’t those 80% exercise the majority in the IV Congress and win the direction of the IV, thus avoiding the split? Simply because this became impossible due to the bureaucratic conduct of the Pabloite leadership in dealing with differences. The latter did everything to maintain a majority until it reached a split. Let’s look at this process more closely.

The crisis that resulted in the 1953 split had its first major expressions in the second half of the 1940s. In England, in 1946, under the guidance of the SI, there was a split in the RCP minority led by Healy, to the extent that the majority (Ted Grant, Halston and Bill Hunter) disagreed with the international leadership’s characterizations of the East, while at the same time refusing to “enter” the Labor Party. Later, in 1950, after a forced reunification by the IS in 1949, the majority was expelled in the 8th Plenum of the IV International in April 1950. However, this did not prevent the factional struggle from continuing. After eliminating the old majority, in 1953, prior to the IV Congress, the English section already made a “clandestine” entry into Labor. However, at this point it was Gerry Healy who presented criticism of the IS pre-congress documents at the English Section CC meeting. Jack Lawrence would then have demanded that Healy act centrally in the CC, that is, in defense of the position of the international board of which both were members. For its part, the SI soon came to rebuke Healy for the “breaking of centralism”. A factional struggle opened up between Healy and Lawrence within the English section in the form of “Pablolists” and “anti-Pablolists”. The SI intervened in the section in favor of the minority wing formed around Lawrence, recognizing it as the majority.

Another relevant fact was that in France, since the 9th Plenum of November 1950, the majority of the PCI led by Marcel Bleibtreu, had also opposed the majority of the SI disagreeing on the field theory (USSR-USA), the characterization of a probable third world war, the change in the counterrevolutionary nature of the Soviet bureaucracy and, finally, the so-called “sui generis entryism” in the communist parties. The III Congress of the IV (1951) gave the international leadership full powers to intervene in the French section, forcing it to implement entryism in the French CP, whose refusal resulted in the suspension of 16 members of its CC, transforming the minority into a majority in the leadership. In the 11th plenum of the IV held in May 1952, the suspension was annulled, but the PCI secretariat would be under the direction of the minority and the CC under the supervision of the SI, in charge of Mandel. This struggle continued until Lambert decided to unilaterally convene the VIII Congress of the PCI in July 1952, and for this reason he was finally expelled in the 12th Plenum of the IV held in November of the same year.

In the US, in spite of the fact that the majority of the SWP leadership (the largest section of the IV) already had critical positions towards Pablo, until then they had not opposed these methodological aberrations. Novack, for example, a North American delegate to the Third Congress, supported the motion that gave the right to the international leadership to intervene in the French section. The French even sent a letter to the leadership of the SWP denouncing the persecutions, but Cannon responded as if it were no big deal. Finally, that same year, the SWP saw the birth of a faction opposing the leadership headed by Cochran-Clarke-Bartel. The issue was aggravated when it was discovered that such a tendency was animated by the SI through Pablo. After a tough factional struggle, the tendency was expelled at the 9th Plenum of the SWP, held in October 1953, on charges of disloyal conduct and boycott of the organization’s policy. In this same plenary session, the SWP leadership then decided to launch a manifesto calling for the constitution of a public fraction to the direction of the IV which, in November, ended up giving rise to the International Committee. The initial objective was to postpone the IV Congress and remove Pablo from the position of general secretary with the objective of reestablishing the democratic debate. However, this became impossible because the CEI, in its 14th Plenum, suspended the signatories of the letter, starting to recognize as official sections the minorities expelled from the North American and English section.

So, how can we say that the rupture of the IV in 1953 – the most important crisis of the IV after Trotsky’s death, responsible for a diaspora that marked the destiny of Trotskyism – was due to political differences? It is clear that political differences were present, but what was the factor that determined the rupture? The policy or the method/deformation of the regime? There is no doubt that it was the method: the split was the product of a bureaucratic regime that prevented not only democratic discussion, but mainly that the majority was exercised.

Today we know that in each of the existing political clashes within the sections of the IV in this period there was always a minority or majority sector that defended more correct political positions than the majority of the SI, and that can be proven by studying history. An example is the assessment that the world economy would collapse after the war, defended by Mandel, which would lead to a mass uprising around the world and a 3rd World War between the workers state (the former USSR) and the capitalist countries. These analyzes and characterizations proved to be wrong, but all the sectors that rose against them were treated bureaucratically, resulting in crises and ruptures.

Even serious and profound differences do not necessarily imply ruptures

It can be counter-argued that this is not quite the case, since the actions of Pablo and the SI were guided by political objectives. This is true, but as we have seen, they were not the ones that led directly to the split. Under a healthy regime, the rupture would not be unavoidable. It was enough for the IS to accept its defeat and allow the majority-voted policy to be tested in the light of the class struggle. It turns out that this was not the SI’s understanding of democratic-centralism. In his mind, political ends justified everything, including the use of bureaucratic methods that led to the split.

