Thursday, February 9, 2017

Faction Fight!

Socialist Action (SA) has published a very long document entitled Opposition Formed in the Fourth International. At about 6700 words, it's one of those things I've read so that you don't have to. Authored by a committee, it reads like something out of a Dilbert cartoon. Though much less sensible.

The script is familiar:
  • The leadership of the International is diluting the principles of Trotskyism by crossing the class line.
  • This is a betrayal of the working class.
  • A Left Opposition within the International recognizes the danger and calls it to attention.
  • They attempt to rescue the International. "[W]e will initiate a debate with every FI [Fourth International - ed] comrade and section willing to communicate with us. We intend that this debate be respectful of differences, and for the unfolding process to help reinforce our international in a context of global capitalist crisis."
  • Eventually this will lead to a split, resulting in the creation of yet another iteration of the "Fourth" International. Perhaps this will be variant 4.7.21a.
The primary issue is also a reprise from the past. The lede paragraph:
The FI leadership replaced the strategic goal of building revolutionary parties with the building of “broad parties.” A century after the Russian Revolution, some ask: Is the principle “no revolution without a revolutionary party” outdated? We do not believe it is. Over the last few congresses, the FI leadership has been explicitly aiming at building “broad” parties, without clear programmatic and strategic boundaries. What are the results of this policy?
Broad parties sounds to me like a rough synonym for popular front. In the latter, so-called revolutionaries make temporary alliances with capitalist parties to achieve common goals. This has long been a tactic of the "Stalinist" parties. For example, the CPUSA has supported Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in the most recent election. Trotskyism was founded in part on opposition to popular fronts, preferring instead united fronts which restrict participation only to working class groups.

So the FI leadership is accused of watering down Trotskyism for the cause of expanding the movement beyond a narrow group of sectarians. As a result they supported SYRIZA in Greece, and opposed the nominal Greek section of the FI. I assume that was OKDE-Spartacos, which SA previously highlighted here (and which I lampooned here).

The document claims that the FI strategy was a failure.
In recent times, we’ve seen major failures. In the Spanish state, Anticapitalistas is preparing to form a joint majority with Pablo Iglesias, thus adapting to a bureaucratic leadership that explicitly seeks to govern in the framework of capitalist institutions. By trying to gain electoral or mainstream media influence, we are led to sacrifice our goal — the overthrow of the capitalist system. 
The Syriza experiment was embraced to such an extent that the Greek FI section, which refused to support it, was even accused in the IC of being counterrevolutionary.
SYRIZA is still the governing party in Greece. Antarsya, the united front of which OKDE is a member, got 0.85% of the vote in the 2015 election. Please let me know which strategy was a failure.

Of course accusing the FI leadership of failure is a little rich coming from the likes of Jeff Mackler. Here's a guy--the very personification of pathetic--whose major accomplishment in 2016 was a 5-day campaign swing through southern New England. Clearly SA sets the bar for success very low.

The document attempts a theoretical justification for the strategy of ever more sectarianism. There are two major crises that supposedly confront the capitalist class.

1) "The fundamental problem for capitalists still is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall."

This is a completely meaningless sentence. Does rate mean as a fraction of capital invested? This can't fall almost by definition, since the value of capital fluctuates with return. By this measure the real rate of profit remains nearly constant over centuries (see, e.g., Piketty).

Or does rate mean as a fraction of operating costs? If there's a long term trend here nobody outside of SA is aware of it. They need to produce some data to back up their case.

This "crisis" is just nonsense on stilts.

2) "Fossil and mineral resources are not infinite. The maximum peak of extraction will soon be reached. Capitalism with its structural logic aims always to increase consumption — to utilize more raw materials and energy."

Of course they're right that the world is not infinite. But natural resources will outlast human civilization--we are in no danger of running out for many centuries. No crisis here.

More importantly SA reveals its true colors: they are both Luddite and pro-poverty. Yes, capitalism wants to increase consumption. Indeed, capitalism has successfully pulled two billion people out of poverty--several hundred million in China just within the last 40 years. Yet SA is against that. They valorize living standards in places like Cuba and North Korea. Or Greece if it had followed OKDE's advice and left the Eurozone.

How can you eliminate poverty if you're against consumption?

It's when it proposes alternatives to the FI strategy that the document dissolves into complete incoherence. They revert to the principle: "no revolution without a revolutionary party." Of course the only revolution led by even a semblance of a Bolshevik party was the Bolshevik revolution itself. Nothing since then has duplicated that model: not China, not Cuba, not even North Korea. So on a single data point they generalize for all time by willfully ignoring any counter-examples.

They quote from Lenin's 'Left-Wing' Communism, An Infantile Disorder. This book was written in 1920, after the 1917 revolution, and it was intended as a political polemic rather than an accurate history. Indeed, it significantly exaggerates the role of the "revolutionary party" in the actual revolution. Its appeal for party discipline lays the groundwork for Stalin's later purges (whether Lenin actually intended that or not).

There's much more in this document I could make fun of. For example, they claim to support the Kurds, but are against them receiving any weapons from any "imperialist" country, i.e., anybody except Cuba or North Korea. So how's that supposed to work? Kurdish resistance to reactionary groups like ISIS is to be maintained solely on the strength of solidarity from Jeff Mackler and his gang of kooky clowns?

I'll leave it at that.

Further Reading:

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