It so happens that a political position, however correct it may be, does not justify the use of bureaucratic methods to become the majority. Moreover, there is no mechanical relationship between political positions and method. It is possible to have a correct methodological procedure and defend an incorrect policy, as it is also possible to have a correct policy and adopt an incorrect methodological procedure.

The example of Lenin’s attitude towards the expulsion of Paul Levi from the KPD (German CP) can illustrate this. Unlike the occasion when he defended the expulsion of Zinoviev for publicly opposing the seizure of power in October, Lenin shared the same opinion as Levi about the adventurous leftism of the leadership of the German Communist Party when they launched the “March Action” (1921 ), an insurrectionary strike attempt that culminated in the defeat of the proletariat and in a brutal crisis of the VKPD (United Communist Party of Germany) that lost two thirds of the 500 thousand militants that had accumulated after the merger with the USPD (Independent Socialist Party). Despite this, Lenin supported Levi’s expulsion for breach of discipline, as he had published a leaflet criticizing the party’s orientation.

Despite the controversy, Lenin’s position in the episode above shows that for him method and policy were relatively independent. Both in the case of Zinoviev, with whom he had a disagreement, and Levi, with whom he had an agreement, his position was the same. We say relative, because, of course, any policy that questions programmatic principles, if consistent, will result in different methods, regime and party conception. For example, the reformist program of the Second International gave rise to the social democratic model of the party (front party), while the III gave rise to the Bolshevik model (democratic centralist). But a centralist-democratic political regime does not imply political monolithism. Nor does it imply a fear of making the debates clear in order to make explicit and locate the differences to see how the elaboration can move forward. On the contrary, centralism around a certain political orientation (or action) must be preceded by debates that often involve quite serious and profound differences.

The ruptures and the different systems of norms (value judgments) that determine them

Caused by political or procedural issues, as we said above, ruptures are above all a choice, a political decision. They are, therefore, subjective and not objective determinations, a direct and automatic product of the class struggle within the revolutionary organization. Between the crisis and the rupture there is a mediation that involves human interference based on a value judgment. In other words, ruptures do not occur if the political subjects involved in the discussion do not want to.

The question that arises, then, is the following: what criteria should guide the decision to break up a given organization or not? We believe that the system of norms (value judgment) that takes political differences as the sole or main criterion is wrong. He undervalues ​​the importance that methodological and regime issues have in any discussion, when in a sense they are even the most important.

This is so, in the first place, because a healthy regime is what guarantees the proper processing of political differences, both in the phase of its elaboration and in the phase of application of the voted orientation. By allowing the permanent confrontation between politics and reality, the regime also makes it possible to overcome differences, either because reality has proven the correctness of one of them, or simply because one of the contenders considered that its initial position was wrong, or, finally, because reality itself changes, leaving certain debates outdated.

Secondly, because when processing the policy, the regime fulfills the role of guaranteeing the operation and, therefore, the very preservation of the organization. Thus, while political debates pass, the organization remains. To a large extent, this is due to the regime, when it is able to guarantee a healthy political confrontation of differences (the exercise of internal democracy), allowing the later application of centralism in the organization’s action and, finally, the carrying out of a balance already based on the confrontation of ideas and political positions voted with reality.

The system of norms that support value judgments that do not take into account or downplay the role that the regime plays in the construction of the revolutionary organization, and, in this particular case, in the political discussions themselves, is one of the reasons that impede the development of the organizations, when they do not condemn them to their own destruction or extinction. Under the motto “put politics at the forefront” it is customary to do everything to win a political discussion: bureaucratic measures are adopted, political maneuvers are carried out that sow distrust, or even the rupture of trust relationships; directors/cadres (which sometimes took years or decades to form) are persecuted or removed from the bodies or the organization itself for the simple reason that they have political differences; teams that cost a lot to build are destroyed, replacing them with cliques formed by political affinities or personal ties. In this way, it is forgotten that the main raw material for building a revolutionary organization is its own militants. Without them there is no politics, intervention in the class struggle, finance, propaganda, theoretical training, etc. Anyway, there is nothing, or rather, there is not even an organization.

On the other hand, this system, whose only guideline is politics, leads to more inexperienced leaders and/or less Marxist training, that is, less able to discern when a given political difference implies rupture or not, to end up making decisions mistaken, crossed by methodological aberrations. It also leads to more experienced and/or capable, but methodologically deformed, leaders breaking up the organization in order to impose their political position at any cost.

Thus, in the name of “putting politics in command”, it ends up placing an equal sign between justified and unjustified ruptures, correct and incorrect ruptures, necessary and unnecessary ruptures, progressive and reactionary ruptures. As a result, such a system of norms led to a trivialization – and even a naturalization – of ruptures, making them become a characteristic feature of Trotskyist organizations throughout history.

The result of this action was that the struggle to build a revolutionary organization aimed at overcoming the leadership crisis became a zero-sum struggle. Because we do not accept that this situation continues like this, we attach great importance to this issue. We do not accept that Trotskyism, in the eyes of the vanguard and sectors of the working masses, resembles the caricature that our enemies make that “it is enough to put two Trotskyists together and two different organizations will emerge”, even though history has given reasons to our detractors.

On the other hand, this system, whose only guideline is politics, leads to more inexperienced leaders and/or less Marxist training, that is, less able to discern when a given political difference implies rupture or not, to end up making decisions mistaken, crossed by methodological aberrations. It also leads to more experienced and/or capable, but methodologically deformed, leaders breaking up the organization in order to impose their political position at any cost.

Thus, in the name of “putting politics in command”, it ends up placing an equal sign between justified and unjustified ruptures, correct and incorrect ruptures, necessary and unnecessary ruptures, progressive and reactionary ruptures. As a result, such a system of norms led to a trivialization – and even a naturalization – of ruptures, making them become a characteristic feature of Trotskyist organizations throughout history.

The result of this action was that the struggle to build a revolutionary organization aimed at overcoming the leadership crisis became a zero-sum struggle. Because we do not accept that this situation continues like this, we attach great importance to this issue. We do not accept that Trotskyism, in the eyes of the vanguard and sectors of the working masses, resembles the caricature that our enemies make that “it is enough to put two Trotskyists together and two different organizations will emerge”, even though history has given reasons to our detractors.

The causes of regime deformations

What explains the adoption of such a system of norms that end up resulting in self-destruction? We can cite several factors that were already at work even before Trotsky’s death opened the IV leadership crisis: the sect environment caused by political marginality and the little social implantation of the organization largely caused by the persecutions of Stalinism; the existence of nationalist leaderships; the weight of the extreme right itself and of fascism. Added to this are the successive defeats (including political mistakes) that prevented the development of the organization and transformed the seizure of power, the axis of the program, into a kind of mirage. There are also frustrations arising from the impossibility/inability to overcome the “crisis of revolutionary leadership” of the proletariat; etc., etc. But there is a reason that Trotskyists do not seem to realize or care about: the assimilation of Stalinist methods by the Trotskyist movement.

Let us not forget that Stalinism was for decades the main counterrevolutionary apparatus within the labor movement, whose authority rested on the fact of having conquered the position of heir to the October revolution, reinforced by the role that the USSR, despite Stalin, ended up playing in the defeat of the nazifascism. In this condition, it was inevitable that his conceptions would influence the whole of the labor movement and its organizations, including the revolutionary Marxist organizations, among which the organizations that claim Trotskyism are included. In this environment, the fight against Stalinist methods did not prevent the Trotskyist movement from somehow assimilating them. It is very common for this to occur between conquered and conquered peoples, conquered and conquerors.

In this sense, what calls attention is the fact that the bureaucratic procedures (centralizing measures) adopted by the SI/Pablo and which led to the split of the IV in 1953, found support in the statutory changes that occurred in the II Congress of 1948. Such centralist changes granted all power to the leadership of the International, including the right to intervene, expel, etc. What is most intriguing is that the only vote against such changes was that of Grandizo Muniz (Spain). Moreno himself voted in favor and it was not because he was intimidated – he was a young man who was making his debut in the IV debates. So much so that he had the necessary courage to present an amendment of a democratic nature (defeated) that gave the right to publish discussion bulletins outside the pre-congress period. In fact, the almost unanimous approval of the new statute reveals how much the leading cadres of the IV were somehow already impregnated with a bureaucratic conception in terms of regime.

A reflective and necessary conclusion

Because we are part of the Trotskyist movement, we carry this legacy, the result of the historical pressure exerted by Stalinism and the marginality to which we are condemned. No one is naturally immune to it. What it is about is being aware of this and waging a conscious and daily fight against this deformation.

The fractional character of past and present political struggles is not the result of action by people of bad character, but of a conception that for decades, unfortunately, accompanies the Trotskyist movement and the entire revolutionary left. Past experiences are enough for us. Precisely because it is understood that such a conception is the product of defeats and marginality imposed mainly (and not only) by Stalinism, it is essential to discuss this topic in depth. The task of uniting revolutionaries on the basis of a healthy diet and method is placed on the order of the day. The crisis of capitalism demands this of us.

*This text was a collective elaboration, signed in 2020 by André Freire, Paulo Aguena “Catatau”, Genilda Souza, Gloria Trogo and Waldo Mermelstein. It was edited for publication by Mauro Puerro in 2022, at the request of Catatau.

Originally posted on https://esquerdaonline.com.br/2022/12/13/sobre-as-rupturas-e-as-fragmentacoes/

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